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.

Highschool of the Dead Volume 1-3

A mysterious illness is spreading rapidly through the halls of Fujimi High School. In a matter of hours, the campus is transformed from a place of learning into a  hive of nightmares, as the infected students collapse and are reborn as flesh-hungry zombies! Only a handful of students escape the outbreak – among them Takashi Komuro and his childhood friend Rei. He manages to protect Rei from the initial onslaught, but how long can Takashi and the other students hope to survive when the whole school – maybe the whole town – is out for their blood?!

Story by Daisuke Sato; Art by Shouji Sato
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: 18+
Genre: Horror
Price: $13.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Highschool of the Dead is “interesting” in the same way that we are currently living in “interesting times.” It all depends on how you look at it. There were times when I was really interested in the story it was telling, as well as the characters. At other times I just wanted to roll my eyes, put the book down and walk away. And that is what made this series so frustrating to me.  It has a real story to tell, if you can get past the rampant fan service and blood.

Let’s look at the good points about this series. First and foremost, there is a fascinating story being told in these pages. As the infected start to outnumber the uninfected, you can see the fabric of society start to break down. This is shown through the monologues Takashi often goes into,  and the obstacles our heroes face. Throughout the volumes, Takashi is constantly commenting on how quickly he and his friends adapt to a new world where the old rules no longer apply, like smashing a cash register for cash is acceptable for survival, and the worse thing you can do to an enemy is to NOT kill them. In just 12 hours they can go from running for their lives to happily taking on a group of zombies without a second thought. It was these observations that drew me into the story most.  But even as our heroes seemed to start to lose their humanity, they do find ways to reclaim it, such as in their saving of the young girl Alice.

Another aspect I really liked was the denial about the reality of the situation. When the outbreak first starts, Takashi comes right out and says they aren’t in a movie or video game, and yet everyone is behaving like a zombie from one. Though, he never gets to say the whole word “zombie”. He gets cut off. And later Hisashi, his friend and Rei’s boyfriend, dubs them all “they” because he can’t bring himself to believe they are something from the movies, and this is how they are referred throughout the books. No one wants to cross that line.

I also really appreciated that there are so many female characters that are smart and self-reliant. Rei, Takashi’s childhood friend is full of fire, and is bashing heads with her mop handle/spear. She also recognizes the danger Shidou poses and would rather take her chances with the zombies than him. Saeko is everything you would expect from the captain of the kendo club. Wielding her wooden sword, she is calm and cool in the face of danger, and always ready to protect the a person’s honor. Saya is constantly proclaiming that she is a genius, but it isn’t just boasting from her.  She is the first to figure out that it’s sounds that attract the zombies. And even though she hides behind Hirano, she will get her hands dirty when necessary. The guys aren’t so bad either. Takashi shows a lot of leadership, even though he would say he’s just trying to keep him and Rei alive. And Hirano is hesitant at first, but once he gets a gun in his hand, he really proves his worth.

The biggest downside of this series is also the women. It’s not the way they act, but the way they are drawn. All of them are drawn with big breasts, with the school nurse Shizuka having back breakers. I’m not sure which is more unbelievable, the breast sizes or the zombies. It gets worse in volume 2 when all the women take a bath together, and they are comparing sizes and feeling each other up. It’s like a pseudo lesbian love fest. All through these three volumes, almost every other page has a panty shot. It gets really close to being overwhelming. It also takes all the wind out of the more serious elements of the story. You can have this wonderful monologue from Takashi about how they world they knew was gone on one page, to the women half-naked and bouncing around in the next. It’s hard to take the series seriously with gratuitous breast grabs going on.

The art is fairly standard for a shonen series. The characters are rather generic looking, though they are just distinct enough to tell apart at sight. I was much more impressed with the horror side of it. There were a lot of nice details on the zombies, with chunks of flesh torn out and bones sticking out. While graphic horror isn’t usually my thing, I found I could appreciate the look of the zombies. They are just what you’d expect for a zombie apocalypse.

Highschool of the Dead isn’t going to be a title for everyone. Both the horror and fan service will keep some readers from even picking up the volumes. But I think the story of society collapsing and how people react to it is an interesting one, and worth digging through the gore and gratuitous boob and panty shots to get to. I would recommend Highschool of the Dead to veteran manga readers and horror fans. Anyone easily offended or disturbed need not apply.

 

October 2011 MMF: Call for Participation

Everyone loves a good scare. Whether it’s from the unknown darkness or from the known serial killer that stalks the night, everyone has something that scares them. Through books and movies, we can enjoy those scares from the safety of our homes. This month’s Manga Movable Feast features not a single title, but the whole genre of Horror. So any title that makes your hair stand on end, makes you want to keep the light on after reading before bed, or hide behind the sofa while watching is fair game!

Continue reading October 2011 MMF: Call for Participation

Yen Plus September 2011

It’s been a year since Yen Plus went digital and things don’t seem to have changed much, at least not for the Japanese side of the magazine. It’s still meager at best, and is losing another title this month with the final chapter of The Innocent appearing. We can hope Yen Press will be able to announce something soon, otherwise having the two sides of the magazine is going to be pretty pointless.

Continue reading Yen Plus September 2011

Countdown 7 Days Volume 1

Lonely Mitamura may be a teacher at the exclusive Sheol Soul School – an academy dedicated to the afterlife – but he has a lot to learn about human emotions and helping others. In fact, his star pupil Tsuru thinks she’ll teach him a little lesson by running off during a field trip in the living world. Now, Mitamura has only seven days to track Tsuru down with the help of a brand-new (deceased) sidekick. Will the clock run out before they find her?

Continue reading Countdown 7 Days Volume 1

Aron’s Absurd Armada

Arrr, guess what time of year it be again. That’s right! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! And that means lot’s of “Arrrs” and “ye bes” and “yo ho ho”ing and sounding like ye should have a parrot on yer shoulder. A few years ago I did a post about pirate manga what was available to help enjoy the day. Normally I would do a post updating what’s new, but sadly, there hasn’t been any new additions in the last three years, except one.

Continue reading Aron’s Absurd Armada

I Just Couldn’t Do It

With the new release of Sailor Moon by Kodansha coming out this week, my Twitter feed has been full of tweets from people really excited by it. I know Sailor Moon is a big deal to a lot of people. It’s a classic in the magical girl genre, and it was a gateway to anime and manga for many folks. But it wasn’t for me. I never watched the anime, and new nothing about the manga release, as it was before I started reading manga seriously. I knew about it of course. I first heard about it from a friend in the 90s. He was reading the Japanese manga volumes obsessively at SDCC. I didn’t get the appeal for it then, and I still don’t get the appeal for it now.

Anyway, I had the chance recently to pre-order the first volume. Twice, in fact. But, I just couldn’t do it. I will admit to some curiosity about the series. I know basically what it’s about, but I have too much doubt about how I would react to it. I’ve never been impressed by the synopses I’ve read about it. And the last thing I need is to buy a book that I don’t know if I’m going to like. My time and space is already very limited. Adding Sailor Moon, with my mind already fairly set against it isn’t going to help things. Now, I know I can be wrong. I thought I would hate Yu-Gi-Oh!, thanks to the TCG hype and anime, but I actually ended up really liking the manga. I know Sailor Moon could turn out to be like that, but I just couldn’t get myself to take the chance.

Toradora! Volume 1

It’s Ryuji’s first day as a junior in high school and it seems as if things are looking up. He gets to sit in between his only friend, Yusaku, and, more importantly, the girl he’s secretly crushing on, Minori Kushieda. But just when he thinks the stars are aligned in his favor, he unwittingly crosses the most feared girl in school, Taiga Aisaku, making her onto his arch enemy. To top it off, Taiga has moved in right next door to Ryuji and happens to be Minori’s best friend! Can this school year possibly get any worse?!

Story by Yuyuko Takemiya; Art by Zekkyo
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Toradora, like most romantic comedies, depends on its lead characters to sell the series. If you don’t like the leads, you aren’t going to care who they get together with, or if they get together at all! Unfortunately, that’s exactly how I feel about the leads and this story.

Toradora starts out by introducing Ryuuji Takasu. He’s a second year high school student who has squinty eyes that makes all of his peers think he’s glaring at them, and a flaky mother who couldn’t take care of herself if she were on her own. He has an accidental run-in with Taiga Aisaku, the “palmtop tiger”, called that because of her small size and fierce attitude. These two become entangled because they have crushes on each other’s best friends. But Taiga won’t let Ryuuji near Minori until she can get with Yusaku. So it’s hair-brained schemes and missed opportunities as Ryuuji tries to get Taiga and Yusaku together.

Right from the start, I didn’t like Taiga. I don’t mind the “tsundere” type, but she goes to an extreme that I don’t like. She is physically and verbally abusive to Ryuuji, calling him a “dog,” or “mangy mutt.” She’s pushy and demanding and a serious clutz. I know these traits are supposed to be funny and cute, but they really aren’t. Not to me anyway. Ryuuji isn’t a complete push-over. He takes on Taiga’s unspoken challenge to get her and Yusaku so he can try to get Minori, but he takes on the “dog” role too quickly for my taste. The banter between them just isn’t interesting. It’s either her telling him what to do, or him yelling at her and she ignores him. These two just didn’t appeal to me.

There’s nothing new or different about the story. As a rom-com, it has to really on the characters to give it life, and as I’ve said, they don’t work for me, so the story really fell flat. I didn’t find any of the physical comedy funny, especially Taiga clutzy moments. But Ryuuji’s reaction to Taiga’s kitchen did get a smile out of me. I have no complaints about the story, it’s just, without interesting characters it feels “been there, done that.”

Zekkyo’s art is very well done. Even if I didn’t like the characters, I did like their designs. There’s a good mixture of designs among the characters, and their attitudes really come through in the art. From Ryuuji’s squinty eyes, which I personally didn’t see as troublesome, but that just me, to Taiga switching from cute and vunerable to a mean and determined, there was no ambiguity about what anyone was feeling. I really could have done without Ryuuji’s mom. Her only purpose seems to be for fanservice, which along with her ditzy personality makes her very unappealing to me.

Overall, Toradora isn’t a bad title, it just got a “meh” reaction from me. Without liking the characters, I just can’t get into the story. I know I’m in the minority with regards to my opinion about this title, but that’s nothing new. I may give it another volume to see if anything changes, but as it stands, it’s a series I’m not going to follow regularly.

Vampire Cheerleaders/Paranormal Mystery Squad Volume 1

The Bakertown High School cheerleading squad has a secret: behind all their pretty make-up and short skirts are five hungry vampires who sure know how to show their school spirit!

When one of their own turns up missing, the senior cheerleaders have no other choice but to induct one of the eleventh grade girls from the B Squad into their vixenous ranks. But siring new recruit Heather Hartley is the easy part…keeping a sheltered virgin from not going wild and draining the entire football team on the eve of their big homecoming game is another matter!

Written by Adam Arnold; Art by Shiei and Comipa
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy
Price: $10.99

I like Seven Seas Entertainment. Really, I do. They have a nice mix of original and licensed titles, with a very eclectic selection of genres. Sadly though, I didn’t like one of their biggest hits, AOI House. So I didn’t have high hopes for Vampire Cheerleaders when it was announced, but I was looking forward to Paranormal Mystery Squad. Boy, did I get those turned around.

Vampire Cheerleaders is just as cliché as it sounds. Good girl Heather is invited to join the ‘A’ cheerleading squad after one of its members goes missing. Once “initiated” into their coven, she goes wild with her new power and ends up draining the football team just before the big homecoming game, and the girls have to figure out a way to keep their team from losing.

Even though everything about the characters is cliché, from Heather’s strict parents, to Heather’s transformation from goody-two shoes to vamp, to all the clique-y in-fighting between the girls, to even the geeky best friend who knows the cheerleaders are vampires and get pushed by the wayside once Heather becomes popular, the story is mildly amusing. The characters are varied enough to be interesting. While I don’t generally like stories about popular clique girls, these girls were engaging enough to keep me from getting bored.

I was even intrigued by the coven’s leader Lori’s past (and not just because we share a name, though, she does spell it right) and her need to keep coming back to the school and have a “perfect senior year”. There seems to be something there. The art is nice and clean and the character designs are well done. I wouldn’t mind reading another story from this series.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Paranormal Mystery Squad is a whole ‘nother story.

Double-featuring with Vampire Cheerleaders is Paranormal Mystery Squad, written by Adam Arnold with art by Comipa, in a ghostbusting Aoi House spin-off.

Goth girl Stephanie Kane always thought she was special; that there was something different about her. It turns out that she’s the most normal person out there and everyone else around her is some kind of paranormal freak! Seriously: her sister is a werewolf, her best friend is a witch, and her next door neighbor is a dhampir. Together, this motley crew of unlikely friends travel the country in their trusty Winnebago in search of cryptids and all manner of supernatural beasties!

With a title like “Paranormal Mystery Squad”, I was hoping there would be some really mystery and at least interesting paranormal activity. I got neither. Instead I got characters that are completely unlikable, and a story that drags on and goes no where. There is absolutely no character in this story that I can find even tolerable. Stephanie and Katie are unpleasant and spiteful, the very definition of the word “bitch.” I just grew to hate them the more I read. And what I was reading was boring at best, and insulting at worst. About half way through, I kept hoping the story was over, but it just kept going. I think all the parts about women and their menstruation were supposed to be funny, but it really wasn’t. Even the title gets into the act. It’s exactly this kind of crude humor that I disliked in AOI House. I should get combat pay for making it to the end.

The art in this story was rough and uneven. Overall, the story a few (very few) decent moments. I did like the Ghostbusters reference, but it’s just not something I can recommend in good conscience. You couldn’t pay me to read another story in this series, which leaves me in a conundrum. How do I read the next Vampire Cheerleaders without supporting Paranormal Mystery Squad? Digital versions of the titles sold separately please, Seven Seas!

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

Shonen Jump September 2011

This month’s Shonen Jump starts out with a Feature on Pokemon: Black and White, the newest incarnation of the game and spans the trading card game, the video games, the anime and the manga. The fan art section also has a neat piece by guest artist Mr. Warburton, the creator of Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door. But where’s Nami?

Continue reading Shonen Jump September 2011

Yen Plus August 2011

It was always my intention that my reviews of the chapters from the magazines were to be short, but I haven’t done a very good job of that, so starting this month, I’m going to try to be much more brief about my impressions of the chapters. There’s no Daniel X again this month, the final Gossip Girl, a side story, appears. But you don’t want to hear about that, right?

Continue reading Yen Plus August 2011

Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 1

Sakura is the granddaughter of a mysterious moon princess who slew demons with her Blood Cherry Blossom sword. All her life Sakura has been forbidden to look at the full moon without knowing why. Then one night, unhappy over her impending marriage, Sakura gazes up at the moon, only to see a demon attacking her…

Continue reading Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 1

Ooku: The Inner Chamber Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

In Edo period Japan, a strange new disease called the Redface Pox has begun to prey on the country’s men. Within eighty years of the first outbreak, the male population has fallen by seventy-five percent. Women have taken on all the roles traditionally granted to men, even that of the shogun. The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the shogun’s Inner Chamber…

Continue reading Ooku: The Inner Chamber Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast