Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Phantom Volume 5

Phantom Volume 5
By Ki-Hoon Lee/Seung-Yup Cho
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: 13+
Genre: Action/Mecha
Price: $9.99
ISBN: 9-781598-167740

Rating: ★★★★½

K and his team, after their all-out battle against Iron, are left battered and bloody.  Dison calls in the Solbalow, Athena’s flying aircraft carrier to evacuate the crew when they’re suddenly under attack by Iron forces.  They barely manage to escape to their base in Guam.  Once he awakens, K is told where his power came from, apparently the Meteor Shower wasn’t actually a meteor shower, it was a shower of alien nano-symbiotes that invade the human body and grow in the brain.  Those who cannot handle their symbiote die, the others can develop special powers, like K’s ability to imitate or react to anyone else’s battle tactics.  Dison and Eaimi, on the other hand, are products of Iron’s Ice Project, altered human beings just like the female cyborg found by Eric.

We jump ahead one year and the tide has turned against Iron.  Repeated attacks by Athena and Rynus Corporation have cost them not only land but public opinion but Iron has a few tricks up it’s sleeve.  First, the return of Colonel Kas Stein, now a cyborg in his own right and leader of a trio of psychic girl pilots who can perfectly interact with his new and most powerful TC, the Diablo.  Second, it’s ruthlessness as it nukes Rynus, reducing it’s forces to near zero.

But Athena hasn’t been sitting on their laurels for the past year either, they have a new secret weapon, the Phantom, commanded by a much more powerful and confident K, that heads out to save the day from certain doom.

In the end, I suppose I am relatively satisfied with their explanations for the psychic powers.  I don’t really like them, but it’s a lot better than saying “there are just magical pixies running around giving people power” or something ridiculous like that.  The aliens in the brain, while a bit hackneyed, is at least remotely plausible, I suppose.  Still, I think the story would have been better off without it, it lowers my overall score a bit.

Back in the review for Volume 2, I mentioned the harem manga angle and to be honest, I don’t know why they brought it up at all, it’s never referenced again.  None of K’s admirers ever mention being attracted to him at all, even Sara, who came off as very jealous, simply goes back to being a mechanic and in the end, TC pilot.  The whole subplot with Yura seems tacked on as well, she wakes up at the end of Volume 5, suddenly healed and goes off to look for K.  The end.  It’s just not convincing at all.  Lily and her mother?  Well Lily shows up once more in the story as a tagalong character  but her mother is nowhere to be seen.  The whole romance angle is completely dropped and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand, I detest harem stories, but on the other, since they brought it up in the first place, they should have gone somewhere with it.

Overall, Phantom is an interesting, albeit very cliche mecha story.  It’s got plenty of action, plenty of drama, lots of giant robots smacking each other, but none of it is very original.  If you’ve read a lot of mecha manga or seen a lot of mecha anime, you won’t come away from Phantom with anything new, but for the time you’re reading it, it’s a fun ride with good characters and a lot of twists and turns along the way.

Review: The Big Adventures of Majoko

The Big Adventures of Majoko Volume 1
By Tomomi Mizuna
Publisher: Udon Entertainment
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $7.99
ISBN: 1897376812
Rating: ★★★★☆

While cleaning her room, a young girl named Nana finds a mysterious diary. As soon as she opens it, out pops Majoko, a rambunctious wizard girl from the Land of Magic! Together, these two girls explore a fantastic world full of magic spells, wondrous creatures, and endless surprises. Every day is a big adventure when Majoko is around!

The Big Adventures of Majoko has ever thing to please a young girl; easy to relate to characters and stories that are filled with fun and adventure.  The simplistic and self-contained stories are perfect for the emerging to chapters reader, but don’t expect to see it in the hands of many over the age of 10.

Continue reading Review: The Big Adventures of Majoko

Brian’s Spot: Gimmick Volume 1

Gimmick! Volume 1
By Youzaburou Kanari
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: T+ (Older Teens)
Genre: Action
Price: $9.99
ISBN: 1-4215-1778-7
Rating: ★★★★☆

In 1986, the movie F/X, starring Bryan Brown as special effects maestro Rollie Tyler and Brian Dennehy as Lt. Leo McCarthy came out, followed by F/X 2 in 1991.  It was so popular that they made a TV series out of it in 1996 which ran for 40 episodes.  Now we get the manga adaptation… wait, it isn’t?

Could have fooled me.

Gimmick is the story of Kohei Nagase and his crew at Studio Gimmick, a small special effects house that seemingly does work for just about everyone.  Kohei is a makeup wizard that can do just about anything with his silver spatula and people come to him from far and wide for his expertise.  Kohei and his sidekick, stuntman Kannazuki, move from job to job, and rescue the odd actress along the way, as Kohei tries to become the ultimate special effects man.

It’s really impossible not to compare Gimmick to F/X, especially when in the back of the manga, Youzaborou Kanari tries desperately to take credit for the whole idea.  He says he came up with the idea in 2003 and was afraid someone would use the idea before he could find an artist.  You’re about 15 years too late for that, pal.  I wouldn’t say, but your stories come almost entirely from the TV series.  Kohei is working on a theme park house of horrors?  Rollie Tyler did effects on a movie being filmed in a theme part house of horrors.  There’s nothing particularly original about this idea, Kanari can give up claiming that there was.

That said though, Gimmick is actually pretty good.  Yes, Kohei’s effects are really pretty silly and teetering dangerously close to magic, if I had a dime for every time he did something that is ridiculously unrealistic, I’d be rich.  F/X showed, at least in the movies, that effects are a matter of lighting and viewpoint and if you aren’t careful, the whole house of cards comes down. Kohei and his amazing spatula whip up things that can pass any amount of muster in seconds and there are times when you’ll be fighting to maintain your credulity at his magic.

Fair warning, this is an older teen title which means there is a fair bit of gratuitous fanservice, nudity which has no other reason than to make guys living in their mother’s basements drool.  It’s pointless and unnecessary and I was unable to find a single nude shot in the book that actually had to be there for story purposes.

If you’re looking for something silly for a quick read, Gimmick fits the bill.  If you’re looking for a good story about special effects saving the day, just go straight to Best Buy and pick up the two F/X movies.  You’ll be glad you did.

Weekend Rerun Review: Mamotte! Lollipop Volume 3

Mamotte! Lollipop Volume 3
By Michiyo Kikuta
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Age Rating: Teen 13+
Price: $10.99

ISBN: 0-345-49667-6

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Nina’s in love – but who’s the lucky boy? After all, what girl could choose between Zero and Ichi? They’re both wizards, and they’re both supercute! When a matchmaking witch slips Nina a love potion, will the magic spell help Nina choose her soul mate?

It’s almost been six months since Nina swallowed the Crystal Pearl and the end of the magic exam is fast approaching. Examinees are still popping in, and Nina still can’t decide between Zero and Ichi. But it’s not like everyone isn’t trying to help her along…

This volume starts with a staple of romance plots; the love potion. Nina accidentally pours it into lunch and everyone but Ichi falls for her. Only the kiss from someone who’s had the potion can break it, so she has to kiss Zero? Then Zero’s “fiancé” becomes an examinee just to try and get Zero to love her and puts a spell on him and Nina that will turn them into animals unless Zero agrees to go back with her. The last chapters have Nina getting kidnapped by another new pair of examinees who also tell people’s love fortunes. They then cast spells on Nina to try and get her to find her soul mate, but even magic can’t seem to solve this conundrum.

Mamotte! Lollipop is another romance fantasy for the younger girls. A very average romance fantasy. I didn’t read this volume so much as I just breezed through it. Every plot was so cliché, from the love potion, to the previously unknown fiancé, right up to the “big” climax at the end. It’s not only all been done before, it’s all been done better. This volume played like the obligatory middle of a trilogy before you get back to the action. There was no reason to introduce two *more* examinees with the exam so close to being over. Eleven and Twelve’s (yes, those really are their names) only purpose was to build up the romantic tension between Nina and Zero and Ichi, which they don’t succeed at. By the end of this volume, nothing has changed.

The best thing about this volume is the extra story “Sun on the 17th of July”. It tells the story of how Sun and Forte first met. It’s really touching and gives depth to the characters, something that we just don’t get in the actual story.

With the end of the exam coming up, you’d think the examinees would be more worried about who is in possession of Nina and the Crystal Pearl, not about who she’s in love with. All the regulars are together acting as friends instead of competitors. The story was more exciting when they were all plotting to get Nina. It’s like they’ve all given up, so there’s no real point in trying. Unless things change in the next volume, there won’t be a real point in continuing to read it either.

Captive Hearts Volume 1

Being carried around everywhere and having handsome Megumi act like a slave may seem ideal, but Suzuka just wishes he would stop.  Can anything be done about Megumi’s captive state?  Or is Megumi doomed to see Suzuka as his master…forever?

Captive Hearts 1Captive Hearts Volume 1
By Matsuri Hino
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen (13+)
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Price: $8.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Long ago, a thief named Kuroneko-maru stole a family heirloom of a samurai family, the “Scroll of the Rising Dragon”.  When he tried to read it, the guardian dragon appeared and cursed Kuroneko and all of his descendants to a life of servitude to the Kogami family.  Megumi Kuroishi, a descendant of Kuroneko, has lived most of his life not knowing about the curse, as the Kogami family was believed dead in China while on a trip.  But, the daughter of the Kogami, Suzuka, appears and returns, and the curse kicks in, making for much comedy and the stirrings of some romance…maybe?

Captive Hearts is first and foremost a comedy.  Megumi’s sudden “Manservant fits” can be funny, hitting him suddenly, and making him obsess over Suzuka even when he’s not with her.  Reverting him back to normal usually takes some kind of violence.  So the comedy is mostly physical, and works pretty well.  But this can only last so long.  There are only so many times Megumi can sweep Suzuka off her feet or burst through her classroom window to protect her before it get old.  So, let’s through some romance into the mix.

When I say romance, I’m being kind.  There really isn’t any setup for Megumi and Suzuka.  Megumi spends most of his time struggling with the curse, so there’s little indication that he has any feelings for her until the end of the first chapter when he goes to China to bring Suzuka back because he “wanted” to.  But doubt lingers, and Suzuka spends most of the volume fretting over this to the point of trying to jump off a building in hopes of breaking the curse and freeing Megumi.  This is melodrama taken way too far, and really feels forced.

Another problem I have with this volume is that the main story only takes up half the volume.  The rest is filled with short stories by Hino.  One is about a middle school girl student who is in love with her teacher and the other is about two siblings trapped in a snow storm waiting for a bus.  This second story is very angsty, reminding me of Vampire Knight.  This was a real disappointment for a first volume.  I can understand wanting to pad a volume at the end of a series, or after a big story arc, but just as the story is beginning?  This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.

The art isn’t as polished as other Hino titles, but that’s not bad.  There is just enough detail to look good without being overwhelming.  Characters faces are actually visible, and not hidden until long, scraggly locks.

Captive Hearts started out with a lot of potential.  The balance of comedy to romantic elements seemed even, with the melodrama nowhere near the levels of a series like Vampire Knight.  If the title can keep this balance, it will definitely be worth following.

Weekend Rerun Review: St. Lunatic High School Volume 1

St. Lunatic High School Volume 1
By Majiko!
Publisher: Tokyopop
Rating: Teen
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆
ISBN: 1-59816-944-7

Forced to attend the prestigious St. Lunatic High School, Niko Kanzaki discovers a haunting secret in her demon-filled night-classes!  She applies higher learning to find out the differences between humans and demons, but the handsome and mysterious Ren shows her that the races also share some things in common…

When I read in Previews that the mangaka of this series also wrote the manga adaptation of Code Geass, I was excited to read this series.  Code Geass is an awesome story.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t this…

Tokyopop once again uses the genre horror for this series, very inappropriately.  There is nothing horrific about this series.  It might have helped if it had.  Niko and her brother Atchan are poor.  But Atchan gets a job teaching at the prestigious St. Lunatic High School, so they think their worries are over.  Think again.  One rundown apartment is skipped out on for a rundown shed on the school’s grounds.  And the night classes that Niko gets to attend?  Full of demons.  None of them look normal, except for one; Ren the bishonen loner, who ignores the other girls, but finds himself helping Niko out, despite himself.  You couldn’t find a better boiler plate for a shojo manga that this if you tried!  The characters, the situations, they are all as stiff as boards.

It doesn’t help things either that Niko is absolutely annoying.  She’s loud and obnoxious, and is always yelling.  There is nothing likable about her.  I know her design is supposed to be cute, but it’s not.  It’s plain at best.  You can’t have a shojo series with a completely unsympathetic heroine and have it be good.

That isn’t to say this book is all bad.  It does have its moments, and there were even a few times where I chuckled out loud.  But it’s mostly the supporting characters that are providing the humor; Niko’s classmates, and the Chairman of the school (who is also Ren’s father).  I found the demon with the Easter Island Maoi particularly entertaining.

Majiko did a good job with the adaptation of Code Geass.  I really enjoyed that title, even with the changes that were made, much more than this, which is sad, since I really wanted to like this one too.  But the bad points just outweighed the good this time.  For a supernatural high school shojo, you’re better off looking elsewhere.  Or picking up Code Geass.

Digital Review: Orange Crows Volume 1

orange-crows
Orange Crows Volume 1
By: James Perry II and Ryo Kawakami
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: 13+
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Five years ago, a young witch named Cierra broke the one unforgivable law of the witch society: attempting to create her own magic. Her unlawful tampering burned down a research room and injured the Mayor’s daughter, Cierra’s best friend. As punishment, she was exiled to the Wilderness, a barren wasteland crawling with witch-devouring Fairies and the bloodthirsty Forsaken…After surviving for five ruthless years, her exile has now ended, and she has been ushered back to civilization, only to discover that the world around her has changed greatly. Will Cierra be able to adjust back to a society that abandoned her? And if her freakish new ability that links her to the terrifying Fairies is discovered, she may not be let off with mere exile this time…

Orange Crows is a new OEL manga from Tokyopop.  I really knew nothing about it, and the cover didn’t intrigue me in anyway, but with a link to read the whole volume for free coming in my email, I decided to check it out.

Continue reading Digital Review: Orange Crows Volume 1

The Pitfalls of Being a Reviewer

Being a reviewer isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Sure, anyone can write “That manga sucks”, or “This manga totally rules!”.  But to thoughtfully read a book and then put down into words not just your feelings about the book, but do it in an interesting and intelligent way that people will want to read is a lot harder than it sounds.

Being too subjective: Yes, I am writing a review and giving my personal opinion about the title.  But at the same time, I don’t want to go all “fan girl” either, and just go on and on about how much I like the title.  I want to give enough information for readers to have a basic idea what the title is about, while at the same time expressing my likes and dislikes.  If I really like a title, I will go on more about what I consider it’s good points, but it’s hard some times not to become a cheerleader for a title.  That’s appropriate for a blog post, not a review.

On the other side of the coin…

Continue reading The Pitfalls of Being a Reviewer

Review: Zombie Powder Volume 2

Zombie Powder Volume 2
By Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media; Shonen Jump Advanced
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Genre: Action
Price: $7.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

We meet Wolfina Lalla Getto, a self-described “journalist of justice” who has been responsible for toppling various criminal organizations in her illustrious career.  She’s got a peculiar choice of weapons, a camera tripod, with which she is very effective.  However, when Gamma Akutabi rescues her from a camera-shoot gone wrong, he gets the idea that she might know where one of the Rings of the Dead might be, especially when he finds out that her younger brother Emilio lies in a coma, the sure sign, he thinks, of their knowlege of the rings.  Supposedly, the Rings of the Dead can turn innocent victims into mindless vegetables by feeding off their life force.

Continue reading Review: Zombie Powder Volume 2

Review: Hunter x Hunter Vol 16-18

Hunter x Hunter Volume 16, 17, 18
By Yoshihiro Togashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Genre: Action
Price: $7.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆

These three volumes finish up the Greed Island arc (thankfully), though in retrospect it wasn’t as bad as it could be.  Volume 16 continues “The Bomber” arc within Greed Island that was started in Volume 15.  Genthru and his team has 96 and only need 4 more to win the game.  Several teams of hunters, including Gon’s gather to come up with a way to stop Genthru.  They decide to get a card no one else has and keep it from them.  By creating a team of 15 they can activate the quest.  After gathering the requisite number (including Hisoka), they reach the challenge of a killer dodgeball game.  Volume 17 finishes the game, and starts the war between Genthru’s team and the winners of Plot of the Beach card.  There’s more training for Gon and Killua while Tsezguerra’s team buys them time to come up with a strategy to beat Genthru.  Volume 18 is the final three-on-three battle between Genthru’s team and Gon’s, and the end of the Green Island arc.

Continue reading Review: Hunter x Hunter Vol 16-18

Dororo Volume 1-3

A Samurai during Japan’s Warring States period (1467-1573), Daigo Kagemitsu wants complete control over Japan.  He promises his unborn son’s 48 body parts to demons in exchange for that control.  When the baby is born deformed, Daigo throws the newborn into the river to die, but it is miraculously found by a doctor, Jukai, who makes prosthetics for the child and adopts him as his own.  When the boy Hyakkimaru is grown, he leaves home and begins a journey to recover his body parts.  Along the way he runs into a brash young thief, Dororo, whom he teams up with; together they battle demon and monster on their adventure to reclaim Hyakkimaru’s wholeness.

Dororo 1-3
Dororo 1-3

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action/Adventure
Price: $13.95
Rating: ★★★★½

Dororo, first serialized in 1967, can be seen as a proto-shonen story.  It has many of the elements we now see in shonen titles today, though these were new at the time. Tezuka spins a memorable supernatural action/adventure tale and characters that really draw you in, and only disappoints at the very end, though not in story, but lack of it.

The first volume of this title is the introduction. Tezuka jumps from past to present, first telling of Daigo’s deal, then introducing Hyakkimaru and Dororo. Hyakkimaru tells Dororo his story, trying to convince the young thief not to follow him, but Dororo doesn’t give up so easily. After a few chapters fighting a demon that returns Hyakkimaru’s arm, it’s Dororo’s tragic past that is revealed.  It ends with another demon defeated and Hyakkimaru gaining another body part.

This volume is the strongest of the three, with the great action sequences interspersed with the story telling. One of the themes introduced this is volume that continues through all three seems to be that of “No good deed goes unpunished”. After Hyakkimaru and Dororo go through so much trouble to help rid villages of the demons that plague them, always their reward is to chased off with nary a thank you. Tezuka’s fascination with human nature is seen here as the excuses the villagers often give is refusing to help a thief (Dororo) or Hyakkimaru’s different appearance. Of course, it doesn’t bother them when Hyakkimaru reveals his sword hidden in his arm when he’s fighting a demon; Only after the demon’s defeated and he might need something like food or shelter to rest.

Volume two gets into more character development for Hyakkimaru. He meets his father, the ruthless Daigo and his second son Tahomaru. Things don’t go well, and Hyakkimaru ends up killing Tahomaru in a duel and his father demanding his head. He sends Dororo away deciding he was better off dead when the old man from the first volume that gave Hyakkimaru the hope of becoming a great swordsman despite his handicap, appears. He helps Hyakkimaru see that he needs more in life than just killing demons, and a map to that mysteriously appears on Dororo’s back proves to be it. Hyakkimaru decides to help Dororo find his father’s treasure. This volume ends in must the same way as the first with Hyakkimaru defeating a demon, gaining a limb, and getting chased out of the village.

I’ve seen this volume described as making the series darker, and with all the needless killing of innocents in the first half, one could agree. But, the first volume already established that life was hard, and that Daigo was evil. Maybe “serious” would be a better description. We see just how hard life is and how evil Daigo can be.  We gain more insight into Hyakkimaru as well. He has no real purpose beyond finding his missing body parts. He isn’t killing demons to help people. He has to kill a demon before he will know if it was one of the 48. The old man tried to get Hyakkimaru to realize this, but it’s really Dororo that makes him see. Through their journey, Hyakkimaru and Dororo have formed a bond that neither can see, but certainly feel. It’s this bond that makes Hyakkimaru more human than just his regained body parts.

Volume three picks up with the search for Dororo’s father’s treasure. Then there are a few demon hunting stories and the final story involves Hyakkimaru facing his father again and helping a village of farmers overcome him. Hyakkimaru parts ways with Dororo again after a revelation, and then leaves.  And…that’s the end.

This volume starts out full steam and stays that way to the very end. Tezuka never shows any indication that these would be the last stories. Nothing is resolved, and if anything, things are set up to imply more to come, so that when you come to the end, it’s like hitting a brick wall. The last page is nothing but a few lines that are woefully inadequate for what was up ’til now an exciting ride!

This brings me to the things I didn’t like about this series, and there aren’t a lot. The biggest problem I had with it was Tezuka continually breaking the fourth wall. Now, I don’t mind a manga being referential, but I really don’t like it when characters speak to the reader, break through panels and refer to things completely inappropriate to the title. Tezuka did this in every volume, though sparingly. But it was enough to distract from an already riveting story. He already had good comedic moments the Dororo. He didn’t need to add these others.

The other problem was the abrupt ending. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the pace had slowed some, or if there had been some indication that the story would be ending, but there wasn’t. You get to the end of the last story, turn to the last page and are left stunned, wondering where the rest of the story went. It is a real disappointing end of an otherwise great story.

Overall, Dororo is a great story. The characters are fun and well-developed. The demons that Hyakkimaru and Dororo face are varied and interesting. The art is classic Tezuka, but it really grows on you. Do not pass this title up just because the art doesn’t look modern and polished.  If you are interested in action and/or folklore/supernatural than this is a must read. Tezuka’s shonen classic shows why so many creators used him as a template. This great story is only marred by a jarring end.

Inubaka: Crazy For Dogs Volume 10

One of the regulars at Suguri’s pet shop finds out that his precious little French bulldog, Zidane, has a weight problem!  He tried everything from diet food to yoga and even an exercise machine to help the little guy lose that doggy fat!  Could someone else be feeding him, too?!

By Yukiya Sakuragi
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre:Animal/Drama
Age Rating: Older Teen
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Dog lovers rejoice!  It’s another volume of dogs and their owners doing doggie things.  Then for the second half of the volume, there’s a new plot stirring up, that could be the end of Woofles and the gang.

The first half of this volume is all about Hiroshi Akiba, an otaku-goverment worker, and his bulldog Zidane.  Zidane was teased by Chizuru about his weight, so Akiba decided to do something about it.  He buys low-calorie dog food, he stops buying treats and even gets a doggie treadmill!  This story is mildly amusing, though it has all the typical trappings and pitfalls of a diet storyline.

The story of how Lupin, Suguri’s mutt, got his name is mildly amusing too.  The source isn’t all that surprising, nor why she chose.  This story really just seems to fulfill the title’s fanservice quotient.

The rest of the volume introduces a new storyline.  Woofles has been targeted as the best pet store in the area, and the place to top for a new pet shop that is backed by an online retailer.  Not only are they trying to be better than Woofles, but they have their eye on Woofles top employee, Suguri!

This new storyline could be interesting, if it wasn’t so obvious where it was going.  Already, the spy that is working at Woofles has shown his “good side”, and the whole “steal Suguri from Woofles” just isn’t plausible.  Anyone that’s read even one volume of this series would know that.  Of course, Lupin catches on to Mikage right from the beginning.  He barks at him, and when he invites Suguri to a cafe for lunch and to try to get her to leave Woofles, Lupin is all over him, interrupting him at every chance.  That scene was also mildly amusing.

Inubaka continues to be a title aimed squarely at the male dog lover.  The fanservice was much more under control in this volume.  It wasn’t too prevalent, except for the one story.  And for dog lovers, this continues to be a windfall.  Lots of different dog doing lots of cute doggie things.  As a cat person, I’m still not impressed, but I didn’t mind the read either.