Category Archives: Reviews

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.

21st Century Boys Volume 2

The climax of our story is finally at hand! Mankind faces a crisis and Kenji is hustling to save the world and the people he loves. But he also must solve the mystery of the Friend. Who is he and why did he become evil? The answer is tied to a memory Kenji has from when he was a twentieth century boy.

21st Century Boys Volume 2
21st Century Boys 2By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Price: $12.99USD
Rating: ★★★☆☆

In my previous review of volume 1 of 21st Century Boys, I had hopes of the this part would redeem what I thought was a non-ending of the first part, 20th Century Boys. While this volume does tie up many of the loose ends and does finally answer the question “Who is the Friend?”, it still doesn’t satisfy like I had hoped.

The search for the remote to the proton bomb continues, both in reality and in the virtual world. The UN Forces show their distrust of Kanna and the rest of the group, but that doesn’t stop them from continuing the search. Kanna’s powers come into play in discovering the bomb’s button and the location of the remote. Kenji and Yukiji work in tandem to stop the bomb from going off, and then Kenji returns to the virtual reality to tie up some personal loose ends, that if he had done in the real world at the time, might have kept Friend from being created.

The race to stop the proton bomb was actually exciting. Yukiji getting to kick Shikishima’s daughter’s butt with her judo skills was cool, as was Kenji using those same skills to stop the robot from detonating the bomb. Kanna’s supernatural powers do come into play, but at least they are minimal, mostly just communicating with Kenji in the virtual world. I really didn’t find any of the supernatural elements to be compelling, so I’m glad they were kept to a minimum. Once again the twists run wild, but they are believable and kept the action moving.

Going into this final volume, you may start to wonder if everything will be tied up. It takes most of the volume to stop the robot, with Kenji and the gang getting obstacles thrown at them left and right. But some how, Urasawa is able to do it. The major loose ends are tied up, all for the better. Manjome and Sadakiyo got happy send offs. Kanna got her man and her mom, and Otcho returns to be Shogun, fighting human traffickers. But the end that needs most to be tied is Friend’s.

Who was he and did Kenji really know him? The answer relates back to the scene at Jijibaba’s shown in the previous volume. Older Kenji finally realizes the truth, and has younger Kenji do what he didn’t all those years ago. Not that this fixes anything for anyone but Kenji. But it does make him take a look at the choices he’s made and how he can make better ones. He and Yukiji come to an understanding too about their feelings in a way that only Kenji and Yukiji could.

It’s not until the last few pages is Friend’s identity revealed in one of the most anti-climatic ways possible, in a single frame with next to no explanation about who he was. This is where the volume and ultimately the series let me down. The whole series was touted to be about the question “Who is Friend?”, but in the end that question and his motives are left to the reader to figure out. While this is usually fine in a mystery, in order for it to work the author has to leave enough clues to lead the readers to the right answer. Anything else is just a cheap twist, which is ultimately exactly what this series boiled down to.

Overall, 20th Century Boys and 21st Century Boys is a decent enough series. It was enough to get Urasawa not only a nomination, but ultimately an Eisner Award. But I think the execution could have been better. The series went off the rails after volume 15, and while these last two volumes brought it back, it was too little, too late. I would still encourage people to read this series, just be prepared for some bumps in an otherwise smooth road.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Cross Game Volume 8

The Seishu Gakuen baseball team is one win away from fulfilling Wakaba’s final dream of seeing Ko pitch in front of a packed crowd at Koshien. But they’ll have to beat powerhouse Ryuou Gakuin in the North Tokyo Tournament finals in order to get there. Meanwhile, Akane Takigawa’s health takes a turn for the worse, and she’s scheduled to have surgery…on the day of the big game.

Cross Game 8By Mitsurs Adachi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Sports
Price: $14.99US
Rating: ★★★★½

When Cross Game first came out, it got a lot of praise. It was also featured in a Manga Movable Feast, but the first chapter preview Viz made available didn’t interest me. So, I passed on the series, until I received a copy of the final volume. I decided to give the series a shot and see what everyone was so excited about. I did enjoy the volume. It was easy to  get into, even with being the final volume, but ultimately it still didn’t make a convert out of me.

This volume starts out with Ko and the Seishu Gakuen baseball team departing to play the final game that will decide who will go to Koshien. Any potential drama with Akane’s health problems are swiftly dealt with so the characters and the reader can concentrate on the game which is the majority of this 2-in-1 omnibus volume. It is a very tense game, as both pitchers are determined to pitch a no-hitter. The sides switch quickly, and the few hits that do get through puts the game into extra innings, with the twelfth ending it all.

In many ways this feels like a final volume. Everything the characters have been working for is leading up to this moment, this game. As the game is played, there are call backs to previous moments in the series with Ko dealing with Wakaba’s death, and working to become a baseball player good enough to go to Koshien. Ko and Aoba’s relationship is also strengthen throughout this volume, tying things up for the last scene.

While there are a lot of characters, and many of their stories are tied up, this volume is really all about Ko. This final game is his. He goes into it with a calm confidence that many of his teammates don’t seem to feel. He is relaxed before the game, sleeping on the way to the stadium, and all through the game itself, he never seems fazed. He doesn’t get mad when his no-hit game is ruined, and his only surprise is when a ball flies at only 98 mph, not the 100 mph he had hoped for. It almost makes you want to shake him, he is so placid throughout the game, like a still lake. This is a moment he has worked for since he was in the 5th grade, and he will let nothing stand in his way.

The game itself isn’t filled with over-the-top dramatics. Adachi doesn’t need to go to such lengths to build the tension. His game is filled with great baseball, and helped to remind me why I loved the sport so much when I was younger. Compared to other sports, baseball can seem laid back or even boring, but there is nothing boring about this game. Both teams can taste victory and are determined to win. Ko and his rival Oikawa are throwing their best pitches, both intent on throwing no-hitters. The balls fly fast and hard, and you can almost hear the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt with every pitch. It’s not an “edge of your seat” kind of excitement, but really a thrill of watching athletes at the top of their form pushing themselves even further.

Ko and Aoba’s relationship is handled much more subtly. Things that the readers probably already knew were revealed to the characters. Ko and Aoba never verbally express their feelings for each other. They don’t have that kind of relationship. Instead, they’re shown in a more subdued manner with something as simple as holding hands revealing their feelings more elegantly than any words could.

Although I enjoyed this volume of Cross Game as a whole, and really enjoyed the baseball game, I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed the journey. It’s easy to tell where Ko and Aoba came from and what it was they were striving for, but I don’t know how much I actually like them as characters. They do have the more contrary type of relationship that I prefer, but they didn’t really click with me. I appreciated Ko as a baseball player, and seeing he and Aoba get together, but I’m not sure I would have had the patience to get to there. I may the first volume though, just to see. Still Cross Game has all the elements to be a great series, and the sports parts is very well done. It was a great game, and a really good series. I’m glad I got to read it.

 Review copy provided by publisher



Slam Dunk Volume 25-28

Shohoku has made it to the second round of the Nationals, and are matched up to play against Sannoh, last year’s National champions. While Sannoh seems to be on a whole different level from Shohoku, the boys are ready to give up on their dreams of advancing just yet, especially Sakuragi. It going to take everything they got and every trick in their book to make it through this game. The question is, will it be enough?

slame dunk 25By Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Sports
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Slam Dunk is one of those titles that can suck you in and keep you glued to your seat whether you think you’ll like the series or not. I’ve read previous volumes and have enjoyed them all, but these volumes, some of the last before the end of the series are just amazing. There really is no other way to describe it. I know nothing about basketball and really don’t care for it, but I could not put down a single one of these volumes and had to grab the next, the game was so gripping.

Slam Dunk 26The entirety of these four volumes is dedicated to a single game; Shohoku’s semi-finals game against Sannoh, the previous year’s national champions. And they don’t even end the game! These volumes only cover the game through to seven minutes left in the second half. They start out with both sides scoping out the competition through tapes of the teams playing. For Sannoh, this is no big deal. They easily spot Shohoku’s player’s weaknesses. For Shohoku, it’s more of a shock to see how far out of their league Sannoh seems. It really shakes the confidence of the players, especially Mitsui, Shohoku’s Center. Sakuragi isn’t shaken though. He goes into the game with the complete confidence that they can win, and even if that confidence seems misguided, it helps the other players to go on the court with that same confidence.

The majority of volumes 26-28 happen all on the court. Even before the game officially starts, both sides show off for the crowd and the other team. Sakuragi is right up there, trying a flying slam dunk and failing, but he isn’t fazed at all. As soon as the game starts, it becomes a battle of not just skill but also wills. Sannoh is taken by surprise by Shohoku starting play, but they soon get their rhythm and throw Shohoku off theirs and the game is like a teeter totter, the tide turning from Shohoku to Sannoh and the slowly back to Shohoku.

Slam Dunk 27It is incredible how Inoue is able to put the reader on the court and in the players heads. All through these volumes, we are constantly seeing what the player is thinking and feeling as the game progresses. We also see how easy it is to get trapped by those thoughts. Akagi gets caught up in his belief that he has to beat Sannoh’s Kawata, and it puts him and his team in the bad place. It takes his older brother and Sakuragi’s outrageous antics to get his head back in the game. While Inoue draws exciting and dramatic shots and moves down court, it’s the characters that really make this title awesome.

And it’s Sakuragi that really gets to shine in this game. He might not know better when the others see how much better Sannoh is, but he never lets them intimidate him, and he never loses hope. He may be the loudmouth and a bit of a showboat, but he knows his teammates and what they need to get them focused on the game. Whether it’s taking big about being a “phenom”, or jumping on the tables on the sidelines to declare Shohoku will win, he knows what’s needed and isn’t afraid to do what it takes. He also finally has the skills to back up some of his words. He is the “offensive rebound king”, and it’s this skill that helps the team get their rhythm back at the critical moment in the second half.

Slame Dunk 28Slam Dunk is a Shonen Jump title that embodies the spirit without having to resort the to tropes. Building friendships, facing adversity and beating the odds, Slam Dunk does all this without being obvious about. Sakuragi was an annoying mess at the beginning of this series, but now, he is one of the strengths that the team can rely on. He smack talks his teammates, but they know they can trust him to do what is needed, and he isn’t willing to give up, no matter what is in front of them. Whether or not you like basketball, if you like a good story with some real driving action and great characters, then you should be reading Slam Dunk.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Buy Volume 25
Buy Volume 26
Buy Volume 27
Buy Volume 28

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Volume 1

Cut alive from his mother’s womb after she had been eaten by a rampaging Titan, Kuklo has spent his life in chains as a freakish curiosity and a feared abomination. Eventually the boy they call the “Titan’s son” finds himself sold to wealthy merchant Dario Inocencio as a plaything for his cruel and ambitious son Xavi. Kuklo knows nothing but abuse and neglect, but help may come from the most unexpected place…

AoT Before the Fall 1Written by Ryo Suzukaze; Art by Satoshi Shiki
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $10.99US
Rating: ★★★★☆
Buy the Book

Even though it was easy to get into the original Attack on Titan fairly late in the series, it’s even better when you can start at the beginning. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is prequel to the original series, taking place 70 years in the past. While it didn’t take much to get me onto the original Attack on Titan bandwagon, I was jumping even faster to ride with Before the Fall.

The story follows Kuklo, who has been persecuted and abused his entire 13 years for doing nothing but surviving. He burst from his mother’s womb after she had been eaten by a Titan, and people’s fear and misunderstanding made him the freak and outcast we see at the beginning. He can barely speak and has very few thoughts beyond surviving. He doesn’t understand why he’s beaten and ridiculed, and can barely speak, but he does have the presence of mind to know when he wants it to end.

Enter Sharle, the daughter of Dario Inocencio. She fears the Titans and their “son.” She decides to do something about him one night, and discovers Kuklo is no Titan, but just as human as she is. She is a kind and caring person. She helps Kuklo, first by feeding him, then by understanding him. A friendship grows between them as he learns about Titans and the human world, and he plots his escape.

I enjoyed this volume. Kuklo’s and Sharle’s relationship really pulled me in. I understand why Kuklo’s origin and dark history had to be shown, but it didn’t compel me as much as Kuklo’s realization and growing determination to learn about both humans and Titans. His driving need to know if he really was a “Titan’s son” made the continued abuse tolerable. Sharle was just as interesting. The daughter of an aristocrat wouldn’t be expected to pick up a dagger and try to kill a Titan. She showed strength along with her tenderness, and a mercy Kuklo had never known. I was really glad the volume ended the way it did. Kuklo shouldn’t be the only one escaping a cage, and Sharle is stronger than she thinks.

The volume did feel kind of short, with only three chapters. The original “trailer” for Before the Fall was included to help fill up the space. It does look like a movie trailer, with narration, lots of Titan action and one shocker to reel you in. If you look at it that way instead of as a chapter, it makes a lot more sense.

The art is very different from the original manga. In a lot of ways it’s better. The style reminded me a lot of The Guin Saga Manga published by Vertical, Inc and illustrated by Kazuaki Yanagisawa. Shiki did a good job of expressing the characters’ emotions, especially Kuklo’s. His expressions are the only way to tell what he’s feeling for much of the volume.

You don’t have to have read Attack on Titan in order to enjoy Before the Fall. The story stands on it’s own with two great lead characters that I am looking forward to following in the coming volumes. In no way is their journey going to be easy, but it is sure to be filled excitement.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Inu x Boku SS Volume 1-3

Ririchiyo Shirakiin is a girl from a family of old money who also has Ayakashi blood as a genetic throw back to a human ancestor who coupled with an Ayakashi. She moves to Maison de Ayakashi because she want to become independent, but every one who moves into the apartment building is assigned a member of it’s secret service. Soushi Miketsukaim is assigned to Ririchiyo, and he is about as devoted and protective as a dog, much to Ririchiyo’s chagrin.

INUxBOKU_SSv1_TPBy Cocoa Fujiwara
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Romance
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

I had my doubts about Inu x Boku SS as I started to read the first volume. I wasn’t sure what to make of Ririchiyo at first. Her throwback is to a demon, and in some ways it seems to show. She speaks without thinking and comes off as mean and blunt. But that’s not the real Ririchiyo. After speaking like that, she immediately regrets her words but doesn’t know how to apologize properly. She is very awkward and is sincere in wanting to change. I didn’t like her at first, but as I continued reading, I found her growing on me. I found myself sympathizing with her as bits of her past is revealed. I also found her naiveté endearing, since she isn’t so much clueless as inexperienced with someone having feelings for her.

That someone is Soushi. He is very over the top at first with his devotion to Ririchiyo. He asks her to “dispose” of him when she tells him she doesn’t need him at first. He waits outside her apartment for hours until she comes out. He even overreacts when she just leaves him alone for a few minutes while they are shopping. The devotion does get annoying at times. He uses it to manipulate Ririchiyo, something she realizes after he’s gotten what he wanted. The reason Soushi feels so strongly for Ririchiyo is revealed, and all of his mysterious hints from when they first meet now make sense. Ririchiyo’s interactions with Soushi start to change her, for the better.

Inu x boku ss 2And it’s not just Soushi that helps her change. Interacting with the other tenants of the building help her as well. Sorinozuka is Ririchiyo’s childhood friend, and isn’t fazed by her personality. He has ittan-momen blood in him, and spends as much time as a bolt of cloth as he does a human. Roromiya, a SS and Watanuki, a tenant, go to the same school as Ririchiyo, and they become friends, despite Watanuki’s continued claim that he is a delinquent. Watanuki has tanuki blood, but is a smaller type, and usually ends up as comedy relief. Zange is Watanuki’s SS, and he is rather mysterious and meddlesome. He helps Ririchiyo reach out to others and make friends. He also has a second sight that bode ominous things in the volumes to come.

Sadly, not all of the characters are likeable. After the first volume, I though Yukino, Sorinozuka’s SS was the most annoying with her yuri inclinations and shouts of “smexy” at Rirchiyo and Roromiya. And then Kagerou Shoukiin was introduced. He is a tenant of the building, and Roromiya is his SS. He is always traveling and isn’t at the building much. He is also a sadist, always wearing a masking and calling people “trollop” and “sow”. He labels everything as a “S” or a “M”. I dislike him, and can’t decide if he’s supposed to be funny or menacing. Either way, I can’t take anything he says or does seriously.

Inu x Boku SS 3Overall, I do like the direction of the story. While Ririchiyo and Soushi are the main couple, I like that the other tenants aren’t just there to support them. Watanuki gets a nice chapter that explains his obsession with being seen as a delinquent. Even the staff at the apartment building get some page time. After everyone is introduced, they continue to show up, such as cook Kawasumi and his son, and Concierge, the scary-looking nekomata throwback that is more pussycat than lion.

Zange’s premonition at the end seems to predict something dark on the horizon for Inu x Boku SS. As much as I’ve enjoyed these volume and their slice of life stories so far, these characters have ayakashi blood in them. There have only been short moments of action with them turning into their throwback forms. I’m looking forward to more of this, along with all the relationship development we’ve seen so far.  If you like supernatural romances or stories about yokai and ayakashi, definitely pick this series up.

Buy Volume 1
Buy Volume 2
Buy Volume 3

Review copies provided by publisher.

Black Bird Volume 16

Misao has made the choice to forego college and a normal human life in order to be Kyo’s wife and mother to the demon child she carries. But her pregnancy is unusual, even for the demon world. The last pages of the Senka Roku will reveal the truth of the matter, but now that Kyo has it in his hands, does he really want to know…?

Buy the Volume
Buy the Volume

By Kanoko Sakurakouji
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Black Bird for a while now. I found Kyo’s skeeviness annoying, as well as Misao’s submissiveness. A lot of that changes with this volume. After defeating his older brother Sho, Kyo has learned the final fate of the Senka Maiden, and it doesn’t bode well for Misao. Kyo sets the Daitengu to work trying to find a way to keep both mother and baby alive. A single clue left by Sho and some information from the Senka Roku just might hold the answer.

There are a lot of emotions flying around this volume. Misao is faced with the prospect of either she dying or her baby. Neither are acceptable to her. But there are a lot of tearful moments as she faces Kyo and the Daitengu about not only what will happen to her and Kyo, but also the others. It’s kind of sad that it’s surprising that she figures it out on her own. Misao would be a much better character if she wasn’t played to be so dumb.

Kyo’s internal dialog was the big draw of this volume. Now that Kyo and Misao are married, all the skeevy scenes are done and gone. Kyo is serious about his love for Misao and is desperate to find a way to keep her alive. This volume is probably the most convincing he’s been about his feelings for her. He isn’t leading her own or playing around. Everything he says and does is all for her, and it shows.

Kyo’s observations about Misao and the changes he sees in her were the most interesting parts. He doesn’t know what a pregnant human female is like, so he doesn’t connect the changes at first. But as he starts to make the connections with the Senka Roku, and some of Misao own behaviors change, it really becomes clear that what she’s going through is different. I do wonder if Misao’s fear of Kyo isn’t in some way an extension of the baby she’s carrying. The change of perspective definitely makes these revelations more interesting, and Kyo into more of a detective as he works to solve the mystery of the Senka Maiden.

Once the story gets past all the drama and emotion between Kyo and Misao, the volume of Black Bird become what I’ve been waiting for all this time. Finally, the mystery of the Senka Maiden is being delved into. While there are no answers now, with this being solidly in the final arc, those answer will be coming soon, making the final two volumes must reads. I’m actually looking forward to them now.