This week, MJ, Kate, & Michelle take a look at a handful of titles from Viz Media and Digital Manga Publishing.
Border, Vol. 1 | By Kazuma Kodaka | Digital Manga Publishing – If you’re still mourning the cancellation of Crown, you could do a lot worse than Border, a globe-trotting adventure about an ex-commando who runs a detective agency. The story focuses on a quartet of handsome men: Yamato, a former Special Forces officer; Sogo, the team’s go-to guy for explosives and gizmos; Tamaki, a hairdresser who moonlights as a detective; and Kippei, their plucky Guy Friday. Volume one begins with two stories showing the team solving cases, then jumps back in time to explore Yamato’s military past. Aside from a few unfortunate “I’m not gay, you’re special!” conversations between Yamato and his lover, the flashback works surprisingly well, explaining both Yamato’s skills (he can repel down skyscraper walls and overpower men twice his size) and his conflicted attitudes about sex. Sexy character designs, decent action sequences, and an engaging plot complete the attractive package. -Katherine Dacey
Claymore, Vol. 18 | By Norihiro Yagi | Viz Media – I’m a big fan of Claymore, there’s no doubt, but I’ll admit the last two volumes have wearied me some. Aside from a few fascinating revelations at the beginning of volume 16, it’s been all battles, all the time in the Claymore universe lately. But though volume 18 deviates very little from that trend, it also offers at long last the confrontation we’ve been moving toward for nearly the entire series as Clare meets Priscilla on the battlefield once more. While it’s true that battles are hardly my favorite thing, even in battle manga, this kind of emotionally fraught skirmish shows off mangaka Norihiro Yagi at his best. It’s nice to finally find myself at the edge of my seat again. Bring it on, Yagi, bring it on. -MJ
The Desert Prince | By Shushushu Sakurai | Digital Manga Publishing – Superficially, the five stories that comprise The Desert Prince are very different: one focuses on the relationship between a handsome sheik and a Japanese tourist, for example, while another explores the attraction between a yakuza enforcer and his protege. Plot-wise, however, all five stories follow the same trajectory, with characters fussin’ and fightin’ until one breaks down and confesses his true feelings for the other, leading to a brief but steamy sex scene. Shushushu Sakurai’s character designs are generally appealing, though she struggles a bit to make her older men look their age; the hero of the final story, “Mister Y’s Love,” looks more like a shar-pei puppy than a retiree. What prevents The Desert Prince from being a guilty pleasure is the thinness of the writing; there are simply too many plot holes, coincidences, and abrupt reversals for any of the stories to make much of an impression, in or out of the bedroom. -Katherine Dacey
Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 25 | By Hiromu Arakawa | Viz Media – Oh, Fullmetal Alchemist, you never cease to thrill me. Just two volumes away from the conclusion to Arakawa’s epic fantasy-adventure, what strikes me most is just how tightly plotted this series has been since the beginning. With everything coming together as the story approaches climax, it’s clear now that there has been nothing in this entire series—not a single side character, perhaps not even a single joke—that wasn’t carefully crafted to serve that climax in one way or another. Also, between volumes 24 and 25, it’s been made clear to me that a feature on “The Women of Fullmetal Alchemist” is not only imminent, but essential. Arakawa’s women simply kick ass. Highly recommended. -MJ
Ouran High School Host Club, Vol. 16 | By Bisco Hatori | Viz Media – The perpetual brakes on the passage of time in Ouran have finally been released and Haruhi becomes a second-year student at long last. Other changes are afoot, too, as Tamaki’s domineering grandmother finally allows him to live in the main house, though this means adhering to her strict rules. Tamaki commits to the challenge admirably—even though it means giving up the host club and possibly Haruhi as well—while everyone else worries about him. Even though this storyline shows most of the characters to their advantage, I would so much rather see Tamaki and Haruhi make real romantic progress that the bulk of this volume is downright dull. I hope we can put Tamaki’s family issues behind us soon and get to the good stuff! -Michelle Smith