This week, MJ, Michelle, Kate, & Sean look at new releases from Viz Media, Kodansha Comics, and Seven Seas.
Bakuman, Vol. 10 | By Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata | VIZ Media – Tension is high as this volume begins, with Mashiro and Takagi’s career on the line—or at least their future with Weekly Shonen Jump. Developing their latest series for a win-or-die serialization meeting dominates the bulk of this volume, and the overwhelming intensity Ohba and Obata are able to bring to this process is a prime example of Bakuman at its best. Volume ten is irresistibly compelling, in exactly the way its protagonists are struggling to achieve with their own work, making it pretty much the perfect meta-manga. Even its personal relationships—usually the series’ weak point—hold up fairly well in this volume, especially those between the two protagonists and their rivaling editors, Miura and Hattori. I’ve had some shaky moments with this series, but even I couldn’t put this volume down. Rock on, Bakuman, rock on. – MJ
Itsuwaribito, Vol. 5 | By Yuuki Iinuma | VIZ Media – Oh, Itsuwaribito, you had such promise! Your hero travels in appealing company. He tangles with villains of every stripe, using verbal acrobatics to defeat them. And he has a compelling reason for using his unique verbal gifts. Unfortunately, Utsuho’s story has proved oddly unengaging; as the fifth volume of Itsuwaribito demonstrates, author Yuuki Iinuma has a tin ear and terrible sense of pacing. These tendencies come to the fore whenever he introduces a new character: Iinuma can’t resist giving every villain, hero, and traveling companion a Tragic Past that needs to be explained in excruciating detail. The result is a story that’s fitfully engaging, roaring to life only when Utsuho and his companions stumble into a new situation. – Katherine Dacey
Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 13 | By Karuho Shiina | VIZ Media – As much as it has been truly wonderful to see Sawako and Kazehaya finally become a couple, I’ve lately become fascinated by Sawako’s friend, Ayane Yano, and wanted to know more about her. I seem to be getting my wish, as volume thirteen finds Ayane agreeing to date a boy she wasn’t even previously aware of, partly to have fun on the school trip to Okinawa and partly, perhaps, in hopes of making a connection that isn’t as easy for her to make as it is for others. Her reaction when Sawako assumes she must’ve liked the boy for a long time is priceless and highlights how different she is from her friends and many shoujo heroines. Ayane isn’t openly emotional and pure-hearted. Instead, she’s private and considers herself to be calculating, even though she acts in her friends’ best interests time and time again. You’ve got to love a series with such a complicated secondary character! – Michelle Smith
Negima! Magister Negi Magi Omnibus, Vol. 4 | By Ken Akamatsu | Kodansha Comics – These three volumes of Negima – Vols. 10-12 – are when fandom really began to explode in North America, and it’s not hard to see why. The school festival is where everything starts to come together – the tournament shows off Akamatsu’s desire for shonen fighting, there’s still plenty of cute girls being nearly naked all the time for his old-school fans, and the plot kicks into overdrive with Asuna’s past, the appearance of “Ku:nel Sanders”, and most of all the revelation of Chao as this arc’s big villain. Plus it has the return of Chisame, who is my second favorite character, doing what she does best – boggling in disbelief that everyone is accepting this. A terrific read, provided as always you don’t mind Akamatsu getting his “fanservice” chapters in every once in a while. –Sean Gaffney
Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Vol. 9 | By Hiroyuki Asada | VIZ Media – I stand by initial assessment of Tegami Bachi: it’s one of the best-looking titles in the Shonen Jump line, even if the story isn’t on par with, say, One Piece. The latest volume introduces a conspiracy theory that adds a badly needed element of complexity to the central narrative. As Lag is dismayed to learn, his old hero Gauche Suede has become an outlaw and adopted a new name. Lag rescues Gauche, only to discover that the government is intent on removing Gauche from Letter Bee headquarters. The battle scenes that follow are beautifully staged, striking a fine balance between action and reflection; only Niche’s aversion to underpants spoils the mood. After several ho-hum volumes, volume nine reaffirms the promise of the very first chapters — a fancy way of saying that I’m officially hooked on Tegami Bachi again. -Katherine Dacey
Toradora!, Vol. 4 | By Yuyuko Takemiya and Zekkyo | Seven Seas – I have to hand it to the authors, they really know how to take Taiga’s frustratoin and ramp it up to eleven. Everything that she’s dealing with goes wrong here – her issues with her small, undeveloped body; her growing feelings for Ryuuji (“RYUUJI IS MINE!”) and jealousy of Ami wanting to ‘take him’; and of course her ability to be angry at everything, whether deserved or not. It’s a miracle that she’s sympathetic, but of course she is, and that’s what gives this manga its heart. There’s less Minori this time around (except for a priceless final gag regarding underwear choice), but I can deal with that. The only downside continues to be Ryuuji’s mother, who is meant to be a stereotypical ‘blonde bimbo’, but is so utterly stereotypical that she gets on your nerves – and not in the good way that Taiga does. –Sean Gaffney
Toriko, Vol. 9 | By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro | VIZ Media – In terms of plot, this is an entire volume of shonen battle. Of course, this being Toriko, half of the ‘battle’ is against thee environment – it’s rather startling how many deaths we see here just form the cold conditions. Of course, that’s not to say there’s no fighting at all. Tommyrod and Bogie are possibly the creepiest villains we’ve seen yet, and the artist is determined to make you squirm, especially if body horror is not your thing. Of course, this is still a Jump title, so there’s plenty of humor as well – the new guy, whoever he may be, is a stitch when talking to himself – and even a cute mascot of sorts as Komatsu bonds with a baby penguin. Still, overall this volume was very much ‘get closer to goal while stopping to fight people who want to stop us getting to goal’, like many well-done shonen manga. I wonder if we’ll reach the goal next time? –Sean Gaffney