Tag Archives: Viz Signature

21st Century Boys Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

War is over. The Friend is dead. Mankind no longer faces the threat of extinction. Peace has finally come to Tokyo…Or has it? The mystery still remains. Nobody knows who the Friend was and where he came from. The only clue is hidden deep within the memories–the memories of the hero Kenji. It is time to open Pandora’s Box and discover what is left at the bottom.

21st Century Boys 1By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
ISBN: 978-1421543260
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

21st Century Boys picks up right where 20th Century Boys volume 22 left off, even replaying scenes from the end of that volume. This volume is not a sequel, but a direct continuation of the story left unfinished in 20th Century Boys. The story turns to trying to discover the true identity of new Friend, and stopping the one last threat to mankind that Friend left behind.

After Friend and his super-duper virus is stopped by Otcho and one of Friend’s former followers, Tamura Masao, and the childhood friends are reunited, the fallout from Friend’s death begins. Japan is taken over by UN forces in an occupation that looks a lot like the one after World War II.  UN Forces want to know who Friend was, but despite Friend’s death declaration that Kenji knows, he really doesn’t. So Kenji volunteers to go into the virtual attraction to navigate his childhood and find his true identity. In the meantime, it is discovered that one more threat was left by Friend at the Expo, in the Tower of the Sun; an anti-proton bomb.

This volume sort of redeems the disappointment I felt at the end of 20th Century Boys, since it continues the story left unresolved in the last series. I really don’t see a reason to end 20th Century and continue it as 21st Century, since nothing is really different between the two. It has the same characters, doing the same things, and it ran in the same magazine in Japan. So what was the point? Anyway, the story returns to 1971 to an incident at Jijibaba’s that is seen in the previous series and is played out to it fullest in this volume. I’m not sure if it to be believed, since we don’t know exactly whose memory it is, and with Friend’s mental state, I find him an unreliable narrator. So, I’m not sure if it is a scene to be believed or not. I enjoyed Urasawa’s twists before, but after so many in the previous series, I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt anymore. He need to earn my respect back.

Detective Chono finally shows what he is made of. After being so weak in the last series, he steps up as a leader in the police department in the occupation and really grills Yamazaki, a man who was like an uncle to him, and who killed his beloved grandfather. I found Yamazaki’s reason for joining the Friends kind of sad and shallow. If he was really that much of a friend to Cho-san, he should have known the respect the man felt for him, and not fallen victim to the petty jealousy he ended up using as an excuse to follow Friend. Cho-san’s greatness is revealed in this volume as well, though, in a classic thriller move, we only see Yamazaki’s reaction to Cho-san’s revelation in his notebook about the “Friend Behind Friend.”

It was hinted at all through the previous series, but this volume also reveals some of the romantic feelings Kenji and Yujiki felt for each other, but could never admit. It started when they were children, after the incident with Yanbo and Mabo, where Yujiki started to see Kenji as her White Knight. Kenji obvious had feelings for her as he wanted to ask her out, and Yujiki tried to see Kenji after one of his concerts but got shut out by fans. It’s their familiarity with each other that seems to keep them from taking that step to admit their feelings. I really hope that happens finally. They really need to be happy and together.

Even though this called 21st Century Boys volume 1, it is really 20th Century Boys volume 23, but it really doesn’t feel like a penultimate volume. It feels more like the start of a new arc. But with only one volume, 8 chapters left, it can’t be. This series really needs to get a final wrap, and give every one an ending, happy or not. Though I would prefer a happy one if at all possible. Right now, all I want is a resolution, and I am really hoping that the events in this volume lead to just that.


20th Century Boys Volume 1-22: Manga Movable Feast

In 1969 a group of boys built a secret base out of dried grass in a field. There, they came up with a story about an evil empire and the heroes that would stop them. They wrote in a notebook called The Book of Prophesy. 27 years later, events in the book start to come true. In 1999, the boys, led by Kenji Endou, have come together to try to stop the evil empire led by “Friend”, and their battle comes to a head on New Years Eve.
Fifteen years later, in 2014, the battle with Friend begins again, with a “New Book of Prophecy”, this time led by Kenji’s niece Kanna. Jump ahead again 3 years to the Era of Friend 3 and it’s like 1971. The battle is taken up one last time.

20thCenBoys1By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

I started reading 20th Century Boys when it first came out and followed it for the first 5 volumes. My first review of the series wasn’t very favorable. I found all the time jumping in them to be confusing and difficult to follow. After 4 years and a little more experience with time jumping stories, I decided to give the series another try. I had liked random volumes that I tried after the first 5, and I thought it deserved another chance. After reading the entire series over a week, I have to come to the conclusion that my original feelings about the series weren’t wrong, just my reasoning behind them.

20th Century Boys 5The first 5 volumes of this series is all about setting up the series and introducing all the characters, even if their importance isn’t immediately made clear. It starts with Kenji Endou. He owns a convenience store that was originally his family’s liquor store. He lives with his mother and is raising his sister’s daughter, Kanna. He wanted to be a musician, but just couldn’t make it. A few of his friends did as he did, and took over the family business. Maruo runs a fancy goods shop, and is married with kids. Keroyon runs a soba shop and is just getting married. He, Maruo and Kenji are in the same neighborhood. Yoshitsune is a mousey salary man who kept in touch with Kenji.  Yukiji is the only girl in the group. She was the strongest girl in school, often taking the twin bullies Yanbo and Mabo. She is a customs officer working with a drug dog. Mon-chan is also a salary man who has been working overseas. Donkey was a poor boy growing up, but became a High School science teacher. It is his death that brings everyone together, and starts Kenji on his search for who or what “Friend” is. The final fiend, Otcho doesn’t appear until volume 4, where a personal tragedy changed him from fast-rising salary man to an enforcer called Shogun in Thailand.

20th Century Boys 7The time jumping is the worst in these first 5 volumes, as so much in past has to be shown and explained to set up where the bulk of the story occurs, 2014. The childhood friends are shown playing together and creating their Book of Prophesy in 1969, and then rediscovering it in 1997, as memories become clues and decide to fight back against the one that took their symbol, the hand with a raised finger with an eye, Friend. Friend’s face is forever hidden either by shadows or a mask. Though clues are dropped in the past that make it clear it was someone who knew Kenji and his friends. Everyone comes together in 1999 to try to stop Friend from spreading a deadly virus, but Friend always seems to be one step ahead of them, and has spies everywhere. He hasn’t been idle either, as he turned his religious cult into a political organization and part of the government.

We don’t learn the events of the last night of the millennium for several volumes as the story jumps to 2014, where the Friend party rules Japan with an iron fist that seems like a glove. A new cast of characters are introduced to interact with the surviving childhood friends. Kanna is now 17, working part-time at a noodle shop. Yujiki is her guardian, and Otcho was captured and sent to prison. Slowly, over the next 10 volumes, we learn the fates of the other friends, and of Friend’s next phase of the his plan, to become President of the World. But Kanna and the rest try their best to stop him again. Things we only got glimpses of in the past get fleshed out, especially in the distant past of 1969-71. From other characters with different perspectives, things become more clear, until by volume 15, Friend is revealed. Things don’t go as he planned though, and his death, which should have been the end, is only the beginning of a new chapter, as Friend seems to return from the dead.

20th Century Boys 13The final volumes take place three years later, in the Year of Friend 3. Kenji, who was believed to be dead, returns, shaggy and with a guitar on his back. He is always playing a song, that soon grows in popularity as people hear it, and is played on the radio. The new Friend has walled of Tokyo after another deadly virus races across the world. Inside the walls, he rebuilds Tokyo to look as it did in 1971. He intends to wipe out mankind once and for all with a final virus, sent by aliens. He is clearly insane. Kenji, armed with his song, leads the people outside the wall against their oppressors, while Kanna, Yoshitsune and Otcho try to find a way to save the people inside the wall. The series endings isn’t really an ending at all. Nothing is really resolved, and while Friend is seemingly defeated, it can’t just be the end.

I was with 20th Century Boys until around volume 15. I got over the difficulty of the time jumping in the first 5 volumes, and was with it through to the reveal of Friend. The clues were there, and I started to have a feeling to who it was around volume 10 or 11. Urasawa did a good job laying everything out, and revealing of things through different perspectives was well done. The twists that were revealed had good groundwork laid out for them, so when they came,it was more of a “a-ha!” moments than a “WTF?” It was frustrating to see Friend constantly being at least 2-3 steps ahead of Kenji and Kanna, and that his predictions always seemed to come true. But with the number of people he was surrounded by, and the conviction in with they believed in him, it was too hard to believe.

20th Century Boys 18I had a harder time swallowing that the man who was Friend would have been able to convince so many people to follow him. He just didn’t seem all that charismatic. I also find his total control of Japan, and respect gained around the world just from being the hero of “Bloody New Years” just as hard to swallow. No one is revered for that long. Even the Pope has his critics. I find it hard to believe that both Japan and the world would just lay down and let him, a man who doesn’t show his face to anyone but a select few, take over. Friend is the kind of villain I have come to despise recently; one that can always get away from the good guys. Always smarter, always well ahead of them. There is nothing inspiring or great about seeing the good guys lose again and again. It just makes one frustrated and angry, and finally the story not enjoyable.

That’s about how I felt as the story went into its ending arc. I was tired of all of Friend’s taunts. The “a-has!” had become “not agains”. As the background of the new Friend was starting to be revealed, it appears that he may have been seen in the previous flashbacks, but could be confused with another character since they both wore the same mask. This goes from “cleverly laying things out” to “cheap trick” in my book real fast. It was even more frustrating as I realized even though the end of the last volume was fast approaching, the end of the story wasn’t. The end just made me go “But, what about–” with a long list of strings left untied including who new Friend was and what happened between Yukiji and the psycho woman Takasu. Nothing felt resolved, and I kind felt cheated for giving this title over a week of my time to read it.

20th Century Boys 22The series wasn’t all bad. I really enjoyed everything with Otcho; his back story, his badass-ery. He was awesome in everything he did. I would have liked to have seen more of Kanna’s mother, Kiriki, sooner. We only get glimpses of her that imply she’s in with Friend, but her past is finally revealed in the last few volumes that proves that wrong. I also liked the manga artists Kakuta, Kaneko, and Ujiki. Their resemblance to Tezuka and the manga artists living in an apartment building in the 60s was great. Mon-chan didn’t get a lot of time in the series, but he proved himself before he was killed. Yoshitsune really stepped in the 14 years since the first attack, keeping a resistance alive despite his timidness. The truth behind Haru Namio and how Maruo came to be with him was another well done twist. I love Haru’s transformation with just a pair of sunglasses. Father Yatani, the ganster turned priest was a great character. He had a real presence, unlike Friend.

20th Century Boys is a long but compelling read. Once I had started, I just had to keep going on to the next volume. But as the series wore on, it was less about watching the characters and cheering them on, and more about just finding out who the hell Friend is and who he was to Kenji and his friends. This isn’t a terrible title, but it is a frustrating one. A lot of other people enjoyed it, judging by all the awards it has won. I just wish the story had been more tightly written, and the ending more clearly defined. I’d advise reading this series, only with the warning of the frustrating times to come.

Pluto Volume 1-8: Manga Movable Feast

In an ideal world where man and robot coexist, someone or something has destroyed the powerful Swiss robot Mont Blanc. Elsewhere a key figure in a robot rights group is murdered. The two incidents appear to be unrelated…except for one very conspicuous clue – the bodies of both victims have been fashioned into some sort of bizarre collage complete with makeshift horns placed by the victim’s heads. Interpol assigns robot detective Gesicht to the most strange and complex case – and he eventually discovers that he too, as one of the seven great robots of the world, is one of the targets.

Pluto 1 BigBy Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media – Viz Signature
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Sci-fi
ISBN: 9781421519180
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I had read the first two volumes of Pluto back when it came out in 2007, and absolutely loved them. But the time it took for me to collect the rest of the volumes and newer, shinier titles put reading it on the back burner. Thankfully, this month’s Manga Movable Feast gave me a good excuse to finally pull them out and read them. I’m glad I waited until I had the whole series before I read them. Pluto was an addicting and compelling read, and I don’t think I could have handled the wait between volumes.

Pluto 2Pluto is a based on the Tezuka’s Astro Boy story arc “The Greatest Robot on Earth”, a popular story that influenced a lot of people and future manga artists, including Urasawa himself. It isn’t a straight retelling of the original, but instead uses it as the foundation for a story that is multilayered and touches on several themes such as the consequences of war, the relationships between fathers and sons, and how emotions can create a person and shape their actions.

In order to tell this story, a strong cast of characters is needed, and that is exactly what we get. Even though this is based on an Astro Boy story, Astro, or Atom, which is his Japanese name, isn’t the central character. The character that holds the whole story together is Gesicht, who was a minor character in the original story. As a detective, he has the means to search out the clues and put them together to solve the mystery, who is killing the world’s most powerful robots. This story would be good if it was just about that, but Urasawa takes it to another level by adding a personal mystery to Gesicht. Something happened to Gesicht 3 years ago that neither he nor his wife can remember, but snippets come back to him in his dreams or in similar situations. The clues are very ambiguous at first, leaving the reader to think maybe it had something to do with the Central Asian war, but the truth, which isn’t revealed until the end is much more tragic. I did not see it coming, but it was a great twist, because it just made Gesicht that much more sympathetic.

Pluto 3All of the robots we meet in the story are really well-developed, even if we don’t see them when they are alive. The story starts with the death of Swiss robot Mont Blanc, but through the memorial that is built for him, we can see how much he was loved by everyone whose life he touched. North No. 2 of Scotland gets the whole second half of the first volume dedicated to his story. It’s a bittersweet tale of a military robot who only wants to learn to play the piano. He never meets Gesicht or knows of the danger, but he still goes off to face Pluto. His final moments are heartbreaking. Brando is an East European robot that wrestles professionally, and has a large family. He takes on Pluto, transmitting the data to Gesicht and the others, hoping it will help the investigation. Hercules, from Greece, is in some way the opposite, and some way the same as Brando. He is a loner, more of a soldier. But he and Brando have a friendly rivalry in the wrestling ring. Hercules comes the closest to defeating Pluto, but his power isn’t enough. Epsilon is a peace-loving robot from Australia who refused to participate in the Central Asian war, and was called a coward for it. He is very powerful, but with a gentle soul. He proved his convictions though, when he faced Pluto on a rainy day, when he would be at his weakest, to save one of the war orphans he was raising.

Pluto 4Atom, with his sister Uran, faces Pluto fairly early, and is believed to be dead by the world, but is physically repaired by his creator, Professor Tenma. He does not regain consciousness however, until the final volume. While Tenma abandoned Atom for not being enough like his deceased son, he couldn’t let him die either. Their relationship is just one of the many between fathers and sons that is seen throughout the series. Sahad, the robot son of Professor Abullah, the scientist from the Persian Monarchy, becomes the instrument for his father’s demand for revenge as Pluto. Even though he is a peaceful soul, he does as his father asks and destroys the 5 of the 7 robots. Adolf Haas, the younger brother of a robot killer, and himself a member of a robot-hating group that tries to kill discredit and kill Gesicht, hated robots because of one arresting their father, and ultimately losing him because of it. The love between a child and parent is shown to be a powerful thing. When one is lost, it can lead to even more powerful emotions; sadness, grief and hatred.

Pluto 5This capacity for hatred becomes an important element in the story, as it motivates so many of the characters either directly or indirectly. Tenma believed a strong emotional bias was needed to awaken an AI that can’t regain consciousness. Each time he did it, he used hate. This emotional bias not only awakens the AI, but also brings the AI closer to being human. They gain the capacity to lie, not just to others, but to themselves as well. They formulate the equation for an Anti-Proton bomb, a weapon of mass destruction. I thought it was sad that of the power emotions Urasawa could choose from, he chose hate to be the pivotal one. It’s like he’s saying to the way to becoming human is to be able to hate.

Pluto 6There is a strong anti-war theme through this book as well. The Central Asian War was fight by robots, but even their AI, advanced or not, was affected by it. North No. 2 is seen to be having nightmares from his time on the battlefield. Hercules told a story of one robot he worked with who was constantly washing his hands, an allusion to Lady MacBeth trying to wash the blood off of her own hands. There are also not so subtle finger-pointing at America. The Central Asian War has a lot of parallels to the Iraq war. The Central Asian War was started at the urgings of one country, the United States of Thracia, claiming weapons of mass destruction were being created despite little evident being found to support it. The leader of the Central Asian Monarchy also looks more than a little like Saddam Hussein. The theme isn’t overpowering, but it is always there, lingering in the background.

Pluto 7Pluto is one of the best manga I have ever read. It is short comparatively at only 8 volumes, and tells a complete and compelling story. It is very tightly written, with few if any extraneous scenes. It has a lot of the twists the Urasawa is known for. He sets them up well, and executes them perfectly. I loved the epilogue at the end. Brau 1589, the first robot to kill a human plays an important role throughout the series, always taunting, seeming to already know everything, but at the end, showing something other than ridicule. I also really enjoyed how the robots were portrayed. It didn’t matter if they looked human or like a robot from the 50s-60s, they were all full-fledged characters. From the wife of the patrol bot Robbie, to Gesicht’s wife to the robot boy Ali Gesicht met in Persia, how they looked didn’t make a different to how you felt about them as a character.

Pluto 8The art for this series is great. It is definitely Urasawa’s work, but Tezuka’s designs are all there. Atom with his hair sticking out like points. The broad face and large nose of Professor Ochanomizu, and the lanky body of Professor Tenma. You can see Tezuka’s hand in their designs, but with just enough of Urasawa’s more realistic touch to make them his own.

If you want to try out a Naoki Urasawa title, then Pluto is the best place to start. It’s length makes it a quick read, and it’s content will keep you glued to the pages until the end. The ending itself has that sense of finality that leaves you satisfied , although that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to revisit any and all these characters again. Do yourself a favor and read this series. You will not be disappointed.

Why Is It Always The Cat?

Continuing my ASPCA Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month coverage, I started to notice a pattern in some of the titles I’ve read. In manga, animals are often used to make a point about a character in the manga. They can help to define a character, be indicators from the past that explain the characters situations or used as plot devices. My big problem with some of these uses, is that I usually involves said animal being dead. And said animal is usually a cat.

This pattern started out rather innocently. In Fullmetal Alchemist volume 5, when Ed and Al go back to their teacher, Izumi, she is shown helping the kids in the village by fixing their toys using alchemy. But then, a little girl comes to her with a dead kitten, asking her to fix it. It’s a sad moment as Izumi has to explain why the kitten is not the same as a toy, but it works into the whole theme of the manga, so it fits in well. And we didn’t have to get to know the kitten first, so it’s more heartbreaking for the girl than the reader.

On the other hand, Karakuri Odette decides to get the reader involved. In volume 1, another inventor’s android, Asia, is staying with Odette and going to school with her. She seems to be more popular since she is more expressive with her emotions. Both she and Odette find a stray cat and start taking care of it. But it gets run over. The difference between Asia and Odette becomes clear when Asia starts playing with cat’s corpse while Odette is horrified, not just by the cat’s death, but by Asia’s behavior. I can’t blame her. I was too.

Sometimes, a character will have omens early on in life that things are going to go well for them, and for some reason, that means killing a cat. In O-Parts Hunter volume 1, when Jio was young, he had found a kitten to play with. The next day, he found it dead. It’s later revealed his alter ego, Satan, killed it because he wanted Jio to be lonely. In Jack Frost,  No-ah lived a cursed lived life with everyone she ever cared about getting killed, including stray animals she shows kindness to. Adding insult to injury, in volume 3, the stray dog gets an off-screen death with a tire screech and a whine, while the stray cat gets a horrific death for the reader to see! Why? What did the poor cat do to deserve that other than being cute?

You want to show how vile a villain is? Do what Daniel X volume 2 did, and show them eating cats. You want to prejudice your leader against a rival? Then steal her kitten, kill and burn it, and incriminate your rival like in Ooku: The Inner Chamber Volume 2. You need to show how uncaring your character has become? Have him feed a stray cat and then show that same cat dead in the street a short time later for him to see as in Sprial: Bonds of Reasoning Volume 5. I’m sure there are more examples, but I’m good stopping here. I don’t really need to know about the ways more cats are tragically ended for a story to advance. Really, can’t dogs get picked on more? Or hamsters even?

Bokurano Ours Volume 1 and Biomega Volume 5: Manga Movable Feast

As I looked through my piles of manga, I realized I had more unread Viz Signature titles than I thought. I actually have more, but these were single volumes and made for quick enough reads that I could get them in. While they are two different titles in tone, they do not differ very much when it comes to my reactions to them. I am a sci-fi fan, but can I be a fan of these two titles? Read on to find out.

Continue reading Bokurano Ours Volume 1 and Biomega Volume 5: Manga Movable Feast

Dorohedoro Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

In a city so dismal it’s known only as “the Hole,” a clan of Sorcerers have been plucking people off the streets to use as guinea pigs for atrocious ‘experiments” in the black arts. In a dark alley, Nikaido found Caiman, a man with a reptile head and a bad case of amnesia. To undo the spell, they’re hunting and killing the Sorcerers in the Hole, hoping that eventually they’ll kill the right one. But when En, the head Sorcerer, gets word of a lizard-man slaughtering his people, he sends a crew of “cleaners” into the Hole, igniting a war between the two worlds.

By Q Hayashida
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Mature
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I discovered Dorohedoro through the Sigikki.com site. I’m so glad it was put up there, because, based on the volume description, I would have completely bypassed this series, and that would have been a serious crime. While this volume does have violence and some gore, it also introduces some of the best characters I’ve read about in a long time.

The volume description makes Dorohedoro sound like a serious battle title, with Caiman and Nikaido hunting down and killing sorcerers and En and his sorcerers fighting back. It sounds like a slaughter fest, but that description is misleading. Caiman is searching for the sorcerer who changed him and killing any he finds. And En does call his best cleaners, Shin and Noi to put them on Caiman and Nikaido’s trail, but that’s all that’s happened so far. This volume is more about introducing the world, the characters, and what they are capable of in a fight.

Of course, even if this title had more fighting, it still would be meaningless unless it had a good cast of characters, and Dorohedoro has them in abundance! I loved Caiman from the first page. The volume starts with a sorcerer’s head in Caiman’s mouth. It’s a pretty dramatic way to introduce him, but it’s soon shown Caiman isn’t all about the drama. Unlike so many shonen characters seen nowadays, Caiman isn’t dark or depressed about his situation. He makes the best he can of it and keeps a good attitude. He also has a healthy appetite, so it’s a good thing Nikaido runs a restaurant. She’s not only Caiman’s meal ticket, she’s his friend and partner. While Caiman is the excitable type, Nikaido is more calm and cool. She keeps her head in any situation, and is capable of taking care of herself. They make a good team.

Even the bad guys in this series are likable. Fujita, the partner of the sorcerer who is first seen getting Caiman’s treatment is a lackey to En, the head sorcerer. Like all henchmen, he’s a bit of a bumbler and has bad luck. He tries to do his best, and you can help but feel sorry for him. He really looks up to Shin and Noi, En’s top cleaners. They are the efficient killers you expect them to be, but under their masks, look and act normal. I really enjoyed watching them at their dinner with En. Trying to read the menu, and looking for the expensive items since their boss was paying not only make them more human, but also entertaining.

What I really enjoy about Dorohedoro is the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While we do see Caiman and Nikaido continue the search for one specific sorcerer, just as much of the book shows them at work, and taking it easy. It isn’t just about the fighting, it’s about all aspects of the characters lives, and for me, that differentiates it from so many of the other titles out there. Dorohedoro deserves its mature rating with graphic fights that send body parts and internal organs flying, and a bit of swearing, but if you can get past those two things, you will be rewarded. I’ve enjoyed this volume even after multiple reads, and look forward to reading more.

House of Five Leaves Volume 1-2: Manga Movable Feast

Masterless samurai Akitsu Masanosuke is a skilled and loyal swordsman, but his naive, diffident nature has more than once caused him to be let go by the lords who employ him. Hungry and desperate, he agrees to become a bodyguard for Yaichi, the charismatic leader of a group calling itself “Five Leaves.” although disturbed by the gang’s sinister activities, Masa begins to suspect that Yaichi’s motivations are not what they seem. And despite his misgivings, the deeper he’s drawn into the world of the Five Leaves, the more he finds himself fascinated by these devious, mysterious outlaws.

By Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Historical Drama
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★½

I love historical dramas, especially those set in Japan, so it should be little surprise that I like House of Five Leaves. But after reading the first two volumes, I find there is much more here than just seeing the characters in Edo-period costumes. House of Five Leaves is a character drama, with Masanosuke as the focus to introduce us to an interesting group of individuals.

Let’s look first at the focus. Masanosuke is not your typical samurai. He has a strong sense of honor and the skills one would expect from one born in the samurai class. It’s his demeanor that makes him so different. He is very shy and doesn’t have a lot of self-confidence. He walks slouched over, making himself appear smaller than his true height. He doesn’t like confrontations, and when faced with an audience, he gets stage fright and runs away. This last trait may have a lot to do with why he is like he is.

So it’s little wonder that he looks up to Yaichi, a man with a lot of self-confidence, and who can talk himself out of a confrontation. He moves through the world with an ease that Masa envies. He is also a very private and mysterious man. No one in the group knows much about him, and that just intrigues Masa even more. By the same token, Yaichi is amused by Masa’s seemingly contradictory nature. He chooses Masa at first because he knows his nature and honor will keep him from reporting their activity. But the timid samurai quickly intrigues Yaichi, who then tries to get Masa to join their gang.

While Masa fence-sits about joining, he is slowly drawn in, both by Yaichi’s machinations, and by others in the gang. Okate, a beautiful woman who has known Yaichi for a long time, is kind and patient with Masa. Umezo, the owner of the izakaya where the gang hangs out is gruff toward Masa at first, but warms up to him slowly, though his daughter Okinu likes him from the start. Matsukichi is the loner of the group and isn’t too impressed with Masa, though he goes along with Yaichi’s decision. An unofficial member of the gang, Goinkyo, helps out by letting them hide their hostages on his farm. He also helps out Masa, letting him stay with him when he falls ill, and tries to warn Masa away from Yaichi and the gang’s activities.

But even as Masa is drawn in by his new “friends” so it seems members are drawn to Masa. Both Umezo and Goinkyo tell Masa about their connection to each other, and why Umezo continues to work with the gang even though he doesn’t need the money. Both comment on how they talk too much when telling it all to Masa. Neither intended to tell Masa so much, but there just seems to be something about him that makes people want to unburden themselves. Perhaps it is the same thing that Yaichi finds so fascinating about Masa.

I really enjoyed these first two volumes. The characters are interesting, and the mystery around Yaichi is intriguing. Just like Masa, I want to find out more about him and his past, as well as that of the rest of the gang. I really like Masa too. He isn’t arrogant like many of the other ronin seen in Edo. And he likes cats, so he has to be a good person. The old Edo setting

Ono’s art is very distinctive. The facial expressions of her characters are very revealing. It’s easy to tell what they are feeling or in some cases thinking. I really like the way she does the eyes. They can be big, or droopy. They can really define a character. She also has a knack for making older men look rather attractive.

House of Five Leaves isn’t a story filled with action or intrigue. It’s a slow-moving story with a lot of talking. But don’t think for a moment that’s a bad thing. The characters are engaging and the historical setting just adds to their charm. Add an immersing story and you’ve got a gratifying reading.

This Week in Manga 2/6-2/12/10

Moveable Manga Feast Moves Out

In a massive collaboration, several blogs have gotten together to review the same book on the same week, as suggested by David Welsh of the Manga Curmudgeon blog.  It kicked off this week, with Sexy Voice and Robo, with new reviews going up every day.  You can find an introduction to the book and all the reviews posted here.  From the long list of reviews, this turned out to be a big success with such a wide breadth of reviews, both good and bad.  This is a shining example of the power of social media.  An idea on Twitter became a week long celebration (or panning) of a title, bringing together the mangasphere.  I just think that’s cool.

Continue reading This Week in Manga 2/6-2/12/10

20th Century Boys Volumes 1-5

In the last years of the 20th century, a cult has been growing in power and popularity, led by a mysterious man known only as “Friend”  This has little bearing on convenience store owner Kenji, until a childhood friend of his seemingly commits suicide.  A closer look into it reveals that there may have been more to it, and it could have something to do with the cult.  As Kenji looks further in, he finds that the cult and it’s leader is following a story he and his friends wrote when they were just kids, about an evil power trying to take over the world and the heroes who stop them.  Kenji decides to try and stop The Friends with only the help of his childhood friends.

By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

[May contain spoilers]

20th Century Boys is a mystery/thriller story, something of a specialty for it’s creator, Naoki Urasawa.  The story spans 45 years, from 1969 to 2014.  These first five volumes cover mostly the 1969-1997-1999, and only touch on 2014 at the end of the fifth.  The story isn’t told linearly.  It jumps from 1969 to 1997 and all around 1997 to 1999.  The scenes in 1969 sow the seeds of the story, telling the beginning.  In 1997, the Friend’s plot is uncovered and this is where the investigation starts.  1999 becomes the race to stop The Friends, but is far from the end of the story, as the sudden jump 15 years to 2014 shows.

The story starts out strong.  It introduces the characters as they were kids, in 1969.  We see what they were like, what they did, and how their friendships were made.  In the 1997 present, we see how their lives turned out.  Most, like Kenji, didn’t get to live out their dreams.  They married, took salary-man jobs or took over family businesses.  While the characters are being established, clues about the mystery are starting to be dropped.  Everything we see in the 1969 scenes have some bearing on the clues dropped in 1997.  Kenji and his friends built a clubhouse in an overgrown grassy field where they could listen to the radio and read manga.  While hanging out there, they created the story, The Book of Prophecy, that starts to come true in 1997.

The first three volumes is spent building up the mystery of the Friends and their connection to Kenji and their childhood.  An elementary school reunion gets the ball rolling, and one person’s memory sparks another and another as they begin to piece everything together.  They become a rag-tag group of heroes fighting against a huge, evil organization bent on world domination.  Just like in their story.  It’s easy to get behind Kenji and his group, the underdogs fighting for right.

It was in volume 4 that I started to have a problem with this series.  The time jumping narrows greatly to between 1997 and 1999.  It becomes very difficult to keep these time jumps apart, and left me scratching my head, and having to go back and re-read sections to figure out what was going on.  A mystery is about pitting your wits against the author, not fighting to just read the story in the first place.  This really pulled me out of the trance their first three volumes had cast on me.  I became less engaged with the characters that I had really started to like.  It was a big let down.

Volume 5 didn’t do anything to improve this.  It’s 1999 now, and Kenji and his group, now branded terrorists, go to fight against the terror they have seen coming for the last 3 years, but are still unprepared for.  As they race away into the night, the story suddenly cuts to 2014.  We never hear any details of what happened, but enough clues are dropped that it probably didn’t go well.  Even as I read the last half, I still spent a lot time wondering “What happened?”  While this and other questions should have kept me enthralled and dying to read more, it didn’t really.  It actually left me more frustrated, and not in a good way.  I’m curious, but not that I’m counting down the days to the next volume.

Urasawa has quite an ability to start a story, and build up the mystery.  He drops hints judiciously, leaving clues for the readers to connect in the next chapter, volume or even several volumes later.  A few chapters in volume 2 that seemed to have little relevance suddenly take on a whole new light in volume 5.  He is also very good at misleading the reader.  One scene that is seen several time throughout  these five volumes takes on a completely different meaning at the end of volume 5 than you would think from seeing it in volume 1.  I was impressed with that.  It was a great turnaround.  But volumes 4 and 5 lost the momentum that volumes 1-3 built up for me.  I’m not quite as excited as I was to read this title.  I’m still intrigued by the mystery, and I do want to know what happened and what’s to come.  There are still 17 more volumes in this series, so I expect a lot more twists and turns.  But I don’t know if it can regain the momentum it had at the beginning.

Read It If You Want It

Viz’s SigIkki website isn’t just an experiment in manga for mature readers.  Going to the site does more than let you read some great manga.  You, the reader, can make a difference in which manga will get published.  Your clicks and reviews can make all the difference in the world for a title seeing print.

In Japan, the fate of a manga is decided not just by circulation, but also by what the readers say.  Survey cards are checked and titles can live or die by what readers say in these.  Viz has taken this idea and applied it to the web.  The titles at SigIkki are not guaranteed to see a print edition unless enough people show interest through page views and reviews that readers can leave.  While this is a good idea for a small market as these Ikki titles will attract, that also means that your favorite title manga get a print edition unless YOU do something.

Just like pre-ordering, this is putting your money were your mouth is, just without so much of the risk.  Going to the site and reading chapters is easy, but if you really love a title, so much so that you want to see it in print, then put in a good word.  The editors give a lot of weight to reviews and comments left for titles.

And, just because a title gets a future solicitation, as many of the SigIkki titles seem to have at Amazon, that’s not really a guarantee of publication.  Ask Tokyopop about that.

Children of the Sea Volume 1

When Ruka was younger, she saw a ghost in the water at the aquarium where her dad works. Now she feels drawn toward the aquarium and the two mysterious boys she meets there, Umi and Sora. They were raised by dugongs and hear the same strange calls from the sea as she does.

Sora begins investigating their strange connection to the sea. But the current research is too slow for Sora, who is lured away by with the promise of answers. This leaves Umi severely depressed, and it is up to Ruka to help her new friend find his brother. But time is quickly running out…

Children of the Sea Volume 1
By Daisuke Igarashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Mystery
Price: $14.95
Rating: ★★★★★


In an attempt to draw in more adult readers, Viz has been expanding their Signature imprint.  The titles in this imprint are meant for a more mature audience that have out grown or aren’t interested in the eternal power ups of shonen or the angsty drama of shojo.  Children of the Sea, the first title from the online manga magazine Ikki, is the perfect debut title.  With none of the usual manga conventions, beautifully rendered art, diverse characters, and a compelling mystery, this is a title that both non-manga readers and long time fans will enjoy.

Continue reading Children of the Sea Volume 1