Category Archives: Reviews

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.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Volume 1

We’ve all heard urban legends–stories that we tell one another late at night., Just to make us cringe and freak ourselves out. WE dismiss these stories as just plain old creepy. But what happens when they become real…? Enter Detective Aso Daisuke. When he isn’t dealing with cheating spouses, con artists or his ero-manga collection, he dives deep into the intense fear of these horrors. With his first case–the man under the bed–can he stop a disturbed killer with a blood axe?

By Sakae Esuno
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

I’ve always loved stories about myths and legends, and urban legends are the mythology of modern-day. We don’t believe in witches, vampires or werewolves. Instead we have axe murders, men with hook-hands, and ladies with slit-mouths. So, I was intrigued by the premise of Hanako and the Terror of Allegory which looks at what happens when these legends become real, and fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.

In Hanako and the Terror of Allegory, urban legends are just that, legends that get passed around by word of mouth. But every once in a while, a person can hear a story and start to believe it. As they believe it more, it becomes more real. The person is then possessed by the allegory. To be honest, the stories aren’t really spine tinglers, but I still found them to be entertaining. The first chapter with the man under the bed was pretty cliché, but the second with slit-mouthed woman had a nice twist at the end, as did the final story with the human-faced fish. I liked seeing each legend in action. The stories written for them were competently done. While it was fun to see the monsters in action, it’s the humanity in the stories that really make them work. As Hanako says, the allegories can’t exist without humans, and it’s the human elements of the stories, and their resolutions that I found to be the most interesting.

The same goes for most of the characters. I didn’t really care for Kanae. Just as the cover shows, her only purpose seems to be someone for Aso to rescue. She is useless for most of the volume, and even though she acknowledges her uselessness, I still didn’t really like her. Hopefully things will improve for her in the next volume. Aso on the other hand, really drew my attention, especially in the last story, where we learned more about him. He became more than just a porn-reading loser. And Hanako’s thoughts at the end of the Human-faced fish really stirred my curiosity. Hanako herself had her moments. Her talk with Kanae about the nature of allegories made her fascination with technology all the more interesting. Though, the use of that same technology against the allegories somehow lessen the effect of the endings of the stories. I don’t know, but it felt like a crutch to use computers to stop the allegories.

The art is serviceable. It’s fairly average in the portrayal of the humans, but the monsters are the show of this title. Every one of them is creepy and sometimes downright disturbing, particularly the human-faced fish. I also really liked the man under the bed. He was really creepy with the one eye staring out of the darkness. There is also some mild fanservice, porn magazine covers not withstanding. But it’s kept to a minimum, and I think I missed a panel or two of them the first read through.

I’m going to keep reading Hanako and the Terror of Allegory despite, or perhaps because it isn’t really a horror title like say Hellsing. It’s more of the psychological horror that I prefer, and I just can’t get enough of its folktales, yokai and urban legends. If you’re looking for a light read with just a touch of the shiver factor, then check this title out.

Mixed Vegetables Volume 7

Leaving her internship at Sushi Hyuga to go on her family’s annual trip to France is the last thing Hanayu wants to do. On the other hand, a pastry-research trip in Europe is Hayato’s idea of a dream come true–can the two aspiring chefs ever catch a break? Plus, Hayato has become suspicious of patisserie assistant Maezawa, who has expressed an interest in Hanayu. As it turns out, both Hanayu and Hayato may have their wires crossed about what Maezawa is really after!

By: Ayumi Komura
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/Food
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I read the first 2 preview chapters for this series back when Shojo Beat was still around, and wasn’t impressed. Further reviews from fellow reviewers didn’t inspire me to look further into the series, and I’m not a foodie, so this volume had three strikes against it going in. But it actually wasn’t so bad. There wasn’t anything great about it. It’s a fairly average title, but I didn’t regret the time I spent reading it.

Hanaya and Hayato, the leads that I found so annoying in the preview chapters of volume 1, aren’t so bad by this volume. Hanaya no longer has to plot to get Hayato to marry her, which is what I disliked so much about her initially. She and Hayato have admitted their feelings for each other, and by this volume, Hanaya is working in Hayato’s family sushi shop. I found the characters much more likeable this time around, which greatly improved my reading experience.

Hanaya’s family plan a trip to France, and with Hanaya and Hayato trading places, each of them gets the chance to become immersed in their preferred environment. Hanaya, while already working at the Sushi shop, hasn’t actually been able to work in the kitchen. In this volume, she gets some time in, and shows her ability to combine foods and flavors that compliment each other, creating new and interesting dishes. Hayato gets to go on a pastry-tasting trip with Ashifuba, Hayana’s father, where he shows his ability to identify who made a pastry just by sight and flavor.

As is typical with any romance, there are forces seemingly conspiring to keep Hanaya and Hayato from staying together, especially now that they’ve decided to be together. The threat of Maizawa turns out to not actually be one, but the volume ends on a cliff hanger that just could. It’s actually a pretty cliché route to go, especially with the way the series has been set up. But it wasn’t poorly done, just not unexpected.

Overall, this volume wasn’t a bad read. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t an inspiring read either. There’s nothing really interesting about the characters in general. The lead characters particular talents are mildly interesting but not enough to really be a draw. Hanaya’s side of the story was definitely more entertaining. It focused more on the food and preparation than on the angst Hayato was facing. The art is average, but some of the characters are rather distinctive-looking. Maizawa comes to mind. I did like that as well. Mixed Vegetables isn’t a bad time killer, but it’s not a keeper.

Canon Volumes 1-4

Canon is a story of revenge, regret, love and redemption. Canon Himura is the sole survivor of a vampire attack where 39 of her fellow students died and she herself was made into a vampire as well. Six months have passed, and now she is searching for the vampire she believes is responsible to avenge her friends and herself. She is accompanied by a vampiric crow, Fui, who helps her sniff out other vampires. At first, all they find are servants, humans infected with vampire blood, until Sakaki appears. He is half human/half vampire, and he has a grudge against the same vampire as Canon. His parents were killed and he left for dead for being a “half”. He offers to help her find and destroy their mutual enemy.

by Chika Shiomi
Publisher: CMX
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Horror/Suspense
Price: $9.99 (OOP)
Rating: ★★★★½
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This seemingly straightforward setup quickly starts taking twists and turns as Canon learns the truth about who killed her friends, her connection to the elder vampire Rod, and who holds the strings to her heart. As the truth comes out and the battles between Sakaki and the pure blood vampires continue, people change sides, enemies become allies, and all the way through Canon is the lynch pin that changes people’s hearts and lives.

Canon is the heart of this title. She is a great female lead. Strong-minded and determined, she chooses her course and can not be easily swayed from it. She doesn’t care about her odds of succeeding. She will still try her best, whether it’s facing powerful vampires or trying to save humans from becoming servants. She draws a lot of her strength from being able to hold on to her humanity. She is able to fight off the thirst for human blood and keeps a hold of her self, and in doing so also keeps much of her compassion. She argues with Sakaki about killing and even convinces him to spare the pure blood Machua. It’s this compassion, even in the face of her, enemy that makes Canon a force to be reckoned with. It helps her to overcome her desire for revenge, as she tries instead to break the cycle, and keep anyone else from dying. The lengths she will go for this impress even Glenn, a vampire elder determined to follow the laws of his clan.

The story is well written and moves at a good pace. Each volume can almost be said to have a theme running through it. Volume 1 is about revenge. Canon spends most of the volume going on about the desire for revenge, and we quickly learn Sakaki wants the same. In volume 2 we meet Rod, and learn the truth about what happened to both Canon and Sakaki. Rod shows his regret for what he had to do and it resonates with Canon. In Volume 3, Canon acknowledges her feelings for Sakaki, despite all the pain he has caused her. Volume 4 is about redemption, for Rod and especially for Sakaki, and only Canon can help him find it.

The world of Canon is laid out quickly and remains internally consistent to the end. One of the things I really appreciated about it was the focus remained on Canon and her goals, and not on getting her and Sakaki together. Canon doesn’t dwell on him and what he might think of her. She only thoughts are if she can trust him, and then if she can kill him. There are very few suggestive bite scenes and they are short at that. Most of the time, the biting is brutal, and there is a lot of blood flowing, just as you would expect in a vampire story. The romance is secondary to the story, which makes the suspense all the more thrilling.

Shiomi’s art is just beautiful. Set in modern Japan, Canon is dressed in smart but (mostly) sensible clothes. I have doubts about the spike heel boots, but as a vampire, she must have balance to do the high jumps and land on them just fine. In some scenes, she looks like she could be a professional working in an office. All of the characters had a professional look to them. No one was flamboyant or outlandish in style or dress.

Canon is a great series and at 4 volumes it shouldn’t be hard to track down. It’s more about action than romance and is character driven as many of Shiomi’s titles are. Not only does Canon grow and change over the course of the story, but so does Sakaki, Rod, and even Glenn. when you get to the end, you can not just see the changes, but feel them. It’s also a title that keeps you on your toes to the very end, and doesn’t romanticize vampires. They are the scary, blood sucking creatures of the night they were always meant to be, just a little more thoughtful for having met Canon.

Pig Bride Volumes 1-3

While at summer camp, the young Si-Joon gets lost in the mountains. He a girl wearing a pig mask and follows her home. Bribed with food, Si-Joon agrees to marry her. Eight years later, the memory of that day has been more like a dream that quicly becomes a nightmare when the girl in the pig mask appears at Si-Joon’s door on his 16th birthday, ready to consumate their marriage.

By KookHwa Huh & SuJin Kim
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★
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I first discovered Pig Bride when I picked up the inagural issue of Yen Plus, and was immediately charmed by it. This manhwa is a romantic comedy with elements of the supernatural and reincarnation. The series starts by emphasing the comedy more than the romance, but cunningly sneaks in the romantic elements as the series goes on. While the overall tone of the series is light, there are some more serious elements, that keep the title in balance.

Pig Bride is populated with quite a cast of characters. They are varied in their personalities and well-developed. Si-Joon, the male lead, is just a normal teenage boy who suddenly has the strangeness of a pig-masked fiancee thrust upon him, and acts accordingly. Mu-Yeon, the female lead, plays the already-in-love fiancee perfectly, following Si-Joon around and calling him ‘Milord’. But she isn’t ditzy or annoying. She is smart and skilled as well as sweet. She gets along well with Ji-Ho, Si-Joon’s best friend. Which is unusual, as Ji-Ho doesn’t seem to like the girls that try to get close to Si-Joon. He’s rather stoic toward Si-Joon’s situation, and seems to like Mu-Hwa, Mu-Yeon’s sister. Mu-Hwa is similar to Ji-Ho in some ways. Her expression rarely changes and she doesn’t speak much. But she has a great fondness for food, as when she sees Ji-Ho with a piece of Si-Joon’s birthday cake, she gulps it, the plate and Ji-Ho’s hand all in one bite. She does leave Ji-Ho his hand. She is very protective of Mu-Yeon, with ninja-like skills and a very big sword. Doe-Doe is Mu-Yeon’s rival for Si-Joon’s heart, though it isn’t much of a contest. Doe-Doe’s sweet and timid attitude is just an act that hides a greedy heart for Si-Joon’s family’s power and money. She doesn’t fool Ji-Ho who is always indifferent to her, and even icy at times. She is set up as a cruel and cold person, but quickly becomes more like comedy relief as she tries to get between Mu-Yeon and Si-Joon.

It’s the interaction between these characters that makes the comedy work so well. Si-Joon and Ji-Ho play well off of each other as reactionary and straight-man. Ji-Ho also has some good moments with Mu-Yeon, Mu-Hwa and Doe-Doe, though all are completely different. His cool personality makes him good to work with just about everyone. There are some classic romantic comedy moments, such as Mu-Yeon and Si-Joon getting stuck in a shower in the boys locker room as they hide from Si-Joon’s classmates, and when they are alone together Si-Joon mistakes a raccoon for Mu-Yeon’s touch. But these moments are rare, keeping the comedy fresh. The way Doe-Doe gets humilitated is both funny and imaginative, and shows the title’s ability to be more original.

As the story goes on though, it does start to get dark. An intergral part of the plot is the story of the Park Bride. Many years ago, there was a girl cursed with an ugly appearance, and wore a mask. She married a man and won his love, which lifted the curse and made her beautiful. Si-Joon and Mu-Yeon are the reincarnations of this couple. At first, the flashbacks/visions of their past lives are of romantic moments, but with the appearance of Princess Ki-Ryong, things start to get dangerous. She is also a reincarnation from the Park Bride story. She was an assassin sent to kill Si-Baek Lee, Si-Joon’s past life, and is intent on correcting her past life’s failure. To do so, she must keep Si-Joon from breaking Mu-Yeon’s curse. When her attempts to kiil him from afar fail, she appears in person to finish the job, and Si-Joon learns his true role in this game.

The art of Pig Bride just as light as it’s story. The characters are drawn well, and in proportion, with most of the detail going into their clothes and hair. The art can drift into the realm of chibis, but it fits the tone of the story perfectly, and they are very cute.

Pig Bride is a charming series with delightful characters, and a story that slowly builds up to its climax. Like a sit-com, it is filled with lots of funny situations that can be punctuated with a dramatic or romantic moment. I whole-heartily recommend this title.

Inubaka: Crazy For Dogs Volume 16

Woofles regular Chizuru advises her friend Serina, who is contemplating motherhood, to try looking after a dog first. Can Chizuru’s dog melon and a new puppy convince Serina that their affection and cuteness are worth the aggravation?

By Yukiya Sakuragi
Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Animal/Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

My first two reviews of this series were lukewarm, due to the fan service and doggie-ness of the title. I’m a cat person and don’t care much for dogs. This volume however, dealt with more plot and general animal care than just doggie-ness, so I could appreciate it and it’s message much more.

This volume picks up where volume 15 left off with Amuro being seriously injured in a car accident. Suguri’s quick thinking and level head saves the dog long enough to get to the animal hospital. Despite her dislike for Amuro’s owner Fujita, who kidnapped her as a child and is now stalking her, she allows Lupin’s blood to be used in a transfusion. Even though this doesn’t help get rid of him, and he keeps showing up throughout the volume, Suguri does gain some valuable information about Lupin’s grandfather, the dog that rescued her. It seems he may not be the only good samartian dog around. I found the introduction of this plot point to be very interesting. Who trained these dogs, and why do they help people and then disappear? It actually sounds intriguing.

The rest of the volume is spent showing some of the difficulties of being a pet owner. First, Chizuru has to wrestle with the decision to have Melon fixed. while this may seem like a no-brainer to veteran pet owners, seeing Chizuru agonize over the decision, and then see things turn out alright in the end, may help other new owners realize it’s okay to alter a pet. And then there’s Chizuru’s friend Serina. Her story realistically shows the problems of getting a puppy and the work it really is to take care of one. The parallels to having a child are obvious, with such things as having to clean up after them and dealing with their crying. Serina, and her husband show themselves to be irresponsible, and not taking the job seriously. Whether it’s a child or a pet, the same amount of responsibility is required, and these chapters show this very well.

I really enjoyed this volume, much more than the previous ones I’d read. The plot of Lupin’s heritage and the Good Samaritan rescue dogs is really intriguing. Suguri handles herself really well with Fujita as well, making it very clear that she doesn’t want to see him or have anything to do with him. But being the stalker that he is, he doesn’t listen. The chapters with Chizuru and her friend are excellent lessons in pet ownership, and would make good pamphlets on their own about caring for pet and thinking carefully about why and how committed you are to getting one. There are a few panels of fanservice, but they are as blatant as earlier volumes.

If Inubaka had been like this from the earlier volumes, it could have made a fan of me sooner. It’s still a series for dog lovers, but it’s also finally showing itself to have appeal for the non-dog persons like me.

You’re So Cool Volumes 5-6

I picked up volume 5 of You’re So Cool without having any idea what I was getting into. Reading random review copies from publishers can be hit or miss, but for me, it”s part of the fun of reviewing. A series that doesn’t look interesting from the back blurb or cover can turn out to be a diamond in the rough. That’s what You’re So Cool turned out to be for me.

By YoungHee Lee
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/manhwa
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆
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You’re So Cool is about the tumultuous relationship between the seemingly perfect Seung-Ha, and clumsy, clueless Nan-Woo. By volume 5, their relationship seems to be stabling out, but personal issues in Seung-Ha’s life staying weighing down on him. After getting sick from walking in the rain, and a night of feverish dreams, he decides to leave everyone behind, including Nan-Woo. The stubborn Nan-Woo can’t accept his leaving and goes searching for him, which includes camping out in front of his house, telling off his family, and finally finding him where she then proceeds to beat him up. The series ends happily for both Seung-Ha and Nan-Woo, and the sub-plot of relationship between Nan-Woo’s uncle Jay and Hyun-Ho.

I wasn’t sure what to think of this series at first. I didn’t have the background of the previous four volumes to explain who everyone was and what their relationships were, but by the end of volume 5, I was able to work it all out. The quirky collection of characters that make up this cast is what eventually won me over, in particular, Nan-Woo’s mother. She’s a tough, no-nonsense type a person who doesn’t mince her words. She’s also rather violent. She kicks down doors and emphasises her words with her fists, though always in comedic rather than serious kind of way. But for all her violent tendencies, she really does care for Nan-Woo, so it was nice to see the more caring and rational side of her after the violent outbursts.

Nan-Woo is definitely her mother’s daughter, as she has her own violent moments, but her sincerity and conviction is hard to resist. Seung-Ha plays the jerk well, but doesn’t come off as one in these last two volumes. His personal problems mitigate any dislike I might have had for him if I’d read from the beginning. Jay was a mystery until the last volume. I spent most of volume 5 trying to figure out if he was a guy or a girl,and didn’t get any kind of confirmation until volume 6. His more gentle personality balances well against his sister’s, but he did come off as rather emo.

These last two volumes deal with Seung-Ha having to make the choice of facing his problems, or running way from them. I think Lee did a good job of showing his emotional turmoil, and how he comes to the decision that he does. He doesn’t make any reversals of personality, and the makes the choice that seems to make the most sense to him. Of course, it takes Nan-Woo to show him the error of his ways, and finally find the forgiveness that has evaded him for so long.

Lee does a good job at drawing bishonen guys. Seung-Ha and Hyun-Ho are especially hot looking. And as I said with the aforementioned Jay, it was impossible to tell if he was male or female. But since his gender was supposed to be difficult to tell, Lee gets props for it. The one thing I had a problem with, and actually fixated on for about half of volume 5 was the size of the characters hands. They are HUGE compared to the rest of the character’s proportions. Seung-Ha’s hands were as big as Nan-Woo’s head! I honestly didn’t think I would be able to get over that, but I found myself drawn into the story so much that I stopped noticing them. It was only when I went looking for it that I saw the size difference. The character’s eyes are overly large too, and for people who may be a barrier to checking out this series. Don’t let it be. This story is worth looking past these artistic styles.

Overall, I found the ending of You’re So Cool it be a good and satisfying one, and I didn’t even start at the beginning. I’m glad I took the chance to read it and didn’t let the art keep me from getting to the end. It proved to be an enjoyable read, with characters that are fun and funny at the same time. If you get a chance, and you like romances with quirky and some times violent characters, then definitely give this title a try.

Kaze Hikaru Volume 18

Japan is approaching a tipping point, with increasing pressure from the West to open its borders. The Shinsengumi are being trained to use firearms, but Ikita refuses, insisting on the way of the sword. he represents many in the group who cling to old samurai values. But it is clear that the times are changing and the Shinsengumi embodies the “old  guard.” Will they survive the coming upheavals?

By Taeko Watanabe
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Historical/Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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The tone for this volume is set at the beginning, with one of the soldiers being sentenced to death for having an ilicit affair that was discovered. From then on, it’s one character after another dealing with some relationship, or potential for one; Ito and Hijikata, Ito and Nakamura, Soji and Kohana, Kondo and Miyuki-Dayu, and the ever-present Soji and Sei, all dealing with some problem. Some aren’t too serious, such as Ito’s and Captain Kondo’s. Ito has a wandering eye, and seems more interested in using his wiles to further his plots, while Captain Kondo suffers from “love at first sight”, falling for women he doesn’t even know and often behing taken advantage of by them.

Soji’s relationship with Kohana comes to a head, and he doesn’t even realize there was one. Kohana had fallen in love with Soji, but he didn’t notice. He can’t. If he were to notice Kohana’s feelings, then he would have to acknoweldge Sei’s feelings, and that can’t happen yet. Soji’s cluelessness about women’s feelings is very frustrating, and not just to the characters. After 18 volumes I would imagine many readers getting frustrating at the lack of movement between Soji and Sei. I know it’s become tiresome for me. Though, perhaps this resolution could be removing a block that could get them closer together.

What I enjoyed about this volume was the historical and cultural references that are explored. Bushido is always talked about in reference to samurai, but this volume explified it in several scenes. First is opening chapter with the soldier being forced by honor to kill himself. Captain Kondo makes the decision to leave Osaka, letting the Shinsengumi take the blame for any disgrace that might be placed on the Aizu Clan, their sponsors. And Okita’s decision not to participate in rifle training, because it doesn’t allow him to look in the eyes of the person he is about to kill. The concepts of Bushido really hit home when you see the characters showing how it affects their own actions, even if it isn’t the wisest decision.

Historically, there is a tease about Nakamura Goda, who in this volume is played to just be another soldier infatuated with Sei. It was fun to see the Japanese people’s reactions to coming of the Black Ships, and the possiblity of being invaded. The rumors that spread about the European/Americans, such as they have demons on the decks of their ships, that they eat the heads of young girls, are perfect examples of the anxiety the people were feeling. And of course, among the Shinsengumi soldiers, the rumors of “size” were what mattered most.

Kaze Hikaru is a well written story, with some great historical references and cultural insight to the time before the end othe Bakufu, but the romance side is so frustrating. You would have to have a lot of patience to put up with Soji’s cluelessness. But with a large ensemble cast, it’s easy to keep moving the focus. And with intrigue moving into the Shinsengumi ranks, the posibility of drama not related to romance gets greater.

Swallowing the Earth

Amidst the chaos of World War II, two Japanese soldiers hear of Zephyrus, an utterly captivating woman rumored to exist on an island in the South Pacific. The tales of this bold enchantress seducing men to their dooms are both chilling and fascinating. Over twenty years pass, and Zephyrus resurfaces in Japan, seemingly unchanged, to wield her mysterious power over men once more.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Teen+ (16+)
Genre: Action/Mystery
Price: $24.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

The one man immune to Zephyrus’ charms is simple drunkard, Gohonmatsu Seki, son of one of the wartime soldiers. Employed to spy on Zephyrus, what will Gohonmatsu uncover about her ultimate plot to create international discord and consume the world of men? What brought this woman to conspire for decades against patriarchal society-against an entire gender-and can anything be done to stop her plans?

Swallowing the Earth is a strange tale of revenge as a few women start a war against the entire male gender for the wrongs done to the female gender. It takes a long and meandering path to come to a simple conclusion; true happiness is only attainable if one is free of lust, power and greed. Or, as the Beatles would say, “All You Need is Love.”

A woman, Zephyrus, is betrayed by her husband during World War II because of his desire for money and power. She runs away with her 6 daughters and finds peace on a South Pacific island, away from the world of men. Her dying wish to her daughters is for them to take revenge on all men for what happened to her by making all money worthless and creating anarchy, and to scorn all men. The daughters plot and prepare, and 20 years later, set their plan in motion. One man stands in their way; Gohomatsu Seki. He is a simple dock worker who doesn’t care about anything but alcohol. He is immune to Zephyrus’ charms and travels to the South Seas and the United States to try to stop her plans.

In between chapters of the main plot line there are short side stories. These stories relate back to what is happening in the main plot, often illustrating the effects of Zephyrus’ plans on ordinary people. With the introduction of the synthetic skin, 5 strangers in the US south become a family. And in another, after the economic collapse, a doctor tries to help a young woman with no memory of voice.

I’m not really sure what to make of this title. On the surface, it appears to be about women using their intelligence and other tools to turn the tables on men. They are shown to be strong and taking the initiative by showing men the folly of their ways for last few decades. Zephyrus is portrayed as taking revenge on men for the way women have been treated and men are shown getting their just desserts.

A closer look at the work however, shows the opposite. It portrays women as petty and vindictive. The whole plot is concocted because one woman was betrayed by one man. She wasn’t the first, nor would she be the last. The sisters aren’t working against man for the good of women. They are doing it for one person, their mother. Zephyrus created a look that men would find irresistible, exploiting their desire for lust, but woman as seductress are always shown as a negative. This is a pattern I’ve noticed in Tezuka’s other work Black Jack. Beautiful women are greedy and will betray the men attracted to them. And even though the sisters are working take down men, they are making women suffer as well. The side story of the Doctor and female patient illustrates this. There is nothing good or noble in their acts. In many ways, they are no different from the men they wish to punish.

Gohonmatsu is an unusual protagonist. He is an alcoholic, and doesn’t care about anything but drinking. While this would normally keep him from being the good role model most protagonists are usually portrayed as, his lack of desire for power, money and sex keeps him from falling under Zephyrus’ spell and thus the only man capable of standing up to her plans. So, he’s got something good going for him. Even as the world falls apart over greed and vanity, Gohomatsu remains unaffected as long as he can get, or make, alcohol. Material things have no hold on him as he can easily barter a drink of his alcohol for them, and they trade them all for a wedding ring for Milda. It’s the intangible that matters most to him, whether it’s the taste of alcohol, or the happiness of the woman he loves, he can throw all material things away for the things he loves. In many ways this makes him a noble character.

Swallowing the Earth is an intriguing title if you are a fan of Tezuka or older gekiga manga. It isn’t as dark as MW, and does have some interesting things to say about men and women. I don’t regret reading this title, but it’s not one I would pick up again. I enjoyed reading the vignette stories more than the main narrative, which often felt disjointed. By the end though it feels like little has changed. Zephyrus’ plans had succeeded, and the world returned to a simpler way of life before technology and to a barter economic system, but not people. The cycle of revenge tries to start again, and while it is stopped, this time by Gohomatsu’s son, it makes me wonder what was the point of this title. But then again, maybe that was the point. Fundamentally, people don’t change.

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Jack Frost Volume 3

Noh-A watches in fear as Omu strikes down Maru, the last offspring of the Unicorn. With the last obstacle removed and Jack fighting elsewhere in the forest, Omu seizes the Antler of the Unicorn. In an effort to snatch Noh-A’s immortality for himself, Omu plunges the antler deep into her chest. But as the sharp horn pierces her heart, Noh-A is greeted not by Death, but by life. Her real life–the life she had before she found herself in Amityville. Though she has longed to uncover the mystery of her forgotten past, nothing could have prepared Noh-A for what she sees…

By JinHo Ko
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

In a reverse of the first volume, there is more plot and less decapitation in this latest volume of Jack Frost. Noh-A finally learns the truth of her past. There are also glimpses shown of Jack’s inner turmoil. Is he unable or unwilling to go to his rest? Then it’s back to mindless destruction as the South District renews its attack on the North.

This volume picks up a battle left off in the last volume. During it, the purpose of the mirror image, or at least one of them, it is implied that there may be more, is revealed. But Omu thought would happen with his victory, doesn’t so much. Instead Noh-A’s power starts to awaken, releasing her past memories. She was followed by death since she was a child. Everyone around her, her family, friends, and even animals that she just interacts with end up dying. And just as an aside, why do cats always get the gruesome, on-screen deaths while dogs get the more merciful off-screen ones? Does this mean manga artists don’t like cats or that they do? Either way, I’d really prefer not see either. Anyway, Noh-A’s first awakening, again it’s implied there will be more, restores balance between Amityville and the real world. This disaster is averted.

Jack is in his own battle with Ji Hoon, the former wearer of Jack’s coat, which is made of the Devil Thread, and is what gives Jack so much of his power. During the battle Jack meets the Tailor of the Devil Thread, and seems so impressed by Jacks’ blood lust that he gives Jack a power up so he can end the battle with Ji Hoon. During the encounter it’s implied by the Tailor that it’s Jack’s blood lust that keeps him from resting, though after three volumes there is no indication where that blood lust comes from. I find the lack of motive bothersome. If there’s no reason, then Jack becomes a very dull character.

With the resolution of Noh-A’s awakening, the story moves on to introduce a new enemy from the South District. Siegfried is a computer genius. He attacks through others, and takes over Jin, who appears to be an android. Jin and Siegfried have a history. Jin left the South District and joined the North in order to kill him. Siegfried wants to kill Helmina, but then, who in Amityville’s other districts doesn’t? The volume ends with a cliffhanger and more mindless destruction to the North District.

I was hoping for an improvement with this volume, but unfortunately was denied. The revelations made throughout don’t really explain anything. There are still far more questions than answers about Amityville and the Mirror Image, but unlike other titles, like from say Urasawa, there’s no incentive to keep reading to get there. You might be curious about these things, but there’s no burning need to know. Maybe because the characters are average. There’s still nothing interesting about them, even after the glimpses at Noh-A and Jack’s past. There is still plenty of fanservice with Noh-A and Helima though. Even in her dying moments in the real word, Noh-A can’t get any dignity.

After two volumes, nothing has changed or improved in Jack Frost. It’s still a barely average title with no discernible direction. The fighting is still just for the sake of fighting and give the manga creator a chance to draw some exciting action. The potential that the story may have had is getting washed away in all the fighting.