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Review: Maoh: Juvenile Remix Volume 1

In the city of Nekota, where rapid modernization threatens everything the longtime residents hold dear, one young man has stood up to oppose progress. Inukai and his team of vigilantes, known as Grasshopper, protect the citizens from the rising crime wave and the greedy hands of businessmen bent on turning every block into a modern strip mall. But what is this public hero’s true motive? Is this angelic man actually a devil in disguise?

High school student Ando has the special ability to make others say out loud what he’s thinking. But will this be enough to uncover Inukai’s secrets and stop the plot to control the city?

Maoh JR 1By Megumi Osuga
Publisher: Viz Media/Shonen Sunday
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Mystery/Drama
Price: $9.99/Free Online
Rating: ★★★★☆
Buy This Book

Change is unavoidable. It’s a contradictory constant. But the forces for change can be either good or bad. This first volume of Maoh: Juvenile Remix shows how words can bring about change, but leaves the question of its benefit open to interpretation.

The volume starts by introducing the protagonist, Ando, a high school student in the 11th grade. Because of an incident when he was young, he tries not to stand out.  He has the ability to make people say what he’s thinking and was ridiculed by his classmates for it. Now, he likes to blend in with the crowd, and not get involved with other people’s business. He is a bystander to the world around him.

Enter Mr. Inukai, the leader of a vigilante group known as Grasshopper. His is good-looking, confident and charismatic. He always has a benign expression and gentle smile on his lips. He and his followers patrol Nekota City, protecting the people from harm. Inukai’s greatest weapon in this fight seems to be his words. He can sway a crowd to his way of thinking or inspire individuals to action. Even Ando, who sees him in action one day. Inukai’s claim that anyone can change the world if they believe it enough, stirs Ando from his inaction. Using his ability, he helps a girl being groped on a train, and tries to help a classmate who is being bullied.

Ando’s fascination with Inukai gives him a glimpse in a darkness that seems to exist in Inukai and the Grasshoppers. Instead of being scared away by this revelation, Ando becomes more interested in Inukai and determined to find out what his real motives are.

When I first started reading this title online at Shonensunday.com, I didn’t think much of it. Reading the first volume however, has really changed my opinion. There is a lot going on here, between And’s ability and Inukai’s true intentions.  Inukai seems helpful, and to have good intentions toward the people of Nekota City. But like other charismatic leaders from the past, he may have more sinister motives. Ando says it as he’s talking to his classmate Kaname and asks what if Inukai is the devil? It’s a powerful question and gives the reader a lot to think about.

The panel layout is easy to follow, and the art is decently done. It was difficult at first to figure out Inukai’s gender, and he has several female qualities, but I found the ambiguity about his gender added to the mystique of his character.

Maoh: Juvenile Remix isn’t an action title but neither is it boring. There is a bit of talking, both in internal dialog and in discussions between characters, but it’s not just exposition. There is a real story going on here, one that’s definitely worth checking out.

Review copy provided by publsher. Images © Viz Media

No Sparkling Here

d11s01e06_wallpaper_11

[Contains Spoilers]

“The Vampires of Venice”, while an overall decent episodes, still has some issues.  In the aftermath of last week’s attempted “mating”, the Doctor drags Amy’s fiancée, Rory out of his stag party and into the TARDIS, to give the couple a romantic date, just to keep their fires burning. He takes them to Venice, Italy, to 1580. Venice is closed off though, do to fears of the return of the Black Plague. Of course, it’s just an alien race there, plotting to take over the city and run off with the women, and the Doctor must stop them.

On the plus side, this episode showcases the one of the Doctor’s strengths. His ability to verbally spar with his adversaries. It was particularly d11s01e06_wallpaper_14agood in this episode, as the Doctor breaks in to Signora Rosanna Calvierri’s palazzo and confronts her. The following “question-for-a-question” scene as the Doctor and Rosanna, bat questions and answers at each other. The Doctor is really in his element here, as the verbal barrage of questions goes back and forth. It’s in scenes like this that the Doctor really shines.

Then there are the not so shiny scenes. It mostly has to do with the writing that’s been going on with the Doctor. It started back at the end of Series 4, with Russell T. Davies, and the whole idea that the Doctor is dangerous because he makes people want to impress him and do dangerous things. I really hate this idea, that Davies even forwarded it, and even more that other writers are continuing with it. The Doctor has always been about bringing out the best in people, helping them to do the right thing, not make them into dare-devils or weapons. Rory goes off on the Doctor about this, but by the end, he’s no better. He’s just as enthusiastic to continue traveling in the TARDIS as Amy, but it has nothing to do with impressing the Doctor.

The other thing that really annoyed me was the Rosanna, the Saturnynian leader. She wanted to save her people. That’s fine and all, but she was doing it at the expense of humans. Not something the Doctor is going to take kindly to. Instead of trying to get the Doctor’s help, she tries to enlist him in her plan to “save both their races”, and when he refuses, sends all the females to kill him. Instead the females are killed, and she then gives up, dooming her race and blaming the Doctor for it. Huh? What did the Doctor have to do with her race’s extinction. She’s the one who chose to send all the precious females to try to kill the Doctor. It’s her fault for using poor judgement, underestimating the Doctor and humans in general, and overestimating the females. I really hate this guilt trip the writers keep trying to take the Doctor on. Enough already! The Time Lords got what they deserved, and it’s not the Doctor’s responsibility to save ever single species in the universe that is going extinct, and it’s certainly not his fault if he doesn’t! This was evolution in action for the Saturnynians. Get over it, move on!

Next week’s episode has Rory staying on in the TARDIS for another adventure. I hope this is for more than just an episode or two. It’s been far too long since we have a multi-companion TARDIS, and anything that will keep Amy from trying to jump the Doctor again is a good thing.

Shonen Jump June 2010

90_largeIt’s a new month and that means a new issue of Shonen Jump, the soon to be last bastion of manga magazine’s in print. This month continues the preview of Bakuman, spotlights Claymore, and gives a lot more of the same battle manga that has dominated the magazine for the year. Yeah, I can’t say I was all the enthusiastic to pick it up. But let’s start at the beginning. Once you get past all the ads and more ads disguised as “news” you get to some actual manga.

First up is the second chapter of Bakuman. At the beginning there is a short blurb on how kanji can be pronounced in different ways and have different meanings. This will be interesting if you enjoy word games or plays on words. The actual chapter has Akito and Moritaka still debating about becoming manga artists. While the first chapter did pique my interest, this second chapter manages to squash it. Akito gives a lengthy lecture about how the love of Moritaka’s life, Miho, is smart because she doesn’t act too smart, and is just passing time until she gets a husband. Yeah. The whole thing nearly bordered on offensive as far as I’m concerned, and does not impress me in any way.

Naruto was on the less-than-impressive side this month as well. The fight between Killer Bee and the Akatsuki Kisame begins, while Sakura goes to Naruto to confess her love for him, because she thinks that will stop Naruto from chasing after Sasuke. Apparently she thinks Naruto will just give up because she tells him too. And her confession is light on any real feeling. I wasn’t buying what she was saying, and I’m glad Naruto didn’t either. I’ve never cared for Sakura, and this just reinforces my feelings.

The one bright moment in the magazine continues to be One Piece. Luffy’s and Buggy’s groups back out of Impel Down, only to have the ships sailing away. It’s up to Jimbei, Crocodile and Daz to secure a ship while Luffy keeps Magellan at bay. He figures out a way to fight Magellan with Mr. 3’s help. Jimbei shows some of his power as he hits the sea to help everyone. More good action here. And I like that Luffy uses his brain instead of just brawn to keep Magellan back. But it’s Bon’s sacrifice at the end that proves his friendship with Luffy and makes for a great ending.

Bleach starts the actual fight between Ichigo and Grimmjow. It’s 57 pages of one-upping. Ichigo only fights as much as he has to, and Grimmjow just keeps upping the ante, that is until he threatens Orihime and Nel, and of course that’s when the hollow mask comes out. Grimmjow takes on a panther like shape, and battle goes on.

Ultimo continues into territory I don’t care for, with all the evil karakuri doji killing all the good karakuri doji, forcing Yamato to play exactly into their hands. I HATE that good always has to be shown as weak and lose against evil. It’s become a plot device that I’ve really grown to hate, just as I have this series.

The showcase manga this week is Claymore. The chapter shown in this issue is from the upcoming volume 16. If it’s meant to draw me into the manga and check it out, this chapter doesn’t do a very good job of it. I spent more time scratching my head, wondering what was going on that being drawn in. There’s a seven-year jump in the manga, which is where volume 16 starts. This chapter starts with Clare (the protagonist) and a few other Claymores taking to a bald guy, and then it switches to two more Claymores, watching three fight off a huge Yoma. The two spend all their time commenting on he abilities of the other three. There’s nothing to really latch onto in this showcase. It shows the action, but I get more than enough action as it is, and often done better.

No news in this volume about any up coming changes to the magazine, and there no Showcase manga next week.  There will be Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s card though. Look forward to that. As it stand now, I read Shonen Jump just to have post to write, not because I look forward to the titles anymore (other than One Piece). With the end of the Bakuman preview next month, I’m hoping once again, for some kind of good announcement about some new title being added to the magazine. I would seriously consider canceling and switching to Yen Plus, but not with it stopping its print edition (my prefered method of reading). It’s starting to look like manga magazines are going to the way of the dinosaur, which is a shame.

Rin-Ne Volume 4

This volume starts off with a new arc about Rinne’s family, specifically his father. The truth behind Rinne’s constant debt is revealed, as is more about the criminal shinigami organization, the Damashigami, and Rinne’s connection to it. And there’s some tidbits thrown out about Rinne’s and Sakura’s relationship, and for once, it’s not what you’d expect from Takahashi.

By Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Comedy
Price: $9.99/Free Online (Chapters 29-38)
Rating: ★★★★☆

I’ve been disappointed by the previous volumes of Rin-Ne so far. It’s been so much “been there, done that,” but this volume is different. The quality went up for the chapters covered in this volume, to what I expect from a Takahashi series.  The weak start made getting this far difficult, but I’m glad I waited it out.

This volume introduces Rinne’s father, Sabato Rokudo. He is key to a lot of the problems in Rinne’s life, specifically his debt and the Damashigami.  Sabato is a dead beat dad in every since of the word. He left Rinne with his parents after his wife (Rinne’s mom) disappeared. He is constantly withdrawing money from Rinne’s bank account using a forged stamp. He’s unlike any dad seen so far in a Takahashi series. None of them have ever been this bad. Genma and Ranma always fought, but there was still a feeling that Genma cared about Ranma. Inuyasha’s father left a legacy to his half-demon son so he could survive as well. Sabato doesn’t seem to care about Rinne except how he can use him to his own benefit. Conflict between fathers and sons are nothing new, but the level of animosity introduced between Rinne and Sabato is. One thing that is still cliche for a Takahashi series is Rinne’s mother “disappearing”. She did it Ranma 1/2, and I’m just waiting for something similar to happen again here.

The truth about the Damashigami is revealed in this volume as well. Rinne finds out he’s connected to them in a way he never would have expected, and it just makes him all the more determined to stop the organization. I’m looking forward to more confrontations with the Damashigami. The battles that were seen in this volume reminded me why I enjoy her titles so much. It’s the action and fighting that she does so well. They are imaginative and fun, and it’s what this series has been lacking. So I hope there’s more to come.

There’s also an interesting twist in the relationship between Rinne and Sakura that is shown in this volume. For once, it’s not the girl chasing after the uninterested guy. Rinne is shown to be the one developing feelings for Sakura, while she just thinks of them as friends. She’s not falling for him at all. I think this is a great change from all the girls-chasing-guys that always shows up in shonen titles, and might make the series more interesting to follow.

This volume of Rin-Ne turned out to be surprisingly strong. It had a lot of good action and fighting sequences, as can be expected from a Takahashi series. Sabato is incredibly annoying. I really disliked him, but that’s what makes him a good antagonist. I want to see Rinne beat him now. If Rin-Ne can keep this moment going, then it will turn out to be a really good series. The potential from the beginning is finally starting to pay off. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get here.

Review: The World I Create Volume 1

Being a “Projectionist” can bring lots of money and fame, but only if you are good at it. If you want o become one, first you need to have the power to cast a four-dimensional image. The it is really important to be able to hone and perfect you projecting abilities. The best place to do that, of course, is at a high school filled with other aspiring projectionists. Step into this multi-dimensional world with a very special student body and see how each student deals with his or her special gifts!

World I Create v1By Ayami Kazama
Publisher: CMX
Age Rating: Everyone
Genre: Romance/Fantasy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

It’s an interesting world that is created in The World I Create, where completely realistic “projections” are created for entertainment.  It’s a lot of hard work, and can be very rewarding.  In this volume, we are introduced to 8 students, all attending school to learn to perfect their abilities.  The all have different reasons for wanting to be a projectionist, but in the end this title just doesn’t distinguish itself well enough from other rom-com titles.

The first volume is comprised of 4 stories that feature two characters each it. It’s usually a boy and girl, and they are all from different grades in the school.  All have different motivations (or none at all) to be Projectionists.  The first story is about a boy and girl who keep failing their first year final and must work together to get a passing grade. The second is about a boy who calibrates other student’s lanterns, and a prodigy girl who only has one projection left in her. The third story is about a boy of meager means who accidentally angers a girl with height issues, who then tries to sabotage his tests.  The last story is about a boy who hates projectionists, and must come to terms with his female best friend becoming one.  Each story is self-contained, though characters from the other stories can make cameo appearances.

Overall, I enjoyed this first volume.  The characters are well developed and each couple compliments each other.  They are different from one another, but not so much that they can’t get along. And none of the main characters are annoying or dumber than bricks. My favorite story of the four was the second one with Akitsu the lantern cleaner and upperclassman Kawanami, the prodigy with only one projection left in her.  Akitsu is quiet and reserved, while Kawanami is more outgoing.  Their story is touching, and while it’s kind of a sad ending, it’s a good kind of sad.

While there’s nothing really bad about this volume, the characters are well written and stories are competent enough, there’s really nothing great about them either.  Nothing about this title really inspired me or got me excited to read more.  It was entertaining and I don’t regret the time I spent with it, it just isn’t a memorable read.  There’s nothing remarkable about the art either.  It’s decent enough, but also very standard.

The World I Create is still a good title, and I would recommend it for the tween-to-teen crowd.  The stories aren’t too complex or overwrought with melodrama.  This title would make a great addition to an elementary and/or middle school library, where the readers may get more out of it that I did.  This isn’t a title that should be passed up.  It has some good stories to tell, just don’t expect to be wowed.

Review copy provided by publisher. Image © CMX Manga

Stolen Hearts Volume 1

Everyone’s afraid of Koguma– the biggest, most intimidating guy at school.  So when Shinobu accidentally spills milk on his bag, you can bet she’s pretty scared about what’s going to happen next.  Turns out the bag contains an antique kimono, of all things.  It belongs to Koguma’s grandmother, who runs a kimono shop. To make up for ruining the outfit, Shinobu’s going to have to start modeling kimonos as part of grandma’s big plan to market her products to younger customers. Big, scary Koguma’s into kimonos? Turns out there’s a lot no one knew about this tall, quiet boy, and now Shinobu’s out ot change that. But in doin so, will she also end up with a new boyfriend?

Stolen Hearts v1By Miku Sakamoto
Publisher: CMX
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy This Book

I’ve never been interested in fashion much, not as a teenage, and certainly not now, so I was wary about Stolen Hearts.  The novelty of being set in a kimono shop did spark my curiosity, but I really wasn’t expecting much.  I was pleasantly surprised then by the very sweet romance and great characters that I found in it’s pages.

The title starts out like an average shojo manga with a gimmick.  A boy and girl work at a kimono shop, modeling the wares.  The boy is big, and intimidating looking.  He is the strong, silent type.  The girl is small and average.  There’s nothing really special about her.  Like everyone in her school, she is scared of him.  Turns out though, the boy is a gentle giant, and not really all that scary.  They develop feelings for each other.  Sounds likes like every other shojo ever written, right?  Don’t be so quick to judge!  It turns out this title isn’t so average.

While the setting of a kimono shop seems like a new gimmick, it really isn’t.  Koguma and Shinobu don’t actually work in the shop.  They actually model them.  Dressing in them and walking about in the streets outside the shop, they hand out flyers for the store.  I like this idea, as it gives more opportunities for interactions with different people other than just customers.  With customers you have to assume a certain kind of  person will come into the shop.  Walking around on the street gives a greater variety of people for the main characters to interact with.  It also gives them time alone (sort of) to get to know each other better. And trouble is easier to find out in the open, either from rivals or schoolmates, who can bring a whole other class of trouble.  It’s also a great excuse to show off all sorts of different outfits.  They are fashionable, and some of the themed designs are cute.  It’s also very cool to get to see styles of men’s kimonos as well.  Women always get featured in kimonos.  Men don’t get that as often, so it nice to see some equal treatment.

But it’s the characters that really make this title, and their interactions with each other.  Shinobu is the female protagonist.  She actually rather average as shojo protagonists go.  She doesn’t have some burning passion, or a crush on some boy in her class.  She’s just an average high school girl doing things with her friends and just being normal.  It’s kind of a nice change of pace.  Once she gets to know Koguma, and finds he’s not the scary monster every thinks he is, she gets this enthusiasm for everyone to know the nice side of him too.  This was a nice touch, and a realistic reaction, one I enjoyed a lot.

Koguma is big and looks scary.  He towers over everyone at school, being over 6ft. and rarely smiles, but he’s actually rather shy.  Most of the rumors that float around him are exaggerations of actually very tame stories.  But because everyone avoids him, he’s not every good in social situations.  He doesn’t really know how to act, even with Shinobu’s help.  In many ways, he reminds me of Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke.  Everyone’s afraid of him, until one person learns the truth and shows them they are really very nice.  I really started to enjoy the volume more when I came to this realization.

The last character is truly a character.  Granny Koguma, Koguma’s grandmother, is the 76-year-old owner of the kimono shop.  She is a very feisty woman who likes to get her way and usually does.  She’s very modern in her thinking, and wants to get more younger kids into wearing kimonos, and does so with more fashionable styles.  She’s happy to help out Koguma and Shinobu when they need it, as long as she can get some sort of a profit as well.  She often beats on Koguma, who submits to her smaller grandmother with barely a word.  It seems she may have some yakuza ties as well, as just the mention of her name gets Koguma and Shinobu special treatment at a festival.  She steals every scene she’s in.

Stolen Hearts starts out slow, but picks up the pace very quickly.  The art took a little while for me to get used to.  I thought it looked kind of funky looking at first, but really got to like it by the end of the volume.  This title is a great read, and it’s going into my must buy pile.  Make sure it’s in yours.

Review copy provided by publisher. Images © CMX Manga

Digital Review: Prisoner of the Tower

It’s the social season, and 17 year old Emma heads to London, with her family’s hope of finding a rich husband weighing heavily on her shoulders. One night, a mysterious man approaches her. A refined handsome face, curly black hair and deep blue eyes… Emma falls in love at first sight and shares with him her first kiss. 12 years later and now a widow, Emma visits the Earl of Greyston to discuss the marriage of her stepdaughter. It is the Earl’s younger brother who is betrothed to her stepdaughter, but the Earl never shows himself. While staying there, Emma spots the man she kissed all those years ago in a portrait on the wall…!

Prisoner of the Towerby Karin Miyamoto, Gayle Wilson
Publisher: DMP/eManga/Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Historical, Romance
Price: $4.99 Kindle/Digital Edition
Rating: ★★★★☆

I’m not a big romance fan, but when I was given the chance to read some of the Harlequin romances from DMP, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  For the most part, I found the stories to be entertaining but formulaic.  One story did stand out; Prisoner of the Tower.  This is a historical romance that hits all the right marks.  It captures the feel of  Victorian England without being overbearing, and has characters that are believable and likable at the same time.

Victorian England wasn’t the best time or place to be a woman.  Women were treated more as property than people, and were often married off for the benefit of the family than for love, especially among the upper classes.  This is the situation Emma is in when we first meet her.  She is going to the Court at London to find a husband of means that can save her family from ruin.  She knows this and hopes for the best that she will find a man that will be kind to her at least.  But before reaching London, her first kiss is stolen by a mysterious man who is headed off to war.  Neither expect to see each other ever again after that night.

12 years later, Emma is going with her stepdaughter and brother-in-law to meet Earl Greystone and get his permission for her and his younger brother to marry.  Emma wants Jorgina to have a good life with her true love, something she couldn’t have herself.  The only thing standing in their way is the Earl himself.  Alexander has no problem with his brother Jamie marrying Jorgina, he just doesn’t want to meet with Emma.  Honor was very important to the upper classes, and with his disfigured face, and the disgrace he feels from his time in the war, he doesn’t want to face anyone.

Even though it’s Jorgina and Jamie that are trying to get the blessings to get married, the story is really about Emma and Alexander getting together.  Both have given up on finding love.  Alexander doesn’t believe anyone could love him because of his disfigurement and disgrace, and Emma is ready to just accept the life of a widow and live alone and out of Jorgina’s life.  Emma doesn’t realize though, that Alexander is her mystery man from all those years before.  What follows is a series of miss communications and missed opportunities as these two star-crossed lovers stumble toward their happy ending.

I really liked the setting of this story.  I enjoy stories where the main characters spur the conventions of their time and/or society, and that is just what Emma is trying to do for Jorgina.  The characters are very well developed, even for a short manga.  They felt real to me, especially with their foibles.  I really wanted to see Emma and Alexander get together, and felt some frustration at their every misstep.  I really wanted to slap Alexander for his assumptions about Emma.  Emma’s determination to win over Alexander was well done.  She was strong without being overbearing which fits the time perfectly.

I also really enjoyed the art.  The 70’s shojo style with the big, sparkling eyes, flowing hair and elaborate clothing fit the story perfectly.  I was drawn in more because of it.  The only thing that marred the look was the typesetting, which looked like it was typed in with a typewriter.  The font is stiff, and the words don’t fit into the text or word bubbles.  But this was the only problem I had with the volume.  It’s only available in digital form, either for the Kindle or through eManga.  I can’t speak for the Kindle, but the eManga site is very easy and intuitive to use.  The story is also short enough that reading online isn’t a bother.  It is smart and well written.  If romances were more like this, I would gladly read them more.

Review copy provided by publisher. Images © Digital Manga Publishing

Review: Nightschool Volume 2

When Alex’s sister, Sarah, vanishes and all memory and evidence of her existence is erased, Alex is determined to get to the bottom of her sister’s disappearance.  What better place to start her investigations than the Nightschool itself?  But when she discovers that sneaking into the Nightschool isn’t as simple as it might seem, Alex enrolls as a student.  But is she prepared for what she might find?

Nightschool 2By Sveltlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy This Book

The action in this volume moves to the titular Nightschool as Alex is forced to enroll in order to find out about her sister’s disappearance.  We learn more about the school and it’s inhabitants as Alex goes through orientation and attends a class.  We also see more of the Hunters as well as the seer Marina, as they relax and train at home, and more clues about the broken seal mentioned in volume 1 are dropped.

In order to find her sister, Alex tries to enter the Nightschool, and is twice evicted, but not before meeting Ronee, another weirn that is somehow connected with the prophesy and Alex.  So instead, she has to enroll in the school.  Mrs. Hatcher, the Day Keeper is great, and I love the dragon hatchery that she has to take care of.  They are so cute!  Another possible clue is dropped about Alex’s past as her pencil hovers over a cursed check box.  Once enrolled, she starts to play detective, and gets a tour of the school as orientation.  The best scene though, was her in the Astral Training class and showing up teacher Mrs. Murrey.  I especially liked Alex’s astral making the origami, and the page with Alex sprouting the wings really made this volume.

Also in this volume we get to see the Hunters on their home turf, studying and training.  They appear to be home schooled in much the same way as Alex.  They seem to be like a family, with all the sibling rivalry and play that comes with it.  Daemon, their “teacher” continues to be a mystery, as he is shown to have a connection to a teacher at the Nightschool, Mr. Roi, who also seems to have a connection to the broken seal seen in Marina’s vision.  He also looks like someone you don’t want to make angry.  There is more background on the prophesy, but still no answers.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books continues to move at a good pace.  The clues about the prophesy, the mysterious hooded shades who keep appearing, and the Alex’s sister’s disappearance are dropped at a slow but steady rate.  It’s at just the right speed to keep readers interested and wanting to know more.  The next volume should definitely prove interesting as Alex and Mr. Roi seem destined to meet.  This title remains on my must have list and it should be on yours.

Review copy provided by publisher. Image © Yen Press

Digital Review: Rin-Ne Volume 3

This set of chapters starts out stumbling under the weight of more “been there, done that”, but manages to shake some of it off by the end, leaving a volume of work that is at least palatable.

By Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Comedy
Price: $9.99/Free Online (Chapters 19-28)
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

Chapter 19 starts out with another typical shtick of Takahashi’s; the rival love interest. Every one of her romantic comedies has one, all the way back to Urusei Yatsura, and Tsubasa Jumonji is right out of that boiler plate.  He tries to look cool and in control, but in reality he’s just a bumbling fool.  He’s ineffectual as a exorcist, his soul dust only causing people and spirits to cough, but not get rid of them.  Of course, he fell in love with Sakura when they were children.  Sakura was nice to him after he transferred to her school for a few days, and it was enough that now he’s declaring his love for her, and treating Rinne as his rival.

These chapters also introduce the damashigami.  They are rogue shinigami that take the life of a person who isn’t meant to die to fill their quota.  I found them to be an interesting development.  I prefer there to be some sort of antagonist outside the group rather than the infighting that usually runs through Takahashi’s romantic comedies, or a new random ghost-villain every few chapters.  It’s good to have a reason for all the rivals to come together and fight a common foe rather than each other all the time.

I still get a “meh” feeling about this series.  The introduction of the rival is another typical plot device that feels very tired to me.  Tsubasa just screams Mendo to me so much, it’s not even funny.  However, I did enjoy the stand alone stories in this volume, especially the final one with the “ghost” haunting the art students.  These chapters play out as a nice little mystery, with an ending you might not expect.  The quality of the stand alone stories are improving, and if a plot other than Rinne’s poorness is introduced, it could break up the “ghost of the week” feel the first two volumes had.  It’s enough for me have hope for further improvement of the series as a whole, and to keep reading.

Review: Nightschool: The Weirn Books Volume 1

Schools may lock up the the night, but class is in session for an entirely different set of students.  In the Nightschool, vampires, werewolves, and weirns (a particular breed of witches) learn the fundamentals of everything from calculus to spell casting.  Alex is a young weirn whose education has always been handled through homeschooling, but circumstances seem to be drawing her closer to the Nightschool.  Will Alex manage to weather the dark forces gathering?

Nightschool 1Nightschool: The Weirn Books Volume 1
By Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★

[May Contain Spoilers]

Mystery, magic, and a little mayhem have always made for a good combination in a story.  Nightschool: The Weirn Books provides all of these elements in a way to make an intriguing world and a great cast of characters to live in it.

The world of Nightschool is one divided between the normal, human world of the day, and the magical, supernatural-filled world of the night.  As is usual for this type of world, the daytime world is unaware of the nighttime world, while the reverse is the opposite.  The Nighttime world is filled with the usual suspects as well.  Vampires, witches, demons and seers all roam the world of this first volume.  But there are some new creatures of the night as well.  Rippers are vampires that have become nothing but shells of their former selves and crave blood for the touch of life it gives.  And of course weirns, a witch with a different kind of familiar.  It’s the latter of these that is the focus of the story.

Alex Treveny is a weirn.  She lives with her older sister Sarah, who works as the Night Keeper at the Nightschool.  Alex, however, is home schooled, for reasons that are left unclear.  She works on her assignments while Sarah is at work with her Astral, a black and white smokey-like creature.  The Astral has no name, and acts like an extension of Alex, but is still an independent character.  She can be like a conscious to Alex, but also easily bribed.  The two work together to accomplish things such as getting Alex over a tall fence, and the Astral seems to be aware of things about Alex that even she herself isn’t.

Because there is something strange about Alex.  A hooded figure seems to be shadowing her.  This is just one of the mysteries this first volume presents.  Along with the shadowy figure come powers that Alex isn’t aware she possesses, and a prophecy of her and others like her bringing down disaster on the world.  There’s also the not just disappearance, but erasure, of her sister, seemingly from existence.  All traces of Sarah disappear both physically as well as from people’s minds, until it’s only Alex that has any memory of her.  Could these two events be tied together?

Part of the strength of Nightschool‘s story is the characters.  Alex is a strong female lead.  She is serious and determined, though for some reason there are attempts to make her seem tough, which I don’t really see as necessary.  Alex stands just fine on her own strengths.  We don’t need other characters tell us that she’s tough on the outside, but really a softie on the inside.  Sarah, Alex’s sister is more of a ditz, but obviously really cares for her.  She adds some humor in this first volume, with her inability to get up, running an anime/manga club at the school, and her encounter with Mr. Roi, one of the teachers.  Hunters, which the Night folk seem to fear, are humans that patrol the night and protect other humans from the Night.  A group of them are introduced as well as a seer, and they become connected to Alex and prophecy in more ways than one.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books is a shining example of what OEL can and should become.  It has a well written story that hooks the reader in right from the beginning and builds on it creating a strong foundation for the series.  The mix of silly and serious moments balance each other out to make an entertaining drama that doesn’t drag or feel overdone.  Svetlana’s art is that perfect style of feeling like manga but definitely being of her own design.  I especially enjoy the look of the Astrals.  They look so completely non-human, and yet are still very expressive. Definitely check this series out.  It’s a keeper.

Manga Drive By: Shonen Jump March 2010

87_largeThere’s no real news in this month’s Shonen Jump, which is kind of surprising.  You’d think they would want to start hyping any new titles coming soon now.  But not this month.  So what do we learn in this issue of SJ?  I learned that Bleach has entered the endless “lather, rinse, repeat” mode of shonen manga.  I still don’t find Gin Tama funny, and the magazine is going to get boring real fast if they don’t add something that isn’t just about fighting.

Continue reading Manga Drive By: Shonen Jump March 2010

Black Jack Volume 6

Revenge and redemption seems to be the theme of this sixth volume of Black Jack. Whether it’s a Mob Boss taking revenge on a prideful and corrupt doctor, or a father and son reconciling during a volcanic eruption, Tezuka explores these issues through Black Jack’s dealings with his patients.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Medical Drama
Price: $16.95
Rating: ★★★★½
Buy This Book

Revenge can come in may forms.  Whether it’s the traditional “eye for an eye”, or in the name of justice, Black Jack ends up getting involved with people seeking revenge, and the patients often are the true victims.  In “Twice Dead”, Black Jack’s skills are sought to help save a boy just so he can be put on trial for murder.  “Brachydactyl” has a father trying to get revenge on his wife for cheating on him by denying their son the medical treatment he needs.  The ably titled “Revenge” has a Mob Boss punishing a doctor for not letting Black Jack help his son.  It’s Black Jack that administers the finale blow in this story.  “Terror Virus” has Black Jack and his rival Dr. Kiriko working to save men exposed to a biological weapon.  When Black Jack isn’t allowed to finish his work, Kiriko delivers “an eye for an eye” to the men who tried to condemn Black Jack’s patients.  While not commenting on whether revenge is right or wrong, Tezuka does an excellent job of eliciting an emotional reaction from the reader.

Through all this darkness of revenge and retribution there is the light of redemption, though endings are more bittersweet.  In “Brachydactyl”, while the father thought he wanted  revenge, he is given a chance at redemption thanks to an observation by Black Jack.  And in “Amidst Fire and Ash”, Black Jack’s resolve helps a father and son find reconciliation and redemption for the father.  “A Body Turning To Stone” has strong religious overtones to it, especially at the end.  But a father is again giving the chance at redemption with his first born, though the price ends up being higher than he intended.  While the redemption of these fathers with their sons is good to see, not all of the endings are uplifting.  But there is still a feeling of hope at the end that makes the reader feel that maybe the hardships will be worth it.

Throughout this volume of  Black Jack, Tezuka continues his social commentary on the medical community.  Perception is shown to be more valued than skill as Black Jack is denied a license to practice, and even jailed and kept there despite the need of his skills.  Though one again, he refuses a license on principle, and I can’t say I blame him.  There is also a subtle condemnation of experimenting on animals, and not so subtle one of man’s destruction of the environment.

Overall, this is another great collection of stories of the infamous doctor.  The diseases and situations Black jack must face continue to entertain as well as make you think.  There was only one scene that I found disturbing, during an operation, but is was only for one frame and could passed by quickly.  Don’t let the scenes of the operations dissuade you from reading this series.  Tezuka’s comment on the human condition far outweighs his portrayal of the human anatomy.  Don’t pass this series up.  You won’t be disappointed.

Review copy provided by publisher. Image © Vertical Inc.