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Bookshelf Briefs 7/4/11

This week, Michelle, Kate, & David take a look at new releases from Viz Media, Yen Press, Vertical, and Seven Seas.

Black Butler, Vol. 6 | By Yana Taboso | Yen Press -After several mediocre, talky volumes, Black Butler returns to form with a deliciously spooky plotline involving a traveling circus. Sebastian and Ciel once again go undercover, this time as a knife-throwing, high-wire act. Though the gothic costumes and campy dialogue may remind readers of Kaori Yuki’s Godchild, Yana Taboso is a more disciplined storyteller than Yuki, focusing less on atmosphere and more on narrative. As a result, volume six unfurls at a brisk clip, offering readers just the right amount of action, humor, and horror; anyone who’s ever wondered what really goes on beneath the big tent will have their worst suspicions confirmed by Sebastian and Ciel’s discovery. – Katherine Dacey

Blue Exorcist, Vol. 2 | By Kazue Kato | Viz Media – I know Michelle just reviewed this last week, but I have to reinforce the interesting spectacle of Kato trying to do interesting, specific things with this story and with her attempts to insert some of the shônen-y-est things that were ever shônen-y. Among the students at the school for exorcists is a young man named Suguro who seems to have sprung fully formed from the pages of the chapter about shônen rivals in Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga. His temperament and design are fresh from the factory. Fortunately, the rest of the class consists of interesting or amusing types that show a lot more promise for future storytelling. On the whole, this tale of budding demon fighters is building on the strengths of the first volume and largely avoiding its weaknesses. I’ll be sticking around to see how these kids grow into their roles. – David Welsh

Chi’s Sweet Home, Vol. 6 | By Kanata Konami | Vertical, Inc. – For me, a lot of the fun of this series is the way that Konami keeps generating new material without cheating by making her kitten protagonist too human in her thinking. She’s getting into Chi’s head instead of inserting unlikely or implausible thoughts there. As cute as the series is, there’s an impressive level of narrative fidelity in evidence. Konami respects pets and the ways humans care for and react to them. Of course, it’s also very entertaining, especially for animal lovers like myself who enjoy trying to figure out just what that furry critter is thinking as it undertakes evidently complex adventures that I can never fully understand. I do sometimes wonder about the learning curve of Chi’s human family. Everybody knows you don’t leave a cake on a low table with a kitten in the house. – David Welsh

Cross Game, Vol. 4 | By Mitsuru Adachi | VIZ Media – When it comes to Cross Game, I simply love it too much to linger over any areas for possible improvement. I’ve come to accept the frequent fourth-wall breakage, for example, and even some unfortunate potty humor can’t dim my enthusiasm as Ko and the Seishun team begin competing in the regional tournament. In addition to the riveting baseball action, which is a phrase I never thought I’d be uttering, Adachi shows, through a series of small moments, how in sync Ko and Aoba really are. It’s impressive enough that they share the ability to tell when the other is nursing a hidden injury, but when Ko senses Aoba’s unspoken melancholy at being left out of a post-victory celebration, it leads to one of the nicest moments in the volume. Even if you don’t think you like sports manga, you ought to give Cross Game a try. – Michelle Smith

Kobato, Vol. 4 | By CLAMP | Yen PressKobato may be CLAMP’s strangest manga to date. On one level, it’s a saccharine story about a clumsy but sweet girl on a quest to heal broken hearts. But on another level, it’s a bizarre fantasy in which exiled angels have been condemned to walk the Earth in the form of bears, stuffed animals, and one-eyed jack-rabbits. (At least, that’s what I think Ginsei is meant to be.) The two plots don’t mesh as seamlessly as they should, thanks to a confusing script; the angels’ conversations teeter on the brink of pompous nonsense, and it’s never entirely clear if CLAMP is being serious, or is subverting the angels-among-us genre. The artwork, however, is lovely to look at, filled with sensual lines, playful images, and gracefully executed character designs that make it easy to overlook Kobato‘s more serious flaws. – Katherine Dacey

Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 7 | By Yuki Midorikawa | Viz Media – I think this series lost something when it shifted from more episodic storytelling to longer-form arcs, but I still enjoy it a great deal. In this volume, Natsume tries to figure out who or what is conducting a series of vicious attacks on yôkai and crosses paths with a ruthless exorcist with mysterious motives. It’s a solid mystery, but it lacks the delicacy and emotional resonance that this story displays at its best. It does add a few more shades to Natsume’s expanding world view and the occasional disillusionment that comes with it. There is an excellent side story that features a game of tag between Natsume and his yôkai companions that’s both raucous and wistful. And there’s an unrelated bonus tale that’s almost purely wistful in the best sense of the word. The meat of the volume may not be perfect, but the sides are choice. – David Welsh

Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, Vol. 2 | By Arina Tanemura | VIZ Media – The first volume of Sakura Hime: Legend of Princess Sakura earned the series a second look by introducing a murderous love interest. Though volume two curtails this conflict pretty quickly by having the Emperor propose a youko-hunting mission by which Sakura (part youko herself) can prove her loyalty to humanity and thereby achieve his protection, the story is still much darker than one might expect from Arina Tanemura. Oh, sure, there are bishounen aplenty and loads of romantic angst, but Tanemura seems to be making a real effort to stretch the boundaries of what kind of story fits in Ribon, and is even reining in her use of screentone! Sakura Hime isn’t perfect—it’s still pretty shallow and generic—but I think Tanemura deserves some kind of “most improved” sticker in recognition of her efforts. – Michelle Smith

Toradora!, Vol. 2 | Story by Yuyuko Takemiya, Art by Zekkyo | Seven Seas – If you remember how awkward boy-girl friendships were back in high school, you’ll appreciate Toradora!, a slapstick comedy about two teens who agree to help each other improve their romantic prospects. The twist? Taiga and Ryuuji spend so much time together that their classmates conclude that they’re dating, defeating the very purpose of their alliance. Volume two has its share of overly familiar moments, but it also boasts some genuinely funny scenes of Taiga and Ryuuji venting their frustrations and sharing embarrassing secrets. The only thing that prevents Toradora! from being a slam dunk are the supporting characters; Ryuuji’s helpless, dumb-as-toast mother is one of the least appealing second bananas in recent memory. Still, that’s a minor criticism of a series that captures the exquisite awfulness of teenage courtship with humor, warmth, and energy. – Katherine Dacey

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  1. Natsume’s Book of Friends is currently one of my favorite titles from the Shojo Beat line. I love how it is not the typical, predictable shoujo that we see all the time. It is one series I wouldn’t mind if there was no romance ever. It is just great the way it is. I admit that I am not big on supernatural stuff but I fell in love with this series and I am always anticipating new volumes of it.

    I wasn’t sure about Blue Exorcist at first but I am so glad I decided to give it a shot. I enjoyed the first two volumes that I cannot wait for volume 3 to come out. A good new shounen that I added to my collection.

    I was never a huge fan of Arina Tanemura’s works with the exception of Full Moon wo Sagashite. The first volume of Sakura Hime didn’t do anything to me that I wasn’t sure if I want to get more volumes but got volume 2 and ended up enjoying it a bit more. I like how the series is dark compared to the mangaka’s previous works that I am amazed that it is running in Ribon. It is still not my favorite but I am curious enough to want to know what will happen next.


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