For those who read my reviews by category (like me), I have reviews of Dengeki Daisy 6, Itazura Na Kiss 6 and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 2 in this week’s Bookshelf Briefs.
By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
First off, I can’t help but note that Vol. 59 is solicited in the back of this book for Feb. 2012. Oh Viz, you caught up with One Piece so well and now you fall behind again… sigh. However, first we get to read Volume 58, which is filled with one gigantic melee fight… again. This is a classic case where the release schedule is hurting the arc, as seeing these volumes so infrequently makes us more frustrated that the battle is moving, for Oda, relatively slowly.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot going on here, because there is. Whitebeard continues to have his forces inexorably move towards Ace’s execution scaffold, even as he takes mortal wound after mortal wound. Akainu proves to once more be a completely insane rabid dog (I was chilled when he asked “which platoon was that traitor with”, and the other marines desperately pointed out it was a pirate in disguise, clearly seeing that he planned to kill the whole platoon out of spite). And Luffy is leveling up with something called Haki, which we’ve seen before on occasion but really gets pointed out here. On the surface, it would appear to be ‘shouting so that people stop’, but is more about force of personality, I think. It’s something Luffy would have to develop instinctively, I think, and fits him well.
Our minor characters get stuff to do as well! Mr. 3 really astounded me here, not only disguising himself as a marine and making hi way to where he was one of the two men there to execute Ace (!!), but when asked about it reluctantly admits he’s pissed off about what happened to Mr. 2. We’ve seen gangs of villains turn out to have strong loyalty to each other even within Baroque Works before, but honestly, I was not expecting Mr. 3 to be one of them. I hope he makes it out of this. As for Coby… well, poor Coby. He really should have known better. If it helps, Coby, Garp also got punched out (though that was clearly deliberate).
And finally (FINALLY) Ace is freed… once he has admitted to himself that he doesn’t want to die, and allows himself to be freed. There’s a bit of a callback to Nico Robin in Ace’s arc, with his desperate please turning out to be a very deep self-hatred, but like Robin he is now ready to be proactive. Unfortunately, like Luffy, he is also ready to be impulsive, and is easily baited by Akainu, who starts tearing down Whitebeard as a useless failure in front of Ace. I’ll give Akainu credit, he may be the nastiest villain the series has ever had, but he’s no dummy. He knows exactly which buttons to push. And, in the end, we get… well, the final shot of the volume. Yipe.
This is a solid shonen volume of One Piece, but like some of my fellow reviewers, I think I’m getting a bit of arc fatigue, and would like Nami, Zoro and the others back in my story now. One Piece is the opposite of Bleach – it reads well weekly, and sometimes suffers in Volume form. Ah well, if it helps, the next volume will conclude the battle.
Though Midtown Comics expects some real winners this week, much of the gang looks to other distribution sources for one of the most-anticipated releases of the year.
MICHELLE: While this week’s list over at Midtown Comics does include some real contenders—Bunny Drop and Goong especially—I simply must go off list this time and pick what has to be one of the most highly anticipated (if not the most, but we are in a situation where Princess Knight is also on its way!) releases of the year: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. It’s a classic and a nostalgic favorite for many, but also has an empowering message for young girls. They’ve got a duty, a mission, they can become strong, and it’s up to them to make the most of themselves and save the world. Don’t miss the prequel/companion series Codename: Sailor V, either!
SEAN: Yes, while I really should be trying to drive up Hayate the Combat Butler’s sales by talking about how enjoyable this current serious arc is, it’s got to be Sailor Moon this week. Or rather, I’ll talk about Code Name: Sailor V, the series whose popularity is what led to Sailor Moon in the first place. Many who are unaware of the series’ origins have noted the similarities between Usagi and Minako, and there’s a good reason for that – Moon is just V with an added sentai team, as requested by the author’s publisher. This does not make V any less awesome – Minako is more proactive (and impulsive) than Usagi, which leads to some fantastic humor. (As TV Tropes noted, trying to contrast the two heroines: “Usagi is a crybaby and Minako is a drama queen.”) So happy to see North America finally getting a chance to read this.
MELINDA: Though I’m loathe to pass up the chance to talk more about Goong, I simply can’t deny the spectacular nature of this week’s release of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and its prequel, Code Name: Sailor V. Though it’s yet unknown whether I will fall for the series as so many have, I am absolutely thrilled to finally have the opportunity to experience what was the initial point of entry for so many American manga fans, and especially for female fans. These are absolutely my must-read manga for the week.
DAVID: For whatever incomprehensible reason, neither of the Sailor debuts will be showing up at my local comic shop, which would have been enough to plant a seed of dark bitterness in my heart, were it not for the fact that I can look forward to the fourth volume of Yumi Unita’s Bunny Drop from Yen Press. (Okay, there was also the intervention of a small squadron of Sailor Scouts who fired sparkly beams at me from their accessories.) I have a weakness for stories that unfold in something close to real time, and when you combine that with a thoughtful, slice-of-life examination of parenting, I’m pretty much undone. I love this book, and I’m looking forward to meeting more of better-than-he-expected adoptive father Daikichi’s extended family. Seeing a competent male parent, single or otherwise, is something that’s so rare in entertainment that Daikichi’s anxious, thoughtful efforts are particularly welcome.
KATE: Since Melinda is singing the praises of Sailor Moon, I’ll bang the drum for volume 12 of Goong: The Royal Palace. This gorgeously illustrated manhwa isn’t just for monarchy watchers, though anyone who followed Kate and William’s nuptials will certainly adore this soap opera. It’s for folks who like a good old-fashioned drama, with a big, sprawling cast of characters, a plucky heroine, several handsome suitors, and the kind of meddling parents who make Queen Elizabeth look like the founder of the Free Range Kids movement. And if you’re the kind of person who keeps tabs on what Kate and Pippa wear around London, so much the better: no one in Goong ever, ever leaves their room without dressing to the nines. In short, it’s a stylish, compelling soap opera that makes the most of its royal trappings, and I’m totally addicted to it.
Readers, what looks good to you this week?
This week, Kate, David, & Sean take a look at new releases from Viz Media, Dark Horse, Digital Manga Publishing, and Kodansha Comics.
Dengeki Daisy, Vol. 6 | By Kyousuke Motomi | Viz Media-It was only after reading this volume that I realized that not a heck of a lot plot-relevant stuff happened in it. We’re building up to what will likely be a big climax in the next volume or two, but it’s still a buildup, and despite the removal of one minor villain and the redemption of another, there’s a sense of the author trying to gauge how long she can spin out the Daisy/hacker plotline before she’s forced to fire the guns. Still, at the time I was reading it, I didn’t notice at all, as I was completely drawn in by everything. Teru still tends to be a damsel most of the time, as this is her role in the plot, but she’s not a damsel content to be passive, as her attack on one villain shows. As for Tasuku, it’s clear he can’t move forward with Teru till he gets over his own self-loathing – and we’ve not yet bottomed out there. Addictive.– Sean Gaffney
Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol. 13 | By Hiroki Endo | Dark Horse –In spite of the fact that the 12th volume of this series came out just under two years ago, I found it surprisingly easy to get back in the groove. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it’s a sprawling, violent sci-fi epic about a world changed utterly by a pernicious virus, a situation worsened by surviving humanity’s relentless desire to tinker with themselves and their world to gain advantage and power. It would probably be irrelevant to provide any kind of plot summary at this stage of the game, so I’ll just say this: Endo avoids just about every pitfall that can befall this kind of action drama. The technobabble is interesting, the ultraviolence is beautifully and imaginatively rendered, and the characters benefit from thoughtful and often surprising motivations. Even the sex scenes don’t feel quite as gratuitous as they could. It’s good stuff. Painfully slow to arrive, but always welcome. – David Welsh
Grand Guignol Orchestra, Vol. 4 | By Kaori Yuki | Viz Media –There’s a lot to like about this series, which I can’t always say with Yuki’s work. She really sells her blend of gothic violence and simmering emotional dysfunction. Unfortunately, it all seems a bit compressed. The overarching plot of Grand Guignol Orchestra – a troupe of traveling musicians battles an encroaching horde of doll-like zombies and tries to solve the various mysteries behind them – could have stretched out for a good long while, but Yuki seemed to barely begin scratching the surface of that premise before she moved into operatic endgame mode. To be honest, it seems like she’s working for an audience that can carry memory of the specific resonances of her style and fill in the narrative blanks. As a result, the most promisingly turgid moments here aren’t as persuasive as they could be. They’re all right, but they could be better if the series had taken the time to fully realize them. – David Welsh
Itazura Na Kiss, Vol. 6 | By Kaoru Tada | Digital Manga Publishing –Given that both the cover and blurb spoil the first half of the volume, I feel it’s safe to say that Kotoko and Naoki finally get together in this 6th omnibus and are married. Pleasingly, the manga doesn’t end there, but continues on with their married life. Unfortunately, given the story still tends to rely on “Kotoko panics and misses the point” and “Naoki doesn’t say what he’s thinking”, this can get even more frustrating. Naoki especially is hard – I’ve gone on about him before, but he really seems to want a wife who can literally read his mind, and doesn’t get how off-putting he can be. And Kotoko is still a dimwit, but her lovableness varies from moment to moment. Still, the sweet and joyous moments in this manga ARE really good, made all the better by the misunderstandings we waded through to get there.– Sean Gaffney
Kingyo Used Books, Vol. 4 | By Seimu Yoshizaki | Viz Media – Any volume of Kingyo Used Books that features manga by Go Nagai, Rumiko Takahashi, and Moto Hagio can’t be all bad; how could any self-respecting otaku dislike a story whose protagonists bond over their mutual affection for Ranma 1/2, or whose bespectacled hero is a connoisseur of classic shojo? The problem with Kingyo Used Books, however, is that even stories such as the aforementioned “A Common Language” or “Beautiful People” never deviate from the basic pattern established in the very first volume: characters stumble into Kingyo, reveal that they’re struggling with a difficult issue, then discover a manga that helps them feel better. The stories are so pat they often feel more like an Afterschool Special than a thoughtful reflection on the power of reading to transform our lives, and the shallow nature of the characters’ epiphanies — beauty is only skin deep, don’t judge a book by its cover — only emphasizes the series’ missed potential. – Katherine Dacey
One Piece, Vol. 58 | By Eiichiro Oda | Viz Media –With my long and turbulent history as a fan of soap operas, I certainly recognize what Oda is doing here. He’s creating a necessary sequence of events that will pay off later, even if that sequence isn’t necessarily what his audience has come to expect or prefer. The thing is, I only like it marginally better in One Piece than I would have on, say, All My Children. (This is because Oda, unlike a Megan McTavish, isn’t a manipulative hack.) So, while experience has taught me that I will eventually be sobbing and cheering at the edifice Oda builds from this foundation, I’m finding myself increasingly impatient with the absence of Oda’s lovingly crafted ensemble and with the relentless bombast of this seemingly never-ending battle. It’s actually pretty good stuff, but it’s wearing out its welcome, and I’m ready to get back to the regular delivery of great stuff. – David Welsh
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Vol. 2 | By Kenji Kuroda and Kazuo Maekawa | Kodansha Comics –First off, yes, the cover does look awful, as some of my colleagues mentioned before. It totally screams “tie-in fodder”. Which, to be fair, this is. That said, it’s still succeeding at trying to appeal to its demographic of those who have played the games but want more. The second volume brings Edgeworth into the story, and the manga is better for it – he’s dead on, particularly in how he tries to win his case while at the same time giving Phoenix the little hints he needs to turn everything around. The second half of the manga is a complete story, revolving around the murder of a costumed actor at an amusement park while doing a sentai show. The cases are much less convoluted than the games, by design – there’s just no time to go over everything – but even so, the resolution seems perfectly in keeping with the series. Perhaps we could get Franziska in Vol. 3? Please?– Sean Gaffney
By Yuki Yoshihara. Released in Japan as “Chou Yo Hana Yo” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.
It’s the final volume of this josei series being marketed here as mature shoujo, and there’s still a lot up in the air. Can Masayuki fulfill his dream of regaining the land Choko’s family lost? Can Choko get him to think of her as a woman rather than as a ‘Milady’ he must be subservient to? And can he ever stop being incredibly crass at the most inappropriate moments?
The answer to the last of those questions is thankfully no. Masayuki is as over the top as ever, and the ending to the first chapter, with his telling Choko’s intended about her ‘security blanket’, is one of the better ones. Choko’s reaction is picture perfect as well – she loves this man, but god, he can be such a terrible horndog and seems to think of absolutely nothing except his penis. On the downside, there wasn’t quite as much Gundam in this volume, Combattler getting the obligatory otaku reference this time around.
The middle of the book is comparatively serious, featuring some flashbacks to a surprisingly selfish Choko, and a crisis involving the land that Masayuki has been trying to earn back for so long being sold to an American developer. This actually leads to some conflict, as Choko knows that his desire to get back her land is the ‘servant’ part of him, and she doesn’t care about it if she can have him treat her as an equal. Unfortunately, much like the omiai suitor we saw at the start, the developer has sordid plans for the land, and Choko has to bring out her ‘Milady’ persona in order to get past the crisis… which makes him a more devoted servant than ever.
I will grant the series this, it is aware of its basic conflict, which is the fact that Masayuki will not let Choko get down off of that goddamn pedestal. The proposal in the second to last chapter seems almost too good to be true… and it is, as it’s Masayuki reacting on instinct rather than thinking things through. Sadly, when he uses his brain he realizes that he can’t go through with it, and even Choko proposing herself (an awesome moment) can’t turn him around.
Which is good, as it lets us have a final chapter of slapstick comedy, with some of the best violence and faces in the series. Choko is determined to get him to stamp a marriage license, and he is equally determined to avoid it. The shot of Masayuki leaping 20 feet into the air vertically, and then Choko throwing a huge steel desk at him (it’s helpfully footnoted ‘steel’ in case we were unaware) is priceless. But it’s not humor that gets us resolution – Choko finally gives up, and seems prepared to move on, as she notes that if he can’t do this for her then they can’t be a couple. And she’s right. And so (barring the ending gag, which is clearly a gag) he does, managing to call her Choko at last, and the final page is a wedding.
And so the series ends as it began, with a bunch of sweet moments interspersed with some of the most horrible sexism imaginable. If the series had taken this more seriously it would have been repulsive. But, like Ai Ore but even more so, there’s an undercurrent of humor that makes it more palatable to me. So much of Masayuki’s attitude is not designed to make you uncomfortable – it’s there to make your jaw drop. Exaggerated to grotesque proportions, it loses a lot of its bite. And in this final volume, Choko’s vacillating and tendency to be a damsel in distress is almost entirely absent, allowing her to finally be a strong heroine equal to her partner. This was an experiment for Viz, and I’m not entirely sure it sold well enough that we’ll see more Petit Comic stuff in the future. But I’d like to see more. Despite some reservations, recommended.
As readers of this blog know, I don’t always talk about manga. Sometimes I’m discussing other comics, sometimes I’m droning on for hours about Frank Zappa, and sometimes I’m going into great detail about which previously censored Looney Tunes blackface gags are now uncut on the new DVDs. And then there’s British Comedy, which I have had a great love for for years. I started with Python, and of course devoured all the interviews with the cast, where they discussed the influence of Spike Milligan. I then watched The Goodies, where the cast ALSO discussed Spike’s influence. And heck, even the Beatles have a song (You Know My Name, Look Up The Number) directly influenced by the Goons. I had to find out more.
And I did. The Goon Show scripts book was in my local library. That was it for a while, as importing from the UK was not as easy in those days. But then the BBC started releasing cassettes and CDs of old Goon Shows, and I quickly grew even more obsessed. Then a few years back, the BBC decided to do things properly. No more CDs of 4 randomly selected shows plonked down for a few bob. Now we got all the shows from Series 5 onwards (the earliest series that completely survives) in giant CD box sets, restored from the best materials by Ted Kendall, with previously censored jokes put back in, all with copious liner notes and annotations by Radio and TV scholar Andrew Pixley. This is the 6th such box, containing the 2nd half of series 7 (which ran in 1957).
The Goon Show was a radio comedy on the BBC from 1951 to 1960. The scripts were primarily by Spike Milligan, but he usually had helpers at various points in the series, either for reasons of time or for reasons of mental stability (Spike was bipolar, a diagnosis unknown to everyone, including him, until the 1970s). The shows in this box are co-written by Larry Stephens, a friend of Spike’s and another BBC radio scriptwriter.
The cast was Spike Milligan (known to North Americans for his Muppet Show appearance, where he debated Sam the Eagle and sang It’s a Small World), Harry Secombe (known to North Americans as Mr. Bumble in the movie Oliver!, and for the song If I Ruled The World, which he debuted), and Peter Sellers (known to North Americans). Each week Spike and Peter would take on a variety of roles, all of which would revolve around Secombe’s well-meaning but dim oaf Neddie Seagoon, who Harry always described as “myself, only more so”. Generally speaking, there was no continuity except the characters; the plot resets every week and starts on another venue.
The plots varied, but tended to rely on a fixed form. Neddie was the main character, and would be approached by unscrupulous con-men Hercules Grytpype-Thynne (Sellers) and Jim Moriarty (Milligan) to do something incredibly stupid and/or impossible for money. Neddie would start on the task, usually with the help of fellow idiots Bluebottle (Sellers), a crack-voiced Boy Scout, and Eccles (Milligan), a cheerfully idiotic simpleton (Spike based Eccles’ voice partially off Goofy from the Disney cartoons, which many Americans will note immediately). He’ll also run into Major Dennis Bloodnok (Sellers), a retired Army officer and filthy lying coward. I’m not being mean – Bloodnok admits it himself. Events would spiral out of control, and usually the show ended with one or more (or all) of the cast dead – only to be resurrected the following week.
This set is a particularly good time for the series. The cast know their roles well, and the shows have a deft combination of surrealist humor, old vaudeville gags, and a wafer-thin plot to hang it all on. The set contains a few of the best known Goon Shows, including The Mysterious Punch-Up-The-Conker, which has the skit ‘What time is it, Eccles?’, a legendary classic showing off the way Eccles’ brain worked. It’s particularly fun as Spike enjoyed savagely mocking the brain power of these characters, but also felt a great affection for them – Harry and Peter both noted Spike was closest to Eccles in real life, not for the idiocy but for the skewed view of absolutely everything that is displayed.
Other episodes of note on the set include Shifting Sands, set in India around 1900 (as many Goon Shows were – Spike grew up there, and was fascinated with the ragged edges of the British Empire holding on despite everything) with special guest star Jack Train from an even earlier BBC radio comedy, It’s That Man Again; Ill Met By Goonlight, a World War II parody involving the capture of a suspected German spy (and one of the best-times awful puns in the entire series); and The Histories of Pliny the Elder, a Roman parody. There’s a few duffers in here, inevitable when you’re trying to write a half-hour of comedy every week. Emperor of the Universe is a parody of Bulldog Drummond that doesn’t quite savagely attack its subject enough to really work. The set also contains The Reason Why, a one-off comedy written without an audience about the moving of Cleopatra’s Needle to Britain. It’s a very odd duck, with Seagoon playing a different character that nevertheless has Neddie written all over him, and Bloodnok popping in as well. Goon Show once removed, shall we say.
The set comes, as I noted, with a long series of production notes detailing what was going on behind the scenes as these shows were being aired. They’re a nice look at what show-business Britain was like in the 50s – Harry and Peter were constantly off doing other shows and performances, and the BBC at one point told off Peter’s agent for booking him so much that he was unable to do the Goons easily. There is also a short guide to some of the more obscure jokes – Britain in the late 50s is a while ago, and not many would recall who Hughie Green or Field Marshal Alan Brooke are these days.
A word of warning to those who buy the set – there are some jokes that were made in 1950s British radio that would not be made today, particularly as regards racial stereotypes. The show had musical interludes, and the singer of the 2nd interlude, Ray Ellington, was frequently employed in the show to play African tribesman, servants, etc. – usually with a Rochester-type voice (Ray’s own voice, smooth and BBC English-sounding, was also heard in his songs.) There’s also several Chinese stereotypes in Emperor of the Universe, which, being a Bulldog Drummond parody, is all about the fiendish Chinese and how they are destroying our lovely Britain. Spike was quite progressive in many ways, but his jokes are a product of their time, and it’s best we view them the same way we view Bugs Bunny doing Al Jolson impressions in blackface to sell war bonds – as a slice of history.
The Goon Show has dated somewhat, especially as so much of modern British comedy is influenced by it. Some people may listen to the shows and wonder why they rely so much on old, hoary gags (you should have heard the other comedies on the radio at the time!). But even they will then listen in disbelief at the sheer surrealistic nonsense that then pours out the speaker. Spike could take gibberish and work magic with it, so that the cast could hold each other hostage with boa constrictors, bribe each other with receipts of a photo of a five-pound note, or have the time written down for them on a piece of paper. I could listen to these shows over and over again and still get new things out of them. Priceless.
By Kohta Hirano. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King OURS. Released in North America by Dark Horse.
Drifters is the newest title from the author of Hellsing and is spanking brand new – even Japan doesn’t quite have Volume 2 yet. That said, it does *not* have vampires. Which means it loses a lot of North America’s strong “I will buy anything with vampires in it” market. Can it get past this obvious handicap and manage to find its own voice?
Yes indeed it can, even though that voice most of the time is a big guy with a sword going “FUCK YEAH!!” Drifters is not particularly a manga for those who want subtle, intricate displays of emotion or great attention to historical detail. It takes famous soldiers from all over earth’s history and plants them in a fantasy world with elves, then watches them simply roll up and start to do battle. And the battle is the main draw of the manga. If you’ve seen Hellsing, you know how much Hirano loves to draw melee combat. This is all about that.
There is, of course, a bit of a plot. Our hero is Shimazu Toyohisa, who is real life was believed to have died in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In this manga, he wanders off the battlefield, wounded, and ends up in a modern-looking hallway, where a mysterious man signs his name onto a sheet and teleports him through a gate to another world, where he’s found by some very Lodoss Wars-looking teens. He’s apparently not the first stranger to be found in these parts, so they dutifully take him off to a ruined castle, where he meets Oda Nobunaga, the Sengoku warlord, and Nasu Yoichi, a famous samurai from 400 years earlier.
They have apparently been brought there to try to stop a great evil from destroying the land (which appears to be controlled by a woman with the amusing name of Easy, who confronts Hallway Guy in a brief scene). What’s more, it would appear they will be joining up with Hannibal and Scipio, both seen here at a different castle that is being laid siege to, as well as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Opposing them? Oh, just Hijitaka Toshizo, Joan of Arc, and Anastasia Romanov, all of whom are on the side of the bad guys, and also seem to have supernatural powers.
As you can see, this reads like a fanfiction written by a 12-year-old boy. Luckily, Hirano is mature and has a number of manga series under his best, so the execution is far more interesting. Provided you just turn off your brain and roll with events, this is a hell of a lot of fun. Shimazu makes a good “Who wants strategy, just point me at the enemy!” type hero, and the Black King, although seemingly a straight rip from Lord of the Rings, is a satisfyingly scary villain. And there’s sword fights, and battles, and people saying “Who can possibly save us now?” It is essentially Hirano having a ball every week, drawing whatever the hell he wants. And oddly, it works.
Admittedly, it has anime-style elves, who I normally avoid like the plague. But if you can get past the fantasy setting, what we have here is a bunch of historical soldiers fighting each other wile laughing and making trash talk. It almost reads like something Marvel or DC would put out. Definitely recommended to anyone who likes this sort of thing.
Given that next week is all about Yen Press, let’s start with them. (Yes, I know Sailor Moon and Sailor V come out 9/13. Did you really expect Diamond to ship it on the same day it hits bookstores? Have you been reading my posts at all this year?) There’s lots of stuff from Yen that deserves mention, but I want to focus on one title in particular first.
With the Light, a manga about a young mother struggling to raise her autistic child, was one of Yen’s first manga series announced, and their most exciting. A josei manga that clearly was intended to be marketed to a much broader audience than anime fans, it was a sign of great things to come. And it turned out to be even better when you read it, heartwarming and inspiring. Sadly, the author passed away before she could finish the series. Yen has worked with Akita Shoten to make the final volume, out next week, as complete as it is possible to be. Everyone who loves manga that goes outside the boundaries of ‘fight, train, laugh’ should pick up this series.
Of course, Yen has other stuff too. There’s Bamboo Blade 10, which is about to start up its next big arc. There’s Bunny Drop 4, which is a big turning point in the series. My Girlfriend’s a Geek 4 will no doubt feature more knowing humor about the fujoshi lifestyle. Zombie Loan… I’ve never read, I admit. I presume it’s about a library where you borrow zombies for things they’d be useful for? And the cute moe librarians who run Zombie Loan? No?
And though I don’t cover manwha, I suspect I would be filleted by my fellow Manga Bookshelf colleagues if I did not mention the new Goong and Raiders manga. And for fans of OEL, there’s Svetlana Chmakova’s new series Witch and Wizard, which is written by some other guy… oh right, James Patterson.
Viz also has titles! Albeit not many. But one is the 18th volume of Hayate the Combat Butler! Yes, it’s down to twice a year, and it seems to only garner bad reviews online these days (that will change when I get a hold of it), but this one resolves the ‘End of the World’ arc in a dramatic way, then kicks back to the comedy. And another final volume, as Detroit Metal City comes to a close. I kind of lost track of the series after the first couple of volumes, but I have a lot of friends who love it.
And Dark Horse is putting out the first volume of Yasuhiro Nightow’s new series, Blood Blockade Battlefront, no doubt meant to appeal to Trigun fans the same way Drifters is clearly designed to appeal to Hellsing fans. Sadly, on advice from my doctor, I can’t actually look at Nightow’s artwork anymore without a 24-hour nurse by my side, so I did not preorder it. But I’m sure hardier people than I will be willing to read it and try to figure out what the hell is happening in the panels.
(Apologies to Dark Horse… if it helps, I’ll be praising Drifters soon.)
So what intrigues you this week?
By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.
By now I’ve grown somewhat used to how a Book Girl novel will feel. It will be based around a book of some sort (in this case, Saneatsu Mushanokoji’s 1919 novel Friendship) and the mystery plot will parallel the book in some way. It will flesh out the backstory of one of the minor characters we’ve met in the previous books. There will be dark, emotional themes that will connect with Konoha’s own thoughts and emotions. And in the end, Konoha will have grown a little bit more and moved on a bit from the girl in his past he can’t let go of.
But in general, the plot and mystery is not why anyone reads Book Girl. There were a few mystery aspects in this book, but I guessed at the most important one straight away, so they didn’t matter as much. However, it’s the characterization, style and prose that keep you coming back here, and in that respect Captive Fool is a worthy successor to the first two books.
This volume focuses on Konoha’s stoic and calm friend Akutagawa, and the discovery that much of his personality is a mask he puts on to conceal his past tragedies – both from others and from himself. Of course, this sounds a lot like what Konoha is doing now, and the irony is not lost on him. What’s more, the girl who was the focus of the first novel, Takeda, shows Konoha that being ‘cured’ of crushing emotional despair is not something that can happen over the course of a few weeks.
Much of the impetus of this book revolves around being unable to move on from a past tragedy, to the point where self-doubt and pressure make it impossible for you to do anything. Again, these novels are written for 15-17 year old readers, and I think these emotions would resonate well with them. How do you talk with someone after “ruining their life”? What if you make the exact same mistakes? What if one kind action turns out to be absolutely the wrong thing to do?
The author also manages to convey this to Konoha, the one who really needs to hear these words, in a way that doesn’t sound like everyone is acting as his therapist. The book Friendship mentioned above is being performed by the Book Club (and their assorted hangers-on) as a play, and so we see similar doubts and feelings play themselves out on three levels – elementary school (Akutagawa’s past), high school (Konoha’s present), and adulthood (the events of the novel/play). Growing up doesn’t always solve the problem.
Then there’s the ending to the book. I had discussed this with another reader, and it was felt that the revelation (which was a bit of a surprise, but not the complete shocker it was meant to be) was somewhat underwhelming, especially given that we’re only 3 volumes into what promises to be an 8-book “main story”. It seems a bit early for this particular plot gun to be fired off, in my opinion. But if nothing else, t shows us that when you are somebody’s mirror, you take on the same qualities as the person you are mirroring. Even if it’s unintentional.
Again, what I love most about this series is how much it makes me think about human nature. We see the growth of the characters, and even though it’s through artificial “what’s the mysterious tragic past of the novel?” means, that doesn’t make it less valid. And yeah, given the arc, I suspect the next book will focus on whatever demons Kotobuki has. But the writing and characters really make me want to find out what happens next. A great page turner, highly recommended.
It’s a Viz-heavy week at Midtown Comics. Check out picks from the Battle Robot below!
KATE: It’s time for the semi-monthly VIZ dump, which means new volumes of such long-running titles as Naruto and One Piece, as well as a random assortment of shojo and shonen series. My pick is the fourth volume of Oresama Teacher, a juvie-gone-straight comedy from the creator of Magic Touch. The fact that the same person is responsible for both series is nothing short of mind-blowing; I found Magic Touch tepid, tedious, and entirely too wholesome for its own good. Oresama, on the other hand, is fun and silly, with a great, feisty lead character and just enough edges that an old curmudgeon like me can enjoy it without needing an insulin injection.
MICHELLE: I actually thought the 58th volume of One Piece was coming out in October, so with Midtown’s list providing evidence to the contrary, how could I do otherwise than name this my pick of the week? It’s pretty special to be this excited about the 58th volume of a series, but mangaka Eiichiro Oda continues to do new and interesting things with the world and characters he’s created. In the current arc, for example, the simmering tensions between pirates and navy have finally come to a head in the form of an epic battle in the midst of which Luffy, and his kickass drag queen allies, strive to rescue his brother, Ace. Yes, I miss the other Straw Hats, but this is definitely going to be a volume I start reading immediately after coming into possession of it.
SEAN: First of all, I enjoyed The Magic Touch quite a bit, so neener neener neener. (Sorry, I had to respond, it’s contractual). For my pick of the week I will pick a final volume, the last of the josei experiment from our friends at Shojo Beat, Butterflies, Flowers. I have been back and forth about this title its entire run, generally depending on how much backbone its heroine is showing at the time. However, unlike some other shoujo series with bad reputations, Choko does show SOME backbone – when she puts her foot down it can be awesome. And the hero is of an over the top type we really haven’t seen over here – Tamaki from Ouran might match him for foolishness but is far too much of a gentleman to ever go as far into the gutter as Masayuki does throughout. Best of all, even if it’s offensive and wrong at times, it at least KNOWS it’s a comedy – which is more than one can say for Ai Ore half the time. I’ll miss it, and hope Viz tries more Josei Beat soon.
MELINDA: My choice is pretty surprising, or at least it is to me, but after reading the 36th volume of Bleach due out this week, I found myself more interested in the series than I have been for a long time. A long jump back in time might not be the most original storytelling convention ever, but it turns the focus away from battles and back to characterization, which is where I love Tite Kubo best. I don’t know for sure how long this backstory arc will last, but I’m grateful for it while it’s here. It’s nice to feel excited about reading Bleach again.
DAVID: I’m rather surprised to see myself type this, as I’m still on the fence about the series, but I’m going to go with the fourth volume of Kaori Yuki’s Grand Guignol Orchestra. My reaction to each volume so far has been mixed, but Yuki keeps bringing enough eye-popping weirdness and energy to the proceedings to keep me on the hook, even if consistency isn’t her watchword. Our band of zombie-fighting musicians has really put their collective feet in it as this volume begins, forcing Yuki to pay attention to her overarching plot. In my admittedly limited experience, her likelihood of success in this endeavor is about 50%, but I know there will at least be some freaky, “What the hell was that?” diversions.
Readers, what looks good to you this week?
This week, Sean, Kate, David, Melinda, & 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.” – Melinda Beasi
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. – Melinda Beasi
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
By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Dark Horse.
The second omnibus of Cardcaptor Sakura gives us Vol. 4-6 of the original series, which was effectively the end of ‘Season One’ of the manga. As such, Sakura continues to find and capture Clow Cards one by one, gaining strength and confidence, until the climax where she is forced against the most powerful card – and a powerful enemy. Or is he?
I always have to remember to downshift my brain a bit when I read the early 90s shoujo stylings of Cardcaptor Sakura. In a modern, 21st century world where most manga, shonen and shoujo, are targeted to the largest possible market, it’s refreshing to see something that is clearly meant to primarily entertain 6 to 8-year-old girls. That said, the downside to this – although perhaps not a downside so much as simply a different way of seeing things – is that there really doesn’t seem to be much happening for the first two thirds of this book.
There’s certainly lots of entertaining things going on. Kaho Mizuki, the new teacher of Sakura’s that showed up at the end of the last book, continues to hang around, trying to guide Sakura by means of subtle hints and gentle boosts to her confidence. The relationship between Sakura’s brother Toya and his friend Yukito is subtle (well, really, everything about Toya is subtle – he’s not a man of many words or emotions), but also nice to see defined as much as it’s going to be in this sort of manga. And the chapter where Sakura and Syaoran have to put on a play is the funnest of the lot, with some classic gender reversal going on, and Yamazaki at his funniest.
That said, it does seem to meander a bit, so I was quite happy when things started to heat up towards the end. CLAMP have a lot of plot gun surprises going on, most of which they did a good job of building up to or giving hints for, and they pop out one by one – Cerebus’ true form, the final Clow Card, the Card’s other guardian, and finally Sakura, having proven that she can capture the cards, has to be judged worthy of being the cards’ leader. Of course, the outcome is not really in doubt – Sakura has spent the previous five books being awesome, after all, it’s not going to reject her right at the end – but the way that the cards end up judging her, rather than Yue, the aforementioned guardian, is excellent. As for Yue’s identity, it gives him a certain gravitas that I don’t think he’d have had as ‘just a random, last-minute character’, and adds some depth to his alter ego as well.
I missed Tomoyo, who was all over the first volume of these but appeared far less in this one. Syaoran is clearly the co-star of the series with Sakura now, and though we have not yet approached the romance stage – Sakura’s still far too young and naive – it’ clear that’s where we’re headed. I also note that people who like shaded characters and some flaws in their heroes are going to have issues with this manga – Sakura may worry and lack confidence at times, but she’s also a kickass magical girl good at sports and beloved by all her friends. As for Kaho, I like her, but I wish she was less nice and sweet. Everyone’s kind and considerate and seems to have all their ducks in a row, so to speak.
So it’s not exactly great angsty drama, but the second CCS omnibus is fun, fluffy magical girl shoujo that is perfect for a young girl wanting to read some manga. And Dark Horse’s presentation matches the first volume – crisp, sharp images, nice thick paper, oversize, and with lots of color pages. Also, despite being CLAMP, fear not – this series has an ending. Though not quite yet. Volume 3 will arrive soon, and bring with it one of the most controversial characters in the series, Eriol.
In the meantime, we have this book. Guaranteed to make you feel all floaty.
It’s the first week of the month, and you know what that means. Far, far too much manga. What’s worse, Diamond is finally catching up with Kodansha. (Midtown, not so much). I mentioned most of the titles coming in last week (Bloody Monday, Cage of Eden, Phoenix Wright), but one I did not is the re-release of Gon, the adorable (and fearsome) baby dinosaur manga that is actually getting its third re-release. Kodansha is apparently trying to pitch it for a movie, and I think it could be a big hit with the right company. Naturally, being about the antics of a baby dino, it ran in Kodansha’s magazine for adult salarymen, Weekly Morning.
There is also Dark Horse, which is now releasing the 39th volume of Oh My Goddess. I should note that Dark Horse is worried about how old fans will think the manga is given the high volume number, and so ongoing volumes will also remain Volume 39, in tribute to Jack Benny.
The rest is aaaaaaaaall Viz. From Weekly Shonen Jump: Bleach 36, Death Note omnibus 5, Naruto 7-8-9 omnibus, regular Naruto 52, One Piece 58, and Toriko 6. There’s also Ultimo from Jump Square. All featuring Friendship, Perseverance, and Victory. There’s also Kekkaishi 7-8-9 omnibus as well, which is from Shonen Sunday, so is legally obligated not to have friendship, perseverance, or victory. Sad, really.
On the shoujo end, we have cute Hakusensha mangas! Library Wars 6, La Corda D’Oro 14 (another in Viz’s ‘see, it’s not cancelled, just on a ‘no one buys this at all’ schedule!’ titles), and Oresama Teacher 4. Slightly less cutely, we get Grand Guignol Orchestra 3. We have cute Shueisha manga! It’s another volume of tug-at-your-heartstrings Kimi ni Todoke. We have sexy Shogakukan manga! There’s ‘Who am I to argue with its sales?’ Black Bird 10, as well as techno-thriller shoujo romance Dengeki Daisy 6. And we have one final volume, as not-really-shoujo smutty comedy Butterflies, Flowers ends with Vol. 8. I’m betting on a wedding.
All this and a Pokemon Black and White! Are you prepared for this much manga?
By Oh!Great. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Ultra Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
We left off last time in the middle of a big melee at a bowling alley, and that’s where we stay for about half of this omnibus volume (it was Vol. 3-4 in Japan), as our ongoing villains begin to show their badassery, and our heroes realize that they really aren’t strong enough right now to do much about it. Not even Maya.
In terms of plot, there is some stuff thrown to us. Aya’s supernatural powers become more clear in these chapters, and it’s noted that her sister does NOT have the same ability – despite apparently being able to turn into a little kid. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, and Aya’s still a moody teenager – she knows there’s no one to blame regarding Soichiro falling for her sister, but gets jealous anyway, and luckily there’s a handy demon blade to bring out her darker emotions. We don’t get to see what happens with her here, but I imagine it won’t be pleasant.
Then there’s her sister Maya, who gets expelled from school as a consequence of ‘defying’ the executive council at the bowling alley. In the present-day, she’s seemingly trying to do what’s best for the club, despite having ‘I am doomed’ written across her forehead. We do start to get a look at her past towards the end, though, featuring a Maya who has all the bravado of Soichiro – and like Soichiro, gets her ass handed to her. Multiple times. We also meet her brother in the flashback, whose death plays such a huge role in the mentalities of the cast.
To be honest, after 2 omnibus volumes of Tenjo Tenge, the character I probably like and respect most is Chiaki, Bob’s girlfriend, who’s also the only non-combatant. Trapped in the bowling alley with the rest of the fighters, and at one point literally shoved into a locker to protect her, she nevertheless manages to talk Bob down when he’s given an offer by the head bad guy to join them so he can achieve his true potential. What’s more, her confrontation with Maya, and subsequent discussion with Bunshichi shows her trying to come to terms with the aftermath of her rape, and trying to help Bob by understanding exactly how it is things at the school got to this point. I know she’s merely a minor character, but she’s handled quite well.
All this chatter about plot and characterization is deceptive, of course. For all the demon powers, the tragic pasts, and the philosophy of why mankind fights, this is still just a lot of people hitting each other hard, occasionally contrasted with the nudity and fanservice. The appearance of depth does not equal actual depth, and so while Tenjo Tenge is an addictive page-turner, it’s still like eating cake rather than eating steak, no matter how many manly fights are in it.
Oh yes, and Masataka’s comic relief persona gets very old very fast.