This week, Kate, David, Melinda, and Michelle check out a batch of new releases from Viz Media, TOKYOPOP, and Vertical, Inc.
7 Billion Needles, Vol. 4 | By Nobuaki Tadano | Vertical, Inc. – The final volume of 7 Billion Needles epitomizes what’s good — and bad — about Nobuaki Tadano’s adaptation of Needle, Hal Clement’s 1950 novel. On the plus side, Tadano’s protagonist is a genuine improvement on Clement’s; with her quicksilver moods and impulsive behavior, Hikaru is a more intriguing, sympathetic character than the super-wholesome Bob. On the minus side, Tadano deviates from Clement’s novel in volumes three and four, introducing a confusing storyline about a planet-wide evolutionary crisis sparked by Horizon and Maelstrom’s arrival on Earth. Though Tadano’s apocalyptic imagery is suitably nightmarish, these later scenes aren’t as tense or clearly staged as the early cat-and-mouse game between Hikaru and Maelstrom; Tadano relies too heavily on a god-like character to explain what’s going on, sapping the story of its narrative urgency. On the whole, however, 7 Billion Needles is an ambitious, entertaining riff on Clement’s original story. – Katherine Dacey
Dengeki Daisy Vol. 4 | By Kyousuke Motomi | Viz Media – Warning: Reading this book while drowsy may seriously impair your ability to stay awake. In the previous volume, Teru found out that the mysterious DAISY with whom she’s been corresponding is really Kurosaki, the snarky custodian of her school and object of her affection. Now, uncertainty about how to act around him ensues. Once some equilibrium in that regard is restored, the plot bounces around disjointedly, from Teru considering attending a group date to hone her feminine wiles, to DAISY revealing regrets about his past, to a cell phone virus designed by a fake DAISY spreading around campus. There are a few decent moments to be found, but on the whole, this volume is a total yawn banquet. -Michelle Smith
Hikaru no Go, Vol. 23 | By Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata | Viz Media – After seven years and 23 volumes, this long-running shounen series finally comes to a close as Hikaru faces young Korean Go star Ko Yong Ha in the final round of the Hokuto Cup. While one might expect these chapters to focus on the competition itself, Yumi Hotta looks further, into the reasons these young men play the game at all. Though a quiet ending may not be typical for the genre, this series concludes with the same thoughtful elegance that has characterized it from the start, emphasizing the the long history and limitless future of game and those who choose to play it. While it’s sad to reach the end of a series that has so long been a favorite, it’s gratifying when that ends is so graceful and thought-provoking. Extras in this volume include character sketches from artist Takeshi Obata and two bonus chapters. Highly recommended.-Melinda Beasi
The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko, Vol. 2 | By Ririko Tsujita | TOKYOPOP – Among the many sad results of the closing of Tokyopop is that readers have one less shôjo heroine who casually quotes Nietzsche. Kanoko, our sharply observant protagonist, continues to chronicle junior-high foolishness and allows herself to be drawn into the woes of her ever-changing roster of classmates. Aside from the fact that these stories are bracingly sarcastic and funny, they also feature nicely crafted messages – be yourself, know your limitations and strengths, say what’s on your mind, and so on. Tsujita makes the most of what could be a repetitive premise, crafting interesting characters and scenarios that allow Kanoko to do what she does best: spy and meddle. While it’s unfortunate that we probably won’t be getting the third and final volume of this series any time soon, it’s episodic in nature, and I don’t have any qualms about recommending you enjoy what we have. -David Welsh
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 3 | By Kairi Yura and Sai Yukino | Viz Media – This is my favorite shôjo series currently in release. It’s got complex, sympathetic characters living in a well-developed, beautifully appointed world. This volume begins a new arc where the heat of summer is leaving the royal offices woefully understaffed. Our hardworking heroine Shurei dresses up as a boy so she can temp in the treasury. The experience is rewarding, but it leads her to wonder if her dream of becoming a civil servant (a profession that’s only for men in this culture) is worth pursuing, or if she should settle for traditionally female pursuits. The fact that the creators can thoughtfully address these kinds of issues and still pack the pages with comedy, romance, and courtly intrigue is a marvelous accomplishment. Like Shurei, the book is generous, smart, sincere, and ambitious. -David Welsh