All posts by Brian Henderson

Brian’s Spot: Broken Blade Volume 1


Broken Blade Volume 1
By Yunosuke Yoshinaga
Publisher: CMX/Flex Comics
Rating: T+ (Older Teens)
Price: $9.99
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1882-9
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Rygart Arrow is a man with a problem.  He’s one of the tiny minority, perhaps one in a million, who cannot charge the quartz crystals that power all of the machines in his world.  He cannot drive vehicles, he cannot use machinery, he’s what is known as an “unsorcerer”.  However, he is well educated and old college friends with the King and Queen of Krisna, who are facing an incursion from their neighboring nation of Athens.  When they learn that the Athen army is led by Zess, the final part of their college foursome and he’s marching on their borders, they call on Rygart in their time of need.  Can he figure out how to operate the Under-Golem, an ancient magic-less machine in time to save his friends?

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Brian’s Spot: Gimmick Volume 3

Gimmick! Volume 3
By: Youzaburou Kanari & Kuroko Yabuguchi
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Action
Age Rating: T+ (Older Teens)
Price: $9.99
ISBN: 1-4215-1780-9
Rating: ★★★★☆

Gimmick! is the story of Kohei Nagase, an up-and-coming young makeup and special effects artist who loves his work and is capable of amazingly intricate work.  If you ever saw the movie F/X, starring Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy, you get the idea.  If you didn’t see it, go out, rent the movie and watch it right now.  Go.  I’ll wait.

This volume finishes the “Over the Rainbow” story started in the last volume, plus most of a second story, “TB Confidential” and a one-shot.  There aren’t any spectacular reveals in “Over the Rainbow”, it’s obvious it was simply room that prevented it from being printed in the previous volume and it’s a bit disappointing to have waited a couple of months for what is essentially wrap-up.  At least this time, “TB Confidential” ended on a cliffhanger, but I can’t help wondering why they didn’t just put the complete story into this volume and move the one-shot elsewhere?

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Brian’s Spot: Gimmick Volume 2


Gimmick! Volume 2
ByYouzaburou Kanari & Kuroko Yabuguchi
Publsiher: Viz Media
Genre: Action
Rating: T+ (Older Teens)
RRP: $9.99
ISBN: 1-4215-1779-5
Rating: ★★★★☆

Volume 2 opens with the continuation of the Alien Panic storyline, Kohei and his partner Kannazuki are hot on the trail of the criminals who tricked him into constructing a complex alien animatronic creature in the last issue.  Now they’re using the prop as a diversion while they commit crimes and Kohei is none to happy about it.  What’s worse, the criminals have framed Kohei for their crimes!  Next, in The Mask of Del Fuego one-shot, Kohei helps a famous actor disguise himself from a stalker, only to find that she’s not the only one out to get him.  Finally, in the beginning chapters of Over the Rainbow, a young woman named Mone is convinced that Kohei killed her father.  He has to find the truth and discovers it’s closer than he thought.

Honestly, all I can say is if you liked the first volume, you’ll enjoy this one as well, it’s more of the same entertaining stories.  Kohei comes up with an endless array of nifty gadgets and gizmos, most of them pretty over-the-top, to save his never-ending list of clients.  I’ll have to admit, however, that the “oh no, the police are after me” started to run very thin as time wore on in Alien Panic.  Also, I have to wonder where Kohei gets the time to create some of these masterful appliances, does he always wear a blood squib chestpiece, just on the off-chance he might get shot?  Some stories are a bit long on the “ooh, ah” factor, a little short on the logic.

That’s not to say these aren’t fun, light-hearted manga, the character of Kohei is wonderful, Kannazuki is fun to read about, and seeing how they get out of the various jams is always interesting, so long as you don’t think about it too hard.  Just accept that whatever happens, happens, don’t wonder why, don’t try to figure out how, it just does.  If you can do that, you’ll have a good time and blow some time chuckling.

Review: Zombie Powder Volume 4


Zombie Powder Volume 4
By: Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media/Shonen Jump Manga
Genre: Action
Ratng: T+ (Older Teen)
Price: $7.99
ISBN: 1-4215-1122-3
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Wolfina fights a solo battle for her brother’s life as Emilio, his body fused to a locomotive racing across the desert, faces a fate worse than death.  Luckily, Gamma and C.T. Smith manage to stop the train just before it plows into Alcantara and we get a happy ending and an obvious way for the story to continue…

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Review: Zombie Powder Volume 3

Zombie Powder Volume 3
By: Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media/Shonen Jump Manga
Genre: Action
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Price: $7.99
ISBN: 1-4215-1121-5
Rating: ★★★½☆

We open with Gamma Akutabi, Elwood, C.T. Smith and Wolfina Lalla Getto hot on the heels of circus-master Balmunk who has kidnapped Wolfina’s comatose brother Emilio, hoping to recover the mysterious Ring of the Dead which has been fused inside of his body.

As they face off against Balmunk, he calls upon his minions to fight against them, aiming to fight a personal battle against Gamma, with whom he apparently has a mysterious past.  Who was Gamma and what link does he have with Balmunk?  Can they overcome the deadliest circus performers of them all?  And how can Gamma save Emilio and recover the Ring of the Dead at the same time?

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Review: Phantom Volume 5

Phantom Volume 5
By Ki-Hoon Lee/Seung-Yup Cho
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: 13+
Genre: Action/Mecha
Price: $9.99
ISBN: 9-781598-167740

Rating: ★★★★½

K and his team, after their all-out battle against Iron, are left battered and bloody.  Dison calls in the Solbalow, Athena’s flying aircraft carrier to evacuate the crew when they’re suddenly under attack by Iron forces.  They barely manage to escape to their base in Guam.  Once he awakens, K is told where his power came from, apparently the Meteor Shower wasn’t actually a meteor shower, it was a shower of alien nano-symbiotes that invade the human body and grow in the brain.  Those who cannot handle their symbiote die, the others can develop special powers, like K’s ability to imitate or react to anyone else’s battle tactics.  Dison and Eaimi, on the other hand, are products of Iron’s Ice Project, altered human beings just like the female cyborg found by Eric.

We jump ahead one year and the tide has turned against Iron.  Repeated attacks by Athena and Rynus Corporation have cost them not only land but public opinion but Iron has a few tricks up it’s sleeve.  First, the return of Colonel Kas Stein, now a cyborg in his own right and leader of a trio of psychic girl pilots who can perfectly interact with his new and most powerful TC, the Diablo.  Second, it’s ruthlessness as it nukes Rynus, reducing it’s forces to near zero.

But Athena hasn’t been sitting on their laurels for the past year either, they have a new secret weapon, the Phantom, commanded by a much more powerful and confident K, that heads out to save the day from certain doom.

In the end, I suppose I am relatively satisfied with their explanations for the psychic powers.  I don’t really like them, but it’s a lot better than saying “there are just magical pixies running around giving people power” or something ridiculous like that.  The aliens in the brain, while a bit hackneyed, is at least remotely plausible, I suppose.  Still, I think the story would have been better off without it, it lowers my overall score a bit.

Back in the review for Volume 2, I mentioned the harem manga angle and to be honest, I don’t know why they brought it up at all, it’s never referenced again.  None of K’s admirers ever mention being attracted to him at all, even Sara, who came off as very jealous, simply goes back to being a mechanic and in the end, TC pilot.  The whole subplot with Yura seems tacked on as well, she wakes up at the end of Volume 5, suddenly healed and goes off to look for K.  The end.  It’s just not convincing at all.  Lily and her mother?  Well Lily shows up once more in the story as a tagalong character  but her mother is nowhere to be seen.  The whole romance angle is completely dropped and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand, I detest harem stories, but on the other, since they brought it up in the first place, they should have gone somewhere with it.

Overall, Phantom is an interesting, albeit very cliche mecha story.  It’s got plenty of action, plenty of drama, lots of giant robots smacking each other, but none of it is very original.  If you’ve read a lot of mecha manga or seen a lot of mecha anime, you won’t come away from Phantom with anything new, but for the time you’re reading it, it’s a fun ride with good characters and a lot of twists and turns along the way.

Review: Zombie Powder Volume 2

Zombie Powder Volume 2
By Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media; Shonen Jump Advanced
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Genre: Action
Price: $7.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

We meet Wolfina Lalla Getto, a self-described “journalist of justice” who has been responsible for toppling various criminal organizations in her illustrious career.  She’s got a peculiar choice of weapons, a camera tripod, with which she is very effective.  However, when Gamma Akutabi rescues her from a camera-shoot gone wrong, he gets the idea that she might know where one of the Rings of the Dead might be, especially when he finds out that her younger brother Emilio lies in a coma, the sure sign, he thinks, of their knowlege of the rings.  Supposedly, the Rings of the Dead can turn innocent victims into mindless vegetables by feeding off their life force.

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Review: Zombie Powder Volume 1

Zombie Powder Volume 1
By Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
RRP: $7.99

Rating: ★★★★½

Somewhere in the desert are the 12 Rings of the Dead.  Anyone who can find all 12 can have the mysterious Zombie Powder, a substance that can raise the dead or give eternal life.  Those who seek the rings are called Powder Hunters.  One of these hunters is named Gamma Akutabi, a man with a metal hand, a 6-foot chainsaw and a price on his head.  He rolls into Blue Note seeking information on the rings when he runs into Elwood, a young down-on-his-luck pickpocket who is desperately trying to earn money to cure his sister’s heart condition.  Together, they set out to find the mysterious Rings of the Dead that can either give new life to Elwood’s sister, or make Gamma absolutely invincible.

This is the first manga series by the man that would later go on to give us Bleach, so you pretty much know what you’re in for.  He’s very clear about it at the beginning of the manga when he says “Mainly it’s all battles.  It’s completely OK to just read through it without thinking about anything.”  That’s a decent description, at least in part, but it’s not just battles, there’s a lot of great humor involved as well.  As soon as Gamma gets off the train in Blue Note, everyone comments at the fancy, well-dressed man… who gets his coat stuck in the door and gets dragged behind the train.  The story is no great shakes, it’s your generic quest story that’s been done to death in shonen stories.  Find the 12 Rings.  Find the Dragonballs.  You get the drift.  What makes it fun is all the comedy, especially the physical comedy, done to Gamma.  In their first meeting, Elwood slams Gamma’s head into the bar as he picks his pocket.  When Gamma stands up, there’s a fork stuck in his forehead that apparently, he doesn’t notice right away, although everyone else does.  That kind of sets the tone throughout the series.

If you’re looking for something that’s not too taxing mentally, but is still a fun roller coaster ride, give Zombie Powder a shot.  The story does get more interesting as you go on, but it’s the visual humor that really makes the ride worthwhile.

Brian’s Spot: Vampire Hunter D Volume 1

In 1985, there came Vampire Hunter D, an orginal video animation, adapted from a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, about a world overrun by vampires and the vampire hunters who sought to bring them under control. It became a classic, not just because it is one of the best animated vampire movies around, but because of the compelling story, interesting visual style and wonderful characters.

Now, Saiko Takaki is bringing Hideyuki Kikuchi’s novels to the printed page. To date, there have been 17 novels featuring D and the world of the far, dark future and hopefully, all of them will be manga-ized.

Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D Manga Volume 1
Adapted & Illustrated by Saiko Takaki
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: Young Adult 16+
Genre: Horror
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★★

In the far future of 12,090 A.D., mankind has ruined the planet. Through nuclear attacks and pollution, mutants have arisen, including the return of supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves. It is the vampires, incredibly, that actually save mankind and return order to the world where they reign as nobles for more than 5000 years. However, the nobles have largely become corrupt and decadent over the years, living in luxury and viewing the humans as little more than cattle.

Into this world comes D, half-human, half-vampire with a score to settle with the nobles. He is hired by Doris Lang, a beautiful farmer who has caught the eye, and the fangs, of the local ruling noble, Count Magnus Lee. He seeks to turn her and marry her, much to the dismay of his vampiric daughter Lamica. Can D save Doris from the final bite of Magnus Lee, the claws of the jealous Lamica and the swords of the townspeople who fear Doris bringing the wrath of the vampires down upon them all?

The first volume is basically a retelling of the 1985 movie with a few new characters and a few alterations. If you’re familiar with the original movie, this is going to seem very familiar, but that doesn’t make the manga bad. Far from it in fact, we get to see a lot of elements that either didn’t make it into the movie or were altered for the movie. The art style is very similar to that in the film which makes it easy for those who have seen it to feel at home in the vampire world.

I did say that there are some elements that changed and one of those is the inclusion of a lot more nudity and suggestive dialogue. When Doris hires D in the manga, her payment to him includes his use of her body and she shows it off several times in the first volume. While I shouldn’t have to point out that this is for an older audience and has plenty of blood and body parts flying, anyone who is seriously opposed to nudity may want to think twice.

If the movie was something you enjoyed, this manga is right up your alley. It captures the feel of the movie perfectly, so much so that I kept thinking about the Japanese voice actors as I read their lines. This is a manga for fans of the horror, fantasy and action genres who are looking for something a little different than the standard fare. Pick up the first volume, I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed.

Brian's Spot: Phantom Volume 3

Phanto Volume 3Phantom Volume 3
By Ki-Hoon Lee/Seung-Yup Cho
Publisher: Tokyopop
Genre: Action
Rating 13+
RRP: $9.99

Rating: ★★★★½
Reviewed by Brian Henderson

After K activates the untested Cerebus with the newly installed Aurora system, he takes on Kas Stein, the evil corporate warrior who has a mysterious past with Matilda the drill instructor in the skimpy outfit. We find that AIs like Cerebus aren’t very useful for fighting against experienced TC pilots, except this time when K and his mech sync perfectly and take out Kas at the last second. Everyone gets picked up just before the base self-destructs; K and Matilda are injured but will recover, but Kas, dragged out of his mangled TC, has lost his arm and likely his sanity.

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Brian’s Spot: Phantom Volume 2

Phantom Volume 2Phantom Volume 2
By Ki-Hoon Lee/Seung-Yup Cho
Publisher: Tokyopop
Rating: 13+
Genre: Action/Mecha
RRP: $9.99

Rating: ★★★★½

Reviewed by Brian Henderson

K agrees to work for the anti-corporation organization Athena, mostly because they promise to help his girlfriend recover if he does. He goes off to their training facility in the middle of the desert to prepare to fight against the mega-corporations, still not quite convinced that the people he’s fighting with aren’t just as much terrorists as those they fight against. Unfortunately, the mega-corps discover their secret base and launch an all-out attack to cut off the head of the serpent. K and his fellow trainees are left to defend the base and allow the civilians to escape and finally, K is reunited with Cerebus, the super TC that no one but him can operate.

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Brian’s Spot: Project D.O.A. Volume 1

Project D.O.A. Volume 1Project D.O.A. Volume 1
By Jeffrey Nodelman & Wagner Fukuhara
Publisher: Tokyopop
Genre: Action
Rating: 13+
RRP: $9.99

Rating: ★★★★½

Reviewed by Brian Henderson

I’ll do this review, even though I don’t really consider Project D.O.A. to be a manga. To me, and some may disagree, it needs to be written and published initially in Japan in order to be a manga. Graphic novels that come from Korea or China or France or the United States, while they may be generally modeled after the manga artform, are not manga, any more than animation that comes from anywhere but Japan is not anime.

That said though, Project D.O.A. is from one of the minds that brought you the wonderful Cartoon Network show Venture Bros.and in a lot of ways has that kind of vibe. In other ways, it strikes me as similar in feel to Buckaroo Banzai and maybe a little bit like Crusher Joe although officially, Jeff Nodelman attributes his inspirations to films like Indiana Jones, Flash Gordon and the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. In any case, it’s a not-quite-serious romp around the world, adventure-style.

Meet Dr. Dylan Oliver (also the name of Jeff Nodelman’s real life son) and his team of scientists and adventurers. Like Buckaroo Banzai, they seem to be doing science because it’s fun, not necessarily because it’s profitable. Unlike BB however, they’re not fabulously wealthy where they can just do whatever they want with no thought of the consequences, there’s a lot of worrying about the money. Luckily, Dr. Oliver always has a plan, some cockamamie scheme for finding lost treasure in some far-off locale that will give them enough cash for their short-term scientific schemes.

As the book opens, an experiment goes horribly awry and one of his team, Lilly, loses her life when she’s trapped in the same room as an unshielded nuclear reactor. Wracked with guilt, Dr. Oliver thinks that maybe he can find a way to bring her back to life but his plan will be expensive and dangerous and the only way he can figure to fund his little experiment is to drag the whole team around the world in search of a lost temple hidden inside an active volcano on a deserted island. Of course, there are Nazis involved. Why does it always have to be Nazis? Read the volume and find out.

Project D.O.A. really is a sort of fun, mindless romp through campy adventure-film tropes but it’s clear that Nodelman not only recognizes them as tropes, but he tips them on their heads often enough that what happens is unexpected. In fact, a lot of the fun is trying to figure out where the various ideas, from the giant-gorilla-filled temple to the Amazonian warriors, come from. It’s not all that deep, it won’t keep you in suspense, it certainly won’t win awards for realistic artwork, but it all comes together into something that’s fun to read and interesting enough to hold your interest and make you look forward to the next volume. I recommend it.