Category Archives: Reviews

Manga Drive By: Harlequin Manga @ eManga.com

eMangaI’ve never been much of a romance fan, and have never read a Harlequin romance novel in my life.  So, when I was given the opportunity to read some of the Harlequin manga released by DMP on their online manga site eManga, I decided to check some of the titles out.  I read 7 titles in total, that seemed to run the gambit from historical to modern settings, and from chaste fade-to-black love scenes to those slightly more explicit, but not enough to rate a M rating.

Some general observations first.  DMP’s eManga site is very well done.  The navigation is clean and concise, and easy to get around.  The reading list displays all of your titles, including how long your rental will last.  The manga reader is also easy to navigate.  It allows for either one or two page viewing, as well as zoom in and out.  The two page view fit my monitor just fine though, and I could read the text easily without zooming.  My only complaint here was about the bookmark feature.  It didn’t really work.  I tried to use it, but it didn’t remember my page when I came back the next day.  Luckily had written down my last page as well, so I wasn’t too inconvenienced.  It would have been nice though, if it had worked properly.

For the most part, I enjoyed the Harlequin titles.  They all went fairly quickly and make for good light summer reading, such as a relaxing day at the beach. They are very much wish fulfillment, with strong, independent women (in their own way) meeting men that seem jerky at first, but then turn out to be kind and great lovers. They were fun, but they’re not anything I’d be interested in re-reading.  They can get rather formulaic and cliche, which gets boring fast.  The only real problem I had with all of these titles was the text.  It doesn’t appear that much time or effort was put into it.  The text looks like it was typed in, and no effort was made to make the text fit in the word balloons.  You do get used to it after a while, but really, even scanlators do a better job.  For something you’re paying for, you expect a better presentation.

Honor’s PromiseRating: ★★½☆☆ – I liked most of the characters in this story,  especially the protagonist.  She was feisty and fun.  The plot wasn’t too over used, though the Greedy Family Lawyer as the villain was kind of obvious and cliche.  It’s a decent read, and was a pleasant introduction.  Would Trade For.

Keeping Luke’s SecretRating: ★★★½☆ – I really liked this one.  I enjoyed out the protagonist, who is a historian that was asked to write a long awaited biography, stays true to herself, and her work.  She’s not looking for money or fame.  The story ends with a bit of a twist and a fairy tale ending.  Must Buy.

Marriage Under An Italian SunRating: ★★★☆☆ – This one I also enjoyed.  It was a well written story and the setting in an Italian villa was nice.  The story had a nice mature feel to it, as it dealt with different kinds of loss and trying to make the right choices in order to be happy.  It had some nice twists that kept it from becoming predictable.  Must Buy.

Millionaire Husband: Justin’s StoryRating: ★★★½☆ – This was my second favorite story of the seven I read.  I liked the switch up of making a guy the protagonist instead of it being a woman.  I found his portrayal to be realistic considering his past and his slow by steady change to be well done.  Must Buy.

Prisoner of the TowerRating: ★★★★☆ – This was the best of the seven I read.  I love historical dramas, and this fit right into that.  The characters were well developed and very likable.  I found myself rooting Emma on and wanting to slap Baron Greystone.  The art is also a treat.  I highly recommend this title and a full review will be forthcoming.  Must Buy.

Sale of Return BrideRating: ★★☆☆☆ – This was the most cliche of all the stories I read, both in story and in characters.  I was predicting every story element before they happened, and the ending was no surprise.  It wasn’t badly written or anything like that.  It was just predicatable, and that lowered the enjoyment for me.  Good Way to Kill an Hour.

The Sheikh’s Reluctant BrideRating: ★★½☆☆ – This was another average title.  The Middle Eastern setting and situation with the female protagonist was different from the other titles I read, and I did find it refreshing.  Again, the characters are well written and the story isn’t as predictable, but neither is it very interesting.  The old school feel of the art was a nice touch too.  It just wasn’t all that appealing to me.  Good Way to Kill an Hour.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Digital Review: Rin-Ne Volume 3

This set of chapters starts out stumbling under the weight of more “been there, done that”, but manages to shake some of it off by the end, leaving a volume of work that is at least palatable.

By Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Comedy
Price: $9.99/Free Online (Chapters 19-28)
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

Chapter 19 starts out with another typical shtick of Takahashi’s; the rival love interest. Every one of her romantic comedies has one, all the way back to Urusei Yatsura, and Tsubasa Jumonji is right out of that boiler plate.  He tries to look cool and in control, but in reality he’s just a bumbling fool.  He’s ineffectual as a exorcist, his soul dust only causing people and spirits to cough, but not get rid of them.  Of course, he fell in love with Sakura when they were children.  Sakura was nice to him after he transferred to her school for a few days, and it was enough that now he’s declaring his love for her, and treating Rinne as his rival.

These chapters also introduce the damashigami.  They are rogue shinigami that take the life of a person who isn’t meant to die to fill their quota.  I found them to be an interesting development.  I prefer there to be some sort of antagonist outside the group rather than the infighting that usually runs through Takahashi’s romantic comedies, or a new random ghost-villain every few chapters.  It’s good to have a reason for all the rivals to come together and fight a common foe rather than each other all the time.

I still get a “meh” feeling about this series.  The introduction of the rival is another typical plot device that feels very tired to me.  Tsubasa just screams Mendo to me so much, it’s not even funny.  However, I did enjoy the stand alone stories in this volume, especially the final one with the “ghost” haunting the art students.  These chapters play out as a nice little mystery, with an ending you might not expect.  The quality of the stand alone stories are improving, and if a plot other than Rinne’s poorness is introduced, it could break up the “ghost of the week” feel the first two volumes had.  It’s enough for me have hope for further improvement of the series as a whole, and to keep reading.

Review: Nightschool: The Weirn Books Volume 1

Schools may lock up the the night, but class is in session for an entirely different set of students.  In the Nightschool, vampires, werewolves, and weirns (a particular breed of witches) learn the fundamentals of everything from calculus to spell casting.  Alex is a young weirn whose education has always been handled through homeschooling, but circumstances seem to be drawing her closer to the Nightschool.  Will Alex manage to weather the dark forces gathering?

Nightschool 1Nightschool: The Weirn Books Volume 1
By Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★

[May Contain Spoilers]

Mystery, magic, and a little mayhem have always made for a good combination in a story.  Nightschool: The Weirn Books provides all of these elements in a way to make an intriguing world and a great cast of characters to live in it.

The world of Nightschool is one divided between the normal, human world of the day, and the magical, supernatural-filled world of the night.  As is usual for this type of world, the daytime world is unaware of the nighttime world, while the reverse is the opposite.  The Nighttime world is filled with the usual suspects as well.  Vampires, witches, demons and seers all roam the world of this first volume.  But there are some new creatures of the night as well.  Rippers are vampires that have become nothing but shells of their former selves and crave blood for the touch of life it gives.  And of course weirns, a witch with a different kind of familiar.  It’s the latter of these that is the focus of the story.

Alex Treveny is a weirn.  She lives with her older sister Sarah, who works as the Night Keeper at the Nightschool.  Alex, however, is home schooled, for reasons that are left unclear.  She works on her assignments while Sarah is at work with her Astral, a black and white smokey-like creature.  The Astral has no name, and acts like an extension of Alex, but is still an independent character.  She can be like a conscious to Alex, but also easily bribed.  The two work together to accomplish things such as getting Alex over a tall fence, and the Astral seems to be aware of things about Alex that even she herself isn’t.

Because there is something strange about Alex.  A hooded figure seems to be shadowing her.  This is just one of the mysteries this first volume presents.  Along with the shadowy figure come powers that Alex isn’t aware she possesses, and a prophecy of her and others like her bringing down disaster on the world.  There’s also the not just disappearance, but erasure, of her sister, seemingly from existence.  All traces of Sarah disappear both physically as well as from people’s minds, until it’s only Alex that has any memory of her.  Could these two events be tied together?

Part of the strength of Nightschool‘s story is the characters.  Alex is a strong female lead.  She is serious and determined, though for some reason there are attempts to make her seem tough, which I don’t really see as necessary.  Alex stands just fine on her own strengths.  We don’t need other characters tell us that she’s tough on the outside, but really a softie on the inside.  Sarah, Alex’s sister is more of a ditz, but obviously really cares for her.  She adds some humor in this first volume, with her inability to get up, running an anime/manga club at the school, and her encounter with Mr. Roi, one of the teachers.  Hunters, which the Night folk seem to fear, are humans that patrol the night and protect other humans from the Night.  A group of them are introduced as well as a seer, and they become connected to Alex and prophecy in more ways than one.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books is a shining example of what OEL can and should become.  It has a well written story that hooks the reader in right from the beginning and builds on it creating a strong foundation for the series.  The mix of silly and serious moments balance each other out to make an entertaining drama that doesn’t drag or feel overdone.  Svetlana’s art is that perfect style of feeling like manga but definitely being of her own design.  I especially enjoy the look of the Astrals.  They look so completely non-human, and yet are still very expressive. Definitely check this series out.  It’s a keeper.

Manga Drive By: Shonen Jump March 2010

87_largeThere’s no real news in this month’s Shonen Jump, which is kind of surprising.  You’d think they would want to start hyping any new titles coming soon now.  But not this month.  So what do we learn in this issue of SJ?  I learned that Bleach has entered the endless “lather, rinse, repeat” mode of shonen manga.  I still don’t find Gin Tama funny, and the magazine is going to get boring real fast if they don’t add something that isn’t just about fighting.

Continue reading Manga Drive By: Shonen Jump March 2010

Black Jack Volume 6

Revenge and redemption seems to be the theme of this sixth volume of Black Jack. Whether it’s a Mob Boss taking revenge on a prideful and corrupt doctor, or a father and son reconciling during a volcanic eruption, Tezuka explores these issues through Black Jack’s dealings with his patients.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Medical Drama
Price: $16.95
Rating: ★★★★½
Buy This Book

Revenge can come in may forms.  Whether it’s the traditional “eye for an eye”, or in the name of justice, Black Jack ends up getting involved with people seeking revenge, and the patients often are the true victims.  In “Twice Dead”, Black Jack’s skills are sought to help save a boy just so he can be put on trial for murder.  “Brachydactyl” has a father trying to get revenge on his wife for cheating on him by denying their son the medical treatment he needs.  The ably titled “Revenge” has a Mob Boss punishing a doctor for not letting Black Jack help his son.  It’s Black Jack that administers the finale blow in this story.  “Terror Virus” has Black Jack and his rival Dr. Kiriko working to save men exposed to a biological weapon.  When Black Jack isn’t allowed to finish his work, Kiriko delivers “an eye for an eye” to the men who tried to condemn Black Jack’s patients.  While not commenting on whether revenge is right or wrong, Tezuka does an excellent job of eliciting an emotional reaction from the reader.

Through all this darkness of revenge and retribution there is the light of redemption, though endings are more bittersweet.  In “Brachydactyl”, while the father thought he wanted  revenge, he is given a chance at redemption thanks to an observation by Black Jack.  And in “Amidst Fire and Ash”, Black Jack’s resolve helps a father and son find reconciliation and redemption for the father.  “A Body Turning To Stone” has strong religious overtones to it, especially at the end.  But a father is again giving the chance at redemption with his first born, though the price ends up being higher than he intended.  While the redemption of these fathers with their sons is good to see, not all of the endings are uplifting.  But there is still a feeling of hope at the end that makes the reader feel that maybe the hardships will be worth it.

Throughout this volume of  Black Jack, Tezuka continues his social commentary on the medical community.  Perception is shown to be more valued than skill as Black Jack is denied a license to practice, and even jailed and kept there despite the need of his skills.  Though one again, he refuses a license on principle, and I can’t say I blame him.  There is also a subtle condemnation of experimenting on animals, and not so subtle one of man’s destruction of the environment.

Overall, this is another great collection of stories of the infamous doctor.  The diseases and situations Black jack must face continue to entertain as well as make you think.  There was only one scene that I found disturbing, during an operation, but is was only for one frame and could passed by quickly.  Don’t let the scenes of the operations dissuade you from reading this series.  Tezuka’s comment on the human condition far outweighs his portrayal of the human anatomy.  Don’t pass this series up.  You won’t be disappointed.

Review copy provided by publisher. Image © Vertical Inc.

Review: The Lizard Prince Volume 1

Lizard Prince 1
The Lizard Prince Volume 1
By Asuka Izumi
Publisher: CMX
Age Rating: Everyone
Genre: Romance/Fantasy/Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Canary is the princess of the kingdom of Linaria.  Her father, the king has promised her hand in marriage to Heath, the handsome prince of the kingdom of Gazania.  Canary isn’t crazy about this, because Heath has a bad reputation.  The Prince has his own reservations, and gets his brother Sienna to pose as him on their first date, convinced he’ll drive her away.  But the plan backfires when chemistry ignites between the two.  The only problem is, Sienna’s been under a spell, which turned him into a lizard.  And once he’s done posing as his brother, he reverts back to that form!  Will love really conquer all in this mixed up triangle?

The Lizard Prince is a fairy tale turned quirky romance.  It starts out much like the Frog Prince, but is able to transform itself into a funny and charming romance with wide spread appeal.

Continue reading Review: The Lizard Prince Volume 1

20th Century Boys Volume 7

Out in the middle of Tokyo Bay, a man called Shogun is trying to break out of Umihotaru Prison, a maximum-security island fortress, so he can save the world. Accompanied by a frightened young manga artist, these two men are prepared to risk everything as their daring escape plan grows deadlier by the minute. However, the prison authorities will do whatever it takes to return Shogun and his reluctant companion to custody.

Shogun’s ultimate goal: Tokyo, where a girl he calls the “final hope” lives, but a murder in Kabuki-cho has triggered a chain reaction of terror. Can Shogun reveal the truth about the false peace created by the Friends? And what are the facts behind the disaster that took place in the final moments of the 20th century?!

20th Century Boys 7
20th Century Boys Volume 7
By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen Plus
Genre: Drama/Mystery
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

 

What happened December 31, 1999?  The events of that night start to unfold as both Shogun and Kami tell the tale to two young people who want to know the truth.  But will learning these facts bring us any closer to the truth?  Once again, Urasawa poses more questions than he answers in this volume.  Why are the Friends rebuilding the 1970 Exhibition?  What exactly happened on December 31, 1999?  Even as we delve further into those events, answers are not forthcoming.

Continue reading 20th Century Boys Volume 7

Review: Jack Frost Volume 1

Jack Frost 1
Jack Frost Volume 1
By JinHo Ko
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆

Any high schooler on a nerve-wracking first day at a new school is apt to lose his or her head a little.  But in Noh-A’s case, she literally does!  When she wakes up in one piece with a little help from a mysterious doctor, Noh-A quickly realizes that nothing is as it seems at Amityville High, where paranormal creatures battle for supremacy.  Caught in the crossfire, Noh-A may have to rely on the unlikely (and possibly unreliable) aid of the most sinister student at Amityville…the deadly Jack Frost!

By all outward appearances, this title looks to be a pale shadow of the horror manga Hellsing.  Cracking open the book doesn’t do much to alter that appearance.  There is lots of action and decapitation, but not much in actual plot.

Continue reading Review: Jack Frost Volume 1

Review: Princess Resurrection Volume 3

Princess Resurrection 3
Princess Resurrection Volume 3
By Yasunori Mitsunaga
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.95
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Mummies, vampires, and a ghost ship: a typical day in the life of Princess Hime, monster slayer extraordinaire.  But when her kid sister visits, Princess Hime may have finally met her match.  Now she’s facing her toughest battle of all: sibling warfare!

The campiness we saw in the first two volumes of this series starts to get toned down in the third.  The fight between Hime and her brothers goes past simply sending hordes of monsters to something more serious.  It’s not going to be all fun and games from here on out.  It’s too bad the fan service doesn’t also take a hike.

Continue reading Review: Princess Resurrection Volume 3

Review: Deka Kyoshi Volume 1

Deka Kyoshi 1
Deka Kyoshi Volume 1
By Tamio Baba
Publisher: CMX
Age Rating: Teen Plus
Genre: Drama/Suspense
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

Toyama, a tall and beefy detective, goes undercover as a fifth-grade teacher.  The previous teacher was discovered on the ground outside of her condo and rumors say she jumped…or was she pushed?  Toyama is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, but it seems like he has a more pressing task at hand: his rowdy students.  One student, Makoto is a little strange and his eccentricities make him a prime target for bullies.  Makoto can actually see the demons inside people, which manifest themselves as visions of horrible monsters.  Will this strange student be able to help Toyama?

Sounding more like a take off of Kindergarten Cop, Deka Kyoshi is actually a title that looks at serious issues that kids are facing everyday.  It presents them in an interesting and unusual way, but CMX’s overly-conservative age rating of the book may keep it from reaching the audience it is meant and most appropriate for.

Continue reading Review: Deka Kyoshi Volume 1

Review: Princess Resurrection Volume 1

Princess Resurrection 1
Princess Resurrection Volume 1
By Yasunori Mitsunaga
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

Werewolves, demons, monsters, vampires – all these ferocious creatures are afraid of the same thing: the beautiful Princess Hime, an awesome warrior who fights the forces of evil with a chainsaw and a smile.  Not only does she look great in a tiara, she has magical powers that allow her to raise the dead.  She’s a girl on a mission, and with the help of her undead servant and a supercute robot, there’s no creature of darkness she can’t take down!

Take a Princess with a chainsaw, an androids in maid costume and a bit of a loser student who gains semi-immortality by accident and throw them into a battle with monsters out of a drive-in double feature and you have the first volume of Princess Resurrection, a series that balance’s campy horror with a more serious fight to become the King of Monsters.

Continue reading Review: Princess Resurrection Volume 1

Honey and Clover Volume 8

Ayu still can’t give up on her love for Mayama, even though his relationship with Rika seems to be deepening.  Nomiya’s growing interest in Ayu might be a balm to her broken heart, but he’s moving to Tottori for six months! Is Ayu cursed to suffer hopeless love affairs forever?

By Chica Umino
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

This volume is all about the love polygon of Mayama, Ayu, Rika and Nomiya.  Ayu seems to be deliberately torturing herself by working with Mayama and Rika, and seeing their relationship grow.  Rika is preparing for the Valencia Art Museum Annex, a project she and her late husband submitted for and won, and seems prepared to also make it her last, something Mayama’s not prepared to let Rika do.  And Nomiya, the player, finds himself doing something he never thought he would, falling for Ayu.

There’s a lot of drama going on in this volume, especially with Rika.  She still haven’t been able to get over her husband’s death, no matter what kind of face she puts on.  A flashback from Hanamoto shows what a difficult time she had after the accident, and how she became a ghost of herself, like part of her was lost with Harada.  Mayama seems to sense that too, as he watches over Rika, even to the point of invading her privacy by reading her emails.  But it doesn’t feel like he’s trying to be controlling or possessive.  He senses that she doesn’t want to keep living and fights to keep her alive, despite her.  It’s this that seems to make a stronger impression on her than his feelings for her.

Ayu’s drama isn’t any less than Rika, but it isn’t quite as serious either.  Her problems are dealt with a lighter tone.  Though we see her suffering, her way of dealing with it is by eating.  A lot.  And when Nomiya gets involved, the humor really ramps up, as Ayu is shown to be surrounded by unicorns, intent on protecting Ayu’s virtue.  Very aggressive and mouthy unicorns.  It’s a really good balance of humor to the some of the tenser moments in the volume.  The unicorn appearances are my favorite scenes.

Honey and Clover continues to be a good romance that balances the drama without going over the melodramatic cliff, and makes a really good read for older audiences.  The relationships are realistic, making you want to laugh and cry.  This volume picks up right where Shojo Beat left off, so if you were following it in the magazine, this is a must have.  Even if you weren’t, Honey & Clover is a title anyone who loves a good story should be reading.