manga bookshelf

Bookshelf Briefs 10/24/11

This week, David, Kate, Melinda, Michelle, & Sean take a look at recent releases from NBM/Comics Lit, Viz Media, Kodansha Comics, and Vertical, Inc.

Black Jack, Vol. 16 | By Osamu Tezuka | Vertical, Inc. – One of the many great things about Black Jack is that it keeps giving me new reasons to praise it, even in its penultimate volume. The quality that really asserts itself in this volume is the tremendous variety of story types Tezuka provides. There’s sentimental romance, creepy revenge drama, potentially lethal hubris, fraternal turmoil, and, in a dazzling, extra-long piece, a blend of baffling medical mystery, religious argument, and geopolitical drama all in one. It’s hard to think of a series that provides better volume-to-volume value than Black Jack, especially when you consider Tezuka’s bodacious skills as an entertainer and his seemingly limitless ambition as an artist. Yes, his long-form pieces are breathtaking, but you get a fuller sense of his genius when you see what he can do with 20-odd pulp-infused pages. And you get a great deal of entertainment along the way. What more could you ask? – David Welsh

Blue Exorcist, Vol. 4 | By Kazue Kato | VIZ Media – Unusually for a Jump manga, the fighting is not really drawing me into Blue Exorcist – it’s straight out of the Boy’s Book of Shonen. What is interesting here is Rin’s continual struggle against revealing his powers, and the reaction of everyone else once they do get revealed. It’s clearly a long-term plot – to our surprise, his friends do not immediately say “Oh, it’s OK, you’re just Rin to us”, but seem genuinely unnerved that Rin is the son of Satan. It’s a reminder that this is not something to be taken lightly in this series, and that Satan is not just a wacky final end boss. Meanwhile, Mephisto continues to show why he’s one of the better ‘playing all sides against one another’ long planners, and Shura and Yukio have a nicely developing relationship. As always, it’s the characters that make a series likeable. – Sean Gaffney

House of Five Leaves, Vol. 4 | By Natsume Ono | VIZ Media – With a delicate web of relationships already in place, it doesn’t immediately strike me as profitable for Ono to introduce a significant newcomer to her beguilingly battered gang of kidnappers. Given the new character’s puckish youth, it’s not unreasonable to detect a bit of Cousin Oliver Syndrome in play. But while the arrival of Ginta, a self-declared negotiator, seems a bit improvisational, it ends up moving the narrative forward in some satisfying and unexpected ways. Ginta is bright and observant, but he’s also got a reservoir of bitterness and distrust, so he fits right in with the damaged goods of the Five Leaves. He also disrupts their very controlled methodology and adds to the mounting worries of their leader, Yaichi. My conclusion is that, while Ono may not have every beat and twist of this story mapped out in advance, she’s got a very sure hand on the tone that story evokes. Highly recommended. – David Welsh

Mameshiba ♥ Winter | By Traci N. Todd and Thomas Flintham | VIZ Media – Based on the original characters by Sukwon Kim, Mameshiba ♥ Winter follows the adventures of a collection of adorable creatures (some kind of cross between beans and dogs) as they attempt to build the perfect snow castle. This is a children’s picture book, short on plot (well, short in general) and geared towards activity more than reading overall. Only twelve pages long, the real focus of the book is a pop-up snow castle at the end and a selection of pop-out Mameshiba, complete with ornamental stickers. None of the Mameshiba are well-introduced here, so previous familiarity with the franchise is recommended, especially for kids on the older end of its target audience, who might otherwise wondering who all these characters are. Though the story seems unsubstantial, even for a picture book, it’s pretty difficult not to be charmed by the super-cute Mameshiba. Lighthearted activity for a snowy afternoon. – Melinda Beasi

Psyren, Vol. 1 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro | VIZ MediaGantz with training wheels — that’s how I’d describe this mediocre addition to the Shonen Jump line. Like Gantz, Psyren deposits a large and varied cast of characters in an alternate reality, forcing them to participate in a contest reminiscent of a video game. The winners live to play another day; the losers die in gruesome fashion, often after disregarding advice from the story’s youthful hero. Though Psyren isn’t nearly as slick or violent as Gantz, it does have one big advantage over its seinen big brother: Amamiya, who turns out to be one of the toughest, smartest participants in the game, showing her male peers that true grit isn’t necessarily about physical strength or speed (though she’s pretty handy with a sword). The art is serviceable, but not particularly memorable, an observation that could be extended to the script and characters as well. – Katherine Dacey

Skip Beat!, Vol. 25 | By Yoshiki Nakamura | VIZ Media – First off, thanks to Viz for not licensing Tokyo Crazy Paradise, so I can make that “from the creator of” joke for at least another few months. Now for the main event. Clearly Kyoko and Ren will be the final couple whenever Skip Beat! decides to end, but I have to admit I still find Sho the more fascinating of the two lead males. I don’t *like* him more than Ren, but there’s a fantastic cunning to him, and he’s never more at his best than when he’s burning with jealous hatred. His move here to get Kyoko to think of only him is brilliant in its godawful dickishness, and Ren’s response, whiole very sweet, doesn’t quite pack the same emotional punch. I actually preferred Ren threatening Kyoko – a nice reminder of his true feelings. All this plus some cute Moko scenes. Now that Valentine’s is over, what’s next? – Sean Gaffney

Stargazing Dog | By Takashi Murakami | NBM Comics Lit – I may be a cat person, but I am certainly not immune to the touching tale of a good-hearted and grateful dog who is faithful to his master until the very end. Christened “Happie” by the little girl who plucked him out of a cardboard box, the cheerful dog chronicles the gradual changes in his owners’ lives, culminating in a divorce and a seaward journey with “Daddy,” who gradually loses what little possessions he has left. The outcome of the story is made clear from the beginning, but that doesn’t make what transpires any less poignant. My one complaint—setting aside the various typos plaguing the volume—is that NBM chose to flip the art. Backwards signage and sound effects are distracting enough on their own, but when dialogue expressly states that they’re keeping the sea on their left and when it is subsequenly shown to be on their right, it’s downright annoying. – Michelle Smith

The Wallflower, Vol. 26 | By Tomoko Hayakawa | Kodansha Comics – In case anyone is still reading this in order to get some romantic resolution, please. Stop. You’re only hurting yourself. There is no development here, the author has admitted she has no idea how to romantically resolve anything, and all we have is comedy hijinks we’ve seen before. That said, it’s pleasant enough – there’s nothing egregiously bad about this volume, and once you place your desires in park, it can be quite fun. The best chapter is probably the final one, where some boys from class use Sunako’s creepiness as part of a plan to excuse their bad grades – it’s a nice parody of the power of parent organizations. The worst chapter is the one with Sunako’s aunt, which contains not one thing we haven’t seen before. If you buy things out of pure inertia, you’ll still enjoy this. If you don’t, you likely dropped it long ago. – Sean Gaffney

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