I wasn’t impressed with the initial release of Yen Plus when it debuted last year, but the last couple of issues of the second volume has really started to turn me around. I really enjoyed this latest issue, quite a bit more than the latest Shonen Jump. The issue starts off with an editorial about light novels and how and why the covers have been different than the original releases. It’s a reason that makes perfect sense for a publisher; appeal to a wider audience. Pure and simple. Maximum Ride was missing again this month. The artist, NaRae Lee, has been sick. I don’t mind Maximum Ride. It’s a good title, just not for me, so I didn’t miss it all that much.
In the last years of the 20th century, a cult has been growing in power and popularity, led by a mysterious man known only as “Friend” This has little bearing on convenience store owner Kenji, until a childhood friend of his seemingly commits suicide. A closer look into it reveals that there may have been more to it, and it could have something to do with the cult. As Kenji looks further in, he finds that the cult and it’s leader is following a story he and his friends wrote when they were just kids, about an evil power trying to take over the world and the heroes who stop them. Kenji decides to try and stop The Friends with only the help of his childhood friends.
[May contain spoilers]
20th Century Boys is a mystery/thriller story, something of a specialty for it’s creator, Naoki Urasawa. The story spans 45 years, from 1969 to 2014. These first five volumes cover mostly the 1969-1997-1999, and only touch on 2014 at the end of the fifth. The story isn’t told linearly. It jumps from 1969 to 1997 and all around 1997 to 1999. The scenes in 1969 sow the seeds of the story, telling the beginning. In 1997, the Friend’s plot is uncovered and this is where the investigation starts. 1999 becomes the race to stop The Friends, but is far from the end of the story, as the sudden jump 15 years to 2014 shows.
The story starts out strong. It introduces the characters as they were kids, in 1969. We see what they were like, what they did, and how their friendships were made. In the 1997 present, we see how their lives turned out. Most, like Kenji, didn’t get to live out their dreams. They married, took salary-man jobs or took over family businesses. While the characters are being established, clues about the mystery are starting to be dropped. Everything we see in the 1969 scenes have some bearing on the clues dropped in 1997. Kenji and his friends built a clubhouse in an overgrown grassy field where they could listen to the radio and read manga. While hanging out there, they created the story, The Book of Prophecy, that starts to come true in 1997.
The first three volumes is spent building up the mystery of the Friends and their connection to Kenji and their childhood. An elementary school reunion gets the ball rolling, and one person’s memory sparks another and another as they begin to piece everything together. They become a rag-tag group of heroes fighting against a huge, evil organization bent on world domination. Just like in their story. It’s easy to get behind Kenji and his group, the underdogs fighting for right.
It was in volume 4 that I started to have a problem with this series. The time jumping narrows greatly to between 1997 and 1999. It becomes very difficult to keep these time jumps apart, and left me scratching my head, and having to go back and re-read sections to figure out what was going on. A mystery is about pitting your wits against the author, not fighting to just read the story in the first place. This really pulled me out of the trance their first three volumes had cast on me. I became less engaged with the characters that I had really started to like. It was a big let down.
Volume 5 didn’t do anything to improve this. It’s 1999 now, and Kenji and his group, now branded terrorists, go to fight against the terror they have seen coming for the last 3 years, but are still unprepared for. As they race away into the night, the story suddenly cuts to 2014. We never hear any details of what happened, but enough clues are dropped that it probably didn’t go well. Even as I read the last half, I still spent a lot time wondering “What happened?” While this and other questions should have kept me enthralled and dying to read more, it didn’t really. It actually left me more frustrated, and not in a good way. I’m curious, but not that I’m counting down the days to the next volume.
Urasawa has quite an ability to start a story, and build up the mystery. He drops hints judiciously, leaving clues for the readers to connect in the next chapter, volume or even several volumes later. A few chapters in volume 2 that seemed to have little relevance suddenly take on a whole new light in volume 5. He is also very good at misleading the reader. One scene that is seen several time throughout these five volumes takes on a completely different meaning at the end of volume 5 than you would think from seeing it in volume 1. I was impressed with that. It was a great turnaround. But volumes 4 and 5 lost the momentum that volumes 1-3 built up for me. I’m not quite as excited as I was to read this title. I’m still intrigued by the mystery, and I do want to know what happened and what’s to come. There are still 17 more volumes in this series, so I expect a lot more twists and turns. But I don’t know if it can regain the momentum it had at the beginning.
07-Ghost Volume 2
By Yuki Amemiya & Yukino Ichihara
Publisher: Go! Comi
Age Rating: Older Teen
Teito Klein, inheritor of the Eye of Mikhail, has found refuge from the military in the Sanctuary of the Barsburg Church. But dark forces are conspiring to return Teito to the ruthless hands of Chief Ayanami, the manga who killed his father, when Teito’s best and only friend arrives at the church under suspicious circumstances, Teito warmly embraces him, only to discover to his horror that Mikage has been turned into a tool of the military, and is bent on capturing Teito – even if it means his own destruction.
The story continues to move along as a steady trot in this second volume of 07-Ghost. Teito must deal with tragedy again, one that could easily break him, but with Frau and Castor’s help, he is able to find the strength to go on. This volume introduces some new characters, while increasing the danger to Teito in his supposed sanctuary.
Rin-ne Volume 2
By Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Price: $9.99/Free online
It’s more ghostly hijinks with Rin-ne and Sakura, as Rin-ne works to pay off his grandmother’s debt to the spirit world. The stories get longer in this volume, with more multi-chapter stories, but that doesn’t mean they get any better. More of Takahashi’s formula kicks in as a new character are introduced with some petty motivations.
07-Ghost Volume 1
By Yuki Amemiya & Yukino Ichihara
Publisher: Go! Comi
Age Rating: 16+
Teased unmercifully for his past as an orphan and a slave, Teito has only his best friend Mikage to ease his days to the elite Barsburg Academy – and his mastery of the magical art of zaiphon! But even that will not be enough to save him when he discovers a horrifying secret behind the ruling empire. Trapped in an ancient battle between a wicked god and Seven Ghost, guided by three mysterious priests, Teito discovers a power that could save the world…and shed light on his own mysterious past.
A first read through 07-Ghost can leave you feeling confused. A lot of information and characters get thrown at you with little explanation of what’s going on, who anyone is, or why they are important. This can leave a bad taste in your mouth if you’re not willing to let it sink in or give the book another read. Of course, you shouldn’t have to for a book that isn’t heavy on plot. But, if you give this title another chance, you’ll find and intriguing story and some really fun characters.
Yokai…Japanese spirits. Most people fear them, and a few people even hunt them, thinking they are horrible monsters to be destroyed at all costs. But young Hamachi wants to be friends with them! He sees them as mischievous creatures that could co-exist peacefully with humans if only given a chance. When his grandmother dies under mysterious circumstances, Hamachi journeys into the Yokai realm. Along the way, he encounters an ogre who punishes truant children, and angry water spirit, and a talking lantern. Will Hamachi be able to find his grandmother’s killer, or will he be lost forever in another world?
Yokaiden Volume 1
By Nina Matsumoto
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Age Rating: 13+
The plot of Yokaiden sounds very generic. Orphaned hero goes off to another realm filled with monsters to avenge his grandmother’s death. But Yokaiden turns out to be much more than it’s basic plot. It’s a showcase for many of the strange and sometimes playful, sometimes dangerous creatures that make up Japanese folklore. The interplay with these beings often overshadows the plot, and its clueless main character.
Hamachi is your typical happy, often oblivious protagonist. Despite losing his parents at young age, and being cared for by his harsh grandmother, he’s a good-natured and obedient boy. He has a bit of a temper, but his anger is very short lived. He gets angry at a Ronin Samurai who comes to the village to offer his services as a yokai killer, but just as quickly asks for forgiveness. And I guess it could be determination to find his grandmother’s killer that he doesn’t really grieve for her death, other than a single outburst. He really doesn’t have much of a personality outside of his yokai obsession. I didn’t find him interesting at all, especially when compared to all the yokai he encounters.
It’s in his search to find the kappa he thinks could have killed his grandmother and the yokai realm that we get to see the wide range of yokai. It’s these encounters that make up the high points of this volume. Right after finding his grandmother dead, Hamachi runs in a Grime Licker and a Bean Washer. Upon entering the forest where the entrance to the yokai realm is believed to be, he encounters all kinds of smaller yokai, such as the Shin-Rubber which trips people, and the Namahage, an ogre that skins the feet of delinquent children. Inside, Hamachi first befriends a Tsukumo Gami, in the form of a paper lantern, is chased by a Chimera and meets another Tsukumo Gami, this time, a one-legged, one-eyed paper umbrella that has just come to life, and was once the property of Hamachi’s grandfather. All of these encounters, and the short facts about them at the end of each chapter are what kept me interested in this volume. Hamachi’s quest was just the vehicle to meeting all these interesting creatures.
Yokaiden isn’t a serious title. There are touches of humor all through the volume, usually from Hamachi and his interactions with yokai. The kappa that he rescues at the beginning has some great sarcastic barbs that seem to go right over Hamachi’s head. Many of the yokai he meets and tries to be friends with think he’s weird. Little jokes are thrown in all over, such as Hamachi talking back to the narrator, or King Enma rising up with a portal to hell when Hamachi is looking for the portal to the yokai realm. The villagers have their laughs too, such as the gossiping women who sound sympathetic to Hamachi’s hardships, but really don’t care, or the discussion the villagers get into about what kind of irony it is that Hamachi’s grandmother was killed by a yokai.
I liked Nina Matsumoto’s art. It uses all the best elements from manga without going overboard. There aren’t any chibis or sweat drops, but there are some starry looks, which aren’t so bad. And the yokai all look great. With so much variety, Matsumoto does a great job making them look different, not just from each other, but also from what we as westerners expect monsters to look like.
Overall, Yokaiden was a good time killer. I loved seeing and reading about all the yokai, but the overall story of Hamachi and his quest to avenge his grandmother, not so much. I didn’t really like the grandmother, and didn’t feel bad when she had died. If you like yokai and enjoy a chuckle or two, then Yokaiden is worth the time. If you’re looking for more than a light read, then this title isn’t for you.
The History of the West Wing
Written by: Sun Jiayu; Illustrated by Guo Guo
Age Rating: Teen
Lavishly illustrated in full color and based on the classic Chinese play Xixiang Ji by Wang Shifu, The History of the West Wings tells of the illicit romance between the daughter of a Chinese Government Official and the roaming scholar who seeks to win her hand. But before he can turn his attentions to his ladylove, the young man must win the heart of her mother! When it seems even heroic deeds in the face of murderous bandits will not please the strict matriarch, the young man goes off to become a civil servant. Will he return in time to marry his true love?
With a description like that, you’d expect a story filled with drama and romance. Too bad this book provides doesn’t live up to it. It opens with an introduction that explains the history of XiXiang Ji and its significance to Chinese culture and literature. It is a play written in the 1200’s and is based on an earlier fable that tells of the romantic setbacks of a girl that gives herself to a roaming student. A character in the story, the girl’s servant, Hong Nianging, worked so hard to get the two together, that her name came to mean “matchmaker” in Chinese culture. Reading the story after this buildup is a real let down.
Volume 1 Summary:
Mamoru Kagemori is a dull high school boy who’s not handsome, athletic or intelligent. but things aren’t always what they appear. He’s actually the eldest son of a 400-year-old Ninja clan that specializes in protecting their neighbors, the Konnyakus. And the object of Mamoru’s protection is none other than their only daughter, Yuna Konnyaku, a natural-born troublemaker. Mamoru must continue to protect her to carry out his duty, no matter what adversaries strong, bizarre or stupid. And will Yuna ever learn who her protector is?
Volume 2 Summary:
When Yuna enters an idol contest and makes it to the finals, despite her hilariously bizarre performance. Mamoru has to go all out with his ninja skills in order to fend off perverted judges and crazed fans! But if Yuna becomes an idol will Mamoru still be able to protect her?
Mamoru: The Shadow Protector is a lot like it’s main character. It starts out showing you a fun-filled romantic comedy, heavy on the comedy, but then like a ninja, tries to switch out into a harem comedy, where the laughs fall flatter than a dull shuriken.
Nephylym Volume 1
By Rei Kusakabe
Publisher: DR Masters
Age Rating: 13+
Shun has a unique power to electrically charge metal materials. A mysterious winged being named Ale picks up on his powers and chooses him to be her partner. Shun’s classmate and school crush, Sanari, finds out and reveals her winged partner, named Blissful. She explains that the beings are called Nephylym, and their chosen partners are called Answerers. Together with Sarari and Tsukasa (Shun’s rival in love and an Answerer as well), they battle along side their Nephylym against Noirs that possess human beings.
I can’t remember the last time I read a volume that was so lackluster. The story and characters are just cookie cutter cutouts of typical shonen action fare with some moe and moments of fanservice to draw in a audience that will hopefully be too enthralled by the cute little girls to notice the complete lack of a decent story.
It’s just another night on the prowl for vampires for Kyrian of Thrace when he meets the most frightening thing imaginable. And accountant. But Amanda Devereaux is much more than she seems. Hunted by one of the deadliest of vampires, Amanda is the key to our survival. If she goes down, so does he, and –no offense– he doesn’t want to die (hence the whole immortality thing). And he doesn’t want humanity dead either, which is a good thing for us since he and Amanda are all that stands between us and oblivion. Let’s hope they win.
When Ruka was younger, she saw a ghost in the water at the aquarium where her dad works. Now she feels drawn toward the aquarium and the two mysterious boys she meets there, Umi and Sora. They were raised by dugongs and hear the same strange calls from the sea as she does.
Sora begins investigating their strange connection to the sea. But the current research is too slow for Sora, who is lured away by with the promise of answers. This leaves Umi severely depressed, and it is up to Ruka to help her new friend find his brother. But time is quickly running out…
Children of the Sea Volume 1
By Daisuke Igarashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen+
In an attempt to draw in more adult readers, Viz has been expanding their Signature imprint. The titles in this imprint are meant for a more mature audience that have out grown or aren’t interested in the eternal power ups of shonen or the angsty drama of shojo. Children of the Sea, the first title from the online manga magazine Ikki, is the perfect debut title. With none of the usual manga conventions, beautifully rendered art, diverse characters, and a compelling mystery, this is a title that both non-manga readers and long time fans will enjoy.
Broken Blade Volume 1
By Yunosuke Yoshinaga
Publisher: CMX/Flex Comics
Rating: T+ (Older Teens)
Rygart Arrow is a man with a problem. He’s one of the tiny minority, perhaps one in a million, who cannot charge the quartz crystals that power all of the machines in his world. He cannot drive vehicles, he cannot use machinery, he’s what is known as an “unsorcerer”. However, he is well educated and old college friends with the King and Queen of Krisna, who are facing an incursion from their neighboring nation of Athens. When they learn that the Athen army is led by Zess, the final part of their college foursome and he’s marching on their borders, they call on Rygart in their time of need. Can he figure out how to operate the Under-Golem, an ancient magic-less machine in time to save his friends?