Manga Wrap-Up: Week One

“Manga wrap-up, manga wrap-up
Let’s finish up these series
Manga wrap-up, manga wrap-up
Cause there’s no more room in here!”

“Manga wrap-up, manga wrap-up
Let’s finish up these series
Manga wrap-up, manga wrap-up
Cause there’s no more room in here!”

“Cause there’s no more room in here!”

Hey! Welcome to my first post of the new year chronicling my attempt to catch up on all the titles I’ve fallen behind on and may even give away! I even have a theme song! (Bronies will recognize the tune. I blame my youngest daughter for its creation. 🙂 ) Anyway, this first week didn’t go quite the way I had planned, but that should come as no surprise.

I started 2012 by preparing for the January Manga Movable Feast. This month features the works of Usamaru Furuya. I’ve been saving Genkaku Picasso for this and finally read volume 1. I will have to get 2-3 now. I really liked it. Too bad it’s not available digitally, but at only 3 volumes it won’t be so hard to fit on the shelf. I hadn’t planned on reading Furuya’s version of No Longer Human from Vertical, but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to check out the first volume. I flew through that one, as well as volume 2. I really didn’t think I would like it, as I don’t care much for “classics”, this one was a compelling read, and well worth the time.

Also not on the long-term reading list, but still a volume I’ve had for several months, I read volume 4 of Degenki Daisy. It s a series I like, but since it’s available digitally, I’m going to move it over to that realm as a space saver. I’m not sure how much of a re-read it will be, so going digital with it is probably the best option. Volume 4 will be my last physical copy. If Viz has another good sale, I’ll probably replace 1-4 as well.

It took me until Friday night to finally get into the pile I want to work on. I picked up Rurouni Kenshin, but it had been soooo long since I read it, I wasn’t sure what volume I had stopped on. I know I had finished the Kyoto arc and was starting on the final. I ended up re-reading volumes 18 and 19 before determining volume 20 is where I want to start. I finally got to that Saturday afternoon.

I knew this was going to be a long, uphill battle. With so many other books to distract me, it might be harder than I anticipated to get through this pile. But I am determined to do it. As my new theme song says, there is no more space. So, the final tally for the week is:

  • No Longer Human v1-2
  • Genkaku Picasso v1
  • Degenki Daisy v4
  • Rurouni Kenshin v18-20

Check back next week to see how far I get with Kenshin. Only 7 more to go, in this series.

Looking Ahead to 2012

Looking back over 2011, I realize it didn’t quite turn out as I had intended it. RL seriously intruded on my blogging and reviewing, though I have tried to at least update once a week. My company’s move to a new computer system not only took up a lot of time, but sucked a lot of life out of me. (BTW, if you ever hear the word ‘Oracle’ at your company, run away. Very fast. Or stock up on alcohol. I’ve heard that helps a lot.) I even missed this blog turning 4 in November! That’s how out of it I was!

With all of that behind me, I know look ahead to 2012, and my plans for the new year. In my last anniversary post, I said I was going to donate some of the manga I wasn’t reading anymore to my local library. In the last week of 2011, I finally did it. I took 71 volumes to the children/teen librarian after communicating my wishes. A look at the library’s graphic novel collection showed that it really needed some help. I took over mostly completed series’ or one shots, so that there wouldn’t be gaps of hangings. The only exceptions to this were Detective Conan/Case Closed and Ranma 1/2, of which I had the first 5 volumes of, and the first volume of Twilight. If Twilight proves popular (yeah, if), I’ll try to see about getting the second volume for them. It was still hard for me to do this, even after I had made up my mind, put the books in a separate book and even put the box by my desk. Even now, I feel pangs of regret, even though I know the title I gave away are things I won’t read again. It’s hard to be a packrat/collector.

In order to continue to reduce my manga collection, I have to really start to read more. I have several completed titles that I’ve read most, half, a few volumes or even none of! I’m making it a goal this year to get through these titles and see more of them go to the library. It should come as no surprise that most of these are shonen titles. I finding I’m not as enthusiastic about shonen as I was 10 years ago. There are exceptions of course, such as One Piece, but reading the latest Shonen Jump made me realize how much I didn’t care about the story or characters in most of them. I’m kind of glad Viz went digital with Shonen Jump. Now I can read them with out having piles of magazines cluttering up my house. In order to help me keep up on this, I’m going to keep track of the titles I read here, and maybe even do a short review consisting of a couple of lines if the mood hits me.

And speaking of digital, I will be trying to get more manga that way, at least as much as the publishers will allow me. I’m going to rant now for a few lines (paragraphs). I want to support publishers and their move to the digital realm. Digital manga is great, doesn’t take up shelf space and on the right devices, can actually look as good as print. The problem is that publishers AREN’T making their digital manga as available as their print. Viz, Yen, and new comer Kodansha are keeping their manga on mostly proprietary devices. iOS devices still get the preferential treatment, and recently both Viz and Yen put manga on Barnes and Nobles Nook tablets. Yet they continue to ignore Android. Just over Christmas, 1.3 million android devices were activated. Do they really think it’s a good business plan to continue to ignore this market? Yes, they give lip service to Android, saying they’re “working on it”, but I’m really tired of that excuse. Just as I’m tired of “Android is difficult to program for.” Sorry, that doesn’t cut it any more. Nook tablets and readers are Android based. If they can make their manga for those devices, they can make it regular Android devices. I want to be a legal buyer of manga, but right now, the aggregators and scanlators hold the Android market. How is that helping their cause? And if they give the excuse of the Japanese publishers are keeping them from going it, and then Jmanga gets an Android app out before them, then they should just hang their heads in shame. Both the US and Japanese publishers who are limiting the readership.

And before anyone says I should vote with wallet and not support the publishers, let me say I AM. I will not buckle under and buy the hardware they are putting their manga on. Content should never be limited to a hardware platform, and yet that is EXACTLY what all the manga publishers are doing. If you don’t buy this other company’s hardware, you can’t have our books. That’s not the way to expand readership. That’s how you limit it to an elite few, and I don’t believe books should ever be limited to one group over another.

And while I’m ranting, Jmanga, GET SOME VOLUME 2s OR MORE UP! It’s nice that you are getting titles up, but there have been hardly any second volumes go up since the site started. I’m not going just keep getting the first volumes of titles if there is no hope of the titles continuing! Yen Press, even if you do finally put your manga out on a platform I can read, I’M NOT PAYING $8.99 FOR THEM! I wouldn’t pay Jmanga that much, what makes you think I’ll pay you that? And Square Enix…just get over yourself. Did anyone notice your site was down and unavailable? No? That should tell you something. Alright, I’m done.

I’m looking forward to a more productive year here at Manga Xanadu. And while I do feel a little prideful at the size of manga collection, logistically it’s not feasible for me to have over 1000 volumes (which I probably had at one point this year). I’m hoping for more manageable shelves, and to fill more digital shelves. This will also hopefully mean more content for this blog. I hope you’ll continue to follow me into the new year.

BTW, little known fact. 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar wasn’t originally meant to mean the end of the world. It was supposed to be when the Maya, who are actually beings from the star Arcturus in the Pleiades cluster, will return to earth via their “galactic synchronization beams” and transform reality. So, no worries about the world ending. 🙂 (Source: Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries; Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology by Kenneth L. Feder, 1990 edition.)

 

Oresama Teacher Volume 2

Mafuyu’s plan to be an ordinary student seems to be working out so far. She’s got a friend (Hayasaka) and a plan to join a totally normal school club (crafts). But homeroom teacher Mr. Takaomi has something different in mind—he wants Mafuyu to take down the notorious leader of the campus gang!

By Izumi Tsubaki
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

I really didn’t care for the first volume of Oresama Teacher. While it had its moments, I thought they weren’t enough to overcome the parts I didn’t like. But I went ahead and checked out a few more volumes. I started to see some potential in volume 2 as the story revolved more around Mafuyu and Hayasaka.

I really enjoyed this second volume, which came as a big surprise to me. I was expecting to see more of Takaomi abusing Mafuyu, but Takaomi was just a side character.  Instead there was more interaction between Mafuyu and Hayasaka, and the introduction of Kyoutaro, the school Bancho. Hayasaka and Mafuyu’s search for a club to join so they could avoid Takaomi was funny. I loved the Craft club, which was filled with Macho men who looked straight of Fist of the North Star or Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. I know it’s becoming cliché, but I couldn’t stop laughing at seeing the big, muscular men embroidering and making stuffed animals. Their pressuring to get Hayasaka to join, who turned out to be surprisingly good at embroidery just made that chapter one of the best in this series so far.

Kyoutaro was amusing too. He acts tough and loves to fight, but has a soft side. He loves a children’s show, Nekomata and it self-titled main character. The day Mafuyu spends with Kyoutaro was just a lot of fun to read. The reveal at the end of the chapter was great and has a lot of potential for the future.

Hayasaka’s denseness knows no bounds. He searches for Usa-chanman and eventually figures out that she is Mafuyu, but is easily tricked out of it again. His denseness might annoy me, if he wasn’t such a great match for Mafuyu. But now Mafuyu has a good reason to keep her identity a secret from him. She wants to be friends, not idolized by Hayasaka because of her fighting ability. So she has to keep it a secret. This means then that she has to come up with another disguise, a boy named Natsuo, who Hayasaka treats as peer instead of an idol. I liked this second disguise. Mafuyu looks better as Natsuo than as herself!

I still dislike Takaomi. While his scenes are kept to a minimum this volume, his plan for Mafuyu is revealed and it’s typical of a low-life punk. He intends to use Mafuyu and Hanasaka to help him win a bet with the School President. So he’s still complete slime, but with less of his slimy trail in the title and the addition of the Bancho actually got me feeling more upbeat about Oresama Teacher. I just might change my mind about it.

Manga Guide to the Universe

Explore our solar system, the Milky Way, and faraway galaxies with your intrepid heroines, Gloria, Kanna, and Yamane, in The Manga Guide To The Universe. Together, you’ll search out the universe’s greatest mysteries: dark matter, cosmic expansion, and the big bang itself. As you rocket across the night sky, you’ll learn about modern astrophysics and astronomy, as well as the classical findings and theories on which they’re built. You’ll even learn why some scientists believe finding extraterrestrial life is inevitable!

Continue reading Manga Guide to the Universe

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Volume 5

Rikuo has successfully defended his classmates from the vicious Inugami’s mad-dog attack. But that battle is just a hint of what’s to come. The sinister Tamazuki has remained in his human form so far, but now he’s unleashing his true form: a ferocious yokai leading the 88 Demons of Shikoku, a disciplined demon horde hell-bent on taking the Nura clan out. With Nurarihyon missing, Rikuo must step up as a warrior and a leader.

By Hiroshi Shiibashi
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Supernatural/Action
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Rikuo really starts to step up as under-boss in this volume. With his grandfather, the Nurarihyon, gone, it’s up to him to defend the Nura territory. He finally shows some initiative when he sends Gozumaru and Mezomaru to infiltrate a Shikoku yokai gathering to gather intelligence. And he acts on that intelligence by taking the fight to Tamazuki rather than waiting for him and his forces to attack the Nura Main house. He’s pretty impressive in his night form during this fight until he gets blindsided, literally.

This battle with Tamazuki really shows the cycle of the generations within the Yokai clans. Tamazuki is ambitious and hungers for power, just as his father, Inugamigyobu once was, reaching out into Nura territory, while Rikuo considers creating a new 100 demon parade rather than working so hard to keep his Grandfather’s retainers together. Both young yokai can be seen as walking in their predecessor’s footsteps, while still making their own mark.

This volume of Nura was better in terms of moving the plot forward. It isn’t just about Rikuo having to deal with some threat and having his Night Form save the day. There is a confrontation between Tamazuki and Rikuo, but it and the events that lead up to it carry some weight. Yukki-Onna might even prove to be worth something more than a maiden-in-distress, though I don’t’ think I’ll hold my breath on that one.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan continues to be a series that I don’t mind reading online for free (as part of a Shonen Jump subscription), but it still hasn’t shown itself to be a series worth keeping on the shelf.

Dark Water

Inspired by the Japanese thriller, these pages hold the macabre tales of a mother’s psychological torment in a rundown apartment complex, another man’s terror upon the open sea, and a message from a watery grave. A haunting will begin, and these people will learn that no one is safe from the mysteries that lie within the murky depths of Dark Water.

Written by Koji Suzuki; Art by Meimu
Publisher: Dark Horse
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★½☆☆

I picked up Dark Water, expecting another single story adaptation of a novel by Koji Suzuki. This impression is really emphasized by the cover text that claims it’s the book that inspired the “major motion picture.” So I was really surprised when I discovered it was only the first story of four that “inspired” the movie. A movie that was decent, and didn’t need a Hollywood adaptation that couldn’t improve on it any.

I was actually kind of disappointed when I discovered that Dark Water was just a short story, and not a full novel like The Ring. I really enjoyed the manga adaptation of that novel, and was hoping for another experience like that. While “Dark Water” was a tighter read, it wasn’t as interesting or scary as the longer movie. It really needed more disturbing moments to make what happened hit home. It’s not a bad story, but a few more scenes could have made it better.

Of the remaining three stories, the only one with a good “creepy” factor was “Island Cruise”. It did a good job of balancing the supernatural with the non-believer, who must hold on to his non-belief at all costs, or be literally dragged down into the water. “Adrift” was the shortest and left me scratching my head about what happens in it. I’ve read it several times now, and while I think I get the idea Suzuki was trying to get across, it was lost in the manga adaptation. “Forest Beneath the Waves” really doesn’t have anything dark or scary about it. It’s a story about a son connecting to a father he never knew through the place where the father died. This story really doesn’t seem to fit in a volume that is otherwise filled with menaces coming from the water.

Dark Water isn’t a title that will keep you up at night or make you wary of taking a bath. It’s isn’t dark so much as it is murky. It wants to drag you to the bottom, but instead ends up losing its way. I really can’t recommend this book to anyone but Koji Suzuki fans.

PR: Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha Covered

I’ve been a fan of Shonen Jump ever since it came out in 2002 (technically), and still have every single issue. I admit I have mixed feelings about this move to digital. The good: don’t have to store all those magazines anymore. The bad: can’t just pick it up and read it anywhere. But, I’ll stick with this first year of digital and see if I can keep up.

Continue reading PR: Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha Covered

The Ring Volumes 0-3

Somewhere in Japan there’s a cabin in which you might watch a program that will change your life…in fact, it will take your life. She will take your life. She calls out from the afterlife, from the dark bottom of a forgotten well. And if she calls you, one week is all you have left to find the answer to her curse.

The Ring Volume 0-3
Written by Koji Suzuki, Hiroshi Takahashi; Sakura Mizuki
Art by Meimu, Misao Inagaki; Sakura Mizuki
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Horror
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★½☆

In the late 90s to early 2000s, Japanese horror, also known as J-horror was really popular in the US, and the title to start it all was The Ring. Based on a novel, the original movie was so popular, it was remade with American actors for wide release. Of course, publishers were ready to cash in on the action with releases of manga adaptations of the novels and/or movies.

The Ring series starts off with a great creepy premise, but seems to lose steam with each volume. The first volume is a nice and thick and stays true to the novel. This first story was more compelling and didn’t make Dr. Ikuma into the villain the movies did. It has a good pace and makes the feeling of time running out seem real. The first volume was a great read, and I would recommend it even if you’ve seen the movie.

The Ring 2 follows the plot of the movie instead of the book, and isn’t nearly as compelling as first story. It recaps the first movie before replacing the lead with Takayama’s assistant Takano as she tries to stop Sadako from taking over Yoichi, Takayama and Asakawa’s son. The story doesn’t have the same creepy feeling and the art just looks bad at times. Birthday is a prequel that continues to follow the movie’s plot line and shows Sadako’s life just before she died. It’s sad but not really creepy. Spiral is an adaptation of the novel sequel of The Ring, and takes Sadako’s story in a more scientific direction. The idea behind the replication is interesting, but the overall story wasn’t.

The big problem all three of these volumes had was the constant re-telling, and re-writing of the original Ring story. The first third of The Ring 2 is a compacted retelling of the movie version of the story. Spiral completely ignores most the original characters of The Ring to tell it’s own version of Sadako’s story, and The Ring 0 goes with another modified version of the movie. All these different versions of the same story got confusing and really monotonous after the second version.

The Ring is a good, suspenseful manga, but keep your reading to the original. The rest really don’t add much to the overall story, and will leave you scratching your head more than worrying about that static-filled TV.

One Piece Volume 46-50

When the Straw Hats encounter a mysterious barrel on the open sea, little do they know that it’s a trap. Losing control of their ship, they’re steered toward Thriller Bark.  Any rational sailor would think twice before going ashore on an island full of zombies. But with Luffy at the helm, the Straw Hats are in for a scare as they become the targets of the dreaded Gecko Moria!

By Eiichiro Oda
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Action
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

After the long and emotionally draining Water Seven arc, Thriller Bark makes for some spooky fun with zombies, ghosts and a talking skeleton. But the story feels drawn out and really seems to drag on, as does the bittersweet background story for Brook. It feels more like a filler arc and an excuse to throw in some Zombies.

The Thriller Bark story arc starts out as a light-hearted story filled with lots of humor. Luffy is excited at the prospect of seeing ghosts and is inviting Brook, a walking talking skeleton to join the crew without knowing anything about him. The gags really run amok when the Straw Hats reach Thriller Bark itself, with Nami, Usopp and Chopper seeing zombies one minute and then gone the next. And the arrival of Luffy, Zolo, Sanji, Robin and Frankie is funny as they first tame a Cerberus-like zombie and then beat up all the zombies that pop out of the graveyard, and leaving them stick out of their graves, feet first. Oda does a really good job in the beginning of creating a spooky atmosphere with zombies popping out of pictures and stuffed animal heads on the wall coming to life.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Usopp gets a great spotlight in this arc, as his super-pessimistic attitude is finally shown to have a use. When faced with the Ghost Princess Perona and her negative energy ghosts, Usopp is invincible, since he already has such a low opinion of himself, he can’t be brought down any further. His battle with her was the best of the volume. The giant zombie Oars running around talking and acting like Luffy was pretty funny too.

All this humor is overshadowed by Brooks and the padding of the story to stretch it out. Thriller Bark is supposed to take place in the course of a single night, but it goes on for 5 volumes! It’s too long and too much is going on. The entire plotline with Absalom and Nami was clichéd and got boring fast. In arcs such as Alabasta and Waters Seven, the battles that each Straw Hat was in was entertaining. But they really weren’t in this arc. Brook’s background story wasn’t just tragic, it was downright depressing. While Robin’s back story, which was shown before Brook’s, was really tragic, there was still a ray of hope with Robin trying to continue the work of the Ohara clan. But there isn’t any feeling like that with Brook. The more your see of his story, the more down you feel. There doesn’t ever seem to be a light at the end, even when he joins the Straw Hats. It’s more like relief that such a dark period is over, and after all the humor the arc started out with, the darkness of Brook’s back story just doesn’t feel right.

The arc redeems itself at the end with a return to World Government story line. Kuma, another Warlord of the Sea comes to check on Moria, and possibly kill Luffy. But the Straw Hat’s loyalty and Zolo’s belief in Luffy saves him. The scenes with Kuma only increases my curiosity about the World Government and what their true motives are.

The Thriller Bark story arc has a good beginning and good ending, but too much filler going on in-between. This is still a good arc, with lots of great scenes for the characters. It just would have been better if it had been pared down. Three volumes would have been just right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season’s Screaming: Only One Wish and xxxHolic

When one thinks of the holiday season, it tends to be of being merry, giving gifts, and celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. But the holiday season also has a history of ghostly stories and ghoulish things. Here are two Del Rey Manga titles that try to fit into the Comeuppance Theater genre, but just don’t quite make the grade.
Continue reading Season’s Screaming: Only One Wish and xxxHolic

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