Category Archives: Reviews

Kaze Hikaru Volume 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swallowing the Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Jack Frost Volume 3

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

By JinHo Ko
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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In a reverse of the first volume, there is more plot and less decapitation in this latest volume of Jack Frost. Noh-A finally learns the truth of her past. There are also glimpses shown of Jack’s inner turmoil. Is he unable or unwilling to go to his rest? Then it’s back to mindless destruction as the South District renews its attack on the North.

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

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

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

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

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

Chi’s Sweet Home Volumes 1-2

Chi’s Sweet Home is the tale of a lost kitten finding a home with a young family. Despite not being able to keep pets in their apartment, they take the lost kitten in and try to find a home for her. Like most people who take in cats “temporarily” the kitten, who names herself Chi, wiggles her way into the house and hearts of the Yamada family.

by Konami Kanata
Publisher: Veritcal, Inc.
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Pet
Price: $13.99
Rating: ★★★★★
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I’ll say this upfront; I love cats. So this title already had a head start before I even cracked it open. Fortunately, I was not disappointed once I did started reading it. Chi, the main character, draws you in immediately. She is cute, but not the sugary-sweet, Hello Kitty kind of cute. She is cute the same way that a baby is. She is a baby cat after all, and acts like one. She is easily distracted (which is what gets her separated from her mother and siblings in the first place), trying new things, making mistakes, and learning from them. She and Yohei, the little boy who finds Chi, are very much a like in that way. Both being young children, they end up learning things together. Both Chi and Yohei learn to use the potty correctly.

Over the two volumes, Chi and the Yamadas learn to get along and live with each other. Chi slowly accepts the Yamadas as his new family, and she and Yohei get along very much like siblings. They play together and even compete for toys and food. It’s not all fun and games though, especially with Mom and Dad. Mom tortures Chi with a bath, and scolds her when Chi tries out her claws on the couch. Dad is worse, taking Chi to the vet, which earns him her scorn for several days after. It is sweet to see how the parents come to accept Chi as well. Dad is saddened by Chi avoiding him after the vet visit, and Mom takes Yohei to search for Chi when she gets out and can’t find her way home.

There is a lot of humor in this title, and much of it comes from Chi being a kitten and doing kitten-y things. From her liking the plastic bag more than the toys that came in it to chasing super bouncy balls, to playing with crumbled paper, Chi’s sheer joy is infectious and hard not to smile at. Of course, the not so nice things that happen to her can be funny as well. Her reaction to her introduction to dogs, cars and the hair dryer made me laugh out loud. A lot of this has to do with Kanata-sensei’s art. She puts so much expression into Chi, that even without the translation, one could figure out whether she was happy, sad, scared or angry.

I can’t speak for the accuracy of Vertical’s translations, but I think the localization is done very well. Chi’s speaking is portrayed with a little bit of baby speak, often making her sound like Tweety Bird, as she says things like “Fwuffy” and “gowing”. Fortunately, it’s used sparingly, so it doesn’t distract the reader as much as it could. I also like how Chi’s cat speech is also varied. She doesn’t just say “meow”. Her cat vocabulary also includes “miya”, “mew”, and “meowr” among others, giving the impression of different inflections, depending on her mood.

The art for this title is rather toonish, with the characters being drawn simply and without a lot of detail. Chi’s cuteness can not be denied whether it’s her usual wide-eyed expression as she goes exploring or it’s her narrowed-eyed, fluffed out fur when she’s upset. The simplicity of the art makes it easier to appeal to a non-manga audience, much like it’s subject matter should. Vertical’s editions are in color, done in a watercolor style, giving the books a gentle feel.

While Chi’s Sweet Home was originally serialized in a men’s magazine in Japan, it really feels like an all ages title. Chi is just so cute, it’s hard to imagine a child, male or female being able to resister her charms. The chapters are simple and short, but also fun and sweet. Cat lovers will melt for this title too, as Chi reminds them how much fun kittens are, even if they do eventually grow up to be cats. Even non-cat people can get something out of this series. They can see why cat lovers love their cats so much, even if they don’t get it.

Funny, and heart-warming, Chi’s Sweet Home is a title the whole family can enjoy,and is easily one of the best titles to come out this year.

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.