This week, Melinda, Sean, & Michelle look at recent releases from VIZ Media, Kodansha Comics, and Yen Press.
Bakuman, Vol. 17 | By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata | VIZ Media – As a running meta-commentary on shounen manga, it was perhaps inevitable that Bakuman‘s focus would one day shift from friendly rivalry to something with a real villain. Sadly, the further Bakuman strays from reality, the less interesting it becomes. Though its heroes’ journey as up-and-coming mangaka has long eschewed any shred of realism in terms of an artist’s daily survival (like having to eat or pay the rent), the boys’ struggles with their craft and the pursuit of commercial success were always grounded enough to ring true. Now, with the addition of a corporate super-villain and the manga creator’s equivalent of a doomsday machine, that foundation of truth is rapidly eroding. Though Bakuman is necessarily Jump-friendly, this was always carefully balanced by an affectionately critical eye. But the spectacular nature of villain Nanamine’s anti-editorial scheme only serves to underline its industry biases. Questionably recommended. - Melinda Beasi
Jiu Jiu, Vol. 3 | By Touya Tobina | VIZ Media – I feel like I should be liking Jiu Jiu more than I am. There’s a lot of good stuff here. I always enjoy political machinations in a manga, which this has plenty of. There’s many and varied characters here, most tying into our heroine, including the ex-fiance she hates and the fiance she’s seemingly cool to. And there are some excellent funny moments (the two ‘explanations’ of her family) and well laid-out action scenes (the climax of the volume). But in the end I’m still not quite into it. Could be that I still find Snow and Night somewhat annoying as bodyguards/familiars to a far more interesting heroine. Could simply be too many characters and plots introduced too fast. And it could be this series benefits, like Bleach, from being read in large, 5-volume-at-a-time chunks. But I’ll keep pecking away at it. -Sean Gaffney
Missions of Love, Vol. 2 | By Ema Toyama | Kodansha Comics – I’m enjoying this series quite a bit, mainly because the three leads are all a bit more screwed up than I’m used to with Nakayoshi titles. Yukina seems ignorant of not merely love but basic emotions in general, particularly in regards to other people’s feelings. Shigure is still basically a jerk, but to be fair to him he’s being given constant mixed signals and is discovering that there may be a girl behind all this he can like. And Akira is seemingly the nice childhood friend who will end up second best after all is said and done, but there’s a dangerous side to him that pops up here, and I don’t think we’re done seeing it. After two volumes I’m still not quite sure where this will be going, and I don’t really identify with anyone yet because they’re all slightly too annoying (but only slightly). Fantastic. Lure me in more! -Sean Gaffney
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 12 | By Hiroshi Shiibashi | VIZ Media – Long arc is long, and we’re still battling the forces of evil in Kyoto. I am impressed with the evilness of the forces of evil, speaking of which – we see them killing off sweet young things here, and the resurrection they’re trying to bring about is going swimmingly. Meanwhile, Yuki-onna is kidnapped, and Nura is completely curbstomped. You know what this means: more training. Yes, even during an apocalypse, there’s still time to train. The bulk of the action goes to disconnected head-guy Kubinashi and sexy oiran-type Kejoro, who have a backstory that’s developed quite well here. (Are they a couple? Who knows, this is Jump.) So there’s a lot going on, and most of it is interesting, but at the end we’re seemingly no closer to finishing this very long battle. Ah well. -Sean Gaffney
Raiders, Vol. 9 | By JinJun Park | Yen Press - Up until now, each volume of Raiders had parts that were confusing, but I’m happy to say that here at the end, things make more sense. True, I’m not exactly sure how we got here, but I at least understand what happened in the end and can feel a sense of closure. Otherwise, characters get what they want, characters make hard choices, characters suddenly tap into hidden reserves of power, characters engage in epic battles with the Big Bad… There’s one particularly surreal scene where the protagonist’s severed head wails over the apparent death of a comrade. That’s imagery you don’t see every day. Anyway, after a generous amount of philosophizing, and some unexpected and thoroughly welcome ambiguities concerning our protagonist’s future, Raiders wraps in a satisfying fashion. This series has been unique in that it kept me reading despite its occasional abstruseness, and ultimately, I’m glad I stuck with it. - Michelle Smith
Strobe Edge, Vol. 2 | By Io Sakisaka | VIZ Media – So, if you’re going to confess and get rejected, but still note that the love feelings don’t go away, you’d best be prepared for dealing with them every single day. That’s what Ninako is doing here, and it’s tough – Ren is hard to read, she runs into him or works with him constantly, and there a new irritating smug guy who simply won’t let her forget about it. And even worse, he has a girlfriend. And she’s nice, dammit. In fact, the best part of the volume for me was the last quarter, a side-story showing how Ren and Mayuka met and fell in love. It helps to make Mayuka more than simply ‘the rival’, but someone who could easily star in her own shoujo manga with Ninako as the one trying to take her man. It takes things to another level, and helped make this volume of Strobe Edge particularly excellent. -Sean Gaffney