Review: Yen Plus Volume 1 Issue 1 Japanese Manga

Yen Plus
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Anthology
Price: $8.99

I was excited to hear last year at the Yen Press inaugural panel as SDCC that they would be publishing an anthology.  I really like by Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat, as they give me an opportunity to sample lots of different manga at an affordable price.  At that panel, Kurt Hassler promised the anthology would be ready by the next SDCC.  And, low and behold, it was there, Friday, for free!  Needless to say, as soon as we got back to the hotel, and for the rest of the weekend, I read it.

First, a few general observations about the anthology.  It’s big.  If you combined one issue of Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat, you would get the approx. size.  And it’s almost all manga.  There aren’t a lot of filler articles (that I tend to ignore in the other anthologies anyway).  There are ads, but they are well done, and put mostly on the OEL/Korean Manhwa side of the anthology.  They are mostly for other Yen Press titles, with a few others thrown in (Dark Horse, Right Stuf etc.).  This anthology also reads from both sides.  The left-to-right side features OEL titles and Korean Manhwa.  About half way through the anthology is a divider page, that tells you to flip the anthology.  On the other side are the Japanese titles in their right-to-left direction.  Tokyopop did this for a while with the manga magazine before they reduced it to just a shadow of it’s former self.

Now, on to the manga.  Starting on the Japanese side first (since that’s where I started reading), there are 5 titles.  We only get one chapter for most of the titles, but they are fairly substantial and set up the story.  Every story ends with a short translators notes that explains some terms used in the chapter.

Soul Eater – This is a very shonen supernatural series.  Maka is a Scythe-meister that is trying to create the greatest scythe for the Grim Reaper.  The Grim Reaper’s current scythe, Death Scythe is also her father, who is also a womanizer (not sure how this works).  Maka is angry at her father and wants to make a weapon greater than him.  Soul Eater, the name of her scythe is a teenage boy with unfortunately some of the same traits as her father (he’s horny too).  With 99 souls eaten, they only need the soul of a witch to complete Soul Eater, and the chapter follows this plot.

There is a lot of fan service, with a sexy witch bathing, with bubbles covering her private parts.  In general I didn’t care for this title.  The fan service was too blatant for my tastes, and leering by Soul Eater and Death Scythe was just annoying.  The art was okay, but nothing that grabbed me, and the story bland.  It’s a title I’ll read to pass the time in the magazine, but not one I’d ever buy volumes of.

Nabari No Ou – Miharu Rokujou is an eighth grade boy being pursued by a fellow student to join the Nindo club that combines several martial arts, but Miharu isn’t interested.  He cooks for his family’s restaurant and doesn’t want to be a shinobu.  But when he goes to buy some ingredients for the restaurant, he is attacked by ninja, and discovers he has a hidden power within him.

This was the story I was most impressed with of the Japanese titles.  I like the characters, and the story of the Shinra Banshou, an ancient art that will give it’s wielder power over botht he Shinobu’s Shadow World as well as the surface world intrigues me.  The art is understated, letting the characters come though.  It’s ends on quite the cliffhanger.

Sumomomo Momomo – Koushi Inuzuka is the only son of a great martial artist, but Koushi has no interest in continue with the family dojo.  He wants to be a lawyer.  Enter Momoko.  She is the only daughter of another martial arts family and both their father’s arranged their marriage many years ago.  Momoko has come to marry Koushi, since as a girl, she can’t become strong enough, and must instead bear a strong child with Koushi.  The chapter then deteriorates into a bunch of crass jokes with Momoko throwing herself at Koushi, and Momoko having to come to Koushi’s rescue, as he can’t stand violence.

This was the worst story of the bunch IMO.  The art is exaggerated, bordering on poor, and the fan service is just blatantly bad.  There is nothing funny or good about this title.

Bamboo Blade – Kojiro is a kendo instructor at Muroe Private Senior High School, and he has money problems.  His car payment and bills are so much that he never has enough to eat on.  But when he goes to eat with a friend who also teaches kendo, he proposes a bet with Kojiro.  HIs girl’s kendo team against Kojiro’s.  The prize is a full year of meal’s at his friend’s father’s restaurant.  Kojiro is now hyped about teaching kendo, but he has one problem.  He only has one student, the overzealous Kirino.  Searching for more female students to join, they see a girl fend off a baseball, tennis ball, rugby ball and falling vice principal with a broom.  Kojiro pursues the girl, Saya,but she refuses.  The rest of the chapter follows Kojiro trying to get more girls to join, and we see more of Saya’s home life.

This title was my next favorite.  It makes a good slapstick comedy.   We got two chapters of this title to get all the main characters in.  The art is decent enough, if somewhat generic.  And so far the characters are fun to read.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Keiichi Maebara has just moved to the very small town of Hinamizawa from Tokyo, because of his father’s job.  But he doesn’t miss the city, enjoying the small town life.  He goes to a one room school, with all girls of different ages and types as his friends.  He meets a freelance photographer, and learns about the grizzly murder and struggle that went on in the town 3 years ago over the construction of a dam that would have flooded the town.  But as he tries to find out more about the murder, his friends start to act weird.

I wasn’t sure what I would think of this title, as horror is not my favorite genre.  But the mystery around the murder is built up nicely, sucking you in.  The fan service is mild and not overbearing.  This is a title with potential, depending on how they deal out the horror.

The running theme through the Japanese side of this anthology seems to be fan service.  Two of the five titles seems to relish in it, with one giving a sort of wink to it.  And all of the Japanese titles are shonen.  There is very little on this side of the magazine to draw girls in.  In fact, there seems to be more to repulse females, even those with a tolerance for fan service.

Another think to notice about this side of the magazine, is that all of the titles have anime equivalents.  While only one has been licensed here in the US, Higurashi – When They Cry, how long will it be before he hear about the others?  This is another trend I don’t approve of that is happening in the manga/anime industries.  They are cross-pollinating each other in a incestuous circle that isn’t going to lead to any innovation.  This is especially true of shonen titles, since girls don’t like anime (/sarcasm).  Shonen Jump became guity of this a year ago, and it seems Yen Plus in just following in their footsteps.  If I continue to follow this magazine, it’s not going to be because of the Japanese Manga.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

In my next post, I will look at the OEL/Manhwa side of Yen Plus.

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