This week, Sean, Kate, David, MJ, & Michelle look at recent releases from Yen Press, Kodansha Comics, Viz Media, and Digital Manga Publishing.
Black Bird, Vol. 10 | By Kanoko Sakurakoji | Viz Media – Dear Black Bird: I’ve nearly defeated you. After allowing you to work me into a state of blind fury over the course of nine volumes, I’ve finally become indifferent to your crimes. The constant belittlement of your heroine, her permanently flushed face—even the way your beloved hero always manages to blame her for his most abusive behavior no longer has the power to affect me. Wait, what am I saying? Okay, I admit I lied. You did get to me by the end of the volume, you sneaky devil. Sorry about those pages I ripped up and burned, but you have to admit you were asking for it. After all, I think you said it best. “There are times I want to treat you really well … and times when I want to treat you mean and make you cry … Which way I lean all depends on you. So don’t blame it all on me.” – MJ
Bleach, Vol. 36 | By Tite Kubo | Viz Media – It’s easy to become jaded as a manga reviewer, especially when it comes to long-running shounen manga. Though some series manage to transcend formula, others just seem to settle in, churning out pages of endless battles, increasingly generic foes, or whatever popular staples their genres require. Bleach has long walked the line between the two, just barely balancing compelling drama with mind-numbing repetition. After volume 35‘s strict conformity to this pattern, nothing could be more surprising than volume 36. Completely abandoning (for the moment) the battle set up in the volume before, Bleach 36 dives back into the past, promising new and exciting revelations about characters we already care about, including the enigmatic Kisuke Urahara and the entire lot of Visored. Though future tedium undoubtedly awaits, for the moment, Kubo gives us his very best. Unexpectedly recommended. – MJ
Deltora Quest, Vol. 1 | By Emily Rodda and Makoto Niwano | Yen Press –As a reviewer, sometimes you have to try to avoid the easy way out and grind through why you couldn’t really enjoy a title. It’s tempting, especially with a title as dull as Deltora Quest was, to simply wrote “No.” as a review and be done with it. But it’s my own fault, as I ordered the book even knowing that sword-and-sorcery fantasy is one of my least favorite genres, because it was part of a big pile of Kodansha Vol. 1s. And I have not even read the original novels by Emily Rodda either. Oh, and I’m not a 9-year-old boy. So, honestly, it should come as no surprise that I found this manga a tedious slog, with two-dimensional characters, action scenes where I kept flipping the pages faster and faster, and tortured exposition. Best of all, a time skip at the end shows us that the entire volume was mere prologue for the real story, which begins with the son of our protagonist next time. Also, kings should know better than to have grand viziers by now. It’s just asking for trouble. Skip this.– Sean Gaffney
Mardock Scramble, Vol. 1 | By Tow Ubukata and Yoshitoki Oima | Kodansha Comics – Mardock Scramble walks a fine line between dark and glum. The premise places it squarely in dark and compelling territory: a young woman gets a second chance at life — and a chance to bring her would-be killer to justice — after getting a bionic woman makeover. Rune Balot’s reluctance to embrace her new abilities, however, frequently threatens to drag Mardock into glum terrain; though it’s entirely plausible that someone as damaged as Rune isn’t ready to get all Lady Snowblood on her abuser’s ass, watching her passively resist self-actualization is a depressing and frustrating spectacle. Only the presence of Oefcoque, a cyborg mouse capable of transforming into just about anything, prevents the story from collapsing under the weight of its own grim agenda. – Katherine Dacey
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 9 | By Nagaru Tanigawa and Gaku Tsugano | Yen Press –This volume takes us through the end of Disappearance. For the most part, once again it’s simply poor when compared to the novel and the anime. I’ve no frame of reference to gauge how I’d feel about it if I hadn’t read/seen either of those, but I suspect I’d still find it wanting. I did note that Asakura is drawn far peppier and less evil/menacing than she appeared in the movie, which makes her final scene even creepier. There’s also a bonus story of the Christmas Party itself (which involves accidentally creating an ancient Egyptian hot pot), and another one set in Edo times (with Edo Haruhi being just as bad as the modern one, and wanting the perfect cup of tea), but neither add anything of note to the canon, nor are they bad enough to be entertaining on their own like the boxing story was last time. Substandard, though Vol. 10 apparently features Love at First Sight, a story as yet unanimated, so maybe it can try again there.– Sean Gaffney
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Vol. 2 | By Kenji Kuroda and Kazuo Maekawa | Kodansha Comics – I described the first volume of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney as “blah,” and I’m pleased to report that second volume is more to my liking. I’m still having issues with suspension of disbelief—ask me to believe in yokai, cyborgs, or reincarnated moon princesses and I’m fine, but ask me to believe that suspects go on trial two days after the crime, and I balk—but I’ve been (mostly) won over by the Case Closed vibe the kooky murder methods conjure. It doesn’t hurt that half of this volume is occupied with investigating the murder of an amusement park employee who was garbed in the furry mascot costume of a character named “Twinklestar” at the time of his death. Phoenix and his assistant Maya take it seriously, of course, but I enjoy the sheer absurdity of it all. – Michelle Smith
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 4 | By Sai Yukino and Kairi Yura | Viz Media –First of all, I cannot emphasize enough how disappointed I am by Ensei shaving. His rough and tumble beard made him look like a man from a completely different world in this manga filled with interchangeable bishies. Now he’s just another one of them. At least he has a scar, but still, it’s the principle of the thing. In addition, we get hung up here with a classic problem adapting a prose novel to visual – someone has been described as inhumanly beautiful. The artist does their level best, but in the end, nope, just another pretty bishie. To be fair, it’s impossible to draw ‘inhumanly beautiful’, so they did their best. As for the manga itself, it’s still good, mainly focusing on court intrigue and Shurei’s learning curve, with only a brief stop at romance (I am highly amused that the emperor is doing the right thing entirely through instinct, rather than overthinking things. An excellent read.– Sean Gaffney
Warning! Whispers of Love | By Puku Okuyama | Digital Manga Publishing – This addition to the reading list was the result of one of my boys’-love polls , monthly quests where I try to find gems among the new BL and yaoi releases. Okuyama’s storytelling has its charms, but I found myself wishing for a little more genuine feeling mixed in with the antics. The title story is about a game of cat and mouse between two high-school students where both realize they enjoy the game. Logic isn’t driving the bus here, but Okuyama manages a pretty good, weird, recurring joke along the way. The middle piece, about a guy who values his solitude taking in a roommate on impulse, brings more emotional authenticity to the table, though the creator clearly has a possibly excessive fondness for flaky gamines. The last story is pretty much all antics, but at least there’s a really cute dog to distract me from the underdeveloped human characters in the story. This was pleasant enough, but I don’t think I’d rush to read more of Okuyama’s work. – David Welsh
Rij saysSeptember 5, 2011 at 10:23 am
The anime of Saiunkoku kept the impossibly beautiful face hidden all the time. The audience only got to see other characters’ reactions to the face. I can’t remember how the plot of this manga volume was handled in the anime or whether the same characters were even involved in all of it. But I am certain that the face was never actually shown in all of the two long seasons of the anime. I was sad to see Ensei’s beard go too.
I’ve had the Mardock Scramble novel on my kindle fot months now. I should really get around to reading it before someone’s manga review will accidentaly spoil it for me.
CJ saysSeptember 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm
I just had to rent the first volume of Black Bird from the library. Not as bad a series as everyone makes it out to be, at least not so far, but I did see a hint of what was to come in the last two chapters. I can only see this getting worse. I might indulge myself on another from the library, but it’s ok, I won’t give Viz any actual monies for it. But wow, that line you quoted? Sheesh! Abusive much? And yet I understand this series sells well? Wtf? (I hope I’m wrong and it’s selling poorly, feel free to correct me if that is the case so I can breathe a sigh of relief)
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm
I actually really liked the first volume, and defended it to some of my colleagues, only to be blindsided by some elements of volume two. Things went downhill from there.
Angela saysSeptember 8, 2011 at 6:59 am
Melinda, that was either the nail in the coffin for me never reading Black Bird… or the final push for my masochistic curiosity to read really terrible things.