Tag Archives: older teen

Quest for the Missing Girl: Manga Movable Feast

Mountaineer Shiga made a promise to his best friend following his tragic death in the Himalayas. Twelve years later and he is called upon to honor that promise. When 15-year-old student, Megumi, fails to arrive home from school her mother calls on her dead husband’s best friend for help. Shiga abandons his mountain refuge and enters the city to look for the girl. With the police investigation at a standstill, Shiga decides to go it alone. But the metropolis can be a much more hostile and dangerous ground than the mountains. What has happened to the youngster and will Shiga find her before it is too late? Multi-award winning creator, Jiro Taniguchi, builds the tension to a massive climax in this exciting drama!

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By Jiro Taniguchi
Publisher: Ponent Mon
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $25.00
Rating: ★★★★½

I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to participate in this month’s Manga Movable Feast. While I’d heard of Jiro Taniguchi and seen reviewers rave about his work, none of his titles really seemed to interest me. But once I went through a full list of his titles available in English, the first I found that looked interesting was Samurai Legend, which was drawn by him. But I wanted to read a title that he had both written and drawn for the MMF, and that’s when I came upon this title. I enjoy a good mystery, but The Quest for the Missing Girl is more than that.

The Quest for the Missing Girl isn’t strictly a mystery. It’s a character study wrapped in a mystery. Megumi’s disappearance is just an excuse to get Shiga off his mountain and involved again with her and her mother Yoriko, the widow of his best friend, Tatsuko. Tatsuko died while climbing Mt Daulaghiri, so Shiga feels some survivor’s guilt since he had turned down Tatsuko’s offer to join him on the climb. And that is really what is at the heart of this story. As Shiga searches for Megumi, he is also dealing with memories and feelings that he had pushed aside. Throughout the story, there are flashbacks about Tatsuko and Yoriko deciding to get married, Tatsuko deciding to do the one last climb on Mt. Daulaghiri, and Yoriko and Shiga claiming Tatsuko’s body, as well as a younger Megumi climbing with Shiga. There is the distinct feeling that Shiga had feelings for Yoriko as well, and that he didn’t approve of Tatsuko climbing again after promising to not to when he and Yoriko married. It’s these feelings that lead to the regret that later rules him. It takes climbing his own Daulaghiri, Oribe Element building, to finally overcome his guilt and regret.

The mystery itself is pretty standard. Shiga has to play detective, talking to Megumi’s friends, wandering around Shibuya, finding the clues and making the connections the police can’t because of Oribe’s power and status. A subplot to this is “compensated dating” that Megumi is involved in. Taniguchi gets a little heavy-handed with it, almost lecturing adults and parents that the reason girls get involved with these older men is because they feel unloved at home. But this might also be the point, since Yoriko is shown as not being aware of Megumi’s activities, other parents might not be as well, and this story can serve as a warning.

Besides Shiga and Yoriko, there are some great characters in this title. Maki, Megumi’s “bad girl” friend is nicely complex. She starts out being very annoying, but slowly opens up to Shiga, especially after he promises to become her champion as well. I really like Yoshio, the man who helps Shiga navigate the teen scene in Shibuya. He’s open and honest, and can see Shiga sincerity. I really liked who he could relate to the kids without trying to “be” one of them, and it gains their trust more than anything else. The villain of the story Takuya Oribe is shown as a manipulative, abusive man who is ultimately a coward that uses the power of his corporation as a shield. His character is definitely a damning of the way corporations, and not just in Japan, can get away with so much.

I enjoyed all the elements of this story. All of the different layers made it much better than just the mystery is appears to be on the surface. Taniguchi proves himself to be just a good as storyteller as an artist. The awkwardness between Shiga and Yoriko is almost palatable. The way they continue to be formal with each other, despite all the tragedy they have shared shows there are still unresolved issues between them, though the end gives hope that they soon will be.The art is as well done as the story. The wide variety of character designs is refreshing. I love the way he draws Shiga glaring when he gets into scrapes.

If you pick up The Quest for the Missing Girl just expecting a straight mystery, you are going to be disappointed. But if you allow yourself to look deeper into the characters, you will find a rich, satisfying story. While it does have its predictable moments, they do not in any way detract from the story. I’m glad I decided to give this title and mangaka a try. it just might lead to me reading more of his work.

Apollo’s Song: Manga Movable Feast

Apollo’s Song follows the tragic journey of Shogo, a young man whose abusive childhood has instilled in him a loathing for love so profound he finds himself compelled to acts of violence when he is witness to any act of intimacy or affection whether by human or beast. His hate is such that the gods intervene, cursing Shogo to experience love throughout the ages ultimately to have it ripped from his heart every time. From the Nazi atrocities of World War II to a dystopian future of human cloning, Shogo loses his heart, in so doing, healing the psychological scars of his childhood hatred.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical, inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $10.95/part
Rating: ★★★★☆

I first read Apollo’s Song 2 years ago, but could never get my thoughts about it to coalesce enough about it to get a review done. I decided to try again with the latest MMF. And again, I was at a loss for what to say. The story didn’t really speak to me, and some parts repulsed me. I had to give it a lot of thought to really come up with the reason why.

It really all came down to what the essence of this story is. It’s a tragedy. Anyone looking for some kind of happy ending here need not apply. In fact, I wouldn’t just call this story a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy’s tragedy. Because when you think it might not be so dark an ending after all, that little ray of hope is snatched from your fingers and trounced to death in front of you. Can you tell I’m not big on tragedies? It’s not that I don’t like them. I enjoyed the Sophocles tragedies, and with this title so strongly influenced by Greek myth, you’d think I’d enjoy it too. But I just couldn’t connect to it.

Apollo’s Song is composed of four stories essentially. Each lets Shogo experience a different kind of love. The first is about love at first sight with Shogo as a Nazi falling for a Jewish girl. The second is love that grows as Shogo and Naomi gradually fall in love despite their social differences. The third story shows the power of love, as Queen Sigma, a synthetic human who learns to love Shogo and then kills herself after he dies. The fourth story is the overarching plot in which Shogo experiences the other stories through dreams and hypnosis. By the end of this story, Shogo seems to be cured as he has fallen in love with Hiromi, the woman who has been secretly trying to heal him. Of course, this story couldn’t end well either.

Each of the stories make well-conceived, well written vignettes. I liked each of the stories when looked at by themselves. It’s when I look at the volume as a whole that I start to have problems. When I got to the end, I was left wondering, “What was the point?” My biggest problem with this title was all the killing of animals. I am a big animal lover, and can’t even watch the nature specials that show animals just struggling to survive. So seeing animals killed for showing affection really disturbed me. On this second reading, I skipped  over those pages. Knowing the scenes were coming didn’t help me get past them. I understand the scenes were necessary for Shogo’s story, but it was just too disturbing for me.

The ending was so pessimistic. To me, Tezuka is saying there is no happiness to be found in love. It will aways end tragically, and humanity has no choice but to keep going through the vicious cycle of love, loss and death. There is no joy in love, and no hope for humanity to escape. I also don’t get the whole beginning and ending with the anthropomorphized sperm and egg. Is Tezuka trying to imply that love is biologically driven? The opening scene at the beginning is an interesting way to show how children are conceived, but it didn’t have any relation to the rest of the book. Apollo’s Song is about the concept of love, not its biological byproduct. Children can be conceived without love, so I didn’t see the point of opening the book like that, and then revisiting it at the end.

Even though I don’t agree with the themes of Apollo’s Song, Tezuka’s ability to convey them can not be debated. One scene that particularly stands out to me is in the second story, “No Man’s Land”. While Shogo is exploring the island, the animals keep him out of one area. He finally convinces them to let him in. What he finds is a clearing where the animals of the island mate. Shogo feels uncomfortable watching and leaves. In that scene, Tezuka does an admirable job of conveying the reverence that is felt for that clearing. I felt just as uncomfortable as Shogo.

Apollo’s Song is not a title for everyone. It definitely falls into Tezuka’s dark side, though not in the way as MW or Book of Human Insects. In those stories, the good guys are just outsmarted by the bad guys. In Apollo’s Song, Shogo never had a chance in the first place. I would recommend this title but only to those interested in tragedy and all its forms, or die-hard fans of Tezuka. Apollo’s Song is a title worth reading, It’s just not something I would want to read again.

Book of Human Insects: Manga Movable Feast

Toshiko Tomura is a genius; she has already been an established international stage actress, and up-and-coming architect, and an award as Japan’s best new writer. Toshiko is also the mastermind behind a series of murders. The ultimate mimic, she has plagiarized, blackmailed, stolen and replicated the works of scores of talents. And now as her star is rising within the world of the elites and powerful she has amassed a long list of enemies frustrated by the fact that she has built critical and financial acclaim for nothing more than copying others’ work. Neglected as a child, she is challenging the concepts of gender inequality while unleashing her loneliness upon the world as she climbs the social ladder one body at a time.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Thriller
Price: $21.95
Rating: ★★★★★

I wasn’t going to read this title. It seemed to have all the hallmarks of being another MW, and I’ve had quite enough of that. But I started paging through it, and as should be expected, got sucked into the story, and had to read it from the beginning. While it has some superficial similarities to MW, I was relieved to find the story and protagonist Toshiko, is really very different.

On the surface, Yuki from MW and Toshiko do seem to have a lot in common. They are both sociopaths that use anything or anyone to get their way. They have their own agenda and will kill anyone that stands in their way, showing no remorse. But just below the surface lies the one thing that makes a big difference between these two; their motivations. Yuki didn’t start out as a sociopath. Circumstances beyond his control helped to make him into the monster he eventually became. The effects of the poison gas and disregard for life made him into a killer. Toshiko was born with her abilities and used them to their fullest. She does not kill for the pleasure of seeing someone die. She kills those who could be of a threat to her. She does it out of a perverse sense of survival. The contrast of Yuki and Toshiko could be framed in the nature vs nurture argument. Yuki is a product of his environment while Toshiko is an example of survival of the fittest. I like to use the analogy of Godzilla. Yuki is 1954 Godzilla, a man-made monster who turns on his creators. Toshiko is Heisei/1990’s Godzilla, a force of nature who doesn’t hold any real malice toward anyone, but is just doing what she must to survive.

And surviving is what Toshiko does best. Even though insects are used as the analogy for Toshiko’s abilities, it really looks like evolution to me. She goes into a new environment, adapts to it, and uses her new skills to move on to a new environment. Her acting skills allows her to blend into any social situation. Her time married to the CEO taught her to be shrewd and calculating in her inevitable destruction of him, though for a while it seemed that she had met her match in him. But nothing is taboo to Toshiko. She will do anything and everything to make sure she stays on top. She is the ultimate survivor, and as a result is the least human.

But even Toshiko has a kink in her armor. That kink is Mizuno, the designer she stole a design from. His story becomes a counter balance to Toshiko’s, as he struggles in the wake of Toshiko’s betrayal. He is the most human character just as Toshiko is the least. Instead of doing whatever it takes to move ahead, Mizuno accepts his the low paying job he has to take, and marries a woman who looks like Toshiko on the outside, but is nothing like her on the inside. But Mizuno truly loves her, and proves it by throwing away his life to avenge her, something Toshiko could probably never understand. Toshiko is portrayed as not needing anyone, but at the end, we get a glimpse that she isn’t completely invulnerable to feelings as the news of Mizuno’s fate seems to upset her. Even though she seems unable to show it, Mizuno may have really gotten to her.

The Book of Human Insects is another great thriller from Osamu Tezuka. The story was much easier to read than MW, as it was not anywhere as disturbing or outrageous. Toshiko was a much more sympathetic character than Yuki, especially at the end. She never appears to kill out of pure folly, and only does so to protect herself. She truly is an embodiment of nature; taking what she needs to live, and only killing to protect herself and survive. Definitely pick this volume up if you get the chance. The cat and mouse between Toshiko and Kamaishi, the steel executive, is worth it in and of itself, but the whole volume is a compelling read.

One Missed Call 1+2

It’s an epidemic of accidental death! Multiple college students receive odd voicemails from themselves, messages from the future, and all they contain are the screams of their own deaths. A few days later, at the date and time of the message’s posting, they die in mysterious accidents, and oddly enough, each have a candy in their mouths.

Original Story by Yasushi Akimoto; Manga by Mayumi Shihou
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Horror
Price: $14.95
Rating: ★★½☆☆

One Missed Call was a novel written by Yasushi Akimoto that was adapted into a movie by cult director Takashi Miike. It was received well enough that it got a sequel under a different writer and director. This manga adapts both movies into one volume. The first story is a standard, but fairly coherent j-horror. The second story feels more like a bunch of j-horror elements glued together and slapped with the One Missed Call label.

One Missed Call starts out like a fairly standard j-horror. People are being killed in what looks like accidents. The only link between the victims are contact lists on cellphones. The police don’t believe anything strange is going on. There is an intrepid reporter who hooks up with a potential victim to try to solve the mystery. There are misdirects, a connection between the female victim/protagonist and killer, and a strange clue; a piece of red candy left in the victim’s mouth.

There are a lot of murder mystery elements in the first story, which is probably why I liked it. Yumi and Yamashita make a good team as they try to race against time to save first Yumi’s friend Natsume, and then to save Yumi herself from the same fate. The misdirect with the mother is classic for a mystery. The child abuse subplot was slightly different, but the twist at the end with revelation of the real culprit was good. I liked that it wasn’t really a vengeful spirit, but a psychopath who took her action in life to the next level in death. The red candies were a nice touch. The ending is ambiguous, and is just one of the few serious flaws I had with the first story.

The second story is filled with them sadly. One Missed Call 2 has a mostly new cast with the only returning characters being the police detective, now a believer, investigating the new string of murders, and just a few mentions of Mimiko, the spirit from the first movie. Instead, a new vengeful spirit is introduced, a cursed girl from a village in Taiwan, where Mimiko’s grandfather was from. Kyoko, a woman who works at a daycare center becomes the new victim that must be saved, and between grusome deaths, she and her friends must go to Taiwan to find the source of the curse and stop it.

The plot of this story is poorly conceived, making it very confusing. There are two story lines running through it, instead of a plot and subplot. The death calls are continuing, but the telltale candy isn’t being left. Instead, coal is found in the stomach of the victims. So Mimiko’s story get’s left in the dust as the main characters go in search of this new spirit that is using the same method as Mimiko to kill her victims. This whole story line just doesn’t make sense, and feels forced into the One Missed Call world. While Kyoko and her friend struggle against Lily, the Taiwanese spirit, intrepid reporter Nozoe helps, but is haunted by the death of her twin sister many years before. These two storylines collide like two freight trains at the end, leaving the same kind of mess, and the twist at the end might have been clever, if the rest of the story hadn’t been so disappointing.

That art is fairly realistic, if not some what generic. In the second story, it’s especially difficult to tell Kyoko and Nozoe apart. It’s only through hair styles that it’s really possible. The death scenes aren’t really gory, and really don’t come off as scary.

If you are at all interested in One Missed Call, just see the first movie. It’s very atmospheric and plays up the scares well. Also, the ringtone that signifies a “missed call” is a big part of the story, and not being able to hear it, as in the manga, really reduces the tension which is a hallmark of j-horror. The manga, while a decent adaptation of the movies just can’t do them justice.

The Innocent

Wrongly executed for crimes he did not commit, a former detective is given a second chance at life. To earn that chance, however, the man now known as Ash must use the supernatural abilities with which he has been infused to prevent the deaths of other innocents. But is Ash willing to dedicate himself to helping others, or is his thirst for vengeance against those who destroyed his life and his loved ones too powerful to ignore?

By Avi Arad; Script by Junichi Fujisaku; Art by Yasung Ko
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Action
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★★½

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard about this title. With a collaboration of Japanese, American and Korean creators, anything was possible. And I wasn’t too sure about the story when it first started serialization in Yen Plus. But as the characters and world was built up, a solid story emerged that both fans of manga and comics could enjoy.

The Innocent is the story of Johnny Wright, a detective who is far from a hero, but does want to see justice done. In the case of Frame Burns, crime boss, he wants revenge. And he’s given that chance when the mysterious “Committee” allows him to return to Earth as an Emissary after he is executed for a crime he didn’t commit. With the help of Angel, his handler assigned by the Committee, he must help others who have been wrongly accused in order to move on. As long as he doesn’t keep getting distracted by his desire for revenge. The chapters start out with an “Innocent of the week” feel to them, as Johnny is getting a new person to help in each chapter. But they soon turn back to Johnny and his background story.

Johnny is very much an anti-hero. He doesn’t follow the rules, in life or death. Even though he’s been mandated to help others, his thoughts become focused on revenge after running into Frame’s enforcers on his first assignment. He is violent and doesn’t seem to care about anyone, but he still manages to get the job done. He also has an amazing command of his Emissary abilities, something that, like his attitude, surprises Angel. He (yes, HE), is put in charge of Johnny, giving him his assignments, helping or reigning him in when necessary. Angel doesn’t like humans, and seems to have had a problem with a former emissary that lost him his wings. Johnny and Angel are constantly at odds, as Johnny keeps trying to do things his way, while Angel has to get him to do it the Committee’s way.

There are two other characters that are central to the story. Rain was Johnny’s lawyer, and as the story progresses we learn she was his sister’s friend and may have been something more to Johnny. She feels guilty about losing Johnny’s case (and him), because she chose the law over him, and is now trying to pick up where Johnny left off against Frame. And then there’s Frame’s assassin, Whirl, a very strange and creepy guy who is always asking his victims “Wanna play?” and brandishes a knife. He seems to love to kill things for fun and can somehow see Johnny. He is also very determined, becoming quite the thorn in Johnny’s side at the end.

I enjoyed reading The Innocent. The story read much better as a single volume than serialized. It didn’t feel disconnected or confusing as it did in Yen Plus. It’s got a great cast of characters, and it quickly builds up a world that is consistent, interesting and not too different from our own. The story moves as a quick pace, and ends on an open-ended note, leaving enough loose ends for the possibility of seeing these characters again. It’s a good origin story. The art looked great. I really like Johnny always looking perfect in his suit. The action scenes were easy to follow, and as Johnny gets better with his powers and challenged by Whirl, they grow in complexity without getting a “shonen-power-up” feel. Yen Press’ presentation of the book is very nice as well. The matte cover with silver lettering gives it a classy feel.

Overall, The Innocent is a good single volume story. It has strong characters and a well written story that is thrilling and thoughtful. Non-manga readers can find plenty to like in this series as well, as it lacks a lot of the manga conventions they say they hate. I really wouldn’t mind seeing more stories written with these characters. I hope it sells enough to justify bringing them back.

No Longer Human Volume 1-2: Manga Movable Feast

I wasn’t going to read No Longer Human. I’m one of those people who hears “literary classic”, and my brain shuts down. I’ve never been big on the drama and tragedy that usually permeates these kinds of books, but I’m making an effort to “expand my horizons”, so I decided to at least give the first volume a chance. What I found was a compelling human drama that didn’t feel like homework at all.

By Usamaru Furuya; Based on the novel by Osamu Dazai
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: 16+ (Older Teen)
Genre: Drama
Price: $10.95
Rating: ★★★★★

No Longer Human, written by Osamu Dazai, originally took place just after Japan’s defeat in World War II. Furuya takes this story and updates it for the 21st century, making it relatable to modern-day readers. He starts the title with a great hook. While he is surfing the internet for ideas for his next manga, Usamaru Furuya stumbles onto a link to Yozo Oba’s “Ouch Diary”, a blog about his life. This was a great way to start out the story since it’s so believable. Web surfing can lead to some strange places, and the fact that he gets sucked in in spite of himself was another great touch.

I think the choice of setting the story in modern times was the right one. It makes what Yozo goes through more relevant to the audience. While the themes of the story may be universal, a setting from over 60 years ago can make it too far removed to grab the reader. The original story will still bring in readers, but modernizing it will bring in more.

Furuya also does an excellent job of portraying Yozo’s emotions. At the beginning, Yozo doesn’t know what emotions really are, or what it means to feel them. He doesn’t understand what it means to be human and Furuya shows this by depicting Yozo as a puppet. He dances on the strings to fit into whatever situations he’s in. When he tries to commit suicide with Ageha, he is shown as a doll breaking apart. It’s after this incident that he starts to understand emotion and is no longer depicted that way.

In some way, these first two volumes show Yozo maturing backwards emotionally through the women he meets and lives with. When he’s with Ageha, he ready to give up on life, thinking there’s nothing left to experience or live for. When he lives with Shizuko and her daughter Shiori, he gets a taste of what being married could be like. And, when he runs away to Mama, he can finally be a teenager. She acts like a real mother figure to him, one he doesn’t seem to have ever had. When he meets Yoshino, he acts like a schoolboy with a crush, which really shows his emotional growth. Before, he looked at women as objects to have sex with, not understanding, or even trying to understand their feelings. With Yoshino, he doesn’t seem to feel that way at all.

Things seem to be looking up for Yozo by the end of volume 2. He has a home where he is accepted unconditionally, and he seems to have found true love. The words at the end though seem to hint at more bad times to come. After he has started to rise up, it seems that Yozo is destined for a fall. But while the words are ominous, it’s Furuya’s panels on the last page that really gives meaning to the darkness in them. The last panel almost makes you shudder at the implications.

No Longer Human is a classic in the truest sence of the word. It tells a story that is not only universal, but also timeless. The feelings and experiences of Yozo can be found in any time period and any society. Dazai’s story is compelling on its own, but Furuya’s art just drives home the story that much more. His imagery adds so much to the words and expresses what words alone can’t. I can’t recommend this title more highly.

Highschool of the Dead Volume 1-3

A mysterious illness is spreading rapidly through the halls of Fujimi High School. In a matter of hours, the campus is transformed from a place of learning into a  hive of nightmares, as the infected students collapse and are reborn as flesh-hungry zombies! Only a handful of students escape the outbreak – among them Takashi Komuro and his childhood friend Rei. He manages to protect Rei from the initial onslaught, but how long can Takashi and the other students hope to survive when the whole school – maybe the whole town – is out for their blood?!

Story by Daisuke Sato; Art by Shouji Sato
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: 18+
Genre: Horror
Price: $13.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Highschool of the Dead is “interesting” in the same way that we are currently living in “interesting times.” It all depends on how you look at it. There were times when I was really interested in the story it was telling, as well as the characters. At other times I just wanted to roll my eyes, put the book down and walk away. And that is what made this series so frustrating to me.  It has a real story to tell, if you can get past the rampant fan service and blood.

Let’s look at the good points about this series. First and foremost, there is a fascinating story being told in these pages. As the infected start to outnumber the uninfected, you can see the fabric of society start to break down. This is shown through the monologues Takashi often goes into,  and the obstacles our heroes face. Throughout the volumes, Takashi is constantly commenting on how quickly he and his friends adapt to a new world where the old rules no longer apply, like smashing a cash register for cash is acceptable for survival, and the worse thing you can do to an enemy is to NOT kill them. In just 12 hours they can go from running for their lives to happily taking on a group of zombies without a second thought. It was these observations that drew me into the story most.  But even as our heroes seemed to start to lose their humanity, they do find ways to reclaim it, such as in their saving of the young girl Alice.

Another aspect I really liked was the denial about the reality of the situation. When the outbreak first starts, Takashi comes right out and says they aren’t in a movie or video game, and yet everyone is behaving like a zombie from one. Though, he never gets to say the whole word “zombie”. He gets cut off. And later Hisashi, his friend and Rei’s boyfriend, dubs them all “they” because he can’t bring himself to believe they are something from the movies, and this is how they are referred throughout the books. No one wants to cross that line.

I also really appreciated that there are so many female characters that are smart and self-reliant. Rei, Takashi’s childhood friend is full of fire, and is bashing heads with her mop handle/spear. She also recognizes the danger Shidou poses and would rather take her chances with the zombies than him. Saeko is everything you would expect from the captain of the kendo club. Wielding her wooden sword, she is calm and cool in the face of danger, and always ready to protect the a person’s honor. Saya is constantly proclaiming that she is a genius, but it isn’t just boasting from her.  She is the first to figure out that it’s sounds that attract the zombies. And even though she hides behind Hirano, she will get her hands dirty when necessary. The guys aren’t so bad either. Takashi shows a lot of leadership, even though he would say he’s just trying to keep him and Rei alive. And Hirano is hesitant at first, but once he gets a gun in his hand, he really proves his worth.

The biggest downside of this series is also the women. It’s not the way they act, but the way they are drawn. All of them are drawn with big breasts, with the school nurse Shizuka having back breakers. I’m not sure which is more unbelievable, the breast sizes or the zombies. It gets worse in volume 2 when all the women take a bath together, and they are comparing sizes and feeling each other up. It’s like a pseudo lesbian love fest. All through these three volumes, almost every other page has a panty shot. It gets really close to being overwhelming. It also takes all the wind out of the more serious elements of the story. You can have this wonderful monologue from Takashi about how they world they knew was gone on one page, to the women half-naked and bouncing around in the next. It’s hard to take the series seriously with gratuitous breast grabs going on.

The art is fairly standard for a shonen series. The characters are rather generic looking, though they are just distinct enough to tell apart at sight. I was much more impressed with the horror side of it. There were a lot of nice details on the zombies, with chunks of flesh torn out and bones sticking out. While graphic horror isn’t usually my thing, I found I could appreciate the look of the zombies. They are just what you’d expect for a zombie apocalypse.

Highschool of the Dead isn’t going to be a title for everyone. Both the horror and fan service will keep some readers from even picking up the volumes. But I think the story of society collapsing and how people react to it is an interesting one, and worth digging through the gore and gratuitous boob and panty shots to get to. I would recommend Highschool of the Dead to veteran manga readers and horror fans. Anyone easily offended or disturbed need not apply.

 

Yen Plus September 2011

It’s been a year since Yen Plus went digital and things don’t seem to have changed much, at least not for the Japanese side of the magazine. It’s still meager at best, and is losing another title this month with the final chapter of The Innocent appearing. We can hope Yen Press will be able to announce something soon, otherwise having the two sides of the magazine is going to be pretty pointless.

Continue reading Yen Plus September 2011

Countdown 7 Days Volume 1

Lonely Mitamura may be a teacher at the exclusive Sheol Soul School – an academy dedicated to the afterlife – but he has a lot to learn about human emotions and helping others. In fact, his star pupil Tsuru thinks she’ll teach him a little lesson by running off during a field trip in the living world. Now, Mitamura has only seven days to track Tsuru down with the help of a brand-new (deceased) sidekick. Will the clock run out before they find her?

Continue reading Countdown 7 Days Volume 1

Vampire Cheerleaders/Paranormal Mystery Squad Volume 1

The Bakertown High School cheerleading squad has a secret: behind all their pretty make-up and short skirts are five hungry vampires who sure know how to show their school spirit!

When one of their own turns up missing, the senior cheerleaders have no other choice but to induct one of the eleventh grade girls from the B Squad into their vixenous ranks. But siring new recruit Heather Hartley is the easy part…keeping a sheltered virgin from not going wild and draining the entire football team on the eve of their big homecoming game is another matter!

Written by Adam Arnold; Art by Shiei and Comipa
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy
Price: $10.99

I like Seven Seas Entertainment. Really, I do. They have a nice mix of original and licensed titles, with a very eclectic selection of genres. Sadly though, I didn’t like one of their biggest hits, AOI House. So I didn’t have high hopes for Vampire Cheerleaders when it was announced, but I was looking forward to Paranormal Mystery Squad. Boy, did I get those turned around.

Vampire Cheerleaders is just as cliché as it sounds. Good girl Heather is invited to join the ‘A’ cheerleading squad after one of its members goes missing. Once “initiated” into their coven, she goes wild with her new power and ends up draining the football team just before the big homecoming game, and the girls have to figure out a way to keep their team from losing.

Even though everything about the characters is cliché, from Heather’s strict parents, to Heather’s transformation from goody-two shoes to vamp, to all the clique-y in-fighting between the girls, to even the geeky best friend who knows the cheerleaders are vampires and get pushed by the wayside once Heather becomes popular, the story is mildly amusing. The characters are varied enough to be interesting. While I don’t generally like stories about popular clique girls, these girls were engaging enough to keep me from getting bored.

I was even intrigued by the coven’s leader Lori’s past (and not just because we share a name, though, she does spell it right) and her need to keep coming back to the school and have a “perfect senior year”. There seems to be something there. The art is nice and clean and the character designs are well done. I wouldn’t mind reading another story from this series.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Paranormal Mystery Squad is a whole ‘nother story.

Double-featuring with Vampire Cheerleaders is Paranormal Mystery Squad, written by Adam Arnold with art by Comipa, in a ghostbusting Aoi House spin-off.

Goth girl Stephanie Kane always thought she was special; that there was something different about her. It turns out that she’s the most normal person out there and everyone else around her is some kind of paranormal freak! Seriously: her sister is a werewolf, her best friend is a witch, and her next door neighbor is a dhampir. Together, this motley crew of unlikely friends travel the country in their trusty Winnebago in search of cryptids and all manner of supernatural beasties!

With a title like “Paranormal Mystery Squad”, I was hoping there would be some really mystery and at least interesting paranormal activity. I got neither. Instead I got characters that are completely unlikable, and a story that drags on and goes no where. There is absolutely no character in this story that I can find even tolerable. Stephanie and Katie are unpleasant and spiteful, the very definition of the word “bitch.” I just grew to hate them the more I read. And what I was reading was boring at best, and insulting at worst. About half way through, I kept hoping the story was over, but it just kept going. I think all the parts about women and their menstruation were supposed to be funny, but it really wasn’t. Even the title gets into the act. It’s exactly this kind of crude humor that I disliked in AOI House. I should get combat pay for making it to the end.

The art in this story was rough and uneven. Overall, the story a few (very few) decent moments. I did like the Ghostbusters reference, but it’s just not something I can recommend in good conscience. You couldn’t pay me to read another story in this series, which leaves me in a conundrum. How do I read the next Vampire Cheerleaders without supporting Paranormal Mystery Squad? Digital versions of the titles sold separately please, Seven Seas!

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

Yen Plus July 2011

This month’s Yen Plus features a lot of changes. The most obvious, as it’s features on the cover is the debut of Soulless, another novel adaptation, but not by James Patterson. This one is by Gail Carriger with art by Rem. But with this addition, two other titles are saying farewell. Gossip Girl ends this issue as does the color edition of High School of the Dead. I’m not going to miss Gossip Girl, as I wasn’t even reading it. But High School of the Dead…well, I’ll give my feelings about that later. And you might notice  something missing from this issue. No Daniel X. And no word why. Strange…

Soulless – This first chapter starts with some very nice color pages, as we are introduced to Alexia Tarabotti. She is at a party when she is attacked by a vampire, that doesn’t appear to be part of a coven, and has a run in with Lord Maccon, the head of Bureau of Unnatural Registry as well as Alpha of the local werewolf pack, and Professor Lyall. Her encounter seems to have attracted the attention of Countess Nadasdy, the leader of a vampire coven, so she goes to see Lord Akeldama, another vampire that she is on good terms with, for advice. I really enjoyed this first chapter, and absolutely love Alexia. I’m coming to appreciate stories set in Victoria London, and Rem’s art is a sight to behold. I think I have found my new favorite series!

Milkyway Hitchhiking – This chapter switches gears again, as Milkyway tells the tale of another “master” of hers. A cruel king is sending hunters out to bring back a creature with white fur. If they fail, they are killed. A new hunter is dispatched, a woman named Robin. But the creature turns out to be something Robin didn’t expect. Her perceived failure as seen by the King’s sorcerers makes the King decide to do the job himself. One again, Milkyway is ancillary to the story, acting more as narrator than wish-granter. This story is at least a two parter, so we’ll have to wait until next month to see where it goes.

Witch and Wizard – Whit gets the gang out of the jam the chapter ended on last month, and Wisty frees all the children in detention. A traitor is revealed in the resistance, but Whit and Wisty join their powers to defeat the warden and guards. The One Who Is The One then appears and taunts Whit with six prophecies supposedly about them before disappearing. I liked the action scenes with Whit and Wisty working together, and realizing it’s the adults who are scared of the children, and more importantly, of change. I still don’t like TOWITO. Not capturing or killing them now doesn’t make him a little good or grey. He’s still the villain.

Aron’s Absurd Armada – Aron and his crew return to port to exact revenge on Luthor and instead decide to go after the Crown of the Ant Queen. It was taken by Luthor as a gift for the King’s birthday, so they decide to the backway through some difficult mountains. Meanwhile we learn more about Aron’s parents and their relation to the Nelson family. While Aron and Luthor might have been friends, it obvious that his mother and Nelson is not. And like the rest of the cast, the King is just as odd.

Maximum Ride – The Flock is heading west, away from Itex, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone following them. An eerie sense of foreboding starts to settle over Max as rumors of a disaster coming starts to seem more real. Fang receives a message that one of the Flock is a traitor. They decide to go to a public place, a football game to see if they can draw their enemies out. They get spotted by members in the crowd, but still no Erasers. It really feels like we’re reading the climax of the story, as the impending doom seems to come ever closer. I am looking forward to see what that is.

Jack Frost – No-Ah is confronted by the new Iyel about emotion, and Siegfred is preparing to move out. Camilla has a plan as well, sending off her “pieces” to the Pillar of Solomon. Meanwhile, inside the Pillar, we are introduced to Beelzebub, another busty woman, and her master Solomon himself. Still not much going on, and really, I’m not feeling any anticipation for what’s probably supposed to be a big fit. I really wasn’t impressed with Beelzebub stripping and prostrating herself in front of Solomon either.

Highschool of the Dead – This final preview chapter starts at the airport where unaffected people are trying to escape, and sniper Rika Minami is clearing a path for the planes to take off. Meanwhile, Saeko, Saya, Kouta, and Shizuka decide to leave the school van and meet up with Takashi and Rei, who are trying to reach one of the bridges to cross into town, but the military has them all blocked off. They meet up with their friends, and Shizuka tells them she knows a place nearby where they can stay, as it’s getting close to nightfall. While all of the fanservice is really annoying, I can’t help but be interested in Takashi’s narration, as he talks about how this zombie apocalypse is changing him and his friends. And while the color is nice, if I continue to follow this series, it’ll be in the black and white.

The Innocent – Johnny is helping Joshua find his sister, and takes him to where women are trafficked. They don’t find her, but Johnny’s powers continue to grow, and he is able to speak to the man responsible for his sister’s injuries, Frame. Johnny continues to skirt the rules, making his point without actually hurting anyone. He finally figures out where Joshua’s sister is, but Frame has sent to Whirl to the lawyer Rain, and he gets there first. I’m still finding this series to be interesting, but not engaging. It seems to be devolving into a typical action title, but the mysteries of Whirl and Angel, and why Johnny can keep doing things he’s not supposed to keeps me reading.

K-On! – The chapter of K-on! isn’t the usual 4-koma, but typical manga chapter. The girls take a break from practice, and Ritsu and Mio’s past is revealed. It’s not a bad story, and if K-On! had been more like this, I might have liked it more. I’m finding I’m not fond of the 4-koma format.

Yotsuba&! – Yotsuba tags along with Ena to Miura’s house, which is in a tall apartment building. In the elevator Yotsuba tries to press all the buttons, but Ena warns her off. At Miura’s home, they see Miura’s picks from her trip to Hawaii, and trade souvenirs, but then Yotsuba makes a most surprising discovery in Miura’s room. The scene in the elevator was cute.

Next month, the mag stays down one story, but Gossip Girl keeps going with a bonus chapter. Hopefully that really will be the last! And there’s no Daniel X scheduled next issue either. Hopefully, there will be some word on it next issue. It is the Patterson book I like the most, though I think I’m in the minority. But, what else is new?