Category Archives: Reviews

Sona-G Series Volume 1: Heaven is Not Needed

Sona-G is one of the most popular bands on the scene with a strapping vocalist and a hunky guitarist! Masumi, on the other hand, has all the trust in the world with her technical skills on the guitar, but she’s just been dumped and the world looks grey indeed. Then one day, Masumi finds herself playing second guitar for Sona-G! What’s going to happen to her decision not to fall in love…? This volume also features another two wonderful stories!

Sona-G Series Volume 1: Heaven is Not Needed
Sona-G Series 1By Yuriko Matsukawa
Publisher: Digital Manga Guild
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $7.95/eBook only
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sona-G Series is a one volume anthology featuring three stories by creator Yuriko Matsukawa. The stories are all romances featuring girls finding love when they aren’t looking for it. While all three stories are entertaining and even fun reads, none are really compelling.

“Heaven is Not Needed” is the main story of this anthology as well as giving it its name. It is about high school girl Masumi Murakami who is asked by the wildly popular duo Sona G to play acoustic for them on a big gig coming up. But because her crush left her because of her skills on the guitar, she has quit playing. She is tricked into agreeing and joins Ayase and Hiroshi for the concert. Masumi is a good female lead. She has a strong personality, and doesn’t put up with a lot of Ayase’s sharp tongue, as he likes to bait her and use her pride against her. Hiroshi isn’t as brash as Ayase, but he’ll resort to a trick or two to get Masumi to play. The story takes a turn for the dramatic when Ayase’s young niece is kidnapped with the ransom being that Sona G cancel the concert. While the kidnapping did make a nice change of pace for the drama to be external, it also felt tacked on and rushed. There is no explanation given for the kidnappers wanting to stop the concert. The resolution of the potential love triangle between Ayase, Hiroshi and Masumi didn’t work for me either. I didn’t feel the connection between Masumi and her chosen one. This story tried to do too much and ended up feeling lacking in the end.

“Flower Garden” is about high school student Karin who is studying for college entrance exams. Her distant cousin Toshisada has come to live with her family while he takes entrance exams as well. But there is something weird about Toshisada; he is up at all hours of the night in the family garden doing odd things. He eats flowers and he never seems to be studying. His activities become distracting to Karin who gets mad at Toshisada until he reveals to her what he’s been doing and why. The writing for this story was much tighter and made for a better read. It didn’t seem like a love story at first as it focused on Karin’s indecision about her future, and Toshisada’s strange behavior. Everything comes together at the end, even though the romance is left up in the air, which I think is a good thing.

“Onions, Onions Everywhere” has another high school student, Mariko, living in her aunt’s apartment complex while her parents are working overseas. After a misunderstanding with her neighbor Mr. Miwa, a strange man who is always wearing sunglasses, she become friends with him and they trade sweets in a friendly competition. Mr. Miwa works in a sweets shop and after learning that Mariko hates onions tries to convince her of otherwise. Onions are a kind of strange topic to use to bring two people together, and an even stranger ingredient for a cookie, but it ends up working somehow. Mariko is pretty unwavering in her dislike of onions, but not unreasonable. Miwa’s reason for always wearing the sunglasses is unexpected, but still humorous. I wouldn’t try it myself, but I would be interested to know if anyone tried the recipe for Onion Cookies used in the story.

The art of Sona-G Series is very 90s-2000s, in both style and in the character designs. I don’t consider this a fault for the series, but not everyone may appreciate the sharp lines and spiky hair.

Overall, Sona-G Series was an entertaining read, but not one I would call a must read. The stories are light, and the romance doesn’t always seem to be the focus, which is an element I enjoyed. It helps to set the volume apart from other teen shojo titles. The girls here aren’t mooning over the men in their stories, but also aren’t unwelcoming when the feelings come, and those are romances I can ultimate appreciate.

Moonlight Kreuz Volume 1

Gen Tsukiomi appears to be a normal high school student but there is more to him than meets the eye. So when his old caretaker asks him for help in protecting his current charge, Hikari Kuze, Gen wonders what is going on. Besides being a ditzy junior high school student, is Hikari like Gen, with a secret of her own? In what often feels like a comedy of errors, Gen tries to figure out who is after them while struggling to maintain his quickly dwindling control over the situation. As if that wasn’t enough, a new romantic rival appears! But which one of them is he actually after?

Moonlight Kreuz Volume 1
Moonlight Kreuz 1By Yasumi Hazaki
Publisher: Digital Manga Guild
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $7.95/eBook only
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Moonlight Kreuz had an interesting sounding premise with romance, comedy and werewolves. But the first warning was there, with the female leading being described as  “ditzy.” And though I keep trying romantic comedies, I’ve yet to find one I really enjoy. This volume wasn’t a bad read, but neither was there anything that made want to pick up more.

The lead characters, Gen and Hikari, needed first and foremost to be interesting to me. Unfortunately, Hikari is exactly the kind of female lead I dislike. She has two forms; her human form which is small, clumsy and ditzy, and her werewolf form which tall, hot and powerful. She is much more powerful than Gen and is always coming to his rescue even though he’s supposed to be protecting her. I actually don’t mind that so much, and it’s nice that he doesn’t seem to mind, but he ends up comes off as rather bland. I don’t feel any real personality from him, while Hikari has too much.

The supporting characters are just as hit and miss. Hikari’s grandfather and Gen’s old Master is the typical lecherous, old man. His grandson Shino is the quiet ninja type who is always dressing in female disguises to help protect Hikari. Gen’s father is a powerful corporate executive who has an eye for the ladies. Only Hikari’s mother, who works overseas teaching Japanese, seemed the most grounded.

The villains aren’t much better. The volume starts with a bunch of horny werewolves who want to mate with Hikari so they will stop turning into wolves and be more human like Gen and Hikaru. They are mostly bumbling misfits who Hikari defeats easily. The tables do get turned as Gen also becomes the target of both the Wolf Association, and of an English werewolf named Claude who doesn’t care which of them changes gender, as long as he can get with Gen.

I know these characters and situations are supposed to be funny, but none of them really got much of a laugh from me. Hardly even a smile escaped my lips. Hikari’s and Gen’s relationship fell as flat as the humor. I just didn’t buy it, especially with Hikari looking more like a little kid trying to get her big brother to notice her. The art has a 90s feel to it, which I don’t mind at all. The wolf-form werewolves were given a moment to look scary, but were quickly turned much more humorous. You can understand the female werewolves wanting to get a human form since their wolf form is far from flattering.

On the whole, Moonlight Kreuz Volume 1 just didn’t work for me, which is really a shame because I was hoping it would. It was nice to see a supernatural romance with some creature other than vampires. The series is only three volumes long, so I wouldn’t mind reading the other two volumes to see if it improves, but this is a series I’d rather borrow than buy.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Monster Soul Volume 1-2

In the Monster Soul world, a war was waged between humans and monsters, with the monsters falling on the losing end of a treaty. The peace between the monsters and humans is tenuous and monsters are frequently persecuted by humans. As a result, monsters tend to stay away from humans and keep a low profile. One group of monsters, known as the Black Airs, lives boldly with a purpose: to have fun and take care of each other. They get into all kinds of trouble with reckless abandon, but as long as they stick together, they’ll be all right…probably.

Monster Soul Volume 1-2
Monster Soul 1
By Hiro Mashima

Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Monster Soul is a two-volume series created by Hiro Mashima before starting on his latest title, Fairy Tail. In the world of Monster Soul, humans and monsters share the land of Elvenland. Since losing the war, monsters have retreated underground, living in dungeon cities. There is still a lot of anger and mistrust between humans and monsters, especially with humans coming down to steal from the monsters’ dungeons. Enter the Black Airs, Mummy, James, Toorah and Aki, four monsters commandos who fought in the war, but now fight to help those in trouble, monster or human.

The Black Airs don’t look all that tough at first meeting. Mummy is a mummy and is the leader of the group, acting often more like a big sister. She is wrapped in pink wrappings that she can control and carries a huge syringe. She also likes to strip out of her wrappings. James is a Frankenstein and was built by humans to hunt monsters, but was too kindhearted to hurt any. He is equipped with all kinds of weapons, and has a propensity for losing his face. Toorah is a golem and is made of a sand she can control at will. She can be a bit ditzy, but also cunning when needed. Aki is very much about his stomach and his fists. He appears to be human, except for the horns on his head. He is a special monster, known as an S-type. He can transform into his soul form, a Dire Wolf, with increased speed and strength. His only problem is that he falls asleep as soon as the battle is over.

Monster Soul 2The Black Airs face off against both humans and monsters looking to cause trouble. Human bounty hunters who try to capture rare monsters for their bounty, more monsters rising up in revolt against the humans for revenge. What you are doesn’t matter to the Black Airs, only what you do. Along the way their past is revealed as well as the adversity they faced and overcame to become the heroes they are seen as today.

I enjoyed reading Monster Soul. The characters are goofy and quirky with just enough pathos for the reader to care about them. I liked Aki a lot, with his one track mind to his stomach, and his Dire Wolf form is cool. James’ face constantly falling made for some good laughs. I didn’t care so much for the male gaze with Mummy and Toorah, but that goes with the territory of a Mashima title. The story breaks up easily with the first volume being stand alone stories that introduce everyone, and the second volume is one arc that brings together the themes of friendship and harmony. There is plenty of action, and each of the Black Airs get to show off in at least one battle. It also has quite a bit of humor. I liked the in joke about human kids catching monster for play fighting. The drama is well done, and emphasizes the Black Airs bonds of friendship.

While Monster Soul is fun, it’s also fairly average for a shonen series. The action is the focus as the Black Airs fight different and eventually more powerful foes. The art is very Mashima. You can see some of Lucy in Toorah, and Natsu in Aki. Mashima straight out states that Mummy became the model for Erza. Mashima set out to do a series about the flip side of RPGs, wondering how the monsters in those games felt, and in this respect he succeeded. He does a good job showing the monster’s side and making them sympathetic. But with the series being so short, it felt rushed at the end, as the pasts of the Black Airs were revealed in short flashbacks. If you’re a fan of Mashima, or enjoy fun action stories, you can’t go wrong with this series. And at only two volumes, it won’t hurt your pocketbook either.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Sword Art Online: Aincrad

In the year 2022, gamers rejoice as Sword Art Online–a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) like no other–debuts, allowing players to take full advantage of the ultimate in gaming technology: NerveGear, a system that allows users to completely immerse themselves in a wholly realistic gaming experience. But when the games goes live, the elation of the players quickly turns to horror as they discover that, for all its amazing features, SAO is missing on of the most basic functions of any MMORPG–a log-out button. Now trapped in the virtual world Aincrad, their bodies held captive by NerveGear in the real world, users are issued a chilling ultimatum: conquer all one hundred floors of Aincrad to regain your freedom. But in the warped world of SAO, “Game Over” means certain death–both virtual and real…

Sword Art Online: Aincrad
SwordArt_Aincrad1_mangaArt by Tamako Nakamura; Original story: Reki Kawahara
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama/Game
Price: $20.00 USD
Rating: ★★★★☆

Sword Art Online: Aincrad manga is based on the first two light novels from a series of the same name, and belongs to a genre that become popular lately; players of an MMORPG become trapped in the game world and must fight the game to get out. I’ve never been interested in this genre, but I was still curious enough about it to at least read the manga, an omnibus of the two-volume series. I did enjoy the story as a whole, but there are still a few spots that felt lacking.

The story centers around Kirito, a teenager who was a beta tester for Sword Art Online and became trapped along with the 10,000 other players on the game’s first day. It is two years later, and there are only 26 levels to beat before reaching the final boss, the creator of the world Akihiko Kayaba. The players have settled into their new life in Aincrad, fighting, getting stronger and clearing levels. There are towns with tradesmen and farmers, and guilds to organize everyone. The strongest of these guilds is Knights of the Blood. Returning to a town to trade and heal, Kirito runs into Asuna, a commander in the Knights of the Blood. She wants to recruit Kirito for the next level they are about to take on, but Kirito and Asuna make a deeper connection, and the story becomes just as much about their romance as their battles.

As the two main characters, I did like Kirito and Asuna. Kirito was a loner, also known as a Beater. Beta testers were also considered cheaters to new players because of their greater knowledge of the game. He isn’t unfriendly, just reluctant to make connections. Asuna is his opposite in many ways. She is cheerful and outgoing, also known as a celebrity in the game. They work well together, a feeling that translate on and off the battlefield. Their feelings for each other becomes a focal point of the story, but I didn’t see the chemistry between them. Their romance felt rushed, as if getting them together was just a formality for the rest of the story. I just didn’t feel any emotions between them. We were told rather than shown how they felt about each other and that lessened the effect.

The supporting cast was a pretty interesting bunch. Klein, a fighter, and Agil, a shopkeeper were friends of Kirito and Asuna. They help out the couple both off the field and on. They also brought some of the lighter moments to the story. Klein getting flustered around Asuna made for some fun moments. Agil’s honesty about joining the 75th floor battle was refreshing.

The story moved at a quick pace, slowing down only for some character development for Kirito, or some development for Kirito’s and Asuna’s relationship. References to the world being a game were fairly constant, and players had to keep it in mind even as they came to accept it as the real world. I did like that the manga dealt with PK, or Player Killers. Kuradeen, an evil man who joins the Knight of the Blood to be near Asuna, turns out to be one these players. Kuradeen makes some references to Kirito that killing him make Kirito a murderer, even though he just did the same thing for the sake of returning to the guild as the “lone survivor” of a trial. These references just get left hanging.

This was the biggest problem I had with the volume. It felt more like bullet points being hit on the page than a cohesive story. The scenes didn’t flow well and changed abruptly. The characters seem to know things without there being any or very little groundwork laid for it. With the manga having only two volumes to cover two novels, it felt like a lot was left out. The story had to be compressed so much that only major points could be hit, leaving out a lot of development.

Overall Sword Art Online: Aincrad is an entertaining read. While the art is rather generic, some characters such as Klein and Kuradeen did stand out. If you’re interested in the plot and don’t want to take the time to watch the anime or read the original light novels then this adaptation will serve well. A lot is being missed with just this manga adaptation, and I am considering reading the light novels to see what was dropped. A third volume would have made a big difference in the character development. If nothing else, this manga is a good gateway to the light novels.

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

 

 

Say I Love You Volume 1-2

Mei Tachibana has always been a loner. In her 16 years, she has never had a friend or a boyfriend. She doesn’t talk to anyone at school, and is teased mercilessly. All that starts to change when she catches the eye of the popular Yamato, who decides she will be his girlfriend. Mei doesn’t know what to think of Yamato, or if she can trust him, but she does think she might be falling in love with him.

Say I Love You Volume 1-2
Say I Love You 1By Kanae Hazuki
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $10.99USD
Rating: ★★★★½

Say I Love You has the all too familiar premise of the popular boy taking a liking to the most unpopular girl, but this series succeeds with its quirky yet relatable characters and a realistic look at the problems teens face in high school.

Mei Tachibana is a loner. Betrayed by those she thought were her friends in elementary school, Mei turns her back on friends and friendship, and relies on herself. She is strong-willed and speaks her mind when she thinks it’s called for which can get her into scuffles. Her dislike of her fellow students and the cliques they get into makes her the target of bullying, but she suffers them with complaint or even little thought. She doesn’t believe anyone will come if she calls for help, so she never tries.

She meets Yamato when his friend Nakanishi teases her and she roundhouse kicks Yamato instead. This attracts his interest in her and he starts to pursue her. Yamato is popular for both his looks and personality. He is friendly with everyone, but isn’t seeing anyone. He doesn’t like the bullying that goes around at the school, so most of it happens when he’s not around. Mei doubts Yamato a lot at first, especially as she hears the rumors about him, but he keeps trying to prove his sincerity and always comes when she calls for help.

Say I Love You 2Along with Yamato comes new friends for Mei. Asami is a girl with large breasts who hangs around Yamato. He doesn’t tease her or make her feel self-conscious about her breasts, so she really likes him. She and Mei become friends as Mei hangs around more. Yamato’s friend Nakanishi takes a little longer to come around, until Mei helps him get with Asami, who he has had a crush on for a while. Mei’s first real rival is Aiko, a girl Yamato knew in middle school. She used to be overweight, and after a bad breakup asked Yamato to sleep with her and he agreed. Aiko has serious body issues and crush on Yamato, but he doesn’t reciprocate. She tries to warn Mei off, but she doesn’t scare so easily.

Say I Love You shows Mei’s journey to going from a loner to finding first love, but it also shows a lot of the problems teens face physically and emotionally. Asami and Aiko both have problems with their bodies, and it affects the way they interact with others. Asami just wants to be accepted for who she is, not what she has. Aiko can’t accept who she’s become with Yamato validation even though she has Masashi who does accept her. Another of Yamato’s friends, Hayakawa, has a lot of “friends with benefits” but no real connections. He has to get put into the hospital before he realizes how empty his life has been and what he really needs to fulfill it. The series also doesn’t beat around the bush about teen sex, as a lot of characters do it or talk about it. This is treated realistically as well, and even Mei and Yamato get a moment, though nothing happens.

Say I Love You has plenty of drama and a budding romance that is a lot of fun to read. The realistic ring to the characters and situations makes it more interesting and stand out from the shojo crowd. You may think you’ve read manga like Say I Love You, but it’s really nothing like anything other series out there.

Review copies provided by publisher.

My Little Monster Volume 1-2

Shizuku Mizutani has a goal; to have an annual income of 100 Million Yen. To do that, she has to have perfect grades and is always studying. She doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t think she needs any. Then she meets Haru Yoshida. He is a First Year like her, who should be in the desk next to her, but hasn’t been to school since the first day. She takes some printouts from their home room teacher to him, and he decides they are friends. This starts Shizuku on a path of making friends and maybe even falling in love, as long as they don’t get in the way of her grades.

My Little Monster Volume 1-2
My little Monster 1By Robico
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $10.99USD
Rating: ★★★★☆

My Little Monster sort of sounds like a “good girl falls for the bad boy” story, but it really couldn’t be further from the truth. The characters are more like misfits, damaged from events in their past that have kept them from finding real friendship and relationships, making them much more interesting to watch and their stories more compelling.

The story centers around the relationship of Shizuku and Haru. Neither has any real friends. Shizuku doesn’t because of an incident in elementary school that made it difficult for her to trust other and just rely on herself. Haru got a “bad boy” reputation because of his physical strength, but is really a good guy. Their personalities are somewhat different. Shizuku is straightforward, to the point of being blunt sometimes. She comes off as cold and unemotional, but just doesn’t know how to act around people since she has spent more time studying than interacting. Haru seems scared of the other kids at school, except when someone is being bullied or threatened. He’ll jump right into the fray and start fighting. He is also clueless about how to act around people, but he is more naive than cynical. They are both socially inept be for different reasons.

Their relationship is like a see-saw. When Haru has feelings for Shizuku, she doesn’t for him and visa-verse. Haru confesses first, and then when Shizuku is ready to reciprocate, he just wants to be friends. Then when he comes to realize he might like her as something more, she wants to go back to just being friends. Up and down, up and down. Just like a see-saw. I think that’s what I find most intriguing about their relationship. There aren’t any big dramatic moments that make them change their minds. There are these moments of realization. Haru, when he kisses Shizuku and doesn’t see stars, starts to think he doesn’t like her that way. Shizuku realizes her life has changed, but that she doesn’t have to lose focus of her goal, and can just be friends with Haru. It’s such an unusual take on a teenage romance that it really intrigues me.

My Little Monster 2The cast of supporting characters really helps. Shizuku gets a girl friend in Natsume, a girl with really poor study skills who wants to make friends. She’s really pretty, and can get the boys attention, but the cold shoulder from the other girls. Sasayan is on the baseball team and is just hanging around Haru and Shizuku because he thinks they are interesting. He’s also a regular at the arcade and batting cages owned by Haru’s cousin Mitchan. And then there’s Nagoya, the chicken. Haru found him and started bringing him to school until they got the administration to let him keep it as a school pet. I love the chicken. He doesn’t do anything, but it’s just funny to watch Haru dote over it.

The stories start out like the usual shojo fare, but turn out like anything but. The boys that bullied Haru for money come back to apologize and end up helping to build Nagoya’s henhouse. Haru starts smiling more and girls start to pay attention to him more, but a fight with upperclassmen sends him back. Upperclassman Oshima starts to like Haru, but instead of confessing her feelings, she explains Shizuku’s to Haru. I really enjoy all these twists. It’s great not knowing how things are going to turn out.

My Little Monster is a great read, especially if you are getting a little tired of all the upbeat, perky heroines in shojo. Shizuku’s cynical and analytical view on life is a refreshing change. I am really looking forward to seeing how the see-saw is going to change this time, and really want to find out more about Haru’s and Shizuku’s background. There have been a lot of tantalizing hints dropped, but I really want to see more.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Puella Magi Oriko Magica Volume 1-2

Oriko is a magical girl with foresight. She is struck with a terrible vision of the future-of the devastation to be caused by one powerful witch. She decides she must do something about it, and she is willing to use, and if necessary sacrifice, anyone to stop this threat. But what will she do when her unstoppable force hits an immovable object determined to protect the very one Oriko seeks to destroy?

Puella Magi Oriko Magica Volume 1-2
OrikoMagica_V1Story by Magica Quartet; Art by Mua Kuroe
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Magical Girl
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★★½

I didn’t care of Oriko Magica when I read the first volume. I didn’t like Yuma, and didn’t see where the story was going, until I read the second and concluding volume, which not only put everything into perspective, made the series a fantastic read.

Oriko Magica is set in an alternate universe to the main Madoka Magica universe. In this world, Kyouko save a young girl Yuma, and takes her in. But Oriko, with her foresight, has seen that she has the potential to be a magical girl and manipulates both Yuma and Kyubey into making her a magical girl. Meanwhile, Mami learns of another magical girl, a black magical girl, that is hunting other magical girls. These distractions allow Oriko to get close to her target; Madoka, but Homura is there to protect her, and final, climatic battle ensues to decide the fate of both Madoka and the world.

When this series began, I struggled with the differences in the characters. I had read the main Madoka series, and knew the characters. This series is a slightly different take on them, with Mami living past the first few chapters, and Kyouko being more willing to help out others. She takes in Yuma, and does her best to protect her, both from danger and Kyubey. I really enjoyed seeing Mami in action. She gets an extended battle with Kirika, the black magical girl, where her power and intelligence really shines. Homura only really shows up for the final battle and Madoka and Sayaka are more side characters despite Madoka being everyone’s target.

OrikoMagica_V2_FINALSince it is a Puella Magi * Magica series, the characters have to have tragic back-stories. In these two volumes we only get Oriko’s, Yuma’s, and Kirika’s, but they hit pretty hard on the tragic scale. There is child abuse, bullying and neglect, and even some self-hatred, but they all fuel each girl’s reason to become a magical girl, and each fulfills their wish in the end.

Oriko’s wish and motive didn’t seem obvious, even though she made it very clear from the beginning. She wanted to protect her world. As the story unfolds, and we learn more about Oriko’s past and her present target, things start to make sense. It’s really interesting that the two people who most want to stop Madoka’s transformation have a form of time manipulation as their magical power.

What really sold me on this story was the twist at the end. I have to admit it blew me away. It wasn’t until I saw that scene and made the connection to the main series that it all clicked and the title went from being “meh” to being awesome. What ever you do, don’t read this series without reading the main Madoka Magica series first! The twist at the end is all the more powerful when you know what Homura’s been trying to do.

Puella Magi Oriko Magica is a fantastic side story to the Madoka Magica story. It still holds the ray of hope against the despair the magical girls face when they learn their eventual fate. It’s also fun to watch Oriko play with Kyubey. A little “turnaround is fair play” isn’t a bad thing. It can easily slip into the main Madoka story-line and feel perfectly in place. This title is a must for Madoka Magica manga fans.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Insufficient Direction

Read this energizing comic and feel proud (or simply unashamed!) of your geek hobbies. Although manga artist Rompers (Happy Mania, Sugar Sugar Rune) doesn’t consider herself too far gone, she’s gotten married to a towering figure of the otaku persuasion, Director-kun (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cutey Honey).

Insufficient Direction
Insufficient DirectionBy Moyoco Anno
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Slice of Life/Geek Culture
Price: $14.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

Insufficient Direction is the semi-autobiographical story of manga artist Moyoco Anno’s daily life with her husband director Hideaki Anno. Starting with their marriage, Anno, who calls herself Rompers and depicts herself as a baby with swirly eyes, picks humorous moments showcasing her husband Director-kun’s otakuness, and her slow but steady slide to join him.

When Vertical first announced this title, I was looking forward to it. I enjoy stories about otaku and the otaku lifestyle, so this title sounded right up my alley. And it does lay on the otakuness thick. Director-kun is very much a tokusatsu, live action sci-fi, fan, and most of his otaku obsessions revolve around these series’. Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and other shows that fit that genre are mentioned constantly. Director-kun has lots of toys and figures for these shows that he wants to display, and gets up early on Sunday Mornings to watch the latest episodes of the current shows. He also loves anime, but most of the shows mentioned are older series from the 80s; Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Runaway Ideon and Time Bokan. There’s no mention of Director-kun own work though, beyond amateur films he made of Ultraman in his college days.

Rompers enters into this relationship with Director-kun knowing what a big otaku he is, but still feeling ambivalent about it becoming an Ota-wife. Sometimes she worries about being a good ota-wife, and at others she tries to fight his ota-ways by limiting the number of toys he can display, making him clean up his office, and just showering and changing clothes. If there has to be some kind of conflict in this series, this is it, though it is obviously a losing battle. In the first chapter she worries that she hasn’t watched all of Ideon yet. On car trips, she resisted listening to Director-kun’s many hours of anime and tokusatsu music, but soon gives in. She even starts to get up early on Sunday mornings with him.

I know a lot of the humor is supposed to come from this conflict, but I have to admit I found it a little annoying. I’m someone who was never made to feel ashamed of their fannish-ness, or ignored any attempts by my peers to do so, so really don’t understand why someone who want to hide the things they enjoy from others, especially if they are adults. But it’s good to see Rompers come to accept her otakuness. Fortunately this isn’t the only source for the humorous episodes shown. Dieting is always a good source we there is quite a dose of it in here, as are the normal conflicts a husband and wife can get into.

Overall, I did enjoy Insufficient Direction. The amount of otaku references was daunting. Vertical included 29 pages detailing them, including taking four pages alone to explain the book titles referenced in just one panel! This title will appeal most to the thorough fan. If you are just an anime fan, and aren’t interested or familiar with tokusatsu, most of the references you won’t get or care about. But, if you recognize Ultraman poses, know what a transformation belt is, or know who Battle Fever J is, and are a fan of 80s mecha anime, then this manga is for you.

 

World War Blue Volume 1

In the continent of Consume, an endless war rages between bitter rivals: the Segua Kingdom vs. the Ninteldo Empire. Upon his dinosaur steed, the stern Emperor Marcus has led the Ninteldo Empire to near victory. Now, with the majority of Consume under its control, Ninteldo has Segua up against the ropes.

Enter a fleet-footed lad named Gear, who seeks vengeance against Ninteldo for his brother’s death. After joining Segua’s Army, Gear is enlisted in the Special Forces to put his preternatural speed to good use. But will the inexperienced, impulsive youth be ready to face the realities of war?

World War Blue Volume 1
wwb_vol1_fullStory by Anastasia Shestakova; Art by Crimson
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action/Game
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

When I first heard the premise of World War Blue, I was intrigued. I’ve always been interested in the console wars, and seeing them brought to life sounded like a fun idea. In practice, I found the execution problematic, though the story isn’t without it’s merits.

World War Blue starts by introducing three characters; the fleet-footed Gear and his friends Tial and Nel. They are the only survivors of a Ninteldo attack five years previous, on their village of Marcthree. When Ninteldo soldiers return, Tial is killed, which spurs Gear to join Segua’s Army. But Gear’s extraordinary speed isn’t the only thing special about him. He is what is called a “Killer”, warriors that possess great power. Along with fellow Killers Opal and Tejirov, Gear trains to become stronger before going on a mission to save the Segua Army’s leader, General Alex.

There were a lot of things I liked about this volume. I liked Gear. He’s pretty much how I would imagine a human version of Sonic the Hedgehog to be. He is very much the shonen hero, with the tragic loss that sends him on his journey, his direct attacks and reliance on pure strength. He’s confident in his abilities, but also willing to learn more. He makes a good lead, and that seemed like a good start.

I also liked how the video games were translated into characters. All the characters in this story are based on Sega video games. Gear and Tial is obvious. Nel is based on a character from Fantasy Star Online, a popular RPG back in the day. Ramses, a Lt. General in the Segua Army is based on the game Columns. Her roots aren’t so obvious. Opal has a better connection to her game, Fantasy Zone, in both her name and power. Seeing Nintendo’s Mario as the big, buff armored Emperor Marcus was kind of weird. Tejirov is a mercenary from the neutral country of Lorgue, and is based on Tetris. This is fairly obvious as he obsesses over the number 4. Shestakova did a good job creating their characters and integrating the important traits from their games to make them recognizable, but not glaringly so.

In between each chapter there were short talks about the history of video games and the “war” between Nintendo and Sega. I loved these sections. They tell about the hardware, focus on some of the games, and tell of the fall of Atari that led to Nintendo and Sega’s rise. Shestakova integrates these elements into the story as well with great success.

Since I likes so much of the title, you may be wondering what it was I didn’t like. It was all the male gaze. The women are mostly big breasted and in short skirts. The artist Crimson spared no time in getting in upskirt shots and nearly nude moments for them. Most of that I can handle, but Tejirov is the straw that breaks this manga’s back. His not so subtle inudendo bordered on annoying as was his groping. It really broke what I thought was an otherwise enjoyable story.

World War Blue is a title that won’t appeal to everyone. It’s focus on an older time in video game history may not be of interest to newer gamers who only know the next-gen systems; Playstation, Game Cube/Wii, and XBox. But for those who are interested, or those of us old enough to remember playing Tetris on the NES, or buying a Genesis just to play Sonic the Hedgehog, this is a great series. If you can get past the male gaze.

 

Attack on Titan No Regrets Volume 1

The young Erwin Smith is a rising star in the Survey Corps, humanity’s only hope of defeating the man-eating monsters known as Titans. Ruthless and dispassionate, Erwin’s mind is devoted to strategies and intrigue. But beneath Erwin’s feet is another world, the Underground, where humans are born and die surrounded by the garbage the Capital throws away. Here, the criminal Levi survives on his wits and agility. But when these two ambitious men cross paths, who will prove himself stronger?

Attack on Titan: No Regrets Volume 1
Attack On titan no regrets 1Written by Gun Snark (Nitropolis); Art by Hikaru Suruga
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror/Shojo
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I went into this volume with no preconceived notions. I started reading Attack on Titan late in the series, at volume 8, so while I had heard of the characters Erwin and Levi, I didn’t know who they were. I knew they were important leaders in the Survey Corps, and big deals to fans. This story alone was enough to increase the circulation of the magazine it was published by 10 fold. Even though this story is supposed to be about both Erwin and Levi, this volume at least, is really all about Levi.

Levi is the leader of a trio of thieves who use Survey Corps maneuvering gear to get around the Underground where they struggle to survive. Levi is a stoic man of few words. He has perpetual dark circles under his eyes and doesn’t seem capable of smiling. But he cares a lot for his friends Furlan and Isabelle, the only two people in the world he trusts. He will fight and possibly kill for them, and they look up to him as a protector and leader. He is incredibly skilled in using the maneuvering gear, despite having never been taught formally, which is what catches the attention of Squad Leader Erwin Smith.

Erwin is a very earnest member of the Survey Corps, and rather savvy with manipulating the political side of things to get what he wants. He is determined to do anything and everything it takes to build up the Survey Corp. He recognizes the threat the Titans pose, even as the people and politicians grow complacent after so many years without a breach. He is even willing to work with criminals, by bringing in Levi and his group. Erwin isn’t seen much in this volume, but it is obvious he is watching them.

Levi and his friends have some prejudices to get pass after joining the Survey Corps. Some members and the leaders object to people from the Underground being brought with no military training. But, as they train with the other squad members, many of them start to see their strengths. Isabelle has an affinity with animals, which lets her show off her riding skills. Furlan is the calm and sensible one of the three, trying to keep the peace, mostly between Levi and the others. He also has some plan in mind, that somehow involves Erwin, but only hints have been dropped so far. Then there’s Levi. His skills are no illusion as he shows in both training and actual combat. His more unorthodox methods bring down a Titan, and his skills take it out. Levi is almost as awesome in combat as Mikasa!

The art is a well done, looking enough like Isayama’s style while still being good. I love Levi’s fashion sense, both in his civilian clothes and in his Survey Corps uniform. The Ascot is just perfect on him! The action sequences are well done, with lots of lines flying, clouds of smoke from the canisters and swords gliding through the air. There really isn’t a moment of this volume I didn’t enjoy.

Attack on Titan: No Regrets Volume 1 is a great start to a series about some provocative characters. Since this is an origin story, it’s not necessary to have read the main series to enjoy this one, but a basic understanding of the universe would help since there are no explanations. I’m looking forward to volume 2 but not the wait until October. I’m also sad that it will also be the last volume. I wouldn’t mind watching Levi and the gang for another couple of volumes.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Sumomomo Momomo Volume 6-12

Having defeated Tenga Koganei of the Tiger clan and recovered from the poison, Koushi and Momoko continue to face challengers to their engagement from other clans. Koushi, seeing how much his friends go through to help, decides to start training seriously. While makes good progress, the Monkey clan makes their move and usurps the Inuzuka claim to lead the Eastern army. Koushi’s only hope to save the clans and regain his engagement to Momoko is to master the Myriad Seal and face Yuusuke in battle to the death.

Sumomomo 6By Shinobu Ohtaka
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action/Comedy
Price: $11.99 ea
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sumomomo, Momomo was one of the debut titles in Yen Press’ Yen Plus magazine. It was also a title I despised. The art was bad, and the story was worse. I never dreamed I would ever read another chapter of it, but I had these review copies, and no one else seemed interested in reviewing them, so I decided to see if it had improved at all. I will admit, these later volumes weren’t as painful to read as the earlier ones, but the systemic problems of the series kept it from being memorable.

Sumomomo 7There were several things I despised about this series, the chief among was Momoko. I hated her. She was annoying with her obsession with wanting to bed Koushi. Koushi’s pathetic attitude was just as bad. It’s not a good sign when the two main leads are so unlikable. This starts to change by volume 6. Momoko seems to have settled down some what. She still wants to bed Koushi, but it’s not her focus. It’s become something that just comes up every once in a while, with Momoko trying to trick Koushi into agreeing. She is still a gungho fighter, and has no problem with coming to Koushi’s defense.

Sumomomo 8While watching Momoko fight Koganei, Koushi starts to realize he can’t let everyone else fight his own battles, and decides he needs to train seriously. This becomes his main arc to the end. Both his father and friends try to help him, but it’s only once he understands the seal his mother put on him and he trains alone in the jungle that he finally finds his strength. Even before the last volume, I was finding Koushi to be less annoying, as he stopped cowering and starting stepping up to take responsibility for himself.

Ultimately, that was the theme of the story; to make your own decisions and walk your own path. Koushi didn’t become a real fighter until he found his own way, and even in his final battle with Yuusuke, he chose when and how to use the Myriad Seal despite what others thought. He used words first to try to beat this idea into Yuusuke, but in the end his had to use the Seal to end the duel mercifully for both him and Yuusuke. It was actually a decent ending.

Sumomomo 11There were also parts in the middle that were decent. I liked Iroha’s journey to try to resurrect her clan and regain their respect. Despite the betrayals of those she considered closest, she never gave up hope. She continued to fight and help Koushi against the Endou until the very end. I felt sorry for Sanae. Her power was just humiliating, and her grandmother had no sympathy, putting her on parade even to her friends.

And here is where things start to head downhill for me. I didn’t care for the whole love polygon around Koushi that started with Iroha and Sanae, and soon added Shintarou, the daughter of the Inoue clan who was raised as a boy. The dip into harem territory didn’t work for me at all, and actually felt distracting from the growing tension from the Endou clan’s machinations. The humor didn’t do much for me either. The getting into bed, Sanae’s humiliation, the other boys’ jealousy of Koushi, none of these things ever seemed funny to me, and the humor fell flat every time.

Sumomomo 12Sumomomo, Momomo worked best when it was being a martial arts fighting series, and was “meh” at best at being a high school harem comedy. There were some good character arcs, and the final message of putting yourself and your own will ahead of conflicting obligations was a good one. The final volume was the best, with this message and showing how everyone not only went their separate ways, but took paths that they chose on their own. I can’t say I liked Sumomomo, Momomo, or that it was a good series overall. But it did have its moments and an ending worth reading. So borrow this from the library or a friend if you’re curious.

Buy Volume 6                         Buy Volume 7                          Buy Volume 8                          Buy Volume 9

                       Buy Volume 10                        Buy Volume 11                        Buy Volume 12

Review copies provided by publisher.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 1

Shiro Kakei, lawyer by day and gourmand by night, lives with his boyfriend, Kenji Yabuki, an outgoing salon stylist. While the pair navigate the personal and professional minefields of modern gay live, Kenji serves as enthusiastic taste-tester for Shiro’s wide and varied made-from-scratch meals.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 1
What did you eat yesterdayBy Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Cooking/Slice of Life
Price: $12.95US
Rating: ★★★★½

Fumi Yoshinaga is best known here in the US for her BL titles, but any porn that might be found in What Did You Eat Yesterday? will only be in the kitchen. Yoshinaga is also a big food enthusiast, and this title combines her love of preparing (and eating) food with the life situations of a gay couple. While at first appearance, this title is a foodie’s dream come true, there is still plenty of story to make the book interesting to us non-foodies.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? starts with that very question being asked of Shiro and his co-workers. While the others are vague with their answer, Shiro recites a long list of dishes including ingredients. This is the first sign, other than the title, that food will be a big part of the story. Yoshinaga doesn’t disappoint as every chapter has at least 3-4 pages dedicated to Shiro planning and preparing the nightly meal. No detail is spared as Shiro’s internal monologue catalogs the ingredients, how they should be cut, how long they are cooks or boiled and even at what temperature. If quantities were included, this part of the story could be a how-to instruction for cooking many of the meals. I’ll come out and say this right now, these parts of the book were the ones I found the most uninteresting. I’m not foodie, and never will be. Watching people cook doesn’t interest me, and didn’t even stir my appetite, so if they were cut down to one panel, or even cut out, it wouldn’t bother me.

But to Yoshinaga’s credit, these scenes could be condensed or cut out and the story wouldn’t really suffer. Shiro’s and Kenji’s relationship is really the heart of the series, and the part I thoroughly enjoyed. Each chapter looks at the daily life of Shiro or Kenji, at their job interacting with co-workers or clients, or friends and family. It’s through these interactions that we get to know them. Shiro is the serious and straight-laced half of the relationship. He hasn’t told his co-workers about his sexual orientation, and keeps them at a distance with regards to his personal life. He doesn’t like anyone, including Kenji to talk about it to anyone else. He is very frugal with both his money and his emotions. This helps him in his job, but can cause problems at home.

In contrast, Kenji is very open about his feelings. He is gregarious with his clients and is the “bomb disposal specialist” for the shop he works for, his tenacity giving him the ability to take on the more difficult customers. He is also the more insecure of the two, worrying that Shiro might be attracted to a client and being jealous of Shiro’s former girlfriend who now runs a bakery. He isn’t afraid to show his emotions, from joy to breaking down into tears.

The supporting characters are just as fun and eccentric as you’d expect from a Yoshinanga series. Shiro’s mother is just plain crazy as she tries to be accepting of Shiro’s orientation, but ends up driving him nuts. The introduction of Kayoko, Shiro’s straight female friend was really funny, and she makes a great cooking buddy for Shiro. I also really like Shiro’s co-workers. Kenji’s boss and co-workers haven’t done too much in this first volume, but Kenji taking on the difficult customers was really funny.

I love Yoshinaga’s art. He draws her characters realistically in a minimalist way, but can easily and quickly drop them in a caricature with wide, long faces that get these great expressions. She gets the feeling across of surprise or  impishness with little more than a look.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? is starting out to be a really fun series. This first volume has lots of great moments of humor and realistic relationship issues that anyone gay or straight can understand and relate to, but at the same time also show some of the things that only gay couples would have to deal with. I really enjoyed this series, and if you’re not reading it, or passing it by because you think it’s BL or too foodie, then you’re making a big mistake.

Review copy provided by publisher.