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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☆☆☆☆

Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 1

Sakura is the granddaughter of a mysterious moon princess who slew demons with her Blood Cherry Blossom sword. All her life Sakura has been forbidden to look at the full moon without knowing why. Then one night, unhappy over her impending marriage, Sakura gazes up at the moon, only to see a demon attacking her…

Continue reading Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 1

Ooku: The Inner Chamber Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

In Edo period Japan, a strange new disease called the Redface Pox has begun to prey on the country’s men. Within eighty years of the first outbreak, the male population has fallen by seventy-five percent. Women have taken on all the roles traditionally granted to men, even that of the shogun. The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the shogun’s Inner Chamber…

Continue reading Ooku: The Inner Chamber Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

Flower of Life Volume 1-4: Manga Movable Feast

For some, high school represents the best days of their lives. For others, they would rather bury the memories in the deepest, darkest corner of their minds. For Harutaro Hanazono, the ball is still up in the air. Forced to enroll one month late after recovering from a serious illness, Harutaro does his best to remain optimistic about the whole situation. The other students try to make Haru feel welcome – especially his chubby, loveable pal, Shota – but Kai Majima, president of the manga club and all-around hard case, seems intent on making Harutaro’s high school life a living nightmare. Join Harutaro as he makes new friends, learns to draw mang and discovers surprising facts about his “kinda gay” teacher!

By: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Slice of Life
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★★

While I enjoyed my first Yoshinaga series, Antique Bakery, I wasn’t wowed by it like I expected to be. Yoshinaga has gotten a lot of praise from the mangasphere, but I just didn’t see it in Antique Bakery. But I’m always willing to give a creator another try, and with Yoshinaga’s series Flower of Life, I’m really glad I did. This 4 volume series is filled with quirky characters, funny and dramatic scenes, and a story that offers a portrayal of high school life that feels real.

Flower of Life revolves around Harutaro Hanazono. He has just recovered from leukemia, after getting a bone marrow transplant, and is starting high school late. He is an honest and forthright person, sometimes too much so for his classmates, as when in his introduction to the class, he tells them about his illness. He is friendly and in general easy to get along with. He is also rather possessive of his first friend, Shota Mikuni. Shota is quiet and shy when he first meets Harutaro, but through their friendship he starts to be more assertive. Kai Majima, who is also Shota’s friend is a full-blown otaku who doesn’t get along with people very well, and is always looking to turn any situation to his advantage. He is oblivious to other people or their concerns, and really not a likable character for the entire series.

In contrast, Harutaro’s family and classmates are quirky and fun. His older sister Sakura, is a bit of a shut-in, living at home and doing all the domestic chores. She loves to cook and bake, and has a thing for khaki clothes. His father works two jobs, his main one being as a chicken sexer. He looks tough but is really just a big softy. His mother is also a chicken sexer who is working overseas teaching her craft. As a family, they care for each other, but also bicker like the dickens! And it’s Mom who wears the pants in the family. At school, Sumiko Takeda becomes part of Harutaro’s circle of friends despite not being his class, when she is outed when Majima learns she likes to draw manga. She seems timid at first, but turns out to be more than a match for Majima. Tsuki is one of Harutaro’s male friends who likes to party and has a crush on Sakura. Harutaro’s teacher, Shigeru Saito, is just a bundle of issues, much like the students. Yoshinaga did a great job with Shigeru, keeping the character’s sex ambiguous all the way through the series, even after it’s revealed.

All these characters would be wasted without a great story, and that’s where this series really shines. Since it’s a slice of life, it doesn’t have a plot like you would normally think a story would have. Instead, every chapter is a glimpse into the life of Hartaro and his friends as they go through their first year of high school. I have to say, this is the best slice of life series I have ever read. Yoshinaga does a great job of capturing both the good and the bad moments of high school life, as well as showing all the teenage insecurities. The characters and situations she creates feel real, and that makes them all the more interesting. Even tired clichés, like the Cultural Festival become interesting and fun in her hands. It doesn’t matter if it’s humor or drama, she portrays them both with the playfulness or power needed to make the right impact without falling into the trap of silly or melodramatic.

It was such a pleasure to read this series. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The ending was just right as well. I felt satisfied at the end. While I enjoyed all of the characters, I didn’t feel I had to have more. The four volumes felt just right (not that I wouldn’t read more if given the chance). Even in this school life series, Yoshinaga’s love of food still comes through in the characters of Sakura and Isonashi, one of Harutaro’s classmates. There is even a bonus chapter about how to make one of the breads featured in a chapter!

Flower of Life is a series I not only high recommend to manga readers, but I think the casual comic reader would enjoy it as well. The realistic characters and story and lack of manga tropes should make it more appealing to a casual reader. Yoshinaga does have some funny faces, but these are used in obviously comic moments and enhance the effect rather than distract from it. If you get the chance to read this series, do not pass it up.

Oresama Teacher Volume 1

Mafuyu, determined to make the best of the situation and make her mother proud, decides to turn over a new, feminine, well-behaved leaf. But her yanki soul can’t be kept down, and the night before school starts she finds herself defending some guy who’s getting beaten up. One slip wouldn’t have been a problem, except the guy is…her teacher?! How can Mafuyu learn to be a girly girl if her teacher won’t let her forget her yanki past?

Continue reading Oresama Teacher Volume 1

Fruits Basket Volume 1-4: MMF

Tohru Honda recently lost her mother, and through certain circumstances, is living alone in a tent in the woods. The same woods, as it happens, as her classmate and school “prince” Yuki Sohma. Through a strange twist of fate (and her own clumsiness) she discovers that Yuki, and other members of the family, have been cursed, and through weakness or a hug from a member of the opposite sex, change into one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Tohru ends up living with Yuki, Shigure, and Kyo Sohma, and is soon meeting more members of the zodiac.

By: Natsuki Takaya
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99/OOP
Rating: ★★★★½

I wasn’t interested in shojo at the time that Fruits Basket started to come out, and didn’t develop one until the series was already well into the teens. But, like so many other titles, the Manga Movable Feast has given me an opportunity (and excuse) to finally check it out. I wasn’t really impressed after reading the first volume. I took the ending of volume 4 to really get me to give the series a chance and continue on with it.

I didn’t really care for the characters at the beginning. Tohru, the female protagonist of the series, and really the focus, came off as really ditzy, and even a little naive at first. But it soon becomes apparent, that she is just very kind, often to a fault. She always tries to keep a positive attitude, even though she is still trying to deal with the sudden loss of her mother in a car accident. She doesn’t want to impose on others, which is why she decides to live in the woods instead of “inconveniencing” her friends. She is very accepting of people for who they are, and after the initial shock, isn’t surprised by all the transformations that keep happening around her.

I was mostly fine with Tohru. It was Yuki and Kyo that I really didn’t like at first. Yuki is the quiet, and very handsome boy who is often mistaken for a girl. He is aloof and comes off cold at the beginning. He is the rat of the zodiac, who is responsible for the cat not being at the banquet. He doesn’t want to be a part of the zodiac, and just wants to live with “normal” people. He takes ill easily, but is physically very strong. I really disliked his contemptible nature towards others, especially Kyo at first. He gets better over these first four volumes. Kyo is Yuki’s cousin and the cat of the legend. He’s not part of the zodiac, but he still transforms. He hates Yuki as the rat, and the feeling is completely mutual. He is constantly attacking Yuki to try to beat him. He is filled with anger at the beginning, and lashes out at everyone around him, including Tohru, even when she’s trying to be nice to him. She seems to have a calming effect on him, and though he is still competitive with Yuki, their fights tone down to bickering instead of destroying the house. I didn’t really care for Kyo at first either, but as he toned down the anger, he became easier to like.

Two characters I liked immediately though were Tohru’s two best friends, Arisa Uotani, a former gang member/yanki and Saki Hanajima, who seems to possess some sort of psychic powers. They are like family to Tohru and are very protective of her. They have a lot of lighter moments in these volumes, with Uotani acting menacing, and Hanajima’s “poisonous electrical waves.” They also get along rather well with the Sohmas, to whom them give their approval for Tohru to stay with. Uotani and Kyo seem to get along especially well, with their competitive natures.

Through these first four volumes, about 2/3 of the zodiac is presented; the dog, boar, rabbit, dragon, cow and snake are introduced in fairly quick succession, usually through an accidental (though sometimes intentional) hug with Tohru. With several of these introductions, glimpses into their past are given, and they are almost all tragic, from being verbally abused by relatives and parents, to losing a lover, to Momiji’s past, that nearly brought me to tears after reading it.

While these first few volumes seem to have a light, rom-com feel to them, there is a sense of something darker lurking beneath, which increases with every volume. Shigure, the dog of the zodiac, and whose house Yuki, Kyo and Tohru share, seems friendly and easy-going, but also seems to have an agenda that involves using Tohru somehow. Something that he said makes him a horrible person. And then there’s Akito, the mysterious head who is not formally introduced until volume 4. He has a menacing feeling about him, disturbing Yuki when he sees him, and gets a glare from Kyo. It’s this darkness, and the mystery of the curse that really helped to encourage me to continue. The hints about this mystery is sprinkled throughout these first four volumes, and with every new one, it only made me want to know more. There also seems to be a mystery around Kyo and his “other form” that begs to be found out about.

Fruits Basket is slow to build up, but once you get past them whole “OMG! They turn into animals!” and the “Which zodiac animal will Tohru meet this time?” parts of the story, it really start to have something to say.  The themes of being alone and finding a place to fit in and call home are ones that strike a chord with teens, which is probably one of the reasons it sold so well. This is another series that the MMF has convinced me I want to read, but since it’s OOP, that going to be kind of hard. Wouldn’t it be nice if another company could rescue it and make it available in Omnibuses (3 not 2 volumes) or better yet, digitally?

Amnesia Labyrinth Volume 1

Souji Kushiki, a high school student from a well-to-do family returns home from boarding to school to find things have changed. His three sisters are strangely clingy, and their behavior borders on inappropriate and bizarre. At school, he learns that over the summer, three of his fellow students were murdered, and the links to the murders seem to lead back to his sisters. With the help of his new friend, the cheery and spunky Yukako Sasai, Souji goes in search of the truth behind the murders, the answers to which may just end everything he believes to be true.

Story by Nagaru Tanigawa; Art by Natsumi Kohane
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Amnesia Labyrinth is a thriller-mystery that gave off Higurashi-When They Cry vibes when I started reading it. Many of the characters have creepy and unsettling sides to their personalities, that it seems only Souji sees. While the story moves into some areas of taboo that I don’t really care for, the mystery is intriguing.

Amnesia Labyrinth centers around Souji Kushiki, the second son of the Kushiki family and now head of house when his older brother Kazushi takes off. Souji is smart and athletic, and is very stoic to his home situation. He rarely smiles and seems very detached from the people around him. But his family dynamics are key to the story. We do meet his stepmother, but his father, a powerful politician, is never introduced. So the focus revolves around Souji and his three sisters.

Youko is the oldest sister, but is younger than Souji. She is both disturbing and disturbed. She likes to hold Souji from behind with her arm around his neck, almost threatening to choke him. She always has a faint smile on her lips, so it’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking. She looks as if she could go psycho at any moment. She’s tried to sleep with Souji but was soundly rejected. Saki is Souji’s half, illegitimate sister, and works as a maid in the house. She not as creepy as Youko, but she has her moments. She IS sleeping with Souji. Harumi is Souji’s step sister, the daughter of his father’s current wife, and the youngest. She is shy and meek; nothing like the other two sisters. She looks up to Souji, but is too self-conscious to say anything to him. Souji is the most brotherly with Harumi.

Outside this odd family is Yokako. She is Souji’s first friend at school, and is the sole member of the Intelligence Committee. She is very outgoing and upbeat, and latches onto Souji, despite his dour attitude. She is investigating the murders that have occurred at school, and has a personal interest in the last one. She drags Souji into helping her, and after learning some of the facts, he finds himself pulled in further.

The mystery of the murdered students is just one part of the story. They do appear to be connected to Souji. Each murdered person could have been a competitor to Souji; a track star, a smart student, the class president. This makes Youko and Saki look good as suspects, especially with their behavior near the end, but they also appear too obvious. It’s difficult to pick up what’s a red herring at this point.

The other mystery of this title seems to be about Souji and the Kushiki family. Souji doesn’t trust his full sister Youko. He doesn’t believe she is the real Youko. And even though he believes he has seen his older brother Kazushi walking around town, Youko takes him to a building on the family land where Kazushi is imprisoned. The question of dopplegangers seems to be brought, as does the fact that Souji is missing some of his memories, a fact that both Youko and Kazushi bring up along with dropping a potential bombshell on the last page. Yokako posits an interesting thought as well. The world they are living in now is really a dream world/land of dead, but no one knows it. It’s a bit of a Matrix reference, but it’s also something I can almost see, in relation to the visuals.

Amnesia Labyrinth is a strange but intriguing title. It has several disturbing moments which to me makes it deserving of its older teen rating. Youko comes off as borderline psycho, and all the incest that treated almost matter-of-factly would make me think twice about giving this title to anyone under 16. But the mystery of the murders and the truth behind the Kushiki family has me intrigued enough that I will check out the second volume to see where things go.

The Manga Guide to Relativity

Everything’s gone screwy at Takai Academy. When the crazy Headmaster forces Minagi’s entire class to study Einstein’s theory of relativity over summer school, Minagi volunteers to go in their place. There’s just one problems: he’s never even heard of relativity before! Luckily, Minagi has the plucky Miss Uraga to teach him.

Continue reading The Manga Guide to Relativity

Saiyuki Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

Saiyuki is among the first few manga I started to read. Having been a fan of the original Dragon Ball manga and knowing how it was based on the Chinese story Journey to the West, I was interested in seeing other takes on the story. While I came to Saiyuki for the story, I definitely stayed for hot guys. This title is a perfect blend of action, bishonen and angst, that it’s no wonder is was such a big hit with the ladies when it was released.

By Kazuya Minekura
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

The basic premise of Saiyuki is simple. In the land of Shangri-la, humans and demons known as youkai live together in peace. But the peace is threatened when someone attempts to resurrect Gyumaoh, a youkai known as the Ox King using a combination of demon magic and human science. The forbidden practice causes a Minus Wave of negative energy to spread across Shangri-la, and causing the youkai to lose their minds and attack humans. The gods summon a monk, Genjyo Sanzo, to travel to India in the west to find out who is attempting the revival and stop them. Accompaning him are former traveling companions Son Goku, Sha Gojyo and Cho Hakkai, three youkai that seem to be immune to the minus wave.

But getting to India isn’t the point of this series. It’s just an excuse to get these four traveling together because it’s the characters and their interactions that really make this a fun title to read. Sanzo, the defacto leader, is not what you would expect a Buddhist monk to be like. He doesn’t shave his head. He drinks, smokes, and gambles. He carries a gun to use against enemy youkai, and a paper fan for Gojyo and Goku. Gojyo is the bad boy of the group with a cigarette in one hand and an eye on the hottest girl in sight. He likes the act like he’s grown up, but always ends up in childish arguments with Goku. The youngest looking of the group, he’s really over 500 years old. He’s also the most powerful, but is kept in check with the power limiter headband he can never take off. He thinks more with his stomach, and looks up to Sanzo. Hakkai is the quiet one, always ready with a gentle smile and a helping hand. The smile can also be quite menacing, especially when he has a ball of his chi ready to fire at an enemy or make into a force field to protect friends and innocents alike.

For the most part, this odd quartet gets along like old friends, or almost a family. Gyojo and Goku are the siblings, constantly bickering and teasing each other. Sanzo is the father constantly getting angry at their bickering and issuing threats of “I’ll kill you”, while Hakkai tries to keep the peace. But for all the light-hearted moments, the boys have some tragic pasts that not only influence who they are now, but also come back to haunt them on the journey. Sanzo’s almost takes his life, and Gyojo’s comes back in a most unexpected way. Their tragic back stories are wrought with emotion, but never quite tip into melodramatic territory. Hakkai’s back story is just starting as volume 3 ends, but portents in the final chapter doesn’t bode well for him.

Their enemy, Kougaiji, the son of Gyumaoh, and his trio of subordinates are almost a mirror image of the group. Youkai with tragic pasts of their own, they drum up an almost friendly rivalry with Sanzo’s group. They even end up working together at the end of volume 3, and actually make a good team. But Kougaiji’s own past keeps the groups enemies, though he isn’t happy about who he has to work with, or even really trusts she’ll keep her promise to him.

The is a lot of action in these first three volumes, as Sanzo’s group has to fight off youkai attacks and assassins sent by Kougaiji. They give the boys lots of opportunities to be glib and toss off one liners. In one chapter, they even rate a youkai assassin on his laugh and even how he falls down. Minekura is also not afraid to be graphic in these scenes. Heads get cut off, or sliced in two, and intestines are seen as torsos are sliced and youkai eat.

Whether they are in the middle of a fight, or relaxing in an inn after a long ride, they always look good. And I happily admit this is one of the reason I enjoy this series. All of the guys, good or bad are hot. There is lots of long, flowing hair, and bangs that fall over and/or cover eyes. They are all tall, thin, and lithe (mostly), and Minekura dresses them in a modern-ish fantasy style, combining jeans with tunics and sashes. Even Sanzo with his traditional garb looks good when he lets his robes down.

Tokyopop did a really job with this release. The dialog is very readable and catches the personalities of the characters perfectly. The cover is a nice heavy paper stock, and they presevered the original Japanese wraparound cover, and put the back text on the inside of the front. Volume one also features color plates of the four main characters. A lot of time and effort went into these volumes and it really shows.

Saiyuki isn’t just one of the first manga I read, it’s one of my top favorite titles of all time. The action, comedy, drama and hot guys makes this a title I read and gladly re-read again and again. It’s really just a lot of fun, which is exactly how I want my manga to be.