This week, Kate, David, MJ, & Michelle look at recent releases from Kodansha Comics, Viz Media, and Vertical, Inc.
Animal Land, Vol. 1 | By Makoto Raiku | Kodansha Comics – This odd little fable focuses on Monoko, a tanuki who discovers a human baby at the edge of a river. Monoko, herself an orphan, immediately identifies with Tarozo’s plight, and vows to raise him herself — a vow complicated by many factors, including an abundance of dangerous predators lurking just outside the tanukis’ village. Whether you’ll like Animal Land depends on how you feel about the tanukis, as they look like theme-park mascots with grotesquely oversized ears and china-doll faces. (I suppose we should be thankful that Makoto Raiku didn’t follow convention in super-sizing other parts of the tanukis’ anatomy, but still.) The tanukis’ behavior is just as outsized as their ears, steadily alternating between pratfalls and teary, anguished conversation, leaving little room for character development or new patterns of interaction. Younger readers won’t mind, but adults may find the tanukis’ odd appearance and frantic antics tiresome. – Katherine Dacey
Bokurano: Ours, Vol. 4 | By Mohiro Kitoh | Published by VIZ Media – Mangaka Mohiro Kitoh is beginning to tweak the established formula of Bokurano: Ours in some innovative ways. The presence of a pair of military observers (Seki and Tanaka) is making a big difference, for example, as they introduce more organization to what’s going on, resulting in some gatherings where the children interact with one another prior to someone being called for pilot duty. Too, it appears that two of the kids don’t actually have a binding contract to participate, which interjects an interesting complication to the story. (The kids assume this includes the lone fourth grader in their midst, but I somehow doubt she’ll be off the hook.) Lastly, the stakes are especially high for one of this volume’s pilots, who hopes to save a sick friend’s life with an organ donation, resulting in a cliffhanger that sent me to the SigIkki website for the resolution. Good stuff! – Michelle Smith
Oresama Teacher, Vol. 4 | By Izumi Tsubaki | Published by VIZ Media – I feel like I’m always unexpectedly learning something when I read Oresama Teacher. First, there was the informative sequence on how to foil attempts to tie you up, and now we learn techniques for dodging and deflecting blows as Mafuyu (in her mail guise, Natsuo) trains Hayasaka in the finer points of fighting so he’ll be prepared to square off against the members of a rival club who’re out to ambush the members of the Public Morals Club. Mafuyu is worried about how straightforward Hayasaka will fare in a fight, but comes to trust him and even realizes that, though gullible Hayasaka completely believes in and reveres two of her adopted personas, he also cares for her true self enough to put himself in jeopardy. With all the action and comedy, this isn’t really a romance manga, but I still think I may detect some feelings beginning to bloom… – Michelle Smith
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Vol. 10 | By Koji Kumeta | Kodansha Comics – There’s a lot to like about Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, from its crisp, confident artwork to its broad, equally confident characterization. But what’s really most impressive about this series is its ability to remain funny, volume after volume, while its format (and universe) remains unchanged. Nobody wearies of a gag manga faster than I do, but ten volumes in, I’m still laughing at Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. Furthermore, volume ten is one of the series’ strongest so far. Jokes related to its then-new anime adaptation continue from the previous volume, enhancing (but not overwhelming) chapters revolving around subjects such as three-way standoffs, protecting “unnature,” entitlement, and “May sickness,” and even the volume’s most Japanese-specific jokes appear to translate effortlessly in the hands of new adapter Joshua Weeks. Still recommended. – MJ
Velveteen & Mandala | By Jiro Matsumoto | Vertical– If you read some of the cruder entries in Top Shelf’s AX anthology and found yourself saying, “I wish this was longer,” then Velveteen and Mandala is the book for you. Matsumoto pits dim, bickering schoolgirls against a horde of bemused zombies, throwing gobs of gross-out humor and precocious sexuality into the mix. Imagine a better-drawn Tokyo Zombie with female protagonists, and you’ll have the general idea. There’s certainly an audience for this sort of thing, but it’s equally certain that I’m not a member of that subset of comic fandom. To be honest, Velveteen and Mandala, with its indifferent plotting and feeble, familiar attempts at transgression tested my patience far more often than it rewarded it. Aside from some stylistic flourishes, there’s nothing here that you probably haven’t seen before, and it’s up to you whether you’re really eager to see it again. – David Welsh