This week, Kate, Michelle, & Sean take a look at recent releases from Yen Press, VIZ Media, Seven Seas, and Kodansha Comics.
13th Boy, Vol. 11 | By SangEun Lee | Yen Press – Reviewing the penultimate volume of a series is always a challenge. Divulge too little, and long-time readers might wonder if the story is building to a satisfying conclusion; divulge too much and incur the wrath of the Spoiler Police. I’ll try to find a middle ground here by saying that SangEun Lee uses volume eleven to explore the relationship between Whie-Young and Hee-So in greater depth — a relationship that may come at a price too great for Whie-Young, Hee-So, and the long-suffering Beatrice, who owes his existence to Whie-Young’s magic. The major plot developments of volume eleven are related with Lee’s customary mix of slapstick humor and sentiment; few writers can tack between the two extremes with such grace as Lee, who uses those sudden tonal shifts to underscore her characters’ emotional volatility. I have no idea if the story will turn out the way I want it to, but I’m confident that whatever happens in volume twelve will feel like the right outcome for this odd, magical manhwa. -Katherine Dacey
Ai Ore!, Vol. 4 | By Mayu Shinjo | VIZ Media – This is the point in the series where Mayu Shinjo had her big falling out with Shogakukan, and as a consequence Ai Ore! moved to Kadokawa Shoten, starting to serialize in their magazine Asuka. Asuka not being nearly as porn-oriented as Shoujo Comic can get, there’s a definite change in mood. Akira has continued his slide towards being less horrible, which is a good thing. His relationship with Mizuki has also gotten far more chaste – they’re back to hand-holding. In its defense, the humor is just as sharp as prior volumes, and the best parts show a mangaka not taking anything seriously. (Mizuki in a cage will make you boggle.) On the down side, Mizuki continues to be the weak part of this series, even needing to be rescued here. But then, by now no one is reading the series for Mizuki anyway. Still sort of recommended-ish.-Sean Gaffney
A Certain Scientific Railgun, Vol. 3 | By Kazuma Kamachi and Motoi Fuyukawa | Seven Seas – First off, we get the end of the battle between Misaki and Harumi, and it’s as brutal as you’d imagine. The backstory given is heartbreaking, especially since it involves children, and one hopes that this is not the last we see of it. Railgun is at its best doing serious and exciting action sequences – both with this and with the flashback showing a younger Kuroko in training – and given this is the majority of this volume, that makes it easily the best volume to date. Especially given the suggestion of more to Misaki’s destiny than she’s likely to be comfortable with. (Uiharu is also fantastic, lest I forget her.) I still think Kuroko is at her best when nowhere near Misaki, but that’s a minor point by now. Great action packed thriller manga.-Sean Gaffney
Mardock Scramble, Vol. 3 | Created by Tow Ubakata, Manga by Yoshitoki Oima | Kodansha Comics – If you asked me to summarize my response to volume three of Mardock Scramble, my one-word answer would be “grim.” (My two-word response: “really grim.”) Rune Balot plays cat-and-mouse with four of Boiled’s henchmen, dispatching each with gory zest. Though the plot flirts with moral complexity in later scenes — Balot seems to be enjoying her new-found powers in unexpected ways — that ambiguity feels unearned; Balot is such a flat, affectless character that her transformation feels too abrupt to be genuinely persuasive. A few startling images breathe life into the action scenes, but on the whole, volume three is so relentlessly brutal that few readers will want to continue with the series. -Katherine Dacey
Nabari No Ou, Vol. 9 | By Yuhki Kamatani | Published by Yen Press – Sometimes a volume of manga is good simply because it furnishes one with long-sought-after information. Volume nine of Nabari No Ou is just such a case, as it focuses primarily on Yukimi’s efforts to find out more about Yoite’s past. The momentum of the story is such that I was untroubled by that feeling I sometimes get with this series that it never quite manages to coalesce, and just simply enjoyed the revelations as they came. I still really don’t care about the search for five scrolls of secret ninja arts, but there are some good character moments in this volume that exemplify why I keep reading the series. The final pages are especially nice. Also, what I thought was going to be a depressing encounter with a malnourished kitten turned out to have a happy outcome. So, bonus points for that. – Michelle Smith
Rin-Ne, Vol. 8 | By Rumiko Takahashi | VIZ Media – By now readers should know that this is a manga where plot developments, if they happen at all, happen on a glacial scale. Shoujo writers, when they semi-retire, seem to gravitate to family stories in josei magazines for housewives. Takahashi seems to prefer going back to her roots, as this volume is filled with comedic one-to-two parters regarding Rinne and Sakura and their wacky soul-reaping adventures. We do get a longer arc involving Shoma, a young brat in the best Takahashi tradition (hi, Jariten), and this gets briefly serious when genuine innocent souls appear to be headed to hell. But for the most part, this manga is as calm and placid as its heroine, and is for fans who have read Takahashi for so long that they really have to keep reading her.-Sean Gaffney
Soul Eater, Vol. 8 | By Atsushi Ohkubo | Yen Press – It needs to be said right off the bat – if you hate snakes, or hate mental violation of children, do not read this volume of Soul Eater. Medusa’s takeover of Rachel is easily the most creepy and disturbing scene we have seen in the entire manga to date, and may honestly give nightmares. That said, Medusa and Arachnae’s confrontation is top-notch, and makes you want to see more of the two villains fighting for supremacy. Otherwise, it’s a fairly sedate volume of Soul Eater. Black*Star grows by tiny increments, and Crona discovers the warmth of friendship – very, very briefly. I’ve come to like this series for more than its art style, but it still leaves a weird feeling in your head as you read it – a sense that too much exposure might leave you ask insane as most of its characters. Recommended to those not easily squicked.-Sean Gaffney