Tag Archives: older teen

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Novel

Before the fall, and before the trials of “the Titan’s son” Kyklo, a young smith by the name of Angel Aaltonen grapples with the giants as only a craftsman could… 

Attack on Titan Before the Fall
Attack on Titan Before the Fall novelCreated by Hajime Isayama; Written by Ryo Suzukaze; Art by Thores Shibamoto
Publisher: Veritical, Inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Light Novel/Horror
Price: $10.95
Rating: ★★★★½

I’m usually hesitant about reading spin-off material of a series that doesn’t involve the characters that made me enjoy a series, but Attack on Titan is different. The world that Isayama created is so big and full of questions that spin-offs and prequels are a must for fans craving more. This novel is one of those must haves. It tells the tale of the creation of the 3-D maneuvering gear used by the Survey Corps, at a time when they were little more than “meals on wheels” to the Titans.

Angel Aaltonen is a craftsman living in Shinganshina District. He has two childhood friends, Maria Carlstedt who is in the Garrison and guards the gate of Wall Maria, and Solm, who is in the Survey Corps. Angel works in a workshop that contracts with the military to make weapons to defend the walls from the Titans, giant creatures that by all appearances are unkillable. Angel wants to create weapons to help the Survey Corps and his friend survive their encounters with the Titans, and maybe even find a way to kill them. Given the new materials Iron Bamboo and Iceburst stone, Angel begins developing an idea, but in order to really find its practical applications, he needs to go on an expedition with the Survey Corps, go beyond the walls and face the greatest terror known to Man.

I really liked Angel. He was passionate about both his work and his beliefs that humans should be trying to find a way to defeat the Titans instead of hiding away behind the walls. His motivations run deeper that just freeing humanity. He wants to help his friend Solm, and protect him the only way he knows how; by giving him the tools to kill Titans. His determination is so great that even after seeing a Titan in action, and how unstoppable they are, he still wants to go on an expedition with the Survey Corps, despite the paralyzing fear the Titans inspire in him. He is a man of conviction, who never stops trying, even when it may cost him his life.

I enjoyed watching Angel’s journey to create new, effective equipment for the Survey Corps. He grows with every obstacle to overcome, and there are plenty. Opposition to the government nearly impedes his trip to the Factory City where they learn of the Iceburst stone and first process the iron bamboo. Forces within the government are also pressuring to end the Survey Corps expeditions. When it’s impossible to kill a Titan, why bother? Despite all this, Angel continues to press on, and finds plenty of help along the way from fellow craftsman Xenophon and his assistant Corina. Solm and Maria are his moral support and part of his motivation to keep trying. It is thanks to his perseverance that the Survey Corps not only get their maneuvering equipment, but also find the Titan’s one weak spot, thus preserving hope for humanity.

There were plenty of good scenes in this volume. Having already read the first volume of the manga for the second part, it was neat to see the Titan attack on Shinganshina from another perspective. Watching Angel start to work out the concept of the Equipment was interesting. Angel’s first attempt using the Equipment was funny, though it quickly became serious as he tried to work how the Survey Corps would use it. As part of the Attack on Titan Universe, Before the Fall is also filled with plenty of gory scenes. Titans shoot half-digested heads over the wall of fallen Survey Corps members. People are flattened to pulps of meat, and brains, guts and body parts are strewed everywhere. While these scenes tend to be few and far between, they still leave an impact. Reader discretion is advised.

Fortunately, the illustrations for this volume chose not to portray any of these scenes. Instead we get illustrations of Angel, some with Solm, Maria and even Xenophon. There isn’t one with a Titan, which I am just fine with. Angel’s visage is much more pleasant to look at. Shibamoto’s art is well done while still feeling like it belongs in the Titan Universe. The adaptation is smooth and reads well in English, but that’s a given with Vertical titles.

I wish this first part of Attack on Titan Before the Fall had gotten a manga adaptation like the other two volumes in the series. Angel’s journey is filled with just as much excitement, action, and danger, and really deserved the same treatment. It makes me doubly glad that Vertical gave us this volume so we can at least read it. If you love Attack on Titan, you owe it to yourself to pick up this volume. It’s an important moment in the world’s history, and one that should not be passed up.

Yen Press Adds Another Two Titles

Yen Press has really been piling on the licences lately, both in manga and light novels. One of each was just announced and confirmed in the last couple of weeks.

KarnevalThe one manga was announced on Twitter. Karneval follows the mysterious young boy Nai, who knows nothing but his name and Karoku. With only Karoku’s bracelet from “Circus,” he goes in search of Karoku. He is helped by an older boy Gareki and after an incident, they are recruited by the National Defense Agency Circus. As they travel, searching for Karoku, they meet new people and find new opportunities along the way. A lot of people were excited for this license when it was announced. There was an anime that aired last year, which was streamed and licensed by Funimation. I’m not really seeing anything from the description that excites me, but that’s nothing new. This is a title I will have to wait and see. It is currently 13 volumes and is scheduled for release in March 2015.

So I can't HAdding to their YenOn imprint is So, I Can’t Play H!, a romantic comedy light novel series. This one follows Ryuosuke Kaga, a high school student who is both a hopeless romantic and hopelessly perverted. One day he meets a beautiful girl in the rain and invites her back to his house. He offers her anything she needs; dry clothes, help changing out them…but the girl, Lisara Restole has other plans. She stabs him in the chest. Lisara is a shinigami, and Ryuosuke has thoughtlessly offered his essence to allow her stay int he world, and the part of his she seems interested in taking is his lecherous side. Yeah, can’t say I’m surprised Yen Press got this series. It fits in perfectly with their other heavy male-gaze titles. Which makes it another title I will let pass by. There are currently 11 volumes of this series out, and Yen Press will release the first one in English in April 2015

Say I Love You Volume 1-2

Mei Tachibana has always been a loner. In her 16 years, she has never had a friend or a boyfriend. She doesn’t talk to anyone at school, and is teased mercilessly. All that starts to change when she catches the eye of the popular Yamato, who decides she will be his girlfriend. Mei doesn’t know what to think of Yamato, or if she can trust him, but she does think she might be falling in love with him.

Say I Love You Volume 1-2
Say I Love You 1By Kanae Hazuki
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $10.99USD
Rating: ★★★★½

Say I Love You has the all too familiar premise of the popular boy taking a liking to the most unpopular girl, but this series succeeds with its quirky yet relatable characters and a realistic look at the problems teens face in high school.

Mei Tachibana is a loner. Betrayed by those she thought were her friends in elementary school, Mei turns her back on friends and friendship, and relies on herself. She is strong-willed and speaks her mind when she thinks it’s called for which can get her into scuffles. Her dislike of her fellow students and the cliques they get into makes her the target of bullying, but she suffers them with complaint or even little thought. She doesn’t believe anyone will come if she calls for help, so she never tries.

She meets Yamato when his friend Nakanishi teases her and she roundhouse kicks Yamato instead. This attracts his interest in her and he starts to pursue her. Yamato is popular for both his looks and personality. He is friendly with everyone, but isn’t seeing anyone. He doesn’t like the bullying that goes around at the school, so most of it happens when he’s not around. Mei doubts Yamato a lot at first, especially as she hears the rumors about him, but he keeps trying to prove his sincerity and always comes when she calls for help.

Say I Love You 2Along with Yamato comes new friends for Mei. Asami is a girl with large breasts who hangs around Yamato. He doesn’t tease her or make her feel self-conscious about her breasts, so she really likes him. She and Mei become friends as Mei hangs around more. Yamato’s friend Nakanishi takes a little longer to come around, until Mei helps him get with Asami, who he has had a crush on for a while. Mei’s first real rival is Aiko, a girl Yamato knew in middle school. She used to be overweight, and after a bad breakup asked Yamato to sleep with her and he agreed. Aiko has serious body issues and crush on Yamato, but he doesn’t reciprocate. She tries to warn Mei off, but she doesn’t scare so easily.

Say I Love You shows Mei’s journey to going from a loner to finding first love, but it also shows a lot of the problems teens face physically and emotionally. Asami and Aiko both have problems with their bodies, and it affects the way they interact with others. Asami just wants to be accepted for who she is, not what she has. Aiko can’t accept who she’s become with Yamato validation even though she has Masashi who does accept her. Another of Yamato’s friends, Hayakawa, has a lot of “friends with benefits” but no real connections. He has to get put into the hospital before he realizes how empty his life has been and what he really needs to fulfill it. The series also doesn’t beat around the bush about teen sex, as a lot of characters do it or talk about it. This is treated realistically as well, and even Mei and Yamato get a moment, though nothing happens.

Say I Love You has plenty of drama and a budding romance that is a lot of fun to read. The realistic ring to the characters and situations makes it more interesting and stand out from the shojo crowd. You may think you’ve read manga like Say I Love You, but it’s really nothing like anything other series out there.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Puella Magi Oriko Magica Volume 1-2

Oriko is a magical girl with foresight. She is struck with a terrible vision of the future-of the devastation to be caused by one powerful witch. She decides she must do something about it, and she is willing to use, and if necessary sacrifice, anyone to stop this threat. But what will she do when her unstoppable force hits an immovable object determined to protect the very one Oriko seeks to destroy?

Puella Magi Oriko Magica Volume 1-2
OrikoMagica_V1Story by Magica Quartet; Art by Mua Kuroe
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Magical Girl
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★★½

I didn’t care of Oriko Magica when I read the first volume. I didn’t like Yuma, and didn’t see where the story was going, until I read the second and concluding volume, which not only put everything into perspective, made the series a fantastic read.

Oriko Magica is set in an alternate universe to the main Madoka Magica universe. In this world, Kyouko save a young girl Yuma, and takes her in. But Oriko, with her foresight, has seen that she has the potential to be a magical girl and manipulates both Yuma and Kyubey into making her a magical girl. Meanwhile, Mami learns of another magical girl, a black magical girl, that is hunting other magical girls. These distractions allow Oriko to get close to her target; Madoka, but Homura is there to protect her, and final, climatic battle ensues to decide the fate of both Madoka and the world.

When this series began, I struggled with the differences in the characters. I had read the main Madoka series, and knew the characters. This series is a slightly different take on them, with Mami living past the first few chapters, and Kyouko being more willing to help out others. She takes in Yuma, and does her best to protect her, both from danger and Kyubey. I really enjoyed seeing Mami in action. She gets an extended battle with Kirika, the black magical girl, where her power and intelligence really shines. Homura only really shows up for the final battle and Madoka and Sayaka are more side characters despite Madoka being everyone’s target.

OrikoMagica_V2_FINALSince it is a Puella Magi * Magica series, the characters have to have tragic back-stories. In these two volumes we only get Oriko’s, Yuma’s, and Kirika’s, but they hit pretty hard on the tragic scale. There is child abuse, bullying and neglect, and even some self-hatred, but they all fuel each girl’s reason to become a magical girl, and each fulfills their wish in the end.

Oriko’s wish and motive didn’t seem obvious, even though she made it very clear from the beginning. She wanted to protect her world. As the story unfolds, and we learn more about Oriko’s past and her present target, things start to make sense. It’s really interesting that the two people who most want to stop Madoka’s transformation have a form of time manipulation as their magical power.

What really sold me on this story was the twist at the end. I have to admit it blew me away. It wasn’t until I saw that scene and made the connection to the main series that it all clicked and the title went from being “meh” to being awesome. What ever you do, don’t read this series without reading the main Madoka Magica series first! The twist at the end is all the more powerful when you know what Homura’s been trying to do.

Puella Magi Oriko Magica is a fantastic side story to the Madoka Magica story. It still holds the ray of hope against the despair the magical girls face when they learn their eventual fate. It’s also fun to watch Oriko play with Kyubey. A little “turnaround is fair play” isn’t a bad thing. It can easily slip into the main Madoka story-line and feel perfectly in place. This title is a must for Madoka Magica manga fans.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Attack on Titan No Regrets Volume 1

The young Erwin Smith is a rising star in the Survey Corps, humanity’s only hope of defeating the man-eating monsters known as Titans. Ruthless and dispassionate, Erwin’s mind is devoted to strategies and intrigue. But beneath Erwin’s feet is another world, the Underground, where humans are born and die surrounded by the garbage the Capital throws away. Here, the criminal Levi survives on his wits and agility. But when these two ambitious men cross paths, who will prove himself stronger?

Attack on Titan: No Regrets Volume 1
Attack On titan no regrets 1Written by Gun Snark (Nitropolis); Art by Hikaru Suruga
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror/Shojo
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I went into this volume with no preconceived notions. I started reading Attack on Titan late in the series, at volume 8, so while I had heard of the characters Erwin and Levi, I didn’t know who they were. I knew they were important leaders in the Survey Corps, and big deals to fans. This story alone was enough to increase the circulation of the magazine it was published by 10 fold. Even though this story is supposed to be about both Erwin and Levi, this volume at least, is really all about Levi.

Levi is the leader of a trio of thieves who use Survey Corps maneuvering gear to get around the Underground where they struggle to survive. Levi is a stoic man of few words. He has perpetual dark circles under his eyes and doesn’t seem capable of smiling. But he cares a lot for his friends Furlan and Isabelle, the only two people in the world he trusts. He will fight and possibly kill for them, and they look up to him as a protector and leader. He is incredibly skilled in using the maneuvering gear, despite having never been taught formally, which is what catches the attention of Squad Leader Erwin Smith.

Erwin is a very earnest member of the Survey Corps, and rather savvy with manipulating the political side of things to get what he wants. He is determined to do anything and everything it takes to build up the Survey Corp. He recognizes the threat the Titans pose, even as the people and politicians grow complacent after so many years without a breach. He is even willing to work with criminals, by bringing in Levi and his group. Erwin isn’t seen much in this volume, but it is obvious he is watching them.

Levi and his friends have some prejudices to get pass after joining the Survey Corps. Some members and the leaders object to people from the Underground being brought with no military training. But, as they train with the other squad members, many of them start to see their strengths. Isabelle has an affinity with animals, which lets her show off her riding skills. Furlan is the calm and sensible one of the three, trying to keep the peace, mostly between Levi and the others. He also has some plan in mind, that somehow involves Erwin, but only hints have been dropped so far. Then there’s Levi. His skills are no illusion as he shows in both training and actual combat. His more unorthodox methods bring down a Titan, and his skills take it out. Levi is almost as awesome in combat as Mikasa!

The art is a well done, looking enough like Isayama’s style while still being good. I love Levi’s fashion sense, both in his civilian clothes and in his Survey Corps uniform. The Ascot is just perfect on him! The action sequences are well done, with lots of lines flying, clouds of smoke from the canisters and swords gliding through the air. There really isn’t a moment of this volume I didn’t enjoy.

Attack on Titan: No Regrets Volume 1 is a great start to a series about some provocative characters. Since this is an origin story, it’s not necessary to have read the main series to enjoy this one, but a basic understanding of the universe would help since there are no explanations. I’m looking forward to volume 2 but not the wait until October. I’m also sad that it will also be the last volume. I wouldn’t mind watching Levi and the gang for another couple of volumes.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Sumomomo Momomo Volume 6-12

Having defeated Tenga Koganei of the Tiger clan and recovered from the poison, Koushi and Momoko continue to face challengers to their engagement from other clans. Koushi, seeing how much his friends go through to help, decides to start training seriously. While makes good progress, the Monkey clan makes their move and usurps the Inuzuka claim to lead the Eastern army. Koushi’s only hope to save the clans and regain his engagement to Momoko is to master the Myriad Seal and face Yuusuke in battle to the death.

Sumomomo 6By Shinobu Ohtaka
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action/Comedy
Price: $11.99 ea
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sumomomo, Momomo was one of the debut titles in Yen Press’ Yen Plus magazine. It was also a title I despised. The art was bad, and the story was worse. I never dreamed I would ever read another chapter of it, but I had these review copies, and no one else seemed interested in reviewing them, so I decided to see if it had improved at all. I will admit, these later volumes weren’t as painful to read as the earlier ones, but the systemic problems of the series kept it from being memorable.

Sumomomo 7There were several things I despised about this series, the chief among was Momoko. I hated her. She was annoying with her obsession with wanting to bed Koushi. Koushi’s pathetic attitude was just as bad. It’s not a good sign when the two main leads are so unlikable. This starts to change by volume 6. Momoko seems to have settled down some what. She still wants to bed Koushi, but it’s not her focus. It’s become something that just comes up every once in a while, with Momoko trying to trick Koushi into agreeing. She is still a gungho fighter, and has no problem with coming to Koushi’s defense.

Sumomomo 8While watching Momoko fight Koganei, Koushi starts to realize he can’t let everyone else fight his own battles, and decides he needs to train seriously. This becomes his main arc to the end. Both his father and friends try to help him, but it’s only once he understands the seal his mother put on him and he trains alone in the jungle that he finally finds his strength. Even before the last volume, I was finding Koushi to be less annoying, as he stopped cowering and starting stepping up to take responsibility for himself.

Ultimately, that was the theme of the story; to make your own decisions and walk your own path. Koushi didn’t become a real fighter until he found his own way, and even in his final battle with Yuusuke, he chose when and how to use the Myriad Seal despite what others thought. He used words first to try to beat this idea into Yuusuke, but in the end his had to use the Seal to end the duel mercifully for both him and Yuusuke. It was actually a decent ending.

Sumomomo 11There were also parts in the middle that were decent. I liked Iroha’s journey to try to resurrect her clan and regain their respect. Despite the betrayals of those she considered closest, she never gave up hope. She continued to fight and help Koushi against the Endou until the very end. I felt sorry for Sanae. Her power was just humiliating, and her grandmother had no sympathy, putting her on parade even to her friends.

And here is where things start to head downhill for me. I didn’t care for the whole love polygon around Koushi that started with Iroha and Sanae, and soon added Shintarou, the daughter of the Inoue clan who was raised as a boy. The dip into harem territory didn’t work for me at all, and actually felt distracting from the growing tension from the Endou clan’s machinations. The humor didn’t do much for me either. The getting into bed, Sanae’s humiliation, the other boys’ jealousy of Koushi, none of these things ever seemed funny to me, and the humor fell flat every time.

Sumomomo 12Sumomomo, Momomo worked best when it was being a martial arts fighting series, and was “meh” at best at being a high school harem comedy. There were some good character arcs, and the final message of putting yourself and your own will ahead of conflicting obligations was a good one. The final volume was the best, with this message and showing how everyone not only went their separate ways, but took paths that they chose on their own. I can’t say I liked Sumomomo, Momomo, or that it was a good series overall. But it did have its moments and an ending worth reading. So borrow this from the library or a friend if you’re curious.

Buy Volume 6                         Buy Volume 7                          Buy Volume 8                          Buy Volume 9

                       Buy Volume 10                        Buy Volume 11                        Buy Volume 12

Review copies provided by publisher.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 1

Shiro Kakei, lawyer by day and gourmand by night, lives with his boyfriend, Kenji Yabuki, an outgoing salon stylist. While the pair navigate the personal and professional minefields of modern gay live, Kenji serves as enthusiastic taste-tester for Shiro’s wide and varied made-from-scratch meals.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 1
What did you eat yesterdayBy Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Cooking/Slice of Life
Price: $12.95US
Rating: ★★★★½

Fumi Yoshinaga is best known here in the US for her BL titles, but any porn that might be found in What Did You Eat Yesterday? will only be in the kitchen. Yoshinaga is also a big food enthusiast, and this title combines her love of preparing (and eating) food with the life situations of a gay couple. While at first appearance, this title is a foodie’s dream come true, there is still plenty of story to make the book interesting to us non-foodies.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? starts with that very question being asked of Shiro and his co-workers. While the others are vague with their answer, Shiro recites a long list of dishes including ingredients. This is the first sign, other than the title, that food will be a big part of the story. Yoshinaga doesn’t disappoint as every chapter has at least 3-4 pages dedicated to Shiro planning and preparing the nightly meal. No detail is spared as Shiro’s internal monologue catalogs the ingredients, how they should be cut, how long they are cooks or boiled and even at what temperature. If quantities were included, this part of the story could be a how-to instruction for cooking many of the meals. I’ll come out and say this right now, these parts of the book were the ones I found the most uninteresting. I’m not foodie, and never will be. Watching people cook doesn’t interest me, and didn’t even stir my appetite, so if they were cut down to one panel, or even cut out, it wouldn’t bother me.

But to Yoshinaga’s credit, these scenes could be condensed or cut out and the story wouldn’t really suffer. Shiro’s and Kenji’s relationship is really the heart of the series, and the part I thoroughly enjoyed. Each chapter looks at the daily life of Shiro or Kenji, at their job interacting with co-workers or clients, or friends and family. It’s through these interactions that we get to know them. Shiro is the serious and straight-laced half of the relationship. He hasn’t told his co-workers about his sexual orientation, and keeps them at a distance with regards to his personal life. He doesn’t like anyone, including Kenji to talk about it to anyone else. He is very frugal with both his money and his emotions. This helps him in his job, but can cause problems at home.

In contrast, Kenji is very open about his feelings. He is gregarious with his clients and is the “bomb disposal specialist” for the shop he works for, his tenacity giving him the ability to take on the more difficult customers. He is also the more insecure of the two, worrying that Shiro might be attracted to a client and being jealous of Shiro’s former girlfriend who now runs a bakery. He isn’t afraid to show his emotions, from joy to breaking down into tears.

The supporting characters are just as fun and eccentric as you’d expect from a Yoshinanga series. Shiro’s mother is just plain crazy as she tries to be accepting of Shiro’s orientation, but ends up driving him nuts. The introduction of Kayoko, Shiro’s straight female friend was really funny, and she makes a great cooking buddy for Shiro. I also really like Shiro’s co-workers. Kenji’s boss and co-workers haven’t done too much in this first volume, but Kenji taking on the difficult customers was really funny.

I love Yoshinaga’s art. He draws her characters realistically in a minimalist way, but can easily and quickly drop them in a caricature with wide, long faces that get these great expressions. She gets the feeling across of surprise or  impishness with little more than a look.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? is starting out to be a really fun series. This first volume has lots of great moments of humor and realistic relationship issues that anyone gay or straight can understand and relate to, but at the same time also show some of the things that only gay couples would have to deal with. I really enjoyed this series, and if you’re not reading it, or passing it by because you think it’s BL or too foodie, then you’re making a big mistake.

Review copy provided by publisher.

21st Century Boys Volume 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review copy provided by publisher.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Volume 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review copy provided by publisher.

Inu x Boku SS Volume 1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Volume 1
Buy Volume 2
Buy Volume 3

Review copies provided by publisher.

Black Bird Volume 16

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

Buy the Volume
Buy the Volume

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Death Do Us Part Volume 2

Protecting Haruka from Ex Solid has gotten Mamoru involved in an even more sinister plot, organized by the terrorist group known as the Plunderers. The swordsman’s reckless tactics generate results, but they have also attracted the attention of the terrorists’ leader, Edge Turus. Mamoru’s allies in the Wall and the very people who hired him begin to fear that Mamoru’s methods are too extreme and could endanger those around him, including Haruka herself. Meanwhile, the police are connecting the dots between Haruka’s abduction and the recent string of attacks. As they and Edge close in, it may only be a matter of time before Mamoru has nowhere to run!

16 UntilDeathDoUsPartV2_TPWritten by Hiroshi Takashige; Illustrated by Double-S
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action
Price: $18.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

The African country of Galboa is revealed to be the force behind the terrorist acts, and through some intel from Ex-Solid and discover Haruka’s ability. The leader, Edge Turus decides he wants her as well. Mamoru does his stuff, stopping Ex-Solid and their cloning operation as well as Turus, cutting off his arm in the process, which makes him none too happy. He puts a contract out on Mamoru. In the meantime, Mamoru officially becomes Haruka’s bodyguard and Sierra, the female agent that’s been helping them, decides to stay with him and Igawa, so Haruka will have a female influence. Haruka gets a fake id and to go to school, but a new enemy shows up, an invisible one that Mamoru must try to figure out how to defeat.

I wasn’t impressed with the first volume, though I did like the “Global Frequency” vibe that it initially had. This volume had none of that. It was a lot of Mamoru being awesome with his sword and Haruka fretting over him. I’m okay with the Mamoru being awesome part, but really for the most part, I don’t care about any of these characters or what happens to them. I’m not too thrilled with “The Wall” suddenly deciding to turn on Mamoru for doing just what they pay him to do; get past the bad guys and get them results. That’s all he and Igawa have done. They keep dwelling on what could be instead of keeping what they have now.

An explanation is given for Haruka’s powers, and I’m actually okay with it. It’s still mixed up with some techo-babble, but as long as it sounds plausible, I’m good. I actually liked the “invisible” enemy that Mamoru has to take on. It actually becomes timely with some of the news that’s been going up lately, and puts Mamoru’s skills to the test.

I’ll still read the third volume, but more for “Can this get better?” than “I like it!” There is still a lot I don’t care for such as Haruka as the female protagonist and all the upskirt shots that get thrown in, mostly with Sierra. It’s run for 19 volumes in Japan so far, and is still ongoing, so it’s got to have something going for it. Maybe if I keep reading, someday I’ll find it.

Review copy provided by publisher.