This week, Sean, Michelle, and Kate look at recent releases from JManga, Viz Media, Dark Horse, and Vertical, Inc.
Ekiben Hitoritabi, Vol. 2 | By Jun Hayase | JManga – If you read volume one of Ekiben Hitoritabi, then you know what to expect from volume two. In this volume, middle-aged bento shop proprietor Daisuke Nakahara continues to travel around Japan by rail, acquiring two new companions who are initially reserved but eventually succumb to his relentless enthusiasm for railway facts and train station bentos. It’s fairly formulaic, but the panoramic vistas and detailed food drawings are still enjoyable, and dialogue like, “This whole shrimp is pretty lavish! It’s large and filling” inspires indulgent amusement rather than mean-spirited snickering. I even got a little verklempt during the chapters where Daisuke takes a boy on the train journey promised by his now-deceased father. It may not be the most exciting manga ever published, but it’s certainly got its own unique, leisurely charm. Thank you, JManga! – Michelle Smith
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 2 | By Toru Fujisawa | Vertical, Inc. – After unexpectedly enjoying the first volume of GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, I was really looking forward to the second. Happily, it did not disappoint. In fact, I liked it even better than the first as, aside from a gag wherein our protagonist’s nether-regions are the target of a swarm of ants, it’s more serious, focusing on Onizuka’s attempts to not only rescue Miki Katsuragi, the rebellious teen who’s caused him so much trouble, from a kidnapper but to get her police chief dad to realize that she’s been acting out in a desperate bid for his attention. Because we are privy to Onizuka’s more bumbling moments, his clear-eyed, rule-defying pursuit seems even more impressive and heroic by comparison. Okay, maybe there’s a little blatant heartstring-pulling here, with the whole “all of us worked as one” search party, but you know what? I don’t care. It’s effective. Bring on volume three! – Michelle Smith
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 2 | By Toru Fujisawa | Vertical, Inc. – For all that GTO can be moralistic in its “life isn’t as bad as you think it is” ways, there’s no denying that it shows life can be pretty damn bad. These kids aren’t just cynical teenagers with no worries – they deal with abuse, gang culture, and as we see here, kidnappers drugging them into online prostitution. That said, the basic theme of “children act up as the adults have abandoned them” reappears here, and we see how “The Girl Who Cried Wolf” isn’t as much fun when taken seriously. Luckily we have Onizuka, who can be a complete idiot much of the time but has the strength to back it up, both physically and mentally. Gang culture is so omnipresent in Onizuka’s world as it’s the closest thing to family for most of these kids, and seeing that family rally to save one of their own is heartwarming. Plus, car chases! –Sean Gaffney
Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 8 | By Julietta Suzuki | Viz Media – The beauty of Karakuri Odette was twofold: it was a medium length series of six volumes, and its romantic focus was small. These end up being a weakness, unfortunately in her new series. Much of the recent volumes of Kamisama Kiss have been taken up with wondering how long we can drag out the on-again, off-again romance/servant relationship between Nanami and Tomoe. It can be frustrating. On the up side, we do see Nanami’s cleverness here in escaping the World of the Dead, and she has improved greatly as a God. The big emotional drama in this volume, though, is saved for the end, where Nanami meets Mikage once more, who shows us why Tomoe has gaps in his memory – and why he wants Nanami to fill them. If you accept this is taking forever, it’s a good fantasy romance series.-Sean Gaffney
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 12 | Story by Eiji Otsuka, Art by Housui Yamazaki | Dark Horse – In the latest volume of KCDS, the Embalming Gang — as I like to call them — enter Second Life in search of a corpse, match wits with a girl who can leave her own body, and help a dollmaker say good-bye to the sister he lost during the 1945 Tokyo Fire Raids. The first story is the weakest of the three. Though Eiji Otsuka makes a game effort to explain how the gang’s powers work in virtual reality, the material never gels; the story feels like an grab bag of plot points from The Matrix, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and a furry snuff film. The other two, however, are more successful, offering just the right mixture of morbid jokes, spooky surprises, and poignant moments between the living and the dead. As always, Carl Horn’s exhaustive editorial notes are a boon to the curious reader, explaining cultural references, in-jokes, and sound effects in detail. –Katherine Dacey
The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 6 | By Kairi Yura and Sai Yukino | Viz Media – As you would expect, just because Shurei has passed the exam to become a civil servant (which she does, in a quickly elided few pages) doesn’t mean that she gets accepted by one and all. Resented for being female, she is quickly assigned to the worst tasks in the ministry go to her (we’re talking cleaning the toilets here), and those who were bullied in school may find this volume disquieting. Like most Japanese manga dealing with bullying, it rides a fine line between “she must get stronger on her own” and “why aren’t we stopping this?”. On the bright side, I like the relationship between her and the Emperor more and more, and his sneaking off to ‘be her bodyguard’ is very clever – especially since it’s becoming harder and harder to see her otherwise. With this series, the long, drawn-out romance is justified by history and events.-Sean Gaffney