This week, MJ, Kate, David, & Michelle take a look at seven ongoing series from Viz Media and Yen Press.
Bakuman, vol. 4 | Story by Tsugumi Ohba, Art by Takeshi Obata | Viz Media – After an unsatisfying summer, Mashiro and Takagi call it quits, only to discover that they’re more suited to each other than they thought. Meanwhile, girlfriends Azuki and Miyoshi make their own choices about how best to move forward in their careers and relationships. Though this series’ two leads are its least sympathetic characters, a bit of petty jealousy between friends goes a long way towards making them into people we can care about, or at least understand. Azuki and Miyoshi become more fully realized too, and if Miyoshi’s decision to chuck her own plans in favor of her man is depressing as hell, it’s depressingly realistic. Though the series’ inside look at Jump is still its most compelling aspect, it’s nice to feel that characterization is beginning to catch up. Gender politics aside, Bakuman is still the most interesting new shounen series I’ve read in the past year. Oddly recommended. – MJ
Laon, vol. 5 | Story by YoungBin Kim, Art by Hyun You | Yen Press – By all rights, Laon should be awesome: it’s the story of a tabloid reporter who gets the scoop of his life when he accidentally stumbles across a gumiho, or fox demon, who’s living among humans as she tries to collect her missing tails. Unfortunately, Laon tries to be too many things at once — a horror story, a journalism satire, a mystery, a romance — resulting in a narrative hodgepodge. Artist Hyun You shows a remarkable gameness for drawing whatever crazy scenarios dreamed up by YoungBin Kim, but struggles to make these scenarios feel like an organic part of the narrative; an underwater fight scene involving sea monsters and demonic piranha is undeniably cool, but serves little dramatic purpose. The frenetic pacing is a further detriment, making it hard for the reader to develop an affinity for any of the characters. File under “Unrealized Potential.” -Katherine Dacey
Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 4 | by Hiro Arikawa and Kiiro Yumi| Viz Media – SLibrary Wars: Love & War is the story of Iku Kasahara, a corporal in a military task force set up to protect libraries from government censorship. In its purest essence, the series can be perfectly summed up with this line from the back cover of volume four: “What Iku lacks in training she more than makes up for in gumption.” In this latest installment, Iku has been taken hostage by a group protesting the transfer of sensitive materials from a private museum to library custody. While I’m still disappointed that Iku isn’t at least a little bit smarter, she’s definitely courageous, and when her commanding officer expresses absolute confidence in her ability to emerge from the situation unscathed, I found it easier to buy into their burgeoning romance. Too bad I can’t buy any of the characters as actual soldiers! – Michelle Smith
Natsume’s Book of Friends, vol. 4 | by Yuki Midorikawa | Viz Media – The fourth volume of Natsume’s Book of Friends finds Natsume and Nyanko assisting a pair of guardian spirits, one of whom has been so corrupted by her deep anger towards the local villagers that she’s destroying the woods and fields she once protected. The story is eerie and poignant, a sobering reminder of how quickly faith can curdle into despair. The subsequent chapters prove nearly as good as the first, with Natsume falling victim to a demonic painting, and Nyanko reluctantly aiding a child who falls down a well. For all the heart and imagination behind these stories, however, Natsume’s Book of Friends could be better. The art is sometimes flat and lifeless, and the dialogue too pointedly obvious for readers who want to draw their own conclusions about how they’re supposed to feel — in short, it’s perfectly respectable comfort food, but lacks a truly distinctive flavor. – Katherine Dacey
Rosario + Vampire Season II, vol. 4 | by Akihisa Ikeda | Viz Media – This was my introduction to the Rosario + Vampire franchise, and I strongly suspect it will also be my farewell. For those who don’t know, it’s a harem fantasy-adventure about a human boy who ends up going to a school for monsters and has drawn the romantic attention of a bunch of different supernatural girls (the titular vampire, a succubus, a fairy, and a couple of witches). It’s nowhere near as offensive as harem manga can get, but it’s ploddingly average in so many ways that you almost hope it will start offending you to keep your attention. I have no idea why these powerful girls are so smitten with dull Tsukune. Maybe it’s because he’s the only boy in the book. – David Welsh
Slam Dunk, vol. 15 | by Takehiko Inoue | Viz Media – I’m a devoted fan of Inoue’s Real (also from Viz), his saga about wheelchair basketball players. While his illustrations for Slam Dunk are absolutely dazzling, practically charging off the page, this series always strikes me as a sports manga where it’s necessary to be interested in either the sport, sports manga as a genre, or both. It’s an impressive achievement that he manages to stretch 90 seconds of play over six chapters, but I keep wishing I could find out more about these characters as something other than athletes. It’s kind of like yaoi where you don’t see anything but romantic trauma and sex. That said, I don’t think you’re likely to find action sequences that are drawn better in just about any comic from any country. – David Welsh
We Were There, vol. 12 | by Yuki Obata | Viz Media – With Yano’s sudden reappearance in Tokyo, “anxiety” is the real essence of this volume, with no ready relief in sight. And though this is not a bad thing by any means, it certainly left my stomach in knots. Obata’s talent for emotional torture is formidable indeed, but to focus on that would do a great disservice to her real talent, nuance. There is no absolute truth in We Were There, no certainty about right and wrong in the hearts of its characters or its author. Yet Obata proves that “gray” is not the same as “cold,” which is part of what makes this a great shoujo manga. Like the series’ light, wispy artwork, every moment is as fragile as a scrap of antique lace, and every bit as beautiful. Still recommended. – MJ