This week, Kate, Sean, and Michelle look at recent releases from Yen Press, Dark Horse, VIZ Media, and Digital Manga Publishing.
Highschool of the Dead, Vol. 6 | Story by Daisuke Sato, Art by Shouji Sato | Yen Press – After reading the first six volumes of this Dawn of the Dead rip-off, I’m still mystified by its appeal. The layouts are busy and poorly composed, a riot of screentones, traced elements, and grossly distended breasts, while the script consists mostly of characters ordering one another around. Yes, there are plenty of scenes of zombie carnage, but even those aren’t executed with much imagination. In volume six, for example, our heroes try to fight their way out a shopping mall, eventually taking refuge on the roof. Sound familiar? That’s because volume one follows the same basic trajectory — just swap “school” for “mall,” and the two storylines are virtually interchangeable. That kind of lazy storytelling might be excusable if Highschool of the Dead were funny or exceptionally gory, but when the laughs and scares are in such short supply, it’s hard to fathom why horror fans are making do with such weak sauce. -Katherine Dacey
Itazura Na Kiss, Vol. 7 | By Kaoru Tada | Digital Manga Publishing – We’re now over halfway through this series, and so we begin to get some new plotlines and characters debut in order to give us more to chew on than “When will Naoki be nice/when will Kotoko be smart?” So we get a new girl who is clearly introduced to be the ‘consolation prize’ to nice yet loser-ish Kinnosuke. It works here, though, as Chris is so much fun – kudos to DMP for translating her fractured Japanese in a way that shows how she sounds to everyone else – and you’re also rooting for her. As for Kotoko, reality slaps her in the face again here, despite minor triumphs like winning over Naoki’s family. Naoki is correct in that Kotoko works best when she isn’t coddled or sympathized with. What’s impressive here is that she realizes it as well. She really may be finally growing up. –Sean Gaffney
Itazura Na Kiss, Vol. 8 | By Kaoru Tada | Digital Manga Publishing – And if the last book showed us Kotoko, if not getting smarter, then at least learning her strengths and limitations, this volume is for Naoki. No, he’s not really all that nicer, but he is at last realizing that he can’t simply expect declarations of love to be entirely one-sided on his wife’s part. Naoki simply doesn’t do emotions – except around Kotoko, who has taught him the joys of frustration, anger, exasperation… and love, reluctant as he still is to admit it. He admits this publicly for one reason – a serious threat to his marriage arrives, and starts pointing out all of his worst flaws. Keita is not particularly in danger of stealing Kotoko – she’s not all that interested. But Naoki here not only admits that he needs Kotoko to be more human – and to be more loving. Which is why the final part of the book is the two of them skipping their anniversary party and sharing a drink and a kiss on a quiet bench. –Sean Gaffney
Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 8 | By Julietta Suzuki | VIZ Media – The annual kami conference is underway, and Nanami has been assigned the special task of sealing the entrance to the land of the dead, which is always besieged by yokai when its guardian kami is away. Unfortunately, she and a mysterious human named Kirihito end up trapped on the other side. So basically, this is yet another “Tomoe to the rescue” scenario. True, Nanami exhibits some bona fide powers as she works to free herself and Kirihito, but ultimately it’s Tomoe who must save her. One nice side effect is that Tomoe seems to realize his feelings for Nanami at long last and some secrets concerning his past—that even he is unaware of—are touched upon. I continue to enjoy Kamisama Kiss, but it must be said that this particular volume was not particularly riveting. – Michelle Smith
Magic Knight Rayearth 2 | By CLAMP | Dark Horse Comics – Needless to say, although it had a great ending, it cannot be denied that the way the last Rayearth manga ended was a bit… well, depressing. So let’s have a sequel where we bring our heroines back and have them save the world again! This omnibus has more flaws than the first – too many characters and a messy and confusing plotline. That said, it explores the idea of what would happen to a world which is collapsing after the woman keeping it idyllic is killed quite well. And it is nice seeing the cute couples that barely had time to be suggested in the first series having a bit more time to develop now – aged-up Ascot is adorable, and I love Caldina and Lafarga too… (Sorry, Rafaga. Damn romanizations.) And of course there’s Hikaru, Lantis and Eagle, which is about as close as one can get to a canonical threesome without a wedding. Not as essential as the first, but still fun. –Sean Gaffney
Psyren, Vol. 4 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro | VIZ Media – The plot of Psyren is moving right along. Oh, sure, there’s the obligatory shounen stuff wherein the heroes are determined to get stronger and the main character must gain control of his tremendous yet potentially destructive power, but we also get more information about how the world of Psyren came to be and how far ahead it is from the present for our characters. Each volume of Psyren is a lot of fun, though I’m beginning to suspect that I would enjoy it even more if I had a lovely stack to consume at once—each time I finish a volume, I wonder when the next will be coming out, which is a pretty big compliment. If you’re weary or wary of certain shounen clichés, Psyren might be different enough to satisfy. As an added bonus, at sixteen volumes, it’s considerably shorter than many titles in this demographic. – Michelle Smith
Voltron Force: Shelter from the Storm, Vol. 1 | Story by Brian Smith, Art by Jacob Chabot | VIZ Media – Back in the 1980s — the golden age of cruddy cartoons with merchandising tie-ins — Voltron: Defender of the Universe introduced a generation of American kids to mecha. Nickelodeon revived the series last year, giving it a fresh look and new cast of cadets. In keeping with the spirit of the original, the new Voltron has inspired its fair share of spin-off products, including a series of original graphic novels published by VIZ. When contrasted with similar comics — especially the original Ben 10 “manga” — Voltron Force: Shelter from the Storm is a superior product, with crisp artwork, sophisticated storytelling, and teenage characters who sound and act enough like teenagers to pass muster with the comic’s target audience of seven-to-ten-year-old boys. The language is sufficiently challenging for advanced readers but not too overwhelming for kids who have just graduated to chapter books, while the diverse cast of characters ensures that boys and girls alike will find a cast member to identify with. A solid addition to the elementary school classroom library. -Katherine Dacey