This week, Sean, MJ, Kate, & Michelle look at recent releases from Yen Press, VIZ Media, and Kodansha Comics.
Ai Ore!, Vol. 6 | By Mayu Shinjo | VIZ Media – It really is astonishing what changing magazines/publishers has done for this title. It still has its issues, but the way that it handles them is more acceptable and more mature. This is not to say that the premise is completely different, however. Akira is still trying to prove that he’s a manly man for Mizuki, Mizuki is still getting embarrassed and misunderstanding everything, and Ran and Rui trade off between being comedic creepers and serious creepers. At one point, Rui tries to seduce Misaki, to the point almost of sexual assault. But Misaki doesn’t buy it, and neither do we – unlike Vol. 1 of this series, the danger doesn’t feel genuine. You can argue this makes the series fluffier and less electrically charged, but it also makes Akira and Mizuki’s relationship far sweeter and more tolerable. –Sean Gaffney
Bunny Drop, Vol. 6 | By Yumi Unita | Yen Press – As the series continues with its new switch to Rin as its primary POV character, the story begins to revolve around Rin’s increasingly awkward relationship with her childhood friend Kouki, whose (supposedly) ex-girlfriend deliberately alienates Rin. Fortunately, this plotline is more nuanced than it sounds, deftly avoiding most of the “evil rival” territory common in manga for female readers. Unfortunately, Unita seems less comfortable writing Rin’s voice than she was writing Daikichi’s—or maybe Daikichi is just infinitely more comfortable than Rin herself—which means that there is often a noticeable distance between the reader and the series’ protagonist. On the upside, Rin’s evolving balance between dependence and independence creates unexpected difficulties in Daikichi’s own personal life, allowing us back (however briefly) into his somewhat more forthcoming mind. Though the series’ new direction seems to still be settling in, there’s enough solid ground left for nearly any fan to stand on. Still recommended. – MJ
Cage of Eden, Vol. 6 | By Yoshinobu Yamada | Kodansha Comics – This really is the perfect series for 12-year-old boys, though I would not recommend it to parents of those boys. There’s far too much casual nudity, casual violence, and general skeevy fanservice. But it also has bears vs. wolves, in which our hero teams up with the wolf because of their similar roles in their groups. It’s almost pure shonen at its finest. We meet two more regulars here. I suspect Rei is there entirely to be a large-breasted woman (you know, in case there weren’t enough of those), but Maya seems to be more of an action girl, and backs it up. She seems a bit *too* eager for battle, though, and I wonder if she’ll last long. Then again, the only people in this series who seem to be killed are the irredeemable ones, such as manipulative Kotomi or stalker Ryoichi.-Sean Gaffney
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 13 | By Gaku Tsugano and Nagaru Tanigawa | Yen Press – I haven’t reviewed this series for a while, but since it’s moved on to stories that aren’t animated, it has managed to improve – finally, it can be 2nd best, rather than 3rd! It has a difficult job here, as Editor in Chief, the short story adapted for this volume, does not lend itself well to the visual. Still, it manages pretty well, and also throws in an original short story chapter, featuring Miyoko, the girl from Kyon’s story, arriving to ask the SOS-Dan to help her investigate a haunted house. It shakes things up by having Taniguchi and Kunikida there rather than Yuki and Mikuru, and also has an ending that undercuts the tension but still is nicely sentimental. The art is still only fair, and I’d rather read the novels, but this is now an acceptable alternative. –Sean Gaffney
Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 7 | By Fumi Yoshinaga | VIZ Media – Ever since the end of volume one, the latest Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshimune, has been reading Chronicle of a Dying Day, which tells the story of how women came to rule Japan. Readers have followed along, and here in volume seven we finally return to the “present,” but not before realizing just how much scheming Yoshimune—or perhaps simply her ever-faithful attendant, Hisamichi—has engaged in to become the next Shogun. It’s just another lesson that nearly everyone in this tale, no matter how likeable, has sinned in pursuit of power, sometimes inflicting misfortune upon the innocent. Maybe it’s because of this that Ooku, despite being interesting and boasting some impressive art, doesn’t stand a chance of becoming my favorite Yoshinaga manga. Oh, I’ll keep following it, but Antique Bakery‘s place in my heart is secure. – Michelle Smith
Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Vol. 2 | Story by Magica Quartet, Art by Hanokage | Yen Press – If your chief aversion to magical-girl manga is its earnest, perky wholesomeness, then Puella Magi Madoka Magica is for you. The series is dark and violent, using the magical-girl concept as a metaphor for adolescence in all its ugliness. In volume two, for example, we see the corrosive influence of jealousy, as Sayaka begins to regret wishing for her friend Kamijou’s full recovery. Sayaka’s rapid descent into anger and self-pity is one of the most astonishing developments in the volume — and that’s saying something, given the healthy sprinkling of fight scenes, dramatic confrontations, and plot twists. As terrific as some of these scenes are, Puella often feels rushed. Most of the fight sequences are too brief and too busy to make much sense; one gets the sense that the writers were trying too hard to cover all the major plot points of the anime, rather than tailoring the story to a different medium. That said, Puella has consistently surprised me with its ability to both faithfully observe and thoroughly subvert magical-girl tropes, and continues to grow on me with each volume. -Katherine Dacey