Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rin-Ne Volume 5

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

After the heavy plot arcs of the last volume, this one is back to more ghost-of-the-week type stories. Sadly, that means there's far less to talk about. So let me ponder about Sakura again.

Last review I noted that I was wondering if Sakura's complete passivity was a plot point rather than simply Takahashi rebelling against her stereotype. This volume makes it perfectly clear that this is the case, as situations are designed to get Sakura to react in the extreme, but she simply doesn't. A lot of it is straight out of the pages of Romantic Comedy 101 - Rinne is discussing a clingy jealous girl and notes he doesn't dislike her, and Sakura only hears the last part; not to mention said girl telling Sakura to stop getting so close to Rinne. Throughout it all, Sakura just sort of stands there, though at one point she clearly thinks to herself that she doesn't want to lose Rinne, but is at a loss to explain why.

Clearly something happened to Sakura that's left her like this, and I suspect in the future it won't be a good thing. In the present, though, it means that almost all the comedic moments go to the ancillary characters as always. Ageha, introduced last volume, is now following Rinne around the real world, determined to get his attention, and she's an excellent edition to the cast, being someone who will overreact when needed. Most of the comedy here, though, goes to the ghosts and/or problems of the day.

After wrapping up the lost sister plot from last volume (in an incredibly unsurprising plot twist), and seeing what a naive idiot Ageha can be, we get back to school, and back to ghosts with problems. In a nice switch, though, the first person with a problem is actually Rinne, who's been given a bento by Ageha that's actually sealing an evil wish-granting spirit. Of course, since it's sealed in a bento, it's become a giant octopus-shaped hot dog evil spirit. This is one of the funniest sight gags of the book, and reminds you how good Takahashi is at taking a situation and stepping up its lunacy.

Other situations here involve a mysterious protector of a library aisle and its master who's rewriting her own memories; a tale of two guilty track stars and the smoldering attraction between them (well, OK, not really, but come on, the ho yay in these chapters was SO THERE); and a cedar tree that's haunted by the spirit of a boy who turns out to be familiar to Sakura. The last chapter was the most interesting to me, if only as it showed that Sakura was still pretty nice (and passive) even as a little girl.

I still enjoy Rin-Ne for its inherent Takahashiness, but once again the main issue with it is her two leads. I wish that she'd step up her game and either have Rinne realize to himself that he loves Sakura, or have her stunted emotions become more of a plot point. But until then, this still appears to be a title where Takahashi can coast along, exhausted after 56 volumes of Inu-Yasha and wanting to relax and draw random ghost stuff. Which is nice, but not fantastic.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Manga the week of 4/6

Well hey, look who finally decided to show up! Now that everyone else has read and talked about Tokyopop's March releases, they finally come crawling into comic shops a mere 5 weeks late. But at least they are HERE.

We have tons of shoujo, with no less than *six* Hakusensha titles. New Maid-sama!, Happy Cafe, and Skyblue Shore. A new Demon Sacred, which deserves to be separated from those others as it's a very different breed of shoujo. The 2nd and final Eensy-Weensy Monster. And the debut of a new 2-volume series, Clean Freak Fully Equipped. In non-Hakusensha titles, we have a new 'it's shoujo, really' volume of Red Hot Chili Samurai, as well as new volumes of 'they're shonen, really' series Animal Academy (also its final volume) and Pavane for a Dead Girl (from Koge-Donbo). Lastly, there's the mysterious Butterfly from Tokyopop's new best friends, Gentosha, and their Comic Birz.

There is, of course, non-Tokyopop stuff, for those folks who are going "but we read these ages ago, as we order from Amazon/Right Stuf". Blue has a new yaoi, Crimson Snow. DMP has a huge pile of new yaoi, including new volumes of Finder and Kabuki. And Seven Seas has the new Vampire Bund spinoff, and the 2nd Hayate x Blade omnibus.

Then there's Viz, which is here right on time with their giant blast of first-week titles. From Jump proper we get a new Eyeshield 21, which is in the 'international' part of its story, as well as new volumes of Nura and Slam Dunk, and the penultimate Prince of Tennis. From Jump Square we get one of the few best-selling harem manga left out there, Rosario + Vampire, now in Season 2. (Hint: it doesn't sell because of the harem.) And we get a new series debut in Blue Exorcist, which word on the street tells me has a bad start but revs up after its first chapter. Sounds like Nura, oddly enough.

On the shoujo front, Viz has new volumes of Dengeki Daisy and Seiho Boys' High School for you fans of Betsucomi. (Note: the term 'Betsucomi' is copyright Shogakukan, and is used here flagrantly without their permission. Tee hee.) From the Shueisha end of Viz, we have the debut of Sakura Hime, the new Tanemura series, from the underrated Ribon magazine. And we have a new volume of Stepping on Roses, which continues to have far less shogi than I would really like, from the equally underrated Margaret magazine.

Is your wallet crushed yet?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hayate the Combat Butler Volume 17

By Kenjiro Hata. Released in Japan as "Hayate no Gotoku!" by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

This is very much a book of two halves, or rather a book of 1/3 and 2/3. The first third of this volume has our usual wacky butler antics. Nagi tries to secretly rent a porn video, but gets things mixed up and ends up with a horror video instead, which gives her nightmares. We get a flashback showing us exactly how Sakuya hired Chiharu to be her maid. Hina has been tricked into dressing up for a kids' sentai show, and has to hide her identity from Hayate and Nagi. And Nagi makes an attempt to buy a camera, in order to capture some memories of the time she and Hayate first met.

Each of these chapters has some great Hayate bits in them, the sort of humor that works because we know these characters, and have spent 17 volumes seeing their growth. Hayate and Maria discussing Nagi's attempt to buy adult videos while Nagi pretends to be asleep. Sakuya's butlers reacting to her walking out in just a bra, and realizing their ojousama is all grown up. Hina's embarrassment, which has gotten to be the sole reason for seeing anything with her in it. And of course the heartwarming moment when Hayate, Nagi and Maria finally get a good picture taken. Nagi smiles, and notes she and Hayate will be together forever.

Ghlk. We immediately see Hayate's twitchy reaction, and though he covers it up well enough after that, we see him that evening (in a very rare shot of Hayate actually attempting to sleep) thinking about his past, and we finally move into what's been implied for some time: an extended flashback showing him with the princess-curled young girl who he said was his first girlfriend, Athena. This is the rest of the volume (and will be wrapped up in 18), and if a totally different mood to the start. There is still the odd bit of humor (mostly revolving around Athena's jealousy of Hayate, even as a little boy, being a chick magnet - the sequence with Izumi as a little girl is both touching and adorable), but for the most part this is a gauzy, fairy tale romance, albeit with a grim spectre of drama hanging over it.

The flashback starts with Hayate in elementary school being accused of stealing the other children's lunch money. He didn't, of course, but his parents did. It has to be said here, and I can't emphasize it enough - Hayate's absent parents are some of the worst in all of anime and manga. We never see their faces, only shadows and silhouettes, which is deliberate on Hata's part - they aren't meant to be real people, who you might remotely sympathize with, but offscreen monsters. Everything they do, every time we see them in flashbacks, they are gambling, they are stealing, and they are ignoring their child. It's heartbreaking. And so when Hayate runs away, and finds himself in a strange garden with a castle in it, it reads as it's meant to - like a fairy tale. There's even a princess.

Athena herself is meant to juxtapose with Nagi. There are a few similarities - they both get jealous very easily, and tend to have a bit of the 'brat' quality to them when they do so - but for the most part Athena is a contrast, being far more mature and driven than your average 6-year-old has any right to be. She is alone in the castle, and Hayate staying to be her butler is beneficial for both of them. We also see that Hayate's strength is not merely the result of years and years of incredible training and ludicrous jobs - although that helped. No, Athena did some magic, which gave him some of his incredible strength and stamina. What's more, she then teaches him swordsmanship, proving to be a most adept fencer even at her young age.

There is notably no fanservice here, even though we see Athena kiss Hayate, and they share a bed. Athena may be mature for her age, but the two are still six, and this is meant to show an innocent friendship - in fact, Hayate's first friendship. Unfortunately, Hayate still has a six-year-old's issues. He already knows what a monster his father is, but hasn't seen what his mother can do yet - and wonders if she misses him. He doesn't want to live in fairy tale castle land, he wants to live in the real world. And when he suggests Athena come with him, things turn even more serious. Athena gives him a ring, noting it's part of a set, and asks that they wear them "once they grow up". Hayate, delighted that this means she'll leave with him, exits the castle to tell his parents. And we cut back to Athena, staring at Hayate with the most heartbreaking expression you've ever seen, and one of the rings lying on the floor. As if we didn't get it, Hayate's narration notes she looked like she knew the future with them together would never come to pass.

This is where the volume ends, on a nasty cliffhanger. We *know* that something horrible is going to happen, most likely with Hayate's parents. Still, the purpose of this volume was twofold. First, to introduce Athena, another of the series' main characters. And to show that Hata can write a serious, even tragic storyline via extended multi-chapter flashback and not lose his readership. I think he succeeded on both counts, though your mileage may vary. The series is not going to turn into an angst-fest completely, and the humor will return with a vengeance. But from this point on, we do get more and more serious arcs. We have to wait 6 months now between volumes (curse you, poor sales!), but it will definitely be worth it.

And for the curious, I ship Hayate/Hinagiku, Hayate/Ayumu and Hayate/Athena about equally. :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Excel Saga Volume 20

By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.

Hallelujah. After what seems like a lifetime, this is it. This is the volume. Excel is back, baby! And as if to celebrate that fact, Rikdo has gone the extra mile, giving us one of the absolute best volumes to date.

However, at the start of it, we're still focusing on Teriha, who has heard the news about a bomb at the ILL building. She runs into Elgala, and the two of them break into the building through the parking garage. Some lovely stuff here, mostly as Teriha has no idea who Elgala is, but still feels the need to punch her hard enough to break her jaw out of sheer instinct. Elgala, for her part, is happy that she's in a manga, as she manages to shake her head a bit and get rid of all the bone and cartilage damage (though she notes ruefully she can't do it twice in a row). And as they head up to find the bomb, Iwata is heading down, having transformed - midair - into his sentai suit, something which went absolutely fine except his head is now backwards. This fazes him not a bit. Lastly, Il Palazzo has sent RopponExcel down to find the bomb as well, and the three groups all run into each other at once.

RopponExcel, also seemingly running on instinct, takes out Iwata fast (it's more emotion than we've ever seen from her, and clearly implied she shared Ropponmatsu I's memories somewhat), and finally is face to face with Teriha. Elgala clearly wants some form of confrontation, but unfortunately there's still a bomb, as RopponExcel and Teriha tell her. In unison. Elgala is rather disturbed by the almost Zen-like bond the two share, as they even find the bomb at the same time - RopponExcel using her super investigating skills, Teriha by pure instinct. RopponExcel starts to defuse the bomb, but sadly the bomb's creator (take a wild guess who that is - no prizes, she's the only real villain the series has left) decides to set it off then and there. This takes out RopponExcel, but Teriha and Elgala were shielded. And what's worse, there were TWO bombs - and one has been delivered to Il Palazzo's office.

Teriha takes off, racing to the top floor, bolting past a rather stunned Hyatt (who has slowly been realizing that Elgala was correct about a fake Excel but not really having the will to do much about it) and tells Il Palazzo - right as the bomb explodes, sending them flying out the top window of an 80-story building. And they start to fall. And it's the falling - after so many drops into the pit, or falls into the sea, or just plummeting in general - that wakens Excel's memories. In fact, it may almost be conscious - Teriha seems to know what's about to happen, and tells Umi 'bye-bye...'... before starting up in maniacal glee and screaming "HAIL, IL PALAZZO!" It's fantastic. If only Il Palazzo felt the same - he shoves Excel away from him and activates some sort of antigrav device, the teleports out with the inactive RopponExcel. Excel plummets into a nearby handy river. Elgala merely gets trampled in the mass exodus from the building. And Hyatt is MIA.

(Oh yes, the Security Agency watches all this via remote, and does its best snarky commentary. Relevant here is that a) Iwata points out to them that Excel is Teriha, and had in fact been living with the professor for a year; b) everyone has pretty much guessed that Miwa was behind all this, but can't do much about it, and c) Umi is devastated at Teriha's absence, walking around in a stupor. Shiouji, showing a rare bit of compassion, notes she isn't the sort of personality to let this bring her down for long, and will snap out of it soon.)

What follows next is perhaps the BEST MONTAGE EVER, as Excel tries to piece together what she's been doing. Yes, she has her memories back, but all her time as Teriha is now gone. We see her escaping her plight in Vol. 15. We see her on a boat, which is promptly destroyed. (For fans of the anime, Pedro makes his 2nd and final appearance here.) She's in China, dressed as Chun-Li, trying to do a dash-and-dine with roast pig. We see her in Russia, with a Cossack helmet, then fleeing a la Anastasia. She goes to America via the luggage hold (and, it's noted, is freezing to death in there - a bit of realism in a not-very-realistic anime), where she ends up as a NYC police officer (no, I'm not making this up), but she still can't escape the enemies constantly chasing her, who eventually capture and chain her up. However, the sight of... wait, this sounds ludicrous. Even Excel tells herself to calm down and notes that her memories sound more like a movie than something that actually happened. Made an awesome montage of Excel being silly, superhuman, and generally Excel-ish, though.

So Excel is now back to her normal self, something that delights Elgala when they come across each other on the riverbank. Elgala may get abused by Excel, but at least it's the abuse she's used to, and not confusing new abuse. Excel, meanwhile, is rather disheartened to learn she's somehow lost an entire YEAR (one of the few times the manga actually tells us how long things take) and been replaced by a duplicate. Elgala's pep talk doesn't help that much, but Elgala's insults do, and soon Excel is back to her old self and deciding that they will raise money that will help them get to Il Palazzo.

So they start by becoming shrine maidens. This may, in fact, be the funniest chapter in the book, one which plays on the then-current anime Kannagi, which was taking otaku by storm. They're doing it supposedly to aid an old, bed-ridden priest, but don't seem to care about him too much - especially not when he goes mad after Excel carves the Sacred Tree into a life-sized idol of Il Palazzo. However, they do make the shrine incredibly profitable, and the cash is soon rolling in. Sadly, this does not mollify the priest, who gets his revenge by burning the shrine down. Excel and Elgala weren't in it at the time - they were drinking out on the grounds - but that doesn't matter, as Excel's Il Palazzo shrine is in there, and she goes back to get it after much struggling (Elgala generally values self-preservation a lot more than her senior). This leads to my favorite two pages in the entire volume, where we see Elgala, saddened and crushed as she gazes into the fire where Excel has just thrown herself. We then cut to what Elgala sees - Excel, burned to a crisp, holding into the preserved Il Palazzo idol, her hands in a 'V' sign. "You win, senior." Excel then notes that it wasn't even about the statue, and that she had to make sure that "she can go through fire or him." One reason I love the later part of the manga is Rikdo's ability to be incredibly silly then turn serious on a dime. Luckily, Excel reminds us of her insane healing ability here as well, as her charred flesh is fine the next day.

The last chapter has Excel, Elgala and Menchi - still homeless - freezing to death at the riverbank. Excel decides that this may be a good time to use some of the money she hid from Elgala to buy a hotel room. It's rather fun being reminded of Excel's incredible parsimonious, as well as her very sensible reasoning for hiding the cash from Elgala - Elgala would likely spend it all in about 5 minutes. So they get a cheap hotel room - which is clearly haunted. Sadly, only Elgala seems to notice the ghosts, and Excel solves the problem by getting the manager (who is clearly aware the room is haunted) to knock a few hundred yen off the price. She then leaves Elgala to freak out and goes to buy groceries, noting rather grimly that she does see visions, but pays them no mind - meanjing she is still haunted, to an extent, by her Teriha memories. This is not helped by her then SEEING Umi off in the distance. She starts to go after her, but is stopped by Professor Shiouji, who notes that seeing Excel would merely make Umi worse right now, and that if she doesn't remember her time as Teriha, she doesn't belong here. It's really rather harsh, but entirely accurate. A melancholy Excel returns to the apartment, where Elgala is now seeing her skeletal remains in mirrors and the wallpaper seems to be concealing a dead body. Excel finally agrees that yes, something is wrong with the apartment, and they flee back to the freezing riverbank.

It was wonderful to see Excel and Exgala back to their old tricks here, and I hope Hyatt is able to join them soon. However, the plot continues apace, and Miwa's plans - whatever they are - are not showing any signs of being stopped. What happens next? I guess we'll find out soon!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi Volume 8

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

It would appear, checking my reviews, that I skipped reviewing Volume 7 of the Haruhi manga, possibly as I had nothing more to say about it. Sometimes when you try to review every volume of an ongoing series, you tend to run out of ways to say the same things. Especially when it's an adaptation of something where you've already read the novel and seen the anime. And I've already pointed out the manga's basic flaws: it's simply not as good as the other two. I had hoped that adapting Disappearance, the best of the novels which was also made into a fantastic 163 minute movie, that the manga would step up its game and bring out something special.

Sadly, it's the opposite. If anything, the manga gets worse here, feeling rushed and impatient, and the art is terrible, making me suspect the artist was in danger of blowing his deadline every single volume. At least, I hope it's simply rushed and sloppy, because there's really no way to excuse some of these designs and poses. The art has never been great, but it's never quite repelled as much as this does. Kyon in particular looks off-model half the time, even when he's not supposed to be freaking out at the situations that he's in. Even Yuki, who does get the occasional blushy pose that shows off her Disappearance self, has moments where you wonder if the artist even had a source to work with, or was trying to recreate the designs from a 3rd-generation memory.

The manga format also does not do any favors to Kyon's inner monologue, which is generally one of the main reasons to read the light novels. In fact, the main thrust of this volume, where Kyon debates with himself over which reality he should choose (which was expanded even more in the anime to a full-blown technicolor trippy sequence) is completely eliminated here, with Kyon staring for 2 panels and then that's about it. I understand that you have to compress a lot due to page constraints, but this is ridiculous, and does not do the story any favors.

There are two side-stories at the end of the volume, even though we still aren't done adapting Disappearance yet. They're both short alternate universe tales, appropriately enough. One, featuring Nagato as an idol singer, is merely dull. But the other... oh man, sometimes an idea is so bad it becomes glorious, and whoever came up with Asahina Mikuru, prizewinning boxer should get some sort of award. Just the mere SIGHT of Mikuru battling Nagato in the ring should be enough, but the artist also tries to tie this in with the actual Haruhi world, as our Mikuru is dreaming of being a boxer but keeps waking up. The ending attempts to be heartwarming, which it might have achieved if it weren't so short, and if the artist knew how to draw. If this idea actually was thought up by Tanigawa (something I am suspicious of), perhaps it can be fleshed out in a future short story.

Sometimes when you have adaptations, and adaptation of adaptations, and spinoffs of spinoffs, you don't get much of a choice. You have to license the whole shebang. And really, when it comes to manga adaptations of the Haruhi-verse, this one falls at the bottom, under the cute 4-koma Haruhi-chan (which is incredibly slight, but has lots of wonderful 4-koma humor, and gave the world Achakura) and the Nagato Yuki spinoff (which tries to hit the moe adorable buttons hard, and succeeds a good 45% of the time, which is actually very good for a manipulative adaptation of an adaptation). Sales appear to be OK, mostly I suspect due to franchise buyers (like myself... cough), but honestly, if you';re going to buy this, get it for Mikuru the boxer, as nothing else will hold your attention.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

K-On! Volume 2

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

Another volume of K-On means another volumes of cute characters doing cute things, four panels at a time. I will assume that if that aggravates you, you never would have bought the manga in the first place. Therefore, everyone else knows what they're getting.

What they get in this volume is mainly the introduction of the last main cast member, Azusa Nanako. Our four band members are now second-year students, and are anxiously trying to recruit new members who will be able to carry on the tradition. They're mostly out of luck, but fortunately Azusa saw their performance at the festival last year and was totally smitten. So she ends up joining the club, despite a slow sinking feeling as she realizes there's far more tea-drinking than practicing, the faculty adviser has a cosplay fetish, the other guitarist has a tendency to like hugging, and she's easily the most skilled musician of the group.

Azusa manages to, believe it or not, be even more moe and adorable than the other four girls, and rapidly became the cult favorite of the cast. The author, of course, has no issues with pandering to this, and quickly has Azusa wearing cat-ears and dressing up in yukata. As I noted before, this is a moe manga, make no bones about it. She quickly takes over the serious-minded taskmaster role that Mio had in the first volume, leaving Mio free to stress out about things and be the tsukkomi to Ritsu's boke. Mostly, however, this is about a group of close-knit friends who quickly add another to their ranks, band or no, and seeing how they try to make Azusa open up and become one of the group (even if she is reluctant much of the time, mostly due to Yui's skinship) is rather nice. 4-koma moe comics do tend to have a lot of cute girl groups of friends, something you don't see as often in other demographics, and it can be quite refreshing.

The plots here are nothing really groundbreaking. We get a beach trip (where we see Azusa tans incredibly quickly and easily), exams, preparing for another concert (which ends up going horribly, mostly as Yui gets a bad cold a week or two before it and they can't practice). And, as I said before, what you see is what you get in terms of these characters. Mio will not learn to conquer her fears onstage, Ritsu is not going to learn responsibility, and Sawako is not going to stop being a 'dirty old man' female teacher. But the jokes are funny, if not laugh-out-loud funny - they're designed more to put a smile on your face than anything else. My favorites were the early stories introducing Azusa (who makes Yui 225% more hyperactive), and the hysterical episode where Yui 'gets over her cold' and returns to practice - but is it really Yui?

Yen's translation, with a couple of niggles, continues to be smooth and well-done, with endnotes where needed. The niggles do annoy me, though. Yen mostly uses honorifics in their normal way, however, when they run into complex or invented honorifics, they sometimes translate it instead. So we see 'Miss Tsumugi' rather than 'Tsumugi-oujosama', which is very strange given that we see '-san' the panel before. Worse, Yui's nickname for Azusa, 'Azu-nyan' - a combination of the 'nya' meow of a cat and '-chan-' is translated as 'Azu-meow', which just messes up the flow of the speech, I think, and doesn't really explain the joke of it being 'meow+honorific'. In both those instances, I feel using the original (as is done with -san, -chan, etc) with an endnote to explain would have been a better choice.

Despite this, however, this is a fun volume of K-On! People who are buying the anime when it comes out next month will want to get this as well. A few scenes from the manga, especially towards the end, were never animated and are quite fun. It's a relaxing cup of tea manga.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Manga the week of 3/30

I wish I had more to tell you on why Diamond hasn't shipped new Tokyopop books since late January... but I don't.

We *do* get a new Tokyopop title this week! ... that the rest of the bookstore and Amazon crowd got in December. It's the '3rd' volume of the shonen harem manga that ran in Shonen Ace back in the early 00s. Vol. 1 came out here in 2008, then, perhaps seeing harem manga was on the heavy decline sales-wise, TP released 2 and 3 together as Vol. 2. Now we get 4 & 5 together as Vol. 3, but it's been a year and a half since 2. I had, in fact, forgotten this series existed. Ah well, no one can't say I don't love lost causes of my own, so...

We also get Dark Horse giving us the 3rd of 4 volumes devoted to another Evangelion manga, this one a shoujo mystery called Campus Apocalypse. It stars Shinji and Kaworu, and hits the 'yaoi-friendly' buttons quite a bit. Despite being a campus mystery-horror sort of series, it also apparently hits most of the major themes Evangelion always has.

Since I'm lukewarm about both manga releases next week, might I suggest the 4th volume of IDW's fantastic Bloom County Library? It's out next week as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kodansha's September releases

So Right Stuf has updated their site with Kodansha Comics releases for September 2011. The big reason to do this, obviously, is to start getting those preorders rolling in for Sailor Moon, and I know that readers of my blog will be doing that. It did have some new information, however, and I thought it best to go over it, as talking about things with only one source and no confirmation or press releases is, well, what I do best. :)

It's a pretty packed schedule, in fact, with 13 volumes due for release that month. In terms of stuff we either already knew about or aren't surprised to see, there's new volumes of Arisa (4), Deltora Quest (2), Fairy Tail (15), Negima (31), Ninja Girls (7), Shugo Chara! (12), Until the Full Moon (2), and The Wallflower (26). 12 is the final volume of Shugo Chara, and the Until the Full Moon reprint should end here with the final volume. Also, the Wallfower has now 'caught up' with Japan, so I imagine ongoing releases may be more spaced out.

Next we have new things that we already knew about from Friday, i.e. the release dates for Sailor Moon and Codename: Sailor V. Pleased to see the latter keeping its full title. They're both due out 9/13/11.

Lastly, we have three omnibus releases. We already knew about Negima, and this month sees the 2nd of those, which will re-release Volumes 4-6 with a new translation. This will contain the 'Kyoto arc', which, much like Rurouni Kenshin, is considered a great place to start by fans who know the beginning of Negima is... not as good as it gets later on.

We also see 'Love Hina omnibus 1', which will presumably contain Vols. 1-3 of that Shonen Magazine series, bringing it back into print. I'm uncertain whether that will have a new translation/editing the way Negima is, or whether it will be similar to Kodansha's re-release of Akira - i.e. slap the publisher's name on the old volumes - but I'm sure we'll find out soon. In any case, this classic Akamatsu story in many ways is considered *the* harem comedy by many people who are too young to remember Tenchi Muyo, and is another good example of a series that shows the artist refining his art as it goes on. Plus it has Mutsumi. Who doesn't love Mutsumi?

Lastly, we have 'Tokyo Mew Mew Omnibus 1', again presumably containing Vols. 1-3 of this classic magical girl series from the magazine Nakayoshi. This is another release to get an out of print Tokyopop series from the mid-00s back into print, and it's also quite welcome, as the series was very popular in its day. It's also been hard done by, as the anime got one of those dubs that edits and reconstructs everything to make it less Japanese, and Tokyopop's own translation also took many liberties. If Kodansha gives this one a new translation (and again, no idea if they will or not), it could take off with fans of the magical girl genre.

For those lamenting the lack of (insert title here), I note this is merely one month of releases from a company still dipping its toe into the water. Hence, we have a lot of re-releases of very popular titles that are now out of print, quite a sensible business decision. What will October bring?

Aqua Volume 1

By Kozue Amano. Released in Japan by Enix, serialized in the magazine Stencil. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

As part of my MMF post (and I will eventually review the book), a little history lesson. In the beginning there was Enix, a gaming and manga company that had several manga magazines it published, including Shonen Gangan and GFantasy. Stencil started out as a spinoff of GFantasy, attempting to be a bit more shoujo-oriented. It never quite succeeded, mostly as Enix has ALWAYS had an issue with basic shonen/shoujo demographics, even to this day. In any case, the magazine debuted in the late 1990s, and Kozue Amano's Aqua debuted there. Life was apparently difficult at Enix, and their merger with another company, Square, had many of the artists and editors nervous. So in 2001, one of the editors left to form Mag Garden, and took a number of the artists with him. They also took their series, and planned to continue them in the new magazines that would debut. Oh, the lawsuits that followed! After litigation, Square Enix agreed to give Mag Garden some cash, but the titles that moved had to be renamed, even if only a little bit. And so Aqua, after two volumes, became Aria. Mag Garden bought the rights to Aqua from Square Enix at the same time, and reprinted the volumes under their own banner and with new covers. This is the version that Tokyopop has licensed.

For those who are perhaps unaware of the plot, Akari is a young woman from Earth (called "Manhome" here) in the year 2301. She is flying to the planet Aqua, formerly Mars, to become an undine - a female gondolier who guides people around in Venetian rowing boats, touring the city. Akari is bubbly and happy, and seems to find almost everything endlessly fascinating. She joins Aria company, which seems to be a company of two. The other person is her sempai Alicia, a beautiful and laid-back onee-san type. The manga continues as Akari learns the ins and outs of gondoliering, makes friends, and watches the amazing scenery.

It has been noted by many that the main reason to love Aqua/Aria is the world that we see, and indeed as the series goes on the backgrounds and settings get increasingly more elaborate, verging on what has become known as "Scenery Porn". There's less of that in this first volume, as Amano is still honing her craft, but we do see signs of what's to come in a chapter where Akari and Aika (her grumpy yet lovable friend) attempt to follow their mascot through a maze of small alleys into the heart of Neo-Venezia, the city where they work. Most manga are character-based, but Aqua, while having fine characters, does manke you look at the whole page to take in everything, not just faces.

Aria was released first over here by ADV back in the day, and thus most people will be coming at Aqua after having read the 'sequel' series. It's not a prequel, however, but a true start to the series, giving us many of the elements we'll come to find familiar. The scenes with Alicia and Akari at the start will, in fact, be mirrored much later on in future volumes of Aria. I always enjoy when an artist works like that, as it gives the illusion of more planning ahead than was likely actually done. It shows they read their old work. The characters are still mostly sketches here, with Aika and Alicia not yet receiving the development they will get down the road, but we are just starting out. And there's President Aria. I've learned to put up with him, but I don't have to like him. He's there for goofy comedy, and inescapable. Oh well.

So since we don't have much characterization here, and plot is irrelevant to a series like Aqua, what's left? Well, mood. While the overall effect of the series is relaxing and sunny, we do have our first example of the chapters where the sort of faux sci-fi setting becomes faux-fantastical horror with the introduction of Cait Sith, the giant leader of the cats that only Akari ever interacts with. The interaction barely occurs in this first volume - she just gets a glimpse of the huge convention of cats - but as the series goes on, she sees more and more of the beast, to the point where it almost becomes an arc of the plot. These chapters generally have a different feel from the rest of the series, with the sense of wonder being turned inward to look at darker (though not quite creepy, this is never threatening) things.

In many ways, this is a typical first volume. The art is not as good as it gets, and I note the redrawn cover has the unfortunate effect of making Akari look sad and melancholy, which she isn't. Likewise, as we flesh out the world we get more shadings to folks like Alicia and Aika, who here are mostly just types. Still, if you haven't read any of Aria yet, I would definitely start here, as it gives a lot of the background and information that helps you understand things as you read further. And it's pretty. In all the best ways.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Excel Saga Volume 19

By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.

Sorry for the rush, but I got sidetracked for a while, and now need to wrap up these reviews so that I can review Vol. 22 when it comes out in April. :) And there's a lot to talk about with this volume, which continues the very, very long Teriha arc.

Our 'villains', the City Environmental Security Administration, don't have quite as much plot-related stuff to do in this volume. The highlight manages to be Iwata's insane desire to get a driver's license, which fails not because he's a total freak who would wreck a car by merely looking at it, but because he is dead. Cyborgs with false identities have difficulties getting basic amenities. So Iwata does the next best thing, and gets a bicycle, which he can drive at superhuman car-like speeds. This goes about as well as you can expect, and he merely ends up smashing Sumiyoshi's brand new car that he was able to buy.

They also get focus in the final chapter, which is about a bomb that's been planted at ILL's giant office tower. This concerns Dr. Kabapu greatly, not only as the bomb isn't one of his, but because he did plant a different, MUCH BIGGER bomb that might go off if this other one does - and level part of the city. Well, he gets bored easily. The highlight here is seeing Misaki's face as she realizes how screwed up the situation they're in is. She actually facepalms twice in two pages. Il Palazzo, of course, is not deterred by something as gauche as a bomb, and tells his employees not to panic or flee but merely look for suspicious packages.

Meanwhile, we also have Hyatt, who hasn't really coughed up that much blood lately, possible as she's been relatively stress-free. That ends here, as she's starting to worry about Elgala's words to her about Excel being a replacement. This leads, of course, to copious coughing of blood and collapse. Still, she's better off than Elgala, who really hits rock bottom here. Having already been demoted to the fifth sub-basement, she's now been scapegoated as the culprit in an embezzlement plot that Kabapu is trying to pin on Il Palazzo. Il Palazzo solves this by simply telling Elgala to be the best fugitive she can be, and then promptly forgetting about her. And so it's back to pursuits that are somewhat familiar to readers of Excel Saga - dine and dashing, and sleeping in a cardboard box under the bridge. Not to mention fleeing the police courtesy Iwata's bicycle, in a nice dovetailing of plots that reminds you how insane everyone in this cast is.

She's not alone, however, as she is joined eventually by Menchi, who gets a long chapter devoted to her, the first in several volumes. She's been having it soft recently, and in fact has had to be put on a diet to avoid diabetes. That changes here, though, as Elgala is now on the lam, and Hyatt has fallen over dead again. So Menchi leaves the apartment to go find help, and ends up getting completely lost. Things get even worse when, at a park, she runs into Umi and Teriha - and seeing Teriha brings back all the old trauma of her time with Excel (in a full, 2-page spread, no less), causing Menchi to flee in terror and end up nearly drowning in the river. Luckily, Elgala is already there to rescue her, even if she was fishing for actual food. Menchi will do in a pinch!

And lastly we have Teriha, who gets the most serious chapter, as she writes in her journal about her life with Umi and Profession Shiouji. I'm somewhat torn here, as this is quite well-written, with Teriha noting that she's having a pleasant, if somewhat unusual life. But she's consumed with half-formed impressions of her past self and Il Palazzo, so everything is consumed by melancholy and the idea that she's living a lie. There's a rather chilling juxtaposition of a photo that was taken of Teriha with Umi, Professor Shiouji, Miwa and Iwata, which we then see at the end with Teriha completely removed, as if she'd never been there. And finally, at the end, Teriha hears about the bomb threat. And flees, headed to ILL's office building, because even if she can't remember anything, she HAS to do something to save Il Palazzo.

This is the last complete volume with Teriha, and it's as frustrating as ever. Rikdo knows this, of course, and much of Teriha's arc has played on the frustration of the reader. We don't want this shy, passive, emotionally stunted girl, even if she may be more cute and moe. We want our heroine. We want Excel. Luckily, events are starting to come together, as Teriha, Elgala, and the Security Sentai Force are all converging on the ILL towers to try to stop the bomb from going off. Stay tuned for the exciting Volume 20!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sailor Moon/Sailor V licensed by Kodansha USA

By Naoko Takeuchi. Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Code Name Wa Sailor V released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Run Run. Released in North America by Kodansha USA.

I'm not sure what I can add to this that everyone already doesn't know. Based on the 2003 Japanese re-release, with updated artwork by the mangaka. New, updated translation. Right-to-left. The original names. Coming out every other month. *And* we get the Sailor V manga, featuring Minako in her pre-Venus days! Honestly, it's exactly what we've been begging for for years, and it looks AMAZING. Cannot wait. Those who think Sailor Moon is that girly series will have a LOT to learn.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Higurashi: When They Cry Volumes 9-10

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

Before I get started with the review of this, the 'Beyond Midnight' arc, a quick word on how these books come out in Japan. First of all, as I've noted, the manga is written mostly for fans, which is to say those who have played the games and know what will happen. Yes, each arc may have new readers, as a GFantasy or Shonen Gangan reader who did not otherwise care about Higurashi might get into the title, but it's still geared towards the fan. As a result, the first three arcs all ran simultaneously in three different Japanese magazines, and were released on the same day in tankobon form. The future arcs are similarly released: Eye-Opening and Atonement came out simultaneously in Japan. I think Yen was originally going to alternate, but decided (probably wisely) simply to do each arc as it comes. Which has worked out well, but does help to explain why this manga-only arc is a retelling of a future based off the 'Atonement' arc, which we won't see till the fall.

The Time Killing arc gave us a Higurashi story that focused elsewhere, but it was still part of the basic cycle. This manga-only arc actually does very well in focusing on the village of Hinamizawa as an urban legend, a place where death and the supernatural are inevitable. It also takes place in the 'present-day', rather than 1983, something that truly hits us once we see the star of these volumes: Mion, now a grown woman, struggling to deal with her yakuza succession. We also get our nebbish reader-identification hero, a young blond who it's noted resembles Satoshi; a young couple who seem to be on the verge of a breakup; and an incredibly annoying reporter here for his next big scoop.

It has to be said, if you like Mion, you'll get a kick out of this book. Even given the twist at the end, this is clearly her book all the way, and she gets to not only kick ass with a katana, but also be the smartest one in the bunch, rehabilitate the others through the power of snark, and even have a touching memory or two - her pause in the ruins of Keiichi's mansion to remember the past is quite affecting. The others don't fare as well, with Arakawa in particular coming off as shallow and irritating. He ends up being the only cast member who didn't need to be there, and his 'redemption' at the end rings rather false, as we didn't get enough of a chance to see him not be annoying for it to be carried off.

The books read fast. Possibly too fast - while I felt Time Killing was just the right length, this one seems almost rushed, as if it's trying too hard to fit within its framework of taking place during one evening. That said, it also has something that even Time Killing couldn't quite arrange - a vaguely happy, hopeful ending. Obviously, the village is still all dead, given what happened 20 years ago, but the moral here is to get people to take charge of their own lives and go forward, rather than simply giving up or trying to take the easy way out. Mion, of course, being the walking example of the former. The last scene was (trying not to give anything away) incredibly touching.

So, in the end, this does not add much to the Higurashi universe (except perhaps noting once again that you can never be too sure about twins, something we'll get into even further in the next arc), but on its own is pleasant enough, with some good action and set pieces. Pick it up if you like the idea of a hot adult Mion with a katana kicking ass. As for me, this 2-volumes-a-time thing is working well, so I'll wait till April and then review the first half of the Eye-Opening arc, with Mion's sister Shion as the focus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Manga the week of 3/23

There's still no Tokyopop this week, and I'm hoping to be able to find out more on what happened to the missing titles next week.

So what do we have? Dark Horse is almost caught up with re-releasing Oh My Goddess! in right-to-left format, as Volume 17 comes out next week. And from Viz, we have... Volume 22 of Hikaru no Go, which apparently the rest of the world got 2 months ago. Look, I just report the releases, I don't explain them.

Most of the new titles are from Yen Press, though. Manga bloggers will be delighted to hear that Volume 3 of Bunny Drop is upon us, bringing a small drop of josei joy into our lives. I myself am also happy to see a new volume of Bamboo Blade, which I'm hoping gives me some great Miyamiya expressions. We also see Volume 2 of K-On!, the moe lovers' dream. And there's a new Haruhi Suzumiya, still struggling with not being either the novels or the anime.

In titles that are exciting but I don't actually follow, we have a new Nabari no Ou, for those people who like a different variety of ninja than the usual Naruto sort. We also see Volume 8 of Cirque Du Freak, a rare Shogakukan title with a non-Viz publisher, as Darren Shan apparently arranged NA rights with Yen. The original manga ran in Shonen Sunday, from where I understand Manga Starts.

Lastly, the 2nd and final My Girlfriend's a Geek novel is out. I found that the extra distance created by the manga helped me enjoy it more, and found the novel itself a bit too discomfiting. Nonetheless, it's only 2 volumes, and it's nice to see the light it shines on Japanese fujoshi culture. I'm sure much of it is fictional, but it's a very based-in-truth sort of fictionality.

Any ideas what you'll buy?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 6

By Yuki Yoshihara. Released in Japan as "Chou Yo Hana Yo" by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.

Things have been going fairly smoothly for our couple lately, well, at least as smoothly as you can get in a soap opera melodrama sort of world. And given this, it will come as a surprise to no one that various bad things happen in this volume to try to break them up. This involves both Choko's self-doubt (she finds out that Masayuki had an ex) and new characters arriving on the scene to be impediments. Unfortunately, the fact that two of these new characters are introduced one right on top of the other sort of makes it feel a bit as if Yoshihara is tossing in complications to extend the series out.

One thing I noticed right away is that there's very little of Masayuki being an over the top lunatic, something which was both the main fault and the saving grace of previous volumes. Despite the occasional Gundam reference and outbreaks of ludicrous violence, he's really mellowed out now that he and Choko are together, and doesn't feel the need to be obnoxious about it anymore. There's one sex scene at the start of the volume, and it's probably the sweetest one we've had in the series. Now if only he could stop himself putting tracking devices in her underwear...

Choko, on the other hand, is still having issues, mostly as she's the female viewpoint heroine in a josei series, which means she's plagued by self-doubt and concerns. Hearing Masayuki once had a lover who wasn't her makes her jealous, even when she doesn't know quite how to deal with it. She handles the introduction of a new man to the office much better, first attempting to work with him in order to help her friend Makie avoid an arranged marriage, and then fending him off once he starts to fall for her. Luckily, Otaki is somewhat socially inept, so she thinks he's merely being rude to her when he tries to give her a ring. (?!) The arrival of Masayuki's ex, Kaori, comes right on top of this, and to be honest feels a bit like overegging the pudding. Especially given she's just as bad as you imagined she was going to be, threatening Choko right off the bat.

Overall, the manga is getting subtler about both its romance and its drama. There's still humor (I loved Masayuki's reaction to finding out Suou and Makie were in love), but it's nowhere near the level of early volumes. Likewise, the relationship between Choko and Masayuki, despite its hiccups, also seems more mature and has come a hell of a long way from that job interview at the start. It's nice to see, but I do feel that I didn't get as into this volume as much as previous ones due to a lack of ludicrousness. Without Masayuki being grotesque and over the top, Butterflies, Flowers feels like another romance manga, just with a bit more spice as it's josei. I'm hoping the last two volumes bring back a bit of me staring in awe at the sheer gall of it all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Toriko Volume 4

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

When we last saw Toriko, he was dealing with both a mother and baby Battle Wolf, and a vicious killer robot. Sadly, the robot has just killed the mother wolf, leaving Toriko as angry as we've ever seen him. Because this is Jump, the motivations are spelled out so they're easy for all to understand - Toriko will never get angry at an animal, as they act on their basic instincts, even the worst killers. But humans? Man, they can be nasty and horrible. And that gets Toriko mad. So we get a big ol' battle between our hero and the supposedly invincible robot, which ends the way you'd expect a Jump battle to end.

The main thrust of this volume is the arrival of Sunny, who is another Japanese manga cliche, the gorgeous young man who only likes beautiful things. We've seen this effeminate type with Yumichika in Bleach as well. Even worse, his powers involve hair sensors that can instantly tell him everything about the others around him, and Toriko describes it as akin to being 'licked', complete with art demonstrating how Toriko views this. This sort of thing is not helping Jump's image of catering more towards fujoshi now, but is still kind of amusing. More to the point, Sunny is one of the Four Kings, an equal to Toriko, and seriously badass... when he can be bothered, of course, as he doesn't want to go after things that aren't beautiful, or can't be made that way.

And I continue to be fascinated with Komatsu, the comic sidekick character. Unlike a number of these types in Jump stories, Komatsu is not trying to get as strong as the hero, or even strong in general. Komatsu knows his limits, and is content to simply stand back and let others take on the hideously dangerous things. And of course, his talents as a chef are superb, causing even Sunny (who had ignored him previously as Komatsu is not 'beautiful') to sit up and take notice. I particularly liked Komatsu noting that he gets even happier when people praise his knife rather than himself, something that apparently comes up a lot in his character. In terms of using the non-powerful character, Shimabukuro continues to do a great job.

If there's a fault in the manga, it's that I continue to not care about any main overarching plot. We meet some bad guys here, but they're typical 'mid-level boss' bad guys, with their leader maybe being a cut above. The fact that we get a 'capture level' panel next to each animal once it appears reminds you that this is very much a fighting manga meant to resemble a fighting game, with Toriko and company moving on to take on stronger and stronger opponents, no doubt while finding out about the conspiracy that haunts their world. It's nothing you have not read in eighty other Jump mangas. But I'm not really sure that matters. Toriko is big dumb goofy fun, and you read it to see the heroes grin while punching things. It doesn't have much of a goal beyond entertaining, and it succeeds in that regard.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare. First published in Britain in 1623 by Edward Blount, William Jaggard, and Isaac Jaggard. Review copy from 'The Arden Shakespeare: Third Series', edited by John Drakakis.

When I reviewed The Taming of the Shrew, one of the things I did was discuss how I might stage it if I were directing a production, giving advice to the actors, etc. However, to be honest, this is not something I can do with The Merchant of Venice, as if I was asked to direct a production I'd likely see if they wouldn't mind something a bit easier to stage today. It can be argued about how controversial it was at the time of writing, but it's hard to read Merchant now without having issues with the way that the cast treats the Jew, Shylock.

First of all, this play is concerned with a lot of things, but the two things it's most concerned with are law and money. Especially money. The play is called the Merchant of Venice, after all. Money can be used to raise your status (which is probably the main reason why Antonio is wiling to help his friend Bassanio win Portia, even if many modern productions play up that it's for repressed love for Bassanio), but money can also be used to make money, which is the business Shylock operates. He is a moneylender. The people of Elizabethan times had a very odd relationship with such 'usury', inasmuch as they needed it to keep the economy going, but all their teachings told them that making money for the sole purpose of making more money was sinful, vile, etc. Therefore, why not give the job to someone who it was perfectly acceptable to hate anyway? Hypocritical, but gets around the problem nicely!

As with most Shakespeare plays, critics and scholars argue constantly about what Shakespeare really meant when he wrote the play. Was Shylock meant to be played as an evil cunning soul who was willing to cut out Antonio's heart for a grudge? Certainly other Jews in drama of the time, such as Marlowe's Jew of Malta, fell into the over-the-top villainy category. On the other hand, Shylock is quite sympathetic for a villain, and even more so in modern times. His speech starting "Hath not a Jew eyes" is justly famous, and one wonders why Shakespeare would make a villain so three-dimensional. (Of course, Shakespeare did this to his villains all the time - take a good look at how compelling the role of Richard III is.) Is Shylock a villain? Or is he the wronged party? Certainly his forced conversion to Christianity - thought of at the time as quite a light sentence - seems unspeakably harsh now. But if he's the tragic hero, what does that make the others?

Speaking of the others, let's look at Portia. She's a great female role, one of Shakespeare's strongest comedic heroines. (The definition of comedy throughout this essay is the one of Shakespeare's time, by the way.) Yes, she's abiding by her late father's rules in regards to who she marries, but she seems to be quite content with that, and manages to end up with the right man in any case. It helps that her other two suitors - a comic African stereotype and a comic Spanish stereotype - are so goofy, of course. (See, and you thought it was just the anti-Semitism that would be trouble!) Her defense of Antonio has some wonderful set pieces, and she shows herself to be cleverer than anyone else there. She even contrasts with Jessica, Shylock's daughter, who also gets the man she wants but does so by defying her father rather than obeying him - and we seem to think that Portia ended up with the better life. Unfortunately, because of the way that we view Shylock, we have to change the way we look at Portia, as well as the rest of the cast. They look, not to put too fine a point on it, cruel and callous.

Now, certainly part of this was deliberate. As always, Shakespeare will never write one point of view when he can show us three or four, and I've no doubt that his contrast of the way Shylock treats Antonio and the way that the rest of the cast treats Shylock is deliberate. I don't think he meant his audience to side with Shylock, or even be uncomfortable, but he wanted them to see the parallels. That said, it makes it quite difficult to stage Merchant today as anything other than a gripping tragic drama. And even in productions where you have sympathetic, likeable Shylocks, you're still left with the fact that he shows himself to be willing to cut out Antonio's pound of flesh. Plus you have the issue of Shylock's last scenes being in Act 4, which leaves you a final act of light-hearted romantic hijinks with rings and promises between a bunch of people who were, in dramatic terms, loathsome earlier on. Why should you care what happens to them after Shylock leaves? (The movie from 2004 gives an epilogue, showing Shylock returning to his Jewish community and being shunned, and many modern productions also show that Jessica remains hated and despised by the rest of the cast, including her husband.)

A good Shakespeare play always inspires constant debate, which no doubt makes Merchant among his very best. As a historical document it's excellent, as a play on paper it's fascinating even if history has made it unpalatable. As a play in the theatre I'd love to see what other performers and directors will do with it. I just wouldn't want to be the one in charge, as I don't think there's a way to please everyone in this production the way I think you can (albeit trying very hard) with Shrew or Much Ado. Nevertheless, everyone should read it, if only for two of Shakespeare's best characters, Shylock and Portia.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 4

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

We left off last time with a cliffhanger, as the government had outfoxed our heroes and set up a bluff so that they could kidnap the library director... and also Iku, who was assigned to guard him by Dojo, to keep her out of harm's way. Aheh. If only Dojo knew he was in a romance manga, he's know how much he was tempting fate by doing that. Iku, meanwhile, handles herself quite well, not only remembering her primary mission is to protect the Director (her hot-headedness is in control for once), but also managing to get a clue to the library forces when a hostage call is made by the enemy. It works particularly well as we know Iku can be a flake at times - so for a second there, we wonder if she just lost it. But no, as Shibazaki said, the simpleton was being smart, telling everyone where they were subtly. And what's more, the director shows once more that he's no slouch either, giving them another clue.

So now the forces come to the rescue, and for once everything goes completely smoothly. Again, you see that the training that Iku has been getting, aggravating as it's been to her, is working. She's cool in a crisis, and also quick to spot things, such as Dojo's hand at the window giving her a 3 count. Dojo, of course, is suffering beautifully, saying that it's no good to regret stupid decisions he made while still beating himself up over it. We get a short flashback to the start of the manga, where young Iku was rescued at the bookstore by an impulsive young library agent. This was, of course, Dojo, something that's been obvious since Chapter 1, but we finally see not only his face but the consequences that arose from that on his end - he was severely punished for abusing his authority, *and* had to suffer through Iku joining the forces because of what he did, but not recognizing him. Possibly if he got on top of a pedestal she might get it.

Nevertheless, after successfully rescuing Iku and the director, and managing to stop Iku being shot at the last minute, he at least knows he has to set right what he screwed up. His hug, and telling Iku that she did great and he's proud of her, is the big emotional high point of the manga. Sadly, the manga chapters were not laid out with volumes in mind, so we still have half a volume to go. What follows isn't bad, by any means, but it's sort of a letdown after the first half. Iku is given a party to celebrate her quick thinking and safe return, and we discover that she's a horrible lightweight when it comes to drinking. A more serious arc is next, with the long-awaited arrival of Iku's parents, who think she's simply a normal librarian and not part of the combat forces. There's some melancholy here, as Iku is clearly the product of a strict, somewhat repressive upbringing, and she's convinced that she can never be good enough for them. Meanwhile, her father at least seems to have figured out what she's hiding from them, but decides not to bring it up, implying there's repressed feelings on both sides. After the gripping action drama with big emotions, this small family section tones everything down, and lets us see a vulnerable Iku.

Volume 4 just hit the NYT bestseller list, so I'm apparently not the only one enjoying it. It has a strong heroine, the usual shoujo cliche romance, and a nice backstory of censorship fights that can either guide the plot or remain in the background however the writer sees fit. It's good, solid shoujo from your friends at Hakusensha and Viz.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Manga the week of 3/16

Lately the next week lists have been coming out earlier, so this post is a day early as well. For the record, the Feb/Mar Tokyopop books are still MIA from our friends at Diamond Comics.

So what do we have? Well, Dark Horse has a new volume of Gantz. Comic readers love Dark Horse Manga, and Gantz is a good reason why, with a story and art that is as close as you can get to Image Comics without actually being it.

And Kodansha Comics! Remember them? They have the 5th volume of Akira out, for those who never bought the Dark Horse release. Yes, it's still just Akira for now. Only 2 more months...

And Seven Seas, much to the surprise of those who got it from Diamond two weeks ago, is sending us the second and final Inukami! omnibus and the first volume of Toradora!, which I reviewed the other day. I understand in a couple of weeks they may have non exclamation-point titles for us as well.

And this isn't on Midtown's list, but it's on my local shop's: Diamond is finally shipping the 12th Evangelion manga, which most bookstores got last month. It continues to grind its way towards the climax at a snail's pace, but we're in the end run now.

Anything appealing to you?

Kamisama Kiss Volume 2

By Julietta Suzuki. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.

I must admit that I feel this series suffers by being read after we've already been exposed to Karakuri Odette. I know this isn't the case, but it almost feels like Suzuki has been asked to dial it back a bit, to make something that's more the norm. Or maybe it's just that I don't find these characters as interesting. Nevertheless, I enjoy it a lot as I read it, so it's not exactly bad. I just have trouble recalling it afterward.

We get another new semi-regular introduced here with Kurama, an idol singer who transfers to Nanami's school. She had been avoiding school up to this point (remember, high school isn't quite as compulsory in Japan), but seeing the hotness of the new boy impels her to return. Of course, Tomoe insists she has duties to perform (even if no one's coming to the shrine), and demands she wear a silly looking disguise so that she's not attacked by yokai who want her power. Now, given the name 'Kurama', what are the odds that our idol turns out to actually be a yokai of some sort? That's right, 1 to 1. In fact, one of the cleverer things about this volume is managing to combine Kurama as both the 'evil yokai who wants to eat her heart, *and* the selfish bad boy who Nanami quickly starts arguing with once she sees his true self. Naturally, Tomoe comes to the rescue (the ostrich bit was cute, probably the funniest part of the volume), and just as naturally Kurama falls for Nanami for real.

A more serious story follows, featuring Narukami, a lightning goddess who's also a selfish, spoiled princess. She goes through servants like candy, exhausting and destroying them with her unreasonable demands. The servant she really wants is Tomoe, but he's far too sensible to get involved with the likes of her. So she decides to go after Nanami instead. She's far more successful in this than Kurama was, and actually succeeds in taking Nanami's power. She also shrinks Tomoe into a little boy using a divine squeaky mallet. Now Nanami can't see spirits, Tomoe is depowered, and they're both homeless again.

Things are not quite as simple as that, of course. Narukami finds that the shrine, without Tomoe to keep it in good shape, has fallen into a sad state of disrepair, making her even angrier. Worse, Nanami and Tomoe are forced to take shelter at Kurama's fancy idol singer apartment, and Tomoe is sick because the little child's body can't hold his powers well... and also as he feels hel,pless. As does Nanami. Tomoe, being your basic guy, decides to go back to Narutaki, trying to be rude and cruel to Nanami in order to 'protect' her. This hasn't worked in manga since Tezuka's day, and it doesn't work now. Luckily, she shows up at the shrine (where Tomoe has concealed himself), and a frustrated Narukami gives up, realizing that she doesn't want Tomoe by coercion.

There's nothing precisely wrong with this volume, except that the characters still feel a bit like they were taken from Shoujo Stereotypes 101. Suzuki is talented enough that she can mix things up enough to keep our interest, but I do hope that in future volumes things move up to the next level.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Toradora! Volume 1

By Yuyuko Takemiya and Zekkyo. Released in Japan by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

There is a certain subgenre in the anime/manga/light novel world that involves short, young, angry girls meeting rather nebbish reader stand-in guys and arguing/whining at them until they fall in love. When made into an anime, the girls tend to be voiced by Rie Kugimiya. Of these, Toradora! is possibly the simplest and purest of the ones we've seen over here, if only as there is no magical powers, or supernatural content, or ridiculous situations (see: Zero no Tsukaima, Shakugan no Shana, and Hayate the Combat Butler). We just have the simple story of an incredibly pissed-off girl and the guy she slowly falls for.

Our hero here is slightly less nebbish than most love comedy heroes. He's Takasu Ryuuji, a nice young man who is unfortunate enough to have 'thug eyes' - in other words, he always looks like he's angry and glaring at you, thanks to the genes of his dead yakuza father. He lives in a small house with his hostess-club mother (more on her later), and is looking forward to a new school year with a new class... well, not looking forward to a new group of students misunderstanding him, but... see, there's this girl in class he has a crush on. She's cute, she's happy, she's kind of a ditz. He doesn't have the guts to converse with her, but at least they're near each other.

This is when he runs into our heroine - literally. Aisaka Taiga is very pretty, with long, flowing hair and a cute face... which is usually twisted into a snarl, as she's inevitably angry at the world. She's also 4'8" or so, and therefore makes an amusing contrast with the average-sized Ryuugi. She immediately takes a dislike to him, and I was expecting the plot to be their slowly getting to know each other over the course of the series while interacting at school. Little did I know... one afternoon, Ryuuji goes to retrieve his schoolbag, and meets Taiga, who's suddenly panicked, and tries to take the bag from him. We find out why when he gets home - she had put a love letter in the bag... for his best friend. What's worse, the letter is only an envelope, she had forgotten to put the letter in it. And then she shows up in his room at midnight to get the letter back.

Yes, it turns out that our angry girl is secretly (or rather, not-so-secretly, as we see as the volume continues) a "complete spaz", as Seven Seas translates it. What's more, like all anime angry girls, she has a soft, sweet side, that so far only her friend Minori has ever seen. But Ryuuji gets to see a bit of it here too. What follows is, to be honest, a bit 'tsundere-by-numbers' as Taiga and Ryuuji team up to help each other win their true love (her best friend is, naturally, HIS crush). Each successive attempt is a giant disaster, and it's noticeable to everyone in the whole world (except the two of them) that they're made for each other. Indeed, since she lives in an expensive apartment next door to his house, and he goes over to make her breakfast/get her up (as she's sort of useless that way), the rumor is they're lovers...

There's next to nothing here that's original. Taiga is another young-looking tsundere girl, Ryuuji, despite his eyes, is the typical harem manga lead, with a vague sarcastic streak to him that you see in such leads nowadays. Taiga's friend Minori, meanwhile, makes me wonder if the writer had been reading Bleach before she came up with this, as she's eerily familiar to Orihime Inoue, the head in the clouds girl from that series. The one exception I can think of is Ryuuji's mother who is... well, a blonde, big-breasted hostess girl who looks about 16 years old but is clearly about 33 or so, works all night and sleeps all day, and is dependent on her son to do everything for her. I've seen this type occasionally in anime and manga, but rarely in so... pure a form. I kept waiting for her to give out pointed advice or something against her type, but no, there's even a final side-story that shows us that she is exactly what she seems. Ye cats.

Despite the lack of originality, there's nothing here that's actively annoying, provided you don't mind the tsundere archetype that Taiga/Shana/Louise/Nagi provide. If you do, you likely already planned to avoid this series anyway. Otherwise, it's pretty much a manga that knows its audience, and delivers what its audience wants. Be warned, though, there may be shenanigans, and perhaps a zany scheme or two.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Excel Saga Volume 18

By Rikdo Koshi. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Viz.

So yes, it's been a few months. I got distracted by other things, and honestly the Teriha storyline is not filled with Excel goodness for obvious reasons. But even a non-Excel Excel Saga volume is still great, so let's look at what's going on here. We have four plot threads that run though this volume...

First, we have the continuing adventures of Kabapu trying to regain his power and prestige. He notes that Il Palazzo is running for Mayor of the prefecture, and immediately announces his own candidacy as well, despite the fact that only a volume ago he was arrested on about 147 fraud and conspiracy charges. Needless to say, the public has a short memory, and the resulting race is actually quite close. Best part of this chapter is the posters each candidate uses to promote themselves, all of which parody various anime movies. Kabapu tells Watanabe and Sumiyoshi to try to sabotage Il Palazzo's campaign somehow. Watanabe, still in his new 'evil' persona, decides the best way to do this is by a car bomb. Sadly, he only takes out Elgala (who's hospitalized) and Hyatt (who's absolutely fine).

Rewrite line of the volume, courtesy Carl Horn, regarding Elgala's opinion of Hyatt's recuperative powers: "What are you, Steel God Jeeg?"

Kabapu wins, surprisingly (possibly as Il Palazzo gives the impression of a 'foreigner'). We don't have time to pay attention to his antics, though, as Elgala, drugged up and with a broken arm and leg, is having fantastic dream sequences. This is the second long dream sequence in 2 volumes, and is far more cracked-out than Teriha's. Elgala is reimagining her own life while parodying The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and we can see that she enjoys making her past memories better in her head, as we see memories of her giving perfect snarky comebacks to Excel (she didn't), or dragging Excel naked through the streets (it was the other way around). Oh yes, and Hyatt hanging out at the forest just before the lands of death, noting that Elgala shouldn't be here as she isn't used to it. All this leads to Elgala coming to a stunning revelation - President Excel is a different person from the Excel she remembers!

Having come to that conclusion, and realizing that she can't pretend to make nice with President Excel due to her bad habit of saying her thoughts out loud, Elgala waits till Excel is away and then goes right to Il Palazzo himself. This is a mistake, naturally, as Il Palazzo is well aware of exactly who President Excel really is. Elgala quickly finds herself transferred to the 5th subbasement, where she does meaningless busywork that then gets shredded, and realizes that she has made a ghastly mistake.

This also contains the sweetest scene in the manga, which features Hyatt. Elgala has told Hyatt about her suspicions, and notes the main difference between the Excels - this impostor is perfect and superhuman. Hyatt is rather puzzled by this, and notes when talking with Menchi (who is terrified at the mere mention of Excel's name) that "Senior Excel has always been a hero since the old days." In a manga where people's allegiances tend to fall into the 'me-first' category, it's lovely to see Hyatt's simple admiration of her best friend.

Next up, Iwata and Misaki go on a date. Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are, and it takes Misaki a while to even realize that's what it is. I like the fact that Misaki has actually progressed to not minding that she's on a date with Iwata when she realizes it - in fact, her main concern is that she has no idea how to behave on a date. We're so used to Misaki being the normal one of the group that we forget that her social skills suck just as badly as the others. On the date they run into Umi and Teriha, and Misaki gets a strange feeling she's seen Teriha somewhere before... but with Teriha's shy, passive personality, Misaki is unable to place her. The date ends badly as Iwata runs out of power - he'd been ignoring all efforts to warn him about it as he was in love Misaki mode - and has to be rescued by Shiouji and Ropponmatsu 2, who is wearing a vaguely pornographic nurse costume.

Shiouji and company then go off to the baths, where we discover that Teriha can't stand being in hot water for more than a few seconds before she completely overheats (Umi notes she has an aversion to water in general), and that Shiouji is still a pedophile no matter how much backstory he's given to explain it. The main final plot, though, is that Ropponmatsu has broken out of Shiouji's base and attached herself to Sumiyoshi. And what's worse, she's accidentally downloaded Sumiyoshi's H-games into her system. So now she's trying to sexually assault him while calling him "big brother". Watanabe just laughs (Sumiyoshi asks what happened to the old, pure Watanabe, to which the response is "Oh, he's dead"), so it's Misaki who comes to help, despite finding Sumiyoshi and Ropponmatsu 2 in a very compromising position. Sadly, Ropponmatsu is SUPER STRONG, so they can't really do anything. Iwata to the rescue! After much breaking of robot neck, and trashing of Sumiyoshi's apartment, peace is restored once more.

I greatly enjoyed this volume while reading it, but can't help but be reminded that this series is still greatly missing its lead character. And we still have at least one more volume of amnesia to go. Still, any Excel Saga is good Excel Saga, and I definitely recommend this to any fans of comedy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Oresama Teacher Volume 1

By Izumi Tsubaki. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.

First of all, Viz, if you're going to keep the original title, perhaps you might want to actually define Oresama somewhere in the book. (For the record, it translates to "My Teacher", sort of, but with the 'My' in an over the top way.)

I was a big fan, as readers of this blog are well aware, of Tsubaki's previous release from the Shojo Beat line, The Magic Touch. In fact, at times it seemed I was one of the only fans. After The Magic Touch ended, I had hopes that Viz would pick up her new series, still running in Japan, which no doubt would learn from the flaws of her first manga (lovable yet messy and scatterbrained) and give us a powerhouse shoujo manga that takes no prisoners!

Well, can't have everything. :) In its defense, I found Volume 1 of this series a lot of fun, with a highly amusing and kickass teacher, and the addition of not only a smirky guy but also a grumpy guy - two stereotypes for the price of one! Her art has evolved so that it looks more polished, though the panels are still as packed as ever. Magic Touch sometimes had trouble figuring out if it should focus on the massage or the romances - here, the author tells us straight up she's writing a comedy, and is quite happy that she doesn't have to worry about the love. And there's tons of funny stuff here, exactly as you'd expect from a comedy. The bunny mask was a highlight.

But oh my god, it's as messy as ever. This is not helped by the oversharing in the author's sidebar notes, where she tells us how the manga came to fruition. This is not untypical in manga sidebars, especially with HtY titles, but the overall feeling is that the author is a giant ditz. Now, most of this is the author writing in such a way that it paints her as this deliberately, and we do get a good sense of the editorial process here - submit idea, rejected, try again, editor suggests a type of plot, suggest ideas around that, editor leads you towards what they want from you - but it combines with the breathless quality of the first volume itself to make you imagine the author is telling you the story as fast as she can speak after running 2 miles to find you, while backtracking every few minutes to toss in something she just remembered.

This can actually work in favor of the series as well. Possibly my favorite part of the volume is in the chapter where Mafuyu (our ex-delinquent heroine - though the ex is in question after only a few pages) gets the suspicion that her teacher Takaomi might have been the high school boy she fell in love with as a child. After trying various amusing yet dumb ways to get her teacher's personal info, he finally confronts her. He then flat out tells her "Since you're already looking into it, I'll tell you - yes, I was the boy next door." What would be, in a normal shoujo manga, one of the longer-running subplots, where our heroine finally realizes the truth around Volume 7, is stated flat-out on page 106 of the first volume. The anticlimax is wonderful.

That said, we then get the background for this, which starts with a suspiciously false-sounding explanation that she fell from the parallel bars the day before he moved away and had memory loss, and then shows us that their real-life past interaction seems to be him bullying and torturing this nice, sweet little girl into becoming a thug. It's totally played for comedy, but the suggestion is still there. What's more, it's laid out in such a way that I had to read it 3 times to get it - the "Mafuyu, go!" running scene especially needed something in Chapter 1 or 2 to lead up to it, so there's more of an 'aha' moment for the reader.

So yeah, it's another series from Tsubaki that looks like she simply sits down every week, starts drawing whatever, and then stops 30 pages later. Luckily, the whatever is great fun, with another in a series of Hana to Yume heroines who are strong as an ox and about as dense. And with the romance de-emphasized (though I'm sure it will be there), we get to see the denseness play out in terms other than "What is this strange feeling in my chest?". I look forward to more.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Manga the week of 3/9

No, you aren't hallucinating: the Feb/March Tokyopop releases still aren't out at Midtown, or from Diamond. I'm not certain if the hole they fell into has anything to do with the deal TP made to leave HarperCollins for Diamond, but it's not a good start, especially for those of us who buy our manga in comic shops. Hopefully we'll see them soon.

Meanwhile, there's Dark Horse, which has Volume 8 of its Evangelion AU manga The Shinji Ikari Raising Project. Which, despite the best effort of those of us with long memories of Eva fanfics in the 1990s, still does not feature the words 'mighty oak'.

And Viz has its second week wave. The one I'm most interested in here is Vol. 17 of Hayate the Combat Butler, which may be trapped in twice-a-year 'you sell badly' land now, but has finally reached what may, along with Vol. 18, be the most important set of its run. Viz notes, in their 'must not upset fans of the wacky comedy' blurb on the back, that 'the drama tag will be pulled', and they're not kidding - there's some heartbreaking stuff coming up. It's fantastic, and recommended.

Other than that, there's other new Shonen Sunday titles. Arata, Kurozakuro, and Rin-Ne. Rin-Ne is my pick of those three, if only for its Takahashi 'comfort food' feeling. Detroit Metal City hits Volume 8, and will no doubt feature more humor that crosses the line, then goes back and assaults the line's daughter. Fans of shoujo exorcists will be happy to hear there's a new Rasetsu, though I believe this is the second to last volume. And we get a new volume of Dogs: Bullets & Carnage. Recommended for those who like bullets, carnage, or bullets and carnage. But, well, not dogs. For dog fans, stick with the just hiatused Inubaka.

What appeals to you?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Higurashi: When They Cry Volumes 7-8

Story by Ryukishi07; Art by Yoshiki Tonogai. Released in Japan as "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Himatsubushi-hen" by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.

So clearly once I was past the evil scary abuse story, it was clear sailing, as I read these volumes incredibly quickly. This is not to say that they're filled with happy sunshine by any means, but the "Time Killing" arc, for many reasons, was probably the best I've seen to date.

For a start, we don't have Keiichi and his paranoia as the protagonist, focusing instead on a young detective from Tokyo, Akasaka, and his visit to Hinamizawa in 1978, when the Dam Project protests are still in full swing, to investigate a kidnapping. While there, he ends up going around the town with a 5-year-old shrine maiden, Rika Furude, and learns that many things here are not what they seem... least of all Rika. Akasaka makes an excellent hero for this arc, being young and naive to the ways of Hinamizawa, but not naive or foolish himself. He does many badass things here, showing off that he's a great cop and saving the day. Sadly, this is Higurashi, which means he also suffers great personal tragedy and is unable to prevent the events of 5 years later that slaughter the town.

As for Rika, she's the real surprise here. As I noted, it can be hard reading this series when you know about the plot in advance (even though that's how 90% of Japanese readers, who had already played the games, would be reading it). So it wasn't until I saw these two volumes, which are filled with Rika, that I realized how little she'd appeared until now. The first three arcs focus on Keiichi and his relationship with 3 of the 4 girls in his vaguely datesim life - Rena, Mion, and Satoko. We're led to expect we'll get another arc with Rika as the focus, which we do, but it doesn't involve going over the same events.

(Oh yes, did anyone else notice the Mion/Shion twin switch AGAIN in Chapter 4 of this story? Even when they're very minor characters? It's almost like the author is trying to tell us something...)

What's more, Rika is quite ambiguous here, even for a five-year-old. This is the last of the so-called 'Question Arcs', designed to lay out the mysteries of Hinamizawa for the reader/player before the longer 'Answer arcs' show us what's actually going on. That said, this arc in particular gives us much food for thought. Rika's prophetic capabilities are quite sinister, complete with a different, far more adult voice, and it's initially implied that, like many soothsayers, she's working to make sure that her prophecy comes true. Of course, in the best twist in the book, that is not the case. The penultimate chapter features Rika telling Akasaka of her own death, five years from their present. She is the one who knows what's going on, who knows that they're redoing things over and over. And what's more, here she pretty much says straight out that she doesn't want to keep dying. It's powerful stuff.

But she dies anyway. We're nowhere near the end of Higurashi, and unfortunately this is an Akasaka who did not heed her warning to return to Tokyo. Assuming the warning meant he'd be killed by the village (a good assumption considering that the village then tries to kill him), we think that he's managed to beat it once he's saved the day and found the missing child. His own personal tragedy that follows is a nasty gutpunch. However, despite all this, this is probably the first arc of Higurashi that doesn't end in total bleak despair. Yes, Rika and all her friends and fellow townspeople are horribly murdered, but Akasaka lives on, along with his daughter and detective Ooishi. And his stubborn determination to never forget that girl and what she told him won't mean much here, but would be really relevant if, say, reality kept resetting itself every few years. Which, hey, it is!

This arc was helped immensely by being much shorter in the original games, meaning that it doesn't suffer from as much compression as the three before it. It feels just about right for two volumes long. And the story it tells, as the author notes, was originally just "a way to kill time" but ended up giving the reader some incredibly useful information to try to figure out what's going on here. Great stuff, very much recommended. Next up we get to the first 'manga-only' arc of the series, which takes place not in 1983, or 1978, but in 2006...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dragon Girl Omnibus 2

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

After spending the first half of the series trying to balance out its cheering plot and its romance plot, the second half of Dragon Girl definitely leans towards the latter. Rinna still has several choices of hot guys to choose from, and because it's only a 5-volume series (released as 2 omnibuses here), it's not too long before she's able to fall for her true love and live happily ever after.

Of course, there are still tons of plotlines to tie up as well, mostly regarding either the cheering club or Rinna's feelings for Subaru. The latter is definitely handled better than the former. Having established the student council president as a reprehensible jerk, the author tries to show his good side here in his interaction with Yaotome, but it comes off as fairly forced, as if you can't end a shoujo romance with a bad guy so he has to see the error of his ways. His reasoning for harassing Rinna is also not nearly as obvious to the eye as his reasoning for harassing Hasekura.

On the other hand, the Subaru plot is handled very well, clearly having had the most thought go into it. The actual secret revelation is not all that surprising, especially if you've read any shoujo manga at all, but Rinna's reaction to it is excellent - the moment she finds out the news, she feels vaguely sick, which is a refreshing change after all the overly dramatic shoujo heroine angst over the same revelation in other works. In addition, we finally meet her father, who, given that she's a total Daddy's Girl, would have to be massively over the top just to live up to the buildup he's gotten. And indeed he is, showing exactly why Rinna loves him so much - while also coming across as an extremely fallible and selfish person.

There's a healthy dose of humor here too. The manga isn't especially dark or anything - even the dramatic scenes are short and usually followed by something funny - but I really did enjoy the humorous vignettes, especially the ones involving the captain. He spent 3/4 of the series with a completely ridiculous mustache / goatee combo, but this is a shoujo series - so naturally when he shaves it off and cuts his hair a bit, he's a complete bishie. Seeing the girls of the school suddenly take notice of him (and his clueless reaction to this) is very amusing. I also liked the tie in of the final battle between rivals being a mirror of the first battle for the cheering club, right down to the crows. And it's always nice to see the blunt dialogue that a short series allows - I love him, Will you go out with me, etc. Complete with a fantastic kiss at the end.

Yen Press had a couple of odd series licenses this last year that they decided to bundle into omnibuses, and Dragon Girl is by far the better of the two. With an unusual choice of 'sports' to focus on, an enthusiastic, strong yet feminine heroine, and a bunch of hot guys (even if some of them are in disguise with horrible facial hair), Dragon Girl is a great pickup for anyone wanting a cute, fun shoujo manga that doesn't drag things out.