Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Gestalt Volume 6

Ouri and Father Olivier are together again, but they’re not about to live happily ever after quite yet. Olivier’s nemesis Ender is back, and even the deadliest dark magic may not be enough to slow him down. he’s determined to bring Olivier back to his Order and force him to face up to the crimes of his past, but Olivier himself has another plan in mind. his best chance at redemption may be hidden somewhere in the forbidden realm of G.

By Yun Kouga
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen +
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆
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Gestalt is an average fantasy/D&D-esque story complete with a group of adventurers that include a priest, a sorcerer, a dark elf and a knight. They are on a quest to find the realm of G. They are being chased by their nemesis and have to fight monsters along the way. It’s a very generic plot that did make it easy to jump into the series at volume 6, but doesn’t do much to make for an overly interesting story.

Fortunately, the characters make up for it. I got to like most of them. Like the plot, the characters aren’t very complex but definitely entertaining. The interactions between Ouri, the hero/heroine and Suzu the dark elf were fun. Ouri was angsty for about half of the volume, but it was a tolerable angst, since he wasn’t totally bemoaning his fate and trying to do something about it. Father Olivier is the very generic kind, gentle priest with a dark side, but I found I liked both sides, though Dark Olivier does win out slightly.

It’s mainly these three characters for two-thirds of the volume. Shazan, the knight, goes on a side quest and makes the jump suddenly in the middle of a fight between Ouri, Suzu and Dark Olivier against Ender. Shazan is searching for the Book of P and goes to a dungeon to face the Wings of Death to try to get the book. For two chapters we go through the whole story of Wings and Shazan helps the ghost Mifa to save Wings and retrieves the book. While I really enjoyed these two chapters, almost more than the main story, the transition to it and then back to the battle were not done well at all. They are very abrupt, especially interrupting a fight just as Dark Olivier comes out, and they are just as abrupt coming back, not even picking up where the battle left off, and just starting in a completely different place, with new characters just wandering in from the street (literally)! I also didn’t care for the gender-bending/BL aspect of the title. I don’t care for either and to have both thrown out at the same time, made for some less than appealing moments.

The art isn’t bad. Everyone is bishie, especially Father Olivier. Everyone, male and female has long, flowing hair, but it isn’t difficult to tell the boys from the girls, as the women are all dressed in skimpy outfits and have ample breasts. This is of course part of the fan service that this volume serves up, but it’s not as blatant as it could be, so I can take it or leave it. I did like some of the monsters. Kouga came up with some fairly cool designs for them. I especially liked Wings, with the large eyes on her head.

Overall, Gestalt is an average title. There’s nothing new in the story or characters, but they are entertaining enough to kill some time, and you won’t feel it’s been wasted. This isn’t a must have title, unless you are a fan of Kouga’s work and/or a completest.

Review: Black Butler Volume 1

Just a stone’s throw from London lies the manor house of the illustrious Phantomhive earldom and its master, one Ciel Phantomhive. Earl Phantomhive is giant in the world of commerce, Queen Victoria’s faithful servant…and a slip of a twelve-year-old boy. Fortunately, his loyal butler, Sebastian, is ever at his side, ready to carry out the young master’s wishes. And whether Sebastian is called to save a dinner party gone awry or probe the dark secrets of London’s underbelly, there apparently is nothing Sebastian cannot do. In fact, one might even say Sebastian is too good to be true…or at least, too good to be human…

By Yana Toboso
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre:
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★
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Black Butler had a strong fanbase on the internet before it was licensed by Yen Press, and a reading of the first chapter makes it easy to see why. Well developed characters, good humor punctuated by moments of drama, and an intriguing story draws you into Black Butler’s world, so that you are eager to stay.

The focus of this title is on Ciel Phantomhive, the 12-year-old Earl and his butler, Sebastian Michaelis.  Ciel is cool and aloof with a touch of smugness in his attitude, especially when dealing with adults. Even though he tries to act older, he is still a child, and would prefer to play games instead of studying. He is also not at all interested in girls, especially his betrothed, Elizabeth. As heir of the Phantomhive estate, he is not only Earl, but also the head of Funtom Corp, the biggest maker of toys and candy in Britain. It’s little surprise that the company has been booming since he took over. Sebastian comes off as very laid back. Not a slacker, just someone who doesn’t let anything get to him. He’s very efficient and takes his job as butler to the Phantomhive family very seriously. He sees to Ciel’s welfare, education, and when needed acts as a bodyguard. And he always wears a smile, that can seem warm, or smug, or even demonic.

Ciel and Sebastian play off each very well. Like a child testing the boundaries of a parent, Ciel likes to play with Sebastian, such as searching the ends of the earth to find someone who can defeat him in combat, or having him drink some poorly made lemonade. By the same token, Sebastian seems to enjoy needling Ciel a little, such as reminding him of the studying he would do if he won said combat, which of course, he does. But there is so much more to their relationship than just trading barbs. Sebastian sometimes acts the parent, as he teaches Ciel to dance properly, and Ciel does crave that attention, as when he asks Sebastian to stay with him until he is asleep. There is an underlying sadness to Ciel that we only get glimpses of, that is most likely related to the lost of his parents, even though it’s never mentioned. Later we learn that there is more to their relationship, and both are just their playing parts, like in some play. At least Sebastian is. For Ciel, despite what he knows about Sebastian, there may be some real feelings there.

While there are comedic moments between Ciel and Sebastian, it’s the staff of the manor that play up the laughs. They have no other job than comedy. They certainly can’t do what they were hired to do. Finnian is the gardener with a brown thumb. Mey-Rin is the clumsy housemaid. Baldroy is the Chef that can’t cook and Tanaka is the House Stewart who does nothing but drink tea all day. They mess up everything, and Sebastian then gets to come in and magically fix everything. Of course, none of them are too bright either, so don’t really notice that a lot of the things Sebastian does isn’t humanly possible.

Black Butler is just plain fun to read. It’s setting in the steampunk-ish world of 19th century England where there are video games, cell phones and cars allows for all the trappings of the 21st century in the Victorian era and attire. Toboso drops several intriguing hints throughout this introduction volume. Sebastian himself is a mystery as is how he came into Ciel’s service. But there is so much than that. What happened to Ciel’s family/parents? What is the “Covenant” between Ciel and Sebastian, and are the two events related? And what is the role of the Phantomhive as “watchdogs for the Queen”? That brings to mind elements of Hellsing another excellent, though not as pretty, title.

The art of Black Butler brings to mind Kaori Yuki, creator of The Cain Saga and Godchild. It may be that both have Victorian settings and bishonen leads, but I mean the comparison in a good way. I really enjoy Yuki’s work, so that made enjoying Toboso’s even easier. Sebastian’s shaggy mane works perfectly with the butler uniform, and Ciel’s eye patch, which changes with his outfit adds a sense of mystery to his already cute form.

Overall, this first volume of Black Butler is an excellent start to the series. It introduces all the pertinent characters and gives glimpses of what they can do, and some of what they are dealing with. It’s spent 19 weeks (as of this writing) on the NYT best seller list, several of those weeks at number 1, and is deserving of doing so. This is a volume to be read and re-read.

Antique Bakery Volumes 1-4

Fumi Yoshinaga is a mangaka that I’ve heard a lot about but didn’t have a lot of opportunity to read her non-BL work. When the opportunity did present itself, I decided to take the chance and started with this short series.

By Fumi Yoshinaga
Publsiher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½
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Antique Bakery is a slice of life story that follows the lives and relationships of the four men who work in a bakery called Antique. Keisuke Tachibana is the owner. He’s a success in every career he tries, except he can’t keep a girlfriend. Yusuke Ono is the pâtissier and a former classmate of Tachibana. He is gay,and is cursed with a “Demonic Charm” that can make any man, straight or gay, fall for him. Except Tachibana. Eiji Kanada is Ono’s assistant and student. He’s a former delinquent and boxer with a sweet tooth. Chikage Kobayaka is a waiter and childhood friend of Tachibana. He’s clumsy, and not very bright. Tachibana has to look after him. Over the four volumes, we see glimpses of not only their present lives, but also flashback of their past, showing how they became who they are now, as well as how they change by working at Antique.

One of the strengths of this series is the interaction between the characters. Even though they are all co-workers, and Tachibana is the boss, there’s a real bond of friendship between them. They can bicker with each other, as Tachibana and Eiji often do, with Eiji calling Tachibana “old man” (he’s only 32), but it rarely escalates beyond that. Tachibana is constantly complaining about the lack of respect he gets, and how difficult it to run the business, but he still shows he cares as both an employer and a friend. Ono is set in the role of peacemaker, always trying to keep Eiji and Tachibana calm and from getting into any more verbal fights. Everyone has to help Chikage because he is so clueless about everything. He doesn’t even realize that Ono is attracted to him. It’s fun to watch these characters. Each has an interesting back story in their own right, but bringing them together and seeing them interact is really entertaining.

Another strength of this series was seeing the characters grow. From volume 1 to volume 4, all of the characters slowly change and develop further into slightly different people. A couple even find some closure to issues that affected them deeply. Ono is able to not only get over his paralyzing fear of women, but he’s able to go home and face his family, and mother. Tachibana helps a boy who was kidnapped in a similar manner as he was when he was 5. Even though he is unable to face (or remember) his own kidnapper, helping the boy helps him move on. Eiji grows both as a pâtissier and as a person, and by the end is able to go off on his own some. Even Chikage makes a try of living on his own. It was very satisfying to see these characters develop and move on. Most shojo and shonen doesn’t do this.

The only thing I didn’t care for, and this is a personal thing only, was all the long and detailed descriptions of the pastries served at the bakery. I’m not interested in knowing what’s in a cake or pastry. It’s really boring to me, and I often just skimmed over the descriptions. I just don’t see this title being about the food, but about the characters. The bakery is just the reason to bring them together, not to expound the greatness of some pastry.

The art is wonderful to look at. All of the men are bishonen, but varied not only between each other, but also between their professional and personal lives. Ono the pâtissier looks very different from Ono the playboy. And Tachibana and his facial stubble is just plain funny. No one seems able to recognize him with it. Yoshinaga’s drawing is delicate, with fine lines and very detailed, something I think you could truly call art.

Ultimately, Antique Bakery hits all the right buttons for a good relaxing read. It’s a bit like it’s subject. It’s fun to read, but you wouldn’t want to gobble it down. It’s satisfying from the first bite, but it’s something to savored rather than shoveled in and looking for seconds. If you’re looking for a title with well written characters that develop and grow, definitely check this title out. The story will pull you in and the characters will leave you satisfied, like a good dessert.

Review: Itazura na Kiss Volume 1

High school senior Kotoko Aihara has had a crush on Naoki Irie since freshman year. Unfortunately, there a few things are discouraging her from to him: he’s a member of “Class A,” the top ranking class in school, whereas she’s in “Class F”; he gets the top score on every exam; and he’s so smart, popular and handsome that he’s been class president every year. When Kotoko finally musters up the courage to present him with a love letter, though, Naoki outright refuses it, telling her point blank–with a look of disgust and boredom—that he doesn’t like “stupid girls.” Poor Kotoko’s worst nightmare! Her heart is broken, but then a change in circumstance forces Naoki and Kotoko to be together every day…!?

By Kaoru Tada
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: 13+
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $16.95
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Itazura na Kiss was originally published in the 1990’s and was very popular. It was never finished, however, due to the untimely death of the mangaka, Kaoru Tada, in an accident in 1999. Initially, I wasn’t going to read this title. But encouragement from other bloggers, particularly on Twitter, piqued my curiosity enough that I decided to give it a try anyway. When I’m reading a title, I can forgive a lot of things, but if I don’t like at least one of the main characters, it just isn’t going to work for me. And that’s the problem I have with this title.

I found nothing likable about either main character Kotoko Aihara and Naoki Irie. Kotoko, the female lead is portrayed as not only not very bright, but as just plain stupid. First, I’ve said many times before that I hate airhead female leads, which does fit Kotoko somewhat. But she showed she could do so much more if she’s instructed properly, as her reaching the top 100 at mid terms showed. She never cared enough to try until Naoki’s rejection, which I also find annoying, but I don’t find characters calling other characters stupid all the time funny. And it does happen constantly throughout this volume from both Naoki and his little brother Yuuki. I really don’t like how mean-spirited it feels. Naoki is no better. He’s obnoxious, rude and colder than the iceberg that sank the Titanic. He seems to enjoy looking down on others and feeling superior. I expect to see this in a rival or comedy relief character, not in the lead I’m supposed to be rooting for the female lead to get together with.

Tada does do a good job of capturing what teenagers are like in high school. Kotoko and her friends from F class are like average high school students. They’d rather go shopping rather than study. They wait until the last-minute to do their school work over summer break. They assume they will be going to college, but they just don’t know what they’ll major in yet. These elements of the story I liked. There aren’t many titles out there that really reflects a teenagers frame of mind. One element that she does capture, that I don’t like, yet is the corner-stone of the series, is that even through Kotoko knows what a complete jerk Naoki is, she still loves him. Her motives are rather shallow, as you’d expect from a teenage crush. She loves him for his looks and abilities, but there doesn’t seem to be anything underneath that is redeeming about him.

The art is very dated. The series was originally drawn in the early nineties, and it shows. But after a few chapters, you get used to it. In a lot of ways, her style reminds me of Rumiko Takahashi’s style, and Urusei Yatsura in particular. There were several scenes with Kotoko and her friends that brought up visions of Lum and Ataru and their friends.

Overall, Itazura na Kiss is an okay series. There are some nice moments with Kotoko and Naoki. Mostly they are when Naoki is forced to help Kotoko, through blackmail, to get through midterms and help most of F class get through finals through sheer numbers. Naoki really does help everyone out, even if it is done begrudgingly. Classic or not, this just isn’t a series for me. Unlikable leads keep me from really enjoying the series.

Review: Tena on S-String Volume 2

For all Kyousuke’s resistance to Tena and her bossy ways, he seems to have settled in quite nicely to being a sort of househusband to her and the other tuners. But while Mezzo and Sopra have agreed not to collect Kyousuke’s viral notes, there’s no telling what might happen if he meets yet another tuner! So when Kyousuke runs into Arun, an elite tuner at the top of her class, could this spell the end of his musical aspirations…and his life?!

by Sesuna Mikabe
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Romantic Comedy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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I love stories that relate to music in some way, but hate stories with obnoxious, bossy female leads, so I picked up Tena on S-String with guarded curiosity. I was very intrigued by the idea of tuners and seeing the music of others, but Tena is a complete turn off, and practically ruins every scene that she is in.

The protagonist of this story is Tena, an obnoxious, haughty, pushy, violent girl with no social graces. This is the character we as readers are supposed to want to read about and follow through a potentially long series? Sorry, I don’t think so. These kinds of female leads make me want to just put the book down and move on to something else. There is absolutely nothing to like about her, and I would certainly hope no one would want to be like her! She pushes Kyousuke around like a servant, which I think is supposed to be funny, but it really isn’t. She’s supposed to be a great tuner, but we don’t see her doing it. All she does through this volume is berate Kyousuke, go shopping and eat. And since she’s the lead, she’s of course falling for Kyousuke, but her pride won’t even let her be nice to him once, let alone think such a think might be possible. I couldn’t stand Tena in any of the panels she was in, and just grew to dislike her with every turning page.

Kyousuke, the male lead, isn’t as bad. He has aspirations to become a composer. But he’s surrounded by these viral notes, that if any other tuner discovered were around him, they would try to take away his freedom, or even his life to retrieve them. Tena and her fellow tuners Mezzo and Sopra help him hide from other tuners. Kyousuke is a nice guy, and good with household chores, but he’s pretty clueless when it comes to women. He doesn’t know how to talk to them in general. And he doesn’t notice Tena’s growing feelings for him, which only makes things worse for him.

But get the to parts where there’s no Tena, and this title is actually pretty decent. All of the scenes where Kyousuke is with Arun, at the theater and sightseeing were fun to read. Even though Kyousuke is Japanese and Arun is French, they can still communicate through the language of music, which in this case is French. I really liked Arun and the scheduled life she leads. Everything neat and orderly, every moment of her day is set in advance, and she keeps to the schedule like clockwork. Until she meets Kyousuke. Their time together starts to change her. I want to see more of her and Kyousuke together.

All of the mysterious talk of the “grand play” performance and finale is intriguing too. Even though it didn’t get a lot of mention in the volume until the end, I found myself growing interested in finding out more about what this “great play” is, and how it relates to Kyousuke. This part of the story has the greatest potential. If the title could concentrate on it and drop Tena completely, it would be a story a I would be much more interested in reading.

The art is fairly standard for a romantic comedy. A lot of attention is given to Tena and her constantly changing wardrobe. Clothes are what she spends the majority of the volume shopping for, since she just can’t wear the same thing twice! The character designs are all similar too, especially with the girls, but there are enough differences in dress and temperament to be able to tell them apart.

Overall, Tena on S-String is well done, as long as you like titles where the female lead abuses the male lead. Definitely check this title out, you won’t be disappointed. If not, borrow or trade for it and just read the non-Tena parts, which is about half of this volume. It’s still worth it for all those other parts.

Manhwa Movable Feast: The Color Of… Trilogy

The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven are the three books that make up this trilogy. The story is about two women, Ehwa, and her early widowed mother. The series follows Ehwa from age 7, when she first starts to realize her gender, through her growing sense of sexuality and first crushes, to her falling in love and getting married at age 18. Parallel to Ehwa’s story is her mother’s, who after 3 years of being alone, has her own feelings reawakened by the arrival of a traveling pictographer.

Color of Earth (2)The Color of… Trilogy
By Kim Dong Hwa
Publisher: First Second
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $16.95/ea
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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The story is set in Turn-of-the-Century Korea, in the countryside. It is a time and place where most of the men are farmers and are valued more than women. A very chauvinistic attitude prevails throughout most of the series, which both Ehwa and her mother must endure. Ehwa is first introduced to this by the boys she see’s having a peeing contest, and who tell her that anyone who doesn’t have a gachoo (penis), is deformed. Ehwa’s mother has to deal with it more overtly, as she learns that the villagers think she sleeps around , and has to endure a lot of harassment as a single woman inn-keeper. But Ehwa’s mother holds her own pretty well with the men, and isn’t afraid to let them know when they’ve crossed a line.

Women of this time are also forced into arranged marriages, often sold off for money and land. Ehwa’s mother doesn’t agree with this though, and fights to save her daughter from it, refusing offers of money and land from Master Chou, an old, but well-off land owner. She encourages Ehwa to find a man that she loves, even as she herself finds her own in the traveling pictographer.

Color of WaterAn interesting aspect of this title was the relationship between Ehwa and her mother. They seemed more like sisters than mother and daughter. Ehwa’s mother shared a lot of her feelings with her daughter, leading to conversations that sounded more like competing sisters, especially as Ehwa matured and understood her mother’s feelings. This relationship does lead to some conflict between the two, though not seriously. Ehwa puts down the Picture Man to her mother after meeting Duksam, in a way that sisters arguing over who has the better looking boyfriend might. It’s obvious she likes the Picture Man, and wants her mother to be happy with him, but she just can’t help putting her own just a that mush higher. I think this relationship made Ehwa and her mother’s interactions more interesting, and gives Ehwa a more independent attitude, to the point that she contemplates going out on her own to find Duksam, something unheard of at the turn of the 20th century, in either Korea or America.

Nature is used a lot as metaphor in this series. Flowers are used to represent feelings, especially for women, and insects represent people. Ehwa expresses her first crushes on Chung-Myong and Master Sunoo with Tiger Lilies. For her mother, it is the gourd flower, that only blooms at night, and represents her longing for the Picture Man. Throughout the volumes, flowers are used to represent some emotion that a woman feels or expresses her lot in life. While I like the language of flowers, its use in this series went a little too far, diluting the meanings, and at some points becoming downright sappy. The use of flowers at the end of Heaven for the consummation scene between Ehwa and Duksam got especially tiring.

Color of HeavenThe use of insects wasn’t quite as overused, but it definitely got the point across. Earth starts with two boys comparing Ehwa’s mother with a beetle, in that she will sleep with anyone. Butterflies are used most often though, to go with the flower analogies. Ehwa favors the Fire Butterfly through the last two volumes. Like a moth, it is drawn to flames and will die in them. That is the kind of man Ehwa wants, one that will stay in her flame and not dance from flower to flower. I found this expression of monogamy more interesting than the Mountain Butterfly that mates for life.

Sexual maturity also plays a big role in this series, as part of Ehwa’s growing up. She learns most of this from her friend Bongsoon, who is quite promiscuous. The author is very upfront about things such as sex and masturbation, but I think he does it in a realistic way. Much of Ehwa’s “education” of these things comes in conversations between her and Bongsoon in way one could easily imagine happening. I find it refreshing to see it handled in a straightforward manner and as just another part of growing up. There’s already enough metaphor in this book.

Overall, I liked reading The Color Of… Trilogy. It’s an interesting coming of age story with characters and relationships that develop over the three volumes. But it’s not a series I would re-read. The heavy use of dialog and flowery language (no pun intended) was somewhat off-putting, and tedious to get through at times. I felt like I was back in 12th grade reading The Good Earth as an assignment. I read for entertainment, not to feel I’ll be tested on it later. I would recommend it be read at least one though. Young adults, both male and female, could get something useful from this series.

Bunny Drop Volume 1

Going home for his grandfather’s funeral, thirty-year-old bachelor Daikichi is floored to discover that the old man had an illegitimate child with a younger lover! The rest of his family is equally shocked and embarrassed by this surprise development, and not one of them wants anything to do with the silent little girl, Rin. In a fit of angry spontaneity, Daikichi decides to take her in himself! But will living with this overgrown teenager of man help Rin come out of her shell? And hang on, won’t this turn of events spell doom for Daikichi’s love life?!

BUNNYDROP_1By Yumi Unita
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★★
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When I first heard about this title, I didn’t think it would appeal to me. But, after seeing so many comments recommending it, I decided to give it a chance, and I’m glad I did. Bunny Drop turned out to be a well written story with engaging characters that evolve over the course of this first volume.

Bunny Drop looks at the lives of two people. Daikichi is a 30-year-old bachelor. He is the section chief at a clothing manufacturer, so he works longs shifts and has no social life, or prospects of one anytime soon. Rin is a quiet 5-year-old girl. She is shy around other adults, and is the daughter of Daikichi’s 80-year-old grandfather, essentially making Rin Daikichi’s aunt. At Daikichi’s grandfather’s funeral, his family is arguing over who should take in Rin, as no one knows who the mother is. Daikichi, disgusted by their attempts to push the child off onto each other, impulsively decides to take her in himself. Here is where the story really starts.

In order to properly care for Rin, Daikichi’s whole life has to change. He can no long live the life of a bachelor, working until late into the night, and leaving his porn magazines around. He has to keep the apartment relatively clean, learn to shop for Rin, find her daycare, and even transfer to another department at his job to get lesser hours. But the changes he experiences aren’t just external. Internally, he is changing as well. In order to care for Rin, his whole way of thinking has to change. He needs to think more like a parent. Slowly, he begins to understand Rin and her needs, such as helping her deal with the concept of death, and that he’s not going to die so soon as her father/his grandfather did. Helping Rin also makes him look at his life and health, which starts him thinking about the future differently.

This was a fantastic story. I really enjoyed it a lot. It was very touching in a lot of ways, with the way Daikichi reaches out to Rin, not knowing what he is getting into, and really tries to care for her without overcompensating. The characters and story are rendered realistically, making the whole title believable. There’s nothing weird or disturbing about the way the situation is presented. The changes in the characters occur gradually, naturally. Watching Daikichi’s adjustments from bachelor to “Dad” are both amusing and touching. It’s hard to put into words, but the whole volume just felt good to read.

The art suits the story very well. It’s has a mostly realistic look to it, with some weird faces showing up, but these are just moments of exaggerated emotion and well within the range of reality.

I highly recommend Bunny Drop. It’s a title that both men and women can enjoy and relate to. The characters are great and the situations have humor mostly because they are so true. Anyone who has had to get daycare on a moment’s notice can really relate to Daikichi’s predicaments. It’s well written, well drawn, and just plain a pleasure to read.

Review copy provided by Publisher

My Darling! Miss Bancho Volume 1

Souka and her recently divorced mother are looking for a fresh start, so they move to a new place where no one knows them. Souka embraces the idea of starting over and takes it as an opportunity to leave her private school days behind and enroll in the local tech school. The first day of school is nothing quite like she imagined it would be — she is the only female around! Unfortunately, not everyone welcomes Souka with open arms, including the school leader who tries to ambush her. But when she takes him down in front of everyone, Souka becomes the new school leader!

mydarlingmissbanchoBy Mayu Fujikata
Publisher: CMX Manga
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

My Darling! Miss Bancho is a romantic comedy where there’s more comedy than romance going on in this first volume. It’s got a lot going for it with a good cast of characters, cute art, and a just plain fun story.

Souka, the female protagonist, is trying to be a responsible daughter and help her recently divorced mother, by deciding to go to a public technical school, which will cost a lot less than the private high school she had been attending. Even though she researched the schools thoroughly, she didn’t check the student body. The school she choses, Tokugawa Tech turns out to be full of delinquents.

Souka is a strong female lead, just the way I like them to be. She isn’t easily intimidated. She returns to the school even after seeing the delinquent students, and classes ending early on her first day due to fighting. She can certainly hold her own somewhat with the boys, especially in her class, as she has some violent tendencies of her own, though, they only seem to come out when Katou is in trouble. Trying to help him is what gets her into her predicament in the first place.

Katou is a fun male lead and love interest for Souka. He is the leader of Sophomore class and is a tough fighter, even daring to take on the bigger seniors. He’s also very motherly to his fellow classmate. He’s constantly scolding them about their appearance, and fixing their uniforms. He even fixes Souka’s tie on her first real introduction to him. This dichotomy in his character comes across as very funny, as it’s easy to see.

The chapters in this first volume mostly document Souka’s gradual, and accidental take over Tokugawa Tech and then Toyotomi Agricultural. She never means to get involved with the fighting, but a simple iron plate in her book bag, given for her protection, becomes the vehicle to her rise in power. And it’s still funny the second time around, even when you see it coming. Souka is constantly trying to deny her position as bancho, but she does show an affinity for the position, especially in the chapter where they all go to the beach. One of the funnier moments in the title, is how it keeps track of Souka’s growing minions. I really enjoyed those.

The romance takes a backseat throughout the volume to all the comedy about Souka’s new title. There is an attraction between Souka and Katou, but neither of them see it. They both act as if they’re trying to protect each other out of duty or friendship, but the strange feelings Katou gets when Hideyoshi shows an interest in Souka are obviously not based on duty alone. I have to say, I prefer it this way. Their inability to see their romantic potential really suits the characters, and it keeps the romance from getting in the way of the comedy. It actually adds to it, as we the audience see in the Beach chapter that Katou is reacting to Hideyoshi’s advances towards her, while Souka thinks she’s don’t something to make him mad at her.

The art, like the story, is light and fun. All the characters have a cute appearance rather than anyone looking hot. And there are some ugly guys too so far. Some of the characters make funny faces, but it never goes so far as to going chibi.

This first volume of My Darling! Miss Bancho is a great start to what looks to be a fun series. Unfortunately, we will never know, as the second volume was scheduled to come out in July, AFTER DC’s publishing cut off date. It’s a real shame too, since this title was shaping up to be another great tween title, and CMX seemed to be the only publisher to find titles that really appealed to this demographic. This is a title definitely worth a license rescue. Check out volume 1, even if there might not be any hope of a second. The characters and story are a lot of fun, and since the final chapter ends neatly, it will still be a satisfying read.

Review: Broken Blade Volume 1

Rygart Arrow is the only one in his world who lacks the inherent abilityto power up quartz, the energy source that makes all of the machines run. Good thing the King and Queen of the country of Krisna happen to be old college friends! But so is Zess, the leader of the army of mechs invading Krisna. As usual, Aroow feels useless in the face of battle, until he comes across a powerful, ancient battle suit that no one else can run. His natural affinity for the suit’s operating mechanism may just turn Arrow into the most important player of all.

Broken Blade v1aBy Yunosuke Yoshinaga
Publisher: CMX Manga
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Action/Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆
Buy This Book

It’s hard to be original in a genre like mecha, where stories of battling robots all seem to look the same. To make these titles appealing, they need interesting characters and/or compelling stories that make the use of the mecha seem necessary. Broken Blade is unable to do either unfortunately, as it presents a “by the numbers” plot and characters that are remarkable only by being unremarkable.

The plot for Broken Blade feels very much like it was created from a checklist of generic mecha plot points.  A mecha is found that it seems no one else is able to pilot except the protagonist because he has a special ability. Or in the case of this title, because he doesn’t. An old friend from school days is now the enemy, who has to prove his loyalty to his county and family. The protagonist doesn’t want to fight, but is thrown into a situation where he has to pilot the mech, and ends up saving the day.

The generic plot wouldn’t be so bad if the characters weren’t so bland. There is nothing about any of the characters that really make them stand out, or even seem interesting. The King and Queen of Krisna are more like scientists than royalty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that neither appear really commanding. Rygart is right out of “Mecha Heroes 101″ with his peaceful stance and his angst at not having any magic. It’s low-level angst, but angst all the same. Zess is too gung-ho to please his brother, so he is unwilling to talk or listen to anyone, just like any other antagonist. There is nothing introduced in this first volume to make want to care about these characters. There is an attempt to introduce a possible love triangle, and the question of why Zess is trying to please the brother he wanted to stop back in the Academy days, but it’s just not enough.

Like the story and characters, the art is fairly standard. The mecha are well drawn, and the action scene with them are actual pretty good. They are easy to follow. The characters have a good variety of appearance that you won’t be mistaking Rygart for Hodr, the King of Krisna as do the mecha. There’s no confusing the Zess’ and Arrow’s mechs. But there’s nothing outstanding about it.

I had high hopes for this title. I wanted it to be good, since there is so little mech/sci-fi manga licensed, but this title just fell short of the mark. If you’ve never read a mecha title, or seen any of the Gundam series, this title might seem fresh to you. The most fantasy setting might be more attractive than the harder sci-fi of most mecha, so if you’ve been curious about what’s so appealing about mecha titles, Broken Blade is a good place to start. Long time mecha fans will probably be disappointed by it though, as it feels like it’s just going through the motions, with no real life to the story and characters.

Review Rerun: Samurai Commando: Mission 1549 Volume 1

A military test accidentally sends a unit from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces back in time to their country’s feudal past.  When their actions begin to alter the present, a second unit is dispatched to retrieve them.  But Colonel Matoba, commander of the lost battalion, is determined to use his advanced technology to conquer Japan and change his country’s destiny.  It’s up to Kashima, Matoba’s former protégé, to stop him.  But he only has a narrow window of time, and it is rapidly closing.

Samurai Commando v1Samurai Commando:  Mission 1549
Creators:  Ark Performance & Harutoshi Fukui
Publisher:  CMX
Genre:  Action/Sci-Fi
Age Rating: Teen+
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆
Buy This Book

I love historical/time travel plots like The Final Countdown, and Zipang.  So, when I heard about this manga, I was definitely interested.  Based on a novel, for once we aren’t traveling back to WWII to try to not change the outcome.  No, this time, we’re going back to the Warring States Era of Japan, to just before the country was unified.

The volume opens with Matoba killing Nobunaga Oda, the man who was to conquer all of Japan.  Oops.  Well, not really.  Apparently Matoba’s got some sort of plan.  Hell if we know what it is though.  And that’s part of the problem with this volume.  It’s all set up; going to find Kashima, and recruiting him, making the preparations to repeat the experiment that sent the first battalion back.  And in the past, it’s basically the same, with Matoba preparing for future to come after him.  We get little hints here and there about what might be driving Matoba, but nobody, not even his own soldiers seem to know that he’s up to.

While this might be good in a 3-4 volume series, this title only has two.  So everything HAS to be resolved in the next volume, and that makes me think things will get rushed, and in a story like this, that’s not good.  This story is really about Matoba and Kashima, their relationship in the past, how they’ve changed since parting, and what are they going to do when they meet again.  The sci-fi elements of “the changing of the past will affect the future, and the world as we know will disappear” is just there to get them back together. But with what we’ve seen so far, we don’t know enough about either to really make any judgments yet.  And with only one volume to go, I don’t see how we really can.

The art in this volume is very clean-looking, but I was put off my the larger use of grey tones.  Being used to dark inks in other books, the lighter grey made is seem…unfinished, like the inker was just skipped.  I got used to it after a while, but it was really distracting at first.

I have to give CMX props for coming out with a manga like this.  It is very different from the shonen/shojo fare that we get inundated with.  So seeing a story with a more mature plot and real sci-fi elements is really refreshing.  And I do have to admit that I am intrigued to find out what Matoba’s plan is.  I’m just worried that with all that’s been set up in this volume, it won’t all be satisfactorily resolved in the next.  But, it’s piqued my curiosity enough want to see it through.

Review Rerun: Gon Volume 1

65 million years ago, dinosaurs experienced a catastrophic extinction that ended their dominance on Earth except for ONE!  Now Gon marches across the wilderness, defending the friendly and furry from the mean and hungry.  Follow the journey as he encounters creatures big and small along the way and learns new things about himself from each of them.

Gon 1By Masashi Tanaka
Publisher: CMX
Genre: Action/Adventure
Age Rating: Teen
Price: $5.99
Rating: ★★★★☆
Buy This Book

Gon is a unique series, as it is told complete without words.  But the wordlessness gives the mangaka an opportunity to write to a wide audience with multiple levels of meaning.  Originally published by DC Comics in the 1990s, Gon is being given another chance, printed this time in its original, unflipped format.

Gon is a small orange dinosaur that looks like a t-rex and lives in the post dinosaur-pre human world, interacting with other animals.  The opening pages show how tough Gon as, as first a leopard breaks his teeth on Gon’s head, and then he’s rammed by a Rhinoceros, sent flying, hits a tree and then a rock, before landing on his back.  And he sleeps through the whole thing, until a leaf floats down from the tree and lands on his head.  It’s this kind of physical humor that makes Gon appealing to the younger audience.  And there’s plenty of it as Gon takes on a Grizzly Bear, a lion and a Bobcat, showing them all who’s boss.

But if you take a close look at these stories, you’ll see another layer underneath, one that seems to be meant for an older audience.  Gon is not as altruistic as the back cover seems to imply.  Even though he does help out other animals, usually weaker ones, it’s usually to his benefit as well.  Is Gon a hero for protecting a nest of baby eagles?  Or is he doing it because he gets to sleep in the nest and eat with chicks?  And when he decides to build a dam like a beaver, he ends up flooding the valley, and making all the other animals lose their homes for his own.  There is no black and white in this series, even though Gon doesn’t seem to like to see the little guy get put down.

The art in this series is absolutely fantastic.  It is very realistic and detailed, down to the veins in Gon’s legs when he jumps.  All of the animals are very expressive, making it easy to tell what they are thinking or feeling without a single word. Though, at times it felt a little too realistic, as Gon beat up the Bobcat. Even though he was the villain of the chapter, I couldn’t help feeling for him after all the damage he took.

Gon is an example of a title for all ages, as opposed to an all ages title. Some of the scenes can be disturbing to younger readers or the squeamish, but only in the same way as Animal Planet shows or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom can be. Younger readers can handle this book, especially since there are no words, and its all up to the reader and their imagination to decide how severe the stories can be.

I gave this volume to my daughter to read when she was 8, and here’s what she said about it:

I liked Gon a lot.  It is about a dinosaur who beats up on the big guys so he can get what he pleases.  The funny storyline has cute animals that make the manga come to life.  In general, it is a good manga.

It confused me at first.  It was hard to understand what was going on without speech bubbles.  The book got less confusing the more I got through.  I felt dumb not knowing how to read the manga correctly.  Never the less, it was enjoyable.

Gon is a title and series that definitely worth your time and attention. Tanaka brings up some interesting issues that adults will enjoy, and that kids can grow to appreciate. And its got a dinosaur and other wild animals. How can anyone resist?

Review: Twilight: The Graphic Novel Volume 1

When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impenetrable. Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret…

TWILIGHT_1Written by Stephenie Meyer; Art and Adaptation by Young Kim
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural Romance
Price: $19.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

I don’t care for the Twilight franchise. I didn’t read the books. I watched the movie, only because Rifftrax did such a great riff on it, but hated it in general. But surprisingly, I wasn’t repulsed by the graphic novel. It read like an average young adult romance, and the characters were typical of a shojo title. To quote my oldest daughter when I asked her why Twilight was popular with her friends, “Bella is a blank slate so anyone can be her, and the guys are all hot.” It was filled with lots of wish-fulfillment and angst, but it wasn’t the worse thing I’ve ever read.

This first volume covers the first half of the first book, Twilight.  It starts with Bella moving to Forks, WA, and ends with Edward’s sparkly-secret reveal. Everything else in between, was filled with days of Bella at school, being with her new friends, and, most of all, angsting over Edward.

I don’t have much to say about the story so far. Most of this first half had Bella and Edward thinking that the one hates the other. I can’t really complain about this too much. People tend to think like this when judging by action alone, and as awkward teenagers, of course neither would think to ask. Though, considering Edward’s age, I would have thought he’d be more mature, but then, the story might not appeal as much if he did. The other half is spent with Bella trying to figure out Edward’s secret, while Edward is just rying to figure Bella out. Of course she has to be different from all the other girls. While Edward is about as average as a modern-day vampire can get. He and his “family” only drink animal blood, want to live in peace with humans, and are angsty about their eternal life.

The art, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. Seeing Young Kim’s work made it easier to get through the story. The characters are drawn realistically. One of the things I really appreciate is how they DON’T look like the actors from the movie. I would have been easy to just cop-out and use their likenesses. I can’t say if their likenesses are anything like their described in the books, but they aren’t anywhere as hard on the eyes as the movie was. I also didn’t have a problem with font or unusual word balloon placement used in the book. It actually flowed fairly well once you understood it. And the font did add to the atmosphere of the book. I guess it also helps that I’m partial to flowing text.

Overall, I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading Twilight, but it’s not something I would go looking for either.  It’s not a bad way to kill an hour or so if you’re curious to see what all the fuss is about. You can skip all the long-winded text and get straight to the story, and have lots of pretty pictures to boot!