This week, Michelle, Kate, and Sean look at recent releases from Viz Media, Yen Press, and Sweatdrop Studios.
Ai Ore!, Vol. 5 | By Mayu Shinjo | Viz Media – Ai Ore! in its fifth volume is pretty different than its first. Almost entirely gone is Akira’s manipulative/disturbing behavior (though he’s still fixated on making Mizuki “his”), which is definitely a good thing, and the series has settled into a fairly generic romantic comedy groove. Unfortunately, it seems like Mayu Shinjo may already be out of ideas, since we’re treated to yet another “Mizuki thinks Akira has secretly been gay all this time” bout of melodrama. I continued to be disappointed that Mizuki, who occasionally looks ravishingly boyish, is not a cooler and stronger character, but it’s pretty much a lost cause at this point. Still, even though I stop short of calling Ai Ore! good, it is compulsively readable, and I see myself finishing out the series, though I’m not looking forward to the beachy hijinks advertised for the next volume. – Michelle Smith
Bamboo Blade, Vol. 13 | By Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi | Yen Press – There’s some big surprises here, though many of them were signposted earlier. TV Savant Erina is not who she appears to be, and it’s her backstory and growth that is the focus of this volume. The reason that it’s her, by the way, is that Tama loses – genuinely and honestly. This is exactly what her coach has wanted all along, and now we get to see what she will gain from it. Tama has always sort of done kendo as it’s expected of her. Now she sees true kendo passion – both from Erina and from Ura Sakaki, whose delusions of sentai are finally thrashed out of her in one of the most awesome sports battles I’ve seen in a long time. So we’ve one volume to go, and I’ve no doubt that volume will have Tamaki finally seeking the real reason she fights kendo matches. Highly recommended. –Sean Gaffney
Oresama Teacher, Vol. 8 | By Izumi Tsubaki | Viz Media – I sense that Tsubaki-san was told be her editors at Hana to Yume around this point in the manga that the series was a success, and in no danger of ending soon, so it was time to break out the new characters and plot complications. There’s a sense of gearing up for the next big battle here. Unfortunately, as always, Tsubaki’s plotting always seems flaky and scattered. So we get a chapter giving a bit of depth to the main villain, then some background for Takaomi, then a whole passel of new minor villains (some even female – gasp!) are introduced, and then Mafuyu’s two suitors find out about her relationship with Takaomi. There’s some fun stuff here – I was, as always, laughing a lot throughout – but Tsubaki needs a stronger editor than the ones Hakusensha provides. –Sean Gaffney
Soul Eater, Vol. 9 | By Atsushi Ohkubo | Yen Press – Soul Eater is another title, like Oresama Teacher, that is finishing one plot and getting ready to gear up for another. It, however, handles this much better, with plot threads from Vol. 6 onwards just now starting to pay off. The focus here is on our three meisters, rather than their weapons, and I was impressed with how the manga handled Black*Star, everyone’s favorite insufferable talented jerk. We get a lesson seemingly set up for teaching him humility and learning to hold back for the sake of the others – then it turns out this is a fakeout, and that it’s Maka who has to learn not to hold her fellow student back. Finally, our team goes off on its next big battle, where they’re acting as backup for an increasingly unstable Doctor Stein – and they promptly disobey his orders and charge in to the rescue. Kids, sheesh. Good shonen fun. –Sean Gaffney
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 7 | By Kaira Yura and Sai Yukino | Viz Media – The ongoing hazing and abuse of Shurei and Eigetsu sort of percolates along through this entire volume, driving many plots but not quite coming to a head – no doubt that will happen in the next volume. Instead, we get to see that ‘slow and steady wins the race’ seems to be the moral lesson for the entire cast – the villains always seem to overplay their hands by overdoing things and making fast, impetuous choices. Our heroes, meanwhile, are the picture of calm and serenity, even when they’re being arrested for favoritism or held captive so as not to testify at a trial. Of course, one can be *too* serene and unreadable – there’s a great story here about Koyu’s frustration with his lord, and being unable to tell the difference between not caring and not wanting to hold back. It’s all about the small, quiet moments here. –Sean Gaffney
Sun Fish Moon Fish | By Morag Lewis | Sweatdrop Studios – Set in the fictional kingdom of The Thousand Island Archipelago, Sun Fish Moon Fish tells the story of Anciarin, a court mage who’s falsely accused of murdering Archipelago’s royal family. The premise is certainly ripe with potential, but the execution is wanting; Morag Lewis’ character designs have a faintly unnatural quality to them, with enormous, wide-set eyes and perpetually surprised expressions. The dialogue, too, tacks between medieval formality and modern-day casualness, with one character demanding, “What’s your beef?” and another making reference to “teams,” as if he were a S.W.A.T. captain. If the art and dialogue are sometimes amateurish, Lewis shows considerable promise as a writer; Sun Fish Moon Fish is briskly paced and skillfully plotted, giving equal time to Anciarin and Iashar, the soldier tasked with bringing the mage to justice. An ambitious, though uneven, work. – Katherine Dacey