Category Archives: Reviews

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.

 

Attack on Titan Volume 1-7

It is the distant future, and giant beings known as Titans who have a taste for human flesh have decimated the planet. Humanity has been beaten back into a three walled city where for 100 years they felt safe and became complacent. The sudden appearance of a 150 meter tall Titan changes everything as humanity loses a wall to the Titans. One boy to survive the initial attack is Eren Yeager, whose hate for the Titans makes him work hard and join the Survey Corps, so he can face and fight the creatures that destroyed his home and family. But in his first battle, he is eaten. When all seems lost for his unit, something happens that changes everything.

Attack on Titan Volume 1-7
AoT 1By Hajime Isayama
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

AoT2 I thought I was going to be able to let the Attack on Titan bandwagon pass me by. I wasn’t wowed by the first chapter, so I felt no inclination to look further into it. But curiosity and some review copies got me to crack open a volume and I was hooked from that moment on. I thought I could make do without going back to earlier volumes, but as I read further, references to events from the beginning made me think I should catch up. I binge read the first seven volumes, which filled in some gaps, explained a lot of things and even cleared up some misconceptions I had.

AoT 3The series starts just before the wall breach, introducing Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert, who live in the outer city of Shinganshina. After some wanton destruction by the Titans, the story jumps 5 years and we see the three friends again, graduating from military academy. Eren has only one intention; to join the Survey Corp and fight Titans. The first fight doesn’t go well for his squad, but Eren reveals an ability no one, not even he, was aware he could do. He transformed into a Titan. These first seven volumes jump between the past and present, telling the past of the three friends, their time in training, and how they continue to fight to protect humanity.

AoT4I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these volumes. I’d heard plenty about how slow these first volumes were, and that the story didn’t really pick up until volume 4. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Maybe it was because I had read volumes 8-13 first, and I had a lot of questions that I was looking for answers to. These volumes moved quickly as I got to see the beginning of the friendship between Eren, Mikasa and Armin, something that had become a foundation for me when I started reading. The pure commitment between the trio held them together through Eren’s revelation, and solidified their relationship into the one I so enjoyed in volumes 8-10. It also struck down a misconception I had about their relationship. I didn’t think there were any romantic feelings between the three, but reading these volumes made it abundantly clear that Mikasa has some feelings for Eren, that as a typical shonen hero, he is completely oblivious to.

AoT 5These volumes also gave me a different perspective on some of the side characters. Connie and Sasha, who seemed more comedy relief in the later volumes, were shown to be more serious and capable at the beginning. My first exposure to Levi and Erwin were in the spin-off title No Regrets, so seeing their first appearance was bit of a surprise. Especially Levi. I was expecting a more serious and dark character, but he was surprisingly relaxed. He was still blunt, and a clean freak.

AoT 6I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, with more questions than answers being presented with every volume. Why could Eren transform? What did his father do to him and what did he know? Were there any other humans inside the walls that could transform? What did this mean about the relationship between humans and Titans? I liked the way the reader was drawn in to ask the same questions as the characters and want to search for the same answers. I also felt the time jumping was handled well. The transitions between past and present were easy to distinguish and often related to what was going on in the story, making them feel integral to the story and not just tangents.

AoT 7The only problem with these volumes is the art. It really isn’t very good, especially at the beginning. The Titans are supposed to look weird and surreal, but not the humans. Faces are often not one the head straight and there are some problems with proportion. The art did start to improve as the story went on, but it’s fortunate that the story and characters are so engaging that the poor art can be overlooked.

I really didn’t want to get drawn in to Attack on Titan. Post Apocalyptic horror stories really aren’t my thing, but I’m glad I did. Isayama has managed to create an engaging story on several levels, and characters that you care about from the start. While the art does leave a lot to be desired, it gets better, and it’s worth getting through for the story. If you’re looking for a bandwagon to jump on, this one is definitely worth the ride.

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.