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.

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: ★★★★★
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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.

This Week in Manga: 9/11-9/24/10

Due to illness, I was unable to do a roundup last week, so this week combines the two weeks. So what’s in store? More licenses found and announced from Viz and Vertical, several digital manga stories, some news from Japan and Korea, 2 weeks worth of best seller lists, podcasts and the Manga Village roundup.

Continue reading This Week in Manga: 9/11-9/24/10

Yen Plus September 2010

Just before the Labor Day weekend, Yen Press sent out the announcement that the new issue of Yen Plus was available and subscriptions were being accepted. I immediately forked over my $2.99. At that price, and with no bulky magazine to take up more space I don’t have, it’s totally worth it. Just as I do with Shonen Jump, I will be giving a brief report of the chapters each month. I will not be reading Maximum Ride or Gossip Girl though. Neither story interests me. If this were the print mag, I might page through them because they were there, but online, I have no problem with just skipping them. Even without reading those two titles, Yen Plus still beats out Shonen Jump with a total 368 pages, most of which are manga chapters and not news on anime, video games or card games. Already a big plus for me! It also keeps it’s origianl format of a side “A” and “B”. The “A” side is for the Manhwa/OEL titles and the “B” side is for the Japanese titles.

First up is Jack Frost, a title I haven’t been impressed with over the last three volumes. But, since I’ve read that much of it, and it’s in the magazine, I’ll keep up with it, and see if anything improves. This chapter shows the aftermath of Helmina broadcasting the whereabouts of the Lost Lake and the Pillars of Solomon to all of Amityville. Of course, the guardians of Lost Lake aren’t too thrilled with the revelation, since now they are a target, but the man in charge, Mr. Fury, believes that Helmina has something in mind. Whether that’s a good or bad thing…well we’ll see. Meanwhile, Jack has another challenger who wants to take him on, and he’s assisted by someone Hanson says should be dead, Ridicule of Samiel. This chapters follows the routine that Jack Frost seems to have set up. Talking heads, panty shot, fight; lather, rinse, repeat. It would be nice to see that routine shaken up a bit. Many less panty shot and more plot?

Nightschool ends in this issue with the last two chapters. This makes me sad since Nightschool is one of the draws of Yen Plus for me. I love Alex, her astral, and the whole set up of the world. Yen has promised more Nightschool stories, but they can’t come fast enough for me! After the reveal of who was responsible for releasing the Sohrem last chapter, Daemon, Mr. Roi and Madame Chen then have to figure out how to stop the Sohrem, remove them from their hosts, seal them away and reverse all the damage that was done to the world. No small feat mind you. But between the three they are able to do this surgery on reality and give the story a happy ending. I’m glad. I like Alex’s sister Sara and am happy that she’s back, dragon hatchlings and all. Please come back soon!

I think Aron’s Absurd Armada is starting to grow on me. This month featured Ronnie, the girl they rescued last issue. Everyone thinks she’s a boy though. She shows off her knowledge of the sea and sets the ship’s course to intercept her ship. Some of the strips are pretty funny, such as when Anton lets Ronnie go down to the wreck of her ship by herself, because he knows what she’ll find. Actually Anton and Gilbert strike he as the two smartest people on the ship. It’s a good quick read.

We get another two chapters of Daniel X this month. His attempt to get to Ergent Seth isn’t going well, as Ergent is always one step head of him. He tries to warn Daniel off a few more times through some cats, but he won’t back down, so Ergent shows him what he’s really up against, and it doesn’t go well for Daniel. The new love of his life, Phoebe, doesn’t go the way he planned either. A captive of Ergent, he is whisked away with the other of Ergent’s captive children and taken to his home planet, Alpar Nok. It’s nice to see that Daniel isn’t invincible, though Ergent’s ploy was a little cliché to say the least. Though, I do like Ergent’s design. It’s not everyday you see a horse in a suit. With a scar. It will be interesting what Daniel’s real home planet is like and how he’s going to get away from Ergent.

Time and Again is one of the titles that made subscribing worth it. In this month’s chapter, we get to see into Baek-On’s past. Thoughout the series so far, we have seen Baek-On’s regrets regarding a girl and what he did to her. This chapter shows who the girl is and what she meant to Baek-On. But it’s not all love and roses, otherwise Baek-on wouldn’t be on the path that he is. Once again it has to do with reincarnation, and an animal spirit’s desire for revenge. Hunters should be careful lest their kills start coming back to get them. Animals do not fight fair. This was the best chapter of the magazine, behind Nightschool. It was rather heartbreaking to finally see the truth.

Yotsuba&! is one of the newest titles to the magazine as well as one of the first for the Japanese side for the digital edition. In the chapter, we see Yotsuba have a nightmare and try to create a schedule. Then she and her father go shopping at a mall, and she finds the perfect teddy bear. Frankly, Yotsuba&! isn’t a draw for me. The series is nice, and I did find the chapter with Yotsuba going through the teddy bears and checking them for huggability cute. But I’m not enamored by Yotsuba’s cuteness. I’ll read it, but it’s not a must have for me.

The first debut title for Yen Plus’ digital edition is K-On! This is another 4-koma series about a high school girl,Yui Hirasawa, who can’t decide on what club to join, so she joins the pop music club, not realizing it’s a band. She can’t play an instrument, but she gets talked into staying and learning to play guitar by the other members so they can keep the club going. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this title or not. I’ve heard a lot about it online, but my tastes don’t always run with the crowd. But so far, I do like it. Yui is fairly typical for a high school student, not knowing what she wants to do. And the way she gets convinced to stay was well done. I also like Tsumugi. She is really nice, but also really rich. The way she gets the guitar discounted for Yui was funny. I will definitely keep reading this one.

This issue wasn’t bad for a first pay issue. The transaction was easy through paypal. I had access immediately after paying. It’s next issue that gonna be a deal breaker for a lot of people probably. With Nightschool gone, even for me the only must read title is Time and Again. The rest I can either take-or-leave or I like, but not really like. The Japanese side really needs a few more titles, and something with some action would be nice. I was excited about Yen Plus before when it had Black Butler and Hero Tales in it. Without a really good anchor though, I don’t see this lasting very long, even with the $2.99 price. Hopefully Yen has some titles in the pipe that they are just waiting for approval on.

Inubaka: Crazy For Dogs Volume 16

Woofles regular Chizuru advises her friend Serina, who is contemplating motherhood, to try looking after a dog first. Can Chizuru’s dog melon and a new puppy convince Serina that their affection and cuteness are worth the aggravation?

By Yukiya Sakuragi
Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Animal/Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

My first two reviews of this series were lukewarm, due to the fan service and doggie-ness of the title. I’m a cat person and don’t care much for dogs. This volume however, dealt with more plot and general animal care than just doggie-ness, so I could appreciate it and it’s message much more.

This volume picks up where volume 15 left off with Amuro being seriously injured in a car accident. Suguri’s quick thinking and level head saves the dog long enough to get to the animal hospital. Despite her dislike for Amuro’s owner Fujita, who kidnapped her as a child and is now stalking her, she allows Lupin’s blood to be used in a transfusion. Even though this doesn’t help get rid of him, and he keeps showing up throughout the volume, Suguri does gain some valuable information about Lupin’s grandfather, the dog that rescued her. It seems he may not be the only good samartian dog around. I found the introduction of this plot point to be very interesting. Who trained these dogs, and why do they help people and then disappear? It actually sounds intriguing.

The rest of the volume is spent showing some of the difficulties of being a pet owner. First, Chizuru has to wrestle with the decision to have Melon fixed. while this may seem like a no-brainer to veteran pet owners, seeing Chizuru agonize over the decision, and then see things turn out alright in the end, may help other new owners realize it’s okay to alter a pet. And then there’s Chizuru’s friend Serina. Her story realistically shows the problems of getting a puppy and the work it really is to take care of one. The parallels to having a child are obvious, with such things as having to clean up after them and dealing with their crying. Serina, and her husband show themselves to be irresponsible, and not taking the job seriously. Whether it’s a child or a pet, the same amount of responsibility is required, and these chapters show this very well.

I really enjoyed this volume, much more than the previous ones I’d read. The plot of Lupin’s heritage and the Good Samaritan rescue dogs is really intriguing. Suguri handles herself really well with Fujita as well, making it very clear that she doesn’t want to see him or have anything to do with him. But being the stalker that he is, he doesn’t listen. The chapters with Chizuru and her friend are excellent lessons in pet ownership, and would make good pamphlets on their own about caring for pet and thinking carefully about why and how committed you are to getting one. There are a few panels of fanservice, but they are as blatant as earlier volumes.

If Inubaka had been like this from the earlier volumes, it could have made a fan of me sooner. It’s still a series for dog lovers, but it’s also finally showing itself to have appeal for the non-dog persons like me.

Shonen Jump October 2010

Once again, this month’s Shonen Jump feels light as it’s only at 280 pages. Along with the four regulars, there is a preview of a new series, Genkaku Picasso by Usamaru Furuya. He has had a few previous series’ published in English, including Short Cuts from Viz, nearly had 51 Ways to Save Her from CMX and will have Lychee Light Club from Vertical next year. This series was published in Jump SQ, and will have the first three chapters previewed in Shonen Jump.

Genkaku Picasso starts off by introducing the main character Hikari Hamura, the Picasso of the title. He isn’t very sociable and has just one friend, Chiaki Yamamoto. They have their own club, the Riverside Club, where Hikari draws and Chiaki reads books on psychology. A helicopter crash ends the club early, leaving Chiaki dead and Hikari miraculously alive, but not without a price. Hikari learns this in a rather shocking way, in class of course, from a small, winged Chiaki. He has to help people otherwise his body will decay. It’s an intriguing start to the series. Only a few titles start with killing off their protagonists. I do want to read more to see where the “helping people” goes. I’m guessing it has something to do with his artistic ability.

Naruto shows the end of Danzo with a flash back to his youth with the Third Hokage. It doesn’t really make him a more sympathetic character with just this flashback. If that is what Kishimoto was going for, more was needed before his last dying moments. He doesn’t have the same flare of revealing backgrounds at crucial moments as does Eiichiro. Sakura arrives claiming to want to join Sasuke but it’s just a ruse that doesn’t work. Kakashi then arrives to take on Sasuke with Naruto racing on his way. So it’s setting up for another clash between Naruto and Sasuke, with a big battle in between with Kakashi, or Sasuke’s gonna escape before he and Naruto can really get into it. I wish they would just get it over with between Naruto and Sasuke. All the emo-ness going on between Naruto and Sakura is getting boring. Sasuke isn’t going to just change his mind, and even Naruto fighting him isn’t going to be enough. I get the feeling that this is going to be a at-the-brink-of-death change of heart. With the way things have gone, I just don’t see how Sasuke can become friends again with them and still live with what he’s done.

One Piece continues the fight to save Ace. Luffy faces off with Mihawk, one of the Warlords of the Sea, who starts his attack by slicing the massive iceberg in half. Whitebeard sends his men in to keep Luffy free to reach his brother. An army of Kumas then appear and attack and Sengoku makes his move to execute Ace early. In the midst of all this, Whitebeard is attacked by Squard, on of his own men, who fell for a Marine ruse. But that doesn’t stop him from joining the fray, and really showing off the power of the Quake-Quake fruit. These chapters end with the Admiral Akainu using his power to melt the ice that the pirates have been using to get to the plaze where Ace is being held. These chapters are more fighting, but they also show how the World Government continues to try to keep the truth from the people. The truth that in many ways they are no better than the pirates they claim to be protecting them from as they shut off the broadcast so the rest of the world can’t see them execute Ace earlier than they announced. The more I see of the World Government and the Marines, the more I want Luffy and other pirates take them down. What the World Government does and has done is infinitely worse than any of the pirates we’ve seen so far.

I’m still on the fence about Ultimo. This month’s chapter starts off with Yamato getting the usual stuff about time travel; arriving naked, limited time, no changing events, etc. Then he gets to the estate and actually meets Iruma, and finds out, he’s not such a bad guy after all. The lord of the estate is rather familiar as well. The arrival of Dunstan with Jealousy changes Iruma as he gives in to the envy in his heart. It will be interesting to see how Yamato reacts/deals with this and if he can resist getting involved.

Bleach has the newly transformed Nel with the number 3 emblazoned on her back taking on Number 5 Nnoitora. She intends to protect Ichigo, but she might not be up to current Espada standards. Renji and Uruyu are still fighting Szayel-Aporro, though Renji does bring the house down, so to speak. This causes Szayel to release this true power, voodoo dolls that allow him to crush his opponents innards. So, how are Ichigo, Renji and Uruyu going to get out of this? Or should I say who’s going to pull their butts from the fire this time? A miraculous recovery from Chad or Rukia? Or maybe someone else? Or even more cliché, Ichigo powers up again. Meh.

There were some changes to the features in the magazine as well. All of the anime at the front is now divided between DVD, TV and Streaming, and only features SJ titles. But at least it features all the SJ titles, including Hikaru no Go, Prince of Tennis and Buso Renkin. The other noticeable change is in the New SJ Manga and In the Next Issue… sections. Reduced to just a few titles and one page each, it does look kind of sad when the In the Next Issue especially used to span two pages. But that’s when there was more titles. Changes were promised in the December issue which is coming up fast. And NYCC/NYAF is only a few weeks away, so hopefully there will be more news on what those changes are, and especially hope they will be good. This mag needs an infusion of Fresh, and soon!

You’re So Cool Volumes 5-6

I picked up volume 5 of You’re So Cool without having any idea what I was getting into. Reading random review copies from publishers can be hit or miss, but for me, it”s part of the fun of reviewing. A series that doesn’t look interesting from the back blurb or cover can turn out to be a diamond in the rough. That’s what You’re So Cool turned out to be for me.

By YoungHee Lee
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/manhwa
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆
Buy These Books

You’re So Cool is about the tumultuous relationship between the seemingly perfect Seung-Ha, and clumsy, clueless Nan-Woo. By volume 5, their relationship seems to be stabling out, but personal issues in Seung-Ha’s life staying weighing down on him. After getting sick from walking in the rain, and a night of feverish dreams, he decides to leave everyone behind, including Nan-Woo. The stubborn Nan-Woo can’t accept his leaving and goes searching for him, which includes camping out in front of his house, telling off his family, and finally finding him where she then proceeds to beat him up. The series ends happily for both Seung-Ha and Nan-Woo, and the sub-plot of relationship between Nan-Woo’s uncle Jay and Hyun-Ho.

I wasn’t sure what to think of this series at first. I didn’t have the background of the previous four volumes to explain who everyone was and what their relationships were, but by the end of volume 5, I was able to work it all out. The quirky collection of characters that make up this cast is what eventually won me over, in particular, Nan-Woo’s mother. She’s a tough, no-nonsense type a person who doesn’t mince her words. She’s also rather violent. She kicks down doors and emphasises her words with her fists, though always in comedic rather than serious kind of way. But for all her violent tendencies, she really does care for Nan-Woo, so it was nice to see the more caring and rational side of her after the violent outbursts.

Nan-Woo is definitely her mother’s daughter, as she has her own violent moments, but her sincerity and conviction is hard to resist. Seung-Ha plays the jerk well, but doesn’t come off as one in these last two volumes. His personal problems mitigate any dislike I might have had for him if I’d read from the beginning. Jay was a mystery until the last volume. I spent most of volume 5 trying to figure out if he was a guy or a girl,and didn’t get any kind of confirmation until volume 6. His more gentle personality balances well against his sister’s, but he did come off as rather emo.

These last two volumes deal with Seung-Ha having to make the choice of facing his problems, or running way from them. I think Lee did a good job of showing his emotional turmoil, and how he comes to the decision that he does. He doesn’t make any reversals of personality, and the makes the choice that seems to make the most sense to him. Of course, it takes Nan-Woo to show him the error of his ways, and finally find the forgiveness that has evaded him for so long.

Lee does a good job at drawing bishonen guys. Seung-Ha and Hyun-Ho are especially hot looking. And as I said with the aforementioned Jay, it was impossible to tell if he was male or female. But since his gender was supposed to be difficult to tell, Lee gets props for it. The one thing I had a problem with, and actually fixated on for about half of volume 5 was the size of the characters hands. They are HUGE compared to the rest of the character’s proportions. Seung-Ha’s hands were as big as Nan-Woo’s head! I honestly didn’t think I would be able to get over that, but I found myself drawn into the story so much that I stopped noticing them. It was only when I went looking for it that I saw the size difference. The character’s eyes are overly large too, and for people who may be a barrier to checking out this series. Don’t let it be. This story is worth looking past these artistic styles.

Overall, I found the ending of You’re So Cool it be a good and satisfying one, and I didn’t even start at the beginning. I’m glad I took the chance to read it and didn’t let the art keep me from getting to the end. It proved to be an enjoyable read, with characters that are fun and funny at the same time. If you get a chance, and you like romances with quirky and some times violent characters, then definitely give this title a try.

Kaze Hikaru Volume 18

Japan is approaching a tipping point, with increasing pressure from the West to open its borders. The Shinsengumi are being trained to use firearms, but Ikita refuses, insisting on the way of the sword. he represents many in the group who cling to old samurai values. But it is clear that the times are changing and the Shinsengumi embodies the “old  guard.” Will they survive the coming upheavals?

By Taeko Watanabe
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Historical/Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

The tone for this volume is set at the beginning, with one of the soldiers being sentenced to death for having an ilicit affair that was discovered. From then on, it’s one character after another dealing with some relationship, or potential for one; Ito and Hijikata, Ito and Nakamura, Soji and Kohana, Kondo and Miyuki-Dayu, and the ever-present Soji and Sei, all dealing with some problem. Some aren’t too serious, such as Ito’s and Captain Kondo’s. Ito has a wandering eye, and seems more interested in using his wiles to further his plots, while Captain Kondo suffers from “love at first sight”, falling for women he doesn’t even know and often behing taken advantage of by them.

Soji’s relationship with Kohana comes to a head, and he doesn’t even realize there was one. Kohana had fallen in love with Soji, but he didn’t notice. He can’t. If he were to notice Kohana’s feelings, then he would have to acknoweldge Sei’s feelings, and that can’t happen yet. Soji’s cluelessness about women’s feelings is very frustrating, and not just to the characters. After 18 volumes I would imagine many readers getting frustrating at the lack of movement between Soji and Sei. I know it’s become tiresome for me. Though, perhaps this resolution could be removing a block that could get them closer together.

What I enjoyed about this volume was the historical and cultural references that are explored. Bushido is always talked about in reference to samurai, but this volume explified it in several scenes. First is opening chapter with the soldier being forced by honor to kill himself. Captain Kondo makes the decision to leave Osaka, letting the Shinsengumi take the blame for any disgrace that might be placed on the Aizu Clan, their sponsors. And Okita’s decision not to participate in rifle training, because it doesn’t allow him to look in the eyes of the person he is about to kill. The concepts of Bushido really hit home when you see the characters showing how it affects their own actions, even if it isn’t the wisest decision.

Historically, there is a tease about Nakamura Goda, who in this volume is played to just be another soldier infatuated with Sei. It was fun to see the Japanese people’s reactions to coming of the Black Ships, and the possiblity of being invaded. The rumors that spread about the European/Americans, such as they have demons on the decks of their ships, that they eat the heads of young girls, are perfect examples of the anxiety the people were feeling. And of course, among the Shinsengumi soldiers, the rumors of “size” were what mattered most.

Kaze Hikaru is a well written story, with some great historical references and cultural insight to the time before the end othe Bakufu, but the romance side is so frustrating. You would have to have a lot of patience to put up with Soji’s cluelessness. But with a large ensemble cast, it’s easy to keep moving the focus. And with intrigue moving into the Shinsengumi ranks, the posibility of drama not related to romance gets greater.

Swallowing the Earth

Amidst the chaos of World War II, two Japanese soldiers hear of Zephyrus, an utterly captivating woman rumored to exist on an island in the South Pacific. The tales of this bold enchantress seducing men to their dooms are both chilling and fascinating. Over twenty years pass, and Zephyrus resurfaces in Japan, seemingly unchanged, to wield her mysterious power over men once more.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Teen+ (16+)
Genre: Action/Mystery
Price: $24.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

The one man immune to Zephyrus’ charms is simple drunkard, Gohonmatsu Seki, son of one of the wartime soldiers. Employed to spy on Zephyrus, what will Gohonmatsu uncover about her ultimate plot to create international discord and consume the world of men? What brought this woman to conspire for decades against patriarchal society-against an entire gender-and can anything be done to stop her plans?

Swallowing the Earth is a strange tale of revenge as a few women start a war against the entire male gender for the wrongs done to the female gender. It takes a long and meandering path to come to a simple conclusion; true happiness is only attainable if one is free of lust, power and greed. Or, as the Beatles would say, “All You Need is Love.”

A woman, Zephyrus, is betrayed by her husband during World War II because of his desire for money and power. She runs away with her 6 daughters and finds peace on a South Pacific island, away from the world of men. Her dying wish to her daughters is for them to take revenge on all men for what happened to her by making all money worthless and creating anarchy, and to scorn all men. The daughters plot and prepare, and 20 years later, set their plan in motion. One man stands in their way; Gohomatsu Seki. He is a simple dock worker who doesn’t care about anything but alcohol. He is immune to Zephyrus’ charms and travels to the South Seas and the United States to try to stop her plans.

In between chapters of the main plot line there are short side stories. These stories relate back to what is happening in the main plot, often illustrating the effects of Zephyrus’ plans on ordinary people. With the introduction of the synthetic skin, 5 strangers in the US south become a family. And in another, after the economic collapse, a doctor tries to help a young woman with no memory of voice.

I’m not really sure what to make of this title. On the surface, it appears to be about women using their intelligence and other tools to turn the tables on men. They are shown to be strong and taking the initiative by showing men the folly of their ways for last few decades. Zephyrus is portrayed as taking revenge on men for the way women have been treated and men are shown getting their just desserts.

A closer look at the work however, shows the opposite. It portrays women as petty and vindictive. The whole plot is concocted because one woman was betrayed by one man. She wasn’t the first, nor would she be the last. The sisters aren’t working against man for the good of women. They are doing it for one person, their mother. Zephyrus created a look that men would find irresistible, exploiting their desire for lust, but woman as seductress are always shown as a negative. This is a pattern I’ve noticed in Tezuka’s other work Black Jack. Beautiful women are greedy and will betray the men attracted to them. And even though the sisters are working take down men, they are making women suffer as well. The side story of the Doctor and female patient illustrates this. There is nothing good or noble in their acts. In many ways, they are no different from the men they wish to punish.

Gohonmatsu is an unusual protagonist. He is an alcoholic, and doesn’t care about anything but drinking. While this would normally keep him from being the good role model most protagonists are usually portrayed as, his lack of desire for power, money and sex keeps him from falling under Zephyrus’ spell and thus the only man capable of standing up to her plans. So, he’s got something good going for him. Even as the world falls apart over greed and vanity, Gohomatsu remains unaffected as long as he can get, or make, alcohol. Material things have no hold on him as he can easily barter a drink of his alcohol for them, and they trade them all for a wedding ring for Milda. It’s the intangible that matters most to him, whether it’s the taste of alcohol, or the happiness of the woman he loves, he can throw all material things away for the things he loves. In many ways this makes him a noble character.

Swallowing the Earth is an intriguing title if you are a fan of Tezuka or older gekiga manga. It isn’t as dark as MW, and does have some interesting things to say about men and women. I don’t regret reading this title, but it’s not one I would pick up again. I enjoyed reading the vignette stories more than the main narrative, which often felt disjointed. By the end though it feels like little has changed. Zephyrus’ plans had succeeded, and the world returned to a simpler way of life before technology and to a barter economic system, but not people. The cycle of revenge tries to start again, and while it is stopped, this time by Gohomatsu’s son, it makes me wonder what was the point of this title. But then again, maybe that was the point. Fundamentally, people don’t change.

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Jack Frost Volume 3

Noh-A watches in fear as Omu strikes down Maru, the last offspring of the Unicorn. With the last obstacle removed and Jack fighting elsewhere in the forest, Omu seizes the Antler of the Unicorn. In an effort to snatch Noh-A’s immortality for himself, Omu plunges the antler deep into her chest. But as the sharp horn pierces her heart, Noh-A is greeted not by Death, but by life. Her real life–the life she had before she found herself in Amityville. Though she has longed to uncover the mystery of her forgotten past, nothing could have prepared Noh-A for what she sees…

By JinHo Ko
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

In a reverse of the first volume, there is more plot and less decapitation in this latest volume of Jack Frost. Noh-A finally learns the truth of her past. There are also glimpses shown of Jack’s inner turmoil. Is he unable or unwilling to go to his rest? Then it’s back to mindless destruction as the South District renews its attack on the North.

This volume picks up a battle left off in the last volume. During it, the purpose of the mirror image, or at least one of them, it is implied that there may be more, is revealed. But Omu thought would happen with his victory, doesn’t so much. Instead Noh-A’s power starts to awaken, releasing her past memories. She was followed by death since she was a child. Everyone around her, her family, friends, and even animals that she just interacts with end up dying. And just as an aside, why do cats always get the gruesome, on-screen deaths while dogs get the more merciful off-screen ones? Does this mean manga artists don’t like cats or that they do? Either way, I’d really prefer not see either. Anyway, Noh-A’s first awakening, again it’s implied there will be more, restores balance between Amityville and the real world. This disaster is averted.

Jack is in his own battle with Ji Hoon, the former wearer of Jack’s coat, which is made of the Devil Thread, and is what gives Jack so much of his power. During the battle Jack meets the Tailor of the Devil Thread, and seems so impressed by Jacks’ blood lust that he gives Jack a power up so he can end the battle with Ji Hoon. During the encounter it’s implied by the Tailor that it’s Jack’s blood lust that keeps him from resting, though after three volumes there is no indication where that blood lust comes from. I find the lack of motive bothersome. If there’s no reason, then Jack becomes a very dull character.

With the resolution of Noh-A’s awakening, the story moves on to introduce a new enemy from the South District. Siegfried is a computer genius. He attacks through others, and takes over Jin, who appears to be an android. Jin and Siegfried have a history. Jin left the South District and joined the North in order to kill him. Siegfried wants to kill Helmina, but then, who in Amityville’s other districts doesn’t? The volume ends with a cliffhanger and more mindless destruction to the North District.

I was hoping for an improvement with this volume, but unfortunately was denied. The revelations made throughout don’t really explain anything. There are still far more questions than answers about Amityville and the Mirror Image, but unlike other titles, like from say Urasawa, there’s no incentive to keep reading to get there. You might be curious about these things, but there’s no burning need to know. Maybe because the characters are average. There’s still nothing interesting about them, even after the glimpses at Noh-A and Jack’s past. There is still plenty of fanservice with Noh-A and Helima though. Even in her dying moments in the real word, Noh-A can’t get any dignity.

After two volumes, nothing has changed or improved in Jack Frost. It’s still a barely average title with no discernible direction. The fighting is still just for the sake of fighting and give the manga creator a chance to draw some exciting action. The potential that the story may have had is getting washed away in all the fighting.

Pirating Dragon Balls

Over the last year, One Piece has been burning up the book charts in Japan. Every succeeding volume has not only out sold the previous, they have been breaking sales records, and hitting print runs in millions for the first edition. This is pretty amazing for any book series, but it’s even more amazing since One Piece is a manga written for teenage boys. This means more than just the kids are buying these books. A recent discussion of shonen manga brought up influences, and of course, Dragon Ball was mentioned. First published in 1984, most of the creators working today would have read it, if not been influenced by it. Eiichiro Oda and Masashi Kishimoto have stated that their popular titles, One Piece and Naruto were inspired by Dragon Ball’s protagonist, Son Goku, as well as series structure. So why is One Piece selling so much more than Naruto now?

I think the key to One Piece‘s success can be found in the way Eiichiro Oda utilized his inspiration from Dragon Ball to create a series that similar in feel, but still very much stands on its own. First, look at the protagonists in both titles. Son Goku of Dragon Ball is portrayed as a nice guy, not too bright, but knows right from wrong and isn’t afraid to fight for it. He has a small group of close friends that he will fight to protect, and has a way of making friends of enemies. One Piece‘s Luffy has many of these same traits. He’s the same kind of happy, go lucky guy, and you certainly wouldn’t call him smart. He spends half of the “Water Seven” arc with Usopp in an obvious disguise, and never realizes it is him. He has a definite sense of right and wrong, and would gladly die fighting to save those he considers his friend.

But Luffy is no clone of Goku. Goku has a kind of cluelessness that borders on innocence. It’s a trait that makes him cute. Luffy is just dense. Nothing he does is cute. He’s much more about the comedy, especially the frustration he caused his shipmates. Goku was all about the fight. It was about the only thing he could do really well. When he got serious, it was always about the fight. He didn’t have a lot of emotional range. Goku was either confused or angry. Luffy has a much wider emotional range. He cries when he’s happy and/or sad. He fights with his own crew, though more often than not they support him in the end. It’s a range better suited for the longer adventure story that One Piece is, compared to the more comedy-centric story Dragon Ball was.

The most important trait that both Goku and Luffy share, and that you don’t see in some of the other shonen protagonists such as Naruto or Ichigo of Bleach is that they never sink into self-doubt. No matter how tough things get, or how big the enemy is, both Goku and Luffy would face that enemy head-on and keep fighting until they won. And even if they would lose, it would only be temporary, as they work and train to become stronger and get past that defeat. If you look at Naruto and Ichigo, they get weighed down by their self-doubt, becoming very emo. Now, this might make them more popular among female fans, who seem to like a character the more emo they are, but it ends up hurting the story. This might be fine in shojo stories, where the conflicts tend to be more internal than external. But in an action story, it slows things down, as parts or even whole chapters get become about the protagonist’s internal conflict. They end up going in circles, much like their fights and never really moving forward. They might get stronger as per the Shonen fighting formula, but their characters get stuck in a rut emotionally, and that gets real tiring real fast.

What I really love about both Goku and Luffy is that they never lose sight of what’s important. They know who they are and are confident in the decisions they make, for good or for ill. They don’t try to hide their feelings from their friends, and they don’t try to do everything by themselves. They may be the first in a fight because of their diving into things head first, but there is never any doubt that their friends will come to support them. They are always moving forward, taking on the next big bad, and not constantly looking over their shoulder and worrying about the past.

In the end, while One Piece does owe a lot to Dragon Ball, it’s Oda’s strong story and characters that really carry the title. Seven years after the story was supposed to end (Oda envisioned it as a 5 year story), One Piece is not only going on strong, it just keeps getting stronger. He can do emotional and poignant scenes with the characters without having them dwell on their dark and difficult pasts. A meeting with Luffy means finding a path for going forward, and with so many dark and stagnant stories out there, it’s refreshing to have one that keeps things positive. That’s what Goku always did, and that’s what Luffy does now.