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Master Keaton Volume 1

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, the son of a Japanese zoologist and a noble English woman, is an insurance investigator known for his successful and unorthodox methods of investigation. Educated in archaeology and a former member of the SAS, Master Keaton uses his knowledge and combat training to uncover buried secrets, thwart would-be villains, and pursue the truth… When a life insurance policy worth one million pounds takes Master Keaton to the Dodecanese islands of Greece, what will he discover amidst his scuffles with bloodthirsty thieves and assassins?

Master Keaton Volume 1
MasterKeaton-GN01-3DBy Naoki Urasawa; Story by Hokusei Katsushika, Takashi Nagasaki
Publisher: Viz Medial
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $19.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Master Keaton is one of those licenses that was always talked about but never dreamed it would become reality. Or maybe, dreaming was all fans of the series could do. A 24 episode anime was released here by Pioneer/Geneon back in 2003, but that was as much of the story as fans could hope to get. I was so thrilled when Viz Media announced it last year. It is one of the few titles I will pre-order, sight unseen.

I almost had my doubts at first. Urasawa has been hit and miss with me. I loved Pluto, but didn’t care for Monster or the latter half of 20th Century Boys. But I am happy to say I was not disappointed with Master Keaton. What initially drew me to the series was the title character, Taichi Hiraga-Keaton. He is both an archaeologist and an insurance investigator, combining to things I love; archaeology and mysteries. I really liked Keaton as the absent-minded professor type. He is easy-going, and a bit of a dreamer, but behind this non-threatening facade, is a keen eye and a sharp wit. Even though it is a convenient plot point, I love his quirk of taking seemingly random things that end up helping him get through his current adventure.

Most of the chapters are stand alone cases, with a few multi-chapter stories. Sometimes Keaton gets a case due to his knowledge of archaeology, but in almost every case his skills as a former S.A.S. member and survival skills trainer come into play. Both these skills mesh nicely in the two-part story “Hot Sands, Black and White” and “Qehriman of the Desert.” Not every chapter is a case. This volume also introduces Keaton’s daughter Yuriko and his father. These stories are more about his relationships with his family. He helps out Yuriko when she has problems with a teacher at school, and a girl who thinks his father is also her father. These chapters were just as enjoyable as the more action-oriented chapters. They give more insight to Keaton’s character. “Journey With a Lady” was another wonderful chapter where Keaton’s patience is tested, and ultimately rewarded.

This series is from 16 years ago, but the art is still very Urasawa. The characters are recognizable as his work, and match well with the story. Urasawa’s more technical skills are put to the test as he has to draw, old ruins and life-like statues to fit the archaeological side of the story, and he does it well. The backgrounds are very detailed too, giving the feeling of the place Keaton is in, whether it is England, Italy or the Taklamakan Desert.

Master Keaton is a great series. The stories are well written, and very engaging. I didn’t want to put it down once I started. The investigations are readily solved, with all the piece set in place before hand. There is plenty of action and mystery to keep fans of both happy. I certainly am. I highly recommend it.

Bloody Cross Volume 1-5

Tsukimiya is a cursed mixed blood. Half angel and half vampire, she is shunned by both angels and demons. The only way to rid herself of the curse is to drink the blood of a pure demon, but they are had to come by. Hinata is another mixed blood looking for the same cure. They finally find in it in Tsuzuki, a candidate for godhood and must collect God’s Relics during the current Crusade in order to attain it. Satsuki, a fallen angel, has the same goal. In between the two sides is the human organization Arcana, who has their own ideas about godhood. Tsukimiya finds herself tangled up in the web all these groups have woven, when all she wants is to live a long and normal life.

Bloody Cross Volume 1-5
Bloody Cross 1By Shiwo Komeyama
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Action
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I had my doubts about Bloody Cross. Considering the publisher, both here and in Japan, I feared this series might have a heavy male gaze aspect to the art. I wasn’t wrong. Sadly that isn’t this title’s worse problem. I decided to give it a try after seeing some positive comments about the banter between the two main characters, but that would only matter to me if I actually liked or cared about them.

Bloody Cross 2Tsukimiya is the protagonist of Bloody Cross. It’s her story that’s being played out as she encounters and has to deal with all the other characters she crosses paths with. She is desperate at the beginning. Her curse is nearly up. She has to find a pure demon to dispel it. She lets Hinata in, thinking he was an angel who would help her, not another mixed blood that would betray her. This seems to be her major weakness, especially with Hinata. She trusts the wrong people, or even if she doesn’t trust them, they still get the upper hand on her. This really shouldn’t be an issue. Trusting should be seen as something good in a character, but it doesn’t completely work for me with Tsukimiya. She’s a capable fighter and puts her talents to the best use, but she isn’t too smart, so her trust seems to come from just not knowing better. I found this really frustrating with her and Hinata, and her “attraction” to him just felt wrong.

Bloody Cross 3Betrayal seems to be the theme of this series, because that is what all the characters do to each other. The first time a character is introduced, it usually ends in someone getting stabbed in the back, sometimes literally. Every single character in this series has an agenda, and will use everyone else to reach it. Even the angel god candidate Tsuzuki betrays Tsukimiya and Hinata the first time he works with them. No one does anything out of some good will. There is always a hidden motive behind everything. As a reader, I found it very disturbing to not have someone I could put even an ounce of faith in. It’s hard to call anyone an antagonist, since everyone seems to be one. Arcana and its head Izumi, who plots to become god in the next crusade, is no better than Satsuki, the fallen angel, and even allies with him at first.

Bloody Cross 4Then there’s the overwhelming male gaze. Tsukimiya is only one of two females in the series, and she is of course very well endowed. And because she is usually the braun to Hinata’s magic, her clothes area always getting torn. Whether it’s to reveal her cursed mark on her breast, or just for some touching from a oogling Hinata, Tsukimiya has to have her shirt split down the middle, and it’s left that way for several chapters, until the next time.

Bloody Cross 5The art is very typical of a Square Enix title with the girls beautiful and big-breasted, while the men are hot and slim. The action isn’t so bad. Tsukimiya’s use of her vampiric powers is good as she uses it to sniff out lies (usually too late), and controls her blood like a remote blade. Hinata is at least competent with his magic, being useful even after he’s pulled another back-stabbing. If there was a character I could like, the closest would be Hanamura, the demon attendant of Tsuzuki. He’s very much the butler type, very polite, organized, and a great cook. But he only stands out because everyone else is so terrible.

I can’t find much good to say about Bloody Cross. I can’t really recommend it either. The story isn’t badly written or drawn. The characters are just so unlikable. The mangaka even said as much in one of the afterwards. I deal with enough unlikable people in real life. I don’t need them dominating my leisure as well. If you like constant betrayal and characters you can’t like or trust, then pick this one up, otherwise, just give it a pass.

Attack On Titan No Regrets Volume 2

Erwin’s political enemies have hired Levi and his crew to take back some incriminating documents. Their reward: the right to live a proud life above ground, in the royal capital. But deep in titan territory, it’s going to be tough to break formation and steal from a squad leader, and Levi still insists on killing the man who humiliated him after the mission is complete. Of course, beyond the walls anything can happen, and a sudden change in Levi’s fortunes will force him to face the greatest regret in his life…

Attack On Titan: No Regrets Volume 2
Attack on Titan no regrets 2Written by Gun Snark (Nitroplus); Art by Hikaru Suruga
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror/Drama
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I really enjoyed the first volume of Attack On Titan: No Regrets, and was really looking forward to this one, and again it didn’t disappoint. The series takes a darker turn from the lighter first volume, but keeps all the drama and excitement to deliver an ending you won’t regret.

After their first encounter with a titan, Levi, Isabel and Furlan all start to change a little. Isabel is drawn into the Corps more, sympathizing with their cause. Furlan goes in the opposite direction, wanting to push his plan forward and get out of the Corps and into the life of luxury they’ve been promised. Levi, as usual, remains a mystery, his true feelings being veiled by his desire to protect his friends. I do like that about Levi. Part of his appeal is his silent, stoic demeanor. Hearing his thoughts would ruin some of his mystery. We meet Hange Zoe in this volume, as he barges in on the trio to ask Levi about his tactics in taking down the titan. I love his expression before and how he deals with Isabel constantly interrupting him. It was a smile-inducing moment.

With a subtitle of No Regrets, it should come as no surprise that regret is a major theme throughout the volume. Erwin speaks of the sacrifices members of the Survey Corps make to further their cause and do so without regret. Levi must struggle with regret as well after he makes his own fateful decision. It leads to a fantastic confrontation between Levi and Erwin. Erwin’s speech says so much about what he believes and shows how he is able to get people to follow him even to face the hell that the Titans represent.

Suruga does a wonderful job with the art again. His action sequences continue to be thrilling as Levi shows once again why he is called “humanity’s greatest soldier.” The few moments of emotion that Levi shows for Isabel and Furlan are all the more moving because he shows his feelings so rarely. Levi and Erwin’s expressions are superb in their confrontation, which leads into a beautifully symbolic awakening for Levi.

Attack On Titan: No Regrets is a great piece of storytelling with some very compelling characters. Even though you don’t get to spend a lot of time with them, you care about what happens to them. I was happy at the end that we got some side stories about Levi, Isabel and Furlan set before they joined the Survey Corps. I would gladly welcome more like them. If you have even a passing interest in Attack On Titan, pick this series up. You won’t regret it.

Prophecy Volume 1

A newspaper-masked vigilante who broadcasts his acts of vengeance before committing them. A newly formed police division tackling the new frontier of internet-based crime. As the sun rises on the Era of Information, can a group of people who found themselves at the bottom of the food chain rattle society through the web and avenge a fallen friend?

Prophecy Volume 1
Prophecy 1By Tetsuya Tsutsui
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Thriller
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½

For anyone who has spent any time on social media, Prophecy will feel like a story ripped from the headlines. Anonymous threats coming from websites that have the police stumped and running in circles trying to find the perpetrators. This first volume sets up the cat and mouse game between Paperboy, an online presence that makes threats and carries them out and the newly formed Anti-Cyber Crimes Division, a unit of the Tokyo Metro Police Department who are trying to stop him.

The story starts like a police procedural with the crimes being discovered and the ACCD starting to investigate. The ACCD is a three person unit led by Lieutenant Erika Yoshino. She is hard-nosed, no-nonsense, and borderline vindictive toward the accused, almost as if the crimes were committed against her personally. She doesn’t pull any punches which can lead to conflicting feelings about her, but she is smart and capable, and is quick to pick up that Paperboy is more than he seems. Her two subordinates, Daiki Okamoto and Manabu Ichikawa have varying degrees of experience with the internet, allowing them to fill different roles in the unit. Daiki was kind of cute with his newbie questions about flame wars and why people get into them. They are the good guys, the protagonists meant to stop Paperboy.

The antagonist, Paperboy, comes off at first like a cyber vigilante, taking on people who have committed some sort of crime as he sees it and administers the seemingly appropriate “justice”. He isn’t taken seriously at first, but as his “sentences” escalate, his popularity grows. At first, it’s easy to write him off, but after he does a live cast that speaks to a lot of people, his approval rating starts to go up as well. Paperboy isn’t committing these crimes for the notoriety, but from a sense of justice that stems from a society and system that has failed a class of people called the “atypical employed”; contract workers, temps, and part-timers. After seeing his origin, it’s hard not to want to root for him.

This is what really makes this series fascinating. It’s easy to see the ACCD as the heroes at first when the issues are black and white. But Paperboy represents a veiled part of society, those without power or a voice to speak with, the poor, the 99%. While his actions are extreme, they are also things a lot of people have thought should happen, such as a rape apologist getting a taste of his own medicine. It isn’t just individuals he takes on, but companies as well, who instead of being accountable for their mistakes trying to shift blame. He is fighting for all the people who think there is nothing they can do, much like the Occupy movement tried to do a few years ago, so it’s morally gray issue.

Paperboy’s origin is tragic, so it’s hard not to sympathize with him. I was mildly sympathetic to him at first, but after  seeing how he started, I was ready to cheer him on. Tsutsui’s writing and character development played a lot into getting the reader to this play. The art is realistic, and a little gritty, adding to both the story’s and character’s realism. It’s use of online social media such are Twitter and You(r)tube only adds to its genuine feeling. It’s that authenticity that really draws you in.

Prophecy is off to a fantastic start and a serious read. It is only three volumes, so it’s not a big investment. If you have any interest in social media networks and how they affect our lives today, pick this title up. It really does seem prophetic with the way social media is being used as a weapon against people and groups by others with a “twisted” sense of justice. This story is too good to pass up. Vertical Comics has done it again with absolute must read.

 

Case Closed Volume 43-44, 46-47

Super Sleuth Jimmy Kudo, who was physically transformed into a first-grader, continues to solve crimes as Conan Edogawa while living with family friend Richard Moore and his daughter Rachel. In these four volumes, Jimmy must solve cases such as a missing cell phone, a bomber at the Koshien baseball finals, the murderer of the head of a toy company, and stop the Kaito Kid from stealing the legendary gem The Blue Wonder, all while trying to find the men who changed him, and keep Rachel from finding out Conan and Jimmy are the same person.

Case Closed Volume 4344, 4647
Case Closed 43By Gosho Aoyama
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery
Price: $9.99

It’s been a while since I read a volume of Case Closed. I had the first twelve volumes, but sold them awhile ago, and apparently never reviewed them. Bad me. Since it’s been so long since I’ve read any volumes, I forgot how much I enjoy  reading a good mystery manga. These four volumes have the added bonus of touching on Jimmy’s ongoing search to find the “Men in Black” who changed him, Rachel’s suspicions about Conan and Jimmy being the same person, and a good old-fashioned treasure hunt.

Case Closed 44Case Closed, or Detective Conan as it’s known in Japan, is very much a formulaic series. Every volume has 2-3 cases, most of which carry over to the next volume. They are all several chapters long, and deal with some sort of mysteries, many of which involve a murder. But, I am perfectly fine with this. It’s not the formula that’s important, but seeing the characters in action and the mysteries they must solve.

Case Closed has an extensive cast. After going for 20 years, it’s hard not to have expanded it, but Aoyama does a good job of balancing who gets featured where. Hattori and Kahuza pop in for a couple of cases, police detective love birds Sato and Takagi as well as Inspector Meguire work on some cases, Serena gets to help out in a case versus Kaito Kid, and of course, the Detective Boys and Rachel and Richard are all one hand to help Conan solve the cases, in one capacity or the other.

Case Closed 46 I enjoyed all the cases in these volumes, I really enjoyed the ones where Conan could take the credit for himself. Thwarting Kaito Kid, the Koshien bomber, and solving the toy company president’s and magician’s murder were all his own, even if he had to share some of that with Hattori. My favorite case was the treasure hunt for Kichiemon’s treasure, a diamond. It involved finding clues that related to the past or historical references, my favorite kind of treasure hunts.

Case Closed is all about the mysteries. Conan has personal issues to deal with, that are related in a way, but are also at the heart of the series. He doesn’t want to go through growing up again. He needs to find the “Men in Black” who gave him the poison that shrunk him down to a first grader. He’s made some headway in previous volumes, but in this one, he finally  figures out a clue; the email of the boss of the gang. I liked that he was cautious with it, debating whether or not to send to it and see what the response would be.

Case Closed 47But while the gang may be dangerous, Conan has more to fear closer to home. This whole time, he has been fooling Rachel that he and Jimmy were two different people. But Rachel isn’t stupid, and one careless clue too many puts her on Conan trail. The looks of fear he gets when he realizes Rachel may be one to him were just priceless. The relationship between Jimmy and Rachael is a central one to the series, so I really wonder how it will be resolved, assuming the series ever ends, that is. I do want Jimmy to regain his body. The stories when he does are my favorites, but he’s got a lot to answer for with Rachel when he finally does.

Case Closed is a great murder mystery series, that any lover of cozy mysteries, or mysteries in general would love. The title is rated Older Teen, but I think tweens could easily handle it. The murders aren’t gory, and far from the only types of mysteries Conan and company must solve. For good old fashion mystery lovers like me, this is the only option we have in manga, which is a great shame. But I’m glad we have it.

Manga Dogs Volume 1

Kanna Tezuka is a serious 15-year-old manga artist, already being published as a pro. So when she finds out her high school is starting a manga drawing course, even she gets excited. But it’s a fiasco! The teacher is useless, and the only other students-three pretty-boy artist wannabes-quickly adopt Kanna as their (unwilling) sensei. But they all have ridiculous delusions about being an artist, and if Kanna can’t bring them back down to Earth, she’ll never get any work done!

Manga Dogs Volume 1
Manga Dogs 1By Ema Toyama
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Manga Dogs is a manga about being a mangaka, somewhat in the vein of Bakuman. But where Bakuman is a serious take about what it takes to be a successful mangaka, Manga Dogs takes a more satirical route, poking fun at the fans and wanna be creators. It’s only problem is that it’s just not that funny.

The story revolves around Kanna Tezuka, a mangaka who has already debuted in a shojo magazine, but her title just isn’t popular. When her high school starts a manga track, she thinks it’s a way to be able to draw manga at school. Three pretty boys going the class, and latch onto Kanna, calling her sensei, but they are all talk. They think they can become successful without doing any of the work, causing Kanna all kinds of stress.

While this might sound like a funny premise, in practice it fails. The three guys, Fumio Akatsuka, Fujio Fuji and Shota Ishinomori, are lifeless and stale. They are meant to poke fun at readers who think being a mangaka is easy, and have all kinds of delusions of being successful without doing any work. They talk about what they would do with prize money from a contest with no thought of creating anything, and give up immediately when faced with real work. They are the worse kind of fans, and annoyed me to no end.

What was worse was that Kanna was just as uninteresting as the boys. She is the protagonist, but she does nothing but react with shock to the things the boys say and do, and lets her editor, who seems to be just as bad as the boys, push her around. She has no personality and barely speaks to anyone. Almost all of her dialog is internal. Her lack of interaction with anything or anyone gets tedious very quickly.

Manga Dogs wasn’t all bad. I liked the use of manga history, with the characters last names being well known mangaka, and the name of the school is the same as the apartment building where Osamu Tezuka and several other famous mangaka lived and worked for many years. I also liked most of the chapter where Kanna is taking pictures of her school for research. It the only time where she has an expression other than blank or shocked.

I wanted to like Manga Dogs. I was really hoping for a title that would make me laugh and would have some clever satire about the manga industry. Instead it is filled with boring characters and situations that are anything but funny. The satire wasn’t so much funny as sad since a lot of it was so true. Maybe it will get better, but there are a lot better titles out there to put your money on.

Bakuman Volume 19

With their new series, Moritaka and Akito start beating Eiji Nizuma in the Shonen Jump rankings for the first time. But in the actual book sales Eiji is somehow still on top. The duo is as determined as ever to achieve their dreams, but a new scandal threatens to destroy everything!

Bakuman Volume 19
Bakuman 19Written by Tsugumi Ohba; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

This is it; the second to last volume of this series. When I read the first volume back in 2010, I didn’t think I would enjoy it or it would be able to hold my attention. But against all odds, it not only got past the problems I had with the first volume, it surpassed all my expectations. Ten years have passed since Moritaka, Akito and Azuki started chasing their dreams, and now those dreams appear to be in reach.

The volume starts on the manga side of the story, showing further the rivalry between Ashirogi and Nizuma. I really like the rivalry between these. It’s very friendly. Both sides can not only appreciate the other’s work, but they can come out and say it, while in the same breath vow not to give up. These kinds of rivalries are rarely shown. Usually the two sides are shown as adversaries, with one having to win. The wonderful thing about Ashirogi’s and Nizuma’s rivalry is that it never has to end. Both sides can continue to push the other to grow. It’s a positive competition that would be nice if more people embraced.

The real conflict in the volume comes from the voice actor side. Azuki is a rising star, but voice actors are like idols, and to fans, to have a boyfriend is sacrilegious. For ten years Moritaka and Azuki have been able to keep their relationship a secret, not just for Azuki’s career, but for the promise they made. A slip up by one of Azuki’s fellow voice actors and a jealous middle school classmate blows their cover and the rumors start to fly over the internet, and into the press.

The good part of this potentially crippling event is the support Moritaka and Azuki get from the people around them. There are the regulars like their editor, and Azuki has her mother’s support, but the best reaction comes from Fukuda, a fellow manga artist that started at the same time as Ashirogi. He is very impassioned, melting down into tears when he hears about Moritaka’s and Azuki’s relationship, to indignation at the way they are being treated by fans. He doesn’t back down even he asked to by his editor.

It’s really kind of sad, but both Azuki and Moritaka have to keep reiterating that they have done nothing wrong. They have done nothing to hide their relationship because there has been nothing to hide. They have kept it as pure as humanly possible, but there seems to be this constant assumption that they have done something wrong. Ishizawa, the trio’s middle school classmate who failed at becoming a manga artist, is truly a terrible person as he deliberately tries to derail Azuki’s career with his rumors posted anonymously online. What’s even sadder is that he’s not a fictional character. There are too many people online just like him ready to destroy other’s lives for no more than petty jealousy.

Bakuman continues to be a fantastic read. After spending the last 18 volumes watching these characters change and grow, it’s almost sad to think it’s nearly over. As a reader you are rooting for Azuki and Moritaka, and hate any more obstacles that get in their way. The real strength of this volume is that the obstacles are introduced reasonably and who they come from are believable. I’m looking forward to the last volume and seeing how it all works out.

 

xxxHolic Rei Volume 1

Yuko, Watanuki, Domeki and Himawari are back! xxxHolic Rei represents a “return” to the otherworldly setting of Yuko’s shop, where wishes are granted., but always for a price. The visitors are as strange as ever–two best friends whose cell phone trinkets share eerie similarities, a disembodied voice that is impossible to resist–but even by Yuko’s sordid standards, something is truly odd…Return to the elegant world of CLAMP’s metaphysical masterpiece.

xxxholic rei 1xxxHolic Rei Volume 1
By CLAMP
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆

xxxHolic returns after a 19 volume run to continue the adventures of Yuko, Watanuki, Domeki and Himawari as they grant wishes at Yuko’s wish-granting shop. While this is a return for the characters, only returning readers will really have an idea of what is going on.

xxxHolic Rei starts out as if it were another chapter of the xxxHolic series before it ended. Watanuki is the cook and housekeeper for Yuko, the shop owner with strange mystical powers that draw people to the shop “because they need to.” Domeki is Watanuki’s classmate who also works at a shrine, and drops by for Yuko’s help. While the opening scene shows that there is an established relationship between these three people, how or why is never explained to the reader. The assumption is made that someone picking up this volume will already have read the first series, and knows all about these people, how they are related and why they all work together. As someone who only read the first volume of the first series, this felt very alienating. There was a lot I could guess as a reader, but it diminished by potential enjoyment of the series to have work out all these things as I read it. A first volume of a series, continuation, sequel or whatever should have enough of an introduction that new readers don’t feel left out. This volume failed in this respect.

There are two stories in this volume. The first is about two “best friends”, who are drawn to the shop for some reason. As the story progresses, one of the girls keeps getting her, and her injuries are mirrored on cell phone charms both girls share. This story was okay. It showed how ugly women can be toward each other when they feel betrayed, and what lengths they will go to for some sort of retribution. The second story involves Watanuki being used by Yuko to lure a spirit to her shop where she can destroy it. This story was close to what I would can an arc story. It implies there is something about Watanuki and a choice he will have to make. I didn’t care for this story as it left more feeling confused and lost more than anything else. With there being so much I don’t know already about the series, is this a new mystery that will be played out, or is it connected to the previous series and I am just missing something? Neither story really engaged me.

The characters didn’t engage me either. Watanuki comes off as a jerk, especially to Domeki, who doesn’t seem to do much of anything to incur his wrath. Even his compliments are met with hostility. Domeki seems unemotional and apathetic, and Yuko–she’s all over the place. Mostly she’s mysterious in that frustratingly annoying way.

The are is very CLAMP. Lots of tall and lanky characters. Yuko’s kimonos are elaborate and beautiful. Just looking at the cover design with the play between Watanuki’s and Yuko’s is amazing. The styles continue in the volume along with some elaborate hair styles. CLAMP continues to do incredible art work.

xxxHolic Rei is a series that is made just for fans of the previous series. There is nothing here to help ease a new reader in, or make the characters appealing to those who don’t know how they got to this pint in the series. I don’t mind a story that starts in middle, there should be something for the new reader to latch onto as an anchor. This volume doesn’t do that. A first volume to pull the reader in, not push them away. Fans of CLAMP will by this series regardless. New readers should exercise some caution.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 4-5

Shiro turns down an offer to become a celebrity and Kenji’s culinary adventures are reprised. Accomplished home chef though he may be, Shiro proceeds on the assumption that no two of his curries will ever taste the same in a manga about a gay couple for mature–in the true sense–readers.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 4-5
What did you eat yesterday 4By Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Cooking/Slice of Life
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½

What Did You Eat Yesterday? continues to follow the lives and menus of two gay men, Shiro and Kenji. These volumes expand more on their personal lives served up with a staggering menu of dishes such as bean rice, horse mackerel tataki, hamburgers in mushroom sauce and caramel-simmered apples on toast.

Shiro, the cook and penny-pincher of the pair gets pulled into personal problems with his co-workers and friends with the temptation of free food. It seems like a good deal at the start, but there is always a catch, and seeing Shiro’s reaction, usually internal is always funny. But even though he has to listen to his boss complain about her daughter-in-law, or his female friend Kayoko’s husband butt into their daughter’s life. Shiro also gets a nemesis; a checker at his favorite grocery store who always finds a way to own him, but helps him at the same time. I loved that he got one that was so dead-panned and oblivious to Shiro’s dismay.

What Did You Eat Yesterday v5These volumes also brought in more gay couples for Shiro and Kenji to interact with. Tetsu and Yoshi are a couple who don’t live together but have been together for a long time. Yoshi is the owner of several restaurants, so Shiro is put on the spot when he has to cook for them. Through Kayoko, they also meet Daisaku and Wataru, a couple more like them. It was really interesting watching the interactions between the couples. Shiro, who one would think would be more comfortable with other homosexual couples, was just as uptight, and afraid of being out. Going to a jewelry store to get matching rings for them nearly kills Shiro from the stress. But knowing when someone is gay can be useful as it helps Shiro get out of a difficult situation where he was being pressured to appear on TV.

Dealing with family doesn’t improve much though. A glimpse of Kenji’s home life growing up is given as the tells Shiro about his mostly absent father. But Shiro going home for New Years was the best. It was like a ticking time bomb as Shiro and his mother got on too well before it exploded into usual shouting match about Shiro not being proud of his gayness. It was great, with every page turn, just wondering when Shiro’s mother would finally say something. It was so funny when it finally came out.

The food making was in full swing through these volumes, sometimes even playing a part in the story. Shiro really stressed out over what to make for the dinner party with Yoshi and Tetsu. When Shiro and Kenji have a fight, it’s Kenji who gets Shiro to relax again by asking for a specific meal for dinner. And when he has a particularly difficult day at work, he takes it out on dinner, with lots of chopping and a few servings too many being made. While I can still do without the long-winded food commentary, I did enjoy it being pulled into the story more and not feeling so tacked on.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? remains a fun slice of life. Shiro and Kenji continue to deal with problems anyone of any orientation can relate to, while also sharing more insights into gay relationships. This series is relaxing and a real pleasure to read.

Noragami Stray God Volume 1

Yato is a homeless god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshippers! So to achieve his ambitious goals, he’s set up a service to help those in need (for a small fee), hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams. Or course, he can’t afford to be picky, so Yato accepts all kinds of jobs, from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies at school.

Noragami Stray God Volume 1
Noragami 1By Adachitoka
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Noragami is about Yato, a god who is at the bottom of the bottom of the deity hierarchy. He has dreams of gaining thousands of followers and building lavish shrine where he will be worshipped. In order to do this, he needs to be known and collect offerings. To this end, he puts up his number all around town, advertising his services, and only those who truly need it will see it. Yato’s big problem; he is unmarketable. He is egotistical, and can be a real jerk, but he does have good intentions, and truly wants to help people. It’s getting that last part across that is so difficult for him. His chance meeting with Hiyori gives him someone to help, but she isn’t the average teenage girl. She saves Yato from being hit by a bus, but in the process, her spirit is thrown out of her body. As it starts to happen more and more, she seeks out Yato to fix it.

I didn’t think I’d like this volume at first. Yato’s attitude bothered me at with his self-absorbed delusions of grandeur. But he quickly grew on me with his blunt talk. The first story, where he helps a girl being bullied by her classmates, does a good job of showing his different sides. He doesn’t show any sympathy for Mutsumi, despite his Shinki Tomone’s, pleas. Her classmates are pretty mean, but she isn’t completely without fault for the position she is in. I actually found myself taking his side when she was ready to just give up. He finally does help Mutsumi with her classmate problem, and his solution was really what she needed, despite Tomone’s protests. I really warmed up to him at the end, where he looks so vulnerable, clutching his bottle of coins in the small shine.

I liked Hiyori as Yato’s partner for the rest of the volume. She comes off as oblivious to the dangers around her, but she isn’t afraid to take on a challenge or defend herself or others when in a pinch. Her less-girlish hobby of being a wrestling fan actually comes in handy when Yato is attacked by an Ayakashi. She jumps in without thinking, using a move by her favorite wrestler to save the day.

Noragami has a good amount of humor. Both Hiyori and Yato get to be the subject of the situation, though I found Hiyori’s obliviousness more amusing that Yato being constantly disparaged. The argument Yato and Hiyori have while running away from an Ayakashi Hiyori found was one of the funnier moments in the volume.

I really liked the art. It is very realistic and detailed, reminding me a lot of Takeshi Obata’s work. I also liked how Adachitoka used Yato’s eyes to express his non-humanness. The character’s emotions are conveyed masterfully, and rarely does he revert using more cartoonish caricatures, which would feel very out-of-place otherwise.

I was pleasantly surprised by Noragami, and am looking forward to future volumes. I am interested in seeing more of Yato’s journey to becoming a proper god. While there was a majority of comedy in this volume, it did have its serious moments, and I hope we get more of these as the series goes on. Noragami is a series with a lot of potential to become another hit for Kodansha. It has an anime that streamed earlier this year, so it has name recognition. But really, it should succeed because it was just a fun read. And it has a cute cat name Milord.

Attack on Titan Volume 11-13

With their identities revealed, the Colossal Titan and Armored Titan kidnap Eren and Ymir and try to escape. The Survey Corps is on their tail though, led by Erwin, Commander of the Corps himself. It is another massacre, but they still escape with the help of a new ability exhibited by Eren. Back behind Wall Rose, Levi and Hange begin experimenting on Eren to learn his strength and weaknesses. But with the internal MPS under royal command on their trail, it becomes apparent more drastic measures will need to be taken to save humanity from annihilation.

Attack on Titan Vol 11-13
AoT 11By Hajime Isayama
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★½

The one thing I find frustrating about Attack on Titan is how well the story can continue to ask more questions about the mysteries of the world than it ever answers. These three volumes throw out lot of clues that only lead to asking more questions about what’s going on, tantalizing the reader with the possibilities of answers and then leaving them hanging. But the questions are so compelling that you have to keep coming back for more.

Attack on Titan 12Since the start of the series, the question of how humans can turn into Titans has been on everyone’s lips, especially with Eren not having any idea that he could do it. It’s been clear that Eren is special, but it becomes more clear in these volumes. Reiner and Bertolt were on a mission to kidnap Eren. Annie had the same objective. They intend to take him to their “home town,” a mysterious destination we’ve heard about, but know nothing else. Reiner and Bertolt seem to know Eren has a special ability, that he finally displays in order to save Mikasa during the Survey Corps attempt to rescue him and Ymir. The bigger question though, is, how did they know, and who sent them? Ymir has a clue, but she chooses not to share it with Eren when she thinks there’s a chance of reuniting with Krista, leaving Eren and the reader in the dark.

There are some revelations in these volumes, though they are small. The Ape Titan, last seen in volume 8 is brought up again, as Ymir makes the connection between it and the Titans mysteriously appearing behind Wall Rose. Hange makes the same connection with Connie, between the Titans and his village. So that mystery is solved, but not how or why. Again. Krista’s/Historia’s past is revealed, as is a possible connection between the Reiss family and Eren. Another mystery left dangling in front of the reader, as is the continued mystery of the Wallists and the secret of Wall Rose.

Attack on Titan 13There was some good character development in these volumes. Mikasa finally confesses her feeling to Eren, and they make it through. It was offset by the desperate situation the rest of the Survey Corps was in, but worked very well. After so much heavy action and death, the lighter moments that made up the first have of volume 13 was a nice reprieve. Sasha earned back her name of “potato girl.” Jean still has a crush on Mikasa, and they all bicker like the friends they became in training. I really loved Eren’s concern about getting their hideout cleaned enough to satisfy clean-freak Levi. The look on his face when Levi brings it up is priceless. Krista’s transformation into Historia definitely made her a better character. She seemed so weak-willed as Krista. But her new, devil-may-care attitude as Historia made her more appealing to me.

Attack on Titan Volumes 11-13 do a wonderful job of continuing to build up the plot while also letting the characters grow. Eren sees how his big talk is all just that. He still doesn’t know enough about his abilities to beat either the Colossal Titan or the Armored Titan. Levi says Eren needs to be sent to the depths of despair, and his fall starts with that knowledge, but he is just stubborn enough to keep going. The question of Eren’s father and what he might have done to him before the attack on Wall Maria keeps coming up, and I have a feeling will play a big role in the mystery of the humans-turning-into-Titans. If we ever get more than sublte clues. These were another great set of volumes with a lot of great moments. I can’t wait for the next one.

Another

In the spring of 1998, Koichi Sakakibara transfers into third-year class 3 at Yomiyama North Middle School. But little does he know…his new class has a horrible secret. When he takes his seat in class for the first day of school. Koichi is unsettled by his fearful classmates. Despite this atmosphere and warnings from fellow students, Koichi is drawn to the beautiful, distant Mei Misaki, another classmate. But the closer he tries to get to her, the more mysterious she and their class become. And when a fellow student dies a disturbing death–the first of a long chain of deaths–Koichi seeks to learn the truth behind the curse of third-year class 3. But can he get answers before the curse kills him?

Another (Amazon / Barnes & Noble)
Another MangaOriginal Story: Yukito Ayatsuji; Art: Hiro Kiyohara
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Horror
Price: $29.99 USD
Rating: ★★★★★

I put off reading Another because of the horror descriptor associated with it. I’m particular about my horror titles, and with this being based on a novel, I was afraid it might get more graphic than I like. Fortunately, the horror in this story isn’t the gory type. It’s more of the psychological horror that Japan has been so good at and that I really enjoy. Add to that a fascinating mystery, and you have one mesmerizing read.

Another is a story filled with mysteries that build on each other, and give the main characters Mei Misaki and Koichi Sakakibara a run for their money in trying to solve them. Neither Mei nor Koichi are detective types. This series is a murder mystery with no detectives to put the pieces together; just a couple of middle school students trying to protect their friends and families. Stopping the murders is complicated by the fact the culprit is supernatural. There is no one to accuse or catch. Their only goal is to solve the mystery and stop the deaths.

The mystery they need to solve is “Who is the Casualty?” Twenty-six years ago, a popular boy in Class 3 of Yomiyama died, and his class didn’t want to lose him so much that they started to pretend he was still alive. When the class picture was taken, he was in it. After that, on random years, someone who had died in a previous “On year” would come back. Everyone’s memories and records would be changed so no one would know who the extra person was, and then, at least one person would die each month until the school year was over, when their identity was revealed, and even that memory would eventually fade away.

I absolutely loved this story. The mystery was executed perfectly. All through the volume you can only guess what is going on. First with the mystery of whether Mei is real or not. Then there are Koichi’s own doubts about his existence when he learns of his connections to the curse going back to the first class. Clues are dropped subtly, leaving the reader to question along with the characters what is real and what isn’t. The quest to find “The Casualty” doesn’t start in earnest until the second half of the story, but by then the tension has mounted and suspects bounce around as the characters get more desperate. The reveal was a complete surprise, and absolutely perfect in its staging and execution.

It helped to have two great characters to follow. Koichi is an average middle school boy, expect for having a medical condition that can leave his hospitalized for several days to weeks. It’s because of this condition that he misses the beginning of school, and all the important information he might have needed. Though, it later becomes apparent, it was already an “On” year before he arrived. He is doggedly persistent, and it’s this trait that gets him in trouble with the rest of the class at first, but that also leads to a possible solution to the curse later.

Mei is a good counterpart to Koichi. She is just as determined to find the truth, though she takes the more subtle approach. She struggles to find answers on her own, and proves to have a bit of an advantage that is invaluable in the end. It’s related to the eye patch she usually seen wearing, which covers a different colored eye. Mei accepts the role the class gives her without a fuss, but also uses it to her advantage to research the curse.

While I did really enjoy the story, I was kind of bothered that part of the plot relied so much on characters making the wrong choices and bad decisions. I don’t blame Koichi’s classmates from reacting the way they did, but so much of the hardship he was forced to go through was because it was “never the right time” to tell Koichi about the curse and the things that were being done to try to circumvent it. It’s not a major flaw in the story, just a personal pet peeve.

Another is a strongly told mystery with a good dose of psychological horror to keep the reader both guessing and creeped out. The art is well done, adding to the atmosphere. Kiyohara did a good job pacing the story and expanding characters without making it feel like padding. Yen Press packs four volumes worth of pages into one omnibus, for a hand-breaking hold, though it is also available digitally for easier holding, carrying and storing. Color plates are included, marking the beginning of each volume.I’m glad they went for the omnibus. Having to wait for new volumes of this series would have been killer.