This week I check out a new manga kickstarter from Manga Reborn, what’s up at Vizmanga, and review the last two volumes of Alice in the Country of Hearts.
This week I’ve got a few short news stories, the goings on at Vizmanga.com and I look at the similarities of three Yen Press titles that are based on or inspired by Alice in Wonderland: Are You Alice?, Alice in the Country of Hearts and Pandora Hearts.
The podcast is on Facebook now too! Like it there too for new episodes and updates about what’s coming up!
This week I check out some news, the goings-on at Vizmanga.com and review the Yen Press title Umineko When They Cry: Episode 1: Legend of the Golden Witch.
In a world infected with a deadly virus that turns its victims into zombie-like dolls call Guignols, a traveling band of musicians, known as the Grand Orchestra, wander the world, and bringing music to the uninfected. For the right price they will perform any song and maybe even a miracle. Led by Lucille, the beautiful singer, the Orchestra searches for the legendary Black Oratorio, which is said to hold the answer to ending the Guignol Virus.
Grand Guignol Orchestra is latest Kaori Yuki title to be released in English. It is a Gothic horror, that puts a different twist on the zombie phenomena. I’ve enjoyed Yuki’s work since I first read Godchild, and was looking forward to reading her take on zombies. I wasn’t disappointed. The interesting characters, mixture of music and zombies, and a story with lots of twists and turns all wrapped up in a fairy tale-like setting made this a fun read.
Right from the beginning I liked the characters. Lucille, the beautiful, gender-ambiguous leader of the Orchestra starts as rather capricious and a little sinister. But after seeing the “Divine Lightning” in action, a more serious and grim side to him is shown. His motives aren’t revealed at first, and a lot of doubt is cast on him as being good or trustworthy. But as the story progresses, the truth is revealed, and we see that not only Lucille but his sister were manipulated into their circumstances, but Lucille had the strength and courage to find a way out for them.
Lucille’s companions in the Orchestra, Kohaku and Gwindell also have their sinister sides. It is revealed at the beginning, that they are convicted criminals, and travel with Lucille in order to pay down their bail. Kohaku plays the violin, and loves his guns. He is also able to hide and infinite number of weapons on his person. Gwindell, the cellist, is the strong but silent type. He drives the hearse they travel in and carries a hedgehog with him, a memento of his daughter. Both of them claim to not like Lucille, that they are forced to be with them, but when push comes to shove, they do come to his aid. They backgrounds are revealed toward the end, and like Lucille, they are not as bad as they were made out to be.
The final member of the Orchestra is Eles/Celes. She is masquerading as her twin brother after her piano playing accidentally sends the surrounding guignols into a frenzy, infecting or killing the rest of the children in town, as well as several of the townspeople. At her father’s behest, she joins Lucille to find a reason to live as herself. She is the sane member of the Orchestra, trying to make sense of the insanity around her. She is also the one person all the members of the Orchestra care enough about to truly want to protect.
The story moves at a brisk pace, as there is only one story to introduce the characters before diving headlong into the plot. No chapter after the first is really a stand alone, as each revelation adds another piece to the puzzle that is finally put together in the final chapters. The twists the story takes, from who and what Lucille really is, to Gwindell’s past, to the final reveal of the true villain made for a great ride. I did like how Le Senat, who seemed to be the villains at the beginning, are slowly revealed to be more than they seemed, and even honorable enough to stop one of their own, and allowing Lucille to complete his mission. I also really liked how all the seeming supernatural elements, such as the Queen’s divine lightning, were explain scientifically. Sadly, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the world ended up that way, or that one man’s obsession could cause such a world-wide catastrophe.
Now, I’m not a big fan of blood and gore, so zombie stories don’t tend to be something I enjoy. This title is a definite exception. Yuki’s zombies are different from the usual rotting, meandering creatures with their flesh falling off. They are more like wooden dolls, with hardened skin and joints, and frozen expressions. I think having them like dolls is much more scary, since dolls are real things, and can be scary on their own in the right circumstances. The “clankity” sounds they make are really creepy. They aren’t completely mindless. Under certain circumstances they can regain their selves, making them less like monsters and more something to be pitied. Music is one of those circumstances.
Music is an important element in this series. The guignols respond to it for some reason, whether its Celes’ piano playing, Lucille’s voice or even a single tone, music can drive the guignols to attack, become themselves for a few moments, or break some control over them. Music is also the way the Queen controls her divine lightning and even some guignols. Ultimately, it is music, a song from the Black Oratorio that finally ends the terror of the guignols. And with the shadows of the original Queen and the King that created her gone as well, the series can reach a happy finale.
I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It wasn’t as dramatic or angsty as Yuki’s earlier titles such as Angel Sanctuary or Godchild. Considering what those protagonists had to go through, Lucille had it pretty easy. He still had a lot of difficult obstacles to get through, but he never gave up, no matter how hopeless the situation seemed. That is one of the things I love about Yuki’s protagonists. I was also really happy to see the series had a definitive happy ending, and we are not left to wonder what happened to the Orchestra. Though, Lucille’s face is left in shadow, so we don’t know what effect the destroying of the guignol virus had on him. But then, some things are best left unsolved.
I didn’t have any real issues with this series, other than it felt rushed. I would have liked a few more stories of the Orchestra helping other towns before plowing into the main plot. A little more of Lucille, Gwindell and Kohaku arguing and fighting guignols would have been nice, but not having doesn’t diminish the series any.
Grand Guignol Orchestra ended shy of half a volume, so one of Yuki’s short stories, Camelot Garden was used to fill it out. This is another story that mixes fantasy with science to good effect. It’s premise is similar to Grand Guignol Orchestra with a father determined to keep his daughter to himself though it uses the poem ‘Lady of Shalott’ by the English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson as it’s core. I really enjoy stories that do this, weaving the story and pictures around a poem or song.
I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It has the perfect balance of humor, drama, action, romance and a happy ending. It’s hard enough to get this in any series, let alone a Kaori Yuki manga. This series is rather atypical of most Yuki titles, so while I do recommend it for readers looking to get into her work, be warned that the warm and fuzzies from this series aren’t translated to a lot of her other works. Pick it up in print or in digital on Vizmanga.com.
Researcher Mr. Smith has left the Eihon family and is on his way to Ankara. As he awaits his guide in a village, he meets the widow Talas, but his honorable intentions toward her are not seen that way by her uncle who has his own plans for her, and lands the Englishman in jail. Rescued by some familiar faces, his journey takes him through a fishing village along the Aral Sea, where a pair of twins are plotting to land themselves some rich, healthy brothers as husbands.
These two volumes of A Bride’s Story leaves Amir, Karluk and the Eihon family behind, and follows Mr. Smith as he travels across the desert on his way to Ankara, where a colleague waits for him with an item he’s been searching for. We meet two different kinds of brides in these volumes, the five-time widowed Talas and the over-eager twins Laila and Leily. While I still enjoyed these volumes, the new characters didn’t grow on my as much as the Eihons did in the first two volumes.
Mr. Smith gets the spotlight in volume 3. After arriving in the village where he is to meet his guide, he meets a young woman, Talas. She offers to put him up until his guide arrives. She and her mother-in-law have been alone for a while, after the death of five sons and the father. Talas thinks having Mr. Smith stay will make her mother happy. I liked Talas. She was quiet and unassuming; the opposite of Amir in a lot of ways. She’s had a hard life, going through so many husbands so quickly without ever producing an heir, but she bears it all with a quiet strength. Her mother is much the same, having lost 5 sons and her own husband, she continues on alone, thinking only of Talas’ happiness.
Mr. Smith becomes caught in the middle of this, as the mother tries to get him to take her as his bride. It’s interesting to see him struggle with what to do. He doesn’t have a wide emotional range, and often has a bewildered look on his face, except when he has learned some new cultural aspect. When he finally comes to a decision, the circumstances change on him. The change shows how different betrothal and marriage is treated between Europeans and the Western Asians, and the importance of a father in a woman’s life. Even when it is explained to him, he doesn’t seem to fully get it. He doesn’t show any emotion about it until he is alone, and a single act shows his disappointment.
In volume 4 we don’t see much of Mr. Smith, as his arrival in the seaside town causes a stir when his cover story of being a doctor has him overwhelmed with patients from all over the area. This leaves the story open for trouble-making twins Laila and Leily. The two girls are determined to get husbands, and spent most of the volume plotting ways to get them. I really didn’t care much for the twins. They bordered on obnoxious for me. But their story gave an excuse to concentrate on the women’s side again. Laila and Leily were recounted with stories from the older women of how they found their husbands and the tricks they used to land them. And when husbands are found for the girls, their mother has to give them whirlwind lessons in being proper wives, teaching them cooking, cleaning and sewing.
I still enjoyed this series. The cultural aspects shown in every volume are fascinating. In these two volumes we see the importance of being generous and hospitable, as an impromptu meal becomes an event to be shared with. We also get a glimpse on being a groom, as Mr. Smith’s guide, Ali, explains why he took the job even though it was dangerous. He wants to take a bride, but has to come up with the betrothal money himself since his family is poor. So far, we have only been seeing that the bride’s family has to do, and haven’t heard much about what the groom must do as well. Information on the wedding preparations start to get more in-depth as Laila and Leily’s wedding approaches which of course, will delay Mr. Smith who will want to stay and see an actual wedding.
While my enthusiasm cooled a little over these volumes, volume 4 mostly, I still love it. The cultural details that Mori is able to present in the story without it feeling like a lesson is great. This series could easily be used as a teaching aid for the time period. And of course her meticulous art continues to delight. The different costumes she used for the different regions are just beautiful. I’ll continue to give this series my highest recommendation, because, personal feelings or no, this is still one of the best series you will ever read.
Along the nineteenth-century Silk Road, Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe, is betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive family, and her birth family, who now wish to see her wed to another, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.
I remember when this title was first announced and how excited people were to get a new Karou Mori title. Having not read anything by her at the time, I didn’t see what the excitement was about. But after hearing some discussion of the title, I decided to check out the first volume. I absolutely loved it, and had to buy volumes 2 and 3 immediately afterward. The charming characters and immersion into 19th century Central Asia was a delight to read.
These volumes start by introducing Amir and her young husband, Karluk Eihon. They first meet on their wedding day, and while both seem surprised at seeing the other, both also accept each other. Many of the chapters show their everyday life, with Amir showing Karluk’s family, now her family, her way of doing things, while she learns theirs. There are also stories about other members of the Eihon family, and the Eihon’s nomadic relatives. Also introduced almost immediately is the stirring trouble with Amir’s birth family, who have decided they need her back since her younger sister, who was married off to another tribe, died and they will lose the grazing land they got in the deal. This leads to an armed conflict between the two families, as well as some between Amir and Karluk.
I absolutely loved Amir and Karluk from their first introduction. I adore Amir and her enthusiastic and earnest personality. She can be impulsive, such as when she jumps up to hunt rabbits immediately when she learns the Eihon family hasn’t had rabbit stew before. When given a gift, she feels the need to return the favor and proceeds to shoot down a bird to exchange. She is dedicated to Karluk and treats him like an equal and not a child. Karluk in turn tries to be a husband to her, but still has some problems with being intimate with her. When they are sleeping together in the Yurat while visiting Karluk’s Uncle, he feels more like a child with his mother than man and wife. He proves himself though when he defends Amir from her own father when the Halgal family try to take Amir back by force. He takes his duties as husband seriously, trying to protect her from danger. They make a really cute couple.
The supporting characters are great too. Seleke, Karluk’s older sister, tries to be strick with her four children, but ends up doting more. Their parents are kind and supportive. I loved Balkirsh, the grandmother and matriarch of the family. She doesn’t meddle in the affairs of other family members, but will step in when necessary. She diffused the confrontation between Amir’s brother and her grandson-in-law, and was able to get Amir to rest while Karluk was sick with a cold. She’s feisty, and doesn’t mince her words. And then there’s Mr. Smith, an Englishman living with the Eihons. He is an anthropologist, studying the life and culture of Western Asia. He is constantly asking questions about customs in the village, or for help with translating documents he has found. He is played a lot for comedy relief.
Mr. Smith and to some extent Amir, is also used to show the culture and customs of the area. Amir, who has come from a semi-nomadic tribe, has a lot to learn about town living. One of the biggest is that the townspeople are much more modest. Amir is constantly causing a stir, such as when she misunderstands Mother and thinks she must clean her clothes and runs out in her underwear. Amir’s hunting skills fascinate the townsfolk, as she hunts rabbits from horseback and brings back deer. The children become fascinated by her bow, and soon she is teaching them how to use it. Through Mr. Smith, more general cultural elements are explained. The importance of embroidery and cloth for dowry is shown in detail, as is entertaining. The townsfolk try to compete to entertain the messenger who bring letters for Mr. Smith.
Because this is “A Bride’s Story”, a lot of focus is put on the women. There is the impression that women are seen as nothing more than property, especially when Amir’s family tries to reclaim her, and the Eihons counter that they have no claim. But it’s not like the women are treated poorly or without rights. Balkirsh commands a lot of respect, even from Amir’s brother when he first comes to reclaim Amir. And as is shown with Amir, they can be hunters and herders, and not limited to the household. I don’t see the arranged marriages as a way to control women, but as part of the complex social structure passed down through the generations. Compared to European women of the time, the women of western Asia had a lot more personal freedom.
The art is just exquisite. The detail that Mori puts into the clothes and rugs is amazing. The costumes are beautiful and varied, reflecting their different origins. It’s not just material that is so ornate. Wood carving and even the making of bread is shown to be decorated with beautiful designs, and their creators are shown to put great care into their craft. I loved the chapter with the carpenter, and the time he spends creating ornate doors and posts. I also love the wide-eyed expressions that both Amir and Karluk have. It makes Amir’s enthusiasm all that more infectious, and Karluk just looks cute, even when he’s trying to be heroic.
I can’t say enough good things about this series. I loved it from cover to cover, and it just gets better with every re-read. Amir’s story is funny, exciting, and touching. A Bride’s Story is one of the best series you will read, filled with great characters, fun slice of life moments and charming characters that you will never want to leave. It’s a great investment of both time and money.
Ding-Dong! Dead-Dong! Class is about to begin, and you don’t want to be late on your first day of school! Join Tsugumi Harudori in the “NOT” class at Death Weapon Meister Academy, a school dedicated to training transforming weapons like Tsugumi and the Meisters who will wield them. Many “NOT” (Normally Overcome Target) students aspire to join the elite “EAT” (Especially Advantaged Talent) class, but it may take Tsugumi some time to find her confidence — and a partner — at this crazy school!
Soul Eater NOT! is a spin-off series of another Yen Press title, Soul Eater. Soul Eater was a debut title for Yen’s manga magazine Yen Plus, starting its US serialization there. I didn’t care for Soul Eater, so I wasn’t sure what my reaction to Soul Eater NOT would be. I was pleasantly surprised by the slice-of-life story, that moved a slower pace and had some likable characters. Not interesting, just likable. If the characters weren’t used for mostly fan service, I would like this title a lot more.
Soul Eater NOT! starts by introducing Tsugumi Harudori. She is just starting at Death Weapon Meister Academy, in Death City, Nevada, United States of America. She has the ability to turn into a weapon, which is a genetic mutation one is born with. She has come to DWMA to learn to control her power and live a normal life. Tsugumi is a plain, rather dull, and indecisive girl. On her first day she meets two meisters; Meme who to say she has short-term memory problems would be an understatement and Anya, a upper-class European girl who wants to see what the “common people” are like. Both girls want to partner with Tsugumi, but she just can’t decide, so the three of them live and work together until a decision is made. Meanwhile, a witch is at work within DWMA, experimenting on people, and Tsugumi, Meme and Anya always seem to get involved with the situations some how.
The three main characters, Tsugumi, Meme, and Anya are all fairly likeable characters. At least, there’s nothing annoying about them. Tsugumi is an average teenage girl whose only remarkable trait is how unremarkable she is. She wants to become stronger, like Maka, a Weapons Meister who she meets on her first day, and is a main character from Soul Eater. Tsugumi puts her hair up in pigtails to emulate Maka, but the look doesn’t work for her. I liked Anya a lot. She tries to be so aloof, but really wants to be included in the things Tsugumi and Meme do. Her modesty over the cafe uniforms was cute. I didn’t like that she never got to pair with Tsugumi. She would make a better partner for Tsugumi, as she proves when she uses Tsugumi in fight. Meme is the closest to an annoying character this title has. Her inability to remember simple things gets annoying fast. She only seems able to fight efficiently when she is sleep walking. Her only real purpose seems to be for fan service. She has the largest chest of the three girls, and is always slipping into bed with Tsugumi. I really didn’t care for this aspect of the title at all.
I liked a lot of the supporting characters too. Eternal Feather is a year ahead of the girls and is very helpful and sympathetic to them when they become prey of the “witch of the girl’s dorm”, Kim. This makes what happens to her at the end of volume two really sad. I liked Kim too, with her tsundere ways. She acts tough, but really has a kind heart. I also really liked the Master of the Death’s Back Cafe where the girls work for money part time.I’m not sure what to think of the two boys in their class, Akane and Clay. Even though they are in the NOT class, they seem to be working to get into the EAT class. They are working with their teacher Sid to weed out witches which may be hiding at the academy.
And there is definitely one running around. This is more of a subplot to add some action to the otherwise slow-paced slice of life that Soul Eater Not usually is. The girls aren’t actively involved with hunting the witch, but they always seem to be around when the witch is making a move. While this part of the plot hasn’t taken over the story, I hope it stays that way. What I like most about Soul Eater Not is the slice of life stories following the girls around school and interacting with the other characters in their dorm and that they meet in town. As long as the story stays that way, and the witch plot stays in the background, I’ll be happy.
Soul Eater NOT is a better than average title, and while it does have some fan-service-y moments, they aren’t as bad as they could be. The characters are quirky enough to be likeable, but not really memorable. As long as the story stays on the lighter side, it will continue to be a fun title to read and enjoy.
After twenty years of searching, Celty, the headless black rider, has at last found her missing head bobbing through the streets of Ikebukuro on someone else’s neck! Though Celty prsues, the girl escapes on the arm of Mikado Ryuugamine, taking refuge in his apartment. Both the legendary rider and Yagiri Pharmaceuticals come bearing down on Mikado and the scarred girl. But when Yagiri crosses the line, the true leader of the Dollars steps forward to take command of the vast network of members at his disposal. though this unobtrusive boy holds a disturbing degree of power in the palm of his hand, Celty is preoccupied by the powers that still control her head. At the end of the day, will her search all have been for naught? Or has she found something even more precious along the way?
Story by Ryohgo Narita; Art by Akiyo Satorigi; Character Design by Suzuhito Yasuda
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
ISBN: 9780316209328; 9780316209335
With such a large cast, it’s hard to believe that these last two volumes of Durarara!! could tie everything up easily, but that’s precisely what it does. All of the relationships are resolved (for the moment), and characters’ secrets are revealed. Some are surprising while others aren’t so much.
There are at least three different relationships going on in Durarara!! We really get in the mind of Celty (can’t really say head), as she really starts to consider the ramifications of getting her head back. Fear of death, and her, a Dullahan, being in a relationship with Dr. Shinra, a human, really shake her confidence. Shinra, who is usually just being a jerk, is surprisingly understanding with Celty. He shows some real tenderness and affection for her, but also deserves the punch in the face she gives him. But, in the end, Celty is happy with her situation, and not so obsessed with finding her head. Which might not be such a good thing as well learn late on.
Seiji Yagiri gets what he deserves as the head he believes is his “soul mate” turns out to not be what he expected. He really needed the beat-down that Shizou gave him about it. His “pure love” proved to be nothing more than skin deep, making him easily fooled, and well deserved of the one who now has the face of his “soul mate.” I did enjoy the scene of them together at the end, pretending to like each other, but each still having their own agendas. Perhaps he really did find his soul mate. Even Mikado got a start on his relationship with Sonohara. They had the typical “too shy to admit their feelings” relationship throughout the series, but by the end, Mikado finally got up the courage to ask her out, but not before kicking Masaomi for trying to horn in on her first.
Most of the mysteries presented in the series were resolved by the end. Who started the Dollars and why is revealed, and its leader was a complete surprise to me. I was also surprised by Shizuo. I started out not really caring for him, but his actions in these last two volumes really warmed him up to me. His archenemy Orihara wasn’t so surprising his motives. He’s always seemed to be a dark character, but his true ambitions aren’t revealed until the end. They are quite grand, and involve Celty’s head. His theory about Dullahans is interesting, but his intend working from that theory isn’t good for Ikebukuro or its inhabitants.
While Durarara!! started out slow for me, I ended up really enjoying the series. What really helped is how the characters were developed over the four volumes, and became either people I liked or who got what they deserved. Durarara!! is based on a series of light novels, and I would love to see more manga adventures with these characters. There are 11 novels to pull from, and the manga ends really feeling like that could be more. And Yen Press has answered my unspoken prayer as Durarara!! Saika Arc is scheduled to begin in March. I can’t wait now! Durarara!! turned out to be a fun ride that is definitely worth reading, and might be worth keeping.
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 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
I 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.
The 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.
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.
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 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.
All 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.
Atom, 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.
This 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.
There 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 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.
The 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.
Zooming ahead to a story arc that presents New World wines for a New World audience, this special episode of the international best-seller features scenes set in Napa Valley and labels from outside the traditional European production centers. Delectable on its own too, the Apostle revealed is the lucky Seventh.
The Drops of God takes a huge leap in time, as the last US volume covered Japanese volumes 7-8, this one covers volumes 22-23, and reveals the 7th Apostle. The last Apostle revealed was the second in US volume 3. This is a big risk, as so much of the story is skipped. But New World is dedicated solely to finding the identity of the Seventh Apostle, so many of the side stories that I enjoyed so much in volume 3 are not present in this volume. At first, I thought this to be a liability for the volume, but by the time I reached the end, I realized again how good this title really was, and lamented that we will probably not see any more.
This special volume of Drops of God moves Issei and Shizuku out of Europe and into the New World. Of course, New World in wine circles basically means anywhere outside of the traditional European wine-making countries. This mean North and South America and Asia. That’s a lot of area to cover with not much time. Issei had straight to the United States, to Napa Valley, with Shizuku, after some consideration (which didn’t include Napa wines) heads for Australia.
While in their respective countries, both Issei and Shizuku have run-ins with the locals. Issei’s reputation precedes him as he is blackmailed into helping some crooked wine sellers at a blind auction. Thanks to his assistant Loulan’s quick thinking, his reputation escapes unscathed. Shizuku has a run-in with the environmentalist father of Nadia Simon an employee of Taiyo Beers’ Australian brand. Shizuku’s sharp nose helps Jack Simon save his ecovillage Emerald Forest. This meeting turns out to fateful to Shizuku, as Jack met his father when he was in Australia 15 years previously. It’s this meeting that makes Shizuku sure he made the right choice. Issei has a fateful meeting as well, which makes him just as sure. The outcome leaves Shizuku with a lot to think about.
At first, I wasn’t thrilled with this volume, mostly because I don’t like Issei. At the beginning of the series he was very haughty and looked down on Shizuku as a potential rival. His whole attitude made you want to cheer on Shizuku all that much more. At the beginning of this volume it seemed that not much had changed. He was still the stoic professional. But as the volume went on, there did seem to be a subtle change in his character. He has an assistant, a protegé of sorts that goes with him to Napa. Issei seems more thoughtful now, and by the end seemed a little more humble from what he learned of the people who created Napa Valley. It’s a growth in character that he desperately needed. Maki hasn’t learned anything yet, so it was gratifying to see her unrewarded by Issei for her taunts.
For Shizuku, the search for the Seventh Apostle was more than just a search for wine or gaining an inheritance. It was a journey to reconnect with his father by walking in the same places he did, and visiting the vineyard he spent a lot of time watching. He even imagines he sees his father for an instant in the fields when he visits. Shizuku spent so much time resenting his father for his passion, but by the end of this volume realizes he feels the same about wine. His father’s passion is becoming his own.
While Drops of God is fun for the wildly fantastic descriptions given for the wines, this is really a story about sons and their father, gaining insights into not just their father, but also themselves. It really feels that the competition to find the Apostles is just a cover for Issei and Shizuku’s father to continue teaching them, and helping them grow both as wine enthusiasts and as people. No matter who wins in the end, both Shizuku and Issei will have gained much more than any material wealth or recognition could give them. And this is what I am going to really miss being able to read. Drops of God hasn’t been the seller that Vertical hoped it would be, so this will most likely be the last volume we see printed in English, which really is a shame. A story with this much growth and depth of character needs to be read by more people. While I still find the wine terms intimidating, the human drama trumps any discomfort I might feel. Drops of God is a series that deserves more recognition than it’s gotten, and there will only be regret when it is no longer released.