All posts by Lori Henderson

Lori Henderson is the writer and reviewer for the manga blog, Manga Xanadu. She also keeps a personal blog at Fangirl Xanadu, and a writing blog at Muse of Xanadu. She contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. As the mother of two teen daughters, she needs all the escape she can get, which reading and writing about manga gives her.

Tech Friday: Emerging Digital Strategies

Ignoring the digital world has finally become impossible for the comics world. Over the last several months, mostly after the debut of the Apple iPad, comic publishers have been announcing their digital plans for the future. The big two, Marvel and DC have put their faith in Apple and Comixology. releasing apps and titles through these platforms. At the New York Comic Con, two more publishers, more relevent to manga readers, have announced more of their digital plans.

Dark Horse Comics announced their digital strategy at their panel on Friday. Instead of going through Comixology, they are creating their own platform for selling their books. This strategy is supposed to be available across all platforms and on the web. For the iPad/iPhone, they will have an app that will connect to their platform, and therefore bypass the Apple censors. For the most part, I agree with Dark Horse’s strategy. Making their titles available on any device, be it a smart phone, computer or tablet is the smart way to go. With most American comics being in color, I can understand skipping the e-book readers such as the Kindle or the Nook. I think it’s funny though, that Dark Horse has turned around so fast. It was only a year or so ago that Michael Gombos, Asian director of licensing for Dark Horse was ridiculing the Kindle and requests for digital comics. As of now, they have no plans for their manga/manhwa titles to go digital. While I can understand the difficulty with manga, I wonder why they aren’t at least trying with their manhwa. Yen Press doesn’t seem to have any difficulty with their manhwa licenses in getting them online. And it could really help their manhwa books to make them available to a wider audience.

Yen Press also had some new digital announcements. At SDCC, they announced Yen Plus, their manga magazine was going online and would be available on the web, so any web-enabled device could read it, but it wasn’t available for download. This is understandable. The magazine is supposed to give people a chance to try out titles so they will be the collected books later. At NYCC, they announced their intention to release an iPad app and online storefront for the downloading of entire volumes of manga and manhwa. It is a completely proprietary platform, with the app being an iPad exclusive. For now, they are starting with their OEL and some manhwa titles (probably the ones already available in Yen Plus). Volumes will be priced at $8.99 which averages out to $1.49 a chapter. Kurt Hassler is said to have emphasised the importance of buying from the Yen Press store, to get leverage with Japanese publishers to show the value of digital distribution.

As much as I would like to support Yen Press and their digital distribution, I do subscribe to Yen Plus digital, I can’t say I agree with this new strategy. Both Dark Horse comics and Yen Press are using proprietary platforms, which I think is completely the wrong direction to go. An open platform that can accommodate as many readers as possible is the way to build an audience. Dark Horse is at least promising to be cross-platform so PC, Mac, and any smart phone running Android, iOS, or Windows Mobile that is web enabled will all be able to read their comics. And I thought Yen Press understood that, as Yen Plus can be read across platforms as well. Making their first download app, not just iOS, but aniPad exclusive is a big mistake. Walling the manga up in Apple’s dungeon isn’t going to get people reading it. The iPad may be selling well now, but it’s not going to be well enough to make Japanese Publishers sit up. A look at the way things are going with iOS and Android seems to be a repeat of the Windows/Mac  wars of 1990’s, and we all know who won that. With Apple trying to be more and more like Big Brother, it won’t be long before the shiny newness wears off, especially with Android tablets starting to come out, the first of which is the Galaxy Tab. Really, how can going with a platform that rejected more than 30% of manga submitted be a good thing.

Don’t lock manga up in the dark, dank dungeon of Apple. Let it flourish in the light of open platforms, or at least platforms that don’t care about controlling everything you see and do.

Halloween Manga: Update

It’s been a while since I updated my post on manga for Halloween. The titles I choose to put on this list don’t just have death, vampires, horror, or supernatural elements. I try to choose titles that have a creepy atmosphere to them as well. Something that can send a chill up your spine, and not just gross you out.

Going in order of publishers again, let’s start with Dark Horse, who still has the most titles to fit this genre.

School Zone – This is a 3 volume series that tell stories of ordinary kids who encounter the strange and terrifying in their school. Ghosts, urban legends and superstitions turn out to be horribly real. This series is by Kanako Inuki, who is known as the Queen of Manga Horror. She also created CMX’s Presents. You can read a review of volume 1 here, and all three volumes here.

Viz Media has a couple of new titles and both of them come out this month!

Grand Guignol Orchestra – This is a new 5 volume series by Kaori Yuki, creator of The Cain Saga, Godchild and Fairy Cube. Lucille is the head of the travelling Grand Orchesta. For a price he and the orchestra will go to a town and rid them of the Guiynol infected people called puppets who threaten the town. This is done by Kaori Yuki, so you know it’s going to be good. Read reviews of this new series here and here.

March Story – This title was just announced at Anime Expo this year, and it’s scheduled to come out in the next week or two. It created by Korean artists, but the story is published by Shogakukan’s Sunday Gene-X (thanks @toukochan!). Set in 18th Century Europe, demons know as the Ill hide in works of art, waiting to attract unsuspecting humans and possess them. Only hunters of the Ciste Vihal can dispel them, and March is one such hunter, tracking down Ills and stopping them before they can possess anyone. This sounds like a really cool series and I can’t wait for it to come out. There have been only 2 volumes released so far in Japan, so expect this one to be on a long release schedule.

Tokyopop added one title that I really enjoyed.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory – What if urban legends were true? The killer under the bed, the slit-mouthed woman, human-faced fish are all well known urban legends, and they can possess you, making you believe they are real. And if they are real, they can kill you. This title is about Daisuke Asou, who is known as an Allegory Detective. He’s the person you to if you are possessed by one of these legends or allegories. The stories are well done, and the urban legends are very creepy. It was a lot of fun to read, but then, I love urban legends. Read other reviews here and here.

Yen Press added a title that has some stories to send chills up your spine.

Time and Again – Serialized in Yen Plus, this manhwa follows exorcist Baek-On and his bodyguard Ho-Yeon as they travel the country in search of grudges and ghosts. A lot of the stories deal with karma and re-incarnation, and have very tragic tales behind the hauntings. The art is very well done, and some scenes will make you have second thoughts about reading at night. I’ve really enjoyed this series so far. There are three volumes out so far, and here are reviews of each. It can also be read online through Yen Plus magazine.

DMP seems to have embraced the horror genre with two titles new this year.

Taimashin: The Read Spider Exorcist – This title is from the creator of Vampire Hunter D, Hideyuki Kikuchi. Akamushi Fujiwara travels between the world of the living and the dead, using his shamanistic spider powers to combat demons from the underworld. As mysterious as he is handsome, if you need Akamushi’s help, you are in dire straits indeed. There are two volumes out so far with all of Kikuchi’s great action and horror, as well as some sexual innuendo. I’ve reviewed both volumes here.

Tale of a White Night – This is a one-shot collection of short stories of supernatural and suspense. The tales are more in the vein to make you cautious and constantly looking over your shoulder than outright scare you. It’s a good light horror for those that like the more psychological scare than physical gore. Reviews can be found here and here.

Udon has dabbled in manhwa and licensed one Korean horror title.

Reading Club – This title is about a girl, Eun-Sae, who agrees to help clean the student-run school library with her crush Kyung-Do. While cleaning they discovers a book with an evil aura, that may be responsible for the death of not just the library’s previous advisor, but also another student and Kyung-Do’s own father years before. This is a strongly plot driven story with supernatural and horror elements. Sadly though, only one volume has come out so far. You can read reviews of this title here, and here.

Seven Seas Entertainment has really made a name with OEL manga, and with all their different genres has one title that takes on the Cthulu mythos.

Arkham Woods – You can’t say horror and not think of H.P. Lovecraft and Cthulu. This one volume title takes you into Lovecraft’s world with Kirsti Rivers, an LA girl transplanted to the sleepy New England town of Arkham Woods. While cleaning out the old house her mother’s uncle left to them, Kirsti and her friends uwittingly unleash an ancient horror that could destroy the world, if they don’t stop it first. You can read this title online as well as in print, and check this review to see how it stands up to a Lovecraft fan.

Did I miss any titles that should be added to these lists? Leave a comment and let me know so I can start to work for next year!

Mixed Vegetables Volume 7

Leaving her internship at Sushi Hyuga to go on her family’s annual trip to France is the last thing Hanayu wants to do. On the other hand, a pastry-research trip in Europe is Hayato’s idea of a dream come true–can the two aspiring chefs ever catch a break? Plus, Hayato has become suspicious of patisserie assistant Maezawa, who has expressed an interest in Hanayu. As it turns out, both Hanayu and Hayato may have their wires crossed about what Maezawa is really after!

By: Ayumi Komura
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/Food
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I read the first 2 preview chapters for this series back when Shojo Beat was still around, and wasn’t impressed. Further reviews from fellow reviewers didn’t inspire me to look further into the series, and I’m not a foodie, so this volume had three strikes against it going in. But it actually wasn’t so bad. There wasn’t anything great about it. It’s a fairly average title, but I didn’t regret the time I spent reading it.

Hanaya and Hayato, the leads that I found so annoying in the preview chapters of volume 1, aren’t so bad by this volume. Hanaya no longer has to plot to get Hayato to marry her, which is what I disliked so much about her initially. She and Hayato have admitted their feelings for each other, and by this volume, Hanaya is working in Hayato’s family sushi shop. I found the characters much more likeable this time around, which greatly improved my reading experience.

Hanaya’s family plan a trip to France, and with Hanaya and Hayato trading places, each of them gets the chance to become immersed in their preferred environment. Hanaya, while already working at the Sushi shop, hasn’t actually been able to work in the kitchen. In this volume, she gets some time in, and shows her ability to combine foods and flavors that compliment each other, creating new and interesting dishes. Hayato gets to go on a pastry-tasting trip with Ashifuba, Hayana’s father, where he shows his ability to identify who made a pastry just by sight and flavor.

As is typical with any romance, there are forces seemingly conspiring to keep Hanaya and Hayato from staying together, especially now that they’ve decided to be together. The threat of Maizawa turns out to not actually be one, but the volume ends on a cliff hanger that just could. It’s actually a pretty cliché route to go, especially with the way the series has been set up. But it wasn’t poorly done, just not unexpected.

Overall, this volume wasn’t a bad read. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t an inspiring read either. There’s nothing really interesting about the characters in general. The lead characters particular talents are mildly interesting but not enough to really be a draw. Hanaya’s side of the story was definitely more entertaining. It focused more on the food and preparation than on the angst Hayato was facing. The art is average, but some of the characters are rather distinctive-looking. Maizawa comes to mind. I did like that as well. Mixed Vegetables isn’t a bad time killer, but it’s not a keeper.

Canon Volumes 1-4

Canon is a story of revenge, regret, love and redemption. Canon Himura is the sole survivor of a vampire attack where 39 of her fellow students died and she herself was made into a vampire as well. Six months have passed, and now she is searching for the vampire she believes is responsible to avenge her friends and herself. She is accompanied by a vampiric crow, Fui, who helps her sniff out other vampires. At first, all they find are servants, humans infected with vampire blood, until Sakaki appears. He is half human/half vampire, and he has a grudge against the same vampire as Canon. His parents were killed and he left for dead for being a “half”. He offers to help her find and destroy their mutual enemy.

by Chika Shiomi
Publisher: CMX
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Horror/Suspense
Price: $9.99 (OOP)
Rating: ★★★★½
Buy All Four Books

This seemingly straightforward setup quickly starts taking twists and turns as Canon learns the truth about who killed her friends, her connection to the elder vampire Rod, and who holds the strings to her heart. As the truth comes out and the battles between Sakaki and the pure blood vampires continue, people change sides, enemies become allies, and all the way through Canon is the lynch pin that changes people’s hearts and lives.

Canon is the heart of this title. She is a great female lead. Strong-minded and determined, she chooses her course and can not be easily swayed from it. She doesn’t care about her odds of succeeding. She will still try her best, whether it’s facing powerful vampires or trying to save humans from becoming servants. She draws a lot of her strength from being able to hold on to her humanity. She is able to fight off the thirst for human blood and keeps a hold of her self, and in doing so also keeps much of her compassion. She argues with Sakaki about killing and even convinces him to spare the pure blood Machua. It’s this compassion, even in the face of her, enemy that makes Canon a force to be reckoned with. It helps her to overcome her desire for revenge, as she tries instead to break the cycle, and keep anyone else from dying. The lengths she will go for this impress even Glenn, a vampire elder determined to follow the laws of his clan.

The story is well written and moves at a good pace. Each volume can almost be said to have a theme running through it. Volume 1 is about revenge. Canon spends most of the volume going on about the desire for revenge, and we quickly learn Sakaki wants the same. In volume 2 we meet Rod, and learn the truth about what happened to both Canon and Sakaki. Rod shows his regret for what he had to do and it resonates with Canon. In Volume 3, Canon acknowledges her feelings for Sakaki, despite all the pain he has caused her. Volume 4 is about redemption, for Rod and especially for Sakaki, and only Canon can help him find it.

The world of Canon is laid out quickly and remains internally consistent to the end. One of the things I really appreciated about it was the focus remained on Canon and her goals, and not on getting her and Sakaki together. Canon doesn’t dwell on him and what he might think of her. She only thoughts are if she can trust him, and then if she can kill him. There are very few suggestive bite scenes and they are short at that. Most of the time, the biting is brutal, and there is a lot of blood flowing, just as you would expect in a vampire story. The romance is secondary to the story, which makes the suspense all the more thrilling.

Shiomi’s art is just beautiful. Set in modern Japan, Canon is dressed in smart but (mostly) sensible clothes. I have doubts about the spike heel boots, but as a vampire, she must have balance to do the high jumps and land on them just fine. In some scenes, she looks like she could be a professional working in an office. All of the characters had a professional look to them. No one was flamboyant or outlandish in style or dress.

Canon is a great series and at 4 volumes it shouldn’t be hard to track down. It’s more about action than romance and is character driven as many of Shiomi’s titles are. Not only does Canon grow and change over the course of the story, but so does Sakaki, Rod, and even Glenn. when you get to the end, you can not just see the changes, but feel them. It’s also a title that keeps you on your toes to the very end, and doesn’t romanticize vampires. They are the scary, blood sucking creatures of the night they were always meant to be, just a little more thoughtful for having met Canon.

PR: Viz Media Debuts Gothic Creeper Grand Guignol Orchestra in October

Though I was slow to get on the Kaori Yuki bandwagon back when Angel Sanctuary came out, her titles such as The Cain Saga and Godchild have since convinced me how great her work is. So hearing that another one of her titles had been licensed thrilled me. That it features musician thrilled me even more. Find out more after the break.

Continue reading PR: Viz Media Debuts Gothic Creeper Grand Guignol Orchestra in October

Halloween Hijinks

I love Halloween. It’s become one of my favorite holidays, and not for the candy! As the days get shorter and the nights grow longer, bare trees cast eerie shadows, it’s time for ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night to come out! So for the month of October, I will be following the theme of Halloween in articles and reviews, mostly about vampires, though I think some ghosts and yokai might sneak in, and there might even be some trick or treating! Even the theme will get in on the action! So I hope you’ll enjoy the fun and frights of this haunted month!

Please Stop Trying to Save My Children

This week is Banned Books Week. On this blog I have spoken against any attempts at censorship of manga. I strongly believe in the freedom of making any book available to be read, and that it should be responsibility of the individual, and in the case of children, the parents, to decide if the book is appropriate. What that means basically is that if you don’t like a book in the library, then don’t read it. If you don’t want your child to read a book at the library, don’t let them check it out. What you DON’T get to do is decide that a book can not be made available for me or my child read because YOU have objections to its subject matter.

Over the past year, two manga titles were challenged in public school libraries, because some parent thought the material in it was “inappropriate” for children. What they really meant was that they didn’t like it and didn’t want their children reading it. Therefore,if their children couldn’t read it, then no other child could read it either. They made the challenges “for the children.” You know, that wonderful phrase politicians and other leaders like to pull out when there’s something they don’t like and want to get control of or get rid of, so they hid behind the shield of “the children” so no one can object without sounding like they are against children. The truth is THEY don’t want to be branded as censors, since censorship is considered bad as well.

The first challenge was to Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball. The parent of a 9-year-old claimed it “depicts nudity, sexual contact between children, and sexual innuendo among adults and children.” The fact that this is what the parent said proves they didn’t bother to actually read the volume and only looked at the most damning of pictures. What Dragon Ball really depicts is a boy living in the wild, and not worried about covering himself for some fish, an older girl acting like a sister and bathing said boy, boy, having never met a girl wondering what makes them different, and a perverted hermit getting more than either he or the girl thought. In an adult mindset, the last one could be construed badly, but this title wasn’t written for an adult, and it wasn’t meant in the context that some people will put it in. There are always going to be people who are offended by things, and if we let them rule the world, there would be no humor at all. I think Dragon Ball is perfectly appropriate for a tween boy or girl. Really, what am I supposed to be saving my child from if I keep them from reading it? What is in this book that isn’t already talked about, and laughed at, by kids in schools all over the country?

The other book challenged was Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note. The parent in this case stated “killing is just not something we should put out there for our kids to read in this way.” Yeah, because giving kids a title that makes them think about morality and the consequences of their decisions is a bad thing. While the actual merits of Death Note as a series may be up for debate (and possibly a good choice for a Movable Manga Feast), the kinds of dialog that the subject inspires isn’t. It asks some serious questions about who gets to decide who lives and who dies, and the morality that goes with such decisions. It can lead to debates over the death penalty, which continues to be a controversial topic. There is nothing wrong with asking teens to start thinking about these things, as in only a few years, they will be asked to start voting and sitting on juries where they may have to make such a decision.

While manga hasn’t been targeted much lately, looking at the list of books that have been challenged and many removed from libraries over the last year is depressing, and doesn’t speak well for our supposed tolerate society. while the list contains numerous challenges due to the standard sexual innuendo/content and language, it also contains books challenged due to Occult themes and homosexuality. so, someone explain to me why these two topic are so harmful to children? Not every was or is a christian, so why is it so offensive for children to know that there were and are other religions in the world? Are our children so impressionable that after reading “The Egypt Game” we should fear that they will start worshipping Osiris? How is And Tango Makes Three, a story about two male penguins who adopt an orphaned baby, which is based on true event, going to destroy family life in America? Honestly?? You really think kids need to be protected from penguins?

It’s not these kinds of books that are leading to the “ruin of the moral fiber of the youth of this country”, it’s the people that object to having rival ideas heard. Children are not delicate little tea cups that need to be protected from the horrors of the world. They are a lot stronger and a lot smarter than many people and parents want to give them credit for. Books that bring up sex, drugs, “alternate family units” aren’t going lead children down the path of ruin. Denying that these things exist or are problems that our kids can and sometimes do face in the lives will. So, the next time you think you need to challenge a book “to save the children”, do me and the world a favor, and DON’T!

Pig Bride Volumes 1-3

While at summer camp, the young Si-Joon gets lost in the mountains. He a girl wearing a pig mask and follows her home. Bribed with food, Si-Joon agrees to marry her. Eight years later, the memory of that day has been more like a dream that quicly becomes a nightmare when the girl in the pig mask appears at Si-Joon’s door on his 16th birthday, ready to consumate their marriage.

By KookHwa Huh & SuJin Kim
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy These Books

I first discovered Pig Bride when I picked up the inagural issue of Yen Plus, and was immediately charmed by it. This manhwa is a romantic comedy with elements of the supernatural and reincarnation. The series starts by emphasing the comedy more than the romance, but cunningly sneaks in the romantic elements as the series goes on. While the overall tone of the series is light, there are some more serious elements, that keep the title in balance.

Pig Bride is populated with quite a cast of characters. They are varied in their personalities and well-developed. Si-Joon, the male lead, is just a normal teenage boy who suddenly has the strangeness of a pig-masked fiancee thrust upon him, and acts accordingly. Mu-Yeon, the female lead, plays the already-in-love fiancee perfectly, following Si-Joon around and calling him ‘Milord’. But she isn’t ditzy or annoying. She is smart and skilled as well as sweet. She gets along well with Ji-Ho, Si-Joon’s best friend. Which is unusual, as Ji-Ho doesn’t seem to like the girls that try to get close to Si-Joon. He’s rather stoic toward Si-Joon’s situation, and seems to like Mu-Hwa, Mu-Yeon’s sister. Mu-Hwa is similar to Ji-Ho in some ways. Her expression rarely changes and she doesn’t speak much. But she has a great fondness for food, as when she sees Ji-Ho with a piece of Si-Joon’s birthday cake, she gulps it, the plate and Ji-Ho’s hand all in one bite. She does leave Ji-Ho his hand. She is very protective of Mu-Yeon, with ninja-like skills and a very big sword. Doe-Doe is Mu-Yeon’s rival for Si-Joon’s heart, though it isn’t much of a contest. Doe-Doe’s sweet and timid attitude is just an act that hides a greedy heart for Si-Joon’s family’s power and money. She doesn’t fool Ji-Ho who is always indifferent to her, and even icy at times. She is set up as a cruel and cold person, but quickly becomes more like comedy relief as she tries to get between Mu-Yeon and Si-Joon.

It’s the interaction between these characters that makes the comedy work so well. Si-Joon and Ji-Ho play well off of each other as reactionary and straight-man. Ji-Ho also has some good moments with Mu-Yeon, Mu-Hwa and Doe-Doe, though all are completely different. His cool personality makes him good to work with just about everyone. There are some classic romantic comedy moments, such as Mu-Yeon and Si-Joon getting stuck in a shower in the boys locker room as they hide from Si-Joon’s classmates, and when they are alone together Si-Joon mistakes a raccoon for Mu-Yeon’s touch. But these moments are rare, keeping the comedy fresh. The way Doe-Doe gets humilitated is both funny and imaginative, and shows the title’s ability to be more original.

As the story goes on though, it does start to get dark. An intergral part of the plot is the story of the Park Bride. Many years ago, there was a girl cursed with an ugly appearance, and wore a mask. She married a man and won his love, which lifted the curse and made her beautiful. Si-Joon and Mu-Yeon are the reincarnations of this couple. At first, the flashbacks/visions of their past lives are of romantic moments, but with the appearance of Princess Ki-Ryong, things start to get dangerous. She is also a reincarnation from the Park Bride story. She was an assassin sent to kill Si-Baek Lee, Si-Joon’s past life, and is intent on correcting her past life’s failure. To do so, she must keep Si-Joon from breaking Mu-Yeon’s curse. When her attempts to kiil him from afar fail, she appears in person to finish the job, and Si-Joon learns his true role in this game.

The art of Pig Bride just as light as it’s story. The characters are drawn well, and in proportion, with most of the detail going into their clothes and hair. The art can drift into the realm of chibis, but it fits the tone of the story perfectly, and they are very cute.

Pig Bride is a charming series with delightful characters, and a story that slowly builds up to its climax. Like a sit-com, it is filled with lots of funny situations that can be punctuated with a dramatic or romantic moment. I whole-heartily recommend this title.