Category Archives: Manga Movable Feast

Why I Don’t Read BL – Manga Movable Feast

I’ve never understood the whole Boys Love phenomenon. I’m not a shipper, so I don’t see the appeal of putting two characters together, let allow two characters of the same-sex. But to be honest, I’ve never read any BL either. I’m not someone who goes out of their comfort zone easily, and I was going to skip this month’s Manga Movable Feast. But then I remembered I had one volume of BL I had received as a review copy back from when Aurora was still around. I had kept it to try, and then it got buried in a box of half read/half unread manga. So I pulled it and decided to read it.

Two of HeartsTwo of Hearts is by Kano Miyamoto. It is one volume long and comes from Aurora’s Deux imprint. It is about Haruya Ito, a writer for an arts magazine who writes articles month to month, but doesn’t seem to have any ambition beyond that. One day, he meets a troubled teenager, Maki Hidaka on the beach near his home. Maki has issues; he’s a germaphobe, OCD about washing his hands, hates to be touched and is malnourished as his mother is an alcoholic and doesn’t provide meals or enough money for Maki to get his own. Haruya becomes interested in Maki, both professionally and personally. He has become a sort of muse for Haruya and he starts working on a novel. His partner and editor, Yasigawa, doesn’t care for the attention Haruya gives Maki which leads to some melodrama, but it’s too late. Haruya has chosen Maki, which Yasigawa finally accepts. The story ends happily with Maki turning his life around, and Haruya being able to write again.

At its most basic level, this is the story of two lost and broken people finding and healing each other. The gender of the characters aren’t really important. It would work just as well with a man and woman, or two women, because the basic relationships are the same. I didn’t have a problem with the story. It’s actually a kind of story I enjoy. But I can’t say I enjoyed this one. The problem for me was the characters. I really couldn’t connect with any of them. It’s not that they were badly written. On the contrary, the characters were portrayed very realistically. However, they felt very dull to me. For me to really enjoy a story, I like to feel some kind of connection to at least one character, but I really felt nothing for any of them. They were exactly as they appeared on the page; flat characters that didn’t speak to me. If they looked more in the  story as they did on the cover, I might have liked it more.

Now, this could just be this individual story. Maybe this one wasn’t the one for me. Maybe it didn’t have the right hook. But I have to be honest, I just don’t get it. I don’t see what’s so great about putting two guys together in bed. The descriptions on some many of the BL books I see usually has one character dominating and forcing himself on the other. This kind of thing is usually decried when it’s a heterosexual couple. What makes it better when it’s a homosexual couple?

I can now truthfully say I’ve tried BL, but it just isn’t my bag. I’m going to stick to my shojo and josei manga for my relationship drama. The closest I think I will ever get to BL is shonen-ai, with stories like Godchild by Kaori Yuki, where the relationship is implied and can be read either as BL, or bromance by the reader. I’m happier that way.

If you want to take home this manga, leave a comment on the post and I will pick one at random to win it. MUST BE 18 OR OLDER.



Manga Dome Podcast Episode 11: Skip Beat Volume 1-11

Manga Dome header

This week I check out some news stories, see what’s new at and review the first 11 volumes of Skip Beat for this month’s Manga Movable Feast!

Continue reading Manga Dome Podcast Episode 11: Skip Beat Volume 1-11

Grand Guignol Orchestra Vol 1-5: Manga Movable Feast

In a world infected with a deadly virus that turns its victims into zombie-like dolls call Guignols, a traveling band of musicians, known as the Grand Orchestra, wander the world, and bringing music to the uninfected. For the right price they will perform any song and maybe even a miracle. Led by Lucille, the beautiful singer, the Orchestra searches for the legendary Black Oratorio, which is said to hold the answer to ending the Guignol Virus.

GrandGuignolOrchestra_GN01_coverBy Kaori Yuki
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror/Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Grand Guignol Orchestra is latest Kaori Yuki title to be released in English. It is a Gothic horror,  that puts a different twist on the zombie phenomena. I’ve enjoyed Yuki’s work since I first read Godchild, and was looking forward to reading her take on zombies. I wasn’t disappointed. The interesting characters, mixture of music and zombies, and a story with lots of twists and turns all wrapped up in a fairy tale-like setting made this a fun read.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 2Right from the beginning I liked the characters. Lucille, the beautiful, gender-ambiguous leader of the Orchestra starts as rather capricious and a little sinister. But after seeing the “Divine Lightning” in action, a more serious and grim side to him is shown. His motives aren’t revealed at first, and a lot of doubt is cast on him as being good or trustworthy. But as the story progresses, the truth is revealed, and we see that not only Lucille but his sister were manipulated into their circumstances, but Lucille had the strength and courage to find a way out for them.

Lucille’s companions in the Orchestra, Kohaku and Gwindell also have their sinister sides. It is revealed at the beginning, that they are convicted criminals, and travel with Lucille in order to pay down their bail. Kohaku plays the violin, and loves his guns. He is also able to hide and infinite number of weapons on his person. Gwindell, the cellist, is the strong but silent type. He drives the hearse they travel in and carries a hedgehog with him, a memento of his daughter. Both of them claim to not like Lucille, that they are forced to be with them, but when push comes to shove, they do come to his aid. They backgrounds are revealed toward the end, and like Lucille, they are not as bad as they were made out to be.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 3The final member of the Orchestra is Eles/Celes. She is masquerading as her twin brother after her piano playing accidentally sends the surrounding guignols into a frenzy, infecting or killing the rest of the children in town, as well as several of the townspeople. At her father’s behest, she joins Lucille to find a reason to live as herself. She is the sane member of the Orchestra, trying to make sense of the insanity around her. She is also the one person all the members of the Orchestra care enough about to truly want to protect.

The story moves at a brisk pace, as there is only one story to introduce the characters before diving headlong into the plot. No chapter after the first is really a stand alone, as each revelation adds another piece to the puzzle that is finally put together in the final chapters. The twists the story takes, from who and what Lucille really is, to Gwindell’s past, to the final reveal of the true villain made for a great ride. I did like how Le Senat, who seemed to be the villains at the beginning, are slowly revealed to be more than they seemed, and even honorable enough to stop one of their own, and allowing Lucille to complete his mission. I also really liked how all the seeming supernatural elements, such as the Queen’s divine lightning, were explain scientifically. Sadly, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the world ended up that way, or that one man’s obsession could cause such a world-wide catastrophe.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 4Now, I’m not a big fan of blood and gore, so zombie stories don’t tend to be something I enjoy. This title is a definite exception. Yuki’s zombies are different from the usual rotting, meandering creatures with their flesh falling off. They are more like wooden dolls, with hardened skin and joints, and frozen expressions. I think having them like dolls is much more scary, since dolls are real things, and can be scary on their own in the right circumstances. The “clankity” sounds they make are really creepy. They aren’t completely mindless. Under certain circumstances they can regain their selves, making them less like monsters and more something to be pitied. Music is one of those circumstances.

Music is an important element in this series. The guignols respond to it for some reason, whether its Celes’ piano playing, Lucille’s voice or even a single tone, music can drive the guignols to attack, become themselves for a few moments, or break some control over them. Music is also the way the Queen controls her divine lightning and even some guignols. Ultimately, it is music, a song from the Black Oratorio that finally ends the terror of the guignols. And with the shadows of the original Queen and the King that created her gone as well, the series can reach a happy finale.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 5I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It wasn’t as dramatic or angsty as Yuki’s earlier titles such as Angel Sanctuary or Godchild. Considering what those protagonists had to go through, Lucille had it pretty easy. He still had a lot of difficult obstacles to get through, but he never gave up, no matter how hopeless the situation seemed. That is one of the things I love about Yuki’s protagonists. I was also really happy to see the series had a definitive happy ending, and we are not left to wonder what happened to the Orchestra. Though, Lucille’s face is left in shadow, so we don’t know what effect the destroying of the guignol virus had on him. But then, some things are best left unsolved.

I didn’t have any real issues with this series, other than it felt rushed. I would have liked a few more stories of the Orchestra helping other towns before plowing into the main plot. A little more of Lucille, Gwindell and Kohaku arguing and fighting guignols would have been nice, but not having doesn’t diminish the series any.

Grand Guignol Orchestra ended shy of half a volume, so one of Yuki’s short stories, Camelot Garden was used to fill it out. This is another story that mixes fantasy with science to good effect. It’s premise is similar to Grand Guignol Orchestra with a father determined to keep his daughter to himself though it uses the poem ‘Lady of Shalott’ by the English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson as it’s core. I really enjoy stories that do this, weaving the story and pictures around a poem or song.

I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It has the perfect balance of humor, drama, action, romance and a happy ending. It’s hard enough to get this in any series, let alone a Kaori Yuki manga. This series is rather atypical of most Yuki titles, so while I do recommend it for readers looking to get into her work, be warned that the warm and fuzzies from this series aren’t translated to a lot of her other works. Pick it up in print or in digital on

Manga Dome Podcast Episode 3: Manga Movable Feast

In honor of the Manga Movable Feast, this week I talk about the themes in Kaori Yuki’s manga. I also take a look at the manga nominated for the Eisners this year, and the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic manga that was recently announced in Japan. Please enjoy!

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Show Notes:

Eisner nominations
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic manga
Kaori Yuki Manga

Music courtesy of Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech

A Bride’s Story Volume 3-4: Manga Movable Feast

Researcher Mr. Smith has left the Eihon family and is on his way to Ankara. As he awaits his guide in a village, he meets the widow Talas, but his honorable intentions toward her are not seen that way by her uncle who has his own plans for her, and lands the Englishman in jail. Rescued by some familiar faces, his journey takes him through a fishing village along the Aral Sea, where a pair of twins are plotting to land themselves some rich, healthy brothers as husbands.

Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Historical/Slice of Life
Price: $16.99
ISBN: 978-0-316-21034-8/978-0-316-23203-6
Rating: ★★★★☆

These two volumes of A Bride’s Story leaves Amir, Karluk and the Eihon family behind, and follows Mr. Smith as he travels across the desert on his way to Ankara, where a colleague waits for him with an item he’s been searching for. We meet two different kinds of brides in these volumes, the five-time widowed Talas and the over-eager twins Laila and Leily. While I still enjoyed these volumes, the new characters didn’t grow on my as much as the Eihons did in the first two volumes.

Mr. Smith gets the spotlight in volume 3. After arriving in the village where he is to meet his guide, he meets a young woman, Talas. She offers to put him up until his guide arrives. She and her mother-in-law have been alone for a while, after the death of five sons and the father. Talas thinks having Mr. Smith stay will make her mother happy. I liked Talas. She was quiet and unassuming; the  opposite of Amir in a lot of ways. She’s had a hard life, going through so many husbands so quickly without ever producing an heir, but she bears it all with a quiet strength. Her mother is much the same, having lost 5 sons and her own husband, she continues on alone, thinking only of Talas’ happiness.

Mr. Smith becomes caught in the middle of this, as the mother tries to get him to take her as his bride. It’s interesting to see him struggle with what to do. He doesn’t have a wide emotional range, and often has a bewildered look on his face, except when he has learned some new cultural aspect. When he finally comes to a decision, the circumstances change on him. The change shows how different betrothal and marriage is treated between Europeans and the Western Asians, and the importance of a father in a woman’s life. Even when it is explained to him, he doesn’t seem to fully get it. He doesn’t show any emotion about it until he is alone, and a single act shows his disappointment.

Brides story 4In volume 4 we don’t see much of Mr. Smith, as his arrival in the seaside town causes a stir when his cover story of being a doctor has him overwhelmed with patients from all over the area. This leaves the story open for trouble-making twins Laila and Leily. The two girls are determined to get husbands, and spent most of the volume plotting ways to get them. I really didn’t care much for the twins. They bordered on obnoxious for me. But their story gave an excuse to concentrate on the women’s side again. Laila and Leily were recounted with stories from the older women of how they found their husbands and the tricks they used to land them. And when husbands are found for the girls, their mother has to give them whirlwind lessons in being proper wives, teaching them cooking, cleaning and sewing.

I still enjoyed this series. The cultural aspects shown in every volume are fascinating. In these two volumes we see the importance of being generous and hospitable, as an impromptu meal becomes an event to be shared with. We also get a glimpse on being a groom, as Mr. Smith’s guide, Ali, explains why he took the job even though it was dangerous. He wants to take a bride, but has to come up with the betrothal money himself since his family is poor. So far, we have only been seeing that the bride’s family has to do, and haven’t heard much about what the groom must do as well. Information on the wedding preparations start to get more in-depth as Laila and Leily’s wedding approaches which of course, will delay Mr. Smith who will want to stay and see an actual wedding.

While my enthusiasm cooled a little over these volumes, volume 4 mostly, I still love it. The cultural details that Mori is able to present in the story without it feeling like a lesson is great. This series could easily be used as a teaching aid for the time period. And of course her meticulous art continues to delight. The different costumes she used for the different regions are just beautiful. I’ll continue to give this series my highest recommendation, because, personal feelings or no, this is still one of the best series you will ever read.

Emma Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined. But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions.

Emma 1By Kaoru Mori
Publsiher: CMX (OOP)
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Historical/Drama
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1132-5
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

I didn’t expect to like Emma. I have a split track record with Kaoru Mori’s work. I loved A Bride’s Story, but wasn’t impressed with her short story collection Say Something and Anything, especially the maid stories. But as I started reading, I couldn’t help being enchanted by the charming characters she populates the series with, and sets up so simple an obstacle, but it still seems just as insurmountable.

Emma starts with the unceremonious meeting of Emma and William, the former student of Kelly Stownar, who was William’s governess, and is Emma’s employer. William is immediately smitten with Emma, which Kelly picks up on, while Emma seems not to notice. But William is not the first or only man to be drawn to her, as the pile of love letters she receives shows. Even Prince Hakim, William’s friend from India is taken by her charms at first glance. This first volume introduces these main players, and gives a little insight into who they are.

I absolutely loved every character in this volume. There isn’t a single one that I found annoying or dislikable. William is wonderfully nervous around Kelly, and a little over-excitable when he’s around Emma. Emma herself comes off rather innocent, or naive. While she is able to turn down most of her would-be suitors, William elicits a blush from her. I loved Kelly, who seemed to take great joy in making William feel uncomfortable with her memories of his childhood, but didn’t discourage his interest in Emma. Hakim brought a lot of comedy, with his elephants marching through London, or his motorcar whizzing around the inside William’s house. I also loved his Indian women attendants. Their expressions never change, whether they are draped over Hakim or driving the motorcar, they are always straight-faced, almost bored-looking.

The introduction of William’s father, Mr. Smith, also introduces the main conflict of the story. In order for William and Emma to be together, they must not only overcome class distinctions, but also the attitudes of the people around them. Kelly doesn’t have a problem with Emma marrying up obviously. She seems to be encouraging their relationship. It’s William’s father, and his other family and friends that will be the biggest obstacle to their budding relationship. Mr. Smith makes his feelings very clear at the end of the volume about the relationships between classes, describing them like people from two different countries who just happen to speak the same language.

Because of Karou Mori’s obsession with Victorian England, this title is filled with historical details. From the fireplaces and wallpaper in the homes to the clothing of both the men and women, reading Emma is like watching a BBC historical drama. I’ve never been a fan of the Victorian era, but I love Mori’s depiction of it. The men in their suits and hats and the women with their hair done up and their long dresses and ball gowns, I love the look of them all. But most important was the attitudes and beliefs of the people at them. Mori really gets these, from the working class grocer who doesn’t see the worth in his daughter going to school and learning when she will just get married, to Mr. Smith’s constant harping on William about proper manners. Social etiquette was a big deal to the upper class, as they saw it as one of the things that separated themselves from the lower classes. Having good social graces was just as important as one’s family and blood line. Mori really seems to get this, and isn’t just using stereo types to portray the classes.

This first volume of Emma was an engrossing read that just makes me want to read more. I’m really glad this MMF gave me an excuse to read it. Of course, the problem with reading the first volume of a hard-to-find OOP series is that if you turn out enjoying it, that means finding  the rest of the series will be like pulling teeth. The volumes will tend to be difficult to find or worse, very expense. An incomplete set of the series just recently sold on eBay for $135.00! This is probably the only bad thing about the entire volume that I could find. And with Jmanga ending their service, the chances of seeing this series in print again is very unlikely. Unless Yen Press, who has published two of Mori’s other titles, sees some worth in. Though Yen Press has done some license rescues lately, I’m not holding breath for this one, which is really a shame.

A Bride’s Story Volume 1-2: Manga Movable Feast

Along the nineteenth-century Silk Road, Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe, is betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive family, and her birth family, who now wish to see her wed to another, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.

BRIDE_1By Kaoru Mori
Publsiher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Historical/Slice of Life
ISBN: 978-0-316-18099-3/978-0-316-19446-4
Price: $16.99/ea
Rating: ★★★★★

I remember when this title was first announced and how excited people were to get a new Karou Mori title. Having not read anything by her at the time, I didn’t see what the excitement was about. But after hearing some discussion of the title, I decided to check out the first volume. I absolutely loved it, and had to buy volumes 2 and 3 immediately afterward. The charming characters and immersion into 19th century Central Asia was a delight to read.

These volumes start by introducing Amir and her young husband, Karluk Eihon. They first meet on their wedding day, and while both seem surprised at seeing the other, both also accept each other. Many of the chapters show their everyday life, with Amir showing Karluk’s family, now her family, her way of doing things, while she learns theirs. There are also stories about other members of the Eihon family, and the Eihon’s nomadic relatives. Also introduced almost immediately is the stirring trouble with Amir’s birth family, who have decided they need her back since her younger sister, who was married off to another tribe, died and they will lose the grazing land they got in the deal. This leads to an armed conflict between the two families, as well as some between Amir and Karluk.

I absolutely loved Amir and Karluk from their first introduction. I adore Amir and her enthusiastic and earnest personality. She can be impulsive, such as when she jumps up to hunt rabbits immediately when she learns the Eihon family hasn’t had rabbit stew before. When given a gift, she feels the need to return the favor and proceeds to shoot down a bird to exchange. She is dedicated to Karluk and treats him like an equal and not a child. Karluk in turn tries to be a husband to her, but still has some problems with being intimate with her. When they are sleeping together in the Yurat while visiting Karluk’s Uncle, he feels more like a child with his mother than man and wife. He proves himself though when he defends Amir from her own father when the Halgal family try to take Amir back by force. He takes his duties as husband seriously, trying to protect her from danger. They make a really cute couple.

The supporting characters are great too. Seleke, Karluk’s older sister, tries to be strick with her four children, but ends up doting more. Their parents are kind and supportive. I loved Balkirsh, the grandmother and matriarch of the family. She doesn’t meddle in the affairs of other family members, but will step in when necessary. She diffused the confrontation between Amir’s brother and her grandson-in-law, and was able to get Amir to rest while Karluk was sick with a cold. She’s feisty, and doesn’t mince her words. And then there’s Mr. Smith, an Englishman living with the Eihons. He is an anthropologist, studying the life and culture of Western Asia. He is constantly asking questions about customs in the village, or for help with translating documents he has found. He is played a lot for comedy relief.

Bride's story 2Mr. Smith and to some extent Amir, is also used to show the culture and customs of the area. Amir, who has come from a semi-nomadic tribe, has a lot to learn about town living. One of the biggest is that the townspeople are much more modest. Amir is constantly causing a stir, such as when she misunderstands Mother and thinks she must clean her clothes and runs out in her underwear. Amir’s hunting skills fascinate the townsfolk, as she hunts rabbits from horseback and brings back deer. The children become fascinated by her bow, and soon she is teaching them how to use it. Through Mr. Smith, more general cultural elements are explained. The importance of embroidery and cloth for dowry is shown in detail, as is entertaining. The townsfolk try to compete to entertain the messenger who bring letters for Mr. Smith.

Because this is “A Bride’s Story”, a lot of focus is put on the women. There is the impression that women are seen as nothing more than property, especially when Amir’s family tries to reclaim her, and the Eihons counter that they have no claim. But it’s not like the women are treated poorly or without rights. Balkirsh commands a lot of respect, even from Amir’s brother when he first comes to reclaim Amir. And as is shown with Amir, they can be hunters and herders, and not limited to the household. I don’t see the arranged marriages as a way to control women, but as part of the complex social structure passed down through the generations. Compared to European women of the time, the women of western Asia had a lot more personal freedom.

The art is just exquisite. The detail that Mori puts into the clothes and rugs is amazing. The costumes are beautiful and varied, reflecting their different origins. It’s not just material that is so ornate. Wood carving and even the making of bread is shown to be decorated with beautiful designs, and their creators are shown to put great care into their craft. I loved the chapter with the carpenter, and the time he spends creating ornate doors and posts. I also love the wide-eyed expressions that both Amir and Karluk have. It makes Amir’s enthusiasm all that more infectious, and Karluk just looks cute, even when he’s trying to be heroic.

I can’t say enough good things about this series. I loved it from cover to cover, and it just gets better with every re-read. Amir’s story is funny, exciting, and touching. A Bride’s Story is one of the best series you will read, filled with great characters, fun slice of life moments and charming characters that you will never want to leave. It’s a great investment of both time and money.

21st Century Boys Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

War is over. The Friend is dead. Mankind no longer faces the threat of extinction. Peace has finally come to Tokyo…Or has it? The mystery still remains. Nobody knows who the Friend was and where he came from. The only clue is hidden deep within the memories–the memories of the hero Kenji. It is time to open Pandora’s Box and discover what is left at the bottom.

21st Century Boys 1By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
ISBN: 978-1421543260
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

21st Century Boys picks up right where 20th Century Boys volume 22 left off, even replaying scenes from the end of that volume. This volume is not a sequel, but a direct continuation of the story left unfinished in 20th Century Boys. The story turns to trying to discover the true identity of new Friend, and stopping the one last threat to mankind that Friend left behind.

After Friend and his super-duper virus is stopped by Otcho and one of Friend’s former followers, Tamura Masao, and the childhood friends are reunited, the fallout from Friend’s death begins. Japan is taken over by UN forces in an occupation that looks a lot like the one after World War II.  UN Forces want to know who Friend was, but despite Friend’s death declaration that Kenji knows, he really doesn’t. So Kenji volunteers to go into the virtual attraction to navigate his childhood and find his true identity. In the meantime, it is discovered that one more threat was left by Friend at the Expo, in the Tower of the Sun; an anti-proton bomb.

This volume sort of redeems the disappointment I felt at the end of 20th Century Boys, since it continues the story left unresolved in the last series. I really don’t see a reason to end 20th Century and continue it as 21st Century, since nothing is really different between the two. It has the same characters, doing the same things, and it ran in the same magazine in Japan. So what was the point? Anyway, the story returns to 1971 to an incident at Jijibaba’s that is seen in the previous series and is played out to it fullest in this volume. I’m not sure if it to be believed, since we don’t know exactly whose memory it is, and with Friend’s mental state, I find him an unreliable narrator. So, I’m not sure if it is a scene to be believed or not. I enjoyed Urasawa’s twists before, but after so many in the previous series, I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt anymore. He need to earn my respect back.

Detective Chono finally shows what he is made of. After being so weak in the last series, he steps up as a leader in the police department in the occupation and really grills Yamazaki, a man who was like an uncle to him, and who killed his beloved grandfather. I found Yamazaki’s reason for joining the Friends kind of sad and shallow. If he was really that much of a friend to Cho-san, he should have known the respect the man felt for him, and not fallen victim to the petty jealousy he ended up using as an excuse to follow Friend. Cho-san’s greatness is revealed in this volume as well, though, in a classic thriller move, we only see Yamazaki’s reaction to Cho-san’s revelation in his notebook about the “Friend Behind Friend.”

It was hinted at all through the previous series, but this volume also reveals some of the romantic feelings Kenji and Yujiki felt for each other, but could never admit. It started when they were children, after the incident with Yanbo and Mabo, where Yujiki started to see Kenji as her White Knight. Kenji obvious had feelings for her as he wanted to ask her out, and Yujiki tried to see Kenji after one of his concerts but got shut out by fans. It’s their familiarity with each other that seems to keep them from taking that step to admit their feelings. I really hope that happens finally. They really need to be happy and together.

Even though this called 21st Century Boys volume 1, it is really 20th Century Boys volume 23, but it really doesn’t feel like a penultimate volume. It feels more like the start of a new arc. But with only one volume, 8 chapters left, it can’t be. This series really needs to get a final wrap, and give every one an ending, happy or not. Though I would prefer a happy one if at all possible. Right now, all I want is a resolution, and I am really hoping that the events in this volume lead to just that.


20th Century Boys Volume 1-22: Manga Movable Feast

In 1969 a group of boys built a secret base out of dried grass in a field. There, they came up with a story about an evil empire and the heroes that would stop them. They wrote in a notebook called The Book of Prophesy. 27 years later, events in the book start to come true. In 1999, the boys, led by Kenji Endou, have come together to try to stop the evil empire led by “Friend”, and their battle comes to a head on New Years Eve.
Fifteen years later, in 2014, the battle with Friend begins again, with a “New Book of Prophecy”, this time led by Kenji’s niece Kanna. Jump ahead again 3 years to the Era of Friend 3 and it’s like 1971. The battle is taken up one last time.

20thCenBoys1By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

I started reading 20th Century Boys when it first came out and followed it for the first 5 volumes. My first review of the series wasn’t very favorable. I found all the time jumping in them to be confusing and difficult to follow. After 4 years and a little more experience with time jumping stories, I decided to give the series another try. I had liked random volumes that I tried after the first 5, and I thought it deserved another chance. After reading the entire series over a week, I have to come to the conclusion that my original feelings about the series weren’t wrong, just my reasoning behind them.

20th Century Boys 5The first 5 volumes of this series is all about setting up the series and introducing all the characters, even if their importance isn’t immediately made clear. It starts with Kenji Endou. He owns a convenience store that was originally his family’s liquor store. He lives with his mother and is raising his sister’s daughter, Kanna. He wanted to be a musician, but just couldn’t make it. A few of his friends did as he did, and took over the family business. Maruo runs a fancy goods shop, and is married with kids. Keroyon runs a soba shop and is just getting married. He, Maruo and Kenji are in the same neighborhood. Yoshitsune is a mousey salary man who kept in touch with Kenji.  Yukiji is the only girl in the group. She was the strongest girl in school, often taking the twin bullies Yanbo and Mabo. She is a customs officer working with a drug dog. Mon-chan is also a salary man who has been working overseas. Donkey was a poor boy growing up, but became a High School science teacher. It is his death that brings everyone together, and starts Kenji on his search for who or what “Friend” is. The final fiend, Otcho doesn’t appear until volume 4, where a personal tragedy changed him from fast-rising salary man to an enforcer called Shogun in Thailand.

20th Century Boys 7The time jumping is the worst in these first 5 volumes, as so much in past has to be shown and explained to set up where the bulk of the story occurs, 2014. The childhood friends are shown playing together and creating their Book of Prophesy in 1969, and then rediscovering it in 1997, as memories become clues and decide to fight back against the one that took their symbol, the hand with a raised finger with an eye, Friend. Friend’s face is forever hidden either by shadows or a mask. Though clues are dropped in the past that make it clear it was someone who knew Kenji and his friends. Everyone comes together in 1999 to try to stop Friend from spreading a deadly virus, but Friend always seems to be one step ahead of them, and has spies everywhere. He hasn’t been idle either, as he turned his religious cult into a political organization and part of the government.

We don’t learn the events of the last night of the millennium for several volumes as the story jumps to 2014, where the Friend party rules Japan with an iron fist that seems like a glove. A new cast of characters are introduced to interact with the surviving childhood friends. Kanna is now 17, working part-time at a noodle shop. Yujiki is her guardian, and Otcho was captured and sent to prison. Slowly, over the next 10 volumes, we learn the fates of the other friends, and of Friend’s next phase of the his plan, to become President of the World. But Kanna and the rest try their best to stop him again. Things we only got glimpses of in the past get fleshed out, especially in the distant past of 1969-71. From other characters with different perspectives, things become more clear, until by volume 15, Friend is revealed. Things don’t go as he planned though, and his death, which should have been the end, is only the beginning of a new chapter, as Friend seems to return from the dead.

20th Century Boys 13The final volumes take place three years later, in the Year of Friend 3. Kenji, who was believed to be dead, returns, shaggy and with a guitar on his back. He is always playing a song, that soon grows in popularity as people hear it, and is played on the radio. The new Friend has walled of Tokyo after another deadly virus races across the world. Inside the walls, he rebuilds Tokyo to look as it did in 1971. He intends to wipe out mankind once and for all with a final virus, sent by aliens. He is clearly insane. Kenji, armed with his song, leads the people outside the wall against their oppressors, while Kanna, Yoshitsune and Otcho try to find a way to save the people inside the wall. The series endings isn’t really an ending at all. Nothing is really resolved, and while Friend is seemingly defeated, it can’t just be the end.

I was with 20th Century Boys until around volume 15. I got over the difficulty of the time jumping in the first 5 volumes, and was with it through to the reveal of Friend. The clues were there, and I started to have a feeling to who it was around volume 10 or 11. Urasawa did a good job laying everything out, and revealing of things through different perspectives was well done. The twists that were revealed had good groundwork laid out for them, so when they came,it was more of a “a-ha!” moments than a “WTF?” It was frustrating to see Friend constantly being at least 2-3 steps ahead of Kenji and Kanna, and that his predictions always seemed to come true. But with the number of people he was surrounded by, and the conviction in with they believed in him, it was too hard to believe.

20th Century Boys 18I had a harder time swallowing that the man who was Friend would have been able to convince so many people to follow him. He just didn’t seem all that charismatic. I also find his total control of Japan, and respect gained around the world just from being the hero of “Bloody New Years” just as hard to swallow. No one is revered for that long. Even the Pope has his critics. I find it hard to believe that both Japan and the world would just lay down and let him, a man who doesn’t show his face to anyone but a select few, take over. Friend is the kind of villain I have come to despise recently; one that can always get away from the good guys. Always smarter, always well ahead of them. There is nothing inspiring or great about seeing the good guys lose again and again. It just makes one frustrated and angry, and finally the story not enjoyable.

That’s about how I felt as the story went into its ending arc. I was tired of all of Friend’s taunts. The “a-has!” had become “not agains”. As the background of the new Friend was starting to be revealed, it appears that he may have been seen in the previous flashbacks, but could be confused with another character since they both wore the same mask. This goes from “cleverly laying things out” to “cheap trick” in my book real fast. It was even more frustrating as I realized even though the end of the last volume was fast approaching, the end of the story wasn’t. The end just made me go “But, what about–” with a long list of strings left untied including who new Friend was and what happened between Yukiji and the psycho woman Takasu. Nothing felt resolved, and I kind felt cheated for giving this title over a week of my time to read it.

20th Century Boys 22The series wasn’t all bad. I really enjoyed everything with Otcho; his back story, his badass-ery. He was awesome in everything he did. I would have liked to have seen more of Kanna’s mother, Kiriki, sooner. We only get glimpses of her that imply she’s in with Friend, but her past is finally revealed in the last few volumes that proves that wrong. I also liked the manga artists Kakuta, Kaneko, and Ujiki. Their resemblance to Tezuka and the manga artists living in an apartment building in the 60s was great. Mon-chan didn’t get a lot of time in the series, but he proved himself before he was killed. Yoshitsune really stepped in the 14 years since the first attack, keeping a resistance alive despite his timidness. The truth behind Haru Namio and how Maruo came to be with him was another well done twist. I love Haru’s transformation with just a pair of sunglasses. Father Yatani, the ganster turned priest was a great character. He had a real presence, unlike Friend.

20th Century Boys is a long but compelling read. Once I had started, I just had to keep going on to the next volume. But as the series wore on, it was less about watching the characters and cheering them on, and more about just finding out who the hell Friend is and who he was to Kenji and his friends. This isn’t a terrible title, but it is a frustrating one. A lot of other people enjoyed it, judging by all the awards it has won. I just wish the story had been more tightly written, and the ending more clearly defined. I’d advise reading this series, only with the warning of the frustrating times to come.

Pluto Volume 1-8: Manga Movable Feast

In an ideal world where man and robot coexist, someone or something has destroyed the powerful Swiss robot Mont Blanc. Elsewhere a key figure in a robot rights group is murdered. The two incidents appear to be unrelated…except for one very conspicuous clue – the bodies of both victims have been fashioned into some sort of bizarre collage complete with makeshift horns placed by the victim’s heads. Interpol assigns robot detective Gesicht to the most strange and complex case – and he eventually discovers that he too, as one of the seven great robots of the world, is one of the targets.

Pluto 1 BigBy Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Sci-fi
ISBN: 9781421519180
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I had read the first two volumes of Pluto back when it came out in 2007, and absolutely loved them. But the time it took for me to collect the rest of the volumes and newer, shinier titles put reading it on the back burner. Thankfully, this month’s Manga Movable Feast gave me a good excuse to finally pull them out and read them. I’m glad I waited until I had the whole series before I read them. Pluto was an addicting and compelling read, and I don’t think I could have handled the wait between volumes.

Pluto 2Pluto is a based on the Tezuka’s Astro Boy story arc “The Greatest Robot on Earth”, a popular story that influenced a lot of people and future manga artists, including Urasawa himself. It isn’t a straight retelling of the original, but instead uses it as the foundation for a story that is multilayered and touches on several themes such as the consequences of war, the relationships between fathers and sons, and how emotions can create a person and shape their actions.

In order to tell this story, a strong cast of characters is needed, and that is exactly what we get. Even though this is based on an Astro Boy story, Astro, or Atom, which is his Japanese name, isn’t the central character. The character that holds the whole story together is Gesicht, who was a minor character in the original story. As a detective, he has the means to search out the clues and put them together to solve the mystery, who is killing the world’s most powerful robots. This story would be good if it was just about that, but Urasawa takes it to another level by adding a personal mystery to Gesicht. Something happened to Gesicht 3 years ago that neither he nor his wife can remember, but snippets come back to him in his dreams or in similar situations. The clues are very ambiguous at first, leaving the reader to think maybe it had something to do with the Central Asian war, but the truth, which isn’t revealed until the end is much more tragic. I did not see it coming, but it was a great twist, because it just made Gesicht that much more sympathetic.

Pluto 3All of the robots we meet in the story are really well-developed, even if we don’t see them when they are alive. The story starts with the death of Swiss robot Mont Blanc, but through the memorial that is built for him, we can see how much he was loved by everyone whose life he touched. North No. 2 of Scotland gets the whole second half of the first volume dedicated to his story. It’s a bittersweet tale of a military robot who only wants to learn to play the piano. He never meets Gesicht or knows of the danger, but he still goes off to face Pluto. His final moments are heartbreaking. Brando is an East European robot that wrestles professionally, and has a large family. He takes on Pluto, transmitting the data to Gesicht and the others, hoping it will help the investigation. Hercules, from Greece, is in some way the opposite, and some way the same as Brando. He is a loner, more of a soldier. But he and Brando have a friendly rivalry in the wrestling ring. Hercules comes the closest to defeating Pluto, but his power isn’t enough. Epsilon is a peace-loving robot from Australia who refused to participate in the Central Asian war, and was called a coward for it. He is very powerful, but with a gentle soul. He proved his convictions though, when he faced Pluto on a rainy day, when he would be at his weakest, to save one of the war orphans he was raising.

Pluto 4Atom, with his sister Uran, faces Pluto fairly early, and is believed to be dead by the world, but is physically repaired by his creator, Professor Tenma. He does not regain consciousness however, until the final volume. While Tenma abandoned Atom for not being enough like his deceased son, he couldn’t let him die either. Their relationship is just one of the many between fathers and sons that is seen throughout the series. Sahad, the robot son of Professor Abullah, the scientist from the Persian Monarchy, becomes the instrument for his father’s demand for revenge as Pluto. Even though he is a peaceful soul, he does as his father asks and destroys the 5 of the 7 robots. Adolf Haas, the younger brother of a robot killer, and himself a member of a robot-hating group that tries to kill discredit and kill Gesicht, hated robots because of one arresting their father, and ultimately losing him because of it. The love between a child and parent is shown to be a powerful thing. When one is lost, it can lead to even more powerful emotions; sadness, grief and hatred.

Pluto 5This capacity for hatred becomes an important element in the story, as it motivates so many of the characters either directly or indirectly. Tenma believed a strong emotional bias was needed to awaken an AI that can’t regain consciousness. Each time he did it, he used hate. This emotional bias not only awakens the AI, but also brings the AI closer to being human. They gain the capacity to lie, not just to others, but to themselves as well. They formulate the equation for an Anti-Proton bomb, a weapon of mass destruction. I thought it was sad that of the power emotions Urasawa could choose from, he chose hate to be the pivotal one. It’s like he’s saying to the way to becoming human is to be able to hate.

Pluto 6There is a strong anti-war theme through this book as well. The Central Asian War was fight by robots, but even their AI, advanced or not, was affected by it. North No. 2 is seen to be having nightmares from his time on the battlefield. Hercules told a story of one robot he worked with who was constantly washing his hands, an allusion to Lady MacBeth trying to wash the blood off of her own hands. There are also not so subtle finger-pointing at America. The Central Asian War has a lot of parallels to the Iraq war. The Central Asian War was started at the urgings of one country, the United States of Thracia, claiming weapons of mass destruction were being created despite little evident being found to support it. The leader of the Central Asian Monarchy also looks more than a little like Saddam Hussein. The theme isn’t overpowering, but it is always there, lingering in the background.

Pluto 7Pluto is one of the best manga I have ever read. It is short comparatively at only 8 volumes, and tells a complete and compelling story. It is very tightly written, with few if any extraneous scenes. It has a lot of the twists the Urasawa is known for. He sets them up well, and executes them perfectly. I loved the epilogue at the end. Brau 1589, the first robot to kill a human plays an important role throughout the series, always taunting, seeming to already know everything, but at the end, showing something other than ridicule. I also really enjoyed how the robots were portrayed. It didn’t matter if they looked human or like a robot from the 50s-60s, they were all full-fledged characters. From the wife of the patrol bot Robbie, to Gesicht’s wife to the robot boy Ali Gesicht met in Persia, how they looked didn’t make a different to how you felt about them as a character.

Pluto 8The art for this series is great. It is definitely Urasawa’s work, but Tezuka’s designs are all there. Atom with his hair sticking out like points. The broad face and large nose of Professor Ochanomizu, and the lanky body of Professor Tenma. You can see Tezuka’s hand in their designs, but with just enough of Urasawa’s more realistic touch to make them his own.

If you want to try out a Naoki Urasawa title, then Pluto is the best place to start. It’s length makes it a quick read, and it’s content will keep you glued to the pages until the end. The ending itself has that sense of finality that leaves you satisfied , although that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to revisit any and all these characters again. Do yourself a favor and read this series. You will not be disappointed.

Sakuran: Manga Movable Feast

In Sakuran, Moyoco Anno lifts the veil on life in the Edo-period pleasure quarter, Yoshiwara. The story follows Kiyoha, sold into a brothel as a child and forced to work as a maid and her rise to prominence as one of the top-ranking courtesans in Yoshiwara. The allure of the “flower and willow world” as it was called by artists in the day is underscored with the very real tragedy, heartbreak and difficult lives led by those seemingly glamorous courtesans. Will Kiyoha’s fox-like wiles giver her a chance to break free of her gilded cage? Or will her fighting spirit ruin her chances of ever escaping the brothel?

Bsakurany Moyoco Anno
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Mature (18+)
Genre: Historical/Drama
Price: $16.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

Moyoco Anno is a manga artist I don’t know much about. I’d heard of her first few titles to be released in the US, Flowers and Bees, and Sugar Sugar Rune, but neither title really spoke to me. I actually know more about Hataraki Man, a title of hers that has not been released in the US, but has had an anime and J-drama made about it. I would love to read it, but since it is on hiatus indefinitely in Japan, there seems to be little chance of ever getting it over here. Then Vertical announced Sakuran, a josei title. It’s a historical manga, which I’m always interested in checking out, but I think I’ve been reading too many shojo manga lately. The harsh realities of not just being a courtesan, but growing up in brothel are laid very bare on the pages. It was difficult to read sometimes, but it never stopped being compelling.

 Sakuran starts in the present, where Kiyoha is an established courtesan, usually the second or third most popular among the patrons. The most popular, which is the draw for the brothel is the Oiran. She basically supports the brothel with money her attraction brings in. The current Oiran has a lover, that she is determined to die with. He had other ideas and ends up killing her and running away. With no other girl popular enough, the owners turn to Kiyoha. She flat-out refuses as she enjoys her life without real responsibility, but as the others start chanting “Oiran” to her, the story goes back to Kiyoha’s past and her life growing up in the brothel, starting out as maid, becoming an apprentice, then a shizou, through her debut as a full courtesan.

Right from the beginning it’s obvious Kiyoha isn’t going to make things easy. After she is sold to the Tamgiku Tea House, her only thoughts are of escape, and seeing the world outside the Pleasure Quarter’s walls. She is constantly getting tied up and beaten for her poor attitude and attempts to escape, but she only responses with more contempt. She is never broken by violence. The Oiran she works for, Shohi, has no patience for her antics, but sees that Kiyoha is strong, and has the makings of a Oiran herself. It is a harsh world in the brothels, and Kiyoha’s stubbornness and determination to fight back gives her the strength to survive not just the beatings, but the bullying and jealousy of other maids and courtesans. She finds ways to cope, such as crying with another maid in the Quarter that is her age, and continuing the circle of violence, as she beats the maids just as was beaten by Shohi.

At its core, Sakuran is a love story. Love can be expressed in many different ways, but in brothels they can read extremes. From a simple betrayal of trust by supporting a good-for-nothing man who runs off, to cutting off a finger tip to show devotion, to the ultimate sacrifice, a murder-suicide pact, falling in love while working as a courtesan can be a dangerous business. Kiyoha recognizes this, and tries not to fall in love, but even she is not immune. Part of her journey is to feel this strong emotion and feel its consequences when it goes wrong.

But beyond the usual lover/client relationships, Kiyoha has a deeper one with Seiji, a clerk who has worked at Tamagiku since she first arrived as a child. He has watched her grow, and seen her through all of her trials. There was never anything actually said between the two of them, other than Kiyoha’s sniping and Seiji’s retorts, but just through expressions and actions, a strong connection can be seen between Seiji and Kiyoha. He has a real affect on her. She has no retort when he calls her “Oiran” at the beginning. He is always there with worldly advise for her but never stopping her from choosing her own path, even when she escapes to find her lover Soji and face him. It’s the only kind of love you can realistically have in a brothel, one not based on physical or emotional attraction, but on familiarity. Seiji is the one thing that has stayed constant in her life since she came to Tamagiku, and is the only thing she can rely on. Almost like family.

The art of Sakuran takes some time to get used to. Anno’s art can be very stylized at times, and it can something be difficult to tell characters apart. I had a hard time telling Kiyoha from the other courtesans at times after her debut. Their hair and clothes were so similar, and word balloons where hard to tell who they were attributed to. Even after several reads of chapters, I still can’t tell who is who in some of them. But Anno’s attention to detail with the courtesan’s ornate hair styles and pieces is impressive, as are the clothes she draws for them.

Sakuran is a story of the harsh realities of life in the brothels of old Edo. It can be brutal and heart-breaking, and earns its mature rating with some explicit sexual scenes. In the end though, it is about the triumph of the spirit, and finding one’s place. For all her criticism, Kiyoha found her home, in the place she least expected. Sakuran is historical drama at its best.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Hikaru no Go Volume 18-23: Manga Movable Feast

After a short break with a series of short stories, the action starts back up with Hikaru hungry to climb the Pro ladder and start competing at the same level as Akira. Hokuto Communications, a telecom, decides to sponsor a Go tournament for young pros from Japan, Korea and China called the Hokuto Cup. Akira is a shoe in, but Hikaru has to fight for a place on the three-man team. When the tournament finally starts, it’s a battle of wills, ego, and pride.

Hikaru no Go 18Written by Yumi Hotta; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media – Shonen Jump
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Game
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

While I really enjoyed the previous six volumes, these six volumes which also finish the series were not as strong. It was really great to see Hikaru get his fire back, but the short stories, while cute, took away from the building excitement of seeing Hikaru play again, and the Hokuto Cup was too much drama and not enough intense play, which is what has been so addicting about the story.

Hikaru no go 19After the end of volume 17, the story doesn’t pick up immediately. Instead, we are treated to 5 stories that feature mostly side characters, in times of their lives before or after they meet Hikaru. For the most part, these are good stories. I enjoyed seeing how things were for Akira right up to before he and Hikaru played their first game. I also liked seeing what led up to Yuki’s game with Dake, and what’s like to try to date as an Insei with Asumi. While I enjoyed these stories for what they were, their placement in the middle of the series didn’t feel right. These were stories that were better off as bonus stories to fill at the end of volumes, or as a filler at the end. They didn’t feel so well after such an emotional moment at the end of volume 17. I didn’t want to be entertained with cute stories, I wanted to get back to seeing Hikaru play.

Hikaru no Go 20And in Volume 19 that is precisely what we get. Hikaru is playing to make up for the lost time from all the games he missed while in his slump. He takes no prisoners, especially against Pros, as he continues his race up the ladder. In his rematch against Gokiso 7 Dan, the pro Hikaru beat back in volume 12 with Sai’s help. This time, he doesn’t need any help to take this haughty pro down. He gets his first real taste of defeat when he goes up against his teacher Morishita, who shows Hikaru a player can have more than one face, and more that one style of play. Morishita’s advice to Hikaru is forthright, and it along with some other things said hint at a possibly broader arc coming up, but instead, the story goes into the Hokuto Cup.

Hikaru no Go 21The final volumes of the series show the prelims in Japan, and the tournament itself. As a lead up to it, a reporter for Go Weekly, the newspaper for Go players in Japan, goes to Korea to speak to the players in the Hokuto Cup, but arrives a day early, so there is no translator there for him. He tries to interview Ko Yong Ha, but a poor translation of his words causes a misunderstanding that carries through the Hokuto Cup and the series. I really didn’t like how or more why this misunderstanding was perpetuated. Ko Yong Ha was an arrogant jerk to not only keep the misunderstanding from being straightened up, but then throws gas on the fire. I hated the whole plot point and Ko Young Ha. This made the end so much harder for me to accept. He didn’t deserve Hikaru’s true feelings, and really just needed a good whop upside the head for being so full of himself.

Hikaru no Go 22The series also ends rather abruptly. It really doesn’t feel like the story was meant to end there. In the volumes building up to, and even during the Hokuto Cup, there was a lot being made about Japan not remember their Go history, only focusing on the present, and how that is a weakness for them. It really felt like this show plot line should have been taken somewhere. Instead, it feels like it got cut off prematurely with the end of the series. I really would have liked to have seem more about Japanese players rediscovering their past as they continue into the future.

Hikaru no Go 23Despite these complaints, I still really enjoyed these volumes of Hikaru no Go. I loved seeing how much Hikaru has grown, not just emotionally, but physically. By the time of the Hokuto Cup, he is standing tall and looking confident. The whole series only covers three years, basically Hikaru and Akira’s time in middle school. In that short amount of time, he’s come to look like a serious pro, and not the goofy kid the started out the series as. Losing Sai had the most profound effect on Hikaru. While Akira always had a serious air about him, his rivalry with Hikaru gave him the focus he needed, and gained the both of them lifelong friends.

Hikaru no Go is one of those rare shonen titles that makes the battles about brains and not brawn, and shows rivals can also be friends. I think this is one of the title’s strengths. Hotta created some great characters, and developed them with such depth, while Obata’s art struck the perfect balance between realism and comedy. Hikaru no Go is one of the best titles you will ever read. It is a must for any manga collection. Do no pass this one up.