Monday, July 4, 2011

We're moving!

I am delighted to announce that I have been asked to joint the crew of Manga Bookshelf. They are awesome, and can be found over here: Manga Bookshelf.

You can find my corner of that site (including all the old posts you've seen here) at: A Case Suitable for Treatment.

This site will stay up to route you all to it. See you there!

Friday, July 1, 2011

License Request Day: Watashi Ni xx Shinasai!

Much as we'd all like to see Kodansha Comics go the extra mile and start licensing from Morning, Evening, Kiss and Be Love, I think it is fairly safe to say that when NYAF rolls around this year, you're going to be seeing a lot of Shonen Magazine and Nakayoshi titles. It's simply safer to put out a title you know has a built-in market, and cute shoujo romance for teens is one such market. So I decided to take a look at the most recent Nakayoshi and see which of their unlicensed long-running series looked like they might come out over here.

It was rather surprising, mostly as there are so few long-running series. Almost the entire magazine consists of stuff that's either brand new, or started last year and only has one collected volume to date. It's a marked contrast from something like, say, Shonen Jump, where even the mid-range titles like Medaka Box just hit Volume 10. So, to start with, I eliminated for consideration any series that had 1 or fewer volumes. Though I do suspect that once Kimi no Neiro (by the author of Orange Planet, Instant Teen, etc.) gets a few more under its belt that the licensors will come calling.

I also eliminated Hell Girl R, as I seem to recall Hell Girl didn't do as well as Del Rey thought (plus I honestly didn't really like it that much), and Arisa, which of course is already coming out over here, and at 7+ Volumes is Nakayoshi's oldest running series (not counting the gag comic Wankorobee, and considering PreCure and Hell Girl spinoffs to be new series, rather than the same franchise).

This left a grand total of 1 title, which of course is the one in my header. The author, Ema Toyama, is also familiar to North American fans from her series I Am Here!, the 2nd omnibus of which ships from Kodansha next month. Toyama-san is a rather busy author, currently having five ongoing series, including two in Nakayoshi; the other, Kamikami Kaeshi, is about a shut-in who has gods in her hair, and recently ported over from sister magazine Nakayoshi Lovely. She has Hyakuen!, which is about two contrasting female roommates, one extravagant and one thrifty, running in Square Enix's Gangan Online; Pocha Pocha Suieibu, about a swimming club, in Houbunsha's Manga Time Family; and the entertainingly named GDGD-DOGS, a shoujo manga series with a reverse harem that's running in Kodansha's new-ish magazine Aria.

And then there's Watashi Ni xx Shinasai!, which is at 6 volumes and counting. The title translates loosely as 'Do xx to me!', a title that will no doubt have to be changed when it comes out over here, as it makes it sound far racier than it is. The heroine may sound very familiar to those who have read Tokyopop's The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko: Yukina loves to look at people and make observations about them to herself, being instantly aware when a girl cut her hair wrong that she was trying to imitate an idol singer, or that a guy plays too many RPG games. Unfortunately her skin is cold and her eyes far too sharp, so she does't have anyone who's willing to get close to her.

She also has a secret she's concealing from her school: she's a famous cell-phone novelist who everyone adores. Unfortunately, she's not all that good at romance, mostly due to her complete lack of contact with anyone except her cousin. Her characters always stay good friends, and she's getting more and more letters getting frustrated with this. So she tries to figure out what to do about it. As she wanders the halls, she runs into a girl confessing to Shigure, the #1 guy in class. He turns her down nicely, and everything seems fine... till he drops a notebook that shows dates all the girls in class confessed to him, and tick marks by their names. Yukina's is the only name not checked.

When she confronts him with the notebook, he admits it, and sneeringly notes that it's far easier to go through life being nice to the boys and girls and adapting his personality to please. He expects her to be disappointed and rush off. He is sadly mistaken. She was stressing about how to get a guy to pretend to fall in love with her for 'love experience' in her cell-phone novels, and now she can use him without feeling guilty, by blackmailing him. And thus is born a very odd partnership...

If this sounds somewhat cookie-cutter to you, welcome to shoujo manga. But it certainly sounds good to me. I like observant heroines who don't take crap from guys, and this one also looks to have a fun side (she confronts him by asking "Did you drop this golden notebook, or this silver notebook?"). Now to be fair, this may not last; given the lead is a cold personality, I fully expect the hero to get her all flushed and twitchy, especially given the basic premise. Still, it sounds like it could do fairly well here, and given Kodansha Comics' tendencies and the lack of other huge Nakayoshi series, I would not be that surprised to see it over here sometime in 2012.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Manga the week of 7/6

Rejoice! Long after everyone else has received and reviewed Wandering Son from Fantagraphics, Diamond is getting the book in next week! So I will be able to give you my discerning opinion... wait, you'll all have read it already. Well tough, you'll get my opinion anyway. And if you didn't read it, go get it.

In other news about titles that were solicited ages ago, Dark Horse has the first volume of the Magic Knight Rayearth omnibus. This was CLAMP's first breakout hit in Nakayoshi, and it's still really worth picking up, especially if the reproduction job is as good as Card Captor Sakura's.

Kodansha is putting out a new shonen series, Monster Hunter Orage, which is about, well, a monster hunter. It ran in their Shonen Rival magazine. It's based off of a series of Capcom video games (hey, just like Phoenix Wright! ... well, maybe not TOO much like it.) Also, Midtown doesn't list it, but my store is also getting Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei 9 and The Wallflower 25.

Also in 'not on Midtown's list, but my store is getting it anyway' is Volume 2 of everyone's favorite tsundere, Toradora!, from Seven Seas.

Vertical has the 6th volume of its adorable cat manga, Chi's Sweet Home. Has Chi crossed over with What's Michael, by any chance? And Bandai has the 8th volume of its 4-koma series for otaku, Lucky Star.

And then there's Viz. Take a breath, folks. Some series are ending! The Prince of Tennis has finally come to a close with 42 volumes. (Yes, I know there's a sequel running in Square. Go tell Viz.) And Ultimate Muscle hits Volume 29 and ends as well, which I suspect relieves Viz no end. Some series are beginning! Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's is the latest installment in everyone's favorite card game merchandise pusher.

And some series are neither ending nor beginning. New volumes of Eyeshield 21 (2nd to last!), Rosario & Vampire Season II, and the Naruto and Death Note omnibuses. Shonen Sunday gives us the 2nd Kekkaishi omnibus. And for you shoujo fans, we have Black Bird (boo), Kimi ni Todoke (yay!), and Dengeki Daisy (milder yay!). On the Hakusensha end, there's new Oresama Teacher, featuring more SUPER BUN!, and a new Skip Beat!, which hopefully will have far less torture of innocent actresses by our heroine in the name of method acting.

See, it's not so bad! What'll you be getting?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

WB announces Tom and Jerry Golden Collection Set 1

It's become fairly easy to get cynical and pessimistic with Warner Brothers about their treatment of classic cartoons over the past couple of years. The Golden Collections were dropped as they're expensive to restore and don't sell well enough; the Looney Tunes we do have coming out include some entries that look like the titles were chosen by dartboard; they used a 'widescreen' format that was used for Cinemascope theaters in the 1950s that cuts off part of the frame; and then there's the long, painful story of the Tom & Jerry DVD sets.

First there was the 'Spotlight Collection' in 2004. It had 40 cartoons, chosen from all over the cat and mouse's history, and was not restored except for the first six - we've known for years that the original prints were lost in a 1970s fire, but as the first 6 cartoons showed, a great restoration COULD be done. They also had some censored cartoons - which was apparently a mastering error. You could send WB your DVD and get a replacement with the original cartoon. Then we had the second collection in 2005 - which had the same issues, and ALSO needed replacement discs you had to send in for. It also omitted the shorts 'Mouse Cleaning' and 'Casanova Cat' because it felt they were too offensive - despite other cartoons in the earlier sets having blackface and Indian gags left in. Then they started to re-release everything for the kiddie market...

It has become apparent that even though these old cartoons are sometimes marketed as being 'for the adult cartoon collector', WB simply does not want to let that kiddie audience go. Over the last 2 years or so, WB has issued a bunch of little DVDs just for the Children's market called Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases, and also several new cartoons featuring the cat and mouse. Kids are simply glutted with the duo right now.

So it is, perhaps, the perfect time to actually try that collector's release again, 7 years later. On October 25th, we will see 'Tom and Jerry Golden Collection' Volume 1, on DVD and Blu-Ray. This will feature the first 37 cartoons made by MGM for the carton stars - note that ends right BEFORE Mouse Cleaning, which should be on Volume 2 in its proper place. They will be in chronological order for the first time, and apparently restored using the best elements available - fine-grain or nitrate prints for most of the 40s and early 50s titles, negatives for the rest of the 50s titles. 9 of the shorts will have commentary, and there will be a new documentary. Fingers crossed, this looks like it may FINALLY be the release we have been waiting for.

Here's a list of the cartoons announced for the first set (I won't list all the times Mammy has been censored or redubbed, as there are far too many.):

1) Puss Gets the Boot (Feb. 20, 1940). Tom (called 'Jasper' here) is told by the black maid of the house, Mammy Two-Shoes, that he has to catch that mouse or he goes O-W-T. Naturally, Jerry (unnamed at this stage) makes sure to get the upper hand. Nominated for an Academy Award.

2) The Midnight Snack (July 19, 1941). Tom and Jerry are named as such for the first time. Jerry's raiding a fridge, Tom has to stop him without arousing Mammy's ire.

3) The Night Before Christmas (December 6, 1941). Tom and Jerry chase each other under the Christmas tree. The first cartoon showing the two agreeing to stop fighting at the end - in the spirit of the Christmas season. Nominated for an Academy Award.

4) Fraidy Cat (January 17, 1942). Tom listens to a ghost story on the radio and is terrified, so Jerry decides to give him a few scares. Great bit with Tom's 9 lives all visible - including one who's a complete goofball! The host of the radio drama 'The Witching Hour', Martha Wentworth, provided her own voice for this short.

5) Dog Trouble (April 18, 1942). Tom and Jerry have to team up for the first time, to take on a vicious new bulldog - the first appearance of Spike, though he's far nastier here.

6) Puss 'n Toots (May 30, 1942). Tom tries to flirt with a girl cat who Mammy is taking care of. He tries to use and abuse Jerry to impress her, but Jerry gets the upper hand. A short Chinese caricature of Tom has sometimes been cut from this cartoon.

7) The Bowling Alley-Cat (July 18, 1942). Tom and Jerry at a bowling alley. Violence ensues.

8) Fine Feathered Friend (October 10, 1942). Tom and Jerry on the farm, with Jerry taking advantage of a hen and her chicks. This is the last time Tom yowls like a real cat - he'd soon get Joe Barbera's loud human scream when seriously injured.

9) Sufferin' Cats! (January 16, 1943). Tom and a rival cat (Meathead) are both trying to catch Jerry, who proceeds to work both sides against each other - in the end, both cats lose.

10) The Lonesome Mouse (May 22, 1943). Jerry gets Tom thrown out, and has the house to himself!... Sadly, he's completely bored, and makes a deal with Tom to get Mammy to invite him back. It works... but Jerry does not get the reward he expects.

11) The Yankee Doodle Mouse (June 26, 1943). Their first Academy Award winner. Tom and Jerry chase gags, but set up like a battlefield, with lots of wartime references. A short shot of Tom in blackface is cut from TV prints.

12) Baby Puss (December 25, 1943). Tom is the victim of a little girl who has dressed him up like a baby. Humiliated, he's then further enraged when Jerry starts laughing hysterically. Then Jerry invites some of Tom's alley cat friends to see him. Meathead makes his last appearance, and Butch is introduced (he'd been in an earlier MGM cartoon, this is his first with Tom & Jerry.)

13) The Zoot Cat (February 25, 1944). Tom is trying to impress the girl cat Toots again, but is apparently a complete square. Then he gets the great idea of making a Zoot Suit from a hammock. Of course, this does not actually stop Jerry from messing everything up. Tom has spoken before, but this is the first cartoon we really see Tom speak a lot.

14) The Million Dollar Cat (May 6, 1944). Tom inherits a million dollars from his owner's aunt... provided he doesn't harm any animals. You can all see where this is going. Jerry is particularly obnoxious in this cartoon, one of the few where it ends with Tom definitively having the upper hand.

15) The Bodyguard (July 22, 1944). The first time we see Spike with his more friendly persona... though he still hates Tom, of course. Jerry rescues Spike from a dog catcher, and Spike says anytime Jerry needs his help, just whistle. Once again, Jerry takes things just a bit too far, and the cartoon ends with Spike recaptured and Jerry once again running from Tom.

16) Puttin' on the Dog (October 28, 1944). Jerry hides in the middle of a dog pound, so Tom decides to infiltrate by disguising himself as a dog.

17) Mouse Trouble (November 23, 1944). The second Tom and Jerry Academy Award Winner. Tom tries to use a book on catching mice to nab Jerry. The first of two T&J cartoons to feature the terrifying drone 'Doooon't yoooou belieeeve it' from a particularly battered Tom, something that always scared me as a kid, when I was unaware of Ripley's.

18) The Mouse Comes to Dinner (May 5, 1945). Tom tries to impress Toots with a dinner Mammy Two-Shoes has prepared for his owners. He also gets Jerry to be their servant for the meal. Tom at his most jerk-like here, and eventually gets so bad that Jerry and Toots team up to send him into a punchbowl to drown.

19) Mouse in Manhattan (July 7, 1945). Jerry is tired of country life, so leaves Tom's house and heads for the big city. He discovers that New York is a nightmarish hell for a mouse such as himself, though, and after a series of disasters (at one point police are shooting at him!), he runs back home and kisses Tom, happy to be back.

20) Tee for Two (July 21, 1945). This is the one with the golfing. One of the most frequently run on TV. Also one of the most violent. The scene with the bees is agonizing to watch.

21) Flirty Birdy (September 22, 1945). Jerry is snatched up by a hawk, and Tom tries to recapture him. He makes the mistake of doing this by dressing as a female bird - and then finds it's a lot harder to break up than he thought.

22) Quiet Please! (December 22, 1945). The third Tom and Jerry Academy Award Winner. Spike is trying to nap, so Tom has to try to catch Jerry without waking him. This goes spectacularly well. Wait, no, it doesn't. Another one famous for Tom speaking, if only for one line ("One custard pie!? Well, let me have it!")

23) Springtime for Thomas (March 30, 1946). Tom is in love again, and Jerry is jealous. He decides to use Butch to break up Tom's romance. It's works quite well... till Jerry sees a cute female mouse. For those of you who like to see ho yay between Tom and Jerry, this is a great example. Also, please don't tell me if you do, as they're a freaking cat and mouse.

24) The Milky Waif (May 18, 1946). Nibbles is introduced here, for better or worse. I've always found him irritating, but in many ways he's designed to be. Jerry has a foundling mouse left on his doorstep, and tries his best to deal with being a surprised father. Tom really isn't helping. A blackface scene has been censored from many prints, including the first run of the Spotlight Collection.

25) Trap Happy (June 29, 1946). Tom decides to call an exterminator to get rid of Jerry. This turns out to be Butch, who proceeds to set various traps. Unfortunately, Jerry's cleverness and Tom's overeagerness mean that we end up with the same result. Butch turns on Tom in the end in rage.

26) Solid Serenade (August 31, 1946). Tom tries to serenade Toots with his singing (yes, he sings several choruses of "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby") and his double bass, but has to deal with both Jerry and Spike.

27) Cat Fishin' (February 22, 1947). Tom tries to fish at a private lake. Spike is the guard dog. Jerry is Tom's bait. Hijinks ensue.

28) Part Time Pal (March 15, 1947). Tom gets accidentally drunk on cider, destroying the house - then gets accidentally drunk on rum! Mammy Two-Shoes is not amused.

29) The Cat Concerto (April 26, 1947). Tom is a concert pianist, and plays Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Jerry is asleep inside the piano. Jerry decides to strike back. One of their most famous cartoons, this won their fourth Academy Award. Try not to say that around fans of Friz Freleng's Rhapsody Rabbit, though. Long story.

30) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (June 14, 1947). Notable for being nominated for an Academy Award and NOT winning (it lost to WB's Tweetie Pie), this has Jerry drink a mixture that turns him into a much larger, stronger mouse. Much Tom abuse follows, especially when Tom tries the same thing, with different results.

31) Salt Water Tabby (July 12, 1947). Tom and Jerry at the beach, where he's trying to impress his girl once again but with miserable results. Some great gags here.

32) A Mouse in the House (August 30, 1947). This time Tom *and* Butch are both in the house. But only one of them can stay: whoever catches Jerry. Jerry runs rings around the cats, getting them both thrown out... sadly, Mammy notices him as well, and he winds up outside himself!

33) The Invisible Mouse (September 27, 1947). Invisible ink always works differently in cartoons. Jerry takes advantage of this, torturing Tom and setting him up against Spike.

34) Kitty Foiled (June 1, 1948). Jerry teams up with a canary (perhaps being angry that he lost to Tweetie Pie last year) to take on Tom. Watch for Tom trying to run over Jerry with a model train, as his insane facial expression must be seen to be believed.

35) The Truce Hurts (July 17, 1948). Tom, Jerry and Spike are all fighting each other, but Spike wonders why they can't just be friends. After singing a peace treaty, we spend the whole cartoon finding out why. Another censored blackface gag here that the DVD should have uncut.

36) Old Rockin' Chair Tom (September 18, 1948). Mammy Two-Shoes gets her largest role in a T&J cartoon, as she replaces Tom with a younger, faster cat. Tom and Jerry must team up to get rid of this newcomer. One of the rare cartoons where their truce lasts through the end of the cartoon - Tom even shares his food at the end!

37) Professor Tom (October 30, 1948). Tom is trying to teach a young, bored kitten how to catch mice, and gets very frustrated when the kitten and Jerry end up becoming friends rather than enemies.


The TV Shows on DVD presser notes 4 additional cartoons, but Jerry Beck has stated that Professor Tom is the last on this first collection. Presumably Collection 2 will contain Mouse Cleaning (uncut on DVD for the first time!) through Just Ducky, and Set 3 would finish off the series. (I'm going to guess they don't plan to restore the Gene Deitch shorts, and Chuck Jones got a separate DVD already for his T&J shorts). Assuming these are finally restored, and WB can avoid having the issues they had with the prior sets, this looks to be the one to finally satisfy classic cartoon fans.

Maid Shokun Volume 1

By Akira Kiduki and Nanki Satou. Released in Japan by Wani Books, serialized in the magazine Comic Gum. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I have to admit, this title may be the surprise of my entire spring. There were so many things working against it. It's about a maid cafe, has a cute girl showing lots of thigh on its cover, and it runs in Comic Gun, home of Ikkitousen (Battle Vixens) and other titles known for being basic fanservice. I'd heard that there might be some yuri, but again, was expecting the 'ooooh, can I feel your breasts' sort of yuri you get in seinen magazines.

I'm here to tell you that I was mostly wrong, and that this is a charming and perfectly reasonable title to come out from the late Tokyopop. The basic premise is what I expected: a group of women work for a maid cafe in Akihibara catering to otaku, and one day take in a girl from the country who's come to the city to go to college. She ends up working there due to a series of wacky circumstances, and her eager to please, earnest personality proves to be both a boon and a liability. Will she be able to make friends and do well, even as her fellow co-worker seemingly hates everything she says and does?

Despite Chiyoko being the star, she's actually the least interesting part of the manga, being your basic naive yet bubbly heroine who wears her heart on her sleeve (she has a very Club 9 feel to her, only without the confidence). I was far more interested in the other supporting cast. Heine is in charge of the maids, and seems to be the sensible one with a good head on her shoulders. She also seems to have some sort of past with Arumi, the aforementioned maid who's angry all the time and can't warm up to Chiyoko. A lot of this seems to be due to her having a standard 'tsundere' personality, but we haven't actually seen the dere yet in this series. There are suggestions of something else, though, such as Arumi being 'different' from the other maids at the cafe, and Heine darkly hinting that Arumi has to obey all her commands. It's an intriguing plot thread that I would look forward to seeing resolved in future volumes if there were any.

But the big surprise to me was Chapters 4 and 5, which go into detail about two of the other maids, Hachiya and Airi. A couple of past chapters have gone into detail on Airi being stalked by one of the cafe's patrons, and what they can do about it without upsetting the other otaku who go there to essentially gaze at cute maids. As this happens, it becomes clear that Hachiya (who wears a bartender's outfit, and was very much 'the butch one' even before this chapter) and Airi are actually lovers, something that accidentally gets revealed to the others. It's amazing how realistically this plays out - one maid, Pamiru, finds it hilarious and disgusting at the same time. Arumi doesn't care that they're gay, but says they either have to break up or one has to quit, as their being together hurts the cafe. Heine is away. And the two of them have been fighting anyway.

We get a flashback to Airi's past... where she's shown to have been a prostitute. She runs into Hachiya, who is dressed as a man and acting as 'escort' to other women. After saving Airi from a crazy customer, the two slowly fall in love... and when Airi finds out the truth about Hachiya's gender, she decides that she loves her anyway. Unfortunately, societal and work pressures are adding up. Airi feels she's being a useless burden to Hachiya, and Hachiya is convinced this is a 'phase' Airi is going through.

It may seem anticlimactic, but what ends up happening is that they end up talking to each other, and resolving everything. This isn't as humorous or earthshaking as a series of wacky manga coincidences, but far more realistic. Hachiya feels they should break up as Airi is young enough to get married and have a normal life. She even notes that were she to die, Airi would get nothing from her estate, the way the world works now. Airi, who I think gains more confidence the more she sees how uncertain Hachiya is, tells her to shut the hell up and that she plans to love her for the rest of her life. It's a very sweet scene, but it's also rather rare in its honest discussion of what being a gay couple in Japan is like. The manga is worth getting for these two chapters alone.

There's a lot of discussion of the maid cafe environment, which in 2006 (the year this debuted) was still somewhat of a new thing. Arumi and Chiyoko have a long discussion about the cafe possibly being rated as 'adult entertainment', and what that would mean - both minuses and pluses. The last chapter features Chiyoko at college, having been secretly given alcohol by a couple of horny guys, being rescued by one of the maid cafe patrons - and he's now incredibly awkward with her, as the 'veil' that exists between the maids and their clientele seems to be removed. Given that over and over again the manga has emphasized the 'look but don't touch' aspect of the maids in the cafe, it actually does feel like a crisis rather than a goofy romance starting up.

Again, I note this is a Tokyopop series, so we will not be getting any more volumes here in North America. And no, it's not scanlated online either. And hey, Volume 4 is sold out at Amazon.jp, so you can't even buy the Japanese. I still recommend that you buy this manga, which rose way above what I thought it would be. And if you happen to find out what happens in the remaining three volumes, please let me know.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Brief Reviews On Sundry Manga: The Sequel

Yes, once again I have several volumes that I can't seem to find several paragraphs worth of things to say, so will pile them all together in order to winnow down my review pile.

Kamisama Kiss 3: Yes, it's still suffering from not being Karakuri Odette. Which is a shame, as it's quite a likeable manga. We get a lot of plot points about how romances between humans and yokai go in this world, and how much "forbidden" tends to be actual lip service. Nanami is kidnapped by a snake yokai (who then turns into a bishie - this is shoujo, after all). I quite liked the fact that Nanami's quiet "Tomoe, enough." was sufficient to get him to listen to her and stop his rampage, which shows the bond of trust that's developed between them since the first two volumes. The last chapter is more serious, featuring Nanami going back in time to see a Tomoe who's seemingly far crueller and more dangerous than the one she knows. In the end, it's a little more mainstream and typical than her previous series, but that's also helped it run longer in Hana to Yume as well.

Toriko 5: This volume continues the search for the Regal Mammoth, and as such is basically just a bunch of fights. It was hard for me to see one group coming at the mammoth from one path and the other choosing a different one without thinking of The Five Doctors, honestly. And like The Five Doctors, each path proves to be fraught with peril. Toriko actually has to let his savage self take over in order to drive away some predators (and trust me, it's a nightmarish sight), which Sunny and Komatsu travel through a deadly marsh. We are once again reminded of the ethics that govern Toriko's universe, as Sunny and Komatsu are horrified than Gourmet Corps is casually slaughtering the animals without using them for food - WASTE is the big sin here. The Regal Mammoth does indeed prove to be huge - so huge that our reunited gang must journey INSIDE the animal to get at its prized meat within. As always, this is big dumb goofy Shonen Jump fun.

Blue Exorcist 2: Things settle down in this second volume, as Rin and Shiemi continue their school life at True Cross Academy. We meet a few new cast members, who are very much shonen 'types' - there's the frustrated hothead who derides the hero for being lazy and stupid, but turns out to be far too similar to him for everyone's tastes. And there's the bitchy girl who 'allows' Shiemi to be friends with her in return for waiting on her hand and foot (and who seems to be the kid who was bullied when she was young, now trying to live life on the other side). Naturally, by the end both are reluctant allies to our heroes - Ryuji after he sees Rin's bravery in the face of danger (albeit somewhat stupid bravery), and Izumo after getting told off by her 'normal' friend and being rescued by Shiemi's basic goodness and niceness. It's decent stuff, and I kept turning the page, but it hasn't really risen above cookie-cutter shonen level yet.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan 3: This had several interesting plotlines going through it. We wrap up last volume's big fight, and get a highly interesting revelation: Rikuo's been playing everyone (and the reader) all this time, and is far more in control of his life than previously suspected. Of course, this also leads to organizational problems, as Rikuo also tends to be merciful, and when you want to be the leader of a bunch of cut-throat yokai, mercy is something that needs to be explained. There then follows a short plotline with Kana being stalked by a yokai that has been killing children on their 13th birthday. Naturally she's rescued by Nura... unfortunately, this leads to her falling for the Nura side of Rikuo's personality, and asking if Rikuo can hook her up. Ah, secret identities... (There's also a great mirror of Kana spying on Rikuo and Tsurara at the start, with Tsurara doing the same at the end when Kana is being 'overly friendly'... romance is likely not important in this series, but it's sometimes cute to see. Finally, a new gang of yokai comes in to 'take over', and start by going after Rikuo's grandfather. Which is unfortunate, as he's hanging out with Yura, who most likely would try to kill him if she knew who he was. Nura is trying to do the yokai tales as a mafia/yakuza-type story, and so far it's working pretty well.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Negima! Magister Negi Magi Omnibus 1

By Ken Akamatsu. Released in Japan as "Mahou Sensei Negima!" by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

First off, let's get the translation thing out of the way before we get to reviewing the actual content. As I've noted before, when Del Rey licensed Negima, they hired famous comics and SF writer Peter David to do the adaptation, which he did through Volume 5. It is known for being notoriously loose, with a ton of dialogue simply being rewritten entirely. Now, sometimes I'm OK with this (I'm an Excel Saga fan, after all, and I'm fairly sure Excel doesn't quote the Geto Boys in the original Japanese), but in the case of Negima, it actually alters the personality of many of the characters. Konoka calling Asuna a cheesehead draws attention to the adaptation, which isn't something you want to do. After Peter David left, Trish Ledoux (known for her work on Ranma) started to adapt, and many things got smoothed out, but then she left about 6 volumes later, and we got a new team, etc. Now, this is not uncommon for long-running manga series here in North America. Unfortunately, Del Rey had no editors (or at least bad ones), so there was little to no continuity between volumes. (I've yelled at them about this before as well, in my Zetsubou-sensei reviews.)

Now Kodansha decided to re-release Negima (still their best-selling series here) as an omnibus. They'd actually done this before for Barnes & Noble bookstores only several years ago, but it was the old Peter David adaptation, so there was no need for fans to get it. By now someone there had heard about fan derision of the early volumes, so hired the Nibley twins (the series' current translator/adaptors) to clean up a few of the more egregious moments in the series. On starting this project, the twins realized it would be a lot less aggravating to simply re-translate and adapt EVERYTHING, which they then did. And it was well-worth it, because this is definitely a re-release fans of Negima should get. The dialogue reads far more realistically and in character, nothing seems to jar (there is one 'Southern Master' in Asuna's dialogue, but I'm pretty sure that was left in as a joke), and it doesn't call attention to itself. We can now read Negima (mostly) as it was meant to be, and I thank Kodansha and the Nibleys for that.

Now, as for the manga itself. I went into it with my opinion that the first three volumes sucked, and that the series only started to get really good with the Kyoto arc starting in Volume 4. I am now prepared to revise that opinion. Volumes 2 and 3 turned out to be better than I expected, with 2 in particular giving us some nice character development and building up the campus as being more than simply a really big private school. Volume 1, though, actually managed to be WORSE than I remember, and for those people who cannot power through bad writing to get to the good beyond it, well, I'm sorry, you're never going to get into Negima.

I have also mentioned before the story of how Negima came to be what it is. After finishing the love comedies A.I. Love You and Love Hina, Akamatsu was somewhat weary of harem manga and decided to do a shonen fighting series with a young male protagonist. Kodansha's editors at Shonen Magazine, however, has no confidence in his ability to write action-filled battles, and told him they wanted him to write more of what sold like hotcakes - lots of girls, lots of fanservice, and lots of wacky situations. So we get Negima, where 10-year-old magical school graduate Negi Springfield is sent to a huge private school in Japan to teach a class full of thirty-one 14-15 year old girls. On his first day, he runs into Asuna Kagurazaka, a fiery girl with a short fuse and a fierce temper, who is not Naru from Love Hina at all, except yes, she is.

Negi's specialty is wind magic, and being 10 years old, he has not completely mastered self-control of this. This means that when he sneezes, clothing tends to fly off of the nearest females, including Asuna. If this sounds incredibly lame, that's because it is. Luckily, after a volume or two, it stops being every single chapter, and starts to be used in the obvious 'comedy' chapters, or as a balance to an overly serious battle. Here, however, Volume 1 seems to consist of endless pages of Asuna being humiliated, stripped, and broken. And because Negi's ten years old, she doesn't even get to beat him up the way Naru could hit Keitaro. More to the point, these early characterizations of Negi and Asuna are off enough to be irritating as well. Negi, known in later volumes for being 'overly mature and serious' for his age, if naive, is far more bratty and child-like here. As for Asuna, I have grown to like her character a lot, but there's a reason that people kept comparing her to Naru in Love Hina at first. All she does is yell and scream.

Luckily, things do not stay this way. Negima is far more of an ensemble cast than Love Hina, and we begin to see Negi interacting with the other girls. We meet Nodoka, the shy librarian whose life he saves on the first day, and who promptly falls for him. We see the 'Baka Rangers', five girls who get the worst grades in class for various reasons. We meet grumpy hacker Chisame, whose job it is to lampshade how ridiculous this class is. And, in Volume 3, we get our first major villain in Evangeline A.K. McDowell, a centuries-old vampire who is currently trapped at the school and in the body of a 10-year-old girl. The relationship between Negi and Asuna also mellows here, and once she starts to see Negi as more of a little brother (don't start, shippers) than a bratty kid out to ruin her life, her own character becomes much more of a 'big-sister' type and we begin to like her much better.

It's very strange seeing Evangeline at this stage in the manga. She's certainly a threat, but there's no sense that she'll be impossible to defeat - indeed, once Negi and Asuna become battle partners, she's almost easy to take down. I get the sense that the feedback Akamatsu got from readers and editors was HUGE for Evangeline, and so he may have decided that he needed to give her more to do. Certainly by Volume 6, when Evangeline next lets her powers loose, she's one of the most formidable foes in the entire series.

I should mention the fanservice again, because it's really, really a major part of this omnibus. If you crack open the book to a random page, there's a good chance you will see a teenage girl in a state of undress. As I noted earlier, I think Akamatsu was trying to press the harem aspect really hard at the start of the series in order to get the series popular enough that he could start to do what he wanted to do. So you get tons of bath scenes, and school measurement days, and "Oh no, you've seen my panties now!" type humor. Given Negi is ten years old, this is a little discomfiting, but at this stage there's little evidence that anyone is serious about things - Nodoka's love for Negi is seen to be mostly a crush, and the one girl we worried about (Ayaka) is shown to be seeing Negi as more of a little brother replacement than anything else. So the fanservice tends to mostly be "look, I can draw all varieties of naked girls!" type service. As the series goes on, this gets less and less, but it never entirely goes away - these days, he tends to write normally for about a dozen chapters, then toss in a full chapter of nothing but nudity to counterbalance.

In the end, I am glad that we're getting this re-release, and that it will apparently continue through at least Volume 9. Negima may have started out as nothing more than Harry Potter meets Love Hina, but Akamatsu has crafted quite the epic fantasy adventure, and though he has not quite fulfilled his promise of making all 31 girls important to the story, he's come damn close. Negima fans, obviously, should get this. Folks curious about the series should as well, but just be aware - the first third of this omnibus is terrible. It gets much better.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sunshine Sketch Volume 5

By Ume Aoki. Released in Japan as "Hidamari Sketch" by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Wow, has it really been 18 months since the last Sunshine Sketch? This is what happens when you catch up with Japan, kids. Especially for a series like this, where there's only 8 pages a month anyway. Thankfully, the volume proves to be worth the wait, provided you like the sort of thing it delivers.

It bears repeating: if you don't like 4-koma strips starring cute girls who don't really do anything, this isn't the series for you. There is some plot and character advancement here if you're looking deeply for it, but otherwise you'd barely notice it. It's situation normal otherwise, as we get the wacky adventures of students at a high school with a track devoted to art. Unlike GA: Art Design Class, this series is not all that interested in teaching readers anything about art itself, so we mostly just see it in the context of Yuno sketching, or Miyako making giant clay hands. The comedic situations come mostly from the cast and their apartment life.

Vague things happen here: Yuno visits her parents in her hometown; Sae and Hiro go on a class trip (and talk about getting ready for entrance exams); we meet Yoshinoya's brother and nephew, and learn that she's just as flaky outside of classes (not that this comes as a surprise). And the new cast members from last volume are integrated slowly into the main cast, so we find out about Nori's kansai dialect (that she conceals most of the time) and Nazuna's ability to be homesick even when this is her actual hometown.

It's hard to write a Sunshine Sketch review without mentioning the yuri tease, which is still present and correct here. The new girls are fascinated with the size of Miyako's breasts (and Yuno tries to join in, but holds back at the last minute). Meanwhile, Sae and Hiro are still the perfect couple who aren't, with Sae saying things like "We'll always be together" and saying that she'll get a license so that she can drive Hiro everywhere. It's fairly clear from these episodes that Hiro seems to be more aware of her feelings than clueless Sae, and is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sadly, it's not happening anytime soon. In the meantime, we must content ourselves with Miyako imagining Sae (in a suit!) and Hiro as a couple, crying at Yuno's future wedding.

Sunshine Sketch continues to be a very niche series, mostly for people who like seeing cute girls do cute things and don't mind the fact that it has no plot and little forward movement at all. This particular series also has the hurdle of the art, as Ume Aoki's super-deformed style takes some getting used to, to say the least. Of course, given the massive success of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which she did character designs for, perhaps it will get more popular!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 5

By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa. Released in Japan as "Toshokan Sensou: Love & War" by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

It can sometimes be difficult in reviews of this title not to get political. I try not to let my own views come out too much on this blog, but sometimes you read things like Love & War 5 and it becomes impossible not to take sides. In fact, part of the reason for this is that the government forces in the manga are such cartoon bad guys. While I appreciate the fact that we're showing a dystopian future where the ruling party violently censures its own citizens, the sheer malice of everything can sometimes lead one to think that subtlety is completely out the window. I hope in future volumes we see, if not a balanced argument (hard to do when you're making a point like this), at least a bone or two thrown in that direction.

This volume starts with the wrapup of Iku's parents coming to visit from the previous volume. It's the weak point of the volume, and nothing happens here that we couldn't have predicted after reading the start. Iku's father clearly is aware of her real occupation, and just as clearly is not going to let on that he knows. Luckily, the next arc is another serious one, this time focusing on Komaki, Dojo's smiling friend who's the sensible, advice-giving character (male side). We are introduced to Marie, a girl who knew Komaki from when he was in high school and she elementary school. She is now both a high-school student and deaf, and the choice of books that he offers her to cheer up, along with her feelings for him (and his repressed feelings for her) end up causing big problems.

The romance itself reads a little awkwardly - Japan loves its February/May romances far more than the West, and so we have another girl in love with someone 10 years older than she is. It's handled fairly reasonably here, though, and I was amused at Iku's shoujo romance guessing of Marie's feelings actually being right on the money. We don't genuinely get into Komaki's head here, but it's made clear from flashbacks and what he goes through under torture what his feelings for Marie are. But strong point of the arc is with Iku and Dojo, though, as always. Dojo insists that she not get Marie involved, because Komaki wouldn't want her caught up in this. Which is true, but also leads to an analysis of what it's like to be on the other side of that equation. After the situation is resolved, Iku is rather upset to realize that if she and Dojo were in the same situation, he too would have demanded she not be told, and that he suffer alone rather than 'hurt' her.

This chapter, by the way, does have the funniest gag of the volume, regarding the excuse Iku uses when she leaves the library to go get Marie. Her blunt reply to Dojo had me in stitches.

There';s two side stories here as well, the first involving grumpy Tezuka and Iku's efforts to take a picture of him smiling for her friends who crush on him (and failing miserably), and the second regarding a fancy dress party where Iku and Dojo are being bodyguards. She catches a suspect, but ruins her bodyguard-type suit in the process, so the household staff (who are very grateful, and also clearly want to play 'dress up') but her in a gorgeous ballgown and send her back out there. Iku, being your standard shoujo tomboy, has no idea how gorgeous she is, and finds the whole thing very awkward. Dojo, meanwhile, is poleaxed at her looks, and also now having to deal with other men hitting on her.

There's no real plot advancement here, as is typical in an open-ended shoujo manga that will clearly end with a declaration of love, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. As always, we get politically-tinged action and repressed romance in a nice little package. (Oh yes, and check out that picture on the back cover - rrowr!)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Manga the week of 6/29

Last week was hefty, so this week's lightness is probably a good thing. It does mean a possibility of the rest of Kodansha's June hitting with Viz's July, though. And while the rest of the world is enjoying volume 1 of Wandering Son, for once Fantagraphics is being screwed by Diamond, and we still aren't seeing it in comic shops. Hopefully soon.

On the bright side, we see a few more Tokyopop titles. For those asking, these are coming into comic shops via Diamond Distributors. I don't know if they will arrive at Amazon or Right Stuf. I also don't know if you will be able to order them after the fact, as opposed to pre-ordering them. That said, we get a 3rd volume of AiON, the new shonen manga from the creator of Chibi Vampire; the 8th volume of Samurai Harem from Shonen Champion; the 21st volume of shonen gag comedy Sgt. Frog; and the 3rd comedy of sweet coming of age shoujo The Stellar Six of Gingacho. And .hack fans will want to know that the 4th novel of .hack//whatever the heck it is is also coming out.

There's also the Moon and Blood manga, the collaboration between Nao Yazawa of Wedding Peach fame, as well as a new reissue of an old volume of Oh My Goddess; Volume 18 to be precise.

So, see what interests you here, and pick up what you couldn't afford to get this week.