Brian’s Spot: Gimmick Volume 1

Gimmick! Volume 1
By Youzaburou Kanari
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: T+ (Older Teens)
Genre: Action
Price: $9.99
ISBN: 1-4215-1778-7
Rating: ★★★★☆

In 1986, the movie F/X, starring Bryan Brown as special effects maestro Rollie Tyler and Brian Dennehy as Lt. Leo McCarthy came out, followed by F/X 2 in 1991.  It was so popular that they made a TV series out of it in 1996 which ran for 40 episodes.  Now we get the manga adaptation… wait, it isn’t?

Could have fooled me.

Gimmick is the story of Kohei Nagase and his crew at Studio Gimmick, a small special effects house that seemingly does work for just about everyone.  Kohei is a makeup wizard that can do just about anything with his silver spatula and people come to him from far and wide for his expertise.  Kohei and his sidekick, stuntman Kannazuki, move from job to job, and rescue the odd actress along the way, as Kohei tries to become the ultimate special effects man.

It’s really impossible not to compare Gimmick to F/X, especially when in the back of the manga, Youzaborou Kanari tries desperately to take credit for the whole idea.  He says he came up with the idea in 2003 and was afraid someone would use the idea before he could find an artist.  You’re about 15 years too late for that, pal.  I wouldn’t say, but your stories come almost entirely from the TV series.  Kohei is working on a theme park house of horrors?  Rollie Tyler did effects on a movie being filmed in a theme part house of horrors.  There’s nothing particularly original about this idea, Kanari can give up claiming that there was.

That said though, Gimmick is actually pretty good.  Yes, Kohei’s effects are really pretty silly and teetering dangerously close to magic, if I had a dime for every time he did something that is ridiculously unrealistic, I’d be rich.  F/X showed, at least in the movies, that effects are a matter of lighting and viewpoint and if you aren’t careful, the whole house of cards comes down. Kohei and his amazing spatula whip up things that can pass any amount of muster in seconds and there are times when you’ll be fighting to maintain your credulity at his magic.

Fair warning, this is an older teen title which means there is a fair bit of gratuitous fanservice, nudity which has no other reason than to make guys living in their mother’s basements drool.  It’s pointless and unnecessary and I was unable to find a single nude shot in the book that actually had to be there for story purposes.

If you’re looking for something silly for a quick read, Gimmick fits the bill.  If you’re looking for a good story about special effects saving the day, just go straight to Best Buy and pick up the two F/X movies.  You’ll be glad you did.

Weekend Rerun Review: Mamotte! Lollipop Volume 3

Mamotte! Lollipop Volume 3
By Michiyo Kikuta
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Age Rating: Teen 13+
Price: $10.99

ISBN: 0-345-49667-6

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Nina’s in love – but who’s the lucky boy? After all, what girl could choose between Zero and Ichi? They’re both wizards, and they’re both supercute! When a matchmaking witch slips Nina a love potion, will the magic spell help Nina choose her soul mate?

It’s almost been six months since Nina swallowed the Crystal Pearl and the end of the magic exam is fast approaching. Examinees are still popping in, and Nina still can’t decide between Zero and Ichi. But it’s not like everyone isn’t trying to help her along…

This volume starts with a staple of romance plots; the love potion. Nina accidentally pours it into lunch and everyone but Ichi falls for her. Only the kiss from someone who’s had the potion can break it, so she has to kiss Zero? Then Zero’s “fiancé” becomes an examinee just to try and get Zero to love her and puts a spell on him and Nina that will turn them into animals unless Zero agrees to go back with her. The last chapters have Nina getting kidnapped by another new pair of examinees who also tell people’s love fortunes. They then cast spells on Nina to try and get her to find her soul mate, but even magic can’t seem to solve this conundrum.

Mamotte! Lollipop is another romance fantasy for the younger girls. A very average romance fantasy. I didn’t read this volume so much as I just breezed through it. Every plot was so cliché, from the love potion, to the previously unknown fiancé, right up to the “big” climax at the end. It’s not only all been done before, it’s all been done better. This volume played like the obligatory middle of a trilogy before you get back to the action. There was no reason to introduce two *more* examinees with the exam so close to being over. Eleven and Twelve’s (yes, those really are their names) only purpose was to build up the romantic tension between Nina and Zero and Ichi, which they don’t succeed at. By the end of this volume, nothing has changed.

The best thing about this volume is the extra story “Sun on the 17th of July”. It tells the story of how Sun and Forte first met. It’s really touching and gives depth to the characters, something that we just don’t get in the actual story.

With the end of the exam coming up, you’d think the examinees would be more worried about who is in possession of Nina and the Crystal Pearl, not about who she’s in love with. All the regulars are together acting as friends instead of competitors. The story was more exciting when they were all plotting to get Nina. It’s like they’ve all given up, so there’s no real point in trying. Unless things change in the next volume, there won’t be a real point in continuing to read it either.

Hopping Manga

My how time flies!  I can’t believe Easter is already upon us!  Ah, that springtime holiday where everyone buys big, flowery hats, kids color eggs and get baskets from the Easter Bunny.  So, in honor of this spring holiday that’s never on the same day every year, here are some rabbits in manga.

Alice 19th – This is a shojo series by Yuu Watase.  Set in modern times, it’s about Alice, a girl forever alice-rabbit-2living in her older sister’s shadow.  During a fight over a boy, Alice’s sister, Mayura disappears.  She is a Lotus Master, someone who can use the power of words to enter the inner heart of others.  Alice has accidentally sent her sister to the darkness, and must now master her power to save her.  Alice is told all this by Nyozeka, a white rabbit she saves at the risk of her own life.  This is a relatively short series at 7 volumes.  It’s the only modern-day setting manga by Watase that I like.  I really like the idea of using the power of words to either help or hurt others.  While not a great series, it’s an enjoyable one and worth the time to read.

Dragon Ball – Ah, Akira Toriyama’s masterpiece manga.  And I mean the first 16 volumes only.  At the beginning of the series, as Goku, Bulma, and Oolong search for the dragon balls, they bossrabbitcome to this town that is being terrorized by a most unusual boss.  Monster Carrot rules the town with his gang, The Rabbits.  Anyone that gets in Monster Carrot’s way gets a taste of his special power.  One touch and they are turned into a carrot!  For fun action and comedy, read only the Dragon Ball saga.  It really is good, and when people say they hate Dragon Ball, this isn’t what they are talking about.  This is Toriyama at his best.

Fruits Basket – This is an incredibly popular shojo manga, just setting to complete here in the US.  Tohru Honda is an orphan, after losing her mother in a car accident.  She lives in a tent in the forest that happens to be on the land of the most popular boy in school, Yuki Sohma.  The Sohma family is cursedmomiji-rabbit by the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.  When they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex that isn’t part of the curse, they turn into the Zodiac animal.  Tohru comes to live in the Sohma house, where she shows them that not everyone will be repelled by the curse, and give them hope of breaking the curse.  Among the Chinese Zodiac is the rabbit.  Momiji Sohma is possessed by the spirit of the rabbit.  He is a cute, cheerful boy with an androgynous appearance.

Happy Happy Clover – This is an all ages manga written for kids.  Clover the Bunny lives in Crescent Forest, and ishappy-happy-clover always making mischief with her friends.  It’s filled with cute, furry animals and follows their adventures.  The stories are cute, with Clover learning something new in every one.  Getting along with her friends, dealing with disappointment and finding that there are consequences to her actions, all good lessons for kids.  While this is very much a girl’s manga, younger boys (4-6) may appreciate the cute animals and their fun adventures.  There’s only one volume out so far, with the second set to come out in June.

Was It Inevitable?

Wizard has announced that it’s ending the publication of its Anime magazine, Anime Insider.  This neither surprises me nor bothers me.  I didn’t care for Anime Insider.  The articles read like one info-mercial after another, a problem not just for this publication, but all of Wizards magazines (except maybe Toyfare).  I remember back in 2005-06, there was a lot of chatter on the interwebs about it.  And let’s face it, Wizard hasn’t been doing real well in the last few years.  Conventions cancelled, and this is the second of their pubs to be cancelled, Inquest, their gaming mag to go first.  It was only a matter of time, before a niche mag like this would see the chopping block.

Of course, this isn’t just a trend in anime/manga, as some have suggested.  Yes, advertising for anime and now manga has been going down in the last few years.  And anime and manga mags have been biting the dust (Animerica, Newtype/PIQ, etc.).  But let’s face it.  This is a trend in publishing in general.  Printing and distributions costs have gone up a lot, with daily/weekly publications taking the biggest hits.  Newspapers are either shutting down or searching desparately to keep their heads above water.  Monthly mags may survive this better, if their content is good enough, and let’s face it, Anime Insider just didn’t have it.

And it’s not like I didn’t give it a chance.  I got Anime Insider back when it was quarterly mag Anime Invasion.  I thought it had potential back then.  I was looking for a mag to subscribe to.  It was between Anime Invasion/Insider, Animerica, Protoculture Addicts, and later Otaku USA.  But Anime Insider just never made the muster.  It was too much like Wizard, Wizard’s comics mag, which I didn’t like the format of, and it’s articles gave no real information.  I could find everything the reported on, online, and done better.

What the demise of Anime Insider inevitable?  I sure think so.  There are just so many “Who would win?” fights between anime characters you can do before it becomes tiring.  And in this economy, the market can support only so many niche mags.  Only those that put out the best content will still be around.  Anime Insider never had a chance.

Captive Hearts Volume 1

Being carried around everywhere and having handsome Megumi act like a slave may seem ideal, but Suzuka just wishes he would stop.  Can anything be done about Megumi’s captive state?  Or is Megumi doomed to see Suzuka as his master…forever?

Captive Hearts 1Captive Hearts Volume 1
By Matsuri Hino
Publisher: Viz Media – Shojo Beat
Age Rating: Teen (13+)
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Price: $8.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Long ago, a thief named Kuroneko-maru stole a family heirloom of a samurai family, the “Scroll of the Rising Dragon”.  When he tried to read it, the guardian dragon appeared and cursed Kuroneko and all of his descendants to a life of servitude to the Kogami family.  Megumi Kuroishi, a descendant of Kuroneko, has lived most of his life not knowing about the curse, as the Kogami family was believed dead in China while on a trip.  But, the daughter of the Kogami, Suzuka, appears and returns, and the curse kicks in, making for much comedy and the stirrings of some romance…maybe?

Captive Hearts is first and foremost a comedy.  Megumi’s sudden “Manservant fits” can be funny, hitting him suddenly, and making him obsess over Suzuka even when he’s not with her.  Reverting him back to normal usually takes some kind of violence.  So the comedy is mostly physical, and works pretty well.  But this can only last so long.  There are only so many times Megumi can sweep Suzuka off her feet or burst through her classroom window to protect her before it get old.  So, let’s through some romance into the mix.

When I say romance, I’m being kind.  There really isn’t any setup for Megumi and Suzuka.  Megumi spends most of his time struggling with the curse, so there’s little indication that he has any feelings for her until the end of the first chapter when he goes to China to bring Suzuka back because he “wanted” to.  But doubt lingers, and Suzuka spends most of the volume fretting over this to the point of trying to jump off a building in hopes of breaking the curse and freeing Megumi.  This is melodrama taken way too far, and really feels forced.

Another problem I have with this volume is that the main story only takes up half the volume.  The rest is filled with short stories by Hino.  One is about a middle school girl student who is in love with her teacher and the other is about two siblings trapped in a snow storm waiting for a bus.  This second story is very angsty, reminding me of Vampire Knight.  This was a real disappointment for a first volume.  I can understand wanting to pad a volume at the end of a series, or after a big story arc, but just as the story is beginning?  This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.

The art isn’t as polished as other Hino titles, but that’s not bad.  There is just enough detail to look good without being overwhelming.  Characters faces are actually visible, and not hidden until long, scraggly locks.

Captive Hearts started out with a lot of potential.  The balance of comedy to romantic elements seemed even, with the melodrama nowhere near the levels of a series like Vampire Knight.  If the title can keep this balance, it will definitely be worth following.

Weekend Rerun Review: St. Lunatic High School Volume 1

St. Lunatic High School Volume 1
By Majiko!
Publisher: Tokyopop
Rating: Teen
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆
ISBN: 1-59816-944-7

Forced to attend the prestigious St. Lunatic High School, Niko Kanzaki discovers a haunting secret in her demon-filled night-classes!  She applies higher learning to find out the differences between humans and demons, but the handsome and mysterious Ren shows her that the races also share some things in common…

When I read in Previews that the mangaka of this series also wrote the manga adaptation of Code Geass, I was excited to read this series.  Code Geass is an awesome story.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t this…

Tokyopop once again uses the genre horror for this series, very inappropriately.  There is nothing horrific about this series.  It might have helped if it had.  Niko and her brother Atchan are poor.  But Atchan gets a job teaching at the prestigious St. Lunatic High School, so they think their worries are over.  Think again.  One rundown apartment is skipped out on for a rundown shed on the school’s grounds.  And the night classes that Niko gets to attend?  Full of demons.  None of them look normal, except for one; Ren the bishonen loner, who ignores the other girls, but finds himself helping Niko out, despite himself.  You couldn’t find a better boiler plate for a shojo manga that this if you tried!  The characters, the situations, they are all as stiff as boards.

It doesn’t help things either that Niko is absolutely annoying.  She’s loud and obnoxious, and is always yelling.  There is nothing likable about her.  I know her design is supposed to be cute, but it’s not.  It’s plain at best.  You can’t have a shojo series with a completely unsympathetic heroine and have it be good.

That isn’t to say this book is all bad.  It does have its moments, and there were even a few times where I chuckled out loud.  But it’s mostly the supporting characters that are providing the humor; Niko’s classmates, and the Chairman of the school (who is also Ren’s father).  I found the demon with the Easter Island Maoi particularly entertaining.

Majiko did a good job with the adaptation of Code Geass.  I really enjoyed that title, even with the changes that were made, much more than this, which is sad, since I really wanted to like this one too.  But the bad points just outweighed the good this time.  For a supernatural high school shojo, you’re better off looking elsewhere.  Or picking up Code Geass.

Takahashi – Unflipped and Supersized

Viz has been a great supporter of manga in the US. They were among the first companies to bring translated manga here in the form that would best reach it’s audience; flipped (read left-to-right), and in floppies. They were also smart enough to snag one of the most popular manga artists to translate; Rumiko Takahashi. Viz’s Urusei Yatsura was among the first manga-comics I ever bought. I missed out on the comic versions of Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha, as I wasn’t reading comics at the time, but when they started to collect them as graphic novels, I gave them a serious look. The biggest problem I had, and still have, is that these titles continued to come out as flipped after they discontinued the floppies. All their other books were coming out unflipped. Dragonball and Dragonball Z, titles that also came out as floppies first, got second edition reprints as unflipped. Why not Ranma and Inuyasha?

Michelle Smith, blogger for soliloquy in blue, in her twitter feed, pointed out an entry at Simon and Schuster website for a VIZBIG edition for Inuyasha, scheduled for November 2009.  All I can say is, ABOUT TIME! I dropped Inuyasha, even though I was enjoying the story, partly because it’s still published flipped.  I haven’t gone beyond Ranma 1/2 volume 5 for the same reason.  I want my Takahashi manga in it’s correct format!  I was calling for VIZBIG editions for Inuyasha right after they announced the format, so I’m really glad they are finally getting to Inuyasha.  Hopefully at SDCC or  in 2010 we’ll get an announcement for Ranma 1/2 in the same format.  What I would really love to see, but we probably won’t in this economy, is Urusei Yatsura as a VIZBIG, complete and uncut.  I’d dedicate a whole bookshelf just to VIZBIG Takahashi volumes.  Wouldn’t that look awesome?

Come on Viz, give us Takahashi fans a complete library!

Manga Drive-Bys

These are just quick impressions of manga I read during the week.  I’ll come up with full reviews some day.  The Rating scale for these quickies are as follows: Must buys, Would trade for, or Good way to waste an hour or so.

Fairy Tail Volume 5 – Gray’s past is revealed and Ezra, who came to retrieve Natsu, Lucy and Gray instead ends up helping them.  There is some awesome battle action as Natsu tries to save the villagers, Gray and Lyon continue their grudge match, and Lucy goes against a giant rat and her goth-loli owner.
Must Buy.

Rave Master Volume 2 – Haru arrives at Punk Street to find Musica the Blacksmith to fix his sword.  Demon Card is there and in control, of course, and he has to not only battle them, but figure out who the real Muscia the Blacksmith is.  This second volume seems rather bland as typical shonen fighting.  But what really made if hard to get through was the translation.  What is up with the constant cry of “Snap!”?  This book was painful to read, even though it shouldn’t have been.
Would Trade For
Translation: Epic Fail

Continue reading Manga Drive-Bys

Ask Manga Mom: Drawing Manga Edition

Trinity writes:

How can we make a manga online?

And is there any deccent free things that teaches you how to draw at your best?

Thanks for the question Trinity!  It’s not exactly my area of expertise, but I’ll do my best.

To get your manga online, you first need to make it digital, so that means that you either drawn it and scan it in, or you draw it on the computer.  Let’s assume it’s already in files on your computer.  Now, where do you upload it?  Well, if you have your own website, you can post it there.  But if you don’t, there are plenty of places you can go to get it online. is free, and lets its users post their own manga that is easily searched on the site. is a webcomic community that provides free hosting as well.  Virtual Hosting also has a resource guide for starting a webcomic that includes hosting.  These are some good places to start.

A google search for manga tutorials brings up tons of sites with tutorials to improve you drawing.  Two of the top results come from good resources and are free: Manga Tutorials and Manga Universtiy.  Sites like deviantART are good places to upload your art and get feedback from fellow artists and fans.

Of course, nothing beats plain old practice.  Just make sure to draw something everyday.  It keeps you in practice and improves your skills.  And don’t be afraid of copying from your favorite manga-ka (for practice).  Many famous manga-ka started by copying  from their favorites and getting the basics down before evolving it into their own style.

Where'd that Paycheck Go?

I was pleasantly surprised when I got this month’s Previews catalog.  There are actually books (not just manga) that look interesting enough to get this month!  OMG!

Marvel, the company that we had just finished dropping ALL our titles for (mainly because they killed the Ultimate Universe) has two titles we’re going to check out this month.

Continue reading Where'd that Paycheck Go?

Ask Manga Mom – Peach Fuzz Edition

Jay Karlson writes:

First, a comment: THANK YOU for adding an “All Ages” section. My 8 year old daughter loves Manga, but they can get really dirty.

Would she like “Peach Fuzz”? She already has read Sugar Princess and Cardcaptor Sakura. She LOVED Suihilibe.

Keep up the good work!

Thanks for the words of encouragement Jay!  I found it frustrating trying to find appropriate manga for my girls, so I decided to make the page myself!  Though I do have to update it for all the new titles coming out lately.  But, that’s a good thing!

Peach Fuzz, one of the first OEL manga Tokyopop published, is definitely written for a girl about your daughter’s age.  Amanda, the lead character is in the 4th grade.  Her new pet, Peach the ferret, thinks she is a princess, royalty among ferrets.  Most of the conflicts come from Amanda and Peach learning to get along and live with each other.  I think it’s definitely something an 8 year old girl would like, and a parent would have no problem with their daughter reading.

If you’re still not sure though, you and she can go here to read the first three chapters of the first volume.  The Tokyopop Manga Viewer is easy to use, and it’s free.  You don’t have to join the website to use it.

Thanks for the question.  I hope this helps!

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