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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.

The Drops of God: New World

Zooming ahead to a story arc that presents New World wines for a New World audience, this special episode of the international best-seller features scenes set in Napa Valley and labels from outside the traditional European production centers. Delectable on its own too, the Apostle revealed is the lucky Seventh.

Drops of God 5Story by Tadashi Agi; Art by Shu Okimoto
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Food/Drama
ISBN: 9781935654520
Price: $14.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

The Drops of God takes a huge leap in time, as the last US volume covered Japanese volumes 7-8, this one covers volumes 22-23, and reveals the 7th Apostle. The last Apostle revealed was the second in US volume 3. This is a big risk, as so much of the story is skipped. But New World is dedicated solely to finding the identity of the Seventh Apostle, so many of the side stories that I enjoyed so much in volume 3 are not present in this volume. At  first, I thought this to be a liability for the volume, but by the time I reached the end, I realized again how good this title really was, and lamented that we will probably not see any more.

This special volume of Drops of God moves Issei and Shizuku out of Europe and into the New World. Of course, New World in wine circles basically means anywhere outside of the traditional European wine-making countries. This mean North and South America and Asia. That’s a lot of area to cover with not much time. Issei had straight to the United States, to Napa Valley, with Shizuku, after some consideration (which didn’t include Napa wines) heads for Australia.

While in their respective countries, both Issei and Shizuku have run-ins with the locals. Issei’s reputation precedes him as he is blackmailed into helping some crooked wine sellers at a blind auction. Thanks to his assistant Loulan’s quick thinking, his reputation escapes unscathed. Shizuku has a run-in with the environmentalist father of Nadia Simon an employee of Taiyo Beers’ Australian brand. Shizuku’s sharp nose helps Jack Simon save his ecovillage Emerald Forest. This meeting turns out to fateful to Shizuku, as Jack met his father when he was in Australia 15 years previously. It’s this meeting that makes Shizuku sure he made the right choice. Issei has a fateful meeting as well, which makes him just as sure.  The outcome leaves Shizuku with a lot to think about.

At first, I wasn’t thrilled with this volume, mostly because I don’t like Issei. At the beginning of the series he was very haughty and looked down on Shizuku as a potential rival. His whole attitude made you want to cheer on Shizuku all that much more. At the beginning of this volume it seemed that not much had changed. He was still the stoic professional. But as the volume went on, there did seem to be a subtle change in his character. He has an assistant, a protegé of sorts that goes with him to Napa. Issei seems more thoughtful now, and by the end seemed a little more humble from what he learned of the people who created Napa Valley. It’s a growth in character that he desperately needed. Maki hasn’t learned anything yet, so it was gratifying to see her unrewarded by Issei for her taunts.

For Shizuku, the search for the Seventh Apostle was more than just a search for wine or gaining an inheritance. It was a journey to reconnect with his father by walking in the same places he did, and visiting the vineyard he spent a lot of time watching. He even imagines he sees his father for an instant in the fields when he visits. Shizuku spent so much time resenting his father for his passion, but by the end of this volume realizes he feels the same about wine. His father’s passion is becoming his own.

While Drops of God is fun for the wildly fantastic descriptions given for the wines, this is really a story about sons and their father, gaining insights into not just their father, but also themselves. It really feels that the competition to find the Apostles is just a cover for Issei and Shizuku’s father to continue teaching them, and helping them grow both as wine enthusiasts and as people. No matter who wins in the end, both Shizuku and Issei will have gained much more than any material wealth or recognition could give them. And this is what I am going to really miss being able to read. Drops of God hasn’t been the seller that Vertical hoped it would be, so this will most likely be the last volume we see printed in English, which really is a shame. A story with this much growth and depth of character needs to be read by more people. While I still find the wine terms intimidating, the human drama trumps any discomfort I might feel. Drops of God is a series that deserves more recognition than it’s gotten, and there will only be regret when it is no longer released.

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.

Paradise Kiss Volume 1-2

Yukari Hayasaka is a studious, straight-laced high school senior, racing toward college exams yet with no real sense of purpose in her life. One day she’s kidnapped by a troupe of fashion design students and whisked away to their lounge-like atelier. There they ask her to be their model for their school fashion show. At first she resists, scornful of the odd-looking design students, until George, the lead designer, uses his wiles to join them while forcing Yukari to take a good, hard look at her life.

parakiss1By Ai Yazawa
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fashion
Price: $19.95
Rating: ★★★★½

I first read Paradise Kiss two years ago for its Manga Movable Feast. The series was originally released by Tokyopop, who has since gone the way of the Dodo, and at the time I could only get a hold of the first volume. But Vertical, Inc. has, in its infinite wisdom, rescued this title and re-released it not only with a new translation, but also as an omnibus edition. With a much better translation and bigger chucks of story, these two volumes really delve into the characters and starts to give glimpses of the fashion world.

In these first two volumes, we not only meet all of the characters of Paradise Kiss, but see the complex relationships that Yazawa has set up. Miwako and Arashi are childhood friends who have become lovers. Arashi has piercings all over his face and looks scary, but is actually kind and the most responsible of the group. Miwako is very childlike and refers to herself in the third person. She becomes Yukari’s first close friend that she can confide into. Isabelle is a male transvestite who likes to cook and worries about Yukari as well, but doesn’t push too much. She really doesn’t get as much development as the others. And then there’s George, or Jorji. He is the leader of the group and prodigy designer. He is suave, handsome, and at times real jerk.

Yukari gets dragged into their world as her college exams approach. She doesn’t take their request for her to be their model, or even their work seriously at first. But when she learns about how hard they are working to make their dreams of creating their own label of clothes, she has more respect for them. They have a dream, a goal for their lives. She’s just been going through the motions, trying to appease her rank-hungry mother. Being with Parakiss and George, gets Yukari thinking about her life and her future, and what she wants to do with it rather than just what her mother wants. She also becomes romantically involved with George, who is a complex person. Yukari’s emotions get bounced around like a pinball as he manipulates her feelings leaving both the reader and Yukari wondering if his feelings for her are real.

parakiss2There is a third side to the Yukari-George relationship. Hiro Tokumori is a class mate of Yukari’s who also, co-incidentally is a childhood friend of Miwako and Arashi. He starts out as Yukari’s crush, and seemingly not interested in her, but as she gets more involved with Parakiss and George and less involved in school, he starts to worry about her. Hiro is the complete opposite of George. He is never manipulative of Yukari, but he does speak his mind, and his words get Yukari thinking rather than just reacting. As he becomes more involved in the story, I found I was liking him more and more. He’s a better match for Yukari than George. He is understanding her feelings without the manipulation.

I really enjoyed these first two volumes of Paradise Kiss. It was great watching Yukari start to grow as a person, and face some of the things she’s been avoiding. She finally finds something she wants to do, modeling, thanks to Miwako’s sister, Mikako, who is already a famous fashion designer. She confronts her mother about her life’s direction, and finally wins some freedom. She even learns that, once it is her own choice, college might not be as bad she thought. But she is still growing up in other ways, especially emotionally. She makes George angry at her over a choice she made that was more about her inexperience than anything else.

If you missed Paradise Kiss the first time around, don’t make that mistake again. Vertical has done a terrific job with this re-release. The volumes are larger than a regular manga volume, and just thick enough to give good chunks of story, and still be comfortable to hold. And you won’t want to put these volumes down. The story is very addicting, as you have to know what happens next. It was very difficult to reach the end of volume 2 and realize I had to wait for the next. Ai Yazawa’s artwork is realistic with a few comedic moments, which mostly involve Arashi punching George. The series is also rather self-aware, at least among the Parakiss crew, as George and Isabelle are seen reading the magazine the series was serialized in, and are constantly making references to events being in previous chapters. Paradise Kiss is a fun, funny, and sometimes frustrating series, but it is worth every moment.

Review copies provided by publisher.

 

Heroman Volume 1

Like most teens at Central City  Middle School, Joey Jones is in desperate need of a hero. But the hero of his desire isn’t someone in tights, instead it’s the latest technological fad, a remote-controlled bot called The Heybo. Without much in terms of savings, Joey’s little hero seems out of reach, but in a twist of fate not only does he come to possess one of these machines, his new Heroman comes to life to help him save the Earth from alien invasion!

heroman1Created by Stan Lee + BONES; Adapted by Tamon Ohta
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action
Price: $10.95
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I wasn’t impressed with Stan Lee’s first collaboration with a Japanese artist, Ultim0, so I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for Heroman. For most of this volume, my low expectations were met. But once the story started to incorporate more Japanese hero elements, it started to pique my interest.

The protagonist of Heroman is typical of most Stan Lee protagonists. Joey is poor, and living with his grandmother, since both of his parents are gone. He has to work a part-time job as well as go to school to help supplement the household income. He has no self-confidence and only a few friends; Cy, who needs crutches to walk, and Lina, a girl from a well-to-do family who likes Joey, but whose brother hates Joey because he’s poor, and picks on him because of it.

This is the main part of the title that I disliked so much. Joey and most his friends are so two-dimensional. I didn’t feel any life or motivation from from any of them. Lina is so much the damsel-in-distress that it was annoying, and her brother Will’s obsession with her borders on disturbing. Only Cy doesn’t seem to fit the “sidekick” bill. He is more self-confident than Joey, and while he does encourage him, it’s never from the position of an inferior. Cy almost comes off as he should be the hero, and Joey his sidekick. But if that were true, it wouldn’t be interesting, as it’s the struggle to become a hero that makes books like this appealing. And as is typical of all Stan Lee related projects, there’s a character that looks just like him. He is a customer in the coffee shop that Joey works at. I think he must have stipulation in any contract he signs that his likeness has to be included.

I actually started to like Heroman more when Joey started acting more like the protagonist from a super sentai than an American super hero. When Joey realizes that he’s made himself a target because of H.M.’s strength, he doesn’t embrace that strength. He tried to distance himself, and pretend that it’s not his problem. It will all go away if he just isn’t near H.M. Of course, things don’t work out that way. The aliens are determined to defeat H.M. and come after him and Joey. It’s only when Joey accepts his role to fight with H.M. that he not only gains confidence, but also a new power for H.M. This is a very Japanese superhero trope. The structure of the alien invaders, the Skrugg, is very reminiscent of sentai villains, with underlings based on everyday objects (insects) swearing allegiance to the boss, and trying to defeat the heroes. Hero Man himself, reminds me of the giant robots of the sixties, specifically, Jonny Sokko and Giant Robot. The robot never spoke, like Hero Man, but you could still feel the connection between them. Jonny would also risk his life for Giant Robot, and Joey starts to do the same for H.M.

While I felt a lot of this volume of Heroman left a lot to be desired, there is still some potential that could turn this title around. Serious fans of super heroes and/or super sentai probably won’t like the fusion of the two genres, but casual fans of either would probably find something of interest. I’d like to read the next volume to see if this fusion of east and west can live up to the potential I see, or if it’s like Ultimo, potential wasted.

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.

 

Hikaru no Go Volume 12-17: Manga Movable Feast

Hikaru has passed the Pro test, and is waiting to hear about his official schedule. In the meantime, Sai pesters him to let him play more, and Hikaru relents, allowing Sai to play Akira’s father in the Shindodan series with a handicap, and then again on the internet in an even game. Hikaru’s skills are growing fast, and Sai worries he won’t be able to remain with him for much longer. Just as Hikaru’s pro games start, something happens that causes him to have a crisis of faith, and nearly gives up on Go. But the return of Isumi, a fellow Insei from the previous year, shows Hikaru he hasn’t lost anything. Hikaru returns, more determined than before to not only be Akira’s rival, but to surpass him.

Hikaru no go 12Written by Yumi Hotta; Illustrated by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media – Shonen Jump
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Gaming
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Hikaru no Go 13I started reading Hikaru no Go when it debuted in Shonen Jump back in 2004, and read it religiously until it was “graduated” out in 2008. Once it went to graphic novels, I stopped reading, as my acquiring of volumes was sporadic. I only finished collecting my missing volumes this last year. With the MMF schedule for this month, I put off reading the series until now to participate. I had thought this might be a series to pass on as part of my Manga Wrap Up, but after reading these 6 volumes, I have come to realize that this is not just a compelling series, it’s one that needs a spot on bookshelves.

Hikaru no Go 14Over the last 11 volumes, we have been watching Hikaru develop and grow into a Go player in his own right. Sai continues to want to play games, but now he is getting resistance from Hikaru, who wants to play more himself. In these 6 volumes, we see how much Hikaru takes Sai for granted. He assumes he’ll always be around to play, so he’d rather play other people. But after finally getting to play Koyo Toya, Sai sees something much different in the future. It really feels frustrating to see Sai almost pleading with Hikaru, and Hikaru just brushing him off as being annoying. But Hikaru is just acting like the kid he is, so while it’s not surprising, that doesn’t mean you still don’t want to smack him for it.

Hikaru no Go 15There are a lot of emotional punches in these volumes that stem from that not-so-distant future that Sai sees. It’s emotionally draining to see Hikaru running around to all the sites where Hon’inbo Shusaku, the boy Sai possessed before Hikaru, lived, played and died. It was just heartbreaking when he looked at old records of Shusaku’s and could see Sai’s moves in them. He not only realized Sai’s genius, but could truly appreciated it. The effect is devastating for both Hikaru and the reader. But all of the emotional moments are sad. After being talked into a game with Isumi, who has just spent a couple of months in China to improve his game, Hikaru has an epiphany, that not only shakes him out of his funk, but reignited his passion for Go, and seemingly for life. The final chapter of volume 17 is bittersweet as a sort of passing-of-the-baton occurs, but knowing that Hikaru will be alright now is worth it.

Hikaru no Go 16It’s these strong, emotional moments that really make Hikaru no Go such a compelling read. When a writer and artist came make the emotions they want to express feel real to the reader, they have truly succeeded in making a great story. Hotta and Obata do that, not just with Hikaru’s story, but with all the characters that are followed throughout this series. Obata’s art is beautifully rendered, and realism with which she draws just makes the emotional punches to the gut all the more stronger. I’m gonna miss Sai, with his Heien dress, and often cute expressions.

Hikaru no Go 17Because it had been so long since I read Hikaru no Go, I thought it would be a series I could let go. But after getting through this gantlet of an arc, I’ve come to realize that not only can I not let go of this series, but I must have it in print. It’s too good to relegate to a digital bookshelf. It needs to be on a bookshelf for all to see and reach for.

Oresama Teacher Volume 10-11

The Public Morals Club has been infiltrated by the Student Council as ninja Yui joins the club to spy on them. But with his reasons for switching being done in secret, not everyone on the Student Council is as understanding. It could be the end of Public Morals Club if the club can’t get a stamp of approval from the Student Council Auditor. Then a member of the Student Council, Ayabe challenges Mafuyu to a one-on-one battle, where the unthinkable happens. Mafuyu loses.

By Izumi Tsubaki
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

It’s been 5 volumes since I last read Oresama Teacher. I’ve enjoyed the series for the most part, but I’ve never been so enamored that I wanted to do anything more than just read it. These two volumes fall into the same category. A lack of Takaomi and more emphasis on Mafuyu, Hayasaka, and new club member Yui did make for some fun reading, but not enough to bring the series up that extra notch.

Yui has been having trouble gaining the trust of Mafuyu and Hayasaka, and with the club needed the stamp of approval from the auditor, this seems like the perfect opportunity to get it. The only obstacle is Wakana Hojo, the auditor who isn’t too happy with Yui’s  apparent defection. I liked the Auditor story a lot, mostly because of Hojo and Yui and the unspoken feelings between them. Hojo and Yui have known each other since Middle School, and Hojo has liked Yui, but Yui is completely clueless about his own feelings let alone Hojo’s. It takes Mafuyu verbally hitting Yui with a 2×4 for him to at least start to understand that everything is not black and white, especially when it comes to feelings. Hayasaka also turned out to be the hero of this volume as his studious ways allowed him to create an activity log for the club that, along with the arrival of Super Bun gets the club their stamp.

Then, Mafuyu is challenged by Reito Ayabe, another member of the Student Council, and loses. It’s her first time losing, as far as she can remember. This was my favorite chapter in volume 11. Seeing Mafuyu shaken up and trying to deal with her loss was a good development for her. She had to stand up and face her fear. Ayabe seems like a jerk at first, but Mafuyu has a habit of disarming people, which she does to him over lunch where she finds his home cooked meal so much better than her convenience store lunch. Their second battle goes differently, as Mafuyu continues by telling him she just wants to get to know him, and wins through words instead of force. I hope Ayabe becomes a friend to the Public Morals Club. I rather like him and his odd affliction.

The short chapters that precede or end the main chapters weren’t bad either. I enjoyed seeing Hojo’s past with Yui and Hayabusa, the Student Club President that explains her feelings for Yui. And the Christmas chapter with Hayasaka and Mafuyu as Super Bun was fun too. I like that Hayasaka sees Super Bun as a hero and bud, and not a romantic figure. Hayasaka’s hero worship of Super Bun is too funny,and it would get really weird if it went anywhere else.

The one think I didn’t care for in these volumes are the continued hints that there might be feelings between Mafuyu and Takaomi. Mafuyu blushes deeply when Takaomi tries to put her hair in a pony tail to help her Super Bun disguise. Then Takaomi lets his guard down slightly when he tries to wrap Mafuyu’s arm after her fight with Ayabe. I really dislike Takaomi’s manipulation of Mafuyu and find him repulsive. Mafuyu really deserves better than him, and has better suitors in Hayasaka, and her old 2nd, Kangawa.

Oresama Teacher manages to pull off to fun volumes, but their re-readability is too limited for me to let them take up precious bookshelf space. As fun as they are, the characters aren’t compelling enough despite Mafuyu and Hayasaka being a good couple to watch.

Review copies provided by publisher.

 

Demon Love Spell Volume 1

Miko is a shrine maiden who has never had much success at seeing or banishing spirits. Then she meets Kagura, a sexy demon who feeds off women’s feelings of passion and love. Kagura’s insatiable appetite has left many girls at school brokenhearted, so Miko casts a spell to seal his powers. Surprisingly the spell works–sort of– but now Kagura is after her!

By Mayu Shinjo
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I had completely missed the license announcement for Demon Love Spell, so it came as a complete surprise when I saw it. I’ve only ever read one other volume by this manga creator, Ai Ore!, and had a sort of love/not-love thing with that volume. After reading this volume, I found I had the same feeling for this volume as well.

Demon Love Spell is about a demon, an Incubus, who is bound by bumbling exorcist who can’t even see the spirits she is trying to exorcise. With his powers diminished, he has to stay with her until she can figure out what spell she used to bind him. Because he was a powerful demon, both of them become targets to other demons that want to defeat him and eat her. They must grudgingly work together to survive.

I started reading this title without making any connections to who the creator was, and as a result has hopes this wouldn’t be too bad. And it’s not bad per se. It just isn’t my kind of series. The first warning bell came from Kagura with his leering eyes and seductive manner. Granted, he is an incubus and he’s supposed to be seductive, so I can’t fault him or the series for that. But what it gave me was a serious “Black Bird” vibe. I found the sexual innuendo in that series to be creepy and got the same feeling while I was reading this one.

A lot of that feeling stems from the similarity between the female protagonists. Both Miko and Misao are kind of clueless and easily manipulated by their respective supernatural “suitors.” While Miko is more defiant during the day, Kagura uses her dreams to get what he wants, and her dream self is much more willing and submissive than her conscious self. Miko is also innocent in the ways of the heart and is often vulnerable to Kagura when he tries to seduce her. I don’t find Kagura to be very likable either. Even in his “cute” form, when he is bound and the size of doll, he’s pervy and really not that cute. His favorite hiding spot on Miko is of course between her breasts.

All the innuendo aside, Demon Love Spell does have some good points. Miko isn’t completely defenseless. She may have to relay on Kagura for some of the more powerful demons and to see them, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to exorcise them herself, and she doesn’t run or cower when confronted with danger. Kagura, for all his sleaziness, does seem to have some real feelings for Miko. He doesn’t appear to just be using her, and the feelings they are developing for each other seem to be happening at the same time. I appreciate this approach more than a one-sided relationship developing. I also really liked the fox spirit that was introduced at the end. He is cute in both his animal and human forms.

Demon Love Spell was an okay story, but not a keeper. The chapters seem to balance battling demons and Miko and Kagura’s relationship well. I have no complaints with the art either. The bishi are appropriately bishi and demons are appropriately scary. As I said earlier, the story isn’t badly written, it just isn’t written for me. This is a title more for Black Bird and Vampire Knight fans, of which I am really neither. I won’t follow this title regularly, but I won’t object to the occasional check in.

Review copy provided by publisher.

13th Boy Volume 1

It was love at first sight. the moment Hee-So’s eyes met Won-Jun’s she knew it was meant to be. Their relationship took off when Hee-So confessed her feelings on national TV, but less than a month later, Won-Jun is ready to call it quits without any explanation at all. Hee-So’s had a lot of boyfriends–Won-Jun is number twelve–bu being dumped is never easy. She not ready to move on to the thirteenth boy just yet. Determined to reunite with Won-Jun, Hee-So’s on a mission to win over her destined love once more.

By SangEun-Lee
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

I read the preview of 13th Boy in Yen Plus why back when it first came out, and wasn’t impressed. I thought it was going to be another “stalker girl” title like Sarasah, which I hated. But with being given a second chance to read the first volume, I decided to give it a shot. And like Won-Jun to Hee-So, I don’t hate it, but I don’t know if I like it yet.

13th Boy is not your average high school romance. It starts out like it might be. Hee-So, is the earnest, sometimes blunt girl madly in love with a cute boy in her class, Won-Jun, who comes off as cold, and almost robotic. For a few moments, I thought maybe he was one. But things quickly go askew when Beatrice, Hee-So’s walking, talking cactus is introduced. Yes, I said walking and talking. I don’t know what’s stranger, that Beatrice can talk, or that Hee-So takes it so calmly. There’s no explanation for what Beatrice could be, but the end of the volume hints at something supernatural. And then there’s Won-Jun’s best friend, Whie-Young Jang. He comes off kind of jerky, but there more to him than he seems. He can do magic. He’s shown levitating a book and makes his and Hee-So’s legs disappear so some classmates won’t see them.

I wasn’t expecting a supernatural element to this story. It started out like a typical high school romance with a weird mascot character, but there seems to be a lot more going on. The idea that there is a destined love for everyone is strongly emphasized in this volume. Hee-So is banking on Won-Jun being hers. And for all the scoffing Whie-Young does about it, I get the feeling he might think the same of Hee-So to him. The last scene with Won-Jun and Whie-Young sets up the love triangle, which seems to be destined to be a bumpy ride for all three of them.

While I wasn’t wowed by this first volume of 13th Boy, I am intrigued enough to be willing to check out more. I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, and while I don’t care for the stalker-obsession that manhwa seems to favor for its female leads, the integration of a destined love at least lessens the impact.

Strobe Edge Volume 1

What is love, anyway? Ninako Kinoshita’s friends tell her it’s one thing, but Ninako wonders what this mysterious feeling is. When she meets Ren Ichinose, the handsome, enigmatic guy that all the girls worship, her life takes an unexpected turn. With just a few words and a smile, he changes her world. Ninako’s friend Daiki throws her for a loop when he expresses romantic interest in her. She cares for him, but can she return his feeling? As she tries to short out her confusion, Ninako realizes that there are many different facets of love–strange and wonderful sides…

By Io Sakisaka
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Falling in love for the first time is a strange, wonderful and sad feeling all at the same time. Watching Ninako slowly realize that the feelings she’s starting to experience are those of first love was a fun and delightful experience.

Strobe Edge starts out seeming like the typical love triangle. Ninako is a first year in high school, and a little gullible. She is also completely clueless about the feeling of her best friend since elementary school, Daiki. Her chance encounter with the school’s “idol prince”, Ren, seems innocent at first. But, as she gets to know him, and sees the real him outside of school, it’s hard for her not to have feelings for him, even knowing he already has a girlfriend, or Daiki’s true feelings, doesn’t chance her mind.

And I really can’t blame her, since Ren does seem to be a really good guy. He buys Ninako a new cell phone charm when he accidentally steps on it. He helps her on the train when she is being harassed by another passenger, and misses his stop and walks her home after she has hurt her ankle at school. He even gives up his seat on the train for a pregnant woman, telling he’s about to get off even though his stop is still a ways away. Daiki doesn’t seem like a bad guy either though. He’s the loyal best friend who waited too long to tell Ninako how he felt, though it might not have mattered, since Ninako just doesn’t feel the same way.

I really enjoyed watching Ninako change little by little. Her starting to appreciate girly things, like the butterfly charm Ren gets her, and just thinking about painting her nails and being glad they looked nice as Ren helped her home. I also liked how her feelings for Ren grew slowly and weren’t the usual instant love that so many romance manga like to do. She starts out just wanting to show her friends that they take the same train, but her awkwardness endears her to him and she is even graced with a smile that he never seems to have at school. Even her stalker-ish behavior when she waits at the train station to see if he really has a girlfriend wasn’t creepy. She just had to know, and even knowing doesn’t change her.

The fact that she doesn’t change fundamentally is what really makes her a good character. She doesn’t try to be someone else for Ren. Her changes come from her feelings. The volume had a nice twist at the end with Daiki, and Ninako reaching out to Ren even though she knows what his answer will be was a really sweet moment. You really can’t help but root for Ninako and that is what really made me like this title. I cared about Ninako, and what happened to her, especially since she knows this is just her first love and wants to cherish the feeling even if it means breaking heart as well.

Strobe Edge is starting out to be a sweet romance. While I do hope that the triangle between Ninako, Ren and Daiki continues, I really just want to follow Ninako on her journey of discovering love. I actually think following all of them would be interesting. The art is well done, and different enough from a lot the other romance titles that it should stick out in a good way. I really looking forward to more volumes of this series. If you are a fan of love and not just romance, you should too.

Review copy provided by publisher.