Tag Archives: teen

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.

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!

St. Dragon Girl Volumes 1-5: Manga Movable Feast

Momoka Sendou (nicknamed “Dragon Girl”) and Ryuga Kou are childhood friends. Momoka is a martial artist, and Ryuga is a Chinese magic master who banishes demons. In order to increase his power, Ryuga calls on the spirit of a dragon to possess him, but the spirit enters Momoka instead. Now the two must unite forces and fight demons together!

By Natsumi Matsumoto
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

St. Dragon Girl is a title that has two things going for it. Dragons and a couple that denies their feelings for each other. While the second thing is a bit of a trope for shojo titles, I can’t help having a soft spot for their kind of relationship; the childhood friends who tease, bait and strike back.

The female lead of this story, Momoka, has a lot of tomboy traits. Her father is the head of a kenpo dojo, so she is constantly practicing, and is even an instructor. She will take on anyone who threatens her friends, spirits and demons, and even teachers! But she has one weakness; pandas. Ever since she received a stuffed panda as gift from Ryuga, she has loved them, and Ryuga as well. Momoka knows how she feels about Ryuga, but doesn’t want to tell him, thinking he’ll tease her and not return her feelings.

Ryuga, the male lead, comes from a family of Chinese magic masters, and is gifted in the arts as well. He is often being asked to tell fortunes, perform prayers or make charms. Where Momoka is more gung-ho and charging into a situation without thinking, Ryuga is the calm, thoughtful one. He is always having to protect his cousin Shuran, a gifted psychic that demons are always coming after. He comes to Momoka’s rescue as well, usually when her thoughtless gets her in over her head. He is constantly teasing Momoka, which can get him a fist or kick to the face, but he can sometimes counter with his spell Paper Army Formation made up of pandas. Ryuga can be serious at times, letting slip little comments that can be interpreted as his having feelings for Momoka too, but he usually denies them, or changes their meaning by the end of the chapter, to keep her from learning the truth; that he really does love her too.

And since they continue to deny their feelings, this leaves rooms for rivals for their affections to step in. Momoka get the most, starting with Ryuga’s cousin Kouryu, who tries to kidnap Momoka and take her back to China. He’s arrogant and egotistical, and I still didn’t like him ever after the explanation of his back story. Touya is another boy who has a crush on Momoka, but turns out to have a deeper secret. He ends up hanging around though, as thorn in Ryuga side. Even Saint Dragon, the dragon possessing Momoka has him moment of infatuation, but it doesn’t last. It doesn’t stop Ryuga from still feeling jealous.

Ryuga has his suitors as well. Raika is a distant relative of Ryuga’s who wants to be his fiance. She ends up being friends with Momoka after she realizes the truth of Ryuga’s feelings for her. Akira is another new member of the Kendo club. She is a Onmyouji, as well as a competitor for Ryuga’s affections, though he doesn’t really acknowledge her beyond being a friend. She likes to use her magic to take over Momoka’s body and make it move to her will.

While I really like the ensemble of characters that have gathered through these five volumes, it’s the mythical creatures that keep appearing that really won me over. I love the dragons, and they are drawn so gorgeously and with such care! There’s also a phoenix that appears that is cute in human form, and beautiful in bird form, and a mermaid and cat demons. The variety of beasts is great and just as entertaining as the characters!

The stories are mostly stand alone at the beginning, and are fairly light. They mostly involve demons coming after Shuran, or school activities such as Kendo club or the school festival. As the series goes on though, it does start to get more serious and move into longer stories lasting more than one chapter, but Ryuga and Momoka’s relationship remains on the teeter-totter of admitting/denying their feelings.

St. Dragon Girl is a fairly light and fun romance. Matsumoto’s artwork is beautiful to look at (especially the dragons), and she uses a lot of great Chinese costuming, making the series another plus in my book. There is next to no drama, and the comedy is well-timed with the more serious moments. I can’t think of a single complaint I have about this series. Even the constant denial of the leads doesn’t bother me, but they have great chemistry, it wouldn’t matter to me if they ever got together or not. While the series is rated for teens, tweens will enjoy this series as well. Definitely read this series if you get the chance.

Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright Volume 1

Mystery and intrigue, crime and punishment, uncovering the truth–all in a day’s work for the ace defense attorney Phoenix Wright and his beautiful assistant Maya Fey. Based on the hit game series, Ace Attorney brings new adventures to the games’ colorful cast. Can Nick successfully swing the gavel of justice or will he be crushed by the weight of incriminating evidence?

Story by Kenji Kuroda; Art by Kazuo Maekawa
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Mystery
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

There’s not a lot of mystery manga available in English (unfortunately), so when a new series does come out, I like to check it out. Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright is based on a video game of the same name, and features many of the characters from it. It’s a decent police procedural, but the goofy characters, both in design and personality throws it off-kilter for me.

This first volume of Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright features one-and-two-thirds cases, which serve to introduce most of the characters. The first case has Nick defending his old friend from elementary school who doesn’t have the best luck with the ladies, as he is accused of murdering his new girlfriend’s old boyfriend. The second is much longer, and has Nick meeting a potential client, only to have the client killed in a locked room scenario.

Both stories are well written. The first takes place mostly in the court room, and uses several elements from the video game, including Nick’s “Objection!” pose. The comedy is played up more, particularly between Winston Payne, the prosecutor and Larry Butz, the defendant. In between there is murder and a woman scorned, but the impact of the case is lessened with the more comedic acts in the courtroom. The full impact doesn’t hit until the last page of the story. The second mystery takes itself much more seriously, possibly since it doesn’t take place in the courtroom, and Nick can be more of the detective than attorney. A lot of time is spent setting up the scene and the suspects, with the actual crime not happening until the end of the volume. It’s a good cliffhanger to get the reader back to find out more.

The art is on the cartoonish side, but most of this is because of the source material. The characters all look like their video game counterparts, which does sometimes swing on the silly side. Nick’s hair looks like it was blown back by a hurricane and stuck like that permanently. Larry always looks good with big red cheeks and a lot of cartoonish expressions. I know this can’t be helped as it is the way they characters were designed for the video game, but the whole look didn’t work as well as a manga for me.

I did enjoy the mysteries presented in this first volume of Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright, but I’m still on the fence about getting more. If it were available digitally, I wouldn’t be so hesitant since it wouldn’t take up precious shelf space. For now, Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright will have to sit on the back burner unless I get a craving for some more mysteries.

Bakuman Volume 12-13

Moritaka and Akito’s newest series Perfect Crime Party does well enough that they can start working on other things, such as beating their rivals. But some unexpected news sends them back to try to come up with a second series. But as each of them works on their specific talents individually, will it break up the team of Muto Ashirogi?

Story by Tsugumi Ohba; Art by Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★½

Now that Moritaka and Akito have a series running in Jump again, the story can go back to their personal lives, as well as those of their rivals and assistants. While I do enjoy seeing process of making a successful manga through Moritaka and Akito, I’ve really come to like the other manga artists and assistants, and I do enjoy seeing what’s going on with their lives and titles.

The artist we see the life most of in these two volumes is Shun Shiratori. He is an assistant to Moritaka and Akito. His mother, who wears the pants in the family, doesn’t approve of Shun working on manga, so he runs away so he can work on creating his own title. Moritaka and Akito get involved to the point that Akito ends as the writer for Shun’s manga. There is a lot of drama created from this, not just from Shun’s family life, but also between Akito, and Moritaka and Kaya. It all comes down to a simple lack of communication, and Akito is so clueless that he doesn’t see what he’s doing to Moritaka and Kaya. A few words could have avoided the whole situation, but would have made the volumes just a little less dramatic and a lot shorter. Though I think it was Akito who deserved the punch more than Moritaka.

Hiramaru has always been fun to follow. Like, Eiji, he is a “genius” creator, but hates the work, so he is always trying to get out of it. His editor is constantly having to trick or bribe him into getting his chapters done. It’s a lot of fun to see how his editor is going to manipulate him. One way he does this is by using Hiramaru’s feelings for Miss Aoki. Promises of helping him get through afternoon tea with her gets Hiramaru to write a romantic one shot that becomes popular enough to submit for serialization, but when the day finally comes Hiramaru turns the tables on his editor and meets Miss Aoki alone. The ensuing chase is really funny, and when he finally decides to confess his feelings to Aoki, it’s great to see Fukuda, Moritaka, Akito and Kaya show up to cheer him on.

I also enjoyed seeing Eiji finally create a manga that isn’t a hit. His attempt at a romance doesn’t break the top 5. It was good to see him finally feel what it’s like, even if it was only for a one shot. Another thing I like about Bakuman, is the teasers for titles we get to see. Moritaka’s romantic one-shot looked cute, and Hiramaru’s romantic one-shot looked very funny. An entry for a contest that Akito and Moritaka are judging is shown at some length, Classroom of Truth, and is a title I would really like to read! It’s really too bad so many of these will never really be serialized.

I haven’t gotten tired of Bakuman yet. Ohba does a great job of keeping the story fresh, and balancing between the manga creation process and the lives of the artists. Just concentrating on one or the other too much would ruin the charm.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Gate 7 Volume 1

An innocent sightseeing trip to Kyoto opens up a magical realm to shy high schooler Chikahito Takamoto. Visiting a legendary shrine, Chikahito stumbles into the mystical world of Hana and her comrades–and his immunity to their powers leads them to believe that he’s no ordinary awkward teenager! Protecting our world from violent supernatural creatures, Hana and her team welcome the confused Chikahito–who isn’t quite sure that he wants to be caught in the middle of their war!

Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $10.99

This series is my third attempt to find a CLAMP series I like. The first volume of xxxHolic didn’t thrill me, but I did enjoy the last two volumes of Kobato enough to want to find the rest. Gate 7 is CLAMP’s newest series  and one I thought would have a lot of potential for me. It’s fantasy, the cover is very pretty with flowers and a pheasant, and it takes place in Kyoto. And I might still like it, but while this first volume makes the introductions, I really don’t have any idea what is going on.

Gate 7 starts by introducing Chikahito, a high schooler with an overprotective mother, who has dreamed of going to Kyoto. When he finally convinces his mother to let him go, he stumbles into a battle between a young girl and two men and some supernatural creatures. Chikahito reacts in a most realistic way. He faints. He doesn’t really understand what is going on, and the three don’t explain much either, and try to erase his memories of them, but fail. Three months later, Chikahito is back as a transfer student, thanks to some magic Hana, the young girl, pulled off. He goes to live with Hana and her partners Sakura and Tachibana. We get some history of the Toyotomi clan with a supernatural spin and the volume ends with another battle.

There is a lot said in this first volume of Gate 7, but very little is explained. “Inou” users are introduced, but it isn’t explained what they are, though through two battles it is shown what they do. Oni connected to historical figures and passed down through blood lines is actually a pretty cool concept, but it isn’t connected with the Inou users other than they can see the oni. There was a lot of information thrown out for the reader, and some of it might be interesting enough to be a hook, but it comes off as random, and left me wondering more what was going on rather than what was going to happen next.

I did like the characters. Chikahito’s confusion was not only realistic, it was understandable. I felt as lost as he did, and while relating to a character is good, I don’t think it should be to this degree in this case. His enthusiasm and preconceived notions of Kyoto were fun and cute. Hana is very child-like, and nearly borders on annoying, but fortunately doesn’t cross the line. Hana’s partners Sakura and Tachibana are typical bishonen, with personalities that match their powers. Sakura is light, so he’s more friendly while Tachibana is dark, so he’s more serious.

For now, I’m going to take a “wait and see” stance with Gate 7. I’m going to need at least one, maybe two more volumes before I know for sure how I feel about it. But at least I *want* to read a few more volumes before making a decision, unlike xxxHolic, where I was sure by the end that it didn’t interest me that much. Hopefully things will become more clear in the next volume. There are a lot of questions I want to see answered, though not all of them have to be done immediately. That’s the difference between this title and xxxHolic for me. I want to know more about this world and it’s characters.

Rin-ne Volume 8-9

Rinne once again has his hands full as he has to take care of the young Shinigami Shoma during the boy’s homestay, but if Masato the demon has anything thing to do about it, it won’t be easy. Tsubasa’s failure to exorcise the evil spirit of a beautiful girl brings him more misfortune, and as usual, it’s up to Rinne to bale him out.

By Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I kind of took a short break from Rin-ne, ie, I stopped reading the chapters online. The series has been all hit or miss for me, but since I’ve enjoyed so much of Takahashi’s work, I want to keep giving the series another chance. So when these two latest volumes became available for review, I decided to give the series another go.

Nothing has really changed. Rinne is still helping spirits to the afterlife, pining for Sakura and being dirt poor. He’s also still fending off Ageha’s advances and battling Tsubasa for Sakura’s affections. The demon Masato still tries to make Rinne’s life hell with more debt, and his father continues to try to take the souls of his classmates. The stories are still hit and miss. The “being poor” jokes still rub me the wrong way. Rinne taking Shoma to eat bread crumbs thrown by an old man for the birds or hoping that Home Ec doesn’t work out so he can have all the burnt food doesn’t strike me as funny, just sad. But I did like the story of the “magic square” (the kotatsu) as well as Sakura learning to knit to try to lure out the strangling scarf.

One thing I have come to realize is that the Shinigami are big on gadgets; devices that help them move spirits to the afterlife. Rokumon is always popping up with some strange gadget that usually helps Rinne with problem spirits. The Demon-Tool-Cutting-Shears, the Ghost Trap Box, the Tsukumogami Net and Capturing Bolas, the Childhood Channeling Balloon, the Splitting Incense, and the Single Use Spirit Path all come in handy as Rinne takes on a Tsukumogami, helps a boy give peace to a childhood friend, and tries to stop the misguided Shoma from helping Masato. I’ve come to like the gadgets. Some of them seem obvious, but others, like the Childhood Channeling Balloon and the Single Use Spirit Path are clever.

When I first started reading Rin-ne, I couldn’t help comparing it to Takahashi’s earlier series Urusei Yatsura. The more I read, the more the comparison seems to fit. Like UY, Rin-ne is  a gag manga. It’s got its cast of characters, its running jokes (Rinne’s financial situation, Tsubasa’s failure to exorcise anything), and its out-of-the-ordinary situation (the supernatural). When you think it about it, there are too many parallels to be a coincidence. This series is the UY for a new generation, but much more toned down. It has all the wackiness and comedy of its predecesor without the sheer insanity that was UY. Whether that is good or bad is anyone’s guess. I don’t think I’ll every love Rinne, but I guess I do have to admit to liking it enough to read it, just not keep it.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Vol 8 and Bakuman Vol 10

Two very different volumes are featured in this Shonen Jump edition of Mini Musings. We complete a trip to the past in Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, while Moritaka and Akito fight for their future in Shonen Jump in Bakuman. But only one of these titles gets my recommendation. Read on to find out which.

Continue reading Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Vol 8 and Bakuman Vol 10

Hana-Kimi Volumes 1-3

Mizuki Ashiya is no slouch when it comes to a challenge. She’s a star of track and field at her high school, after all. So When she falls for fellow athlete Izumi Sano, she figures out an ingenious plan to get close to him. Now she’s moved to Japan, enrolled in the all-male high school Sano goes to, and becomes his roommate! How? She’s disguised herself as a boy! Whatever happens next, things are about to get seriously complicated!

By Hisaya Nakajo
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romantic comedy
Price: $14.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve tended to avoid gender-bending, or cross-dressing titles, because on the whole, they haven’t sounded interesting to me. A girl dressing up as a boy to go to the all-male school where her ideal mate goes seems prime for lots of comedy and hi-jinx, just not the type that I enjoy. Hana-Kimi really surprised me. It plays the comedy aspect well, but it’s not the focus of the story. It’s really about the characters and the love triangle the is created by Mizuki’s presence.

I really liked the characters in this story. Mizuki Ashiya is very earnest about just wanting to see Izumi Sano do the high jump in person. She isn’t clumsy or dizty, though she does get a little emotional for the boy she’s supposed to be. I liked that she didn’t go into this already having feelings for Sano, and that her feelings grow slowly from wanting to be friends with him to wanting to always be with him. It was a very natural progression. It’s obvious that Mizuki thought things through before coming to the school and had reasons why she couldn’t do some things, like swimming, so her excuses didn’t sound half-hazard or unlikely.

Izumi Sano is the sullen, quiet type. It takes some time for him to warm up to Mizuki, and then he figures out she’s a girl, and things take a turn for him. He doesn’t turn her in, but instead starts to work at doing the high jump again. He almost never lets on to her that he knows, but he becomes very protective of her. I like how he continues to relate to her like she’s a boy, but inside has to struggle with his own growing feelings for her. Shoichi Nakatsu is very much the comedy relief and third side to this love triangle, even if he doesn’t completely realize it yet. He was immediately attracted to Mizuki, but has not idea that “he” is a she. He feels a lot of confusion over it, and even starts to wonder if he might not be gay. This struggle is handled humorously, and made more funny to the reader because we know he’s not.

Rounding out the supporting cast is Doctor Umeda, who works in the school infirmary and really is a gay man. He knows Mizuki’s secret, as does his sister, Io, both of whom have promised to keep it. Minami Nanba, Mizuki’s Dorm R.A., is Umeda’s nephew and a ladies man who doesn’t know her secret. Kagurazaka is Sano’s rival in the high jump, and starts out being very obnoxious, but turns out to be not so bad, just very needling. I really like the entire cast of the series. They are all fun and interesting to follow.

The many of the stories are typical of a cross-dressing and high school title. Mizuki is constantly getting into situations where she could be found out, such as with Doctor Umeda and her brother coming to visit her. She is bullied for becoming the school’s new “idol”, and is asked for advise by a potential rival for Sano’s affection. But despite how common place a lot of the story lines have become, they didn’t feel that way here. I enjoyed all of the chapters, probably because there isn’t a lot going that seems unreasonable or over the top. So many of the characters reactions seem plausible and reasonable that it’s easy to believe they could happen. Nakatsu thinking he gay for being attracted to Mizuki, other people thinking Sano is gay for his overprotectiveness towards Mizuki after he learns her secret. Io pointing out to Mizuki she’s not going to be able to keep the charade for long as body matures. These things gave the story a ring of reality to it, making it so much more enjoy.

I found Hana-Kimi to a charming series so far. I really enjoyed the characters and the stories were fun, and for the most part, light. It does have its serious moments, and towards the end the of third volume it got a little dramatic, but not enough to change the tone of the series. The humor still prevails overall. I also liked how the issues of homosexuality were used and portrayed. It isn’t ignored or glossed over. Mizuki gets very upset when some boys say Sano must be for like her, and Dr. Umeda is very open and honest about his preference. The characters reactions rang true to me. I hope Viz continues to put out these omnibus editions. It was easy to hold and read and it a great price point. I can’t wait for the next volume!

Black Gate Volume 1-3

Senju is a “Mitedamashi,” an agent with the power to summon or seal Gates, and save people’s souls. He is a guardian to Hijiri, a boy whose life he once saved. After Hijiri discovers his own hidden powers, he begins a journey of self-discovery where the distant past comes back to haunt him and his choices determine life and death, not only for those he cares about, but the whole world!

By Yukiko Sumiyoshi
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $19.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

When I got Black Gate, I didn’t know anything about it other than it was a series about the supernatural, so it was an easy book to put off. But seeing it take up the space of three potential volumes, I decided to dust it off and see if it deserved that bookshelf space. While it’s not a bad series, it does take some turns, especially that the end that doesn’t make it deserving to remain on my limited bookshelf.

This series is about Hijiri, the son and last living Gate Keeper, a person born with the ability to open or close the gates that draw people’s souls out of this world and into another. His family was killed on the same day he was born, and he has been raised by Senju, a Mitedamashi, a person with the power to see these gates, and is tasked with closing the Black Gates, gates that take souls forcefully rather than waiting for the person to die. The first volume is all about the world building and introducing Hijiri and guardian Senju. The second volume follows Hijiri as he attempts to make a life for himself as a Mitedamashi, and the friends he makes along the way. The third volume has Hijiri confronting his past and facing his destiny.

I didn’t like Hijiri or Senju right off the bat. Hijiri was a brat, intent on doing whatever he wanted, and Senju was a jerk right back to him. Hijiri does mature some mentally, if not physically, as the story goes on. Of much more interest to me where Tsurugi, and Michitate, cousins who belong to a group tasked with protecting the Gate Keepers, as well as Michitate’s half-brother Michizane, a Mitedamashi that Hijiri wants as his partner. Tsuguri is the happy-go-lucky type that hides a tragic past, and Michitate is the quiet, serious type who hates Michizane, who is the loner type. While rather stereotypical, they were more interesting than Hijiri’s big talk and Senju’s weighted guilt.

The title itself is about death and how people deal with it. The whole tragedy of Hijiri and the end of the Gate Keepers begins with the desire of normal humans to have the gates closed permanently, so there is no more death. Throughout the story, there are examples of fear of death, and dealing the loss of a loved one, and how the promise of returning them to life can turn friend into foe. While the presentation of these ideas were mildly interesting, I didn’t like answers that came from them, especially for Hijiri. What Hiriji believed was right, but caved in the end. And Senju, for all the death he caused in the name of revenge, certainly didn’t deserve the second chance he got. Hijiri would have been better off with his real friends, who we see drift away with time.

Black Gate had potential, but it got lost somewhere along the way. While there were moments that I liked, mostly in the first volume, the ending trumped any of these good moments by giving a happy ending to the most undeserving. I don’t think it’s message was a good one. We should do all we can to keep our loved ones alive, but not at the cost of someone else, and we should learn when to let go. This title didn’t do that, as a result committed a real injustice to its readers.