Category Archives: Reviews

14th Dalai Lama and Che Guevara

In Japan, manga covers all sorts of subjects. It isn’t all boys fighting to protect the planet or girls looking for love. There are manga for just about every subject. Penguin Books has tapped into one of those other subjects: Biography. They debut their manga line with the lives of two very influential people of the 20th century with mixed results.

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Dr. Slump vol 12 and O-Parts Hunter vol 5

Dr. Slump Volume 12

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By Akira Toriyama  ♦ Viz Media ♦ Teen ♦ Action/Comedy ♦ $7.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

In an especially tearful episode, Senbei fixes the anti-gravity device on the Tsun family’s rocket, and they leave Penguin Village forever…or at least, for a few pages.  And in a slightly less tearful episode, Senbei fixes the anti-gravity device (again!), this time so that King Nikochan can return home—with some unwanted stowaways:  Arale and the Gatchans!

The only tears that usually come from a Dr. Slump volume are from laughter.  This series is all about the slapstick, and this volume doesn’t disappoint.  From Arale having a greeting battle with a space monster that threatens Nikochan’s home planet, to a thief that uses books to distract her victims as she robs them, there’s always a good reason to laugh.  Even in the less comical chapter where the Gatchans finding an egg that they and Arale decide to hatch, which leads the Norimaki household on a journey to take the baby Penseal home to his parents, they still find time to do laundry (in the Nile), get ice from the refrigerator (that Midori packs), and stop for sightseeing in France.  It might seem at first glance to be gags that have all been done before, but Toriyama’s cast of characters definitely give them new life.  And the “Day in the Life” photos of Toriyama were fun too.

Not all of the chapters were laugh-out-louds, but as a whole, this volume does a good job of entertaining.  It definitely merits returning to Penguin Village for more silliness from its inhabitants.

O-Parts Hunter Volume 5

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By Seishi Kishimoto ♦ Viz Media ♦ Action ♦ Teen + ♦ $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

Jio’s friend Ball always dreamed of being strong—strong enough to help the resistance movement stop the maniacal governor Jaga who has a stranglehold on his hometown, and strong enough to defend his friends and his sister.  Now that he too is an O.P.T., it looks like Ball might stand a chance!  Can he, a novice when it comes to O-Parts, defeat a powerful member of the Zenom syndicate single-handed?

As we move toward the climax of the Entotsu storyline, this volume spotlights how much Ball and Jio have grown.  Ball, after all his bragging, finally figures out what it means to be an O.P.T., and shows all of his big talk wasn’t for nothing.  Jio has a greater obstacle to face, as he finally comes face to face with his inner demon, Satan, and makes a deal with the devil, so to speak.  And, though we are still faced with more questions than answers, we do learn a little more about Satan’s motives.  And, as you might suspect, they aren’t very nice.  Despite it’s slow start, this series is finally starting to get into its stride and it’s really starting to shine.

At its heart, O-Parts Hunter is a straight out action series.  It has an energy that’s really appealing without being big and flashy.  When I first started reading this series, it reminded me of another title, and it took me a while to figure out which; Dragon Ball.  Toriyama storytelling had the same straight forward action as this one.  The original Dragon Ball was a quest with a lot of fun and action.  O-Parts Hunter has that same energy, and it makes this title a lot of fun to read.  It was another one that I just couldn’t put down until the end.  And it looks like the action is really going to be taking off from here.

Season’s Screamings: Grand Guignol Orchestra & March Story

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. So in that spirit, here are two titles to make you clutch your blanket closer on these cold, dark winter nights.

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Angel Sanctuary Volumes 1-4

Setsuna Mudo has some serious problems. He is always getting into fights, doesn’t care for authority, and worst of all, has incestuous feeling for his sister, Sara. To top all this off, he also seems to be the reincarnation of the angel Alexial, who is being punished by God for rebelling against him. Now, Alexial’s twin, Rosiel is trying to kill Setsuna before Alexial awakens, the demon Kurai wants Alexial to awake and lead the demons against heaven, and all Setsuna wants to do is run away with Sara.

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Angel Sanctuary Volume 1-4
By Kaori Yuki
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Shoujo
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I read the first volume of Angel Sanctuary a few years ago, and at the time didn’t care much for it. But after reading, and enjoying, other works by the same creator, Kaori Yuki, I decided to give the series another try, and read a few more volumes to give it a real chance.

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The story revolves around Setsuna Mudo, your typical angst-ridden teenage boy with the usual problems you’d expect a teenage boy to have; getting into fights and not caring for authority. But the one problem he does have, that makes him unusual, is the incestual feelings he has for his sister, Sara. He tries not to express them, coming off more like an overprotective brother, but his inner thoughts are consumed by her. This has completely alienated him from his mother, who seems to sense there’s something wrong with her son, and doesn’t trust him with Sara. This plotline dominates the first four volumes, as Setsuna struggles with his growing feelings and finally gives in to them, convincing Sara to run away with him.

But Setsuna has another problem. He is also the reincarnation of the Archangel Alexial. The demons, led by Kurai, want to awaken Alexial, so she can lead them against the armies of heaven. But the angels fear Alexial, and one angel, Katan, takes it upon himself to use forbidden magic in the form of a computer program, Angel Sanctuary, to free Rosiel, the only angel that has a chance going up against Alexiel. Rosiel is too consumed by revenge and himself to care much for heaven’s problems, and will use anyone or everyone to kill Alexiel.

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When I first read this series, I was bothered with the incest angle. But after reading more of Yuki’s titles, I came to realize it was just a plot device she used to create angst in her characters. And there is a lot of angst in this series. I nearly lost all interest in the series, as the first three volumes is consumed with Setsuna and Sara willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of the other. The actual angel plot took a back seat to this as the importance of Setsuna’s and Sara’s relationship was emphasized, as it becomes the catalyst for Alexiel’s awakening. I understand the need to emphasize a point, but was 3 volumes of angst-ridden teens really that necessary?

The angels of Angel Sanctuary are not your typical “dressed in white with halos and hands together in prayer”. They are little different from humans, with many of the same desires and animosities. They are also the biggest jerks you could ever imagine. They think nothing of raping a demon survivor of a massacre they had just done. Female angels are persecuted for being temptresses, and they have little to no interest in humanity. They seem to be more preoccupied with a power struggle of who will be in charge now that God has had to go to sleep as his power weakens. They will go to any length to succeed. The entire time I was reading these volumes, I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarity between the way these angels acted and the angels in the TV series Supernatural. The angels in that show were in a struggle with each other to cause Armageddon while God was absent. The Supernatural angels were just as big of jerks, and cared just as much about humanity. I wonder if the creators of Supernatural were familiar with this manga?

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My interest returned with the fourth volume, as the story turned toward a more traditional quest plot. Setsuna is determined to rescue Sara, and must take a Orphean journey to the underworld to find her. Along the way, he will have gain followers, both angel and demon and return before his time is up (literally). He starts out with a familiar face as a guide, and while he may have it in for Setsuna, there do seem to be indications that he may become Setsuna’s first follower. The quest plot was infinitely more entertaining than the angst-ridden teenagers of the first three volumes. I may continue with the series, but only because of this turn of events. If I had stopped reading at three, I wouldn’t have considered continuing.

The art is ver recognizable as Yuki’s, with longs of beautiful boys and long, stringy, flowing hair. You can tell this was written early in her career, as the art is rougher and not as refined as Godchild. It doesn’t look bad, but you can tell it’s not her latest work.

I wanted to like Angel Sanctuary, since I’ve enjoyed so many of Kaori Yuki’s other titles, but the first three volumes made it really hard. A little bit of angst I can take to establish a conflict. Spread it out over length of the story, such as Godchild does, if you must, but concentrating so much at the beginning really turns me away. I think I will investigate further volumes of this series, just to see where it goes, but I think I’ll borrow, or if it ever becomes available digitally. I want to know better what I’m getting before investing in a 20 volumes series, especially with such a shaky start.

Bunny Drop Volume 2

As the impromptu dad and his charge learn to adapt to both one another and their very new living situation, Daikichi is plagues by thoughts of Rin’s mother. Who is she? Why has she been quiet all this time? Hot on the trail after discovering a modem at the old man’s computer-less abode, Daikichi plays detective in a search for answers. But elementary school enrollment, extracurricular activities, and other parental obligations wait for no man, so when the day of confrontation with the mysterious Masako arrives, will Daikichi be prepared?!

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By Yumi Unita
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★½

Rin has been with Daikichi for 6 months now, and both seem to have settled into their new situation. Daikichi’s demotion to the warehouse has him interacting with more parents than the single guys in the sales department. Rin is finding more acceptance from Daikichi’s immediate family and starts to open up to them more. But it’s Daikichi’s obsession with finding Rin’s mother that’s the focus of this second volume.

I really enjoyed watching Daikichi’s continued adjustment to parenthood. In his new position in the distribution department, he has other parents to interact and commiserate with. The stressing over extracurricular activities, preparing to start elementary school are all things parents deal with, so seeing Daikichi stumble through them is a familiar feeling. I loved the scene at Rin’s graduation ceremony, where Daikichi is the only one there without *at least* one camera. Though, he read through Rin’s Mother-Child Health Record, and even commented on how thorough the mother was in filling it out, so it was odd that he would have to ask about immunizations. It did make for a good panel for the dirty looks he got from some of the other mothers.

Most of this volume though, was about Daikichi’s search for Rin’s mother. He has a hard time understanding why she hasn’t tried to get Rin back. When he finally meets her, the answer is rather shocking to him. She chose her career over raising Rin. Choosing to continue working while raising a child is a decision a lot of women must face, as we do see in the volume with Kouki’s Mom trying to juggle work with Kouki just as Daikichi does with Rin. Daikichi’s mother tried working after having him and becoming pregnant with his sister Kazumi, but was forced out by the company she worked for. But Masako takes things a step too far by not even trying, and convincing Rin she isn’t her mother. Masako’s whole attitude toward it though seems a little extreme, and it’s hard not to agree with Daikichi’s reactions. But it probably is the best for Rin to not be with her. Children only do better with their parents when they care. They will always flourish with people who truly care for them, and there’s no doubt Daikichi cares for Rin.

Bunny Drop continues to be a great title that is charming while being very relatable. Daikichi fumbles though his sudden parenthood just as well as a parent that’s been raising their child all along. He struggles through the same choices and decisions, and even parents from the beginning have doubts about their abilities to raise their child properly. He makes good decisions though, and respects Rin’s feeling, perhaps more than actual parents might. I continue to recommend this title highly.

One Piece Volumes 1-4: Manga Movable Feast

As a child, Monkey D. Luffy was inspired to become a pirate by listening to the tales of the buccaneer “Red-Haired” Shanks. but hislife changed when luffy accidentally ate the fruit of the Gum-Gum Tree, and gained the power to stretch ike rubber…at the cost of never being able to swim again! Years later, still vowing to become the king of the pirates, Luffy sets out on his adventure…one guy alone in a rowboat, in search of the legendary “One Piece”, said to be the greatest treasure in the world…

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Bakuman Volume 2

After Moritaka and Akito collaborate on a manga together, they venture to publishing house Shueisha in hopes of capturing an editor’s interest. As much potential as these two rookies have, will their story impress the pros and actually get printed?

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Story by Tsugumi Ohba; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publsiher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

The boys have their first final draft down and meet with an editor from Weekly Jump. Hattori is impressed with potential and encourage them to bring their work to him. They submit for the next Tezuka award, and make it to the final eight but aren’t chosen for an award. They are still encouraged to go ahead and try to get a one-shot in Akamasu Jump, a quarterly special magazine. In the meantime, they have graduated middle school and applied and started high school. Moritaka and Miho have started talking, first through notes in class and then through email. Akito has gained a girlfriend too, Miho’s friend Mayashi.

I liked this volume better than the first one. It focuses on the process of getting a manga into a publisher and much of the hierarchy of the Weekly Jump offices. In their talks with Hattori, Moritaka and Akito learn how stories are chosen for the monthly contests, what publishers and judges look for in the Tezuka contest, and the biggest hurdle of all, placing in the reader survey. I found all of this information fascinating. Watching the boys process the information and adjust accordingly in the manga creation really drew me in. I really liked Hattori, the editor at Jump who talks to the boys. He is very grounded and straight-forward with them. He doesn’t pull punches with either his criticism of their work, or their chances. He wants to take them on a slow and steady course while they boys are looking for fast and furious. This will no doubt lead to difficulties later.

This volume also finally introduces Eiji Nizuma, the “once-in-a-decade” genius manga creator. He is not what I expected. He is shown always drawing manga, as if he can’t stop. He has a very juvenile attitude, calling out sound effects as he draws. His condition for coming to Tokyo to start a weekly series, is to have the ability to cancel any series he personally doesn’t like. I found him dislikable from the beginning, and hard to believe he could create anything really great. Entertaining yes, since he seems to have the same mentality (or lower) as his audience, but nothing that could reach beyond it. He is obviously being set up at Moritaka’s and Akito’s rival, so he is probably not meant to be liked, but I don’t think I would like him even if he wasn’t.

There was no blatant anti-woman message in this volume, though there was one scene that is borderline, if you think about it. After Akito is suspended for fighting, Iwase and Miyoshi come to visit him. The “smart” girl, Iwase, is portrayed as the more unreasonable of the two. She assumed after shaking hands with Akito in their freshman year that they were going out (a stupid assumption since they never interacted). She has the “normal” person reaction of telling Akito he was making a mistake by trying to become a manga creator and that he will regret the choice. So, what was the point of this scene except to show how “dumb” (by Akito’s standards) Iwase was. At least it was short and more subtle this time.

Overall, this volume was an improvement over the last. I really liked all the Weekly Jump references that were seen all over the book, especially in the Jump offices. There are posters all over featuring Jump titles, and even the cover has Akito holding Naruto, One Piece and Bleach volumes, all very clear what series they are. I’m actually looking forward to the next volume, to see if the boys can come up with a more Shonen Jump character and story and really get on their road to serialization.

Gestalt Volume 8

So what’s a girl to do with the power of an immortal god? it’s a tough decision, especially with the fate of Ouri’s homeland at stake. She and Father Olivier are going to fight an ancient battle all over again. And if they win? It just might mean that everyone–from the gods all the way down to Olivier himself– will find what they’ve been searching for. If they don’t… well, one way of the other, their journey is coming to a spectactular conclusion.

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by Yun Kouga
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
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[Contains Spoilers]

It’s been a while since I read a volume that was a total let down, especially with being the final volume, but Gestalt managed to do just that. With the world doomed to end and powerful gods descending to earth to battle it out over said doom, you’d expect more exciting fight scene, and really, just more fighting! Instead we are treated to a lot of selfish talk and inward reflections, and a instead of ending with a bang, the titles goes out in a whimper.

Ouri, Olivier and friends have reached Gestalt, the island where the great beast is said to lay. It is also Ouri’s homeland. He goes in search of his father to tell him he has the great beast inside him, and has for years. But, it seems Ouri was mistaken, as his father informs him, and reveals to him the truth. Meanwhile, everyone else is fighting a seemingly resurrected Father Messiah. Black Olivier is in charge, while Olivier is buried deal in his subconscious, facing the truth of his past and coming to accept Father Messiah’s death. Everyone tries to fight Messiah and fails until Ouri arrives, in sexy underwear to save the day. True identities are revealed, and the world is saved. Yup. Pretty much just like that.

I was really hoping for more from this final volume. But all anyone does in this supposed action-fantasy is talk. The battle scene that takes up about half of the volume is mostly Olivier, as either himself or Black Olivier talking to Messiah, telling him he’s going to stop him. There is some magic thrown around that stops Shazan, but the most exciting part of the battle is when Ouri’s father joys the fray and gets thrown across the room and makes an imprint in the wall. And the final confrontation between Gestalt and Salsaroa? Non-existent. Well, that’s not completely true. They do confront one another, but the best Salsaroa can manage is to threaten the body he inhabits, which is already did. And then poof, they’re gone. And no one cared. It was just “huh, they’re gone,” and move on to the end. I couldn’t believe this seemingly big build up to the confrontation would just go **poof**.

The characters that I had liked in volume 6 weren’t so great in this volume. Ouri showed himself to be selfish and self-centered, something that I probably would have gotten if I had read the series from the beginning, but seeing it now, when the end of the world is nigh doesn’t work so well for me. It was probably completely in character for his whole problem with letting Gelstalt in was that he didn’t want to lose himself, and he still had things he wanted to do. Well, if the world ends, you won’t get to do those things anyway. And it went on for pages, his whining like a kid. Any of the good I saw in volume 6 was sucked out in this one.

The ending of Gestalt seems to at least be consistent with the rest of the series. The scene cuts are badly done, especially with the fight scenes. If Kouga didn’t want to draw fights, she shouldn’t have done a fantasy series with a lot of confrontations. It seems every time she has a fight, she flashes over to some else for a while, and then returns to the fight, mostly at the pauses in the action. I can’t really see anyone other than fans of Kouga really enjoying this title. I think the initial premise was good, but the execution was not.

Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide

Forget Godzilla. Forget the giant beasties karate-chopped into oblivion by endless incarnations of Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and the Power Rangers. Forget the Pocket Monsters. Forget Sadako from The Ring and that creepy all-white kid from The Grudge. Forget everything you know about Japanese tales of terror. The yokai are the spookiest Japanese creatures you’ve never heard of, and it’s high time they got their due.

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Black Butler Volume 2

As high sciety’s social calendar opens up and the Season draws to a close, London is gripped by fear. Someone has taken to stalking women of the night and painting the town red…in their blood. But while the name on everyone’s lips is “Jack the Ripper,” the name on Queen Vitoria’s lips is Phantomhive. Summoned to London to clean up the mess created by this madman, young earl Ciel Phantomhive arrives with his extraordinary butler Sebastian, at his side to pour him tea, polish his silver, and …investigate a serial killer!

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By Yana Tosobo
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★½

The second volume of Black Butler starts off as light-hearted as the first. It opens by showing us a day in the life of Sebastian, as he deals with idiotic servants and a caprious master who off-handedly mentions that several orphans will be visiting…the next day. Sebastian’s internal dialog throughout this chapter is just hilarious as he tries to keep his cool with each new catastrophe interrupting his attempts to prepare for the visit. And his stress-reliever at like this is just awesome. Cats. He loves them, and where he comes from, they don’t have pets like cats. I love the image of the pets they do have. Even though I enjoyed the first volume, this chapter cemented Black Butler as a must have title.

Things start to get more serious after this chapter, as Ciel is called by “her” to look into the murders that have been happening in the East End of London, Jack the Ripper. It’s a slow build up as the search for him starts. Ciel’s aunt, known as Madame Red is introduced as is her friend, Lau, the British Branch Manager of the Chinese trading company Kong Rong. We also meet one of Ciel’s underworld contacts, a very odd man known as the Undertaker, a rather appropriate contact considering the case. Sebastian gets some payback here, as he engages in some misdirection that leads to Ciel being forced to attend a ball dressed as a girl as part of the investigation. He is a devil after all. The volume ends with Jack’s identity being revealed, and it’s quite a twist. There is more to the killings that just being random murders.

I’m still really enjoying Black Butler. There is still a good amount of humor, even without the comedy relief servants. The wicked humor between Sebastian and Ciel balances well with the darker drama that is growing in the series. And Sebastian’s moments with cats really make me smile. But when it get serious, it doesn’t hold anything back. Even though we don’t get to see the scene of the last murder, we can tell from Ciel’s reaction that it is truely horrifying.

There are some nice extras that round out the volume, including a bonus scene that shows Ciel’s “training” to act like a proper lady, a look behind the scene of making the manga with Toboso, and a picture of the cast as in a medical drama. And doctor just might be needed with the promise of a serious fight coming up in the next volume. I look forward to seeing Sebastian in action after the small glimpses we’ve gotten so far.

Ghost Hunt Volumes 1-2

Ordinary high school student Mai Taniyama is drawn into the world of ghosts and spirits when her school hires Kazuya Shibuya of Shibuya Psychic Research to investigate alleged haunting of an old school building. After accidentally breaking a very expensive camera and injuring Shibuya’s assistant Linn, Mai becomes his assistant. They are soon joined by a Shinto Miko, a Buddhist monk, a psychic medium and a Catholic priest. The school wants to be very sure there are no spirits to interrupt the buildings demolition.

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Story by Fuyumi Ono; Adapted by Shiho Inada
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Horror
Price: $10.95
Rating: ★★★★★

Ghost Hunt is based on a series of light novels originally published in the late 80s to mid 90’s. It follows the cases of Shibuya Psychic Research as they investigate alleged hauntings and find the cause, whether it is natural or otherwise. Of course, more often than not, the hauntings will be real.

The first volume introduces all the characters that will become the ensemble cast for the rest of the series. The case of the supposedly haunted school building is really secondary to the characters introductions. We first meet Mai, a seemingly normal high school girl who is blackmailed into being Shibuya’s assistant. She gets pushed around by him, but she doesn’t take it meekly. She happily pushes back. She fairly smart and makes a good, strong female lead. She does find Shibuya handsome, as do all the females in the series, but his less than friendly personality and narcissistic behavior mostly cancels that out. She even gives him the nickname of Naru-chan, which is quickly picked up by the rest of the cast. Despite that, she does seem to develop feelings for him.

Shibuya, the aforementioned Naru-chan, is the president of SPR, Shibuya Psychic Research. He is only 16 years-old, yet is very learned about the supernatural and can read and writing several languages, including English. His personality is rather cold and indifferent, and he seems more concerned about getting the job done than other people’s feelings. Though, he does show to be surprisingly compassionate at the resolution of both these first two cases. He tends to look down at people, and has a very high opinion of himself, though he does seem to like Mai, as he asks her to work for him part-time. He is a ghost hunter, using technology to find and confirm spirit activity, though again, he surprises everyone again with another skill.

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The rest of the cast is rounded out by four exorcists. Ayako Matsuzaki is a self-proclaimed miko with a bit of an attitude. Takigawa Houshou is a monk from Koya Mountain with long hair and pieced ears who is “taking a break”. John Brown is a Catholic priest from Australia with a Kansai accent who is also an exorcist, a Masako Hara is a psychic medium who also has her own TV show. They all start out competing with each other, and especially with Shibuya, and egos are checked as they go through the first case. By the second case though, they are working together more as a team. The second case is much more serious, and everyone’s skills are needed to keep the ghosts at bay and protect a little girl and her aunt from harm.

The stories are more psychological horror than gore. No one is killed, though characters do get hurt, especially Mai. In both stories, Mai is knocked out and has a dream about the current case and that features a kinder, gentler Naru-chan. This Dream-Naru-chan helps her with these dreams which end up contributing to the case, suggesting there might be more to Mai than we, or even she, knows.

While the stories are fun ghost tales, the real heart of this title is the characters. It’s a really good ensemble cast that works well together. There isn’t a shirking violet among them, and they are all ready to take up the challenge, whether it’s Naru-chan’s sharp tongue, or facing a vengeful spirit. Even Mai, without any power or knowledge, is ready to jump into the fray, usually without thinking of the consequences. There is also a sort-of love triangle being set up between her, Naru-chan and Masako. There are hints of feelings between them, but it’s keep to the background. It never becomes the focus of the story, which is as it should be.

Ghost Hunt has started out as a good title with strong, entertaining characters, and some eerie ghost stories. While ghosts or spirits aren’t always the culprits, there is usually some sort of paranormal explanation for the phenomena they encounter. I definitely recommend this title if you like some mystery, ghost tales, and lots of good character interaction.