Tag Archives: MMF

21st Century Boys Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

War is over. The Friend is dead. Mankind no longer faces the threat of extinction. Peace has finally come to Tokyo…Or has it? The mystery still remains. Nobody knows who the Friend was and where he came from. The only clue is hidden deep within the memories–the memories of the hero Kenji. It is time to open Pandora’s Box and discover what is left at the bottom.

21st Century Boys 1By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
ISBN: 978-1421543260
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

21st Century Boys picks up right where 20th Century Boys volume 22 left off, even replaying scenes from the end of that volume. This volume is not a sequel, but a direct continuation of the story left unfinished in 20th Century Boys. The story turns to trying to discover the true identity of new Friend, and stopping the one last threat to mankind that Friend left behind.

After Friend and his super-duper virus is stopped by Otcho and one of Friend’s former followers, Tamura Masao, and the childhood friends are reunited, the fallout from Friend’s death begins. Japan is taken over by UN forces in an occupation that looks a lot like the one after World War II.  UN Forces want to know who Friend was, but despite Friend’s death declaration that Kenji knows, he really doesn’t. So Kenji volunteers to go into the virtual attraction to navigate his childhood and find his true identity. In the meantime, it is discovered that one more threat was left by Friend at the Expo, in the Tower of the Sun; an anti-proton bomb.

This volume sort of redeems the disappointment I felt at the end of 20th Century Boys, since it continues the story left unresolved in the last series. I really don’t see a reason to end 20th Century and continue it as 21st Century, since nothing is really different between the two. It has the same characters, doing the same things, and it ran in the same magazine in Japan. So what was the point? Anyway, the story returns to 1971 to an incident at Jijibaba’s that is seen in the previous series and is played out to it fullest in this volume. I’m not sure if it to be believed, since we don’t know exactly whose memory it is, and with Friend’s mental state, I find him an unreliable narrator. So, I’m not sure if it is a scene to be believed or not. I enjoyed Urasawa’s twists before, but after so many in the previous series, I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt anymore. He need to earn my respect back.

Detective Chono finally shows what he is made of. After being so weak in the last series, he steps up as a leader in the police department in the occupation and really grills Yamazaki, a man who was like an uncle to him, and who killed his beloved grandfather. I found Yamazaki’s reason for joining the Friends kind of sad and shallow. If he was really that much of a friend to Cho-san, he should have known the respect the man felt for him, and not fallen victim to the petty jealousy he ended up using as an excuse to follow Friend. Cho-san’s greatness is revealed in this volume as well, though, in a classic thriller move, we only see Yamazaki’s reaction to Cho-san’s revelation in his notebook about the “Friend Behind Friend.”

It was hinted at all through the previous series, but this volume also reveals some of the romantic feelings Kenji and Yujiki felt for each other, but could never admit. It started when they were children, after the incident with Yanbo and Mabo, where Yujiki started to see Kenji as her White Knight. Kenji obvious had feelings for her as he wanted to ask her out, and Yujiki tried to see Kenji after one of his concerts but got shut out by fans. It’s their familiarity with each other that seems to keep them from taking that step to admit their feelings. I really hope that happens finally. They really need to be happy and together.

Even though this called 21st Century Boys volume 1, it is really 20th Century Boys volume 23, but it really doesn’t feel like a penultimate volume. It feels more like the start of a new arc. But with only one volume, 8 chapters left, it can’t be. This series really needs to get a final wrap, and give every one an ending, happy or not. Though I would prefer a happy one if at all possible. Right now, all I want is a resolution, and I am really hoping that the events in this volume lead to just that.

 

20th Century Boys Volume 1-22: Manga Movable Feast

In 1969 a group of boys built a secret base out of dried grass in a field. There, they came up with a story about an evil empire and the heroes that would stop them. They wrote in a notebook called The Book of Prophesy. 27 years later, events in the book start to come true. In 1999, the boys, led by Kenji Endou, have come together to try to stop the evil empire led by “Friend”, and their battle comes to a head on New Years Eve.
Fifteen years later, in 2014, the battle with Friend begins again, with a “New Book of Prophecy”, this time led by Kenji’s niece Kanna. Jump ahead again 3 years to the Era of Friend 3 and it’s like 1971. The battle is taken up one last time.

20thCenBoys1By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

I started reading 20th Century Boys when it first came out and followed it for the first 5 volumes. My first review of the series wasn’t very favorable. I found all the time jumping in them to be confusing and difficult to follow. After 4 years and a little more experience with time jumping stories, I decided to give the series another try. I had liked random volumes that I tried after the first 5, and I thought it deserved another chance. After reading the entire series over a week, I have to come to the conclusion that my original feelings about the series weren’t wrong, just my reasoning behind them.

20th Century Boys 5The first 5 volumes of this series is all about setting up the series and introducing all the characters, even if their importance isn’t immediately made clear. It starts with Kenji Endou. He owns a convenience store that was originally his family’s liquor store. He lives with his mother and is raising his sister’s daughter, Kanna. He wanted to be a musician, but just couldn’t make it. A few of his friends did as he did, and took over the family business. Maruo runs a fancy goods shop, and is married with kids. Keroyon runs a soba shop and is just getting married. He, Maruo and Kenji are in the same neighborhood. Yoshitsune is a mousey salary man who kept in touch with Kenji.  Yukiji is the only girl in the group. She was the strongest girl in school, often taking the twin bullies Yanbo and Mabo. She is a customs officer working with a drug dog. Mon-chan is also a salary man who has been working overseas. Donkey was a poor boy growing up, but became a High School science teacher. It is his death that brings everyone together, and starts Kenji on his search for who or what “Friend” is. The final fiend, Otcho doesn’t appear until volume 4, where a personal tragedy changed him from fast-rising salary man to an enforcer called Shogun in Thailand.

20th Century Boys 7The time jumping is the worst in these first 5 volumes, as so much in past has to be shown and explained to set up where the bulk of the story occurs, 2014. The childhood friends are shown playing together and creating their Book of Prophesy in 1969, and then rediscovering it in 1997, as memories become clues and decide to fight back against the one that took their symbol, the hand with a raised finger with an eye, Friend. Friend’s face is forever hidden either by shadows or a mask. Though clues are dropped in the past that make it clear it was someone who knew Kenji and his friends. Everyone comes together in 1999 to try to stop Friend from spreading a deadly virus, but Friend always seems to be one step ahead of them, and has spies everywhere. He hasn’t been idle either, as he turned his religious cult into a political organization and part of the government.

We don’t learn the events of the last night of the millennium for several volumes as the story jumps to 2014, where the Friend party rules Japan with an iron fist that seems like a glove. A new cast of characters are introduced to interact with the surviving childhood friends. Kanna is now 17, working part-time at a noodle shop. Yujiki is her guardian, and Otcho was captured and sent to prison. Slowly, over the next 10 volumes, we learn the fates of the other friends, and of Friend’s next phase of the his plan, to become President of the World. But Kanna and the rest try their best to stop him again. Things we only got glimpses of in the past get fleshed out, especially in the distant past of 1969-71. From other characters with different perspectives, things become more clear, until by volume 15, Friend is revealed. Things don’t go as he planned though, and his death, which should have been the end, is only the beginning of a new chapter, as Friend seems to return from the dead.

20th Century Boys 13The final volumes take place three years later, in the Year of Friend 3. Kenji, who was believed to be dead, returns, shaggy and with a guitar on his back. He is always playing a song, that soon grows in popularity as people hear it, and is played on the radio. The new Friend has walled of Tokyo after another deadly virus races across the world. Inside the walls, he rebuilds Tokyo to look as it did in 1971. He intends to wipe out mankind once and for all with a final virus, sent by aliens. He is clearly insane. Kenji, armed with his song, leads the people outside the wall against their oppressors, while Kanna, Yoshitsune and Otcho try to find a way to save the people inside the wall. The series endings isn’t really an ending at all. Nothing is really resolved, and while Friend is seemingly defeated, it can’t just be the end.

I was with 20th Century Boys until around volume 15. I got over the difficulty of the time jumping in the first 5 volumes, and was with it through to the reveal of Friend. The clues were there, and I started to have a feeling to who it was around volume 10 or 11. Urasawa did a good job laying everything out, and revealing of things through different perspectives was well done. The twists that were revealed had good groundwork laid out for them, so when they came,it was more of a “a-ha!” moments than a “WTF?” It was frustrating to see Friend constantly being at least 2-3 steps ahead of Kenji and Kanna, and that his predictions always seemed to come true. But with the number of people he was surrounded by, and the conviction in with they believed in him, it was too hard to believe.

20th Century Boys 18I had a harder time swallowing that the man who was Friend would have been able to convince so many people to follow him. He just didn’t seem all that charismatic. I also find his total control of Japan, and respect gained around the world just from being the hero of “Bloody New Years” just as hard to swallow. No one is revered for that long. Even the Pope has his critics. I find it hard to believe that both Japan and the world would just lay down and let him, a man who doesn’t show his face to anyone but a select few, take over. Friend is the kind of villain I have come to despise recently; one that can always get away from the good guys. Always smarter, always well ahead of them. There is nothing inspiring or great about seeing the good guys lose again and again. It just makes one frustrated and angry, and finally the story not enjoyable.

That’s about how I felt as the story went into its ending arc. I was tired of all of Friend’s taunts. The “a-has!” had become “not agains”. As the background of the new Friend was starting to be revealed, it appears that he may have been seen in the previous flashbacks, but could be confused with another character since they both wore the same mask. This goes from “cleverly laying things out” to “cheap trick” in my book real fast. It was even more frustrating as I realized even though the end of the last volume was fast approaching, the end of the story wasn’t. The end just made me go “But, what about–” with a long list of strings left untied including who new Friend was and what happened between Yukiji and the psycho woman Takasu. Nothing felt resolved, and I kind felt cheated for giving this title over a week of my time to read it.

20th Century Boys 22The series wasn’t all bad. I really enjoyed everything with Otcho; his back story, his badass-ery. He was awesome in everything he did. I would have liked to have seen more of Kanna’s mother, Kiriki, sooner. We only get glimpses of her that imply she’s in with Friend, but her past is finally revealed in the last few volumes that proves that wrong. I also liked the manga artists Kakuta, Kaneko, and Ujiki. Their resemblance to Tezuka and the manga artists living in an apartment building in the 60s was great. Mon-chan didn’t get a lot of time in the series, but he proved himself before he was killed. Yoshitsune really stepped in the 14 years since the first attack, keeping a resistance alive despite his timidness. The truth behind Haru Namio and how Maruo came to be with him was another well done twist. I love Haru’s transformation with just a pair of sunglasses. Father Yatani, the ganster turned priest was a great character. He had a real presence, unlike Friend.

20th Century Boys is a long but compelling read. Once I had started, I just had to keep going on to the next volume. But as the series wore on, it was less about watching the characters and cheering them on, and more about just finding out who the hell Friend is and who he was to Kenji and his friends. This isn’t a terrible title, but it is a frustrating one. A lot of other people enjoyed it, judging by all the awards it has won. I just wish the story had been more tightly written, and the ending more clearly defined. I’d advise reading this series, only with the warning of the frustrating times to come.

Pluto Volume 1-8: Manga Movable Feast

In an ideal world where man and robot coexist, someone or something has destroyed the powerful Swiss robot Mont Blanc. Elsewhere a key figure in a robot rights group is murdered. The two incidents appear to be unrelated…except for one very conspicuous clue – the bodies of both victims have been fashioned into some sort of bizarre collage complete with makeshift horns placed by the victim’s heads. Interpol assigns robot detective Gesicht to the most strange and complex case – and he eventually discovers that he too, as one of the seven great robots of the world, is one of the targets.

Pluto 1 BigBy Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Sci-fi
ISBN: 9781421519180
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I had read the first two volumes of Pluto back when it came out in 2007, and absolutely loved them. But the time it took for me to collect the rest of the volumes and newer, shinier titles put reading it on the back burner. Thankfully, this month’s Manga Movable Feast gave me a good excuse to finally pull them out and read them. I’m glad I waited until I had the whole series before I read them. Pluto was an addicting and compelling read, and I don’t think I could have handled the wait between volumes.

Pluto 2Pluto is a based on the Tezuka’s Astro Boy story arc “The Greatest Robot on Earth”, a popular story that influenced a lot of people and future manga artists, including Urasawa himself. It isn’t a straight retelling of the original, but instead uses it as the foundation for a story that is multilayered and touches on several themes such as the consequences of war, the relationships between fathers and sons, and how emotions can create a person and shape their actions.

In order to tell this story, a strong cast of characters is needed, and that is exactly what we get. Even though this is based on an Astro Boy story, Astro, or Atom, which is his Japanese name, isn’t the central character. The character that holds the whole story together is Gesicht, who was a minor character in the original story. As a detective, he has the means to search out the clues and put them together to solve the mystery, who is killing the world’s most powerful robots. This story would be good if it was just about that, but Urasawa takes it to another level by adding a personal mystery to Gesicht. Something happened to Gesicht 3 years ago that neither he nor his wife can remember, but snippets come back to him in his dreams or in similar situations. The clues are very ambiguous at first, leaving the reader to think maybe it had something to do with the Central Asian war, but the truth, which isn’t revealed until the end is much more tragic. I did not see it coming, but it was a great twist, because it just made Gesicht that much more sympathetic.

Pluto 3All of the robots we meet in the story are really well-developed, even if we don’t see them when they are alive. The story starts with the death of Swiss robot Mont Blanc, but through the memorial that is built for him, we can see how much he was loved by everyone whose life he touched. North No. 2 of Scotland gets the whole second half of the first volume dedicated to his story. It’s a bittersweet tale of a military robot who only wants to learn to play the piano. He never meets Gesicht or knows of the danger, but he still goes off to face Pluto. His final moments are heartbreaking. Brando is an East European robot that wrestles professionally, and has a large family. He takes on Pluto, transmitting the data to Gesicht and the others, hoping it will help the investigation. Hercules, from Greece, is in some way the opposite, and some way the same as Brando. He is a loner, more of a soldier. But he and Brando have a friendly rivalry in the wrestling ring. Hercules comes the closest to defeating Pluto, but his power isn’t enough. Epsilon is a peace-loving robot from Australia who refused to participate in the Central Asian war, and was called a coward for it. He is very powerful, but with a gentle soul. He proved his convictions though, when he faced Pluto on a rainy day, when he would be at his weakest, to save one of the war orphans he was raising.

Pluto 4Atom, with his sister Uran, faces Pluto fairly early, and is believed to be dead by the world, but is physically repaired by his creator, Professor Tenma. He does not regain consciousness however, until the final volume. While Tenma abandoned Atom for not being enough like his deceased son, he couldn’t let him die either. Their relationship is just one of the many between fathers and sons that is seen throughout the series. Sahad, the robot son of Professor Abullah, the scientist from the Persian Monarchy, becomes the instrument for his father’s demand for revenge as Pluto. Even though he is a peaceful soul, he does as his father asks and destroys the 5 of the 7 robots. Adolf Haas, the younger brother of a robot killer, and himself a member of a robot-hating group that tries to kill discredit and kill Gesicht, hated robots because of one arresting their father, and ultimately losing him because of it. The love between a child and parent is shown to be a powerful thing. When one is lost, it can lead to even more powerful emotions; sadness, grief and hatred.

Pluto 5This capacity for hatred becomes an important element in the story, as it motivates so many of the characters either directly or indirectly. Tenma believed a strong emotional bias was needed to awaken an AI that can’t regain consciousness. Each time he did it, he used hate. This emotional bias not only awakens the AI, but also brings the AI closer to being human. They gain the capacity to lie, not just to others, but to themselves as well. They formulate the equation for an Anti-Proton bomb, a weapon of mass destruction. I thought it was sad that of the power emotions Urasawa could choose from, he chose hate to be the pivotal one. It’s like he’s saying to the way to becoming human is to be able to hate.

Pluto 6There is a strong anti-war theme through this book as well. The Central Asian War was fight by robots, but even their AI, advanced or not, was affected by it. North No. 2 is seen to be having nightmares from his time on the battlefield. Hercules told a story of one robot he worked with who was constantly washing his hands, an allusion to Lady MacBeth trying to wash the blood off of her own hands. There are also not so subtle finger-pointing at America. The Central Asian War has a lot of parallels to the Iraq war. The Central Asian War was started at the urgings of one country, the United States of Thracia, claiming weapons of mass destruction were being created despite little evident being found to support it. The leader of the Central Asian Monarchy also looks more than a little like Saddam Hussein. The theme isn’t overpowering, but it is always there, lingering in the background.

Pluto 7Pluto is one of the best manga I have ever read. It is short comparatively at only 8 volumes, and tells a complete and compelling story. It is very tightly written, with few if any extraneous scenes. It has a lot of the twists the Urasawa is known for. He sets them up well, and executes them perfectly. I loved the epilogue at the end. Brau 1589, the first robot to kill a human plays an important role throughout the series, always taunting, seeming to already know everything, but at the end, showing something other than ridicule. I also really enjoyed how the robots were portrayed. It didn’t matter if they looked human or like a robot from the 50s-60s, they were all full-fledged characters. From the wife of the patrol bot Robbie, to Gesicht’s wife to the robot boy Ali Gesicht met in Persia, how they looked didn’t make a different to how you felt about them as a character.

Pluto 8The art for this series is great. It is definitely Urasawa’s work, but Tezuka’s designs are all there. Atom with his hair sticking out like points. The broad face and large nose of Professor Ochanomizu, and the lanky body of Professor Tenma. You can see Tezuka’s hand in their designs, but with just enough of Urasawa’s more realistic touch to make them his own.

If you want to try out a Naoki Urasawa title, then Pluto is the best place to start. It’s length makes it a quick read, and it’s content will keep you glued to the pages until the end. The ending itself has that sense of finality that leaves you satisfied , although that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to revisit any and all these characters again. Do yourself a favor and read this series. You will not be disappointed.

Giving Thanks: Manga Movable Feast

While I usually do reviews for the Manga Movable Feasts, this month’s topic, manga we are thankful for, definitely calls for something more. It was hard to try to think of a particular manga I was thankful for reading. I wasn’t really introduced to manga. I was already reading coming in Jr. High, and was introduced to anime fandom in high school, and US floppy comics editions of manga came with that. I bought my first Japanese manga, Dragon Ball, after seeing my boyfriend’s (now husband) collection. I didn’t buy my first US manga Dragon Knights, until 2003, and that was while looking around at our local comic shop. So I guess the first one I am thankful for is Comic Quest, who always had, and still does have, a good selection of manga. It was through them that I was able to start my manga collection and make it grow. We didn’t have a Borders or Barnes and Noble nearby at the time, so for several years, this was my only source of manga.

I am thankful to Viz for not just bringing out all the popular Shonen Jump titles, but also for their monthly magazines Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat. Both magazines introduced me to titles I might not have picked up and tried otherwise, especially Shojo Beat. At the time, I looked down on shojo manga as being girly and needlessly melodramatic. Shojo Beat showed me how wrong I was, and how great some of these manga can be. Nana and Godchild are the titles that turned me around. Now, shojo manga probably makes over half my collection, where before it was dominated with shonen.

I have to be thankful to Tokyopop and CMX for showing that Shueisha and Shogakukan weren’t the only publishers to put out good manga. Tokyopop brought out lots of great Kodansha titles such as Fruits Basket, Case Files of Young Kindaichi, and Sailor Moon. They are also responsible introducing CLAMP to the US, and dabbled in non-Japanese manga such as manhwa from Korea and their branded OEL manga from American creators. CMX for all it’s faults at the beginning, brought us some great shojo manga such as King of Cards, My Darling, Miss Bancho and Stolen Heats. The last two titles were never completed which leads me to my next things to be thankful for.

License rescues can be risky business, but for us fans that don’t get to see our favorite titles completed, they are something we are very thankful for. It’s a wonderful thing whenever a publisher announces the return of a series from a publisher that went belly up, because it means a book that went out of print becomes available again, can get a new translation, and may very well be completed! This isn’t always the case, such as Aria with Tokyopop, but we did get more than ADV Manga released, and that is better than nothing. While Yen Press and Viz has done some amazing license rescues lately, Jmanga has to get the biggest pat on the back with rescuing titles from CMX, Tokyopop and Kodansha! Being able to read more tactics and Fairy Navigator Runa is just awesome.

I’m thankful that publishers have come to realize that there are older readers who want something more sophisticated than what a shojo or shonen manga can provide. Tokyopop short forays into josei manga such as Suppli, and the whole Viz Signature line with includes both josei and seinen manga such as Dorohedoro and Ooku: The Inner Chamber have been great for us readers who want mature to mean something more than sexually graphic.

Lastly, I’m thankful to the manga blogging community who helped either directly or indirectly in creating this blog so I could write this post. Brigid Alverson and her Manga Blog that introduced me to the manga blogging community and got me my first reviewing gig, and Craig Johnson of Manga Life/Comics Village for giving me the opportunity. Thanks to John Thomas, Dan Polly, Charles Tan, Katherine Farmar, and Justin Colussy-Estes for writing for Comics Village/Manga Village, and to Alex Hoffman and Amy Groki for continuing to do so. Thanks to everyone who gave words of encouragement and advice, and who even just read my blog. I wouldn’t be here without any of you.

 

Chibi Vampire: Airmail and Bites

Chibi Vampire is a title I ended up really enjoying. So, after finishing the series, I picked up the two spin-off volumes that came out after the title finished publication here in the US; Airmail and Bites. While both return you to the world of Karin and her family and friends, they do have their ups and downs.

Continue reading Chibi Vampire: Airmail and Bites

Dracula Everlasting Volume 2: Manga Movable Feast

Nicholas Harker discovered he is heir to the legacy of an ancestor he never knew he had: Dracula. Under his progenitor’s evil influence, Nicholas has begun, with a vast fortune at his disposal, to rebuild Castle Dracula in the outskirts of Boston, leaving behind a wake of corpses. While the love of Jill Hawthorne seems to be the only thing that weakens Dracula’s hold over Nicholas, Mason Renfield realizes he must remove her from the picture, in order to usher in the full reemergence of his dark lord. But Jill’s new friend, the fiery wiccan Cate, has plans of her own—to destroy Nicholas and avenge her mother’s death.

Story by Nunzio De Filippis & Christina Weir; Art by Rhea Silvan
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

After reading volume 1 of Dracula Everlasting, I had some doubts about the series. I was under the impression that Nick was to be the protagonist, but this volume proves that isn’t the case. Cate and to some extent Jill are the ones to really move the story. While I do like good, strong female characters, as Cate and Jill are portrayed, I imagined a different story in my head. It’s not that this story is bad. It’s just not what I expected.

Cate, who was introduced half way through volume one, takes the initiative in this volume. She does the research and the footwork to put together an arsenal of holy water, silver bullets and stakes to use against Dracula. She also finds the Van Helsing who will be needed to defeat the vampire. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise who is it. Sadly she discovers this too late for Detective McAllister, who was her initial candidate. His spirit is still around, whether because of magic or his unsolved murder is unknown, but I do hope he comes in handy later. It’s too bad he’s gone. He and Cate make a cute couple.

The one person who isn’t much help is Jill. She knows something is up with Nick, but doesn’t do anything about it. She lets him kiss her, and then lets him push her away. Nick is stupid to use Jill as he does with just getting a touch from her and then bailing, but Jill should have been more assertive with him. He’s obviously easily dominated. When Cate mentions her mother was killed by Dracula/Nick, Jill asks which victim she was without batting an eye. I’m glad Cate calls her on it, but she doesn’t have a good response. I thought she was smart, but she falls too easily for Mason’s advances. Again, it’s Cate who has to verbally smack her to get her to wake up. I get that she doesn’t believe Cate about her connection to the whole Dracula thing, but I really didn’t like that it took killing her mother for her to finally accept it.

The middle volume in a three-volume series is usually the weakest, as it has to either keep the status quo, or be the dark before the dawn. This volume is the latter, but I enjoyed this one more than the first. Now that I realize that Nick is not the main character, but that the girls Jill and Cate are, the story makes more sense. It’s nice to have a “Prince in distress” for a change. Though, I think the story I originally thought this would be, the internal struggle between Nick and Dracula, would still be interesting, if Nick had the will power. Another plus was that there were only a few scenes with the Renfields, which also included a possible foreshadowing of some just desserts for Mason.

I did like this second volume of Dracula Everlasting, but Cate was its saving grace. Without her, this would have been very dull with Jill doing nothing and Nick being the Prince of Darkness, asking why it’s so important to dispose of a body, and shaking an old man fist at the cell phone. The lack of vampire action was a little disappointing too. There was only one on-screen kill, and the battle at the end. I’m gonna stick around to see the end of this series. I want to see the girls take out Dracula and find out if they can save the (cute) boy.

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Blood Alone Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

For recently turned vampire Minato Misaki, vampirism and the beastly powers that come with it are something that she wouldn’t wish upon her worst enemy, let alone her beloved Kuroe. But Kuroe’s supernatural investigations make him a regular target of not only vampires but of all sorts of undead creatures of the night. The only way to save him from these deadly threats may be to do the one thing that Misaki fears the most: to turn Kuroe into a vampire for his own protection.

By Masayuki Takano
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Vampires/Horror
Price: $15.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve had this volume in my review pile for a while, and kept meaning to read it. I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and after reading a review of it for the Manga Movable Feast I hosted last year, I was really interested, but I am easily distracted, and it was soon buried by the growing review pile. With this month’s MMF being about vampires, it seemed the perfect time to dig it out. And I’m really glad I did. Blood Alone isn’t the typical vampire series with a lot of angst and melodrama. Instead, it is populated with rich, interesting characters and a story that is a mix of slice of life and murder mystery with a sprinkling of vampires.

Blood Alone revolves around Kuroe, a former Vampire Hunter and Misaki, a young vampire girl. It might seem like an odd pairing, until you get to know them. As the story begins, we don’t know how long they’ve been together, but it’s obviously been a while, as they are comfortable with each other and have a set routine. Masaki isn’t a vampire who just looks like a 10 to 12-year-old girl, she actually is still a tween. She doesn’t like to sleep alone, is afraid of thunder, and can be melodramatic. She has a big time crush on Kuroe, and is quick to get jealous when any other women speak to him. She is sweet and innocent in a charming kind of way. She doesn’t like being a vampire and hates having to drink blood. She doesn’t know much about her new abilities, so it’s cute when she tries them on Kuroe for the first time.

Kuroe appears rather laid back. He is a writer, but to cover bills between books he also works as a private investigator, taking jobs as varied as finding a lost cat to being a bodyguard. He appears unassuming, but he’s actually a well-trained fighter and seems to have quite a reputation in the vampire community. He is absolutely devoted to Masaki, often worrying about her when she goes off on her own, and trying to give her time alone with him. His feeling for her however are much more of a brotherly kind. Kuroe doesn’t appear to have an interest in anyone romantically. He was infatuated with his older sister, who was taken by a vampire several years earlier, and is probably the reason he became a Vampire Hunter. He does have a special ability that he earned while trying to save his sister. His eyes were wounded by the vampire, and now he can see when something is trying to be something it isn’t. And he’s immune to vampire tricks. A rather useful trait for a vampire hunter.

Assisting Kuroe and Masaki is an interesting supporting cast. Sayaka Sainome is a long time friend of Kuroe’s who is the head of a police forensics department. She often asks Kuroe for help in cases where the supernatural might be involved. She is also Masaki’s potentially biggest rival for Kuroe’s attention. Higure is an elder vampire who looks like a boy, but is really very old. He controls the vampire territory where Kuroe and Misaki live, helping Misaki learn about her vampiric powers and tolerating Kuroe. Sly is an underworld figure who is a friend of both Kuroe and Misaki who also happens to be a vampire. He helps them out with information. His partner is a cat named Larry. While it doesn’t seem right to call any cat “owned” by a human, it seems especially inappropriate for Larry.

The stories range from slice of life stories, such as Misaki’s humming inspiring a down and out musician to write again, to murder mysteries, with Sayaka and Kuroe hunting down a serial killer’s soul, to action with Kuroe fighting a vampire guild of assassins. The mix of stories keeps the series from getting boring or bogged down, as it never spends too much time on any vampire angst. The side characters get some attention too. Sayaka gets a story to work out issues she had with her deceased father. What I really enjoyed about this omnibus, was how easy it was to get lost in volume. At three volumes it was the perfect length, and the kinds of stories covered made for a perfect introduction to the characters and the world. The art is beautifully rendered as well. The characters never get too silly looking. All of their emotions are handled realistically, without being too realistic.

Blood Alone is exactly the kind of vampire title I’ve been looking for. It has a strong and varied range of characters and stories to suit. It has its own vampire mythos that doesn’t stray far from established canon, and doesn’t dwell on the angst of being a vampire. It acknowledges it without letting it overwhelm the story. This is a great title for readers who want more from their vampires than just killing things or moping. I highly recommend it.

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Otomen Volume 1-5: Manga Movable Feast

Asuka Masamune enjoys the girly things in life, such as sewing and cooking. But due to a traumatic event that happened with his father when he was young, he can’t ever let his mother know about this side of himself. In fact, he thinks he can’t let anyone know, and so he plays the part of a stoic manly man, excelling in kendo and reading Bushido. But there is one person in his class who does know about the real Asuka; Juta Tachibana. He is a mangaka, and has created a popular series using Asuka as the model for his female lead. In order to further his manga, he encourages Asuka get closer to Ryo, a new girl at their school that Asuka has fallen for. As his relationship with Ryo slowly develops, Asuka meets other otomen and learns he isn’t alone.

By Aya Kanno
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

When Otomen first came out, I wasn’t impressed by the premise or the preview that ran in Shojo Beat at the time. I also didn’t care for Kanno’s previous title Blank Slate, so I didn’t have a lot of hope for this new one. A podcast review convinced me to re-evaluate and give the series a try. I’m glad I did. Otomen is cute and funny, and is more comedy than romance.

What really makes Otomen is the characters. When Asuka is first introduced, he looks the part of the manly man. Strong and silent, dressed in this kendo robes, he looks like he could have stepped out of a shonen manga. And then he starts to fall for Ryo, and his true self comes out. I love the scene with him after going on a “girly” spending spree and bringing home all kinds of crafty things and shojo manga. His despair over this is made more funny when he puts together a stuffed bear without really realizing his was doing it! I really enjoy the role reversal that Kanno has created with Asuka. He is very much the shojo lead, as all his inner thoughts and turmoil are shared with the reader. He even blushes a lot like most shojo leads. I really love Asuka’s dichotomy of still being a man while having all of these traditionally female hobbies. If only more men could be like him.

Surrounding Asuka is quite a cast of characters. Ryo, his love interest, complements him well. She can’t cook, or clean, and is hopeless at sewing and crafts. She has a masculine outlook, and though she says she prefers manly men, she doesn’t mind his feminine ways. She often takes the traditional male role such as being the brave one in a haunted house, or riding in on a white horse to rescue him from an arranged marriage. Juta Tachibana is a bit of a playboy, and has been orchestrating a lot of Asuka and Ryo’s relationship for the sake of his shojo manga, “Love Chick.” He will go to any length to get good material for his manga, including playing a rival for Ryo’s affections, breaking and entering Asuka’s potential bride, and staying outside the old school building in a blizzard so Asuka and Ryo can be alone in a romantic Christmas moment. He is also adament about not letting his real identity get out, and is even willing to dress up as a woman to keep it secret. I think in a lot of ways, Juta is the first fellow Otoman that Asuka meets.

And there are more otomen out there. Asuka’s self-proclaimed kendo rival, Hajime Tonomine turns out to have a secret passion for makeup and giving women makeovers. They end up working together when they are asked to help out at a women’s event and don the costumes of members of the Harakiri Ronin Samurai Five, and then volunteer to give a makeover when the artist gets stuck in traffic. I love when manga references Tokusatsu shows, so I really enjoyed this chapter in volume 3, and was thrilled when they made a come back in volume 5. Then there’s Kitora Kurokawa, who loves flowers too much. He is very tall and since he doesn’t talk much is seen by the other girls as mysterious. His weakness is wanting to cover beautiful things in flowers, which includes Ryo, Asuka, Hajime and even Juta.

The story starts out focusing on Asuka and Ryo and Juta using them for his manga, but then shifts toward more with discovering more otomen. I’m glad the story did start to shift, because Asuka and Ryo’s relationship really wasn’t going anywhere by volume 3, so it really needed something more. But I did start to miss hearing about developments for Love Chick, and really enjoyed the chapter in volume 5 where Juta has to accept an award, and has to come up with a way to do with revealing he’s really a man as his editor wants, and he’s rescued by his idol mangaka. Kanno also does a good job of balancing Asuka’s two sides, the masculine and feminine. He can be really cute sometimes when he blushing, and others thinking he’ll make a good wife. But he’s still a man and it still comes through when he leaps to action to save Ryo from a bull, a bomb, or a little boy from falling out a window. Asuka is the ideal man.

Otomen is a great series, filled a lot of great characters and funny situations. It’s romantic comedy at its best, because it is so unconventional in its material. I look forward to reading more about Asuka, Ryo, Juta and the rest of the otomen. And since this title is available on Viz’s manga site, I can just right back in where I left off without overloading the bookshelf. If you want some light, fun reading, definitely pick this title up.

Wanted: Manga Movable Feast-Arrr!

Arr, it be that time o’ year again. Aye matey, it be Talk Like o’ Pirate Day! To shiver yer timbers, I be reviewin’ a pirate manga that also be fittin’ in ta da Movable Manga Feast this month. So grab yerself a bottle o’ rum ‘n find out about Wanted Arrrr…

In the Mediterranean at the end of the 17th century, former songstress Armeria disguises herself as a boy and boards the ship of the pirate Skulls–the man who kidnapped Luce, her first love. Captain Skulls is arrogant, violent, and a skirt chaser! And unfortunately for Armeria, he discovers she’s a woman…

By Matsuri Hino
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $8.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

My introduction to Hino’s work was through the serialization of her most current title Vampire Knight in Shojo Beat. I really didn’t care for it, so when this volume came out, I had little interest in it. But, curiosity got the better of me, and I picked it up. I am slightly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, but it is about as different from Vampire Knight as night is to day.

The thing I disliked most about Vampire Knight is the way drama oozed from every pore of every character. The characters in Wanted are the exact opposite. Armeria doesn’t just sit around bemoaning her loss or wait for Luce to come for her. She take the initiative, disguising herself as a man and joins different ships searching for the pirates that kidnapped him eight years ago. Armeria is spunky and headstrong. She is determined to remain on the ship with Skulls until she finds Luce, and she doesn’t let his barbs get her down.

Skulls, the pirate captain, tries to come off as a scoundrel and a ladies man, but he is essentially a good person. He saves Armeria several times, and only robs from nobles who take advantage of the people and then give the wealth back to them. He is like a pirate Robin Hood and his crew are his Merry Men. And it’s a motley crew of merry men at that. They are never formally introduced, but there are a few that are featured in the chapters. His first mate, Second, is a big, shirtless, bald black man who knows his captain all too well. Doc is an older man who like the father figure of the crew, and Fourth and Fifth, crewmen skilled in sailing and swordsmanship. The names aren’t very original, but they are all fun none the less.

There are three chapters about Armeria and Skulls, and a bonus chapter that takes place in Meiji Japan. I really enjoyed the pirate chapters. They were light and fun. There is swashbuckling, raiding, cannon fire, battles with the navy, and secret treasure; everything that makes pirate stories fun. I didn’t care so much for the bonus chapter. It has the same feel as the Wanted chapters, but it just didn’t work as well for me. It moved too fast for me to really believe it, though I did kind of like the characters.

The art is very Hino, with the girls having big eyes and the men all being bishonen. And the hair is everywhere. But I was fine with it in this volume. The characters were different and varied enough that it didn’t get on my nerves. It was to have a beard, dreadlocks and even no hair at all!

Wanted is a fun romp for a romantic pirate adventure. I liked the relationship between Arto (Armeria) and Skulls. I love that they are always at odds. Even though Skulls’ identity was pretty obvious, it’s reveal didn’t ruin the story. So matey, if ye be wantin’ some good pirate romance, be pickin’ up Wanted!

St. Dragon Girl Volumes 1-5: Manga Movable Feast

Momoka Sendou (nicknamed “Dragon Girl”) and Ryuga Kou are childhood friends. Momoka is a martial artist, and Ryuga is a Chinese magic master who banishes demons. In order to increase his power, Ryuga calls on the spirit of a dragon to possess him, but the spirit enters Momoka instead. Now the two must unite forces and fight demons together!

By Natsumi Matsumoto
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

St. Dragon Girl is a title that has two things going for it. Dragons and a couple that denies their feelings for each other. While the second thing is a bit of a trope for shojo titles, I can’t help having a soft spot for their kind of relationship; the childhood friends who tease, bait and strike back.

The female lead of this story, Momoka, has a lot of tomboy traits. Her father is the head of a kenpo dojo, so she is constantly practicing, and is even an instructor. She will take on anyone who threatens her friends, spirits and demons, and even teachers! But she has one weakness; pandas. Ever since she received a stuffed panda as gift from Ryuga, she has loved them, and Ryuga as well. Momoka knows how she feels about Ryuga, but doesn’t want to tell him, thinking he’ll tease her and not return her feelings.

Ryuga, the male lead, comes from a family of Chinese magic masters, and is gifted in the arts as well. He is often being asked to tell fortunes, perform prayers or make charms. Where Momoka is more gung-ho and charging into a situation without thinking, Ryuga is the calm, thoughtful one. He is always having to protect his cousin Shuran, a gifted psychic that demons are always coming after. He comes to Momoka’s rescue as well, usually when her thoughtless gets her in over her head. He is constantly teasing Momoka, which can get him a fist or kick to the face, but he can sometimes counter with his spell Paper Army Formation made up of pandas. Ryuga can be serious at times, letting slip little comments that can be interpreted as his having feelings for Momoka too, but he usually denies them, or changes their meaning by the end of the chapter, to keep her from learning the truth; that he really does love her too.

And since they continue to deny their feelings, this leaves rooms for rivals for their affections to step in. Momoka get the most, starting with Ryuga’s cousin Kouryu, who tries to kidnap Momoka and take her back to China. He’s arrogant and egotistical, and I still didn’t like him ever after the explanation of his back story. Touya is another boy who has a crush on Momoka, but turns out to have a deeper secret. He ends up hanging around though, as thorn in Ryuga side. Even Saint Dragon, the dragon possessing Momoka has him moment of infatuation, but it doesn’t last. It doesn’t stop Ryuga from still feeling jealous.

Ryuga has his suitors as well. Raika is a distant relative of Ryuga’s who wants to be his fiance. She ends up being friends with Momoka after she realizes the truth of Ryuga’s feelings for her. Akira is another new member of the Kendo club. She is a Onmyouji, as well as a competitor for Ryuga’s affections, though he doesn’t really acknowledge her beyond being a friend. She likes to use her magic to take over Momoka’s body and make it move to her will.

While I really like the ensemble of characters that have gathered through these five volumes, it’s the mythical creatures that keep appearing that really won me over. I love the dragons, and they are drawn so gorgeously and with such care! There’s also a phoenix that appears that is cute in human form, and beautiful in bird form, and a mermaid and cat demons. The variety of beasts is great and just as entertaining as the characters!

The stories are mostly stand alone at the beginning, and are fairly light. They mostly involve demons coming after Shuran, or school activities such as Kendo club or the school festival. As the series goes on though, it does start to get more serious and move into longer stories lasting more than one chapter, but Ryuga and Momoka’s relationship remains on the teeter-totter of admitting/denying their feelings.

St. Dragon Girl is a fairly light and fun romance. Matsumoto’s artwork is beautiful to look at (especially the dragons), and she uses a lot of great Chinese costuming, making the series another plus in my book. There is next to no drama, and the comedy is well-timed with the more serious moments. I can’t think of a single complaint I have about this series. Even the constant denial of the leads doesn’t bother me, but they have great chemistry, it wouldn’t matter to me if they ever got together or not. While the series is rated for teens, tweens will enjoy this series as well. Definitely read this series if you get the chance.

Gate 7 Volume 1

An innocent sightseeing trip to Kyoto opens up a magical realm to shy high schooler Chikahito Takamoto. Visiting a legendary shrine, Chikahito stumbles into the mystical world of Hana and her comrades–and his immunity to their powers leads them to believe that he’s no ordinary awkward teenager! Protecting our world from violent supernatural creatures, Hana and her team welcome the confused Chikahito–who isn’t quite sure that he wants to be caught in the middle of their war!

By CLAMP
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $10.99

This series is my third attempt to find a CLAMP series I like. The first volume of xxxHolic didn’t thrill me, but I did enjoy the last two volumes of Kobato enough to want to find the rest. Gate 7 is CLAMP’s newest series  and one I thought would have a lot of potential for me. It’s fantasy, the cover is very pretty with flowers and a pheasant, and it takes place in Kyoto. And I might still like it, but while this first volume makes the introductions, I really don’t have any idea what is going on.

Gate 7 starts by introducing Chikahito, a high schooler with an overprotective mother, who has dreamed of going to Kyoto. When he finally convinces his mother to let him go, he stumbles into a battle between a young girl and two men and some supernatural creatures. Chikahito reacts in a most realistic way. He faints. He doesn’t really understand what is going on, and the three don’t explain much either, and try to erase his memories of them, but fail. Three months later, Chikahito is back as a transfer student, thanks to some magic Hana, the young girl, pulled off. He goes to live with Hana and her partners Sakura and Tachibana. We get some history of the Toyotomi clan with a supernatural spin and the volume ends with another battle.

There is a lot said in this first volume of Gate 7, but very little is explained. “Inou” users are introduced, but it isn’t explained what they are, though through two battles it is shown what they do. Oni connected to historical figures and passed down through blood lines is actually a pretty cool concept, but it isn’t connected with the Inou users other than they can see the oni. There was a lot of information thrown out for the reader, and some of it might be interesting enough to be a hook, but it comes off as random, and left me wondering more what was going on rather than what was going to happen next.

I did like the characters. Chikahito’s confusion was not only realistic, it was understandable. I felt as lost as he did, and while relating to a character is good, I don’t think it should be to this degree in this case. His enthusiasm and preconceived notions of Kyoto were fun and cute. Hana is very child-like, and nearly borders on annoying, but fortunately doesn’t cross the line. Hana’s partners Sakura and Tachibana are typical bishonen, with personalities that match their powers. Sakura is light, so he’s more friendly while Tachibana is dark, so he’s more serious.

For now, I’m going to take a “wait and see” stance with Gate 7. I’m going to need at least one, maybe two more volumes before I know for sure how I feel about it. But at least I *want* to read a few more volumes before making a decision, unlike xxxHolic, where I was sure by the end that it didn’t interest me that much. Hopefully things will become more clear in the next volume. There are a lot of questions I want to see answered, though not all of them have to be done immediately. That’s the difference between this title and xxxHolic for me. I want to know more about this world and it’s characters.

Neko Ramen Volume 1

Taisho was a former kitten model, who ran away from home and had a hard life on the streets…until the day he was saved by a kind ramen shop owner who later served as his mentor. Now Taisho takes pride in his noodles…and is easily angered when customers are dissatisfied! So step aside, Soup Nazi – there’s a new cat in town!

Continue reading Neko Ramen Volume 1