Category Archives: Reviews

Yotsuba&! The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

The Ranch wasn’t fun, hun? But maybe festivals will be less funner?! (Yotsuba’s playing opposites, ha-ha!) Yotsuba got uninvited to Fuuka’s School for a culr…a clart…a cultural festival! And she didn’t promise Yotsuba there wouldn’t be CAKE! Yotsuba doesn’t want a cake as biiiiiig as Jumbo, nope!! You won’t either, now would you?!

Yotsuba&! Volume 8
By Kiyohiko Azuma
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Ratting: All Ages
Genre: Slice of Life
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Yotsuba&! is another title that gets a lot of praise from manga bloggers. It follows the everyday adventures of adopted 5-year old girl Yotsuba. In this volume we see Yotsuba go to a school cultural festive, help pull a shrine for the town’s festival, get blown away in a typhoon, see a man’s bare backside, and pick up acorns.

The appeal of Yotsuba&! is in its main character. Yotsuba is cute. She acts just like a real 5-year old. Many of the things she said and did reminded me of my youngest daughter. I could not only see a lot of her in Yotsuba, but I could see her doing the same things! This volume had some good laughs. Some of them, such as Yotsuba seeing a man’s bare backside at the festival are funny because they are so true. A kid her age would act exactly like she does. Other moments are funny because you could see them happening even if they might not be possible, such as Yotsuba being blown away as she tries to walk from the neighbor’s house back home during a typhoon. Yotsuba has a good supporting cast of friends and neighbors, whose job is to react to Yotsuba being cute, one they seem to take to heart. The chapter at the cultural festival has Fuuka spending most of it trying to meet Yotsuba’s overblown expectations of cake.

Overall, I liked Yotsuba&! but I was not blown away by it. It had its moments that made me smile, but this title feels more like a “borrow” than a “keeper” . There is nothing objectionable in its content, and kids will no doubt find Yotsuba’s antics funny and may even relate to her on some level. Adults though will probably find more to enjoy in this series. It’s slow paced, with no actual plot. It’s just moments sliced out from the life of Yotsuba and people around her, so you could pick up any number volume and still enjoy reading it. I found I liked it more for the way it reminded me of my daughter at that age than anything else. Parents can reminisce about what their kids were like while adults without kids of their own can live vicariously through Yotsuba’s adventures. Yotsuba&! was written for an older audience, and in the end I think that’s who will take more from it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
By Akira Himekawa
Publisher: Viz Media – vizkids
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Video Game
Price: $7.99
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Link’s friend Tetra is taken prisoner by a ghost ship, and Link falls overboard when he tries to save her. When he wakes up, he finds himself embarked on another fantastic quest! The discovery of the Phantom Hourglass sets Link on a journey to rescue Tetra, find the Sand of Hours and break the curse of the Temple of the Ocean King. Come aboard with Link for an amazing adventure on the high seas!

This title, like all the titles in this series are based on the video games of the same name, and features the more cartoon-ish version of Link that had gamers in an uproar about when the designs were first released. The Legend of Zelda games are action/adventure games that first started on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Player controls Link as he goes on quests and fights monsters in order to save the Princess Zelda. The story of the volumes adapts the plot of the game Phantom Hourglass that was releases for the Nintendo DS.

Phantom Hourglass was a lot of fun to read. Being based on a video game, it has a simple premise. Link must fight the monsters, free the Spirits trapped in them and collect the Sand of Hours. Himekawa does a good job of adapting this into a fun adventure on the high seas while actually incorporating some of the gameplay into the story, such as when Link is in the Temple of the Ocean King, and his life is being drained away. Just like the player would have to, Link figures out that he has to stay on the purple spaces on the floor to get through. I thought these elements really added to the story and paid a nice homage to the original source.

The characters really give the story life. Link is your typical hero character, charging off into danger to fight any and all who get in his way. He’s portrayed as earnest and always willing to help anyone in trouble. Tetra is the damsel in distress, who like Link, dives headlong into danger, which is what makes her need saving. Linebeck is the anti-hero who helps out Link in order to get the treasure that’s supposed to be on the Ghost Ship, but by the end is changed into a more heroic character because of Link’s influence.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is written to appeal to kids 12 and under. The art is simplistic, but cute, giving it appeal to younger readers. Link is seen fighting monsters, which are turned into sand when defeated, and there is a scene with zombies, but there’s nothing really objectionable or scary in the volume. This is a great title for kids, and for any fan of the Legend of Zelda video games, young or old.

Rating: ★★★★½

Bakuman Volume 1

Average student Moritaka Mashiro enjoys drawing for fun. When his classmate and aspiring writer Akito Takagi discovers his talent, he begs Moirtaka to team up with him as a manga-creating duo. But what exactly does it take to make it in the manga-publishing world?

Moritaka is hesitant to seriously consider Akitos proposal because he knows how difficult reaching the professional level can be. Still, encouragement from persisitent Akito and movitvation from his crush push Moritaka to test his limits!

Stoy by Tsugumi Ohba; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media – Shonen Jump
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Moritaka knows it isn’t easy to become a successful manga creator. He watched his uncle try to die from overwork in the attempt. Akito, his classmate, knows next to nothing about creating manga, but thinks he’s smart enough to learn and succeed. Miho is another classmate that Moritaka has a crush on, and who wants to become a voice actor. The three of them make a pact. If Moritaka and Akito make their dream of becoming successful manga creators come true before Miho becomes a voice actor, Miho will marry Moritaka. This starts the two boys down a whirlwind journey to learn how to create a story and final draft for presentation to Weekly Shonen Jump magazine.

The concept of Bakuman, with its manga meta elements is fairy interesting. It gives a lot of details, facts and even figures about how many manga creators are really successful, what goes into creating a manga, and even the process of going from first to final draft for submission. It almost feels like the creators are giving a lecture on how to create a manga through Moritaka and Akito. These parts of the story are well done and very interesting. I really enjoyed learning about the beginning process of creating a manga. I also liked the touch of romance that was added to the story, with Moritaka and Miho’s relationship mirroring that of Moritaka’s uncle and his first love from middle school. It was a cute touch, and creates a romantic element without getting all lovey-dovey. It can draw in girls with out driving away the boys.

I only had one problem with this title, and unfortunately it’s a big one. In the second chapter, Akito, who claims to be smart, explains to Moritaka what he thinks is the difference between “smart” and “dumb” people, especially women. Miho is smart because she doesn’t act too smart with her nose in a book, and is graceful “like a woman should be.” This whole chapter really turned me off from the series. It felt like the author was espousing his views on women in a monologue rather than it be Akito talking, came really close to offending me, a difficult thing to do in general. I don’t mind if a mangaka decides to lecture his audience through his characters about somethings, but don’t try to tell me “what a woman should be like”. If the romantic elements were supposed to lure female readers in, this chapter could easily stop them from even getting to them.

Takeshi Obata’s art is spot on. I like how he gets in a lot of the tropes of shonen manga such as speed lines for emphasis without there being any real action. Another cool thing was seeing how pages went from storyboard to finished piece in between chapters. It really helped to illustrate what Moritaka was trying to explain to Akito about storyboards and drafts.

Overall, I did enjoy Bakuman. All the talk about creating a manga was interesting. I really liked the analogy of aspiring mangaka to gamblers. Working to become popular is a big gamble. There is no guarantee and a lot of luck as well as work is needed to make it. I even liked all the exposition Moritaka kept spouting off about being a mangaka and creating a manga that didn’t seem natural for a middle school boy to say. But the second chapter keeps me from recommending this title. If you can get past it, then there is a good story forming. If it could be less misogynist and little more meta, then I would like a lot more.

20th Century Boys Volume 9

The year is 2014, and Neo Tokyo is completely under the control of the Friend. Kanna has decided to stand up and avenge Kenji-will she be able to muster up enough support for her cause? Kanna makes her way to a mafia-operated casino and quickly finds herself at a high stakes table. Is she lucky (and smart) enough to turn the odds in her favor at the bizarre and fast-paced game of Rabit Nabaokov?

While Kanna marshals her forces, Koizumi Kyoko experiences true horror at the reeducation camp known as Friend Land. Going back in time in their “Virtual World”, she meets Kenji and his pals as boys in 1971 and sees something that is strictly taboo: the Friend’s childhood face! Will she live to report back on the Friend’s identity?

By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Signature
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Thriller
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆
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The more Urasawa reveals in 20th Century Boys, the less we know about what’s really going on. What seemed obvious a couple of volumes ago now gets turned on its head, making you doubt everything you’ve seen up to now.

In this volume, Kanna, who Kenji and Shogun believed to be “the last hope”, decides it’s time for her to take matters into her own hands and steps out into the spotlight. Back at the beginning of the series, it was set up that Kanna had an uncanny ability, possibly a psychic power to guess what people were thinking. We finally get to see this come into play as she goes to a mafia-run casino to try to enlist more people to the cause. Showing some amazing leadership skills, she is able to bring together warring factions of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese gangs and get them to agree to work together for her cause. When she’s speaking to the gang members, she seems to be more charismatic than usual. This other side to Kanna makes her a more interesting character than just the rebellious, hot-headed teen looking for revenge for her uncle that she appeared to be in previous volumes.

But, in usual Urasawa fashion, he shakes things up and they many not be what they seemed at the beginning. A New Book of Prophecy is introduced in this volume. One of the prophecies from it tells of a public meeting in a church in 2014 where the “savior” will be killed. Every sign points to Kanna and her gathering of the gangs. But, by the end, you’re left feeling not so sure about Kanna and her role. Everything we’ve been led to believe up to now may be completely wrong. It’s an eerie feeling have the rug seemingly pulled out from under you after 9 volumes.

This is one of the things that makes Urasawa’s titles so compelling. The ease with which he turns the whole story on its head and leaves you wondering “What now?”, just increases that need for the next volume to find out what’s gonna happen next. It’s his ability to keep the mystery going even when he’s giving up more information, such as with the Friend’s identity. More information was given about who or what he might be, but there are many reasons to doubt the source of the information. But then again, there are just as many reasons not to. Koizumi did see the Friend’s face, but also suffered brain damage when she was pulled from the virtual world. Can we believe what Koizumi saw? I’m inclined to think so, but there’s just enough uncertainty that I can’t say for sure. This uncertainty is what makes the story so infuriating, but at the same time, addicting.

Overall, this volume of 20th Century Boys was a great read. Seeing Kanna in action at the casino made for some very compelling scenes, and there was a lot of anticipation built over Kanna’s biggest gamble, whether anyone would show up the next day. This is the kind of drama I enjoy. The end of the volume created some real shock and awe as characters and readers alike are informed of the return of a surprise character that up until now has only been seen in memories or flashbacks. Oh, and Shogun is still cool. I’m really looking forward to the next volume now.

Manga Movable Feast: Paradise Kiss Volume 1

Yukari wants nothing more than to make her parents happy by studying hard and getting into a good college. One afternoon, however, she is kidnapped by a group of self-proclaimed fashion mavens calling themselves “Paradise Kiss.” Yukari suddenly finds herself in the roller coaster life of the fashion world, guided by George, art-snob extraordinaire. In a glamorous makeover of body, mind and soul, she is turned from a hapless bookworm into her friends’ own exclusive clothing model.

By Ai Yazawa
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating:
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99 (OOP)
Rating: ★★★★½
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When Paradise Kiss first came out, I passed on it, thinking it wouldn’t be a series I would be interested in, and quite frankly, I was turned off by the cover art. This was before I knew how awesome Ai Yazawa and her work was. Paradise Kiss is about a group of fashion design students trying to make their own line with normal exam student Yukari as their model, but this first volume is more about the relationships of this group of new friends than fashion, and as is typical of a Yazawa manga, the relationships are anything but simple.

Yukari Hayasaka is a high school student preparing for exams for college. She walks around with her nose in a book, goes to prep-school, and just generally worries about doing well and getting into a good school, just like everyone else around her. In Yukari’s world, your rank in school equals your rank in life. She doesn’t have any dreams or ambitions beyond getting into college. Her whole world revolves around this single goal. Until she meets the members of Paradise Kiss.

As one would expect for a group of art-school students, Paradise Kiss is filled with some eccentric characters. Arashi looks and speaks like a British punker, complete with safety-pin piercings and slang. Miwako looks and acts like a little girl, often referring to herself in the third person. Isabelle is a tall, male transvestite who also likes to cook, and takes any opportunity to make rice balls. And then there’s George, the leader of Parakiss.

George is a mysterious character. He always has a straight face, making it difficult to tell what he’s thinking, or when he’s being serious. He’s impossible to read or predict. The members of Parakiss are used to him and can just go with it, but Yukari becomes intrigued with George. He starts out playing with her, to get her to come back to the studio and convince her to be their model, but she gets completely caught up in him and his games. Yukari’s thoughts become dominated by thoughts of George, but she also wonders if he’s just playing with her. In the end, she can’t stop herself from falling for him.

Yukari also becomes friends with Miwako, who is a childhood friend with a boy in Yukari’s class that she’s had a crush with from afar, Tokumori. Without getting into the whole tangled mess of that relationship, it’s Yukari and Miwako’s friendship that plays a big role in Yukari finally deciding to help them. Through Miwako she has come to understand what Parakiss is trying to do. They have dreams and goals, and aren’t just the slackers she thought of them at first. She is able to see past the surface, and is even a little envious of the group. They have a dream they are working to achieve, while Yukari is just going through the motions. By choosing to become their model, she has taken the first step toward her own freedom, and making her own decisions for her life.

The art of Paradise Kiss doesn’t seem very different from Nana, Yazawa’s current manga series. I can see a lot of Nana O. in Yukari. The fashions Yazawa comes up with are sometimes outrageous, but always fitting of the character. Her realistic style works well with the fashions, but I do still enjoy the comedic faces she comes up with. Though I hope to never see one of them on George. It just wouldn’t feel right.

Just like with Nana, I was pulled into this series from the first chapter and hooked by the characters. Their complex relationships really draw you in, as does the enigmatic George. It’s easy to get just as caught up in his games as Yukari does. Like Yukari, I made the mistake of judging this title by its outward appearance. I’m glad the MMF gave me a push to check out this series. I’m now looking forward to reading more and seeing the fashion come into play, as well as where George and Yukari’s relationship will go, or if it will last.

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
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.