Tiffany Noboru doesn’t think she needs the childish talismans her parents left around her room to protect her from the things that go bump in the night. She learns how wrong she is when she is attacked and wakes up in a strange room with wings. She died and is now a gargoyle with the duty to protect the living. With many questions and few answers, she must figure out why she died and how to get home while dealing with a mentor more interested in chasing ghosts than teaching her, a dormitory of girls who taunt more than tutor, and a ghost who want to destroy them all.
Bell Cranel is just trying to find his way in the world. Of course, in his case, the “world” is an enormous dungeon filled with monsters, below a city run by gods and goddesses who have way too much time on their hands. He’s got big dreams but not much more when a roll on the random encounter table brings him face-to-face with the girl of his dreams-but what does a beginning adventurer have to offer a brilliant swordswoman? And what if the lonely goddess who sponsors his solo adventuring gets jealous…?!
Lawrence Kraft is a traveling merchant, going to towns and villages, making deals for items to barter and sell. While passing through the village of Pasloe on day, he picks up a stowaway on his chart; Holo the Wisewolf, the Harvest Goddess of the village. The villagers no longer need Holo, and she wishes to go home, in the north. She and Lawrence strike a deal, and they begin their adventures together on the trip north.
Spice and Wolf is a series that started out as a light novel and was adapted into both an anime and a manga. After the anime was favorably received by fans, Yen Press licensed both the light novel series and manga. There was a bit of an uproar when the first light novel came out, because Yen Press had chosen to use a cover that would appeal to Young Adult readers more than to anime fans. To appease the fans, Yen Press offered a book cover with the original cover art on it. I’d heard reviews of the first light novel, and while the idea of a series that looks at economics sounded interesting, it didn’t seem to translate as well in practice. After receiving some copies of the manga for review, I gave in and read the first six volumes.
Spice and Wolf takes place in a fantasy world similar to late middle ages Europe. There are kings and knights, and a church stretching out its influence to wipe out all “pagans.” There is also a lot of commerce. As a merchant, Lawrence is always on the lookout for a chance to make a profit, so the stories focus a lot on economics and trade. If you’re looking for swords and battles this isn’t the manga for you. If you aren’t interested in the finer details of currency speculation or identifying counterfeit coins, then this title might not be for you either. Honestly, this title nearly lost me after the first volume. It was very slow-moving and the all the economics made me wonder if anything was going to happen. The action started to pick up in the second volume, relieving some of the tedium of the first. But what really grew on my were the characters.
Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant. He is always on the move and always looking for something to buy or sell to make a profit. He is young and has been traveling for 7 years. His dream is settle down and own a shop in a town somewhere. He is kind and perhaps a little too soft-hearted when dealing with people, but in business, he is very shrewd, though sometimes becoming overconfident, which puts him into some serious trouble in volumes 4-6. He is also quite likable. He has a dry sense of humor, and easily trades barbs with Holo.
Holo is a little more complex. She is literally a giant wolf and has lived for hundreds of years. She was already old when she settled in the village of Pasloe. Her age, strength and wisdom does make her haughty at times, and she can be vain as she is constantly grooming her tail. But, after years of being alone and disregarded by the village she protected, she is also very lonely. If she fears anything, it is being alone again. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Holo at the beginning. Her haughty attitude did start to sway me toward disliking her. But when she stopped trying to be superior and opened up a little to Lawrence, I started to like her more. She often speaks in an old-fashioned dialect and has her vulnerable moments, which endeared her to me.
It’s Lawrence and Holo’s relationship that really made this an enjoyable series for me. It builds slowly, as they get to know each other. Just like in any relationship, they have their misunderstandings, but they work them out. Their feelings for each other grow though they both think a relationship wouldn’t be possible. But that doesn’t stop Holo from getting jealous of Norah, a young shepherdess they meet on the way to the town of Ruvinheigen. Lawrence has his share of young men to ward off as well. I really enjoyed the sweet moments between Lawrence and Holo, such as when Holo asks Lawrence to say she’s important to him. It only lasts for a few panels before she laughs it off, but it is a heartwarming moment nonetheless. It’s all of these little moments that really made me want to keep reading the series. I’m torn as to whether I want to see them eventually get together. I think they make a great couple, but at the same time, I like them playing the unresolved tension game as they keep their feelings to themselves.
There are all kinds of adversaries for Lawrence and Holo to face as they work for their profit, but the one that is a constant through these volumes is the Church. It appears to be based off the Catholic Church of the late Middle Ages, with all its power, and burning pagans at the stake. Fortunately, they don’t have power everywhere, as there are towns where it doesn’t wield any, but in the ones it does, it’s pretty terrible. Norah, the shepherdess introduced in volume 4, appears to be an orphaned girl who works for the church. But the more she works and succeeds, the more she is seen as a witch and comes under suspicion. And the fact that she works for the church, keeps people away so she can’t live a normal, happy life. I’ve never cared for religion, and this portrayal of it just reinforces my feelings, since this isn’t just written for the drama. Religion has really done and endorsed such things, and sadly still does. I did like how Lawrence is a pragmatist about religion. He doesn’t seem to believe in it, but he knows the rules enough to play along so as to keep him out of trouble and keep him trading. Even with Holo in tow.
This series is rate M for mature, has a warning label for “Explicit Content”, but really, all it has is some nudity. Holo, as a wolf, doesn’t give a second thought about going around with no clothes and really the only thing shown are her breasts. I didn’t mind it, and think the warning label might be overkill, since all the nudity is done in a non-sexual way. But, this is the United States, with its over reactive, puritan views of nudity that have to be hidden away from teens, while violence is perfectly acceptable.
It took a volume to for the art to grow on me. It’s the big eyes that took awhile for me to get used to. You’d think as a long time manga and anime fan, I would be used to “big eyes”, but really, there is such a variety of that look in manga, and Koume’s was different from what I was used to. I really liked Lawrence’s design, and he and Holo together make a cute couple. Holo in her wolf form is quite impressive as well. She has some jaws that you do not want your head between.
Once Spice and Wolf stopped lecturing and starts showcasing its charming characters, it became a very entertaining series. I don’t mind the economic elements sprinkled here and there, but the when it over does it, it’s easy to lose interest. If you can get past the slow-paced first volume, there is a lot of fun and action to be enjoyed.
Volumes 4-6 provided by the publisher.
Ouri and Father Olivier are together again, but they’re not about to live happily ever after quite yet. Olivier’s nemesis Ender is back, and even the deadliest dark magic may not be enough to slow him down. he’s determined to bring Olivier back to his Order and force him to face up to the crimes of his past, but Olivier himself has another plan in mind. his best chance at redemption may be hidden somewhere in the forbidden realm of G.
By Yun Kouga
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen +
Buy This Book
Gestalt is an average fantasy/D&D-esque story complete with a group of adventurers that include a priest, a sorcerer, a dark elf and a knight. They are on a quest to find the realm of G. They are being chased by their nemesis and have to fight monsters along the way. It’s a very generic plot that did make it easy to jump into the series at volume 6, but doesn’t do much to make for an overly interesting story.
Fortunately, the characters make up for it. I got to like most of them. Like the plot, the characters aren’t very complex but definitely entertaining. The interactions between Ouri, the hero/heroine and Suzu the dark elf were fun. Ouri was angsty for about half of the volume, but it was a tolerable angst, since he wasn’t totally bemoaning his fate and trying to do something about it. Father Olivier is the very generic kind, gentle priest with a dark side, but I found I liked both sides, though Dark Olivier does win out slightly.
It’s mainly these three characters for two-thirds of the volume. Shazan, the knight, goes on a side quest and makes the jump suddenly in the middle of a fight between Ouri, Suzu and Dark Olivier against Ender. Shazan is searching for the Book of P and goes to a dungeon to face the Wings of Death to try to get the book. For two chapters we go through the whole story of Wings and Shazan helps the ghost Mifa to save Wings and retrieves the book. While I really enjoyed these two chapters, almost more than the main story, the transition to it and then back to the battle were not done well at all. They are very abrupt, especially interrupting a fight just as Dark Olivier comes out, and they are just as abrupt coming back, not even picking up where the battle left off, and just starting in a completely different place, with new characters just wandering in from the street (literally)! I also didn’t care for the gender-bending/BL aspect of the title. I don’t care for either and to have both thrown out at the same time, made for some less than appealing moments.
The art isn’t bad. Everyone is bishie, especially Father Olivier. Everyone, male and female has long, flowing hair, but it isn’t difficult to tell the boys from the girls, as the women are all dressed in skimpy outfits and have ample breasts. This is of course part of the fan service that this volume serves up, but it’s not as blatant as it could be, so I can take it or leave it. I did like some of the monsters. Kouga came up with some fairly cool designs for them. I especially liked Wings, with the large eyes on her head.
Overall, Gestalt is an average title. There’s nothing new in the story or characters, but they are entertaining enough to kill some time, and you won’t feel it’s been wasted. This isn’t a must have title, unless you are a fan of Kouga’s work and/or a completest.
Orange Crows Volume 1
By: James Perry II and Ryo Kawakami
Age Rating: 13+
Five years ago, a young witch named Cierra broke the one unforgivable law of the witch society: attempting to create her own magic. Her unlawful tampering burned down a research room and injured the Mayor’s daughter, Cierra’s best friend. As punishment, she was exiled to the Wilderness, a barren wasteland crawling with witch-devouring Fairies and the bloodthirsty Forsaken…After surviving for five ruthless years, her exile has now ended, and she has been ushered back to civilization, only to discover that the world around her has changed greatly. Will Cierra be able to adjust back to a society that abandoned her? And if her freakish new ability that links her to the terrifying Fairies is discovered, she may not be let off with mere exile this time…
Orange Crows is a new OEL manga from Tokyopop. I really knew nothing about it, and the cover didn’t intrigue me in anyway, but with a link to read the whole volume for free coming in my email, I decided to check it out.
Zombie Powder Volume 2
By Tite Kubo
Publisher: Viz Media; Shonen Jump Advanced
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
We meet Wolfina Lalla Getto, a self-described “journalist of justice” who has been responsible for toppling various criminal organizations in her illustrious career. She’s got a peculiar choice of weapons, a camera tripod, with which she is very effective. However, when Gamma Akutabi rescues her from a camera-shoot gone wrong, he gets the idea that she might know where one of the Rings of the Dead might be, especially when he finds out that her younger brother Emilio lies in a coma, the sure sign, he thinks, of their knowlege of the rings. Supposedly, the Rings of the Dead can turn innocent victims into mindless vegetables by feeding off their life force.