This week, Sean, Kate, MJ, and Michelle look at recent releases from VIZ Media, Yen Press, and Vertical, Inc.
Arata: The Legend, Vol. 11 | By Yuu Watase | VIZ Media – The last time I wrote about Arata, I described it as consistently entertaining. Alas, I haven’t really been feeling these two most recent volumes. So much seems to be repeating the same pattern—Arata encounters a hostile bishounen shinsho and employs his shoujo-heroine-in-a-shounen-manga mojo to discover the fellow’s true feelings, which he soothes before the two become allies—that when important things do happen, like the revelation that a pair of characters changed places (between modern Japan and Amawakuni) in their infancy, it fails to register any sort of impact. Things begin to look up slightly towards the end of the volume, though, as the group heads into the territory of the most hostile bishounen of them all: Akachi. Somehow I doubt he’s going to want to talk about his feelings for, oh, at least two volumes. – Michelle Smith
The Drops of God: New World | By Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto | Vertical, Inc. – If Drops of God had sold better, this would be half of Vol. 11 and half of 12, and we’d be reading it a couple years from now. As it is, this is the last planned volume, and I understand the publisher in Japan asked that it jump ahead to focus on American (and Australian) wines. Honestly, there isn’t that much missed – the biggest change is that Loulan, Issei’s hookup from Vol. 4, is now in Japan and acting as his Miyabi. (It’s unclear if they’re married, still lovers, or what have you.) And Issei is the one who clearly has gotten the most character development – he almost seems like a 2nd protagonist than a rival by now, and has mellowed out considerably. Shizuku, on the other hand, still feels as if he’s lagging behind and unable to progress. Which, to be honest, is true – he’s much the same as he was in V. 1-4. I do hope we eventually see more of this. -Sean Gaffney
Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden, Vol. 10 | By Yuu Watase | VIZ Media – In my experience, a long wait between volumes of a manga series can be either a blessing or a curse—maybe even both. On one hand, anticipation is undoubtedly sweet, and a wait of nearly three years certainly provides plenty of that. On the other hand, anticipation can shift quickly to expectation, and after nearly three years… well, you get the idea. Fortunately, Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden delivers, at least where it most counts. Despite the long wait, Watase’s well-paced storytelling and energetic artwork pull us right back into the story (and its awesomely giddy primary romance), as though no time has passed at all. On the downside (or is it?), the volume’s final pages are likely to throw readers right back into the clutches of sweet (and painful!) anticipation once again. – MJ
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 5 | By Toru Fujisawa | Vertical, Inc. – One of the main reasons we enjoy reading GTO is to see Onizuka kick the crap out of people as he tells them how they’re screwing things up. That said, he is meant to be a teacher, and pass on his example to others. This volume doesn’t have quite as much Onizuka in person, but it has him leading by inspiration – including a long mid-volume sequence starring Uchiyamada, the antagonistic vice-principal from the GTO series proper. It’s easy to see Onizuka dealing with young, impressionable teens. But just because folks are adults doesn’t mean they’re wise and all-knowing, or that their problems go away. So seeing Uchiyamada preparing to confront 50 gang members, or Ayame beating the crap out of a yakuza in order to confront the twins behind all this, is just as awesome as Onizuka himself. -Sean Gaffney
Spice & Wolf, Vol. 6 | Story by Isuna Kasekua, Art by Keito Koume, Character Design by Jyuu Ayakura | Yen Press – Here are eight words I never thought I’d type: I liked volume six of Spice & Wolf. Yes, there was some gratuitous nudity, and yes, there was some limp flirtation between Holo and Lawrence, but on balance, volume six delivered enough action to erase the memory of all those Economics for Dummies speeches in previous volumes. Better still, Holo spent most of the volume as a wisewolf, inflicting bodily harm on soldiers, extracting confessions from enemies, and menacing her (perceived) romantic rival Norah. I’ll take Holo in her feral form any day; she’s funny and fierce, using her physical strength, rather than her feminine wiles, to get the job done. I’m not sure that a handful of decent chapters are enough to make me revisit earlier volumes, but they did, at last, help me understand why this series has been such a phenomenon among American otaku. – Katherine Dacey
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 8 | Art by Kairi Yura, Story by Sai Yukino | VIZ Media – Never underestimate the power of Cover Girl — that’s my takeaway from volume eight, in which Shurei decides her only chance of claiming her rightful position as a civil servant is to show her male peers she’s 100% woman… by donning makeup. The resolution of that conflict is a little too tidy, relying on narration rather than dramatization to show us how Shurei establishes her civil servant credentials. On the whole, however, volume eight is a solid installment in this period soap opera, serving up an appealing mixture of comedy, drama, intrigue, and romance, and ending with the kind of cliffhanger that promises to advance the story in a new and meaningful direction. Still recommended. – Katherine Dacey
Yotsuba&!, Vol. 11 | By Kiyohiko Azuma | Yen Press – It’s been nearly a year since I last read any Yotsuba&!. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it until I started to read and the first chapter, in which Yotsuba invites herself into the kitchen of an udon shop to watch how it’s made, completely reminded me of everything that is great about this series. Seriously, this is the kind of manga where you suddenly realize you’re smiling and wonder how long you’ve been sitting there, doing that. Pizza, bubbles, cameras… these are a few of the things that fill Yotsuba with wonder in these pages, but the last page of the volume is the one that really made me laugh out loud and get verklempt all at the same time. Is this praise copious enough? If you haven’t read Yotsuba&!, what are you waiting for? Jeez, man. Get with it! – Michelle Smith