Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Skyblue Shore Volume 1

By Nanpei Yamada. Released in Japan as "Sorairo Kaigan" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume ("Betsuhana"). Released in North America by Tokyopop.

Nanpei Yamada is a name well known to fans of Hakusensha's shoujo. She had her first big break in 1990 with the Kumiko and Shingo series, a group of interconnected manga similar to Banri Hidaka's Akiyoshi series. Then in 1997 she created Tea Prince, a light school fantasy that ended up running for 25 volumes. As often happens with artists who've been in Hana to Yume for some time, she then moved on to Betsuhana, where she's currently creating works. I had expected the first North American License of her titles to be her current bodyswapping manga Orange Chocolate, but instead we get her 2007 6-volume series Skyblue Shore, a slice of life romance surrounding beachcombers.

Those looking for the standard shoujo cliches will find they're all happily in place here. Spunky young heroine who makes friends easily. Hot older guy she falls instantly in love with. Sullen and withdrawn guy her own age who she's clearly going to end up with in the end. And of course a tragic past full of secrets. But again, shoujo is not where you go for originality. The whole thing is written in a likeable way that draws the reader in and makes them want to know more.

The art style is sweet and flows without getting too complicated or busy, as many Hakusensha series to (I Hate You More Than Anyone, Gakuen Alice...). Yamada does tend to draw very wide mouths, which took me some getting used to, but that's more of a stylistic thing than a complaint. Her depiction of a small town and its beachfront seems dead on.

As for the tragic past, we only get tastes of it here. There's a nice fakeout with the introduction of a character who we think we saw in the flashback at the start. Indeed, for a moment I worried this story was going to get into much darker themes than I'd anticipated, but that is later revealed not to be the case. Not that there isn't a fair share of drama here, as we not only get a big revelation at the end that changes the way we regard the rest of the volume, but we also see Tomo, our heroine, nearly drown.

Skyblue Shore is another one of the many shoujo manga I'd classify as 'comfort manga'. Nothing in here is going to blow you away and change the way you think about manga. But on the other hand, there's a likeable cast, intriguing plot, and at 6 volumes it's not going to be the huge investment Tea Prince would have been. If you're a fan of the sort of shoujo Hakusensha puts out, you'll like this a lot.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Maid-sama! Volume 7

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'll be honest, there was a lot of this volume that didn't really work for me. It ends with a side-story featuring Aoi and the other minor male characters in the series, the premise of which seems to involve Aoi trying to drive them away by being mean and the others not noticing because this is what they call friendship (and it's implied they've grown used to abuse from Misaki). I don't especially mind Aoi, but the story just never gelled for me, and the lack of Misaki until the climax hurt it. The first chapter, in which Misaki dressed as a Visual Kei hottie in order to help her fellow maid get out of an embarrassing date, is also not great, mostly as it's nothing we haven't seen before. Misaki is determined, Usui watching over her and teasing her, etc.

However, this is made up for with the other chapters. In one of them, she has to take her childhood friend Hinata to the maid cafe... while not giving away that she works there. I had actually forgotten the reason she hides her profession is merely embarrassment and worry what people would think. I'm so used to manga where part-time jobs are forbidden by the school that I assumed it was for that reason. As a result, I was taken aback by Honoka, another one of the maids, just laying into Misaki for making light of the rest of them and treating her job as a shameful thing. (Honoka and Usui seem to have a common trait in inspiring Misaki, but while Usui enrages her, Honoka depresses her.) This Hinata now knows about her job as well, but at least she can stop trying to lie to him.

There's a great flashback in this chapter where we see young Misaki yelling at young Hinata for not crying over the death of his parents. She tells him that you should never lie about your feelings. She recalls this in the chapter, and it helps inspire her to reveal her job to Hinata, but more importantly it sets up the next two chapters, which are essentially the payoff we've been waiting seven books for. Misaki and her friends (plus Usui) go to a school festival, which happens to be at the school of those J-Rock fakers we saw a volume or so ago. It turns out that Sakura is still dating the lead singer, and that he may actually be shaping up a bit. Due to the insane popularity of the band, Sakura and Shizuko get swept into the crowd, leaving Misaki and Usui to wander the festival... including having their fortune told. The fortune is clearly rigged, giving them bad luck in love so that they have to take their special love challenge as a result.

I've mentioned guys being hard to read in shoujo reviews before, particularly Naoko in Itazura Na Kiss. Usui is not very much like him, but also has a certain quality that makes it hard for the reader to really tell what he's thinking, mostly as he's so good at hiding it from Misaki. We *think* that Usui was briefly affected by the fortune telling, but since he so quickly converts it to his usual teasing we can't be sure. And so he and Misaki end up doing the love test, which involves a series of dumb feats they have to do without letting go of each other's hands. Needless to say, anything that is a competition is going to be a piece of cake for these two, and as a result they're invited to the school dance at the end (normally restricted to students from the school only.)

And so Misaki, who has noticed Usui acting weird despite his best efforts, is feeling out of sorts. This is not helped by the singer from the band, who in defending his relationship with Sakura is aghast that Misaki and Usui still aren't a couple. "So... what? Are you still making him wait for you?" is his blunt assessment, and it gets Misaki even more upset. Due to her family life and her sheer bullheadedness, the feelings she has for Usui are terrifying and alien to her, and doing the competition didn't help. The whole thing comes to a head in an abandoned classroom, where Misaki asks Usui if he's holding back for her, and he tries to get her to open up (something he usually avoids, except obliquely). He points out that, unlike EVERYONE else she deals with, including Hinata, she lies to him constantly about her feelings. No, she's not blushing. No, she really hates him. Etc.

And so finally, she tells him the truth - she wanted to hold hands with him the entire day. But he makes her so confused that she has no idea what this means. And so (and really, we can't blame his passions for being inflamed by this, as Misaki has never been more attractive and adorable in her blushy indecisiveness) he shows her how he feels. And tells her. While I felt the chapter went on too long (it had 20 extra pages that month, and the chapter gives a sense of being dragged out as much as possible), the emotional punch of the payoff works great. Of course, we don't get a confession on her end (something Usui immediately points out), but by now Misaki saying she hates Usui has BECOME an expression of love - she even yells at him when he notes it, saying only she is allowed to say that to him.

So not perfect, and following it with the Aoi side story didn't help, bujt still, I am very grateful to Maid-sama! for delivering on its romance in a way that, say, Otomen wasn't really able to do. Looking forward to Volume 8 to see how Misaki deals with this.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

MMF: One Piece

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

This essay will have spoilers through the current tankobon released by Viz (Volume 55), but I will try to avoid spoiling beyond that.

I'd like to talk to you about an epic tale. Well, a series of epic tales, really, but bound together by a bunch of pirates (and a few Marines), some big battles, a few horrid villains, and an incredible love of adventure. Lessons are learned, people make friends of their enemies, and we see things we'd never expected to see. I refer, of course, to the 'title page' stories that take place, one panel a week, within the confines of Oda's larger work, One Piece.

Title pages, of course, are ubiquitous in all manga, be it shonen or otherwise. Most of the time they're the hero or heroine striking a pose, or a shot of them being casual. Perhaps they're dramatically staring if it's a serious chapter. And indeed Oda has these in the series as well, as in between each story arc in the title page sequences we have shots of the Straw Hat Pirates interacting with various fantastic animals somewhere on the Grand Line. And, of course, he has the 2-page color spreads once every 2 months or so, where we see the crew together having some beyond the impossible adventure, usually with even more fantastical animals.

But the story arcs that began in the midst of the Captain Kuro arc, showing Captain Buggy trying to get back his missing body parts and reunite with his crew, are something special. At first I took them to be pure comedy, not mattering much to the plot. I wasn't expecting to see Buggy again, and he wasn't exactly one of the Big Bads of the series, even at that point. The same applied to the arcs with Jango and Hatchan, both minor mooks in their boss's respective arcs, and both far too silly to take seriously. Even the arcs with Coby and Helmeppo learning to be strong Marines, which had an amusing Admiral who wore a dog-eared (literally) hat didn't faze me. It was amusing, but felt inconsequential.

This was partly as I wasn't paying as much attention (Viz's Shonen Jump did not help, as it cuts one of every 3 title pages to save paper - which ruins each and every arc), but partly as I wasn't expecting to HAVE to. Who drops massive hints and has suggestions of future major plot arcs in their one panel per chapter gag pages? Well, Oda does, of course. Buggy is saved in his arc by Alvida, and they decide to join forces. This then comes up 45 chapters later when the crew arrive at Logue Town and meet them. Coby and Helmeppo's Admiral who takes a shine to them is none other than Admiral Garp, one of the high-ranking marines... and Luffy's grandfather, something we discover 350 chapters later. Jango joins the Marines, and returns at the end of the Baroque Works arc. Hatchan's arc with his cute mermaid girl turns out to be highly important in the Sabaody arc, and so forth.

Essentially, Oda's story is so epic that he can't actually tell it all in the 18 pages provided to him every week. Every single title page arc has turned out to either have major plot points or foreshadowing for later volumes, with the exceptions of Wapol, Gedatsu and Eneru, and I'm fully expecting those to come up later as well. What's more, they're a story well-told. We see, over the course of single panels with no dialogue, exactly what we get from One Piece every week. Big, goofy villains, epic battles, lots of fun laughs, befriending enemies, and following your dreams.

That last bit is most important. Oda once said in an interview that Luffy doesn't believe in killing his enemies, he'd rather destroy their dreams. And indeed, most of the protagonists in these stories start off with absolutely nothing, and go through tremendous trials. But in the end, we see new dreams from each of them, as if Luffy's destruction has given them freedoms they were never able to pursue before. Helmeppo's decision to stop being a whiner and train to be a good marine, Hachan's octopus shop, Baroque Works reopening their coffee shop... isn't that better than trying to kill people and take over the world?

As I noted, the arcs start with the minor, sillier villains. To a degree, there's some of this in later arcs - I'm sure Oda drew Gedatsu's hot spring adventures simply as Gedatsu was such a loony that he wanted to do more with him. And I suppose Wapol might qualify as this at first. But Wapol's arc was the first one to startle me, as he was a nasty jerk. His arc was kind of like if Oda had done an arc with Kuro, or Arlong. And indeed this arc seems to delight in torturing Wapol, who's now homeless and essentially eating garbage. And yet he finds something he can do, something that brings happiness to children. And more importantly, brings money to Wapol. This then leads to scientists examining him and finding he can create an amazing new metal. He starts a factory, and is even richer than he once was. Oh, and he marries Miss Universe. Note Wapol is not redeemed, per se - it's implied that he's going to be as ruthless in big business as he was in taking over a kingdom.

The Baroque Works and CP9 arcs also feature villains who were more hateful than goofy, and shows some of them actually getting happy endings. But it really reaches its zenith with Eneru's great space adventure. Eneru is a rather unique villain in One Piece. While he enjoyed tormenting the residents of Skypeia, his goal is not shattered when Luffy and the others free the Skypeians from his brutal dictatorship. Instead, Eneru's ship survives, albeit battered, and he flies off to the moon. We see what happens when he gets there in the title page arc. Any idea you might have that Eneru is going to discover his inner fluffy lamb is crushed here. Most of the plot is fueled by either his random cruelty, his desire for revenge (after his ship is destroyed), or an honest-to-God curiosity about what the heck is going on here. In the end, he succeeds in reviving the robot mole race that was in suspended animation underground. He also finds that he seems to be descended from their creators. The final panel is that of Eneru, standing proud, with his giant army of moon people who worship him at his side. Clearly for Eneru, karmic retribution is something that happens to other people.

Honestly, I could go on forever. There's just as much brilliant imagery here as there is in the series - indeed, sometimes it gets even weirder. There's much-needed character development that's given here so he doesn't have to waste time on it later. Most of all, Oda has found a way to pack every single part of One Piece with adventure, even taking over the title pages to tell awesome stories. One Piece overflows with ideas from every corner. One Piece makes you care about its worst villains. One Piece is awesome.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Eensy Weensy Monster Volume 1

By Masami Tsuda. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

After the success of Kare Kano (well, success in a broad sense - I know many people who read the ending and now disown the series and everything to do with it), Tokyopop picked up a few other titles by Masami Tsuda that were a) short, and b) easy to translate. (B is likely why we aren't seeing her newest series, Chotto Edo Made, a romantic school comedy set in the Edo period, which scanlators dropped after one chapter due to the vocabulary.) The first was a short story collection bundling a few of her Japanese one-shots, and this is the second, a two-volume series she did for LaLa in 2007.

I quite enjoyed it, and it's good at showing off the technique that Tsuda has learned by working on the long-running Kare Kano. The premise has Nanoha, a normal girl who happens to hang out with two childhood friends who are the queens of the school. She's sweet, likeable, has trouble with classes, and is noted to be unmemorable. She also possesses a "little monster" inside of her, one that comes out whenever she meets the smooth, suave Hazuki, who is a handsome guy who wraps all the other girls around his finger. He drives her nuts, and when this grabs his attention and he calls her on it, she completely opens up and tears his "petty, superficial" self to shreds.

There's lots of things to like here. Hazuki is indeed a pretty-boy phoney, but it's not a deliberate mask. He was spoiled by his parents, and praised for his looks and natural intelligence, so it's never occurred to him to look further. One he does, and finds that he hates what he sees, he makes an honest effort to change, even if this means blocking himself off from the girls who want to be around a hot guy. (The girls tell him point blank they know he's not boyfriend material, he's just there to be seen with.) Naturally, when he thinks of HOW he can change, he turns to Nanoha.

Sadly, Nanoha's not the sort who will cheerfully counsel him. He still grates on her nerves, and now that it's no longer because he's a vain stooge, she can't figure it out. What's worse, she thinks about how she went off on him, and now he's a loner with few friends, and realizes that her 'little monster' is bullying him. So now she's simply nervous and twitchy, trying to control herself and avoid him as much as possible. Too bad he's now sitting next to her in class...

One of my favorite parts of the manga is in Chapter 5, where we get POV shots of the two characters on opposite pages. First we see Nanoha sitting at her desk, watching Hazuki be calm and self-possessed and sneaking glances at her, while she sweats, freaks, and tries to do her notes. On the opposite page, we see Hazuki, watching Nanoha constantly, and seeing her looking diligent and serious - without all the super-deformed freaking out we saw in her own POV. It's great to see this sort of layout in a shoujo manga, especially a story like this that depends on understanding another point of view. The art helps to teach the story.

Another thing I enjoyed was the suggestion that the other, supporting characters are having lives and adventures of their own just off the page. This can be a drawback sometimes, of course - you risk the reader wanting to read about them more than your heroes - but it's fun here. We see her friend Renge, who reminds me a great deal of Hanajima from Fruits Basket (not all that uncommon - many shoujo series have a cute normal heroine, a tall lanky blonde female friend and a silent, serious female friend) and her strange family that still call each other by baby names. There's Hazuki's sister, who is just as pretty as he is but forces her brother to do her hair and makeup so that she can achieve that - which may seem petty, but given he was a spoiled brat, actually seems to be more like an object lesson in humility. And then there's Ryuzaki, the "Lady Oscar" of the school, who's blonde, elegant, gorgeous... and dirt poor, as she notes herself. She maintains a garden solely because they need vegetables to eat, and her equally gorgeous brother works at a broken-down construction site. Kare Kano showed us how much fun Tsuda has with her side character's backgrounds and lives, and we see that even in a much shorter series such as this.

Eensy Weensy Monster only has two volumes, so no doubt Nanoha will get over her issues soon and fall for Hazuki - it is a shoujo romance, after all. But the quirky characters and the mature art design help to sell me the story, even more than the name recognition of the artist who did Kare Kano.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Manga the week of 12/2

Comic stores get their manga on Thursday next week owing to this week's Thanksgiving holidays. This should be the last time this happens in 2010 - apparently the Christmas and New Year's holidays do not disrupt UPS quite as much.

Though Diamond shipped it to everyone but the Northeast this week, for me it's the final shipment of Del Rey titles. I'll miss them. Tsubasa and Psycho Busters finish before the gun, but the other series shipping this week are left in limboland until Kodansha USA announces plans. I'll especially miss Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei and its love of observational humor combined with its love of insane schoolgirls.

Two Tokyopop titles that didn't show up this week are here next week, as we get Vol. 7s for Lagoon Engine and NG Life. Lagoon Engine has caught up with Japan, so volumes are few and far between. Meanwhile, Tokyopop may want to push NG Life out the door as fast as possible - 8 ships next month. (I note, despite my hoping, that Gatcha Gacha 8 did NOT ship this week, and isn't out next week either. I don't know where it is, but hope it will appear as soon as possible.)

Bandai has Volume 4 of Gundam-00F, the latest in the long franchise. It runs in Gundam Ace, Kadokawa's shonen spinoff from Shonen Ace that's devoted to Gundam titles. That's how big Gundam is over there. Even One Piece doesn't get a One Piece Jump, for contrast.

Udon finishes off its Magical Girl title Fairy Idol Kanon, which is drawn by an artist known for her yuri series, but as this was put out by Poplar, a Japanese company that markets to kindergartners, I wouldn't expect any in this. They also have a new Street Fighter title.

And Vertical not only has the 2nd of their horror manga 7 Billion Needles, but also the debut of a new Tezuka title, Ayako. This is a big omnibus of the 3 volumes that came out in Japan, in one 720-page brick. It originally ran in Shogakukan's manly Big Comic from 1972-1973, and is eagerly awaited by all. I definitely recommend it.

Despite being the first week of the month, Midtown doesn't list any Viz titles. Sometimes if the 1st falls on a Wednesday, they'll bump all Viz's stuff back a week. That seems to be what's happened here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Urusei Yatsura Volume 3

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

With this volume, we get the last of the core cast of four introduced. Urusei Yatsura had a giant, sprawling cast of dozens, but when it came down to most of the stories, especially in the manga (which lacked Megane, as he and his cronies vanish starting with this volume) there were four leads: Ataru, Lum, Shinobu, and Shutarou Mendou, who makes his debut here.

Mendou's arrival is sort of the 'starting' point of UY Mark 2: with it, the art spiffens up a little (only a little, mind), and the characterization is in place. Lum has become default cute, as opposed to default evil, though is still constantly jealous. Ataru is now firmly in pervert mode, losing any modicum of 'normal guy' he had in the first volume. And Shinobu, for the most part, abandons any attempts to win Ataru back from Lum, partly as he's become the lecher we know and love, but mostly as she falls head over heels for Mendou, along with the rest of the class. She also gains the power of super strength when enraged here, picking up desks with ease to throw them at Ataru when enraged.

There is one story, the first in the volume, that falls in that small category that Viz decided to skip due to cultural issues. This is 'Father, You Were Strong!'. where Kurama the crow woman takes Ataru back in time to meet her ancestor Ushiwaka, who as all Japanese readers know would go on to become Minamoto no Yoshitsune. She has Ataru there to learn how to be noble and warrior-like, but Ataru takes it upon himself to teach the innocent young Ushiwaka about girls. It's a fun chapter, but I can see why, with all the historical references most North Americans wouldn't get, Viz decided to skip it.

One chapter they didn't skip, though I bet they wished they had while translating it, is 'Disco Inferno'. (I think the original Japanese is 'Battle Royale of Love'.) We meet Sakura's lover Tsubame, who is a giant doofus who's been studying magical arts in the West. He wants Sakura's hand in marriage, but first has to get the approval of Cherry. Sakura, likely realizing she's not ready for marriage yet, takes Ataru (and Lum) along in order to simply foul the whole thing up by his bad luck being around. They end up at a disco (the chapter came out in early 1980, when I believes the clubs were still big in Japan) and Cherry demands Tsubame prove he has enough spiritual power to be a good husband for Sakura. Tsubame, having studied Western spirits, decides to summon Satan. Sadly, he's pathetic, so summons Santa instead. He then tries summoning a goat-headed demon, only to get Lum's ex-boyfriend Rei, who wreaks more havoc by trying to kill Ataru, grab Lum, and also get hit on by every woman in the club. The puns are rampant in this chapter, which is why I noted the translators must have hated it.

Then, as I noted, Mendou shows up. He's clearly there to make a big splash as a major new character. He arrives by helicopter, seduces the entire female class with his suave charm (including Shinobu), and then promptly falls for Lum. The females in the class clearly note Mendou's huge advantage over all the other boys: he's rich, and handsome. That's it. This is made even more clear in a follow-up chapter, where Lum is annoyed that a computer says Mendou is her ideal match. She heads down to the classroom (at this stage in the series, she's not a student) and tosses Mendou and Ataru, who are both Aries, into a giant alien horoscope thing to see who is her better match. After much wackiness, the astrology chart notes Mendou and Ataru... are equally bad. So Lum, who notes this means she can choose who she wants, picks Ataru. Having someone or something note that, if you take away Mendou's money and looks, he's just like Ataru will be a running theme of the series.

Finally, we have the first chapter where Takahashi throws a bone to the readers who like actual romance. She did this very little. The anime was much better at adding sweet moments where Lum and Ataru revealed that aw, they really do love each other. Takahashi actually thought they overdid it, and preferred the characters be jerks. But even she would give us the occasional chapter. This is the first, involving The guys sending a fake love letter to Ataru. They do this to shut Mendou up, as he's received love letters from the entire female student population. Unfortunately, Ataru reacts to the letter far too much, convinced he has a new girl who's mad for him. He dumps Lum on Mendou and runs off. Lum is annoyed, but then finds out that the guys faked the note, and the girl they were paying to pretend to be the writer has gotten sick. At first she tells herself Ataru deserves what he gets, but the thought of him being humiliated makes her tear up. (Note how far Lum has come from the first few chapters here.) So Lum dresses up as the writer of the note, and sweet talks Ataru. Ataru knows it's her (the previous chapter ALSO had Lum dress as a human girl, but led to a far nastier, more electricity-filled conclusion) but goes along with it. As they walk home, Ataru notices, for perhaps the first time, how attractive Lum is, especially when she's not flying around making his life miserable. He offers to hold her hand, and she accepts.

We still have a bunch of unlikeable protagonists here, mined for comedy in a way that exposes all their flaws and subjects them to constant humiliation. But at least now that Ataru and Shinobu are not being written sympathetically, there's less of an imbalance to be found. And in the final chapter of this volume, we start to see that, given, oh, 31 more volumes, Ataru and Lum might develop real feelings for each other. Maybe.

K-On! Volume 1

By Kakifly. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara. Released in North America by Yen Press.

When K-On!'s anime burst onto the scene in 2008 (and, like most manga series that run in Kirara, no one had heard of it in North America before it got an anime), its popularity was almost immediate. And, after a brief wait to ensure that yes, this was going to be more like the popularity of Haruhi and not like the popularity of, say, Doujin Work, the manga was licensed by Yen Press. It seems like forever since that happened, but now Volume 1 is finally here, and for fans of the series, it's worth the wait.

The manga itself is a typical 4-koma, which is to say we get a lot of short gags. We're introduced to hyperactive Ritsu and her put-upon friend Mio, who want to join the Light Music Club (well, Ritsu does, and is dragging Mio along). Finding the club has no members, Ritsu quickly drafts a passing girl, Tsumugi, who plays keyboards and enjoys watching people be 'interesting'. Given Ritsu plays drums and Mio plays bass, all they need is a guitar player, who turns out to be Yui, a young and somewhat ditzy girl... who has no experience playing guitar. Not that that stops her from joining the club anyway.

It should be noted that the character designs here are clearly meant to play to the 'moe' crowd, and some may find them a little too cutesy. However, while the cast do have moe traits, they manage to be fleshed out enough so that they feel like real people to me. Ritsu, for example, loves to tease her friend Mio, and pretty much does it to the point where Mio strikes back with beatings. It's a typical double-act that we've seen many times in anime and manga before. Unlike many of those acts (Azumanga Daioh, I'm looking at you), we don't wonder why in the world anyone ever hangs around with Ritsu. Her teasing never gets to the point where *we're* annoyed - only Mio. And we can even see why, despite Mio's irritation, they are best friends. She also has odd moments, when she's not flaking out, where she does get to be the responsible leader of the band. (I will admit, she's my favorite.)

K-On! is scheduled to be four volumes long, and I will admit that if you're wondering how the characters grow and develop over the course of the next three volumes, this is likely not the manga for you. Characters in this type of manga are there to be comedic and cute, and no doubt by the end of the series Ritsu and Yui will still be flaky, Mio will still be shy and twitchy, and Mugi will still enjoy fantasizing about the other girls being yuri in front of her (except they aren't). But for this series, that's OK. It's what I want to see. The girls playing their instruments, eating snacks, and having one joke every four panels. It's a warm, comforting feeling. I like this manga as it makes the characters real and likeable.

I note that this franchise is quite popular with young males on the internet, something which, as manga publishers know, rarely translates into sales the way it does with franchises that are popular with young females on the internet. So, for the guys who will have their excuses out: Yes, the honorifics are all present and correct, including Rit-chan and Sawa-chan. Yes, there are color pages throughout. Yes, the translation is smooth and readable while still staying true to the original and endnoting when necessary. Yen has done a great job here. You have NO EXCUSE not to buy this if you support K-On! in any way. Buy it. Support authors and publishers in ways that don't just correspond to 'Your torrent is 57% complete'.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Soul Eater Volume 4

By Atsushi Ohkubo. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The plot is ramping up in Soul Eater, and again I found that there was more here than just the insane art-deco art. The villain is trying to destroy Maka and Soul, and even though they manage to beat off the minor villain sent to help her along this time, there's the sense that it's an ongoing project. Then, after a comedic chapter about final exams, we get a 2-hander devoted to Kid and his two weapons, sent to a haunted pirate ship to investigate a whole bunch of dead souls there. They run into Crona there, who is also trying to collect the souls, and a melee battle ensues.

I note once again how Soul Eater is not afraid to have a very high body count. Lots of innocents die in this, including a cute if grumpy girl ghost who's trying to get Liz to get over her fear of the supernatural. Her whine of 'cowardly oneechan' as she's sucked into Crona's soul bag thing is both amusing and creepy. We also once again see how our heroes are on the more chaotic end of the hero side. Maka and Soul are still fighting down corruption from within, and we see that before they joined up with Kid, Liz and Patty apparently were on the streets mugging and killing people for their money. (Patty is particularly deranged, even for her, in this volume.)

The fights are getting more interesting, with the 2nd half of the battle between Maka/Soul and Free being particularly good. The author also seems to have found the right balance between his oddball sense of humor and serious shonen business, though that may simply be that Black*Star wasn't in this volume quite as much. It looks as if things might get even worse next volume, with Medusa finally being discovered at the school and everyone being sent out to stop her.

If there's a drawback, it's that, like Fairy Tail, I have trouble recalling what happens after I read a volume. This does not happen with One Piece. Soul Eater is quite good shonen candy, but it hasn't yet reached the point where it's a tasty meal yet.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Itazura Na Kiss Volume 4

By Kaoru Tada. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret ("Betsuma"). Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.

Thank you. After begging for three volumes to have Naoki be slightly more open and approachable, we finally get some progress here. Oh, he's still mostly a stone-faced jerk, but the 'soft' moments are starting to happen more and more often, and we can now be sure that his complete lack of open affection for Kotoko is more due to his personality than anything else. The black shoujo coffee still has no sugar, but at least we get a little milk added here.

My favorite of these was in a chapter introducing yet another rival, this one on Naoki's end. Taketo is young, cute, pre-law, and decides that since Naoki and Kotoko still aren't going out, he's going to take Kotoko for himself. He then promptly gets into a fight about this with Kotoko's obsessed stalker friend Kin-chan. Kotoko, who has little experience with guys liking her, much less fighting over her, is mostly ineffectual here, having no interest in Taketo but frustrated by her lack of anything with Naoki. Naoki then shows up, notes they're all being stupid, and then leans in snarkily and notes that it's all useless, as "the one Kotoko's in love with is ME."

This is important, as it's really one of the first times we've seen he actually cares about that. Sure, he's been shown being nice to Kotoko on occasion, and tolerating her far more than is sometimes warranted, but we're at a point now where we have to find out what the lead couple see in each other. One of the main premises of the entire manga is that Kotoko isn't 'good enough' for someone like Naoki, given her poor studies, flakiness, tendency to overcompensate wildly, etc. Here we find Kotoko's simple devotion really does register with him... and he likes it.

The other major Naoki plot we get here is seeing him decide on a career. Because this is old-school shoujo, we don't really see much of what leads Naoki, at the end of this volume, to consider a career in medicine. One can assume it started with Yuuki being hospitalized, and watching all the doctors and nurses there. But seeing his indifference at running his Dad's company, even though he proves to be excellent at it, gives us a better look - Naoki likes to be challenged, and finds anything that doesn't do this boring. Perhaps a career as a doctor will give him what he seeks.

Kotoko remains Kotoko throughout. Now that Naoki is finally developing into a nicer (well, relatively speaking) brand of shoujo hero, I feel the urge to see Kotoko do the same, but know it's going to be a much harder road. It's very difficult for these dippy shoujo heroines to stop being spunky, I am useless at everything but will try harder sorts. Heck, halfway through this volume we see Kotoko got fired from her part-time job as SHE FORGOT TO SHOW UP FOR A WHILE. She's a flake. And now that I'm no longer frustrated by Naoki's grumpy stoicness, I can allow my frustration at Kotoko's incredibly slow rate of character development come to the fore. She needs to mature.

Still, we're now only 1/3 through the series. And the leads are already 20 years old, which puts this a leg up on other shoujo. Hopefully further volumes will not only develop Naoki and Kotoko's relationship, but also Kotoko's own sense of self and independence.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Story of Saiunkoku Volume 1

By Sai Yukino and Kairi Yura. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Asuka. Released in North America by Viz.

I will admit to being unfamiliar with the original light novels this is based off of, which now number 16 and are still being written. I do see that the manga artist for the series actually is the same artist who does the illustrations for the light novels, which is refreshing. Nor did I see the two anime series based off of it, some of which was licensed by Geneon before they went under. This is, after all, a Kadokawa title, and nothing says franchise quite like Kadokawa. That said, I never felt like I was missing anything, as this particular manga is very good at simply laying out the basic plot and just going along with it.

The basic plot is politics, with a dash of romance. We meet our hero Shurei, who is a noble but whose family has fallen on hard times. Therefore, she's well versed in commoner things such as cooking, cleaning, etc. She is asked - okay, tricked - okay, bribed - into becoming consort to the Emperor of our fictional country, who has proven to be completely ambivalent and uncaring about ruling his country. Naturally, she takes this as a challenge. She's determined to make him a good ruler... once she can find him.

One thing I liked about this title is how clever everyone is throughout the first volume. Perhaps it's because this particular shoujo title is freed from the high school of modern times (it takes place in generic fantasy country at the time of generic Edo period), but people manage to not only be book-smart but also savvy. This includes our heroine, who first meets the Emperor when he's pretending to be someone else, and sees through this almost immediately. Much to my surprise, it also includes said Emperor, who does have a bit of sheltered and spoiled to him (mostly in his personal dealings), but is also putting on an act, which he starts to drops under Shurei's influence.

Having also seen many times the story of two girls who are in love during their teenage years and then go on to grow up and marry men, it was somewhat amusing to see the reverse here, as the Emperor has been taking young men to his bed for some time, but on meeting Shuhei his tastes start to change as he falls for her. (It goes without saying, this being shoujo, that the Emperor and his underlings are all quite pretty.) The underlings are mostly there to deliver exposition, though one does seem to have a Ryouga-like sense of direction. (Is that too dated? Should I start saying Zoro-like sense of direction? I do want to keep trendy...) And of course there's Shuhei's retainer Seiran, who it is hinted is far more than he first appears.

There is some romance here, notably with the rather forward Emperor and the shocked and flustered Shuhei, but I'm actually far more interested in the political plot developing. Hopefully I'll get to see more as the series goes on. A good pickup for Viz, giving their Beat line some much-needed variety.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fairy Navigator Runa Volume 2

By Miyoko Ikeda and Michiyo Kikuta. Released in Japan as "Youkai Navi Runa" by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Del Rey.

I had noted in my review of Volume 1 of this magical girl series that it had the potential to be darker than you normally see in that genre. Of course, I was merely fooling myself. Not as to Runa's potentiality for darkness, but fooling myself to think that magical girl series were ever light and fluffy. The sheer number of magical girls dealing with death and horror boggles the mind, with Sailor Moon being only the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, Runa's morality at having almost killed a bad guy is quickly forgotten in this lighter and fluffier second volume, which proceeds, having introduced its cast of orphan friends in the previous chapters, to have our heroine abandon them all for their own safety and sets off to live elsewhere with her animal guardians. She now knows that she has to find the Jewel of Everlasting Time, which grants unimaginable powers.

And so we travel to nameless portside town, where there's a magical signature but it's indistinct, so Runa spends most of the time watching a cute young woman do magic tricks. Amusingly, she also becomes close with a young girl her own age, who bears a striking resemblance to her old friend Sae. I'm not certain how much of this is deliberate - it's never actually brought up - but it is fairly ironic that Runa finds a new replacement for her best friend so rapidly, and that she share similar looks and personalities.

Not a lot really happens in this volume, to be honest. There's a legend about mermaids being betrayed by humans that (surprise) turns out to be relevant later. The vaguely evil boy from Volume 1 turns up again, and his own animal guardian takes a large bite out of Runa's shoulder (again, probably the only thing justifying the T Ages 13+ rating here - this is for kids). The only real suspect turns out to be the villain, although how much of a true villain they will be we won't know until Volume 3.

So now we wait for Kodansha USA, though to be honest I won't be suffering over this series going on hiatus they way I am with Negima or Zetsubou. It has flashes of potential, but Volume 2 felt a lot more generic than Volume 1, and it's hard not to see this as just another generic Nakayoshi shoujo series, like much of Del Rey's recent shoujo output.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Manga the week of 11/24

Midtown's new list for next week, as ever bearing little relation to Diamond's, is now out. Apologies to anyone who expected K-On! this week from my post last week. This is the danger of using a store that buys from multiple distributors. :)

Dark Horse is releasing another volume of Gantz, which judging by the fast release schedule may be their sole remaining hit (well, not counting Berserk, which has caught up with Japan). It's really coming out fast, and no doubt will feature plenty of blood and boobs. I'd hope that if it does well some company might take a chance on either Hen or HEN - two different but interconnected series with gay and lesbian relationships - but doubt it, as neither have sadistic gore.

Del Rey has the 4th (and presumably final for some time) volume of Ninja Girls, the ecchi harem series about... well, an ecchi ninja harem. Never let it be said some titles don't tell you the plot... all it lacks is cover copy saying "Look! Tits!', and really that's what the cover art is for.

Tokyopo has the 8th and final volume of Gatcha Gacha. I realize this is not on Midtown's list, but for all I know they simply decided not to carry it. Heck, it's only a few days ago that Amazon deigned to make it available to pre-order. I don't care, it's one of the bestest shoujo manga ever. I've waited almost 3 years for this volume and YOU WILL ALL BUY IT OR I AM TURNING THIS CAR RIGHT AROUND. Speaking of series that have long seemed to be abandoned, we also have the final volume of Bt'X, a series from the creator of Knights of the Zodiac/Saint Seiya, which may have rivaled Saint Seiya for lowest sales in North America when it came out in the mid-00s.

We also get a couple of shoujo debuts. I've heard many people ask about the long-running late 90s manga Tea Prince. Well, it's still not licensed. However, you may enjoy Sky-Blue Shore, a 6-volume series by the same artist that ran in BetsuHana in 2007. And there's also a short (2 volume) series by the author of Kare Kano, Eensy Weensy Monster (don't get mad at TP, that is the Japanese title as well), the first of which is out next week.

In non-debuts or ending volumes, we see more of the fast-track scheduled Gakuen Alice (I still need to read 13 - I suck), the we're-not-sure-if-this-is-bad-or-just-insane Demon Sacred, The best-selling tsundere hit Maid-sama!, the possibly worn-out-its-welcome but still cute Sgt. Frog, the vaguely gay but not enough to call it yaoi Togainu no Chi, and the gender bender comedy antics of Your & My Secret.

Viz has the 9th volume of its VIZBIG Collection of Vagabond, and must be nearly caught up by now.

And Yen has the debut of a soccer manga with overtones of melancholy, Sasameke, which ran in Kadokawa's Shonen Ace back around 2001. Don't expect it to be much like Ace's current crop, though. Like Dragon Girl, this 5-volume series will come out in 2 massive omnibuses. In Japan, it was followed by a 1-volume spinoff, Sasameki, also from Shonen Ace. We also see the 2nd volume of My Girlfriend's a Geek, which I liked far more than was possibly justified, and the 5th volume of Nabari no Ou, which I had actually forgotten was still coming out, and which has ninjas. RELUCTANT ninjas.

What appeals to you this week?

Archie Firsts

Created by Bob Montana. Art by Bob Montana and George Frese, Story by Vic Bloom (the first story) and other unknown writers. Initially published by MLJ Magazines, later Archie Comics. This edition released by Dark Horse.

I will admit I was buying this volume out of more pure nostalgia and a desire to support an archive collection of Archie Comics more than an expectation that it would be any good. I've read the first Archie story from Pep Comics before, and it struck me then as it does now - an aggressively mediocre take on Andy Hardy that is very reliant on ridiculous sight gags. Imagine my surprise, then, when I not only got a lot out of this collection of the initial appearances of the main cast of Archie, but also found myself laughing hard several times.

I laughed least at the Archie part of the collection, though. While I do appreciate Bob Montana's creation of the Archie characters, and his making of the template that would follow, his 1940s art grates on me a great deal. Jughead in particular is almost ridiculously laughable, looking about 55 years old in his initial appearances, making one wonder how he possibly can be in high school, unless he stayed back about 19 grades. (Indeed, one of the initial gags has Archie making fun of Jughead's intelligence. This wouldn't last long - by the Jughead comic later in the collection, he's already tops in his class.) The two best stories in this part of the collection were a Christmas story where Archie and Jughead get invited (separately) to a party by twin girls, and mistaken identity gags follow. There's then a Jughead-focused story where he's dragooned into being a hockey goalie, and after getting clobbered has a surreal fantasy where Archie appears in every aspect of his life to ruin it.

I do note that Jughead, despite going on about how he hates dames, seems to be involved with women as much as Archie does in these comics. One of the twins describes his elderly looks in these early Archies as 'so manly!', and in his hockey-induced dream sequence, he's actually on a boat trying to serenade a beautiful girl (who turns out to be Archie, but I'll leave that for psychologists). Indeed, the ad for Jughead's title that's seen later in the volume shows his indifference to many and varied varieties of girls (including Betty), all of whom seem fascinated by HIM. For those who think the 'Jughead likes girls after all' plot was just brought out in the late 80s, think again.

Jughead's title itself is pretty good - he's drawn here by George Frese, and has evolved so that he merely looks in his mid-30s rather than the elderly Jughead of Bob Montana. One of the odder things here is seeing not one but two weird old guys who give Jughead super secret formulas - both related to football. We also meet an early version of Moose Mason, who is dating Lottie rather than Midge, but is still just as jealous of anyone who even looks at her - especially Jughead, who is even MORE suspicious as he doesn't like girls. (Again, as in the Archie title, Jughead's hatred of girls is made light of several times. We even see him trying to instruct his cousin Soupy in the art of being gallant to a lady.) This was a decent title, but I noted that Jughead's luck seemed far worse than it does in later titles from the 70s and 80s - here he's very much a hard-luck victim much of the time.

As for the Reggie title, I've always felt he worked better as a foil than as the star, so wasn't as bowled over. Still, they did a good job of keeping things varied here, with a few stories about his reputation for pranks and practical jokes. Most of the issue, though, tended to focus on Reggie's colossal ego, and how it keeps getting him into hot water. I did note that out of all the issues we see here, Reggie's comes closest to looking like the 'modern' style - Reggie hasn't changed much over the years, barring that first issue of Jackpot comics where he seems to be called Scotty).

The highlight of the book for me was the Betty and Veronica issue. First off, George Frese's art is at his best here, showing the girls looking very attractive long before Dan DeCarlo came along to streamline their design. The girls' friendship is shown very well, with a great story that has Betty sleeping over at Veronica's house, and realizing that the money to buy whatever you want does not translate into a happy and loving home. (It also has Betty and Veronica in sexy nightwear, for those who like that sort of thing.) Veronica's persona is somewhat similar to her modern one, but Betty is quite different - in fact, a few of these titles could have been rewritten as Melody from the Pussycats without changing much of anything. Betty has a very perky 'dumb blonde' attitude throughout here, which is a change from her modern persona, but also hilarious in its own way.

This does not mean that those who hunt through comics looking for 'Betty Cooper Is Insane' stories (see http://mightygodking.com/index.php/2009/06/03/it-puts-the-lotion-on-its-skin/ for details) are out of luck, for we have here The Rainmaker, easily my favorite story of the collection. The premise has Betty trying to get a date with Archie, but she's asked to pick up her father's shotgun from the shop before she does. She then decides she can 'play the jealousy angle' by threatening to murder him if he doesn't go out with her. He points out, however, that this time it's not Veronica that's in the way, but his father - it's a nice day, so he has to clean out the garage. This prompts Betty to try to force rain by shooting dry ice into the air with her father's shotgun. The whole story has to be seen to be believed, and is worth the price alone.

All in all, this is a good example of early Archie stories, and despite some flaws shows us why the series is still going even after 70 years. Slapstick comedy, misunderstandings, likeable characters, and sex appeal. But mostly the comedy. Any comics fan, especially if they grew up with Archie, would like this as a Christmas gift. And it's apparently the start of a series; Dark Horse will put out Archie Archives Volume 1, with more Bob Montana stories from 1941 and 1942, in April 2011.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Twin Spica Volume 4

By Kou Yaginuma. Released in Japan as "Futatsu no Spica" by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Flapper. Released in North America by Vertical.

This volume of Twin Spica, while still starring Asumi, does flare out a little more to show the others in the ensemble cast. Asumi's main role here is to once again find that things are not going to be as easy as 1-2-3, as we find that as physically powerful as she is, she has a weak left hand grip as a result of the accident with the spaceship. This, of course, is a problem when you are trying to maneuver through space. We also meet a young man from a different school, who not only despises the space school for unstated reasons (though it's suggested it's because the school gets tons of funding that people feel would be better spent elsewhere), but also reminds her of her middle school 'boyfriend' whose death we saw in the previous volume.

Of the other characters we see in depth, Mr. Lion was the one that most surprised me. Dead mentors generally don't get many opportunities to grow and change, but as Mr. Lion is thinking about who Marika reminds him of, he is reminded of a time right after he died, when he helps his estranged father on a long hike (and, as it turns out, it's the beginning to an even longer journey - this flashback is clearly meant to evoke Asumi and her mother in Volume 1). His father, of course, is heartbroken at his son's death, and even though he doesn't know who Mr. Lion is, he still pours his heart out. Having Mr. Lion as a regular in the series allows us to take a very interesting look at death and those left behind, which so far is one of the main themes of Twin Spica.

The other character we see more of here is Marika, and while we don't get a complete backstory, we do see a few things that show us there's a lot more going on here than just a lonely rich girl and her overprotective dad. The dad is back here, offering her medicine which she refuses to take. I'm trying not to spoil the revelations here, but clearly they point to something bigger than I was expecting, and intrigued to see how it gets handled. That said, Marika is still, at heart, a lonely rich girl, and the scene of her trying to ask Asumi if she wants to go to the New Year's temples is adorable.

After a short 6-page side story showing a young Fuchuya being told to watch over the middle-school Asumi, who has trouble making friends, we get what may be the first unrelated short story of the series, about a man and woman who dated years ago meeting in Tokyo as adults. Of course, it has themes of spaceflight as well, and I had briefly wondered if the hero was meant to be Mr. Lion at a younger age. Certainly the heroine looks a lot like I suspect Asumi will as an adult. As with most of Twin Spica, the story evokes bittersweet yet sentimental nostalgia.

This series is never going to be full of big gosh wow moments, but I doubt anyone reads it for that. It's a peaceful, understated look at spaceflight, with appealing characters and a good sense of pacing. While it may drown in its sentiment a bit much sometimes, honestly I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fairy Tail 12

By Hiro Mashima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Del Rey.

I hadn't reviewed Volume 11 of this series, mostly as it consisted of one giant fight, and I always find those harder to review. This wraps up the Tower of Heaven arc, though, and gives Erza a lot more emotional kicks to the teeth, something that was the purpose of this arc.

I am rather glad I read it in Volume format. One thing I've noticed about shonen series with long strings of fights, be it this series, One Piece, or Bleach is that they read a lot better 11 chapters in a row than they do waiting from week to week for the next punch to be thrown. Certain fandoms have arcs they dislike more than others - Skypeia in One Piece, Hueco Mundo in Bleach - and a large part of why they may be disliked is this is when the online fandom 'caught up' and started to read it week to week... and realized that, yes, 40-50 chapter fights over the course of an entire year CAN feel like they drag out.

The majority of this book features Erza finally battling her old friend and now mind-controlled enemy Jellal. How mind-controlled Jellal actually is is left up in the air, and things aren't helped by the arrival of Council Member Siegrain, which is an incredibly obvious and poorly handled revelation even though the author didn't intend for it to be a secret. It's possible I'm missing the subtle parodying going on here - this is a shout out to Mashima's previous work, Rave Master, which I haven't read - but in general if villains are going to stand around being smug jerks, they need to be better than this.

The ending, featuring Erza sacrificing herself to destroy the Tower and save her friends, works much better. I will have to go back and look at previous volumes to see if we only saw her crying from one eye before, but it's a cool backstory bit that gives a nice emotional punch to the final page of the volume. Likewise, Erza 'seeing' her own funeral is heartbreaking, and is a great answer to all those shonen sacrifices who are 'dying so that others might live'. It's in the characters and their love and affection for each other, rather than the fighting and posturing, which is where Fairy Tail really shines.

Of course, that's still just one chapter, and it has to be said that while this book read very fast, in the end I was slightly disappointed. There's really no way that Mashima's going to avoid his series being compared to One Piece, not as long as Natsu and Lucy are the hero and heroine. The problem with that is that if he wants to get attention here, he really needs to step up his game. It's hard not to compare this to the Arlong arc from One Piece, and in most respects it simply pales by comparison.

Fairy Tail continues in Japan, of course, and is about 14 volumes ahead of North America right now. That will only increase, as we may not see a new volume for a year or more with Kodansha's titles in Limboland. That's a dangerous state, one that can easily kill off a series that depends on people knowing there's a new volume every 3 months, and with the ending this volume has, I wonder how many casual readers might think the series finished? Still, if you want to read Kodansha's answer to One Piece, I'd get it at the library, and just read Chapters 99-100. They're really good chapters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hayate x Blade Omnibus Volume 1

By Shizuru Hayashiya. Originally released in Japan as Vols. 1-3 separately by ASCII Media Works, serialized in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Currently released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Ultra Jump. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

First off, unlike Seven Seas' Strawberry Panic omnibus, which printed 2 'magazine only' chapters at the end as extra content, you aren't gaining anything new here. In fact, you lose something, as the translation notes explaining some of the more obscure Japanese references are not included in this omnibus. So if you already have Seven Seas' first three volumes, you aren't missing anything.

If you haven't picked this series up yet, however, I do recommend it. It's just fun. Insane antics at an all-female private academy, featuring an insane School President who has girls fight in pairs with swords at random times, with financial rewards (and suggestion of more) for the winners. Into this comes our heroine, Hayate Kurogane, a simply and naive yet nimble girl, who enters the academy under a pretense - her twin sister Nagi is ill, and Hayate is there to take her place till she can recover and enter the school. Sadly, pretense and Hayate don't go together well, and this is discovered almost immediately. Luckily, the president will let anything happen as long as it interests or amuses her, so Hayate is allowed to stay at the Academy as well.

As the series goes on, we get introduced to more and more young girls with swords - in fact, it can get very difficult to keep track of them all without reference guides - and you gradually come to realize that they're all nuts in some way, shape or form. Every time you meet someone who's a supposed 'tsukkomi' or straight woman, they do something incredibly stupid to show off their boke side. You can argue Ayana comes closest, but this is a girl who keeps 'Mr. Nailbat' by her bedside and threatens loan sharks while wearing a plastic bag over her head. And this doesn't even get into the girls who are *supposed* to be funny all the time.

Seven Seas has talked up the yuri in this manga series, and it's certainly there if you want to look for it, but especially in the early volumes I think people who go into this expecting lots of Girls' Love are going to be disappointed. Even Jun, the resident pervert in the manga (who is also a kickass ninja - it's that kind of manga) is fairly sedate in these early volumes. That said, any series in an all-girls school with women teamed up as partners with swords is going to have yuri subtext, and there's some nice bits here.

I also note that Seven Seas used the cover art with Hitsugi and Shizuku for this omnibus, which makes sense. Even the most casual reader of the series tends to read through it looking for 'Hitsugi moments'. She is the aforementioned School President, and manages to be one of the funniest characters n the series, as well as easily the most badass. She is the personification of this series taken to eleven, as is her partner Shizuku, who once again appears to be the serious-minded straight woman until you see her trying to get over a cold WITH GREAT JUSTICE! They're my favorite couple in the manga.

As I noted, if you have this already you don't have to buy it again. But if you haven't checked it out, do so. Tons of strong women with swords doing funny things while having well-drawn battles. It needs more love.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

License Request (sort of) Day: Medaka Box

By NisiOisiN and Akira Akatsuki. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump.

Most manga in Japan run in magazines, be they weekly, monthly, or what have you. Likewise, it's a fact of publishing: the popular series keep going, the unpopular series last only a few volumes. This is especially true of shonen manga, and it is ESPECIALLY true of Weekly Shonen Jump, who have let its readership know that a large part of the magazine is based around its reader poll. Popular series at the front, less popular series in the back. The only exceptions are KochiKame, which is uncancellable, and the recently ended Jaguar, which requested the final spot every week.

So the competition is fierce, and many have noted the sheer number of 2-3 volume series in Jump lately that have fallen at the graveyard of popularity. And it has to be said, Jump has a certain mystique. You're seeing more and more fighting manga in its pages, and fewer and fewer romantic or school-based comedies. And the fighting manga are very muich of the Dragon Ball Z type. Defeat enemy, befriend them, then take on even STRONGER enemy. This was mocked as far back as Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, which also noted the danger of quickly getting things to unrealistic if you keep doing that.

So, on to my main theme. In May 2009, a new manga debuted in Jump called Medaka Box. The basic premise was that a buxom young girl became Student Council President, and with the help of her reluctant and vaguely grumpy childhood friend, resolves to solve any problem that is given to them. It had a lot of things going against it. The Strawberry 100%-type ecchi fanservice mangas had fallen out of favor with readers lately (especially as Jump got more female readers), the basic premise of 'we'll help others around the school' seemed similar to Sket Dance, another Jump manga, and most importantly, Medaka was far too perfect. Reading the first few chapters, this was clear as a bell. She was a Mary Sue, perfect in every way - the characters in the manga even noted it themselves.

And so, after Jump's brief new series grace period, it sank like a stone to the dreaded 'Bottom Five', the final 5 series of every week - cancellation fodder. Many predicted it would wrap up in 2 volumes, maybe 3. However, those who pay attention to the actual credits of the manga were thinking one thing, and one thing only - when is NisiOisiN going to take things to the next level? Because with him writing this, this CAN'T be all there is.

NisiOisiN is a pen name for one of the more famous young Japanese novel writers at the moment, creator of several series such as Bakemonogatori (which spawned an anime) and Zaregoto (which Del Rey released two volumes of). He is very famous for, pardon the expression, screwing with his reader's heads, as well as his character and plot twists, where you feel the immediate urge to go back and re-read everything with your newly gained perspective. So, the reader asked, why is he writing pointless fanservice comedy?

We're then introduced to a 10-year-old boy who is the school disciplinary officer, who decided to take on the Student Council. This proceeds to become a big fight, which gets vaguely ludicrous towards the end. Then the kid reveals that he's merely one of thirteen other 'abnormals' who are being used as lab rats in the school to try to create the perfect human. And they want Medaka to join them, as she is, well, a Mary Sue. She refuses, and proceeds to invade the secret underground base under the school to stop them.

This is only the beginning of the powerups, and the even more powerful characters, and the fights, and the murderers, and the psychos - LOTS of psychos. Finally, after thirty or so chapters and lots of broken ribs later, our heroes have defeated and befriended everyone. And so... we get introduced to Medaka's old enemy, and his *new* collection of 13 *more* students, who are even more insane, and even more powerful, and by now we've gone outside the realms of reality.

If you think this sounds like a bunch of desperate attempts to bump up the popularity so that the series avoids cancellation, you're likely right. However, the fact that it's NisiOisiN writing this makes me suspect that this was partially planned from the start, perhaps even down to the first few chapters being so aggressively mediocre. Moreover, for a trainwreck, it's immensely entertaining. The heroine gets even more epic, even as she runs up against her natural born enemies. The hero keeps getting called 'normal' by everyone, which is laughable (he's insanely strong), but also accurate (he doesn't have bizarre powers or abilities).

There's also Shiranui, who may be my favorite character. We've all seen girls like her in manga these days. She's supposed to be 16, but looks about 6. She has pink hair and a big ahoge. She's perky, ALWAYS eating, and incredibly irritating. She cheerfully announces that she enjoys messing with the hero, her best friend, just to see how interesting it will be. In short, she's not only the 'comic relief' loli, but also really annoying. And then the manga becomes a fighting manga, and we expect her to quietly go away, the way most comic relief characters do when things get serious. Instead, she proceeds to quietly set our heroes up. Then set the villains up. Then send in a whole bunch of new people to help out. And then finally is currently siding with the REALLY evil villains. In short, it wouldn't surprise me if the annoying token loli is the final Big Bad. That's pretty awesome.

There's many ways this is a Jump manga besides the fighting and insane power levels. Power of Friendship is all over this, though it's parodies and mocked as much as it is used. It's shown over and over how training and hard work are ultimately a goal in themselves. And in the end, it's all about choices. My favorite scene in the manga has Zenkichi, the hero, confronting Shiranui, the aforementioned evil annoying fake loli. He asks her whether the series' current Big Bad is forcing her to join their group. She grins, and notes that she joined them entirely of her own volition. And then... he smiles, and says that's OK. He's still annoyed about it, but knows she's just like this, and as long as it's her decision, not only is he OK with it, but they're still friends, even if they're enemies. This gets her (once he's gone) to give perhaps the first genuine smile we've seen from her the entire manga.

Even if you're siding with horrible monsters, it's OK as long as it's your own goal, and you see it through. Wow, that's shonen. And Jump.

I can't really call this a license request, as I can easily see why it has several pitfalls. There's much gratuitous fanservice, especially at the start, which extends to the covers at times (Medaka is well-endowed, and shows it off constantly). It's still running in Jump (in fact, lately it's even headed for the front of the magazine) and lately, Viz has been wary of licensing long-running series unless they're REALLY popular (Toriko, Bakuman) in case they become things like 60+ volume One Piece. But mostly, the start isn't good, and the middle and current arc are half entertaining manga and half glorious trainwreck. As Kenshin fans know, it's very hard to get fans to commit when you say "It gets better after this starting bit." Medaka Box has the added problem of its start not being very much like its current state.

Despite that, I still want Viz to get this. If only as we recently saw two boys fighting over a pit of vipers. Not what I expected from a fanservicey school comedy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Manga the week of 11/17

Next week from Midtown Comics features some stuff I got from Diamond this week, and some stuff everyone ELSE got this week but I, like Midtown, will get next week. Ah, the fun of being a Diamond Comics store customer! (Support your local comicke shoppe, yo.)

So Dark Horse shipped Archie Firsts to everyone but the Northeast Corridor this week. It promises to be an excellent archive volume, unlike IDW's worthy but fairly random Dan DeCarlo collection. It has Archie's initial appearance in Pep Comics, as well as reprints of his first self-titled comic, Jughead's first, Betty and Veronica's first, and Reggie's first. (Yes, Reggie got a comic back in the day.) For Archie geeks, it's a must buy.

Oh right, that header says manga. Digital Manga Publishing is releasing some new yaoi (well, if by new you mean almost 13 years old) called Treasure, the second volume of Kiss Blue, from the awesomely titled 'Craft' magazine, and the 4th omnibus Volume of Itazura Na Kiss, which presumably contains Vols. 7 & 8 of the Shueisha release, and will no doubt feature more of Naoki being Naoki.

Seven Seas is releasing a 3-in-1 omnibus of the first 3 Hayate x Blade books! If you've not checked this series out, I highly recommend it - some of the best slapstick action comedy in print today. And for a low low price! They also have the first Inukami omnibus, which... um, moving on...

In case you thought there was no Kodansha stuff coming out anymore, there's still Udon! Which has the 3rd and final volume of Mega Man Megamix, originally put out by Kodansha in their kids' manga magazine Comic Bom Bom.

Viz has the second volume of the low-key space drama Saturn Apartments from their SigIkki like, and the wheelchair basketball drama Real, which has been running for 11 years and is up to Volume 9. That's already rather sad, but then you realize it runs in WEEKLY Young Jump.

And then there's Yen, with the big debut of the week, K-ON! While I know that's it's not for everyone, particularly the plushy moe character design, it's one of those 4-koma series that really works for me as slice-of-life. Speaking of massive media tie-ins, there's also the third Spice & Wolf manga, from ASCII Mediaworks' slightly more mature offshoot magazine, Dengeki Maoh. And there's the third volume of Ichiroh!, which runs in the same magazine as K-ON!, debuted the same year, and which I really don't care for. Ah, such is life.

What interests you this week?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Genkaku Picasso Volume 1

By Usamaru Furuya. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz.

I've long been a fan of Furuya's other series that Viz released here long ago, Short Cuts. This was a 4-koma gag series about ko-gals that was released back in the late 1990s in Shogakukan's seinen magazine Young Sunday. Its weird, disturbing, and vibrant sense of humor greatly appealed to me, and you could see the talent of the artist just oozing off the page. Unfortunately, it's been harder to find him since then. 51 Ways To Save Her was licensed by CMX, but they folded before it could come out. Likewise, his adaptation of No Longer Human is also proving difficult to license. And Palepoli, his breakout series, was only partially translated in the Secret Comics Japan book.

So I'm very happy to see Genkaku Picasso out over here. It's one of his more sedate works, but even normal Furuya is still really disturbing and weird. It ran in Shueisha's Jump Square, which is their rebranded Monthly Shonen Jump, offering places for both Jump titles that wanted a more visible place (Rosario to Vampire, D.Gray-Man) and series like this, oddballs that aren't really appropriate for Shonen Jump itself. Genkaku, by the way, means hallucination, which fits very well with the story of a sullen and introverted Japanese boy who has to use his artistic abilities to help people.

The cover shows Picasso biting his thumbnail, something that's almost become a shorthand for the repressed and bullied Japanese male teen. I've seen similar in GTO and other shonen series, and honestly in another shonen series he'd probably be the problem to be solved, with our heroes trying to stop him from whatever foul plot he has to get noticed/get revenge/etc. But no, this kid is the star, and it's his job to help people overcome their demons and deepest fears, with the help of his magical sketchbook and his deceased friend Chiaki, who has returned as a mini-Angel who lives in his pocket.

I say 'magical sketchbook', but this is not a case of 'I am giving you these awesome tools', and indeed there's a possibility that all of the supernatural elements in this are not real. I doubt that's the case, but no one but Picasso can see Chiaki, and when he 'falls into' his sketchbook he merely passes out in the real world. It's a plausible deniability that helps to raise tension while keeping things in the real world. (We see Chiaki put something in Picasso's pocket just before the accident that kills her, and she notes it's 'the inside of her heart'. If it was some sort of love letter or confession, all of this could be a hallucinatory rationalization on Picasso's part.)

Furuya's art has a certain style that's not very much like anyone else. In Short Cuts, he would occasionally use a page or two to draw incredibly bizarre, surreal landscapes. That carries over here, as the sketches of people's hearts that Picasso draws are very surreal, to put it kindly. Many of them are meant to be disturbing, and it's always a treat seeing the main characters interact with this weird art.

On the downside, Picasso himself can be a very uninspiring hero. He's a repressed, introverted Japanese boy, almost the exact opposite of your typical Jump hero, and though this experience is clearly designed to draw him out and help him win friends, his constant whining can grate on you. Likewise, many of the situations he's trying to solve fall into the Psych 101 category (Chiaki is even seen reading psychology books at the start, as if this wasn't obvious enough), and since each trauma has to be resolved in about 50 pages, the solutions can seem very pat. Oh yes, and Akane's affection (and reason for it) is very creepy, but it's FURUYA. Creepy is what he DOES.

Nevertheless I will definitely be getting more of this. Any manga that can have me theorizing about the reality or fantasy of it, and trying to work out its mechanics, has won me over. And there's always a chance of more gloriously broken art in the future. And at only 3 volumes, this is easily something to collect to show off that not all Jump series are about ninjas and pirates. Recommended.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gin Tama Volume 20

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

Poor Gin Tama. Not only does it not do well in the North American sales charts compared to its other Jump brethren, but it doesn't even get respect among those who illegally scanlate the latest chapters from Japan! Determined to put out such titles as SWOT or Medaka Box as soon as the raws become available, uncaring scanlators leave Gin Tama alone for months at a time, only coming back when there's a big battle.

Luckily, there is an answer! You can buy the manga from Viz, thus supporting the artist and publisher! And as your reward, Kyoko Shapiro and Lance Caselman will translate all the difficult puns that give you headaches whenever you look at them! It's win-win! (I also note that Kyoko Shapiro, late of Aurora Press and now translating for Viz, has one of my favorite names ever.)

Meanwhile, back in Gin Tama, this volume starts out by quickly resolving the cursed sword arc that took up the majority of Volume 19. The traitor has been ferreted out, and the hired gun sent by Takasugi turns out to be no match for Gin's pure stubborn awesomeness. Gin is almost the perfect shonen hero, bellowing out that he's never fought any battles for a country or its people, but only to protect his friends, so nothing has changed.

Speaking of shonen awesomeness, I've noted the tendency Gin Tama has to sometimes kill people off, something usually avoided by other Jump titles. And here we have a traitor to the Shinsengumi, one who tried to have their captain killed. He can't be allowed to live, even if he has seen the error of his ways and realized how foolish he was. So they give him a sword, and let him die honorably in battle, cut down by Hijitaka. It's a beautiful thing.

The rest of this volume is, naturally, far more comedic and lighthearted, as Gin Tama returns to its gag manga roots. Whether it be mocking Jump artists' tendency to imitate Dragon Ball Z, having Yamazaki (who, surprise, isn't dead - see my review of Vol. 19) take an exam to see if he is fit to infiltrate the exclusionist rebels, or have everyone get shipwrecked while on a journey to the Dragon Palace, it's loud, brash, and very, very funny. Again, if you can't tolerate a manga whipsawing between low comedy and epic shonen drama, be wary of Gin Tama. Even a 2-part 'serious' story starring Kagura's father turns out to have been a setup for one giant punch line.

My favorite chapter was one focusing on Kagura, who is generally cast as the role of comedic bruiser so often that we forget she's also a teenage girl. She's noticing the females around town have very girly umbrellas, and decides to trade in her superpowered one for a frilly model. Of course, these frilly umbrellas are not much use in typhoons. What follows is a quiet but heartfelt chapter that emphasizes Kagura's good heart and tendency towards loneliness and self-doubt, something she's usually very good at covering up.

Gin Tama is the most diverse manga currently running in Shonen Jump, offering something for almost everyone. Not as full of itself as Bleach, nor as completely loopy as Bobobobo-Bobobo, Gin Tama strikes a nice balance that I admire, and continually makes me wonder what will happen next. This volumes ends on another cliffhanger, with Gin and Katsura transformed into old, decrepit men! What can possibly happen next? The preview seems to suggest it will involve a lot of dressing up as giant turtles...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

S.A. Volume 17

By Maki Minami. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.

At last we come to the final volume of Special A. Honestly, most of the plot could have been wrapped up several volumes ago. Indeed, a number of the couples resolved their plotlines long ago, and have simply been sitting there taking up space for long periods. And the plots we see in the final volume are all from the Big Shoujo Book Of Endings, featuring the family resolving misunderstandings, the heroine having to choose between family and her new love, and a final chapter featuring an over the top proposal.

All that said, I quite liked this final volume. Maki Minami is bad at all the actual plotting and pacing, but her writing itself is excellent, and she really knows how to wring emotion out of you. The first chapter resolves the fight between Kei's mother and grandfather with a minimum of fuss. The surprise here is meant to be that we've suspected Kei's grandfather of hating Hikari as she reminds him so much of his dead wife, whereas the reality is the opposite: Hikari reminds him of his own self, and he (as well as his daughter) feel that she worried herself to death the way that Kei tends to do regarding Hikari. Of course, this is all a giant misunderstanding, but give Hikari the opportunity to leap from tall buildings and be very shiny, her best qualities.

After the weakest chapter of the book, involving Akira growing weary of being treated like a chef/waitress by the others (a genuine grudge, and something resolved far too patly), we find Hikari making that choice that I mentioned earlier. It requires her leaving the school, something she has trouble telling everyone. Once they find out, of course, it becomes a giant farewell party... which, since none of them really want her to leave, turns into a giant contest. Everyone basically straight up admits that this is a way to guilt her into staying, but it doesn't read as being wrong, mostly as even Hikari's dad thinks she's making the wrong decision. Everyone bids her farewell one by one, as Hikari feels worse and worse, culminating in Akira sobbing and begging her not to go.

Until finally, it all comes down to a giant battle between her and Kei. This is the best part of the book, mostly as it's clear how much this is foreplay for them. We see Kei reminiscing about the history of their battles, and see that yes, he DID try once what all of us wondered about: he let Hikari win. This was back when they were kids. And it devastated her, as she immediately knew he did it. Seeing her on her knees in tears, begging him to fight her again at full strength... is when he fell in love with her, even back then. Then seeing her joyful face as she races from him, knowing that to Hikari the outcome is secondary to the love of the contest... this is the high point of the manga. Really well done.

After that it's just an epilogue, showing each couple getting about 2 pages to show they're all happy together. (One part, with Jun and Sakura, seems to be poorly translated by Viz. It notes that Sakura is a free man. I can't understand that at all.) And, with Kei winning one more contest against Hikari, we are finished.

Honestly, this was a fun volume for me only as I'd read the previous 16 and was invested in the characters. On its own, it's filled with flaws. But then, anyone reading S.A. 17 will have read the other ones anyway. For them, it's a decent wrapup to the series, especially for our hero and heroine. Even if it could have been done back at Volume 9 or so.

Kimi Ni Todoke Volume 6

By Karuho Shiina. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret ("Betsuma"). Released in North America by Viz.

I'm starting to notice a problem with the fact that a great deal of the shoujo manga we see here comes from Hakusensha titles. I've grown used to their fast, somewhat chaotic and cluttered style. So when I get to a title from, say, Shueisha, the pace always seems too slow and pedantic for me. That's the complaint I have with this volume of Kimi ni Todoke - it's 180 pages, but with only 4 chapters, and with the art and plot as spread out and relaxed as it is, it feels like very little happened here.

Well, that wraps up my complaints. Now back to gushing. Wow, this continues to be one of the best shoujo manga titles coming out here in North America. Sawako mostly takes a backseat for 3/4 of it, as we wrap up the arc featuring Chizuru and her crush on Ryu's big brother. The cliffhanger we left Vol. 5 with is resolved almost immediately, as Big Brother returns home for the holidays with his fiancee in tow. So most of what we get are Chizuru trying to come to terms with her crushed dreams, and the fight she subsequently has with Ryu.

A lot of the fun in this volume comes from characters not reacting the way that we think they should. Even Ayane notes this out loud, saying that a Chizuru trying to act 'normally' while repressing everything is something that she can't deal with. Meanwhile, Ryu is normally the most perceptive of the group, but here is forced to actually step out of his passive role, and finds it very awkward going. Chizuru can easily scream and yell, but when he's angry or frustrated, he has no such vent. As a result, we completely understand why Chizuru is so confused with his behavior - why on earth is her steady, reliable friend giving her mixed signals NOW?

We don't actually end with any sort of confession - far too early in the series for that, and the manga's at 12 volumes and still running in Japan. But things do wrap up well, with Chizuru and Ryu's brother working things out as well as they ever will, and then having her and Ryu make up. Their talk at the dockside is the sweetest, most touching part of the volume, and makes you yearn for them to get closer. But at least they're friends again.

The last chapter is also excellent, reminding us that while Sawako has come very far since the start of the manga, she's not remotely a normal, sociable girl yet. What's more, she's not yet at the point where Christmas is a time for friends and lovers rather than family - though we can see her struggling with it. Luckily, Kazehaya continues to be the best boyfriend ever, and is totally understanding of what she needs to do. He also gets her the perfect Christmas present. But I've gone on about Kazehaya's perfection before.

Basically, even though the pace seems sluggish to me as a reader of much more pacey shoujo manga, it's not that bad in its own context. And if the pacing is all I can complain about, then you're in for a treat. Kimi ni Todoke continues to be one of the best manga being published today. Seek it out.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Otomen Volume 8

By Aya Kanno. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume ("Betsuhana"). Released in North America by Viz.

I'm not certain who first came up with the expression, but I first heard it back on rec.arts.drwho in the 90s, from novel author Jonathan Blum. He noted, "There's a difference between suspension of disbelief and hanging disbelief by the neck until dead dead dead." I was reminded of it again while reading Otomen Volume 8, which I think has to be read as a gleeful savage parody of shoujo conventions. Mostly because if you don't, you'll want to hurl it across the room.

In this volume, we meet Ryo's grandfather, who she has moved to Hokkaido to care for. (More on that later.) He is a large, Fu-Manchu-mustached BULL of a man. Grumpy and mistrusting of both his granddaughter and Asuka. However, this is a plot twist, as it later turn out... (wait for it...) that he's secretly an OTOMEN! Oh My God! He sews cute plushies! And makes ornaments and picture frames! How adorable! In the next chapter, however, trouble comes. Asuka's mother has decided that these feminine men need to be rubbed out, and she's brought in a ringer to help achieve her plan - Masamune Kasuga, Asuka's cousin, who is going around looking to expel any man who does girly things.

Now, we don't get a hint of this in this volume, but I think any self-respecting reader will know that in Volume 9, Kasuga will be revealed to be a secret Otomen. I haven't read ahead and have no inside information - but DUH. I imagine Kanno-san, every time she writes in another male in this series, just laughing her ass off imagining how far she can take this. Well... quite far, as we've seen, but I am starting to get a little aggravated by the whole thing. I read Otomen for reasons other than the giant parody of shoujo conventions, and the reader in me who likes genuine plot and characterization is getting weary of the fakeness that this series possesses.

Let's look at another example. In this volume, we finally get what I've been begging for for ages. Ryo, as I noted above, moves to Hokkaido (briefly - she's back by the end of the book), and Asuka, knowing Ryo well, decides to give her a big send-off by taking her training in the mountains. This leads up to him noting that there's no need to make lots of fun memories thinking they'll never meet again, as he will love her no matter what. And then, Ryo actually says she loves him as well. What's more, it seems to stick - when they're walking around Hokkaido, they're mistaken for a married couple, something Ryo denies, but she does note that they are dating.

I should be more happy about this than I am. The main problem, of course, is that Ryo is as opaque as ever. Even in the most aggravating of shoujo series, where the girl misunderstands her aloof guy constantly, we get the occasional bone thrown to us, showing him secretly staring at her with a kind face, or a brief look at his own thoughts on the matter. Ryo's thoughts are a mystery to us, and her returning Asuka's feelings of love is therefore less heartwarming than it should be. Why did she stay silent for so long about her own feelings? Why is she so content to simply let things stay in a holding pattern for so long? There's any number of answers we can guess at, but the lack of any answers makes Ryo feel a bit flat compared to the rest of the guys.

I am still enjoying reading Otomen. It's got a fun, biting sense of humor, loves picking at shoujo conventions, and the art is cute and appealing. But every volume makes me wish it were being written less as a parody and more as a genuine story. It has enormous potential, but, like Ryo, seems content to simply be what it is an not move any further. Which is somewhat sad.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Manga the week of 11/10

At last, it's the relatively quiet week we've all been dreaming of!

Vertical has the fourth volume of Twin Spica. At MangaNext, Ed Chavez noted the series was merely doing "okay" sales-wise. We need to pump that up, this is a great manga!

Meanwhile, Viz has its non-Jump or Beat stuff. Some Shonen Sunday, with new Inu Yasha (along with its omnibus), and Maoh: Juvenile Remix. Some more violent stuff in Shonen Sunday's seinen spinoff Gene-X, with Jormungand. Seinen of both the gritty sci-fi (Biomega) and dog-loving fanservice-loving (Inubaka). And the last of the DBZ omnibuses. I never really cared for DBZ, preferring its younger and goofier Dragon Ball self, but hey, the kids seem to like it. And there's no denying its influence.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Wallflower Volumes 22, 23, & 24

By Tomoko Hayakawa. Released in Japan in 3 separate volumes as "Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge" by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Friend ("Betsufure"). Released in North America by Del Rey.

If you go to the popular wiki site TV Tropes, and look up the entry for The Wallflower, you'll note a common theme from the editors of the page. All of them are frustrated with the manga's lack of romantic progress, and regard it as a deep, crippling flaw. The entries for 'Oblivious to Love' and 'Everyone Can See It' burn with a radiant fury at the author of this manga for continuing to toddle along with her goofy comedy without letting Sunako and Kyohei grow to be the perfect couple they're meant to be. In the previous volume, the author admitted in the endnotes that her editor was also annoyed with her for dragging things on, and confesses that she can't actually write romance.

Now, to be fair, this is not entirely unwarranted. At 24 volumes in North America, and still running in Japan, this is one of the longest shoujo series still being published. That's a big investment for something with little to no romantic payoff. And yes, if you read this manga waiting for Sunako and Kyohei to get together, you should really give up and stop; that or move on to Kimi ni Todoke, which explores many of the same themes, albeit with less bishie guys.

But if, like me, you love the sheer goofy comedy of The Wallflower, seeing the main characters overreact to the slightest provocation, seeing Sunako vary wildly between her superdeformed normal self and the pretty girl she clearly is when inspired to be, and above all watching the rest of the cast also get intensely angry at Kyohei and Sunako for JUST NOT GETTING IT, then this is three almost perfect volumes in one big omnibus. All of what makes this title fun is here.

In non-Sunako and Kyohei news, the beta couples basically each get one chapter, which isn't much for a three-volume series but then they aren't the stars. Noi once again desires to be closer to Takenaga-kun, even if it kills her, and almost manages to ruin things simply by trying too hard. Meanwhile, in one of the funniest (and raciest) chapters, Ranmaru's father, sick of his womanizing, decides to sexually exhaust him so that he'll grow sick of it. He does this by throwing piles of females at him, to the point where he has to sexually satisfy AN ENTIRE HAREM. Naturally, his fiancee Tamao shows up right when he's ready to collapse in her arms, which is good, as this is clearly the one girl Ranmaru DOESN'T want to just sleep with and not care about.

Heck, we even get a glimpse of Yuki's much mentioned but rarely seen girlfriend, who wants to spend Christmas with him in a hotel but is despairing of her 'chubby belly'. Yuki, who despite being the youngest and most childlike of the four male leads can bishie it up just as well as any of them, is quick to reassure her that it doesn't matter to him at all. They then, it is implied, actually spend the night together at the hotel. Go Yuki!

Sunako and Kyohei, meanwhile, are themselves. They're exactly what you expect by now: Kyohei is grumbly and moody, only caring about Sunako when he sees her under attack or in distress. Of course, this being a shoujo manga, that happens a lot. Meanwhile, Sunako is getting more and more shots of her looking 'normal' as the series goes on, though she still defaults to the SD-mode. She's even getting slightly better when Kyohei kisses her (as he's forced to do at a party to show that she's better than the snobby girls mocking her), still gushing blood from the nose but recovering far more quickly.

The sexiest chapter is probably the one titled 'Merry Fuckin' Xmas Night' (and big kudos to Del Rey for keeping the original Japanese title). This one has the aforementioned Yuki love hotel plot, and also gives brief shots of Takenagi/Noi and Ranmaru/Tamao. Left to their own devices, Sunako and Kyohei thus proceed to get drunk on champagne. There is a brief moment where Sunako decides she's going to seduce Kyohei, producing some incredibly hot art. Then, of course, they slip into goofy drunk mode, and karaoke instead. No resolution for you!

The advent of Kimi ni Todoke, which has all the romance that The Wallflower lacks, as well as a similar premise of a 'scary' girl coming out of her shell, makes me worry that the fandom for this manga will simply shift over to its more popular Shueisha cousin. And to be honest, Kimi ni Todoke *is* a better manga. If you read The Wallflower waiting for the point when Kyohei and Sunako finally get together... drop it, seriously. If, on the other hand, you read it for the humor and sexy art, this omnibus gives you more of what you love. I'm uncertain if Kodansha USA will pick this up - an omnibus release hints at sliding sales - but 25 only came out in Japan a few months ago anyway, so it has mostly 'caught up'. Recommended for people with a high tolerance for frustration.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

License Request Day: Another look at the Japanese charts

Back in June I went over the Japanese manga charts, noting the bestsellers and whether the unknown titles could be licensed over here or not. It's five months later, so let's do it again.

This is an excellent week to look at Taiyosha's list, as I believe the entire top 10 is not out over here. To break it down:

1) Volume 11 of Arakawa Under the Bridge. This is a Square Enix title that runs in the seinen magazine Young Gangan, home of Bamboo Blade. It also has an anime in Japan (also unlicensed), with a second season coming soon. Sounds like a perfect pickup for Yen, except: it's over 10 volumes, and it's a bizarre comedy about weirdos. Which only sells if they fight each other in shonen comics. :)

2) Volume 46 of Glass Mask. This runs in Hakusensha's Bessatsu Hana to Yume, and I've talked before about its unlicensability, which is mainly due to its length and old-fashioned art style. This does not mean I would not LOVE IT here. It's one of the few series which if Viz licensed it online might tempt me into an iPad.

3) Volume 2 of Amagami - Precious Diary. Okay, if this *were* licensed, it'd have to be Tokyopop. It's a Hakusensha title, but this one from Young Animal, their seinen magazine for young horny guys. It's based on a datesim. And it's from the authoir of the Kimikiss manga, which TP has also licensed. It would do very well with the Kimikiss/Samurai Harem/"Look, boobs!" crowd.

4) Volume 10 of Kyou, Koi wo Hajimemasu. This is a Shogakukan title, and runs in the Shoujo Comic magazine. As with most titles in that magazine, it amps up the sex appeal. It's about a girl who's good at cutting hair, but otherwise is about as far from Beauty Pop as you can get. If Butterflies, Flowers does well for Viz, this may be a title they could pick up.

5) Volume 10 of Sora no Otoshimono. See my entry for Amagami, only it's 5 times as long and runs in Kadokawa's Shonen Ace. Again, if Tokyopop wants boobs manga, this could work for them.

6) Volume 4 of Kinou Nani Tabeta? Other bloggers have begged for this already, so I'll just note it runs in Kodansha's Weekly Morning magazine, and therefore Kodansha USA or Vertical seem the most likely. As for sellability, it's a Yoshinaga title starring gay men and food. It sells itself.

7) Volume 17 of Giant Killing. Speaking of Kodansha, this also runs in Weekly Morning. It also has an anime. However, it's over 10 volumes, and is a sports manga. Kodansha USA seems the only likely place for it.

8) Volume 24 of Iryuu - Team Medical Dragon. If I was a millionaire, and could toss money at Viz and tell them to license one lost cause, this might be it. It runs in Shogakukan's Big Comic Superior, which I believe is one of the few major manga magazines to have no North American licenses at all. (Spirits, Original, and BC itself all have something.) It's about ferreting out the corruption of the medical profession, and is pure awesome. It's also over 20 volumes of gripping seinen medical drama. Unless Viz gets a good offer, don't expect it soon.

9) The first volume of Kanpachi. This runs in Ichijinsha's Comic REX, a boy's magazine that also hosts its predecessor, Kannagi. The Kannagi author is on hiatus, so this is a superdeformed version to tide us over. Kannagi's been licensed by Bandai, and if it does well, I can't see why this wouldn't come over here as well.

10) Volume 9 of
Suki desu Suzuki-kun!!. Another Shoujo Comic series from Shogakukan, this one seems a bit less titillating than Kyou, Koi wo Hajimemasu, and might do well for Viz along the lines of their Sand Chronicles and We Were There licenses.

So what do people think? Any other thoughts on these manga? (No posting links to scan sites, I want them licensed, not scanlated.)