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

One Missed Call 1+2

It’s an epidemic of accidental death! Multiple college students receive odd voicemails from themselves, messages from the future, and all they contain are the screams of their own deaths. A few days later, at the date and time of the message’s posting, they die in mysterious accidents, and oddly enough, each have a candy in their mouths.

Original Story by Yasushi Akimoto; Manga by Mayumi Shihou
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Horror
Price: $14.95
Rating: ★★½☆☆

One Missed Call was a novel written by Yasushi Akimoto that was adapted into a movie by cult director Takashi Miike. It was received well enough that it got a sequel under a different writer and director. This manga adapts both movies into one volume. The first story is a standard, but fairly coherent j-horror. The second story feels more like a bunch of j-horror elements glued together and slapped with the One Missed Call label.

One Missed Call starts out like a fairly standard j-horror. People are being killed in what looks like accidents. The only link between the victims are contact lists on cellphones. The police don’t believe anything strange is going on. There is an intrepid reporter who hooks up with a potential victim to try to solve the mystery. There are misdirects, a connection between the female victim/protagonist and killer, and a strange clue; a piece of red candy left in the victim’s mouth.

There are a lot of murder mystery elements in the first story, which is probably why I liked it. Yumi and Yamashita make a good team as they try to race against time to save first Yumi’s friend Natsume, and then to save Yumi herself from the same fate. The misdirect with the mother is classic for a mystery. The child abuse subplot was slightly different, but the twist at the end with revelation of the real culprit was good. I liked that it wasn’t really a vengeful spirit, but a psychopath who took her action in life to the next level in death. The red candies were a nice touch. The ending is ambiguous, and is just one of the few serious flaws I had with the first story.

The second story is filled with them sadly. One Missed Call 2 has a mostly new cast with the only returning characters being the police detective, now a believer, investigating the new string of murders, and just a few mentions of Mimiko, the spirit from the first movie. Instead, a new vengeful spirit is introduced, a cursed girl from a village in Taiwan, where Mimiko’s grandfather was from. Kyoko, a woman who works at a daycare center becomes the new victim that must be saved, and between grusome deaths, she and her friends must go to Taiwan to find the source of the curse and stop it.

The plot of this story is poorly conceived, making it very confusing. There are two story lines running through it, instead of a plot and subplot. The death calls are continuing, but the telltale candy isn’t being left. Instead, coal is found in the stomach of the victims. So Mimiko’s story get’s left in the dust as the main characters go in search of this new spirit that is using the same method as Mimiko to kill her victims. This whole story line just doesn’t make sense, and feels forced into the One Missed Call world. While Kyoko and her friend struggle against Lily, the Taiwanese spirit, intrepid reporter Nozoe helps, but is haunted by the death of her twin sister many years before. These two storylines collide like two freight trains at the end, leaving the same kind of mess, and the twist at the end might have been clever, if the rest of the story hadn’t been so disappointing.

That art is fairly realistic, if not some what generic. In the second story, it’s especially difficult to tell Kyoko and Nozoe apart. It’s only through hair styles that it’s really possible. The death scenes aren’t really gory, and really don’t come off as scary.

If you are at all interested in One Missed Call, just see the first movie. It’s very atmospheric and plays up the scares well. Also, the ringtone that signifies a “missed call” is a big part of the story, and not being able to hear it, as in the manga, really reduces the tension which is a hallmark of j-horror. The manga, while a decent adaptation of the movies just can’t do them justice.

Manga Wrap Up Week Six

This week I didn’t work on any particular series. I said it was because I wanted to catch up on some newer review copies, but really, I couldn’t decide what series I wanted to to work on next. I thought I would be making some room on my review copy shelf, and I will be moving 3 volumes off my shelf, and on to my younger daughter’s shelf. Another 5 may be moving on my keep shelf, with another 3 to add to them.

First, I read a trilogy of Pokemon movie adaptations. The Rise of Darkrai, Giratina and the Sky Warrior, and Arceus and the Jewel of Life are movies 10-12 in the Pokemon universe. I will be doing a full review of them for Good Comics for Kids. I first read The Rise of Darkrai, and then I got Arceus, and noticed it referenced back to Darkrai, and a title I didn’t have yet, Giratina. So I traded for Giratina and finally read all three volumes. Since I’m doing a full review of these volumes, I’ll just say that like all trilogies, the middle volume was the weakest.

I finished up Pokemon quickly and moved on to a shojo series from Viz. I’ve had St. Dragon Girl volume 1-5 for a while, and had started on the first two volumes, but kept getting distracted. I finally decided to finish the volumes I have. I think this series is going to be another keeper. It’s only 8 volumes total (unless Viz licenses the sequel series), and it’s filled with beautifully drawn dragons. That alone is enough for me to want to keep on my shelf. I’m going to give this series a dedicated review in the near future.

Since the Osamu Tezuka Manga Movable Feast is next week, I’m going to try and read and review two titles that I’ve gotten recently. I liked the preview chapter of Princess Knight that was run in Shojo Beat issue 25, back in July 2007, so I’m looking forward to reading the whole series. I’m also going to give Apollo’s Song another try. I couldn’t get anywhere with my last attempt at writing a review. Maybe I’ll do better this time, with another reading.

I’ve already pulled more books, so next week I’ll be getting back on track with my cleaning up titles. I’ve already filled up my box, so it may be time for another trip to the library soon.

  • Pokemon: The Rise of Darkrai
  • Pokemon Giratina and the Sky Warrior
  • Pokemon: Arceus adn the Jewel of Life
  • St. Dragon Girl Volumes 3-5

The Innocent

Wrongly executed for crimes he did not commit, a former detective is given a second chance at life. To earn that chance, however, the man now known as Ash must use the supernatural abilities with which he has been infused to prevent the deaths of other innocents. But is Ash willing to dedicate himself to helping others, or is his thirst for vengeance against those who destroyed his life and his loved ones too powerful to ignore?

By Avi Arad; Script by Junichi Fujisaku; Art by Yasung Ko
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Action
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★★½

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard about this title. With a collaboration of Japanese, American and Korean creators, anything was possible. And I wasn’t too sure about the story when it first started serialization in Yen Plus. But as the characters and world was built up, a solid story emerged that both fans of manga and comics could enjoy.

The Innocent is the story of Johnny Wright, a detective who is far from a hero, but does want to see justice done. In the case of Frame Burns, crime boss, he wants revenge. And he’s given that chance when the mysterious “Committee” allows him to return to Earth as an Emissary after he is executed for a crime he didn’t commit. With the help of Angel, his handler assigned by the Committee, he must help others who have been wrongly accused in order to move on. As long as he doesn’t keep getting distracted by his desire for revenge. The chapters start out with an “Innocent of the week” feel to them, as Johnny is getting a new person to help in each chapter. But they soon turn back to Johnny and his background story.

Johnny is very much an anti-hero. He doesn’t follow the rules, in life or death. Even though he’s been mandated to help others, his thoughts become focused on revenge after running into Frame’s enforcers on his first assignment. He is violent and doesn’t seem to care about anyone, but he still manages to get the job done. He also has an amazing command of his Emissary abilities, something that, like his attitude, surprises Angel. He (yes, HE), is put in charge of Johnny, giving him his assignments, helping or reigning him in when necessary. Angel doesn’t like humans, and seems to have had a problem with a former emissary that lost him his wings. Johnny and Angel are constantly at odds, as Johnny keeps trying to do things his way, while Angel has to get him to do it the Committee’s way.

There are two other characters that are central to the story. Rain was Johnny’s lawyer, and as the story progresses we learn she was his sister’s friend and may have been something more to Johnny. She feels guilty about losing Johnny’s case (and him), because she chose the law over him, and is now trying to pick up where Johnny left off against Frame. And then there’s Frame’s assassin, Whirl, a very strange and creepy guy who is always asking his victims “Wanna play?” and brandishes a knife. He seems to love to kill things for fun and can somehow see Johnny. He is also very determined, becoming quite the thorn in Johnny’s side at the end.

I enjoyed reading The Innocent. The story read much better as a single volume than serialized. It didn’t feel disconnected or confusing as it did in Yen Plus. It’s got a great cast of characters, and it quickly builds up a world that is consistent, interesting and not too different from our own. The story moves as a quick pace, and ends on an open-ended note, leaving enough loose ends for the possibility of seeing these characters again. It’s a good origin story. The art looked great. I really like Johnny always looking perfect in his suit. The action scenes were easy to follow, and as Johnny gets better with his powers and challenged by Whirl, they grow in complexity without getting a “shonen-power-up” feel. Yen Press’ presentation of the book is very nice as well. The matte cover with silver lettering gives it a classy feel.

Overall, The Innocent is a good single volume story. It has strong characters and a well written story that is thrilling and thoughtful. Non-manga readers can find plenty to like in this series as well, as it lacks a lot of the manga conventions they say they hate. I really wouldn’t mind seeing more stories written with these characters. I hope it sells enough to justify bringing them back.

Manga Wrap Up Week Five: Chibi Vampire

January has come and gone, and I have completed my next series. Chibi Vampire was one of Tokyopop’s moderate successes. At least it usually hit the top 10 when a new volume came out. I originally picked it up because I liked the premise; a vampire that gave blood instead of taking it. I read the first 7 volumes and then got distracted. Volume 7 was the end of an arc, so it was at least a good place to stop.

Volume 8 starts a new arc, focusing the vampires of Japan and the truth behind Karin’s blood loss. The story continues with the lightness of the last previous volumes. Karin and Kenta have worked out their issues and are trying to be a normal High School couple. But the appearance of a half human/half vampire, and Anju’s early awakening throw more emotional obstacles in their path. Still they find a way to keep going. Finally, the truth behind Karin’s blood loss is revealed and she is kidnapped by another vampire clan, prompting the Markers and Kenta to work together to get Karin back safe.

Chibi Vampire gets to join the growing list of titles that has brought me to tears. Karin and Kenta’s relationship continues to have its ups and downs, with misunderstandings causing most of them. But now that they’ve confessed their feelings for each other, they aren’t as big, or last as long. The story of the vampires and their plight is the more compelling part of this arc. In these back volumes we learn why the vampires left Europe and how they arrived in Japan. We also see how James and Elda got together and Caldera’s family. I liked how things set up in earlier volumes do return and become important in these later volumes. The lack of vampire children is only mentioned in volume 5, but then becomes the reason for so much more.

I absolutely love all the other characters in this series. They are fun and funny most of the time. But when things get serious, they really know how to get down to business. Henry, who seems to be a buffoon as he is dominated by his wife Caldera and such a doting father becomes a serious threat after Karin is taken. He is ready to give up everything, including his life to get Karin back. Everyone in Karin’s family is ready and willing do anything to protect her. Anju, her younger sister, fights sleeping during the day to use her bats to watch over her. Even Caldera, her domineering mother and Ren, her playboy older brother, both of who seem more annoyed with Karin are ready to fight to get her back. That’s what makes the end of this series so heartbreaking.

I’m really glad I didn’t read the last volume at work. I hate trying to explain to co-workers why I’m crying over essentially a comic book. But dammit, the twist at the end of this series, I SO WASN’T expecting it and it got me straight in the heart. And that’s one of the things that makes this such a good series. You get to know the characters so well, that anything that happens to them affects you as well. Even though what happened may have been in Karin’s best interest, it was so hard to see. I think Tokyopop really did this series a disservice by changing its name. It was originally called Karin, and should have stayed that way. It was all about her. The story was done well enough that I think it would have done just as well without the gimmicky name that really had nothing to do with the story.

I was going to donate this title to my local library, but now I’m not so sure. I really enjoyed it, quirky characters and all. It really hit an emotional bone in me. I may have to rethink things. Since I burned through these volumes so fast, I then read the last two volumes of Zombie Loan. It left me scratching my head, wondering where that ending came from. The story takes a serious left turn at the end, though maybe it wouldn’t be as confusing if I’d read volumes 3-8, but somehow I don’t think so. Full review to follow soon.

I’m not sure what I’m going to read next. Looking at my review pile, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to get through some of those first before going back to my full series catch ups. I do try to balance not only between personal and review books, but also between publishers. I’m looking at doing some more Viz, as Yen and Vertical have been getting the lion’s share of dedicated reviews. Check back next week to see what I decide on.

  • Chibi Vampire 8-14
  • Zombie Loan 12-13

Manga Wrap Up Week Four: Black Cat

Here we are at week four of the great Manga Wrap Up, and thanks to being sick on Monday, I was able to get through four volumes of the next series I’ve decided to finish, Black Cat. I was off by how many volumes I had to read. I thought I had to start at volume 14, but I actually had to go back to volume 10 to find anything I remembered, so the extra time came in good use, but the being sick sucked.

Black Cat is about Train Heartnet, a former Chonos assassin who gives up his life of killing turns Sweeper, or bounty hunter. His weapon of choice is a gun that he can make fast and impossible shots with. His partner, Sven Vollfied, a former IBI agent also turned Sweeper. He possesses a “Vision Eye” that allows him to see a few seconds into the future, and makes all kinds of gagdets to help them catch their quarry. Joining them is Eve, a young girl whose body is filled with nanites that she can control and transform into any kind of weapon. She was created as an ultimate weapon, until Train and Sven freed her. Now, she travels with them, wanting to be a Sweeper as well. Train’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of Creed Diskenth, also a former Chonos assassin who want Train to join him in taking over the world, along with his revolutionary group, Apostles of the Stars.

I really enjoyed reading the back half of this series. All of the introductory of plot and important characters was done and it could get straight to the problem at hand; stopping Creed. One of the things I really like about Black Cat is that it doesn’t have a bunch of multiple arcs with multiple big bosses to beat. Through the 20 volumes there is only Creed and his minions. That isn’t to say that there aren’t obstacles, but the series doesn’t have to be a series of battles, powers up and more battles that I’ve started to grow tired of in shonen manga. Train only gets one major power up throughout the series, and it’s just at the half way point. He’s already strong enough, and smart enough, to take on all of Creed’s lieutenants. He only needs the power up to stop Creed, and even then, he still has aces to pull out of his sleeve before resorting to that power up to finally defeat Creed.

The story is tightly written. Once Train and his friends decide to go after Creed once and for all, the story is dedicated to following that path. The characters, which have seen some growth up to now, really come into their own in not only prepare for the battle, but in accepting who they are the path they have chosen. Sven finally accepts his “Vision Eye” as his own, and not just a gift from a friend. Eve grows not just in her ability to transform herself, but also accepts the path of protecting instead of just killing. And Train throws away the ideas of revenge and decides to take Creed alive so he can pay for his crimes. And along the way, as they battle the Apostles of the Stars, our heroes are able to reach out to the misguided members and show them there is another way to live.

These back volumes also give us more of Train’s past, as we learn about what happened to Saya, the Sweeper that pushed Train off the assassin path, and there’s even a bonus story that shows how Train and Sven met and became partners. The final volume ties up loose ends nicely as we get a glimpse of where our heroes, and villains, are a few years into the future, and things seem to be looking well everyone. It’s a happy ending, and not at all forced.

Yabuki called this series “Part 1”, implying that there would/could be more stories with these characters. I really hope so. He created a great bunch, and I would love to read more about them. I especially liked Train, with all of his cat-like traits, and his love of milk is really cute. Yabuki has a great sense of humor that borders on wicked. I loved one scene when they are attacking Creed’s hideout, and Eve uses a new attack that renders the guards….naked. The strategic positioning of some cats was hilarious! Black Cat is a series I may have second thoughts about giving away.

Since I finished up Black Cat so quickly, I decided to keep with the “Black” theme and also finished off Black Jack by reading the last two volumes. I’ll be doing a full review of these two volumes, but let me just say I felt these were the weakest of all the volumes I’ve read. Not bad, just not as good.

  • Black Cat volume 11-20
  • Black Jack volume 16-17

Next up is Chibi Vampire. I know I stopped on volume 7 on this series, so I only have seven more to go. If time permits, I will finish up another series, though not one I’ve been reading regularly, Zombie Loan.

Genkaku Picasso Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

Hikari Hamura, nicknamed Picasso because of his natural artistic abilities, survived a horrible accident, but his friend Chiaki wasn’t so lucky. Suddenly, Chiaki appears in front of him and tells him in order to keep living he must help the people around him. Can Hikari save people with his sketchbook and a 2B pencil?

By Usamaru Furuya
Publisher: Viz Media – Shonen Jump
Age Rating: Teen+
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

I read the first chapter of this series when it was previewed in Shonen Jump. While I liked it, I didn’t run out and buy the first volume when it came out. It wasn’t a “must have” at the time. But with an MMF coming up featuring Usamaru Furuya, I thought Genkaku Picasso would be the most accessible of his available titles. I definitely enjoyed the full volume more than the just the first chapter. There is some dark imagery, but it is balanced with plenty of light moments and a bright resolution for all the people Hikari and Chiaki help.

What makes Genkaku Picasso work so well are its characters. Furuya has created a quirky lead with a cast of characters to match. Hikari Hamura, aka Picasso, so named for a spelling error and his love of drawing, is a fun yet endearing lead. He is a bit of an introvert, and reacts with some hostility to his classmates. He has a nervous habit of chewing on his thumbnail, but has a real talent for art and greatly admires Leonardo Da Vinci. His only real friend is Chiaki, a childhood friend who likes to read while Picasso draws by the riverside. We don’t get to know Chiaki too well, as she is killed in the first few pages, but their bond of friendship is strong. Chiaki cares for Picasso, but not romantically so. She seems more like a big sister than a love interest.

Picasso beings to develop a circle of friends as he starts helping his classmates. The first classmate he helps is Sugiura, a popular boy who liked to tease Picasso, but after his help becomes more friendly with him. Akane, the girl Picasso helps next, not only becomes his friend, but also develops a sort-of crush on him. Of course, Picasso isn’t too happy about this change, but he seems to accept it, as Sugiura and Akane start eating lunch with him, and are usually the ones who take him to the Infirmary when he dives into a picture and can’t move or speak.

The pictures that Picasso draws of his classmate’s hearts are often dark, and sometimes disturbing. Though, the images can also be misleading. Manba’s picture wasn’t of anything he desired, but rose from his concern for Kotone, who he also has a crush on. Akane’s picture I found to be the most disturbing, but that has more to do with my love of animals. I can’t believe any animal would be treated like that for any reason. Anyway, the chapter still has a good ending, but it’s one I can’t read over.

The darker imagery is balanced by the more light-hearted moments, most of which are at Picasso’s expense. His inability to interact with his classmates, which often results in him asking blunt, inappropriate or completely off base questions based on the pictures he draws puts him into a lot of awkward situations. I don’t usually like seeing characters in awkward situations, but Picasso causes his own problems. One scene that particularly struck me was after helping Sugiura, he felt happy that he could help someone, and then immediately felt down because he was going to have to do it again. It’s these short, quick moments that are true to the character that make them funny rather than some attempt at humor.

I admit to being a bit put-off by the art at first,especially Picasso’s lips. It looked like he was wearing lipstick, and it bothered me. But once I got past that I could better appreciate Furuya’s work. Picasso’s “heart” sketches are great, and I really liked the detail he put into Picasso’s practice sketches. It really shows his potential, and makes his “heart” sketches that more believable.

Genkaku Picasso is different from other shonen titles but in a good way. The characters are odd but entertaining, and watching their interactions so far has been fun. The problems Picasso and Chiaki have to solve are realistic and different from the usual teen problems that other manga tend to focus on. It’s this difference that really makes Genkaku Picasso stand out. I will definitely be picking up the other two volumes of this series.

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