This week, MJ, Sean, & Michelle look at recent releases from Yen Press, Kodansha Comics, Digital Manga Publishing, and Viz Media.
Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 26 | By Hiromu Arakawa | Viz Media – One of the greatest strengths mangaka Hiromu Arakawa has displayed over the course of her long-running series Fullmetal Alchemist is the ability to tell a single, clear, focused story in 20+ volumes containing a multitude of related subplots and supporting characters, quite a number of whom are more fully fleshed out than some series’ protagonists. The payoff for this kind of discipline, of course, is that when such a substantial, well-plotted story finally reaches its climax, it’s got the power of 20+ volumes and a multitude of beloved characters behind it. In other words, it’s a doozy. As one finishes the penultimate volume of a series like this one, it’s difficult to muster any response more professional than a bit of unintelligible muttering and some unabashed squee, and frankly, I’m not in any condition to try. Fullmetal Alchemist: It’s freaking awesome. Gimme the final volume NOW. *mutter mutter* – MJ
Goong, Vol. 12 | By Park SoHee | Yen Press – Sloppy melodrama and deadly cliché have given the so-called “soap opera” a bad name, even within the credibility-starved romance genre. Label a story “romance,” and you’ve narrowed its audience to mostly women. Label it “soap opera” (or serial romance) and half of them won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. To be honest, I’ve been one of these soap-shunning women at various times in my life. Fortunately for me, there are comics like Goong around to remind me that ignoring any genre is just plain foolish. This series’ romance has been an especially slow burn, full of agony and missed chances on both sides. While volume eleven seemed to offer a substantial payoff for our pain, it’s got nothing on volume twelve. Now, that’s my kind of soap opera. Luke and Laura, eat your hearts out.– MJ
Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 6 | By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa | Viz Media- I’d been waiting for a volume to focus on Iku’s cool and collected friend Shibazaki, and this one totally delivers for me, as she gets several chapters as a focus. We get to see how she came to form the ‘mask’ that she hides behind most of the time, her ways of dealing with romance, and her one weakness – Iku, or rather a guy who reminds her far too much of Iku. Given this is not going to be a yuri series, and Iku is clearly meant for Dojo, I was amused that it was so obviously implied that Shibazaki is going out with this guy because his simple straightforwardness reminds her of Iku. Plus we get to see Iku defending Shibazaki while her face and eye are all bandaged up, which is hilarious. Other than that, there’s not as much plot advancement here, except at the very end, after a seemingly unrelated chapter, where we meet Tezuka’s big brother… who may be the series’ new big bad. It’s a bit of a slight volume, but there’s plenty of meaty character development for fans here.– Sean Gaffney
My Girlfriend’s a Geek, Vol. 4 | By Rize Shinba, based on the novel by Pentabu | Yen Press – At last. Four volumes in, and I finally get what I was waiting for from this couple, which is proof that they are a couple, rather than just a BL girl and her boytoy. Taiga is still behaving suspiciously, and we see Yuiko genuinely troubled about it. And later on, they have a big fight, as Taiga blasts off on her for being an otaku freak while he’s trying to study, and Yuiko accusing him of cheating on her. Of course, naturally if ether of them had actually talked with each other, this could all have been avoided. And when they do talk, it’s pitch-perfect – no Sebastians at all (which Taiga notes), and he admits to himself that Yuiko yanking him around is part of why he enjoys things. This is not to say there is not the usual yaoi fangirl hijinks here – the epilogue to the fight has some amazing deadpan from Kouji, and the first chapter with Taiga watching over a sick Yuiko is a pun-filled treat. But mostly, this volume is payoff for those of us who wanted to see them grow as an actual romantic pairing. And good timing, next volume is the final one.– Sean Gaffney
Shugo Chara!, Vol. 12 | By Peach-Pit | Published by Kodansha Comics – This final volume provides an abundance of closure, starting with three stories featuring supporting characters. While Peach-Pit stops short of overtly pairing these characters off in grand shoujo style—they are still preteens, after all—they’re obviously suggesting that they will wind up together one day. Whatever. It’s happy, fluffy shoujo. Just go with it. I don’t really care at all about the wedding that happens in the final chapter, but it provides the setting for the final three dangling plot threads to be sewn up, so I can’t complain too much. I will say that it feels really strange for Amu, the main character, to be absent for so much of the final volume, but I suppose there really wasn’t much left for her to do. I’ve definitely enjoyed reading Shugo Chara! and anticipate the November release of Shugo Chara Chan! with equal parts enthusiasm and trepidation. – Michelle Smith
This Night’s Everything | By Akira Minazuki | Published by Digital Manga Publishing – I’ve got a penchant for BL with an actual plot, and darkly stylish This Night’s Everything delivers on that front. Aoi, a cold-eyed young man equipped with a sword that’s sharp but unused, joins the ranks of an organization serving as the “bodyguard squad” for a man known as “the professor” and is partnered up with a jaded assassin named Nanao. Nanao quickly realizes that Aoi doesn’t quite belong, but it takes three years before he’s realized the truth about his partner’s background. I liked this moody one-shot, but have to wonder how much story is really here when all of the style and atmosphere is stripped away. Too, the romantic relationship that eventually develops between the leads seems so doomed and joyless that it left me depressed for hours afterwards. Recommended, but have a proven mood-lifter nearby. – Michelle Smith
Toriko, Vol. 6 | By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro | Viz Media- Every Jump series has one of these volumes, and now it’s Toriko’s turn; the entire volume is devoted to fight after fight after fight, as the heroes try to get closer to the Jewel Meat while battling the various GT Robots sent to stop them. Highlights include Coco’s Edvard Munch pose, Sunny’s battle with the GT Robot equivalent of a Luna Lovegood (sort of), and Toriko evolving thanks to the Jewel Meat and his “Gourmet Cells”. The plot here is still completely ludicrous, but that’s hardly unusual in the world of Shonen Jump. Likewise, we get an apparent character death here, but given the ‘Next Volume’ preview talks about a celebration after the battle, rather than a funeral, I’m going to bet that Rin is Not Quite Dead. You won’t be analyzing this manga for deep hidden meanings, but as far as watching awesome people hitting each other awesomely, well, it’s a good way to pass the time.– Sean Gaffney
Warning! Whispers of Love | By Puku Okuyama | Published by Digital Manga Publishing – One of the first notes I made about this quirky BL short story collection (rated 16+) as I was reading it was “weird but kind of cute,” which turns out to be a good description for the entire volume. The title story is a lighthearted look at fetishes—one boy is unabashedly obsessed with cleaning the ears of the other—and it’s pretty fun, but I actually preferred the other three stories, each of which comes with a two-page epilogue. One’s about a lonely guy and his cheerful new roommate, the next is about a pair of childhood friends, and the third is about a couple who is denied moments of closeness by the most adorable, show-stealing dog on the planet. I think he’s worth the price of admission all by himself, honestly. – Michelle Smith
Noura saysSeptember 26, 2011 at 7:48 am
I love Library Wars LOVE&WAR and I always anticipate new volumes of the series. Volume 6 focused heavily on Shibazaki instead of Iku and Dojo. I like how cool and collected she is. This volume actually opened my eyes to the possiblity of a relationship between Tezuka and Shibazaki and I can totally see it happening. I wouldn’t say I will be all for it as I am a fan of Tezuka and kinda wanted him with Iku, though I know it would never happen. Can’t wait for the next volume to come out!
Sara K. saysSeptember 26, 2011 at 8:58 am
I just finished my Goong marathon about a week ago. On the one hand, I had 23 (non-omnibus) volumes to read, and I read them all, one after another. On the other hand, they were all in Chinese. The Chinese made Volume 16 (which is in omnibus 12) particularly difficult to read, not because of the language, but because I can only read Chinese at about 1/4 of the speed I can read English. Imagine having to wallow through the characters’ feelings in this volume for a *four times longer* period of time.
That said, I think Goong is a mix of soap opera and romantic comedy. This volume (omnibus 12) is mostly soap opera, but you’ll see more of the romantic comedy side of the story in the next omnibus.
Michelle Smith saysSeptember 26, 2011 at 11:28 am
Man, I seriously need to catch up on Goong. I’ve had this steadily growing pile of volumes that now equals 10 volumes of the original series (7 through 16) though only six of the Yen Press releases. But the promise of payoff at the end is an even greater incentive.
Sara K. saysSeptember 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm
Yes you should … and this is the perfect time to jump in. The end of the original volume 16 (omnibus 12) is the emotional peak of the series so far. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot to look forward in later volumes – there are a lot of wonderful moments in the volumes to come. However, even though the last volume I read (23) was, between the sex and the assassination, extremely eventful, it has yet to surpass (original) volume 16 when it comes to raw feeling.
Michelle Smith saysSeptember 26, 2011 at 9:52 pm
Good to know! I will try to manage it prior to Yen’s volume 13 in February. :)
Angela saysSeptember 28, 2011 at 7:57 am
Melinda: I am likely going to go insane before the last FMA volume comes out. I haven’t even finished watching the anime because I don’t want it to “spoil” the manga for me. This is my favorite series, ever. I think I’m going to reread the whole series this month just so I can feel the full effect.
Sean: I was so excited when they yelled at each other! I really think it made the series THAT much better that they got into an honest to goodness fight. Definitely felt a little less rage towards Yuiko >.>