This week, Melinda, Kate, David, & Michelle take a look at slew of comics (and one light novel) from Viz Media, Oni Press, Yen Press, and TOKYOPOP.
Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime | By Mizuki Nomura | Yen Press – “Warmly despondent – that’s the kind of story I hope it will be,” Nomura says in this light novel’s afterword. Her hope is fulfilled, and she manages to add healthy doses of humor and suspense along the way. It’s about a high-school literature club that consists of a fetching goblin who literally eats prose and a boy who keeps her in snacks in the form of handwritten stories. They’re drawn into the romantic woes of a classmate, and their efforts to help her take some darkly unexpected turns that force the boy to confront painful events from his own past. It’s a quirky, thoughtful celebration of the power of stories, and it features interesting, well-developed characters with complex problems. I haven’t read many light novels, but I’m looking forward to reading more installments in this series. - David Welsh
Karakuri Odette, Vol. 6 | By Julietta Suzuki | TOKYOPOP – After the introduction of Travis, an advanced robot who wants Odette for his bride, in volume five, I was a little worried about this, the final volume of the series. Happily, I needn’t have been. Manga-ka Julietta Suzuki avoids any semblance of hijinks, framing her story instead around Grace, an earlier model of robot made by Travis’s creator, and the pain she feels over no longer being considered Papa’s precious masterpiece, and the relationship between Odette and her protector and friend, Asao. This leads to many poignant and bittersweet moments, as Odette realizes for the first time that nothing stays the same forever. It’s a lovely end to a lovely series. -Michelle Smith
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 2 | By Hiroshi Shiibashi | Viz Media – Until someone licenses GeGeGe no Kitaro for the US market, yokai lovers will have to make do with this solid, if uninspired, story about a teenage boy who’s caught between the demon and human worlds. The second volume finds Rikuo tapping more readily into his yokai powers in order to save his friends — a marked improvement over the first volume, in which Rikuo spent more time trying to deny his abilities than make use of them. Rikuo’s yokai pals also get more screen time in volume two, giving the story a much-needed jolt of humor and weirdness. Much as I like the artwork and the concept, however, I’m still not taken with Nura; the stories follow all-too-predictable predictable patterns, and the main characters — the human ones, at least — aren’t well-rounded enough to be genuinely memorable. -Katherine Dacey
Pandora Hearts, Vol. 5 | By Jun Mochizuki | Yen Press – Everyone knows by now that I think Pandora Hearts is stylish, and to some extent that’s its greatest weakness. Though Jun Mochizuki uses her obvious Carroll/Tennial influence to create much beauty on the page, it is exactly that influence that encourages her least effective impulses. While the story she’s created is wonderfully compelling, she risks losing the thread, time and again, by tangling it up in useless references that don’t serve the series at all. The Cheshire Cat? The Mad Hatter? These names are not only meaningless in the context of her story, but actually harmful to it, making it appear as if she doesn’t trust it to stand up on its own. Fortunately, in volume five, Mochizuki steps back from the Wonderland-heavy muddle and remembers to tell her story, in all its beautifully twisted, heart-rending glory. Still recommended. - Melinda Beasi
Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny: Caldera’s Revenge Part 1 | By Matthew Loux | Oni Press – If you haven’t treated yourself to any of the previous installments of Loux’s series, I’d recommend you correct that at your earliest convenience. Young brothers Jack and Benny are spending the summer at the deceptively peaceful seaside town of Chowder Bay. A potentially dull family vacation is saved by the fact that Chowder Bay is weirder than Key West and Provincetown combined, with totally true tall tales of giant lobsters, ghosts, and hat-stealing eagles lurking around every corner. This time around, the boys try and help a giant squid reunite with his parents, complicated by the interference of a determined sperm whale and an ominous ghost ship. Loux’s style is a joy, lanky, witty, and evocative, and this chapter is a real treat for anyone who’s having a hard time waiting for their own summer vacation to start. -David Welsh
Stepping on Roses, Vol. 5 | By Rinko Ueda | Viz Media – “I really enjoy drawing Stepping on Roses as it continues to have this stereotypical, melodramatic storyline,” says mangaka Rinko Ueda in her author’s notes for volume four. And, sure, I get where she’s coming from. There’s something cozy and comforting about by-the-book romance that I’m certainly not immune to. There’s a reason why that structure works, and it only takes a single spark of real personality to ignite the fire of heart-pounding romance. Trouble is, there’s no spark here to be found. Ueda has perfected the structure and she draws very prettily indeed, but she fails to make it personal, leaving our hearts to beat quietly on. Volume five has a few interesting moments thanks to a sub-plot involving the Ashidas’ devoted butler, but the series’ primary romance remains as empty as ever. Not recommended. - Melinda Beasi
Time and Again, Vol. 5 | By JiUn Yun | Yen Press – Exorcist Baek-On is full of haughty scorn when he encounters a farmer who believes that his beautiful new wife is really an angel. When he forces the man to see the truth, it results in the husband killing his wife then belatedly realizing she did truly love him. This outcome leaves Baek-On reeling—was he wrong to interfere? has he been living his life the wrong way?—and sends him to a family friend for some advice. Although the volume is a little light on our main characters and doesn’t provide the same kind of character development as the previous volume, it still fleshes out the world well, filling in bits of Baek-On’s family history while offering twisty takes on traditional Asian folk tales. I’m looking forward to the sixth and final volume very much. -Michelle Smith