There are some pretty good deals on manga on Amazon right now:
$17 Drunken Dreams and Other Stories:
It looks like several random volumes from ongoing series are at 40% off, like:
Alice in the Country of Hearts
Hetalia: Axis Powers
There are some pretty good deals on manga on Amazon right now:
$17 Drunken Dreams and Other Stories:
It looks like several random volumes from ongoing series are at 40% off, like:
Alice in the Country of Hearts
Hetalia: Axis Powers
Here are my picks for manga to give to people this holiday season! Here’s my guide from last year, in case you’re curious about my previous picks.
We’re lucky to be living in an age of awesome omnibus editions, and I think they make awesome gifts for manga fans. The books on this list are suitable for teens and adults, I didn’t read a ton of all ages manga this year.
For the fan of classic shoujo:
I don’t think it gets much better than the Dark Horse Clamp Omnibus releases. Some of the more recent Clamp series leave me a little cold, but it is hard to recapture the charm and whimsy of the original Cardcaptor Sakura. With plenty of outfit changes, a tarot card-inspired magical quest, and puppy-love crushes popping up everywhere, Cardcaptor Sakura is a must read for any fan of shoujo fantasy. I tend to be merciless about culling my collection if I have older volumes when I know I’m going to buy the same manga in a deluxe edition, so I don’t have my old stray volumes of the original Tokyopop release. I can’t compare the old and new translations, but I do appreciate the great paper quality of the new Dark Horse edition, as well as all the bonus color illustrations included in this volume. I’m looking forward to collecting the rest of this series.
Itazura na Kiss came out last November, but I didn’t read it until 2010 so I’m including it in this gift guide. The dim-witted heroine with lots of heart is a shoujo staple, and sometimes such a cliched character type can be a little annoying. However, one of the reasons why so many lazy mangaka turn to this character type is the classic and hilarious portrayal of Kotoko in Itazura Na Kiss. Kotoko’s hopeless and all-consuming love for the epitome of Japanese eliteness Irie inspires sympathy in me as opposed to resignation. Kaoru Tada surrounds her odd couple with a large and hilarious supporting cast, making Itazura Na Kiss much more interesting than you might think for a story that follows the romance of a nice but simple girl and her chosen snobbish but intelligent guy.
For the shoujo fan who has everything:
One of my pleasant discoveries late in the year was the omnibus edition of Toru Fujieda’s Dragon Girl. I enjoyed her series Oyayubihime Infinity from CMX, and Dragon Girl makes a slightly goofy premise (girl infiltrates a traditional Japanese cheering club) much more enjoyable than you might think. Rinna’s relentless pursuit of excellence in cheering and total lack of embarrassment even as some of her classmates attempt to pick on her are admirable, and Fujieda manages to create an interesting reverse harem story with plenty of humor. I’m looking forward to the second and concluding volume when it comes out later in the year, and I think the double omnibus edition will make a great addition to any fan of silly shoujo. I haven’t seen this title get as widely reviewed as other shoujo titles recently, so this is my under the radar new shoujo pick.
For the alternative comic fan:
If you know someone who tends to prefer alternative or indie comics, there are some manga out there that should appeal to them. Tops on the list is the Top Shelf anthology AX Volume 1. My full review is here, but the short version is that AX is a carefully curated anthology that gives the reader a new appreciation of the variety of storytelling and art styles that come out of the alternative comics scene in Japan. This would also be a great gift for the manga fan that appreciates volumes that fill in their knowledge of the history and development of the art form.
Other options would be almost anything from Viz’s Sigikki line which is filled with unique storytelling and distinctive art styles. My current favorites from this line are Children of the Sea, Afterschool Charisma, and House of Five Leaves. I think House of Five Leaves, with its slice of life account of a diffident ronin accidentally falling into a life of crime might appeal most to indie comic fans who are open to trying out some manga.
Fans of craziness in comic form – post apocalyptic sci-fi seinen version:
I’ve only read one volume of Biomega and I mean to track down the rest of the series at some point. However just from reading the first volume I wouldn’t hesitate recommending the title to anyone with a sense of humor who enjoys dark twisted science fiction. Tsutomu Nihei’s vision of the future is filled with stylish zombie fighters, abandoned places with interesting architecture, and a talking bear with a machine gun. I don’t think it gets much better than that. I can’t say that Biomega was terribly coherent, but the gorgeous art, creepy zombies, and the aforementioned talking bear with the machine gun goes a long way in satisfying me as a reader. Also: talking bear with machine gun.
Fans of craziness in comic form – cracktastic fantasy shoujo eye-candy version:
This was a really good year for shoujo. But the new series that immediately captured my attention was Demon Sacred, Natsumi Itsuki’s manga about mystical creatures from another dimension that manifest as unicorns and dragons, then take the form of super-hot idol singers when bonded to teenage girls. Add in the medical mystery surrounding the reverse-aging disease called Return Syndrome, a hot genius scientiic researcher, and angsty twin girls and you get one of the most genuinely crazy shoujo plots that I’ve seen since Moon Child. Priced at $5.99, it would be easy to pick up the first couple volumes for any fan of loopy shoujo series. While the first volume of Demon Sacred was a little dense, by the second volume I had given myself over to the craziness and I am eagerly looking forward to the third volume which is coming out at the end of the month, because I need another hit. Nope, this series isn’t addicting at all!
Shonen manga of the year:
I didn’t expect that I’d love Cross Game so much, but this slice-of-life story about a young baseball prodigy touches on issues kids face as they grow up with the baseball serving only as a backdrop. As the characters age and move up in school, they face challenges that go beyond just the baseball field. Ko is an engaging hero, and I’m genuinely curious to find out how he and his friends deal with the corrupt baseball coach at their high school. The three volume omnibus helps compensate for the slightly slow start to the series, but I appreciated being able to read a sports manga that showed time gradually passing for the characters.
Box sets might not be useful for established manga fans, but for newer fans who might not have collected the volumes yet, they could be a great way to get someone hooked.
As for what’s on my wish list, I’d probably want to fill in the gaps in some of the Viz signature series where I don’t have all the volumes, like getting the rest of Biomega, snagging volumes 2 and 3 of Children of the Sea, and the second volume of House of Five Leaves.
Happy Manga Shopping!
Today’s Saturday morning cartoon is one of my all time favorite anime series, Vision of Escaflowne:
I might have been introduced to anime first by Robotech, but Escaflowne was the show that reeled me back in to watching it again after a long absence. I caught one of the episodes when it ran on American TV and decided to seek out the Japanese version. I liked the way Escaflowne combined mecha with a historical fantasy setting. I tend to rewatch this show every two to three years, and sometimes dip in for an episode or two if I’m feeling sick. If you know of similar shows to Escaflowne that I might enjoy, please post your recommendations!
Summoner Girl Volume 1
I think with this series, I have contracted a severe case of yokai fatigue. This manga probably won’t interest older readers who are already very familiar with monster hunting storylines from other manga, but I think it would be a fun read for younger readers. Hibiki is a summoner, given the ability to call on spirits that embody the five elements. She’s set on a quest to gather mystical jewels in order to fulfill her destiny to become High Summoner. Hibiki’s sent on quests by her overly enthusiastic grandmother who urges her to ditch school if there’s a spirit nearby that needs hunting. Hibiki is aided by a slightly dim-witted boy named Kenta who possesses some spiritual powers of his own. One aspect of the manga that I thought was interesting was the way Hibiki takes on the personalities of the spirits she summons to help her, for example becoming angry and belligerent when she summons the aspect of fire. Even though Hibiki hunts spirits, her general approach is to try to understand them instead of pounding them into submission with her considerable mystical powers. Hibiki’s spirit aides take the form of cute animals that rest on her shoulders, offering a running commentary on the action
Kubota’s art has a mobile, thin line which blends in cute drawings of Hibiki with elements of the grotesque like a yelling wrinkled grandmother, a house filled with cobwebs, and a snarling fox spirit. The plot was exactly what I’d expect from a yokai manga, without anything extra to draw me in to want to read much more of it. While Summoner Girl didn’t fully capture my attention, I think the combination of Hibiki’s good-willed approach to spirit hunting, demon fighting, and jokey sidekicks would appeal to younger readers. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this volume to a young teen wanting a new action series featuring an engaging heroine.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Hikaru No Go Volume 21
It has been some time since I’ve read Hikaru No Go. I started getting it when it came out and collected up to volume 11 or so, and stopped automatically buying it because I thought at some point I’d go back and fill in the missing volumes. Even though there was a big gap for me, it wasn’t hard at all to pick up this volume and get back into the story.
Hikaru has gone pro, and much of the volume centers around his preparation for his first big international tournament. Many people have a stake in showcasing young players at the tournament. The Go associations and media think there will be more general interest if younger players are included. Hikaru and Toya play well enough in the preliminaries to be selected for the tournament, along with Yashiro and Kurata. Even though I know almost nothing about Go, Obata’s art still makes all the matches and rivalries between the players look dynamic. Hotta’s story juggles several themes and sub-plots, so even though the main storyline might be about gearing up to compete in a tournament, there’s so much other stuff going on that the plot doesn’t seem stale. Akira’s father is competing overseas even though he’s retired. He’s still on a quest to find the divine move, and the way Akira looks at his father shows some frustration that I think is going to be explored in a later volume. A Korean player is talking smack about Hikaru’s former mentor Sai, setting up a cross country rivalry. Hikaru and his teammates sequester themselves for training, and Hikaru is still falling short when playing games against Akira. I’m looking forward to seeing how the young players handle the stress of a professional tournament. Checking in on this series again reminded me of how good it is, I need to stop being such a slacker and seek out some of the volumes that I’ve missed.
Arata: The Legend Volume 4
For the first half of this volume, I felt a little frustrated. I do generally like Yuu Watase, even if some of her series are often a bit formulaic. I like Fushigi Yugi, Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden, Ceres, and Alice 19th a lot. Imadoki is simple, but very sweet. I do not speak of Zettai Kareshi. The first part of this volume was frustrting. I wasn’t sure how many times Arata was going to stumble across Kotoha when she was changing. The romance aspect of this manga is really uninteresting, I don’t particularly care about Arata being tortured with guilt because Kotoha has confessed her love to him, yet he knows she’s really in love with Other Arata who is taking his place in modern day Japan. The quest element of the story is the type of plot that Watase does often, sometimes well, and sometimes not so well. Arata’s emphasis on winning through peaceful means is a little bit of a twist on the more typical shonen fighting hero.
What made me want to keep giving the series another chance were a couple things that happened a bit further into the book. There was finally a long sequence showing Other Arata trying his best to live Arata’s life in Japan. It was interesting to see how he was able to deal with school bullies and the issue of having parents when he hasn’t had a family before. The other sequence in the book that I thought had a lot more emotional resonance was when Arata and his allies accidentally stumble in to an odd orphanage filled with plucky children who immediately start relating to them as parents. Somewhere there’s a mystical barrier, but the “adults’ in charge of the orphanage are anything but human. Arata and Kotoha befriend twins named Naru and Nagu, and the revelation about who has been creating the orphanage with magic and the resolution of the episode had much more emotional impact than a lot of the previous events in Arata. So while this is not likely to be one of my favorite Watase series, there were enough good elements in this volume to make me hope that the series might continue to get better.
Review copies provided by the publisher.
Today’s Saturday morning cartoon is the opening to the classic Super Dimension Fortress Macross! I recently finished watching this series for the first time since I saw the early Robotech episodes in 1985.
I have very specific memories of going to my Grandma’s house after school and watching Robotech in her basement. I absolutely loved the show, but back then it was impossible to rewatch or see repeat episodes. I think many of my memories of the show actually came from reading the later novelizations. So when I was watching some episodes of Macross I could tell that I was seeing them for the first time even though I’d read the scenes before, like most of the Max and Miriya romance.
I’d put off trying to rewatch this series for a long time. I think I tend to put aside some of the things I was into as a kid, just because I don’t think adult nostalgia will ever measure up to the first experience of discovering a new fictional world. I’m leery of tarnishing memories, and think that sometimes reliving childhood fandom isn’t the most productive use of one’s time. There’s nothing worse than the sinking feeling of finding out that something you loved as a child is actually a little bit lame. I remember this sinking feeling all too well when I realized that Aslan in the Narnia books was Jesus a couple years after I first read and loved the books, which was probably around the same time I first saw Robotech. So that was one reason for my trepidation and procrastination about watching Super Dimension Fortress Macross as an adult.
I was surprised at how well this series held up. Part of it I think is due to some of the appealing character designs. It is easy to overlook the occasionally glitchy animation when the character designs are so strong.
Of course, what looks not very fluid today was absolutely groundbreaking to a 10 year old in 1985. Watching the series again, I was able to see how it really lay the groundwork for later philosophical fighting mecha shows. Macross has plenty of space opera, but for all the scenes of transforming mecha fighting aliens, at the core of the show is a longing for peace and a lot of heart. I was glad to finish rewatching Super Dimension Fortress Macross with the knowledge that my 10-year-old self did have excellent taste in after school cartoons. Macross is the reason why I to this day think that airplanes that transform into fighting robots are awesome. Really, it doesn’t get much better than that.
AX Volume 1: A Collection of Alternative Manga edited by Sean Michael Wilson
I’ll be the first to admit that my tastes in manga are decidedly mainstream. I do enjoy the occasional wacky seinen title, but I generally read manga for my daily dose of escapism and don’t go out of my way to be challenged. I have a soft spot for anthology titles, because back in the dark days before the current manga explosion, all I had to read were my Eclipse/Viz floppy comics and the manga excerpted in Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. I was interested to check out this anthology when it first came out, but decided to purchase it later. So I was excited when I managed to snag a copy in a ComicsAlliace twitter giveaway.
AX is carefully curated, with stories selected that show the true variety of Japanese alternative comics. I was blown away by the variety of art styles in this volume, from the detailed European forest city overrun by mushrooms in “Mushroom Garden” to the bean-head motorcycle lovers in “Enrique Kobayashi’s Eldordo”. “Into Darkness” featured a lush garden entwining around a corpse, while “The Neighbor” showed an inexplicable feud developing with flat, sparse sketches. The themes of the stories ranged from the surreal as shown in “Six Paths of Wealth” where a mother pushes her daughter to engage in some unconventional behavior with insects, to the everyday life of a salaryman who suddenly decides to take up boxing in “The Song of Mr H.”
As with any anthology there were a few stories that weren’t to my taste. I might be a prude, but I don’t tend to get much out of stories where the main point of the narrative is to be transgressive mainly by showing sex acts or bodily functions. If I wanted to read stuff like that, I figure I could always seek out something like Prison Pit. Fortunately the way the selection of the stories was paced, when I was reading I wasn’t mentally checking off repetitive themes like “Penis, sex with a cursed plant-woman, the runs, giant penis, penis again.” Instead there was more variation in the way the anthology was put together, so my running tally of themes was more like “Naked woman, fable about insanity told with assassins, boy falls in love with a butterfly, massive existential angst and vomiting, penis, symbolic story about a relationship breakup.”
The production quality for the book from Top Shelf Productions was excellent. I am always a sucker for paperback books with french flaps, and I appreciated the inclusion of author notes for all the stories collected in the anthology. I appreciated the variety of artists represented, especially the inclusion of many female artists. With Drunken Dreams and AX being published, 2010 is ending as a good year for providing readers with access to important and influential manga. I hope that this book does well enough that we get a second volume published. With so much commercial, slickly produced manga (that I dearly love!) out there, it is also good to take a step back and gain a wider appreciation for the sheer variety of stories that can be told in the comics medium. AX will be a great addition to the bookshelf of any well-rounded manga fan.
Karakuri Odette Volume 4
I think this takes the prize for most consistently charming shoujo manga. I mean, take a look at the riff on Revolutionary Girl Utena in the cover illustration. How cute is that!? Odette makes a new friend when she meets Shiroyuki, a rich girl who lives in isolation because she can read people’s minds. When Shiroyuki meets Odette she’s happy that she can’t read her thoughts, and Odette encourages Shiroyuki to start attending school. Shiroyuki thinks that Odette must be picked on at school and is determined to save her. Unfortunately Odette already seems to have things well in hand, despite her tendency to immediately do other people’s classroom chores when asked. There’s also an appearance by Kurose, Odette’s juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold non-boyfriend. He starts getting stalked by another girl, which awakens feelings of jealousy in Odette. Suzuki’s pacing is great. There are little hints here and there that show Odette might becoming something more than just an android. Her dependence on her battery seems to be lessening, and her experiences of new emotions through her interaction with her friends seems to be increasing. There are only two volumes left in this series, and I’ll be sorry to see it end.
Neko Ramen 2
People who liked the first volume of this series about Taisho, a cat who inexplicably runs a ramen shop, will find the second volume equally enjoyable. There are plenty of gags about Taisho switching out different theme corners of his shop in an effort to find an added attraction. He goes through options like a petting zoo and spiritual fortunes in short order. Taisho also does curry experiments, with disastrous results.It felt to me like there were a few more long form comics included in this volume as opposed to the 4-coma strips. The longer stories focused on Taisho’s famous cat model father and a food competition that seemed like a satirical take on the food battles often found in cooking manga like Iron Wok Jan. Hapless businessman Tanaka gets a shock when his father has a mid-life crisis and confesses his secret desire to open a ramen shop. This is one of those manga that I think is best read in spaced-out stages, because while the jokes are funny, there’s a certain element of sameness for the reader when reading a bunch of similar gags back to back.
How to Draw Shojo Manga
I’m not an artist, but I think that this how to draw book will be interesting for shoujo fans since it was put out by the editorial teams of some of Hakusensha’s manga magazines. There’s a simple story used as a framing device – enthusiastic but slightly clueless aspiring manga artist Ena gets put through her paces under the guidance of Sasaki, a manga editor. Topics like what tools to use, drawing people and objects, composing panel layouts, working on storyboards, and developing characters are briefly touched on. While this volume is too slender to use as a true drawing textbook, it does introduce a lot of terminology and concepts that provide a basic overview of the manga-making process. Some of the details included are likely to be too specific to the Japanese system to be very useful for American aspiring manga artists. An appendix on alternate routes to publication, like how to create a webcomic, might have been useful. Still, I enjoyed leafing through this book but I was tortured by the inclusion of some of the examples from untranslated Hakusensha manga. Now I’m curious about English Tutoring School Wars, Go! Hiromi, Go!, and especially the Tea Prince’s Princess which appears to feature a hot guy playing the cello with some unfortunate bowing technique. I do think this title would be a popular addition to any library’s collection of how to draw books.
Review copies for Neko Ramen and How to Draw Shojo Manga provided by the publisher.
Itazura Na Kiss Volume 3 by Kaoru Tada
The third volume of this delightful shoujo series opens with Kotoko and tennis club captain Sudou spying on the objects of their affection Irie and Reiko when they go out on a date. The hapless pair trail the dating couple to a showing of Edward Scissorhands. In the meantime Kotoko’s self appointed future husband Kinnosuke attempts to follow Kotoko and ends up in a porno movie theater. In one of Tada’s cute bits of character interaction, Kotoko and Sudou are destroyed with emotion by the ending of the movie, while Irie calmly proclaims that he wants to make an artificial being one day. Irie knows that he’s being tailed and ends the date, spending the rest of the day with Kotoko after telling her that her reactions to his date were hilarious. Irie announces that his life use to be boring and uneventful, with noting but trouble appearing since Kotoko came into his house. He says that she’s a trial he has to test himself against, but he doesn’t mind her being around. This is the closest thing to a declaration of affection that Irie is capable of, and Kotoko is delighted.
Later, there’s a school festival where the anime club has adopted Kotoko as their main character in an anime “Racquet Warrior Kotorin”. Kotoku ends up beating out Reiko for the title of school festival queen due to the powerful otaku voting lobby. One of things I like about this series is the large and funny ensemble cast. Irie’s mom makes a point of exclaiming over Kotoko’s skin when both families go on a hot springs vacation, very aware that her son will be able to overhear her. Kinnosuke and Sudou’s hapless attempts to court the objects of their affection continue to amuse, and it is hard not to root for Kotoko’s desired romance with Irie.
Alice the 101st Volume 2 by Chigusa Kawaii
As the volume opens Aristide Lang aka Alice is dismayed to discover that Max, the best violinist in his class is a bit of a space case. Alice’s mentor and fellow classmate Victor directed him to view Max as his rival, and Alice freaks out when the genius violinist actually seems a bit goofy. Alice has prodigious musical gifts that are hampered by his extreme ignorance. Alice has perfect pitch and can play almost any piece by ear, but he is utterly incapable of reading a musical score. He’s bullied by other students who don’t understand why he was admitted to their school as a special case. Alice’s violin teacher sets him the task of playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star “exactly as it is written,” and Alice doesn’t know who to go to for help. All of his friends are busy practicing for the upcoming concert. He ends up stumbling across Max and asks him for help.
This volume deals with issues of musical interpretation and accompaniment. While Alice can reproduce a piece of music when he’s heard it once, he isn’t sure how to answer when his classmate Georges plays Motzart’s version of song and asks Alice what his own version of the piece sounds like. Max is able to display an amazing degree of technical proficiency with a piece by Bruch, but does Alice’s innate ability to produce a more interesting tone mean that he’ll eventually be able to surpass his rival? There were plenty of amusing moments in this second volume as Alice continues to overreact to everything around him, but I continue to enjoy the way Kawaii is able to portray the process of learning how to make music.
Access to electronic copies provided by the publisher.
Cross Game Volumes 1-3 by Mitsuru Adachi
I will start off by saying that I really dislike baseball in real life. If I have to watch sports, I’m more interested in basketball, hockey, or tennis. So I am not necessarily the best person to review a baseball manga. On the other hand I remember so many people being excited when this license was announced, since evidently Adachi is a behemoth of shonen manga. The only series of his previously published in the US was Short Program, which now appears to be out of print. I’m glad I gave Cross Game a chance, because it is so well-written, the fact that it is nominally about baseball didn’t matter to me. I was won over by the characters and Adachi’s masterful story pacing.
Ko Kitamura is the protagonist of Cross Game. He’s a typical boy who has a bit of a hustler’s personality. He helps his family out in their sports equipment business, and doesn’t hesitate to recommend taking up sports requiring extravagant equipment to his classmates. Ko isn’t very interested in sports himself, but he does practice hitting at a local batting center. The batting center’s proprietors are the Tsukushimas, and they have four girls. Ko and the second daughter Wakaba have grown up together. They share a birthday, and Wakaba treats Ko like a steadfast friend, hitching rides to school on his bike. Ko’s friendship with Wakaba causes problems since plenty of other boys have crushes on her. On the run from bullies, Ko decides to hide by joining a group of classmates who are playing baseball after getting the hard sell from Ko. He is utterly inept in every area at baseball except for being able to hit home runs.
Cross Game has a great slice-of-life quality, but the plot does advance fairly slowly. I think it was a good decision to release the first three books in an omnibus edition. One of the things I liked about this manga was the feeling of time and place. The characters wake up and run errands on a hazy summer day. Ko deals with kids at school who now insist that he work on his baseball gloves. Wakaba’s younger sister Aoba is developing her own pitching arm. After a disappointing birthday Wakaba hands Ko a detailed list of the presents he should get for her every year, ending with an engagement ring on her 20th birthday. Wakaba’s faith in Ko is boundless. She comments to Aoba, “If you think of Ko as just another boy, you’ll get burned. If he puts his mind to it, he could be the best pitcher in Japan….But don’t take him from me.” Aoba thinks Wakaba is being ridiculous.
For the first half of Cross Game, I thought that it was on track to be an enjoyable slice of life comedy about baseball. But tragedy strikes, giving even more emotional resonance to the daily lives of the characters as they continue on with school and their family businesses. Ko grows more serious about baseball and he continues to be protective of the Tsukushima sisters even though Aoba acts as though she hates him. Ko develops his abilities secretly, without any sense of how strong he might be compared to his classmates. He still acts goofy at times, taking extra time to flail around his pitching arm when instructed to pitch “for real.”
The high school baseball team is terrible. The new coach is the type to push for a win at the expense of his players’ development. There’s a team of elites and a “portable team,” which consists of players who washed out or didn’t try out for the main team. Only a few of Ko’s classmates recognize his potential. They know the score with the new coach, and are content to stay with the portable team for the present. They don’t want to be ruined by selfish coaching. The dynamic between Ko and Aoba is interesting. She’d be an ace pitcher herself if she was a guy, but she’s only able to play in practice games. She’s set up as the final judge of Ko’s talent, and when she sees that he’s improved she states that he’s a good pitcher but he doesn’t excite her.
Adachi has a simple, cartoony style that adapts to showing showing the freeze frame action of baseball very well. Many of the characters have slightly protuberant ears, making them look a little vulnerable. The backgrounds in Cross Game are very detailed, grounding the characters in specific settings like the batting cage, school hallways, or neighborhood sandlots. Adachi peppers the manga with mini episodes where he talks to the reader, like when he sets up a gag about Ko imitating a classmate’s voice then follows it with an all too convenient scene of Ko’s father talking about his son’s amazing impression skills.
Cross Game sets up an intriguing blend of sports-based wholesomeness and corruption. There’s something very innocent about Ko not being aware of the athlete he could become and his growing enthusiasm for the game. Seeing the baseball team at his high school being put together by ringers under the leadership of an abusive coach made me very anxious to see what was going to happen next to Ko and his fellow students on the portable team. I appreciated the way Adachi handled the passing of time in Cross Game. Often manga sometimes feels fairly static, but Cross Game follows Ko across different seasons and years, making it a true coming of age story. Cross Game is by far one of my favorite shonen releases this year.
Here are the details of some new releases from Viz’s Haikasouru imprint of translated science fiction and fantasy. I’ve read one of the books from the imprint, The Lord of the Sands of Time. I didn’t realize before that the author of Good Witch of the West was getting her novels translated. I enjoyed a few volumes of that manga series even though I wasn’t compelled to read to the end, but now I am a little curious about Dragon Sword and Wind Child.
THE OUROBOROS WAVE by Jyouji Hayashi
Price: $14.99 U.S. / CAN $19.99 • Available Now!
Ninety years from now, a satellite detects a nearby black hole scientists dub Kali for the Hindu goddess of destruction. As human society expands to Mars and beyond, the generations-long project to harness the power of the black hole pits the retrograde humans of Earth against the imminently rational men and women of the Artificial Accretion Disk Development association. While conflicts simmer, a mystery within Kali itself tests the limits of intelligence—that of both human and machine.
Jyouji Hiyashi was born in Hokkaido in 1962. Having worked as a clinical laboratory technician, Jyouji Hiyashi debuted as a writer in 1995 with his cowritten Dai Nihon Teikoku Oushu Dengeki Sakusen. His popularity grew with the Shonetsu no Hatou series and the Heitai Gensui Oushu Senki series – both military fiction backed by real historical perspectives. Beginning in 2000, he consecutively released Kioku Osen, Shinryakusha no Heiwa, and Ankoku Taiyo no Mezame, stories that combine scientific speculation and sociological investigations. He continues to write and act as a flag-bearer for a new generation of hard SF.
DRAGON SWORD AND WIND CHILD by Noriko Ogiwara
Price: $13.99 U.S. / CAN $18.99 • Available Now!
The forces of the God of Light and the Goddess of Darkness have waged a ruthless war across the land of Toyoashihara for generations. But for fifteen-year-old Saya, the war is far away—until the day she discovers that she is the reincarnation of the Water Maiden and a princess of the Children of the Dark. Raised to love the Light and detest the Dark, Saya must come to terms with her heritage even as she tumbles into the very heart of the conflict that is destroying her country. The Light and Dark both seek to claim her, for she is the only mortal who can awaken the legendary Dragon Sword, the fearsome weapon destined to bring an end to the war. Can Saya make the dreadful choice between the Light and Dark, or is she doomed—like all the Water Maidens who came before her…?
Noriko Ogiwara was inspired to write by the classic Western children’s books she read as she was growing up. Dragon Sword and Wind Child is her first book, part of the award winning Magatama Trilogy. The second book of the Magatama Trilogy, Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince will be also available from Haikasoru in May 2011. Her other books include The Good Witch of the West and Fuujin Hisho. Ms. Ogiwara makes her home in Japan.
VB Rose Volumes 8, 9, and 10 by Banri Hidaka
VB Rose Volume 8
The slowly forming love triangle gets resolved when Ageha’s friend Nat-chan confesses his feelings for her. Nat-chan is the younger brother of Ageha’s best friend Mamoru. Ageha isn’t sure how she feels. She believes that her crush on bridal boutique owner Arisaka, who overheard Nat-chan’s confession, is one-sided. Ageha spends a good part of the volume filled with emotional turmoil. She blurts out to Nat-chan “I’ve just got the mixed-up confusions because…someone as good looking as you likes someone like me!” Nat-chan points out that he knows she likes Arisaka, but he thinks that Ageha feels more natural and comfortable around him because they’ll make a good match. Ageha goes to work with Arisaka, and he’s drawn with his hand supporting his head, surrounded by conflicting thoughts. He’s wanting to say “Choose me instead!” but when Ageha tries to find out how he feels about her new romantic prospect he yells at her.
Ageha goes to tell Nat-chan that she only feels friendship for him, and Arisaka goes after Ageha to apologize. After so many volumes of the relationship slowly getting built up, Arisaka and Ageha manage to express their feelings for each other. One of the things I like about this series is that even though the romance is moving forward, there’s still a business to take care of. There’s a photo shoot at VB Rose and Ageha decides to tag along on a trip to meet with Arisaka’s ex-girlfriend. Despite Kana’s bitter facade, Ageha learns more about Arisaka’s past.
VB Rose Volume 9
Ageha and Arisaka’s budding relationship is put to the test when the VB Rose boutique has to scramble to get a dress ready for a bridal show. One of the reasons why I like this series so much is that the store setting and general emphasis on sewing and crafting puts a slightly different spin on the typical “everyone work together for something” plotline that usually is expressed in shoujo manga through putting on school festivals or other high school events. Ageha is going to model the dress, and the entire VB Rose team comes together to achieve some emergency alterations at the last minute. Arisaka has surrounded himself with a second family that supports them, and it is nice to see everyone recognizing Ageha’s importance and her new place at Arisaka’s side.
As I was leafing through this volume in preparation for writing about it, I was struck again with the clarity of Hidaka’s art. She doesn’t use a ton of tone or draw extremely elaborate backgrounds. Instead, the details of the clothing and other crafts constructed at the boutique are given greater importance, as are the facial expressions of the characters. Hidaka tends to go into full-on flower background shoujo mode for moments that have the greatest impact on the characters. Ageha descends a staircase wearing the VB Rose showcase dress surrounded by flowers and music, only to find Arisaka waiting at the bottom step to take her arm.
VB Rose Volume 10
In the tenth volume the reader gets a big explanation for Arisaka’s personality quirks when his mother abruptly shows up at VB Rose. Ran Kashiwagi’s an actress who had her son and got married when she was far too young for both responsibilities. Arisaka’s father was a steadying influence, but Ran’s habit of going out and leaving Arisaka home alone put the boy in danger. Arisaka’s father asked for a divorce, and Ran moved to Tokyo and was discovered by a talent agency. Ran’s approach to try to ingratiate herself back into her family is to arrive with an expensive car for Arisaka. When she realizes that Ageha is Arisaka’s girl friend, she drags her off on an extravagant shopping trip. Ageha listens to Ran’s story about her past with Arisaka’s father and she councils her on the best approach to try to make things up with her son. She points out to Ran that if Arisaka really hated her, he’d have turned away from her immediately.
Arisaka is left at the boutique with his stepmother, imagining what might be happening to Ageha in the company of his mother. Arisaka realizes that his colleagues are actually his friends for life, and he’s lucky to have found Ageha. Mother and son end up hashing out their relationship issues, which I think is a good foundation for Arisaka and Ageha to be able to move forward with their relationship.
VB Rose doesn’t have the over the top soap opera elements or trainwreck drama that makes some other shoujo series entertaining. Instead, it focuses on the small day-to-day revelations that push relationships in new directions. The core of the story is the network of friendships that have been built at the boutique, and the fact that the characters are so supportive of each other might make this manga seem quieter or more low-key than other stories, but insteadVB Rose ends up being much more heartwarming and sweet.
Today’s Saturday morning cartoon is Story of Saiunkoku! So many pretty men! So much wind blowing flower petals!
Bunny Drop Volume 2 by Yumi Unita
I’ve had the second volume of Bunny Drop for several weeks, and when I finally picked it up I was reminded of how charming this low-key josei series is. Daikichi and Rin have settled in to their new lives together, but trouble looms ahead as Daikichi starts to try to track down Rin’s real mother. He also has to deal with school enrollment for his new charge, and the societal implications of his choice to voluntarily downsize his job.
One of the things that I like about this series is that despite the premise of a batchelor suddenly having to take care of his five year old aunt, it isn’t overly sentimental. Daikichi isn’t drawn to look particularly handsome, and most of the time he his expressions look just like what you’d expect from an overburdened new father. Fortunately for Rin, Daikichi’s family has started to warm towards her, and she’s able to enjoy visiting with them. Daikichi’s mom starts going into full on crafting mode, making school supply bags and digging out old handknit sweaters for Rin. It was fun seeing the subtle ways Daikichi and RIn have bonded as a family. When she has something to say to him that she’s afraid of saying out loud, she just stares at him until he leans down so she can whisper in his ear.
I was surprised at how quickly the mystery of Rin’s mother was solved. Daikichi figures out who she is and goes to meet her. As befitting the subtle ways Bunny Drop handles character and plot development, she isn’t a monster who abandoned her child. She’s a very confused young woman who seems to have brainwashed herself to discard any maternal instinct whatsoever. Daikichi decides not to feel guilty about stepping into the role of Rin’s parent, because he’s clearly the only person in her life who actually is trying to take care of her interests.
Bunny Drop isn’t a series with extreme highs and lows. It has a measured approach to storytelling that feels very naturalistic, and the way Unita portrays Rin’s milestones like getting a new school backpack or being able to help in the kitchen seems like an accurate portrayal of a young girl slowly beginning to grow up.
Library Wars Volume 2
The plot in Library Wars might not be the most serious, and the art might not be the best out of all the shoujo series that I’m currently reading but this manga about a militarized task force of librarians seems tailor made for me. In the second volume Iku struggles with her relationship with new recruit Tezuka, whose excellence at academics and marksmanship cause him to look down at his bumbling female classmate. Iku’s roommate Shibasaki figures out that there might be a mole in the library corps. Iku’s team comes together in an attempt to foil the evil temporary head librarian. Dojo continues to act hot and cold, throwing himself over Iku to prevent some shelving from falling on her, then flicking her in the face after he tends to her wounds. When the Media Betterment Committee executes a raid on library corps headquarters, Iku’s quick tactical thinking and physical courage cause her to finally win Tezuka’s respect and he asks her out. She isn’t sure what to do.
One of the things I find amusing about Library Wars is the more intelligent members of the supporting cast are all aware that Iku and Dojo are in love with each other, even if the hapless future couple are determined not to confront their feelings. Shibasaki runs to Dojo with the news that Tezuka has asked out Iku and mockingly proposes herself as his replacement girlfriend. Dojo tells her “I don’t think I can take the competition. There are going to be a lot of jealous men.” Dojo doesn’t try to prevent the recruits from going out, but he warns Tezuka that if he goes out with Iku, he better take it seriously. Iku and Dojo continue to grow closer, and when Iku finally answers Tezuka it is clear that the two trainees are much better off as friends.
Library Wars Volume 3
This volume puts romance aside to focus on censorship, specifically the very common “Think of the children!” type of censorship that often results in book challenges at school libraries. Not surprisingly, children aren’t happy about having their access to their favorite series limited, and a pair of boys touches off an incident when they try to set off fireworks at a pro-censorship rally. Dojo sends Kasahara to grab the perps, and her super speed results in their capture, much to Tezuka’s dismay. Kasahara ends up bonding with her two juvenile delinquents when they reveal that their favorite series is going to be censored. She yells “It’s a great series! Why would they do that?” Dojo quickly warns “Don’t conspire with suspects!” After being lectured by the frightening Major Genda, the boys decide that they’ll fight censorship with research, designing a survey and compiling the responses from the other kids. The kids’ book censorship problem ends up getting solved in an unsubtle way, but I still enjoyed the way the library corps members worked together in an attempt to solve the problem
Dojo confronts Iku over her habit of romanticizing her mysterious library corps prince who helped her when she was a child and her favorite book was about to be censored. Dojo says “If he hadn’t mislead you by overstepping his authority, perhaps you would have better respect for the rules.” Still not realizing Dojo is talking about himself, Iku fires back “If it had been you in that bookstore, I wouldn’t be where I am today!” Iku’s life is complicated further when a reporter wants to profile her, and her parents announce that they are going to come for a visit.
Since everyone but Iku and Dojo know that the couple is going to end up together, there isn’t a whole lot of suspense in Library Wars: Love and War. In some ways, the lack of suspense translates into a cozy and stress-free read. It is easy to see where the plot is going, but I enjoy the characters and the militarized library setting so much the shortcomings of this series don’t bother me at all. I tend to read Library Wars for the scattered moments when Iku and Dojo seem like they’re getting close to an emotional breakthrough, and the fighting scenes as librarians battle censorship are a bonus.
I do hope that Iku comes into her own soon though. It seems to me that she lacks the life experience to leverage her gifts to her advantage. Dojo says to Iku at the end of the second volume “Your honesty and sense of justice, they’ll become your strength in the future.” I think that Iku’s quick reflexes and tendency to leap into action have been hindering her so far, but for someone who appears to be not very intelligent about alphabetizing books, she has some soldier’s instincts that can’t be taught. So far Dojo and Iku have been locked into a mentor/mentee relationship, so I hope they’re able to function more as equal partners by the end of the series.
Review copy of volume 3 provided by the publisher.