Viz Media’s digital strategy and I have not gotten along very well. For the longest time after Viz released their Vizmanga app, I couldn’t install it because Google Play kept saying it wasn’t compatible with my Android tablet. I finally had to go through Amazon’s App Store and install it through there. I had something to say about that.
I have really grown to like digital manga. Considering the lack of space I currently have, and the difficulty I have in letting things go, being able to stack digital files is a lot easier than physical books. And they’re a lot easier to carry. I can carry several different titles to suit what ever my mood is in just my tablet, and it’s a lot easier to eat and read on a tablet that can stand on its own and doesn’t need one of my hands to hold it open.
The Vizmanga app has been one of these platforms that I’ve been buying my manga on, though reluctantly lately. One of my problems with it is that there is no way to back up the titles I purchase. They can only be downloaded and viewed through the app. This isn’t so much a problem if something happens to my device. I can just download them again on the new one. But what if something happens to Viz and their servers go down? They say everything will still be available and working through the app.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Viz’s mature titles are not available to download and read through the app. They can only be read online through a PC/Mac with flash. This is actually very limiting. The whole purpose of digital manga is to be able to read it anytime, anywhere, just like the print, but more conveniently. Limiting the ability to read manga I supposedly own is not convenient. I am more often in an environment where I can’t get online with my device and the available PC is not flash enabled. Yes, I can read something else, but that isn’t really the point. I love digital manga because it’s supposed to give more freedom in what I read and when. Viz banning their own titles from their own app is actually ludicrous to me. If you are going to sell Mature manga on your site that is supposed to be available through your app than make ALL OF IT available. Don’t say “You can read all of these titles you’ve bought anytime, anywhere, but don’t even think about those titles.”
I’ve partially solved this problem by not buying anymore Mature manga through the Vizmanga app or website. I should be able to read any title I’ve bought anytime I want, and should not be limited by whatever hangups a publisher has about their own titles. But this now means I have my digital manga divided up between apps, and even some series. I shouldn’t have to have multiple apps to get titles from the same publisher, but to make digital manga work for me, I just have to, and I really think that’s wrong.
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.
Animals the world over are setting their sights on fresh prey–man. Only biologist Jackson Oz has recognized the patterns in the escalating chain of violent attacks by animals against mankind. And these incidents are just the prelude to something far, far more terrifying. Now Oz is in a race against nature to try to warn humanity about the coming catastrophe. But is it already too late?!
Zoo: The Graphic Novel
Written by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge; Art and Adaptation by Andy MacDonald
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Mature
Yen Press has enjoyed a decent success with James Patterson-penned books, and Zoo: The Graphic Novel takes that formula and moves it up to the next level with a title in a deluxe hardcover format and story that could have been ripped from the headlines. While the story brings up some very interesting ideas, that doesn’t keep it from stumbling here and there.
Zoo follows evolutionary biologist Jackson Oz, a man on the fast track at Columbia University until he throws it all away for a pet theory that no one believes. HAC, or Human Animal Conflict, is the theory that different animals around the world were becoming hyper-aggressive toward humans. With little to no support, Oz is on his own, but when male lions start hunting humans together, other scientists start to take notice. It takes a long time to gather evidence and get people’s attention, but it isn’t until pets are affected that it’s really taken seriously.
Zoo is a science thriller, in the vein of Jurassic Park, and is much more thriller than science. It takes a lot of time to build up, as Oz races between Africa, Washington DC and New York, trying to get people to listen to him. Once he finally does get both the scientific community and government to support his research, it’s still another 5 years with no real answer in sight. The tension continues to grow, with the attacks becoming more frequent, and Oz having to keep going to meetings to keep convincing government officials the problem is real. It finally hits home when HAC reaches our own pets; mainly dogs. Presumably cats too, but they are never shown.
All of the attacks and posturing takes up most of the volume. The science is relegated to a small part near the end, but it’s really the most interesting part. Environmental change is responsible, just not in the way no one was expecting. It’s not global warming, but it does relate to the increased use of petroleum products and cell phone radiation. Humans are not only affected by the change in a way similar to the animals, but they are also responsible for it.
Here’s where I start to have problems with the story. The first reaction to the news is a typical knee-jerk military “bomb everything” solution that does nothing to solve it. When the solution is finally given, and it seems to work for 5 days; just 5 days, everyone just assumes the emergency is over and it’s back to business as usual? Really? People are shown what works and they just throw it out after less than a week because it’s inconvenient? I found this twist in the part down right problematic. I know people can be dumb, and there will be people who don’t want to be inconvenienced, but I think this part just crossed the line in underestimating people.
The other problem I had was with the subplot. Oz was caring for a chimpanzee, Atilla, he rescued from a lab that was experimenting on him. Oz spends all of his time running around the globe, and completely ignoring the “wild” animal in his own apartment that was starting to display the same symptoms. He blames himself for his ex-girlfriend’s death at Atilla’s hands, and well he should, though not for the reason he thought. Atilla is shown torn between his relationship with Oz and his instincts. If Oz had just paid him a little more attention, he may have seen the signs earlier, and Oz may even have been able to help him find an answer. Instead, the ex-girlfriend is offed for the new girlfriend to become wife and mother, so Atilla can show he still cares for Oz near the end.
The art is in black and white and more realistic in its renderings. The attack scenes are fairly graphic, though there aren’t too many body parts left strewed around. At least no intestines are shown hanging out. A nose does get spit out. The presentation is very well done, with the book being over-sized, and the paper a heavy gloss.
Overall, I did enjoy Zoo. It was a good thriller with some fascinating science behind it. Oz takes the typical stance that science isn’t to blame, but thankfully also doesn’t look for anywhere else to point fingers. He lays it right out that humanity is to blame for their problems, but the end seems to imply we won’t learn from our mistakes, and I think that’s the wrong stand to take. Humanity’s strength has always been to learn and adapt, and even if it means two steps back before a step forward, we would find a way.
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 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.
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.
The 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.
Kaya Satozuka prides herself on being an excellent secretary and a consummate professional, so she doesn’t even bat an eye when she’s re-assigned to the office of her company’s difficult director, Kyohei Tohma. He’s as prickly-and hot-as rumors paint him, but Kaya is unfazed…until she discovers that he’s a vampire!!
I’m picky about the vampire romances I read. Most I’ve read have been hit or miss. I hated Vampire Knight, but loved Millennium Snow. What sparked my interest most about Midnight Secretary was that it was a josei, a manga written for older women. It features not a high school girl, but a career woman and all the problems that come with working in an office. This part appealed to more than the romance.
Well, maybe. I’m not really sure how I feel about Kaya and Kyohei as a couple. As separate people, I can see why they think and act as they do. Kaya is very smart and capable, and doesn’t want to be judged based on her appearance. This is exactly what Kyohei does at first, but she proves to him that looks aren’t everything. Even after she learns his secret, she doesn’t flinch or back down from her work, which is what gets her into the compromising situation of starting to have feelings for him.
Kyohei starts off as an obnoxious jerk, and really doesn’t veer from that course. He is a vampire forced to live in the human world because of his mother’s decision to stay with his father. He is bitter about this and takes it out on everyone around him. It’s not right, but it is an understandable thing to do. He refused to admit he cares for any humans, and gives his brother, the Senior Director Masaki a hard time, but does show he cares. He chastised his brother for being soft, and tells him to learn to use people since he will lead the company someday. Kyohei does the “dirty work” so Masaki can keep his hands clean. He’s rude and cold, but cares in his own way.
Usually I like romances where one or both of the partners have a bit of a “bite” to their personality. I like more banter and snarky remarks flying back and forth, but that’s not really what happens here. Kyohei is more abusive of Kaya, dismissing her coldly and leaving her to think of her own reasons for his actions. I did like that both had to discover their feelings for the other, especially Kyohei. He couldn’t believe he would have feelings for a human, but a frank conversation between he and Kaya did finally get him to admit his desire for her blood had more to do with his feelings than he thought. I’ll admit, I’m still waffling on them as a couple. I’ll have to see what happens in the next volume.
One thing I really appreciated was how Kaya’s job as a secretary wasn’t dismissed as simple or fluff. She is seen not only keeping Kyohei’s appointments, but also organizing the materials he needs for meetings and even accompanying him to outside functions such as dinners. Kyohei appreciates her work and skill, respecting her professionally before things start to get personal. I also liked how she showed the President of Erde Company, a member of the Tohma Group, how useful a secretary could be to help the whole company work more efficiently. So much attention is put on things such as sales, that it the support they get from the back office is often overlooked. I liked that it got some acknowledgement.
I’m on the fence about Midnight Secretary. There are a lot of elements I like in it, but I’m having a hard time seeing Kaya and Kyohei as a couple, and as a romance, it’s a major component of the story. But there is enough here that I am willing to give it a few more volumes. If Kyohei could be less of an arrogant jerk, at least to Kaya, I would probably like it more.
Review copies provided by publisher.
I’ve never understood the whole Boys Love phenomenon. I’m not a shipper, so I don’t see the appeal of putting two characters together, let allow two characters of the same-sex. But to be honest, I’ve never read any BL either. I’m not someone who goes out of their comfort zone easily, and I was going to skip this month’s Manga Movable Feast. But then I remembered I had one volume of BL I had received as a review copy back from when Aurora was still around. I had kept it to try, and then it got buried in a box of half read/half unread manga. So I pulled it and decided to read it.
Two of Hearts is by Kano Miyamoto. It is one volume long and comes from Aurora’s Deux imprint. It is about Haruya Ito, a writer for an arts magazine who writes articles month to month, but doesn’t seem to have any ambition beyond that. One day, he meets a troubled teenager, Maki Hidaka on the beach near his home. Maki has issues; he’s a germaphobe, OCD about washing his hands, hates to be touched and is malnourished as his mother is an alcoholic and doesn’t provide meals or enough money for Maki to get his own. Haruya becomes interested in Maki, both professionally and personally. He has become a sort of muse for Haruya and he starts working on a novel. His partner and editor, Yasigawa, doesn’t care for the attention Haruya gives Maki which leads to some melodrama, but it’s too late. Haruya has chosen Maki, which Yasigawa finally accepts. The story ends happily with Maki turning his life around, and Haruya being able to write again.
At its most basic level, this is the story of two lost and broken people finding and healing each other. The gender of the characters aren’t really important. It would work just as well with a man and woman, or two women, because the basic relationships are the same. I didn’t have a problem with the story. It’s actually a kind of story I enjoy. But I can’t say I enjoyed this one. The problem for me was the characters. I really couldn’t connect with any of them. It’s not that they were badly written. On the contrary, the characters were portrayed very realistically. However, they felt very dull to me. For me to really enjoy a story, I like to feel some kind of connection to at least one character, but I really felt nothing for any of them. They were exactly as they appeared on the page; flat characters that didn’t speak to me. If they looked more in the story as they did on the cover, I might have liked it more.
Now, this could just be this individual story. Maybe this one wasn’t the one for me. Maybe it didn’t have the right hook. But I have to be honest, I just don’t get it. I don’t see what’s so great about putting two guys together in bed. The descriptions on some many of the BL books I see usually has one character dominating and forcing himself on the other. This kind of thing is usually decried when it’s a heterosexual couple. What makes it better when it’s a homosexual couple?
I can now truthfully say I’ve tried BL, but it just isn’t my bag. I’m going to stick to my shojo and josei manga for my relationship drama. The closest I think I will ever get to BL is shonen-ai, with stories like Godchild by Kaori Yuki, where the relationship is implied and can be read either as BL, or bromance by the reader. I’m happier that way.
If you want to take home this manga, leave a comment on the post and I will pick one at random to win it. MUST BE 18 OR OLDER.
In Sakuran, Moyoco Anno lifts the veil on life in the Edo-period pleasure quarter, Yoshiwara. The story follows Kiyoha, sold into a brothel as a child and forced to work as a maid and her rise to prominence as one of the top-ranking courtesans in Yoshiwara. The allure of the “flower and willow world” as it was called by artists in the day is underscored with the very real tragedy, heartbreak and difficult lives led by those seemingly glamorous courtesans. Will Kiyoha’s fox-like wiles giver her a chance to break free of her gilded cage? Or will her fighting spirit ruin her chances of ever escaping the brothel?
Moyoco Anno is a manga artist I don’t know much about. I’d heard of her first few titles to be released in the US, Flowers and Bees, and Sugar Sugar Rune, but neither title really spoke to me. I actually know more about Hataraki Man, a title of hers that has not been released in the US, but has had an anime and J-drama made about it. I would love to read it, but since it is on hiatus indefinitely in Japan, there seems to be little chance of ever getting it over here. Then Vertical announced Sakuran, a josei title. It’s a historical manga, which I’m always interested in checking out, but I think I’ve been reading too many shojo manga lately. The harsh realities of not just being a courtesan, but growing up in brothel are laid very bare on the pages. It was difficult to read sometimes, but it never stopped being compelling.
Sakuran starts in the present, where Kiyoha is an established courtesan, usually the second or third most popular among the patrons. The most popular, which is the draw for the brothel is the Oiran. She basically supports the brothel with money her attraction brings in. The current Oiran has a lover, that she is determined to die with. He had other ideas and ends up killing her and running away. With no other girl popular enough, the owners turn to Kiyoha. She flat-out refuses as she enjoys her life without real responsibility, but as the others start chanting “Oiran” to her, the story goes back to Kiyoha’s past and her life growing up in the brothel, starting out as maid, becoming an apprentice, then a shizou, through her debut as a full courtesan.
Right from the beginning it’s obvious Kiyoha isn’t going to make things easy. After she is sold to the Tamgiku Tea House, her only thoughts are of escape, and seeing the world outside the Pleasure Quarter’s walls. She is constantly getting tied up and beaten for her poor attitude and attempts to escape, but she only responses with more contempt. She is never broken by violence. The Oiran she works for, Shohi, has no patience for her antics, but sees that Kiyoha is strong, and has the makings of a Oiran herself. It is a harsh world in the brothels, and Kiyoha’s stubbornness and determination to fight back gives her the strength to survive not just the beatings, but the bullying and jealousy of other maids and courtesans. She finds ways to cope, such as crying with another maid in the Quarter that is her age, and continuing the circle of violence, as she beats the maids just as was beaten by Shohi.
At its core, Sakuran is a love story. Love can be expressed in many different ways, but in brothels they can read extremes. From a simple betrayal of trust by supporting a good-for-nothing man who runs off, to cutting off a finger tip to show devotion, to the ultimate sacrifice, a murder-suicide pact, falling in love while working as a courtesan can be a dangerous business. Kiyoha recognizes this, and tries not to fall in love, but even she is not immune. Part of her journey is to feel this strong emotion and feel its consequences when it goes wrong.
But beyond the usual lover/client relationships, Kiyoha has a deeper one with Seiji, a clerk who has worked at Tamagiku since she first arrived as a child. He has watched her grow, and seen her through all of her trials. There was never anything actually said between the two of them, other than Kiyoha’s sniping and Seiji’s retorts, but just through expressions and actions, a strong connection can be seen between Seiji and Kiyoha. He has a real affect on her. She has no retort when he calls her “Oiran” at the beginning. He is always there with worldly advise for her but never stopping her from choosing her own path, even when she escapes to find her lover Soji and face him. It’s the only kind of love you can realistically have in a brothel, one not based on physical or emotional attraction, but on familiarity. Seiji is the one thing that has stayed constant in her life since she came to Tamagiku, and is the only thing she can rely on. Almost like family.
The art of Sakuran takes some time to get used to. Anno’s art can be very stylized at times, and it can something be difficult to tell characters apart. I had a hard time telling Kiyoha from the other courtesans at times after her debut. Their hair and clothes were so similar, and word balloons where hard to tell who they were attributed to. Even after several reads of chapters, I still can’t tell who is who in some of them. But Anno’s attention to detail with the courtesan’s ornate hair styles and pieces is impressive, as are the clothes she draws for them.
Sakuran is a story of the harsh realities of life in the brothels of old Edo. It can be brutal and heart-breaking, and earns its mature rating with some explicit sexual scenes. In the end though, it is about the triumph of the spirit, and finding one’s place. For all her criticism, Kiyoha found her home, in the place she least expected. Sakuran is historical drama at its best.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Shinmen Takezo is destined to become the legendary sword-saint, Miyamoto Musashi-perhaps the most renowned samurai of all time. For Takezo is a cold-hearted killer, who will take on anyone in mortal combat to make a name for himself. This is the journey of a wild young brute who strives to read enlightenment by way of the sword-fighting on the edge of death.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond. I had read an excerpt of it a few years ago in a Viz Signature sampler I got at SDCC, but it didn’t really interest me then. Based on recommendations however, I picked up volume 1 to see what everyone was talking about. It’s filled with a lot of great action and drama, but I think I have to go with my original reaction and say this is not a series for me.
Vagabond starts out at the end of the battle of Sekigahara, a pivotal battle in Japanese history that gave the Tokugawa control of the shogunate. Shinmen Takezo and his childhood friend Hon’iden Matahachi, seventeen-year-olds looking to make a name for themselves, have somehow survived. Wounded, they search for shelter to recover while being chased by Refuge Hunters. They are found by a woman, Oko, and her daughter living alone in the mountains. Takezo kills the leader of a band of robbers who harass Oko, but it’s Matahachi who takes her and runs off, leaving Takezo with the responsibility of telling Matahachi’s mother and fiancée of his decision.
I’m not quite sure what I was looking for in this first volume, but I felt ambivalent through most of it. Takezo’s journey doesn’t have to auspicious a start. He somehow survives the battle at Sekigahara, including nearly being trampled by several horsemen. He fights off Refuge hunters and a band of thieves, ends up being deserted by Matahachi and betrayed by that Matahachi’s mother when he goes to tell her what has become of Matahachi. The Hon’iden family are jerks. He seems to have a way with the ladies, even if he doesn’t seem interested. Both Oko and her daughter Akemi seem to like Takezo more than Matahachi, and when pressed by Matahachi’s mother, Otsu, Matahachi’s fiancée, couldn’t agree with her that she hates Takezo.
The one thing he does know is how to fight. With either a sword or a stick and some rocks, no one who tries to kill Takezo seems to come out of it alive. He takes on practically the whole Tsujikage gang alone, as Matahachi proves to be more of a lover than a fighter. There are several pages that run black from all the blood and severed body parts. This is very much not a story for the faint of heart. Inoue has no problems with showing every graphic detail. I don’t really have a problem with the realism, it just doesn’t appeal to me personally. I read to escape the real world, not to relive it.
One thing I did enjoy was Takezo’s character design. He is very much the brash older teen with wild hair, and piercing eyes that make one think twice about taking him on. I really didn’t care for the look of most of the other characters, but their designs matched their personalities, which should tell you how I felt about a lot of them. Matahachi lacks the look of confidence he thinks he has after making his first kill, and Granny Hon’iden is as ugly on the inside as the outside. All of the characters are drawn realistically, but still seem just off enough to not feel real.
For a historical drama, Vagabond hits all the right marks. It’s gritty and realistic look does make it feel like the 15th Century Japan. The action hits hard and fast, and the drama feels as real as it looks. But in the end, it’s just not a series that interests me. while I like Takezo, the rest of the characters and the story didn’t engage me. This is how I felt when I first read the preview chapter, and now having read a whole volume, I can say nothing much has changed. If you enjoy this kind of story though, I would highly recommend it.
As I looked through my piles of manga, I realized I had more unread Viz Signature titles than I thought. I actually have more, but these were single volumes and made for quick enough reads that I could get them in. While they are two different titles in tone, they do not differ very much when it comes to my reactions to them. I am a sci-fi fan, but can I be a fan of these two titles? Read on to find out.
In a city so dismal it’s known only as “the Hole,” a clan of Sorcerers have been plucking people off the streets to use as guinea pigs for atrocious ‘experiments” in the black arts. In a dark alley, Nikaido found Caiman, a man with a reptile head and a bad case of amnesia. To undo the spell, they’re hunting and killing the Sorcerers in the Hole, hoping that eventually they’ll kill the right one. But when En, the head Sorcerer, gets word of a lizard-man slaughtering his people, he sends a crew of “cleaners” into the Hole, igniting a war between the two worlds.
I discovered Dorohedoro through the Sigikki.com site. I’m so glad it was put up there, because, based on the volume description, I would have completely bypassed this series, and that would have been a serious crime. While this volume does have violence and some gore, it also introduces some of the best characters I’ve read about in a long time.
The volume description makes Dorohedoro sound like a serious battle title, with Caiman and Nikaido hunting down and killing sorcerers and En and his sorcerers fighting back. It sounds like a slaughter fest, but that description is misleading. Caiman is searching for the sorcerer who changed him and killing any he finds. And En does call his best cleaners, Shin and Noi to put them on Caiman and Nikaido’s trail, but that’s all that’s happened so far. This volume is more about introducing the world, the characters, and what they are capable of in a fight.
Of course, even if this title had more fighting, it still would be meaningless unless it had a good cast of characters, and Dorohedoro has them in abundance! I loved Caiman from the first page. The volume starts with a sorcerer’s head in Caiman’s mouth. It’s a pretty dramatic way to introduce him, but it’s soon shown Caiman isn’t all about the drama. Unlike so many shonen characters seen nowadays, Caiman isn’t dark or depressed about his situation. He makes the best he can of it and keeps a good attitude. He also has a healthy appetite, so it’s a good thing Nikaido runs a restaurant. She’s not only Caiman’s meal ticket, she’s his friend and partner. While Caiman is the excitable type, Nikaido is more calm and cool. She keeps her head in any situation, and is capable of taking care of herself. They make a good team.
Even the bad guys in this series are likable. Fujita, the partner of the sorcerer who is first seen getting Caiman’s treatment is a lackey to En, the head sorcerer. Like all henchmen, he’s a bit of a bumbler and has bad luck. He tries to do his best, and you can help but feel sorry for him. He really looks up to Shin and Noi, En’s top cleaners. They are the efficient killers you expect them to be, but under their masks, look and act normal. I really enjoyed watching them at their dinner with En. Trying to read the menu, and looking for the expensive items since their boss was paying not only make them more human, but also entertaining.
What I really enjoy about Dorohedoro is the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While we do see Caiman and Nikaido continue the search for one specific sorcerer, just as much of the book shows them at work, and taking it easy. It isn’t just about the fighting, it’s about all aspects of the characters lives, and for me, that differentiates it from so many of the other titles out there. Dorohedoro deserves its mature rating with graphic fights that send body parts and internal organs flying, and a bit of swearing, but if you can get past those two things, you will be rewarded. I’ve enjoyed this volume even after multiple reads, and look forward to reading more.