This week, Sean, Anna, & Michelle look at recent releases from Seven Seas, Viz Media, SuBLime, and Kodansha Comics.
Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter’s Late Night Tea Party, Vol. 2 | By QuinRose and Riko Sakura | Seven Seas – If this were the first Alice volume that a casual reader had read, I think they’d be pretty satisfied. At only two volumes, Alice and Blood not connecting doesn’t last long, there’s lots of discussion of the basic themes of this world, and we get some mafia madness with a few timely rescues. As someone who’s been following all the spinoffs, though, it’s all a bit same-y. It’s likely a lot easier with the game, where you can purchase one copy and explore all the different routes. Here, as individual manga series, it’s like starting over again each time, with a slightly diminished return. Some of the spinoffs make it worth seeing what they do to poor Alice, but while this is skillfully done, there’s nothing here we haven’t read before, so in the end it’s inessential. – Sean Gaffney
Crimson Empire: Circumstances To Serve A Noble, Vol. 3 | By QuinRose and Hazuki Futaba | Seven Seas – With the Alice series, while she’s quite a good protagonist, I tend to be more interested in her male partners. In this series, it’s the reverse – I find the men rather dull, but Sheila fascinates me. There’s a core of self-loathing to her that Alice simply doesn’t have, even with the tragedy in her life that she’s forgotten. Indeed, even after her lover wins the day, and the two admit they’re in love, Sheila still thinks nothing has changed, except now she’ll be bodyguard for a different man. Sheila IS her profession, which is assassin/bodyguard ninja maid. Anything else is just beyond her, both subconsciously and consciously. And that’ means that despite its happy ending, Crimson Empire seems a lot more melancholy than Alice in the Country of Hearts. – Sean Gaffney
Fairy Tail, Vol. 33 | By Hiro Mashima | Kodansha Comics – After a somewhat teeth-grinding Vol. 32, it’s nice to see *some* things go our heroes’ way in this volume. Mirajane wins, as expected, but she gets the comedic fanservice win – though it does end in a powerful finish. Elfman also impresses, taking the fight that was supposed to be Erza’s and managing to be the manlier man. There’s a few other amusing things here as well, which is good, because there are implications of very dark things to come. Saber Tooth and Raven Tail are looking like even worse guilds than we expected, and the way they’re treating their members (female, of course – Mashima tends to have his women suffer nobly) is horrid. And what does Lucy have to do with everyone’s plans? This volume has a good balance between ‘tournament battle’ and other plot, overall.. – Sean Gaffney
Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 15 | By Yuki Midorikawa | Viz Media – I don’t even know where to begin in expressing my utter adoration for this series in general and this volume in particular. There’s just so much to love: the wistful tone, the episodic stories that still advance the overall plot; the comic relief provided by Nyanko-sensei; the yokai, who are often sweet, sad, and endearing; and, of course, Natsume himself, who is better able to discover the reasons for yokai activity at a former exorcist’s home than anyone else and single-handedly responsible for resolving things peacefully. As if all of this weren’t great enough (and it is), the last chapter in the volume is a special episode about Toko and Shigeru, the distant relatives who took Natsume in when the rest of his family had written him off as disturbed. It is simply lovely and prompted many a sniffle. Natsume’s Book of Friends is a true gem. – Michelle Smith
NightS | By Kou Yoneda | SuBLime Manga – Having enjoyed Kou Yoneda’s No Touching At All back in 2011, I was pretty eager to check out NightS, even though it’s a compilation of short stories, which aren’t really my thing. None of the stories included here is terribly unique in premise—an attraction between a “transporter” and a yakuza, a fairly standard high school romance, love blooming at the car dealership—but Yoneda fills her stories with intelligent, natural-seeming dialogue and characters (well, at least the adult ones) with interesting personality quirks and flaws that impact how they approach relationships. While the format prevents achieving much depth, and hence prevents the volume from matching No Touching At All for quality, it’s nonetheless an enjoyable read. – Michelle Smith
Pokemon the Movie: Genesect and the Legend Awakened | by Momota Inoue | Viz Media I have to admit, I am not really all that interested in Pokemon, but Pokemon fever is raging through my kids’ elementary school, so I read this book with them. This is a stand alone one-shot movie adaptation centering around the story of an ancient Pokemon called Genesect who has suddenly awakened, causing trouble for the present day Pokemon and their trainers. Mewtwo takes on an important role in dealing with the Genesect, although Ash and Pikachu also contribute. The art is consistent, my kids enjoyed spotting all the Pokemon, and they smuggled it out of the house to show off at school. So if you have young Pokemon fans, I feel safe in predicting that this manga will appeal to them! – Anna N
Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, Vol. 2 | By Nobuhiro Watsuki | Viz Media – This wraps up the revisiting of Rurouni Kenshin prompted by the recent live action movie. Really, the original series was so great, revisiting the series in a slightly different form wasn’t really all that necessary. Still it was nice to be reminded of Watsuki’s facility with character design, especially the villians, and most characters from Kenshin got a little bit of a showcase. This second volume featured more turns from Saito and Yahiko, as they also battle in the Meiji era. Even Watsuki’s author notes seem to indicate that he was going through the motions a little bit, pointing out small things that he changed that he ended up regretting. Really, the original series is so much more charming than this version, most people would be better off just picking up some of the VizBig versions if they are interesting in reading this shonen classic. – Anna N