Monday, February 28, 2011

Oh My Goddess! Volume 37

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

Oh dear. Even for a recent volume of Oh My Goddess, a series never known for its deep and meaningful plotting, this seems like a very inconsequential volume. On the bright side, we once more have one plot carrying us through the whole volume (and into the following one, as we get a cliffhanger here). On the down side, despite the supposed 'threat to the world', the danger quotient just doesn't seem that high here. So what we're left with is a lot of running around the town, and introducing the new girl.

The new girl is named Chrono, and she is yet another goddess from heaven. However, unlike recent kickass goddesses like Peorth or Lind, Chrono is... a dojikko. What's more, thanks to Peorth deciding to be a tease, she's wearing a maid outfit, which is apparently the 'traditional costume' to wear when descending to Earth. This leads to a few jokes with Urd trying to get Chrono to say "Welcome home, Master" to Keiichi, but mostly appears to be there so that Fujishima can draw adorable clumsy maids. I think I liked it better when he spent the whole manga fetishizing motorcycles instead.

The main plot is that Chrono was supposed to be bringing a new program update to Belldandy. Except she smashed into a transformer, and dropped it. And it ended up flying all over the town in several pieces. The program is designed to keep the world 'in tune' essentially, and with its destruction all songs will vanish from the world... which would lead to the end of the world. So now Bell and the others but travel around looking for various aspects of the spell and capturing them, allowing Chrono, who has a beautiful singing voice, to take then into herself and recreate the update. The trouble is, as time goes by, Chrono's voice gets more out of tune because of the busted update...

One reason people might enjoy reading this is seeing the cameos from various minor OMG characters who pop up here. Aside from Megumi and Chiharu, the rest of the large supporting cast OMG had at the start vanished once Keiichi graduated from college. So it's nice to see that Tamiya and Otaki are as insane as ever, even when possessed to make music with their pneumatic drills. And seeing Sayoko raiding an alleyway's garbage so that she can bang on a can - well, that's likely the highlight of the volume.

Honestly, though, this volume didn't grab me. It also continues the tradition of being very short, something that can't really be complained about as the Japanese volumes are also this short. But there's only 147 pages of manga here, and in those pages, very little actually happens. Oh My Goddess fanatics are going to buy this anyway, but casual fans might want to wait for the next time Urd's demonic mother Hild shows up, as the story always seems to rev up once she arrives. Till then... well, have a dojikko maid goddess.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Higurashi: When They Cry Volumes 5-6

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Jiro Suzuki. Released in Japan as "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Tatarigoroshi-hen" by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Bless me father, for I have sinned. It's been over a year since my last Higurashi review. Look, sometimes things happen, OK? Especially when you KNOW bad, horrible things are going to happen and all you're doing is waiting on tenterhooks for them to take place. In addition, this particular arc, while not the goriest, is particularly unpleasant in many 'psychological horror' ways. In any case, I've read it now, and hopefully will start catching up with the other 5 volumes I have left here. Oh yes, it goes without saying that if you don't know the basic concept of how the Higurashi series works, you'll be spoiled here.

So this is the 'Satoko arc'. In the first two arcs, she was basically the bratty little kid who set annoying traps for Keiichi and did her ojou-sama laugh. It was briefly implied there was more to her than this, and this is the series where we find out what it is. She's abused. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. For a while, she had her brother to help her, but he disappeared a year earlier, on the night of the Cotton Drifting festival. And now her uncle is back, and worse than ever. But now we have our hero! Can Keiichi help and prevent another cycle of senseless tragedy?

Nope. And here is where we realize it's time to face facts; Keiichi is an awful, awful hero. As in the first arc, he's driven here primarily be paranoia and fear, and by Volume 2 almost everything he does will make you want to reach through the page and strangle him. His "perfect murder" plan is laughable, especially given that he is so obvious about his guilt. What's more, his innate distrust of his friends (who clearly are giving him an alibi, something he doesn't understand AT ALL) leads him to make things even worse. Now, to be fair, Satoko's uncle is a loathsome individual, even by Higurashi standards, and I shed no tears at his death. But as with the first two arcs, Keiichi seems to be defined by making the wrong decisions over and over. Which makes sense - this is based on a game, and there is no good end.

That said, if you can get past the protagonist's idiocy, there's a lot here to like. The mood is oppressive throughout, with the mantra of "we're powerless" coming up over and over. As I noted above, the gore here is subtler, though it does appear when it needs to (Rika's corpse is as horrible as ever). The most depressing moment of the manga is not the ending, with its huge pile of body bags, or Keiichi's murders, or even Rika at the shrine. It's Keiichi patting Satoko on the head, and having him hit what is clearly a hidden wound - something which sets her off into a shrieking frenzy as the strain gets to be too much for her. There's also odd hints and suggestions that work better in hindsight, after playing/reading the other arcs. The poem at the end is written by a character from the sequel series Umineko. And a phone conversation with Mion Keiichi has, and her subsequent freak out, makes me wonder if another 'twin switch' was going on at the time.

Overall, while there are no 'good endings' in most of the Higurashi series, this is one of the worst. Luckily, we're done with Keiichi as the hero. Next time, we get what appears to be a side story taking place a few years earlier, with a young police officer running into a little shrine maiden girl. However, I'm sure nothing will be as it seems. In the meantime, if you like over the top psychological horror and don't mind the occasional lolicon character designs, Higurashi will deliver for you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Manga the week of 3/2

When February has 28 days, shipping dates often go all weird. And this is not an exception. Midtown's list notes no Tokyopop books, showing they're MIA for another week. However, it *does* have the blitz from Viz, showing that Viz does know that it's March already.

Moreover, in addition to Midtown's early list, I'm now starting to rely on my own awesome comic shops' list, now that they have Facebook. They tell me I have a title from Seven Seas coming on the 2nd. Since I've no interest in the 2nd Inukami omnibus (another harem manga based on a light novel series), I will assume that it is the first volume of Toradora!, which I *am* getting despite the fact that it is... another harem manga based on a light novel series. DON'T YOU DARE JUDGE ME!

*cough* Anyway... the rest of the field is devoted to Viz Media. On the shonen side, there are new volumes devoted to Bleach, which I note only as it has the climax of the Mayuri/Syazel fight, and two more loathsome characters it's difficult to find. It's really great, despite Kubo's usual pacing issues. There's Hoshin Engi, and Hunter x Hunter (is it caught up with the hiatus yet?), as well as Yu-Gi-Oh GX and Ultimate Muscle for those fans who like the goofy game-esque fun that V-Jump gives you. Oh yes, and Stan Lee's Ultimo. My pick, however, is the 4th volume of Toriko, which will continue to be about the manliest food ever.

On the shoujo/josei side, there's plenty of awesome stuff. The debut this month is Oresama Teacher, another great Hana to Yume title, this one about a delinquent girl headed to a new school to try to stay on the straight and narrow, but will find that things aren't always as easy as it seems. I loved the author's last series (which I will avoid mentioning for decorum's sake), so this should be a big one for me. We also have new Kamisama Kiss, and on the LaLa side we have Library Wars 4 (which I still enjoy) and La Corda D'oro (which comes out every once in a blue moon, so grab it). And for the josei fan in you, there's more Butterflies, Flowers, which I'm sure will continue to be as funny and squirmy as ever.

All this and more can be yours!

Gunslinger Girl Volumes 1-3

By Yu Aida. Released in Japan by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

So a while back we had a Manga Movable Feast which discussed the Dengeki Daioh title Yotsuba&! At the time, I decided to compare and contrast it with another Dengeki Daioh title that skewed a bit more obviously towards the otaku, Strawberry Marshmallow. Gunslinger Girl runs in the same magazine, and it has to be said, aims for the same readership. The Dengeki Daioh reader, who likes his young girls perhaps a bit too much, says "Look at the cute girl doing everyday things!", or "Look at the cute girls acting strange!". And yes, they say "Look at the cute girls killing people!" But as creepy as it may sound, it all stems from 'Look, cute young girls."

The basic premise of this title (which began as a hentai doujinshi that was far more explicit, something that should surprise no one who reads this) is that in the near future, the Italian government has a secret agency that finds young 10-14 year old girls that have been in a serious, life-threatening accident, and saves their lives. Well, that's the outward premise. In reality, the girls are drugged and brainwashed into becoming assassins for hire, and they choose young girls as they take the drugs and conditioning the best. We follow several of these girls and their adult male 'handlers' as they go about their day of killing people, and compare and contrast the various methods, as the girls are different from each other despite everything.

I'm pretty sure that the mangaka had the combination of 'lolicon yet creepy' in his head as he was writing this, and he succeeds admirably. The relationship between the children and their handlers is the driving force behind the title. Some handlers, such as Jose, have a close, almost parental bond with their charge - something which is more of a liability than a strength, as we find that Henrietta's feelings for Jose are quite strong, and that she's not above emotional blackmail, even if we're not sure she's consciously doing it. Another handler, Jean, treats his charge Rico with far less familiarity, secure in the knowledge that she's so grateful to have working arms and legs (all the children are cybernetic in some way, but Rico never walked before the Agency kidnapped her) that she doesn't really need affection; and Triela and Hilshire have the most natural, assured relationship (a given, as she's the oldest and most mature of the girls) and yet still get caught up in their own tumultuous feelings.

The politics are some of the best parts. We not only get to see a world slowly get built up (future Italy has several political factions, many devoted to splitting the North and South into two countries - and yes, it's hard not to think of Hetalia when I see that, even though I know it's historically valid), and see that our 'heroes' are not necessarily on the side of the angels. Indeed, there really isn't a side of the angels, as part of the point of this series is seeing that which we always associate with innocence - young adorable children - corrupted and used for base killing. There's not even any attempt to say they have a better life now - even when it's true, we know that the drugs and implants they're getting drastically reduce their lifespan, and the first 'recruit', Angelica, is already at the point where her memories are almost gone. Even if we want to see a happy ending for these girls, it's unlikely to ever happen. Happiness here is in the tiny little day-to-day things that they do in between being hired killers.

In summary, this is a very interesting manga, and you're swept along by the writing, but there is a huge issue to get past with the basic premise. This is, after all, a manga about an Agency that plays on people's love of cute young girls as killers... and so does the manga, which hits the moe button throughout. "Aw, she may be in a firefight, but she's so adorable!" In other words, this is (in Japan) the exact same audience as Yotsuba&!. Keep that in mind before picking this up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Genkaku Picasso Volume 2

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

The second volume of Genkaku Picasso has some of the same weaknesses as the first, though it's making an effort to fix them a little. The plot itself and its solutions still feel a bit too easy at times, and we sometimes veer into the world of After School Special here. On the other hand, Picasso himself is far more likeable in this volume. He's still not particularly inspiring, and he's still introverted and whiny, but he's come to mostly accept the situations he's in by the end of this volume, is slowly gaining friends, and we even see him having fun.

The art continues to be a strength, at least in the inner world sequences, where we see the issue that the guest star of the chapter is fighting against. My favorite was the Joan of Arc shot, with some very nice medieval knights. Speaking of art, Picasso is all about that, and it's nice to see him focusing on ants and human musculature, finding them fascinating because of their artistic qualities.

There's a few really obvious parodies and pastiches here. Chapters 2 and 3 are clearly a takeoff on giant robot shows in general and Evangelion and Gundam Wing in particular. The distinction between 2-D and 3-D characters is one that Japanese otaku can identify with easily, so seeing it from the opposite perspective as a BL obsession shouldn't be too off-putting. (This assumes that Jump Square still has a mostly male readership, of course.) Likewise, the last chapter is mostly poking at Walt Disney's Disneyland, with a bit of Tezuka in there as well. Of course, it uses them to take a look at the idol process, which can be far more difficult than it first appears.

There's some intriguing 'extras' at the end, consisting of a few pages of 4-koma gag strips (which are more traditional 4-koma than Furuya's edgy Short Cuts), including some funny character bits and possibly the most explicit bit of the whole volume (though it's 'censored'). There's also an 'advice column', where Jump readers apparently wrote in with some issues which Picasso and Chiaki then answer in character. As you'd expect, Chiaki's advice tends to be more useful, and she even kicks Picasso out and brings in the other two girls for the last, female-oriented question. Some nice fourth-wall breaking here involving Chiaki's presence as well.

This is not really top of the line Furuya. For that, check out Short Cuts or wait for Lychee Light Club this April. But if it was a way to get his stuff out to a wider audience, it works pretty well. The series ends with the next volume, and there are some implications that he may have to finally deal with both his own personal foibles but also Chiaki's death. I'll be interested to see how this is wrapped up.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Manga the week of 2/23

Sorry to sound rushed, but I'm away this weekend, and posting from a different computer, so this will be a brief recap of next week's manga.

DMP has some new yaoi titles, including the 3rd volume of Blue Sheep Reverie, which used to be in Hakusensha's Betsuhana back in the early 00's, then moved to Nihon Bungeisha; and the 2nd omnibus release of Kizuna.

Seven Seas seems to be releasing the Strawberry Panic Complete Collection to Midtown, despite it coming out several months ago. Maybe it's a Diamond thing? In any case, for those who want Catholic Schoolgirls In Trouble, this may be for you. Or not. :)

Viz has the 2nd Death Note omnibus, now with even more black, like the color of your soul.

Yen has the stuff I'm most interested in this week. I enjoyed Dragon Girl, being released in an omnibus here, so it's nice to get the 2nd and final volume. Higurashi begins its 'Answer' arcs with the Eye-Opening Arc, the first of four books devoted to Shion Sonozaki and her past. We get a new Soul Eater, which I still read, and Sumomomo Momomo, which I don't. And there's Ichiroh!, yet another 4-koma manga from your friends at Houbunsha.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sasameke Volume 1

By Ryuji x Gotsubo. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I had responded online to a review of this manga by Alexander Hoffman, where he not only commented on how bad he felt it was, but actively told Yen Press, the publisher, to cancel the title and leave Volume 2 (its final volume) unpublished. I felt this was imprudent, and noted that even if the publisher did listen (which I doubted), that there was bound to be a fan of Sasameke somewhere who would be upset at their title being headhunted like that. I try to pimp out enough poor-selling titles (coughExcelSagacough) that I always get twitchy at any work being discontinued mid-run.

However, this reminded me that I hadn't actually been able to get very far into Sasameke, and it was sitting on my pile of 'get around to that sometime' books. So I girded my loins and forced myself through it, and I feel that I can now safely say that I was merely defending the manga in a hypothetical sense, as a title that Yen publishes, rather than of its own merits. As it's hard to find a merit in this. This manga is *horrible*. I don't say that too often, as those who recall my Magic Touch reviews know. I've often said that I feel 'worst manga ever' is doled out too much, and that people seem to get enraged by books that are merely average, mediocre, or boring. I noted that 'bad' should only be doled out to works that actively offend me as well as having obvious story/character flaws, such as Qwaser of Stigmata.

I am now prepared to back off that position slightly for this title. It's bad. There's nothing actively offensive about it, except perhaps its slapdash inattention to any of its characters, but nevertheless; it is bad. And this is an omnibus. The original was 5 volumes in Japan (with two sequels that give us 5 more volumes in total - as yet unlicensed, thank God), and this volume has the first 2 1/2, similar to Yen's release of Dragon Girl, which was flawed but much better than this. The omnibus format makes this even harder to read, as you keep looking down to see if you're done and realizing there is oh so much still to go.

I should actually talk about Sasameke itself now. It is, essentially, a sports manga - soccer, to be precise. The lead is Rakuichi Nagahama, who has just returned to Japan for high school after 3 years in Italy. As a kid, he was a brilliant player, and everyone believes that he went over there to make it big in Europe. Now he's back, strangely grumpy and truculent, and wants nothing to do with soccer. His childhood friend, Inae, is the manager of the school's soccer team, and tries to recruit him. The book then loosely follows him as he slowly begins to regain the love of soccer he once had, and introduces us to a broad cast of eccentric characters.

Let's start with the leads. Rakuichi is a grumpy jerk, and anyone waiting for him to grin in happiness as he rediscovers the joy of the sport will be left wanting by the end of this volume. Even when he gets back into the game, he's still a complete ass, with the other teammates even lampshading this, wondering if that's why he failed in Italy. He's a showboat and a slacker, and would clearly be a horrible match for Inae even if she wasn't an obsessed stalker trying to watch her sempai's every move (which she is).

Then there's Maiko, the blond beauty we meet early into the volume. I was all set to obsess over here - she hit a lot of my fan buttons, being a cool long-hair beauty who kicks guys into oblivion - but then the manga slowly unfolds, and we get to know her... and she's dull! She seems to enjoy writing up weird gossip-y newspaper articles, and has a broken family life that I'll get to in a moment, but the chemistry I was expecting her and Rakuichi to share given that they're on the cover together is completely absent.

Leaving characters aside for now, we move to the plot. It reads like a hyperactive animal of some sort. Ostensibly about soccer, it can't resist jumping off at tangents, leading to the ridiculous climax of this omnibus where we meet Maiko's mother Catherine, who seems to be a Russian ninja of some sort. Maiko is the result of an affair her mother had with Touzan's father (Touzan is the sempai Inae obsessed over), and apparently there are still unresolved issues over it, as her mother is fleeing from prison (or is it a hospital? By this time things were almost totally incoherent, so I may have missed it), and apparently seeing her mother turns Maiko into a goopy mess. She'd been avoiding her mother earlier, possibly as she knew she'd turn into someone completely different.

Saving the worst for last, the art. Ah, the art. I sometimes complain about Hana to Yume's shoujo titles being too messy and busy, but they have nothing on this. Every page is crowded with signs and effects (which Yen translates right there on the page, which I'd normally approve of but simply looks messy here, possibly as there are so many of them), lending a haphazard quality to the whole thing. When the artist does close-ups or dramatic shots, they can briefly be effective, but they're undercut by shots of his extras, which are not so much 'superdeformed' as 'ugly'. The artist seems to revel in drawing his characters poorly for comedic effect, but since the jokes aren't that funny, it just comes off as sloppy. The whole thing has a cumulative effect of looking like a lazy first draft, only this is happening with every chapter.

Are there any positives? I suppose the title has a certain manic gonzo charm to it. Sometimes the chapters fly so far beyond common sense that you have to admire the sheer gall of the creator. Clearly Kadokawa likes him, as he not only had the two sequels to this but draws for Shonen Ace to this day, his current title being the otaku-centred 'Anikoi'. This was written a good ten years ago, so I hope that he's improved, or at least gotten a better editor. But as for Sasameke? Even the gonzo energy gets exhausting by the end. It starts as a dull sports manga where you want the lead to just suck it up and stop grumbling, and somehow ends with ninjas doing spinkicks and family drama. It's 460 pages of almost total incoherence.

I had recommended people read 'How to Draw Shojo Manga' from Tokyopop even if they didn't draw, as I felt it gave a good idea of how to *read* the manga as well as write it. If people want to try the opposite tack, pick up a copy of Sasameke, which is in almost every way a fantastic example of what NOT to do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Girl And The Famished Spirit

By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.

When I was reviewing the first Book Girl, I noted that its main plot drew on the novel No Longer Human. This second book also draws on a novel, but actually knowing what it is might give away spoilers, so I will avoid mentioning it.

The first Book Girl novel had its dark and creepy moments, but overall was a light, fun read. This second book was also an excellent read, but was not remotely what I'd call light and fun. We're dealing with some horrible themes here, including a mental, physical and emotional torture that surprised me by its ferocity. Usually when someone talks about someone being 'tortured' in a manga or novel these days, they don't mean it literally. Not here - this is torture of a young girl, plain and simple, and we see its effects play out before us.

As for our regular cast, they go through a bit as well. Konoha, our hero, is still attempting to get over the tragic events of his past, and despite Tohko's calming presence, he's still prone to constant self-doubt and panic attacks. As the novel goes on and he discovers more of Hotaru's backstory, he starts to realize certain similarities between his own thoughts and the plotting of the main villain. Konoha is haunted not only by his friend Miu, but also by Miu his alter ego author, whose book seems so idealistic and innocent to him... and disgusts him now. As with the first book in the series, we don't get a sense that he's resolved much of his inner turmoil, but at least here he sees a mirror to himself that shows what not to do.

Nanase has another small role in this book, and continues to be such a stereotypical tsundere that I am wondering if it's a false front. Either that or she's the one character written in to get the typical anime fan reading. Maki, however, has a much bigger and more vital role in this novel, and even manages to go beyond being the 'information broker' type that she usually embodies. Indeed, the epilogue to this story is written by her, and unlike the first book, Tohko does not get to read and eat it - this epilogue is private, and meant for only one other person. Oh yes, and speaking of the typical anime fan, I have no doubt that Maki (offscreen) getting Tohko to dress up as a cat waitress and going meow led to 87 billion fanart pictures in Japan.

Tohko, meanwhile, is the detective, though she's far less successful here than she was in the first book, and leaps to a lot of misunderstandings. Tohko seems far more like a normal teenager here than she did in Suicidal Mime, and it's too her benefit. Her fight with Konoha is filled with easily cleared-up misunderstandings that aren't cleared up as neither party talks with each other. I'm still not sure if there's going to be a romance here - she displays some jealousy towards Konoha supposedly seeing other girls, but I'm not sure how much of that is fueled by Nanase and how much is her own feelings. Also the addition of Ryuto to the cast (and I'm not sure what to think of him at all - I hope he shows up in future books) allows us to see some of her thoughts and actions from a POV other than that of Konoha, and reveals how much she depends on him.

And then there are the stars of this book, Hotaru and Kayano. Really, it's hard to go into their characters without giving too much away, but they are the highlight of the book, and give the climax a stunning power even though if you analyze it it's just a bunch of people shouting at each other. You want Hotaru to be saved - indeed, the lengths that Maki goes to trying to do just that are impressive - and yet at the same time you see the yawning chasm that separates this book from the happy, fluffy ending that Konoha's alter ego would once have written about.

It's always hard to recommend a book when there's so much you don't want to give away. Still, this is a great book. The characters have an excellent depth (mostly, Nanase is still a bit of a caricature), the plotting is nerve-wracking, and Yen's translation is excellent. Definitely recommended, though I'd avoid reading it on a cold and rainy evening.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Amnesia Labyrinth Volume 1

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Natsumi Kohane. Released in Japan by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

In general, I tend to review books right after I read them, giving a very fast, right off the top of my head impression. This can be a strength, as most of my feelings are raw and there to be written down, be they good or bad, but it can also lead me to make snap judgments on things that need a little more time to sit and simmer. At the moment, however, I have a bit of a backlog, and thus some books are sitting waiting for me to get to them. And it's too bad for Amnesia Labyrinth, which I quite liked as I first read it, but now upon reflection I find is not as good as I thought it was.

The basic premise works, and is designed to be a bit creepy. Young man returns from a boarding school to the bosom of his rich estate, to be welcomed by his three friendly sisters. VERY friendly sisters. He appears to be vaguely indifferent to everything (almost a given, this is written by the author of the Haruhi Suzumiya books, but luckily as the story goes on Souji proves to be quite different from Kyon) and is dwelling on past events that we are not privy to beyond the occasional suggestion of what has happened. Meanwhile, at his new school, there have been a string of deaths, and a slightly eccentric girl tries to get his help in solving their mystery.

I'll touch on the good points first. The story unrolls itself very well, with the revelations being integrated quite well while preserving the air of mystery and horror that surrounds it. Having Souji as the 'hero' is quite interesting, and our sympathies wax and wane as we learn more about him and what he chooses to hide from everyone. That said, he's a horrible hero to identify with, mostly as he's sleeping with at least one of his sisters, and his family also appears to have supernatural abilities. This means that we start to empathize with the heroine, Yukako, who may be searching for clues simply because she's bored (shades of Haruhi), or due to a misplaced crush on one of the victims, but otherwise gives the impression that she's the only one who may live through this story.

The air of menace and horror is pretty good as well. The few flashbacks we see to Souji and his sisters as normal, smiling children just make their present-day smiling menace all the more unnerving. The use of doppelgangers is also intriguing, and makes us think back to the history Souji told us at the start of the book, and wonder how much of that we can take at face value.

That said, there's a few problems here. The art is non-distinctive, which is my polite way of saying incredibly dull. Sometimes this adds to the creepiness, but more often it makes you wonder why this even needed to be made into a manga at all. This ran in Dengeki Bunko, which is primarily a story and novel excerpt-driven magazines for Media Works, but has a few manga scattered throughout. Now, Tanigawa has held up his end pretty well - there aren't huge chunks of text in the manga that make you think they adapted this by simply having the artist read the book as he drew. At the same time, the art ADDS very little - it's just there to make it a manga, giving us just the basics.

And this affects the story as well. I keep talking about the matter-of-factness of the revelations, but this means that we have very few highs or lows. There's no shocks or bits of terror here - just mild people reacting with mild emotions to creepy things. If you're going to have the lead hero committing incest, you can certainly make it boring for HIM, but don't make it boring for the reader as well! The reason Haruhi succeeds so well is because Kyon's bland delivery is counteracted by a) Haruhi's over the top antics, and b) his angry retorts to those antics. Souji may have a tragic backstory, but this has closed him off to emotions, and Yukako is not a strong enough costar to make us care about her either.

So all in all I think the first volume of this is a mixed bag. I'm not certain whether it's still running in Japan - the 2nd volume came out there over a year ago, but various web sources don't list it as complete. Perhaps it went on hiatus while Tanigawa finally wrote the 10th Haruhi novel. In any case, if you like mystery, horror, or family secrets, you may enjoy this, but you may also find that on reflection it's shallower than you thought.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Looney Tunes DVD

This was actually announced a couple of weeks ago, but... I just didn't have the heart. There's a Road-Runner DVD coming out this May. It features none of Chuck Jones' classic Road Runner shorts. Despite having them apparently available and restored. The mind reels.

Here are the announced contents:

1) Coyote Falls
2) Fur of Flying
3) Rabid Rider

These are 3 modern CGI Coyote shorts made in 2010 to go in front of some of WBs animated features. They're only about 3 minutes each, and are... OK, I guess.

4) Chariots of Fur

This is a cartoon Chuck Jones directed in 1994 with the Coyote and Road-Runner, and was the last cartoon he did with them. It ran before the Richie Rich film. It's quite good, looking forward to this one.

5) The Whizzard of Ow
6) Little Go Beep

These are both from the early 00s, and were directed by Spike Brandt and Bret Haaland, respectively. Whizzard of Ow is sort of mediocre, IMO. Little Go Beep is much better.

7) Boulder Wham!
8) Harried and Hurried
9) Highway Runnery
10) Chaser on the Rocks
11) Shot and Bothered
12) Out and Out Rout
13) Clippety Clobbered
14) The Solid Tin Coyote

These are all directed by Rudy Larriva, and were released in 1965-1966 alternately with Daffy/Speedy cartoons by the studio. This is regarded as the worst of the entire WB run, and with good reason - these are not very good. Solid Tin Coyote is the best of this lot.

15) Sugar and Spies

Robert McKimson was brought in in 1966 to do some more cartoons for WB, and this was his Road Runner effort. It's better than the Larrivas, but pales compared to the Chuck Jones classics.

Aaand that's it. Now, I admit, most of the classic Road-Runner cartoons are already out on Golden Collections. But there's still a huge pile of them, actually directed by Jones, from the late 50s and early 60s, that aren't on here. While we get 8 Rudy Larriva cartoons.

Trying to decide on reasons for this, I have come up with a few:

1) They are planning a larger, Jones-oriented set for later, and want to save the cartoons for that.
2) These sets are not geared towards the hardcore cartoon fan, so they're taking the opportunity to release some 'bad' cartoons to get them out of the way.
3) They really don't care much.

I'm leaning towards three. I try to be positive towards Warner Brothers, especially in this crappy economy, but... bleah. I will be buying this, as I've said again and again I want to see every single WB cartoon from 1930-1969 on DVD, and it would be hypocritical if I did otherwise. But this is not remotely the best of the Coyote and Road-Runner.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Volume 1

By Hiroshi Shiibashi. Released in Japan as "Nurarihyon No Mago" by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

It often strikes me as I follow the many Shonen Jump series that I follow how many of them get off to a slow start. One Piece, Bleach, Kenshin... none of them had first volumes that were totally amazing and made me demand more. As a result, I am always tempted to be patient with a series that has potential, even when the first volume proves to be a mixed bag. Which Nura's first volume certainly is.

Having had a mild success with Natsume's Book of Friends, Viz is now headed back to the yokai well for a shonen series, licensing this tale about a boy who's descended from yokai and the battles he faces among the various clans. (One day someone will simply go right to the source and license Gegege no Kitaro, but sadly that day is not today). Unlike Natsume's passive titular heroine, Rikuo is outwardly very outgoing and likeable, the perfect 'normal' shonen sidekick type. Of course, he's not a sidekick. So we find that, right from Chapter 1, he has an ass-kicking other form that he takes on... somewhat unwillingly at times.

The concept of the reluctant hero is not a new one to manga, or indeed literature and mythology. But it seems to grate a bit more than I like here, mostly as the world that Rikuo wants to live in is so dull, and the one that's calling out to him is comparatively interesting. Even the two female leads in the series have the same dichotomy - Kana, the normal girl he's friends with, is a fairly nice, steady, boring friend, while Yuki-Onna, aka Tsurara, has magic powers and seems altogether more interesting. (Cute scarf, too.)

Since obviously a story is supposed to be interesting, we know that at some point Rikuo will decide to stop trying to be normal and embrace his quarter-yokai nature. That doesn't happen here, though, so we're left with a lot of scenes of supernatural things going on and Rikuo tottering along worrying about them getting out of hand. The best parts of the manga, naturally, are the two times we see him 'transform' into his alternate yokai self, which is quite badass and commands respect. (It's also quite bishie, and it amuses me how the normal, glasses-wearing geek transforms into a long-haired prettyboy. Remember folks, Shonen Jump is still *technically* for boys!)

So things are episodic right now, though that may change soon with one of the villains kidnapping Kana and another girl in order to force Rikuo into action. While I don't wish either girl ill, I do hope they succeed. Seeing a yokai leader trying to control the machinations of a scattered clan with badassery and intelligence strikes me as a far more interesting manga than a young boy fighting to try to be normal and disavowing his supernatural roots (as he goes home to them every day.) That said, the first volume wasn't bad by any means, and I'll see if Volume 2 can drag me further into the story.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Manga the week of 2/16

After a tiny week last week, this week we are rewarded with... another tiny week! The only things coming out are from Viz, and not much from them.

First, I should note that Midtown lists the 12th volume of Neon Genesis Evangelion as coming out this week, and Amazon has it in stock, but Viz's own site says it's out on March 15th. I also think my Diamond-led store does not have it on their list. So don't be surprised if Diamond doesn't list it. Nevertheless, it's always a pleasure to see another volume of this, the first Evangelion manga. I'm sure everything will turn out awesome and it will end with a giant party.

There's a new volume of Bokurano: Ours, which I'm sure will appeal to readers who are the complete opposite of me. And there's the lucky 13th volume of 20th Century Boys, meaning I am even farther behind!

And there's a new Shonen Jump, for those who enjoy following One Piece slightly ahead of the collections, and weren't driven away by last month's chapters.

That's it! Betcha next week will have some Yen, if nothing else...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gin Tama Volume 21

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

I've mentioned before how Gin Tama likes to snap back and forth between goofy comedy and gripping drama. But what makes it even more interesting is when it manages to do both at the same time. The big story in this volume is a good case in point.

If you recall, at the end of last week the majority of the cast (basically the non-Shinsengumi) were transported to the Dragon Palace island, only to instead find a machine that made Gin and Katsura into old men. This is milked for as many 'old people gags as you can think of, with creaking joints, forgetfulness, grumpiness in general. It gets even better when, over the course of the plot, the others get 'aged' as well - Kagura and Kyuubei being my particular favorites. "Have you seen my eyepatch?" "You're wearing it!" And yet it *also* manages to show off that old people can be totally awesome as well, and should not be belittled.

The villainess in this is, as you might have expecrted given the story Gin Tama is mocking this time around, Princess Otohime, whose insecurity and jealousy have led to her deciding to make everyone old and ugly so that she can be the most beautiful. Her confrontation with Otae is epic, and allows Otae (once she's gotten over being insulted) to show off her fierce and proud side, something we haven't seen as much of recently given Sorachi found she's far more fun to write as a psycho. But Otohime is not Ito, and does not need to die for her sins - this time around, we get everyone saving her and showing her that sacrifice is not the way to go in order to redeem oneself.

After this, we get a chapter devoted to re-introducing Tama, the robot girl last seen as a severed head back in Volume 17. She now has a body, and is employed being Otose's maid and rent collector. Unfortunately, she's still a robot, and so has trouble figuring things out when people tell her to take a day off and relax. Gin, who is not comfortable with treating her as a real person, reluctantly goes around town with her and tries to define "cutting loose". It's sometimes easy to forget that Gin is a survivor of horrible combat, and we occasionally see his reluctance to let new people (or robots, in this case) into his heart. Luckily, by the end Tama seems to have figured out what she wants to do with her free time, and Gin seems a little happier as well. (If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands! BOOM! BOOM!)

The last chapter is simple a starter for the next big arc, as we see Gin, Shinpachi and Kagura brought in to try to get a yakuza warlord's son out of the room where he's shut himself for the past several years. It looks like it's going to be an amusing look at NEETs in Gin Tama's society, but ends up proving to be more sinister.

So, another great volume of Gin Tama, combining crude comedy ("Zura, our target is the howitzer's anus.") with heartwarming drama, and still finding time to hammer repeatedly on Shonen Jump's three big mottos, Friendship, Perseverance, Victory. And yes, Otsu is on the cover but doesn't actually appear - the covers are clearly just random characters by now. (But not Yamazaki.) Can't wait for the next volume.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One Piece Volume 56

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

Oh boy, where to start? First of all, this review contains big spoilers for this volume of One Piece. Seriously big spoilers. Only read this if you know what gets revealed at the end.

I'd mentioned the cover arcs in my last MMF piece, so I should note that starting here we do begin to see what the rest of the crew are doing while Luffy is busy rescuing Ace. These range from the funny (Sanji, Usopp) to the serious (Robin) to the mysterious (Franky), but each are only two 'cover pages' long. I suspect Oda had to be thinking of the anime here, and was suggesting what happened in order to allow the filler that must inevitably come to stretch out and tell a relevant story.

I also rarely mention the SBS questions, but they're always fun, and two here are particularly relevant. First, someone asks Oda to draw the Straw-Hats gender-reversed, which he does. This led to a fanart EXPLOSION in Japan, which is still ongoing in many ways. Secondly, Oda was asked what 'Nationality' the Straw Hats were, should they be in our world. His answers actually make a lot of sense and work very well. Except for Brook being Australian, which... whuh?

In any case, the manga itself. There's a lot of things happening here, so I'll just touch on a few points. Mr. 2 has never been more awesome than we see here, and his final sacrifice to allow the others to escape is incredibly moving both on and off the page. Blackbeard gets to show off his evil crew here, and I was pleased to note that we once again see what a total wuss he is when it comes to pain, something that has come up before and will again. Of course, when you have his powers, that's not necessarily fatal.

Buggy and Mr. 3 both semi-reluctantly join the breakout, and both have oddly similar arcs, in that they spend the entire time whining and bitching, but tend to step up at odd times with their own strengths (and they do have some). Mr. 3's wax powers can slow Magellan, even if only for a little bit, and seeing Luffy wearing wax boxing gloves and legs is, as he notes, awesome. Meanwhile, Buggy is a failure on every level, as is lampshaded by the entire cast. He was on Roger's crew, but has amounted to only a minor pirate. And yet he has a guile that, once it can overcome his basic cowardice and petulance, is a terrific force. When Buggy decides a course of action can benefit him most, he can be an amazing leader. And he now has a huge crew of criminal pirates who, thanks to various misunderstanding, think he's the Messiah. Yes, this is a comedic plot, but it's handled realistically - I really enjoy it.

And so we finally pull away from Impel Down, and head for Marineford, where Ace is about to be executed. This execution is, oddly, being simulcast all over the entire world, to all four Blues and the Grand Line. (Gotta love transponder snails, which seem to be able to do more every time they appear.) It's beginning to be slightly ridiculous that the World Government is devoting so many resources and so much time to executing Ace. And then Fleet Admiral Sengoku tells us why it's so important that Ace be executed in so obvious a fashion. Because of Ace's father, Gold Roger. This blew every fan away when it first came out, and even now the impact is tremendous. Leaving aside the realism of a woman carrying her baby an extra year to throw off suspicion (seriously badass, I might note), this means that Ace is not merely a pirate, or one of Whitebeard's crew, but a symbol of piracy itself. THIS is why everything is so public.

And of course, we aren't done yet. Ace has been insisting, even as he kneels at the execution place, that Whitebeard is his true father. And naturally, this means that Whitebeard shows up, right in the middle of everything, to save his son. To be continued. And yes, now we wait some more. THe speedup spoiled us all, I think, and it's very difficult to wait for May for our next One Piece fix. But I have no doubt whatsoever that it will be epic.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Seiho Boys High School! Volume 4

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

I have to feel bad for Maki here at the start of this volume. Much as we'd all like our relationships to be honest and above board, when his new "girlfriend" Erika discovers a picture on his cell phone of his old girlfriend, he just can't bring himself to say "That's actually a picture of my old dead first love who I've been unable to get over and who shares the same name and personality as you, but it's a TOTAL coincidence that I'm trying to date you now." I probably would feel awkward too.

And so the quasi-relationship between the two of them vacillates back and forth here. They're clearly a great couple, and there's a wonderful moment when she's teaching him how to surf when they both briefly drop all the baggage they have and are adorable and sweet... but it's balanced by Maki's utter inability to open himself up, which is not something that can just be dropped. The end of the chapter here does feature Maki and Erika kissing fiercely, and would seem to indicate resolution of some sort... but for some reason it just feels temporary, and indeed when we next see Erika the text labels her as temporary girlfriend again. This is going to take time.

Chapter 2 deals with Arata, a minor character who seems to br the dark, strong, lone-wolf type... but is really just bad at expressing himself. This has led to his girlfriend breaking up with him, as she simply never got any sense he had any feelings for her at all. Sadly, she is trying to get over him by dating a known two-timing jerk. Maki and company to the rescue! Since their school is nowhere near anything, of course, they fix this by arranging a 'mixer' with the school of Arata's girlfriend, and manipulate things so that he finally is able to admit... reluctantly and quietly... that his ex-girlfriend is super cute. Interestingly, the ending remains ambiguous here as well, and we're not sure if the two get back together.

The last two chapters take us back to Miyaji and her crush on Rui. She's starting to get a bit obsessed, apparently having gotten over Rui's stunning rudeness to her a volume or so back... but Rui still isn't taking the hint, and she lacks confidence in herself, thinking that hot guys like Rui are 'A' guys that a 'C' girl like her could never hope to catch. She ends up turning to Hanai for advice (nice timing given he's on the cover), but ironically all she learns to be good at is wearing a mask to hide her real self, something that all the boys who star in this manga are masters of. Rui is, of course, not fooled.

So Miyaji seemingly gives up, and tries Hanai's approach with other guys, but kinds keeping up the act exhausting. And then... oh dear. I had thought that the faux incest plot would be one and done in Volume 1, but no, Mana's back, and she's still desperately in love with her brother. She ends up coming to Seiho with Miyaji, and Rui naturally tries to fend her off by saying Miyaji is his girlfriend. (This makes approximately the 40,000th fake girlfriend/boyfriend in these 4 volumes alone.) As things heat up, and Mana comes on stronger, we remember that, just like Maki, Rui has a past he's trying to overcome. Unlike Maki, his past is throwing herself at him. He's mature enough to know it's bad for both of them, though, and stands firm. Mana may be back, though...

And so at the end Miyaji, now that she knows Rui's past, suggests they try dating for real. Does he accept? Who knows? This volume of Seiho was excellent, but felt incredibly uncertain. Every relationship we see seems to be on rocky footing (even Nogami is hinted to be having another fight with his nurse girlfriend), and half of them are created by false pretenses. Of course, we see this sort of thing in shoujo manga all the time, but it's rare to see it with every character, and it almost seems like the main plot of the series. Love is awkward, requires a lot of work, and a lot of the most passionate love ends up being bad for you. Still, we're halfway through the series, and I suspect at least one of the couples we see here will actually get a happy ending. Probably.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Otomen Volume 9

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

After my rant about the last volume of Otomen, I have to say I found this volume far more intriguing than I expected. While the overall shape of the plot is the same, there were more than a few surprises here to keep things going. Including the fact that the 'rid the school of otomen' plot is ongoing, and doesn't wrap up here, but ends with another pseudo-cliffhanger.

I had mentioned that I was expecting Kasuga to be revealed as a secret otomen in this volume, and that's sort of partially true - however, the attention paid to Juta and his secret manga in this volume came as a shock to me, as I'd been expecting the attacks to mostly be on Asuka. This actually works very well, giving Juta some well-deserved tension and hitting heavily on the guilt he feels on relying on Asuka and Ryo to provide his plots. His sister even point blank tells him that he can't keep this up forever.

The backstory between Kasuga and Asuka, on the other hand, allows Kanno to pull out the 'this isn't meant to be serious' card, as the flashback to their childhood relationship is probably the funniest thing in the volume. Naturally, Asuka's naturally feminine qualities are at the heart of the problem. This also allows the author to satisfy the no doubt huge BL-loving audience that is reading this series. As does the eventual solution to Juta's problems, which allows for another great bit of cross-dressing, and continues to emphasize the motto of "preserving the dreams of young girls".

The final chapter has Kasuga bringing in a new set of ringers to change the situation at school, this time using a bunch of 'rebel teachers' who are there to make the men manly and the girls cutesy. Their introduction actually reminds me more of a shonen manga, in that they seem like the usual quick mid-range bosses you'd expect the hero to defeat and/or befriend on the way to the final battle. We deal with the first of these here, Otawa Moematsu. She's an ultra-femmey teacher who almost drowns the classroom in sugar, and has all the girls learning how to bake sweets and make cute fuzzy animals.

Of course, she meets her immovable object here in Ryo, whose cute teddy bear looks like a water flea that's been beaten to death, and whose cooking tends towards 'simple'. (Ironically, we saw Ryo make a decent bento earlier in the volume - but she was cooking for Asuka then, so was far more motivated.) Not to mention her bedroom devoted to martial arts. Otawa finally gives up, and knows that Ryo will never get her man (she saw Ryo's picture of Asuka and Juta in her room, and I suspect figured they were gay). Then, much to her horror, she discovers that not only are Asuka and Ryo a real couple, but are "the best couple on campus". As expected, much as Asuka disguises his otomen habits by manly activities, Otawa is far less cutesy than she likes to appear. Vengeance will be hers.

So, another interesting volume of Otomen. I still have my issues with it, but Kanno certainly knows how to keep people interested and move her plot in interesting directions. Hopefully we'll see Asuka start to strike back against the evil mid-range villains in Volume 10!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Kimi ni Todoke Volume 7

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

Once again, there are so many fantastic individual moments here in this volume that it makes me forget that things are moving at a crawl. In any case, we get 4 new chapters here, three of which are devoted to New Year's Eve. Since the last volume had Sawako spend Christmas with her family, even though it's a couples day in Japan, it's fitting somehow that this New Years' she gets to go around with Kazehaya. Even if she has to be tricked into it. And even better, her birthday is New Year's Eve.

Yoshida and Yano give Sawako a makeover (which is adorable, and I love how it's their birthday present to her) and then promptly ditch her right as Kazehaya arrives, turning their group outing into a duet. Of course, they then continue to watch from the sidelines, which leads to comedy (poor Yano really suffers in this volume, from needing to keep Joe occupied the whole time to running into Pin at the end) and some nice sweet moments (Ryu has been grumpy the entire time, thinking that Sawako and Kazehaya don't need as much 'help' as the girls are giving, but finally gets Yoshida away for a quiet New Year together).

The majority of the three chapters, though, is the usual back and forth between Sawako and Kazehaya. They're both incredibly poor at communicating, and both find each other very hard to read, which leads to a huge amount of awkwardness. Kazehaya is clearly blown away by Sawako's makeover, and isn't quite sure where to look. Luckily as the night wears on and he finds it's her birthday, he relaxes, and even goes so far as to swap fortunes with her (he gets good luck, she gets bad, though both fortunes are rather perspicacious when it comes to their love lives). Still, when the night is over they simply part. Sawako now realizes that having Kazehaya as a friend isn't enough anymore. She wants him to be a boyfriend.

Of course, knowing and doing are two different things. The last chapter is far less sweet than the previous three, and features the 'villain' of the series, Kurumi, making her return after a volume and a half's absence. It's Valentine's Day, which means chocolates, both obligation and love types. Kurumi, of course, has made chocolate for everyone, but finds it incredibly hard to give Kazehaya his. To make matters worse, Kurumi (who's better than she was, but is still enjoying making life miserable for Sawako) notes Kazehaya always refuses chocolate that isn't friendship chocolate. Except for Kurumi's. Mostly as he feels guilty for turning her down. And so, in the end, Sawako does nothing. We're left on a cliffhanger.

I really feel for Yano here, as watching Kazehaya and Sawako clearly be head over heels with each other and yet barely move forward an inch can be mind-numbingly frustrating. Still, there's lots of little moments here that continue to make this one of the best shoujo manga out there, and I'm hoping that Volume 8 might resolve things a little better (a hug? can I at least get that?). Plus we get a hint that we'll meet a new male character soon, who I suspect will be to Kazehaya what Kurumi is to Sawako. Good times!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Manga the week of 2/9

After 2 huge weeks of manga, I'm pretty beat. Good thing that next week is very, very quiet on the manga front.

From Dark Horse, we have Vol. 37 of Oh My Goddess, which is 200 more pages of Belldandy and Keiichi not having sex. In case you were going to buy it for that, you know. (Me, I buy it regardless, but I'm weird that way.)

And from Viz, we have a quartet of titles: two shonen and two seinen. Inu Yasha gets another VIZBIG omnibus, this one collecting Vols. 16-18 of the original. Maoh: Juvenile Remix continues to not involve Richard D. James in any way, strangely enough. And here I thought he remixed everything. Biomega, a semi-sequel to Blame! that runs in Ultra Jump, hits its penultimate volume. And Jormungand features apparently a lot of folks killing other folks. It runs in Sunday Gene-X, Shogakukan's Ultra Jump equivalent, which also features Black Lagoon. Some day I should buy a copy of Gene-X to make sure the entire magazine isn't just series after series of amoral killers with guns and hotpants.

Really, if it is, then I see more license requests in the future.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Portrait of M & N Volume 4

By Tachibana Higuchi. Released in Japan as "M to N no Shouzou" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

Honestly, this manga continues to drive me crazy. Despite all attempts at comedy (and there are some here, though not as many as Volume 3), this continues to be a series about watching a fragile, shy young girl get horribly abused by life. At least with Gakuen Alice Mikan was allowed to be spunky and upbeat. Whereas Mitsuru, a girl who glows with happiness whenever someone remotely notices her, spends much of the volume in despair about her horrible family, her somewhat callous boyfriend, and her innate masochism.

One thing I liked is that the misunderstandings from Volume 3, with her new friend Ririko thinking that she was dating Hijiri, are very quickly cleared up, allowing the two of them to stay good friends. It's always nice when an author knows which jokes to drag out and which ones can be safely stopped short. (There was also an amusing bit where the two girls hug after making up, and two passing guys go "Ah, lesbians!" "What, where? Lesbians?" It reminded me of some of the yuri fanboys I see online.)

The trip to the beach also began on a very amusing note, with Natsuhiko and company dressing up in drag and essentially kidnapping Mitsuru to get her on their vacation. (I did feel sad at one point; the Nibley twins and Jamie Rich translated one bubble as 'Big Success!' rather than 'Huge Success', missing out on a great Portal reference.) The vacation itself works less well, with a horribly shoehorned in island shipwreck designed to do nothing more than get Natsuhiko jealous; and his subsequent jealousy, which is understandable given his lack of experience with love, but his taking it out on Mitsuru is like stomping on baby ducks. Luckily, he knows this and resolves it fairly quickly. Unluckily, he resolves it by accident by getting drunk, kissing her, and sleeping on her breasts all night.

And so, after the summer vacation of awkward, we reach the culture festival of even more awkward. This is, if anything, even more uncomfortable as we're dealing with Mitsuru's wretchedly horrible family. The class is doing a cosplay cafe, with Mitsuru dressing up as The Crane Wife (from that story where the man helps an injured crane and she takes human form and marries him). This involves her wearing a very skimpy costume with a crane 'hat', something that even the most-self-possessed woman would have trouble carrying off. And once her brother and her 'intended fiancee' (something she only vaguely knew about before this, and is rather horrified to hear about) show up, things quickly descend into a giant chase.

It all ends up with a confrontation (at long last, I should add), with Mitsuru's mother slapping her across the chops for being such an ungrateful daughter. Which, naturally, gets Mitsuru to ask her to do it again harder. You can imagine how well this goes. Luckily, Natsuhiko is there to drag her off, and the volume ends with the two of them running away from her marriage interview, fiancee, and family... except now they've no idea what to do next.

The author comments that M&N was scheduled to be 2 volumes, but the author was asked to extend it, and she didn't have any other material. I think what we see here does extend naturally from the plot, but the execution... Gakuen Alice, the work she did after this, has a much better blend of comedy and gripping drama, and manages to make Mikan incredibly sympathetic without making her a doormat. Mitsuru... you want to hug her, but at the same time reading about her life is like sticking your hands in boiling tar. I want to find out how things work out for these two. Sadly, that involves reading the manga to do it.