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
Noura saysApril 4, 2011 at 8:19 am
I love Natsume’s Book of Friends, Library Wars LOVE&WAR and We Were There.
We Were There is an addicting series and makes you want to know what is going to happen next. The odd thing is that none of the characters appeal to me. In honesty, I never cared for either of them. They actually get on my nerve especially Yamamoto. The worst rival ever. Nana-chan and Yano are not the best characters but I don’t hate them as much as Yamamoto.
This series is so soap opera-ish but it is not a bad thing.
Natsume’s Book of Friends is a great series. At first I thought it would be one of those typical supernatural works but it turned out to be really good. I was hooked from the first book. Not to forget the awesome Natsume and Nyanko-sensei. The two are so sweet and adorable. I am not sure how this series is going to end and it definitely doesn’t look like there is an ending in sight yet. I wish to see Natsume falling in love with someone as he deserves to have someone in his life.
Library Wars LOVE&WAR is another series that I enjoy a lot. I was a bit skeptical at first but it ended up being one of those series that I anticipate. Always looking forward to a new volume. I love that the romance in this series is not heavy and I also love the fact that the male lead character is much older than the heroine. It would be nice to see their relationship develops.
I enjoyed the third volume of Bakuman much more than I did the first two and so I am looking forward to the fourth volume.
Michelle Smith saysApril 4, 2011 at 9:16 pm
Regarding Library Wars, I like that the male lead is also shorter than the girl. It’s referenced a few times, but isn’t essential to the concept as in, say, Love*Com.
Kris saysApril 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm
I wanted to know what all the fuss was about Rosario + Vampire, and ended up reading the first volume. Actually, I’m not sure I even made it through the entire volume. I hated it. Not looking forward to reviewing my copy of that same volume I have sitting here. :(
Travis saysApril 5, 2011 at 2:11 am
Huh, I have just the opposite reaction from David re: Slam Dunk. I’m not a particular fan of basketball (I played for a year in high school, but more because I liked playing sports in general than because I specifically liked basketball), so I didn’t think it would interest me at all. But then I happened to be somewhere where Slam Dunk was the only reading material, so I gave it a try and got totally sucked in. It’s still one of my all-time favorite series.
David Welsh saysApril 5, 2011 at 9:24 am
It’s possible that my love for Cross Game is so fierce that it’s displaced all other sports shounen from my heart.