Category Archives: Reviews

Pandora Hearts Volume 12-20

The truth behind the tragedy of Sablier, and the identities of Jack Vessalius, Glen Baskerville, Oz, and Alice are all finally revealed in these 9 volumes. But the path to these truths is filled with twists and turns, and danger hides around every corner where friends become foes, allies fall, and hope seems completely lost at times.

Pandora Hearts Volume 12-20
PandoraHeartsV12_TPBy Jun Mochizuki
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $13.00
Rating: ★★★★☆

Reading these nine volumes of Pandora Hearts was a lot like eating potato chips; you can’t read just one. I had let this series pile up, which in retrospect was probably a good thing. I ended up binge reading these volumes. So much was revealed in each volume, that I had to keep going. Things start with the calm before the storm; a tea party for Oz and his friends, and Oz’s society debut at the mysterious Isla Yura’s residence in a neighboring state. Things pretty much go down hill from there, rolling like a snowball, growing in size and showing no sign of stopping.

Pandora13_FINAL I loved all of the revelations that were made in these volumes. The truth of so many things is finally uncovered when Oz is able to see Jack’s memories. It all starts when Jack first meets Lacie as a young homeless boy. She gives him the encouragement he needs make something of himself, but he becomes obsessed with her, and that starts Jack down the path of destruction that leads straight to the Tragedy of Sablier. The memories also show the truth about the Baskervilles and their connection to the Abyss, as well as the origins of the B-Rabbit chain, and how Alice really died. Gilbert and Alice both gets their memories back as well, filling in a few more pieces. Finally seeing the whole picture of what lead of the tragedy of Sablier was the highlight of these volumes. Having only seen fragments so far, it was fascinating to finally see everything in order, as well as the twisted logic that led to it.

Pandora14_FINAL As I read these volumes, I started wondering if Mochizuki was a fan of either Joss Whedon or George R.R. Martin, with the way characters, some I really liked, were being taken out. Yes, people die in these volumes. Some death are only of personality, others are mortally wounded. Some aren’t any real big loss, like Yura. Others fall to the mysterious head hunter. A few make you go “Noooo!!!” at their passing. The first big “no” moment is very well-built up. A second has had the previous 19 volumes that not only drives the knife in, but it twists it hard.

Pandora15_FINAL-198x300 The truth about Jack turns the world upside for a lot of people, with some who were one considered allies becoming foes, and Pandora turning on Oz/Jack. But while supposed allies turn, the true power of these volumes is in showing how important it is to connect with people. Every important choice made by many of the characters ends up being based on the importance of the others to them. Elliot is able to do what he must because of Leo. Oscar helps Oz because Oz, Gil, and Ada all saved him from his grief. Gil is able to reject his past role and embrace his new life because of Oz. Oz is able to accept who and what he is and choose to live because Elliot, Leo, Gil, Ada, Oscar and Alice all accepted him. It also give Oz the power to resist Jack, and maybe even defeat him.

These nine volumes of Pandora Hearts were a thrilling, gripping, heart wrenching ride. So many things make sense now, with most of the pieces of the puzzle put together, forming the true picture, but there is still more to learn. The Abyss and it’s center, The Intention are pieces yet to be fit in, and they are the most fascinating parts. The endgame is so close now, with only two volumes left to round things up. I will definitely be there to see the last pieces put into place.

Pandora16_TPPandora17_FINALPandora18_FINALPandoraV19_FINALPandora20_FINAL

 

 

 

 

 

Review copies provided by publisher.

Orange Junk Volume 2

The awkward feelings between Louise and Bruce are growing, though it seems like Louise will never realize what’s going on in Bruce’s head. But when Bruce’s family runs into even more financial trouble and he needs money fast, a modeling competition may be the best–and most embarrassing–way to solve all his problems at once.

Orange Junk Volume 2
orangejunk_vol2_ebookcover_finalBy Heldrad
Publisher: Chromatic Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $6.00/eBook – Free at Sparkler Monthly
Rating: ★★★★½

The second volume of Orange Junk starts a new arc that takes the characters out of school and into a modeling competition. The change of venue brings in new characters, including a rival for Louise’s affections, and plenty of new opportunities for comedy and drama.

I really enjoyed this second volume, possibly more than the first. While the series does use the shojo tropes well, all the time spent at school was starting to drag. This volume changes that as the characters move into new environments. Bruce’s mother has to be hospitalized, and as the bread-winner with no insurance, it’s up to him to try to find a way to cover everything. Enter the male modeling competition with a cash prize for 1st place. While Bruce is away, Drew and Louise spend more time at Bruce’s helping out with his siblings and being all domestic. Drew is really cute with the kerchief on his head, baby on his back and broom in his hand. While Louise isn’t much help domestically, it is a chance to get out of her house and away from the drama brewing there. While we don’t see it as much in this volume, there are subtle hints that things may be getting worse instead of better.

The modeling competition is really where all the fun and excitement is. Bruce’s change from tough guy to chic is amazing, though I do like his “hedgehog” hair better. It’s cute seeing how uncomfortable and vulnerable he was answering the personal questions, going through the makeover, and walking the runway in a speedo. A couple of new characters are also introduced. Ryan is one of modeling competitors, who Louise calls Flower Boy. He looks much younger than his stated 21 years, and isn’t really interesting in winning the competition. He becomes friends with Bruce. Miles Reagan, who Bruce’s sister Jenny calls “Refined Boy,” is the son of the man who cause Louise’s family to go bankrupt. He has feelings for Louise and thinks he can turn her around and get her to reciprocate them. The scene where he first talks to Louise with Ryan and Bruce is really funny and shows everyone’s level of comprehension of the situation. It was great.

Miles’ declaration to win Louise back is going to be a problem for Bruce and Louise as the pair have been slowly realizing their feeling for each other. Both spend a lot of time blushing as Bruce dreams of Louise, and through the competition, Louise sees a lot of more of Bruce’s body. It’s hard to imagine Miles having any kind of chance getting between them, but some things he says to Louise implies more was going on than she knows between their families. But he comes off so smarmy that I really don’t want to see him either win the competition or even Louise’s friendship.

This second volume of Orange Junk was very addicting, making it hard for to pull away. The competition should really start heating up now that Bruce has decided to get serious, and the stakes were raised by Miles. I love that it’s the guy that gets to be the model and objectified instead of the girl. This twist is part of what really made this volume fun for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the story goes in the next volume, and am really glad Sparkler added it to the magazine, so I can get in monthly chunks.

Become a member and get Sparkler Monthly every month with a $5 monthly subscription, pay for a year for $50 and save $10, or become a VIP for $125 and get back downloads of serialized titles as well as Cherry Bomb adult stories.

Orange Junk Volume 1

When Louise’s wealthy family loses everything, she has to pull herself up by her bootstraps and start over in a new high school – where the smartest boy is the meanest, and the hottest boy is the weirdest. But Louise needs tutoring, so the three become a team…and it’s heaven, hell, and everything in-between.

Orange Junk Volume 1
orangejunk_vol1_ebookcoverBy Heldrad
Publisher: Chromatic Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $6.00/eBook – Free to read at Sparkler Monthly
Rating: ★★★★☆

In general, I don’t care for the riches-to-rags stories. I don’t find financial hardship to be funny no matter who is writing it, so I had my doubts about Orange Junk when it was announced as a new addition to Sparkler Monthly. But I have a terrible case of curiosity and decided to check the series out on my lunch break at work. I ended up reading all 7 available chapters over lunch and break. Orange Junk spins an engrossing story filled with appealing characters and a story that balances the humor and drama just right.

The protagonist of Orange Junk is Louise Barton. Her family used to be wealthy, but her father’s company went bankrupt and they lost everything. They move into a regular neighborhood where Louise has to go to the local public high school. It’s like a whole new world for her, but she does adjust and makes friends. Bruce Daniels starts out as Louise’s nemesis. He is quick to anger and is always getting into fights. He also hates rich people, so sees nothing good in her. Andrew Grey is the third member of the trio. He is a new student like Louise. He lost his parents and now lives with his Grandmother who spends a lot of time traveling. He is good-looking and a bit clumsy. The trio become friends when Bruce is forced to tutor Louise in math to keep their teacher Jack from telling his mother about his fighting and Drew lets the use his house when rumors start to fly at school.

I really like all three of these characters. I wasn’t sure I would like Bruce at first. He was so quick to judge and jump to conclusions about Louise. He is hyper-sensitive about his family’s financial situation, while Louise isn’t. She seems to have accepted the change in her lifestyle, though she does hold a bit of a grudge against her father’s partner who was responsible for the family’s downfall. For most of the first volume they spend a lot of time bickering. I loved that Louise called Bruce and hedgehog, and imagined him as a pineapple when his mother described him as tough on the outside but sweet on the inside. They do finally come to an understanding, mostly with the help of Drew. He starts to hang out with Louise and Bruce during their tutoring, and the reason why is not one you would expect. I thought is was a good twist.

The humor is strong emphasized in this first volume, but dramatic elements still get dropped in. The trios’ back story is revealed as well as glimpses into their family lives are shown. Bruce is tricked into revealing his when Louise opens up to him first. All three have very different homes to go to. Bruce’s is lively and happy. Louise’s is still filled with anger and resentment. You can’t see the bonds in Louise’s that you can in Bruce’s. Drew’s family quickly becomes Bruce and Louise since he is essentially alone, but he always has an upbeat attitude and smile.

The art of Orange Junk is charming. It has a shojo feel to it, while having a life of its own. Both Bruce and Drew are good-looking in their own way. Louise is comely, though I like her better with her hair down. I also really like Bruce’s hedgehog spikes. The characters also have their own fashion styles, and I enjoyed seeing them in different outfits.

Orange Junk is a fun series that delighted me, all the more since I wasn’t expecting it to. It has a lot of shojo manga tropes, but handles them in a way that they don’t feel old or tired. I was riveted as I torn through the pages, the story and characters growing on my with every chapter. If you are a fan of shojo manga or just good stories, check this series out.

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The Garden of Words

Words are powerful. Insults and rumors can derail a career; a bit of encouragement can give someone the strength to pursue their dreams. When a high school boy skipping class to sketch shoe designs and a taciturn woman drinking a morning beer meet in a Tokyo park, they say little, but the woman bids farewell with an ancient tanka poem. Will the boy figure out the poem’s meaning-and its corresponding response-before it’s too late?

The Garden of Words
Garden of WordsWritten by Makoto Shinkai; Art by Midori Motohashi
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½

The Garden of Words is based on an anime movie that was released in 2013. It takes place over a short period of time, just a few months in the summer, during Japan’s rainy season. But in that short period, two people find enough to say to give flight to the hopes and dreams for both of them.

This story focuses on two people, Akizuki, a high school boy who dreams of being a shoe maker, and Yukino, a young woman who seems lost and without purpose. These two meet one rainy day under a gazebo in a Tokyo park, and continue to do so on rainy mornings where they begin to talk and open up to each other, but never introduce themselves. Things become complicated once their true identities are revealed, and feelings are confessed.

I liked Akizuki and Yukino. They are both sympathetic and likable leads. Akizuki’s determination to follow his dream no matter how silly it seems to others is cool. His hesitation to tell anyone his dream is reasonable for a teen who expects ridicule from his peers and discouragement from adults. He still works hard toward his goal, constantly drawing shoe designs and practicing working with leather. He spends his summer break working to earn money for tuition and supplies for a trade school. Yukino is just the opposite. She has an experience that turns her dream job into a nightmare, and worse, is practically bullied by those who should respect her for something she had no control over. It’s really sad what Yukino goes through, but Akizuki’s kindness is just what she needs to escape the mire she’s been trapped in.

The Garden of Words is the story of recovery and self-reliance. Akizuki and Yukino were drifting in their lives, knowing their dreams but having their doubts. Meeting each other in the garden, where they would support each other with just kindness and friendship, they both found their paths and could take them, even if they weren’t necessarily together. It is a beautiful story filled with emotion. Midori Motohashi’s art is delicate and expressive, displaying the characters feelings perfectly. In one volume, a sensitive story of life and love is cultivated to illustrate the redemptive side of the human condition.

Bring Em Back: Stolen Hearts

Over the years, a lot of titles have been licensed and started, but never finished due to various circumstances, mostly because the company that released them went out of business. One of these companies was CMX, an imprint of DC Comics. The imprint was dropped suddenly after a leadership change at DC. One of the titles cut off midstream was Stolen Hearts, a very cute rom-com.

Stolen Hearts v1Stolen Hearts is about high school student Shinobu Okuma, a girl small for her age and Miharu Koguma, the biggest, most intimidating boy at school. Okuma accidentally spills milk on an antique kimono Koguma is carrying for his grandmother, and he has her come to his grandmother’s kimono shop to make up for ruining it. Okuma is put to work wearing kimonos and walking around town handing out flyers about the shop. Not only does she have fun wearing all the cute, coordinated outfits, but she finds out that Koguma isn’t as scary as he seems.

I loved this series from the first volume. Koguma and Okuma make a cute if mismatched couple. Both are rather shy, and Koguma, with his unruly hair and love for small, cute things is a great male lead. Okuma is small and cute, can be rather blunt, but is always upbeat. After she learns how kind Koguma is, she tries to get her friends and classmates to see it too. Once they do though, she finds she might have competition for his affections.

But the character that steals this series is Fujiko Koguma, Koguma’s grandmother. She is the feisty, 76 year-old owner of the kimono shop. She loves money and has no problem smacking her grandson when she thinks he needs it. Even the local yakuza are intimidated by her. She steals practically every scene she’s in, and has no end of money-making schemes to put Koguma and Okuma through.

Stolen Hearts 2The second volume introduces the rest of Koguma’s family; his three older brothers and parents. Koguma’s brothers are as big and handsome as he is. His mother is funny, as she makes mountains of food to feed the big-appetited family, but also wants to treat Okuma as a surrogate daughter and dress her in kimonos. They are a tight family who love kimonos as much as the matriarch Fujiko. Oldest brother Miki even makes custom kimonos, and becomes part of another of Fujiko’s schemes to make made-to-order kimonos at her shop for taller women.

But it can’t be a rom-com without situations to get into. Okuma and Koguma get into plenty on their own between misunderstandings and Koguma’s reputation and shy personality. The introduction of the brothers brings in a rivalry between Koguma and Miki, who decides to tease his younger brother but takes it too far. The situations never get too serious, but provide enough drama to balance against the comedy.

This is a title that so deserves a license rescue. It’s six volumes total, though only two volumes made it to print in the US. This title falls into all the guideline most publishers have for manga licenses. It post 2000, and it’s short. It’s complete in 6 volumes. It didn’t get very far in publishing here, with both volumes out of print and difficult to find. It was published by Hakusensha in Japan, so it doesn’t have any associated publishers in the US, so it’s open to anyone. This series would be a good addition to Viz Media’s Viz Select line. It would fit in well with their other sweet Shojo Beat titles, if they wanted to go with print.

Also available in audio and video.

 

Bring Em Back: V.B. Rose

As I was pulling together titles for my post update on crafting manga, I remembered I had a couple of volumes of V.B. Rose. I won volume 7 from a blog a few years ago. I remember there being a lot of hype for the series back in the day, and being ever curious, wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. Then found volume 1 on Paperback Swap and snatched it up.

vb rose 1V.B. Rose is about high school student Ageha Shiroi. Her older sister Hibari, who she idolizes, is getting married and Ageha doesn’t approve. But, Ageha loves weddings and can’t resist when she is invited to see the dress design with Hibari at the boutique Velvet Blue Rose. The boutique is run by two men, Yukari Arisawa and Mitsuya Kuromine. Ageha gets off on the wrong foot with Yukari when she explodes over the wedding, and Yukari literally throws her out of the shop. Ageha, with the help of her friend Mamoru, realizes she did wrong and goes back to apologize. Things go awry again, and Mitsuya hurts his hand. Ageha volunteers to help out in Mitsuya’s place. Yukari balks at first, but Ageha is very crafty, and already know for the handmade purses she makes for Hibari and her friends, so he relents. It becomes a race to get the Hibari’s dress done on time as Ageha has to learn bead embroidery and how to deal with Yukari’s strict management and Mitsuya’s constant glomping.

I read volume 7 first and at the time wasn’t too impressed. I passed on reviewing it since I didn’t have anything useful to say. For this re-read, I read volume 1 first and then volume 7 and found I liked the series a whole lot more. The first volume set up the characters and relationships really well,  so when I got to volume 7, it wasn’t difficult to see how they got there. I think when I first read volume 7, it just didn’t work as well without that context.

Ageha and Yukari are amusing characters. Ageha is rather hot-headed and speaks without thinking, or worse, saying things she doesn’t really mean. Yukari can be just as abrasive, saying exactly what he means, when he chooses to speak. He more often reacts first without full explaining why. This poor communication, or complete lack thereof, leads to misunderstandings between them. It’s not so bad at first, when the misunderstandings are Ageha getting the wrong impression about what Yukari thinks of her craftwork. When it gets into their budding relationship, it’s easy to see how this will only complicate things.

vb-rose-7Ageha and Yukari are the main couple, but Ageha seems to have plenty of suitors for Yukari to worry about. Mitsuya isn’t serious about his advances, but there are other men around who could be serious competition. Mamoru’s younger brother, Nagare has feelings for her and declares them over Christmas, while Ageha is talking to Yukari. His anxiety over Ageha being courted by other men is fun to watch. Ageha has her own things to worry about as she wonders if Yukari’s ex-girlfriend Kana, who he still works with, still has feelings for him.

Since the setting of this series is a wedding dress boutique, there are plenty of beautiful gowns. In volume 1, there is a gorgeous Chinese inspired gown I would have loved to have worn. The gown that Kana makes the corsage for in volume 7 is just elegant. Ageha’s handmade purses are both cute and useful. What I wouldn’t give for a friend that could make a custom bag.

V.B. Rose is a romantic comedy that is a lot of fun. Tokyopop originally licensed the series, and nearly published it complete. They released volume 13 the same month they shutdown, making this one of the most difficult volumes to find in English. The series was originally published by Hakusensha in Japan, a publisher that doesn’t have an established relationship with a US publisher. This title would be a perfect candidate for Viz Media’s Viz Select program. While I would prefer getting this series digitally, I do have to admit that Tokyopop’s early prints of the series were very nicely done with gold imprinting on the cover to make it extra sparkly! Viz Select has already picked up and published several of Tokyopop’s old titles digitally. V.B. Rose would be another great addition to this program. It is probably completely translated, and is a shojo title that would an ideal fit their Shojo Beat catalog.

Master Keaton Volume 1

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, the son of a Japanese zoologist and a noble English woman, is an insurance investigator known for his successful and unorthodox methods of investigation. Educated in archaeology and a former member of the SAS, Master Keaton uses his knowledge and combat training to uncover buried secrets, thwart would-be villains, and pursue the truth… When a life insurance policy worth one million pounds takes Master Keaton to the Dodecanese islands of Greece, what will he discover amidst his scuffles with bloodthirsty thieves and assassins?

Master Keaton Volume 1
MasterKeaton-GN01-3DBy Naoki Urasawa; Story by Hokusei Katsushika, Takashi Nagasaki
Publisher: Viz Medial
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $19.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Master Keaton is one of those licenses that was always talked about but never dreamed it would become reality. Or maybe, dreaming was all fans of the series could do. A 24 episode anime was released here by Pioneer/Geneon back in 2003, but that was as much of the story as fans could hope to get. I was so thrilled when Viz Media announced it last year. It is one of the few titles I will pre-order, sight unseen.

I almost had my doubts at first. Urasawa has been hit and miss with me. I loved Pluto, but didn’t care for Monster or the latter half of 20th Century Boys. But I am happy to say I was not disappointed with Master Keaton. What initially drew me to the series was the title character, Taichi Hiraga-Keaton. He is both an archaeologist and an insurance investigator, combining to things I love; archaeology and mysteries. I really liked Keaton as the absent-minded professor type. He is easy-going, and a bit of a dreamer, but behind this non-threatening facade, is a keen eye and a sharp wit. Even though it is a convenient plot point, I love his quirk of taking seemingly random things that end up helping him get through his current adventure.

Most of the chapters are stand alone cases, with a few multi-chapter stories. Sometimes Keaton gets a case due to his knowledge of archaeology, but in almost every case his skills as a former S.A.S. member and survival skills trainer come into play. Both these skills mesh nicely in the two-part story “Hot Sands, Black and White” and “Qehriman of the Desert.” Not every chapter is a case. This volume also introduces Keaton’s daughter Yuriko and his father. These stories are more about his relationships with his family. He helps out Yuriko when she has problems with a teacher at school, and a girl who thinks his father is also her father. These chapters were just as enjoyable as the more action-oriented chapters. They give more insight to Keaton’s character. “Journey With a Lady” was another wonderful chapter where Keaton’s patience is tested, and ultimately rewarded.

This series is from 16 years ago, but the art is still very Urasawa. The characters are recognizable as his work, and match well with the story. Urasawa’s more technical skills are put to the test as he has to draw, old ruins and life-like statues to fit the archaeological side of the story, and he does it well. The backgrounds are very detailed too, giving the feeling of the place Keaton is in, whether it is England, Italy or the Taklamakan Desert.

Master Keaton is a great series. The stories are well written, and very engaging. I didn’t want to put it down once I started. The investigations are readily solved, with all the piece set in place before hand. There is plenty of action and mystery to keep fans of both happy. I certainly am. I highly recommend it.

Bloody Cross Volume 1-5

Tsukimiya is a cursed mixed blood. Half angel and half vampire, she is shunned by both angels and demons. The only way to rid herself of the curse is to drink the blood of a pure demon, but they are had to come by. Hinata is another mixed blood looking for the same cure. They finally find in it in Tsuzuki, a candidate for godhood and must collect God’s Relics during the current Crusade in order to attain it. Satsuki, a fallen angel, has the same goal. In between the two sides is the human organization Arcana, who has their own ideas about godhood. Tsukimiya finds herself tangled up in the web all these groups have woven, when all she wants is to live a long and normal life.

Bloody Cross Volume 1-5
Bloody Cross 1By Shiwo Komeyama
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Action
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I had my doubts about Bloody Cross. Considering the publisher, both here and in Japan, I feared this series might have a heavy male gaze aspect to the art. I wasn’t wrong. Sadly that isn’t this title’s worse problem. I decided to give it a try after seeing some positive comments about the banter between the two main characters, but that would only matter to me if I actually liked or cared about them.

Bloody Cross 2Tsukimiya is the protagonist of Bloody Cross. It’s her story that’s being played out as she encounters and has to deal with all the other characters she crosses paths with. She is desperate at the beginning. Her curse is nearly up. She has to find a pure demon to dispel it. She lets Hinata in, thinking he was an angel who would help her, not another mixed blood that would betray her. This seems to be her major weakness, especially with Hinata. She trusts the wrong people, or even if she doesn’t trust them, they still get the upper hand on her. This really shouldn’t be an issue. Trusting should be seen as something good in a character, but it doesn’t completely work for me with Tsukimiya. She’s a capable fighter and puts her talents to the best use, but she isn’t too smart, so her trust seems to come from just not knowing better. I found this really frustrating with her and Hinata, and her “attraction” to him just felt wrong.

Bloody Cross 3Betrayal seems to be the theme of this series, because that is what all the characters do to each other. The first time a character is introduced, it usually ends in someone getting stabbed in the back, sometimes literally. Every single character in this series has an agenda, and will use everyone else to reach it. Even the angel god candidate Tsuzuki betrays Tsukimiya and Hinata the first time he works with them. No one does anything out of some good will. There is always a hidden motive behind everything. As a reader, I found it very disturbing to not have someone I could put even an ounce of faith in. It’s hard to call anyone an antagonist, since everyone seems to be one. Arcana and its head Izumi, who plots to become god in the next crusade, is no better than Satsuki, the fallen angel, and even allies with him at first.

Bloody Cross 4Then there’s the overwhelming male gaze. Tsukimiya is only one of two females in the series, and she is of course very well endowed. And because she is usually the braun to Hinata’s magic, her clothes area always getting torn. Whether it’s to reveal her cursed mark on her breast, or just for some touching from a oogling Hinata, Tsukimiya has to have her shirt split down the middle, and it’s left that way for several chapters, until the next time.

Bloody Cross 5The art is very typical of a Square Enix title with the girls beautiful and big-breasted, while the men are hot and slim. The action isn’t so bad. Tsukimiya’s use of her vampiric powers is good as she uses it to sniff out lies (usually too late), and controls her blood like a remote blade. Hinata is at least competent with his magic, being useful even after he’s pulled another back-stabbing. If there was a character I could like, the closest would be Hanamura, the demon attendant of Tsuzuki. He’s very much the butler type, very polite, organized, and a great cook. But he only stands out because everyone else is so terrible.

I can’t find much good to say about Bloody Cross. I can’t really recommend it either. The story isn’t badly written or drawn. The characters are just so unlikable. The mangaka even said as much in one of the afterwards. I deal with enough unlikable people in real life. I don’t need them dominating my leisure as well. If you like constant betrayal and characters you can’t like or trust, then pick this one up, otherwise, just give it a pass.

Attack On Titan No Regrets Volume 2

Erwin’s political enemies have hired Levi and his crew to take back some incriminating documents. Their reward: the right to live a proud life above ground, in the royal capital. But deep in titan territory, it’s going to be tough to break formation and steal from a squad leader, and Levi still insists on killing the man who humiliated him after the mission is complete. Of course, beyond the walls anything can happen, and a sudden change in Levi’s fortunes will force him to face the greatest regret in his life…

Attack On Titan: No Regrets Volume 2
Attack on Titan no regrets 2Written by Gun Snark (Nitroplus); Art by Hikaru Suruga
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror/Drama
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I really enjoyed the first volume of Attack On Titan: No Regrets, and was really looking forward to this one, and again it didn’t disappoint. The series takes a darker turn from the lighter first volume, but keeps all the drama and excitement to deliver an ending you won’t regret.

After their first encounter with a titan, Levi, Isabel and Furlan all start to change a little. Isabel is drawn into the Corps more, sympathizing with their cause. Furlan goes in the opposite direction, wanting to push his plan forward and get out of the Corps and into the life of luxury they’ve been promised. Levi, as usual, remains a mystery, his true feelings being veiled by his desire to protect his friends. I do like that about Levi. Part of his appeal is his silent, stoic demeanor. Hearing his thoughts would ruin some of his mystery. We meet Hange Zoe in this volume, as he barges in on the trio to ask Levi about his tactics in taking down the titan. I love his expression before and how he deals with Isabel constantly interrupting him. It was a smile-inducing moment.

With a subtitle of No Regrets, it should come as no surprise that regret is a major theme throughout the volume. Erwin speaks of the sacrifices members of the Survey Corps make to further their cause and do so without regret. Levi must struggle with regret as well after he makes his own fateful decision. It leads to a fantastic confrontation between Levi and Erwin. Erwin’s speech says so much about what he believes and shows how he is able to get people to follow him even to face the hell that the Titans represent.

Suruga does a wonderful job with the art again. His action sequences continue to be thrilling as Levi shows once again why he is called “humanity’s greatest soldier.” The few moments of emotion that Levi shows for Isabel and Furlan are all the more moving because he shows his feelings so rarely. Levi and Erwin’s expressions are superb in their confrontation, which leads into a beautifully symbolic awakening for Levi.

Attack On Titan: No Regrets is a great piece of storytelling with some very compelling characters. Even though you don’t get to spend a lot of time with them, you care about what happens to them. I was happy at the end that we got some side stories about Levi, Isabel and Furlan set before they joined the Survey Corps. I would gladly welcome more like them. If you have even a passing interest in Attack On Titan, pick this series up. You won’t regret it.

Prophecy Volume 1

A newspaper-masked vigilante who broadcasts his acts of vengeance before committing them. A newly formed police division tackling the new frontier of internet-based crime. As the sun rises on the Era of Information, can a group of people who found themselves at the bottom of the food chain rattle society through the web and avenge a fallen friend?

Prophecy Volume 1
Prophecy 1By Tetsuya Tsutsui
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Thriller
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½

For anyone who has spent any time on social media, Prophecy will feel like a story ripped from the headlines. Anonymous threats coming from websites that have the police stumped and running in circles trying to find the perpetrators. This first volume sets up the cat and mouse game between Paperboy, an online presence that makes threats and carries them out and the newly formed Anti-Cyber Crimes Division, a unit of the Tokyo Metro Police Department who are trying to stop him.

The story starts like a police procedural with the crimes being discovered and the ACCD starting to investigate. The ACCD is a three person unit led by Lieutenant Erika Yoshino. She is hard-nosed, no-nonsense, and borderline vindictive toward the accused, almost as if the crimes were committed against her personally. She doesn’t pull any punches which can lead to conflicting feelings about her, but she is smart and capable, and is quick to pick up that Paperboy is more than he seems. Her two subordinates, Daiki Okamoto and Manabu Ichikawa have varying degrees of experience with the internet, allowing them to fill different roles in the unit. Daiki was kind of cute with his newbie questions about flame wars and why people get into them. They are the good guys, the protagonists meant to stop Paperboy.

The antagonist, Paperboy, comes off at first like a cyber vigilante, taking on people who have committed some sort of crime as he sees it and administers the seemingly appropriate “justice”. He isn’t taken seriously at first, but as his “sentences” escalate, his popularity grows. At first, it’s easy to write him off, but after he does a live cast that speaks to a lot of people, his approval rating starts to go up as well. Paperboy isn’t committing these crimes for the notoriety, but from a sense of justice that stems from a society and system that has failed a class of people called the “atypical employed”; contract workers, temps, and part-timers. After seeing his origin, it’s hard not to want to root for him.

This is what really makes this series fascinating. It’s easy to see the ACCD as the heroes at first when the issues are black and white. But Paperboy represents a veiled part of society, those without power or a voice to speak with, the poor, the 99%. While his actions are extreme, they are also things a lot of people have thought should happen, such as a rape apologist getting a taste of his own medicine. It isn’t just individuals he takes on, but companies as well, who instead of being accountable for their mistakes trying to shift blame. He is fighting for all the people who think there is nothing they can do, much like the Occupy movement tried to do a few years ago, so it’s morally gray issue.

Paperboy’s origin is tragic, so it’s hard not to sympathize with him. I was mildly sympathetic to him at first, but after  seeing how he started, I was ready to cheer him on. Tsutsui’s writing and character development played a lot into getting the reader to this play. The art is realistic, and a little gritty, adding to both the story’s and character’s realism. It’s use of online social media such are Twitter and You(r)tube only adds to its genuine feeling. It’s that authenticity that really draws you in.

Prophecy is off to a fantastic start and a serious read. It is only three volumes, so it’s not a big investment. If you have any interest in social media networks and how they affect our lives today, pick this title up. It really does seem prophetic with the way social media is being used as a weapon against people and groups by others with a “twisted” sense of justice. This story is too good to pass up. Vertical Comics has done it again with absolute must read.

 

Spice and Wolf Volume 1-6

Lawrence Kraft is a traveling merchant, going to towns and villages, making deals for items to barter and sell. While passing through the village of Pasloe on day, he picks up a stowaway on his chart; Holo the Wisewolf, the Harvest Goddess of the village. The villagers no longer need Holo, and she wishes to go home, in the north. She and Lawrence strike a deal, and they begin their adventures together on the trip north.

SPICEWOLFm_1Spice and Wolf Volume 1-6
By Keito Koume
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Mature
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $12.99/ea
Rating: ★★★★☆

Spice and Wolf is a series that started out as a light novel and was adapted into both an anime and a manga. After the anime was favorably received by fans, Yen Press licensed both the light novel series and manga. There was a bit of an uproar when the first light novel came out, because Yen Press had chosen to use a cover that would appeal to Young Adult readers more than to anime fans. To appease the fans, Yen Press offered a book cover with the original cover art on it. I’d heard reviews of the first light novel, and while the idea of a series that looks at economics sounded interesting, it didn’t seem to translate as well in practice. After receiving some copies of the manga for review, I gave in and read the first six volumes.

SPICEWOLFMANGA_2Spice and Wolf takes place in a fantasy world similar to late middle ages Europe. There are kings and knights, and a church stretching out its influence to wipe out all “pagans.” There is also a lot of commerce. As a merchant, Lawrence is always on the lookout for a chance to make a profit, so the stories focus a lot on economics and trade. If you’re looking for swords and battles this isn’t the manga for you. If you aren’t interested in the finer details of currency speculation or identifying counterfeit coins, then this title might not be for you either. Honestly, this title nearly lost me after the first volume. It was very slow-moving and the all the economics made me wonder if anything was going to happen. The action started to pick up in the second volume, relieving some of the tedium of the first. But what really grew on my were the characters.

SPICEANDWOLF_3Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant. He is always on the move and always looking for something to buy or sell to make a profit. He is young and has been traveling for 7 years. His dream is settle down and own a shop in a town somewhere. He is kind and perhaps a little too soft-hearted when dealing with people, but in business, he is very shrewd, though sometimes becoming overconfident, which puts him into some serious trouble in volumes 4-6. He is also quite likable. He has a dry sense of humor, and easily trades barbs with Holo.

Holo is a little more complex. She is literally a giant wolf and has lived for hundreds of years. She was already old when she settled in the village of Pasloe. Her age, strength and wisdom does make her haughty at times, and she can be vain as she is constantly grooming her tail. But, after years of being alone and disregarded by the village she protected, she is also very lonely. If she fears anything, it is being alone again. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Holo at the beginning. Her haughty attitude did start to sway me toward disliking her. But when she stopped trying to be superior and opened up a little to Lawrence, I started to like her more. She often speaks in an old-fashioned dialect and has her vulnerable moments, which endeared her to me.

SPICEMANGA_4It’s Lawrence and Holo’s relationship that really made this an enjoyable series for me. It builds slowly, as they get to know each other. Just like in any relationship, they have their misunderstandings, but they work them out. Their feelings for each other grow though they both think a relationship wouldn’t be possible. But that doesn’t stop Holo from getting jealous of Norah, a young shepherdess they meet on the way to the town of Ruvinheigen. Lawrence has his share of young men to ward off as well. I really enjoyed the sweet moments between Lawrence and Holo, such as when Holo asks Lawrence to say she’s important to him. It only lasts for a few panels before she laughs it off, but it is a heartwarming moment nonetheless. It’s all of these little moments that really made me want to keep reading the series. I’m torn as to whether I want to see them eventually get together. I think they make a great couple, but at the same time, I like them playing the unresolved tension game as they keep their feelings to themselves.

SPICEWOLFMANGA_5There are all kinds of adversaries for Lawrence and Holo to face as they work for their profit, but the one that is a constant through these volumes is the Church. It appears to be based off the Catholic Church of the late Middle Ages, with all its power, and burning pagans at the stake. Fortunately, they don’t have power everywhere, as there are towns where it doesn’t wield any, but in the ones it does, it’s pretty terrible. Norah, the shepherdess introduced in volume 4, appears to be an orphaned girl who works for the church. But the more she works and succeeds, the more she is seen as a witch and comes under suspicion. And the fact that she works for the church, keeps people away so she can’t live a normal, happy life. I’ve never cared for religion, and this portrayal of it just reinforces my feelings, since this isn’t just written for the drama. Religion has really done and endorsed such things, and sadly still does. I did like how Lawrence is a pragmatist about religion. He doesn’t seem to believe in it, but he knows the rules enough to play along so as to keep him out of trouble and keep him trading. Even with Holo in tow.

SPICEWOLFMANGA_6This series is rate M for mature, has a warning label for “Explicit Content”, but really, all it has is some nudity. Holo, as a wolf, doesn’t give a second thought about going around with no clothes and really the only thing shown are her breasts. I didn’t mind it, and think the warning label might be overkill, since all the nudity is done in a non-sexual way. But, this is the United States, with its over reactive, puritan views of nudity that have to be hidden away from teens, while violence is perfectly acceptable.

It took a volume to for the art to grow on me. It’s the big eyes that took awhile for me to get used to. You’d think as a long time manga and anime fan, I would be used to “big eyes”, but really, there is such a variety of that look in manga, and Koume’s was different from what I was used to. I really liked Lawrence’s design, and he and Holo together make a cute couple. Holo in her wolf form is quite impressive as well. She has some jaws that you do not want your head between.

Once Spice and Wolf stopped lecturing and starts showcasing its charming characters, it became a very entertaining series. I don’t mind the economic elements sprinkled here and there, but the when it over does it, it’s easy to lose interest. If you can get past the slow-paced first volume, there is a lot of fun and action to be enjoyed.

Volumes 4-6 provided by the publisher.

Wild Ones Volume 1-10

Sachie Wakamura just lost her mother, and her estranged grandfather has shown up to take care of her. The only problem is that Grandpa is the head of a yakuza gang! Sachie tries to continue living her normal life, but she can’t run far since Rakuto, one of the most popular guys in school, is part of her grandfather’s gang and her new protector. Soon, Sachie finds herself falling for her bodyguard. But she’s the granddaughter of Rakuto’s boss, so he can never show his feelings for her. Can Sachie find a way to fit into her new family and seize her chance at romance?

Wild Ones Volume 1-10
Wild Ones 1By Kiyo Fujiwara
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Price: $8.99-9.99 USD
Rating: ★★½☆☆

When I first read the first two volumes of Wild Ones, I liked it. It wasn’t amazing or groundbreaking in any way, but it seemed fun and the characters interesting. Then I binge-read the entire series. It unfortunately lost its charm pretty quickly as it fell into a rut of the same romance clichés and no character building.

Wild Ones follows Sachie Wakamura, the unknowing granddaughter of a Yazuka gang. After her mother dies suddenly, Sachie is thrown into the strange new world of big manly men having no idea how to deal with a girl and her girly things. She is treated like a princess and given a protector, Rakuto, who while being part of her grandfather’s gang is also the prince of her high school. The story follows the high school years of Sachie, Rakuto, and romantic rival Azuma as they try to figure out their feelings for each other while trying to keep their yakuza connection a secret for their school friends.

Wild Ones 8I wanted to like Wild Ones. I really liked the first volume, and while feeling more luke warm, still liked the second volume. But the further I went into the series, the less I found myself enjoying it. I didn’t mind the clichés at first. I like the “friendly yakuza boss” trope, so I was fine with that. And I don’t mind so much the all the usual shojo tropes that show up in most titles as they can have their uses. Going to the beach, the onsen, the school festival, introducing a romantic rival or character from the past to warn on of the protagonists off, all of these things can be useful in changing and growing the characters and their relationships. The problem with this series is that, they don’t.

The characters never really change throughout this series. Sachie’s and Rakuto’s relationship never goes past the protector/protected stage. After every situation where one would think their relationship should move forward, instead it resets to the status quo. The introduction of Azuma as a rival to Rakuto never really goes anywhere, since Sachie never shows any interest in him other than friendship. He is shown to keep trying, but I kept wondering, what was he trying for? What made him think Sachie would ever look at him differently even if he showed up or pushed Rakuto out of the picture? He was there just for comedy relief/conflict with Rakuto. He never came off as a serious threat to their relationship.

Wild Ones 10The other story element that just became boring after being played so many times was the trying not to let anyone find out their from a yakuza family. It came up in nearly every volume, from Sachie blurting it out, to her being seen with some of the men, to a former yakuza threatening to expose them, Sachie, Rakuto and Azuma are always on damage control to keep their class mates from finding out. This can be funny one or two times, but it comes out so many times, that the tension is drained, so when it finally does happen, it’s more of a shrug than the deal breaking moment it should have been.

Wild Ones had it entertaining moments. Sachie and Rakuto’s budding relationship did have some sweet scenes. They are a couple you want to see together. Rakuto’s dedication to Sachie is almost envious, and Sachie can be tough but nice without becoming a tsundere. They just couldn’t outweigh all the problems. The art is well done. I liked the character designs even if at times they seemed a little generic. It’s not a title I would strongly recommend, but it’s not a bad way to spend a weekend reading either. It’s best borrowed from a friend or the library.

Some review copies provided by publisher.