This week, Kate, David, MJ, and Michelle take a look at a slew of new releases from Viz Media, Digital Manga Publishing, TOKYOPOP, and Vertical.
Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso, Vol. 3 | By Natsume Ono | Viz Media – Comics, Italian Style — that’s how I’d describe Natsume Ono’s Gente, a series exploring the complicated personal lives of the people who work at and patronize Cassetta dell’Orso, the bistro featured in Ristorante Paradiso. Though Gente took a few volumes to find its footing, the third installment is magical: Ono’s men are dapper and virile; her women are bemused and tolerant; and the stories have the ebb and flow of real life, punctuated by moments of absurd humor or sadness that will remind movie buffs of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and Marriage, Italian Style. If you don’t suppress a sniffle reading “Un Amore,” the story of a crumbling marriage, you’ve never experienced true heartbreak. Highly recommended, especially for fans of classic Italian cinema. – Katherine Dacey
Honey-Colored Pancakes | By Keiko Kinoshita | Digital Manga Publishing – This boys’ love anthology features five short stories, the first and last of which chronicle the bumpy relationship between Chiharu, a talented pastry chef, and Tougo, a handsome actor who’s as besotted with Chiharu’s desserts as he is with the hunky baker. The other three stories — “Tomorrow Will Be Rosy,” “A Clever Man at Work,” and “For Love” — also explore the formative stages of courtship, with characters screwing up the courage to confess their feelings or steal a first kiss. Though the book suffers from overly familiar scenarios, Keiko Kinoshita’s handsome character designs and discrete bedroom scenes make Honey-Colored Pancakes a good choice for readers who favor romance over smut. – Katherine Dacey
Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 3 | By Julietta Suzuki | Viz Media – One of the things I like best about this series is how it demonstrates Suzuki’s versatility. Karakuri Odette (Tokyopop) seemed to me to essentially be about talking through things until the characters understood their feelings. Kamisama Kiss is about feelings that sneak up on characters to the point that they don’t necessarily need to express them. In this volume, it’s fox spirit Tomoe’s chance to rescue accidental priestess Nanami from a difficult situation, though she’s hardly passive, and she’s pulled his fur out of the fire in the past. As our evenly matched protagonists grow closer, circumstances intervene to suggest that Nanami may not know her companion as well as she thinks she does. Suzuki seems quite assured at throwing credible, character-driven obstacles in the path of her maybe-lovers, which is a fine skill for a shôjo mangaka. -David Welsh
Kizuna Deluxe Edition, Vol. 2 | By Kazuma Kodaka | Digital Manga Publishing – What a difference a volume makes! The first installment of Kizuna was a bit of a mess, hopping around chronologically as Kadoka tried on a variety of drawing styles. The series finds its footing in the second volume, however, blending episodic stories about long-time couple Ranmaru Samejima and Kei Enjouji—Ranmaru wishes Kei would get a haircut, Kei gets upset when Ranmaru volunteers to step aside should Kei find a nice girl—with glimpses into the yakuza world (Kei and his half-brother, Kai, are the children of a notorious boss). I never expected I’d actually get into the latter, but I really enjoyed the suspenseful final chapter in this volume, in which Kai is hauled in by the cops on suspicion of dealing narcotics. I’m beginning to see why Kizuna is such a classic and now eagerly await volume three! -Michelle Smith
Rasetsu, Vol. 9 | By Chika Shiomi | Viz Media – In this series’ final volume, with Rasetsu’s 20th birthday upon her, she finally faces the demon who claimed her long ago. Though the ending has its twists, what really makes it work is the rich emotional framework that has defined the series all along. After all, Rasetsu’s worst demons are her own fears, and this what she and her quirky, self-made family must battle in the end. There’s nothing shocking here at all—no overwhelming drama to put a big “bang” on the ending—just a few, deeply damaged people who will work things out together the way they always have. It’s lovely, truly, and a perfect ending for this genuinely enjoyable series. Complete in just nine volumes, Rasetsu is a rare, short shoujo gem. Recommended. -MJ
Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, Vol. 1 | By Arina Tanemura | Viz Media – I ordinarily approach a new Tanemura series with some trepidation, since I either loathe them or find that they’re better than expected. Sakura Hime doesn’t give a very good impression at first, as its first chapter is the whirlwind story of a spunky heroine learning that a) she’s the granddaughter of Princess Kaguya and b) that it’s her destiny to fight nasty demonic critters called youko. Everything seems generic, including the fact that she immediately falls in love with the fiancé she had claimed to hate, but when he turns around and tries to kill her… well, that spices things up a bit. I’m still not sure whether Sakura Hime is going to be a series I follow to its conclusion, but it has earned a second look, at least. -Michelle Smith
Silver Diamond, Vol. 9 | By Shiho Sugiura | TOKYOPOP – Rakan and friends continue to make their way toward the Imperial Capital, pausing to calm the spirits in a graveyard and befriend the inhabitants of a village. The pace of the story is as leisurely as always, but Silver Diamond can be counted upon to provide a calming, benevolent, imaginative, comforting, funny, and touching read nonetheless. Unfortunately, this is the final volume that TOKYOPOP produced, and it ends with a cliffhanger—Rakan has been put to sleep in order to prevent him from leaving the village and one of the residents is plotting how best to do away with his companions! Take heart, however! Silver Diamond is available in French, and if you’re not afraid of a little Google Translate action, continuing the story should be pretty easy. That’s what I intend to do, at least! -Michelle Smith
Twin Spica, Vol. 6 | By Kou Yaginumaa | Vertical, Inc. – “Graceful” is the word that most frequently comes to mind when I’m reading this series about students at a school for astronauts. The quintet of leads spends most of this volume learning more about each other, particularly rich, removed Marika. There are lots of comics about a group of young people who have a dream in common but not much else, but few of them are as delicate and understated in approach as this one. Heroine Asumi continues to bring out the best in her classmates, partly due to her kindness, partly due to the example she sets, and partly due to the vulnerability she displays. I think it’s quite an accomplishment to create a heroine who inspires both the desire to protect and the anxiety that already she’s miles ahead. Why wasn’t this series nominated for an Eisner again? -David Welsh
Noura saysMay 9, 2011 at 8:04 am
Rasetsu is one series I enjoy a lot. One of the things I love about it the most is Yako being the lead character as he is my favorite since Yurara. I would be sad to see this series ending and it is a keeper for sure.
I am not that big of a fan of Arina Tanemura’s works except for Full Moon wo Sagashite but Sakura Hime has managed to grab my interest enough to want to check the second volume. I cannot yet guarantee that I will keep on collecting it but I am definitely willing to give it a chance.
I have read the first two volumes of Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss but I am still not sure what to think of it. I am not even sure if I will continue collecting it, though I am interested enough to know what is going to happen next.
I want to check out Gente and Twin Spica but I am still not sure.
Kizuna is a BL series that I enjoy too. I wouldn’t say it is one of my favorites but it is definitely something I keep looking forward to. I love the relationship between Kei and Ranmaru. I love about this series that it has a good story and not just plain, empty sex scenes.
Michelle Smith saysMay 9, 2011 at 10:07 am
I definitely agree about Kizuna in regards to story over smut. I didn’t even think I liked yakuza stories, but I like this one, since it kind of tinges all that scheming with some BL feelings since Kai pines away for his protector, Masa. But unlike some BL mangaka who try to do a serious plot and just flounder pathetically, Kodaka actually makes that aspect of the story interesting, too.
Moomintroll saysMay 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm
“Comics, Italian Style — that’s how I’d describe Natsume Ono’s Gente”
I’ve read a bunch of Italian comics – plenty of them have been released in English over the years – and, whether arthouse or genre work, I can’t recall any of them having had anything very much in common with Gente.
Gente is more a fixated Japanese romantic’s idealised daydream of Italy than anything an Italian would be likely to dream up (in the same way that Emma is a fixated Japanese romantic’s idealised daydream of Victorian England).
Ono’s an interesting creator to me in so far as I never have the slightest idea how I’ll react to one of her works in spite of her being very much an auteur creator.
I think House Of Five Leaves is marvellous and certainly one of the more interesting titles currently being released. Not Simple was pretty good and surprisingly evocative (though I think its novelty largely revolves around its nation of origin rather than any particular thematic or stylistic invention). I thought Ristorante Paradiso was lightweight and emotionally unconvincing but it just about scraped by on style alone. Gente was absolutely vapid – Ristorante Paradiso minus the charm; I really disliked it and gave up on it half way through volume 2.
Still, I’m kind of looking forward to finding out where La Quinta Camera and Tesoro will end up on my personal Ono good-bad spectrum…
Ruby_Alexandrine saysMay 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm
When I first started reading and collecting yaoi manga back in 2001-2002, I purchased the Japanese version of Kizuna. At first I was not too fond of the art style but it was the story that grew on me. I will say that the artwork is inconsistent throughout the series due to the series being published in long intervals. Kizuna does have its smutty scenes but there is plot as well. Its a classic in my eyes because it was the first yaoi manga that I read.
With Twin Spica, I absolutely LOVE reading this series. At first, I was turned off by the covers but reading the reviews of the series so far, it convinced me to read it (just like MB’s post convinced me to read Nana ^_^). I was teary eyed after reading the touching first volume. Since then, I’m hooked on this series. I’m currently reading the seventh volume.