Welcome to Quick Takes at Manga Bookshelf, a new weekly feature, offering brief opinions of recent releases, particularly (but not exclusively) mid-series volumes of ongoing manga. We begin this week with releases from Del Rey Manga, Bandai Entertainment, Viz Media, and Dark Horse Manga.
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, Vol. 6 | By Koji Kumeta | Published by Del Rey Manga | Rated OT (16+) | Buy this book – The eternal challenge of a gag comic, of course, is to remain funny time and time again. And perhaps the additional challenge faced by a gag manga (especially in translation) is to continuously engage readers despite the fact that nothing ever really happens.
Western fans of manga (and this reviewer is no exception) have generally been lured into the medium by the promise of epic drama, romance, or adventure. How can a multi-volume series of stand-alone jokes ever hope to compete?
If any series has a chance, it’s this one. Six volumes in, this series funnier than ever. And though the humor remains sharp, its heavy reliance on culturally-specific jokes has declined just enough to satisfy even its early skeptics (or so one would hope). Highly recommended.
Lucky Star, Vol. 4 | By Kagami Yoshimizu | Published by Bandai Entertainment | Rated 13+ | Buy this book – Speaking of gag manga, perhaps the toughest sell of all to western manga fans is the 4-koma, a 4-panel style of manga similar to newspaper comic strips in the west. Despite widespread acclaim for Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daiho, 4-koma manga in general has had a fairly dismal track record among western readers.
Enter Lucky Star, a 4-koma manga that happens to be the basis for an insanely popular anime series of the same name. Given that fact, licensing the manga should have been a no-brainer. Sadly, Bandai’s early releases were marred by a nearly-unreadable translation that sucked all potential humor from this slice-of-life comedy.
Fortunately, those days are over. Though Lucky Star‘s otaku-focused humor may still be an acquired taste, translator William Flanagan (brought on to the project beginning with volume three) displays its charms to their greatest advantage, giving the series new life in the western market. For fans of the anime series, this volume is a must-buy. And for everyone else, it may finally be worth giving a try.
Kimi ni Todoke: From Me To You, Vol. 5 | By Karuho Shiina | Published by Viz Media | Rated Teen | Buy this book – With Sawako now aware of her feelings for Kazehaya, this series is finally able to focus on romantic feelings between some of its other characters, which adds extra depth to this volume and even to Sawako, who is able to get out of her own head enough to actually notice what’s going on. Also, Chizu and Ayane meet Sawako’s parents in this volume, which is worth the cover price all on its own.
As awesome as Sawako is as a character, this series’ greatest strengths rely heavily on the richness of its supporting characters, so it’s nice to see them get some dedicated “screen time” this time around.
This series is exceptionally slow-moving, even for a shojo romance manga, yet it still manages to be increasingly satisfying, chapter after chapter. Though this volume lacks the intensity of volume four’s bitter romantic rivalry, its quiet drama is considerably more poignant than anything the series has offered so far. It is, undoubtedly, my favorite yet. Recommended.
Okimono Kimono | By Mokona (CLAMP) | Published by Dark Horse Manga | Buy this book – Perhaps the most important thing to note when discussing Okimono Kimono is that though it is written by CLAMP’s Mokona and released specifically by a manga publisher, there is very little manga in this book. In fact, the short manga included near the end of this volume is perhaps its least interesting aspect overall.
That said, what this volume does offer is a beautiful introduction to the world of the kimono, highlighted by some of Mokona’s personal wardrobe as well as a few of her own designs. Manga fans unfamiliar with the conventions of kimono will be easily enticed by designs inspired by characters from xxxHolic (a kimono featuring the full wrath of the pipe fox is a personal favorite).
Mokona’s original designs offer a pleasant transition into the later depictions of more traditional kimono, some of which are likely to appear overly-busy and jarring to the western eye. A transcribed conversation between Mokona and Puffy AmiYumi’s Onuki Ami is a real treat, too, as Mokona indoctrinates Ami into the ways of the kimono.
Though CLAMP fans may be disappointed with this book’s lack of manga offerings, there is much to please anyone interested in a modern look at traditional Japanese dress.
Check back next weekend for more Quick Takes, here at Manga Bookshelf!
Review copies provided by the publishers.