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Strobe Edge Volume 1

What is love, anyway? Ninako Kinoshita’s friends tell her it’s one thing, but Ninako wonders what this mysterious feeling is. When she meets Ren Ichinose, the handsome, enigmatic guy that all the girls worship, her life takes an unexpected turn. With just a few words and a smile, he changes her world. Ninako’s friend Daiki throws her for a loop when he expresses romantic interest in her. She cares for him, but can she return his feeling? As she tries to short out her confusion, Ninako realizes that there are many different facets of love–strange and wonderful sides…

By Io Sakisaka
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Falling in love for the first time is a strange, wonderful and sad feeling all at the same time. Watching Ninako slowly realize that the feelings she’s starting to experience are those of first love was a fun and delightful experience.

Strobe Edge starts out seeming like the typical love triangle. Ninako is a first year in high school, and a little gullible. She is also completely clueless about the feeling of her best friend since elementary school, Daiki. Her chance encounter with the school’s “idol prince”, Ren, seems innocent at first. But, as she gets to know him, and sees the real him outside of school, it’s hard for her not to have feelings for him, even knowing he already has a girlfriend, or Daiki’s true feelings, doesn’t chance her mind.

And I really can’t blame her, since Ren does seem to be a really good guy. He buys Ninako a new cell phone charm when he accidentally steps on it. He helps her on the train when she is being harassed by another passenger, and misses his stop and walks her home after she has hurt her ankle at school. He even gives up his seat on the train for a pregnant woman, telling he’s about to get off even though his stop is still a ways away. Daiki doesn’t seem like a bad guy either though. He’s the loyal best friend who waited too long to tell Ninako how he felt, though it might not have mattered, since Ninako just doesn’t feel the same way.

I really enjoyed watching Ninako change little by little. Her starting to appreciate girly things, like the butterfly charm Ren gets her, and just thinking about painting her nails and being glad they looked nice as Ren helped her home. I also liked how her feelings for Ren grew slowly and weren’t the usual instant love that so many romance manga like to do. She starts out just wanting to show her friends that they take the same train, but her awkwardness endears her to him and she is even graced with a smile that he never seems to have at school. Even her stalker-ish behavior when she waits at the train station to see if he really has a girlfriend wasn’t creepy. She just had to know, and even knowing doesn’t change her.

The fact that she doesn’t change fundamentally is what really makes her a good character. She doesn’t try to be someone else for Ren. Her changes come from her feelings. The volume had a nice twist at the end with Daiki, and Ninako reaching out to Ren even though she knows what his answer will be was a really sweet moment. You really can’t help but root for Ninako and that is what really made me like this title. I cared about Ninako, and what happened to her, especially since she knows this is just her first love and wants to cherish the feeling even if it means breaking heart as well.

Strobe Edge is starting out to be a sweet romance. While I do hope that the triangle between Ninako, Ren and Daiki continues, I really just want to follow Ninako on her journey of discovering love. I actually think following all of them would be interesting. The art is well done, and different enough from a lot the other romance titles that it should stick out in a good way. I really looking forward to more volumes of this series. If you are a fan of love and not just romance, you should too.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Bleach Volume 33-34

Ichigo, Uryu, and Renji continue their battles with the espadas Nnoitora and Szayelsporro in their attempt to rescue Orihime, but things aren’t going so well. It takes some surprising interventions to save the boys from defeat.

By Tite kubo
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Action
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I haven’t enjoyed Bleach since the end of the Soul Society arc, but continued to read the series since it was serialized in Shonen Jump. These two volumes are a bit of an exception, as they stand out by being more entertaining than most of the volumes in the Hueco Mundo arc so far. Two characters that I hadn’t cared much about show another side that has me thinking twice about them.

I never really liked Nel, the little hollow girl who’s also a big cry baby, and always following Ichigo around. She was annoying and always making things for Ichigo. She finally makes amends in this battle, as she regains her original form, a full-grown, and well endowed, espada called Nelliel. How she came to be the little girl with no memory is revealed as she takes on Nnoitora. The battle is sadly short-lived, but not before Nelliel transforms into her Capricorn Knight form. I liked that form and would have liked to have seen it in action more. Pesche and Dondochakka also prove to be more than just comedy relief as they reveal their combined Cero against Szayelsporro who joined Nnoitora in his treachery against Nelliel.

It’s not enough of course, for both Ichigo and Renji and Uryu get their buts handed to their by the espadas they are fighting, so it’s time for reinforcements. Enter four of the captains from Soul Society; Kenpachi, Unohana, Byakuya, and Mayuri. Unohana, as captain of the 4th company is only there to heal the injured, but Byakuya gets a battle with Zommari which unsurprisingly doesn’t last long, and Kenpachi takes over Ichigo’s battle with Nnoitora, but the majority of the volume goes to Mayuri taking on Szayelsporro, the espada scientist vs the Soul Society scientist. Their battle becomes a game of one-upmanship, as each tries to prove he is not just more powerful than the other, but also more clever. But it’s obvious who the winner will be. Mayuri is consistantly one step ahead of Szayelsporro, and uses his adjutant Nemu as the bait to lure him into his web. I’ve never really liked Mayuri and his superiority complex, but I liked Szayelsporro even less, so I’m okay with Mayuri winning. He had some good taunts, and even got a laugh at his wall-eyed, tongue out taunt.

I was bothered by a few things. I liked Nelliel’s character design as a whole, and do understand why so little of herself would be covered when going from little Nel to full-size Nelliel, but what is she doing on the cover of the volume? Is that pose even physically possible? I’ve looked at it a lot as I’ve been writing this review, and it just baffles me more every time. While I can at least deal with it, I really didn’t like was a scene with Orihime. When Nnoitora sends Tesla to finish off Ichigo, she starts to yell out to Ichigo, but Nnoitora silences her by sticking his fingers in her mouth. Really? Was that really necessary? Covering her mouth wasn’t enough? And she just meekly accepts this. Fan service I’ve learned to live with, but this was crossing the line for me.

Bleach lost me as a devoted fan a while a go, but I keep holding out hope that it will get better and I will enjoy it again. These two volumes show that all hope isn’t lost, but it still has a long way to go to win me back. A little less fighting, a little more humor would definitely help.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Angel Heart

Peace Pet Rental’s Lag is a robotic dog. He can be pretty slow at times and can’t perform tasks aside from those written in his program, but despite all this, he’s everyone’s favorite dog. Soon, however, he is tackling people’s problems in ways not included in his program, and it seems almost miraculous… Something mysterious has awakened within his heart even though he’s supposed to be a machine with no emotions. What is Lag’s true nature? For those lost in despair and sorrow and those with wounded hearts comes this healing tale of love, kindness, and sacrifice.

By Udou Shinohara
Publisher: Digital Manga Guild
Localized: Cynical Pink
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Shojo/Slice of Life
Price: $6.95 eManga/$7.95 Kindle/Nook/Wowio
Rating: ★★★★½

While I am a big cat lover (crazy cat lady in training), I’m really a sucker for all animals, including dogs. So it should come as no surprise that when given the chance, I would read a manga featuring a dog, even if it is a robot dog. While the basic premise is far from original, Shinohara still creates an entertaining story with some quirky characters, an interesting world for them to live in, and a charming pooch to bring them all together.

Angel Heart takes place in an unspecified future, where phone calls are made with holographs, and robots can be made and programmed to act like animals. The Peace Pet Rentals creates dogs, and Shiki is in charge of gathering data and programming Lag, a medium-sized dog that looks like a Sheltie. He does this by taking the dog to a hospital (whose director is also the Chief’s sister) and letting Lag interact with the patients, which has the added benefit of helping the patients. Over the course of the volume, Shiki gets to know many of the patients and watches Lag as he seems to grow beyond his programming, and like Pinocchio become thought of as a “real” dog.

I really enjoyed this title. Shiki is the reluctant programmer, who isn’t very good with people, but through working with Lag, starts to learn how to better interact with them. His big rival is Rena, the youngest sister of the Chief Rin and Director Kira. She also has a robot dog that she brings, a small Pomeranian named Nikita, whose programming is simpler, and therefore is more energetic, but not as authentic as Lag. She is always calling Lag dumb, because of his slow reactions, and comparing Shiki to his creation. The Rin, Shiki’s boss, is very stoic, but believes in his work, while Kira is more friendly, always smiling and encouraging Shiki, even if she is a little blunt about Lag’s lagging.

And then’s the star of the book, Lag. He is often shown with a blank stare, one I often associate with dogs anyway. When ever he does a dog action, like wag his tail, or lick someone’s face, the programming why he’s doing it is explained off to the side. This might seem annoying after a while, but I think it’s actually cute. It makes the times Lag isn’t following his programming stand out more. Throughout the story, it’s Lag’s unexplained actions that show how he’s changing and growing into something more than his programming. Doing a handstand and wagging his tail for a girl scared of her upcoming operation, or going to comfort a former soccer player depressed after an accident that affected his legs, show how he is becoming more empathetic toward people. I really liked it when his “brain” was put into a larger, scarier-looking dog, Lag’s personality still shone through. It was so cute seeing his stubby tail wag!

Angel Heart is a fun, light one-shot, though I wouldn’t object to reading more about Shiki and Lag,  or another robot animal in this universe. Shinohara has created a cast of characters I enjoyed with stories that warm the heart. The localizer, Cynical Pink, did a really good job with this title as well. The writing was fluid and read very naturally. It’s great that DMP/DMG has made this title available on several different platforms, though it’s obvious by the price which one they want you to buy from. Definitely check out Angel Heart if you enjoy titles about dogs or just want a light, quick read. It’s worth it.

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Yokai Doctor Volume 1

Yokai are mysterious, troublemaking spirits and demons that have tormented Japan for centuries. Kotoko’s grandfather exorcised them for a living, but Kotoko never thought that her family lineage was an asset. Then she meets Kuro, a yokai doctor. Yokai have doctors? Now Kotoko is learning firsthand that healing the yokai is a lot more challenging than getting rid of them!

By Yuki Sato
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Comedy/Horror
Price: $10.99 OOP
Rating: ★★★☆☆

When I first ordered Yokai Doctor back in 2009, I was hoping for a more serious look at yokai. So imagine my disappointment when I read it and found out it featured a perverted protagonist and fan service galore. I was ready to pan it back then. With three years to get over my expectations, I find the title isn’t quite so bad, but the pandering is still annoying.

The protagonists of this title are Kotoko, the granddaughter of a powerful and well-known exorcist who inherited some of his powers, and Kuro, a yokai doctor. The introduction to these characters is handled in an unusual way. The first chapter is told twice, once from Kotoko’s perspective and once from Kuro’s perspective. While this novel concept might have seemed like a good idea at the time, it really failed in execution. Kuro comes off as really shallow in the first chapter, and scenes are held back from one chapter to make a bigger impact in the other. Sato would have made a much better impression had he just written the two as one chapter, and allowed the reader to see both characters perspective at once.

Of the two characters Kotoko is the more interesting, or at least the more developed. As would be expected of someone who can see spirits, she was teased and mocked when she was young. But now in high school, she is more popular because of her ability, causing her to feel the need to live up to her classmates expectations. She sees a kindred spirit in Kuro, and reaches out to him as a friend. She has the courage to stand up to yokai despite not having any way of defending herself, but also the compassion to see they aren’t all bad. By the end of the volume, I had warmed up to her.

Kuro, on the other hand, needs more work. He is a yokai, and while it might seem his pervy ways are just his attempts to interpret human culture, such as the bowing incident, his open confession for his love of “boobies” doesn’t make him any points with me. Neither did the wearing of underwear on his head. He is fascinated by humans, despite the fact it was a human that killed his mother. Like Kotoko has started to learn, he knows there are good sides to humans as well as bad, and doesn’t paint them all with a broad brush. He has potential, if the perviness can be toned down. Not that I’m holding my breath though.

I really enjoyed the stories about the yokai. The tsuchikorobi was touching and the baby oni was cute. They showed how easy it was for the yokai to be misunderstood because of their appearance or nature. It just took a little explaining from Kuro, and maybe some action from the yokai, for Kotoko to learn the nature of their heats. Now, I know not all yokai are going to be like that. But I like that the series starts off with some silliness. I loved the scenes where Kotoko would throw some of the smaller yokai at Kuro’s head when he was being dense or pervy. Add to that the touching moments and it starts to become apparent that this title isn’t all about T & A.

I was harsh on Yokai Doctor when I first read it, and didn’t get anymore volumes. Now, I regret that. I would really love to read more about Kotoko and Kuro, and the yokai they will encounter and try to heal. Unfortunately, being a Del Rey title, that won’t be easy, or even a series that will ever be finished, since they are no more. All I can hope for, is that Jmanga.com, who has already picked up several Del Rey titles to publish and complete online, will pick up this one as well. It has a lot more to offer than some fan service, and though I was slow to pick up on it, I’m now glad I did.

Chibi Vampire: Airmail and Bites

Chibi Vampire is a title I ended up really enjoying. So, after finishing the series, I picked up the two spin-off volumes that came out after the title finished publication here in the US; Airmail and Bites. While both return you to the world of Karin and her family and friends, they do have their ups and downs.

Continue reading Chibi Vampire: Airmail and Bites

Dracula Everlasting Volume 2: Manga Movable Feast

Nicholas Harker discovered he is heir to the legacy of an ancestor he never knew he had: Dracula. Under his progenitor’s evil influence, Nicholas has begun, with a vast fortune at his disposal, to rebuild Castle Dracula in the outskirts of Boston, leaving behind a wake of corpses. While the love of Jill Hawthorne seems to be the only thing that weakens Dracula’s hold over Nicholas, Mason Renfield realizes he must remove her from the picture, in order to usher in the full reemergence of his dark lord. But Jill’s new friend, the fiery wiccan Cate, has plans of her own—to destroy Nicholas and avenge her mother’s death.

Story by Nunzio De Filippis & Christina Weir; Art by Rhea Silvan
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

After reading volume 1 of Dracula Everlasting, I had some doubts about the series. I was under the impression that Nick was to be the protagonist, but this volume proves that isn’t the case. Cate and to some extent Jill are the ones to really move the story. While I do like good, strong female characters, as Cate and Jill are portrayed, I imagined a different story in my head. It’s not that this story is bad. It’s just not what I expected.

Cate, who was introduced half way through volume one, takes the initiative in this volume. She does the research and the footwork to put together an arsenal of holy water, silver bullets and stakes to use against Dracula. She also finds the Van Helsing who will be needed to defeat the vampire. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise who is it. Sadly she discovers this too late for Detective McAllister, who was her initial candidate. His spirit is still around, whether because of magic or his unsolved murder is unknown, but I do hope he comes in handy later. It’s too bad he’s gone. He and Cate make a cute couple.

The one person who isn’t much help is Jill. She knows something is up with Nick, but doesn’t do anything about it. She lets him kiss her, and then lets him push her away. Nick is stupid to use Jill as he does with just getting a touch from her and then bailing, but Jill should have been more assertive with him. He’s obviously easily dominated. When Cate mentions her mother was killed by Dracula/Nick, Jill asks which victim she was without batting an eye. I’m glad Cate calls her on it, but she doesn’t have a good response. I thought she was smart, but she falls too easily for Mason’s advances. Again, it’s Cate who has to verbally smack her to get her to wake up. I get that she doesn’t believe Cate about her connection to the whole Dracula thing, but I really didn’t like that it took killing her mother for her to finally accept it.

The middle volume in a three-volume series is usually the weakest, as it has to either keep the status quo, or be the dark before the dawn. This volume is the latter, but I enjoyed this one more than the first. Now that I realize that Nick is not the main character, but that the girls Jill and Cate are, the story makes more sense. It’s nice to have a “Prince in distress” for a change. Though, I think the story I originally thought this would be, the internal struggle between Nick and Dracula, would still be interesting, if Nick had the will power. Another plus was that there were only a few scenes with the Renfields, which also included a possible foreshadowing of some just desserts for Mason.

I did like this second volume of Dracula Everlasting, but Cate was its saving grace. Without her, this would have been very dull with Jill doing nothing and Nick being the Prince of Darkness, asking why it’s so important to dispose of a body, and shaking an old man fist at the cell phone. The lack of vampire action was a little disappointing too. There was only one on-screen kill, and the battle at the end. I’m gonna stick around to see the end of this series. I want to see the girls take out Dracula and find out if they can save the (cute) boy.

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Blood Alone Volumes 1-3: Manga Movable Feast

For recently turned vampire Minato Misaki, vampirism and the beastly powers that come with it are something that she wouldn’t wish upon her worst enemy, let alone her beloved Kuroe. But Kuroe’s supernatural investigations make him a regular target of not only vampires but of all sorts of undead creatures of the night. The only way to save him from these deadly threats may be to do the one thing that Misaki fears the most: to turn Kuroe into a vampire for his own protection.

By Masayuki Takano
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Vampires/Horror
Price: $15.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve had this volume in my review pile for a while, and kept meaning to read it. I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and after reading a review of it for the Manga Movable Feast I hosted last year, I was really interested, but I am easily distracted, and it was soon buried by the growing review pile. With this month’s MMF being about vampires, it seemed the perfect time to dig it out. And I’m really glad I did. Blood Alone isn’t the typical vampire series with a lot of angst and melodrama. Instead, it is populated with rich, interesting characters and a story that is a mix of slice of life and murder mystery with a sprinkling of vampires.

Blood Alone revolves around Kuroe, a former Vampire Hunter and Misaki, a young vampire girl. It might seem like an odd pairing, until you get to know them. As the story begins, we don’t know how long they’ve been together, but it’s obviously been a while, as they are comfortable with each other and have a set routine. Masaki isn’t a vampire who just looks like a 10 to 12-year-old girl, she actually is still a tween. She doesn’t like to sleep alone, is afraid of thunder, and can be melodramatic. She has a big time crush on Kuroe, and is quick to get jealous when any other women speak to him. She is sweet and innocent in a charming kind of way. She doesn’t like being a vampire and hates having to drink blood. She doesn’t know much about her new abilities, so it’s cute when she tries them on Kuroe for the first time.

Kuroe appears rather laid back. He is a writer, but to cover bills between books he also works as a private investigator, taking jobs as varied as finding a lost cat to being a bodyguard. He appears unassuming, but he’s actually a well-trained fighter and seems to have quite a reputation in the vampire community. He is absolutely devoted to Masaki, often worrying about her when she goes off on her own, and trying to give her time alone with him. His feeling for her however are much more of a brotherly kind. Kuroe doesn’t appear to have an interest in anyone romantically. He was infatuated with his older sister, who was taken by a vampire several years earlier, and is probably the reason he became a Vampire Hunter. He does have a special ability that he earned while trying to save his sister. His eyes were wounded by the vampire, and now he can see when something is trying to be something it isn’t. And he’s immune to vampire tricks. A rather useful trait for a vampire hunter.

Assisting Kuroe and Masaki is an interesting supporting cast. Sayaka Sainome is a long time friend of Kuroe’s who is the head of a police forensics department. She often asks Kuroe for help in cases where the supernatural might be involved. She is also Masaki’s potentially biggest rival for Kuroe’s attention. Higure is an elder vampire who looks like a boy, but is really very old. He controls the vampire territory where Kuroe and Misaki live, helping Misaki learn about her vampiric powers and tolerating Kuroe. Sly is an underworld figure who is a friend of both Kuroe and Misaki who also happens to be a vampire. He helps them out with information. His partner is a cat named Larry. While it doesn’t seem right to call any cat “owned” by a human, it seems especially inappropriate for Larry.

The stories range from slice of life stories, such as Misaki’s humming inspiring a down and out musician to write again, to murder mysteries, with Sayaka and Kuroe hunting down a serial killer’s soul, to action with Kuroe fighting a vampire guild of assassins. The mix of stories keeps the series from getting boring or bogged down, as it never spends too much time on any vampire angst. The side characters get some attention too. Sayaka gets a story to work out issues she had with her deceased father. What I really enjoyed about this omnibus, was how easy it was to get lost in volume. At three volumes it was the perfect length, and the kinds of stories covered made for a perfect introduction to the characters and the world. The art is beautifully rendered as well. The characters never get too silly looking. All of their emotions are handled realistically, without being too realistic.

Blood Alone is exactly the kind of vampire title I’ve been looking for. It has a strong and varied range of characters and stories to suit. It has its own vampire mythos that doesn’t stray far from established canon, and doesn’t dwell on the angst of being a vampire. It acknowledges it without letting it overwhelm the story. This is a great title for readers who want more from their vampires than just killing things or moping. I highly recommend it.

Digital review copy provided by publisher.

Ju-On: Video Side

This chilling tale of murder, secrets, and revenge centers on a home and the ugly events that transpired there. The place now has new owners, but there is a vile presence that permeates the building and pollutes every surface. What wickedness set off this unstoppable angry spirit? Why has its bloody grudge infected the home and its inhabitants? In the spirit of The Ring, Ju-On –Video Side– delivers a dark warning of a cursed spirit and the corrupting influence it has on the living.

Story by Takashi Shimizu; Adaptation by Miki Rinno
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $9.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

While I don’t care for most horror movies in general, I do like the J-Horror movies that came out in the early 2000s. I have been on a quest to read as many of the manga adaptations that have come out as I can. So far I have read The Ring 0-3, Dark Water and One Missed Call. The manga adaptations have been hit or miss for me, so when I finally got my hands on Ju-On: Video Side, I wasn’t sure which way it would go. It’s actually a pretty good adaptation, just not of the movie as released here in the US.

Ju-On: Video Side tells the story of the Murakami family, the family to live in the house after the Saekis, who were the originators of the curse. Their story was originally told in the 2000 direct-to -video film Ju-On, or Ju-On: The Curse, and is a prequel to the theatrical movie. The story follows Tsuyoshi Murakami and his friend Mizuho, the daughter of Tatsuya Tamura, a friend of Tsyuoshi’s father, and the realtor who sold the Murakami’s their new house. Starting with Tatsuya’s mysterious dismemberment, one person after another is killed at the hands of Kayoko and Toshio’s hands. Some for doing nothing more than walking into the house.

I liked this adaptation. It didn’t follow the theatrical movies, so the story was fresher. It also told the story straightforwardly and in chronological order, so there was no trying to get your head around what was going one. I also liked a lot of the little differences that happen in the manga. Tsuyoshi’s sister Kanna isn’t killed feeding rabbits, but stray cats, which makes some sense since Toshio’s spirit is merged with a cat. The scene is very disturbing though. It’s gives a good shock too, as two police officers investigating the attack stare at something off-screen, taking about what it could be, which is inter-cut with scenes of Kanna dragging herself home. The build up is paid off in the reveal.

I also like what happened between Tsuyoshi and Mizuho. The story builds them up as not just the protagonists, but with a budding romance as well. This makes what Tsuyoshi does disturbing yet touching, even if he was under Kayoko’s influence at the time. The volume ends not on an uplifting note, but with a feeling that there could be hope. Kayoko and Toshio are shown to be just as much victims of the curse as the people who move into the house, and that adds to the overall emotion. Ju-on isn’t a personal vendetta, or mindless serial killer killing for the pleasure. It’s like a force of nature, and sweeps up anyone and everyone in its path.

If you’re interested in picking up the manga of a J-Horror, Ju-On: Video Side is a good choice. It hits different notes than the videos and movies, and hits them well. There is some blood and gore, but nowhere near as much as many western horror movies, and you can turn the page fast if it really bothers you. Just don’t read this in the dark, when you’re alone, and where there are cats. You might not get any sleep for a while.

 

 

Wonderful Life with the Elements

In this super periodic table, every element is a unique character whose properties are represented visually: heavy elements are fat, man-made elements are robots, and noble gases sport impressive afros. Every detail is significant, from the length of an element’s beard to the clothes on its back. You’ll also learn about each element’s discovery,its common uses, and other vital stats like whether it floats–or explodes–in water.

By Bunpei Yorifuji
Publisher: No Starch Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Science
Price: $17.95

I first learned about this title through the manga reviews column in Otaku USA. I found the visuals and concept so intriguing, that I jumped at the chance to review it myself! I’d always found Chemistry interesting, and with my oldest daughter currently taking the class, it seemed a good opportunity. Wonderful Life with the Elements didn’t disappoint. It was fun, educational, and rather thought-provoking.

What stands out first and foremost about Wonderful Life with the Elements is it isn’t a traditional manga. There’s no story to follow with the science incorporated like the Manga Guide series. It’s really more of an illustrated book, with the illustrations telling just as much, if not more, as the text. Yorifuji does incorporate a small narrative with his “atom man”, which is mostly seen on the dividing pages between sections and is rather cute. The book starts with graphs that show the elemental make up of our world, and how our use of the elements have changed and grown starting from prehistoric times to today.

The heart of the book is the periodic table. Yorifuji explains the reason for illustrating the table, so newcomers can not only know the names but also learn many of their properties at a glance. The way he does this, is to come up with a character that can be used to show the properties. First he creates the character’s face, which is based on the parts of an atom. It’s cute and clever. This “Atom man”, which is made very obvious from the anatomically correct way he is drawn, is then dressed up. Hair is used to show what family an element is from. Afros show the cool Noble gases. Spikes are for the volatile zinc family, and mohawks are for the nitrogen family where many poisons come from. Atomic weight is shown as body weight. Clothes show how the element is used, such as everyday use, specialty or industrial. When an element was discovered is shown as facial hair, and even the element’s matter state can be determined by the legs.

Each element is placed on a pedestal, which is usually some item that it plays in important role in. Indium, which is big in the production of LCD screens, stands on one. Gallium is the element that helps make blu-ray players and gaming machines, so he is standing on a Playstation 3. Along with each illustration is a blurb of text that explains a little about the element, and all around him are smaller pictures, showing several of the other uses. Some of these can be funny, such as with Neodymium, which was used to make the world’s strongest magnet, so there’s a picture of Neodymium’s face getting stuck to a metal pellet. Even though it isn’t stated, the poisonous elements are also differentiated with the eyes. Poisonous elements have big, empty eyes, like a ghost or skeleton, making their ominous intent obvious.

The last part of the book gets personal. It explores how our bodies are made up of the elements, and what happens when we have too much or too little of them. It will make reading the dietary information on the back of food packages a little more relevant. It also talks about how the elements are just that. These are the basic building blocks of life and the universe, and as such are finite. It emphasizes the importance of recycling these elements, especially the ones that make our modern technology possible, because if we don’t, we may not have them for much longer.

No Starch Press’ presentation of the book is very nicely done. It’s a hardback, but is just a couple of inches smaller that an average manga and just as much wider. It has a slipcover that has cheats for how the elements are represented; hair, clothes, matter states, etc. It’s a good reference when you need to be reminded what a hairstyle was for again. There is a nice ribbon bookmark attached, so you’ll never lose your place which also makes a good cat toy, at least our newest kitten thinks so. There is also a poster included, which is perfect for the classroom or display.

I really enjoyed reading Wonderful Life with the Elements. It was fun, and I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before. I may not have the memorized table from this one reading, but there are certainly some that stick out, like Neodymium, that I never knew about before. What really enthuses me about this book is how it has piqued the interest of my daughter. As I said, she is taking Chemistry, and when I showed her the review of the book, she loved the idea. And when I got a copy of the book, she said she wanted to read it too. And then show it to some of her geekier friends. And then give it to her Chemistry teacher, so he can hopefully use it in class. If it can engage kids, and make learning a fun experience, which it seems it does, then it’s a book that gets an A+ from me.

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

Otomen Volume 1-5: Manga Movable Feast

Asuka Masamune enjoys the girly things in life, such as sewing and cooking. But due to a traumatic event that happened with his father when he was young, he can’t ever let his mother know about this side of himself. In fact, he thinks he can’t let anyone know, and so he plays the part of a stoic manly man, excelling in kendo and reading Bushido. But there is one person in his class who does know about the real Asuka; Juta Tachibana. He is a mangaka, and has created a popular series using Asuka as the model for his female lead. In order to further his manga, he encourages Asuka get closer to Ryo, a new girl at their school that Asuka has fallen for. As his relationship with Ryo slowly develops, Asuka meets other otomen and learns he isn’t alone.

By Aya Kanno
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

When Otomen first came out, I wasn’t impressed by the premise or the preview that ran in Shojo Beat at the time. I also didn’t care for Kanno’s previous title Blank Slate, so I didn’t have a lot of hope for this new one. A podcast review convinced me to re-evaluate and give the series a try. I’m glad I did. Otomen is cute and funny, and is more comedy than romance.

What really makes Otomen is the characters. When Asuka is first introduced, he looks the part of the manly man. Strong and silent, dressed in this kendo robes, he looks like he could have stepped out of a shonen manga. And then he starts to fall for Ryo, and his true self comes out. I love the scene with him after going on a “girly” spending spree and bringing home all kinds of crafty things and shojo manga. His despair over this is made more funny when he puts together a stuffed bear without really realizing his was doing it! I really enjoy the role reversal that Kanno has created with Asuka. He is very much the shojo lead, as all his inner thoughts and turmoil are shared with the reader. He even blushes a lot like most shojo leads. I really love Asuka’s dichotomy of still being a man while having all of these traditionally female hobbies. If only more men could be like him.

Surrounding Asuka is quite a cast of characters. Ryo, his love interest, complements him well. She can’t cook, or clean, and is hopeless at sewing and crafts. She has a masculine outlook, and though she says she prefers manly men, she doesn’t mind his feminine ways. She often takes the traditional male role such as being the brave one in a haunted house, or riding in on a white horse to rescue him from an arranged marriage. Juta Tachibana is a bit of a playboy, and has been orchestrating a lot of Asuka and Ryo’s relationship for the sake of his shojo manga, “Love Chick.” He will go to any length to get good material for his manga, including playing a rival for Ryo’s affections, breaking and entering Asuka’s potential bride, and staying outside the old school building in a blizzard so Asuka and Ryo can be alone in a romantic Christmas moment. He is also adament about not letting his real identity get out, and is even willing to dress up as a woman to keep it secret. I think in a lot of ways, Juta is the first fellow Otoman that Asuka meets.

And there are more otomen out there. Asuka’s self-proclaimed kendo rival, Hajime Tonomine turns out to have a secret passion for makeup and giving women makeovers. They end up working together when they are asked to help out at a women’s event and don the costumes of members of the Harakiri Ronin Samurai Five, and then volunteer to give a makeover when the artist gets stuck in traffic. I love when manga references Tokusatsu shows, so I really enjoyed this chapter in volume 3, and was thrilled when they made a come back in volume 5. Then there’s Kitora Kurokawa, who loves flowers too much. He is very tall and since he doesn’t talk much is seen by the other girls as mysterious. His weakness is wanting to cover beautiful things in flowers, which includes Ryo, Asuka, Hajime and even Juta.

The story starts out focusing on Asuka and Ryo and Juta using them for his manga, but then shifts toward more with discovering more otomen. I’m glad the story did start to shift, because Asuka and Ryo’s relationship really wasn’t going anywhere by volume 3, so it really needed something more. But I did start to miss hearing about developments for Love Chick, and really enjoyed the chapter in volume 5 where Juta has to accept an award, and has to come up with a way to do with revealing he’s really a man as his editor wants, and he’s rescued by his idol mangaka. Kanno also does a good job of balancing Asuka’s two sides, the masculine and feminine. He can be really cute sometimes when he blushing, and others thinking he’ll make a good wife. But he’s still a man and it still comes through when he leaps to action to save Ryo from a bull, a bomb, or a little boy from falling out a window. Asuka is the ideal man.

Otomen is a great series, filled a lot of great characters and funny situations. It’s romantic comedy at its best, because it is so unconventional in its material. I look forward to reading more about Asuka, Ryo, Juta and the rest of the otomen. And since this title is available on Viz’s manga site, I can just right back in where I left off without overloading the bookshelf. If you want some light, fun reading, definitely pick this title up.

Wanted: Manga Movable Feast-Arrr!

Arr, it be that time o’ year again. Aye matey, it be Talk Like o’ Pirate Day! To shiver yer timbers, I be reviewin’ a pirate manga that also be fittin’ in ta da Movable Manga Feast this month. So grab yerself a bottle o’ rum ‘n find out about Wanted Arrrr…

In the Mediterranean at the end of the 17th century, former songstress Armeria disguises herself as a boy and boards the ship of the pirate Skulls–the man who kidnapped Luce, her first love. Captain Skulls is arrogant, violent, and a skirt chaser! And unfortunately for Armeria, he discovers she’s a woman…

By Matsuri Hino
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $8.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

My introduction to Hino’s work was through the serialization of her most current title Vampire Knight in Shojo Beat. I really didn’t care for it, so when this volume came out, I had little interest in it. But, curiosity got the better of me, and I picked it up. I am slightly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, but it is about as different from Vampire Knight as night is to day.

The thing I disliked most about Vampire Knight is the way drama oozed from every pore of every character. The characters in Wanted are the exact opposite. Armeria doesn’t just sit around bemoaning her loss or wait for Luce to come for her. She take the initiative, disguising herself as a man and joins different ships searching for the pirates that kidnapped him eight years ago. Armeria is spunky and headstrong. She is determined to remain on the ship with Skulls until she finds Luce, and she doesn’t let his barbs get her down.

Skulls, the pirate captain, tries to come off as a scoundrel and a ladies man, but he is essentially a good person. He saves Armeria several times, and only robs from nobles who take advantage of the people and then give the wealth back to them. He is like a pirate Robin Hood and his crew are his Merry Men. And it’s a motley crew of merry men at that. They are never formally introduced, but there are a few that are featured in the chapters. His first mate, Second, is a big, shirtless, bald black man who knows his captain all too well. Doc is an older man who like the father figure of the crew, and Fourth and Fifth, crewmen skilled in sailing and swordsmanship. The names aren’t very original, but they are all fun none the less.

There are three chapters about Armeria and Skulls, and a bonus chapter that takes place in Meiji Japan. I really enjoyed the pirate chapters. They were light and fun. There is swashbuckling, raiding, cannon fire, battles with the navy, and secret treasure; everything that makes pirate stories fun. I didn’t care so much for the bonus chapter. It has the same feel as the Wanted chapters, but it just didn’t work as well for me. It moved too fast for me to really believe it, though I did kind of like the characters.

The art is very Hino, with the girls having big eyes and the men all being bishonen. And the hair is everywhere. But I was fine with it in this volume. The characters were different and varied enough that it didn’t get on my nerves. It was to have a beard, dreadlocks and even no hair at all!

Wanted is a fun romp for a romantic pirate adventure. I liked the relationship between Arto (Armeria) and Skulls. I love that they are always at odds. Even though Skulls’ identity was pretty obvious, it’s reveal didn’t ruin the story. So matey, if ye be wantin’ some good pirate romance, be pickin’ up Wanted!