This week, Michelle, MJ, & David check out recent releases from Digital Manga Publishing, Viz Media, & Yen Press.
Entangled Circumstances | By Kikuko Kikuya | Published by Digital Manga – Actually, this stand-alone yaoi tale could use a few more tangles. College acquaintances are reunited in the workplace, and the renewed acquaintance is not a welcome one for Shibui, who seems to despise the flattering attentions of handsome, quirky Himeko. If you’ve read more than, say, five yaoi stories, you’ve probably run across this type of tale at least once, with a character’s reactions and behaviors having more complex origins than the reader is initially led to suspect. Of course, those complex origins don’t vary a lot from version to version, and Kikuya doesn’t do much to break the mold. On the bright side, she draws well, and she’s got a lively sense of pacing. If the characters were just a bit more specific – if they really popped – Kikuya could successfully transcend formula. As things stand, this book is more predictable than likable. – David Welsh
K-ON!, Vol. 3 | By Kakifly | Published by Yen Press – I never thought I would be saying this, but this volume of K-ON! is actually pretty good. The flow of the four-panel strips has improved considerably, and though there are fewer punchlines, it doesn’t really matter, since they were never funny to begin with. Instead, the volume reads in a more linear fashion, and episodes wherein the group tries to accustom Mio (the reserved one) to performing in public by randomly getting hired at a maid café actually turn out to have some bearing on things that happen later. Even the overreliance on seasonal high notes like Valentine’s Day and the class trip doesn’t annoy me as much as it might’ve, though I’m seriously weary of the boob-grabbing gags. – Michelle Smith
Nabari No Ou, Vol. 7 | By Yuhki Kamatani | Published by Yen Press – It’s hard to believe that I ever described this series as “extremely dull,” but it’s true that it took a few volumes to win me over. Thankfully, it just keeps on getting better. Volume seven marks the halfway point of the series, with Miharu, the living embodiment of a secret ninja art, rebelling against his former comrades, making new alliances, and shedding his indifference where the life of his friend, Yoite, is concerned. Add in some rival shinobi hoping to harvest human “ingredients” in order to concoct the only medicine with a chance at saving their chief as well as some pretty significant revelations about a major character, and you end up with a pretty terrific volume. – Michelle Smith
Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 6 | By Fumi Yoshinaga | Published by Viz Media – I know it isn’t much in the way of critical analysis, but I always feel the need to remind people that this series exists, licensed and in English, and that they should really be reading it if they’ve ever publicly expressed a yearning for mature and challenging Japanese comics. This volume of Yoshinaga’s alternate-universe look at Japan’s feudal era addresses complex issues of succession and loyalty, which gives the creator plenty of meaty emotional raw material to twist in her hands. The driving notion of this series – a world where the male population has been decimated by disease – is more than just an attention-grabbing gimmick. It allows Yoshinaga to dig into gender roles and notions of personal power in ways that few creators bother to attempt. It’s also as gorgeous and sexy as it is smart and complicated, which is pretty much everything you could ever want from a mature manga. – David Welsh
Otomen, Vol. 11 | Aya Kanno | Viz Media – As with most comedic manga, I’ve run hot and cold with Otomen over the course of its run. Though the series consistently offers smart, funny commentary on traditional gender roles, this is a trait that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to long-form storytelling. A single joke—even a really great joke—is not infinitely sustainable, and the ability of Otomen‘s core satire to single-handedly carry the series ran out about six or seven volumes ago. Fortunately, mangaka Aya Kanno seems to have realized this as well, as she’s attempted to deepen her message and finally explore her characters as full-fledged people over the past few volumes, both with more success than I might have expected. Though on the surface, a competition between two men over their respective accumulation of Valentine’s Day chocolate may sound like an unlikely vehicle for effective characterization, Kanno somehow makes it work. Still recommended. – MJ
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 4 | Art by Kairi Yura, Story by Sai Yukino | Viz Media – There’s no denying that The Story of Saiunkoku is a very pretty manga. Filled with dreamy bishounen, period costuming, and long, luxurious hairstyles, it would be easy for a manga like this to glide along on looks alone. Fortunately, much like its smart, resourceful heroine, The Story of Saiunkoku would never consider taking the easy way out. Text-heavy but never tedious, The Story of Saiunkoku provides all the best elements of epic shoujo romance with almost no focus on romance at all, while somehow making the minutiae of ancient Chinese government appear more fascinating than a thousand love scenes combined. Though this volume strays a bit from the main storyline to touch on the history of the Hongs’ bearded houseguest, Ensei, it provides readers with a major payoff near the end, as Emperor Ryuki takes steps to make it possible for Shurei achieve her lifelong career goals. Highly recommended. – MJ