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Bookshelf Briefs 6/27/11

This week, Michelle, Melinda, Kate, & David take a look at new releases from Viz Media, Yen Press, and Archie Comics.

Bleach, Vol. 35 | By Tite Kubo | Viz Media – The battle to rescue Orihime and foil Aizen’s plans to destroy Karakura Town continues! Too bad that it mostly does so in the form of an interminable match-up between Kenpachi Zaraki, badass Soul Reaper captain, and Nnoitora, the irksome Arrancar. You just know that when an opponent in shounen manga brags incessantly about how it’s impossible to cut him, he is gonna wind up getting cut. And so it goes, though the fight itself is a confusing mess of blows, explosions, and sound effects like “wooo” and “klang.” There’s finally a bit of progress in Aizen’s plans, and if I cared enough I’d ferret out what seems to be either sloppy plotting or a retcon, but the truth is that it’s really best not to think too much about such things when reading Bleach, which in this volume embodies mindless entertainment at its best. – Michelle Smith

Blue Exorcist, Vol. 2 | By Kazue Kato | Viz Media – Exorcist-in-training Rin has been slacking in class, but when a tough-looking classmate proves to be surprisingly smart, it acts as some motivation to get his act together. Then he and the other students are thrust together for the Esquire Examination, with the pleasing result that we get to know quite a few other kids in a short period of time. There’s a real Hogwarts vibe happening too, with the varieties of courses and specialties available for exorcists. One aspect of the story leaves me cold, though, and that’s Rin’s ultimate goal. Now that I have insight into the Shonen Jump editorial process courtesy of Bakuman。, I can’t help but think that “I’ll become an exorcist so I can defeat Satan!” is someone’s calculated attempt to meet the requirements of a popular battle manga. – Michelle Smith

Highschool of the Dead, Vol. 3 | Story by Saisuke Sato, Art by Shouji Sato | Yen Press – After escaping school grounds, resisting the authority of a charismatic but dangerous teacher, and rescuing a small girl from an undead mob, our heroes stumble across a band of paranoid survivors who believe that the zombies are, in fact, an elaborate government hoax. Though this twist provides welcome relief from the endless parade of panty shots and girl-on-girl teases, Highschool of the Dead is still a chore to read; the dialogue is so stiff and unnatural that it’s hard to suppress a giggle, even when the authors are dead serious. Sloppily staged fight scenes and poorly drawn figures do little to make the very thin story more palatable to discerning zombie fans. – Katherine Dacey

Kimi ni Todoke, Vol. 9 | By Karuho Shiina | Viz Media – As sweet as Kimi ni Todoke is, its one potentially frustrating element is its heroine Sawako’s inability to see herself as equal to her would-be suitor, Kazehaya. Fortunately, her friends (and even one of her foes) finally give her what for in in volume nine, the results of which leave us waiting breathlessly for volume ten. As usual, Karuho Shiina plays things out in perfect high school shoujo romance fashion, while also refreshing the genre as she goes. Shiina pushes Sawako’s stubborn self-deprecation to the point of parody early in the volume, without damaging the series’ sincere tone in the slightest. Meta has never tasted so sweet. Always recommended. – Melinda Beasi

One Piece, Vol. 57 | By Eiichiro Oda | Viz Media – I never thought I’d type these words about this series, but I’m ready for the current story arc to be over. Luffy, our pirate hero, is struggling mightily to save his brother Ace from a terrible fate. He’s inadvertently assembled an army of new friends and old foes along the way and is waging a pitched battle against the forces of the Navy. This is all executed well, and there are some particular highlights. (Any story arc that heavily features a super-powerful, anarchist drag queen can’t be all bad.) But I can’t get past how much I miss the participation of Luffy’s regular crew, the Straw Hats, and I’m not able to see the virtue in sidelining them during such an important milestone in their captain’s life. Eye-popping mayhem is all well and good, but it’s better when there are old friends in the thick of it.– David Welsh

Time and Again, Vol. 6 | By JiUn Yun | Yen Press – In the final volume of Time and Again, author JiUn Kim explores the family curse that ultimately set Baek-On on the path to becoming an exorcist. A deft mixture of folklore, horror, and intergenerational conflict, Baek-On’s back story would be a stand-out in any ghost-of-the-week drama; here, however, it provides a fitting capstone to an ambitious, if sometimes uneven, collection of stories about a young man struggling to carve out his own path, even though his divination skills all but ensured that he would assume his father’s profession. Kim’s artwork is elegant yet restrained, striking the right balance between sumptuous period detail and spare staging of events. N.B. Die-hard fans of Time and Again will enjoy the afterword to volume six, in which Kim cheerfully discusses the historical and continuity errors she made in the course of writing the series. – Katherine Dacey

Veronica Presents: Kevin Keller #1 |By Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski and Jack Morelli |Archie Comics – It’s awfully cool of Archie Comics to introduce a gay character and commit to him as an ongoing citizen of fictional Riverdale. Even nicer is the fact that, aside from a few troll-ish comments from people who’ve probably never read an Archie comic in the first place, response to the addition has been overwhelmingly positive. The net result, at least based on the evidence of this particular comic, is that Riverdale has another uncomplicated, good-natured teen resident, sort of a gay male Betty. Kevin is out to his family and friends, and readers get to see flashbacks to that process. The underlying plot is more about Kevin’s hopes to serve in the military someday, following in his supportive father’s footsteps. Basically, though, it’s an Archie comic about nice kids being nice. Seriously, did anyone honestly think there’d be any other outcome? That the White Party would swing through Riverdale? – David Welsh

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