Tech Friday: Second Class Citizen

A few weeks ago I gave Viz kudos for finally realizing there was a market for digital manga beyond the iOS platform. Their announcement of and tagline of “Buy It Once Read It Anywhere” seemed like a dream come true. Finally, I could start reading and owning digital manga. I thought Viz had really gotten the idea of “manga for all.” But after working with it, and seeing new announcements, I have come to realize the equality I thought I was getting didn’t really exist.

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Yen Plus July 2011

This month’s Yen Plus features a lot of changes. The most obvious, as it’s features on the cover is the debut of Soulless, another novel adaptation, but not by James Patterson. This one is by Gail Carriger with art by Rem. But with this addition, two other titles are saying farewell. Gossip Girl ends this issue as does the color edition of High School of the Dead. I’m not going to miss Gossip Girl, as I wasn’t even reading it. But High School of the Dead…well, I’ll give my feelings about that later. And you might notice  something missing from this issue. No Daniel X. And no word why. Strange…

Soulless – This first chapter starts with some very nice color pages, as we are introduced to Alexia Tarabotti. She is at a party when she is attacked by a vampire, that doesn’t appear to be part of a coven, and has a run in with Lord Maccon, the head of Bureau of Unnatural Registry as well as Alpha of the local werewolf pack, and Professor Lyall. Her encounter seems to have attracted the attention of Countess Nadasdy, the leader of a vampire coven, so she goes to see Lord Akeldama, another vampire that she is on good terms with, for advice. I really enjoyed this first chapter, and absolutely love Alexia. I’m coming to appreciate stories set in Victoria London, and Rem’s art is a sight to behold. I think I have found my new favorite series!

Milkyway Hitchhiking – This chapter switches gears again, as Milkyway tells the tale of another “master” of hers. A cruel king is sending hunters out to bring back a creature with white fur. If they fail, they are killed. A new hunter is dispatched, a woman named Robin. But the creature turns out to be something Robin didn’t expect. Her perceived failure as seen by the King’s sorcerers makes the King decide to do the job himself. One again, Milkyway is ancillary to the story, acting more as narrator than wish-granter. This story is at least a two parter, so we’ll have to wait until next month to see where it goes.

Witch and Wizard – Whit gets the gang out of the jam the chapter ended on last month, and Wisty frees all the children in detention. A traitor is revealed in the resistance, but Whit and Wisty join their powers to defeat the warden and guards. The One Who Is The One then appears and taunts Whit with six prophecies supposedly about them before disappearing. I liked the action scenes with Whit and Wisty working together, and realizing it’s the adults who are scared of the children, and more importantly, of change. I still don’t like TOWITO. Not capturing or killing them now doesn’t make him a little good or grey. He’s still the villain.

Aron’s Absurd Armada – Aron and his crew return to port to exact revenge on Luthor and instead decide to go after the Crown of the Ant Queen. It was taken by Luthor as a gift for the King’s birthday, so they decide to the backway through some difficult mountains. Meanwhile we learn more about Aron’s parents and their relation to the Nelson family. While Aron and Luthor might have been friends, it obvious that his mother and Nelson is not. And like the rest of the cast, the King is just as odd.

Maximum Ride – The Flock is heading west, away from Itex, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone following them. An eerie sense of foreboding starts to settle over Max as rumors of a disaster coming starts to seem more real. Fang receives a message that one of the Flock is a traitor. They decide to go to a public place, a football game to see if they can draw their enemies out. They get spotted by members in the crowd, but still no Erasers. It really feels like we’re reading the climax of the story, as the impending doom seems to come ever closer. I am looking forward to see what that is.

Jack Frost – No-Ah is confronted by the new Iyel about emotion, and Siegfred is preparing to move out. Camilla has a plan as well, sending off her “pieces” to the Pillar of Solomon. Meanwhile, inside the Pillar, we are introduced to Beelzebub, another busty woman, and her master Solomon himself. Still not much going on, and really, I’m not feeling any anticipation for what’s probably supposed to be a big fit. I really wasn’t impressed with Beelzebub stripping and prostrating herself in front of Solomon either.

Highschool of the Dead – This final preview chapter starts at the airport where unaffected people are trying to escape, and sniper Rika Minami is clearing a path for the planes to take off. Meanwhile, Saeko, Saya, Kouta, and Shizuka decide to leave the school van and meet up with Takashi and Rei, who are trying to reach one of the bridges to cross into town, but the military has them all blocked off. They meet up with their friends, and Shizuka tells them she knows a place nearby where they can stay, as it’s getting close to nightfall. While all of the fanservice is really annoying, I can’t help but be interested in Takashi’s narration, as he talks about how this zombie apocalypse is changing him and his friends. And while the color is nice, if I continue to follow this series, it’ll be in the black and white.

The Innocent – Johnny is helping Joshua find his sister, and takes him to where women are trafficked. They don’t find her, but Johnny’s powers continue to grow, and he is able to speak to the man responsible for his sister’s injuries, Frame. Johnny continues to skirt the rules, making his point without actually hurting anyone. He finally figures out where Joshua’s sister is, but Frame has sent to Whirl to the lawyer Rain, and he gets there first. I’m still finding this series to be interesting, but not engaging. It seems to be devolving into a typical action title, but the mysteries of Whirl and Angel, and why Johnny can keep doing things he’s not supposed to keeps me reading.

K-On! – The chapter of K-on! isn’t the usual 4-koma, but typical manga chapter. The girls take a break from practice, and Ritsu and Mio’s past is revealed. It’s not a bad story, and if K-On! had been more like this, I might have liked it more. I’m finding I’m not fond of the 4-koma format.

Yotsuba&! – Yotsuba tags along with Ena to Miura’s house, which is in a tall apartment building. In the elevator Yotsuba tries to press all the buttons, but Ena warns her off. At Miura’s home, they see Miura’s picks from her trip to Hawaii, and trade souvenirs, but then Yotsuba makes a most surprising discovery in Miura’s room. The scene in the elevator was cute.

Next month, the mag stays down one story, but Gossip Girl keeps going with a bonus chapter. Hopefully that really will be the last! And there’s no Daniel X scheduled next issue either. Hopefully, there will be some word on it next issue. It is the Patterson book I like the most, though I think I’m in the minority. But, what else is new?

Shonen Jump August 2011

It’s back to the monthly business as usual with August’s Shonen Jump. Since this issue came out before SDCC, it doesn’t have any of the news from the con, and nothing new was added from its month off. Not that really expected there to be any. Anyway, on to the issue! Neuro ended this month on and you can now divine your horoscope with Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds cards, and probably as accurately as Weird Al Yankovic. Now on to the manga!

Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds introduces a new character, Akiza Izinski, the “Queen of Queens” of duel racing. We get to see her in action before jumping to Yusei and Sect in a clinic on Satellite. Angry at his loss to Atlus, Yusei is presented with an invitation to the D1 Grand Prix where he has a chance of a rematch with Atlus. And it seems Akiza has a grudge to settle with Atlus as well. Even as the introductions continue, the manga is moving to the heart of the story, racing and dueling. This title was declared a Worst manga at the SDCC Best/Worst of manga panel, which I think is totally undeserved. 5Ds is far from the worst manga, or even the worst Yu-Gi-Oh! we’ve seen so far. I think GX gets that honor.

One Piece has Rayleigh showing up on Amazon Lily, where he’s apparently on good terms with the women. He come in search of Luffy with a proposition and some advice. Meanwhile, the rest of the Straw Hats has all learned of Ace’s death and are now searching for a way to get back to their Captain and we get to see their predicaments beyond the chapter openers that kept us up to date during the Impel Down and Paramount War arcs. The Thousand Sunny is being protected at the Sabaody Archipelago by Shakky and her allies. More perplexing, is something that Luffy seems to have put in the newspaper that gets confused looks from old friends and allies. Of course the chapters end without telling us what it is. It’s good to see Luffy’s desire to live return as he dives into the food Hancock brought him. Jimbei tells him to eat is to live, and Luffy starts to dive in like the Luffy of old. So we only get chapters, not volumes of grieving Luffy.

Bleach continues its tale of the past with Urahara as captain of the 10th company. These chapters introduce Kurotsuchi and the creation of the Research and Development Department. A young Byakuya and his grandfather is shown as well as his competition with Yourichi. Gin Ichimaru is also introduced as a new addition to Aizen’s company and the Ninth company launches an investigation into some disappearances where their konpaku seemed unable to maintain their form, leaving only clothes behind. What these chapters show is that both Gin and Aizen were always cruel, Byakuya was once not so cold, and the assistant captain on the 9th company was the most annoying character ever. At least this arc seems to be actually going somewhere, unlike the Heuco Mundo arc.

Psyren has Ageha, Sakurako, and Hiryu trying to save the newbies from the giant sand worm. They rescue Oboro, some of the others are eaten, while the rest are shot by a new player that Sakurako calls a Blaster. He also appears to be the friend Hiryu has been looking for, but it’s not the reunion he imagined. Oboro and kabuto come down with their fevers while they are still trying to get to the exit. Sakurako takes on the Blaster and sets to look into his mind leaving Hiryu and Ageha to protect the other two. This stint in Psyren is lasting longer than the previous, and psychic powers are appearing a lot faster, so this is looking like these five will be a team. I’m really curious to find out about the Blaster, and why he’s working against the drifters.

Kisame has one more trick up his sleeve in Naruto, which does finally end him, but his intel gets out as well. Konan faces Madara, determined to end him, but things don’t go exactly as planned for her either, though she does inflict a lot of damage. And even through Madara wins the battle he still loses. We learn more about Madara and what he thinks of himself, which is apparently a lot. The dichotomy of Naruto and Sasake is going to have to shift as Madara is proving to be the real threat, and he doesn’t seem to have Sasake under his complete control just yet. But on the other hand, I don’t see Sasake coming to anyone’s aid as he is now. It’s still a wait and see game here.

The manga preview goes to Prince of Tennis, whose final volume just came out. It’s only half a chapter that pits Ryoma against Seiichi in the final match to decide to National Title. This preview is really a disappointment as it throws you into a match already in progress with little to go on. It’s a very dramatic part of the volume and cuts off at a critical moment, it’s really not enough to get me to want to read it. And with what is shown, it looks so ridiculous that I wouldn’t want to pick it up. This is probably one reason why sports manga hasn’t take off in the US. I don’t mind seeing these kinds of powers in fantasy/action titles. I just don’t for them in sports titles.

Online, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan sees the Shikoku start their attack on the Tochigami by Lord Sodemogi. When Rikuo’s friend Torie is attacked and cursed by him, Rikuo joins the search for him, but it is Kurobado who finds and stops him. Rikuo becomes the next target while he is human, at school Inugami, who is very loyal to Tamazuki, poses as a student to get at him. But when he sees Rikuo getting the attention and respect he wanted, he looses control and attacks during a school assembly. I really liked Senba, the tochigami at the hospital where Torie’s grandmother is. His power to use the 1000 cranes to makes wishes come true is pretty cool. I can’t say I’m thrilled with the Yakuza-like power struggle that going on now. It is different for a shonen title, but I just don’t care for these kinds of stories.

I was really hoping for more manga announcements from Viz at SDCC. Actually I wanted to hear they had licensed the Neuro manga. I guess I’ll have to hope for NYCC/NYAF.

Fruits Basket Volume 1-4: MMF

Tohru Honda recently lost her mother, and through certain circumstances, is living alone in a tent in the woods. The same woods, as it happens, as her classmate and school “prince” Yuki Sohma. Through a strange twist of fate (and her own clumsiness) she discovers that Yuki, and other members of the family, have been cursed, and through weakness or a hug from a member of the opposite sex, change into one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Tohru ends up living with Yuki, Shigure, and Kyo Sohma, and is soon meeting more members of the zodiac.

By: Natsuki Takaya
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99/OOP
Rating: ★★★★½

I wasn’t interested in shojo at the time that Fruits Basket started to come out, and didn’t develop one until the series was already well into the teens. But, like so many other titles, the Manga Movable Feast has given me an opportunity (and excuse) to finally check it out. I wasn’t really impressed after reading the first volume. I took the ending of volume 4 to really get me to give the series a chance and continue on with it.

I didn’t really care for the characters at the beginning. Tohru, the female protagonist of the series, and really the focus, came off as really ditzy, and even a little naive at first. But it soon becomes apparent, that she is just very kind, often to a fault. She always tries to keep a positive attitude, even though she is still trying to deal with the sudden loss of her mother in a car accident. She doesn’t want to impose on others, which is why she decides to live in the woods instead of “inconveniencing” her friends. She is very accepting of people for who they are, and after the initial shock, isn’t surprised by all the transformations that keep happening around her.

I was mostly fine with Tohru. It was Yuki and Kyo that I really didn’t like at first. Yuki is the quiet, and very handsome boy who is often mistaken for a girl. He is aloof and comes off cold at the beginning. He is the rat of the zodiac, who is responsible for the cat not being at the banquet. He doesn’t want to be a part of the zodiac, and just wants to live with “normal” people. He takes ill easily, but is physically very strong. I really disliked his contemptible nature towards others, especially Kyo at first. He gets better over these first four volumes. Kyo is Yuki’s cousin and the cat of the legend. He’s not part of the zodiac, but he still transforms. He hates Yuki as the rat, and the feeling is completely mutual. He is constantly attacking Yuki to try to beat him. He is filled with anger at the beginning, and lashes out at everyone around him, including Tohru, even when she’s trying to be nice to him. She seems to have a calming effect on him, and though he is still competitive with Yuki, their fights tone down to bickering instead of destroying the house. I didn’t really care for Kyo at first either, but as he toned down the anger, he became easier to like.

Two characters I liked immediately though were Tohru’s two best friends, Arisa Uotani, a former gang member/yanki and Saki Hanajima, who seems to possess some sort of psychic powers. They are like family to Tohru and are very protective of her. They have a lot of lighter moments in these volumes, with Uotani acting menacing, and Hanajima’s “poisonous electrical waves.” They also get along rather well with the Sohmas, to whom them give their approval for Tohru to stay with. Uotani and Kyo seem to get along especially well, with their competitive natures.

Through these first four volumes, about 2/3 of the zodiac is presented; the dog, boar, rabbit, dragon, cow and snake are introduced in fairly quick succession, usually through an accidental (though sometimes intentional) hug with Tohru. With several of these introductions, glimpses into their past are given, and they are almost all tragic, from being verbally abused by relatives and parents, to losing a lover, to Momiji’s past, that nearly brought me to tears after reading it.

While these first few volumes seem to have a light, rom-com feel to them, there is a sense of something darker lurking beneath, which increases with every volume. Shigure, the dog of the zodiac, and whose house Yuki, Kyo and Tohru share, seems friendly and easy-going, but also seems to have an agenda that involves using Tohru somehow. Something that he said makes him a horrible person. And then there’s Akito, the mysterious head who is not formally introduced until volume 4. He has a menacing feeling about him, disturbing Yuki when he sees him, and gets a glare from Kyo. It’s this darkness, and the mystery of the curse that really helped to encourage me to continue. The hints about this mystery is sprinkled throughout these first four volumes, and with every new one, it only made me want to know more. There also seems to be a mystery around Kyo and his “other form” that begs to be found out about.

Fruits Basket is slow to build up, but once you get past them whole “OMG! They turn into animals!” and the “Which zodiac animal will Tohru meet this time?” parts of the story, it really start to have something to say.  The themes of being alone and finding a place to fit in and call home are ones that strike a chord with teens, which is probably one of the reasons it sold so well. This is another series that the MMF has convinced me I want to read, but since it’s OOP, that going to be kind of hard. Wouldn’t it be nice if another company could rescue it and make it available in Omnibuses (3 not 2 volumes) or better yet, digitally?

Amnesia Labyrinth Volume 1

Souji Kushiki, a high school student from a well-to-do family returns home from boarding to school to find things have changed. His three sisters are strangely clingy, and their behavior borders on inappropriate and bizarre. At school, he learns that over the summer, three of his fellow students were murdered, and the links to the murders seem to lead back to his sisters. With the help of his new friend, the cheery and spunky Yukako Sasai, Souji goes in search of the truth behind the murders, the answers to which may just end everything he believes to be true.

Story by Nagaru Tanigawa; Art by Natsumi Kohane
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Mystery
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Amnesia Labyrinth is a thriller-mystery that gave off Higurashi-When They Cry vibes when I started reading it. Many of the characters have creepy and unsettling sides to their personalities, that it seems only Souji sees. While the story moves into some areas of taboo that I don’t really care for, the mystery is intriguing.

Amnesia Labyrinth centers around Souji Kushiki, the second son of the Kushiki family and now head of house when his older brother Kazushi takes off. Souji is smart and athletic, and is very stoic to his home situation. He rarely smiles and seems very detached from the people around him. But his family dynamics are key to the story. We do meet his stepmother, but his father, a powerful politician, is never introduced. So the focus revolves around Souji and his three sisters.

Youko is the oldest sister, but is younger than Souji. She is both disturbing and disturbed. She likes to hold Souji from behind with her arm around his neck, almost threatening to choke him. She always has a faint smile on her lips, so it’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking. She looks as if she could go psycho at any moment. She’s tried to sleep with Souji but was soundly rejected. Saki is Souji’s half, illegitimate sister, and works as a maid in the house. She not as creepy as Youko, but she has her moments. She IS sleeping with Souji. Harumi is Souji’s step sister, the daughter of his father’s current wife, and the youngest. She is shy and meek; nothing like the other two sisters. She looks up to Souji, but is too self-conscious to say anything to him. Souji is the most brotherly with Harumi.

Outside this odd family is Yokako. She is Souji’s first friend at school, and is the sole member of the Intelligence Committee. She is very outgoing and upbeat, and latches onto Souji, despite his dour attitude. She is investigating the murders that have occurred at school, and has a personal interest in the last one. She drags Souji into helping her, and after learning some of the facts, he finds himself pulled in further.

The mystery of the murdered students is just one part of the story. They do appear to be connected to Souji. Each murdered person could have been a competitor to Souji; a track star, a smart student, the class president. This makes Youko and Saki look good as suspects, especially with their behavior near the end, but they also appear too obvious. It’s difficult to pick up what’s a red herring at this point.

The other mystery of this title seems to be about Souji and the Kushiki family. Souji doesn’t trust his full sister Youko. He doesn’t believe she is the real Youko. And even though he believes he has seen his older brother Kazushi walking around town, Youko takes him to a building on the family land where Kazushi is imprisoned. The question of dopplegangers seems to be brought, as does the fact that Souji is missing some of his memories, a fact that both Youko and Kazushi bring up along with dropping a potential bombshell on the last page. Yokako posits an interesting thought as well. The world they are living in now is really a dream world/land of dead, but no one knows it. It’s a bit of a Matrix reference, but it’s also something I can almost see, in relation to the visuals.

Amnesia Labyrinth is a strange but intriguing title. It has several disturbing moments which to me makes it deserving of its older teen rating. Youko comes off as borderline psycho, and all the incest that treated almost matter-of-factly would make me think twice about giving this title to anyone under 16. But the mystery of the murders and the truth behind the Kushiki family has me intrigued enough that I will check out the second volume to see where things go.

Tech Friday: That’s What I’m Talking About!

Viz announced it at the party at San Diego Comic Con and on their twitter feed. Their digital manga is no longer held hostage in the i* world. You can now buy and read Viz’s digital manga online! Yes, you heard me! Everything they’ve been announcing that I’ve been ignoring because it’s only been for iOS users is now free to be enjoyed by everyone with access to a browser, so that includes mobile devices as well as PCs. As long as your device can run Adobe Flash Player, you’ve got manga in your pocket!

This is the equality and freedom that manga needs to be really be successful in the digital realm. And Viz is doing it right. This month, all number 1 volumes are 40% off, which puts them at $2.99 a piece, and newer volumes are $4.99-$5.99.  This is about half the price of print manga which puts it in just the right range, especially since it can be accessed from anywhere, making it about as portable as you can get.

What really makes this appealing though is the space issue. It’s one that’s been seriously on my mind for a while now. I NEED to let go of a lot of titles, because I really just don’t have the space anymore. Especially as I catch up on older titles and try to keep up on newer ones.  The problem of course is, which titles do I love enough to keep in paper, and which  do I let go of to take up digitally? And it’s a problem that will take some thought. But finally having a real option to make those decisions makes it easier to do.

So, where should I start? Beast Master and Backstage Prince are short titles I’ve been thinking about. Children of the Sea is really tempting too. I’ve never read Ouran High School Host Club, but Alex of Manga Widget keeps trying to get me to read Cross Game. Where should I start?

The Manga Guide to Relativity

Everything’s gone screwy at Takai Academy. When the crazy Headmaster forces Minagi’s entire class to study Einstein’s theory of relativity over summer school, Minagi volunteers to go in their place. There’s just one problems: he’s never even heard of relativity before! Luckily, Minagi has the plucky Miss Uraga to teach him.

Continue reading The Manga Guide to Relativity

Why Can’t I Find This Volume?

Like a lot of people, I can’t keep up with all the titles I want to read, so some have to fall back and wait to be caught up on. Usually this isn’t a big deal. If it’s a recent series, within the last two years or so, and the publisher hasn’t gone under, or lost the license, catching up is usually as easy as getting online to Amazon or some other online retailer and ordering the missing volumes. In trying to do this though, I’ve run into some stumbling blocks, and it is absolutely perplexing to me as to why.

Continue reading Why Can’t I Find This Volume?

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