This week, David, Kate, & Michelle take a look at a handful of titles from Vertical, Viz Media, and Digital Manga Publishing.
Black Jack, Vol. 14 | By Osamu Tezuka | Vertical — This volume of Tezuka’s medical melodrama classic run right down the middle in term of quality. It’s solidly entertaining throughout, and there are very few clunky moments, but there aren’t as many knock-it-out-of-the-park episodes as you might find in the best installments of the series. Since there’s no real cause for complaint overall, I’ll focus on my favorite piece, “A Rapid Current.” For my money, the best Black Jack stories throw our antihero out of his comfort zone and force him to set aside his hard-case persona. In “Current,” the good-bad doctor is stuck on a rapids-battered raft with an unflappable lady in an advanced state of pregnancy. The story is surprising, suspenseful, funny, and mournful, and it’s a perfect reminder of why it’s always worthwhile to pay a visit to this corner of Tezuka’s universe. –David Welsh
Grand Guignol Orchestra, Vol. 3 | By Kaori Yuki | Viz Media — With each new volume, this series comes closer to becoming the kind of glittering, gruesome guilty pleasure I hoped it would be. Yuki’s tale of traveling musicians who fight zombies is far from perfect, and Yuki is prone to some serious narrative gobbledygook, but the fun, creepy bits are gaining ground. This installment features vicious nuns, decadent nobles, shocking betrayal, cross-dressing espionage, and just enough grotesque perversion to keep things lively. I’ve always found Yuki’s manga visually beautiful, but I’ve also often found it incomprehensible. Moment-to-moment plotting still isn’t her strongest suit, but this is easily her best effort that I’ve sampled. I may even come to care about the characters beyond gawping at their violent high jinks. Even the sidebar notes – particularly the one where Yuki wishes good riddance on a villainous character she hated drawing – are entertaining. –David Welsh
Higurashi When They Cry: Demon Exposing Arc | By Ryukishi07 and En Kito | Yen Press – So far, the only portions of the Higurashi manga I’ve read have been peripheral to the main storyline, but each has convinced me that I will have to remedy that soon. This two-in-one omnibus collects the entirety of the Demon Exposing Arc, which depicts the insanity that befalls former Hinamizawa residents after said village is destroyed by a gas explosion. Normal teen Natsumi witnesses the madness firsthand and lives a bizarre double life wherein the boy she likes is confessing his feelings to her one moment, and her Hinamizawa-born grandma is drowning puppies in the bathtub the next. Soon her mother is exhibiting symptoms, leaving Natsumi with nowhere to turn. If the appeal of Higurashi is innocent-looking girls spattered with blood, then this creepy side story definitely lives up to the original. -Michelle Smith
La Quinta Camera | By Natsume Ono | VIZ Media – This collection of short, interconnected vignettes was Natsume Ono’s professional debut. Like Gente and Ristorante Paradiso, La Quinta Camera is set in Italy, and explores the lives of five people who share a common space — in this case, a five-room apartment inhabited by a handful of eccentric bachelors and a young Danish exchange student named Charlotte. As in Ono’s other Italian works, not much happens; characters plan parties, discuss the merits of living abroad, and occasionally share painful memories. The biggest difference between Camera and Ristorante Paradiso is craft: not only do the characters look flatter and squatter than the elegant gents of Casetta dell’Orso, but the writing is also not as polished, relying heavily on coincidence and sudden, emotional outbursts to advance the narrative. Despite its limitations, Camera still charms, offering a pleasant, if aimless, look at life in urban Italy. -Katherine Dacey
Moon and Blood, Vol. 1 | By Nao Yazawa | Digital Manga Publishing – There’s hardly anything to this short little volume from Nao Yazawa, better known here as the creator of the magical girl series Wedding Peach. It’s almost as if Yazawa is writing with a shoujo manga checklist in hand and marking off the clichés as she goes. Dense heroine, check. Mysterious boy, check. Jealous and excitable childhood friend, check. Situation in which boy—who is brilliant, athletic, and a great cook—is the son of a family friend and will now be living with the heroine and attending her school, check. There’s a small amount of supernatural intrigue—apparently the boy is a vampire and his cat-like sire is feeding off the heroine’s family—but it’s not enough to spark any genuine interest in this decidedly lackluster title. -Michelle Smith