If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, you can call on these ghost-busting manga titles to help you through the night.
Everyone loves a good scare. Whether it’s from the unknown darkness or from the known serial killer that stalks the night, everyone has something that scares them. Through books and movies, we can enjoy those scares from the safety of our homes. This month’s Manga Movable Feast features not a single title, but the whole genre of Horror. So any title that makes your hair stand on end, makes you want to keep the light on after reading before bed, or hide behind the sofa while watching is fair game!
In Edo period Japan, a strange new disease called the Redface Pox has begun to prey on the country’s men. Within eighty years of the first outbreak, the male population has fallen by seventy-five percent. Women have taken on all the roles traditionally granted to men, even that of the shogun. The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the shogun’s Inner Chamber…
For some, high school represents the best days of their lives. For others, they would rather bury the memories in the deepest, darkest corner of their minds. For Harutaro Hanazono, the ball is still up in the air. Forced to enroll one month late after recovering from a serious illness, Harutaro does his best to remain optimistic about the whole situation. The other students try to make Haru feel welcome – especially his chubby, loveable pal, Shota – but Kai Majima, president of the manga club and all-around hard case, seems intent on making Harutaro’s high school life a living nightmare. Join Harutaro as he makes new friends, learns to draw mang and discovers surprising facts about his “kinda gay” teacher!
While I enjoyed my first Yoshinaga series, Antique Bakery, I wasn’t wowed by it like I expected to be. Yoshinaga has gotten a lot of praise from the mangasphere, but I just didn’t see it in Antique Bakery. But I’m always willing to give a creator another try, and with Yoshinaga’s series Flower of Life, I’m really glad I did. This 4 volume series is filled with quirky characters, funny and dramatic scenes, and a story that offers a portrayal of high school life that feels real.
Flower of Life revolves around Harutaro Hanazono. He has just recovered from leukemia, after getting a bone marrow transplant, and is starting high school late. He is an honest and forthright person, sometimes too much so for his classmates, as when in his introduction to the class, he tells them about his illness. He is friendly and in general easy to get along with. He is also rather possessive of his first friend, Shota Mikuni. Shota is quiet and shy when he first meets Harutaro, but through their friendship he starts to be more assertive. Kai Majima, who is also Shota’s friend is a full-blown otaku who doesn’t get along with people very well, and is always looking to turn any situation to his advantage. He is oblivious to other people or their concerns, and really not a likable character for the entire series.
In contrast, Harutaro’s family and classmates are quirky and fun. His older sister Sakura, is a bit of a shut-in, living at home and doing all the domestic chores. She loves to cook and bake, and has a thing for khaki clothes. His father works two jobs, his main one being as a chicken sexer. He looks tough but is really just a big softy. His mother is also a chicken sexer who is working overseas teaching her craft. As a family, they care for each other, but also bicker like the dickens! And it’s Mom who wears the pants in the family. At school, Sumiko Takeda becomes part of Harutaro’s circle of friends despite not being his class, when she is outed when Majima learns she likes to draw manga. She seems timid at first, but turns out to be more than a match for Majima. Tsuki is one of Harutaro’s male friends who likes to party and has a crush on Sakura. Harutaro’s teacher, Shigeru Saito, is just a bundle of issues, much like the students. Yoshinaga did a great job with Shigeru, keeping the character’s sex ambiguous all the way through the series, even after it’s revealed.
All these characters would be wasted without a great story, and that’s where this series really shines. Since it’s a slice of life, it doesn’t have a plot like you would normally think a story would have. Instead, every chapter is a glimpse into the life of Hartaro and his friends as they go through their first year of high school. I have to say, this is the best slice of life series I have ever read. Yoshinaga does a great job of capturing both the good and the bad moments of high school life, as well as showing all the teenage insecurities. The characters and situations she creates feel real, and that makes them all the more interesting. Even tired clichés, like the Cultural Festival become interesting and fun in her hands. It doesn’t matter if it’s humor or drama, she portrays them both with the playfulness or power needed to make the right impact without falling into the trap of silly or melodramatic.
It was such a pleasure to read this series. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The ending was just right as well. I felt satisfied at the end. While I enjoyed all of the characters, I didn’t feel I had to have more. The four volumes felt just right (not that I wouldn’t read more if given the chance). Even in this school life series, Yoshinaga’s love of food still comes through in the characters of Sakura and Isonashi, one of Harutaro’s classmates. There is even a bonus chapter about how to make one of the breads featured in a chapter!
Flower of Life is a series I not only high recommend to manga readers, but I think the casual comic reader would enjoy it as well. The realistic characters and story and lack of manga tropes should make it more appealing to a casual reader. Yoshinaga does have some funny faces, but these are used in obviously comic moments and enhance the effect rather than distract from it. If you get the chance to read this series, do not pass it up.
Tohru Honda recently lost her mother, and through certain circumstances, is living alone in a tent in the woods. The same woods, as it happens, as her classmate and school “prince” Yuki Sohma. Through a strange twist of fate (and her own clumsiness) she discovers that Yuki, and other members of the family, have been cursed, and through weakness or a hug from a member of the opposite sex, change into one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Tohru ends up living with Yuki, Shigure, and Kyo Sohma, and is soon meeting more members of the zodiac.
I wasn’t interested in shojo at the time that Fruits Basket started to come out, and didn’t develop one until the series was already well into the teens. But, like so many other titles, the Manga Movable Feast has given me an opportunity (and excuse) to finally check it out. I wasn’t really impressed after reading the first volume. I took the ending of volume 4 to really get me to give the series a chance and continue on with it.
I didn’t really care for the characters at the beginning. Tohru, the female protagonist of the series, and really the focus, came off as really ditzy, and even a little naive at first. But it soon becomes apparent, that she is just very kind, often to a fault. She always tries to keep a positive attitude, even though she is still trying to deal with the sudden loss of her mother in a car accident. She doesn’t want to impose on others, which is why she decides to live in the woods instead of “inconveniencing” her friends. She is very accepting of people for who they are, and after the initial shock, isn’t surprised by all the transformations that keep happening around her.
I was mostly fine with Tohru. It was Yuki and Kyo that I really didn’t like at first. Yuki is the quiet, and very handsome boy who is often mistaken for a girl. He is aloof and comes off cold at the beginning. He is the rat of the zodiac, who is responsible for the cat not being at the banquet. He doesn’t want to be a part of the zodiac, and just wants to live with “normal” people. He takes ill easily, but is physically very strong. I really disliked his contemptible nature towards others, especially Kyo at first. He gets better over these first four volumes. Kyo is Yuki’s cousin and the cat of the legend. He’s not part of the zodiac, but he still transforms. He hates Yuki as the rat, and the feeling is completely mutual. He is constantly attacking Yuki to try to beat him. He is filled with anger at the beginning, and lashes out at everyone around him, including Tohru, even when she’s trying to be nice to him. She seems to have a calming effect on him, and though he is still competitive with Yuki, their fights tone down to bickering instead of destroying the house. I didn’t really care for Kyo at first either, but as he toned down the anger, he became easier to like.
Two characters I liked immediately though were Tohru’s two best friends, Arisa Uotani, a former gang member/yanki and Saki Hanajima, who seems to possess some sort of psychic powers. They are like family to Tohru and are very protective of her. They have a lot of lighter moments in these volumes, with Uotani acting menacing, and Hanajima’s “poisonous electrical waves.” They also get along rather well with the Sohmas, to whom them give their approval for Tohru to stay with. Uotani and Kyo seem to get along especially well, with their competitive natures.
Through these first four volumes, about 2/3 of the zodiac is presented; the dog, boar, rabbit, dragon, cow and snake are introduced in fairly quick succession, usually through an accidental (though sometimes intentional) hug with Tohru. With several of these introductions, glimpses into their past are given, and they are almost all tragic, from being verbally abused by relatives and parents, to losing a lover, to Momiji’s past, that nearly brought me to tears after reading it.
While these first few volumes seem to have a light, rom-com feel to them, there is a sense of something darker lurking beneath, which increases with every volume. Shigure, the dog of the zodiac, and whose house Yuki, Kyo and Tohru share, seems friendly and easy-going, but also seems to have an agenda that involves using Tohru somehow. Something that he said makes him a horrible person. And then there’s Akito, the mysterious head who is not formally introduced until volume 4. He has a menacing feeling about him, disturbing Yuki when he sees him, and gets a glare from Kyo. It’s this darkness, and the mystery of the curse that really helped to encourage me to continue. The hints about this mystery is sprinkled throughout these first four volumes, and with every new one, it only made me want to know more. There also seems to be a mystery around Kyo and his “other form” that begs to be found out about.
Fruits Basket is slow to build up, but once you get past them whole “OMG! They turn into animals!” and the “Which zodiac animal will Tohru meet this time?” parts of the story, it really start to have something to say. The themes of being alone and finding a place to fit in and call home are ones that strike a chord with teens, which is probably one of the reasons it sold so well. This is another series that the MMF has convinced me I want to read, but since it’s OOP, that going to be kind of hard. Wouldn’t it be nice if another company could rescue it and make it available in Omnibuses (3 not 2 volumes) or better yet, digitally?
Saiyuki is among the first few manga I started to read. Having been a fan of the original Dragon Ball manga and knowing how it was based on the Chinese story Journey to the West, I was interested in seeing other takes on the story. While I came to Saiyuki for the story, I definitely stayed for hot guys. This title is a perfect blend of action, bishonen and angst, that it’s no wonder is was such a big hit with the ladies when it was released.
The basic premise of Saiyuki is simple. In the land of Shangri-la, humans and demons known as youkai live together in peace. But the peace is threatened when someone attempts to resurrect Gyumaoh, a youkai known as the Ox King using a combination of demon magic and human science. The forbidden practice causes a Minus Wave of negative energy to spread across Shangri-la, and causing the youkai to lose their minds and attack humans. The gods summon a monk, Genjyo Sanzo, to travel to India in the west to find out who is attempting the revival and stop them. Accompaning him are former traveling companions Son Goku, Sha Gojyo and Cho Hakkai, three youkai that seem to be immune to the minus wave.
But getting to India isn’t the point of this series. It’s just an excuse to get these four traveling together because it’s the characters and their interactions that really make this a fun title to read. Sanzo, the defacto leader, is not what you would expect a Buddhist monk to be like. He doesn’t shave his head. He drinks, smokes, and gambles. He carries a gun to use against enemy youkai, and a paper fan for Gojyo and Goku. Gojyo is the bad boy of the group with a cigarette in one hand and an eye on the hottest girl in sight. He likes the act like he’s grown up, but always ends up in childish arguments with Goku. The youngest looking of the group, he’s really over 500 years old. He’s also the most powerful, but is kept in check with the power limiter headband he can never take off. He thinks more with his stomach, and looks up to Sanzo. Hakkai is the quiet one, always ready with a gentle smile and a helping hand. The smile can also be quite menacing, especially when he has a ball of his chi ready to fire at an enemy or make into a force field to protect friends and innocents alike.
For the most part, this odd quartet gets along like old friends, or almost a family. Gyojo and Goku are the siblings, constantly bickering and teasing each other. Sanzo is the father constantly getting angry at their bickering and issuing threats of “I’ll kill you”, while Hakkai tries to keep the peace. But for all the light-hearted moments, the boys have some tragic pasts that not only influence who they are now, but also come back to haunt them on the journey. Sanzo’s almost takes his life, and Gyojo’s comes back in a most unexpected way. Their tragic back stories are wrought with emotion, but never quite tip into melodramatic territory. Hakkai’s back story is just starting as volume 3 ends, but portents in the final chapter doesn’t bode well for him.
Their enemy, Kougaiji, the son of Gyumaoh, and his trio of subordinates are almost a mirror image of the group. Youkai with tragic pasts of their own, they drum up an almost friendly rivalry with Sanzo’s group. They even end up working together at the end of volume 3, and actually make a good team. But Kougaiji’s own past keeps the groups enemies, though he isn’t happy about who he has to work with, or even really trusts she’ll keep her promise to him.
The is a lot of action in these first three volumes, as Sanzo’s group has to fight off youkai attacks and assassins sent by Kougaiji. They give the boys lots of opportunities to be glib and toss off one liners. In one chapter, they even rate a youkai assassin on his laugh and even how he falls down. Minekura is also not afraid to be graphic in these scenes. Heads get cut off, or sliced in two, and intestines are seen as torsos are sliced and youkai eat.
Whether they are in the middle of a fight, or relaxing in an inn after a long ride, they always look good. And I happily admit this is one of the reason I enjoy this series. All of the guys, good or bad are hot. There is lots of long, flowing hair, and bangs that fall over and/or cover eyes. They are all tall, thin, and lithe (mostly), and Minekura dresses them in a modern-ish fantasy style, combining jeans with tunics and sashes. Even Sanzo with his traditional garb looks good when he lets his robes down.
Tokyopop did a really job with this release. The dialog is very readable and catches the personalities of the characters perfectly. The cover is a nice heavy paper stock, and they presevered the original Japanese wraparound cover, and put the back text on the inside of the front. Volume one also features color plates of the four main characters. A lot of time and effort went into these volumes and it really shows.
Saiyuki isn’t just one of the first manga I read, it’s one of my top favorite titles of all time. The action, comedy, drama and hot guys makes this a title I read and gladly re-read again and again. It’s really just a lot of fun, which is exactly how I want my manga to be.
Yuta was a simple fisherman until a fellow fisherman brought some special meat to share. It was the flesh of a mermaid, said to grant eternal youth and longevity. But it can also be a deadly poison. For Yuta, it was the former. Hundreds of years later, Yuta searches for a mermaid that might be able to help him return to normal.
One-hundred and fifty years after its terraforming, Aqua, the planet formerly known as Mars, is now almost completely covered in water. A young girl named Akari Mizunashi lives in the city of Neo-Venezia, an exact replica of the old Italian city of Venice, where she works as a gondolier tour guide. While giving people tours of her beautiful city, Akari learns to appreciate her city when she helps an elderly tourist find his daughter, teaches a friend some history about ancient Venice and discovers the secret behind Aqua’s unusual sun showers.
Akari Mizunashi is a new arrival in the gorgeous Martian city of Neo-Venezia. She becomes a gondolier tour guide and begins her training to become a Undine, the most coveted job on Aqua. Follow Akari’s adventures as she discovers the wonders of Aria in this prequel to the popular anime and manga series.