This week, Sean, MJ, and Michelle look at recent releases from Viz Media, Yen Press, Kodansha Comics, and SuBLime Manga.
Bamboo Blade, Vol. 12 | By Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi | Yen Press – There’s a lot of silly fun in this volume, and most of it requires you to be familiar with the sentai genre. North American fans would best think of Power Rangers. Given that, there’s some hysterical mocking of it here, as well as some great poses. Most of the volume, though, serves two purposes: giving Usra a reason to return to kendo (which is not the “oh, wait, I love kendo all along” reason everyone thought it would be), and giving Tamaki a genuine challenge. We’ve seen TV savant Erina set up to be good at anything she does, so the cliffhanger shouldn’t be surprising, but we were all expecting Tamaki vs. Ura, so it is anyway. Everything is set up for the big finale, but will it be the finale we were expecting? Recommended to fans of sports manga and fun comedy.-Sean Gaffney
Cage of Eden, Vol. 4 | By Yoshinobu Yamada | Kodansha Comics – We have slightly less fanservice in this volume – which still means more fanservice than almost any other manga on the market, mind you – but that’s probably because things take a darker turn here, and the body count starts to pile up. There’s murder, attempted murder, rape, attempted rape, and more murder in these pages, which have more of a Lord of the Flies feeling than ever. Unlike Lord of the Flies, though, the adults on the island can be just as mercenary and villainous as the teenagers. In the end, though, it comes down to Akira – shonen hero extraordinaire, thinking on his feet and protecting the others – vs. Kohei, who panicked under pressure and is now sliding further and further into darkness in order to cover that up. It’s violent and servicey, but still a riveting thriller.-Sean Gaffney
Dawn of the Arcana, Vol. 3 | By Rei Toma | Viz Media – Visitors from a neighboring kingdom bring Princess Nakaba some new inter-palace strife, but they’re also responsible for the introduction of an enigmatic new character who so far provides more genuine intrigue than either of Nakaba’s current love interests. Furthermore, both Nakaba’s heritage and her supernatural ability are finally gaining some real dramatic traction, and even the story’s royal politics have begun to be interesting. Though the series’ romantic trajectory still remains pretty much standard, its plot and characterization have now taken the lead—never a problem for this reader. I described volume two as “tentatively recommended,” but I’m happy to report that this recommendation has now become more solid. – MJ
A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 2 | By Miyoshi Tomori | Viz Media – Following up on a strong first volume, A Devil and Her Love Song catapults from “good” to “great” here, as “Devil” Maria struggles with both a desire to reach out to her evolving circle of friends and her inability to gauge the impact of her own words on the brave few willing to stand with her. It’s refreshing to read a modern shoujo manga in which everyone is truly, deeply flawed, and no amount of “doing their best” can fix it. Even better, mangaka Miyoshi Tomori manages to do this while deftly avoiding both the syrup and cynicism that alternately pervade stories about high school “mean girls.” Happily, too, Tomori’s supporting characters continue to be just as interesting as her lead, including passive classmate Tomoyo, whose emerging backbone offers the promise of some awesome female friendship—one of my very favorite elements in shoujo manga. Definitely recommended. – MJ
Devil’s Honey | By Isaku Natsume | Published by SuBLime – Tasked by his superiors with reigning in a gang of punks at the school where he teaches, Toshimitsu Sugaya is surprised to learn that their leader, Yoshino, has not only been unfairly judged, but is also willing to obey his instructions without any argument. Turns out that a few years before, Sugaya inspired a runaway Yoshino to return home and stay out of trouble, and Yoshino has regarded him as a hero ever since. This being BL, these feelings become love soon enough, and after some token resistance due to the teacher-student taboo, the two get together. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot here that’s out of the ordinary, but that doesn’t stop it from being a pleasant read. It also seems to be one of the tamer offerings from VIZ’s new SuBLime imprint, if that’s more your speed. – Michelle Smith
Fairy Tail, Vol. 18 | By Hiro Mashima | Kodansha Comics – I wasn’t as enamored with Fairy Tail 17 as I have been of the series in the past, and while 18 suffers from some of the same problems – Mashima’s battles just don’t excite me as much as they should – this is still a definite improvement, mostly due to the concentration on character relationships. Natsu and Lucy get some excellent scenes together (and some ship tease too, even lampshaded), the villains get a bit more development, and even Leo and Aries get to be cute yet angsty. Best of all, though, is Erza, dealing with Jellal back before her eyes and amnesiac to boot. Her angry exhortation that it is better to live with the pain and guilt than taking the easy way out via death. Which, of course, she knows from personal experience. Still not sure where this is going, but it’s picked up again. –Sean Gaffney
The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, Vol. 5 | By Puyo and Nagaru Tanigawa | Yen Press – One of the best reasons for Haruhi fans to read these gag comics is that the character suffer great humiliation in ways that really only Mikuru seems to in the original. Seeing Haruhi so flummoxed by cats and crows, to the point of tears, is fantastic. Even better is the bodyswap episode, which gives us an opportunity to see Yuki acting like Haruhi. But best of all is the sheer lunacy of seeing Koizumi, off on an enforced vacation, being replaced by Arakawa-san and getting away with it. From the start, as he quickly turns the entire SOS Brigade into his disciples, to the ending parodying uber-serious 70s anime, it’s things like this that make me come back to this series over and over. Still better than the manga adaptation it’s parodying.-Sean Gaffney
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Vol. 4 | By Kenji Kuroda and Kazuo Maekawa | Kodansha Comics – Despite being comedic, the original Phoenix Wright games all revolved around murder, and could get quite dark and depressing at times. So here we have a story of a daughter accused of killing her father, and she’s shown to have endured a life of abuse – we see her father hitting her in the head with a kendo sword, and it’s shown that she wears a head bandage constantly. That being said, there’s some real mood dissonance here, also very common in the original series – the actual way that the father was murdered is so silly it almost undercuts the entire story. The second case, which we only get half of here, has fewer high points but also fewer moral ambiguities. Fun fluff for fans of the games, but not recommended otherwise.-Sean Gaffney
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Vol. 4 | By Naoko Takeuchi | Published by Kodansha Comics – You know, I think this might just be the best volume of Sailor Moon yet. Not only do we meet a new guardian in the form of Sailor Pluto, we also learn a little bit more about Sailor Jupiter’s daily life and watch as Sailor Venus gets frustrated trying to figure out the enemy and starts actively seeking answers. Various secrets and enemy motives are revealed, and though the majority are familiar to a long-time fan like me, there were some surprises, too, as I had completely forgotten that, in the manga, Tuxedo Mask has, like, actual powers! Even some awkward dialogue and a sigh-inducing “it’s” instead of “its” could not mar my enjoyment. At least they fixed “Sparkling Wide Pressure!” – Michelle Smith
Psyren, Vol. 3 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro| Viz Media – This series is probably never going to be in anyone’s list of top Jump properties, mostly due to it relying on hitting the basic shonen points. At the same time, those basic shonen points are the equivalent of eating beef stew – it’s not glamorous, but it fills you up. So we get a villain who is actually someone that Hiryu knew from before, now supposedly betraying them. We also get a volume filled with battle, as we’re back in the Psyren world for virtually the entire volume. People’s psychic powers are awakening, because that happens. And our hero and heroine get a chance to be badass and capable, which is always enjoyable. Honestly, there’s nothing here that will convince me this is great, but it’s not mediocre enough that I want to stop reading it. It’s good at what it does.-Sean Gaffney
Travis saysApril 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm
As I will keep saying, Psyren is on my list of top Jump series and I know others who feel the same. :) Slow-starters are the norm for shounen.
Aaron saysApril 4, 2012 at 10:13 am
I was impressed by the rather melancholic turn volume four of Sailor Moon took and I’m loveing all the praise for Devil and Her Lovesong nice to see I’m not the only one that likes what’s being done with Tomoyo.