This week, MJ, Michelle, David, Kate, & Sean check out recent releases from Viz Media, Vertical, Kodansha Comics, Dark Horse, & Yen Press.
13th Boy, Vol. 8 | By SangEun Lee | Published by Yen Press – At my age, it isn’t often that a teen romance comic can really make me angst over which potential suitor its heroine should ultimately end up with. Most of the time, these conclusions are obvious, and even when they’re not, it’s difficult for a writer to make even one romantic prospect interesting enough for this jaded forty-something to genuinely root for, let alone two or three of them. Not so with manhwa-ga SangEun Lee, whose love interests each suit her quirky heroine uniquely, even if one of them is actually a sentient cactus. That said, here in volume eight, it’s hard not to root pretty exclusively for the cactus. Charming and idiosyncratic as always, 13th Boy remains one of the freshest, most imaginative girls’ comics currently in publication. Highly recommended. – MJ
13th Boy, Vol. 8 | By SangEun Lee | Published by Yen Press – I feel like I’ve talked a lot about the inventive whimsy of 13th Boy, and been derelict in extolling its dramatic virtues. This volume is more of a setup for future fallout, but readers can still anticipate the inevitable (and major) repercussions to come. Hee-So begins the volume so worried and depressed about her missing cactus, Beatrice, that she can’t even summon the energy to bathe. When Won-Jun visits, he gets the impression that Hee-So feels she can’t rely on him for help, and so turns toward the desperately dependent Sae-Bom, who is being sent to live with her father in America and asks him to come along. I love that, despite its fanciful elements, 13th Boy can serve up realistic drama like this wherein it’s the characters’ choices and personalities that have led to the deterioration of a relationship. I am seriously pining for volume nine already. – Michelle Smith
Black Jack, Vol. 15 | By Osamu Tezuka | Published by Vertical, Inc. –For my money, every volume of Black Jack has a “price of admission” story, and I always like to identify them. This time around, it’s “A Cholera Scare.” The title alone is endearing, and the story has plenty of other aspects working in its favor. First and foremost is the fact that it heavily features Black Jack’s creepy assistant and ward, Pinoko. While Black Jack worries that he’s contracted a potentially deadly contagion, Pinoko is left to deal with a walk-in patient at the clinic. The story is constructed and timed in some really imaginative way, and Tezuka packs an awful lot into a mere 20 pages. While individual Black Jack stories can vary in quality, there’s always at least one that justifies the purchase. – David Welsh
Blue Exorcist, Vol. 3 | By Kazue Kato | Published by Viz Media –Like so many of my favorite fictional institutions of learning, the True Cross Academy displays a reckless disinterest in the safety of its student body, especially the ones pursuing the exorcist track. In this volume, our principle characters deal with an aggressive new instructor and a potentially deadly field trip. Relationships are tested! Secrets are revealed! A kitty joins the supporting cast! In other words, Blue Exorcist continues to improve. Kato even works up the nerve to invoke the events of the first, terrible chapter of the series, and she gets away with it. The underlying plot of the series is probably its least successful element, but that hardly matters chapter by chapter. I like the characters and the scenarios Kato invents for them, and the art is always clean and interesting. – David Welsh
Blue Exorcist, Vol. 3 | By Kazue Kato | Published by Viz Media – Blue Exorcist is an interestingly mixed bag. Like Joss Whedon’s television epic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the series uses an over-the-top supernatural premise as a metaphor for the real horrors of a troubled teen, struggling to overcome his personal demons so that he might finally have a taste of life’s most precious treasures—friends, family, and a sense of real belonging. Unlike Whedon, mangaka Kazue Kato fails to make her story’s supernatural plotline genuinely compelling, but the rest works so well, this hardly matters. This volume gets off to a particularly strong start, as brothers Rin and Yukio work together to quell the grief of Father Fujimoto’s abandoned familiar, and continues to gain momentum throughout. Extra points to Kato for clear, readable action scenes and saving the life of a cat. Recommended. – MJ
Fairy Tail, Vol. 14 | By Hiro Mashima | Published by Kodansha Comics –First off, I’m pleased that the ‘take out all the female members and turn them into hostages’ plot died fast. If only as it leads to a lot of great moments for the female characters in this volume. Erza, of course, gets to show her badassery and why you should never try to outbluff or outthreaten her. Lucy gets to show she’s more than simple fanservice with the help of Loke. Juvia shows she’s still worried about everyone trusting her now that she’s a new member, and gives a good reason why they should. And Levy gets to show that it’s not just hitting really hard that wins these fights.But really, the big climax here is seeing Mirajane lose it, and discovering both what she’s like at full power, and why she tries to avoid it. She’s quite terrifying. Fairy Tail still isn’t the very best shonen out there, but it’s comfortably in the bracket below it.– Sean Gaffney
Fairy Tail, Vol. 14 | By Hiro Mashima | Published by Kodansha Comics – Something I’ve long wished for from Fairy Tail is more information about the members of the guild who aren’t the main characters. Happily, Mashima has concocted an arc that seems specifically designed to provide just that. Laxus, one of the most powerful members of Fairy Tail, has launched a takeover attempt, which involves forcing the guild members to fight each other. It’s unfortunate that many of the female members are sidelined at first, having been turned to stone while competing in a beauty pageant (sigh), but when they are eventually freed, they proceed to kick ass, so that makes up for it a bit. Highlights include seeing Mirajane’s abilities at last and some noble self-sacrifice from Juvia, a reformed enemy who has recently joined the guild. I hope this increased level of involvement from the supporting cast continues in future volumes! – Michelle Smith
I Am Here!, Vol. 2 | By Ema Toyama | Published by Kodansha Comics – When it was announced that Kodansha Comics would be taking over the release of manga they’d licensed to Del Rey, I was really hoping we would get the second half of I Am Here!, an earnest shoujo romance that I found to be surprisingly enjoyable. Happily, it made the cut and now I know for sure that a) Ema Toyama can draw some seriously cute bunnies (seriously) and b) the plot does, in fact, eschew an obvious outcome. It’s too bad Toyama had to utilize a random mean girl as drama instigator at one point, but at least Hikage, the painfully shy heroine, was able to blossom at last and become strong enough to follow her heart. Getting the whole story in two omnibus editions is also pretty durn awesome. – Michelle Smith
Magic Knight Rayearth | By CLAMP | Published by Dark Horse –First of all, unlike the souped up, fancy Card Captor Sakura reprints, there’s no reason for fans who own Tokyopop’s 2nd release of Rayearth to get this one. It’s a very good, decent reproduction and translation – but it’s not the huge advance CCS is. As for the content, it’s still a lot of fun, especially if you aren’t already familiar with the ending. One of CLAMP’s first titles to mix the shoujo and shonen genres, this story of three high-school girls who find themselves called on to save a fantasy world takes itself seriously when it wants to, and makes fun of itself the other times. There’s no amazing characterization here, though I am quite fond of Caldina and her “I’m doing this for the money” attitude. (Note her lack of obsession lets her survive.) But really, it’s the ending that made everyone remember Rayearth, and led to its sequel – it’s a gut punch if you don’t know it’s coming.– Sean Gaffney
Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution, Vol. 4 | By Yuuki Fujinari | Yen Press – Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution may be the most tepid reverse-harem manga ever written. The series drifts aimlessly from one uneventful scene to the next, as the characters perfect their swimming technique and attend tag sales. Not only does the story lack dramatic shape, it also lacks memorable characters; each of the boys in Hitomi’s circle is so faultlessly polite and supportive of her weight-loss goals that he comes across as a paid consultant, not a friend. There’s nothing wrong with a manga about nice guys, of course, but authors like edgy characters for a reason: bad boys make more compelling subjects than goody-goodies. Even Hitomi remains a cipher; she’s kind and determined to lose weight, but those two characteristics alone aren’t enough to make her seem like a real girl struggling with a real problem, a shortcoming made all the more obvious by the abrupt, wish-fulfillment ending. – Katherine Dacey
Michelle Smith saysAugust 8, 2011 at 8:35 am
Y’know, Melinda, I almost mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my 13th Boy review to compare Won-Jun’s actions to Riley’s when the latter felt that Buffy wasn’t sufficiently relying on him when dealing with her mother’s illness, but ultimately decided the comparison was unfair to Won-Jun. And now it’s probably best that I didn’t or else people would think we were obsessed or something. Haha, what a silly notion.
Melinda Beasi saysAugust 8, 2011 at 9:36 am
Silly indeed! :D