This week, Melinda, Sean, Kate, and Michelle look at recent releases from VIZ Media and JManga.
Bakuman, Vol. 11 | By Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata | VIZ Media – I’ve always considered Bakuman to be a manga made up of pretty much equal parts “awesome” and “maddening,” and if that’s a decent description of the series as a whole, it’s especially applicable to volume eleven. In the category of “maddening,” we have the usual tiresome offenses against feminism—specifically the further domestication of Kaya, Takagi’s spunky but unambitious young wife, and the over-the-top vilification of Aiko Akina, the talented young writer who was first introduced as a girl too smart to be attractive to men. In the “awesome” column, on the other hand, is basically everything else, especially ongoing rivalry between our heroes and Eiji Nizuma and the artistry it elicits from both sides. By the end of the volume, even Akina is finally beginning to be portrayed as a worthwhile rival instead of the jealous harpy she’s been painted as all along. Overall, I’d probably call it a win. YMMV. – Melinda Beasi
A Devil And Her Love Song, Vol. 3 | By Miyoshi Tomori | VIZ Media – It’s becoming pretty clear that we’re in for the long haul as regards Maria being bullied, and this volume seems to continue the pattern of her winning over the class one by one. That said, ‘winning over’ is not the same thing as it was with Tomoyo or our two male love interests. Maria has genuine problems interacting with others, and even if you admire her ability to tell folks the truth straight up, you have to acknowledge it. The maskless Maria in this volume goes up against another girl who is putting up a facade, and is just as intolerant of it. I enjoyed the author’s depiction of the crush Hana has on Yusuke – it’s all about the awkward and childish, with very little ‘we were meant to be from the start. Plus, of course, it helps keep the romantic triangle involving Maria alive. – Sean Gaffney
Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll, Vol. 4 | Story & Art by Yumi Tsukirino, Original Concept by Chisato Seki | VIZ Media – I feel like a grinch for not succumbing to the charms of this Sanrio series, but Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll has all the warmth of a Transformers comic: it’s a slick, synthetic story in which the real aim is selling products, not creating memorable characters or representing real emotions. The second half of volume four is particularly egregious, as it focuses on the “girl” puppies’ efforts to become pop idols and date celebrities. There’s no doubt that tween girls fantasize about being famous, but the the stories are so neatly resolved that only the least discerning ten-year-old will find them convincing. About the best I can say for volume four is that the first batch of stories — in which the entire gang gets into the crepe-making business — are moderately amusing, as Cinnamoroll’s forest-dwelling neighbors ask for unusual fillings; the raccoons and chickens are a good foil for the prissy, sweets-eating pups. The rest of volume four suffers from their absence. – Katherine Dacey
Gokudou Meshi, Vol. 2 | Shigeru Tsuchiyama | JManga – I was really looking forward to the second volume of Gokudou Meshi and it didn’t disappoint, but that’s because I knew what to expect: tales of simple fare told by a nearly indistinguishable cast of inmates sitting around their cell in a Japanese prison. The food featured in this volume includes instant ramen, katsudon, spaghetti, and even canned pineapple juice. We also see the storytelling tradition spread from the original room 204 to room 307, at which point it becomes apparent that there’s absolutely nothing to be gained in trying to keep track of the characters, because they are utterly unimportant. Gokudou Meshi has stripped away the things that are not essential (plot, characters…) and instead focuses solely on the food. It’s a formula that works for me, though, and one that’s not unaffecting—now I need to find a place in town with good katsudon! – Michelle Smith
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 9 | By Hiroshi Hiibashi | VIZ Media – If you like shonen battles and you like yokai, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Rikuo trains in order to be able to face his newest enemies in Kyoto, and for those playing along ‘fear’ is apparently Nura’s version of ‘bankai’ or ‘haki’ or whatever you call a power-up in Jump. There’s new characters introduced, most of whom mistake Rikuo as a weakling before they learn better, and the villain marches through Kyoto curbstomping everyone and being arrogant. That said, I do sort of miss the initial plot of Nura trying to balance his human and yokai sides, which has gotten a bit lost amidst the battles. Now that his classmates are in danger (again) in Kyoto, perhaps we can get a bit more of a return to form. I’m not hopeful, though – the artist seems to love the yokai world far more than they do the human one.. – Sean Gaffney
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 7 | Art by Kairi Yura, Story by Sai Yukino | VIZ Media – I’ve always really liked The Story of Saiunkoku, but this volume made me love it. While Shurei continues to persevere at court in the face of tremendous hardship (winning some admiration in the process), there is a lot of other really interesting stuff going on, including Koyu’s doubts about whether his guardian truly cares for him, Seiran’s promise to watch over Shurei until she can stand on her own, and the arrival of Shurei’s uncle with plans to recall her to the Hong clan’s “main house” someday. As if that weren’t enough, there’s an accusation of favoritism regarding Shurei’s test results, an arrest, a confinement, and a liberal sprinkling of Ryuki being awesome. Really, this volume has it all. I can’t imagine anyone waffling on the quality of this series, but if you did have doubts, volume seven will put them to rest! – Michelle Smith