Pandora Hearts, Vol. 3 | By Jun Mochizuki | Published by Yen Press | Rated: Older Teen
After the last volume’s big revelation about Oz’s former servant, Gilbert, volume three offers up some insight into what happened to Gil over the years Oz lost in the Abyss, including the introduction of Gil’s twisted younger brother, Vincent. First, though, Oz is forced to remember some of the greatest pain in his short life so far when he meets a young boy looking for his father.
This is a fairly dark volume, overall, though very much within the tone set by the series’ first two volumes. Also, it’s quite a feat that Mochizuki has managed to introduce a character creepier than Xerxes Break, especially in a volume where he’s shown luring a young, heartsick Gilbert into his service as a spy. “You don’t need to trust me,” Break says in response to Gil’s reservations. “Just use me. After all, I’m trying to do the same to you.” Still, Vincent Nightray is indeed creepier, setting up Break to be even more (inexplicably) likable than he already was.
This quality–an inexplicably likable creepiness–is what really carries this series, created by a powerful combination of tragically beautiful characters and idiosyncratically beautiful artwork.
Though Mochizuki’s slow revelation of the mysteries of her universe may be painful for some, she’s got me decidedly hooked with her sad, complex characters and their profoundly oversized shirtsleeves. For the sake of these things, I can wait forever. Recommended.
Hikaru no Go, Vol. 21 | By Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata | Published by Viz Media | Rated: All Ages
This volume begins with the conclusion to qualifying matches for the Hokuto cup and into preparations for the tournament itself. Meanwhile, Koyo Toya continues to baffle the world of Go by entering a Korean amateur tournament, and Kuwabara prepares to defend his Hon’inbo title against the ambitious Ogata.
Though this manga is nearing its end, volume 21 has the tense, uneasy feel of a middle volume, with all of its characters teetering on the brink as they await the commencement of their battles. To writer Hotta’s credit, the tension feels as fresh as ever, though the pressure of a long series is beginning to show as she’s forced to contrive a misunderstanding between the Japanese and Korean players in order to keep an increasingly mature Hikaru’s temper on edge.
In the midst of pre-war preparations, however, there is a bit of philosophy as well, as Hikaru and Akira stumble upon the real value of their rivalry in a pursuit that would otherwise have little meaning. “It must be lonely to be the God of Go,” Hikaru muses. “You’d have no equal, no rival.”
Despite the series’ length, this volume still offers the same small moments of pathos and insight that have been its hallmark all along–a late-night glimpse of Koyo Toya waiting silently for an opponent who may never appear, Waya’s quiet agony over his own fears and limitations, a glimmer of appreciation from Hikaru for his mother’s earnest support–it is these moments that continue to demonstrate the kind of writing that has made this series special from the start.
21 volumes in, Hikaru no Go remains warm, subtle, and downright elegant. Highly recommended.
Bakuman, Vol. 2 | By Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata | Published by Viz Media | Rated: Teen
In volume two, Mashiro and Takagi attend their first meeting with a Jump editor who gives them encouragement, if not quite what they were hoping for. Meanwhile, Mashiro’s strange romantic attachment takes an unexpected turn when he and “girlfriend” Azuki are seated next to each other at school.
Though the story’s primary romance remains somewhat baffling, its presence is not quite enough to derail the increasingly compelling nature of the boys’ introduction to the world of professional manga publishing. This storyline is enhanced greatly by the introduction of young editor Hattori and prodigy Eiji Nizuma, which sets up not only a standard Jump rivalry, but also what may be the real rivalry at the heart of this manga, artistic genius vs. calculated ambition.
“There are two types of manga artist who succeed in this world,” Hattori tells the boys at their first meeting. “One is the type of person who draws what they want to draw … they’re the ‘genius’ types. And the other is the type of manga artist like you, Takagi, who creates a hit through calculation.”
This isn’t a new concept by any means, but what makes it so interesting here is the fact that the story’s protagonists represent the “calculated ambition” side of things, which would normally be cast in the role of antagonist, certain to lose to the pure, undisputed superiority of the “true artist.” Where Ohba and Obata intend to take this is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that this cynical outlook suits their style of storytelling. It’s enough to make one wish that this manga was being published outside the purview of powerful Shueisha, who must certainly have a stake in portraying an idealized version of their business. What might these two say if they really had the chance?
Though the series’ portrayal of its female characters is still sketchy at best, new girlfriend Miyoshi’s violent tendencies make her a surprisingly good foil for arrogant Takagi, whose cocky intellect is no match for a swift kick to the head.
Ultimately, neither sexism nor Big Brother is able to dampen the interest to be found here for manga fans outside Japan, so far removed from the world at the source of our obsession. Whether as a sly stab at the manga industry or a tightly-controlled commercial for it, Bakuman is fascinating, plain and simple.