This week, Melinda, Michelle, and Sean look at recent releases from Yen Press, Vertical, Inc., and Viz Media.
Blood Lad, Vol. 3 | By Yuuki Kodama | Yen Press -I’ve liked Blood Lad from the start, but what’s most impressive about it is that it’s constantly surprising me with the ways in which it increases my affection. Though its fun, well-developed characters and humorous meta have been the series’ biggest draws so far, it goes further with both in this latest omnibus by making the meta about its character development. As Fuyumi’s true connections to the demon world are revealed, Staz agrees to a “curse” that forces him to respect her will by only allowing him to do anything with her for which she explicitly grants her permission. So now, after mulling over the difference between being the hero and the anti-hero, Staz must actively work to ensure that the objectified female love interest is granted full agency by the story itself, or (as far as he knows) risk his own death. I *heart* you, Blood Lad. – Melinda Beasi
BTOOOM!, Vol. 2 | By Junya Inoue | Yen Press – I’m rather torn on how I feel about BTOOOM!. On the one hand, it’s a quick, action-packed read about people on a deserted island being forced to participate in a deadly real-life version of a blow-’em-up video game, and the implication that the protagonist’s mother sent him into this environment on purpose is at least moderately intriguing. On the other, it’s completely lacking in any sort of depth, has mediocre art, and seems to revel in its gross and/or explicit content. A new player, a homicidal fourteen-year-old, is introduced in this volume, and of course we have to see him in the act of committing his particularly disturbing crime in the past. And the preview for volume three is entirely about whether a female player is going to be sexually assaulted, complete with extreme crotch closeup. While I don’t hate this series, this volume left me feeling unclean. I think I may be done. – Michelle Smith
Limit, Vol. 5 | By Keiko Suenobu | Vertical, Inc. – This volume begins as harrowingly as the last ended, but its trajectory after that I found truly surprising. As the original group is finally confronted with the truth of Usui’s death, they’re left with a problem that may truly be too much for them to handle. Amidst all the horror and chaos, one thing that has remained neatly black-and-white for the group up to this volume has been the subject of murder; guilty or not guilty? These were the only choices. So what to do now that things have become suddenly muddy, even on this point? What began as a tense survival tale has grown increasingly more complicated over the course of the series, finally forcing its characters into a position where they’ll have to make judgements they clearly aren’t prepared for. And I’m truly on the edge of my seat. Highly recommended. – Melinda Beasi
Psyren, Vol. 10 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro | Viz Media – I like how Psyren keeps its characterization grounded in the plot. After last volume, I was expecting “Research Subject 7” to be a sort of smiling mommy mentor type. Imagine my delight that she has nasty mood swings, is completely broken after all the trauma she faced, and removes herself from the battlefield as the best way to help our heroes. As for our heroes, they’re back in the present now (with some nice acknowledgement that if they win, the “future” Elmore Wood gang are stuck), and it’s back to trying to work out how to stop all this. Which may be even more difficult given that Sakurako seems to be losing her memories… and sense of self. At times Psyren feels like a sprawling mess, but when it’s on, it’s as exciting as any Jump series. I look forward to seeing how they march toward the ending.– Sean Gaffney
Strobe Edge, Vol. 4 | By Io Sakisaka | Viz Media – My favorite part of this volume was the attention paid to “beta couple” Daiki and Sayuri. I was afraid that after the first volume they’d be making only token appearances, but given that this is a manga about how difficult high school love affairs can be, it’s great to see everyone having to deal with it. Long-distance relationships can be especially rough, as they both learn. As for the rest of the cast, they all compete to see who can be the best at suffering stoically. Ren wins, of course, because he’s trying to be everything for everybody. I am rather impressed that Ninako has managed to keep her shiny happiness through these four volumes without really inching into depression for too long. I hope the same can be said for Mayuka, who the cliffhanger seems to indicate will be headed for a breakup soon.– Sean Gaffney