This week, MJ, Michelle, David, Kate, & Sean check out recent releases from Viz Media, Bandai Entertainment, Vertical, Inc., & Dark Horse.
Dorohedoro, Vol. 4 | By Q Hayashida | VIZ – After reading the first volume of Dorohedoro, it was obvious to me that Q Hayashida had serious drawing chops and a vivid imagination, but the graphic violence, choppy storytelling, and eccentric cast kept me at arm’s length from the material. Revisiting the series at volume four, I’m pleased to report that Dorohedoro has improved: not only do the characters seem better defined, but the plot is more coherently presented, and the dialogue is crisper. The highpoint is a macabre baseball game that’s amusingly reminiscent of “Foul Play,” an EC Comics short from 1953. The characters’ dugout banter is genuinely funny, as are some of the grislier sight gags. Much as I appreciated these scenes, I’m still not sold on Dorohedoro — it’s well written and smartly drawn, but its visceral imagery and fantasy elements place it squarely in the Not My Thing category. – Katherine Dacey
Gantz, Vol. 18 | By Hiroya Oku Works. | Published by Dark Horse – As I spend the week of the current Manga Moveable Feast steeped in the humane, sexy comedy-drama of Fumi Yoshinaga, it’s always nice to take a break with something very different for contrast and perspective. And really, how much farther away can you go than this ridiculously, randomly violent smackdown of a comic? For the uninitiated, people on the verge of death are snapped up by a computer to don skintight suits and fight aliens. It’s every bit as absurd as that makes it sound, particularly since there’s virtually no successful, intentional satire in play. (Oku may be shooting for that, but any meta winks come off as just as straight-faced as the serious bits.) This volume is basically a long battle scene, but every volume is basically a long battle scene. And it’s always fun to try and concoct a justification for the fan-service-friendly back covers. – David Welsh
Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 4 | By Julietta Suzuki | Published by VIZ Media – Volume four is unequivocally the best volume of this series so far. Nanami has finally acknowledged that she’s in love with Tomoe, her fox yokai familiar, but he dismisses her feelings (in a scene that might give my fellow acrophobes some serious jibblies) as a side effect of puberty. It’s clear Tomoe feels more than he lets on, however, and he risks his own life to fulfill a desperate request from Nanami. To rescue him, she travels back into his past and sees a few things she’d rather not see, but emerges determined not to be so passive in their relationship. I enjoyed the InuYasha vibe I got from this volume—Nanami turns out to have a stone-like item inside her body that was originally consumed by the human woman Tomoe, a white-haired, pointy-eared demon bishounen, once loved—but more than that, it was genuinely exciting. More like this, please! – Michelle Smith
La Quinta Camera | By Natsume Ono. | Published by Viz – While I did enjoy this disparate collection of anecdotes, it’s pretty clear why Viz licensed a pile of other Natsume Ono stuff first. Compared to much of her later work, this is simply not as engaging, and the art is even more sketchy than usual. (The eyes of the characters give me a Scott Pilgrim feeling, for some reason.) And a lot of the intertwined characters slowly growing as the seasons change would be used to greater effect in her other Italian series, Ristorante Paradiso and Gente. Still, I ended up having fun with this anyway. The characters are likeable, and even though we only focus on them for a short period, it’s simply nice watching them interact. Much like a good European art film, there’s no actual plot or a major emotional catharsis. It’s just people watching. – Sean Gaffney
Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 8 | By Yuki Midorikawa | VIZ – Though I’ve enjoyed previous installments of Natsume’s Book of Friends, volume eight has transformed me from follower to fan. The three stories provide some badly-needed background on Natsume, giving us a window into his life before he lived with the Fujiwaras, and helping us understand what a burden his “gift” truly is. Yuki Midorikawa’s mastery of the material is more assured than in previous volumes; though the stories offer plenty of supernatural twists, what really stays with the reader is the lovely way in which she maps Natsume’s journey from lonely outsider to cherished son and friend. Even the artwork is improving; Midorikawa’s layouts are more fluid and expressive than in the earliest chapters, making it easier to figure out what’s happening on a moment-to-moment basis. Recommended. – Katherine Dacey
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 4 | By Kairi Yura and Sai Yukino | Published by VIZ Media – While it is certainly wonderful to read about a heroine as smart and capable as Shurei, Emperor Ryuki really steals the show in this volume. Not only is he proposing a measure allowing women to take the civil service exam, he’s doing it largely so that Shurei will be able to achieve her dream. Yes, he hopes that Shurei being in the palace will help him win her heart, but more than that, he simply wants her to be happy. Ryuki has absolute confidence in her abilities and, though he hasn’t given up his romantic pursuit, he would rather she come to him on her own terms, when she is ready. He reminds me a lot of Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club, one of those oddly perceptive goofball types that I love so much. The recurring gag involving his misunderstanding of the phrase “midnight tryst” is also quite amusing.– Michelle Smith
Tales of the Abyss: Asch the Bloody, Vol. 1 | By Hana Saitou and Rin Nijyo | Bandai Entertainment – As someone whose consumption of Japanese media consists almost exclusively of manga, Bandai releases offer a very particular challenge. Though a few of their manga series genuinely start at the beginning, most——even those labeled “volume 1″——are offshoots of the company’s anime and game franchises, so reliant on the background and mythology of their source material that the learning curve for manga readers can seem impossibly steep. On the surface, Asch the Bloody falls into exactly this mold. Following the side story of one of the series’ antagonists, its early chapters read like gibberish to anyone not already familiar with the franchise. Fortunately, as the volume continues, its main character’s inner struggle between pride and self-loathing as he observes the life of his own “replica” becomes the story’s centerpiece, offering genuine food for thought, even for the uninitiated. Not bad, Bandai, not bad. – MJ
Twin Spica, Vol. 8 | By Kou Yaginuma. | Published by Vertical – I never quite know what tyo say about Twin Spica, which is why my reviewing of it is so erratic. I always enjoy each volume as I get it, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. But frequently it’s a rueful or melancholy smile, the sort reserved for watching the fallibility of life, or seeing a sweet moment that you know will never last. This volume of Twin Spica is filled with such things. Asumi’s burgeoning teen romance is over almost before it starts, but for all the right reasons, and I think both of them end up being happier they had their feelings. Moreover, this volume finally gives some much needed depth to Shu, who’s been the most cryptic of the group of five. And, true to the tome of the series, the depth comes with a growing sense of unease, and a sense that the group is not going to be together for much longer. Twin Spica loves to highlight the fleeting springtime of youth, both to show its strength and to emphasize how fleeting it really is. Surprisingly mature. – Sean Gaffney
CJ saysAugust 15, 2011 at 7:30 am
Man, every time I read Twin Spica, I just wanna cry. I don’t know why, it’s a manga about achieving your dreams and whatnot! But it ends up making me more melancholy than happy, but maybe it’s part of why I adore the series, who knows? I am glad that Vertical is speeding up the release on this series so it’ll be done by March of next year, but I can only read so much at once before I wanna bawl!
Angela saysAugust 15, 2011 at 9:08 am
I’ve been thinking about picking up the rest of Kamisama Kiss (I have the first two volumes) but I’ve been unsure about it. Sounds like it keeps getting better as it goes, though!
Oh man, Twin Spica. I’ve wanted to review it for a while but I have no idea what I’d say.
Michelle Smith saysAugust 15, 2011 at 3:24 pm
I liked volume three of Kamisama Kiss more than 1-2 but volume four is even better than that. :)
Angela saysAugust 18, 2011 at 10:16 pm
Well, I bought 3 and 4, and oh boy were you right. I’m totally, completely hooked now. XD
Michelle Smith saysAugust 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm
Yay! I’m happy to be helpful! :)
Noura saysAugust 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm
Glad to know that Kamisama Kiss is getting better as I wasn’t so sure whether I want to continue collecting it.
I love Natsume’s Book of Friends a lot. It is one of my favorite shoujo titles and I like how romance is almost nonexistent in this series. It is refreshing to have such shoujo titles. I love Natsume more and more with each volume and not to forget the adorable, Nyanko-sensei. The perfect duo.
Can’t wait to get my hands on volume 4 of The Story of Saiunkoku. My bookstore still doesn’t have it but hopefully by the end of this week.
Michelle Smith saysAugust 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm
I was lucky that both my briefs were so good this week. :)
Jenn saysAugust 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm
I was already a fan of Natsume, so now I’m really looking forward to reading vol. 8!
Alex Hoffman saysAugust 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm
I get the same feeling as Sean from La Quinta Camera, but I love people watching, so I am really enjoying this collection of inter-connected short stories. The art is really fantastic actually – it is such a departure from the “manga standard of pretty” that so many fans expect, and it’s startlingly refreshing.