Category Archives: Reviews

Season’s Screaming: Only One Wish and xxxHolic

When one thinks of the holiday season, it tends to be of being merry, giving gifts, and celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. But the holiday season also has a history of ghostly stories and ghoulish things. Here are two Del Rey Manga titles that try to fit into the Comeuppance Theater genre, but just don’t quite make the grade.
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Highschool of the Dead Volume 1-3

A mysterious illness is spreading rapidly through the halls of Fujimi High School. In a matter of hours, the campus is transformed from a place of learning into a  hive of nightmares, as the infected students collapse and are reborn as flesh-hungry zombies! Only a handful of students escape the outbreak – among them Takashi Komuro and his childhood friend Rei. He manages to protect Rei from the initial onslaught, but how long can Takashi and the other students hope to survive when the whole school – maybe the whole town – is out for their blood?!

Story by Daisuke Sato; Art by Shouji Sato
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: 18+
Genre: Horror
Price: $13.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Highschool of the Dead is “interesting” in the same way that we are currently living in “interesting times.” It all depends on how you look at it. There were times when I was really interested in the story it was telling, as well as the characters. At other times I just wanted to roll my eyes, put the book down and walk away. And that is what made this series so frustrating to me.  It has a real story to tell, if you can get past the rampant fan service and blood.

Let’s look at the good points about this series. First and foremost, there is a fascinating story being told in these pages. As the infected start to outnumber the uninfected, you can see the fabric of society start to break down. This is shown through the monologues Takashi often goes into,  and the obstacles our heroes face. Throughout the volumes, Takashi is constantly commenting on how quickly he and his friends adapt to a new world where the old rules no longer apply, like smashing a cash register for cash is acceptable for survival, and the worse thing you can do to an enemy is to NOT kill them. In just 12 hours they can go from running for their lives to happily taking on a group of zombies without a second thought. It was these observations that drew me into the story most.  But even as our heroes seemed to start to lose their humanity, they do find ways to reclaim it, such as in their saving of the young girl Alice.

Another aspect I really liked was the denial about the reality of the situation. When the outbreak first starts, Takashi comes right out and says they aren’t in a movie or video game, and yet everyone is behaving like a zombie from one. Though, he never gets to say the whole word “zombie”. He gets cut off. And later Hisashi, his friend and Rei’s boyfriend, dubs them all “they” because he can’t bring himself to believe they are something from the movies, and this is how they are referred throughout the books. No one wants to cross that line.

I also really appreciated that there are so many female characters that are smart and self-reliant. Rei, Takashi’s childhood friend is full of fire, and is bashing heads with her mop handle/spear. She also recognizes the danger Shidou poses and would rather take her chances with the zombies than him. Saeko is everything you would expect from the captain of the kendo club. Wielding her wooden sword, she is calm and cool in the face of danger, and always ready to protect the a person’s honor. Saya is constantly proclaiming that she is a genius, but it isn’t just boasting from her.  She is the first to figure out that it’s sounds that attract the zombies. And even though she hides behind Hirano, she will get her hands dirty when necessary. The guys aren’t so bad either. Takashi shows a lot of leadership, even though he would say he’s just trying to keep him and Rei alive. And Hirano is hesitant at first, but once he gets a gun in his hand, he really proves his worth.

The biggest downside of this series is also the women. It’s not the way they act, but the way they are drawn. All of them are drawn with big breasts, with the school nurse Shizuka having back breakers. I’m not sure which is more unbelievable, the breast sizes or the zombies. It gets worse in volume 2 when all the women take a bath together, and they are comparing sizes and feeling each other up. It’s like a pseudo lesbian love fest. All through these three volumes, almost every other page has a panty shot. It gets really close to being overwhelming. It also takes all the wind out of the more serious elements of the story. You can have this wonderful monologue from Takashi about how they world they knew was gone on one page, to the women half-naked and bouncing around in the next. It’s hard to take the series seriously with gratuitous breast grabs going on.

The art is fairly standard for a shonen series. The characters are rather generic looking, though they are just distinct enough to tell apart at sight. I was much more impressed with the horror side of it. There were a lot of nice details on the zombies, with chunks of flesh torn out and bones sticking out. While graphic horror isn’t usually my thing, I found I could appreciate the look of the zombies. They are just what you’d expect for a zombie apocalypse.

Highschool of the Dead isn’t going to be a title for everyone. Both the horror and fan service will keep some readers from even picking up the volumes. But I think the story of society collapsing and how people react to it is an interesting one, and worth digging through the gore and gratuitous boob and panty shots to get to. I would recommend Highschool of the Dead to veteran manga readers and horror fans. Anyone easily offended or disturbed need not apply.

 

Countdown 7 Days Volume 1

Lonely Mitamura may be a teacher at the exclusive Sheol Soul School – an academy dedicated to the afterlife – but he has a lot to learn about human emotions and helping others. In fact, his star pupil Tsuru thinks she’ll teach him a little lesson by running off during a field trip in the living world. Now, Mitamura has only seven days to track Tsuru down with the help of a brand-new (deceased) sidekick. Will the clock run out before they find her?

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Aron’s Absurd Armada

Arrr, guess what time of year it be again. That’s right! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! And that means lot’s of “Arrrs” and “ye bes” and “yo ho ho”ing and sounding like ye should have a parrot on yer shoulder. A few years ago I did a post about pirate manga what was available to help enjoy the day. Normally I would do a post updating what’s new, but sadly, there hasn’t been any new additions in the last three years, except one.

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Toradora! Volume 1

It’s Ryuji’s first day as a junior in high school and it seems as if things are looking up. He gets to sit in between his only friend, Yusaku, and, more importantly, the girl he’s secretly crushing on, Minori Kushieda. But just when he thinks the stars are aligned in his favor, he unwittingly crosses the most feared girl in school, Taiga Aisaku, making her onto his arch enemy. To top it off, Taiga has moved in right next door to Ryuji and happens to be Minori’s best friend! Can this school year possibly get any worse?!

Story by Yuyuko Takemiya; Art by Zekkyo
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Toradora, like most romantic comedies, depends on its lead characters to sell the series. If you don’t like the leads, you aren’t going to care who they get together with, or if they get together at all! Unfortunately, that’s exactly how I feel about the leads and this story.

Toradora starts out by introducing Ryuuji Takasu. He’s a second year high school student who has squinty eyes that makes all of his peers think he’s glaring at them, and a flaky mother who couldn’t take care of herself if she were on her own. He has an accidental run-in with Taiga Aisaku, the “palmtop tiger”, called that because of her small size and fierce attitude. These two become entangled because they have crushes on each other’s best friends. But Taiga won’t let Ryuuji near Minori until she can get with Yusaku. So it’s hair-brained schemes and missed opportunities as Ryuuji tries to get Taiga and Yusaku together.

Right from the start, I didn’t like Taiga. I don’t mind the “tsundere” type, but she goes to an extreme that I don’t like. She is physically and verbally abusive to Ryuuji, calling him a “dog,” or “mangy mutt.” She’s pushy and demanding and a serious clutz. I know these traits are supposed to be funny and cute, but they really aren’t. Not to me anyway. Ryuuji isn’t a complete push-over. He takes on Taiga’s unspoken challenge to get her and Yusaku so he can try to get Minori, but he takes on the “dog” role too quickly for my taste. The banter between them just isn’t interesting. It’s either her telling him what to do, or him yelling at her and she ignores him. These two just didn’t appeal to me.

There’s nothing new or different about the story. As a rom-com, it has to really on the characters to give it life, and as I’ve said, they don’t work for me, so the story really fell flat. I didn’t find any of the physical comedy funny, especially Taiga clutzy moments. But Ryuuji’s reaction to Taiga’s kitchen did get a smile out of me. I have no complaints about the story, it’s just, without interesting characters it feels “been there, done that.”

Zekkyo’s art is very well done. Even if I didn’t like the characters, I did like their designs. There’s a good mixture of designs among the characters, and their attitudes really come through in the art. From Ryuuji’s squinty eyes, which I personally didn’t see as troublesome, but that just me, to Taiga switching from cute and vunerable to a mean and determined, there was no ambiguity about what anyone was feeling. I really could have done without Ryuuji’s mom. Her only purpose seems to be for fanservice, which along with her ditzy personality makes her very unappealing to me.

Overall, Toradora isn’t a bad title, it just got a “meh” reaction from me. Without liking the characters, I just can’t get into the story. I know I’m in the minority with regards to my opinion about this title, but that’s nothing new. I may give it another volume to see if anything changes, but as it stands, it’s a series I’m not going to follow regularly.

Vampire Cheerleaders/Paranormal Mystery Squad Volume 1

The Bakertown High School cheerleading squad has a secret: behind all their pretty make-up and short skirts are five hungry vampires who sure know how to show their school spirit!

When one of their own turns up missing, the senior cheerleaders have no other choice but to induct one of the eleventh grade girls from the B Squad into their vixenous ranks. But siring new recruit Heather Hartley is the easy part…keeping a sheltered virgin from not going wild and draining the entire football team on the eve of their big homecoming game is another matter!

Written by Adam Arnold; Art by Shiei and Comipa
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy
Price: $10.99

I like Seven Seas Entertainment. Really, I do. They have a nice mix of original and licensed titles, with a very eclectic selection of genres. Sadly though, I didn’t like one of their biggest hits, AOI House. So I didn’t have high hopes for Vampire Cheerleaders when it was announced, but I was looking forward to Paranormal Mystery Squad. Boy, did I get those turned around.

Vampire Cheerleaders is just as cliché as it sounds. Good girl Heather is invited to join the ‘A’ cheerleading squad after one of its members goes missing. Once “initiated” into their coven, she goes wild with her new power and ends up draining the football team just before the big homecoming game, and the girls have to figure out a way to keep their team from losing.

Even though everything about the characters is cliché, from Heather’s strict parents, to Heather’s transformation from goody-two shoes to vamp, to all the clique-y in-fighting between the girls, to even the geeky best friend who knows the cheerleaders are vampires and get pushed by the wayside once Heather becomes popular, the story is mildly amusing. The characters are varied enough to be interesting. While I don’t generally like stories about popular clique girls, these girls were engaging enough to keep me from getting bored.

I was even intrigued by the coven’s leader Lori’s past (and not just because we share a name, though, she does spell it right) and her need to keep coming back to the school and have a “perfect senior year”. There seems to be something there. The art is nice and clean and the character designs are well done. I wouldn’t mind reading another story from this series.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Paranormal Mystery Squad is a whole ‘nother story.

Double-featuring with Vampire Cheerleaders is Paranormal Mystery Squad, written by Adam Arnold with art by Comipa, in a ghostbusting Aoi House spin-off.

Goth girl Stephanie Kane always thought she was special; that there was something different about her. It turns out that she’s the most normal person out there and everyone else around her is some kind of paranormal freak! Seriously: her sister is a werewolf, her best friend is a witch, and her next door neighbor is a dhampir. Together, this motley crew of unlikely friends travel the country in their trusty Winnebago in search of cryptids and all manner of supernatural beasties!

With a title like “Paranormal Mystery Squad”, I was hoping there would be some really mystery and at least interesting paranormal activity. I got neither. Instead I got characters that are completely unlikable, and a story that drags on and goes no where. There is absolutely no character in this story that I can find even tolerable. Stephanie and Katie are unpleasant and spiteful, the very definition of the word “bitch.” I just grew to hate them the more I read. And what I was reading was boring at best, and insulting at worst. About half way through, I kept hoping the story was over, but it just kept going. I think all the parts about women and their menstruation were supposed to be funny, but it really wasn’t. Even the title gets into the act. It’s exactly this kind of crude humor that I disliked in AOI House. I should get combat pay for making it to the end.

The art in this story was rough and uneven. Overall, the story a few (very few) decent moments. I did like the Ghostbusters reference, but it’s just not something I can recommend in good conscience. You couldn’t pay me to read another story in this series, which leaves me in a conundrum. How do I read the next Vampire Cheerleaders without supporting Paranormal Mystery Squad? Digital versions of the titles sold separately please, Seven Seas!

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 1

Sakura is the granddaughter of a mysterious moon princess who slew demons with her Blood Cherry Blossom sword. All her life Sakura has been forbidden to look at the full moon without knowing why. Then one night, unhappy over her impending marriage, Sakura gazes up at the moon, only to see a demon attacking her…

Continue reading Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 1

Ooku: The Inner Chamber Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

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…

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Flower of Life Volume 1-4: Manga Movable Feast

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!

By: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Slice of Life
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★★

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.

Oresama Teacher Volume 1

Mafuyu, determined to make the best of the situation and make her mother proud, decides to turn over a new, feminine, well-behaved leaf. But her yanki soul can’t be kept down, and the night before school starts she finds herself defending some guy who’s getting beaten up. One slip wouldn’t have been a problem, except the guy is…her teacher?! How can Mafuyu learn to be a girly girl if her teacher won’t let her forget her yanki past?

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Fruits Basket Volume 1-4: MMF

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.

By: Natsuki Takaya
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99/OOP
Rating: ★★★★½

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?