manga bookshelf

Bookshelf Briefs 7/18/11

This week, Michelle, Melinda, David, Kate, & Sean check out recent releases from Kodansha Comics, Viz Media, Yen Press, & Vertical, Inc.

Arisa, Vol. 3 | By Natsumi Ando | Kodansha Comics – With the help of classmate Manabe, Tsubasa continues to look for the identity of the “king,” an unknown person who grants wishes and made her twin sister Arisa his target. In this volume, suspicion falls on Midori, Arisa’s boyfriend, who is nearby after a nicely creepy fun-house mirror King sighting, and who is also one of the chosen five, an elite group of students allowed to submit their wishes to the king. Tsubasa can’t believe he’s involved, though, as his friendliness seems too genuine, but she may have to do some untrustworthy things herself if she wants to help her sister. Fast-paced, spooky, and yet thoroughly shoujo, Arisa is a great deal of fun to read. Each time I finish a volume I lament that I do not already have the next in hand. – Michelle Smith

Black Butler, Vol. 6 | By Yana Toboso | Yen Press – The sixth volume of Yana Toboso’s Black Butler finds young aristocrat Ciel Phantomhive and his devilish (literally) butler Sebastian infiltrating a circus upon Queen Victoria’s orders. They’ve been assigned to investigate a string of missing children whose last-known whereabouts coincide with the troupe’s itinerary, and the bulk of the volume sees them first qualifying to join and then attempting to find an opportunity to do some poking around while contending with chores and the appearance of an unfriendly grim reaper. It’s not a bad volume by any means—certainly better than the recent silliness involving a curry competition—but suffers some from being only the first half of the story. Still, the creepy atmosphere Toboso creates for the circus is fun, and there’s a certain satisfaction to be derived from watching imperious Ciel peel potatoes. – Michelle Smith

Black Jack, Vol. 15 | By Osamu Tezuka | Vertical, Inc. – Readers who love Tezuka in his crazy, kitchen-sink mode will find plenty of over-the-top stories in volume fifteen. Black Jack performs a full-body skin graft on a porphyria patient, saves a boy who’s begun sprouting leaves from his body, and gets trapped not once but twice in caves with critically injured people. Entertaining as these stories are, the real highpoint of volume fifteen is “A Surgeon Lives for Music,” in which a famous doctor finds an ingenuous way to circumvent a totalitarian regime’s ban on “decadent” music. “A Surgeon” may not be Tezuka’s best work, but it’s a deeply personal story, touching on two of the most important things in his life: his medical training, and his passion for Ludwig van Beethoven. Highly recommended. – Katherine Dacey

Cross Game, Vol. 4 | By Mitsuru Adachi | Viz Media – Due to an error on Viz’s Facebook page, some of us were afraid that this was the final volume that Viz would publish. Unpleasant as those hours of uncertainty were, they served as a reminder that this series should be praised as often as decency allows, if not somewhat more frequently. The most consistently amazing thing about Adachi’s tale of high-school baseball players is that there’s absolutely no contrivance to it – not in the evolution of the team, not in the prickly relationship between star pitcher Ko and childhood frenemy Aoba, not even in the endearing bits of fourth-wall demolition that Adachi occasionally indulges in. I can think of few manga where the reader is invited to know the characters so well and like them so much, and even fewer examples where that was accomplished with this kind of gentle understatement. Just read it. You won’t be sorry. – David Welsh

Eyeshield 21, Vol. 36 | By Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata | Viz Media – This is the penultimate volume of Eyeshield 21, and like the volume before it there is a sense that it should have ended with the Christmas Bowl. Much as it’s nice to see Sena take on Panther one last time, this feels more like a victory lap than an actual plot point. Still, it’s a fun victory lap, as we see lots of what make shonen sports manga so great – thinking you’re the strongest and then finding guys who are even stronger, faster, and smarter than you. The second half is the football game, and it’s great seeing all the Japanese stars on the same team. But the highlight is earlier in the book, watching Hiruma and Clifford in a high-stakes poker game, where both parties come out feeling like they’ve lost. Tense stuff. – Sean Gaffney

Seiho Boys’ High School!, Vol. 6 | By Kaneyoshi Izumi | Viz Media – For shoujo manga veterans, the fact that this volume begins with preparations for a school festival (one that involves slapstick humor mixed with cross-dressing, no less) does not bode particularly well. Fortunately, the real purpose of the festival plotline is to explore further one of the series’ most unconventional relationships—that between crude student Nogami and school nurse Fukuhara. The fact taht Izumi is the first creator since Fumi Yoshinaga to make me even remotely interested in a high school student/faculty affair is noteworthy on its own, and if Izumi doesn’t quite have Yoshinaga’s genius, her work still stands out, and in a decidedly positive way. This volume remains true to the tone of the series so far, with its refreshing mix of thoughtful drama and boy-centric humor. Still recommended. – Melinda Beasi

Skip Beat!, Vol. 24 | By Yoshiki Nakamura | Viz Media – From the creator of Tokyo Crazy Paradise, still unlicensed! (Yes, it never gets old.) After the method acting controversy of the last volume (which apparently bothered me a lot more than it did everyone else), we move on to romance again for this Skip Beat!, as Kyoko is dealing with Valentine’s Day attacks on three fronts: she’s missed Ren’s birthday, and is debating a Valentine gift for him; the loathsome Reino blackmailing her into chocolates; and Sho’s jealousy becoming almost its own separate character. Misunderstandings fuel that last one, but it’s a reminder that it’s not all the Ren and Kyoko show yet. Sho still has a hold of her heart, and isn’t about to give it up easily, as we find out in a gripping cliffhanger. Sho and Kyoko are far more alike than either is really comfortable with. – Sean Gaffney

Skip Beat!, Vol. 24 | By Yoshiki Nakamura | VIZ Media – Valentine’s Day is a staple of shoujo manga, but never has it been so awesome as in volume 24 of Skip Beat!. Just about every male character is hyper-interested in who Kyoko is giving chocolates to and why, from first love and current enemy Sho, who mistakes the “go to hell” chocolates Kyoko makes under duress for Reino (his musical rival) for the real thing, to Ren, who already receives a plethora of chocolates that he never eats but who would still secretly like to receive something romantic from Kyoko. There’s so much misunderstanding—of the justifiable, non-annoying variety, thank goodness—that I’m almost reminded of a Shakespearean comedy. And if that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is! – Michelle Smith

The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 4 | Art by Kairi Yura, Story by Sai Yukino | Viz Media – The latest volume of Saiunkoku focuses on masked Minister Ko, revealing the real reason he hides his face from all but a few close associates. Though these passages have a delicious, soap opera quality to them, volume four feels a little pokey whenever the spotlight shifts to one of the other supporting cast members. The script often bogs down in expository dialogue and voice-overs; a little judicious pruning of subplots and minor characters would do wonders for improving the story’s pace. On the whole, however, Saiunkoku remains an engaging read, thanks to its smart, capable heroine and her dedication to becoming the first woman to take Saiunkoku’s civil service exam — think Yentl with bishies. – Katherine Dacey

Yotsuba&!, Vol. 9 | By Kiyohiko Azuma | Yen Press – I was listening to a podcast in which the participants were discussing some of the pop culture artifacts that they particularly missed. One that came up was Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, that marvelous ten-year look into the mind of a rambunctious little boy and his stuffed tiger. This volume of Yotsuba&! reminded me forcefully of Watterson’s strip, and not just because the title tot gets her own teddy bear. Like Watterson, Azuma absolutely respects the inner life and logic of the kid at the center of his storytelling. Azuma’s approach may be less fanciful than Watterson’s, but it has the same combination of raucous humor and emotional truth. Highlights here include an extended trip to a hot air balloon festival and dinner out for grilled meat. Lovely and spot-on as the balloon outing proved to be, few things delight me as much as seeing Yotsuba hang out with her father and his friends. – David Welsh

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  1. […] that I didn’t have to kill any trees to do so. I wrote a (belated) blurb about the book for this week’s Bookshelf Briefs, also discussing the fourth book in Viz’s release of Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game, which […]

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