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Bookshelf Briefs, 11/7/11

This week, Kate, David, Sean, & Michelle look at recent releases from Yen Press, Kodansha Comics, and Viz Media.

Black Bird, Vol. 11 | By Kanoko Sakurakoji | VIZ Media – Reading the newest installment of Black Bird, I can see why the series has been a perennial bestseller: the cast is comprised of achingly beautiful young men in yukatas, all of whom are captivated by the heroine. The story, too, has crack potential, as it involves demon clan warfare, fragile political alliances, age-old prophecies, and sex. What’s missing is a compelling heroine. Eleven volumes into Black Bird, Misao remains as helpless as she did in the very first chapters, enduring Kyo’s grouchy, possessive behavior, an enemy’s memory-erasing spells, and other demons’ violent attempts to drink her blood. Adding insult to injury is the author’s insistence that Kyo is really a good, soulful person underneath his brusque exterior, a side of his personality that only Misao can see. As someone who’s old enough to have dated a few jerks, I find that kind of relationship as tedious on paper as it is in real life, even if the lead character is a handsome male tengu. – Katherine Dacey

A Bride’s Story, Vol. 2 | By Kaoru Mori | Yen Press – I had argued that I found the first volume of A Bride’s Story very well-done, but a bit cold, like looking at a piece of art in a museum. I’m pleased to say that Volume 2 draws me in a lot more. Amir still tends to be a cipher at times, but the author compensates for that by pairing her with more emotional characters – the hotheaded and perpetually frustrated Pariya, or her youthful husband Karluk, with whom she gets probably the best two scenes in the book. But there’s more action here as well, as Amir’s family come to take her back so they can forge a better relationship with less savory neighbors. Seeing the townspeople riding up to protect her is awesome – indeed, Amir has trouble taking it all in. Even Dr. Smith, who seemed to be the comedy Westerner in Volume 1, gets some excellent depth here, and I do wonder if we’ll be seeing more of him in future volumes. Indeed, the author’s notes hint we might see the focus change to other brides? I hope not – Amir’s story still needs closure.– Sean Gaffney

Fairy Tail, Vol. 15 | By Hiro Mashima | Kodansha Comics – As with many shonen mangas of its type, this volume of Fairy Tail is taken up with a lot of battles, as the Laxus fights come to their natural conclusion. This gives Erza another chance to be awesome, of course, and shows that Fairy Tail’s camaraderie and willingness to work together will always trump a quest for sheer power like Laxus has gone through. But I expect, despite the fact that the fights are of decent quality and the characterization decent, everyone will be discussing the Ass Pull of a character return we get with Mystogan’s real identity. If it were deconstructed, such as with Cross Game, it might be decent, but we get the reveal and then the character simply walks away – the whole scene reads like a ratings grabber for sweeps time, and sucks the soul out of much of the book. Oh well, the rest of it is fairly solid. I hope the arc wraps up in the next volume, though. – Sean Gaffney

Grand Guignol Orchestra, Vol. 5 | By Kaori Yuki | VIZ Media – The fifth and final volume of Grand Guignol Orchestra is a gorgeous mess. Though Kaori Yuki’s artwork remains as attractive as ever, she still hasn’t mastered the art of bringing her stories to a satisfying conclusion. The series’ penultimate scene is a long, confusing sequence of double-crosses, overwrought speeches, and bolt-from-the-blue revelations that make little sense even within the parameters of the Grand Guignol universe. A more sedate epilogue ties up the loose ends, hinting of what Yuki is capable of doing when she dials down the histrionics. The volume is rounded out with a lengthy story, “Camelot Garden,” which quotes liberally from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” to diminishing returns. – Katherine Dacey

Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 10 | By Yuki Midorikawa | VIZ Media – The latest volume of Natsume’s Book of Friends features two longer stories. In the first, “False Friend,” a bully from Natsume’s past returns when he suspects that he’s had an encounter with the supernatural, while in the second, “The Harvest Festival,” Natsume must rescue a guardian spirit who’s been sealed inside a rock. Both stories are well-executed, with crack pacing, memorable demons, and just enough ambiguity to keep the reading guessing at the outcome, even though Natsume’s fundamental decency is never in doubt. As an added bonus, Yuki Midorikawa’s artwork is improving steadily with each volume, yielding some simple but astonishing images. Recommended. – Katherine Dacey

Pandora Hearts, Vol. 7 | By Jun Mochizuki | Yen Press – After a seemingly random detour to Lutwidge Academy (the school attended by Oz’s sister) provides information about “the tragedy of Sablier,” Pandora Hearts resumes its original mission, with Oz determined to learn the truth about why he was sent to the Abyss and his companion, Alice, renewing her search for her missing memories, even though they may be too traumatic to bear. Sometimes this series is hard to follow—this volume certainly contains a few abrupt segues—but it continues to deliver on character arcs. Sure, Oz’s desire to grow stronger pretty generic, but I quite like the plight of his childhood friend, Gilbert, who faces a future where his aid is less useful to Oz, and newish character Elliot has some intriguing potential as well. Add in a bit of background for enigmatic and eccentric Break, and this is quite a satisfying volume! – Michelle Smith

Soul Eater, Vol. 7 | By Atsushi Ohkubo | Yen Press – This volume is less exciting than the previous ones, mostly as the last arc has ended and the author is taking his time setting up the new one. This is not to say there is nothing of interest, though. Soul Eater continues to appeal to me for its artistic design, which manages to combine funny and creepy better than anyone else – even Franken Fran should take lessons from Ohkubo. After Medusa, Arachnae seems underwhelming so far, but she’s only just established herself. Not to mention that Medusa – or at least hallucinations of her – isn’t far away, and I wonder what Stein will do. The biggest surprise of the series to date, though, is seeing Crona join the side of the good guys – despite remaining a twitching mess, and still having that double personality of a weapon inside him/her. It’s a testament to Maka’s friendship building skills that Crona’s trying at all. And it wouldn’t be Soul Eater without at least one drop-dead funny scene – Marie’s introduction, and her decision to marry a toilet, immediately tells us that she is a Christmas Cake of the finest kind, and I hope she gets more to do later. Great fun, even if this volume is ‘shifting gears’ more than ‘constant thrills’. – Sean Gaffney

The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 5 | By Kairi Yura and Sai Yukino | VIZ Media – Much as I love this series, this volume is kind of a mess in terms of storytelling. It starts with a pleasant-enough but forgettable sequence with its heroine, Shurei, suffering from a cold and her devoted circle of men trying to make her feel better while dealing with their own rivalries. It’s cute, but it feels like a side story in a series where volumes usually launch strongly. The main story introduces a heap of plot elements too quickly, from the impending civil service exam to the nation’s criminal underworld to an admittedly awesome courtesan of Shurei’s acquaintance. The characters still shine through all of the clutter, but I missed the focused clarity of previous story arcs. It felt less like a complete reading experience than previous volumes. On the bright side, Yura does maintain the admirable level of prettiness she’s always brought to her illustrations. – David Welsh

Yotsuba&!, Vol. 10 | By Kiyohiko Azuma | Yen Press – The tag line of this series, “Enjoy everything,” pretty much says it all. Readers get the opportunity to follow an energetic, quirky kid through the average moments of her life. She hangs out with friends, family, and neighbors. She invents games, makes pancakes, goes shopping, and occasionally misbehaves. Azuma’s grasp of kid logic elevates the material from being simply identifiable to hitting some wonderful comic highs. When she gets a picture book with animal stickers in it, her delight manifests itself very specifically: “Ohhh… this is a lifesaver.” That’s funny, because it isn’t something you’d expect a kid to say, but it’s extra funny, because you can absolutely see a kid saying it. That’s Azuma’s specialty: a grounded approach that finds the little bits of weirdness in everyday life, going easy on the outright sentiment while still investing everything with a heartfelt quality. It’s kind of magical. – David Welsh

Yotsuba&!, Vol. 10 | By Kiyohiko Azuma | Yen Press – It’s hard to know how to review a volume of Yotsuba&!. I mean, it’s just sweet, y’know? There’s just lots of moments in this volume that are simply worth reading. Jumbo’s reaction to seeing photos of Asagi and Koiwai at the balloon fair; Asagi’s casual cruelty towards Fuuka when she lends Yotsuba the medicine ball; Fuuka showing that she may actually be the most eccentric one in the cast, rather than Yotsuba; Yotsuba’s frustration over not making perfect pancakes, and Miura’s frustration later on knowing that she may have to play Danbo FOREVER. The best chapter, though, is the one where Yotsuba panicked after breaking some dishes, lies about how it happened. What follows is pure beauty, with Yotsuba digging herself deeper and deeper and her father managing to brilliantly resolve things without yelling at her – in fact, his passive terrifying may be the best deterrent there is. Heck, even Yanda is tolerable here (though he’s still a jerk). Great series.– Sean Gaffney

Yotsuba&!, Vol. 10 | By Kiyohiko Azuma | Yen Press – It’s been nearly a year since I last read a volume of Yotsuba&!, and that was definitely way too long. I dove into this volume with relish and happily found that the first chapter, “Yotsuba & Playtime,” is quintessential Yotsuba&!, showing the title character at her most imaginative and her father at his most patient, even when her behavior borders on obnoxious. And, indeed, the fact that Yotsuba is capable of sulking and lying actually makes her adventures all the more wonderful because, in addition to ringing true, these moments give her father a chance to shine as he makes sure she learns the right lessons. He’s an intriguing guy and a terrific dad and I hope that whenever this series comes to an end we’ll get a glimpse of the kind of grown-up Yotsuba turned out to be thanks to his loving guidance. – Michelle Smith

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  1. “a bit cold, like looking at a piece of art in a museum”

    You must be looking at the wrong art. There’s little to compare to the thrill and feeling of standing in front of a really powerful painting (for example).

  2. Yotsuba&! 10 was a very cool release, one I waited a long time for. However, the most important offering this month for me was Nabari no Ou 8. One of my favorite series, my second favorite volume in the entire series, and 8 even has my favorite character on the cover! Much gleeful dancing was done when it came in the mail today. This series doesn’t get enough love. The first few volumes are kind of eh, but rest of the series has huge payoff. (In my opinion, obviously.)


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