Tag Archives: teen

Shonen Jump June/July 2011

The big but strangly never mentioned news for this issue of Shonen Jump is that it is not long a purely monthly magazine. Subscriptions cards in the mag advertise a yearly subscription as being 10 issues. And you’ll notice this issue covers June and July. Of course, nothing is mentioned in the magazine about this change or why. The obvious reason is cost. Cut out 2 issues (this isn’t any bigger a normal issue) and save printing costs. If there was any other reasons, Viz isn’t saying, since they’ve said nothing about the change. Maybe they were hoping no one would notice?

The issue starts out with a video game feature, looks at the Nura anime and vol 3 of the manga, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds trading card and strategy and the Reborn anime which has started streaming on Vizanime.com. The manga starts up with Psyren.

Oboro, the famous actor goes on a TV show about Psyren, and nearly feels the wrath of Nemesis Q. He is saved by Elmore Tenjuin, the woman who put up the 500 million to solve the mystery of Psyren. Another player isn’t so lucky. Ageha’s training contiues to surprising results that Sakurako can’t explain, but the call to return to Psyren interrupts them. It’s a new batch of new recruits that includes Oboro. Sakurako tries to explain what’s going on again, and of course, no one believes her. Oboro decides to see for himself and leads most everyone out except for a kid who decides to stick with Sakurano because she’s cute. Outside the group learns that Sakurano wasn’t kidding with the appearance of a monsterous sand worm. I really hope we get past the introduction of newbies and explaining things again and again. Let’s just get the team that’s going to be fighting in Psyren and get this title going!

One Piece finishes the flashback with Luffy, Ace and Sabo. Luffy and Ace learn a hard lesson with Sabo’s loss, and both resolve to become pirates and go out to see at 17 and live the lives they want. They continue training to become stronger. Ace learns to care for Luffy and they become real brothers. We see Ace’s send off as well as another view of Luffy’s. Luffy continues to struggle with his grief until Jimbei gets him thinking about what he still has instead of what he’s lost. We see the graves Shanks creates for White Beard and Ace, and Garp comes home to Windmill Village and ends up facing Dadan’s wrath. These were more great chapters, as we saw how far Ace’s apple DIDN’T fall from the family tree. And I still think Ace is cute, especially with his freckles. The moment that it dawns on Luffy that he still has something to live for is another emotional moment, and just shows again why One Piece continues to be superior to the likes of Bleach and Naruto.

Speaking of Bleach, the battle is set as the Soul Reaper Captains and Seconds stand ready to face Aizen and his Espada army. Back in the Hueco Mundo Ulquiorra waits for Ichigo to come and save Orihime. A fade to black (so to speak) and story goes back in time to 100 years in the past, to see where the seeds of Aizen’s plans were planted. There are lots of familiar faces, but not in familiar roles, and the story begins with the promotion of one Kisuke Urahara to the Captain of the 12th Company. While it’s nice to get away from the long and drawn out Hueco Mundo arc, I do question the need to put this in now, and how abruptly the story jumps from just about to start the big battle to this more plot heavy arc. I wonder if reader surveys had anything to do with the change.

Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds continues the duel between Yusei and Jack Atlas. Yusei’s having trouble with the duel as he tries to hold on to Sect and his duel runner is coming apart. Jack mocks Yusei’s devotion to helping his friend, and because Yusei puts his friend’s like first, he loses the match, and we are left wondering if he even survived. But since we already know Yusei has script immunity, we know this isn’t the end. And that Jack, and the first antagonist of the series, will have to see the light by the end of the arc, that friends are the best thing to have in a duel.

Naruto shows off his new ability to control the Nine-Tails chakra, and senses Kisame hiding in Killer Bee’s sword. Kisame tries to escape and instead has to face Guy, in a rematch. Kisame thinks he’s going to win thanks to his ability to absorb chakra, but he’s in for a surprise from Guy’s fighting style, and is captured instead. While he thought he would gathering intelligence on Naruto and the alliance, he instead is probed and we get a flashback to his life before becoming Akatsuki, but he bites his own touge off rather than betray Madara and the Akatsuki. Naruto’s new abilities with the control of the Nine-Tails Chakra is interesting, as it seems he also inherited his father’s teleportation ability. More cool and confident Naruto would be a huge welcome to this series. With memories of his parents now, may be we can keep getting more of that and less of the angst.

Online in Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Rikuo has to save Kana from a yokai who promised to come get her on her 13th birthday. He then takes her to a yokai party where she seems to start to fall for Night Rikuo. Then, a new arc is introduced. Now that Rikuo has accepted his position as successor to the Nura Clan, the internal squabbling is mostly over, but a new threat from outside now threatens the Clan. The 88 Demons of Shikoku start to move in on Nura territory, even killing an executive, Hihi. Thinking the Nura clan is an easy target, they go straight for Nurarihyon. I like the sort-of romance starting between Rikuo and Kana, his childhood friend. Kana seems rather jealous of Yuki-Onna when she’s with Rikuo, and how she becomes smitten with Night Rikuo isn’t too surprising. I’ve already said I prefer him to day Rikuo anyway. I wonder how much this part of the story will be advanced, or if it will stay in the shadows.

The preview for May/June is for Toriko volume 5. Toriko, Rin, Terry, Sunny and Komatsu get separated as they race to reach Regal Plateau before the GT robots do to get the Regal Mammoth and its jewel meet. Toriko and Rin end up goign north, through the Devil Athletic, while Sunny and Komatsu go south through the Prehistoric March. Terry, the battle wolf that impressed on Toriko is following after Toriko to warn him of more GT Robots who are roaming and killing anything that gets in their way. Sunny guesses what the GT Robots are really up it, and explains to Komatsu (and the reader) the idea of Gourmet Cells, which also explains why Toriko, Rin and Sunny are so powerful. These chapters are mostly either battling or appreciating the strange foods found on the island. Neither activity interests me, so neither do these chapters.

With the reduction of the print issues, I wonder how, or if, it will affect the release of the graphic novels. The issue of costs have me worried. Viz could probably take their whole magazine online, like Nura, but the fact that they have been heavily i*, I’m afraid if they go all digital that that is the format they would go with and not through the browser. I would have to completely drop my Shonen Jump subscription. And I really do like having the magazine to read. It is nice to have some non-screen time.

Mixed Vegetables Volume 7

Leaving her internship at Sushi Hyuga to go on her family’s annual trip to France is the last thing Hanayu wants to do. On the other hand, a pastry-research trip in Europe is Hayato’s idea of a dream come true–can the two aspiring chefs ever catch a break? Plus, Hayato has become suspicious of patisserie assistant Maezawa, who has expressed an interest in Hanayu. As it turns out, both Hanayu and Hayato may have their wires crossed about what Maezawa is really after!

By: Ayumi Komura
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/Food
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I read the first 2 preview chapters for this series back when Shojo Beat was still around, and wasn’t impressed. Further reviews from fellow reviewers didn’t inspire me to look further into the series, and I’m not a foodie, so this volume had three strikes against it going in. But it actually wasn’t so bad. There wasn’t anything great about it. It’s a fairly average title, but I didn’t regret the time I spent reading it.

Hanaya and Hayato, the leads that I found so annoying in the preview chapters of volume 1, aren’t so bad by this volume. Hanaya no longer has to plot to get Hayato to marry her, which is what I disliked so much about her initially. She and Hayato have admitted their feelings for each other, and by this volume, Hanaya is working in Hayato’s family sushi shop. I found the characters much more likeable this time around, which greatly improved my reading experience.

Hanaya’s family plan a trip to France, and with Hanaya and Hayato trading places, each of them gets the chance to become immersed in their preferred environment. Hanaya, while already working at the Sushi shop, hasn’t actually been able to work in the kitchen. In this volume, she gets some time in, and shows her ability to combine foods and flavors that compliment each other, creating new and interesting dishes. Hayato gets to go on a pastry-tasting trip with Ashifuba, Hayana’s father, where he shows his ability to identify who made a pastry just by sight and flavor.

As is typical with any romance, there are forces seemingly conspiring to keep Hanaya and Hayato from staying together, especially now that they’ve decided to be together. The threat of Maizawa turns out to not actually be one, but the volume ends on a cliff hanger that just could. It’s actually a pretty cliché route to go, especially with the way the series has been set up. But it wasn’t poorly done, just not unexpected.

Overall, this volume wasn’t a bad read. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t an inspiring read either. There’s nothing really interesting about the characters in general. The lead characters particular talents are mildly interesting but not enough to really be a draw. Hanaya’s side of the story was definitely more entertaining. It focused more on the food and preparation than on the angst Hayato was facing. The art is average, but some of the characters are rather distinctive-looking. Maizawa comes to mind. I did like that as well. Mixed Vegetables isn’t a bad time killer, but it’s not a keeper.

Oishinbo a la Carte: Fish, Sushi, and Sashimi

Yamaoka and his father Kaibara Yuzan, have never enjoyed an ideal father-son relationship.  In fact, it’s about as far from ideal as possible, and when they start arguing about food–which they inevitably do–the sparks really fly.  In this volume of Oishinbo, the subject of dispute is fish, starting with the question of whether mackerel can ever be truly good sashimi.  Later, things come to a head during the “Salmon Match” which pits father against son in an epic contest to develop the best dish before a panel of judges.  Will Yamaoka finally defeat Kaibara?  Or will he once again be left in his father’s shadow?

Story by Tetsu Kariya; Art by Akira Hanasaki
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Food
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★½

The overall premise of Oishinbo is that Yamaoka and his partner Kurita are compiling the “Ultimate Menu” of Japanese cuisine for the 100th anniversary of the publishers of Tozai News.  Each volume of Viz’s compilation of this long running series is centered around a type of food. This volume is all about fish.  The stories are episodic, and can be broken down into two types; Yamaoka helping someone out or putting someone in their place about food, and Yamaoka vs. Kaibara, his father, over some kind of food dish.

Yamaoka comes off as lazy and a cynic, but at heart he really is a good guy.  Whether it’s coming to the defense of a young boy’s opinion, helping a man get over being dumped by a girl, or a student accept getting into his second choice college instead of the first, Yamaoka finds a way through food.  I really enjoyed these stories, as they showed both Yamaoka’s knowledge and skill as well as his good heart.

What I didn’t enjoy were the stories with Yamaoka competing with his father Kaibara.  Now, I don’t mind the competitions themselves.  They require both skill and knowledge, with much of the latter being imparted to the reader.  What makes a good sashimi, why salmon and other fresh water fish shouldn’t be used as sushi and what’s really important when making a meal for someone are all topics covered in this volume.  While I found the information interesting and informative, I just couldn’t stand Kaibara.  His overly smug attitude toward Yamaoka, and people in general really struck me the wrong way.  I know I’m not supposed to like him, but his whole demeanor made some of these chapters just unpleasant to read.

The art in Oishinbo isn’t very realistic.  It’s rather simplistic, with a newspaper comic feel to it.  There aren’t a lot of the manga conventions you see in a lot of other titles, making this very friendly to a non-manga reading audience.  The food and the fish are very realistic, on the other hand, showing the emphasis is on the food more than the people.

Overall I found Oishinbo A la Carte to be an enjoyable read, though Kaibara did drag it down some.  Other people may not be bothered by Kaibara so much, so this is still a title I recommend.  If you’ve ever wanted to try a manga without all the baggage, or are just curious about Japanese cuisine, this is a title you definitely want to check out.

Dororo Volume 1-3

A Samurai during Japan’s Warring States period (1467-1573), Daigo Kagemitsu wants complete control over Japan.  He promises his unborn son’s 48 body parts to demons in exchange for that control.  When the baby is born deformed, Daigo throws the newborn into the river to die, but it is miraculously found by a doctor, Jukai, who makes prosthetics for the child and adopts him as his own.  When the boy Hyakkimaru is grown, he leaves home and begins a journey to recover his body parts.  Along the way he runs into a brash young thief, Dororo, whom he teams up with; together they battle demon and monster on their adventure to reclaim Hyakkimaru’s wholeness.

Dororo 1-3
Dororo 1-3

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action/Adventure
Price: $13.95
Rating: ★★★★½

Dororo, first serialized in 1967, can be seen as a proto-shonen story.  It has many of the elements we now see in shonen titles today, though these were new at the time. Tezuka spins a memorable supernatural action/adventure tale and characters that really draw you in, and only disappoints at the very end, though not in story, but lack of it.

The first volume of this title is the introduction. Tezuka jumps from past to present, first telling of Daigo’s deal, then introducing Hyakkimaru and Dororo. Hyakkimaru tells Dororo his story, trying to convince the young thief not to follow him, but Dororo doesn’t give up so easily. After a few chapters fighting a demon that returns Hyakkimaru’s arm, it’s Dororo’s tragic past that is revealed.  It ends with another demon defeated and Hyakkimaru gaining another body part.

This volume is the strongest of the three, with the great action sequences interspersed with the story telling. One of the themes introduced this is volume that continues through all three seems to be that of “No good deed goes unpunished”. After Hyakkimaru and Dororo go through so much trouble to help rid villages of the demons that plague them, always their reward is to chased off with nary a thank you. Tezuka’s fascination with human nature is seen here as the excuses the villagers often give is refusing to help a thief (Dororo) or Hyakkimaru’s different appearance. Of course, it doesn’t bother them when Hyakkimaru reveals his sword hidden in his arm when he’s fighting a demon; Only after the demon’s defeated and he might need something like food or shelter to rest.

Volume two gets into more character development for Hyakkimaru. He meets his father, the ruthless Daigo and his second son Tahomaru. Things don’t go well, and Hyakkimaru ends up killing Tahomaru in a duel and his father demanding his head. He sends Dororo away deciding he was better off dead when the old man from the first volume that gave Hyakkimaru the hope of becoming a great swordsman despite his handicap, appears. He helps Hyakkimaru see that he needs more in life than just killing demons, and a map to that mysteriously appears on Dororo’s back proves to be it. Hyakkimaru decides to help Dororo find his father’s treasure. This volume ends in must the same way as the first with Hyakkimaru defeating a demon, gaining a limb, and getting chased out of the village.

I’ve seen this volume described as making the series darker, and with all the needless killing of innocents in the first half, one could agree. But, the first volume already established that life was hard, and that Daigo was evil. Maybe “serious” would be a better description. We see just how hard life is and how evil Daigo can be.  We gain more insight into Hyakkimaru as well. He has no real purpose beyond finding his missing body parts. He isn’t killing demons to help people. He has to kill a demon before he will know if it was one of the 48. The old man tried to get Hyakkimaru to realize this, but it’s really Dororo that makes him see. Through their journey, Hyakkimaru and Dororo have formed a bond that neither can see, but certainly feel. It’s this bond that makes Hyakkimaru more human than just his regained body parts.

Volume three picks up with the search for Dororo’s father’s treasure. Then there are a few demon hunting stories and the final story involves Hyakkimaru facing his father again and helping a village of farmers overcome him. Hyakkimaru parts ways with Dororo again after a revelation, and then leaves.  And…that’s the end.

This volume starts out full steam and stays that way to the very end. Tezuka never shows any indication that these would be the last stories. Nothing is resolved, and if anything, things are set up to imply more to come, so that when you come to the end, it’s like hitting a brick wall. The last page is nothing but a few lines that are woefully inadequate for what was up ’til now an exciting ride!

This brings me to the things I didn’t like about this series, and there aren’t a lot. The biggest problem I had with it was Tezuka continually breaking the fourth wall. Now, I don’t mind a manga being referential, but I really don’t like it when characters speak to the reader, break through panels and refer to things completely inappropriate to the title. Tezuka did this in every volume, though sparingly. But it was enough to distract from an already riveting story. He already had good comedic moments the Dororo. He didn’t need to add these others.

The other problem was the abrupt ending. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the pace had slowed some, or if there had been some indication that the story would be ending, but there wasn’t. You get to the end of the last story, turn to the last page and are left stunned, wondering where the rest of the story went. It is a real disappointing end of an otherwise great story.

Overall, Dororo is a great story. The characters are fun and well-developed. The demons that Hyakkimaru and Dororo face are varied and interesting. The art is classic Tezuka, but it really grows on you. Do not pass this title up just because the art doesn’t look modern and polished.  If you are interested in action and/or folklore/supernatural than this is a must read. Tezuka’s shonen classic shows why so many creators used him as a template. This great story is only marred by a jarring end.

Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning Volume 1

“I’m going to uncover the mystery of the ‘Blade Children’.”…World-class detective Kiyotaka Narumi’s last words prior to his sudden disappearance continue to haunt his younger brother, Ayumu.  The cheeky 10th-grader becomes equally embroiled in the mystery of the doomed “Blade Children” when he is mistaken for the prime suspect in a murder at his school.  Led by Ayumu’s sister-in-law, Kiyotaka’s wife and fellow detective, Madoka, the investigation into the murder gives Ayumu a chance to clear his name.  But in doing so, he not only uncovers ties to the Blade Children but also more questions than answers about who and what they are.

Story by Kyo Shirodaira; Art by Eita Mizuno
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Mystery
Rating: Teen
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning is a title that started out as a novel and was then turned into both a manga and an anime series.  This first volume introduces us to the main characters and the overarching mystery of the “Blade Children”, with individual mysteries giving us the pieces to the larger one.

Ayumu Narumi is a 10th grader at a private high school, and brother to Kiyotaka Narumi, a world-class pianist in his teens and a “Great Detective” by his twenties.  Ayumu wants to surpass his brother, and find out what happened to him.  It seems he has a knack for solving mysteries as well, and when he is accused of murder on the anniversary of his brother’s disappearance, Ayumu sets out to prove his innocence himself.  But as one crime is solved, it seems to lead to another as the culprit is killed, which reveals clues to another. That murderer is found, and all have a connection to the Blade Children mystery.

Spiral has all the earmarks of a “boy detective” story.  The “boy detective” who possess’ extraordinary reasoning powers, the detective on the police force who believes in his powers, the bumbling detective partner who doesn’t get it, and the pretty girl sidekick.  Ayumu even has a trademark saying when he has figured out the case; “So this is the melody of the truth…”.  But these things don’t make this a bad series, just a familiar one.  Ayumu is unlike any of the other boy detectives.  He’s more of a loner, obsessed with his brother’s mysterious disappearance.  His attitude is more of a devil-may-care, and just sees the mysteries as a chance to find his brother.  His sidekick, Hiyono, is actually helpful to Ayumu, getting him the information he needs to put all the pieces together.  His sister-in-law, Madoka, understands Ayumu, and really sees the sibling resemblance as he puts the pieces together before she does.

This volume is a great introduction to the characters, and all the little clues that are dropped around about the Blade Children really get one wondering about who and what they can be.  The art is well done, with no chibis, and only the occasional funny face, at appropriate times.  The designs are cute without being bishi or annoying.  The way Yen Press does the SFX is different, with a more literal translation of the mood the author wants to get across than just a sound.  It takes a little getting used to, but after while, it just seems natural.  As one of Yen Press’ debut titles, this is a great beginning.

Hell (Girl) Isn't So Bad

Hell Girl
by Miyuki Eto; Original Story by The Jigoku Shoujo Project
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Genre: Horror/Shoujo
Rating: OT 16+ (Teen 13+)
Price: $10.95

Rating: ★★★★½

I don’t get it. Someone really needs to explain this to me. What was so bad about Hell Girl Volume 1 from Del Rey? I just finished reading it, and can’t see any of the problems so many other reviewers seemed to have with it.

I’ve seen the anime this manga is based on, and, on the whole, the first volume follows the first 4-5 episodes in it. There are some minor changes, such as Enma Ai is seen as a student at the schools the girls go to, instead of always waiting in her home with her “Grandmother” for a request to come through the computer. And in the anime, those that ask for Ai’s help get a straw doll with a red string around it’s neck. If they decide to make the contract with Ai, all they have to do is pull the string. Ai also gives those looking to make the contract a taste of what they will be getting after they die and go to hell. Other than those small changes, this volume follows the beginning of the anime fairly faithfully.

First, to get one thing straight. I don’t know what happened, but the age rating on this volume is wrong. It’s marked OT (16+) on the book, but the Del Rey website has it at Teen (13+) . I really hope this was an oversight on Del Rey’s part, and not a concession to any groups that may have been upset with the title or the subject. I will be very disappointed with Del Rey if it was the latter. This is definitely a title for a younger audience than 16.

So, working with the premise that this is actually a Teen rated book, everything else about it would make sense. The art style, with the big eyes fits in with Del Rey’s other Teen titles for girls, Pichi Pichi Pitch: Mermaid Melody and Mamotte! Lollipop. The stories are very shoujo with young girls as the protagonists and lots of drama to drive them to the desperate action of seeking out Hell Girl. But, what really clinched it for me was when I got to the end of the veterinarian story, as he was being tormented before being taken to hell.

About 10 years ago there was a series of horror stories written for teen readers called R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps that were really popular. I’ve come to know these books very well. My oldest daughter was hooked on them for quite a while, and my youngest daughter has been watching the tv specials that were made from the books. And Hell Girl plays just like one of these stories. An innocent kid who gets sucked in by the normal looking person who turns out to be a demon, and has to find a way to defeat it. This is Hell Girl’s formula to a tee, with the only difference that the girls go to an external source to find their answer, and even though they win in the end, they have a consequence to bear for the rest of their life. It’s a Japanese style of horror, but it’s still teen horror. Once that hit me, the book just fell into place.

That said, this is a terrific book for teens that like things on the dark side. Not necessarily goth, but like to be scared every now and then. The stories may seem to be disturbing at times. The veterinarian story is hard for pet lovers to read, but you can’t deny he didn’t deserve it. They can also seem overly dramatic, but that’s just shojo. The teacher that is able to turn not only all of the protagonist’s friends against her, but also her whole family might seem a little unrealistic to grown adults. But to a 12-13 year old girl who thinks her parents are already against her, this might not seem so. The point is, sometimes you have to look at things from their perspective.

The only thing I wish was kept from the anime is the straw doll each requester was given. In the anime, making the choice to make the contract with Ai Enma was emphasized strongly. It was shown to be a big decision, and it almost seemed like Ai wished the people would change their minds, though she would never try to persuade. In the manga, the choice doesn’t seem as important. Ai does ask once more before completing the contract, but it doesn’t get that same emphasis.

Over all, Hell Girl is good horror for teen girls. This is one of those titles where I say ignore the age rating. Del Rey blew it on this one. Hell Girl fits in perfectly with a teen audience, and will appeal to them if they are given the chance to read it. Sometimes, demographics does matter.

Dragon Voice Roars!

(Originally posted on Popculture Shock)

Rin Amami is a regular middle school student—regular, that is, except for his gruff, gravelly voice. Though his classmates tell him he sounds like Godzilla or a toad, Rin has a secret dream: he wants to sing. He has an idol’s looks, and can pick up any dance style after seeing it once, but his voice crushes any attempts to go after that dream. While working on a street corner selling pictures of pop stars and taking dance requests, he literally runs into The Beatmen, an up-and-coming boy band. He becomes entangled with the group when the owner of Red Shoes, The Beatmen’s agency, declares that Rin possesses the legendary “Dragon Voice,” possessing the qualities of both a demon and an angel. Boss is determined to prove that Rin that will blend with The Beatmen’s already balanced sound, and adds Rin to the group.

Dragon Voice Volumes 1-7
By Yuriko Nishiyama
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Music
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

So begins Rin and The Beatmen’s rocky journey to become idols in Japan’s cutthroat entertainment industry. Their career gets off to a rocky start after The Beatmen lose a bet to a rival band, preventing them from performing and forcing Boss to close the Red Shoes agency. Their fortunes improve when an action show director casts them in his dream TV show, “The Voice Rangers.” Unable to find a TV network for the show, they air it on the internet, where it becomes an instant hit. To capitalize on the show’s success, The Beatmen need to release singles, but the don’t have an agency to help them. After struggling to write their new single, the newly reopened Red Shoes tries to promote The Beatmen’s music, only to be is shut out by rival agency S-Field. Piggy-backing it with music from “Voice Rangers,” Red Shoes gets The Beatmen’s CDs into stores—where they and Privee, S-Field’s own band, get trounced by Baby Naked, an American boy band. This leads to a live, battle-of-the-bands performance starring all three bands.

Dragon Voice is NOT your typical shonen title. It isn’t about the forces of good and evil fighting for control of the universe. It’s about an ordinary young man who challenges and changes the people around him. The story begins when band mate Shino helps Rin rekindle his dream of performing by showing Rin what makes his voice special. From then on, it is Rin that challenges The Beatmen to get better and accept his voice. It’s Rin that pushes to find a way to get Voice Rangers aired. It’s Rin that makes the leader of Privee, Tohma, want to be better and compete with The Beatmen on abilities alone. Rin’s optimism and sheer strength of will inspire people, especially his fellow Beatmen.

Despite the roadblocks The Beatmen and Rin encounter, Dragon Voice is an optimistic, upbeat series. The characters are very likeable and easy to relate to. They may seem cookie-cutter at first: the likable leader Shino, the wild loner Goh, the cold and calculating Yuhgo, and the nervous, shy Toshi. But the varied personalities make for lots of good comedy and conflict. Just as The Beatmen learn to blend with Rin’s voice, they soon learn to mesh with Rin’s upfront personality. You find yourself cheering them on, especially when they stumble and there seems to be no way out. The trust between the Beatmen and Rin is built up slowly, so that by the concert battle, they believe in both themselves and Rin enough to take chances with their performance.

And what a performance it is! Nowhere else will you see three bands simultaneous battle it out in an arena! This epic concert takes up a whole volume, and is non-stop surprise after surprise as the groups keep upping the ante to capture and keep the audience’s attention: transforming a ballad into a rap, doing a dance-off with Tohma, and even hijacking Baby Naked’s signature song. It was more exciting than any battle I’ve ever read in any fighting manga—I could not put this volume down! What really made the concert thrilling was that even though Privee and The Beatmen were competing for the right to perform at the Baseball Championship Opening, Baby Naked participated for the sheer joy of performing. You could almost feel how much lead singer Seiren was enjoying herself when Rin dances and sings with her. Could a Seiren-Rin romance be in the making?

The art is excellent. Nishiyama-sensei uses a lot of thick, bold lines, like her characters.  Her style is very clean, and not cluttered, even though she uses speed lines for dancing and quick movements. The boys, being idols, are all good looking, but aren’t annoyingly bishonen about it. And each has a distinct look, so there’s no confusion about who’s who.  The backgrounds are clean, and easy to read.

So why isn’t this series more popular? I wish I knew. I don’t know what Tokyopop did to promote this series, but I do remember reading a few early reviews that described it as “Jem with boy bands.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Unfortunately, this comparison seems to have hurt the series’ popularity, as Jem and the Holograms seems to invite ridicule.

Notwithstanding the comparison with Jem, Dragon Voice is a series with a lot of heart and soul, offering a perfect blend of comedy and drama. Without guns, aliens, or super powers, it still packs a lot of action into every volume. This series isn’t just about showing up the rival band, and climbing the stairway to stardom. It’s about putting your all into achieving your dreams—that with hard work, self-confidence, and a dream, nothing is out of reach.