Saturday, October 30, 2010

Manga the week of 11/3

First week of the month, so must be Viz! Well, mostly.

Certainly the title that caught my eye the most is the manga biography of Che Guevara, which Penguin Books is putting out. Unlike most faux-manga bios, this seems to have actual Japanese artists. If you like Che Guevara, check this out! (How often do I get to type that?)

Bandai has another 4-koma volume of Lucky Star coming out. And DMP has Bloody Kiss tonight, which seems to feature yaoi vampires, making it the most licenseable title in the history of the world.

And Viz. New Gintama is always welcome, this one wrapping up the long arc with the cursed otaku sword. New Bakuman will likely give me mixed feelings, but I'll read it anyway. Special A and Crown of Love put out their final volumes, though I think everybody but me dropped SA a while back. There's also new Otomen, hopefully with more Ryo after that last cliffhanger, and new Kimi ni Todoke, which continues the arc focused on Chizuru.

As for debuts, I'm very interested in Genkaku Picasso, a title from the author of Short Cuts, which sounds vaguely disturbing. Though possibly not as disturbing as the cover to Kurozakuro, a new Shonen Sunday title which will not eat you if you buy it, despite those teeth. And a new shoujo series, The Story of Saiunkoku, comes from Kadokawa's Asuka magazine, and no doubt has an anime tie-in or two already.

What's interesting you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dragon Girl Omnibus 1

By Toru Fujieda. Released in Japan by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Princess. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Toru Fujieda is one of those manga artists who's been around for some time. In the 1990s she was working at Sony Magazines, putting out short shoujo under their imprint. Then in the 2000s she moved to Akita Shoten, and has been releasing fun, medium-length shoujo series in their magazine Princess. One of her previous works, Oyayubihime Infinity, was released over here by CMX, and now we have the Ouendan-loving manga Dragon Girl, which Yen is releasing in 2 giant omnibuses, each covering 2 1/2 volumes of manga.

Yen has a lot of helpful translation notes (which are at the end of each 'volume' in Japanese, slightly awkward for the reader, and make me wonder if the omnibus decision was last-minute), but doesn't actually get into the concept of ouendan, which may be unfamiliar to readers here. 'Male cheerleaders' doesn't really describe the culture and history of the thing, and they aren't really much like female cheerleaders at all, something which is pointed out in this volume. However, they do have similar goals. You can read more here.

Into this school comes Rinna Aizen, a tall, athletic, overly enthusiastic girl whose father was king of all ouendan at this school. It's just recently gone co-ed, so she can finally pursue her dream of following in her dad's footsteps (and also meet the cute boy who encouraged her years ago). This despite the presence of numerous obstacles in the form of high school boys: the leader of the club today, who wants to stay traditional; the unemotional pretty boy who ignores her; the boy who inspired her years ago, who now seems to have become a delinquent; and above all, the evil Class President, who seems to enjoy torturing her because that's what he's like.

Yes, in case you hadn't guessed, for all of its focus on cheering clubs and high school drama, what we have here is a reverse harem series. This is actually one of its strengths, as we're halfway through the manga with this omnibus and I'm still not entirely certain who she'll end up with. Most reverse harems (or regular male-lead harems, for that matter) give a large pile of love interests short shrift while concentrating on the boy you know the heroine will pick eventually. But honestly, we could go in one of three directions here with no real logical leaps. Impressive.

To be honest, a lot of this is shoujo paint-by-numbers. If you're looking for shocking twists or new variations on a standard theme, you're not going to find them here. That said, this is a fantastic manga for me, as it pushes a lot of MY buttons. Rinna is exactly my sort of manga heroine - tall, strong, loud, a bit dense, and cheerful as the day is long - and seeing her personality slowly win over others is another favorite plotline of mine. Also benefiting the series is the fact that Rinna's immediately given two best female friends (who are almost polar opposites), who help make the reverse harem aspect of the plot slightly less obvious, and give a wall of common sense for Rinna to occasionally run into. Nice to see this in Volume 1, where usually it takes series like Ouran 9 or 10 volumes to do this.

Most of all, Dragon Girl passes my most important test: I really, REALLY want to find out what happens next. After reading it, I went to Yen's site to see when the 2nd and final volume is due out. (Yen says 'Spring', Amazon says February.) It's not the best shoujo in the world, but it's fun, funny, and doesn't offend my sensibilities. That's a winner for me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus Volume 1

By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

First, a brief note on the presentation. Dark Horse's Chobits omnibus was good, and improved on Tokyopop's, but was not, in the end, worthy of buying the same manga a second time. Cardcaptor Sakura had an even higher bar, as Tokyopop released it twice, once early in their history and again in a spiffy, more faithful box set. So Dark Horse needed to go that extra mile to justify buying everything a third time.

They've done so. This manga looks fantastic, one of the best I've seen this entire year. The volume is bigger in size, which shows off CLAMP's gorgeous art style. The paper stock is heavy and fine, and the art reproduced on it shows that Dark Horse weren't kidding when they said it was remastered from CLAMP's originals. The translation seems to involve taking Tokyopop's 2nd edition one and spiffing it up a bit, but then, there wasn't really anything terrible about that version's in the first place. (And yes, Kaho still makes Sakura feel all floaty inside.)

So that's for the people who already know the story. What about those who, for some reason, have never read Cardcaptor Sakura before? Well, you're in for a treat. This is CLAMP firing on all cylinders, giving us cute shoujo with a fantastically likeable strong heroine, great supporting cast, and a clear, magical-girl issue plot that lacks the excessive machinations of later works such as Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. This is just the story of Sakura Kinomoto, a 10-year-old girl who opens a magical book and now finds she has to retrieve a series of magical cards with only the help of her best friend and a magical talking animal.

CLAMP are clearly having fun with the magical girl archetypes, and just jump right into rescuing the cards. The premise is actually quickly given as an afterthought in a Chapter 1 flashback, basically telling the reader 'this is why Sakura can do magic and what she's after, now back to our cute girl'. It works well, and allows CLAMP to take the high fantasy art they had done in Magic Knight Rayearth and X and apply it to a real-world setting. Sakura is a typical 10-year-old girl, especially for shoujo heroines. Athletic yet bad at academics, generally perky, and with a huge crush on her brother's best friend.

Speaking of crushes, one thing that does stick out here is all of the romantic and quasi-romantic pairings. In fact, the one couple that will end up together at the end are the only ones NOT interested in each other here. Sakura and Syaoran are still mostly faced off as rivals here, and Syaoran seems to have far more of an interest in Yukito, the boy Sakura also loves. Which is a shame for both of them, as Yukito is shown to be fairly devoted to Toya, Sakura's brother.

And then there's Tomoyo, Sakura's best friend. She's my favorite character in the manga, getting to be both the sensible advice-giving best friend AND the weird cosplay-loving Sakura-obsessed freak. She definitely gives CLAMP some great costumes to work with, with Sakura appearing in a variety of stunning outfits (most of which make their appearance on the added color pages throughout). She also loves Sakura - and makes it very clear in this volume how she means that, even if they're only 10 years old. "I think we're talking about different kinds of love, Sakura," she says when Sakura cheerfully announces she loves her back. Tomoyo knows that Sakura's unaware of her interest, but to her credit doesn't back off - she knows Sakura's crush on Yukito isn't going to happen, so presses her love whenever she can. Of course, we also meet her mother, who seems to have paralleled this in her devotion to Sakura's mother, so we can likely see where this is going to end.

That said, there's also the odd couple of Rika and Terada-sensei, which mostly just makes me sigh. Like Tomoyo's love for Sakura, this was toned down a bit for the anime, which skipped the part where Terada-sensei actually gives the 10-year-old girl an engagement ring. I suppose this falls under the heading of 'I am not the audience for this sort of thing', and certainly for the 6-8 year old girls that read Nakayoshi, the hot teacher you have a crush on returning your love must be a great fantasy. But it still sort of creeps me out.

Cardcaptor Sakura is one of CLAMP's masterpieces, an exciting, cute, and direct shoujo story that uses all the old magical girl cliches but never feels tired or repetitive. If you were to ask me which CLAMP series I'd take to a desert island, this would probably be the one. And this volume is an excellent starter, with Dark Horse providing a fantastic re-introduction for those who may have first met these characters in Tsubasa. Anyone who likes shoujo should read this.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Manga the week of 10/27

You thought the last week of the month might give you a break? HAH! Tokyopop and Del Rey team up to double team you!

Oh yes, and Dark Horse as a new volume of the Shinji Ikari spinoff manga that simply doesn't appeal to me, mostly as I hate the 'Episode 26' universe and thought that it was a parody when it appeared in the anime.

As for Del Rey, all of these volumes will be 'final volumes' from Del Rey manga itself, but only Hell Girl, which gets its last 3 volumes put out in one giant omnibus, is actually over (bar its sequel, Hell Girl R). The others are all entering limbo land, hopefully to be rescued soon by Kodansha USA. I say hopefully as there's some great stuff here.

A new Mahou Sensei Negima, which has the scene the yuri fans have been waiting for forever. There's also the second volume of Code: Breaker, a shonen series I was pleasantly surprised by this summer. On the shoujo end, we get an omnibus of Vols. 22-24 of The Wallflower, which I love for its wacky humor and characters, although many hate its lack of romantic payoff. There's the 2nd volume of potential dark magical girl series Fairy Navigator Runa. And there's a debut, Arisa, from the creator of Kitchen Princess.

And now we come to Tokyopop, who have 3 new debuts. Summoner Girl, a cute shonen series. The Stellar Six of Gingacho, a cute shoujo series. And Saving Life, an ecchi harem series. Something for all walks of life! They have new volumes of Happy Cafe and V.B. Rose, which makes me incredibly happy. And they have new .hack, Maria Holic, and Asu no Yoichi, which I'm sure makes people other than me incredibly happy. They also wrap up their Gravitation reprint with Vols. 11 and 12.

And, most interesting of all, they have Hakusensha's How to Draw Shojo Manga book, with contributions from many of their star artists!

What interests you this week?

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan Volume 1

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo. Released in Japan as "Suzumiya Haruhi-chan no Yuutsu" by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The Haruhi franchise has always had one big problem, which is that the light novel and anime releases are generally (Endless Eight aside) fantastic, whereas the manga is merely a serviceable adaptation. The few places the manga has generally had time to shine is where the author is allowed to do his own occasional side-story original chapter.

That's why I was so pleased to see Yen license this. It's a 4-koma gag manga, based off of the original series, which runs in Shonen Ace alternately with the regular Haruhi manga. And being a gag manga, it's not restricted in any way, either by characterization (Yuki wouldn't do this!) or by plot. The result is pure fanservice in many ways, being essentially the artist reaching out and pushing as many fan buttons as he can, but given this is Haruhi Suzumiya, he has a lot to work with.

I won't lie, this isn't fantastic. The art is just as average as the regular Haruhi manga, but in a different way. And as with all 4-koma mangas, some gags simply don't work. But it's funny. Gleefully taking apart its source, this is a manga willing to have Haruhi accidentally roll down a flight of stairs, or have Ryoko come back as a miniature super-deformed version of herself. The essential thrust of the characterization is still there... Haruhi makes unreasonable demands, Kyon makes a sarcastic retort, Mikuru twitches and is tortured, and Koizumi smiles enigmatically.

Well, there is one glorious exception. Yuki Nagato is still her deadpan self, mostly. But then the artist does a gag comic which shows her playing an Ero Game instead of reading, and you can see the lightbulb go off over his head. Suddenly the idea of Yuki the otaku is born, and it leads to wonderful places. This is then combined with her interaction at her apartment with the tiny Asakura, where Yuki not only gets a well-deserved chance to be the boke in a tsukkomi routine, but actually has to control her laughter at some points. Mostly as seeing Asakura frustrated is just too adorable.

(Yuki, by the way, is also the star of a second spinoff manga, The Disappearance of Yuki Nagato, which runs in Kadokawa's seinen Young Ace. This one takes her 4th movie characterization and spins it into a light romantic comedy. I suspect Yen will license it as well once it has enough volumes.)

It's hard, as with many subjective 4-koma, to describe why I enjoyed this so much. And it's possible that the humor may not win over others. And yes, just as with its parent manga, the anime is even better, although there isn't the same major drop-off, just a minor one. But really, it's Haruhi with tons and tons of gags, super-deformed madness, and fun. Pandering of the best sort, the type that doesn't also offend the sensibilities. Heck, the light novel author in the afterward says he wishes his own series was more like this. Even if you've avoided the original manga, you should check this out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seiho Boys High School! Volume 2

By Kaneyoshi Izumi. Released in Japan as "Men's Kou" by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Comic ("Betsucomi"). Released in North America by Viz.

(This review contains a major spoiler for this volume.)

Well, that was a bummer. Don't get me wrong, a beautifully told, well-written bummer. I enjoyed every minute of it. But dang. Thank goodness the volume ends with a wacky romantic farce, even though it pales in comparison to what came before.

Maki's on the cover of this one, and indeed the bulk of the volume is about him, as we discover the backstory that we mysteriously never got in Volume 1. Clearly the artist had been holding back as it was going to take most of a volume to tell - I wonder if this was the ending she had in mind for a short series? (Most shoujo writers are told to plan 'short, medium, and long' endings for any series they create, so that if a series isn't popular it can easily wrap up, and if it is, there's resolution on the horizon.)

Things start off with some prospective new guys touring the school. One of them brought his amazingly cute sister, who sets about trying to score free food and otherwise use her looks to hit on guys. She's drawn immediately to Maki, the stereotypical nice guy, and indeed he seems to be going after her as well, but Rui notes that it's a facade. Then, of course, the girl makes the mistake of bringing up Maki's ex-girlfriend. Cue Maki's rage.

We then get the story of how Maki and Erika, the ex in question, met in middle school. It's my favorite part of the volume, mostly as we see how fantastic they would be as a couple. Maki is determined to be nice to Erika no matter what, but he's not perfect - we see his frustration with her actions, and we also see that a lot of his 'dogged nice guy' persona is a mask that's easily slipped on. And Erika is fantastic, being a grumpy loner who will not be dealing with any fools today, thank you. Maki is relentless in getting her to open up, and when she does, we smile.

And then she dies. And I was sort of hoping that it was a fake death, one of those 'my parents told you I was dead so they could break us up' things, but no, this is far too gut-wrenching for that. This is the best part of the book, with Maki reading, finally, the book that Erika had given him before she was killed and showing her message to him. The narrative notes that this isn't a sad story, as it's a story of love that is returned, but frankly it's hard to convince yourself of that. And then the artist draws her as a spirit (and later as an angel in the end comic) to show us, yes, really dead. Sigh.

So clearly, if Maki gets together with anyone, it's not going to be until Volume 8 or so. And it probably won't be with Miyaji, the girl we meet in the last chapter who seems to combine bad luck and desperation in equal measure. She's dealing with the aftermath of a situation where she and her friend were both in love with the same guy, but the friend admitted her feelings first, and won. And while Miyaji is happy for them, it makes things very awkward. So... better find a fake boyfriend! After the serious previous chapters, this comes off as even more goofy than it should, and I groaned at the predictable ending, but Miyaji seems like a lot of fun, and it'll be nice seeing another female in this mostly male cast.

I'd noted in Volume 1's review how wildly variable the series was, and Volume 2 is much, much better. The series has found its footing (as many shoujo series do once they realize they're going to BE a series), and Maki's past was definitely worth the wait. I look forward to the next volume of this.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stepping on Roses Volume 3

By Rinko Ueda. Released in Japan as "Hadashi De Bara Wo Fume" by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Margaret. Released in North America by Viz.

I have to hand it to Rinko Ueda, she's done what Miki Aihara and Kanoko Sakurakoji were unable to do: get me addicted to a complete and total soap opera of a book. This SHOULD have been the point at which I dropped this series - I even predicted this when I fist bought it - and yet something about this story compels me to keep reading.

We pick up right where we left off, with Sumi having run away with Nozomu. She pretty much begins to have second thoughts IMMEDIATELY, worrying what Soichiro will think, and she also begins to notice that her special guy is perhaps not the sanest of men. Which is only confirmed when he ties her to a post and puts his best crazy face on. (Ueda-san, btw, really knows how to draw a good crazy face. It's not over the top in the way Higurashi popularized, but the eyes and smile are just wide enough so that you know this person is disturbed.)

Soichiro is bound to come to the rescue, of course, and he does. One other thing that I noticed might help my reading of this manga is that it was in Margaret rather than Betsuma, and so its page count is not as high per chapter (there's 6 in this book, as opposed to the usual shoujo chapter count of 4 from the Betsu titles). This actually helps to keep things pacey - everything at the start moves at a breakneck speed, and even when things calm down in the 2nd half there are no pauses or lulls. It's as if the artist knows the moment things slow down, people might start thinking about how ridiculous this all is.

Soichiro in this book has pretty much completed his switch from complete jerk to a mere male tsundere. His frustration with Sumi for just being sweet and loving and so gosh-darned-sexy is amusing, but not half as amusing as when he finds out that Sumi, due to her brother's hideous past gambling, is a shogi master! Not only is this terrific characterization for Sumi, showing how much of her so-called 'dumb' is a result of her environment and lack of resources, but hey, smart girls are that much sexier. Look at his face when she clobbers the shogi expert at the end. It's a wonder he waited till they were in the hall before he kissed her.

I was asking on Twitter for suggestions as to why I like this story, and someone mentioned the art. It really is well-done, showing that Ueda-san is not just another newbie artist. The guys are handsome, the girls are pretty, the action scenes don't look hideously unrealistic... the art attracts you to the story, as opposed to simply being the vehicle by which it is told. Speaking of the art, I laughed seeing one of the sidebars where Ueda shows us a rough draft of a cover page, featuring Sumi completely naked (with hair covering appropriately, of course) bound by rose vines (I note the sketch is ridiculously sexy, despite the bondage theme). She notes she suspected Margaret's editors would balk. Ya think? You want Sho-Comi, honey, it's next door.

So yes, that might be the reason why I find Stepping on Roses to be addicting rather than off-putting. The art, the pacing, the heroine's characterization... all of them are just that much better than the other examples of this form that I've read. Put it together, and it's the difference between a manga that's just good, and one that's very good.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dengeki Daisy Volume 2

By Kyousuke Motomi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Comic ("Betsucomi"). Released in North America by Viz.

Well, the 2nd volume of Dengeki Daisy pretty much gave me exactly what I asked for. There's not QUITE as much humor as in the first volume, and the more serious plotline is coming to the foreground, but this is certainly no We Were There, and the sweet, goofy relationship between Teru and Tasuku is still something we really want to see happen... but know isn't going to anytime soon.

Even better, Teru is smartening up, and is not quite the same naive girl we saw going to a love hotel to 'rescue' her classmate in Vol. 1. Halfway through the book, we get the standard 'come alone and don't tell anyone' plot, with admonitions from both Tasuku and Riko to NOT do that, and call them before she goes anywhere. Cut to her showing up, alone, to talk to her blackmailer. Not again, we groan. But no, this time she actually went and called them both before she went! It's especially interesting as Teru sees it as her going down a dark path, and being less trusting. Whereas I think Tasuku and the others would call it growing up.

Tasuku's desire for Teru (and it's pretty well shown to be a strong desire, without ever becoming explicit) is another reason to pick this up. He's already naturally conflicted by being older than Teru, who's still in school; as well as by his past with her brother, and we also have his dual identity as Daisy, and trying to avoid having her discover that. Really, he has enough psychological issues for several volumes, which is good, as Dengeki Daisy is 8 volumes and still running in Japan. But at least he and Teru know of their own feelings for each other in their own minds, even if they're light-years away from saying it. This is a refreshing change from clueless obliviousness or hardcore denial.

I do wonder if it will get more explicit later. Dengeki Daisy is a Shogakukan title, which already gives it a 75% chance of more sex than a similar title would for Shueisha. :D

The plot thickens in this 2nd volume, and we get intriguing pieces of the backstory, including finding that Teru's late brother may not be as sweet and wonderful as we'd expected. Riko is also a nice addition to the cast, giving Teru a mentor figure to discuss things with, while being another link to Tasuku's past (and getting carte blanche to kick him in the head, something Teru can't quite manage yet). There's a lot going on in this title besides the cute romance. I'm very pleased Viz has picked it up; one of their better new acquisitions.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chobits Omnibus Volume 2

By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Young Magazine. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

Well, I have to admit, they got me thinking about the concept of sexbots. Which I presume was one of the things CLAMP wanted to do with this title. There's a whole lot of philosophizing in this 2nd volume of Chobits, and it would be interminable (it verges on it already) were it not for the fact that the quartet do make me succeed in pondering whatever it is the characters talk about, at length, in the 2nd half of this series, be it the nature of humanity, what love really means, or simply how much of this is a metaphor about otaku and their love for toys.

As I noted in the review of the first omnibus, this was an experiment for CLAMP, their first seinen series geared towards young men, and as such it's a bit of a flawed success. I think they realized their strengths and weaknesses, as their 2nd, far more successful seinen series was xxxHOLIC, a series that may appear in Young Magazine but is clearly meant to have lots of female crossover readership (notably in the relationship between Watanuki and Doumeki). Chobits really doesn't invite female readers as much, and even though the fanservice lessens in the 2nd half, it's still there. (This is especially true of Dark Horse's version, which has about 30 color pictures at the end, mostly featuring Chi in various innocent-yet-provocative poses.)

The buildup to the climax of the book is pretty good, balancing out between long-winded explanations and trying to figure Chi out. You get a bit frustrated with Hideki for not realizing what he feels for Chi sooner, but honestly he's much quicker about this over the course of 8 volumes than most harem leads would be. And I do wish that while Chi is evolving by leaps and bound, that we'd see a little more of her moving beyond the childlike baby-talk Chi we got for most of the book. But then, having her talk like an adult would likely make the ending even more uncomfortable than it is.

Looking at the internet, I see I am not alone in finding the ending of the Chobits manga somewhat annoying. The anime chose to alter the ending as well. I suspect CLAMP were deliberately going for these feelings of irritation and discomfort, forcing the typical Young Magazine reader to think of what the relationship he has with his otaku fantasy is. But in the context of the story, I don't think it works. First, though the placement of Chi's 'reset switch' and subsequent need to avoid sex make sense before she finds Hideki, as her parents and sister want to avoid having her going down the road of anyone wanting a quick lay, there's no sense whatsoever that Hideki is like this. What's more, everyone agrees this is the case. And yet Hideki is explicitly told, "You win, you two are in love - but you have to stay chaste forever, as if you have sex Chi will 'die'."

I think this makes me MORE uncomfortable with them as a couple. It gives their love that unreal feeling, making her seem more like an object than we otherwise would. Which is not what you want to see from a series that's been showing Persocoms having real, human feelings the last 8 volumes. Secondly, I think sex is a natural part of a loving relationship, and that denying it is denying part of what does make people human... or indeed a Persocom. Chi may never reproduce, but that's not the only reason people have sex. And honestly, once Freya and Chitose have determined that Hideki is indeed Chi's one true love, there's no real reason they can't do a quick redesign and move her reset button elsewhere. Chi may be more special than the Persocoms used for some as sexbots, but she doesn't have to be the Virgin Mary.

So Chobits certainly made me think, and in that CLAMP succeeded. But I don't think it's a series I'll go back to over and over again the way I do Card Captor Sakura or Reyearth... or heck, even X. CLAMP try to have their cake and eat it too here, presenting Chi as a fetishistic fantasy object (just look at every color insert, not to mention the numerous nude pics), but one that's look but don't touch. Which unfortunately reminds me of today's modern-day otaku, decrying any cute anime female who is shown to have had a boyfriend before. Chobits is a cute love story with a dash of creepy. Sadly, the creepy is what stays with me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Manga the week of 10/20

There's enough manga out in the third week of October that it reminds me of the bad old days when Viz and Tokyopop used to release 25-30 titles in the same week. This time, though, it's Yen getting into the act, as they drop 14 new manga on us.

First up, though, Dark Horse has Volume 1 of the new Card Captor Sakura in its new omnibus edition. The first of what appears to be four planned volumes, this will have Vol. 1-3 of the original shoujo classic. Even the grumpiest of CLAMP fans, weary of their hijinks, tend to love this one to death. And rightfully so, it's fantastic. (It's also rated 12+, which makes me cry, but given that I think this is the volume with THAT engagement ring, I can sort of see it...)

Fans of the just-released Baseball Heaven might be interested in a new yaoi title from DMP, Double Cast, which has the same artist. And there's also the Wings title Alice 101st, Wings being Shinshokan's 'non yaoi titles for yaoi fangirls' shoujo magazine.

Vertical has the adorable Chi's Sweet Home, while Viz has the gritty samurai drama Vagabond. Both, of course, run in the same magazine. Viz also has the Vampire Knight fanbook, telling you more than you ever want to know about Yuki Cross and her collection of vampire hangers-on. March Story is a Korean writer/artist who is being serialized in the Japanese Sunday Gene-X, so will inspire label debate. And more Kingyo Used Books, which will never get the blogosphere chattering, but is relaxing and makes me nostalgic for old manga titles I will never see here.

And then there's Yen. For yaoi fans, there's a new Black Butler (not technically yaoi, but come on...), and Ugly Duckling's Love Revolution is a reverse harem. For the guys, Omamori Himari is a plain old normal fanservicey harem manga. We get another volume of the Haruhi Suzumiya manga, and the first volume in its much, much better gag spinoff, Haruhi-chan. We get the first of a new 2-volume Higurashi set, the first one not adapted from one of the games - it's an original to the manga storyline. And intriguingly, we get a 500-page omnibus of a manga from the magazine Princess, Dragon Girl. This is by the author of CMX's Oyayubihime Infinity (which also came from Princess), and involves a female Ouendan! Only in Japan would a female cheerleader be an intriguing and unusual idea...

Cross Game Volume 1

By Mitsuru Adachi. Released in Japan in 3 separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

It feels like this has been a very long wait. Not just since Viz announced they'd licensed the manga, but long before that. Despite the presence of Short Program here several years ago, there was always a lack of Adachi here in North America. I imagine many manga fans, reading the back pages biography talking about him being one of the two artists most associated with Shonen Sunday (the other being his contemporary, rival and friend Rumiko Takahashi) are blinking and going, "Really?"

Yes, really. And now with Cross Game out you may have a chance to see why. The first volume (that is, the first third of this volume) sets things up nicely. A bratty but likeable young protagonist, whose main fault seems to be his inability to apply himself. His cute girl next door not-quite-girlfriend, who clearly already has his life planned out ahead of him, whether he likes it or not. And her younger sister, who's a grumpy but athletic tomboy who resents our hero for taking up all of her sister's time. A cute coming-of-age story with a potential love triangle, it's clear that Wakaba has Ko wrapped around her little finger, and it'd take a lot to change that.

Then we get 'a lot' at the end of Volume 1. Without spoiling, I will note that I was worried the impact would be lost coming in the middle of Viz's thick omnibus, but my worry appeared unfounded. Ko's reaction is picture perfect, and the whole thing shows Adachi's craft in drawing huge wellsprings of emotions from small, realistic details.

Cue Part 2 of the manga (the chapters even reset), and a jump ahead 4 years later, to where Ko is about to enter high school. He's still pretty unmotivated - at least in public - and Aoba is still a grumpy tomboy, but the rest of the world has grown up a bit, and baseball is on the horizon. (Note: this being a Viz shonen manga, there will be no footnotes or explanations, so if you don't know what the Koushien is, go here.) Ko joins the team, but is relegated to the second squad, mostly as he hides his talent.

I can't help but note that Aoba notes she has no faith in Ko to take charge of his own destiny, and in many ways she has the right idea. Ko can be so laid-back he risks being uninvolving, but that's also what makes him so intriguing. (Someone I know describes Ko and Aoba as 'Ranma and Akane on lithium', which is not quite accurate, but...) There's only one time we see him get upset in the entire manga, and it's rather startling; he grabs Aoba's collar after she says something unthinking to her younger sister Momiji, and looks like he might even hit her, but instead backs off. It helps show that Ko DOES get upset, he's just not naturally demonstrative.

In fact, Ko and Aoba almost gender reverse the usual manga types, with Aoba being the one trying to figure out what Ko is thinking, and his own emotions and needs being hard to read and fairly well buried. Their relationship is fascinating, not being like brother and sister (Ko gets that from Momiji, who seems to have become the sister he bonds with the most), but something almost deeper than that; it's noted how similar Ko and Aoba are.

One other thing I wanted to note is the old-school 4th-wall breaking that occurs throughout the manga. It calms down a bit as the manga continues, but will never go away entirely. Ko hawks the re-release of Touch, Adachi's early 80s baseball classic; his friends read H3 and H4, parodies of another baseball manga H2 which Adachi did in the mid 1990s; mentions Short Program, which is the only one of these to be released in North America, if long out of print; and also discusses Katsu, the boxing manga Adachi had written right before this. Adachi himself cameos to lampshade some things or make a bad gag; and characters speak to the reader and talk about their character introductions. This is a habit of Adachi's (Takahashi used to do it as well; check out any volume of Urusei Yatsura), one I think they both got from Osamu Tezuka, who used to do things like this as well. It can take getting used to, but I found it cute.

Cross Game is not the type of shonen manga we've seen here before. Most of the sports manga that has come out here has been from Shueisha's Jump line, and features a lot of manly tears, screaming, and overreactions. Sunday's sports manga tends to be subtler (and just as long; H2 ran for over 30 volumes, and another Sunday baseball manga, Major by Takuya Mitsuda, ran for over 70), but no less involving. Viz noted that Cross Game started slow (and yes, also that it likely wasn't a NYT bestseller - I'd love to be proved wrong on that) and decided to release this 17-volume series as 8 omnibuses instead. It helps here, as you get further drawn into the story, which picks up speed once the manga jumps ahead 4 years. Even if you aren't a baseball fan, I'd still recommending getting Cross Game, showing Adachi at the height of his creative powers, and dealing with 'growing up' issues in a way that appeals to young boys just as much as Super Saiyans or ninjas. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

One Piece Volume 55

By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

Another volume of One Piece where there's just so much happening I don't even know where to begin. Let's try to hit the high points. (This review will contain spoilers for the volume.)

First off, Luffy quickly ends up battling Magellan. And gets his ass handed to him. Not since Smoker have we seen Luffy so defeated, only here there's no Dragon to interrupt things. This doesn't feel like a temporary setback, mostly as Magellan doesn't feel like a Big Bad - he's a jailer trying to do his job, even if his job is sending Ace to be executed. And so Luffy tries all his attacks, and is simply poisoned to near-death. It's awe-inspiring.

Luckily, Mister 2 finds he cannot desert Luffy in his time of need, and impersonates Hannyabal to rescue him and try to get him to safety. Which involves a lot of wolves and ice-covered forests, but they eventually get there... New Kama Land. This leads us to our next big character introduction, that of Ivankov. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised at his appearance. Given Oda based a villain off of Eminem, it goes without saying that he'd base a hero off of Tim Curry. Sort of. And with the Hormone Fruit, we get another Devil Fruit which is both scarily appropriate and utterly ridiculous.

Two more things here: First, even though the transgenders and transvestites in this volume are clearly treated with an air of over the top comedy, it's also clear that Oda has no disrespect for them at all, and they are in fact rebel heroes. I like this. Second, at one point Ivankov transforms an angry radical trying to kill him into a cute girl, showing he can switch people's genders. This idea took Japanese and North American fandom by storm, leading to fake spoilers where we see female Luffy ready to break out of Impel Down, to Oda responding further in Volume 56. And let's not even get into the 'Crocodile was originally a woman' theories...

Ah yes, Crocodile, aka the reason I put up the spoiler warning. I have to say, Oda loves to delight us with the unexpected, and nothing is quite as unexpected as perhaps the most popular Big Bad teaming up with our heroes, even if it's just for a chance to get at Whitebeard. Unlike the cover page arcs, showing the minor villains learning the error of their ways, Crocodile is not particularly sorry or repentant - he just wants a fight, and freedom. Luffy is understandably unmoved, but Ivankov points out they need all the big guns they can get - and he's right. Even better, this also means they free Jimbei, the Worlord and Fish-man who was imprisoned by the World Government for not going along with their plans.

And with this, we prepare to bust out of Impel Down. But that will have to wait for the next exciting installment of One Piece! Coming in February!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Maid-sama! Volume 6

By Hiro Fujiwara. Released in Japan as "Kaichō wa Maid-sama!" by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I'd actually forgotten about the initial premise of Maid-sama!, so it's refreshing to see it brought up again in the first chapter. The premise being that this formerly all-male school is now co-ed, but the boys vastly outnumber the girls, and are, well, high school boys. And so this chapter shows that they need to clean their club room, as it's gotten completely disgusting. Misaki and the others try to give a little bit of carrot by making them riceballs for snacks, but it's mostly stick, with Misaki's rage powering things. (Misaki's riceballs being round shiny globes remind me of Special A, again, and the two series really do share a lot of gags.) Sadly, we get very little Usui teasing, and it's the weakest chapter in the book.

But don't worry, we get a new rival on the horizon, who will carry the next three stories. Yes, shoujo fans, it's the long lost childhood friend, now all grown up! Hinata is the 'aw, shucks' country boy type, and once he realizes that Misaki was his childhood sweetheart, he tries his best to win her. Which really pisses Usui off, mostly as Misaki, being essentially a nice person, and also totally oblivious, won't simply tell Hinata to go away. This leads to a great moment where Usui, never one for hiding his feelings for Misaki, notes point blank to her that he's jealous. Cue blush.

Yes, teasing Misaki, aka the reason we read this manga. I have to say, I like tsunderes a lot more when they're a) above the age of 13, and b) strong and dynamic female leads. As Misaki fits both, I can deal with the essential stammering denial. This leads to the best moment of the book, as Usui has watched Misaki deal with Hinata the same way she's dealt with Usui - she regards them both as annoying problem kids she constantly has to watch out for. But when he presses her on it, she blushes more, knowing what he means, and indicates that Usui is "MORE trouble". For a manga like this, that's practically a confession.

This is very much of a snack manga, and will never wow you with its deep themes or amazing plotting. It's shoujo-by-numbers. But the numbers are really pretty and the leads are dynamic, and there's a great helping of humor. Lately Maid-sama! has been on the NYT bestseller lists, and it's easy to see why - it's cute romance with a healthy pile of humor.

Monday, October 11, 2010

NYCC/NYAF Day 3

The final day of NYCC/AF was much milder and relaxed, and while there was still a crush of people, especially on the anime end of the building, it wasn't the nightmare it was sometimes on Saturday.

After buzzing around the DR (I'll append my swag list at the end of this post), and dropping by Kodansha USA's room to reassure myself that yes indeed, they aren't there, I ducked into the Miyazaki panel. It was well-done, with slides and everything, even if a bit rushed. I think all the panels I saw with cards and slide presentations (as opposed to just sitting and jabbering) felt as if they were pressed for time the entire panel, though their preparation also insured the panels were excellent.

Ducked out early as I had to walk clear over to the other side of the Javits to go to the Archie creators panel. Who decided to make the convention center 6-7 blocks long? In any case, this panel was a lot more informal than the corporate one on Friday, but was just as fun, with lots of discussions of what's coming up next, followed by Q&A. Alex Simmons, one of the Archie writers, hosted both panels and was probably the best moderator I saw all con, keeping things moving despite his notes being rather messy, and with a healthy dose of humor.

I commented on enjoying Archie characters when they show their flaws, and talked about my love of "insane Betty" stories. They all agree that playing up the flaws is what makes them want to write Archie, as otherwise it's just a bunch of nice kids. Dan Parent, who was also on the panel, talked about how much he liked to play up flaws when writing Jughead fighting Veronica. The inevitable 'what's the S on Jughead's shirt stand for' question came up, and it was noted they played with this in several Archie Comics over the years, but only Bob Montana likely knows the answer. Best moments of the panel were the mild-mannered, deadpan replies from Victor Gorelick in the audience, who got more awesome the more I saw of him. Someone asked when we'd see Betty's sister, which flummoxed the writers on the panel. "Betty has a sister?" the asked. "Betty does have a sister," Victor answered. Long pause. "Betty also has a brother." I laughed.

After this, I debated lunch but instead went over to Artist's Alley, where I got a doujinshi that a friend had asked me to look for. Then off to Culinary Manga, Erin's spinoff panel from her unusual manga genres. It was fantastic, not only talking about all the many, MANY cooking manga out now, both licensed and non, but also showing examples of attempting the recipes they have in the back of many volumes, and how hard they are to actually manage. I definitely hope to see more of these at future cons.

That was it for me, even though the con kept going till 5. Back to the New Yorker to get my bags (the room was tiny but otherwise it was quite a decent hotel), then off to an Irish pub for dinner and football watching (eating beer-battered fish and chips while watching the Cowboys self-destruct is something I recommend to anyone), and thence home.

There was not as much news as I had hoped this con, I will admit. What, still no Sailor Moon reprint? Stop teasing! And where was my Durarara!! manga and A Certain Magical Index manga announcements that I was sure in my head Yen would make? (Many things happen in my head that bear no resemblance to reality.) But I hung out with many old friends, met many new ones (introducing yourself by your name and Twitter handle was the hot new thing), and generally had a blast. Can't wait for next year.

Swag list:
November's Betsuhana
A back issue of Evening
Berry Berry 2 & 3 (Banri Hidaka, Hana to Yume)
Moteki 4.5 (from Kodansha's Evening)
Ecce S 3 (aka Kono S wo Miyo!, aka that hypnobutt manga, from Shogakukan's Big Comic Spirits)
Holy Brownie 2 & 3 (from the creator of Excel Saga, Shonen Gahosha's Young King Ours Plus)
Haruka 17 Volume 1 (from Kodansha's Morning)
Hetalia Axis Powers DVD 1
Buddha Volume 1 (Tezuka, ran in Ushio Shuppansha's Comic Tom)

and stuff I got for free:

Black Butler Vol. 3 (Square Enix, GFantasy)
Daniel X (Yen original)
Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (Del Rey proof edition)
Bloodshot by Cherie Priest (Del Rey proof edition)
The Bobo, starring Peter Sellers (1967) (Warner Archive DVD)
The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980) (Warner Archive DVD)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

NYCC/NYAF Day 2

A big, long day at NYCC, where food and relaxation took a backseat to lots and lots of panels.

Started off with Bandai, where I ended up behind one of those fanboys you hear about but it's always surprising to see. "K-on," he muttered to himself. "Come on, K-on. Give us our moe blobs." I swear that's an exact quote. Now I like K-On as well - I was wearing a K-On shirt yesterday, in fact - but come on, Bandai's license of it was a foregone conclusion. What did surprise me was that, after years and years of frustration, Bandai is finally releasing the first Gundam TV series with a Japanese audio track and subtitles. The Suzumiya movie should also be out this spring. Sadly, the rest of the panel fell prey to fanboy mindset for the Q&A, with the crowd asking about other titles they wanted. Guys, if they didn't announce it? They don't have anything to say. These guys don't forget to announce things.

Funimation had the right idea, as they had a slide noting that they will not accept questions like that. Bravo! I don't think they had anything new to announce, but nice trailers for Kaleido Star, Summer Wars, and Eden of the East.

After this was lunch! Yay for food!

Then time for Yen Press. Not a lot of new stuff here, though I was pleased to see that they are going to work with Japan to get the last With the Light stuff the author did before she died and wrap it up with a Volume 8. It's very important to them as it was their first series. They're also doing a new James Patterson adaptation, with art by Svetlana Chmakova, whose Nightschool just finished up. As with Dark Horse, they'd hoped to have more to say, but they're still working on contracts. They did also note that for the digital market, they have the rights to chapters online but not necessarily volumes online. Digital marketing has made the whole licensing process more complicated.

I stayed for Del Rey's SF panel, and was glad I did, as they were giving out advance proofs of Ben Aaronovitch's new urban fantasy novel, Midnight Riot. As a big fan of Ben's work on Doctor Who (he wrote Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988, still possibly the best 7th Doctor story), I was very happy. The panel started with a few manga questions, as the panelists seemed to be unsure if the Kodansha move had been announced. Once that was out of the way, they gave a nice long slideshow showing Del Rey and Spectra's releases for the fall and winter, including new doorstoppers from Connie Willis and Kim Stanley Robinson. They also mocked George RR Martin, which is always fun.

Time for Vertical, who I knew would have two actual manga announcements. Saved for the end, of course. Ed and Yani were in rare form, with Yani in particular noting certain manga grotesqueries he was sure that fans would love. The news here was the announcement of Ningen Konchuuki, which they are releasing as The Book of Human Insects. It ran in Akita Shoten's Play Comic (home of Metro Survive and Ogenki Clinic) in 1970, and is apparently quite striking, in the best Tezuka at Vertical tradition. It will combine the 2 Japanese volumes into 1 hardcover. The other announcement was another Usamaru Furuya title, his newest. It's an adaptation of the novel Ningen Shikkaku, aka No Longer Human, by the legendary Osamu Dazai, and was running in Shinchosha's Comic Bunch. That magazine just folded, but they're apparently starting a new one, and it will finish up in there. It should be 3 volumes long. I've been a Furuya fan since Short Cuts, and know how twisted he can get, so definitely look forward to this.

Got popcorn and a coke to hold the body together, then went to the yaoi and yuri panel, which was excellent, and discussed what gays and lesbians can get out of series that are (in the case of yaoi especially) written by straight women for straight women. Yuri has a broader spectrum than yaoi, mostly as it's not nearly as popular, but still features next to no 'lesbians' in it. Some wonderful discussion all round.

The day ended with another great panel run by Erin Finnegan, and covering unusual manga genres. Lots of weird sports stuff, weird yakuza stuff, weird doctoral stuff, and just plain bizarre. It could easily have gone on for another hour and no one would have complained.

By then I was exhausted and starved, so I grabbed some fast food and went back to the hotel room to watch the Yankees make the Twins their bitch. Again. It gave me a wonderful happy feeling as I went to bed. :) Today there's no Kodansha USA panel, so I think I will browse the show floor, perhaps buy a Hetalia DVD, go to the culinary manga panel at 1-ish, and then the con will end and I can wend my merry way home. Look forward to seeing everyone there one more time!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

NYCC/NYAF Day 1

Got to NYAF about 10:45, and spent about 2 hours walking around the show floor - the glories of a pro pass - before it opened. Talked with Vertical and Media Blasters, as well as the Warner Archive, WB's online movie store. Media Blasters are doing the best they can in this economy. Zetsubou-sensei's on hold right now.

Got to panels about 2 and lurked in Viz's room, which was now TBD. Turned out the staff was unaware the panel had been cancelled - they thought Viz were just late. After I noted that their online schedule had removed it, they cleared us out. Guess you can't lurk in an empty panel room. So I went to a panel on shinigami, which was far more organized and laid out than I'm used to from a con - kudos to the panelist.

After that came the highlight of my day, the Archie industry panel. I wish everyone who has seen other industry panels could be at this one, as it was basically a lesson in exactly what to do. Tremendous enthusiasm, noting their past successes, mentioning future projects, teasing a few things... everyone on the panel looked delighted to be here, bar Victor Gorelick, and even his truculence seemed to alleviate by the end (he's been with Archie for 52 years). Stan Goldberg was also in the audience.

They're doing a new Betty and Veronica series called Betty OR Veronica, which details the girls going to Europe as transfer students, and trying to deal with various things. Archie Comics apparently wants to explore what life would be like as a Betty or a Veronica in the personality sense of the term (you get the feeling their staff is very aware of the online commentary). Kevin Keller's getting a miniseries. They teased the Obama and Palin series, as well as a series dealing with Cheryl Blossom realizing she needs a 'Betty' to be her BFF, the way Betty and Veronica are, and chaos ensues.

They're doing Sonic stuff, and Mega Man stuff. The much-delayed Sonic encyclopedia is much delayed as it's gotten frikkin' HUGE, and they note that the Archie encyclopedia would be after that, and be even bigger. They mentioned their digital comics, and noted that they found it actually increased print interest. They were all personable, and had good answers for everything. Most of all, you sense they knew how to run Archie as a business. They were corporate, in the best sense of the word.

After that came Dark Horse, who rolled out their own online digital program, which was the focus of much of the panel. They announced new titles from the Vampire Hunter D artist, however, as well as Kouta Hirano's new Ours series Drifters, and a short one-volume manga from Yasuhiro Nightow that was in Shueisha's Jump Square.

That was it, and I talked with their rep afterwards. The economic situation is really hurting them in regards to what they can and can't put out. They noted they loved Reiko the Zombie Shop, and wanted to release more, but the economy and poor sales simply won't allow it. Same with Translucent, which I brought up. Ghost Talker's Daydream was noted as something which got enough buzz for them to restart it, however. And yes, nothing is cancelled. If the economy gets better, who knows? This also affects their new licenses, which are mostly one-shots or short series. I asked about Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer, which they're aware of but... World Embryo, btw, is also on hiatus.

The last event of the day was the New York premiere of the Haruhi movie. It was pretty fantastic. As a more-or-less straight adaptation of the 4th novel, I knew what to expect going in, but that didn't make it any less fun to watch. Kyon and Yuki fans will love this, although Haruhi and Mikuru also get extensive focus. I think it was worth the wait and expense, and almost justifies Endless Eight.

What will Day 2 bring? Well, Bandai, Funimation, Yen, and Vertical. Can't wait.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Manga the week of 10/13

I may be in NY for the convention, but that's no reason not to tell you what's coming out next week in manga!

Bandai celebrates the week with two whole releases - the second volume of Code Geass: Knight, the female oriented doujinshi anthology (note: it's clean. Sorry, girls.) And there's the 6th volume of Lucky Star, featuring, no doubt, more 4-koma otaku-oriented humor.

Dark Horse has been pumping out volumes of the dark, violent series Gantz, so I guess it must be doing well for them. It certainly seems to fit, coming from the publisher of Berserk and Blade of the Immortal. I wonder if there's any other Shueisha or Shogakukan series that might bypass Viz for Dark Horse? (Gantz runs in Weekly Young Jump, a men's magazine.)

I don't really have anything witty to say about Love Potion, the newest yaoi manga from DMP, except to say that I am sad it's not Volume 9.

And then there's Viz. The big news is the first omnibus edition of Cross Game, which makes me very excited. (It's not on Midtown's list, but I'll assume that's the usual glitch.) Cross Game is by the legendary Mitsuru Adachi, and I hope readers enjoy his subtle understatement, his love of baseball, and his big surprise at the 1/3 mark of this volume.

In other Viz news, we get new Case Closed, Inu Yasha, Kekkaishi and Yakitate! Japan, and the second volume of boy and his teddy bear action comic Hyde & Closer. Here's hoping some of these Shonen Sunday series do better in terms of sales (well, apart from Inu Yasha, which needs no help.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oh My Goddess! Volume 36

By Kosuke Fujishima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Afternoon. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

This is the first volume of OMG in a while where the book takes up one entire story, though they are helped by the volumes here (and in Japan) being about 50 pages shorter than earlier volumes. This one is just 6 chapters long.

The plot itself carries over from the last chapter of 35, featuring a drunken Megumi showing up at the temple wondering why guys keep dumping her. Naturally, we find it's because she's far too awesome for them. Any casual OMG fan could have told you that, Megs. In any case, she's wasted and heartbroken, and both Urd and Skuld decide to SOLVE ALL HER PROBLEMS by erasing/modifying her memories. And of course, everything goes wrong, and now everyone there has lost ALL their memories.

The main thrust of this volume, of course, is seeing how even with their memories eradicated, Keiichi and Belldandy are still head over heels in love with each other. They seem to realize it right away as well, even if they're initially too shy to say anything. Meanwhile, Megumi can see it as well (she's really one of the smartest in the entire cast, despite not knowing about the whole 'goddess' thing), despite Keiichi being stuck in a sentai suit, Keiichi's collection of porn, and the annoying cat demon thing trying to convince everyone that he and Belldandy are engaged while Keiichi and Megumi are married.

First of all, I've ranted about it before and I'll rant about it again. Why does Keiichi need porn? He has Belldandy! Yes, I realize that Urd and Skuld are there to be annoying and stop any nookie, and yes, it's true that Keiichi is a reader surrogate and therefore cannot have sex with any of them lest he ruin the innocent purity that Japanese otaku prize (so they can dream of taking it themselves). But dammit, it's been 36 volumes, Keiichi is clearly in his mid-20s by now, and he and Bell have been 'together' for about 5-6 years now. They pledge their love to each other AGAIN here. It's getting ridiculous. I don't care if you have to move to Evening and cross over with Kosaku Shima, it's time to get more intimate.

Secondly, there's a vague tinge of incest through the entire volume. It starts with Keiichi realizing his little sister has grown up (he wasn't even aware she was dating), which the predictable shot of him ogling her breasts (and then feeling guilty). Then Velsper tries his 'you're both married to each other' thing, which luckily Megumi sees through fairly quickly. Finally we have the epilogue, where Megumi's seen with another guy and letting him know that he just can't hold a candle to her brother. (Interestingly, this line is far more suggestive than the scanlation that was out ages ago, which notes that she's looking more for what K1 has with Bell, rather than looking for a guy like K1. I have to assume that Dark Horse's is more accurate, but don't have the Japanese to find out.) It does remind me that Keiichi and Megumi are a brother/sister pair who get along surprisingly well in the manga canon. Though hopefully not that well.

In any case, this is a nice sensible, meat-and-potatoes volume of Oh My Goddess. It's not devoted to mecha fetishes as much as prior volumes, but makes up for it with some nice heartwarming scenes with our favorite couple, and lots of Megumi. Recommended to those who would be reading it anyway.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pink Innocent Volume 2

By Kotori Momoyuki. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Del Rey.

Loyal readers may recall my twisted love of the first volume of this series, which featured a heroine so gloriously over-the-top annoying that I felt it might almost be parody. Volume 1 of the manga stunned me in its sheer brazen appallingness in regards to its heroine, and I hoped that the pace could keep up.

Sadly, it was not to be. Yes, Kokona is still very annoying, and many computers are still broken in her desperate quest to be loved, but now that she and Renji are a couple, the story turns to far more ordinary devices. The first chapter sees her trying to help her friend Aery with her own love life. I'd wished in Vol. 1 to see more of Aery's plot, but unfortunately, it's the standard shoujo "I wanted you to be jealous, why weren't you?" plot, so no surprises there.

After this, Kokona gets obsessed with first kisses, and like most shoujo heroines, turns to incredibly bad advice from love magazines. This goes about as well as you can expect, especially as Renji is clearly pictured as a painfully shy repressed guy, who is unlikely to dole out first kisses for just anything. The "Kokona is sick" ending also felt very forced.

The last two chapters were the best, both in terms of Konoka being ludicrously over the top and in terms of being the most genuinely interesting. For one, they remind you of how rich she is, something that had been played down in the earlier part of the book. She invites Renji to a hanami party that turns out to take place on a cruise ship owned by her parents, who are the usual lovey-dovey couple who adore their daughter but have little time to devote to her. We also get the traditional rival, who would be interesting if we remotely believed him as a threat, which we don't. On the other hand, Kokona and Renji's fight was pretty well done, with Kokona noting she loves Renji even when she's angry with him, and Renji wondering if she thinks "I love you" can solve any problem.

This ends with the best part of the book, as it was also the most inane. Kokona decides to announce that she's going to study abroad and stay with her parents, in an effort to get Renji to say something. He's certainly affected by it, but not in enough time to do anything - Kokona's parents SPLIT THE BOAT IN TWO and take her off with them while the rest of the boat (with Renji) goes back to port. Kokona, realizing that she needs to get back to Renji, makes a 50-foot dive off the boat onto a small speedboat, drives after Renji, then crashes into a rock and has to be saved. If only the rest of the manga were like this.

(Also, I note that Kokona's father is drawn so femininely, with a ludicrous fake mustache, that I have to wonder if they're a lesbian couple keeping up the charade for an adopted Kokona).

Pink Innocent Volume 2 definitely improved on Volume 1, and Kokona goes from being the worst heroine ever to merely annoying. Sadly, that gets rid of the one reason to read the series. With this, Pink Innocent becomes merely average shoujo - and as such, there are better series to give your time to.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Manga the week of 10/6

First week of the month, and that means mostly Viz. Their debut this month is Grand Guignol Orchestra, a high-gothic fantasy from the pen of Kaori Yuki, author of Godchild and the Count Cain series.

We also get a new One Piece, for the first time in what seems like forever but is only 3 months, as Luffy goes further into Impel Down. Other Jump titles include Eyeshield 21 (still battling for the Christmas Bowl), Strawberry 100% (still proving that ecchi shonen romances don't sell well here), Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo (I'd looooooooooove to see the sales figures for this one - did Viz prepare their print run of one for me?), and some ninja thing or something.

For Viz's shoujo line, I'm looking forward to Dengeki Daizy and Seiho Boy's High School, whose first volumes I liked. I'm intrigued but wary of Stepping on Roses, which is gloriously over the top trash. I plan to smile wryly at Natsume's Book of Friends, which is not as fantastic as I'd expected from the hype, but is a nice relaxing change of pace among all the shojo romance. And I'm still avoiding Black Bird.

On the non-Viz front, Dark Horse finishes their Chobits omnibus. I recall that when the last volume came out, I was somewhat irritated with the ending. Now I get to re-read it and remember why. Del Rey releases a couple of 'hey, these sell poorly' omnibuses, as well as the new Fairy Tail, which does not sell poorly. Digital Manga Publishing is re-releasing the popular yaoi title Kizuna in a deluze edition. And, with Seven Seas releasing a new Dance in the Vampire Bund, and Vertical putting out volume 1 of the horror manga 7 Billion Needles, we have *two* titles from Media Factory's Comic Flapper in the same week - possibly a record. Now if only Dark Horse would release Translucent Volume 4 (also a Flapper title)...