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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Miss Holmes Volume 1

Christie Holmes is a prodigy. At ten-years-old, she’s as familiar with the sciences and classics as any older student at Cambridge or Oxford. And her facility with logic is reminiscent of her uncle, the eminent Sherlock Holmes himself. So, what’s a brilliant young girl to do when her parents are away in India, leaving her behind in the care of maids and servants? Why, solve mysteries, of course. Along with her giant hound Nelson, Christie’s implacable curiosity leads her from one dangerous adventure to another, often joining forces with Uncle Sherlock and Doctor Watson on their famed investigations. Christie may look pint-sized, but her clever mind is never to be underestimated!

By Kaoru Shintani
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Mystery
Price: $16.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I was really excited when I heard about Seven Seas’ acquisition of Young Miss Holmes. I love mysteries and Sherlock Holmes, but have also lately acquired a taste for stories about female relatives of Holmes also solving mysteries. First, his sister Enola Holmes in novel form, and now his niece Christie.

Young Miss Holmes takes classic Sherlock Holmes stories and makes changes to them, mostly to add Christie to the story, but also to make other changes as well. The way Christie becomes part of the story varies. Either she is visiting her Uncle Sherlock and deduces what is going on such as in the “Mazarin Stone”, or she stumbles onto a case the Sherlock is brought in on, such as “The Problem at Thor Bridge”. Christie can find cases on her own as well, as in the “Red-Headed League”, or takes on the whole case herself as she does in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”. Her inclusion is done very naturally, sometimes needing only minor changes. In “Mazarin Stone”, instead of there being a dummy of Sherlock that he switches places with, Christie plays the part of a life-like doll and gets Sylvius’ confession.

Some of the changes to the story itself include adding characters such as Arthur, the adopted son in “The Problem at Thor Bridge”, and a slightly happier ending to “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”, with the inclusion of real vampires in the guise of characters from the series Dance in the Vampire Bund by another creator, Nozomu Tamaki. This story is book-ended nicely with a short story by Tamaki herself.

Christie is just what you would expect from a relative of Sherlock Holmes. She is hyper observant and very knowledgeable in the sciences and classics. She has a strong will and stomach to go with it, and is willful to the point of being reckless. At times she wishes she was born a man and has little patience for other girls her age. She may be just as sharp as Sherlock, but she doesn’t have the experience to put it all to use. Fortunately for her, she has Grace Dunbar as her governess. While there isn’t much Miss Dunbar can do to further Christie’s education, she still assists Christie by helping her look at things in a different way, such as there can be value found in girl’s gossip, and her quiet demeanor calms Christie so she can think more clearly. She is like Christie’s Watson.

There are two maids who often accompany Christie, Ann Marie and Nora. Ann Marie is the head maid and is Christie’s Handmaid. She is the one most often put out when Christie goes on one of her adventures, but she also seems to have a temper and carries two revolvers, which she brandishes whenever Christie is threatened, leaving Christie to sometimes beg Ann Marie not to harm the perpetrator. Nora is another maid, and comes from the lower class. She can’t read or write, and speaks with a lower class accent. She always carries a whip called the Snake Tongue, which she will whip out for any reason necessary. These traits are made all the more fun by the maids’ appearances. Ann Maria appears very proper, but when she pulls her guns, she is far from reserved. Nora has an innocent look with freckles and curly hair, that turns done right demonic when she has her whip in her hands.

I really enjoyed this first volume of Young Miss Holmes. The characters are great, and the stories retain their Holmesian feel while adding a feminine touch. I also liked that Shintani kept the Victorian mores that restricted women so much at the time. Not only does Christie have the mysteries to solve, but she must also do it within the confines of Victorian society. I really enjoy watch females break through that barrier. The art is beautiful, and the dresses Shintani comes up for Christie are just as elegant as they are varied. The art is geared more toward a younger female audience, but that doesn’t make it any less attractive. I had a lot of fun reading Young Miss Holmes, and anyone who loves mysteries and/or Sherlock Holmes will love it too.

Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright Volume 1

Mystery and intrigue, crime and punishment, uncovering the truth–all in a day’s work for the ace defense attorney Phoenix Wright and his beautiful assistant Maya Fey. Based on the hit game series, Ace Attorney brings new adventures to the games’ colorful cast. Can Nick successfully swing the gavel of justice or will he be crushed by the weight of incriminating evidence?

Story by Kenji Kuroda; Art by Kazuo Maekawa
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Mystery
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

There’s not a lot of mystery manga available in English (unfortunately), so when a new series does come out, I like to check it out. Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright is based on a video game of the same name, and features many of the characters from it. It’s a decent police procedural, but the goofy characters, both in design and personality throws it off-kilter for me.

This first volume of Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright features one-and-two-thirds cases, which serve to introduce most of the characters. The first case has Nick defending his old friend from elementary school who doesn’t have the best luck with the ladies, as he is accused of murdering his new girlfriend’s old boyfriend. The second is much longer, and has Nick meeting a potential client, only to have the client killed in a locked room scenario.

Both stories are well written. The first takes place mostly in the court room, and uses several elements from the video game, including Nick’s “Objection!” pose. The comedy is played up more, particularly between Winston Payne, the prosecutor and Larry Butz, the defendant. In between there is murder and a woman scorned, but the impact of the case is lessened with the more comedic acts in the courtroom. The full impact doesn’t hit until the last page of the story. The second mystery takes itself much more seriously, possibly since it doesn’t take place in the courtroom, and Nick can be more of the detective than attorney. A lot of time is spent setting up the scene and the suspects, with the actual crime not happening until the end of the volume. It’s a good cliffhanger to get the reader back to find out more.

The art is on the cartoonish side, but most of this is because of the source material. The characters all look like their video game counterparts, which does sometimes swing on the silly side. Nick’s hair looks like it was blown back by a hurricane and stuck like that permanently. Larry always looks good with big red cheeks and a lot of cartoonish expressions. I know this can’t be helped as it is the way they characters were designed for the video game, but the whole look didn’t work as well as a manga for me.

I did enjoy the mysteries presented in this first volume of Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright, but I’m still on the fence about getting more. If it were available digitally, I wouldn’t be so hesitant since it wouldn’t take up precious shelf space. For now, Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright will have to sit on the back burner unless I get a craving for some more mysteries.

Olympos

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.

Bakuman Volume 12-13

Moritaka and Akito’s newest series Perfect Crime Party does well enough that they can start working on other things, such as beating their rivals. But some unexpected news sends them back to try to come up with a second series. But as each of them works on their specific talents individually, will it break up the team of Muto Ashirogi?

Story by Tsugumi Ohba; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

Now that Moritaka and Akito have a series running in Jump again, the story can go back to their personal lives, as well as those of their rivals and assistants. While I do enjoy seeing process of making a successful manga through Moritaka and Akito, I’ve really come to like the other manga artists and assistants, and I do enjoy seeing what’s going on with their lives and titles.

The artist we see the life most of in these two volumes is Shun Shiratori. He is an assistant to Moritaka and Akito. His mother, who wears the pants in the family, doesn’t approve of Shun working on manga, so he runs away so he can work on creating his own title. Moritaka and Akito get involved to the point that Akito ends as the writer for Shun’s manga. There is a lot of drama created from this, not just from Shun’s family life, but also between Akito, and Moritaka and Kaya. It all comes down to a simple lack of communication, and Akito is so clueless that he doesn’t see what he’s doing to Moritaka and Kaya. A few words could have avoided the whole situation, but would have made the volumes just a little less dramatic and a lot shorter. Though I think it was Akito who deserved the punch more than Moritaka.

Hiramaru has always been fun to follow. Like, Eiji, he is a “genius” creator, but hates the work, so he is always trying to get out of it. His editor is constantly having to trick or bribe him into getting his chapters done. It’s a lot of fun to see how his editor is going to manipulate him. One way he does this is by using Hiramaru’s feelings for Miss Aoki. Promises of helping him get through afternoon tea with her gets Hiramaru to write a romantic one shot that becomes popular enough to submit for serialization, but when the day finally comes Hiramaru turns the tables on his editor and meets Miss Aoki alone. The ensuing chase is really funny, and when he finally decides to confess his feelings to Aoki, it’s great to see Fukuda, Moritaka, Akito and Kaya show up to cheer him on.

I also enjoyed seeing Eiji finally create a manga that isn’t a hit. His attempt at a romance doesn’t break the top 5. It was good to see him finally feel what it’s like, even if it was only for a one shot. Another thing I like about Bakuman, is the teasers for titles we get to see. Moritaka’s romantic one-shot looked cute, and Hiramaru’s romantic one-shot looked very funny. An entry for a contest that Akito and Moritaka are judging is shown at some length, Classroom of Truth, and is a title I would really like to read! It’s really too bad so many of these will never really be serialized.

I haven’t gotten tired of Bakuman yet. Ohba does a great job of keeping the story fresh, and balancing between the manga creation process and the lives of the artists. Just concentrating on one or the other too much would ruin the charm.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Gate 7 Volume 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rin-ne Volume 8-9

Rinne once again has his hands full as he has to take care of the young Shinigami Shoma during the boy’s homestay, but if Masato the demon has anything thing to do about it, it won’t be easy. Tsubasa’s failure to exorcise the evil spirit of a beautiful girl brings him more misfortune, and as usual, it’s up to Rinne to bale him out.

By Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I kind of took a short break from Rin-ne, ie, I stopped reading the chapters online. The series has been all hit or miss for me, but since I’ve enjoyed so much of Takahashi’s work, I want to keep giving the series another chance. So when these two latest volumes became available for review, I decided to give the series another go.

Nothing has really changed. Rinne is still helping spirits to the afterlife, pining for Sakura and being dirt poor. He’s also still fending off Ageha’s advances and battling Tsubasa for Sakura’s affections. The demon Masato still tries to make Rinne’s life hell with more debt, and his father continues to try to take the souls of his classmates. The stories are still hit and miss. The “being poor” jokes still rub me the wrong way. Rinne taking Shoma to eat bread crumbs thrown by an old man for the birds or hoping that Home Ec doesn’t work out so he can have all the burnt food doesn’t strike me as funny, just sad. But I did like the story of the “magic square” (the kotatsu) as well as Sakura learning to knit to try to lure out the strangling scarf.

One thing I have come to realize is that the Shinigami are big on gadgets; devices that help them move spirits to the afterlife. Rokumon is always popping up with some strange gadget that usually helps Rinne with problem spirits. The Demon-Tool-Cutting-Shears, the Ghost Trap Box, the Tsukumogami Net and Capturing Bolas, the Childhood Channeling Balloon, the Splitting Incense, and the Single Use Spirit Path all come in handy as Rinne takes on a Tsukumogami, helps a boy give peace to a childhood friend, and tries to stop the misguided Shoma from helping Masato. I’ve come to like the gadgets. Some of them seem obvious, but others, like the Childhood Channeling Balloon and the Single Use Spirit Path are clever.

When I first started reading Rin-ne, I couldn’t help comparing it to Takahashi’s earlier series Urusei Yatsura. The more I read, the more the comparison seems to fit. Like UY, Rin-ne is  a gag manga. It’s got its cast of characters, its running jokes (Rinne’s financial situation, Tsubasa’s failure to exorcise anything), and its out-of-the-ordinary situation (the supernatural). When you think it about it, there are too many parallels to be a coincidence. This series is the UY for a new generation, but much more toned down. It has all the wackiness and comedy of its predecesor without the sheer insanity that was UY. Whether that is good or bad is anyone’s guess. I don’t think I’ll every love Rinne, but I guess I do have to admit to liking it enough to read it, just not keep it.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Vol 8 and Bakuman Vol 10

Two very different volumes are featured in this Shonen Jump edition of Mini Musings. We complete a trip to the past in Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, while Moritaka and Akito fight for their future in Shonen Jump in Bakuman. But only one of these titles gets my recommendation. Read on to find out which.

Continue reading Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Vol 8 and Bakuman Vol 10

Vagabond Volume 1

Shinmen Takezo is destined to become the legendary sword-saint, Miyamoto Musashi-perhaps the most renowned samurai of all time. For Takezo is a cold-hearted killer, who will take on anyone in mortal combat to make a name for himself. This is the journey of a wild young brute who strives to read enlightenment by way of the sword-fighting on the edge of death.

By Takehiko Inoue; Based on the novel “Musashi” by Eiji Yoshikawa
Publisher: Viz Media/Viz Signature
Age Rating: Mature
Genre: Historical
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond. I had read an excerpt of it a few years ago in a Viz Signature sampler I got at SDCC, but it didn’t really interest me then. Based on recommendations however, I picked up volume 1 to see what everyone was talking about. It’s filled with a lot of great action and drama, but I think I have to go with my original reaction and say this is not a series for me.

Vagabond starts out at the end of the battle of Sekigahara, a pivotal battle in Japanese history that gave the Tokugawa control of the shogunate. Shinmen Takezo and his childhood friend Hon’iden Matahachi, seventeen-year-olds looking to make a name for themselves, have somehow survived. Wounded, they search for shelter to recover while being chased by Refuge Hunters. They are found by a woman, Oko, and her daughter living alone in the mountains. Takezo kills the leader of a band of robbers who harass Oko, but it’s Matahachi who takes her and runs off, leaving Takezo with the responsibility of telling Matahachi’s mother and fiancée of his decision.

I’m not quite sure what I was looking for in this first volume, but I felt ambivalent through most of it. Takezo’s journey doesn’t have to auspicious a start. He somehow survives the battle at Sekigahara, including nearly being trampled by several horsemen. He fights off Refuge hunters and a band of thieves, ends up being deserted by Matahachi and betrayed by that Matahachi’s mother when he goes to tell her what has become of Matahachi. The Hon’iden family are jerks. He seems to have a way with the ladies, even if he doesn’t seem interested. Both Oko and her daughter Akemi seem to like Takezo more than Matahachi, and when pressed by Matahachi’s mother, Otsu, Matahachi’s fiancée, couldn’t agree with her that she hates Takezo.

The one thing he does know is how to fight. With either a sword or a stick and some rocks, no one who tries to kill Takezo seems to come out of it alive. He takes on practically the whole Tsujikage gang alone, as Matahachi proves to be more of a lover than a fighter. There are several pages that run black from all the blood and severed body parts. This is very much not a story for the faint of heart. Inoue has no problems with showing every graphic detail. I don’t really have a problem with the realism, it just doesn’t appeal to me personally. I read to escape the real world, not to relive it.

One thing I did enjoy was Takezo’s character design. He is very much the brash older teen with wild hair, and piercing eyes that make one think twice about taking him on. I really didn’t care for the look of most of the other characters, but their designs matched their personalities, which should tell you how I felt about a lot of them. Matahachi lacks the look of confidence he thinks he has after making his first kill, and Granny Hon’iden is as ugly on the inside as the outside. All of the characters are drawn realistically, but still seem just off enough to not feel real.

For a historical drama, Vagabond hits all the right marks. It’s gritty and realistic look does make it feel like the 15th Century Japan. The action hits hard and fast, and the drama feels as real as it looks. But in the end, it’s just not a series that interests me. while I like Takezo, the rest of the characters and the story didn’t engage me. This is how I felt when I first read the preview chapter, and now having read a whole volume, I can say nothing much has changed. If you enjoy this kind of story though, I would highly recommend it.

Hana-Kimi Volumes 1-3

Mizuki Ashiya is no slouch when it comes to a challenge. She’s a star of track and field at her high school, after all. So When she falls for fellow athlete Izumi Sano, she figures out an ingenious plan to get close to him. Now she’s moved to Japan, enrolled in the all-male high school Sano goes to, and becomes his roommate! How? She’s disguised herself as a boy! Whatever happens next, things are about to get seriously complicated!

By Hisaya Nakajo
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romantic comedy
Price: $14.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve tended to avoid gender-bending, or cross-dressing titles, because on the whole, they haven’t sounded interesting to me. A girl dressing up as a boy to go to the all-male school where her ideal mate goes seems prime for lots of comedy and hi-jinx, just not the type that I enjoy. Hana-Kimi really surprised me. It plays the comedy aspect well, but it’s not the focus of the story. It’s really about the characters and the love triangle the is created by Mizuki’s presence.

I really liked the characters in this story. Mizuki Ashiya is very earnest about just wanting to see Izumi Sano do the high jump in person. She isn’t clumsy or dizty, though she does get a little emotional for the boy she’s supposed to be. I liked that she didn’t go into this already having feelings for Sano, and that her feelings grow slowly from wanting to be friends with him to wanting to always be with him. It was a very natural progression. It’s obvious that Mizuki thought things through before coming to the school and had reasons why she couldn’t do some things, like swimming, so her excuses didn’t sound half-hazard or unlikely.

Izumi Sano is the sullen, quiet type. It takes some time for him to warm up to Mizuki, and then he figures out she’s a girl, and things take a turn for him. He doesn’t turn her in, but instead starts to work at doing the high jump again. He almost never lets on to her that he knows, but he becomes very protective of her. I like how he continues to relate to her like she’s a boy, but inside has to struggle with his own growing feelings for her. Shoichi Nakatsu is very much the comedy relief and third side to this love triangle, even if he doesn’t completely realize it yet. He was immediately attracted to Mizuki, but has not idea that “he” is a she. He feels a lot of confusion over it, and even starts to wonder if he might not be gay. This struggle is handled humorously, and made more funny to the reader because we know he’s not.

Rounding out the supporting cast is Doctor Umeda, who works in the school infirmary and really is a gay man. He knows Mizuki’s secret, as does his sister, Io, both of whom have promised to keep it. Minami Nanba, Mizuki’s Dorm R.A., is Umeda’s nephew and a ladies man who doesn’t know her secret. Kagurazaka is Sano’s rival in the high jump, and starts out being very obnoxious, but turns out to be not so bad, just very needling. I really like the entire cast of the series. They are all fun and interesting to follow.

The many of the stories are typical of a cross-dressing and high school title. Mizuki is constantly getting into situations where she could be found out, such as with Doctor Umeda and her brother coming to visit her. She is bullied for becoming the school’s new “idol”, and is asked for advise by a potential rival for Sano’s affection. But despite how common place a lot of the story lines have become, they didn’t feel that way here. I enjoyed all of the chapters, probably because there isn’t a lot going that seems unreasonable or over the top. So many of the characters reactions seem plausible and reasonable that it’s easy to believe they could happen. Nakatsu thinking he gay for being attracted to Mizuki, other people thinking Sano is gay for his overprotectiveness towards Mizuki after he learns her secret. Io pointing out to Mizuki she’s not going to be able to keep the charade for long as body matures. These things gave the story a ring of reality to it, making it so much more enjoy.

I found Hana-Kimi to a charming series so far. I really enjoyed the characters and the stories were fun, and for the most part, light. It does have its serious moments, and towards the end the of third volume it got a little dramatic, but not enough to change the tone of the series. The humor still prevails overall. I also liked how the issues of homosexuality were used and portrayed. It isn’t ignored or glossed over. Mizuki gets very upset when some boys say Sano must be for like her, and Dr. Umeda is very open and honest about his preference. The characters reactions rang true to me. I hope Viz continues to put out these omnibus editions. It was easy to hold and read and it a great price point. I can’t wait for the next volume!

Black Gate Volume 1-3

Senju is a “Mitedamashi,” an agent with the power to summon or seal Gates, and save people’s souls. He is a guardian to Hijiri, a boy whose life he once saved. After Hijiri discovers his own hidden powers, he begins a journey of self-discovery where the distant past comes back to haunt him and his choices determine life and death, not only for those he cares about, but the whole world!

By Yukiko Sumiyoshi
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $19.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

When I got Black Gate, I didn’t know anything about it other than it was a series about the supernatural, so it was an easy book to put off. But seeing it take up the space of three potential volumes, I decided to dust it off and see if it deserved that bookshelf space. While it’s not a bad series, it does take some turns, especially that the end that doesn’t make it deserving to remain on my limited bookshelf.

This series is about Hijiri, the son and last living Gate Keeper, a person born with the ability to open or close the gates that draw people’s souls out of this world and into another. His family was killed on the same day he was born, and he has been raised by Senju, a Mitedamashi, a person with the power to see these gates, and is tasked with closing the Black Gates, gates that take souls forcefully rather than waiting for the person to die. The first volume is all about the world building and introducing Hijiri and guardian Senju. The second volume follows Hijiri as he attempts to make a life for himself as a Mitedamashi, and the friends he makes along the way. The third volume has Hijiri confronting his past and facing his destiny.

I didn’t like Hijiri or Senju right off the bat. Hijiri was a brat, intent on doing whatever he wanted, and Senju was a jerk right back to him. Hijiri does mature some mentally, if not physically, as the story goes on. Of much more interest to me where Tsurugi, and Michitate, cousins who belong to a group tasked with protecting the Gate Keepers, as well as Michitate’s half-brother Michizane, a Mitedamashi that Hijiri wants as his partner. Tsuguri is the happy-go-lucky type that hides a tragic past, and Michitate is the quiet, serious type who hates Michizane, who is the loner type. While rather stereotypical, they were more interesting than Hijiri’s big talk and Senju’s weighted guilt.

The title itself is about death and how people deal with it. The whole tragedy of Hijiri and the end of the Gate Keepers begins with the desire of normal humans to have the gates closed permanently, so there is no more death. Throughout the story, there are examples of fear of death, and dealing the loss of a loved one, and how the promise of returning them to life can turn friend into foe. While the presentation of these ideas were mildly interesting, I didn’t like answers that came from them, especially for Hijiri. What Hiriji believed was right, but caved in the end. And Senju, for all the death he caused in the name of revenge, certainly didn’t deserve the second chance he got. Hijiri would have been better off with his real friends, who we see drift away with time.

Black Gate had potential, but it got lost somewhere along the way. While there were moments that I liked, mostly in the first volume, the ending trumped any of these good moments by giving a happy ending to the most undeserving. I don’t think it’s message was a good one. We should do all we can to keep our loved ones alive, but not at the cost of someone else, and we should learn when to let go. This title didn’t do that, as a result committed a real injustice to its readers.