This week, Michelle, Melinda, and Sean look at recent releases from VIZ Media and Vertical, Inc.
The Drops of God: New World | By Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto | Vertical, Inc. - Rather than release a fifth volume of this series, which would’ve included volumes nine and ten of the original release, Vertical has jumped ahead to this New World arc (volumes 22 and 23 of the original), which focuses on wines from regions without a long-established winemaking tradition, particularly the US and Australia. It’s incredibly easy to jump back into the story even after a gap of over a dozen volumes, since so little changes with the characters., though Issei is a lot more prominent now and his hair has mysteriously gotten cuter. Highfalutin’ descriptions of wine still abound, and still make me roll my eyes with regularity, but there’s something captivating about this series that keeps me reading. Honestly, it’s more the sports manga-like themes of perseverence and presumed eventual triumph than the subject matter or the characters, but that’s enough for me. - Michelle Smith
The Flowers of Evil, Vol. 3 | By Shuzo Oshimi | Vertical, Inc. - There are a number of scenarios I might have imagined coming out of the rather stunning final pages of the second volume of The Flowers of Evil, but this series continues to be fresh and surprising in just about every way. Oshimi’s characters refuse to fall into neat categories, while still managing to ring true—in fact they feel truer with each page. Volume three is unexpectedly moving as Kasuga comes to the surprisingly insightful realization that putting his dream girl on a pedestal is not the same thing as loving her, and as all three of the series’ main characters are faced with truths they weren’t quite prepared for. If this series’ first volume read mainly as “better than Sundome” its third proves that it is really so much more. Highly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Jiu Jiu, Vol. 2 | By Touya Tobina | VIZ Media - After being so thoroughly unimpressed with the first volume of Jiu Jiu, I wasn’t expecting much from the second volume. Perhaps, then, my low expectations are the reason that I somehow now feel more kindly disposed towards the series, even though it’s still pretty generic and aimless and has weirdly proportioned art. I haven’t been moved to care more about Takamichi, Snow, and Night as characters, but I don’t hate the plot wherein the boys/dogs want to assert their independence, or that they’re prodded in this direction by Meru, a mischievous new character who spends part of his time in the form of a super-cute vampire pig. I hate to think a vampire pig is all it takes to sway me, but at least it’s something unique, which this series desperately needed. – Michelle Smith
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 11 | By Hiroshi Shiibashi | VIZ Media – In a contest for ‘Jump manga that varies most in quality’, Nura may not have any serious competition. This particular volume is mostly one long battle, which I generally don’t like to begin with, and unfortunately the author does not manage to save much of it from excessive tedium. There’s a focus in the middle on Awashima, who changes sex depending on whether it’s light or dark (so is rather grumpy about the darkness of Kyoto, keeping her female all the time), which is meant to show her accepting both sides of her, I think, but simply reads as an annoying diversion. At least towards the end we get a really nasty bad guy, who proceeds to take all our heroes and crumple them into little balls of failure. I suspect Nura will get his revenge in Vol. 12, hopefully in a more interesting way. -Sean Gaffney
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 8 | By Kairi Yura and Sai Yukino | VIZ Media – It really is startling how much I’ve come to love this series. I think it’s the fact that all the court intrigue and scheming is presented in both a positive *and* negative light, with the best schemers winning because they are smarter and more devious than the bad guy. This is a series that has a lot of handsome men relying on people underestimating them, which is nice but means the author has to have them be savvy enough to back that up. It works very well here. Our heroine Shurei does very well keeping up with everyone, and is starting to chip away at the ‘she is a woman and therefore weak’ attitude in the court. Well, given the last chapter, she’s going to get a lot more chances to do that in the future. All this plus a tiny bit of romance again. Saiunkoku is simply a great story, full stop. -Sean Gaffney
Toriko, Vol. 12 | By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro | Viz Media – Toriko fares much better than Nura this time around, mostly as it’s between arcs and has therefore gotten away from the standard Jump ’2-3 volumes of people punching each other hard’ syndrome. Instead, we get to see the results of Century Soup, and then set out on a new arc, as Toriko is told he’s not really strong enough yet to take on the Gourmet World. So he does some training by climbing a ten-thousand-meter plus vine to a sky garden with the best vegetables in the world. Actually, Komatsu is the one who really impresses here – not that he does anything, but his simple willingness to carry on is amazing. Toriko is all about world building, which is what makes it so much fun – the combination of food, fighting, and larger than life characters. I also suspect our hero is in for some harsh reality soon, though… -Sean Gaffney