Manga Wrap Up Week Eleven: Shiki Tsukai Volume 1-4

I almost didn’t get through my next series this week. I had two things working against me. With the Jiro Taniguchi MMF coming up, I had Samurai Legend to read, and I received The Quest of the Missing Girl, a volume didn’t think I would get on time, so I had to read that too. And then I was on vacation with the rest of the family, and we had to find a car to replace our 15-year-old car as well as hit Wondercon on the weekend. It was a busy week! But since we commuted to Wondercon, I had the evenings to read Shiki Tsukai. I’ve had the first four volumes for a couple of years now, and after reading the first volume, I thought it had potential. After reading all four, I now know I was wrong.

The thing that attracted me to this series was the use of the seasons as an ability and the cards each Shiki Tsukai use. I like game manga, especially those about trading cards, so this series seemed to be right up my alley. I also thought the use of the seasons, birthdays, and birthstones was a unique idea. It really seemed to have a good setup and could be a fun series. Then I read the remaining volumes.

The premise of Shiki Tsukai is that with global warming and all the other things humans are doing to the environment, it’s affecting the seasons. Shiki Tsukai are connected to the season and to some level and feel the Earth crying out, so they have divided into two camps. Summer and Autumn want to do something about the human population, namely, decrease it dramatically. They blame all humans for the condition of the Earth, and if it means kills over half the population off, so be it. On the other side is Winter and Spring, who don’t believe killing is the answer. Stuck in the middle is Akira Kizuki, who is believed to be the “Shina Bashou,” or “The Law of the Universe.” Basically, he can control all of the seasons, but he hasn’t awakened yet, so it’s a race between Summer/Autumn and Spring/Winter to get to the boy first and sway him to their way of thinking.

Once I got past the set of the first volume, I found that I really didn’t like any of the characters. There was no substance to them. Summer and Autumn was populated with characters that were vicious, loved battle just for its sake, and who blindly obeyed their masters. They were set up to so obviously be the villains it almost hurt. Winter and Spring was filled with very bland characters, none of whom seemed to have any personality. This is especially true of the lead, Akira. He seems happy to be led along on a lease by Koyomi, the first Spring Shiki Tsukai he meets, never really questioning what’s happening. So many of the relationships are stereotypical as well. Akira’s mother and his teacher Rei know each other and appear to have been rivals for Akira’s father’s affections. Rei and the Shiki Tsukai of Autumn, Kureha seem to have vendetta against each other, making their fights more personal. And then there’s the sadly obvious set up of Akira and his best friend Fumiya to have to be on opposite sides. So much of this series is very tired with nothing interesting to offset the clichés.

The other thing that really put me off from this series is all the fan service. The women are either impossibly large breasted, or the small, moe-type. The well-endowed women are usually dressed in-modestly, and Akira is constantly put into awkward situations with Koyomi, and beat by his mother for having done nothing wrong. I know this is supposed to be funny, but it never was before, and it isn’t going to start now. The art is very much like the characters; nothing new to see here, move along.

There is no way I am inflicting this series on my local library. While where would probably be some boys who would enjoy the fan service, but the rest is just so bad, that I don’t think even the fan service could hold their attention. So this series is going up for trade. I really couldn’t recommend this title to anyone.

Not sure what I’ll be reading next. I’m doing some prose right now (yes, I do read books without pictures), and nothing is really sparking with me. Though, I think I’m leaning toward Antique Gift Shop as my next series.

  • Samurai Legend
  • The Quest for the Missing Girl
  • Shiki Tsukai Volume 1-4
  • Shonen Jump issue 110

Rescued! 07-Ghost

What a wonderful treat to find in my mailbox! Viz Media has rescued 07-Ghost, a title originally published by Go! Comi before they went out of business. I know 07-Ghost wasn’t a popular title with everyone. Even I had a few difficulties with the first volume, but I was still sucked into the story and absolutely loved the character designs. I’ve only been able to get a hold of the first three volumes, the third being a lucky find at a Borders not long before every store was closed. I’ve wanted so much to read more, but never though anyone would pick it up. This is a wonderful Spring gift, and just before Wondercon. I wonder if Viz will have more surprises there. November can’t come fast enough! Thank you Viz!

Manga Wrap Up Week Ten: Kiichi and the Magic Books

Week 10 comes to an end, and I almost didn’t make it. Fortunately, I chose a short series this week and could easily catch up. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to read this series, but my kids are on spring break, and it meant a week where I could go walking, and catch up on some podcasts, and not worry about their homework. Well, my youngest anyway. I don’t have to worry about my oldest.

The series I finished this week is Kiichi and the Magic Books. It is from the now-defunct CMX and is sadly out of print. It was part of the Flex Comics deal that CMX made in 2007. This same deal brought such titles as the all ages Suihelibe, the incomplete Deka Kyoushi and Break Blade (Broken Blade). Kiichi and the Magic Books is a five-volume series that’s rated for Teen, but is also appropriate for Tween readers.

Kiichi and the Magic Books is about teenage orphan Kiichi. He lost his mother to disease when he was young, and has live alone ever since. He is shunned by the villagers of his home for the horns growing out of his head, and called an Oni. One day, a Librarian comes to his village. Librarians are wanderers that bring books to villages for people to borrow and read. They only stay for a short time before moving on. This particular Librarian is known as Mototaro, and he has the ability to bring the pictures in books to life. He is traveling a young girl named Hana. Kiichi sees what Mototaro can do, but when he tries to tell the other villagers, no one believes him. As part of his journeying, Mototaro is searching for old books that become unstable; that is, the pictures in the books come out on their own. When a tiger escapes from one such book, Kiichi helps to catch it, and convinces Mototaro to let him join him and Hana on their journey to find out more about himself and why he has horns.

Being a bit of a bibliophile, this series got my attention by having the words “magic books” in the title. But the series isn’t really about books. It’s about Kiichi and how his journey helps the people he meets and travels with. At the beginning of their journey, Mototaro is cold and closed-hearted. He doesn’t want Kiichi to join him and Hana on their travels. He rarely smiles, and seems more annoyed with not just Kiichi joining them, but by having anyone traveling with him. By the end, Mototaro has warmed up to Kiichi and does everything in his power to save him. Even after learning a terrible secret about Hana, he worries about her and keeping her safe as well. Saame, an Amamori, is changed by Kiichi as well. He starts out seeing the boy as a means to an end to help his people, but by the end, he learns who Kiichi really is and also fights to keep him alive and safe. Kiichi’s ernest and caring nature affects those around him, even if they find his good-heartness naive or foolish.

The story itself is an exciting, coming-of-age adventure. As soon as Kiichi leaves his village, he is off on a journey of discovery, both about himself and the world. The horns growing out of his head mark him as an Oni, one who is destined to become a “tree” and save the world, though no one really knows what that means. Is it literal or symbolic? The people he meets, first Mototaro, and then Mori, the leader of the Amamori tribe, all have pieces of the puzzle, but they don’t know it, until they start to help Kiichi on his quest. Even though this is Kiichi’s quest, everyone grows from the knowledge that is gained along the way. While the story has its dark moments, especially in the last volume, it ends happily, with Kiichi not only finding his answers, but finding a family and place to truly call home.

The art is clean, and the characters designs are simple. They vary perfectly so that it’s not required to identify characters by their clothes or hair. Mototaro has a bit of a bishi look to him, when his hat is off. Mori looks like a bit of a buffoon, but that is really for show only. He is a strong, capable, and wise man, perfect to lead his people. The little bird living in the messy mass of hair on his head is a nice touch too.

Kiichi and the Magic Books was a fun read. Each volume moved at a quick pace, making it hard not to just pick up the next one and keep going. Tweens, and young teens will really enjoy this series. It’s a series I think will do well at the library. With a title like “magic books” and traveling librarians for characters, how can it not?

Next week I’m on vacation, and probably won’t have as much time for reading as I’d like. We have to find a new-used car and then we’re Wonder Con bound! But I’ll still try to squeeze in the one Jiro Taniguchi volume I have as well as my next series, Shiki Tsukai volume 1-4. I’m also going to finish the last print Shonen Jump. I’ve been waiting for it to end before I start on Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha. I’m a subscriber, so I’ve got a year to read them. Watch out for a separate post on that.

  • Kiichi and the Magic Books Volume 1-5

Amnesia Labyrinth vol 2 and Dracula Everlasting vol 1

Playing catch-up doesn’t just mean reading manga, it also means writing reviews of titles I’ve read, but hadn’t got around to reviewing. So here are a couple of Seven Seas Entertainment titles that I’d read a while ago, but needed some time to figure out what I wanted to say.

Continue reading Amnesia Labyrinth vol 2 and Dracula Everlasting vol 1

Manga Wrap Up Week Nine: Dazzle Part 2

I really liked Dazzle when I first started reading it, but I was starting to lose interest by volume 5. Unfortunately volumes 6-10 didn’t do anything to reverse the course. Any charm that I may have felt at the beginning was not only gone by volume 10, it had been stomped into the ground.

With these next 5 volumes, I was really hoping to seem some real plot development. You would think with 10 volumes under its belt, the reader would have an idea where the story is going. Sadly, that isn’t so. These next 5 volumes has more tragedy, especially for Rahzel, but still little in plot development. There has been no explanation for Kiara’s interest and subsequent frienemy treatment of Rahzel. As the series’ villain, you would think his motives would be the most important to understand. But I have yet to see any rhyme or reason for his actions. It’s implied that he is seeking away to try to get back a life that was lost with the death of Natsume, but that doesn’t even begin to give a hint as to what that has to do with Rahzel. So far, the only connection between the two is that they both have black hair and blue eyes. That’s kind of sketchy to say the least. What worse is that there doesn’t seem to be any interest on the author’s part to impart any of this vital information.

I’m also really sad that the dynamic between Rahzel, Alzied, and Baroqueheat that started the series seems to be gone with this second half. Revelations that are made and not made seem to distance the three from each other. And the addition of a whole group of new characters really keeps them from mending it. Rahzel’s father, the scientist Shogetsu and his entourage and Rahzel’s school friends keep the three apart and kills the fun of the first 5 volumes. I also really didn’t like that Alzied was demoted to comedy relief. It really doesn’t suit his character. I’m okay with him going emo about not being as strong as he thought, but turning him into a character that everyone laughs at and kicks around was just wrong. He didn’t seem like the same character anymore and wasn’t any fun to read.

Another thing I didn’t like was the change of venue. Rahzel, Alzied and Baroqueheat stop traveling and go to Rahzel’s home, all because she can’t say no to her father. The boys follow because they don’t want to be separated from Rahzel, but the story really takes on a different tone, and becomes more of a high school drama than the fun and excitement of the travel.

Dazzle is not a series I will be donating to my library. They deserve better than this, and with the cliff-hanger ending that volume 10 ends on, it really wouldn’t be right. So I will either trade it or put it up on Paperbackswap when I start getting low on credits. If you’re interested, make me an offer. This is also a series I don’t see being picked up as a license rescue. A search around the web informed me that the mangaka tends to take off months, even a year at a time from this series in favor of her more popular series. It’s not exactly licensing material, and if Tokyopop knew where the story was going, would have still licensed it? Yeah, probably.

Next week I will be starting on Kiichi and the Magic Books, a former CMX title, and one that is finished at least. I’ll be working on some new releases as well, such as Durarara!!, and even though I didn’t intend to participate in this month’s Manga Movable Feast, I have been able to get my hands on a few Jiro Taniguchi titles, so I will be reading them this week as well. Well, one of them at least. Hopefully the other will arrive in time for me to read and review for the Feast.

  • Dazzle Volume 6-10

 

 

More Wanting

ANN has two news stories today that make me go “Want Want Want Want!” Two new manga series are starting, or more accurately, re-starting in Japan. And there’s probably a better chance of a snowball fight happening in hell before we see either of them in English.

Kindaichi Case Files is a murder mystery series that was originally licensed by Tokyopop. They released 18 volumes and then put the series on hiatus. Then Kodansha yanked the license back, along with all their other titles, leaving fans (few as we may have been) sad and bereft. Another 18 volumes of manga exist that we will probably never see in English since the first attempt did so poorly. Though, I would lay some of that blame on Tokyopop, as they did not market the manga very well. Now, as the series turns 20, the title is returning to the pages of Weekly Shonen Magazine with the same writer and artist team. It was bad enough that I had to lament not being able to read the original series, but now there will be MORE that I won’t be able to read?! Kodansha! Bring back Kindaichi Case Files! Even if you just pick up where Tokyopop left off, or even go digital only on Jmanga! Kindaichi Case Files is a fun whodunnit with great characters and mysteries that appeal to the supernatural, but always have a natural explanation. We deserve to get to read more of it!

Master Keaton is a manga series I have wanted ever since I first heard about it. The son of a Japanese zoologist and well-born English woman, studies to be an archeologist and solves mysteries. A mystery solving archeologist is sooooo up my alley! Add Naoki Urasawa to the mix, and you have a manga made in heaven! But due to some posturing by both Urasawa and a friend of the original writer, we will probably never see this series in English. It is such a dumb reason to be deprived of what looks like a great series. And now, to add insult to injury, a sequel, Master Keaton Remaster, will be starting in Japan, in Shogakakun’s Big Comic Original, 18 years after the first series ended serialization. This is so unfair! Not only is Urasawa returning to draw the manga, but Takashi Nagasaki, who supervised Pluto, another awesome series, will be writing the story. This is just awesome piled on top of awesome! Can I have some hope that since the series is getting a sequel, it might be available for licensing? Do I dare hope such a thing? Viz, omnibus editions of Master Keaton would look so good on my bookshelf. If it is possible, you must make this happen! The English-speaking world should no longer be deprived of this series!

 

 

Manga Wrap Up Week Eight: Dazzle Part 1

After a short Tezuka break, I’m back to playing catch up. Of course, mid-week I realized I had at least two other Tezuka manga titles I could have read for the MMF, but I barely got the two I had planned to do done, so there was no way I would be able to squeeze in two more! But I think three reviews here and two at Manga Village should be sufficient.

I dug back into Dazzle this week, an older Tokyopop title that was never completed. Only 10 of the available 12 were printed so far, but the series is also ongoing, so even if volume 11, which had been announced before the shut down, had come out, the series would still be incomplete. Now, I had thought I’d read the first 4 volumes previously, but since it had been so long, I decided to re-read them This was a good thing, since I didn’t remember a thing since half way through volume 2. I got through the first five volumes this week, and will finish the series up next week. Dazzle is another manga that Tokyopop renamed, and I’m completely baffled why. The original title is The Unprecedented Game. Considering how much a game is referenced in the overarching plot of the story, at least keeping that part of the name would have made sense. I haven’t found any way in which “Dazzle” seems to fit.

Dazzle is about a teenage girl named Rahzel, who is suddenly sent on a journey by her father, and told to go out and see the world. As she starts her journey, she meets a young man named Alzied, who has white hair and red eyes. He is good-looking but also very stoic. He is looking for the woman who killed his father. Rahzel decides to tag along with him, and he begrudgingly allows her to join him. Shortly after, they meet two of Alzied’s friends from the army, Baroqueheat and Soresta. After some trouble, Baroqueheat decides to join Alzied and Rahzel, and the duo becomes a trio and continue on their journey, having lots of adventures and learning about each other, even as they are watched by a mysterious man who may have connections to all three.

I originally picked Dazzle after reading a short review about it, comparing it to Saiyuki. And in many ways there is a resemblance. The cast is made up of three people who fight and bicker at each other more than get along. Alzied is the stoic straight man filling in the Sanzo part. Baroqueheat makes a perfect Gyojo as he has an eye for the ladies and a cigarette constanly hanging out of his mouth. And Rahzel is Son Goku. She’s young, impetuous, and holds more power than she appears to be capable of wielding. Alzied carrying a gun, and is constantly whipping it out and shoving it into Baroqueheat’s mouth when he says something he doesn’t like. as well as Rahzel is constantly beating on Baroqueheat whenever he tries to make a pass at her. Baroqueheat takes all the abuse in stride, keeping a mellow attitude. Alzied and Rahzel trade verbal barbs, but it’s obvious they care about each other even if neither will say it out loud. The story is also vaguely related as they are all traveling together, but they don’t have the same reasons.

I really enjoyed the beginning of the series due to this initial similarity. I loved the character interactions. The abuse Baroqueheat takes is funny and often deserved. I also enjoyed watching them grow together and grow closer to each other. All three characters have secret, and often tragic pasts that they don’t reveal immediately to each other or to the reader. Their stories slowly unfold as they travel, meeting new people, and get into sticky situations, usually due to Rahzel sticking her nose into other people’s business. Early on, there are hints of something darker waiting in the wings. By volume 5 though, there had been plenty of character development, but I still had little idea about what was going on. There have been common themes about the failure of god, and as I said early, some sort of game that involves Rahzel. A surprising connection between the strange man who keeps appearing before Rahzel (and later Alzied) and Baroqueheat is also made, but so far I’m still not seeing a coherent story. So far it’s just been the adventures of Rahzel, Alzied and Baroqueheat. The end of volume 5 does hint at more to come. But since I’ve seen this before in previous volumes I’m not holding my breath.

So far, Dazzle has been a fun slice of life as we follow the trio on their journey, but it’s been really slow at getting to a point. Hopefully the next 5 volumes will actually start going somewhere. I hope the silly banter between Rahzel, Alzied and Baroqueheat continues although, I don’t see that happening if the story starts to get more dark and serious. It’s really the biggest draw for me, and unless something big starts soon, it will be the only thing it really has going for it. If you are a fan of Saiyuki, check out these first couple of volumes (if you can find them) and see what I mean.

For this next week, I will be continuing Dazzle, and will no doubt finish it. I’m also gonna sneak in some more recent titles, as I finally read A Bride’s Story. The art is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m really enjoying Amir’s story so far. I think I’m going to have to definitely order the next two volumes. It’s a story that’s right up my alley.

  • Dazzle Volumes 1-5
  • Shonen Jump March 2012
  • Tsugumomo Volume 1

 

Apollo’s Song: Manga Movable Feast

Apollo’s Song follows the tragic journey of Shogo, a young man whose abusive childhood has instilled in him a loathing for love so profound he finds himself compelled to acts of violence when he is witness to any act of intimacy or affection whether by human or beast. His hate is such that the gods intervene, cursing Shogo to experience love throughout the ages ultimately to have it ripped from his heart every time. From the Nazi atrocities of World War II to a dystopian future of human cloning, Shogo loses his heart, in so doing, healing the psychological scars of his childhood hatred.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical, inc.
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $10.95/part
Rating: ★★★★☆

I first read Apollo’s Song 2 years ago, but could never get my thoughts about it to coalesce enough about it to get a review done. I decided to try again with the latest MMF. And again, I was at a loss for what to say. The story didn’t really speak to me, and some parts repulsed me. I had to give it a lot of thought to really come up with the reason why.

It really all came down to what the essence of this story is. It’s a tragedy. Anyone looking for some kind of happy ending here need not apply. In fact, I wouldn’t just call this story a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy’s tragedy. Because when you think it might not be so dark an ending after all, that little ray of hope is snatched from your fingers and trounced to death in front of you. Can you tell I’m not big on tragedies? It’s not that I don’t like them. I enjoyed the Sophocles tragedies, and with this title so strongly influenced by Greek myth, you’d think I’d enjoy it too. But I just couldn’t connect to it.

Apollo’s Song is composed of four stories essentially. Each lets Shogo experience a different kind of love. The first is about love at first sight with Shogo as a Nazi falling for a Jewish girl. The second is love that grows as Shogo and Naomi gradually fall in love despite their social differences. The third story shows the power of love, as Queen Sigma, a synthetic human who learns to love Shogo and then kills herself after he dies. The fourth story is the overarching plot in which Shogo experiences the other stories through dreams and hypnosis. By the end of this story, Shogo seems to be cured as he has fallen in love with Hiromi, the woman who has been secretly trying to heal him. Of course, this story couldn’t end well either.

Each of the stories make well-conceived, well written vignettes. I liked each of the stories when looked at by themselves. It’s when I look at the volume as a whole that I start to have problems. When I got to the end, I was left wondering, “What was the point?” My biggest problem with this title was all the killing of animals. I am a big animal lover, and can’t even watch the nature specials that show animals just struggling to survive. So seeing animals killed for showing affection really disturbed me. On this second reading, I skipped  over those pages. Knowing the scenes were coming didn’t help me get past them. I understand the scenes were necessary for Shogo’s story, but it was just too disturbing for me.

The ending was so pessimistic. To me, Tezuka is saying there is no happiness to be found in love. It will aways end tragically, and humanity has no choice but to keep going through the vicious cycle of love, loss and death. There is no joy in love, and no hope for humanity to escape. I also don’t get the whole beginning and ending with the anthropomorphized sperm and egg. Is Tezuka trying to imply that love is biologically driven? The opening scene at the beginning is an interesting way to show how children are conceived, but it didn’t have any relation to the rest of the book. Apollo’s Song is about the concept of love, not its biological byproduct. Children can be conceived without love, so I didn’t see the point of opening the book like that, and then revisiting it at the end.

Even though I don’t agree with the themes of Apollo’s Song, Tezuka’s ability to convey them can not be debated. One scene that particularly stands out to me is in the second story, “No Man’s Land”. While Shogo is exploring the island, the animals keep him out of one area. He finally convinces them to let him in. What he finds is a clearing where the animals of the island mate. Shogo feels uncomfortable watching and leaves. In that scene, Tezuka does an admirable job of conveying the reverence that is felt for that clearing. I felt just as uncomfortable as Shogo.

Apollo’s Song is not a title for everyone. It definitely falls into Tezuka’s dark side, though not in the way as MW or Book of Human Insects. In those stories, the good guys are just outsmarted by the bad guys. In Apollo’s Song, Shogo never had a chance in the first place. I would recommend this title but only to those interested in tragedy and all its forms, or die-hard fans of Tezuka. Apollo’s Song is a title worth reading, It’s just not something I would want to read again.

Princess Knight Part 1-2: Manga Movable Feast

Set in a medieval fairy-tale backdrop, Princess Knight is the tale of a young princess named Sapphire who must pretend to be a male prince so she can inherit the throne. Women have long been prevented from taking the throne, but Sapphire is not discouraged and instead she fully accepts the role, becoming a dashing hero(ine) that the populace is proud of.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $13.99/ea
Rating: ★★★★★

Princess Knight is another landmark title by the “God of Manga”, Osamu Tezuka. While not the first manga written for girls, it is the one that established many of the themes and styles seen in later shojo manga, and inspired a generation of women to create manga as well. While I had heard of Princess Knight before, I hadn’t had a chance to read it until the one chapter special that appeared in Shojo Beat back in 2007. What I read intrigued me, so I was happy when Vertical announced it had licensed it. And I wasn’t disappointed in the least when I finally got to read it.

Princess Knight tells the tale of Sapphire, a child who was meant to be born a girl, but thanks to the meddling of the angel Tink, is born with both a boy and girl heart. In her kingdom of Silverland, only men can inherit the throne. In order to keep the evil Duke Duralumin from putting his idiot son on the throne, Sapphire must pretend to be boy. But she still has girlish feelings and desires.

The first volume of this series shows Sapphire’s struggles as she must deny her true self again and again in order to protect herself and her people. Every time she is confronted by someone, such as Tink or Captain Blood, she ardently denys her feminine side. But in private moments, she still wants to indulge her girlish side, wear beautiful dresses and dance with Prince Charming. However, being a girl is seen as a weakness, and Sapphire loses all of her strength and willpower whenever her girl heart is in control. So she must continue the charade, even after her deception is revealed. To protect her mother and the people of Silverland from Duralumin, she must continue to rely on her boy heart to fight. But it seems the more she denies her true self and relies on her boy heart, the more trouble she has to deal with.

It’s after she loses her boy heart and can be her true self that things start to turn for Sapphire. The women of the castle protect her from Duralumin and Nylon. Plastic, Duralumin’s son and now king, becomes a champion not only for women to inherit the throne, but is willing to abdicate in favor of Sapphire. Prince Franz finally realizes that Sapphire is his true love, and is willing to do anything for her, even give her up to save her. That’s not to say that she doesn’t continue to have trials to overcome. Madame Hell and Venus the Goddess of love still have other ideas for her, but these are trials that will lead her to the inevitable happily ever after all fairy tales must have.

I have to say, that I was completely enchanted by this series from the beginning to end. Tezuka is able to invoke a fairy tale atmosphere with his charming characters and vaguely Medieval-Europe setting. The Disney-esque art completes the picture, giving the story a timeless air and keeps it from feeling dated. What I enjoyed most about it though, was all the action and adventure. Sapphire isn’t the type of princess to sit about and wait for her prince to come. She is fighting off Duralumin’s men and protecting the people of Silverland. When her mother is exiled to a distant island, Sapphire is in a boat, off to save her, and not demons nor pirates will get in her way. While the adventures Sapphire sets off to might seem a little out there, I thought it was perfect for the fairy tale setting. It’s a fantasy, so why can’t Sapphire be dancing at a festival in one story and be off with pirates in another?

Princess Knight is a fairy tale for modern times. The women aren’t timid or meek. Hecate, Madame Hell’s daughter, doesn’t just go along with her mother’s plans. She actively works against her. She doesn’t want to be changed the way her mother want her to. Friebe isn’t going to wait for a man to find her. She just doesn’t watch the tournament to find a suitable husband, she participates and is just as good, if not better than the competitors. It’s like Tezuka is telling girls it’s alright to have their cake and eat it too. It’s alright to dream of wearing pretty dresses and being swept up by a prince and live and work in a man’s world. It’s not one or the other.

If I had a complaint about Princess Knight, it would that I think Tezuka kept the gender-bending with Sapphire going a little too long. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason for her to keep her sex a secret from Friebe until they are about to be married. That whole part of the story felt forced and wasn’t as good as the preceding chapters. Still, I would happily recommend this title to parents and think elementary libraries and collections should include it in their collections. If there was only one fairy tale I could tell my girls when they were going up, it would be this one.

Book of Human Insects: Manga Movable Feast

Toshiko Tomura is a genius; she has already been an established international stage actress, and up-and-coming architect, and an award as Japan’s best new writer. Toshiko is also the mastermind behind a series of murders. The ultimate mimic, she has plagiarized, blackmailed, stolen and replicated the works of scores of talents. And now as her star is rising within the world of the elites and powerful she has amassed a long list of enemies frustrated by the fact that she has built critical and financial acclaim for nothing more than copying others’ work. Neglected as a child, she is challenging the concepts of gender inequality while unleashing her loneliness upon the world as she climbs the social ladder one body at a time.

By Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Thriller
Price: $21.95
Rating: ★★★★★

I wasn’t going to read this title. It seemed to have all the hallmarks of being another MW, and I’ve had quite enough of that. But I started paging through it, and as should be expected, got sucked into the story, and had to read it from the beginning. While it has some superficial similarities to MW, I was relieved to find the story and protagonist Toshiko, is really very different.

On the surface, Yuki from MW and Toshiko do seem to have a lot in common. They are both sociopaths that use anything or anyone to get their way. They have their own agenda and will kill anyone that stands in their way, showing no remorse. But just below the surface lies the one thing that makes a big difference between these two; their motivations. Yuki didn’t start out as a sociopath. Circumstances beyond his control helped to make him into the monster he eventually became. The effects of the poison gas and disregard for life made him into a killer. Toshiko was born with her abilities and used them to their fullest. She does not kill for the pleasure of seeing someone die. She kills those who could be of a threat to her. She does it out of a perverse sense of survival. The contrast of Yuki and Toshiko could be framed in the nature vs nurture argument. Yuki is a product of his environment while Toshiko is an example of survival of the fittest. I like to use the analogy of Godzilla. Yuki is 1954 Godzilla, a man-made monster who turns on his creators. Toshiko is Heisei/1990’s Godzilla, a force of nature who doesn’t hold any real malice toward anyone, but is just doing what she must to survive.

And surviving is what Toshiko does best. Even though insects are used as the analogy for Toshiko’s abilities, it really looks like evolution to me. She goes into a new environment, adapts to it, and uses her new skills to move on to a new environment. Her acting skills allows her to blend into any social situation. Her time married to the CEO taught her to be shrewd and calculating in her inevitable destruction of him, though for a while it seemed that she had met her match in him. But nothing is taboo to Toshiko. She will do anything and everything to make sure she stays on top. She is the ultimate survivor, and as a result is the least human.

But even Toshiko has a kink in her armor. That kink is Mizuno, the designer she stole a design from. His story becomes a counter balance to Toshiko’s, as he struggles in the wake of Toshiko’s betrayal. He is the most human character just as Toshiko is the least. Instead of doing whatever it takes to move ahead, Mizuno accepts his the low paying job he has to take, and marries a woman who looks like Toshiko on the outside, but is nothing like her on the inside. But Mizuno truly loves her, and proves it by throwing away his life to avenge her, something Toshiko could probably never understand. Toshiko is portrayed as not needing anyone, but at the end, we get a glimpse that she isn’t completely invulnerable to feelings as the news of Mizuno’s fate seems to upset her. Even though she seems unable to show it, Mizuno may have really gotten to her.

The Book of Human Insects is another great thriller from Osamu Tezuka. The story was much easier to read than MW, as it was not anywhere as disturbing or outrageous. Toshiko was a much more sympathetic character than Yuki, especially at the end. She never appears to kill out of pure folly, and only does so to protect herself. She truly is an embodiment of nature; taking what she needs to live, and only killing to protect herself and survive. Definitely pick this volume up if you get the chance. The cat and mouse between Toshiko and Kamaishi, the steel executive, is worth it in and of itself, but the whole volume is a compelling read.

Manga Wrap Up Week Seven

With February’s Manga Movable Feast being about Osamu Tezuka, I spent this week concentrating on the few titles I had left that I hadn’t reviewed yet. In going back and looking for the links of older reviews, I couldn’t believe how much Tezuka I had actually read over the years. The first manga by Tezuka I ever read was MW, which was a serious eye-opener for me. Next came Dororo, a title I enjoyed a lot, and thought was criminally short. And then there came Black Jack. I loved it from the first volume, and I have managed to review all but one of the 17 volumes that Vertical released. In between all that amazing medical work came the bizarre Swallowing the Earth. There were some titles I could have read but chose not too, like Ayako. I almost passed up on Book of Human Insects, but curiosity got the best of me, and I was sucked in.

This week, I read Princess Knight Parts 1 and 2, and Apollo’s Song. Princess Knight was a title I was looking forward to, and was glad to get a hold of the volumes before the MMF. I loved this series. It was a lot of fun and made a great fairy tale of a modern world. In stark contrast to this series, I then read Apollo’s Song. This isn’t the first time I’ve read this title, or tried to review it. My first attempt just left me with a bunch of jumbled thoughts that I couldn’t get to come together. Hopefully this second attempt will be better. I really didn’t like Apollo’s Song as much of most of the other Tezuka titles I’ve read. I’ll try to get my thoughts out to explain why.

In between these two titles, I squeezed in a new Viz title, The Earl and the Fairy. I remember when the anime for this series was announced, and at the time, the premise didn’t sound too interesting. But I was still intrigued enough to want to read the manga. And I am glad I did. The story was fascinating, and I really liked the characters. I look forward to reviewing this title and reading more.

I also read the latest issue of Yen Plus. I think I’m going to be skipping Witch and Wizard. As much as like Sveltlana’s artwork, the story is just too melodramatic for me. And I hate stories with villains who seem to be so powerful and without any kind of flaw. I’m hoping Infernal Devices starts going somewhere. It’s not nearly as fun or exciting as Soulless. I do like Soul Eater Not more than Soul Eater, and it’s nice that Yen Press has been able to get on simultaneous release with Japan, but the Japanese side has again become woefully small. As in, Soul Eater Not is the ONLY title on the Japanese side. It would be nice to get some symmetry back.

For the next week, I’m going to get back on my catch-up reading. I’m going to work on another Tokyopop title, one that was sadly never completed. Dazzle is a title I picked up on some recommendation I read, and did enjoy the first 4 volumes that I read. The interaction of the main characters reminded me a lot of Saiyuki. But it went on a long release schedule, so it kind of fell to the weigh-side for me. But I have gradually picked the remaining volumes, and just recently got the final volume Tokyopop released, though sadly not the final volume in the series, number 10. So I’ll be finished up this series this week.

  • Princess Knight Part 1-2
  • Apollo’s Song
  • The Earl and the Fairy Volume 1
  • Yen Plus February 2012

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