manga bookshelf

Bookshelf Briefs 9/19/11

This week, Kate, David, Sean, & Michelle take a look at recent releases from Viz Media, Digital Manga Publishing, Kodansha Comics, and Vertical, Inc.

Afterschool Charisma, Vol. 4 | By Kumiko Suekane | Viz Media – Afterschool Charisma has all the right ingredients to be a Kaori Yuki manga: there are impossibly attractive leads wearing fanciful costumes (see Florence Nightingale’s clone), evil bishies (see Rasputin’s clone), wackadoo plot twists (see Hitler and Napoleon’s clones), and excursions into taboo territory (see Joan of Arc’s clones). What sets Afterschool Charisma apart from Fairy Cube or Grand Guignol Orchestra, however, is that Kumiko Suekane uses action sequences to advance the plot and not just interrupt the talking. In so doing, Suekane liberates her characters from the burden of explaining what’s happening — a key shortcoming of Yuki’s storytelling, which often bogs down in long-winded exposition. Suekane isn’t as wildly imaginative as Yuki, but shows a similar talent for creating and sustaining a mood of almost unbearable dread, producing a story that’s both incredibly suspenseful and deliciously silly. Recommended. -Katherine Dacey

Kimi ni Todoke, Vol. 10 | By Karuho Shiina | Viz Media- Sometimes you can get frustrated with a series taking so long to buildup to what seems like an obvious conclusion. You stare at the leads misunderstanding each other over and over, and wish that they’d just get on with it. Of course, when they DO get together, and it’s even sweeter than you possibly imagined, you forget you were ever frustrated in the first place, because it’s all worth it. This is an entire volume of payoff. Right from the cover, which seems to be a mirror of the first volume, through our desire to KILL Joe for being what he is – an author-crafted character designed to get in the way, and through Pin once again being helpful and yet appalling at the same time, it’s all worth it for those wonderful scenes of Sawako and Kazehaya finally achieving enlightenment. I think it can best be summed up by the start of Chapter 42, where Sawako has written notes her herself all over her room telling her it wasn’t a dream. No, but it sure felt like one, huh?– Sean Gaffney

March Story, Vol. 3 | By Kim Hyung-Min and Yang Kyung-Il | Viz Media – After two hit-or-miss volumes, March Story has finally found its sea legs. The five stories that comprise volume three run the gamut from folklore (“Wedding March”) to horror (“Song of the Waves,” “The Sword-Maiden and the Glass Palace”) to comedy (“Extra Version”) while giving each of the principal characters a turn in the spotlight. It’s hard to single out one chapter as the volume’s highpoint, though “Ode to a Doll” comes close: the plot revolves around a toy who develops a deep attachment to its owner, going to extreme lengths to bring a lonely little girl a few moments of joy. As in the previous two installments, the artwork is a pleasing amalgam of stylistic influences from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away to Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. The character designs, faux-European settings, and objects are rendered in meticulous detail, making March Story one of the best-looking titles in the VIZ Signature line. Recommended. -Katherine Dacey

Mardock Scramble, Vol. 1 | Created by Tow Ubukata, manga by Yoshitoki Oima | Kodansha Comics – I’m probably as guilty as anyone of judging books by their covers, and I can’t say this one’s made a great impression, with its aggressively vulnerable but sexy waif gazing out at me. I was pleasantly surprised by the content behind that cover, though. It’s about a homeless prostitute who’s nearly murdered but ends up rescued and remade with amazing powers by an odd pair of private investigators. Our heroine, Rune Balot, adapts quickly to her new abilities to sense and control all of the electric currents around her, but she’s much less sure of her place in the world and even her willingness to stay in it. There’s a genuine gravitas to Rune and her plight, which elevates the book over its familiar and potentially pandering premise. Here quirky benefactors – a mad scientist named Dr. Easter and a great partner named Oeufcoque – have lots of promise. There is a lot of formula evident here, but there’s also a lot of sincere feeling and some fun surprises. – David Welsh

One Piece, Vol. 58 | By Eiichiro Oda | Published by Viz Media – Much like volume 57 before it—which saw the beginning of a battle at Marineford, where Luffy’s brother Ace is scheduled to be executed—the first half of volume 58 sidelines even Luffy (the only Straw Hat pirate we’ve seen in some time) to focus on the conflict between Whitebeard’s crew and the navy. That’s not to say that the conflict isn’t epic or interesting, but that it does not feel immediate. Not to worry, though, as Oda brings the emotional gut-punches to the second half of the volume, driving Luffy to the point of death to achieve his goal, reminding everyone of various familial or family-esque bonds, and then showing how such costly sacrifice can be squandered when one is unable to put aside their pride. This is tragedy, folks, in the Greek sense of the word. – Michelle Smith

Rabbit Man, Tiger Man, Vol. 1 | By Akira Honma | Digital Manga Publishing – In this yakuza-themed romance, Nonami, a brash mobster, falls in love with Uzuki, the timid doctor who saved him from bleeding to death in an alley. No yaoi cliche goes untouched: Nonami is boorish and heterosexual, but inexplicably and powerfully drawn to Uzuki, while Uzuki discovers that he’s attracted to Nonami, even though he’s sorely afraid of him. (Poor Uzuki sweats like a triathlete whenever Nonami calls him or walks into the same room.) Nothing about the characters or their relationship has a whiff of plausibility about it: is the Japanese economy so abysmal that Tokyo U. grads are really taking gigs as hit men? The artwork is Rabbit Man, Tiger Man‘s sole redeeming feature, as Honma demonstrates a flair for drawing handsome male characters and cute animal caricatures. Strictly for yaoi enthusiasts. -Katherine Dacey

Twin Spica, Vol. 9 | By Kou Yaginuma | Vertical – While this series is ultimately very gentle, I’m consistently impressed by the way Yaginuma makes the most of small character grace notes. In this volume, a relatively brief sequence shows an unexpected but rewarding side of Asumi, Yaginuma’s tiny, determined heroine. A younger student moves into her rooming house, and Asumi is troubled by the lack of respect she receives from the newcomer. One of Asumi’s defining traits is that she looks so much younger than she actually is, but it’s never really shown as bothering her. She compensates by redoubling her efforts. Now, she’s presented with someone who isn’t aware of those efforts, and just reacts to Asumi’s surface. It results in a few extremely telling moments that give Asumi the luxury of being a little egotistical and one of her friends the chance to show how well he understands Asumi. It’s not a seismic event, but it really adds to the overall narrative. – David Welsh

Velveteen & Mandala | By Jiro Matsumoto | Vertical – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, besides ‘alternative’. I was surprised, therefore, to find that it held my attention for almost the entire volume. Yes, I could have done without the casual body humor, and the fourth-wall breaking, normally something I’m quite fond of, didn’t really work for me in this setting. But much of the volume is spent trying to figure out what’s going on – how much of what Velveteen and the Super say is true; is this is post-apocalypse, the afterlife, or something in between; what’s alive, dead, or a zombie; and the entire problem of whether one of the two leads actually exists. I thought that it fell down a bit right at the end – after Velveteen is hit by the car, things fell apart for me. But just because the ending didn’t quite satisfy dind’t mean the journey wasn’t worth it. And I did love both final images of the heroines, each of which give a strange hope that isn’t anywhere in the actual narrative. Flawed, and not for the easily grossed out, but worthy.– Sean Gaffney

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  1. I’m waiting for Velveteen and Mandala to be delivered but I think I’d better order Mardock Scramble. Every review that I’ve read has been a positive one. Must have!

    Great reviews guys and gals!


  1. […] more on relationships than smut at PLAYBACK:stl. The Manga Bookshelf team hands in a fresh set of Bookshelf Briefs to start the new […]

  2. […] (like me), I have reviews of Kimi ni Todoke 10 and Velveteen & Mandala in this week’s Bookshelf Briefs. Bookmark It Hide Sites $$('div.d1513').each( function(e) { […]

  3. […] not to be overlooked. (In other Kodansha news, I thought the first volume of Mardock Scramble was fairly promising, and I barely escaped the first volume of the unbearably shrill Animal Land with my sanity intact, […]

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