Reading Kaori Yuki is a little bit like eating a bag of Pop Rocks and washing it down with a can of Tab: the rush is undeniable, but the aftertaste is pretty gnarly. I swore off her manga years ago–too much stimulation for my taste–but her two latest series looked so snazzy I couldn’t resist giving her work a second chance.
Nine Is Enough might be a better title for Alice in Murderland, as it neatly summarizes the main plot: per their mother’s orders, the nine Kuonji children must fight to the death to determine who will inherit the family fortune. Of course, if you’ve read Godchild or Angel Sanctuary, you know that even Kaori Yuki’s most basic story ideas are complicated by a profusion of subplots and supporting characters. Alice in Murderland is no exception: Yuki introduces over thirty people in volume one, each of whom has a stake in the outcome of the Kuonji Battle Royale.
The characters are so hastily conceived, however, that their behavior makes no sense; when they turn on each other, those reversals register not as betrayals but as speed bumps on the road to the next gruesome showdown. Even the revelation that the Kuonji matriarch is a bandersnatch–no, really–barely makes an impression, as her breathless monologue about demonic powers is no more shocking or ridiculous than the violent melodrama that precedes it. (On the plus side, it does explain her rotten parenting skills.) The artwork, though attractive, barely hangs together; small wonder that Yuki relies so heavily on dialogue to plug the holes in her storytelling.
The verdict: No amount of Lewis Carroll references can disguise the fact the Alice in Murderland is a flaming hot mess.
In contrast to Alice in Murderland, Demon From Afar has a discernible storyline and real characters. Three teens–Sorath, Garan, and Kiyora–live on the estate of the wealthy, ruthless Baron Kamichika. As children, they found solace in each others’ company; as young adults, however, they unwittingly become pawns in their guardian’s elaborate scheme to achieve immortality.
Though Kaori Yuki can’t help but populate the fringes of the story with beautiful, inscrutable figures, the main narrative never loses it focus on Sorath, Garan, and Kiyora’s increasingly tenuous allegiance. The supernatural elements–another potential distraction–prove organic to the story as well; from the very first pages, it’s clear that Sorath possesses unusual powers, though we don’t see them fully manifested in volume one. Only Yuki’s decision to invoke Walpurgisnacht raises a few eyebrows: surely there was a Japanese festival or tradition that would have made more sense in the context of the Taisho-era setting. (The story takes place shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.) Faust tributes aside, Demon From Afar manages the difficult feat of juggling many stylistic sensibilities–horror, romance, teen angst–without sacrificing coherence or pacing.
The verdict: Demon From Afar won’t win the Tezuka Prize, but it scores points for readability and visual flair.
Reviews: Sad news for fans of ANN’s House of 1000 Manga: Jason Thompson and Shaenon Garrity have announced that their final column will run next week. To mark the occasion, Shaenon counts down her ten favorite manga from the House archives.
Deionte Coates on vol. 5 of Cardfight!! Vanguard (BentoByte)
Megan R. on City Hunter (The Manga Test Drive)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Demon From Afar (Manga Xanadu)
Adam Caps on Dream Fossil (BentoByte)
Holly Saiki on Dream Fossil (Examiner)
Leroy Douresseaux on Fragments of Horror (Comic Book Bin)
Sean Gaffney on Fragments of Horror (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Orrin Gray on Fragments of Horror (Innsmouth Free Press)
Vernieda Vergara on vols. 1-3 of The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Women Write About Comics)
Ash Brown on vol. 2 of Hide and Seek (Experiments in Manga)
Alice Vernon on Judge (Girls Like Comics)
Nic Wilcox on Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink: The Complete Collection (No Flying No Tights)
Sarah on vol. 1 of Love Stage! (Anime UK News)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 5 of Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (Sequential Tart)
Ken H. on vols. 5-8 of The Seven Deadly Sins (Sequential Ink)
Paige Sammartino on vol. 1 of A Silent Voice (Women Write About Comics)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (Comics Worth Reading)
Richard Eisenbeis on vols. 1-2 of Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops (Kotaku)
Thomas Maluck on vol. 1 of Sword Art Online: Progressive (No Flying No Tights)
Karen Maeda on vol. 6 of Terraformars (Sequential Tart)
Ian Wolf on Tony Takezaki’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (Anime UK News)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 7 of Toradora! (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 28 of Toriko (Sequential Tart)
Rob Clough on Trash Market (High-Low)
James Hadfield on Trash Market (The Japan Times)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Trinity Seven: The Seven Magicians (ICv2)