Tag Archives: older teen

Soul Eater Not Volume 1-2

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!

SOULNOT_1By Atsushi Ohkubo
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Slice-of-Life/Fantasy/Action
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

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.

Soul Eater Not 2I 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.

Durarara!! Volume 3-4

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?

DURARARA_3Story by Ryohgo Narita; Art by Akiyo Satorigi; Character Design by Suzuhito Yasuda
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action/Supernatural/Romance
ISBN: 9780316209328; 9780316209335
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

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.

Durarara 4Seiji 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.

21st Century Boys Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pluto Volume 1-8: Manga Movable Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Drops of God: New World

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.

Drops of God 5Story by Tadashi Agi; Art by Shu Okimoto
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Food/Drama
ISBN: 9781935654520
Price: $14.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

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.

Demon Love Spell Volume 1

Miko is a shrine maiden who has never had much success at seeing or banishing spirits. Then she meets Kagura, a sexy demon who feeds off women’s feelings of passion and love. Kagura’s insatiable appetite has left many girls at school brokenhearted, so Miko casts a spell to seal his powers. Surprisingly the spell works–sort of– but now Kagura is after her!

By Mayu Shinjo
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I had completely missed the license announcement for Demon Love Spell, so it came as a complete surprise when I saw it. I’ve only ever read one other volume by this manga creator, Ai Ore!, and had a sort of love/not-love thing with that volume. After reading this volume, I found I had the same feeling for this volume as well.

Demon Love Spell is about a demon, an Incubus, who is bound by bumbling exorcist who can’t even see the spirits she is trying to exorcise. With his powers diminished, he has to stay with her until she can figure out what spell she used to bind him. Because he was a powerful demon, both of them become targets to other demons that want to defeat him and eat her. They must grudgingly work together to survive.

I started reading this title without making any connections to who the creator was, and as a result has hopes this wouldn’t be too bad. And it’s not bad per se. It just isn’t my kind of series. The first warning bell came from Kagura with his leering eyes and seductive manner. Granted, he is an incubus and he’s supposed to be seductive, so I can’t fault him or the series for that. But what it gave me was a serious “Black Bird” vibe. I found the sexual innuendo in that series to be creepy and got the same feeling while I was reading this one.

A lot of that feeling stems from the similarity between the female protagonists. Both Miko and Misao are kind of clueless and easily manipulated by their respective supernatural “suitors.” While Miko is more defiant during the day, Kagura uses her dreams to get what he wants, and her dream self is much more willing and submissive than her conscious self. Miko is also innocent in the ways of the heart and is often vulnerable to Kagura when he tries to seduce her. I don’t find Kagura to be very likable either. Even in his “cute” form, when he is bound and the size of doll, he’s pervy and really not that cute. His favorite hiding spot on Miko is of course between her breasts.

All the innuendo aside, Demon Love Spell does have some good points. Miko isn’t completely defenseless. She may have to relay on Kagura for some of the more powerful demons and to see them, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to exorcise them herself, and she doesn’t run or cower when confronted with danger. Kagura, for all his sleaziness, does seem to have some real feelings for Miko. He doesn’t appear to just be using her, and the feelings they are developing for each other seem to be happening at the same time. I appreciate this approach more than a one-sided relationship developing. I also really liked the fox spirit that was introduced at the end. He is cute in both his animal and human forms.

Demon Love Spell was an okay story, but not a keeper. The chapters seem to balance battling demons and Miko and Kagura’s relationship well. I have no complaints with the art either. The bishi are appropriately bishi and demons are appropriately scary. As I said earlier, the story isn’t badly written, it just isn’t written for me. This is a title more for Black Bird and Vampire Knight fans, of which I am really neither. I won’t follow this title regularly, but I won’t object to the occasional check in.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Chibi Vampire: Airmail and Bites

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

Continue reading Chibi Vampire: Airmail and Bites

Blood Alone Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Ju-On: Video Side

This chilling tale of murder, secrets, and revenge centers on a home and the ugly events that transpired there. The place now has new owners, but there is a vile presence that permeates the building and pollutes every surface. What wickedness set off this unstoppable angry spirit? Why has its bloody grudge infected the home and its inhabitants? In the spirit of The Ring, Ju-On –Video Side– delivers a dark warning of a cursed spirit and the corrupting influence it has on the living.

Story by Takashi Shimizu; Adaptation by Miki Rinno
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $9.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

While I don’t care for most horror movies in general, I do like the J-Horror movies that came out in the early 2000s. I have been on a quest to read as many of the manga adaptations that have come out as I can. So far I have read The Ring 0-3, Dark Water and One Missed Call. The manga adaptations have been hit or miss for me, so when I finally got my hands on Ju-On: Video Side, I wasn’t sure which way it would go. It’s actually a pretty good adaptation, just not of the movie as released here in the US.

Ju-On: Video Side tells the story of the Murakami family, the family to live in the house after the Saekis, who were the originators of the curse. Their story was originally told in the 2000 direct-to -video film Ju-On, or Ju-On: The Curse, and is a prequel to the theatrical movie. The story follows Tsuyoshi Murakami and his friend Mizuho, the daughter of Tatsuya Tamura, a friend of Tsyuoshi’s father, and the realtor who sold the Murakami’s their new house. Starting with Tatsuya’s mysterious dismemberment, one person after another is killed at the hands of Kayoko and Toshio’s hands. Some for doing nothing more than walking into the house.

I liked this adaptation. It didn’t follow the theatrical movies, so the story was fresher. It also told the story straightforwardly and in chronological order, so there was no trying to get your head around what was going one. I also liked a lot of the little differences that happen in the manga. Tsuyoshi’s sister Kanna isn’t killed feeding rabbits, but stray cats, which makes some sense since Toshio’s spirit is merged with a cat. The scene is very disturbing though. It’s gives a good shock too, as two police officers investigating the attack stare at something off-screen, taking about what it could be, which is inter-cut with scenes of Kanna dragging herself home. The build up is paid off in the reveal.

I also like what happened between Tsuyoshi and Mizuho. The story builds them up as not just the protagonists, but with a budding romance as well. This makes what Tsuyoshi does disturbing yet touching, even if he was under Kayoko’s influence at the time. The volume ends not on an uplifting note, but with a feeling that there could be hope. Kayoko and Toshio are shown to be just as much victims of the curse as the people who move into the house, and that adds to the overall emotion. Ju-on isn’t a personal vendetta, or mindless serial killer killing for the pleasure. It’s like a force of nature, and sweeps up anyone and everyone in its path.

If you’re interested in picking up the manga of a J-Horror, Ju-On: Video Side is a good choice. It hits different notes than the videos and movies, and hits them well. There is some blood and gore, but nowhere near as much as many western horror movies, and you can turn the page fast if it really bothers you. Just don’t read this in the dark, when you’re alone, and where there are cats. You might not get any sleep for a while.




From on high, the gods make sport of the mortals who toil below them. None knows the cruelty of these beings better than Ganymede, a beautiful prince who was torn away from his family by the gods’ divine hands. Granted immortality, Ganymede now whiles away his days in an inescapable miniature garden for the amusement of the gods, particularly Apollo. But the gods themselves are no stranger to the boredom of eternal life, and as Ganymede quickly discovers, they will do anything to keep themselves entertained, both at his expense and at one another’s…

By Aki
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $18.99
Rating: ★★★★½

I love mythology, so anytime there’s a series that comes out that has to do with some myth or legend, I want to check it out. This made Olympos a must for me to read. While I wasn’t too sure about the title at first, it had completely won me over by the end. Olympos brings up some interesting ideas about gods and immortality.

Olympos starts by introducing the reader to Ganymede, a beautiful prince who it trapped in a miniature garden. His current plight is shown, and then it flashes back to the past to show how he came to be there, and became immortal. But he isn’t really the protagonist of the book. It’s really about Apollo, the sun-god who kidnaps Ganymede and becomes his captor and tormentor. Apollo is bored, and Ganymede is just one of his diversions. After learning about Ganymede, the story focuses on Apollo and the other gods who he interacts with; Poseidon, Hades, Artemis and even Zeus.

At first, Apollo appears to be a complete jerk. He torments Ganymede mercilessly with escaping from the garden, forces him to watch his brother die, calls all humans insects, and tips a stone onto some humans building a temple to him. He also mocks Posiden, the middle brother and god of the oceans, calling him an idiot. But as I read more of his story, he became more sympathetic. The more he interacts with humans, including Ganymede, the more we see how hollow his life, and really the lives of the gods are. Even though Apollo looks down on humans as inferior, he is fascinated by the things they can do that gods can’t, such as lying, or saying things they can’t do. While he never stops looking down on Ganymede, the pair do grow some, and come to understand where each other is coming from, and it’s that understanding that made me more forgiving of Apollo’s cruel behavior.

I really enjoyed how well each character fits his description from the myths. Apollo is very capricious in his behavior toward humans, though we don’t see his amorous side. The portrayal of his relationship with his sister was intriguing as well. Poseidon is show to be very argumentative with his fellow gods and trying to get Apollo and Hades to join him in overthrowing Zeus. Hades is pragmatic and cryptic, as you would expect the god of the underworld to be, while Zeus is kept a complete mystery. As god of the sky, he is portrayed as not really seeing those around him, especially humans, though he did grow curious about Ganymede. I also really liked the idea of “the gods can not speak false”, and how that affects Apollo.

The art is just stunning. All the gods are drawn as bishonen, as is Ganymede. There is a lot of beautiful, flowing hair for everyone. Zeus is shown to be all feathers and wings, and Hades is all in black with horns, though he can appear differently depending on who is looking at him. Another touch I really enjoyed was Apollo having eyes the color of sunrise/sunset. Aki put a lot of thought into the look of the characters to match their personalities and it shows in the beautiful artwork.

Olympos is a fantastic read. The almost tragic circumstances of everyone makes it very different from most other manga out there, since it isn’t because of fate or the gods, or any of the other reasons usually given. It’s just the way their life is, and that is infinitely more interesting than having some higher thing to blame. Immortality might not be as great as we think it might be, and boredom a fate worse than death.