Tag Archives: teen

Bakuman Volume 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nisekoi: False Love Volume 1

It was hate at first sight… rather a knee-to-the-head at first sight when Raku Ichijo meets Chitoge Kirisaki! Unfortunately, Raku’s gangster father arranges a false love match with their rival’s daughter, who just so happens to be Chitoge! However, Raku’s searching for his childhood sweetheart from ten years ago, with a pendant around his neck as a memento, and he can’t even remember her name or face!

Nisekoi: False Love Volume 1
Nisekoi-GN01By Naoshi Komi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Rom-Com
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Nisekoi started out as a digital only series that did well enough to move up to a print release. I’d heard others raving about it before it was officially licensed, so despite my poor luck with rom-coms, I decided to give this series a try. So far, it’s not too bad.

The basic premise of the series is far from original. Boy who doesn’t want to be a gangster like his father gets thrown into relationship with rival gangster boss’ daughter to keep the peace between the two gangs. And of course, they have to hate each other, so there is plenty of conflict as they pretend to like each other for the benefit of the gang members. But Nisekoi surprises by actually making this premise entertaining.

Raku and Chitoge are key for making the series work. Their first meeting if far from ideal, as Chitoge uses Raku as a landing pad when she jumps the school’s wall since she’s running late for her first day.  Their dislike for each other is established very quickly, while everyone at school thinks their constant bickering is cute and a sign they really like each other.  This feeling extends to their extended families, the gangs, so the pair finds themselves trapped, otherwise a lot of people could get hurt.

Chitoge is the one who has the hardest time making the false relationship work. She is quick to anger, and the first to resort to violence. We don’t know how she feels about being part of a gang, other than how difficult it can be to make friends, but she has definitely embraced the violence of her father’s trade. She does have her softer moments, but they are few and far between, and for some reason only Raku gets to see them.

Raku definitely doesn’t want to be the heir to his father’s gang. He has dreams of living a normal,legal life as a civil servant. He doesn’t like violence, and is the cook for the gang, being very precise in his measurements, down to nearly the gram. He also likes to rescue animals, creating what is essentially at zoo at his school. Raku’s nice streak extends to people, as he offers his Japanese notes to Chitoge when he sees her struggling the class, and even helps her in cooking class after she tells him she wants to make a good impression with their classmates.

Even though Raku has to pretend to like Chitoge, he is actually attracted to his classmate, Onodera, a quiet girl who is on the student government, and is nice to Raku, but who also harbors her own crush on him. This sets up the classic love triangle, with the nice girl to contrast against the violent girl. I don’t know how I feel about Onodera yet. She could be the girl of Raku’s dreams, literally.

For ten years, Raku has harbored the dream, a distant memory now, of a girl he made a promise with to meet again someday. Even though he doesn’t know the name or face of the girl, he has a lock that he wears around his neck, and the girl will have the key to open it. Onodera has a key that could go to the lock. The girl in his first dream has dark hair like Onodera. But then, after meeting Chitoge, he has another dream/memory of a different looking girl with blonde hair. Could there be more than one girl?

Most of the comedy in Nisekoi is based around Raku and Chitoge bickering and then suddenly having to pretend they really like each other. One of the members of Chitoge’s gang, Claude, the member who has been watching over Chitoge doesn’t believe in the pair’s sudden declaration of love, and spies on them at school, the one place they had hoped they could be themselves. They are forced on a date, and followed (and cheered on) by both gangs, though the rank and file guys have totally bought into the act, as bad as it is. Most of these scenes weren’t bad, but I found I liked Raku and Chitoge’s bickering more than Chitoge’s macho behavior, or the sudden 180s they have to do every time they are almost caught.

I don’t know if Nisekoi will be able to keep my attention for long. Despite enjoying this first volume, the potential for this to turn into a harem series, which I really dislike, is high. Raku and Chitoge’s bickering punctuated by quiet moments are what really kept me interested. The thought of adding more girls to the mix really sounds unappealing. But then, I know I’m in the minority on this point. Nisekoi: False Love was a fun read, and if given the chance, I’d read more, but it’s not on my must have list.

PR: Kiss of the Rose Princess Shojo Manga Launches

Indulge your love of supernatural romance with this new series from Viz Media. I wasn’t too keen on the license when it was originally announced back in February, but I’ve been wrong before. Keep reading to see if you feel it’s a must get next week.

VIZ MEDIA LAUNCHES NEW PARANORMAL SHOJO MANGA SERIES KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS

 A Mystical Girl Brings Forth Four Magical Knights To Help Her On A Quest To Save The World From The Forces Of Evil

KissOfTheRosePrincess_GN01San Francisco, CA, October 22, 2014 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), the largest distributor and licensor of manga and anime in North America, announces a thrilling new paranormal shojo manga (graphic novel) adventure with the launch of Aya Shouoto’s KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS on November 4th.

The new series will be available for the first time digitally as well as in print under the Shojo Beat imprint. KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS is rated ‘T’ for Teens and will carry a print MSRP of $9.99 U.S. / $12.99 CAN.

A digital version of KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS, Vol. 1 also will debut on November 4th for $6.99 (USD/CAN) from VIZManga.com and through the VIZ MANGA App for the Apple iPad®, iPhone® and iPod® touch, Android-powered smart phones, as well as through the Nook, Kobo, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay stores. Future editions of the 9-volume series will be released in-print and digitally on a bi-monthly basis.

Anise Yamamoto has been told that if she ever removes the rose choker given to her by her father, a terrible punishment will befall her. Unfortunately she loses that choker when a bat-like being falls from the sky and hits her. Anise is granted four cards representing four knights whom she can summon with a kiss. But now that she has these gorgeous men at her beck and call, what exactly is her quest?!

“Aya Shouoto uses her stunning artwork in KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS to bring us a tale of a modern princess and her four handsome knights in this reverse-harem series,” says Nancy Thistlethwaite, Editor. “Our reluctant but fearless heroine must pledge herself to save the world from the Demon Lord, but what will happen if she falls in love with one of her knights? Don’t miss the start of this exciting new series in November!”

For more information on KISS OF THE ROSE PRINCESS, or other Shojo Beat manga titles from VIZ Media, please visit www.VIZ.com.

About VIZ Media, LLC

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, VIZ Media distributes, markets and licenses the best anime and manga titles direct from Japan.  Owned by three of Japan’s largest manga and animation companies, Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc., and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions, Co., Ltd., VIZ Media has the most extensive library of anime and manga for English speaking audiences in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. With its popular digital manga anthology WEEKLY SHONEN JUMP and blockbuster properties like NARUTO, BLEACH and ONE PIECE, VIZ Media offers cutting-edge action, romance and family friendly properties for anime, manga, science fiction and fantasy fans of all ages.  VIZ Media properties are available as graphic novels, DVDs, animated television series, feature films, downloadable and streaming video and a variety of consumer products.  Learn more about VIZ Media, anime and manga at www.VIZ.com.

Sona-G Series Volume 1: Heaven is Not Needed

Sona-G is one of the most popular bands on the scene with a strapping vocalist and a hunky guitarist! Masumi, on the other hand, has all the trust in the world with her technical skills on the guitar, but she’s just been dumped and the world looks grey indeed. Then one day, Masumi finds herself playing second guitar for Sona-G! What’s going to happen to her decision not to fall in love…? This volume also features another two wonderful stories!

Sona-G Series Volume 1: Heaven is Not Needed
Sona-G Series 1By Yuriko Matsukawa
Publisher: Digital Manga Guild
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $7.95/eBook only
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sona-G Series is a one volume anthology featuring three stories by creator Yuriko Matsukawa. The stories are all romances featuring girls finding love when they aren’t looking for it. While all three stories are entertaining and even fun reads, none are really compelling.

“Heaven is Not Needed” is the main story of this anthology as well as giving it its name. It is about high school girl Masumi Murakami who is asked by the wildly popular duo Sona G to play acoustic for them on a big gig coming up. But because her crush left her because of her skills on the guitar, she has quit playing. She is tricked into agreeing and joins Ayase and Hiroshi for the concert. Masumi is a good female lead. She has a strong personality, and doesn’t put up with a lot of Ayase’s sharp tongue, as he likes to bait her and use her pride against her. Hiroshi isn’t as brash as Ayase, but he’ll resort to a trick or two to get Masumi to play. The story takes a turn for the dramatic when Ayase’s young niece is kidnapped with the ransom being that Sona G cancel the concert. While the kidnapping did make a nice change of pace for the drama to be external, it also felt tacked on and rushed. There is no explanation given for the kidnappers wanting to stop the concert. The resolution of the potential love triangle between Ayase, Hiroshi and Masumi didn’t work for me either. I didn’t feel the connection between Masumi and her chosen one. This story tried to do too much and ended up feeling lacking in the end.

“Flower Garden” is about high school student Karin who is studying for college entrance exams. Her distant cousin Toshisada has come to live with her family while he takes entrance exams as well. But there is something weird about Toshisada; he is up at all hours of the night in the family garden doing odd things. He eats flowers and he never seems to be studying. His activities become distracting to Karin who gets mad at Toshisada until he reveals to her what he’s been doing and why. The writing for this story was much tighter and made for a better read. It didn’t seem like a love story at first as it focused on Karin’s indecision about her future, and Toshisada’s strange behavior. Everything comes together at the end, even though the romance is left up in the air, which I think is a good thing.

“Onions, Onions Everywhere” has another high school student, Mariko, living in her aunt’s apartment complex while her parents are working overseas. After a misunderstanding with her neighbor Mr. Miwa, a strange man who is always wearing sunglasses, she become friends with him and they trade sweets in a friendly competition. Mr. Miwa works in a sweets shop and after learning that Mariko hates onions tries to convince her of otherwise. Onions are a kind of strange topic to use to bring two people together, and an even stranger ingredient for a cookie, but it ends up working somehow. Mariko is pretty unwavering in her dislike of onions, but not unreasonable. Miwa’s reason for always wearing the sunglasses is unexpected, but still humorous. I wouldn’t try it myself, but I would be interested to know if anyone tried the recipe for Onion Cookies used in the story.

The art of Sona-G Series is very 90s-2000s, in both style and in the character designs. I don’t consider this a fault for the series, but not everyone may appreciate the sharp lines and spiky hair.

Overall, Sona-G Series was an entertaining read, but not one I would call a must read. The stories are light, and the romance doesn’t always seem to be the focus, which is an element I enjoyed. It helps to set the volume apart from other teen shojo titles. The girls here aren’t mooning over the men in their stories, but also aren’t unwelcoming when the feelings come, and those are romances I can ultimate appreciate.

Moonlight Kreuz Volume 1

Gen Tsukiomi appears to be a normal high school student but there is more to him than meets the eye. So when his old caretaker asks him for help in protecting his current charge, Hikari Kuze, Gen wonders what is going on. Besides being a ditzy junior high school student, is Hikari like Gen, with a secret of her own? In what often feels like a comedy of errors, Gen tries to figure out who is after them while struggling to maintain his quickly dwindling control over the situation. As if that wasn’t enough, a new romantic rival appears! But which one of them is he actually after?

Moonlight Kreuz Volume 1
Moonlight Kreuz 1By Yasumi Hazaki
Publisher: Digital Manga Guild
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $7.95/eBook only
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Moonlight Kreuz had an interesting sounding premise with romance, comedy and werewolves. But the first warning was there, with the female leading being described as  “ditzy.” And though I keep trying romantic comedies, I’ve yet to find one I really enjoy. This volume wasn’t a bad read, but neither was there anything that made want to pick up more.

The lead characters, Gen and Hikari, needed first and foremost to be interesting to me. Unfortunately, Hikari is exactly the kind of female lead I dislike. She has two forms; her human form which is small, clumsy and ditzy, and her werewolf form which tall, hot and powerful. She is much more powerful than Gen and is always coming to his rescue even though he’s supposed to be protecting her. I actually don’t mind that so much, and it’s nice that he doesn’t seem to mind, but he ends up comes off as rather bland. I don’t feel any real personality from him, while Hikari has too much.

The supporting characters are just as hit and miss. Hikari’s grandfather and Gen’s old Master is the typical lecherous, old man. His grandson Shino is the quiet ninja type who is always dressing in female disguises to help protect Hikari. Gen’s father is a powerful corporate executive who has an eye for the ladies. Only Hikari’s mother, who works overseas teaching Japanese, seemed the most grounded.

The villains aren’t much better. The volume starts with a bunch of horny werewolves who want to mate with Hikari so they will stop turning into wolves and be more human like Gen and Hikaru. They are mostly bumbling misfits who Hikari defeats easily. The tables do get turned as Gen also becomes the target of both the Wolf Association, and of an English werewolf named Claude who doesn’t care which of them changes gender, as long as he can get with Gen.

I know these characters and situations are supposed to be funny, but none of them really got much of a laugh from me. Hardly even a smile escaped my lips. Hikari’s and Gen’s relationship fell as flat as the humor. I just didn’t buy it, especially with Hikari looking more like a little kid trying to get her big brother to notice her. The art has a 90s feel to it, which I don’t mind at all. The wolf-form werewolves were given a moment to look scary, but were quickly turned much more humorous. You can understand the female werewolves wanting to get a human form since their wolf form is far from flattering.

On the whole, Moonlight Kreuz Volume 1 just didn’t work for me, which is really a shame because I was hoping it would. It was nice to see a supernatural romance with some creature other than vampires. The series is only three volumes long, so I wouldn’t mind reading the other two volumes to see if it improves, but this is a series I’d rather borrow than buy.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Monster Soul Volume 1-2

In the Monster Soul world, a war was waged between humans and monsters, with the monsters falling on the losing end of a treaty. The peace between the monsters and humans is tenuous and monsters are frequently persecuted by humans. As a result, monsters tend to stay away from humans and keep a low profile. One group of monsters, known as the Black Airs, lives boldly with a purpose: to have fun and take care of each other. They get into all kinds of trouble with reckless abandon, but as long as they stick together, they’ll be all right…probably.

Monster Soul Volume 1-2
Monster Soul 1
By Hiro Mashima

Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Monster Soul is a two-volume series created by Hiro Mashima before starting on his latest title, Fairy Tail. In the world of Monster Soul, humans and monsters share the land of Elvenland. Since losing the war, monsters have retreated underground, living in dungeon cities. There is still a lot of anger and mistrust between humans and monsters, especially with humans coming down to steal from the monsters’ dungeons. Enter the Black Airs, Mummy, James, Toorah and Aki, four monsters commandos who fought in the war, but now fight to help those in trouble, monster or human.

The Black Airs don’t look all that tough at first meeting. Mummy is a mummy and is the leader of the group, acting often more like a big sister. She is wrapped in pink wrappings that she can control and carries a huge syringe. She also likes to strip out of her wrappings. James is a Frankenstein and was built by humans to hunt monsters, but was too kindhearted to hurt any. He is equipped with all kinds of weapons, and has a propensity for losing his face. Toorah is a golem and is made of a sand she can control at will. She can be a bit ditzy, but also cunning when needed. Aki is very much about his stomach and his fists. He appears to be human, except for the horns on his head. He is a special monster, known as an S-type. He can transform into his soul form, a Dire Wolf, with increased speed and strength. His only problem is that he falls asleep as soon as the battle is over.

Monster Soul 2The Black Airs face off against both humans and monsters looking to cause trouble. Human bounty hunters who try to capture rare monsters for their bounty, more monsters rising up in revolt against the humans for revenge. What you are doesn’t matter to the Black Airs, only what you do. Along the way their past is revealed as well as the adversity they faced and overcame to become the heroes they are seen as today.

I enjoyed reading Monster Soul. The characters are goofy and quirky with just enough pathos for the reader to care about them. I liked Aki a lot, with his one track mind to his stomach, and his Dire Wolf form is cool. James’ face constantly falling made for some good laughs. I didn’t care so much for the male gaze with Mummy and Toorah, but that goes with the territory of a Mashima title. The story breaks up easily with the first volume being stand alone stories that introduce everyone, and the second volume is one arc that brings together the themes of friendship and harmony. There is plenty of action, and each of the Black Airs get to show off in at least one battle. It also has quite a bit of humor. I liked the in joke about human kids catching monster for play fighting. The drama is well done, and emphasizes the Black Airs bonds of friendship.

While Monster Soul is fun, it’s also fairly average for a shonen series. The action is the focus as the Black Airs fight different and eventually more powerful foes. The art is very Mashima. You can see some of Lucy in Toorah, and Natsu in Aki. Mashima straight out states that Mummy became the model for Erza. Mashima set out to do a series about the flip side of RPGs, wondering how the monsters in those games felt, and in this respect he succeeded. He does a good job showing the monster’s side and making them sympathetic. But with the series being so short, it felt rushed at the end, as the pasts of the Black Airs were revealed in short flashbacks. If you’re a fan of Mashima, or enjoy fun action stories, you can’t go wrong with this series. And at only two volumes, it won’t hurt your pocketbook either.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Sword Art Online: Aincrad

In the year 2022, gamers rejoice as Sword Art Online–a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) like no other–debuts, allowing players to take full advantage of the ultimate in gaming technology: NerveGear, a system that allows users to completely immerse themselves in a wholly realistic gaming experience. But when the games goes live, the elation of the players quickly turns to horror as they discover that, for all its amazing features, SAO is missing on of the most basic functions of any MMORPG–a log-out button. Now trapped in the virtual world Aincrad, their bodies held captive by NerveGear in the real world, users are issued a chilling ultimatum: conquer all one hundred floors of Aincrad to regain your freedom. But in the warped world of SAO, “Game Over” means certain death–both virtual and real…

Sword Art Online: Aincrad
SwordArt_Aincrad1_mangaArt by Tamako Nakamura; Original story: Reki Kawahara
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama/Game
Price: $20.00 USD
Rating: ★★★★☆

Sword Art Online: Aincrad manga is based on the first two light novels from a series of the same name, and belongs to a genre that become popular lately; players of an MMORPG become trapped in the game world and must fight the game to get out. I’ve never been interested in this genre, but I was still curious enough about it to at least read the manga, an omnibus of the two-volume series. I did enjoy the story as a whole, but there are still a few spots that felt lacking.

The story centers around Kirito, a teenager who was a beta tester for Sword Art Online and became trapped along with the 10,000 other players on the game’s first day. It is two years later, and there are only 26 levels to beat before reaching the final boss, the creator of the world Akihiko Kayaba. The players have settled into their new life in Aincrad, fighting, getting stronger and clearing levels. There are towns with tradesmen and farmers, and guilds to organize everyone. The strongest of these guilds is Knights of the Blood. Returning to a town to trade and heal, Kirito runs into Asuna, a commander in the Knights of the Blood. She wants to recruit Kirito for the next level they are about to take on, but Kirito and Asuna make a deeper connection, and the story becomes just as much about their romance as their battles.

As the two main characters, I did like Kirito and Asuna. Kirito was a loner, also known as a Beater. Beta testers were also considered cheaters to new players because of their greater knowledge of the game. He isn’t unfriendly, just reluctant to make connections. Asuna is his opposite in many ways. She is cheerful and outgoing, also known as a celebrity in the game. They work well together, a feeling that translate on and off the battlefield. Their feelings for each other becomes a focal point of the story, but I didn’t see the chemistry between them. Their romance felt rushed, as if getting them together was just a formality for the rest of the story. I just didn’t feel any emotions between them. We were told rather than shown how they felt about each other and that lessened the effect.

The supporting cast was a pretty interesting bunch. Klein, a fighter, and Agil, a shopkeeper were friends of Kirito and Asuna. They help out the couple both off the field and on. They also brought some of the lighter moments to the story. Klein getting flustered around Asuna made for some fun moments. Agil’s honesty about joining the 75th floor battle was refreshing.

The story moved at a quick pace, slowing down only for some character development for Kirito, or some development for Kirito’s and Asuna’s relationship. References to the world being a game were fairly constant, and players had to keep it in mind even as they came to accept it as the real world. I did like that the manga dealt with PK, or Player Killers. Kuradeen, an evil man who joins the Knight of the Blood to be near Asuna, turns out to be one these players. Kuradeen makes some references to Kirito that killing him make Kirito a murderer, even though he just did the same thing for the sake of returning to the guild as the “lone survivor” of a trial. These references just get left hanging.

This was the biggest problem I had with the volume. It felt more like bullet points being hit on the page than a cohesive story. The scenes didn’t flow well and changed abruptly. The characters seem to know things without there being any or very little groundwork laid for it. With the manga having only two volumes to cover two novels, it felt like a lot was left out. The story had to be compressed so much that only major points could be hit, leaving out a lot of development.

Overall Sword Art Online: Aincrad is an entertaining read. While the art is rather generic, some characters such as Klein and Kuradeen did stand out. If you’re interested in the plot and don’t want to take the time to watch the anime or read the original light novels then this adaptation will serve well. A lot is being missed with just this manga adaptation, and I am considering reading the light novels to see what was dropped. A third volume would have made a big difference in the character development. If nothing else, this manga is a good gateway to the light novels.

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

 

 

My Little Monster Volume 1-2

Shizuku Mizutani has a goal; to have an annual income of 100 Million Yen. To do that, she has to have perfect grades and is always studying. She doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t think she needs any. Then she meets Haru Yoshida. He is a First Year like her, who should be in the desk next to her, but hasn’t been to school since the first day. She takes some printouts from their home room teacher to him, and he decides they are friends. This starts Shizuku on a path of making friends and maybe even falling in love, as long as they don’t get in the way of her grades.

My Little Monster Volume 1-2
My little Monster 1By Robico
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $10.99USD
Rating: ★★★★☆

My Little Monster sort of sounds like a “good girl falls for the bad boy” story, but it really couldn’t be further from the truth. The characters are more like misfits, damaged from events in their past that have kept them from finding real friendship and relationships, making them much more interesting to watch and their stories more compelling.

The story centers around the relationship of Shizuku and Haru. Neither has any real friends. Shizuku doesn’t because of an incident in elementary school that made it difficult for her to trust other and just rely on herself. Haru got a “bad boy” reputation because of his physical strength, but is really a good guy. Their personalities are somewhat different. Shizuku is straightforward, to the point of being blunt sometimes. She comes off as cold and unemotional, but just doesn’t know how to act around people since she has spent more time studying than interacting. Haru seems scared of the other kids at school, except when someone is being bullied or threatened. He’ll jump right into the fray and start fighting. He is also clueless about how to act around people, but he is more naive than cynical. They are both socially inept be for different reasons.

Their relationship is like a see-saw. When Haru has feelings for Shizuku, she doesn’t for him and visa-verse. Haru confesses first, and then when Shizuku is ready to reciprocate, he just wants to be friends. Then when he comes to realize he might like her as something more, she wants to go back to just being friends. Up and down, up and down. Just like a see-saw. I think that’s what I find most intriguing about their relationship. There aren’t any big dramatic moments that make them change their minds. There are these moments of realization. Haru, when he kisses Shizuku and doesn’t see stars, starts to think he doesn’t like her that way. Shizuku realizes her life has changed, but that she doesn’t have to lose focus of her goal, and can just be friends with Haru. It’s such an unusual take on a teenage romance that it really intrigues me.

My Little Monster 2The cast of supporting characters really helps. Shizuku gets a girl friend in Natsume, a girl with really poor study skills who wants to make friends. She’s really pretty, and can get the boys attention, but the cold shoulder from the other girls. Sasayan is on the baseball team and is just hanging around Haru and Shizuku because he thinks they are interesting. He’s also a regular at the arcade and batting cages owned by Haru’s cousin Mitchan. And then there’s Nagoya, the chicken. Haru found him and started bringing him to school until they got the administration to let him keep it as a school pet. I love the chicken. He doesn’t do anything, but it’s just funny to watch Haru dote over it.

The stories start out like the usual shojo fare, but turn out like anything but. The boys that bullied Haru for money come back to apologize and end up helping to build Nagoya’s henhouse. Haru starts smiling more and girls start to pay attention to him more, but a fight with upperclassmen sends him back. Upperclassman Oshima starts to like Haru, but instead of confessing her feelings, she explains Shizuku’s to Haru. I really enjoy all these twists. It’s great not knowing how things are going to turn out.

My Little Monster is a great read, especially if you are getting a little tired of all the upbeat, perky heroines in shojo. Shizuku’s cynical and analytical view on life is a refreshing change. I am really looking forward to seeing how the see-saw is going to change this time, and really want to find out more about Haru’s and Shizuku’s background. There have been a lot of tantalizing hints dropped, but I really want to see more.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Insufficient Direction

Read this energizing comic and feel proud (or simply unashamed!) of your geek hobbies. Although manga artist Rompers (Happy Mania, Sugar Sugar Rune) doesn’t consider herself too far gone, she’s gotten married to a towering figure of the otaku persuasion, Director-kun (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cutey Honey).

Insufficient Direction
Insufficient DirectionBy Moyoco Anno
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Slice of Life/Geek Culture
Price: $14.95
Rating: ★★★★☆

Insufficient Direction is the semi-autobiographical story of manga artist Moyoco Anno’s daily life with her husband director Hideaki Anno. Starting with their marriage, Anno, who calls herself Rompers and depicts herself as a baby with swirly eyes, picks humorous moments showcasing her husband Director-kun’s otakuness, and her slow but steady slide to join him.

When Vertical first announced this title, I was looking forward to it. I enjoy stories about otaku and the otaku lifestyle, so this title sounded right up my alley. And it does lay on the otakuness thick. Director-kun is very much a tokusatsu, live action sci-fi, fan, and most of his otaku obsessions revolve around these series’. Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and other shows that fit that genre are mentioned constantly. Director-kun has lots of toys and figures for these shows that he wants to display, and gets up early on Sunday Mornings to watch the latest episodes of the current shows. He also loves anime, but most of the shows mentioned are older series from the 80s; Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Runaway Ideon and Time Bokan. There’s no mention of Director-kun own work though, beyond amateur films he made of Ultraman in his college days.

Rompers enters into this relationship with Director-kun knowing what a big otaku he is, but still feeling ambivalent about it becoming an Ota-wife. Sometimes she worries about being a good ota-wife, and at others she tries to fight his ota-ways by limiting the number of toys he can display, making him clean up his office, and just showering and changing clothes. If there has to be some kind of conflict in this series, this is it, though it is obviously a losing battle. In the first chapter she worries that she hasn’t watched all of Ideon yet. On car trips, she resisted listening to Director-kun’s many hours of anime and tokusatsu music, but soon gives in. She even starts to get up early on Sunday mornings with him.

I know a lot of the humor is supposed to come from this conflict, but I have to admit I found it a little annoying. I’m someone who was never made to feel ashamed of their fannish-ness, or ignored any attempts by my peers to do so, so really don’t understand why someone who want to hide the things they enjoy from others, especially if they are adults. But it’s good to see Rompers come to accept her otakuness. Fortunately this isn’t the only source for the humorous episodes shown. Dieting is always a good source we there is quite a dose of it in here, as are the normal conflicts a husband and wife can get into.

Overall, I did enjoy Insufficient Direction. The amount of otaku references was daunting. Vertical included 29 pages detailing them, including taking four pages alone to explain the book titles referenced in just one panel! This title will appeal most to the thorough fan. If you are just an anime fan, and aren’t interested or familiar with tokusatsu, most of the references you won’t get or care about. But, if you recognize Ultraman poses, know what a transformation belt is, or know who Battle Fever J is, and are a fan of 80s mecha anime, then this manga is for you.

 

World War Blue Volume 1

In the continent of Consume, an endless war rages between bitter rivals: the Segua Kingdom vs. the Ninteldo Empire. Upon his dinosaur steed, the stern Emperor Marcus has led the Ninteldo Empire to near victory. Now, with the majority of Consume under its control, Ninteldo has Segua up against the ropes.

Enter a fleet-footed lad named Gear, who seeks vengeance against Ninteldo for his brother’s death. After joining Segua’s Army, Gear is enlisted in the Special Forces to put his preternatural speed to good use. But will the inexperienced, impulsive youth be ready to face the realities of war?

World War Blue Volume 1
wwb_vol1_fullStory by Anastasia Shestakova; Art by Crimson
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action/Game
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

When I first heard the premise of World War Blue, I was intrigued. I’ve always been interested in the console wars, and seeing them brought to life sounded like a fun idea. In practice, I found the execution problematic, though the story isn’t without it’s merits.

World War Blue starts by introducing three characters; the fleet-footed Gear and his friends Tial and Nel. They are the only survivors of a Ninteldo attack five years previous, on their village of Marcthree. When Ninteldo soldiers return, Tial is killed, which spurs Gear to join Segua’s Army. But Gear’s extraordinary speed isn’t the only thing special about him. He is what is called a “Killer”, warriors that possess great power. Along with fellow Killers Opal and Tejirov, Gear trains to become stronger before going on a mission to save the Segua Army’s leader, General Alex.

There were a lot of things I liked about this volume. I liked Gear. He’s pretty much how I would imagine a human version of Sonic the Hedgehog to be. He is very much the shonen hero, with the tragic loss that sends him on his journey, his direct attacks and reliance on pure strength. He’s confident in his abilities, but also willing to learn more. He makes a good lead, and that seemed like a good start.

I also liked how the video games were translated into characters. All the characters in this story are based on Sega video games. Gear and Tial is obvious. Nel is based on a character from Fantasy Star Online, a popular RPG back in the day. Ramses, a Lt. General in the Segua Army is based on the game Columns. Her roots aren’t so obvious. Opal has a better connection to her game, Fantasy Zone, in both her name and power. Seeing Nintendo’s Mario as the big, buff armored Emperor Marcus was kind of weird. Tejirov is a mercenary from the neutral country of Lorgue, and is based on Tetris. This is fairly obvious as he obsesses over the number 4. Shestakova did a good job creating their characters and integrating the important traits from their games to make them recognizable, but not glaringly so.

In between each chapter there were short talks about the history of video games and the “war” between Nintendo and Sega. I loved these sections. They tell about the hardware, focus on some of the games, and tell of the fall of Atari that led to Nintendo and Sega’s rise. Shestakova integrates these elements into the story as well with great success.

Since I likes so much of the title, you may be wondering what it was I didn’t like. It was all the male gaze. The women are mostly big breasted and in short skirts. The artist Crimson spared no time in getting in upskirt shots and nearly nude moments for them. Most of that I can handle, but Tejirov is the straw that breaks this manga’s back. His not so subtle inudendo bordered on annoying as was his groping. It really broke what I thought was an otherwise enjoyable story.

World War Blue is a title that won’t appeal to everyone. It’s focus on an older time in video game history may not be of interest to newer gamers who only know the next-gen systems; Playstation, Game Cube/Wii, and XBox. But for those who are interested, or those of us old enough to remember playing Tetris on the NES, or buying a Genesis just to play Sonic the Hedgehog, this is a great series. If you can get past the male gaze.

 

Cross Game Volume 8

The Seishu Gakuen baseball team is one win away from fulfilling Wakaba’s final dream of seeing Ko pitch in front of a packed crowd at Koshien. But they’ll have to beat powerhouse Ryuou Gakuin in the North Tokyo Tournament finals in order to get there. Meanwhile, Akane Takigawa’s health takes a turn for the worse, and she’s scheduled to have surgery…on the day of the big game.

Cross Game 8By Mitsurs Adachi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Sports
Price: $14.99US
Rating: ★★★★½

When Cross Game first came out, it got a lot of praise. It was also featured in a Manga Movable Feast, but the first chapter preview Viz made available didn’t interest me. So, I passed on the series, until I received a copy of the final volume. I decided to give the series a shot and see what everyone was so excited about. I did enjoy the volume. It was easy to  get into, even with being the final volume, but ultimately it still didn’t make a convert out of me.

This volume starts out with Ko and the Seishu Gakuen baseball team departing to play the final game that will decide who will go to Koshien. Any potential drama with Akane’s health problems are swiftly dealt with so the characters and the reader can concentrate on the game which is the majority of this 2-in-1 omnibus volume. It is a very tense game, as both pitchers are determined to pitch a no-hitter. The sides switch quickly, and the few hits that do get through puts the game into extra innings, with the twelfth ending it all.

In many ways this feels like a final volume. Everything the characters have been working for is leading up to this moment, this game. As the game is played, there are call backs to previous moments in the series with Ko dealing with Wakaba’s death, and working to become a baseball player good enough to go to Koshien. Ko and Aoba’s relationship is also strengthen throughout this volume, tying things up for the last scene.

While there are a lot of characters, and many of their stories are tied up, this volume is really all about Ko. This final game is his. He goes into it with a calm confidence that many of his teammates don’t seem to feel. He is relaxed before the game, sleeping on the way to the stadium, and all through the game itself, he never seems fazed. He doesn’t get mad when his no-hit game is ruined, and his only surprise is when a ball flies at only 98 mph, not the 100 mph he had hoped for. It almost makes you want to shake him, he is so placid throughout the game, like a still lake. This is a moment he has worked for since he was in the 5th grade, and he will let nothing stand in his way.

The game itself isn’t filled with over-the-top dramatics. Adachi doesn’t need to go to such lengths to build the tension. His game is filled with great baseball, and helped to remind me why I loved the sport so much when I was younger. Compared to other sports, baseball can seem laid back or even boring, but there is nothing boring about this game. Both teams can taste victory and are determined to win. Ko and his rival Oikawa are throwing their best pitches, both intent on throwing no-hitters. The balls fly fast and hard, and you can almost hear the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt with every pitch. It’s not an “edge of your seat” kind of excitement, but really a thrill of watching athletes at the top of their form pushing themselves even further.

Ko and Aoba’s relationship is handled much more subtly. Things that the readers probably already knew were revealed to the characters. Ko and Aoba never verbally express their feelings for each other. They don’t have that kind of relationship. Instead, they’re shown in a more subdued manner with something as simple as holding hands revealing their feelings more elegantly than any words could.

Although I enjoyed this volume of Cross Game as a whole, and really enjoyed the baseball game, I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed the journey. It’s easy to tell where Ko and Aoba came from and what it was they were striving for, but I don’t know how much I actually like them as characters. They do have the more contrary type of relationship that I prefer, but they didn’t really click with me. I appreciated Ko as a baseball player, and seeing he and Aoba get together, but I’m not sure I would have had the patience to get to there. I may the first volume though, just to see. Still Cross Game has all the elements to be a great series, and the sports parts is very well done. It was a great game, and a really good series. I’m glad I got to read it.

 Review copy provided by publisher

 

 

Slam Dunk Volume 25-28

Shohoku has made it to the second round of the Nationals, and are matched up to play against Sannoh, last year’s National champions. While Sannoh seems to be on a whole different level from Shohoku, the boys are ready to give up on their dreams of advancing just yet, especially Sakuragi. It going to take everything they got and every trick in their book to make it through this game. The question is, will it be enough?


slame dunk 25By Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Sports
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Slam Dunk is one of those titles that can suck you in and keep you glued to your seat whether you think you’ll like the series or not. I’ve read previous volumes and have enjoyed them all, but these volumes, some of the last before the end of the series are just amazing. There really is no other way to describe it. I know nothing about basketball and really don’t care for it, but I could not put down a single one of these volumes and had to grab the next, the game was so gripping.

Slam Dunk 26The entirety of these four volumes is dedicated to a single game; Shohoku’s semi-finals game against Sannoh, the previous year’s national champions. And they don’t even end the game! These volumes only cover the game through to seven minutes left in the second half. They start out with both sides scoping out the competition through tapes of the teams playing. For Sannoh, this is no big deal. They easily spot Shohoku’s player’s weaknesses. For Shohoku, it’s more of a shock to see how far out of their league Sannoh seems. It really shakes the confidence of the players, especially Mitsui, Shohoku’s Center. Sakuragi isn’t shaken though. He goes into the game with the complete confidence that they can win, and even if that confidence seems misguided, it helps the other players to go on the court with that same confidence.

The majority of volumes 26-28 happen all on the court. Even before the game officially starts, both sides show off for the crowd and the other team. Sakuragi is right up there, trying a flying slam dunk and failing, but he isn’t fazed at all. As soon as the game starts, it becomes a battle of not just skill but also wills. Sannoh is taken by surprise by Shohoku starting play, but they soon get their rhythm and throw Shohoku off theirs and the game is like a teeter totter, the tide turning from Shohoku to Sannoh and the slowly back to Shohoku.

Slam Dunk 27It is incredible how Inoue is able to put the reader on the court and in the players heads. All through these volumes, we are constantly seeing what the player is thinking and feeling as the game progresses. We also see how easy it is to get trapped by those thoughts. Akagi gets caught up in his belief that he has to beat Sannoh’s Kawata, and it puts him and his team in the bad place. It takes his older brother and Sakuragi’s outrageous antics to get his head back in the game. While Inoue draws exciting and dramatic shots and moves down court, it’s the characters that really make this title awesome.

And it’s Sakuragi that really gets to shine in this game. He might not know better when the others see how much better Sannoh is, but he never lets them intimidate him, and he never loses hope. He may be the loudmouth and a bit of a showboat, but he knows his teammates and what they need to get them focused on the game. Whether it’s taking big about being a “phenom”, or jumping on the tables on the sidelines to declare Shohoku will win, he knows what’s needed and isn’t afraid to do what it takes. He also finally has the skills to back up some of his words. He is the “offensive rebound king”, and it’s this skill that helps the team get their rhythm back at the critical moment in the second half.

Slame Dunk 28Slam Dunk is a Shonen Jump title that embodies the spirit without having to resort the to tropes. Building friendships, facing adversity and beating the odds, Slam Dunk does all this without being obvious about. Sakuragi was an annoying mess at the beginning of this series, but now, he is one of the strengths that the team can rely on. He smack talks his teammates, but they know they can trust him to do what is needed, and he isn’t willing to give up, no matter what is in front of them. Whether or not you like basketball, if you like a good story with some real driving action and great characters, then you should be reading Slam Dunk.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Buy Volume 25
Buy Volume 26
Buy Volume 27
Buy Volume 28