Category Archives: Reviews

Case Closed Volume 43-44, 46-47

Super Sleuth Jimmy Kudo, who was physically transformed into a first-grader, continues to solve crimes as Conan Edogawa while living with family friend Richard Moore and his daughter Rachel. In these four volumes, Jimmy must solve cases such as a missing cell phone, a bomber at the Koshien baseball finals, the murderer of the head of a toy company, and stop the Kaito Kid from stealing the legendary gem The Blue Wonder, all while trying to find the men who changed him, and keep Rachel from finding out Conan and Jimmy are the same person.

Case Closed Volume 4344, 4647
Case Closed 43By Gosho Aoyama
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery
Price: $9.99

It’s been a while since I read a volume of Case Closed. I had the first twelve volumes, but sold them awhile ago, and apparently never reviewed them. Bad me. Since it’s been so long since I’ve read any volumes, I forgot how much I enjoy  reading a good mystery manga. These four volumes have the added bonus of touching on Jimmy’s ongoing search to find the “Men in Black” who changed him, Rachel’s suspicions about Conan and Jimmy being the same person, and a good old-fashioned treasure hunt.

Case Closed 44Case Closed, or Detective Conan as it’s known in Japan, is very much a formulaic series. Every volume has 2-3 cases, most of which carry over to the next volume. They are all several chapters long, and deal with some sort of mysteries, many of which involve a murder. But, I am perfectly fine with this. It’s not the formula that’s important, but seeing the characters in action and the mysteries they must solve.

Case Closed has an extensive cast. After going for 20 years, it’s hard not to have expanded it, but Aoyama does a good job of balancing who gets featured where. Hattori and Kahuza pop in for a couple of cases, police detective love birds Sato and Takagi as well as Inspector Meguire work on some cases, Serena gets to help out in a case versus Kaito Kid, and of course, the Detective Boys and Rachel and Richard are all one hand to help Conan solve the cases, in one capacity or the other.

Case Closed 46 I enjoyed all the cases in these volumes, I really enjoyed the ones where Conan could take the credit for himself. Thwarting Kaito Kid, the Koshien bomber, and solving the toy company president’s and magician’s murder were all his own, even if he had to share some of that with Hattori. My favorite case was the treasure hunt for Kichiemon’s treasure, a diamond. It involved finding clues that related to the past or historical references, my favorite kind of treasure hunts.

Case Closed is all about the mysteries. Conan has personal issues to deal with, that are related in a way, but are also at the heart of the series. He doesn’t want to go through growing up again. He needs to find the “Men in Black” who gave him the poison that shrunk him down to a first grader. He’s made some headway in previous volumes, but in this one, he finally  figures out a clue; the email of the boss of the gang. I liked that he was cautious with it, debating whether or not to send to it and see what the response would be.

Case Closed 47But while the gang may be dangerous, Conan has more to fear closer to home. This whole time, he has been fooling Rachel that he and Jimmy were two different people. But Rachel isn’t stupid, and one careless clue too many puts her on Conan trail. The looks of fear he gets when he realizes Rachel may be one to him were just priceless. The relationship between Jimmy and Rachael is a central one to the series, so I really wonder how it will be resolved, assuming the series ever ends, that is. I do want Jimmy to regain his body. The stories when he does are my favorites, but he’s got a lot to answer for with Rachel when he finally does.

Case Closed is a great murder mystery series, that any lover of cozy mysteries, or mysteries in general would love. The title is rated Older Teen, but I think tweens could easily handle it. The murders aren’t gory, and far from the only types of mysteries Conan and company must solve. For good old fashion mystery lovers like me, this is the only option we have in manga, which is a great shame. But I’m glad we have it.

Manga Dogs Volume 1

Kanna Tezuka is a serious 15-year-old manga artist, already being published as a pro. So when she finds out her high school is starting a manga drawing course, even she gets excited. But it’s a fiasco! The teacher is useless, and the only other students-three pretty-boy artist wannabes-quickly adopt Kanna as their (unwilling) sensei. But they all have ridiculous delusions about being an artist, and if Kanna can’t bring them back down to Earth, she’ll never get any work done!

Manga Dogs Volume 1
Manga Dogs 1By Ema Toyama
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Manga Dogs is a manga about being a mangaka, somewhat in the vein of Bakuman. But where Bakuman is a serious take about what it takes to be a successful mangaka, Manga Dogs takes a more satirical route, poking fun at the fans and wanna be creators. It’s only problem is that it’s just not that funny.

The story revolves around Kanna Tezuka, a mangaka who has already debuted in a shojo magazine, but her title just isn’t popular. When her high school starts a manga track, she thinks it’s a way to be able to draw manga at school. Three pretty boys going the class, and latch onto Kanna, calling her sensei, but they are all talk. They think they can become successful without doing any of the work, causing Kanna all kinds of stress.

While this might sound like a funny premise, in practice it fails. The three guys, Fumio Akatsuka, Fujio Fuji and Shota Ishinomori, are lifeless and stale. They are meant to poke fun at readers who think being a mangaka is easy, and have all kinds of delusions of being successful without doing any work. They talk about what they would do with prize money from a contest with no thought of creating anything, and give up immediately when faced with real work. They are the worse kind of fans, and annoyed me to no end.

What was worse was that Kanna was just as uninteresting as the boys. She is the protagonist, but she does nothing but react with shock to the things the boys say and do, and lets her editor, who seems to be just as bad as the boys, push her around. She has no personality and barely speaks to anyone. Almost all of her dialog is internal. Her lack of interaction with anything or anyone gets tedious very quickly.

Manga Dogs wasn’t all bad. I liked the use of manga history, with the characters last names being well known mangaka, and the name of the school is the same as the apartment building where Osamu Tezuka and several other famous mangaka lived and worked for many years. I also liked most of the chapter where Kanna is taking pictures of her school for research. It the only time where she has an expression other than blank or shocked.

I wanted to like Manga Dogs. I was really hoping for a title that would make me laugh and would have some clever satire about the manga industry. Instead it is filled with boring characters and situations that are anything but funny. The satire wasn’t so much funny as sad since a lot of it was so true. Maybe it will get better, but there are a lot better titles out there to put your money on.

Bakuman Volume 19

With their new series, Moritaka and Akito start beating Eiji Nizuma in the Shonen Jump rankings for the first time. But in the actual book sales Eiji is somehow still on top. The duo is as determined as ever to achieve their dreams, but a new scandal threatens to destroy everything!

Bakuman Volume 19
Bakuman 19Written by Tsugumi Ohba; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

This is it; the second to last volume of this series. When I read the first volume back in 2010, I didn’t think I would enjoy it or it would be able to hold my attention. But against all odds, it not only got past the problems I had with the first volume, it surpassed all my expectations. Ten years have passed since Moritaka, Akito and Azuki started chasing their dreams, and now those dreams appear to be in reach.

The volume starts on the manga side of the story, showing further the rivalry between Ashirogi and Nizuma. I really like the rivalry between these. It’s very friendly. Both sides can not only appreciate the other’s work, but they can come out and say it, while in the same breath vow not to give up. These kinds of rivalries are rarely shown. Usually the two sides are shown as adversaries, with one having to win. The wonderful thing about Ashirogi’s and Nizuma’s rivalry is that it never has to end. Both sides can continue to push the other to grow. It’s a positive competition that would be nice if more people embraced.

The real conflict in the volume comes from the voice actor side. Azuki is a rising star, but voice actors are like idols, and to fans, to have a boyfriend is sacrilegious. For ten years Moritaka and Azuki have been able to keep their relationship a secret, not just for Azuki’s career, but for the promise they made. A slip up by one of Azuki’s fellow voice actors and a jealous middle school classmate blows their cover and the rumors start to fly over the internet, and into the press.

The good part of this potentially crippling event is the support Moritaka and Azuki get from the people around them. There are the regulars like their editor, and Azuki has her mother’s support, but the best reaction comes from Fukuda, a fellow manga artist that started at the same time as Ashirogi. He is very impassioned, melting down into tears when he hears about Moritaka’s and Azuki’s relationship, to indignation at the way they are being treated by fans. He doesn’t back down even he asked to by his editor.

It’s really kind of sad, but both Azuki and Moritaka have to keep reiterating that they have done nothing wrong. They have done nothing to hide their relationship because there has been nothing to hide. They have kept it as pure as humanly possible, but there seems to be this constant assumption that they have done something wrong. Ishizawa, the trio’s middle school classmate who failed at becoming a manga artist, is truly a terrible person as he deliberately tries to derail Azuki’s career with his rumors posted anonymously online. What’s even sadder is that he’s not a fictional character. There are too many people online just like him ready to destroy other’s lives for no more than petty jealousy.

Bakuman continues to be a fantastic read. After spending the last 18 volumes watching these characters change and grow, it’s almost sad to think it’s nearly over. As a reader you are rooting for Azuki and Moritaka, and hate any more obstacles that get in their way. The real strength of this volume is that the obstacles are introduced reasonably and who they come from are believable. I’m looking forward to the last volume and seeing how it all works out.

 

Zoo: The Graphic Novel

Animals the world over are setting their sights on fresh prey–man. Only biologist Jackson Oz has recognized the patterns in the escalating chain of violent attacks by animals against mankind. And these incidents are just the prelude to something far, far more terrifying. Now Oz is in a race against nature to try to warn humanity about the coming catastrophe. But is it already too late?!

Zoo: The Graphic NovelZoo
Written by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge; Art and Adaptation by Andy MacDonald
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Mature
Genre: Thriller
Price: $25.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Yen Press has enjoyed a decent success with James Patterson-penned books, and Zoo: The Graphic Novel takes that formula and moves it up to the next level with a title in a deluxe hardcover format and story that could have been ripped from the headlines. While the story brings up some very interesting ideas, that doesn’t keep it from stumbling here and there.

Zoo follows evolutionary biologist Jackson Oz, a man on the fast track at Columbia University until he throws it all away for a pet theory that no one believes. HAC, or Human Animal Conflict, is the theory that different animals around the world were becoming hyper-aggressive toward humans. With little to no support, Oz is on his own, but when male lions start hunting humans together, other scientists start to take notice. It takes a long time to gather evidence and get people’s attention, but it isn’t until pets are affected that it’s really taken seriously.

Zoo is a science thriller, in the vein of Jurassic Park, and is much more thriller than science. It takes a lot of time to build up, as Oz races between Africa, Washington DC and New York, trying to get people to listen to him. Once he finally does get both the scientific community and government to support his research, it’s still another 5 years with no real answer in sight. The tension continues to grow, with the attacks becoming more frequent, and Oz having to keep going to meetings to keep convincing government officials the problem is real. It finally hits home when HAC reaches our own pets; mainly dogs. Presumably cats too, but they are never shown.

All of the attacks and posturing takes up most of the volume. The science is relegated to a small part near the end, but it’s really the most interesting part. Environmental change is responsible, just not in the way no one was expecting. It’s not global warming, but it does relate to the increased use of petroleum products and cell phone radiation. Humans are not only affected by the change in a way similar to the animals, but they are also responsible for it.

Here’s where I start to have problems with the story. The first reaction to the news is a typical knee-jerk military “bomb everything” solution that does nothing to solve it. When the solution is finally given, and it seems to work for 5 days; just 5 days, everyone just assumes the emergency is over and it’s back to business as usual? Really? People are shown what works and they just throw it out after less than a week because it’s inconvenient? I found this twist in the part down right problematic. I know people can be dumb, and there will be people who don’t want to be inconvenienced, but I think this part just crossed the line in underestimating people.

The other problem I had was with the subplot. Oz was caring for a chimpanzee, Atilla, he rescued from a lab that was experimenting on him. Oz spends all of his time running around the globe, and completely ignoring the “wild” animal in his own apartment that was starting to display the same symptoms. He blames himself for his ex-girlfriend’s death at Atilla’s hands, and well he should, though not for the reason he thought. Atilla is shown torn between his relationship with Oz and his instincts. If Oz had just paid him a little more attention, he may have seen the signs earlier, and Oz may even have been able to help him find an answer. Instead, the ex-girlfriend is offed for the new girlfriend to become wife and mother, so Atilla can show he still cares for Oz near the end.

The art is in black and white and more realistic in its renderings. The attack scenes are fairly graphic, though there aren’t too many body parts left strewed around. At least no intestines are shown hanging out. A nose does get spit out. The presentation is very well done, with the book being over-sized, and the paper a heavy gloss.

Overall, I did enjoy Zoo. It was a good thriller with some fascinating science behind it. Oz takes the typical stance that science isn’t to blame, but thankfully also doesn’t look for anywhere else to point fingers. He lays it right out that humanity is to blame for their problems, but the end seems to imply we won’t learn from our mistakes, and I think that’s the wrong stand to take.  Humanity’s strength has always been to learn and adapt, and even if it means two steps back before a step forward, we would find a way.

xxxHolic Rei Volume 1

Yuko, Watanuki, Domeki and Himawari are back! xxxHolic Rei represents a “return” to the otherworldly setting of Yuko’s shop, where wishes are granted., but always for a price. The visitors are as strange as ever–two best friends whose cell phone trinkets share eerie similarities, a disembodied voice that is impossible to resist–but even by Yuko’s sordid standards, something is truly odd…Return to the elegant world of CLAMP’s metaphysical masterpiece.

xxxholic rei 1xxxHolic Rei Volume 1
By CLAMP
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆

xxxHolic returns after a 19 volume run to continue the adventures of Yuko, Watanuki, Domeki and Himawari as they grant wishes at Yuko’s wish-granting shop. While this is a return for the characters, only returning readers will really have an idea of what is going on.

xxxHolic Rei starts out as if it were another chapter of the xxxHolic series before it ended. Watanuki is the cook and housekeeper for Yuko, the shop owner with strange mystical powers that draw people to the shop “because they need to.” Domeki is Watanuki’s classmate who also works at a shrine, and drops by for Yuko’s help. While the opening scene shows that there is an established relationship between these three people, how or why is never explained to the reader. The assumption is made that someone picking up this volume will already have read the first series, and knows all about these people, how they are related and why they all work together. As someone who only read the first volume of the first series, this felt very alienating. There was a lot I could guess as a reader, but it diminished by potential enjoyment of the series to have work out all these things as I read it. A first volume of a series, continuation, sequel or whatever should have enough of an introduction that new readers don’t feel left out. This volume failed in this respect.

There are two stories in this volume. The first is about two “best friends”, who are drawn to the shop for some reason. As the story progresses, one of the girls keeps getting her, and her injuries are mirrored on cell phone charms both girls share. This story was okay. It showed how ugly women can be toward each other when they feel betrayed, and what lengths they will go to for some sort of retribution. The second story involves Watanuki being used by Yuko to lure a spirit to her shop where she can destroy it. This story was close to what I would can an arc story. It implies there is something about Watanuki and a choice he will have to make. I didn’t care for this story as it left more feeling confused and lost more than anything else. With there being so much I don’t know already about the series, is this a new mystery that will be played out, or is it connected to the previous series and I am just missing something? Neither story really engaged me.

The characters didn’t engage me either. Watanuki comes off as a jerk, especially to Domeki, who doesn’t seem to do much of anything to incur his wrath. Even his compliments are met with hostility. Domeki seems unemotional and apathetic, and Yuko–she’s all over the place. Mostly she’s mysterious in that frustratingly annoying way.

The are is very CLAMP. Lots of tall and lanky characters. Yuko’s kimonos are elaborate and beautiful. Just looking at the cover design with the play between Watanuki’s and Yuko’s is amazing. The styles continue in the volume along with some elaborate hair styles. CLAMP continues to do incredible art work.

xxxHolic Rei is a series that is made just for fans of the previous series. There is nothing here to help ease a new reader in, or make the characters appealing to those who don’t know how they got to this pint in the series. I don’t mind a story that starts in middle, there should be something for the new reader to latch onto as an anchor. This volume doesn’t do that. A first volume to pull the reader in, not push them away. Fans of CLAMP will by this series regardless. New readers should exercise some caution.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 4-5

Shiro turns down an offer to become a celebrity and Kenji’s culinary adventures are reprised. Accomplished home chef though he may be, Shiro proceeds on the assumption that no two of his curries will ever taste the same in a manga about a gay couple for mature–in the true sense–readers.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 4-5
What did you eat yesterday 4By Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Cooking/Slice of Life
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½

What Did You Eat Yesterday? continues to follow the lives and menus of two gay men, Shiro and Kenji. These volumes expand more on their personal lives served up with a staggering menu of dishes such as bean rice, horse mackerel tataki, hamburgers in mushroom sauce and caramel-simmered apples on toast.

Shiro, the cook and penny-pincher of the pair gets pulled into personal problems with his co-workers and friends with the temptation of free food. It seems like a good deal at the start, but there is always a catch, and seeing Shiro’s reaction, usually internal is always funny. But even though he has to listen to his boss complain about her daughter-in-law, or his female friend Kayoko’s husband butt into their daughter’s life. Shiro also gets a nemesis; a checker at his favorite grocery store who always finds a way to own him, but helps him at the same time. I loved that he got one that was so dead-panned and oblivious to Shiro’s dismay.

What Did You Eat Yesterday v5These volumes also brought in more gay couples for Shiro and Kenji to interact with. Tetsu and Yoshi are a couple who don’t live together but have been together for a long time. Yoshi is the owner of several restaurants, so Shiro is put on the spot when he has to cook for them. Through Kayoko, they also meet Daisaku and Wataru, a couple more like them. It was really interesting watching the interactions between the couples. Shiro, who one would think would be more comfortable with other homosexual couples, was just as uptight, and afraid of being out. Going to a jewelry store to get matching rings for them nearly kills Shiro from the stress. But knowing when someone is gay can be useful as it helps Shiro get out of a difficult situation where he was being pressured to appear on TV.

Dealing with family doesn’t improve much though. A glimpse of Kenji’s home life growing up is given as the tells Shiro about his mostly absent father. But Shiro going home for New Years was the best. It was like a ticking time bomb as Shiro and his mother got on too well before it exploded into usual shouting match about Shiro not being proud of his gayness. It was great, with every page turn, just wondering when Shiro’s mother would finally say something. It was so funny when it finally came out.

The food making was in full swing through these volumes, sometimes even playing a part in the story. Shiro really stressed out over what to make for the dinner party with Yoshi and Tetsu. When Shiro and Kenji have a fight, it’s Kenji who gets Shiro to relax again by asking for a specific meal for dinner. And when he has a particularly difficult day at work, he takes it out on dinner, with lots of chopping and a few servings too many being made. While I can still do without the long-winded food commentary, I did enjoy it being pulled into the story more and not feeling so tacked on.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? remains a fun slice of life. Shiro and Kenji continue to deal with problems anyone of any orientation can relate to, while also sharing more insights into gay relationships. This series is relaxing and a real pleasure to read.

Nisekoi: False Love Volume 1

It was hate at first sight… rather a knee-to-the-head at first sight when Raku Ichijo meets Chitoge Kirisaki! Unfortunately, Raku’s gangster father arranges a false love match with their rival’s daughter, who just so happens to be Chitoge! However, Raku’s searching for his childhood sweetheart from ten years ago, with a pendant around his neck as a memento, and he can’t even remember her name or face!

Nisekoi: False Love Volume 1
Nisekoi-GN01By Naoshi Komi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Rom-Com
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Nisekoi started out as a digital only series that did well enough to move up to a print release. I’d heard others raving about it before it was officially licensed, so despite my poor luck with rom-coms, I decided to give this series a try. So far, it’s not too bad.

The basic premise of the series is far from original. Boy who doesn’t want to be a gangster like his father gets thrown into relationship with rival gangster boss’ daughter to keep the peace between the two gangs. And of course, they have to hate each other, so there is plenty of conflict as they pretend to like each other for the benefit of the gang members. But Nisekoi surprises by actually making this premise entertaining.

Raku and Chitoge are key for making the series work. Their first meeting if far from ideal, as Chitoge uses Raku as a landing pad when she jumps the school’s wall since she’s running late for her first day.  Their dislike for each other is established very quickly, while everyone at school thinks their constant bickering is cute and a sign they really like each other.  This feeling extends to their extended families, the gangs, so the pair finds themselves trapped, otherwise a lot of people could get hurt.

Chitoge is the one who has the hardest time making the false relationship work. She is quick to anger, and the first to resort to violence. We don’t know how she feels about being part of a gang, other than how difficult it can be to make friends, but she has definitely embraced the violence of her father’s trade. She does have her softer moments, but they are few and far between, and for some reason only Raku gets to see them.

Raku definitely doesn’t want to be the heir to his father’s gang. He has dreams of living a normal,legal life as a civil servant. He doesn’t like violence, and is the cook for the gang, being very precise in his measurements, down to nearly the gram. He also likes to rescue animals, creating what is essentially at zoo at his school. Raku’s nice streak extends to people, as he offers his Japanese notes to Chitoge when he sees her struggling the class, and even helps her in cooking class after she tells him she wants to make a good impression with their classmates.

Even though Raku has to pretend to like Chitoge, he is actually attracted to his classmate, Onodera, a quiet girl who is on the student government, and is nice to Raku, but who also harbors her own crush on him. This sets up the classic love triangle, with the nice girl to contrast against the violent girl. I don’t know how I feel about Onodera yet. She could be the girl of Raku’s dreams, literally.

For ten years, Raku has harbored the dream, a distant memory now, of a girl he made a promise with to meet again someday. Even though he doesn’t know the name or face of the girl, he has a lock that he wears around his neck, and the girl will have the key to open it. Onodera has a key that could go to the lock. The girl in his first dream has dark hair like Onodera. But then, after meeting Chitoge, he has another dream/memory of a different looking girl with blonde hair. Could there be more than one girl?

Most of the comedy in Nisekoi is based around Raku and Chitoge bickering and then suddenly having to pretend they really like each other. One of the members of Chitoge’s gang, Claude, the member who has been watching over Chitoge doesn’t believe in the pair’s sudden declaration of love, and spies on them at school, the one place they had hoped they could be themselves. They are forced on a date, and followed (and cheered on) by both gangs, though the rank and file guys have totally bought into the act, as bad as it is. Most of these scenes weren’t bad, but I found I liked Raku and Chitoge’s bickering more than Chitoge’s macho behavior, or the sudden 180s they have to do every time they are almost caught.

I don’t know if Nisekoi will be able to keep my attention for long. Despite enjoying this first volume, the potential for this to turn into a harem series, which I really dislike, is high. Raku and Chitoge’s bickering punctuated by quiet moments are what really kept me interested. The thought of adding more girls to the mix really sounds unappealing. But then, I know I’m in the minority on this point. Nisekoi: False Love was a fun read, and if given the chance, I’d read more, but it’s not on my must have list.

Noragami Stray God Volume 1

Yato is a homeless god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshippers! So to achieve his ambitious goals, he’s set up a service to help those in need (for a small fee), hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams. Or course, he can’t afford to be picky, so Yato accepts all kinds of jobs, from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies at school.

Noragami Stray God Volume 1
Noragami 1By Adachitoka
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Noragami is about Yato, a god who is at the bottom of the bottom of the deity hierarchy. He has dreams of gaining thousands of followers and building lavish shrine where he will be worshipped. In order to do this, he needs to be known and collect offerings. To this end, he puts up his number all around town, advertising his services, and only those who truly need it will see it. Yato’s big problem; he is unmarketable. He is egotistical, and can be a real jerk, but he does have good intentions, and truly wants to help people. It’s getting that last part across that is so difficult for him. His chance meeting with Hiyori gives him someone to help, but she isn’t the average teenage girl. She saves Yato from being hit by a bus, but in the process, her spirit is thrown out of her body. As it starts to happen more and more, she seeks out Yato to fix it.

I didn’t think I’d like this volume at first. Yato’s attitude bothered me at with his self-absorbed delusions of grandeur. But he quickly grew on me with his blunt talk. The first story, where he helps a girl being bullied by her classmates, does a good job of showing his different sides. He doesn’t show any sympathy for Mutsumi, despite his Shinki Tomone’s, pleas. Her classmates are pretty mean, but she isn’t completely without fault for the position she is in. I actually found myself taking his side when she was ready to just give up. He finally does help Mutsumi with her classmate problem, and his solution was really what she needed, despite Tomone’s protests. I really warmed up to him at the end, where he looks so vulnerable, clutching his bottle of coins in the small shine.

I liked Hiyori as Yato’s partner for the rest of the volume. She comes off as oblivious to the dangers around her, but she isn’t afraid to take on a challenge or defend herself or others when in a pinch. Her less-girlish hobby of being a wrestling fan actually comes in handy when Yato is attacked by an Ayakashi. She jumps in without thinking, using a move by her favorite wrestler to save the day.

Noragami has a good amount of humor. Both Hiyori and Yato get to be the subject of the situation, though I found Hiyori’s obliviousness more amusing that Yato being constantly disparaged. The argument Yato and Hiyori have while running away from an Ayakashi Hiyori found was one of the funnier moments in the volume.

I really liked the art. It is very realistic and detailed, reminding me a lot of Takeshi Obata’s work. I also liked how Adachitoka used Yato’s eyes to express his non-humanness. The character’s emotions are conveyed masterfully, and rarely does he revert using more cartoonish caricatures, which would feel very out-of-place otherwise.

I was pleasantly surprised by Noragami, and am looking forward to future volumes. I am interested in seeing more of Yato’s journey to becoming a proper god. While there was a majority of comedy in this volume, it did have its serious moments, and I hope we get more of these as the series goes on. Noragami is a series with a lot of potential to become another hit for Kodansha. It has an anime that streamed earlier this year, so it has name recognition. But really, it should succeed because it was just a fun read. And it has a cute cat name Milord.

Attack on Titan Volume 11-13

With their identities revealed, the Colossal Titan and Armored Titan kidnap Eren and Ymir and try to escape. The Survey Corps is on their tail though, led by Erwin, Commander of the Corps himself. It is another massacre, but they still escape with the help of a new ability exhibited by Eren. Back behind Wall Rose, Levi and Hange begin experimenting on Eren to learn his strength and weaknesses. But with the internal MPS under royal command on their trail, it becomes apparent more drastic measures will need to be taken to save humanity from annihilation.

Attack on Titan Vol 11-13
AoT 11By Hajime Isayama
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★½

The one thing I find frustrating about Attack on Titan is how well the story can continue to ask more questions about the mysteries of the world than it ever answers. These three volumes throw out lot of clues that only lead to asking more questions about what’s going on, tantalizing the reader with the possibilities of answers and then leaving them hanging. But the questions are so compelling that you have to keep coming back for more.

Attack on Titan 12Since the start of the series, the question of how humans can turn into Titans has been on everyone’s lips, especially with Eren not having any idea that he could do it. It’s been clear that Eren is special, but it becomes more clear in these volumes. Reiner and Bertolt were on a mission to kidnap Eren. Annie had the same objective. They intend to take him to their “home town,” a mysterious destination we’ve heard about, but know nothing else. Reiner and Bertolt seem to know Eren has a special ability, that he finally displays in order to save Mikasa during the Survey Corps attempt to rescue him and Ymir. The bigger question though, is, how did they know, and who sent them? Ymir has a clue, but she chooses not to share it with Eren when she thinks there’s a chance of reuniting with Krista, leaving Eren and the reader in the dark.

There are some revelations in these volumes, though they are small. The Ape Titan, last seen in volume 8 is brought up again, as Ymir makes the connection between it and the Titans mysteriously appearing behind Wall Rose. Hange makes the same connection with Connie, between the Titans and his village. So that mystery is solved, but not how or why. Again. Krista’s/Historia’s past is revealed, as is a possible connection between the Reiss family and Eren. Another mystery left dangling in front of the reader, as is the continued mystery of the Wallists and the secret of Wall Rose.

Attack on Titan 13There was some good character development in these volumes. Mikasa finally confesses her feeling to Eren, and they make it through. It was offset by the desperate situation the rest of the Survey Corps was in, but worked very well. After so much heavy action and death, the lighter moments that made up the first have of volume 13 was a nice reprieve. Sasha earned back her name of “potato girl.” Jean still has a crush on Mikasa, and they all bicker like the friends they became in training. I really loved Eren’s concern about getting their hideout cleaned enough to satisfy clean-freak Levi. The look on his face when Levi brings it up is priceless. Krista’s transformation into Historia definitely made her a better character. She seemed so weak-willed as Krista. But her new, devil-may-care attitude as Historia made her more appealing to me.

Attack on Titan Volumes 11-13 do a wonderful job of continuing to build up the plot while also letting the characters grow. Eren sees how his big talk is all just that. He still doesn’t know enough about his abilities to beat either the Colossal Titan or the Armored Titan. Levi says Eren needs to be sent to the depths of despair, and his fall starts with that knowledge, but he is just stubborn enough to keep going. The question of Eren’s father and what he might have done to him before the attack on Wall Maria keeps coming up, and I have a feeling will play a big role in the mystery of the humans-turning-into-Titans. If we ever get more than sublte clues. These were another great set of volumes with a lot of great moments. I can’t wait for the next one.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Novel

Before the fall, and before the trials of “the Titan’s son” Kyklo, a young smith by the name of Angel Aaltonen grapples with the giants as only a craftsman could… 

Attack on Titan Before the Fall
Attack on Titan Before the Fall novelCreated by Hajime Isayama; Written by Ryo Suzukaze; Art by Thores Shibamoto
Publisher: Veritical, Inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Light Novel/Horror
Price: $10.95
Rating: ★★★★½

I’m usually hesitant about reading spin-off material of a series that doesn’t involve the characters that made me enjoy a series, but Attack on Titan is different. The world that Isayama created is so big and full of questions that spin-offs and prequels are a must for fans craving more. This novel is one of those must haves. It tells the tale of the creation of the 3-D maneuvering gear used by the Survey Corps, at a time when they were little more than “meals on wheels” to the Titans.

Angel Aaltonen is a craftsman living in Shinganshina District. He has two childhood friends, Maria Carlstedt who is in the Garrison and guards the gate of Wall Maria, and Solm, who is in the Survey Corps. Angel works in a workshop that contracts with the military to make weapons to defend the walls from the Titans, giant creatures that by all appearances are unkillable. Angel wants to create weapons to help the Survey Corps and his friend survive their encounters with the Titans, and maybe even find a way to kill them. Given the new materials Iron Bamboo and Iceburst stone, Angel begins developing an idea, but in order to really find its practical applications, he needs to go on an expedition with the Survey Corps, go beyond the walls and face the greatest terror known to Man.

I really liked Angel. He was passionate about both his work and his beliefs that humans should be trying to find a way to defeat the Titans instead of hiding away behind the walls. His motivations run deeper that just freeing humanity. He wants to help his friend Solm, and protect him the only way he knows how; by giving him the tools to kill Titans. His determination is so great that even after seeing a Titan in action, and how unstoppable they are, he still wants to go on an expedition with the Survey Corps, despite the paralyzing fear the Titans inspire in him. He is a man of conviction, who never stops trying, even when it may cost him his life.

I enjoyed watching Angel’s journey to create new, effective equipment for the Survey Corps. He grows with every obstacle to overcome, and there are plenty. Opposition to the government nearly impedes his trip to the Factory City where they learn of the Iceburst stone and first process the iron bamboo. Forces within the government are also pressuring to end the Survey Corps expeditions. When it’s impossible to kill a Titan, why bother? Despite all this, Angel continues to press on, and finds plenty of help along the way from fellow craftsman Xenophon and his assistant Corina. Solm and Maria are his moral support and part of his motivation to keep trying. It is thanks to his perseverance that the Survey Corps not only get their maneuvering equipment, but also find the Titan’s one weak spot, thus preserving hope for humanity.

There were plenty of good scenes in this volume. Having already read the first volume of the manga for the second part, it was neat to see the Titan attack on Shinganshina from another perspective. Watching Angel start to work out the concept of the Equipment was interesting. Angel’s first attempt using the Equipment was funny, though it quickly became serious as he tried to work how the Survey Corps would use it. As part of the Attack on Titan Universe, Before the Fall is also filled with plenty of gory scenes. Titans shoot half-digested heads over the wall of fallen Survey Corps members. People are flattened to pulps of meat, and brains, guts and body parts are strewed everywhere. While these scenes tend to be few and far between, they still leave an impact. Reader discretion is advised.

Fortunately, the illustrations for this volume chose not to portray any of these scenes. Instead we get illustrations of Angel, some with Solm, Maria and even Xenophon. There isn’t one with a Titan, which I am just fine with. Angel’s visage is much more pleasant to look at. Shibamoto’s art is well done while still feeling like it belongs in the Titan Universe. The adaptation is smooth and reads well in English, but that’s a given with Vertical titles.

I wish this first part of Attack on Titan Before the Fall had gotten a manga adaptation like the other two volumes in the series. Angel’s journey is filled with just as much excitement, action, and danger, and really deserved the same treatment. It makes me doubly glad that Vertical gave us this volume so we can at least read it. If you love Attack on Titan, you owe it to yourself to pick up this volume. It’s an important moment in the world’s history, and one that should not be passed up.

Another

In the spring of 1998, Koichi Sakakibara transfers into third-year class 3 at Yomiyama North Middle School. But little does he know…his new class has a horrible secret. When he takes his seat in class for the first day of school. Koichi is unsettled by his fearful classmates. Despite this atmosphere and warnings from fellow students, Koichi is drawn to the beautiful, distant Mei Misaki, another classmate. But the closer he tries to get to her, the more mysterious she and their class become. And when a fellow student dies a disturbing death–the first of a long chain of deaths–Koichi seeks to learn the truth behind the curse of third-year class 3. But can he get answers before the curse kills him?

Another (Amazon / Barnes & Noble)
Another MangaOriginal Story: Yukito Ayatsuji; Art: Hiro Kiyohara
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Horror
Price: $29.99 USD
Rating: ★★★★★

I put off reading Another because of the horror descriptor associated with it. I’m particular about my horror titles, and with this being based on a novel, I was afraid it might get more graphic than I like. Fortunately, the horror in this story isn’t the gory type. It’s more of the psychological horror that Japan has been so good at and that I really enjoy. Add to that a fascinating mystery, and you have one mesmerizing read.

Another is a story filled with mysteries that build on each other, and give the main characters Mei Misaki and Koichi Sakakibara a run for their money in trying to solve them. Neither Mei nor Koichi are detective types. This series is a murder mystery with no detectives to put the pieces together; just a couple of middle school students trying to protect their friends and families. Stopping the murders is complicated by the fact the culprit is supernatural. There is no one to accuse or catch. Their only goal is to solve the mystery and stop the deaths.

The mystery they need to solve is “Who is the Casualty?” Twenty-six years ago, a popular boy in Class 3 of Yomiyama died, and his class didn’t want to lose him so much that they started to pretend he was still alive. When the class picture was taken, he was in it. After that, on random years, someone who had died in a previous “On year” would come back. Everyone’s memories and records would be changed so no one would know who the extra person was, and then, at least one person would die each month until the school year was over, when their identity was revealed, and even that memory would eventually fade away.

I absolutely loved this story. The mystery was executed perfectly. All through the volume you can only guess what is going on. First with the mystery of whether Mei is real or not. Then there are Koichi’s own doubts about his existence when he learns of his connections to the curse going back to the first class. Clues are dropped subtly, leaving the reader to question along with the characters what is real and what isn’t. The quest to find “The Casualty” doesn’t start in earnest until the second half of the story, but by then the tension has mounted and suspects bounce around as the characters get more desperate. The reveal was a complete surprise, and absolutely perfect in its staging and execution.

It helped to have two great characters to follow. Koichi is an average middle school boy, expect for having a medical condition that can leave his hospitalized for several days to weeks. It’s because of this condition that he misses the beginning of school, and all the important information he might have needed. Though, it later becomes apparent, it was already an “On” year before he arrived. He is doggedly persistent, and it’s this trait that gets him in trouble with the rest of the class at first, but that also leads to a possible solution to the curse later.

Mei is a good counterpart to Koichi. She is just as determined to find the truth, though she takes the more subtle approach. She struggles to find answers on her own, and proves to have a bit of an advantage that is invaluable in the end. It’s related to the eye patch she usually seen wearing, which covers a different colored eye. Mei accepts the role the class gives her without a fuss, but also uses it to her advantage to research the curse.

While I did really enjoy the story, I was kind of bothered that part of the plot relied so much on characters making the wrong choices and bad decisions. I don’t blame Koichi’s classmates from reacting the way they did, but so much of the hardship he was forced to go through was because it was “never the right time” to tell Koichi about the curse and the things that were being done to try to circumvent it. It’s not a major flaw in the story, just a personal pet peeve.

Another is a strongly told mystery with a good dose of psychological horror to keep the reader both guessing and creeped out. The art is well done, adding to the atmosphere. Kiyohara did a good job pacing the story and expanding characters without making it feel like padding. Yen Press packs four volumes worth of pages into one omnibus, for a hand-breaking hold, though it is also available digitally for easier holding, carrying and storing. Color plates are included, marking the beginning of each volume.I’m glad they went for the omnibus. Having to wait for new volumes of this series would have been killer.

 

Urameshiya Volume 1-3

In Edo, there is a woman with incredible supernatural powers known as Oyou, the Urameshiya. She is able to banish spirits haunting humans. But her power is a double-edged sword as she is feared by the same people who ask for her help, except for the outcast pickpocket, Saji. After a chance meeting, Saji is attracted to both her beauty and ability, and together they take on the supernatural in Edo.

Urameshiya Volume 1-3
34 ur1By Makiko
Publisher: Jmanga.com/Futabasha Publishers
Age Rating: Mature
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Price: $4.99/OOP
Rating: ★★★★½

Urameshiya was among the first selections available when Jmanga went live. I had seen it recommended by fellow bloggers, but its mature rating left me with some trepidation. I put off reading it until Jmanga released their Android reader app. My misgivings were completely unfounded, as I started reading the first volume, and worked obsessively through to the third, with little desire to put my tablet down. This title combines complex characters in realistic relationships with well told tales of the supernatural to create a very entertaining manga.

Oyou, the protagonist of this title, is an outcast from society. Her strong powers make her someone people fear to anger, but at the same time do not want around. She has no family and few if any friends to speak of. Because of her circumstances, she has little use of the niceties of society. She direct, and often blunt when dealing with people, wielding her sharp tongue will little what other will think. No one will want her around or stay with her, so why bother trying to make friends? Even with this attitude, Oyou still helps when she is asked, and sometimes even when she isn’t. She doesn’t tend to take payment for her services, as she doesn’t want to profit from her powers. She believes she will always be alone until she meets Saji.

Urameshiya 2 Saji is also an outcast. He works as a pickpocket at the beginning, which is how he first meets Oyou. He tries to steal her purse, but she catches him. They end up spending the night together. Afterwards, he seeks her help avenging his friend who was killed by a ghost. While Saji is spooked by Oyou at first, he is able to see Oyou for who she is, not what she can do, and promptly moves in with her. Over the three volumes, Saji shows himself to actually be a good-hearted man, taking on more legitimate work, and even takes over a food stand to help out a friend when he gets sick. His devotion to Oyou is unquestioning, though he does get frustrated with her attitude and secrets about her past.

I enjoyed the relationship between Oyou and Saji. It came off feeling very realistic. After a lifetime of being rejected because of her powers, it is difficult for Oyou to let Saji in. Why bother when he is just going to end up leaving her. But Saji is persistent, and doesn’t let her push him away. His frustration with her is understandable, since she can be inscrutable at times, leaving him in the dark about her feelings for him. This forces him into some bad situations, such as trying to make Oyou jealous by sleeping with a promiscuous daughter of a well-off business owner, but he really is devoted to her. Oyou shows her feeling for him too, in her own way, though she is still loathed to admit them.

Urameshiya 3The supernatural side of the series is just as interesting as the characters. Most of the stories feature someone coming to Oyou for her help, or Oyou and Saji stumbling on a problem that Oyou’s powers can solve. They confront ghosts, yokai, and curses that coast the edgy side, such as the girl who is curse with vagina dentata. That was a hard chapter to forget. While some of the hauntings were by spirits wronged in life, not all of them were ghosts looking to be avenged. Some, like the fallen God of Spring were just plain malicious, and maybe the scariest of them all. By the second volume they are joined by Touka, a fox spirit, who wishes to win Oyou away from Saji by hook or by crook. He becomes a sort of sidekick, helping Oyou out when he can. While I enjoyed all of the chapters in these volumes, I most enjoyed the stories based in more traditional Japanese horror, such as the Yuki-Onna, and the 100 Ghost Stories chapter.

The art of Urameshiya isn’t perfect, but it’s serviceable. Because I love the characters and enjoy the stories so much, I can forgive most of its imperfections. The title is rated mature and for good reason. There are plenty of sexual situations, but they aren’t gratuitous or graphic. They are what you would expect to appeal to older women, which makes me the ideal audience.

The biggest problem I have with Urameshiya is that we only got 3 volumes. The series is currently at 19, and unless Crunchyroll decides to pick it up, There is probably very little chance we will ever see this series again, print or digital. But if Crunchyroll wanted a way to get my money, licensing Urameshiya is one sure way to get it.