Sesho's Anime And Manga Reviews (manga reviews)
My main focus is reviewing manga and anime, but I also review Japanese literature, movies, and videogames. Basically, if it has anything to do with Japan, I'll talk about it, along with a dash of Korea and China.

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  • Manga podcast review of Sailor Moon Volume 1 by Naoko Takeuchi. Translated and adapted by William Flanagan. Published by Kodansha Comics, $10.99, Rated 13+

     

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: Episode_242--_Sailor_Moon_1v2.mp3
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:08pm CDT

    Manga Review: Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 18

    Manga review of Fullmetal Alchemist volume 18 by Hiromu Arakawa. Translation by Akira Watanabe. Adapted by Jake Forbes. Originally published in Japan by Square Enix. Published in US by Viz, $9.99, Rated T for Teen.

    At Fort Briggs in the far North, ruled over by the ice queen Major General Armstrong, things are heating up. The Homunculi have been using Winry's life as blackmail to keep Ed and Al from telling everyone about their evil plan to use the entire country of Amestris to make a transmutation circle. The Elric brothers have done everything they could to keep her out of danger. So imagine their shock when Winry shows up at the fort last volume! Kimblee, the Homunculi ally, tells the brothers that they must aid in his search for Scar....or else. Ed and Al decide to along with his order, hoping to find some way out of the situation along the way. Of course finding Scar, who is travelling with the dimunitive May Chang, is exactly what Ed and Al want to do anyway. Meanwhile, back at Central, Hawkeye, now serving as a the President's aide, finds out the horrible truth about his son, Selim, even as Mustang tries to marshal support against the Homunculi controlled government.

    I've said it before and will continue to say it until the day I die (which hopefully won't be in 2012), but Fullmetal Alchemist is simply the best manga series out there. I love it. The art is great, the characters are incredible, and the story, except for a few strains on believability, is masterful. It just seems a bit shortsighted for the Homunculi to let Ed and Al and others that know about the truth of situation to go running around doing their own thing. I know they want the major players alive for their "sacrifice", but it would make better sense to imprison them all the right time. Even a child knows that Fullmetal is going to be trying to constantly find a way to defeat their plans. I guess what I'm saying is that the "bad guys" in this series are kinda dumb. Or maybe they're just that confident. Maybe they are so sure their plan is going to work that they think there is no way Ed, Al, Mustang, and the others can stop them. If I was a Homunculus I would have made darn sure to get rid of at least those three. They're too dangerous. One of the best scenes in this volume is Winry finally getting to confront Scar about killing her parents. I'm not going to spoil what happens but she has to come to a decision. Is she going to take her revenge or find some other way of dealing with his crime? Brilliant work. An all-time great series.

    My Grade: A

     

     

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:27pm CDT

    Manga Review: The Prince of Tennis Volume 12

    Manga review of The Prince of Tennis Volume 12: Invincible Man by Takeshi Konomi. Translated by Joe Yamazaki. Adapted by Michelle Pengilinan. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated A for All Ages.

    Seishun is tied 1-1 with Yamabuki after losing one of their doubles matches. Now it's on to the singles as Momo takes on Kiyosumi "Lucky" Sengoku.  Kiyosumi's signature move is the "Tiger Cannon", a high serve that allows him to put the full force of his body weight behind it. Even as Momo begins to counter, he starts to suffer from movement inhibiting leg cramps. And it hasn't gone unnoticed by Sengoku, whose only interest is in winning. The second singles match features Ryoma going up against the psychotic Jin, the dude that's been bullying some of Ryoma's younger teammates and physically assaulting other tennis team members since last volume. It's pretty cool when Ryoma hits Jin in the face with the ball on their first volley to avenge his team. But the words "back down" aren't in Jin's vocabulary and he steals himself to give Ryoma all he can handle.

    I am currently in awe of the master Takeshi Konomi. Emerson and Thoreau might have been Transcendentalist writers but Konomi is a Transcendentalist manga-ka. I am constantly impressed by his work, mostly because of his constant inventiveness and control of his panel layouts. The Prince of Tennis never gets boring because Konomi surprises you with every page. He does full page layouts, 2 page splash pages, breaks up panels into interesting angles, sprawls characters across entire pages with the action as the backdrop, creating a 3D effect...wow, I'm out of breath. When I read these books, I feel alive, I feel like I'm a part of the action, almost like I'm on Ecstasy or something. When I mentioned Transcendentalism before, what I meant in reference to this book is that it almost seems alive, like you're really there in the stands watching the Seishun team play their matches. It's such an incredible accomplishment. To take static art and imbue it with such energy and kinetic movement. Konomi is a great.

    My Grade: A+

     

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 6:07pm CDT

    Manga Review: Blade of the Immortal Volume 2

    Manga review of Blade of the Immortal Volume 2: Cry of the Worm by Hiroaki Samura. Translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $14.95.

    Rin has decided that it's a wasted cause to track down every member of the Itto-Ryu sword school to take her revenge since they will just recruit more swordsmen to replace the ones she and Manji kill. Instead she wants to track down the leader, Anotsu Kagehisa. Even so, Rin and Manji go up against two of Anotsu's disciples in this second volume of Blade of the Immortal. The first, Magatsu Taito, bears the Chinese sword that belonged to Rin's father, a sword that means all the world to her and her family. Secondly, there's Eiku Shizuma, a 200 year old fighter that, just like Manji, also has the holy bloodworms inside his body.

    I enjoyed this second book a lot more than the first. The translation of Lewis and Smith is much more tolerable, or at least more subtle in its jarringness. There are some moments where Manji talks like a ghetto dweller with his constant use of "Shit, man!" but I guess I'm getting more used to it. Or maybe I'm understanding what the translators were TRYING to do, but horribly failing at. To make Manji a streetwise smartass bad mofo. But I think they could have done it in a different way. An awkward moment that really stood out at the end of the book was when Rin tells Manji his blood pressure is too high. Ok, can someone please tell me how the medieval Japanese knew anything about blood pressure?

    The art by Samura rises to an even higher level than in the first installment. He seems to be more adept at blending his contrasting styles of intense line work and using different edges of his pencil. Whereas before his different techniques were a bit haphazard, and at times, disconcerting, the flow is a lot better here. I'm really beginning to like the relationship between Manji and Rin. Except for grabbing her butt one time last volume, there is a lovely big brother/little sister bond forming between them. It feels very genuine. Perhaps that bond will prove more of a redemption for Manji that his task of killing 1000 evil men. That brings me back to an argument I put forth in my podcast for the first volume. Namely, who is truly EVIL in this series? Out of the three Itto-Ryu Manji has faced so far, probably given enough time, 2 of them could have been saved from the murderous lives they led. Most of them have some sort of emotional scar that has led them to their fate. But Manji isn't a psychotherapist. He lets his swords perform the twelve step program of chopping his enemies into pieces.

    My Grade: A

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:52pm CDT

    Manga Review: The Prince of Tennis Volume 10

    Manga review of The Prince of Tennis volume 10: "Seize the Moment" by Takeshi Konomi. Translated by Joe Yamazaki. Adapted by Gerard Jones. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated A for All Ages.

    Volume 10 opens with Ryoma being conned into taking over his dad's tennis lessons (he's probably too busy looking at porn). Suprisingly, his tutorees end up being Sakuno and her friend. In a strange twist of fate, an errant ball by Sakuno leads to her getting bullied by the Ginka Jr. High tennis team. Ginka happens to be Seishun's next opponent in the upcoming City Tournament Semifinals. And Ryoma decides to take them on by himself. All 30 members! We also meet a new character named Jin, a Yamabuki Junior High tennis player who has a slight psychopathic streak. He starts kicking and punching anybody that tells him what to do. Instead of a chip on his shoulder, he appears to have a mountain! His new target of hostilty seems to be Ryoma Echizen. As the semifinals approach, Captain Tezuka decides to prep everyone by having intrasquad matches. First up is Ryoma vs. Shusuke.

    I have to say that even though he's not a common pompadour sporting street thug, Ryoma is quite the badass when he wants to be. He's not afraid to stand up against 30 guys if it means protecting Sakuno. He also doesn't back down from confrontation with Jin, who appears to strike the fear of god into all those that cross him. It's just really cool seeing Ryoma being brave even if he is a little dude.

    I also wanted to comment on the genius of Takeshi Konomi's character designs. As you can tell from the cover of this volume, Konomi is not afraid to show off his team in a shojoesque, maybe even faintly yaoish way. It says on the splash page that while the Prince of Tennis was originally intended to be a comic for boys, it attracted legions of female fans. And it's easy to see why. The main cast would not look out of place, with some minor modifications, in the pages of Fruits Basket. And that's what makes Konomi so smart. I think you have all the Shonen Jump action and level progression along with the good looks of the guys and their relationships with each other which leans more towards the shojo side of things.

    My Grade: A

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:52pm CDT

    Manga Review: The Prince of Tennis Volume 6

    Manga review of The Prince of Tennis volume 6: Sign of Strength by Takeshi Konomi. Translated by Joe Yamazaki. Adapted by Gerard Jones. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated A for All Ages.

    Volume 5 ended with Tezuka asking Coach Ryuzaki to let him play Ryoma. We don't really get to see the match in Volume 6. We just see the end and the effect it has on Ryoma. His match against Tezuka fires his competitive spirit and makes him want to learn how to improve his game. He even asks his dad for help, which would have been out of the question before this volume. In fact, everyone on the Seishun team is doing their best to train for the City Tournament. Of course, Sadaharu, the master trainer and statistican, has a sinister plan to help them reach their true potential, even if they get killed in the process. As the City Tournament gets under way, Seishun is the #2 seed behind Hyotei Academy. Seishun is hoping to get some payback since they lost to Hyotei in the Tournament last year. And of course, the pesky but talented Fudomine is looking for their own payback after losing to Seishun last volume.

    I was a bit let down by volume 6 because it only showed the LAST shot of the match between Ryoma and Tezuka. And it was also a bit confusing. It seemed like Tezuka won it, but when another players comments on the match, it made me think that Ryoma had won. I'm still not 100% sure of the outcome. This is due solely to Konomi's failure to easily convey what happened. I feel as though the REAL match between these two players is yet to happen. I'm sure when Tezuka fully recovers from his arm injury, and Ryoma faces some more challenges, we'll arrive at this same spot and a whole volume of this series will be spent on the match. But it just seemed cheap to me. If you're not going to show the match, don't even have them play each other yet. Because Konomi was being too much of a tease, it led to my confusion. Otherwise, as always, this series is a cool read, and I'm getting excited about seeing all the players and schools in the City Tournament.

    My Grade: A

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:33pm CDT

    Manga Review: Blame! volume 4

    Manga review of Blame! Volume 4 by Tsutomu Nihei. Translated by Stephen Paul. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated OT, 16+.

    The Safeguard, the rogue security system put in place by the Authority to combat unauthorized access to the Netsphere, continues its assault on Toha Heavy Industries.  With Cibo dead, Killy basically has to take on a Safeguard army and a Godzilla size Gigeresque monster that can shoot graviton beams out of its mouth by himself. But even though Cibo's body is dead, her consciousness still lives inside the Netsphere. Within it, she and the Authority hatch a plan to emplant her mind into Sana's body.

    I have to say that volume 4 of Blame! was a lot more enjoyable and coherent than the last volume, which lost itself in arcane plot developments and dark indecipherable art. Even though some of the art in volume 4 was just as murky, there seemed to be less of those "what's going on?" moments during the action sequences. What made it even better was the fact that Nihei actually wrote some dialogue that answered some questions, especially about Killy,  that I've had about the series since the first book. Only time will tell if this title is showing a resurgance or this is just a blip of reason in an otherwise messy work.

    My Grade: B

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 9:05am CDT

    Manga Review: The Prince of Tennis Volume 5

    Manga review of The Prince of Tennis volume 5: New Challenge by Takeshi Konomi. Translated by Joe Yamazaki. Adapted by Gerard Jones. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated A for All Ages.

    Seishun only has to win one more match against the unseeded but talented Fudomine tennis team to win a berth in the City Tournament. Ryoma faces off against a Fudomine player named Shinji in a singles match. Shinji isn't going to be a pushover and he's not one to be awed into submission by Ryoma's talent. One of his weapons is to alternate topspin and backspin returns which causes something called "spot paralysis" which makes an opposing player's arm freeze up. Will Ryoma be able to figure out a counterattack against this strategy? Meanwhile, Inoue and Shiba, editors of the magazine Pro Tennis Monthly try to get an interview with Ryoma's dad, the legendary Nanjiro Echizen. It seems Inoue was one of his biggest fans before Nanjiro retired due to injury. Nanjiro agrees to answer any questions the two might have....IF Inoue can hit a ball past him on the tennis court!

    I wish I had known some of these moves that Ryoma and the others use during my time on my own high school tennis team. I would have been paralyzing everyone, snake serving, and twist popping the whole time. Of course 99% of these "shots" are a bunch of hokey. But it's fun hokey. I enjoy every page of The Prince of Tennis simply because it takes itself way too seriously, detailing each shot with the preciseness of a giant robot attack. Nanjiro, Ryoma's dad, seems to be a real piece of work. He's a porn mag monk? Why is it that most monks in manga and anime are the biggest perverts? Something to do with irony, I suppose? The setup for the next volume is a match between Ryoma and Tezuka. No, not Osamu, but the captain of the Seishun team.

    My Grade: A

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 9:11pm CDT

    Manga Review: Blame! Volume 3

    Manga review of Blame! volume 3 by Tsutomu Nihei. Translated by Stephen Paul. Adapted by Brandon Montclare. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated OT 16+.

    Killy and Cibo have finally come upon a structure left over from a time when humans could still communicate with the Netsphere. It is not part of the city so the Authority holds no sway there, which means their runaway Safeguard mechanisms don't either. Surprisingly, the name of the structure is Toha Heavy Industries. Hmmm...any connection to the Toa Heavy Industries in Biomega? Is this book taking place in the same world as that series, but in the future? It's unknown at this point. Maybe it will become clearer as I continue reading Blame. The humans that live outside of it say they are descended from "The Planters", the people that used to work inside of Toha, but none of them know how to read and they have no idea how to get inside it. Of course there's lot of battles with the Safeguard in this volume as well.

    My patience is starting to wear a little thin with this series. After 3 volumes, Nihei's messy artwork hasn't gotten any better. With so much emphasis on action, the artist finds himself woefully lacking in being able to illustrate it. Over and over again, I have to reexamine panels to figure out what is going on. Sometimes I am successful. Sometimes I just give up and move on. It doesn't help that during the fights, so much of the art is very black and dark which just adds to the visual confusion of already poorly constructed panels. And then there's the "gun thing". Killy's graviton emitter pistol is so powerful that it sends him sprawling through the air every time he fires. Nihei always draws him in the same nondescript poorly posed manner every time it happens, so much so that the whole firing of the weapon has become a unintentional example of comic relief. While there is a bit more scattered peices of plot in this volume, on the whole it's a bit scatter shot, just like the art. The worst thing about this book is that there is a giant monster fight straight out of a Godzilla movie. At that point, my eyes began to roll back into my head, especially since one of the monsters is a straight up rip-off of H.R. Giger's Alien designs. In fact, a lot of the designs seem ripped off from Giger and Akira. I am losing faith in this book. We'll see if find it in volume 4 or the series continues it's slow crawl to complete dumbness. I like the "vibe" of the book but it just seems so derivative and lamebrained at certain points.

    My Grade: C-

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 9:01pm CDT

    Manga Review: The Prince of Tennis Volume 4

    Manga review of The Prince of Tennis volume 4: The Black Unit by Takeshi Konomi. Translated by Joe Yamazaki. Adapted by Gerard Jones. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated A for All Ages.

    If seeds in a tournament were guaranteed wins everybody would win the NCAA basketball March Madness brackets every year. There's always a team that comes out of nowhere to shake up the brackets. The District Prelims in Prince of Tennis are no different. It was supposed to be a sure thing that Seishun would be facing Kakinoki Jr. High next. One of its players had even gotten in the face of Seishun's captain, Tezuka, last volume. But Kakinoki is eliminated by the unseeded team from Fudomine Junior High. Fudomine has a bit of a bad reputation because they had to forfeit the city tournament the year before because their captain, named Kippei, had assaulted his own coach! We find out he did it for a good reason. This year they're back with all-new starters and Kippei serving as their defacto coach. Volume 4 mainly covers the first two matches between Seishun and Fudomine. Shusuke and Takashi team up for doubles, while Kaido and his "Snake Shot" is entered in singles.

    As with a lot of sports manga that I read, or even a title like Hikaru No Go, I get excited about each match like it's really going to happen. That's the magic of manga that American comic books will never be able to capture. The excitement and thrill of a sport, a game, or just an ordinary event in an ordinary life, is something only manga seems capable of doing. Of course, there is always an element of hyper reality to a Shonen Jump title. I played tennis on my high school team, and let me tell you, I've never heard of any of these giant robot-like shots that I see in The Prince of Tennis. But it's there to make it fun. The thrill to me comes in seeing the characters face off against each other. I'm always in suspense wondering what secret shot each player is going to have and how Ryoma or the other Seishun team members will counterattack. It's not for everybody, but I love that kind of thing. The other thing I like about the series is watching Ryoma kick ass against other players that THINK they are kick ass. There's nothing better than seeing an megalomaniac egotist or bully be knocked down. If anything, Ryoma reminds me very much of Michael Jordan, who knew he was good and didn't hide it but let his game do most of the talking.

    My grade: A

    You can listen to my podcast review of Volume 1 of The Prince of Tennis here:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/podcast_episode_176_the_prince_of_tennis_volume_1

    You can also read the first chapter of volume 1 for free at Viz:

    http://shonenjump.viz.com/onlinemanga/sjom.php?chap=pot-hi-preview

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:04pm CDT

    Manga Review: Blame! Volume 2

    Manga review of Blame! volume 2 by Tsutomu Nihei. Translated by Stephen Paul. Adapted by Brandon Montclare. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated OT 16+. (This book should definitely be rated Mature for its ultra-violence and gore).

    We do get some answers as to what is going on in this series at the beginning of volume 2 of Blame! Apparently, people with "Net Terminal Genes" are able to access the "Netsphere", which seems to be the computer program running the megastructure that all the humans and non-humans of the setting are entrapped within. Net genes allow their hosts to communicate with the Authority, kinda like a middleman between the humans and the machines. Somewhere along the line the ties seem to have been severed, leading to the chaos and nightmarish world of Blame. Killy continues his lonely quest in search of the genes. He gets a lead at a human colony when he hears about genetic engineers living in Cluster Town and hitches a ride on a transport heading that way. A transport that just happens to get attacked by hostile humanoids. Even when he makes it to Cluster Town, he discovers he's jumped from the frying pan into the mutated tyrannical police state fire.

    Early on in Blame volume 2 I came to a stark realization about the utter isolation and loneliness of the setting and its characters. I hadn't really thought about it until I looked at one panel where Killy is sleeping cowered against some pipes trying to keep warm. Killy is surrounded by things and people that want to kill him. His only comfort is miles and miles of dark, cold corridors and metal. Nobody in the world of Blame seems to have established any ties between different levels or cultures. Every group looks upon each other with suspicion and thoughts of murder. It's a mutant eat human world. Killy does gain a companion towards the end of this book, but in Blame, you're never really sure how long any character is going to survive. There's always danger lurking. I did appreciate getting some answers to the questions raised by the first volume. Nihei's writing is a lot better in this second volume, while his character designs still smack of the generic, so much so that I mistook a woman character for Killy in one part of the book. Blame so far is a work of flawed beauty, messy but imaginative.

    My Grade: B+

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:36pm CDT

    Manga Review: The Prince of Tennis Volume 3

    Manga review of The Prince of Tennis Volume 3: Street Tennis by Takeshi Konomi. Translated by Joe Yamazaki. Adapted by Gerard Jones. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated A for All Ages.

    After putting some bullies in their place on the tennis court, Ryoma prepares for the District Prelims, from which the top two schools will advance to the city tournament, and then to the Nationals. Problem is that not everyone from Seishun can play singles. Some of them will have to play doubles. The prideful and independent Ryoma wants no part of working with a partner, and Tomo doesn't either. So they decide to have a match, with the winner getting to play singles in the tournament. They find a public tennis court but in order to use it for the duel, they have to challenge the doubles team that is already on it. Ryoma and Tomo play together but are unable to mesh their styles or egos and are promptly schooled and beaten. You would think they would swear off playing together after that, but both Ryoma and Tomo are sufficiently intrigued with the challenge of playing doubles. So much so that they volunteer to be partners in the District Prelims!

    What I liked about volume 3 of The Prince of Tennis was finding out that Ryoma doesn't know EVERYTHING about tennis...yet. He was getting a little too high on his little hobby horse for me, and he needed to get knocked down a notch in the doubles match.  Ryoma is a bit too rude so maybe this is the beginning of him becoming a bit more social, but I doubt it. He does stand up for the downtrodden in his own way, such as beating the crap out of some dudes that were bullying his friend's dad. And remember how he stuck up for Sakuno in the opening panels of this series. Ryoma can't stand the strong picking on the weak, but he sticks up for them in such a nonchalant way that he comes off as supercool. There's also an underlying tension in that there is already an anticipation that Ryoma is going to have to beat his teammates to rise to the top.

    My Grade: A

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:02pm CDT

    Manga Review: Culdcept Volume 2

    Manga review of Culdcept Volume 2 by Shinya Kaneko. Editorial supervision by Omiya Soft. Translated by Takae Brewer. Adapted by Jay Antani. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in the US by Tokypop, $9.99, Rated 13+.

    We heard a few enigmatic phrases about "The War of the Gods" which caused the Culdcept to be scattered and lost across the world but in volume 2 we actually get to see it. This is thanks to a Dragon Eye that belongs to Master Horowitz. If you look into it you can see the past through the memories of a fire dragon that fought in the War of the Gods. It seems that Culdra had to fight against a rebel god, Baltheus, much like God had to face off against Lucifer in the Christian religion. Baltheus was not alone in his rebellion. His allies were fearsome monsters, one among them being Beelzebub, Lord of Flies, that Najaran encountered in the first volume. To gain more information on the whereabouts of the Black Cepters, Horowitz sends Najaran to the dark and mysterious Bisteam Forest to consult with an oracle named Grubel. She's not the only one headed there. Zeneth the Dragon Eyed is also making his way to Bisteam, lured by tales of treasure and Culdcept cards.

    As in volume 1, the art by Shinya Kaneko is gorgeous. Seeing as how a lot of the work on Culdcept creature designs were already done, Kaneko could spend his time mostly on the world and his main characters, which really pays off. The introduction of two new party members, Alta, a searcher, and Joaquin, an alchemist, are also welcome additions to the story. I'm a little bit worried about the direction of the series because of what happens towards the end of this volume. Najaran and company are forced by Kigi, a nymph guardian of Bisteam, to face 4 challenges. They must pass through 4 gates to get to Bisteam City, each one with a challenge. So all of the sudden, is Culdcept going to become an RPG/ tournament/battle manga? Are these challenges going to take up all of volume 3, with our heroes facing stronger and stronger opponents? Hopefully not, but we'll have to see.

    My Grade: B+

     

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:38am CDT

    Manga Review: Sorcerer Hunters Volume 10 ​Manga review of Sorcerer Hunters Volume 10. Story by Satoru Akahori. Art by Ray Omishi. Translated by Anita Sengupta. Adapted by Mike Wellman. Orignal Publisher: Media Works. US Publisher: Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated OT 16+.

    The opening of Volume 10 is an exercise in meta-fiction as the cast of the series tries to decide what genre of manga fans this installment will cater to. Will it be shojo, shonen, magical girl, etc? After these few brief arguments the rest of the book tells a story about Carrot and Marron's parents, Onion and Apricot. From what I can tell, its set about 20 years before the current storyline. In fact, Onion and Apricot aren't even married. They're just fellow Sorcerer Hunters. Even Lord Sacher, the Hunter's main nemesis for much of this series, is still a good guy, though he's already showing some Anakin-like moments.
    Apricot is having second thoughts about being a Hunter, even if the sorcerers she's hunting deserve to die. For instance, the one she kills at the beginning of this tale was hunting parsoners for sport and murdering them in cold blood. Apricot feels there has to a better way to handle the problem and voices her concerns to Mother. In response, Onion and Apricot, along with Haz Knight Mille Feuille are sent to the valley of Galna-Galm, with no idea of what their mission is, but it might have to do with the mysterious origin of the Sorcerer Hunters.

    The best description of Ray Omishi's art is economical. He doesn't waste a lot of time drawing things that are unneccesary to the story he's illustrating. Don't get me wrong, Omishi is a good artist, but for instance, while his characters have a lot of detail, his mostly absent backgrounds seem to fit more in the shojo style. He can flip from chibi-style comedy to drama to action at the drop of a hat. This makes him well suited to illustrate Akahori's manic and sometimes bi-polar writing. Again, don't get me wrong. Akahori has no problem transtitioning among all the different moods of the work. When the characters interact in a comedic way you laugh, but your heart also goes out to Apricot as she struggles to reconcile killing sorcerers with her notions of what is right and wrong.

    Tokyopop orignally published this series in those old huge $17 manga editions flipped. It wasn't until later that they started re-releasing Hunters in the smaller unflipped editions. Unfortunately, out of 13 volumes, they stopped printing the new editions with this volume, which was printed 2 years ago. So I doubt Tokyopop will ever finish putting the other 4 books out. So you're left to your own devices finding the original versions.

    My Grade: A
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:51am CDT

    Manga Review: Happy Mania Volume 4 Manga review of  Happy Mania Volume 4 by Moyoco Anno. Translated by Shirley Kubo. Adapted by Leah Ginsberg. Originally published in Japan by Shodensha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Mature 18+.

    Kayoko Shigeta has been dumped by her latest screw buddy, but is anybody really surprised? Goro, the ceramic artist she liked, has taken off for China, leaving Shigeta in a depression. Well, she always has Takahashi to fall back on...but wait, she catches him in her apartment about to have sex with a former university classmate. And then he has the nerve to ask Shigeta to marry him? It's a pretty crazy situation, but that's usually how it is around this girl. Adding to the chaos is the fact that Kayoko is 4 months behind on her rent, her phone and electricity has been cut off, and she's also lost her job! There's only one thing that can solve all of these problems. That's right, it's time for her to fall in love again. Or at least find a hot-looking guy to have sex with!

    I would call Happy Mania a tragic-comedy on the level of a Shakespearean play. In order for a hero to truly have a tragic flaw, that hero/heroine must NOT be aware of their flaw. Because if they were, they could change, they could evolve. It seemed for a time that Kayoko was going to have some sort of epiphany and figure out what she's doing wrong. And I think given time in a nunnery, she probably could come to terms with herself. But as long as she is anywhere in the vicinity of handsome unattainable men, she is doomed to repeat herself over and over. She still thinks that having sex is a method of making a guy fall in love with her, instead of seeing that a truly decent dude would like and love her before she pulled out that card. And poor Takahashi, he is probably a good match for her. He's a nice guy. Too bad, subliminally, Shigeta believes that happiness and marriage are not meant to coexist. Is this girl ever gonna straighten up?

    My Grade: B+
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:05pm CDT

    Manga Review: Negima! Volume 6

    Manga review of Negima! volume 6 by Ken Akamatsu. Translated by Toshifumi Yoshida. Adapted by Trish Ledoux. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Del Rey, $10.95, Rated OT Ages 16+.

    Volume 6 of Negima is full of surprises as Negi, accompanied by Setsuna, Asuna, and Konoka, finally gets to deliver the letter from the headmaster of Mahora Academy. His mission was to hand deliver it to the leader of the Kansai Magic Association, called "The Elder of the East". The Elder also happens to be the son-in-law of the headmaster, which in turn makes him Konoka's dad. Of course, Negi had an ulterior motive in coming to Kyoto, which was to see if he could find any info about his missing father. But there are some that do not want to see the Kanto and Kansai Magic Associations getting along. Just when Negi thinks he's reached a safe haven Chigusa Amagasaki and her minions attack the Kansai temple and kidnap Konoka.

    Well, somehow, Akamatsu found a way for Negi's students to fight on equal footing with Negi against high-level magicians and even brutish demons. In the context of Negima, this actually doesn't strain the limits of believability. I didn't even blink when some of his students started breaking out sniper rifles or using Naruto-like martial arts attacks. It just made sense in this world Akamatsu has created. The art is great as usual and the fan service is plentiful. Some might say TOO plentiful. For instance, in battle, Asuna blocks a petrification spell that does not harm her but turns her clothes to stone and then they shatter, leaving her naked. She is then tickled by multiple tentacled arms made of water which seem to be groping in all the wrong places. Later, when she gets another set of clothes, she forgets to put on her panties, and so every battle she fights her butt is blowing in the wind. Literally. And what would a volume of Negima be without some sort of bath scene? Still, I find the characters interesting and the humor works most of the time, even though the series tries to be an softcore ero-manga at times.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: negima6.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 2:32pm CDT

    Podcast Episode 206: Naruto Volume 47

    Podcast manga review of Naruto volume 47: The Seal Destroyed by Masashi Kishimoto. Translated by Mari Morimoto. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $9.99, Rated Teen.

    From the back cover:

    Naruto inches ever closer to discovering the true identity of his nemesis, Pain. But is it worth it as the frustrated ninja begins to morph at last into the dreaded Nine Tails? Plus, an unexpected confession reveals incredible secrets about his past as Naruto prepares for the ultimate battle with Pain. Can the chakra-challenged Naruto win when one misstep could spell disaster?

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: Episode_206--_Naruto_47.mp3
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 4:33pm CDT

    Manga Review: Happy Mania Volume 3

    Manga review of Happy Mania Volume 3 by Moyoco Anno. Translated by Shirley Kubo. Adapted by Leah Ginsberg. Originally published in Japan by Shodensha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Mature 18+.

    Shigeta finally found a nice guy in the form of her ex co-worker, Takahashi, and even discovered that he was attending the prestigious Tokyo University. They even had sex last volume, but almost immediately afterward Takahashi announced that he was going to the US to study. Just when Shigeta had thought the man of her dreams had arrived on a slightly nerdy white horse! Without Takahashi in her immediate vicinity, Shigeta's too numerous to count psychoses begin to surface. She begins to doubt his faithfulness and worries that he will forget her because Takahashi is going to be away for 6 months. She soon begins to fall for a young ceramic artist named Goro who has some work on display in an exhibition at the department store where Shigeta works. As we have seen so often, Shigeta lets herself get absorbed by her obsession for a guy, at the expense of her survival and a previously existing relationship. She even convinces herself to quit her job and become a ceramic apprentice just to get closer to Goro.

    Just when I had begun to believe that Shigeta had matured a bit and gotten a clue last volume, she destroys any progress she had made in her love life. She has a very fragile psyche. As soon as she doesn't have a guy fawning over her or constantly calling her, she gets insecure. It's almost like she uses sex to remind herself that she is desirable. Without the continuous stream of bedded guys, she has to look at the hollow void within herself. I don't know if Moyoco Anno is simply chronicling the comical misadventures of a young single Japanese woman or critiquing the never ending quest to seek self-fulfillment in a manner that will never attain it. Shigeta keeps on looking for the antidote to her loneliness in guys. She never seems to understand that she needs to improve herself and her own life situation before she goes barging into other people's. She's on the ultimate ego trip, which in turn makes this series funny and sad at the same time.

    My Grade: B-

    Direct download: happy3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:38am CDT

    Manga Review: Sorcerer Hunters Volume 9

    Manga review of Sorcerer Hunters volume 9. Art by Ray Omishi. Story by Satoru Akahori. Translated by Anita Sengupta. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Surely, you remember Potato Chips, the rich little kid (or is he a midget?) that was always looking to hook up in love with one of the female Sorcerer Hunters. Let's face it, Potato would hook up with ANY girl! His slightly disturbing butler Jeeves has decided to cheer his young master up by holding a beauty contest. His thinking is that Potato will be able to meet chicks. Of course, the female cast of the series gets dragged into entering as well.

    The main drama of volume 9 occurs when Big Mama sends the Hunters to look into a rash of disappearing young girls in the Old West town of Tamales (Akahori really goes overboard on the names in this manga). They even know who is behind it: Marchioness Carlsburg. She's not really a threat to the Hunters though. The real danger is her ally and nephew, Lendoll, a gunfighter/sorcerer who can fire magic bullets against which there is no defense. a

    Sorcerer Hunters is written very well for the type of manga that it is. Yeah, you have some fan service moments during the beauty contest along with a lot of speech impediment humor. But you also have a lot of action in the Lendoll story arc with violence and gore as we find out the gruesome secret of why the Marchioness is kidnapping girls. Even the last story in the book has a very different tone to it as Marron tries to help a lingering spirit disappointed in love. That last chapter has the nostalgia and wistfulness of Aria. The art is serviceable but tends to break down in the action sequences and generally lacks backgrounds. But really, Hunters straddles the border between cheap thrills and more serious themes pretty adriotly.

    My Grade: B+

     

    Direct download: sorcerer_hunters.bmp
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:37pm CDT

    Manga Review: Happy Mania Volume 2

    Manga review of Happy Mania Volume 2 by Moyoco Anno. Translated by Shirley Kubo. Adapted by Leah Ginsberg. Originally published in Japan by Shodensha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Mature 18+.

    Shigeta has made a New Year's resolution. She's decided to give up on guys and love and focus all of her attention on her work. Uh, the thing is, she doesn't have a JOB! She got fired from her job at the bookstore last volume for missing too many days. Just when she's filled with the utmost optimism she discovers that her wallet, which had all her money, has been stolen. And then her roommate, Fuku, tells Shigeta that she's getting married and that she's moving out at the end of the month. So Shigeta's life is pretty screwed up at the moment. The only thing for it is to ask her mom if she can borrow some money. We find out that Shigeta is seen as a loser by her family since she hasn't got an education, doesn't have a decent job, and has yet to get married. But her mom does have a guy in mind for Shigeta. Meanwhile, Takahashi, the one guy that actually cares about Shigeta, decides he's just getting in her way, and that he has to leave the picture if she's ever to find her true love.

    Ok, I still believe Shigeta is a complete idiot. By the age of 24 I think someone would figure out that love is not just sex and vice versa. But I guess that's still pretty young, but come on, get your head together, Shigeta! She does seem to be making some progress as she at least TRIES to convince herself that life is not just about getting a boyfriend. It's also about being able to be independent and taking care of yourself. Too bad she doesn't really have a reason to be disciplined. She's always falling back on people, like her mother or Fuku. I think Fuku really does  care for her, but what can she do? You can't coddle someone forever. Shigeta is gonna have to learn to be a responsible adult. She does begin to at least entertain the idea of having Takahashi as a boyfriend in this volume as she finds out there is more to him than just the total nerd image.

    My grade: B

    Direct download: happy_mania_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 4:17pm CDT

    Manga Review: Inukami! Volume 2

    Manga review of Inukami! volume 2. Story by Mamizu Arisawa and art by Mari Matsuzawa. Translated by Anastasia Moreno. Adapted by Lorelei Laird. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by Tor/Seven Seas, $9.99, rated Older Teen 16+.

    Volume 2 ended with the arrival of Nadeshiko, a pacifist Inukami who serves Keita's cousin, Kawahira. She has been sent to stay for a week to teach Yoko how to be an obedient and polite young lady (actually, dog spirit). For reasons we don't know, Yoko was neverly properly instructed on how to be a proper Inukami. We also find out in this volume that Kawahira family members can have more than one Inukami, according to their spiritual powers. Kaoru is one such multiple master and his other Inukami want Nadeshiko to stay with Yoko and Keita because she refuses to fight the Jarei. Of course, you know Yoko isn't going to settle for sharing Keita so she becomes their enemy. Kaoru's team decides to fight back with their cutest member, the cute and diminutive Tomohane, who brings Yoko super-strength laxative laced cupcakes, which Keita proceeds to eat! Things get even more complicated as a "Mujina", a badger spirit, shows up carrying a lethal infectious disease called "Mujina Hiccups". The Hiccups can kill an Inukami.

    The thing that sticks out the most in my mind when I think if Inukami is the fact that the series is so hilarious. Some of the funniest scenes in this volume have to do with the cupcakes and the mujina. In order to get a vaccine for the Hiccups, a blood sample must be obtained from the mujina. But the little badger has the power to fuse things together to aid in its escape. Some of the characters get fused to Keita just as he feels he has to let a nuclear #2 rip. One of the most horrifying and funny scenes in the book is seeing a screaming Tomohane holding on to the doorframe of the bathroom as she desperately tries to keep Keita from dragging her in to the toilet (her leg is fused to his). The art is cute, comedic, airy, and always elegant, but never stuffy. Mari Matsuzawa has a real knack for interesting panel layout that never gets cluttered or confusing. The characters are great as well. It's so easy to settle into cardboard with a series like this but all of the characters have a warmth and authenticity about them that makes the reader feel like they are real people.

    My Grade: A+

    You can listen to my podcast of the first volume at this link:

    http://www.sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=406613

    Here's the link to read the first chapter of Volume 1 for free:

     http://www.gomanga.com/mv/index.php?series=inukami&page=1

    Direct download: inukami_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:54pm CDT

    Manga Review: Honey Hunt Volume 3

    Manga review of Honey Hunt Volume 3 by Miki Aihara. Translated by Ari Yasuda. Adapted by Liz Forbes. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan. Published in US by Viz Shojo Beat, $9.99, Rated T+ for Older Teen.

    Yura is still a bundle of nerves as she gets ready for the second script reading of the next "Noodle Girl" episode. Things get worse as she loses a contact lens, or so she thinks, but the loss might be the key to her regaining her confidence. Her lovelife gets more complicated as Q-Ta leaves for England for a month long recording session. Even if he had remained in Japan, Keiichi, Yura's manager, has forbidden him to have contact with Yura. This does allow an opening for the increasingly smitten Haruka to try to squirm into Yura's heart. He believes that if Yura sees him performing with his band, Knights, she will fall in love with him. But this is Haruka we're talking about, a dude that doesn't want to show that he's falling for her. Knowing that Yura wants to know more about Q-Ta, he dangles the carrot of telling her everything there is to know about his twin brother...IF she can get tickets to the Knights 3-evening engagement at the Tokyodome. Problem is, all three shows are sold out.

    A couple of reviews back I asked myself whether I would be able to continue reading this series. The reason I asked myself this was because I had a lot of hostility to Aihara's art. It just isn't that good. Yura is especially unappealing, looking like a giant lost fishhead  most of the time. But in a little afterword at the end of this volume, Aihara insinuates that she purposefully designed Yura as "plain". Now things are making a bit more sense. Aihara is going to goad Yura to succeed even if she isn't a "classic" model level beauty. She's gonna have to get by with her spirit, determination, and inner spark. She not only has to win over the characters in the book, but also the reader! I for one really admire her as she has developed more and more of a backbone, starting with telling her parents to go to Hell on TV back in the first volume. She not only refuses to stand in the shadow of her famous parents (especially her mom), she wants to exceed them! That would be like Julian Lennon saying he's going to write better songs and sell more records than John Lennon. It takes a lot of courage to say something like that, much less do it. I really like this story. I'm still trying to figure out if Q-Ta likes Yura or is more in love with her dad. And is Haruka really falling for her or is he just trying to take something away from his bro? Excellent shojo.

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: honey_hunt_3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:03pm CDT

    Manga Review: Negima! Volume 5

    Manga review of Negima! Volume 5 by Ken Akamatsu. Translated and adapted by Douglas Varenas. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Del Rey, $10.95, Rated OT 16+.

    Now that Kazumi, the leader of the Journalism Club, has decided to keep Negi's secret, she's in kahoots with resident weasel pervert Chamo in an effort to increase Negi's probationary contracts. She instigates "Operation Kiss Negi-kun Passionately on This School Field Trip". She splits the girls into pairs and tells them that whoever kisses Negi without getting caught by the other faculy members gets them on the limited edition trading cards that are a prize among his class. Of course, MOST of them don't know that they will also be entering into a magic contract at the same time to help Negi in battle. Unfortunately for them, there is now more than one Negi. Negi made some paper doll copies of himself so he could go out on patrol without being missed. But some of the copies are defective and want to get it on with his students! Meanwhile, elements of the Kansai Magic Association that do not want peace begin to make their moves to stop Negi from fulfilling his mission to deliver a letter of conciliation from his magic school.

    Negima is nothing if not entertaining. Again, the art is great, with Akamatsu making sure that things never get too serious. Even when Negi battles with a powerful fox spirit and gets the snot beat out of him, it never gets to the Naruto stabbing and cutting off heads realm. Akamatsu is about showing pretty girls and panties and he never misses an opportunity to showcase them. He really is a master of character design even if his plots steal from other better known Japanese and Western franchises. I enjoy each volume of Negima, but see little reason to ever pick up the new Negima Neo series. One time around with this story and characters is quite enough for me.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: Negima.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:02pm CDT

    Manga Review: Sorcerer Hunters Volume 8

    Manga review of Sorcerer Hunters Volume 8. Story by Satoru Akahori. Art by Ray Omishi. Translated by Anita Sengupta. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    You would think that after defeating their archnemesis, Lord Sacher, last volume, the Sorcerer Hunters would take a well deserved break. But they're going through all kinds of different emotions, from great sadness to happiness and elation. Tira and Chocolat are mourning the death of their adopted father (even if he was an evil psycho), while Gateau and Eclair celebrate their reunion with a brother/sister muscle-flexing exhibition, much to Carrot's disgust. It seems like every Hunter is finding someone to share their feelings with except Carrot. He's trying to deal with the fact that, Naruto-like, he has the God of Destruction sealed within him and that it might be his destiny to destroy the world. Can't anybody spare a little pity for Carrot? Their first post-Sacher mission is to take down a sorcerer named Count Poisson, who has enslaved hundreds of Parsoners to build a magic labyrinth that will make him more powerful.

    This funny series keeps on chugging along even though Tokyopop placed the 2nd edition printings on hiatus. Even though Volume 8 contains the Hunter trademark slapstick humor it takes a turn for the more sentimental and bittersweet as Carrot encounters the young daughter of Jingo Row, the designer of Poisson's labyrinth. It's not clear at first whether she's real or just a spirit, but she develops a crush on Carrot. The art is so inconsistent that it almost reminded me of an OEL manga like Night School at times. What I mean is that some panels were drawn very beautifully with lots of detail and backgrounds while others looked almost like amateurish rushed sketches that needed to be touched up. Overall though, I have enjoyed Sorcerer Hunters and will continue reading it.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: sorcerer_8.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 9:51am CDT

    Manga Review: Future Diary Volume 3

    Manga review of Future Diary volume 3 by Sakae Esuno. Translated by Yuya Otake. Adapted by Clint Bickham. Originally published in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten. Published in US by Tokyopop, $10.99, Rated 16+ (for mild sexuality, aggression, moderate language).

    As Kurusu and Minene look on from a rooftop, Yuki and Yuno are cornered by the traitorous Tsubaki and her cult. Yuno's solution to this problem? She cuts off Tsuabaki's hand with an axe! (sigh) Kids today. This does buy time for Yuki to get away but also gets Yuno caught. Now it's up to Yuki to decide if he's gonna risk his life saving his psycho fiancee/girlfriend/stalker. We also get to see Yuki's mom as she comes home after a month being away for work as a game programmer. She also brings along the kid of a recently deceased friend. Reisuke Houjou is a cute little tyke with rosy cheeks, fond of hand puppets and drawing. He also happens to be a diary holder, and his plan is to kill Yuko and Yunio.

    This series grows on me more and more. It's so over the top and schizophrenic that you can't help but love it. It reminds me a lot of Higurashi: When They Cry, with that title's mixture of horror and moe. Future Diary, too has an intriguing mix, but more along the lines of sex and violence. And a bit of horror too. It's hard to believe that Yuki could fall for Yunio (seeing as how she's crazy and maybe killed her parents), but I think he is. It's hard to reconcile her as a cold-blooded murderer, even when she chops people into little pieces, since she is so cute and so devoted to Yuki. In a cool move, Esuno makes her realize in this volume that if the game is to end, either Yuki or Yuno will have to die. It will be interesting to see how far her love will carry her before her own survival takes precedence. Esuno's art can switch between cute and grotesque at the drop of a hat and even exceeds When They Cry in this aspect. I'm beginning to suspect that the cop, Kurusu, has his own agenda. For most if not all of this volume, he lets Yuki and Yuno fight alone without lending any help. Cool series.

    My Grade: A-

    Direct download: future3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:58pm CDT

    Manga Review: GTO Volume 13

    Manga review of GTO Volume 13 by Tohru Fujisawa. Translated and adapted by Dan Papia. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated OT-- Age 16+.

    So the Holy Forest class trip to Okinawa is happening. Onizuka is having fun with the trip, bunking his class co-ed in the hotel, even sometimes shacking up arch enemies together. But something else got his attention last volume. One of his students, Kikuchi, told him about a legend concerning a Christian missionary that had buried 2 billion yen worth of treasure on Iriomote Jima, a sparsely populated island which is one of the wildest and most unexplored areas of Japan, consisting mostly of subtropical jungle. Deceiving most of his students, Onizuka tells them that they will be conducting research on how sea turtle eggs taste. Yep, that's the excuse he gives to make them start digging for the treasure!

    As they trek through the jungle, Noboru gets kidnapped by Anko and her cronies and they drag him deep into the wild. They tie him up, thinking that Onizuka will get blamed for his disapperance. Instead, the girls realize they have become lost. When Anko falls into a sea cave, it's Noboru to the rescue, which sets off a chain reaction leading to one of the most unlikely romances I've come across in the series so far.  

    The cool thing about GTO is that Fujisawa always uses the characters as the focus. Yeah, he puts Onizuka in there with all his rudeness and crudeness, but in the end all the kids and teachers are human beings. Yes, even Uchiyamada, who sets out to bring Onizuka down once again, only to find himself being lapped danced and boob slapped at a strip club and then ending up dredged in a fish net! The spotlight of volume 13 is on the evolving relationship between Noboru and Anko, which goes back to the earliest volumes of GTO. If you remember, Noboru was being bullied by Anko and her crew so much, he attempted to kill himself. My, how far we've come, thanks to Onizuka. Now, thanks to their test of survival, it might be that Anko and Noboru might end up loving each other!

    In some other manga series, characters are introduced and seem major before they move back into a supporting role forever. You have the sense in GTO that any character can step up into a starring role at any time if it serves the story. It can get repetitive at times because in the end GTO's main purpose is to find a way to reach every kid in his class, no matter how much they may hate him. But finding out how he reaches them is what is fun.

    My Grade: A

    You can listen to my podcast review of Volume 1:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=319225

    (I will say this. GTO is one of the titles Tokyopop has lost the license to publish, so I wouldn't dally if you want to try this series out. The entire series is now out of print)

    Direct download: gto_13.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:08pm CDT

    Manga Review: Otomen Volume 2

    Manga Review of Otomen Volume 2 by Aya Kanno (Soul Rescue, Blank Slate). Translated and adapted by Lindsey Akashi. Originally published in Japan by Hakusensha. Published in US by Viz Shojo Beat, $8.99, Rated T for Teen.

    The irony continues to pile on as Asuka Masamune continues his reign as macho man on campus even as he secretly longs for all things cute and girly. He's even picked up a disciple, Yamato Ariake, a young boy who is constantly misaken for a girl, and has been teased about it ever since he was a kid. Ariake sees Asuka as the masculine ideal and sets out to be just like him. Of course, the reader knows that Asuka is anything but the embodiment of manly men. Ariake also wants to man up so he can confess to a girl that has stolen his heart. The relationship between Asuka and Ryo appears to be taking a romantic turn as Christmas approaches, but Asuka's mom, ever watchful for even the slightest bent towards transsexualism, arrives on the scene and tells Asuka that he has a meeting with his FIANCEE! And just wait till you see the wacko his mom has set him up with in an effort to save him from his father's fate and also to cement a business alliance.

    I will say this about Otomen. The series is hilarious. Most of the humor in this volume, and a lot of weirdness, concerns Asuka's fiancee, Iruka Sakiyama. She is like the Messiah of Cuteness and Asuka finds himself hard pressed to reject her interest. She actually lives in a life sized magic castle dollhouse in her vast room inside her family's mansion. And she sees Asuka as her Prince Charming.

    Kanno uses Otomen to parody shojo manga, actually gently poke fun at its conventions would be a more accurate description. Until you got to the Iruka section, Otomen has been pretty realistic without using many over the top elements. Kanno's main device of comedy has been the irony of Asuka's character and she has done very well with it. She is still using it, but she's coming up with more interesting situations to exploit it. I really like Otomen. It has been the biggest Shojo Beat surprise I've gotten this year.

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: otomen2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:00pm CDT

    Podcast Episode 186: Astro Boy The Movie #1

    Podcast comic book review of Astro Boy The Movie #1. Adapted by Scott and David Tipton. Art by E.J. Su. Published by IDW, $3.99.

    Metro City floats above the Earth's surface, its daily operations taken care of by thousands of robots. They do any job that humans find to be beneath them. Dr. Tenma, head of the Ministry of Science, is in charge of their functions and their designs. Unfortunately, most of his funding comes from the military and the politically motivated President Stone. When Tenma's son, Toby, is killed during a demonstration of a new soldier/police force robot, Tenma creates a new robot in Toby's image. It comes equipped with Toby's memories as well.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: Episode_186--Astro_Boy_The_Movie_1.mp3
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:49pm CDT

    Manga Review: Hikaru No Go Volume 15

    Manga review of Hikaru No Go volume 15: Sayonara. Story by Yumi Hotta. Art by Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Ral Grad). Supervised by Yukari Umezawa (5 Dan). Translated and adapted by Naoko Amemiya. English script consulting by Janice Kim (3 Dan). Originaly published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, rated A for All Ages.

    Sai's time as a ghost Go instructor to Hikaru seems to be up in this fifteenth volume of Hikaru No Go, but he's having a hard time convincing Hikaru of this fact. Apparently the "Gods of Go" were keeping Sai hanging around all these centuries to let Hikaru see his match with Toya Meijin. He realized this last volume when Hikaru gave him a skilled analysis of the game between Sai and Toya. At this point Sai knows that Hikaru is on the path to playing the "Divine Move". Hikaru doesn't take Sai's warnings about his limited time seriously until he really does disappear. He spends most of the rest of the book trying to find him, all while taking time to play the top ranked Japanese amateur player.

    I have to admit that once Sai disappeared from volume 15 it made me a little nervous because he is such an essential part of the story. But I was also a little glad as well because it seemed like he was beginning to suffer. For the first time in the series, Sai is reminded of the fact that he is dead. Ok, this might seem obvious to us, but I think Sai thinks of himself as a real red blooded human with needs and wants. He's saddened a bit when he remembers that Hikaru is capable of "The Divine Move" but no matter what he does, Sai will never actually get to make it or receive any recognition or fame even if he does. We've seen a bit of it in earlier volumes, but I was beginning to wonder when these two symbiotes, Hikaru and Sai, would begin to fracture and fray. To me, it would be a nightmare to be in someone else's mind for 2 years 24/7. It's admirable that Hikaru has been able to tolerate it this long. But he has no patience when Sai gets all wishy washy, so that's why he blows off Sai when he warns that he might disappear. When he's gone, Hikaru has to decide if he wants to go on playing Go for himself or whether his desire was driven by Sai's.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: nogo_15.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:41pm CDT

    Manga Reviews: Arata the Legend/ Honey & Closer Chapter 2

    Manga reveiw of chapter 2 of Arata The Legend by Yuu Watase.

    Last we saw of Arata, he was being swallowed up by a forest and Kannagi was stating that he would have to come back as an entirely different person. Chapter 2 opens in modern Japan with another Arata getting ready for his first day at high school. On the way to school he helps catch a butt grabbing pervert on the train and instantly becomes a celeb to his classmates. He ends up making friends pretty easily until a month later a guy named Masato Kadowaki shows up. Apparently, he bullied Arata during middle school and made his life a living hell until he was treated like a leper. Surely, Arata thinks, this school is different. He has true friends here that won’t betray him.

    I am still amazed by Yuu Watase’s complete shift in art styles to meld better with the shonen genre. If I knew nothing about her and had scenes from Arata and Ceres next to each other, there is probably no way I would guess they were by the same artist. I was also impressed with the writing of chapter 2. Watase really won you over to the protagonist’s side very fast. Towards the end of the chapter, we see how this new Arata is going to interact with the plot of the earlier storyline. Shows a lot of promise.

    My Grade: A

    Manga Review of Hyde & Closer Chapter 2 by Haro Aso:

    Shunpei Closer is able to convince himself that the events of chapter 1 were all a bad dream until he walks in on his mom cooking breakfast for Hyde, an enchanted stuffed teddy bear. His mom doesn't seem to have any problem accepting all the unusual happenings. In fact, she thinks it's kinda cool and wants to tell all the neighbors! Meanwhile, another "Death Curse" is sent out to steal Shun's heart and this time he's gonna have to learn how to fight some of his own battles...or Shun is going to find himself a lifeless corpse.

    I'm still having a hard time seeing this title as anything but mindless entertainment, but the bizarre surreal humor is starting to grow on me. It reminds me of another goofy title, The Law of Ueki. The battles between ridiculous toys lends the whole thing an over the top quality that makes you giggle. It's still too early for the Death Curse of the week to wear on your nerves. Relax and have a bit of fun with this series.

    My Grade: B+

    View chapters 1&2 of both series for free at:

    www.shonensunday.com

    Direct download: arata.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:52pm CDT

    Manga Review: Naruto Volume 39

    Manga review of Naruto Volume 39: On the Move by Masashi Kishimoto. Translated by Mari Morimoto. Adapted by Deric Hughes and Benjamin Raab. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated T for Teen.

    Orochimaru is dead! Long live Sasuke! After deciding that he was stronger than Orochimaru, and thereby had a greater chance to kill Itachi, Sasuke used Orochimaru's own transference technique to absorb the evil shinobi's power. He now sets about putting his own team together to help him take down Itachi. Last volume he was joined by Suigetsu, a descendant of Zabuza, who was the first real test for Cell 7 way back in the first 4 volumes of Naruto. Then Karin, a warden of one of Orochimaru's prisons, who has extremely useful tracking skills (she also has a crush on Sasuke!) was enlisted. As volume 39 opens, Sasuke's band has arrived at another prison to pick up their last member, Jugo, a ninja whose bloodlust transforms him into a crazed monster a little bit like the Hulk. Jugo also happens to be the source of Orochimaru's curse mark. The ironic thing is that Jugo wants to stay in prison. He's actually a nice guy but gets possessed by sudden urges to kill. He sought out Orochimaru to see if he could be cured!

    Meanwhile, two teams of Leaf ninja are sent out to find Itachi. The reasoning being that if they find him, they will either find Sasuke, or if they can capture Itachi, be able use him as bait to draw out his younger brother. One team is comprised of Yamato, Sai, Sakura, and Naruto. The other, Kakashi, Hinata, Kiba, and Shino.

    One of the strongest aspects of this series is Kishimoto's ability to make every character, no matter how supporting or minor a role, into living breathing people. Every character has something they want, a motivation for what they are doing. There's nobody in this manga that is just there for window dressing. Now, that's not to say that all of their motivations are for GOOD.

    Kabuto comes off as a very tragic figure. We find out in this volume that he has grafted part of Orochimaru's body onto his own. The problem is that, like a living thing, Orochimaru's essence is trying to take over Kabuto's body. Kishimoto's genius is to show us that contrary to all our perceptions of the evil that Orochimaru has done to this world, Kabuto saw him as his father! That's right, Kabuto saw Orochimaru as his only family! Kabuto had no memory and was used as a spy for most of his young life before being taken in by Orochimaru. Weirdly enough, he grafted the body part on in a twisted imitation of Naruto. Now, he too, seeks out Sasuke, but for revenge. It's just so cool that Kishimoto has now made Kabuto into a abominated Naruto. Naruto is still working on taming his inner demon. Will Kabuto be able to conquer his?

    As usual, great writing, great art. This volume also has 2 Sasuke tear out bookmarks.

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: naruto_39.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:33am CDT

    Manga Review: Hayate Cross Blade Volume 3

    Manga reveiw of Hayate Cross Blade Volume 3 by Shizuru Hayashiya. Translated by Adrienne Beck. Adapted by Ed Chavez. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by Tor/Seven Seas, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Well, we finally find out why Mizuchi wants to beat Ayana so bad. Mizuchi asked Ayana to be her sister-in-arms two times, but was rejected on both occasions. It doesn't help that Ayana doesn't even remember Mizuchi when she sees her, adding insult to injury. They finally get to rumble at the beginning of this volume as Ayana and Hayate take on Mizuchi and Sou in a Hoshitori match to move up to Rank B. The real meat of Volume 3 concerns a fighting pair of swordbearers named Jun and Yuho. Jun happens to be Ayana's roommate and might even be a better swordsgirl than her. But she's not at the top of her game right now because she picks battles with weak opponents. Yuho, her sister-in-arms, is very sickly, and Jun doesn't want to push her too far physically by fighting against strong pairs. Yuho's condition has been deteriorating and her mom is coming to check on her, which might even lead to Yuho being withdrawn from the school. Before she gets even sicker, Yuho wants to set up a final duel with her and Jun taking on Ayana and Hayate.

    I did write a review for volume 2 of this series, but right before I saved it, there was a big lightning strike near my house and my electricity went off for a minute. So the review was lost. What I did write about it was pretty negative and I actually considered not even reading volume 3. It mostly had to do with two things, one of which seems to have been solved in this volume. The biggest fault of the series is that the character of Hayate is a complete wash. All of the other characters work as real people, but Hayate comes off as a one joke comedy skit, almost becoming a cancerous growth on Ayana. You can always count on Hayate to never take anything seriously, and Hayashiya never fails to draw her in a deformed, almost "Scream-like" style, overemphasizing her already over the top behavior. Since you can't take her seriously as a person, she tends to ruin every scene she's in. But thankfully, the other characters are more interesting and have actual motivations and emotions beyond wanting to straddle and marry their sister-in-arms.

    The other fault of volume 2 was that Hayashiya took up a serious issue, physical abuse of women, and turned it into a ridiculous insult of abused women. There was a girl that was beating and hitting her sister-in-arms (not in a comedy way like Hayate and Ayana) and the abused sister refused to leave her because she thought they would make a good comedy act! It was just horrible writing on the part of Hayashiya that showed she wasn't clever or sensitive enough to insert a dramatic element into the series at that point. She seems to have turned this around in volume 3.

    I know the "bed-ridden sickly friend" character has been done to death. In fact, all we needed was for Yuho to be blind and amnesiac to meet all the manga cliches. But Hayashiya handles some of the more serious dramatic implications of Yuho's condition quite well. She's not trying to invoke pity, but is a character that is forcing her friend to OVERCOME her pity and take on a foe that will push her to her limits and even higher. While I don't think this title will ever overcome its major fault, Hayate, it does find ways to redeem itself in other ways.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: hayate_blade_3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 6:09pm CDT

    Manga Review: Naruto Volume 36

    Manga review of Naruto Volume 36: Cell Number 10 by Masashi Kishimoto. Translated by Mari Morimoto. Adapted by Deric Hughes and Benjamin Raab. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated T for Teen.

    While searching for a jinchuriki host in the Land of Fire, Hidan and Kakuzu happened to stumble upon Chiriku, a priest who used to be one of the Guardian Shinobi 12. The two Akatsuki defeated and killed Chiriku and are now looking to collect his 30 million ryo bounty to finance their operations. Asuma, who also used to be in the Shinobi 12, sets out with Shikamaru and two other elite ninja to track down and kill or capture Hidan and Kakuzu. Meanwhile, Naruto continues to train with Kakashi and Yamato, struggling to master the art of making a "super rasengan". Even the ever-optimistic and driven Naruto is at the end of his rope and is thinking about giving up the attempt. He must figure out a way to change the form and nature of his chakra at the same time, something even the 4th Hokage could never master.

    Volume 36 marks the first time we get to see the Akatsuki in action, well, I mean in a fight to the death capacity. I know Itachi showed up at the Leaf Village many volumes ago and had a minor battle with Kakashi, but I saw that as merely a brief skirmish.  Yeah, I know, Naruto and his team also fought and defeated Deidara and Sasori. But all these battles have been cakewalks compared to fighting Hidan and Kakuzu. They're in a completely different league. Hidan has the ability to curse his enemies and cannot be killed. He takes most of the lead in the battle against Cell 10, so confident is he in his abilities. Kakuzu helps Hidan a little bit, but otherwise takes no part in the actual battle. You knew back in earlier volumes that Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi were not going to die fighting Sasori or Deidara, but when Cell 10 fights, being composed of supporting characters, there is more of a sense of danger. Somebody could get killed.

    It's also cool to see Kakashi's faith in Naruto. He's giving the boy a full plate by asking him to master the super rasengan. He really believes that Naruto is special and could become not only Hokage, but maybe the most powerful ninja ever. Naruto has come a long way from the early volumes of the manga when he was seen as a village pariah. Now, he seems to be a vital part of Konoha's very survival. What a series!

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: naruto_36.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:13pm CDT

    Manga Review: Honey Hunt Volume 2

    Manga review of Honey Hunt Volume 2 by Miki Aihara. Translated by Ari Yasuda. Adapted by Liz Forbes. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan. Published in US by Viz Shojo Beat, $8.99, Rated T+ for Older Teen.

    Yura has landed the star role as Natsuki in an ad campaign for noodles that also has a TV show tie-in. Her romantic interest, Q-ta, is doing the theme song, and his brother, Haruka, who seems to be developing an interest in Yura, is acting opposite her. Unfortunately, just as the cast gets together for a photo campaign shoot, Yura's costume is found to have a huge stain on it. How did the stain get there, you might ask? Just ask Minami, another noodle girl, who is extremely jealous of Haruka's attentions towards Yura. Although Yura is able to find a way to save the situation and go on with the shoot, her mettle is constantly tested in this volume. First, she must work with an older actress that has an undying hatred for Yura's mom, and thereby gives Yura a hard time. Even worse, Keiichi begins to market Yura as the daughter of celebrity, playing on her lineage as a selling point to get her noticed. It works, but Keiichi had promised that he would never use her mom and dad to get her breaks or recognition. It only adds to Yura's low self-esteem and refusal to trust anybody. She begins to think about giving up her dream of excelling her mom as an actress.

    The things I liked about the first volume of Honey Hunt were the plot twists and twisted amorality of almost all the main characters except Yura. It seemed like everyone had some vice, whether hidden or out in the open. Everybody also had their own hidden agenda. The emotional lives of the characters were hateful and unloving. I still remember the scene where Yura's mom and Shin were caught having sex and her mom acted like it was no big deal. She even threw it in her face and said that Shin liked her better than Yura! Even in this volume, Q-ta admits that part of the reason why he likes Yura is because he's a big fan of her dad. All of the characters in Volume 1 probably could have lived quite comfortably in one of Dante's circles of Hell. Volume 2 ratchets down the debauchery a bit and settles more into a typical shojo love triangle motif. Yura likes Q-ta a lot even though she still suspects that he only likes her because of her dad while Haruka finds himself falling for Yura. Minami has become the Sai character that wants to ruin Yura's chances at being a star. Yura's shockingly bad relationship with her parents has receded into the background a bit as she struggles to find the strength to become a real actress.

    The weakness in the series is definitely the art. It's so bad and thoroughly dull-looking that I found myself staring at some panels, entranced by their amateur quality. All of the character designs are appallingly ugly and unappealing.  Aihara also has some problems drawing heads in certain positions. There's really nothing cute or pretty in Yura's appearance either, so it's kinda hard to imagine that she's going to become a big star. I like the story but if the art doesn't improve, I don't know how much longer I can take it. I doubt it's gonna get any better though. So sad.

    My Grade: B

    You can listen to my podcast review of Volume 1:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=463972

    Direct download: honeyhunt2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:51am CDT

    Manga Review: The Law of Ueki Volume 14

    Manga review of The Law of Ueki Volume 14 by Tsubasa Fukuchi. Translated and adapted by Kenichiro Yagi. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan. Published in US by Viz, $9.99, Rated T for Teen.

    Ai Mori has finally figured out what her power is and its only taken her till the third match of the third round of the King tournament. A LITTLE late if you ask me! I'm not going to spoil it for you, but trust me, her power is just as goofy and apparently useless as every character's in this series is. Even if Ai is able to defeat her opponent, Team Ueki still has to deal with Infernal Hanon, the strange being that has possessed Robert and is intent on making Ueki's path to the final round as difficult as possible. He sabotages their rematch with Team Capucho and is also in league with Ueki's next opponents, the extremely powerful and mysterious Team Barrow.

    As usual, this series is quite the guilty pleasure for me, seeing as it hits upon almost every tournament manga cliche you've ever encountered. The trick is that Fukuchi makes the journey to the end battle over 16 volumes very funny. His writing is firmly tongue-in-cheek and you sense that he's not taking any of this very seriously. The themes that have come to the surface in my reading are that you have to fight for justice even when you get punched, socked, knocked into the air, kicked across a room, and maybe even burned to a crisp by various superpowered enemies. Ueki is like a priest of right and his sermon to his team and to readers is that you can never give up...on yourself or the people around you. Of course, we have the whole "train until you get more powerful" motif running through the work as well. But the comedy is good and the moral values worth fighting for. Two more volumes to go. I'll be a bit sad when it's all over.

    My Grade: A-

    Direct download: ueki_14.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:35pm CDT

    Manga Review: xxxHolic Volume 5

    Manga review of xxxHolic Volume 5 by CLAMP. Translated and adapted by William Flanagan. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Del Rey, $10.95, Rated 13+.

    It's White Day, which in Japan means a guy has to give some sort of "white" gift to the girl that gave him chocolate on Valentine's Day. That is, if he likes her back.  Watanuki not only has to satisfy Yuko (she made him a gift of the chocolate that HE made!) but also has to think of a gift to give to a pretty spirit that gave him chocolate. But a job comes up to interrupt all this contemplation. An "Ame-Warashi", a rain making spirit, comes to Yuko's shop to borrow Watanuki for a rescue mission she says only he can take on. Domeki, his rival and pain in the rear, decides to tag along as well. Naruto fans will get a kick out of the fact that the Ame-Warashi gives Yuko a nine-tailed fox spirit as payment for the services of Watanuki. The fox spirit in xxxHolic is not a force for evil, though. In fact, it seems to have an affection for Watanuki, and ends up saving his life.

    I wasn't impressed with the last volume of xxxHolic. The stories were ordinary, if not mediocre, and failed to capture the feeling of strangeness that plays to the strengths of the series. Volume 5 was a return to top form by CLAMP. First, the art is gorgeous, beautiful, and even sublime at times. CLAMP are one of a few artists today that never shrink from turning their panels into epic canvases with very wide shots which at times take up two pages. The bigger the panels, the more detail CLAMP adds to the art. There isn't any blank white space or cluttered screen tones thrown onto these super panels either. In fact, CLAMP seem to reserve their best work for them. I'm still trying to figure out how they make Yuko look so sexy, even with her bony figure and totally anti-photorealistic design. As for the story, some parts of this book made my skin crawl, because the creators succeeded in a sorta Lovecraftian way of letting us glimpse a spirit world where human life doesn't amount to a hill of beans. There are immortal spirits all around us that see humans as nuisances at best, and as not worthy of survival at worst and have no desire to interact with mankind unless it serves their own purposes. You get tiny hints of Heaven and Hell in Volume 5 which speaks volumes to the range of CLAMP.

    My Grade: A+

     

    Direct download: xxxholic_5.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:54pm CDT

    Manga Review: Hikaru No Go Volume 14

    Manga review of Hikaru No Go Volume 14: "Sai vs. Toya Koyo".  Story by Yumi Hotta. Art by Takeshi Obata. Supervised by Yukari Umezawa (5 Dan). Translated and adapted by Naoko Amemiya. English script consulting by Janice Kim (3 Dan). Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated All Ages.

    Yep, that's right, the main storyline of this volume is the battle between Sai and Toya Meijin. You might ask how Toya is able to play with a ghost, and the question is a good one. Shindo persuaded Toya to play online against his friend, Sai, and Toya finally agreed after some misgivings. He just thought that there was something shady about Sai not wanting to reveal his identity. But what is Shindo going to do, tell him the truth? There's no way he would be taken seriously. Actually, Toya and his son, Akira, are both beginning to wonder about Sai's identity, with both of them initially believing Sai is the online identity of Shindo. While they both come to realize that this is not the case, they are beginning to connect the dots ever so slowly. I'm kinda curious to see if Shindo is ever going to tell anyone about Sai. There is a catch to the match. If Toya wins, Sai will have to reveal his true identity. If Toya loses, he has sworn to retire from the world of professional Go. Shindo doesn't know whether to take him seriously or not. But we know Sai is not going to hold back after waiting to play with a Go opponent of Toya's caliber for 14 volumes (He did play him before through Shindo, but he had handicap himself in order to keep from arousing Toya's suspicions).

    I love this series, even though I've never played a game of Go in my life. I look forward to the matches between the characters as if they were actual matches. It was really exciting to see Toya and Sai going toe to toe with no reservations like their previous match. I thought for a while last volume there was a chance of the game never actually being played. Another plot element that comes up in this installment is that Shindo is becoming so good he doesn't need Sai's advice as much when he plays his own games. In fact, he is even starting to give Sai some pointers on how to improve HIS playing! This is a far remove from when Shindo first started playing so clumsily in volume 1. What is going to happen to Sai after he makes the "divine move"? And who will be left standing after Shindo and Akira's inevitable showdown that is bound to happen sooner or later? It was postponed because of Toya's heart attack, which seemed like a cheap trick designed to tantalize fans. I mean, to come to the day of the match and then Akira doesn't show up? The art by Takeshi Obata of Death Note fame is up to the same impressive quality that he exhibits in all his work. Check this series out!

    My Grade: A

    Check here for a free preview of Volume 1:

    http://www.shonenjump.com/manga/hikarunogo/om/

    Direct download: hikaru_14.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:02pm CDT

    Podcast Episode 149-- Wolverine: Prodigal Son Volume 1

    Podcast manga review of Wolverine: Prodigal Son Volume 1. Written by Antony Johnston. Art by Wilson Tortosa. Published by Del Rey, $12.99, Rated 13+.

    From the back cover:

    This is not the Wolverine you know.

    Logan is a teenage rebel with a real good reason for having a real bad attitude. Ever since being left in a nearby forest - with no memory of who he was or how he got there - Logan (or Wolverine, as his classmates sometimes call him) has been stuck in a martial arts school in the icy wilds of Canada. No wonder he's bored, restless, and yearning. There's a whole world out there, and Logan can almost taste it. But he's chained to a past he can't remember and can't escape. Now it just may destroy his future.

    My Grade: B+

    See a free preview:

    http://www.randomhouse.com/delrey/manga/preview/wolverine/

    Direct download: Episode_149--Wolverine_Prodigal_Son_1.mp3
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:30pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 11

    Manga review of Eden Volume 11 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated Mature 18+.

    The storyline that started 4 years after the first story arc continues in Eden volume 11. A shaky alliance has been formed between Elijah, Miriam Arona, and a Propater investigator named Wendy McCall. Elijah is in it to avenge Manuela's execution. Arona, a cop, is in it because the same guys killed her partner, who was Helena's boyfriend. Wendy McCall has been sent to find out about some shady connections between factions of Propater and the Wilhelm Corporation, a bio-electronic arms manufacturer. None of them want to stop with the actual killers. They are small fry. Instead, the trio wants to find the big wigs who ordered the hit. The trail takes them all the way from Peru to Australia. Unknowingly, Elijah is coming closer and closer to his missing sister, who was kidnapped a couple of volumes back, and is being held by Propater, along with Maya, a complex artificial life form that has the ability to communicate instantaneously with the emerging intelligence of the Disclosure Virus. And speaking of Maya, do you remember when Elijah made a copy of the AI in the first volume or so of Eden? It has been implanted into a cyborg body of a school-age girl and named itself Letheia Aletheia and joins Elijah on his journey to Australia. The Disclosure Virus is becoming more and more powerful and is taking over more and more cities. Now, a giant colloid has appeared in Australia as well, and Kate Mishima takes a scientific team into its bowels to investigate, and perhaps even communicate with the mind of the virus.

    I guess I'm getting used to the whole 4 year flash forward deal, because I enjoyed this eleventh volume much more than than the last. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that Endo has finally gotten back to the sci-fi roots of this series after digressing into a long period of gang violence and sex. It's not that the last volumes haven't been awesome in their own right, but a lot of it could've happened in the present day and didn't need such a remote future tag. But in some ways, that's what I like about Hiroki Endo's writing. He doesn't take his sci-fi elements to unbelievable extremes. He simply extends ideas and technology we already have instead, much like Ghost in the Shell. You don't have anything like hyper-spatial travel, galactic empires, or hostile aliens coming to invade like a space opera. Instead, Endo focuses on characterization. That's why I was so upset with the killing of Helena. She played such a big part in Elijah's life and was so important to the plot, and Endo gunned her down just like that with no rhyme or reason as to why she and Elijah broke up. It just seemed like a cheap theatrical trick designed to shake up the reader. Still, I have confidence that Endo will win me back over in coming volumes.

    I also don't know why Dark Horse took so long to put out this eleventh volume. Volume 10 came out way back in May 2008!  And there has always been a darkness about this title coming from their company, as if its cancellation is always an eminent possibility. I hoped Dark Horse saw that this title reached the New York Times bestseller list for manga the week it was released. That's what I hate about these companies. They don't give you status reports or say a title is cancelled. They just let titles drift into oblivion and show no respect for the fans. Can anybody tell me what happened to Octopus Girl or Reiko the Zombie Shop? As far as I know, those titles are on "hiatus". Why can't they just say CANCELLED!?  If it takes almost a year to publish each volume of Eden, give the license to Del Rey, who would treat the title with the respect it deserves. I'm talking about the big wigs at Dark Horse. It seems as though the staffers that actually deal with Eden really love the title. Kudos to Kumar and Steve for doing such a brilliant job with the translation and the lettering.

    My Grade: A

     

    Direct download: eden_11.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 2:59pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 10 Manga review of Eden Volume 10 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian.  Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated Mature 18+.

    After delivering Marihan Ishaq, a Uyghur freedom fighter, into the hands of NOMAD, Kenji believes that he can take a well-deserved rest. But, alas, it's not to be, for Marihan escapes from her captors and goes on the run, not wanting to be caught by Propater, the Chinese government, or Kenji's organization. She again enlists Kenji's aid in an effort to disarm bombs planted by her own people in crowded Chinese public places. One of them has been planted at a shopping mall, so if nothing is done, hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people are going to die. Kenji usually doesn't do anything unless it serves his own purposes or that of his employer, but something in Marihan's sincere fight for her the rights of her people has touched a chord in him.

    If the entire volume had followed this storyline I would have gushed over volume 10 of this classic series just like I've done over every volume that has come before. Make no mistake. I think Eden is the best manga being printed in English at the moment, and nothing really stands beside it. The characters are just so damn human! Most of the time, Kenji acts like a cold blooded killing machine akin to the Terminator, but here and there, Endo gives glimpses of a very sensitive and vulnerable man who was shaped by the sinister forces of this world to be something he was probably never meant to be. Marihan comes off as his shadow, but while employing violence in her own way, she fights for freedom and civil rights, not for pay. But even she has realized that killing is probably not the best way to achieve political ends.

    Like I said, if Endo had ended the volume with the conclusion of the Kenji/Marihan storyline, I would've loved this book. But, Endo completely shakes up the cast and story by advancing time by 4 years, just like that, with no warning! In the flash forward world of Eden, a lot has changed. South America is now on the verge of joining Propater. Elijah and Helena are no longer an item. In fact, Helena is living with a just resigned cop named Leo Pessoa (who happens to be a triple agent for the cops, Enoah, and Propater), and Helena is planning to leave the country with him. Leo's former partner, Miriam Arona, steps into the story in what seems to be a major role, and possibly become a new love interest for Elijah. The Closure Virus has evolved beyond what we saw in the earlier volumes of Eden.  It has gained sentience and has started to form "colloids", crystalline structures which assimilate organic and inorganic matter. This new form of the virus has claimed over 2 million lives so far.

    I haven't decided whether I like the new direction Eden has moved in. Endo seems to kill off a very major character without blinking an eye. While this underlines the fact that anyone can go anytime in the real world, it still didn't seem to serve any purpose. I also would have liked to have seen the how and why of Elijah and Helena's breakup. It probably had something to do with the difference in their ages, but I had too much invested in those characters simply for Endo to gloss over whatever had broken them apart. It also seemed a bit jarring for Elijah to transform into a slick, cool, under control hitman helping in his father's business without knowing what happened to him in the blank of the four year forejump. Arona is too slight and trivial of a character to comfortably exist in Eden. Endo uses her a lot for comedy relief which undercuts her impact on the story. In fact, she is a hotblooded heroine that would be more at home in Gunsmith Cats than such a serious title as Eden. I'm not giving up on this new direction, since it might be just the newness of it that made me enjoy volume 10 less than other entries in this series.

    My Grade: B+
    Direct download: eden10.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 6:48pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 9

    Manga review of Eden Volume 9 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivabramanian. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated Mature, Ages 18+.

    Volume 9 of Eden switches abruptly from the crime drama of Elijah, Helena, and Pedro to the oil rich desert of western China. An oil facility has been seized by Muslim terrorists (or, freedom fighters), and hostages have been taken. They are led by a charismatic young woman named Marihan Ishaq. Her forces did not seize the oil field as a random act of terror to take innocent lives. Instead, Marihan wants to bring attention to the plight of her people, an ethnic minority called the Uyghurs, who have little in common with their Chinese rulers. As oil has been found on their ancestral lands, the Chinese government and Propater have embarked on a course of intimidation and genocide to get rid of the Uyghur. Marihan has given them 24 hours to remove all Chinese and Propater troops from Uyghur lands or she will order the destruction of the facility and its important oil pipelines. Normally, Propater would be able to keep this incident off the news, but they haven't reckoned on the fact that NOMAD and Enoah's organized crime syndicate are backing the play of Marihan in an effort to show the true nature of Propater's operations. Meanwhile, the Closure Virus is mutating and seems to be acting almost sentient. Bad news for the human race.

    This volume does a good job of proving the popular axiom that "one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter". You're always hearing in the news about guys seizing oil platforms around Africa or taking foreign hostages who work for Big Oil. In some cases, they are common criminals just out to make a quick buck, but here and there you'll hear about them doing it to protest the fact that the native people are not getting any of the revenue from the oil, or in some cases, the sale of diamonds. All of the billions of dollars are going to the fat cat government officials to pay for their car armadas or palatial retreats while the common people are living in huts. And they have a legitimate beef. Do you know what happens when an aggressor meets a defender? One side has to lose. What has happened throughout history is that a nation wants something bad enough, it will do whatever is necessary to acquire it. Including genocide, war, and expulsion. The Americas were just the same, when the Indians were practically exterminated and subjugated for their land. Even Japan has its own indigenous natives, the Ainu, and they were treated in much the same way (even though they try to shush it). Even today, some Ainu hide their ancestry to avoid discrimination by the Japanese. Endo also seems to be calling on references to what China has done and continues to do with Tibet. What has happened in all these cases is the goal of the government, be it American or Chinese, or Japanese, to swallow a whole people, Borg-like, and either "assimilate" them, or destroy them, as the case may be. And don't forget Palestine. Hiroki Endo is right up there with the greatest of sci-fi writers merely by the fact he is able to touch on so many global conficts and phobias and is able to pack them into an action comic book that touches the soul of our age.

    My Grade: A+

    You can listen to a podcast of Volume 1 at this link:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=362912

    Direct download: eden9.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:07pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 7

    Manga review of Eden Volume 7 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivabramanian. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated Mature, Ages 18+.

    Elijah wants revenge on Pedro for torturing Helena, which included plucking her eye out with a knife and cutting off one of her ears. But he's not going to be able to do it by himself. So he goes looking for advice from the Automater, a retired crime syndicate boss who actually got Pedro started in the business. From her he hears about the bloody rise of Pedro in her organization and how he first hooked up with Manuela, his supposed first love, and of the abusive relationship that ensued, with Pedro regularly beating her and her escalating addiction to heroin. It's up to Elijah to decide after the story whether he still wants to kill him or not.

    As I've said many times, Eden is the greatest manga I've ever read and I would even dare call Hiroki Endo manga's Shakespeare, so deep is his knowledge and insight into the human heart. Again and again, I am reminded of this when I read scenes in Eden where I say to myself "yeah, that's exactly how human beings act and react". You find yourself nodding your head as you read, thinking "this is life". No other manga I have ever read gives me the feeling of being so entwined with the human condition. This is usually a feeling relegated only to what some call "literature" such as Dostoyevsky or Proust. Eden is a horribly beautiful work that always has another layer to peel back. While it has graphic violence on full display, it also has flashes of humor, love, and a genuine passion to understand what makes a soul tick through its dense characterization. Classic.

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: eden7.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:43pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 6

    Manga review of Eden Volume 6 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated Mature Ages 18+.

    Elijah's botched rescue attempt has left his mother in critical condition and his sister still in the hands of Propater. On top of that, the AI Maya seems to have joined sides with the enemy as well and Cherubim has been blown to bits. Plus, Elijah has the blood of a cop on his hands and his friends are going to be none too happy when he arrives in his jail cell. Even if he gets out alive, there is a gang war brewing on the streets between his father's men and an up and coming gangster named Pedro. Helena complicates things even further by buying the prostitute that Pedro loves to work in her brothel in an effort to save her from her destructive heroin addiction.

    As you can tell from the plot points outlined above, the world of Eden is about as far from the Biblical garden as it is possible to be. In fact, probably the closest approximation is Hell. But there is a certain elegance in the ultimate degradation, and a certain beauty in the worst violence as portrayed by Endo's highly realistic and fluid art. The writer has done a good job of moving Eden from a militaristic ultra gore action piece to a more meditative (albeit still with lots of blood) poem about the lower classes and the gangsters that control the streets. Even Pedro, who does some pretty evil things in this volume, is shown through flashbacks to have a heart and a true love for Manuela, even though his physical abuse would belie otherwise. Eden is the best manga series being printed right now. Nowhere else can you find the masterful combination of art, writing, and honesty about the human condition.

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: eden6.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:34pm CDT

    Manga Review: xxxHolic Volume 4

    Manga review of xxxHolic Volume 4 by CLAMP. Translated and adapted by William Flanagan. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Del Rey, $10.95, Rated T for ages 13+.

    It's Valentine's Day, which in Japan,  is the day when girls give homemade chocolate to their beloved, or crush, as it may be.  In a lot of cases, the giving of the candy might be the first time that a young girl has revealed their feelings to the object of their affection. Of course, Watanuki is hoping to get some from Himawari, the girl that he likes. None is forthcoming, though, and he finds himself, instead, slaving in the kitchen making chocolate for Yuko! While this reverses the gender roles of the day he still tries to salvage things by intending to let Himawari taste it. Domeki tries some instead in his laidback manner of butting in. But all is not lost for Watanuki. There IS a girl that likes him and wants to give him chocolate, but she also wants to steal Domeki's soul. In the second story arc of this volume, Watanuki and friends get mixed up with twin sisters that have a supernatural bond centered around the power of words and negative thinking.

    I was a little let down by the writing in this fourth volume. It didn't really have any hooks. I found the Valentine's Day chapters really funny, but the storyline with the twins never paid off. They weren't creepy or scary and the climax was a bit of a letdown. I guess a large portion of the book just didn't have enough of that Twilight Zone feeling that I usually get when I read xxxHolic. Where CLAMP more than makes up for the subpar script in Volume 4 is in the beautiful, and at times, stunning artwork. There are some really nice panels in the Valentine chapters where the characters are backlit against the moon which really highlight CLAMP's mastery of solid blacks and flowing lines in this series. What a contrast to Tsubasa's rough unfinished edges.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: holic_4.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 4:32pm CDT

    Manga Review: Sorcerer Hunters Volume 7

    Manga Review of Sorcerer Hunters Volume 7. Story by Satoru Akahori. Art by Ray Omishi. Translated by Anita Sengupta. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Beginnings can be deceiving in the case of volume 7 of Sorcerer Hunters as it opens with a fan servicey romp at the beach. The mini-sized speech impeded Master Potato has concocted a potion that will make him the "hero of the story" and be a hit with the babes. Since love potions can be an iffy proposition, his butler convinces Potato to test it on someone else first. Of course, this means the Sorcerer Hunters become the lab rats. Things become more serious as the Hunters finally track down the last Platina Stone, which is the source of Lord Sachen's power. Unfortunately for them, the last guardian they have to defeat is Gateau's sister, Eclair, who goes by the new moniker of Deneb, and has no memory of her beloved brother. Since they trained together when they were young, Gateau hopes he will be able to jog her memory by fighting her, even if he has to sacrifice his own life in the process. Tira and Chocolat have their own score to settle with their adopted father, Lord Sacher, who killed almost all of their foster brothers and sisters back in the day.

    One of the strengths of this series has always been the ability of Ray Omishi to write a tale that at one point can be a totally fan servicey parody of manga conventions, and at others can be a Shakespearean family tragedy. This volume is a perfect example. Along with Akahori's art, the creative duo make fun of manga conventions from sports to shonen ai romances as each Hunter has their own fantasy of being a hero. But then, after that, we have the final showdown between father and daughters, and brother and sister. When things turn serious, Omishi's writing and Akahori's art become serious as well. When things hit the fan, you're not going to see deformed characters or stupid jokes interrupting the drama which sometimes happens with lesser creators. Definitely a series to check out.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: sorcerer_7.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:57pm CDT

    Manga Review: Sorcerer Hunters Volume 6

    Manga Review of Sorcerer Hunters Volume 6. Story by Satoru Akahori. Art by Ray Omishi. Translated by Anita Sengupta. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    The Sorcerer Hunters continue their hunt for the 5 Platina Stones that are the source of Lord Sacher's power. With every stone they destroy, Sacher's strength decreases. Unfortunately, each stone is protected by a Guardian Spirit, who is willing to fight to the death against the Hunters. Big Mama sends "Daughter", one of the last living winged beings, along with the Hunters set out to eliminated the 3rd Platina Stone. She's being sent along because the stone's Guardian, named Sirius of the Wind, is also a winged being. While Mama might be doing this to have a strategic advantage over Sirius, she also wants Daughter to meet one of her own kind. After a brief interlude in which our heroes help a struggling restaurant owner compete in a cooking contest, the Hunters move on to the search for the fourth Platina Stone, which lands them smack in the middle of two warring ninja clans.

    Ok, some of the humor of this series can be a bit grating at times, and this is especially apparent when Satoru Akahori relies almost completely on the laughs to move the story forward. Fortunately, the longing of Daughter for another of her kind, and the reciprocal desire of Sirius do more than enough to humanize these otherwise wacky characters. It doesn't hurt that Marron, the usually delicate and refined magic-user of the group, throws down his spells and takes up a sword to get his hands dirty in a battle with the fourth Guardian at the end of the volume. No matter how crazy Omishi's physical comedy gets, Akahori throws in some very human elements.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: hunters_6.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:45am CDT

    Manga Review: Sand Chronicles Volume 2

    Manga Review of Sand Chronicles Volume 2 by Hinako Ashihara. Translated by Kinami Watabe. Adapted by John Werry. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan as "Sunadokei". Pubished in US by Viz Shojo Beat, $8.99, Rated T+ Older Teen

    It's been three years since Ann's mom dragged her away from Tokyo to her small country hometown of Shimane after a messy divorce with a bankrupt husband. Ann managed to rebuild her life with some new friends, Daigo, Fuji, and his sister Shika. Over time, Daigo even became her boyfriend. She's been living in a dreamworld these past years, never contemplating or wanting to accept that situations and relationships change over time.  Now she is going to have to face reality. First of all, she learns that Fuji is moving to Tokyo to go to a prestigious high school, ruining the blissful comraderie of her circle of friends. Secondly, after being absent from her life for years, Ann's father shows up out of the blue, saying that he has reformed his ways, paid his debts, and that he wants her to move back to Tokyo with him! When her dad reveals that he had stayed out of her life because of a promise to Ann's mother, she faces a hard choice. Should she move to Tokyo to be with her dad or stay in Shimane because she doesn't want to lose Daigo? 

    Yep, Sand Chronicles is about drama. But it's good drama. Hinako Ashihara wades into themes and situations that most shojo creators would shy away from in fear. Cleverly, she set the whole series up as a flashback. When volume 1 opened, a grown up Ann was getting married and packing to move abroad. This kinda set up a mystery type question. Namely, who is she getting married to and what happened in the intervening years between the events of the manga and the present? Who does she end up with? Has the man she's going to marry even appeared in the manga? Will he ever?  Also, the fact that Ann is so aware of the inherent changeability of  human emotions over time gives her a depth way beyond other shojo heroines. And let's just set the record straight, Ann IS a heroine. Because she is dealing with emotional issues that might permanently break some people in her situation. Even though she doesn't want things to change, she does eventually make decisions, whether for good or bad, instead of waffling for 20 volumes over what she should do. Hopefully, I won't be eating dirt over this statement in the future because she seems to be showing feelings for Fuji these days. I didn't really mention it in the summary but Fuji also has a big role in this volume. Even though he is the scion of his rich family, there has always been a rumor that he was the illegitimate offspring of his mom's many affairs. In this volume, he gets to meet his suspected father, and he might just wish he hadn't. Sand Chronicles is the best shojo manga I have ever read and ranks up there with some of my favorite works, regardless of genre.

    My Grade: A

    Check out my podcast review of Volume 1 at this link:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=361894

    You can also view a free preview of the first volume of the manga at the Viz website:

    http://www.shojobeat.com/onlinemanga/sbom.php?chap=san-hi-preview&o=dn

    Direct download: sand2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:49am CDT

    Manga Review: Negima! Volume 4

    Manga review of Negima Volume 4 by Ken Akamatsu. Translated by Douglas Varenas. Adapted by Peter and Kathleen O'Shea David. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Del Rey, $10.95, Rated OT Ages 16+ for Mature Audiences.

    Most of the third volume of Negima was taken up with Negi's battle with Evangeline McDowell, a vampire who had been cursed by Negi's dad, the Southern Master, and trapped in the body of a young girl. Evangeline believed that his father was dead but Negi tells her the story of how the Southern Master was the one who gave Negi his staff. Negi wants to find him but has no idea of where to look. Evangeline suggests he look in Kyoto, where his dad used to live. In a bit of a selfish act, mixing business with pleasure, Negi proposes that his class go on a field trip there. That way, he won't have to miss work. The headmaster of the school agrees to let them go to Kyoto but he also has a task for Negi to perform. Apparently, Kyoto falls under the territory of the Kansai Magic Association, which has a running dispute with Negi's Kanto branch. In an effort to smooth out the relationship between the two organizations, the headmaster appoints Negi as an ambassador of sorts and gives him a letter to be delivered only into the hands of the leader of the Kansai wizards. Unfortunately, there are elements of the Kansai group that do not want peace with Kanto and want to keep Negi from fulfilling his mission.

    As always, the first thing that jumps out at you with Negima is the excellent art in which Ken Akamatsu cleverly combines cuteness, comedy, realism, sexiness, and and great layout to create a very unique style. The story is where this book could get a bit muddled. I mean how many times can we stomach someone's clothes getting blown off at least once a volume, if not more, without it becoming a cheap parlor trick? Well, the answer for now is...a lot more! This series hasn't worn out its welcome yet, seeing as how we know so little about the 31 girls in Negi's class. In this volume the spotlight focuses on Miyazaki, who is pining to declare her love to Negi, and Setsuna, a sword bearing student  who is a bit of an enigma. She seems to be obsessed with Konoka, but Negi has to figure out whether she's trying to protect Konoka, or working for the Kansai faction.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: negima4.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:24pm CDT

    Manga Review: Gon Volume 4

    Manga Review of Gon Volume 4 by Masashi Tanaka. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by CMX, $5.99, Rated T for Teen due to violence.

    Well, Gon doesn't stay in any one place for long. He's already stomped across most of the world's continents, meeting and beating up animals all along the way. But besides taking bites, giving them super headbutts and kicking them in the face, he's also there to take up for the little guy, or more accurately, Gon is a little guy who takes up for animals that usually serve only as meals for vicious predators. In this fourth volume he inserts himself in a turtle shell, and sees the "survival of the fittest" concept in full bloom as he makes his perilous way to the seashore along with thousands of newly hatched sea turtles. He finds that just making it into the water is only the beginning of these fledgling's fight for life. Then he has to make it across a brutal desert after being thrown there by a powerful tornado along with an ostrich, a monkey, and an impala who show all the selfishness and selflessness of humanity. Lastly, we get to see Gon's posse of various big cat kittens as they strut about the plains of Africa, taking on any bully that gets in their way!

    Wow, I'm a little behind in this series (it's currently on Volume 6) but it's one of my favorites. First, the drawings of Masashi Tanaka are almost divine. The dude uses no screen tone whatsoever. Even when he colors in shadows, most of it is just crosshatched linework. There is an incredible amount of work that is going into every page of this manga. Sometimes, you just turn a page and you just sit there, awestruck, thinking "Man, just look at this! It's insane!". The artwork is just that damn good. Even though the animals sometimes have anthropomorphic expressions, Tanaka is still able to retain their otherness even as he uses them as metaphors for the human condition. The animals that are dangerous SEEM dangerous, not because they are super villains, but simply because it is in their nature to kill. A scene in which Gon confronts a giant squid is a bit creepy, that is, until Gon kicks the crap out of him. This is masterful storytelling and panel layout that is lightyears beyond most other manga artists. Eden or Akira are two titles I would say are on the same level. And imagine this, Tanaka does this level of work without any dialogue or sound effects at all, only art. A great title. Not to be missed.

    My Grade: A+

     

     

    Direct download: gon4.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 4:27pm CDT

    Manga Review: xxxHolic Volume 2 by CLAMP

    Manga review of xxxHolic Volume 2 by CLAMP. Translated and adapted by Bill Flanagan. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Del Rey, $10.95, Rated T for Ages 13+.

    Volume 2 of xxxHolic opens with the arrival of  Syaoran, Sakura, Kurogane, and Fai, events already recounted in Tsubasa Volume 1, the sister manga of this series. After the time/space travellers leave, it's back to business for Yuko and Watanuki. Of course, that return to normalcy means that Watanuki goes back to being the gopher slave of Yuko. But Watanuki has something occupying his mind, or rather his heart. His crush on his classmate, Himawari Kunogi, is becoming more and more intense. But Watanuki is not known to be one of the braver souls in Japan, so he's finding it hard to broach the subject of going out on a date with Himawari. Yuko tries to help him by giving him a quick crash course in divination, seeing as how Himawari is pretty interested in horoscopes and the like. She even agrees to go on a double date with the two lovebirds. Much to Watanuki's annoyance, the fourth member of the party turns out to be a guy named Domeki, Watanuki's hated rival. The question is, rival at what? Currently, it seems that Watanuki fears that Domeki could capture Himawari's heart. It's not going to be a normal date anyway as Yuko plans to have a "100 Ghost Story Night" at the temple where Domeki lives.

    After finishing the first two volumes of Tsubasa and xxxHolic, I have to say that Holic is by far the superior series. Tsubasa sank into a pit of shonen spirit animal Pokemon fighting which bored me and reminded me why I gave up on the Tsubasa anime after one volume. Tsubasa seems more intent on fitting in every character of the CLAMP universe, no matter how insignificant. Holic doesn't have that burden and is the better for it. Instead of serving as the vehicle for cameos of all stripes, Holic actually concentrates on telling a story. The first thing I have to say about Holic is to make a comment on the beautiful covers that adorn all the volumes, so intricate that they would fit in well on an Oriental rug. Somehow, CLAMP is able to pull out the feat of making you laugh, creeping you out, and expanding your mind with mind-blowing concepts all in the same book. You can tell that CLAMP really went the extra mile in challenging their readers by grappling with the concepts of destiny, love, and the interdependence of all human beings. A really good book.

    My Grade: B+

    You can watch the first 12 episodes of the xxxHolic anime for free at www.hulu.com . Here is the link to the first episode. Just hit the play button on the video panel:

    Direct download: xxxholic2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:46pm CDT

    Manga Review: Vampire Knight Volume 2

    Manga review of Vampire Knight Volume 2 by Matsuri Hino. Translated and adapted by Tomo Kimura. Originally published in Japan by Hakusensha. Published in US by Viz Shojo Beat, $8.99, Rated T+ for Older Teen.

    There was a pretty startling revelation in Volume 1 of Vampire Knight when we learned that Zero Kiryu, vampire hater and hunter, was actually a vampire himself, and had been fighting against his urges for a couple of years. In addition, the blood tablets that the vampires have been using to sate their thirst for blood do not work very well on former humans, so Zero has become more and more unstable. In Volume 2, we find out that Zero is classified as an "Level E" vampire. Yes, that's right, there's a pecking order, or should I say, a "biting" order even in the vampire world. At the top are the Level As, or Purebloods, who are the only ones that can turn humans. Then at Level B, we have the Aristocrats. Both Level As and Bs are the rulers of the vampire world. At Level C, we have the Commons. Level Ds are former humans. This is where we start to have problems. Eventually, Level Ds begin to go crazy with bloodlust and become nothing more than blood-craving maniacs, which are known as Level Es. The "E" stands for "The End". The Level A and Bs are responsible for keeping the Es in check, and sometimes they even kill them when there is no other option. Unfortunately, what this means is that Zero will eventually lose control of himself and turn into a Level E. He has even asked Yuki to kill him if this ever happens. Yuki has a special bracelet, a controlling mechanism a la Inuyasha, that she can use to keep Zero under control. Zero's former sensei, Toga Yagari, a powerful vampire hunter, is brought in as a temporary teacher to keep an eye on Zero.

    I have a hard time figuring out why vampires are seen as erotic seducters. To me, they are simply superhuge leeches or humanoid mosquitoes. So when Zero takes a bite out of Yuki's neck, I feel a bit of revulsion and disgust, not gothic romanticism. I mean, in the end, vampires cannot live without sucking the life essence out of a human. But I guess humans aren't any different. We have to eat other life for us to have life. It's just meat and vegetables instead of blood. So I'm not into the current fad of urban vampire/werewolf/female detective/student novels/manga. But I do appreciate the characters in Vampire Knight. Sure, it can sink into melodrama at times, almost like a higher stakes Peach Girl, but Zero, Yuki, and Kaname, rise above the material. It also helps that Matsuri Hino is surprisingly adept during action sequences. It makes for quite an intriguing series. I am very curious to see how it all works out and if it has a happy ending.

    My Grade: B+

    Listen to my podcast of Volume 1:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=385148

    Direct download: vampire2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:39am CDT

    Manga Review: Arm of Kannon Volume 2

    Manga Review of Arm of Kannon Volume 2 by Masakazu Yamaguchi. Translated by Takae Brewer. Adapted by Jordan Capell. Originally published in Japan by Gentosha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Mature 18+.

    Mao and Maya have escaped from the clutches of the Garama Industries facility and are hiding in the nearby forest. Unfortunately for them, Garama has been doing all kinds of weird genetic experiments on animals and humans for years and some of these mutated lifeforms are crawling around the surrounding woods. The siblings have a lot of people looking for them. First, there is the swordsman from Isurugi Temple, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the Arm of Kannon from taking over Mao in Volume 1. It is not known whether he can exorcise the evil from Mao or whether it is now his intent to kill the host body. Garama has called on a group known as Manma, who are imbued with supernatural powers no normal human can hope to defeat...oh, and did I mention that the members of Manma are almost evil incarnate? How evil, you ask? Well, in one scene, they force a husband to watch his wife being raped and then killed. What makes it even worse is that it's his decapitated head watching it all, somehow kept alive with black magic. Another group interested in catching up to Mao, who appear to be on the side of good, is C.I.R.O., or the Cabinet Information Research Office. They work for the government and have been taking an increasing interest in Garama activities. They have special powers as well, but based more on sci-fi than magic. Of course, with all these various factions vying to catch Mao, conflict is sure to ensue, and does.

    The thing I like about Arm of Kannon is its logical realism that follows comic book cartoon violence and good versus evil to its appropriate end. What I mean is that the "bad guys" do really bad, really evil things and don't just seem like glamorized versions of Dr. Evil. No matter what the Joker does in a Batman comic, it is still sanitized for a young audience. Even the worst comic book villain hardly ever comes close to real monsters like Adolf Hitler or even the fictionalized evils of a writer like Stephen King. But the fact that Yamaguchi is writing for a mature audience allows him to portray some very vile acts and imagery that make you feel horror, an emotion that most writers, artists, and filmmakers, have lost touch with. And the crazy thing is that he does this in the midst of a shonen like battle atmosphere. The art has a creepy 1980s style to it combined with the slightly enlongated designs of CLAMP with a dark and strongly erotic tone. Yes, this title is about sex and action and violence, both graphic and more subtle. So if any one of those things frightens you, stay away. This is definitely not a series you want lying around on shelves that kids can reach.

    My Grade: A+

    Listen to my podcast review of Volume 1:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=358190

    Direct download: arm2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:02pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 4

    Manga review of Eden Volume 4 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated 18+ for Mature Readers.

    As Khan and what's left of his crew along with Elijah and Helena try to escape from the clutches of Propater controlled territory, Hiroki Endo takes a little time to bring the deadly knife master Kenji to the forefront, which comes off as a masterful move. Up until now, Kenji has been a strong but silent killer who slaughters even Propater's superhuman genetically modified monsters with relative ease. But Endo reveals Kenji's past with such richness and masterful storytelling that he could have easily been the main character of this series.

    It's one thing to "design" iconic characters but quite another to give them a background and hidden life that lives up to the surface coolness and fireworks. As always, the art on display here is some of the greatest I've ever seen in a manga. The writing can be a tad suspect when it tries to delve too shallowly in philosophy but that's ok. I'd rather see an attempt at addressing the big issues of life than no attempt at all. That overreaching writing and beautiful art is what makes Eden one of the greatest manga series ever produced.

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: eden_4.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 2:22pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 3

    Manga review of Eden Volume 3 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated 18+ for Mature Readers.

    Colonel Kahn and his crew of deadly freedom fighters are surrounded by attacking Propater forces and it's just a matter of time before they move in for the kill. But his soldiers, along with Elijah, Cherubim, Kachua, and Helena, have had plenty of time to prepare the battleground among the ancient Indian ruins. The whole volume is really just a depiction of one battle but the drama contained therein and the insight we get into the character's pasts and motivations make it as riveting as the opening minutes of the D-Day assault in Saving Private Ryan.

    Hiroki Endo is playing for keeps in this masterpiece of a manga that has deep connections to the core of human existence. Lots of characters have died in this manga, and many more will in this and future volumes, but that's what happens in war. The coup that Endo pulls off is making us care about these characters, even if all the story isn't out there yet. We don't really have all the details about what the fight is about yet, but I get the feeling that this manga will only get better. The art is EXQUISITE and ranks as some of the best comic art I've ever seen this side of Akira. The characterization, the panel layout and action, the dialogue, all at the levels of genius. I cannot praise Eden enough. One of the best manga out there. Buy it!

    My Grade: A+ 

    Direct download: eden_3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 2:17pm CDT

    Manga Review: Eden Volume 2

    Manga review of Eden Volume 2 by Hiroki Endo. Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian. Originally published by Kodansha in Japan. Published in US by Dark Horse, $12.95, Rated 18+ for Mature Readers.

    The first volume of Eden was a little ambiguous in terms of setting and the reasons why Elijah was in the middle of nowhere with the human-like security robot Cherubim. He was taken captive by a group of fighters led by Colonel Kahn who wanted to use his vehicle to get out of Propater controlled territory. As it turns out in this second volume, most of South America is a battleground between Propater and the United Nations and various assorted warlords, drug kingpins, and bandits. It's pretty much like the Wild West where the person with the most firepower usually wins an argument. When Colonel Kahn's group wipes out a bandit emplacement, they unwittingly pick up two new members, Kachua and Helena, two women who were going to be sex slaves for the competing armies on the frontlines. The problem is that Kahn and the others don't like loose ends or baggage, so they might end up dead anyway, unless Elijah can save them. And Propater soldiers are hot on their tail!

    I think Eden is great. The art is perfectly rendered and beautiful, beyond anything Western comic book artists are doing. Hiroki Endo captures the complexity of human beings, especially in their out-loud thinking sililoquies on the state of the world one minute showing gentleness and caring and then the next slicing through an enemies neck with blood bursting all over the place. That's really what Eden is all about, terrible moments of battle and violence and then, in the quiet afterwards, the battle between staying human or becoming a mindless killing machine. Cherubim doesn't have a choice at this point, he can simply be programmed to murder, but the humans have a choice.  I look forward to great things from this series.

    My Grade: A+

     

    Direct download: eden_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:59pm CDT

    Manga Review: Rave Master Volume 2 by Hiro Mashima

    Manga Review of Rave Master Volume 2 by Hiro Mashima. Translated by Amy Forsyth. Adapted by James Lucas Jones. Originally published by Kodansha in Japan. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Y for Youth Ages 10+.

    Haru, along with Plue, has sailed to the main continent of Song after spending most of his young life living a carefree existence. Now he is the Rave Master, the only person that can defeat the evil Demon Card organization with its Dark Bring users. But before he can start an offensive against them, Haru must repair the 10 Powers Sword after breaking it in battle last volume. The only craftsman capable of fixing it is the legendary blacksmith named Musica. Their main problem is that they have no idea where to find him. The first city they reach is Hip Hop Town, which is controlled by Demon Card. It's easy to get into the city but you can't leave unless you pay Demon Card a high fine. In other words, the city is like a prison, and you have to bribe your way out of it. It doesn't take long for Haru to get into a jam when Plue is kidnapped and entered into a dog race run by Georco, the main rep of Demon Card in Hip Hop Town. While trying to rescue Plue, Haru makes a new friend, a girl named Elie, who bets all of her money on the most unlikely candidate to win a dog race....Plue!

    The main thing that stuck out about this second volume of Rave Master was the wickedly awful job James Lucas Jones did with the English adaptation. There was just too much ghetto eubonic rapper language spread throughout this book. Haru's favorite phrase seems to be "Aw, Snap!". "Dawg" gets used way too much, "Ain't no thang" makes an appearance, and "You goin down" and other phrases bring "down" the language even worse. Of course, I've listed only a few phrases. Oddly enough, a 1950s "Daddy-o" even slips in. Even the backstory and preview page are written in horribly rhymed rap lyrics capped off by a "Word to your mother!". Oh my Lord, the attempt at appealing to street culture comes off as so pathetically bad. This language was cliched and goofy even back in 2003 when this book was first printed. It's even goofier now. The funny thing about Rave Master is that it uses  musical terminology heavily without being in the least about music. None of the characters introduced so far play an instrument or sing. So I'm wondering why there is so much emphasis on musical words without music being an important part of the story. In fact, it's non existent. If you can get past the bad English, Volume 2 is a bit more entertaining that the first volume, and also a bit funnier. Elie seems like she's going to be an interesting character. In fact, the oveall characterization seems a bit better than such a book deserves. I checked out the first two volumes of this series from my local library. I can read these books but Rave Master isn't good enough to spend money on...at least so far.

    My Grade: C

    Direct download: rave2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 2:26pm CDT

    Manga Review: Zombie Powder Volume 2 by Tite Kubo

    Manga Review of Zombie Powder Volume 2 by Tite Kubo, creator of Bleach. Translated by Akira Watanabe. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.99, Rated T+ for Older Teen.

    Volume 2 opens with the aftermath of Gamma's battle and ultimate defeat of Ranewater Calder, the leader of the Ash Daughter Bandits, and owner of a Ring of the Dead. Calder left Gamma and the others a present before he died, namely of rigging the entire hideout to explode skyhigh! Then it's on to the town of Alcantara, where rumor is that a Ring of the Dead is housed at the local hospital. Of course, Gamma isn't the only person interested in finding the Ring. A powerful super villain named Balmunk the Mystic arrives on the scene to look for it, sporting magical abilities that let him go toe to toe with Gamma's armor encased limb. Adding to the mix is a crusading investigative reporter named Wolfina Getto who feels it his her duty to protect the hospital from Balmunk. She is a champion of justice, but she also wants to protect her comatose brother, who is housed there.

    While not as polished or as funny as Bleach can somtimes be, White Powder is nonetheless an interesting and entertaining debut work from Tite Kubo. Wolfina has quickly become one of my favorite characters with her personality stolen from Captain America and boobs supplied by Dolly Parton. She also serves as good comic relief. The art style is nothing new to fans of Bleach even though the character designs are a bit boring in this series. Kubo makes up for this with excellent panel layout and carefully choreographed action sequences. This volume also includes Kubo's very first attempt at writing and drawing a manga, called "Ultra Unholy Hearted Machine". It concerns a mercenary hitman, uncleverly called a "deleter",  and his android TinaTina (a young female right out of the 1980s) who are hired to take down a major drug cartel. That's about all I can tell you about Unholy since it was so dreadful, I didn't make it past the first few pages. One interesting thing about it was the art, which was much more generic and lacked the characteristic Kubo look.   

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: zombie_powder_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:29pm CDT

    Manga Review: The Law of Ueki Volume 10

    Manga Review of The Law of Ueki Volume 10 by Tsubasa Fukuchi. Translated and adapted by Kenichiro Yagi. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan. Published in US by Viz, $9.99, Rated T for Teen.

    After battling their guts out for 9 volumes, imagine the surprise of Ueki and pals when they find out that their battles were just the FIRST round of the Celestial King Tournament! Something that is different in the second round is that the fighters can form teams of up to 5 people. It goes without saying that Ueki's team consists of himself, Rinko, Seiichiro, and Mori. So all that's left to do is find a fifth member. Rinko remembers hearing of a fearsome combatant named Hideyoshi Soya. The only solid info she can give is that anybody that ever fought against him never wanted to go through the experience twice...oh, and that Soya looks like a gorilla. When they finally do meet him, Ueki and company find out that they are not the only team looking to add Soya. Another team, led by a thug champion named Zack wants Soya on HIS team. Unfortunately for both Ueki and Zack, Soya has decided to set this round out and has no interest in fighting. During this recruitment period leading up to the second round, king candidate champions are allowed to fight each other without penalty. So, technically, you can force someone to join your team...after you beat the snot out of them!

    I've always enjoyed the wacky nature of this series, with all its dementedly sad super powers, but Volume 10 takes ridiculousness to a new height. For example, one of Zack's goons has the "power to turn beautiful hair into a drill" while another has the the "power to turn rubber balls into acid". I don't want to tell too many of the powers since finding out what they are is half the fun of The Law of Ueki. The character designs are as over the top and gaudy as the powers they wield. Zack, instead of looking the part of the evil villain, looks like someone pressed his head into a point, pulled and extended his eyebrows, and played makeup doll with him. I still enjoyed this volume but it goes a little too far sometimes in terms of goofiness. It is written as a semi-parody of shonen battle manga instead of trying to lay claim to that already cluttered genre. As long as Ueki continues to battle for justice, I will continue to read this series. Just make sure you don't take it too seriously.

    My Grade: B-

    Direct download: ueki_10.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:00pm CDT

    Manga Review-- GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Volume 9

    Manga Review of GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Volume 9 by Tohru Fujisawa (creator of Rose Hip Zero, Rose Hip Rose, GTO: The Early Years, and Tokko).  Translated and adapted by Dan Papia. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Ruraka is still trying to avoid the fated prophecy of her dreams in which GTO became her true love. She and her friends were willing to do anything to break the charm, including using black magic cookies to poison Onizuka. They finally have the last ingredient: GTO's pubic hair! Now they intend to cook up some cursed cookies, but how are they gonna get GTO to eat them? Azusa has some problems of her own as she begins to garner more and more attention from her male students. They think she is very cute and are basically willing to become her lapdogs in order to curry favor. This doesn't sit too well with the female students and their jealousy soon turns to rage as they begin to pull all sorts of pranks meant to hurt Asuza. And don't think that after nine volumes, GTO has made peace with all of his students. Miyabi and her pals are still deadset on getting him fired and blackmail another teacher in order to get his aid in their quest.

    As always, GTO piles on the humor but also touches on some important issues in education. One of the main themes hit upon in this volume is the lack of a significant age gap in young teachers that are starting their careers in high school. Basically, the closer you are in age to your students, the harder it is for them to respect you as an authority figure. It's probably not a good idea for a young 22-year-old teacher straight out of college to begin their career as a high school instructor. Especially if you're a pretty woman or a handsome guy. It brings all kinds of weird factors into play as seen in GTO. Students can sometimes see you as a romantic interest since you are so close in age. Azusa made no moves on any of the guys in her class. Not in the slightest. It just comes naturally to guys to treat pretty women with more kindness than ugly ones. It's just something in the hormones I guess. Probably everybody male or female had a teacher sometime in their school career that was so good looking or pretty that everyone wanted to be in their class simply to be around them. It doesn't help that Azusa is a very kind person and seems a bit helpless. Again, it plays on the male chivalry gene. Fujisawa's art is sparkling and masterful as always and the humor is deadon hilarious.

    My Grade: A+

     

    Direct download: gto_9.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 9:33pm CDT

    Manga Review: Hikaru No Go Volume 10

    Manga Review of Hikaru No Go Volume 10: "Lifeline". Story by Yumi Hotta. Art by Takeshi Obata (Death Note). Supervised by Yukari Umezawa (5 Dan). Translated and adapted by Andy Nakatani. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha. Published in US by Viz under their Shonen Jump imprint, $7.95, Rated A for All Ages.  

    Hikaru just barely managed to survive the prelims of the pro test, not because he lacked the skill but because he lacked experience playing against adults. His playing has been pretty insular in terms of variety. He had only really been playing against the formal and quite dry styles of his Go study group. So when he went up against a maverick like Tsubaki he became quite rattled and let what were simply eccentric mannerisms ruin his concentration. But he's gained a ton of confidence after Waya and Isumi took him around to different Go salons last volume. Meanwhile, Akira Toya, still feeling the fear of being beat by Shindo at the beginning of this series, wants to find out just how far his rival has progressed. To do this he wants to set up a teaching match with Ochi. What he wants to do is teach Ochi to use his own style of play so when Ochi plays against Shindo, Toya will be able to tell how his own strategies would work. Unfortunately, Ochi doesn't want to be Toya's lab rat and refuses to accept his help. While he helped Shindo in volume 9, Isumi is currently the one that is suffering from a crisis of confidence and begins to lose games after being spooked by Shindo's newfound skill.

    I'm still amazed after reading 10 volumes of this series that I still have interest in a book that is simply about playing Go! I mean, would I feel the same if someone wrote a manga about Monopoly? Weirdly enough, if the right Japanese artist and writer were doing it, I would probably give it at least a chance. I don't think a comic like Hikaru No Go could be done by an American comic book dude or dudette. I think the very foreignness of the concept is what attracts me to Hikaru No Go. The very oddity that a game could be taken so deadly serious that people become professional Go players. But really, I guess it's no different than people becoming professional baseball players or some other sport which is just a child's game really. The art by Death Note's Takeshi Obata is spot on as usual and he manages to convey a Rocky-like physicality and dramatic flourish to a game that is essentially an intellectual cat and mouse endeavour. Sorta like Death Note. I question sometimes whether I will get sick of this title. Then I find myself answering with a definite no. At least as long as Shindo and his friends don't develop superpowers and start swordfighting with demons.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: hikaru_10.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 9:21am CDT

    Manga Review: Tetragrammaton Labyrinth volume 3

    Manga review of Tetragrammaton Labyrinth Volume 3 by Ei Itou. Translated by Kenji Komiya. Adapted by Shannon Fay. Originally published in Japan by Wani Books. Published in US by Seven Seas under their Strawberry yuri imprint, $11.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    As Meg and Ann continue their mission to Germany by train, we flashback many years ago when Meg and Ann first met in Nepal. At that time Meg was just a child and traveled with her father, a missionary preacher set on seeking out unbelievers to convert them to Christianity. His wanderings had taken him to Katmandu in Nepal where Ann is being worshipped as the earthly incarnation of a local goddess. Unknown to him, some of the natives had begun to grow resentful of his presence and felt threatened by his new religion. Some of the angriest decided to take matters into their own hands and deliberately sabotaged a tall wooden pillar so that it fell and critically wounded Meg. When he learned what really happened, he snapped, completely lost his faith in God, and sought out a darker power to save his daughter and take revenge. Coming back to the present, Meg and Ann are attacked on the train by Prelati, the high ranking demon that showed up last volume, and this time he isn't alone. Thankfully, neither are Meg and Ann as some old acquaintances show up to give them aid and new weapons.

    First up, this manga should definitely be rated Mature 18+ because it has some pretty graphic violence. There are scenes of dismemberment and even bodies torn in half with their guts hanging out. Even though the title is marketed by Seven Seas as yuri, it has practically no girl on girl entanglements or romance. So if you're into that sort of thing exclusively, you should probably skip this book. The relationship between Meg and Ann is one of friendship. Very intense friendship, but not romantic. Both girls need each other not because they lust for each other, but because they need companionship. In the last volume, Meg was complaining that there were no "normal" people in the organization that they work for and Ann had to put her in check by replying that Meg herself was not normal. The true extent of that statement is fully revealed in this third installment. The fact is that the two girls cling to each other because each is a bulwark against solitude and loneliness. Tetragrammaton Labyrinth's style is more like that of Bleach or Chrono Crusade without as much humor and a better feel for horror. In fact, the author acknowledges his debt to Crusade and even recounts a conversation he had with the creator of that series, Daisuke Moriyama, and got his ok that his own work wasn't a ripoff. Moriyama even contributes a drawing of Ann for this volume. While I enjoyed the first half of Volume 3, the second half has me worried. When two characters from previous volumes show up to help Ann and Meg, it almost plays out like an American superhero comic, and the work suffers for it because it loses its hardwon sense of creepiness. Hopefully, volume 4 will get the series back on track.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: tetra_3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:40pm CDT

    Manga Review--GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Volume 8

    Manga Review of GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Volume 8 by Tohru Fujisawa. Translated and adapted by Dan Papia. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Tohru Fujisawa starts Volume 8 of GTO out pretty cleverly by doing a whole chapter from Onizuka's first person point of view. In fact, we never even hear him talk. All the dialogue comes from Saejima, one of his old motorcycle gang buddies that holds an even more surprising job than GTO. Saejima is a cop! But he's not above swiping seized drugs and hiring call girls. He's probably not the best guy to go to in times of moral crisis. But Onizuka is desperate. He's being driven crazy by Urumi Kanzaki, the legendary school terrorist that GTO almost buried alive last volume. She's basically made him her slave by threatening to tell the authorities about the incident. GTO is looking for a way out of the situation or to reach Urumi and turn her to the good side. Or to at least make her value her life. You see, Urumi lost her faith in not only teachers, but in humanity and life in general back in the 6th grade. GTO and some other students, including Urumi, run into Ms. Fujimori, her 5th and 6th grade teacher. Back then, Urumi was recognized as being gifted and talented with a genius level IQ, and she never caused any trouble. Ms. Fujimori did something pretty horrible to her due to her lack of maturity and teaching experience that has caused a wound inside Urumi that continues to fester to this day. It's up to GTO to heal her soul and, as he quite eloquently states, "open up her butthole", to let out all the crap that she's been holding inside of herself.

    The cool thing about GTO besides all the great art, vulgarity, and humor, is the fact that it takes up some pretty powerful issues that continue to be argued about in education and probably always will be. This volume takes up the debate about whether teachers coming out of college with no experience are equipped to deal with gifted and talented students. Fujisawa appears to give a big NO as the answer to this question. Everyone can probably recall a classmate sometime during their school career that always seemed to have the answer to a teacher's question. You might have also encountered someone that seemed SMARTER than your teacher as well. Some of them would even argue with the teacher when they found something wrong with their reasoning or a fact they found erroneous. The fact is that a lot of really smart kids are BORED in a typical public school. In the best case, these kids should be placed in more advanced classes, or if they must stay in a regular class, the teacher has to give them more intellectually challenging activities. Ms. Fujimori found herself ill equipped to serve Urumi's needs and started to resent her because she began to fear that maybe Urumi was smarter than her because she came from a second rate college. A teacher should never belittle a student because of their own insecurities. Tohru Fujisawa continues to crank out volume after volume of comedy, drama, action, outstanding art, and great theses on what is wrong with the current state of government run, assembly line education models. Excellent series.

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: gto_8.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:49pm CDT

    Manga Review: Tetragrammaton Labyrinth Volume 2 by Ei Itou

    Tetragrammaton Labyrinth Volume 2 by Ei Itou. Translated by Kenji Komiya. Adapted by Shannon Fay. Originally published by Wani Books in Japan. Published in US by Seven Seas under their Strawberry imprint, $11.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Angela needed a new weapon after her previous scythe was broken during the intense fighting we saw in Volume 1. The scythe she wants now is held at a Church research facility under lock and key. It is a weapon so powerful that it could kill that which could not be killed, a heavenly angel! In fact, the scythe is still stuck in the fossilized remains of the angel. Many people have tried to wield it, but in the end they were all killed and their spiritual power was added to the scythe. So, every person that has died trying to get their hands on it has made it even more deadly. Not only do Meg and Angela have to deal with the ghosts that haunt it, things get a bit crazier when they remove it from the dead angel and it comes back to life...as a fallen angel, with murder on its mind. After that, the duo are called to Germany for unknown reasons and encounter Hugh Williams, a demon's servant who uses the shipping lanes between England and the mainland to offer sacrifices to his master.

    The biggest surprise I got from this second volume was the fact that Angela is around 400 years old. Just looking at the two girls from a purely physical standpoint, Meg looks much older, like around 18-20, while Angela looks about 12 or so. What we find out is that it is Angela who is the big sister figure and that even though she says she only exists because Meg needs her, it is Meg who leans on her most of the time instead of the other way around.  Something else that is revealed about Angela is that she has no compunctions about killing innocent people if it serves a greater good. For example, when Hugh Williams takes hostages on the boat, Angela takes out at least 3-4 of them to take away his bargaining chips. Let's just say she takes the Keanu Reeves option from his film Speed of "Shoot the Hostage" to a whole 'nother level. She seems a little inhuman in her dealings with anyone but Meg but it is that very relationship that gives her humanity. It is Angela who reigns as the star in this second volume. It closes with the promise of revealing how Angela and Meg first met in the next installment.

    My Grade: A

    Here is my link to my podcast review of the first volume:

    http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=241904

    Direct download: tetragrammaton_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:40am CDT

    Manga Review: Rose Hip Zero Volume 2 by Tohru Fujisawa

    Manga Review of Rose Hip Zero Volume 2 by Tohru Fujisawa. Translated by Emi Onishi. Adapted by Michael French. Originally published by Kodansha in Japan. Published in US by Tokyopop, $10.99. Rated Mature 18+ for mild sexuality, intense violence, excessive gore, and moderate fanservice.

    Shohei and Asakura, alias Rose Hip, were almost killed by the crazed psycho who called himself  "The Sheep" (uh, is that a reference to Silence of the Lambs or what?). But Asakura was able to defeat him and hand him over to police custody. But we found out at the end of the last volume that the Sheep was just a lackey of "The Shepherd". His intent is to kill Asakura because he feels she is standing in the way of his "cleansing" of Tokyo. What he means by cleansing is to get rid of all the scum. And the Shepherd's definition of scum is politician (don't know if I completely disagree with that).  He's bored, sick, and tired of the current corrupt government that is running the show. He probably intends to extend his program to the whole country after he takes care of Tokyo. He has planted what amount to sleeper cells all across the city by using post-hypnotic suggestion. All it takes is a spoken word, whether it be in person or over a phone, to turn a normal person into his mind controlled slave. He even makes one of Shohei and Asakura's teachers blow her brains out! The dude is not messing around. Help arrives in the form of Natsuki Kuonji, who, just like Asakura, was trained to be a killer from an early age. But she isn't called the "Angel of Mercy" like Asakura, who never takes lives. Natsuki's nickname is "Bloody Angel" and also "Kiss Maniac Natsuki", and she is much more prone to take people out with her weapons. Just from their names, you can tell these two girl's methods of dealing with criminals is going to be like fire and ice. But Asakura, Natsuki, and the Shepherd share a connection. They were all raised by a league of assassins called ALICE.

    John Keats once said that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. I'm tempted to use that in reference to Tohru Fujisawa's art. He's just great. Fujisawa achieves the perfect balance between highly detailed characters, liberal use of elaborate backgrounds, excellent action scene layouts, sympathetic characterization, and sexy women. Don't worry ladies, he draws pretty guys for you as well. We get more of a feel of Asakura's disconnect in this volume when we learn that she lives alone and doesn't ever remember having a family. All she remembers faintly is that she was raised by the assassin organization called ALICE. Fujisawa does a good job of showing that from time to time, if not frequently, Asakura longs for a normal life, longs for a family, regular friends. Maybe at this point, Shohei is the closest thing to that dream. There's even a bit of romantic tension between the two as we get to see that most lovey dovey quintessential scene in manga, the "oops, I fell, making you fall on top of me, isn't this awkward, why are you blushing" scene. Great read, action packed. Not for kids though.

    Here is the link to Podcast Episode 119 where I did a review of the first volume:   http://sesho.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=364248

    (Is it just me or has Tokyopop been quietly raising prices on some of their titles to $10.99 even though you're not getting any more pages than the $9.99 books? Is this a page from ADV Manga? We all know where they are today, don't we?)

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: rose_hip_rose_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:35pm CDT

    Closing Thoughts on the First Issue of Yen Plus

    I talked about the individual titles in Yen Plus but I just wanted to make a few general comments about this attempt by Yen Press to put out a more reader friendly rather than boy or girl centered anthology. Of course, I'm talking about Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat. It's not that I don't buy Shojo Beat because I think Shojo manga are too girly. I don't buy it because it TARGETS young girls so explicitly and the bright colors make my eyes hurt. I don't read Shonen Jump (at least, until recently) either (ok, I do buy it, but the only thing I read is Naruto!). But its Donkey Kong leveling up plots can be a little offputting as well. It targets young boys that like to hit people.

    So I am very glad that Yen Press is trying something a bit different with Yen Plus. They just seem to have put a batch of titles together with no regard for genre readers. There seems to be a little bit of everything for everybody. The danger with this kind of strategy is that by trying to please everyone, you please noone.  Myself, I LIKE variety.

    But there are some readers that feel uncomfortable wading into strange waters. Witness the incredibly negative reaction that Jack Frost got from some bloggers and board posters. They were put off by the violence and fan service mainly. Has anyone heard the words "dark comedy" before? If someone gets their head cut off and then sits there, oblivious to pain, and commenting on what jerks the two supernatural fighters are, you should know things are not meant to be taken seriously.

    I remember someone commented on a scene in Maximum Ride when we meet a little girl named Angel and another character named Max is coming to wake her up for breakfast. One reader even said it was "straight up gross". The panel shows the girl fixing to get out of bed. To me, what is creepy is that someone can see the panel and get all kinds of weird connotations out of it. Same thing with a title like Strawberry Marshmallow. Some people have told me how that title is a moe title for perverts, but I don't get that out of it at all. I think it's just cute and funny. I guess some people just bring some weird thoughts into their manga reading experience.

    In the Editor's letter at the front (back?) of the magazine, JuYoun Lee wrote that this magazine was going to be a way to introduce readers to titles before they are released as tankobans. So I asked myself which of the titles in this first issue would I buy in book form? The titles I could guarantee are Bamboo Blade, Higurashi, and Pig Bride. Borderline purchases would be Jack Frost and Nabari No Ou. I would probably pass up on Sumomomo. Titles I wouldn't take even if  they were free would be Maximum Ride, Sarasah, and Night School. I don't even count One Fine Day as a title. It was pointless drivel.

    Some people have also complained about the running order of the OEL/Manhwa section, citing mainly the outrageously cute One Fine Day somehow being a antithetic prelude to Jack Frost. My suggested reordering of the titles would go like this. Put Pig Bride as the lead title, followed by One Fine Day, Sarasah, Maximum Ride, Night School, and lastly, Jack Frost. It seems like a more coherent arrangement of content.

    Direct download: yen_small.gif
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:10pm CDT

    Manga Review: Negima Volume 2 by Ken Akamatsu

    Manga Review of Negima volume 2 by Ken Akamatsu, creator of Love Hina and A.I. Love You. Translated by Douglas Varenas. Adapted by Peter David and Kathleen O'Shea David. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Del Rey, $10.95, Rated OT ages 16+.

    Negi sees a lot of students really putting pressure on themselves studying and wonders why his own Class 2A seems to be going about their usual business. When he asks one of the girls what the deal is, she tells him that in 3 days the school will be taking the all-important high school exam. 2A always has the worst average so none of the girls even bother getting upset about it, especially the Baka Rangers. They get a bit more serious when they hear rumors that Negi might be fired or their class might be dissolved if they don't improve their class ranking. The truth is that if Negi can somehow get his class out of last place, he will "officially" become a teacher at the Academy (up to this point he's been in a probationary type position). He starts to come up with some sort of magical solution, but Asuna talks him out of it, saying that the girls should fail or succeed on their own merits. Negi even goes to drastic lengths by taking away his own powers in the 3 days leading up to the test so he won't be tempted to use his magic. Asuna quickly changes her tune when she hears the rumors going round the school and enlists the Baka Rangers to help acquire a mythical book in the school library that supposedly makes you smarter if you read it. The Mahora Library is the largest library in the world and contains millions of books, with a lot of them being rare and irreplacable. Due to the nature of the tomes inside it, there are lots of traps on its first floor to keep out would-be robbers. Traps which Negi and company are going to have to deal with minus his magic.

    The two things that instantly grab you just flipping through this manga is its beautiful art and sexy fanservice. Akamatsu is pretty much at the top of his form doing harem comedy. But the fact that Negi is so young eleminates some of the horndog nature that you find in some male protagonists of this genre. Instead of being a perverted male surrounded by pure and innocent girls, Negi is the pure and innocent one being played on by females that find him cute and irresistible, especially Ayaka, the class rep. Of course this wouldn't be Akamatsu if the writer didn't find a ton of ways to get the girls bathing naked, have their clothes blown off, or bend over for various reasons for panty shots. It's just the nature of Akamatsu's game. While he focuses a lot on comedy, he is not afraid to draw epic background environments pulled right out of Kurosawa's vast shot forte. This is something a lot of manga artists lack nowadays, the use of wide shots. The character designs are great. I never have trouble recognizing any of the 31 girls of class 2A. They are distinct enough, at least in outward form, so you don't confuse them very easily. We haven't really got to know them all as personalities but then again, this is only the second volume. I look forward to learning more about the characters. Negima is really funny and is a very entertaining adventure.

    My Grade: A

     

    Direct download: Negima_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:00pm CDT

    Manga Review--GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Volume 6 by Tohru Fujisawa

    Manga Review of GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Volume 6 by Tohru Fujisawa. Translated by Dan Papia. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Things were not going very good for GTO at the end of Volume 5. Representatives from "The Mother and Child Victim's Support Group" showed up at school demanding to observe Onizuka's classroom. It seems they have gotten word of inappropriate behavior in his class and they want to check it out for themselves. Wouldn't you know it that GTO is on one of his slightly crazy kicks and is walking the halls wearing nothing but suspenders, a bizarre elephant head tutu around his crotch area, and some boots! In a hard to miss Freudian metaphor, Onizuka sprays some sort of substance, which I can only hope was water, out of his trunk onto the face of the leader of the support group. He's on the verge of losing his position, but Teshigawara, the evil math teacher, wants to make sure Onizuka never gets another teaching job for the rest of his life. He wants to expose him for the unqualified joke that he really is. He proposes a plan to Ms. Oda, the support group leader, in which Onizuka will take the National Scholastic Achievement Test. This is an academic test that students take three times a year. If GTO is able to make the top score in the country, then he will be able to keep his job. If he can't do this then he will have to give up being a teacher forever. Of course, we all know Onizuka is a complete moron so there is little hope he will even pass it, much less ace it. Since he only has a week to prepare, Azusa invites him to stay over at her place so she can coach. You can imagine the fantasies that start going through our hero's head when he hears this proposition.

    The main thing that this volume and the series as a whole has going for it is its humor. Tohru Fujisawa is a great master of the common joke. He can make you laugh. When Onizuka starts daydreaming about all the fun he's going to have staying over at Azusa's (He actually visualizes the info he has to study being written on her naked body), he is rudely awakened when he finds out the dictatorial study regimen she has laid out for him. And some incredibly horrifying dishes to eat as well. He goes to an almost exclusive diet of grilled tuna head. She even supplies extra tuna eyeballs for him to eat that supposedly increase brain activity. Besides that she has electric head bands, pyramid triangles, wave generators, memoryman headphones, alpha wave music, and computer software to aid him. It doesn't really bode too well for his confidence that she's willing to go to such extreme lengths. The art is great as usual and is drawn very realistically. While there are moments of visual morphing during moments of humor or high emotion, there aren't any chibi figures to be seen in this series. So while the humor can be very funny, it never achieves this through drawing characters in wacky styles. It is done more by having the characters react to certain situations or to each other. Fujisawa also handles the action sequences very well. A great read. A great series.  

    My Grade: A

     

    Direct download: gto_6.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 2:24pm CDT

    Manga Review: Psycho Busters Volume 2

    Manga Review of Psycho Busters Volume 2. Story by Yuya Aoki, creator of Getbackers. Manga by Akinari Nao. Translated and adapted by Stephen Paul. Originally published by Kodansha in Japan. Published by Del Rey in US, $10.95, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Kakeru and his new psychic friends are holed up at his house after being attacked by two Category Ones last volume. They won't be disturbed since Kakeru's mom and sisters are on vacation in Hawaii and his dad has been out of the country on business for 3 years. He doesn't exactly have the most tight-knit family. If you remember, there was a ticket mix-up in volume 1 and they were short by one ticket. Instead of cancelling the trip, they dumped Kakeru and went without him! Pretty ghetto if you ask me. We learn a bit more about the "Greenhouse" facility that Ayano, Xiao Long, Kaito, and Joi escaped from. Psychics are taken there by hook or crook and experimented on or made to serve the ends of its directors, the Frontier Committee. Some of the psychics were driven insane or even killed due to the methods the Greenhouse used. Ayano, the faculty member of Kakeru's school is still along for the ride as well, and is beginning to show that she is more than just a simple teacher. While the kids try to get some downtime at the school pool, the Greenhouse sends out one of their most powerful Category Ones, Takemaru, who has a serious inferiority complex, which causes to kill a lot of people with his powers and suffer from delusions of godhood.

    I'm beginning to really like this series. Mainly because of the changes that are occuring with Kakeru. In Volume 1, he was a computer game geek who looked forward to masturbating to his dad's high school girl porn. Slowly, he has evolved into a hero willing to sacrifice his life for his new friends. This is due mainly to his growing affection for Ayano, to whom he was attracted at first sight when she appeared in all her naked astral form last volume. As he gets to know her, his initial attraction is developing into love, even if he doesn't know it himself.  Kakeru wants to protect Ayano even though he is not really aware of what his psychic power is or how to activate it. It's always nice to see a cliched horndog manga character go beyond themselves and think about something other than sex. The art by Akinari Nao, while not great, is pretty good, and is an odd mix of bishonen and bishojo art styles that will appeal to both genders of manga readers. The story too, is a mix between superpowered battles combined with almost slice of life storytelling showing how all the kids are cohabitating. That's probably another reason Psychic Busters is growing on me. It takes some well known manga conventions and puts them together in an interesting mix.

    My Grade: A

    Check out Podcast Episode 100 for a review of Volume 1

    Direct download: psycho_busters.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:22am CDT

    Manga Review: Gunslinger Girl Volume 6 by Yu Aida

    Gunslinger Girl Volume 6 by Yu Aida. Translated by Javier Lopez. Originally published by Media Works in Japan. Published in US by ADV Manga, $9.99, Rated 16+.

    The Social Welfare Agency believes that it has learned from its past mistakes and is ready to begin production of a second generation of cyborg assassins. There will be an initial run of 10 girls with design improvements. While the physical abilities of the cyborgs will be less than that of the first, the new "conditioning" process will double their lifespan and make them easier to maintain. If this new system works, the SWA has even started thinking about a way to make money by selling its cyborg girls commercially. The first candidate is Elizabeta Baranovskaya, a ballet dancer who is suffering from bone cancer in one of her legs. It's gotten so bad that the doctors say the only way to save her life is to amputate it.  But nobody realizes that Elizabeta's dream of being a great ballerina is stronger than her will to live. If she loses her leg, in her eyes at least, her life is over. End of story.  Meanwhile, Giuseppe and Jean take their fratello, Henrietta and Rico, on a rare vacation where they hope to get away from their job. Unfortunately, it ends up dragging up old memories as Jean is reminded of his dead parents, a dead sister, and a fiance killed by Padania. He's not really a happy fellow.

    Gunslinger Girl really stands out in the writing and characterization departments. That's not to say that Aida can't handle the action sequences as well. In fact, while there is only one short battle in this volume, it is handled exquisitely and cinematically. The way the panels are laid out is something he couldn't do in earlier volumes. It's really cool to see someone mature not just artistically but as a writer too. The new girl, Petrushka, joins a cast that the reader was already very sympathetic to, but in a surprise move, her backstory is front and center. In the past, Aida has glanced over the lives of the girls before they became part of the SWA.  It was merely a footnote, so it was a clever twist for Aida to use the newest member to begin some character exploration. Alessandro, Petrushka's handler, comes across as a bit of a jerk, but maybe he's insensitive simply because of the nature of his job. It's pretty creepy that the handler can actually tell the doctors of the SWA exactly what they want their girl to look like. I mean, the hubris of these guys to play God like they do. Unfortunately, if you like this series, it is currently in publishing limbo. This volume was published in December 2007 and there's been no word when ADV will put out the next book. After losing most of their newer anime titles, I'm beginning to wonder if ADV will even be in business this time next year.

    My Grade A-

    Direct download: gunslinger_6.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:33pm CDT

    Manga Review: Harukaze Bitter Bop Volume 2

    Manga Review of Harukaze Bitter Bop Volume 2 by Court Betten. Translated by Christine Schilling. Adapted by Kereth Cowe-Spigai. Originally published in Japan by Mag Garden. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Teen 13+.

    Souza of the North Wind still hasn't recovered his memory, and it might be a bit late anyway, as he is apparently killed by an assassin named Kurusu of the Sun. Or at least severely wounded.  Kurusu was sent from the Rokka corporation, which on the surface appears to be a normal career placement business. And this is not quite a lie. In reality it takes on ANY assignment as long as the money is right. They have even gone so far as to begin making an "ultimate man" called a "Yoh", which in essence is a kind of super soldier that Rokka can use to complete its missions. Souza was one such operative until he went rogue. Of course, Chiyoharu and Kaede have no idea that Souza has been captured by the company, but they have their own problems. Chiyoharu's buddy, Tomason, has been taken hostage by a Yakuza thug named Sanjuro Araki in an effort to extort money that their teacher, Ayame, owes the mob. I don't think we really know at this point exactly what sum it is or why Ayame had to borrow it from the Yakuza. But I doubt they would be coming after her for petty change.

    If you listened to Podcast Episode 84 in which I reviewed Volume 1 of this series, you know that I did not particularly care for that book. I actually had second thoughts about buying this next installment but I decided to give it one more chance. Volume 2 was more of the same, but for some reason, I liked it more. Probably because there was some explanation of what was going on. For instance, we find out what Souza is and why his memories have been lost. Since the reader can understand why things are happening now, you can begin to develop a plot, which seemed to be largely absent from Volume 1. It just seemed to be a hodgepodge of different character types and genres thrown together under one title with no rhyme or reason. This is still the basic weakness of the book. You have Yazkuza, girl detectives, evil corporations, martial arts battles, mixed in with some metamanga. It almost becomes a parody of itself, with the characters sometimes being fully aware that they are in a manga. In the end, Harukaze is just meant to be a fun diversion, and is never meant to be taken seriously, even for a millisecond.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: harukaze2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:37pm CDT

    Manga Review: Samurai Commando Volumes 1-2

    Manga Review of Samurai Commando: Mission 1549 Volumes 1&2. Art by Ark Performance. Story by Harutoshi Fukui. Original idea by Ryo Hanmura. Translated and adapted by Sheldon Drzka. Originally published in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten. Published in US by CMX, $9.99 each, Rated T+.

    35-year-old Yusuke Kashima is having a hard time finding a job that he can hold on to. Currently he's on the verge of losing his eighth one since being discharged from the Japanese Self Defense Force. In the SDF, he was part of the special marine brigade "F Unit" serving under his idol, the charismatic and now deceased Colonel Matoba. After F Unit was disbanded, Kashima became disillusioned with both the military and Matoba and has been trying to adjust to the civilian life ever since. He finds out how little his own problems matter when the military comes a callin'. They show him pictures of strange globes of black energy both large and small that have begun to appear across Japan. These black holes are replacing our space and if they continue not only will Japan be replaced, but our entire dimension. What does all this have to do with Kashima, you ask? Six years ago, his mentor, Matoba, was killed in action. Well, at least, that's what the military said. The actual truth of what happened to him is a pretty amazing tale. 6 years ago, while testing some new military technology, Matoba and his unit were somehow transported back in time to the year 1549! It is believed that these holes are being caused by Matoba changing the past. Their suspicions are correct. Matoba plans on using his technological know-how to conquer not only Japan but the entire world. Kashima is going to be part of a mission to go back in time and bring Matoba back to the present. How long is he given to save the world? 3 days!

    Whenever you involve time travel in a story, you always run into questions that spawn more questions. For instance, if the black holes are caused by changes in the time continuum, it wouldn't make any difference if you brought Matoba back to the present. The damage has already been done, and any change in the past would result in a completely different reality, especially for Japan. And once the future technology was introduced by Matoba, the cat would be out of the bag as well. For example, Matoba fashions a hybrid armor for his men, blending the craft of  Japanese and European metalwork. It's too much to ask us to believe that someone back in 1549 would not emulate this armor and perhaps change the course of warfare in the past. The art is pretty good if lacking soul and passion. That pretty much sums up this two volume manga as well. Since the plot only allows 3 days to complete its mission, we don't get to spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, so the writer has to paint their personalites and motivations with very broad strokes with very little room to add nuances and depth. The main theme comes across loud and clear and has been echoed through the ages from ancient Rome to current America. Namely, that there are always those who wonder if their present country is living up to the ideals of its ancestors. Matoba and Kashima are very concerned that modern Japan has lost something very vital that it once had. Could it be the fact that our consumer culture has stripped men of everything they once cherished? Is our century even capable of fostering the traits of bravery, loyalty, and sacrifice? These are questions that other nations have asked themselves when the intelligent among them believed their country had lost its way. The problem is that this manga throws the moral of its own sermonizing message directly in your face too many times, especially in the second volume. For better handling of this same plot device, I would highly recommend watching the anime Zipang. This was an ok read, but there just wasn't time to flesh it out.

    My Grade: C+

    Direct download: samurai_commando.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:43pm CDT

    Manga Review: Sunshine Sketch Volume 1 by Ume Aoki

    Manga Review of Sunshine Sketch Volume 1 by Ume Aoki. Translated by Satsuki Yamashita. Originally published by Houbunsha in Japan. Published in US by Yen Press, $10.99, Rated Teen.

    Sunshine Sketch is about 4 art students attending the prestigious Yamabuki Private High School. They are all neighbors in the Hidamari Apartment Building, which is notorious for housing weirdos from the Arts department. I don't know if you would qualify sophomores Yun and Miyu, and juniors Sae and Hiro as "weirdos" per se, but they are all a bit quirky in their own way. The story is mainly told from the viewpoint of Yuno, the stereotypical klutz airhead of the series. You can see the apple doesn't fall far from the tree when her mom takes her for entrance exams and is last seen waving goodbye to Yuno. Hours later, after the test is over, Yuno exits the building to find that her mom is STILL waving, with a hugely swollen arm! Miyu is the pushy energy ball who shows up as soon as Yuno moves into Hidamari, demanding moving Soba (it's a Japanese tradition to make Soba for your new neighbors). This is just the first act of sponging off of Yuno that Miyu instigates. She sees Yuno as a food source and a servant....and as a friend....I guess. Sae and Hiro live on the floor beneath Yuno and Miyu and since they are a year older, see themselves as kind of big sisters to the younger duo. Sae is the more intelligent of the two and seems much more mature, while Hiro is a bit spacier but hides a sly wit and sarcasm that she uses to insult the other girls. Whether she does this intentionally or not, she always plays off her insults as dumb coencidence.

    Sunshine Sketch is a series of four panel cartoons that read vertically going down the page a la Azumanga Daioh. Because of this format and the subject matter I found it hard not to compare the two series, much to Sunshine's detriment. While Azumanga's jokes were always clear and almost always brought a laugh, the humor in Sunshine is much more hit and miss. Because the book is broken into pseudo chapters, the punchline for a joke can come pages later, much more like Cromartie High School, instead of being rapid fire like Azumanga. This spacing of the jokes tends to dilute the comedy. There were many times reading this book that I realized a joke had been told and I was supposed to laugh but I just didn't get it. But I felt that this was due more to the obscurity of the original writing than a misunderstanding of the Japanese translation or cultural references. The art is pretty average according to the unremarkable subject matter that is being drawn. The character designs and the personalities of the cast stand out a bit better upon a second reading but at this point are a bit formless and hard to distinguish. Sunshine Sketch shows promise at this point and could be quite funny once you get to know the characters a bit more.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: sunshine_sketch.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:48am CDT

    Manga Review: Sorcerer Hunters Volume 5 by Ray Omishi and Satoru Akahori

    Sorcerer Hunters Volume 5. Art by Ray Omishi. Story by Satoru Akahori. Translated by Anita Sengupta. Originally published by Media Works in Japan. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    The Sorcerer Hunters had quite the Darth Vader moment facing off against the Sorcerer Hunter Killers last volume. Tira and Chocolat learned that the leader of the Killers was none other than their adopted father Sacher Torte, who had rebelled against Big Mama 13 years ago.  Also among Sacher's cronies is Gateau's sister, who he had thought long dead, and apparently has no memory of her brother. She seems more than willing to kill him without a second thought. Years ago, Sacher even tried to kill Tira and Chocolat in a fit of psychotic rage, so Chocolat in particular wants to take revenge on him. He was wounded by Carrot's father in volume 4 but continues to be a threat as long as he can draw on the power of his Platina stones, which allow him to wield a pure form of magic which was reserved only for gods. The Sorcerer Hunters must find these five stones and destroy them if they hope to defeat Sacher. But their mission is not going to be easy because Sacher has posted powerful guardians to watch over each stone. Each battle is different because each guardian is unique and has their own methods of trying to defeat the Hunters, whether they be physical or more psychological.

    Even though the art has a definite 1990's look to it, Omishi's skills are on proud display as she is a master of action, comedy, and even illustrating a heartfelt flashback at how Carrot and Chocolat met when they were kids. To me, this was the best part of Volume 5. Yeah, we know that Chocolat has a thing for Carrot, but here we find out why. It is a welcome event to reveal that Carrot is not quite the mindless horndog and that Chocolat is not quite the mindless dingbat that she puts on. That there is a loving bond between the two, even though the love each feels might be different. Even at that early of an age Chocolat wanted to find and kill Sacher but Carrot put some sense into her head, knowing that she would only wind up dead if she confronted him. Even NOW, she would probably end up dead! But now she has friends that care about her and will help her out. Akahori almost always finds a way to get some comedy into each story even if there is a particularly serious arc, but it never seems forced or out of place. This series probably should have been rated Mature since it does feature a couple of full-on boob shots along the level of Ai Yori Aoshi.

    My Grade: A-

    Direct download: sorcerer_hunters5.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:44am CDT

    Manga Review: Gunslinger Girl Volume 4 by Yu Aida

    Gunslinger Girl Volume 4 by Yu Aida. Translated by Javier Lopez. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by ADV Manga, $9.99, Rated 16+.

    Volume 4 of Gunslinger Girl begins with a focus on perhaps the saddest member of the cast of girl assassins: Claes. Her handler had begun to doubt the ethics of what he was doing and had thought about exposing the whole operation. To prevent this, he was liquidated by the SWF. The problem is that once a girl bonds to her handler, there is no going back and it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to give her a new partner. So Claes is pretty much excess baggage and is only kept alive for the sake of study and experimentation. Since her memory was wiped clean, she walks around with a sense of something missing from her life. A sadness she can't quite put her finger on. Triela, too, is having some life issues, as she grapples with her first major defeat by the killer Pinocchio. She would have gotten killed by him, but he had a flashback to something in his past and spared her life. She doesn't have a lot of time to dwell on it though, as she and Hillshire are assigned to protect a mob boss daughter because her father has decided to turn state's evidence against his former friends.

    The aspect of this series that Aida handles so well is that there isn't a lot of exploitation of the "cute" factor that drawing and portraying such young girls could easily slip into. Instead the writer shows how the spirit of each girl finds a way to fight its way up through all the brainwashing and conditioning to desperately grasp at something of a normal life. While the story sometimes flirts with the idea that the girls are in love with their partners, again, this is never taken to moe otaku extremes and is explained by saying it is a result of their conditioning. Aida also handles flashbacks well, using them just enough to explain her character motivations and giving them depth, without causing jarring interruptions in the flow of the current storyline. This is a great series. It's too bad that ADV Manga sucks and a new volume hasn't been published in 6 months. At one time, the release schedule averaged one volume per YEAR. For example, Volume 3 was published in June 2005 while this fourth volume did not come out till July 2007! And now it seems like there has been another interruption. They should really just give up the license, along with Cromartie and Yotsuba and get out of the manga business.

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: gunslinger4.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:00am CDT

    Manga Review: 10,20, and 30 Volume 2 by Morim Kang

    Manga Review: 10,20, and 30 Volume 2 by Morim Kang. Translated by Misun Jang. Published by Net Comics, $9.99, Rated 16+.

    As this second volume opens, Belle has run away from the Krumb household. Well, if you call going to your mom's house running away. Belle's mom is still on about her finding a man and getting married, even if it means marrying the useless Beau. Meanwhile, Rok is having her own man problems as she continues to question why she treats Angel so badly, lashing out at him for no reason. And she gets even more upset when she finds out her best friend has been hanging out with him. Plus, Rok is trying her best to help her overworked mom juggle her roles of mother and breadwinner. Krumb herself is struggling over the guilt of becoming more and more attached to her boss, Mr. Choe, whose marriage proposal is still on the table. When he tells Krumb he is going to Hong Kong to see about a problem at one of the company's factories, he neglects to tell her that it the main retailer that carries their fashion line has gone out of business. Krumb's employer itself is now facing bankruptcy.

    This second installment of 10,20, and 30 at times slips a little too close to over the top melodrama for my taste. But a little soap opera is ok if you care about the characters. And Krumb, Belle, and Rok are definitely interesting and sympathetic. You're not going to find any protagonists that have all the answers in their backpocket here. All three women (or should I say two women and 1 young lady) are desperately in search of something, even though they don't always know what it is. Perhaps it is happiness? So they fumble their way towards this goal, sometimes being bitchy and getting on each other's nerves, or snapping at the guys that like them. But in turn, they are just as likely to cry in each other's arms a moment after saying they can't stand each other. It's real life, man! Relationships, whether they are between family members or lovers, can be quite complex, unless you lead a really boring life. Kang's art, is very cartoony and lacks formal realism but she gets it to work within the framework of her story and is able to get just as much emotional mileage out of it as more detailed art might. While the plot is made up mostly of relationship problems, the characters will win you over.

    My Grade: B+

    See Episode 12 of my podcast show for a review of Volume 1.

    Only two volumes of this series have been printed, but more volumes are available online at  www.netcomics.com

     

    Direct download: 102030.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:34pm CDT

    Manga Review: Gunslinger Girl Volume 3 by Yu Aida

    Manga Review: Gunslinger Girl Volume 3 by Yu Aida. Translated by Amy Forsyth. Originally published by Media Works in Japan. Published by ADV Manga in US, $9.99, Rated 16+.

    One of the Social Welfare Agency's agents has gone missing while on the trail of a mysterious new threat. I know it doesn't sound frightening, but the name of this threat is....Pinocchio! No, he's not the wooden puppet but seriously, his skills as a cold-blooded killer make him a match even for the Agency's cybernetically enhanced girls. He's been enlisted to help the terrorist forces of the Five Republics in their efforts to rebel against the government. The girls are sent into action against these forces and in an effort to protect an important political leader.

    While action is never far away in Gunslinger Girl, since Volume 2 this series has taken a more quiet and less bloody route in its storytelling. This is a good thing. Here we get a focus on the forces that plot against the Agency and all sides of the conflict seem to get an even break in terms of motivation. It's very hard to see it in terms of bad guys and good guys (or gals). Since both sides are willing to do atrocious things to better their causes. Buy it for the action, the intrigue, and the poignant relationships. Highly recommended!

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: gunslinger_3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:57pm CDT

    Manga Review: Gunslinger Girl Volume 2 by Yu Aida

    Manga Review: Gunslinger Girl Volume 2 by Yu Aida. Translated by Eiko McGregor. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by ADV Manga, $9.99, Rated 16+.

    Volume 2 of Gunslinger Girl has less violence and more character development than the first installment. We start off with the backstory of Claes and end with the backstory of the first girl agent, Angelica. The most touching moments of the series are when the girls remember their humanity despite all the conditioning they receive to rid them of it. Even some of the adult handlers begin to question whether they are on the right side. The middle section of this volume deals with the Agency trying to stop mad bombers and rescuing the money man of an underground organization. But the plot is interspersed with quiet moments such as the girls going out in the dead of night to enjoy a meteor shower, and the tragic story of Angelica, whose own father tried to kill her for insurance money. The same Angelica whose memory is completely shot due to the massive amount of experimentation that was done on her.

    The premise of Gunslinger Girl is quite disturbing but it does show how adults corrupt the world of children with no regard to their welfare at times. In a war against terrorists just how far would people be willing to go? What is the difference in sending 18 year olds to fight and die? Are they any less children than the girls we see here? Another poignant thing about it is that all the girls seem to have been unwanted, in some cases, even by their own parents. And that they cling to their handlers and to each other as the only family they have. Yu Aida never exploits the plot. I think the author is trying to show how a blank slate can be turned into a killer if properly trained. But there is something in the souls of the girls that is trying to fight its way out and reject this whole messed up situation. Thought provoking manga!

    Check out Podcast Episode 90 for an audio review of Volume 1.

    My Grade: A
    Direct download: gunslinger_girl_2.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:50pm CDT

    Episode 98: Color of Rage by Kazuo Koike and Seisaku Kano

    Podcast manga review of Color of Rage. Story by Kazuo Koike. Art by Seisaku Kano. Translated by Naomi Kokubo with assistance of Jeff Carlson. Originally published by Koike Shoin Publishing in 2004. Published in US by Dark Horse, $14.95, Rated Mature 18+.

    George and King, two slaves, have escaped from their servitude on a whaling ship only to find themselves washed up on the shores of a Japan in crisis. A volcanic eruption has just recently killed 20,000 people, and a poor harvest is causing famine across the land. Peasants have begun rebelling against their masters or abandoning their farms. Neither of which sit very well with the nobility, who count on the farmers to work their lands. George, who is Japanese, can fit into the situation very easily. But what to do about King, an African American, whose skin color alone will cause the two to stand out? It's not only his race that brings unwanted attention. King believes that he has to stand up against anyone that oppresses their fellow man. Even if it means killing a lot of corrupt lords and government officials. King and George fall into adventure as they seek for a place where people are judged on their own merits, not by race or money.

    My Grade: A-

    Direct download: episode_98--_Color_of_Rage.mp3
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:55pm CDT

    Episode 96: Batman Death Mask Issues 1-2 by Yoshinori Natsume

    Episode 96: Comic book review of Batman Death Mask issues 1 and 2 by Yoshinori Natsume. Published by DC and CMX, $2.99 each, unflipped in black and white.

    Yoshinori Natsume, artist and writer of the Japanese manga Togari, tries his hand with an American icon with these first two issues of the four issue Batman: Death Mask. Bruce Wayne is having a bit of a mid-life crisis as he wonders who he really is. Is he Bruce Wayne masquerading as Batman or vice versa? Then he meets an employee of a Japanese corporation holding an art and culture exhibition in Gotham that reminds him of a girl he met 20 years ago in Japan. He was there for martial arts training, but he also encountered the malevolent spirit of a long dead warrior who threatened to possess him. Now the same spirit seems to be running around the city cutting off people's faces!

    My Grade for issues 1 and 2: B+

    Direct download: Episode_96--Batman_Death_Mask.mp3
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:27am CDT

    Manga Review: Kashimashi Volume 4 by Satoru Akahori and Yukimaru Katsura

    Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl Volume 4. Story by Satoru Akahori. Art by Yukimaru Katsura. Originally published by Media Works in Japan. Published in US by Seven Seas, Rated Older Teen 16+, $10.99.

    Kashimashi has rapidly changed from a pseudo yuri title to that of a tragic dying soulmate triangle in the space of one volume. In the third installment, we learned that Hazumu's life will end in 30 days due to the fact that her "life grains" have run out. In fact, she was supposed to have died the day he/she was crushed by an alien spaceship. Changing Hazumu into a girl only delayed the inevitable. Her temporary reprieve is over and now she is going to have make peace with her friends and herself. Volume 4 chronicles the different ways that Tomari, Yasuna, Ayuki, and Asuta deal with the news that they are going to lose their best friend, or in some cases, their true love in 30 days. While Yasuna resigns herself and tries to make Hazumu's last days on Earth full of happiness and memories, Tomari reacts with anger at the news. She can't figure out how everybody is taking it so well and remaining calm about the whole tragedy. There is one hope to save Hazumu. If someone wishes strong enough and purely enough to share Hazumu's life and fate, then that person will be able to share some of their own life grains with her. But the day the person puts themselves first without thinking of Hazumu, she will die.

    Wow, how easily this book transformed from a light comedy or even light drama to a title that almost seems brooding with the ominous nature of Hazumu's impending death. I agree with Tomari that Hazumu's friends seem to be taking it a little too well. It just seems like no matter what your good intentions, if someone you loved was going to die, you would still be haunted by it at certain moments and would not be able to focus as much on making happy memories. The fact that nobody knows how Hazumu is fated to die also seems a bit cruel. Is she going to die without pain or is it going to be a horrible torturous death? Still, the writing is pretty good and is still able to keep a certain pastoral and gentle tone thanks to Katsura's graceful artwork. I'm looking forward to the conclusion of Kashimashi, hoping that Hazumu will be able to change her fate.

    My Grade: A-

    Direct download: kashimashi_4.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 3:38pm CDT

    Manga Review: The Law of Ueki Volume 9 by Tsubasa Fukuchi

    Manga Review: The Law of Ueki Volume 9 by Tsubasa Fukuchi. Translated and adapted by Yoshiko Tokuhara. Originally published by Shogakukan in Japan. Published by Viz, $9.99, Rated T for Teen.

    The story of why Robert has such a low opinion of humanity opens up Volume 9 of The Law of Ueki. His treatment by the inhabitants of the town where he grew up as a an orphan explains why he wants to destroy the world if he wins the tournament. It explains WHY but it still does not make it right. The relationship between Ueki and Robert is very similar to that of Naruto and Gaara. Naruto felt a lot of sympathy for Gaara simply because to him, the Sand ninja represented a possibility of what Naruto himself could have become if he had been left to his own devices. Ueki understands why Robert feels the way he does, but he is also disgusted that he let an incident in his childhood cloud his whole future and turned to evil. Ueki always looks for the good in others, a way to change situations to the positive, and to redeem those that have fallen into darkness. In fact, he says that his law of justice has to do with conquering the weakness within ourselves. Big items on that list are: never betraying his friends, never giving up, and respecting all life. But Robert is not agreeable to any of these ideas, so Ueki is going to beat his ideals into him! Ironically, Robert's power is to change ideals into reality. Ueki is going to have to level up a bit more if he hopes to win this battle and also save the lives of his friends.

    I am a really big fan of this manga, and of Ueki especially. The dude just never gives up, no matter how big the challenge before him. Even if the battle with Robert takes up most of this ninth volume, the action never gets boring or excessively silly. It's all done with good taste. The reader feels that all the fighting will be worth something in the end, that it has a higher metaphorical meaning than that of kids beating each other with goofy powers. Fukuchi always offers the hope that the bad guys can be turned around, if not through reason, then by the purification of battle. The art by Fukuchi is not anything great, but is attractive and is very easy to follow, especially during the battle scenes. The manga is a great read, especially now that the anime is on hiatus due to the collapse of Geneon.

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: ueki_9.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:19pm CDT

    Manga Review: Sorcerer Hunters Volume 3 by Ray Omishi and Satoru Akahori

    Sorcerer Hunters Volume 3. Story by Satoru Akahori. Art by Ray Omishi. Originally published in Japan by Media Works. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Volume 3 opens during the climactic battle with Zombie Master, a powerful sorcerer who has further augmented his skills with the Necronomicon, the spellbook of immortality. Then it's on to a little rest and relaxation in Gamblin City, a city that makes Las Vegas look like a tiny village. Carrot is all pumped up to gamble his money away, but this welcome diversion is interrupted when he is arrested by Lord Vegas (don't you just dig that name!) and thrown in a dungeon to wallow in indentured servitude until he works off his debts. One of the card dealers, a girl named Luriko, enlists the Hunters to help find her lost boyfriend who she believes Vegas killed. They also have a run-in with the mysterious Snow Queen in another chapter. Two of the more comedic episodes involve a Lord who mistakes Carrot for the GIRL he loves while the other brings up the ever over used but entertaining hot springs trip. Of course, what hot springs manga chapter or anime episode would be complete without a horny male trying to climb over the wall that seperates the guys from the girls. And yes, this means Carrot!  But he has an unwelcome hanger-on in the form of Count Potato Chips, the pint-sized Lord that wants to score bigtime with the ladies.

    Sorcerer Hunters has never been a title to make you ponder the deeper meanings of life. Instead it has been a title that offers entertainment and adventure mixed in with a bit of ribaldry. But it's not all fun and games. There is a an underlying current of seriousness that makes it a bit more realistic. The writer, Akahori, is not afraid to kill off characters, or to make some of the situations the Hunters get into tragic or sad for some involved. This is what gives it more of an edge than other titles of this genre where the characters spend most of the panels superdeformed and yelling at the top of their lungs. The art is pretty good, but lacking a lot of backgrounds and firmly rooted in the 1990s. Overall, an entertaining and funny read with a bit of nudity.

    My Grade: B+

    Direct download: sorcerer_hunters_3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 10:21am CDT

    Gon Volume 3 by Masashi Tanaka

    Manga review of Gon Volume 3 by Masashi Tanaka. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha. Published in US by CMX, Price: $5.99, Rated Teen for violence.

    Gon is the last dinosaur left on the Earth but we don't know if he is a baby or his small size is just the trait of his species. We do know one thing for sure, he is one tough customer. In this globe-trotting volume, he takes on the wildlife of the world. Piranhas in the Amazon, ruins the day of a dingo mother searching for food for her pups in Australia, and takes on a drug crazed bear in the wilds of North America. It's not all about battles though as Gon shows a soft side, battling against a murderous tiger that killed Gon's adopted mother, a she wolf. Now he must help her cubs take revenge. Ok, I guess that counts as a battle as well, but uncharacteristically for this title, it contains a lot more emotional kick than most of Gon's encounters.

    I would have to say that Gon is one of my favorite series. It is drawn so painstakingly beautiful. The linework is amazing. Tanaka uses absolutely no screen tones, instead relying on the organic detail of hand shading all of the panels. All the animals are drawn very realistically except for the anthropomorphic expressions that regularly cross their faces that remind us that Tanaka is spinning a fable commenting on the human condition and the way we treat each other. In nature, Might DOES make Right, but somewhere down the line of human evolution, there were those with power that decided to use it to help the weak, who became the first lawgivers and law enforcers, and I include Gon in these categories. Don't get me wrong, as I've commented on the podcasts of the first two volumes of Gon, the main character is anything but a saint. But let's lay off the intense social commentary of the title. Gon is hilarious and is one of the funniest manga I have ever read. The aspect that reveals Tanaka's genius is that he is able to accomplish so much with Gon without ever using any dialogue or narration. This gives Gon purity and grace.

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: gon_3.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 2:23pm CDT

    Book Review: Togari Volume 3 by Yoshinori Natsume

    Togari Volume 3 by Yoshinori Natsume. Translated by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan in 2001. Published in US by Viz, $9.99, Rated T+ for Older Teen.

    Tobei is still getting adjusted to being human again as he hunts down more toga in his effort to escape the underworld by killing 108 sins in 108 days. Probably the hardest thing he's done is trying to understand human kindness and that there are actually people in this world that care about his welfare. The battle to understand human compassion is perhaps a more difficult conflict that battling with Toga. But even that more straightforward task is becoming increasingly more complex as he finds that some of the Toga are exhibiting more intelligence and even show the ability to merge with their human hosts instead of being ghostly shadows that only he can see. On top of all this, Detective Sawazaki is determined to find out whether Tobei is the source of all the weird occurrences occuring in the city or whether Tobei is a hero battling to end them.

    I would have to say that Volume 3 of Togari is one of the fastest reads I've had in recent memory, clocking in at around 30 minutes. Just because this title is simple and direct to the point of bluntness doesn't mean it suffers in the quality department. In fact its economy of storytelling gives it a momentum and excitement lacking in other titles. The action sequences are always well drawn and always easy to understand. Even though there are lots of battle pieces, there are actually less than you would think in a series of this type. In fact, Volume 3 delves a bit into characterization by telling about Sawazaki's past when he was a junior officer working with Itsuki's dad. Togari is a title that is unfortunately looked over a bit in a market inundated with demon-slaying titles. I also really enjoy Natsume's hand painted covers.

    See Podcast Episode 33 for a review of Volume 2 of Togari.

    My Grade: A

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 6:28pm CDT

    Inuyasha Volume 22 by Rumiko Takahashi

    The battle with the Man-With-No-Face called Muso becomes a stalemate as every signature move of Inuyasha's is tried on him, but even though the newest incarnation of Naraku is ripped to shreds, his body is able to reform. Inuyasha mutilates him again and again but no attack seems able to finish him. Inuyasha and company are shocked to learn that this mysterious enemy is actually the part of Naraku that is Onigumo, the burned bandit that gave his body for lust of Kikyo decades ago. Naraku, in a rare sign of weakness, sends out Kagura to hunt down his human half. It seems that even he cannot control Onigumo. Later, Inuyasha's band has to help rescue a half-demon girl named Shiori from the clutches of her ogre bat grandfather. A problem develops when Inuyasha realizes that in order to strengthen Tetsusaiga enough to kill Naraku, he must take the life of the kidnapped little girl.

    Volume 22 is all about characters both good and evil, accepting or rejecting parts of themselves they might not like or be proud of. Naraku is always trying to rid himself of the human Onigumo whose original body he sprung out of. Mainly because Onigumo's love, or more precisely, lust, prevents Naraku from killing Kikyo. Naraku sees this part of himself as one of the only weaknesses in his otherwise perfect demon existence. Inuyasha too, experiences some memories he would probably rather forget when he finds out how Shiori was always discriminated against by the villagers because of her half demon heritage. This happened even though her parent's relationship was what stopped the ogre bats from attacking their village for years! Sometimes the humans in Inuyasha come off much worse than the demons in terms of cruelty and baseness. As usual, this series is a great read with simplistic but iconic artwork and sitcom- like plot development that never fails to grab while not carrying any of the main characters very far from their starting place.

    My grade: A

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:27pm CDT

    Naruto Volume 5 by Masashi Kishimoto

    Manga Review for Naruto Volume 5: The Challengers by Masashi Kishimoto. Translated by Mari Morimoto. Adapted by Jo Duffy. Originally published in Japan by Shueisha in 1999. Published in US by Viz Shonen Jump, $7.95, Rated T for Teen.

    Cell 7 is getting prepared for the first round of the Chunin Exam to become journeymen ninja but first things first. Rock Lee challenges Sasuke to a one on one match before the test even starts! Naruto and company are a little intimidated by the assemblage of ninja at the Exam since a lot of them are not rookies like their team. Naruto almost wets himself when he finds out the first round of the Exam is a written test. We all know and even HE knows he's not exactly the brightest lightbulb in the room. There are 10 questions with a value of 1 point each with the total points of each team being the combined score of all three members. What makes it a bit tricky is that the ninja are not told what score it takes to pass. If any team member gets caught cheating, 2 points will be deducted from each member. If you lose all 10 points you fail and will be asked to leave. Sakura has no problem with the questions since she is the smartest on her team but Naruto and Sasuke are going to have to figure out some way to get the answers from other examinees without getting nabbed.

    The reader is caught just as much off-guard as Naruto's team when you find out that the first item of business for the Chunin exam is a 10 question written test. I was expecting some sort of slam bang tournament in which fighters duke it out. What Kishimoto is able to do in Volume 5 is to give a hint of each ninja's powers without giving too much away as they use their various abilities to cheat without catching the eye of any of the proctors. Well, actually, some do get caught, but nobody worthwhile. Kishimoto also introduces two important relationships. The first is that between Sakura and Yamanaka Ino, who appear to be rivals for the affections of Sasuke (even though he hasn't shown interest in either). The second is that between Naruto and Hyuga Hinata, a shy girl that Naruto thinks is a freak, but she has an unuttered crush on him. Great character designs, art, and writing.

    My Grade: A

     

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:02am CDT

    Sorcerer Hunters Volume 2 by Ray Omishi and Satoru Akahori

    Manga Review for Sorcerer Hunters Volume 2. Story by Satoru Akahori. Art by Ray Omishi. Translated by Anita Sengupta. Originally published in Japan by Media Works in 1994. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated OT for Older Teen 16+.

    The Sorcerer Hunter's latest mission from Big Mama is to take out the "Crystal Magicians", evil sorcerers who play on people's weaknesses to trap them in in crystal soul jewels. There are only three of the Magicians left, but they're not exactly just walking around in the streets in plain view. Qui Shu-Rein, a sorcerer whose Parsoner girlfriend has been captured by the Magicians, volunteers to offer his aid in defeating them. Gateau, the narcissistic strong man decides he can't trust him and goes off on his own, only to be confronted by an extremely sexy mind controlling Crystal Magician named Ruby Rulan who will turn him against his teammates. Later in the volume, the Hunters finally get a day off at the beach and then they have to fight an incredibly powerful necromancer named, appropriately enough, "Death Master"!

    Sorcerer Hunters is a series very much loaded with sex comedy and eroticism, but not in an overtly pornographic way. Upstaging Tira's dominatrix transformation scenes in which she whips Carrot's animal forms, Chocolat finally shows her "true self" as well. When she takes off her outer layer of clothes, she reveals the uniform of a Nazi Gestapo officer, complete with knee-high boots, puffy pants, and a Third Reich cap. The only thing she is missing is a shirt! That's right, the only thing she is wearing above her waist is two suspender straps that just barely cover her nipples. Some might say this is bad taste, but since when has bad taste ever stopped Japanese manga artists!!??  I thought Carrot, Tira, and Marron were all siblings, but I don't think Carrot and Tira are. At least I HOPE they aren't because it's becoming rapidly apparent that Tira likes Carrot in more than a sisterly fashion, seeing Chocolat as her main competition. Her and Chocolat even write a kidnapping note to see who Carrot will rescue first, thus proving who he cares about more. The art by Ray Omishi continues to be of an extremely great quality with lots of detail and ease in drawing action sequences. The writing, while not Shakesperean by any means, suits the series, and is very funny with its fast and loose ribald humor.

    My Grade: A-

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:10am CDT

    Manga Sisters by Saori & Misato Takarai

    Book Review for Manga Sisters by Saori & Misato Takarai. Translated by Mieko Kurosawa. Published by Manga University, $9.99.

    First up, Manga Sisters is not a manga in the normal sense of the word. Saori and Misato Takarai are sisters that illustrate and draw manga but this book is really about celebrating sisterhood, both its highs and not so lows. Saori is known in Japan for being one of the rare manga artists that works with color but this is Misato's first published work. They grew up in Gunma Prefecture, which is about 60 miles northwest of Tokyo. This hardback book is about two thirds the size of a regular tankoban and is labeled a "gift book" on the back. What it consists of is about 95 pages, half with little Hallmark sayings about sisters in both English and Japanese, with a color manga illustration of the saying facing it. Some of the words and pictures are heartwarming like " A sister's shoulder is the world's most comfortable pillow" that shows a girl asleep on her obviously loving sister's shoulder. Others can be quite humorous. For example, one caption says "She ain't heavy, she's your sister" accompanying a picture of a sister cringing in pain as she lifts her sibling up to see a tall sunflower. There's also a few pages in the back that list hiragana and katakana Japanese characters that gives you help in recognizing and pronouncing them.

    Manga Sisters is obviously intended to be a book that would make a good gift between two sisters, especially if one of them is an anime or manga fan. I mean it even has "To" and "From" blanks following the title page. Does it have any worth to a manga fan in general? I guess I would have to go with "not much".  I mean the pictures are cute and pretty and in combination with the phrases can be amusing, but this is probably a book I will put on the shelf and never open again. Unless you're an absolute nut about moe, you should definitely spend your 10 bucks on a real manga and just glance through this in the bookstore...unless you have a sister that would appreciate it.

     

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:58pm CDT

    The Drifting Classroom Volume 8 by Kazuo Umezu

    Manga Review of The Drifting Classroom Volume 8 by Kazuo Umezu. Translated by Yuji Oniki. Originally published by Shogakukan in 1975. Published in US by Viz under their Signature imprint, $9.99, Rated M for Mature.

    Well, finally we have an adult in charge to keep a sense of order about the school in the form of Sekiya, who has come to his senses after being shocked into the mental capacity of an infant. Now he's back to normal, but unfortunately, that means his usual psychotic, murdering self! Most of the kids are so in need of a father figure they're willing to practically become his slaves. And he also begins to fan the flames that maybe Sho is responsible for the explosion that cast them into this wasteland Hell. Sekiya lowers Sho and his buddies into a dry well and tells them they're not coming back up until they strike water. As they begin to dig, they don't find water, but they do find the entrance to a subway tunnel, and eerily, there is still a train running on it. A train that will lead them not only to some monstrous lifeforms, but will also reveal what has happened to their world.

    If you've been reading my blog you've probably aware of my growing frustration with this series. Kazuo Umezu seems to be taking a bit too much glee in torturing these poor kids. We finally get some explanations about what happened to the world so you think maybe the manga is reaching a turning point. But, think again. Just as soon as the kids find a rich water supply, a pipe breaks off from the ceiling, falls in the pool of water and sets off a volcano! I mean, come on, give me a break! Imagine you're watching a movie where a character is wandering through a desert, dehydrated and dying. He finds an oasis with a glistening pond at its center. As soon as he kneels down and puts his lips to the water, he activates a volcano and it starts spewing liquid magma. This is just about as much sense as The Drifting Classroom makes. Sometimes I get the feeling that Sho is just going to click his heels together and say "There's no place like home" and he'll wake up in bed with all the main characters from the manga around him saying he's been asleep with fever and it was all a dream. The whole Sho talking to his mother telepathically thing is becoming equally stupid, as his mom leaves things for Sho in areas that would no longer exist or be able to withstand such extreme aging conditions. Like she left him some glass vials of antibiotics that survived over what might be centuries without breaking or losing their potency. There are just too many ridiculous events to keep me reading in good faith. I want to find out how it ends, but if the next volume is only as good as Volume 8, I will probably stop reading The Drifting Classroom.

    My Grade: C-

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:40pm CDT

    The Outcast Volume 1 by Vaun Wilmott and Edward Gan

    Manga Review for The Outcast Volume 1. Story by Vaun Wilmott. Art by Edward Gan. Published by Seven Seas, $9.99, Rated Teen.

    Riley Smythe's parents died mysteriously a couple of months back and she's been hiding out in her grandmother's New York apartment ever since. Now her grandma thinks it's time for Riley to get back into the groove of things. Plus, her grandmother, Maggie, is busy in her job as a Theological Archaeologist, excavating the inner sanctum of the Brotherhood of the Balance that lies beneath her apartment. The Brotherhood was a secret society of warrior scholars that were dedicated to exterminating "The Outcast". The Outcast are fallen angels, incarnate evil, that take human forms.  Maggie doesn't really believe the Outcast exist. She's just interested in it for academic reasons. One of their fellow boarders, a weird horndog man-child named Michael, says that the whole of New York is filled with spirits, ghosts, demons, and other weird phenomena. And he should know. He fancies himself a "Hunsupu", or ghost hunter. Riley's new school is pretty weird as well, looking at times like the delapidated innards of a castle or Gothic cathedral. Then she incurs the wrath of one of the most popular girls by casting her eyes at the guy she likes named Carter. Riley does make one friend, a rougish girl named Kit who says there is only one rule at the school: Never be there after dark!

    Most OEL manga I read give me the creeps, because even though it tries to be manga, there's always an x-factor it seems to be missing, mainly the alienness of a foreign culture. Only Hollow Fields, another OEL manga published by Seven Seas has ever bridged that gap for me. It's kinda like watching the Matrix when Keanu is in a big action scene and all of the sudden a digital actor is substituted for the real, or the many CG scenes of Spider-Man. Ok, they look like humans, but there is something vaguely disturbing about the whole thing. The Outcast is another figment of fake manga in my eyes. It looks like manga, it's flipped like manga, but the art and storytelling techniques are not quite up to par. It just doesn't seem like manga imitators have mastered how to tell a slow-moving story without making it boring. Yes, there is art in The Outcast, yes, there is a story, but it never seems to go anywhere. You never get the sense that it is building a world. The inclusion of 1990's slang also drags it down, like "don't bogart my stuff", "young jedi learns fast", and the instantly outdated "He's my boo", all hint that whoever is writing this is in their 30's and trying desperately to write about young people. I could be wrong about that. We even get an endorsement from Samuel L. Jackson on the back of the book, for what reason I cannot fathom. There is zero chance of me picking up the second volume of this series.

    My Grade: C-

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:22am CDT

    Angel Cup Volume 5 by Jae-Ho Youn and Dong Wook Kim Manwha review for Angel Cup Volume 5. Written by Dong Wook Kim. Illustrated by Jae-Ho Youn. Originally published in Korea by Daiwon in 2002. Published in US by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Teen 13+.

    The Armageddon-like battle between Han Shin and Gai Leung comes to its climax as the psychotic Hee-Na Yoo is determined to prove that she is the best player on the field, even better than Shin-Bee. She doesn't need to be in a rush to prove anything since Shin-Bee isn't exactly living up to her star billing. Her team is becoming increasingly frustrated with her lackluster playing and her inability to get past some mental and physical roadblocks that are keeping her from doing her best. Perhaps it's going to take a pep talk from So-Jin to get her out of her funk. But Shin-Bee is going to have to make peace with her own past before So-Jin's words will reach her. And even then, will the Han Shin team be able to overcome the nationally ranked Gai Leung team?

    I started out a big fan of Angel Cup and initially thought it was one of the best Korean comics being published in the US. It was really fun to see the different Han Shin team members being recruited and tested a la The Seven Samurai and seeing them doing their best against the boy's soccer team. The action scenes were crisp and exciting and the characters were intriguing. Where Angel Cup began to go wrong was the beginning of the Gai Leung story arc. From a realistic and grounded soccer comic we went overnight to an almost Dragonball-like work when Hee-Na Yoo began to use mystical attacks! And then when one of the players on the Gai Leung team looked like a reject from Fist of the North Star, the book went totally south. Volume 5 gets back to the more basic approach of portraying the hearts and souls of girls on the soccer field, but it too suffers from an ulterior motive. The writer takes the match and twists it into a flag waving advertisement for Korean women's soccer and ruins any credibility that Angel Cup had as a work of art. It's like you get to the end of Slam Dunk and find out it was all just written to promote Nike or something. The fact that the final showdown between Han Shin and Gai Leung had to be delayed by the months between each publication didn't help the continuity or momentum of the match. Probably would read better if you read entire series over a couple of days.

    My Grade: C

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:28pm CDT

    Strawberry 100% Volume 2 by Mizuki Kawashita

    Manga Review for Strawberry 100% Volume 2 by Mizuki Kawashita. Translated and adapted by Yuko Sawada. Originally published by Shueisha in 2002. Published in US by Viz as part of their Shonen Jump Advanced line. Rated T+ for older teen with a "Mature Content" label on the cover, $7.99.

    You would think that Junpei would be quite satisfied with his life these days because his girlfriend, Tsukasa, is the prettiest girl at school and also the owner of the mythical strawberry panties he glimpsed back in Volume 1....or is she?  Even though he really likes Tsukasa and has slightly pervy urges towards her, Junpei is taken aback when she invites him to her house to cook dinner for him and study. Things get even more interesting when he finds out her parents are not going to be home anytime soon! But even in this situation, the poor boy finds himself thinking about Aya Tojo. One of his friends, the studly Okusa, told him that Aya had a thing for Junpei, but he thinks its just because he wants him to break up with Tsukasa so he can hook up with her. While Junpei doesn't know the truth, he does find himself falling for Aya. While all this is going on, he still has to find time to study for high school entrance exams so he can realize his dream of becoming a film director.

    While the second volume of Strawberry 100% was enjoyable on its own terms,  it's starting to slant dangerously close to becoming a harem comedy, especially with the entrance of a new female character in the closing pages of this book. I just don't see how the storyline can sustain itself UNLESS it keeps on adding characters to distract from what is otherwise a very simplistic setup. I really enjoyed the first volume because, for once in this type of book, the main character had no problem getting the pretty girl. Now Junpei realizes that the girl of his dreams is the wrong girl of his dreams. This is what happens when you fall in love based on seeing someone's panties. You have to see the soul and the face to truly judge a person's worth. An aspect of this manga that seems a bit goofy is the fact that Aya can't be recognized by Junpei when she isn't wearing her glasses, a la Clark Kent/Superman. So when he catches a glimpse of Aya without her glasses, he recognizes her as the girl with the strawberry panties, but does not recognize that she and Aya are the same person. It was a bit of a surprise that glasses wearing cute girls are repeatedly categorized as unattractive and plain in Strawberry 100%. I though bespectacled cuties were a common weakness of otaku the whole world over?  I still like the characters and the art is quite good so I hope my fears about it becoming some type of Love Hina castoff are wrong.

    My Grade: B

    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 7:17pm CDT

    Cromartie High School Volume 12 by Eiji Nonaka

    Manga Review for Cromartie High School Volume 12 by Eiji Nonaka. Translated by Javier Lopez. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha in 2005. Published in the US by ADV Manga, $10.95, Rated 13+.

    When you read Cromartie High School, you can expect some universe shattering questions to pop up periodically on the nature of life and happiness. In Volume 12, one of the questions is the origin of the "Mawashi", the only garment of clothing that sumo wrestlers are allowed to wear in competition. The Gene Simmons lookalike of the Four Great Ones has his own ideas about it when one of his members joins the Cromartie Sumo Club along with Masked Takenouchi and Kamiyama. But are the guys confident enough to show up everyday practically naked except for the Mawashi that covers their privates? As they learn the ins and outs of sumo training, the new members are shocked to learn that they have been entered into a competition against the sumo club of their hated rivals Bass High School! Meanwhile, Maeda learns about the fun of cellphone emailing as Hayashida begins mailing him weird and cryptic pictures of what appear to be random and meaningless objects.

    With my experience after reading 12 volumes of Cromartie High School, I have realized that it is at its funniest the more episodic it is. When Nonaka dwells on one particular schtick most of the volume, much like the whole adventure in the Planet of the Apes world a volume back, the comedy is dragged down. What makes the good volumes good is Nonaka's ability to write short chapters that focus on one joke which is left behind at the end of that chapter. When I first started reading this series, I was laughing my butt off. Now I'm lucky if I get TWO laughs from the whole volume. While it can still be amusing at times, this series is way past its prime. This could be reversed if Nonaka would focus on short and easily forgettable chapters instead of trying to make overarching story arcs. The characters too have suffered as Cromartie has dragged on. At first, they each had very distinct personalities, but over time, they have ended up all talking and thinking the same, and instead of being characters, have simply become gimmicks that Nonaka uses to convey intellectual jokes that amuse mostly just him. There's always hope with each volume that Cromartie can return to its roots but I'm losing interest in this manga.

    My Grade: C+

    Direct download: cromartie_12.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 11:12am CDT

    Welcome to the NHK Volume 4 by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Kendi Oiwa

    Manga Review for Welcome to the NHK Volume 4. Story by Tatsuhiko Takimoto. Art by Kendi Oiwa. Translated by Christine Schilling. Adapted by Zachary Rau. Originally published in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten in 2005. Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Mature 18+.

    Unlike most otaku, Satou and Yamazaki both find themselves having girl trouble in Volume 4 of Welcome to the NHK. They're both also having parent problems as well. Yamazaki is beginning to make inroads with a classmate named Nanako that he likes but he is being ordered home to take care of the family business. Satou has wants Misaki out of his life and gets another shock when he finds out his old friend from high school, Kashiwa, is getting married, which drags up some feelings that he didn't even know he had for her. Things get even more complicated when Yamazaki invites Nanako to his apartment, the mecca of otakudom. Meanwhile, Satou and Kashiwa are on the cusp of having an affair, which enflames the jealousy of Misaki. Suffice it to say, a lot of hidden feelings come out in this fourth volume.

    While NHK has always had its share of black comedy tinged with despair, you always felt that the writer was never taking it very seriously, almost as if he were laughing with a trace of a tear on his face. But with this volume we get some very serious relationships right out of slice of life shojo, which just adds another layer to an already virtuoso work. Mostly gone are the uncomfortable underage girl fixations and sexual fantasies of earlier books (that's not to say this one is totally clean), but the two guys are finding it hard to work on their hentai game so a lot of that element is missing. Misaki has gone from guiding light and angel to stalking psycho girl and it seems totally out of the blue, unless that is due to the fact that she didn't know she liked Satou until Kashiwa entered the picture. With its brillant comedy bits of gallows giggling, NHK is one of the best titles out there.

    My Grade: A

    Direct download: welcome4.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:42pm CDT

    The Drifting Classroom Volume 7 by Kazuo Umezu  Volume 7 by Kazuo Umezu. Translated by Yuji Oniki. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan in 1974. Published by Viz under their Signature line for $9.99. Rated Mature.

    The kids of the school prayed for rain and they have technically gotten what they wished for. But instead of a gentle rainfall to soothe their parched throats, the water is sent in the form of a Biblical wave of water moving rapidly across the desert right towards the school. Some of Sho's party out in the wasteland get killed as the water turns parts of the desert into quicksand. Sakiko and some of the other students try to form a human wall against the tsunami like wave to protect their newly planted vegetable garden. Even if they stop the water somehow, the kids will have to contend with the warping nature of the world that is mutating and disfiguring the plantlife into weird-looking mushrooms which only the craziest or most desperate of the kids are willing to eat. And the power dynamics of the school soon shift dramatically when Sekiya, the only adult left on campus, and a psycho to boot, regains his faculties. Previously, he had been reduced to the mental capacity of an infant after suffering the shock of dealing with a huge scorpion-like monster. Now that he's got his memories back, he's ready to seize power.

    Ok, here we are on Volume 7 of this series, and there's hardly been any explanation as to what happened to this school and why they are being tortured so. I accept that they are in the future sometime, where at least the surrounding vicinity has been reduced to a desolate wasteland. I also understand that somehow in this world, the student's fears and wants are materialized in sometimes monstrous forms, but the question is WHY and HOW? While the series is creepy and scary, I'm beginning to tire of the endless obstacle course Sho and the others are being put through. Does it have any meaning or end? While Battle Royale was a sadistic exercise in cruelty, there was at least a goal in its plot, a reason to excuse all the blood, gore, and exploitation. We don't have any of that for Drifting Classroom. We just have very bad things happening to normal everyday children for no definable reason like Umezu would just sit at his drawing board and think "What can I do to them THIS week?" Still interesting but is beginning to drag

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: drifting_classroom_7.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 1:37pm CDT

    Shinshoku Kiss Volume 1 by Kazuko Higashiyama

    Shinshoku Kiss Volume 1 Manga Review. Written and drawn by Kazuko Higashiyama, co-creator of Tactics. Translated by Monica Seya Chin. Adapted by Jay Antani. Originally published in Japan by Gentosha Comics in 2004. Published by Tokyopop, $9.99, Rated Older Teen 16+.

    Kotoko Kashiwagi has dolls on the brain, and I'm not talking about android girls, I'm talking about dress-up dolls, which have their very own otaku subculture in Japan which counts females and males among their fandom. Kotoko would like nothing more than to spend the rest of her life designing and making them. She's constantly snapping photos of beautiful men and women to use as models for her dolls and she even enters a doll-making contest. Even though she loses, her work catches the eye of Fool, the hottest doll designer out there, who also works in film and TV. On one of her picture hunts, Kotoko spots a suitable bishonen sitting on a bench who has some curious bandages wrapped around parts of his body. When he touches her, some sort of electrical spark occurs and he ends up kidnapping her and taking her back to his apartment, which he shares with another guy named Yuta, who is also a dollmaker. When he asks Kotoko to help him with his work, she flatout refuses, thinking both these guys are creeps, perverts...or worse.  As she makes a move for the door, Yuta calmly tells her she can go but if she doesn't agree to help him, she is going to die!  Kotoko doesn't even have a clue that Yuta is actually Fool and that he wants her to use a new supernatural ability to help him make dolls.

    Ok, I'll be the first to admit that I have absolutely no interest in dolls or doll-making. But I had no interest in the game of Go but I love reading the manga Hikaru No Go and would even like to take up playing it someday. After reading volume 1 of Shinshoku Kiss, I can hazard the guess that you'll never catch me dressing up dolls. This manga reminds me a bit of Paradise Kiss, even to the pushy bishonen who use intimidation, both physical and psychological, to get what they want out of the main heroine. But Yuta (Fool) goes to even more disturbing extremes. He repeatedly threatens to kill Kotoko several times in this first volume. And then you have the trademark bad boy seduction scene with Yuta pushing her against the wall and pinning her arms above her head, putting his lips oh so close to hers. It takes a little of the romance out of things when what looks like the male lead early on makes the female lead cough blood. Kazuko seems at cross purposes most of the book as she changes swiftly and jerkily from horror to romance to comedy. Somehow, she thinks, my female readers won't realize how bad this series is if I throw them a couple of mysterious bishonen. I'm not a devout feminist or anything, actually I'm a man, but I don't appreciate male characters threatening to kill women and chalking it up to bad-boy romance. Obviously, any girl that would fall for a would-be murderer would be psychotic themselves. Hey, but even OJ has a girlfriend, so I can't go too far with this line of thought.

    My Grade: C-  (the only thing that kept it from being a D is that I liked Kotoko, even though she was a bit shallow and only judged people by their appearance)

    Direct download: Shinshoku.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:25pm CDT

    I, Otaku: Struggle In Akihabara Volume 1 by Jiro Suzuki

    Manga Review for I, Otaku: Struggle in Akihabara Volume 1 by Jiro Suzuki. Translated by Nan Rymer and adapted by Ed Chavez. Published by Seven Seas for $9.99. Originally published in Japan 2003 by Square Enix. Rated Teen.

    When you hear about someone "coming out of the closet", if you're like me, you're automatically thinking about Tom Cruise. But maybe that's just me. 18-year-old high schooler Enatsu Sota is a closet Otaku and he's always afraid of someone at school finding out about his secret obsession with the dog eared little girl anime character Papico. You see, Sota is the opposite of the stereotyped otaku we all know and love. He's not fat and smelly or bespectacled. Sota is popular at school, athletic, and he even has a girlfriend named Eri! And no, even she doesn't know his secret. His closely guarded secret life begins to unravel when he visits a store in Akihabara named Otakudo Headquarters, whose slogan is "A store where only TRUE otaku are allowed to shop." Unfortunately for Sota, its owner, Mano Takuro, has appointed himself president of imaginary organization called the Closet Otaku Extermination Committee and right off the bat he has a problem with Sota because after purchasing some merchandise, Sota tries to put the shop bag into a normal brown bag so noone will know where he was shopping. Mano proceeds to close all the safety doors in the shop and plans to hold Sota prisoner until he admits that he is an otaku. When Sota finally does, he is tricked into yelling it very loudly.....right in front of his girlfriend Eri!

    I, Otaku was an enjoyable read but after reading and watching the anime and manga versions of Comic Party and Genshiken and reading the manga series Maniac Road and its sequel Pretty Maniacs, my enjoyment of a series about otaku tends to be a bit muted. For my money Genshiken and Maniac Road did better with the comedy and the educational side of introducing new manga readers to the world of anime and manga fandom in Japan. While I, Otaku did a pretty good job with its comedy bits, I didn't feel drawn into the world of Akihabara with a sense of wonder like I did with some of the other series. The characters didn't have much emotional connect either. I do think that Suzuki's art was very pretty and never became cluttered even during the zaniest moments. This book is better suited to readers that are new to the otaku concept and will not be as enjoyable to those who have read similar works before. Includes two color pages.

    My Grade: B

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    Just click on the manga outlet key on the main page. The two dollar sale also includes volumes of Now, Tomie, Junk Force, Dark Edge,Crayon Shinchan, High School Girls, and volumes of Iron Wok Jan at half off. This is just a smattering of the titles being offered.

    Direct download: iotaku.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:53am CDT

    The Drifting Classroom Volume 6 by Kazuo Umezu

    Manga Review for The Drifting Classroom Volume 6 by Kazuo Umezu. Translated by Yuji Oniki. Published by Viz in June 2007 under their Signature imprint. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan in 1974. $9.99, Rated "M" for Mature.

    Boy, do the kids of Yamato Elementary School have it rough. Not only have they had to deal with murderous teachers, bullies, starvation, dehydration, a giant insectoid monster born out of a student's nightmares, a swarm of flesh-eating miniature insectoid monsters, but now they face an outbreak of the Black Plague. Yep, that's bubonic plague for people in the know. The student body has turned on each other with the infected being boarded up in a school building and in danger of being burned alive by the rest of their classmates. Sho and a small group of his friends must devise a way to rescue them. The only way to stop the plague is to get a vaccine but it's not like there's a slight shortage of medicine in the wastelands. Sho is still able to contact his mother telepathically somehow but where could you possibly place the medicine so it will be safe for decades, or possibly hundreds or even thousands of years? And how is she going to get her hands on it? Nobody but her can hear Sho's voice and her husband is starting to think she might be going a bit crazy.

    The Drifting Classroom is a good read, don't get me wrong, but some of the things that happen in this sixth volume go beyond even the widest range of possibility. Sho tells his mom to put the medicine in a mummy he found in the basement of a ruined hospital but what are the odds that same mummy is going to be in the exact hospital at the exact time that his mother searches for it. And how is medicine going to stay good for years and years through a nuclear war or whatever led to the world that Sho and the others are living in? Medicine has expiration dates for a good reason. Also, the lineup of afflictions that are assailing Yamato Elementary are almost Biblical in proportion and are getting to be quite sadistic. I'm HOPING that all this is going to have a point. Right now, I'm just trying to enjoy the series without thinking too much how it's all going to end. It seems that the kids haven't figured out that their thoughts are having a great effect on the environment. Maybe they should just all chant together "There's no place like home" and they will magically wake up in their own beds in their own homes.

    My Grade: B

    Direct download: drifting_classroom_6.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 8:33pm CDT

    Mar Volume 15 by Nobuyuki Anzai

    Manga review for Mar Volume 15 by Nobuyuki Anzai. Translated by Kaori Inoue and adapted by Gerard Jones. Published September 2007 by Viz for $7.99  Rated "T" for Teens. Originally published in Japan by Shogakukan in 2003.

    The War Games are over after Team Mar defeated the last Chess Pieces but there is unfinished business still left. Princess Diana kidnapped Snow and is holding her at Lestava Castle. And just because they defeated the Chess Pieces doesn't mean Phantom and the other surviving members are just going to lay down and play dead for Ginta and his pals when they enter the castle. Dorothy still has some unfinished business as well. Even though Diana is her sister, she has sworn to kill her because of all the evil she has done. But Diana's plans extend not only to Mar Heaven but to our world as well. Yeah, that's right, she wants to conquer Earth as well. And what about the KING of the Chess Pieces? Wait till you get a load of him! Will Ginta and the others be able to defeat the King and Queen and will Ginta be able to return to his own world after it's all over? You'll have to read this last volume of Mar to find out.

    The amazing thing about Mar is that it has been able to keep my attention for 15 volumes without boring me. The wispy plot of the series reduces every moral choice to a battle of the most physical kind. If someone is evil, you fight them, not with words or kind deeds, but by beating the crap out of them until they are either dead or unable to fight. In a series of this type might always makes right, and we're just lucky that the good guys (and girls) seem to be stronger most of the time. That's not to say that there were no moments of reasoning or rational dialogue between combatants or appeals to the better side of humanity. These did occur but only in the midst of beating the snot out of each other. I really liked these characters and their overwhelming drive to not only make themselves better but to also save their world from being destroyed. The artwork by Nobuyuki Anzai was excellent throughout the series but it would be cool to see him team up with a great manga writer to produce something with a bit more complexity and less pummelling. I'm gonna miss this series.

    My Grade: B+
    Direct download: mar_15.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 5:36pm CDT

    Maison Ikkoku Volume 14: Welcome Home by Rumiko Takahashi

    Manga Review for Maison Ikkoku Volume 14: Welcome Home by Rumiko Takahashi. Translated by Mari Morimoto. Adapted by Gerard Jones. This is for the first American edition printed in May 2000 by Viz in a flipped and slightly larger trade paperback size which sold for $16.95 which is out of print but still readily available used. The Maison Ikkoku series was reprinted unflipped in the now standard tankoban format by Viz with the addition of a fifteenth volume due to the differences in the page counts of the two editions.

    Rumiko Takahashi is known for letting the relationships between her romantic leads drag on for years or even decades without them ever evolving or being consummated (see Inuyasha), but as the last and concluding volume of Maison Ikkoku opens, Godai and Kyoko enter a love hotel. Godai should be in heaven, right? I mean, this is what he's always wished for. But things become a bit awkward when Kyoko says that she is thinking about Soichiro. Godai thinks she's talking about her dead husband, but Kyoko corrects him and says she meant her dog, which happens to have the same name. Is that the truth? Suffice it to say, Godai suffers from impotence at the moment of truth. Things get even more complicated when his ex-girlfriend, Kozue shows up wanting to talk about their relationship. She had already told him a guy proposed to her but she didn't want to say yes because she didn't want to hurt Godai's feelings. On top of all this Godai is going to find out how he did on the teacher certification exams. The only way he can ask Kyoko to marry him is if he passed, so there's a lot riding on the results.

    I have been reading this series off and on for a little over two years now and I have to admit I got a little misty eyed when I came to certain sections of this last volume. Simply because you never wish good things to come to an end. I used to have that experience a lot with anime and manga series, but it has become rarer lately, probably because there is so much product coming out that you don't have time to lament the end of one before you start another. Instead of just centering a review on this one volume, I'll just make some comments about the series as a whole because in terms of quality they were all about the same. The central conflict of the manga that lasted through the first to most of the last volume was the lack of courage Godai had to make Kyoko his. He bumbled his way through a relationship with Kozue and some childish competition with Mitaka the tennis coach but he was just never aggressive enough to pursue Kyoko with a single-minded determination. He was too wishy-washy. Kyoko too suffered a lot because she wanted to be pursued, hunted, and caught by an alpha male. While this kind of thing makes for a lot of heartache and tragedy in real-life, in the manga world it's the perfect tried and true setup for comedy. And boy was Maison Ikkoku funny!  One of the best comedies I've ever read. I've still never figured out how Takahashi was able to make such a masterpiece from such simple materials and operating mainly with character interaction rather than plot. To me, that's the hardest story to write. Making the lives of everyday people interesting and fun. It's also great to experience a relatively long manga series that has true resolution and ends on an upbeat and happy note. A great manga work.

    My Grade: A+

    Direct download: welcome_home.jpg
    Category:Manga Reviews -- posted at: 12:43pm CDT