Manga Recon » Melinda Beasi http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga Manga reviews, features & interviews! Wed, 30 Jun 2010 12:53:16 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.9.2 en hourly 1 Farewell Roundtable http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/features/commentary/farewell-roundtable/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/features/commentary/farewell-roundtable/#comments Wed, 30 Jun 2010 12:20:55 +0000 Michelle Smith http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5873 We’ve got some sad news to share. After over a decade online, our parent site PopCultureShock will be shutting down and as a result, Manga Recon will also be disbanding. No new content will be posted after June 2010, but archived content will remain accessible at this address for the foreseeable future.

Manga Recon has been a big part of my life these last two years. I know that goes for our team of reviewers too, so, in order to give it a fitting sendoff, we participated in one final roundtable, sharing our gratitude, memories, and directions on how to find us elsewhere online. Thank you for reading, now and at all times past and future.

MICHELLE: While I’m obviously saddened by the news of PCS’ closure, I’m still extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend two years working with talented writers and honing my reviewing skills. Before getting tapped by Kate Dacey to join the Manga Recon team I was toiling away in obscurity on my own modest blog, and the idea that someone as well-respected as she (for, yes, I knew her name already) was reading my reviews was pretty mind-boggling. In a very real way, Manga Recon changed my life.

MELINDA: My experience was very similar, Michelle, at least in terms of Manga Recon’s impact on my life, though I did not even consider myself a reviewer when you and Kate brought me on. I learned how to write reviews from the two of you and that was key in expanding my world and introducing me to the many wonderful minds in the manga blogosphere, something that has enriched my offline life as well. Without Manga Recon, it’s difficult to imagine what the last year and a half of my life might have looked like.

SAM: My experiences with Manga Recon are very close to Melinda’s: this website was really my start, my jumping-off point for becoming a reviewer. I never once thought that I would meet anyone so significant in a comic book shop and I am very fortunate to have met Kate that day in Comicopia.

Manga Recon overall has helped me become a better writer in general (I wasn’t great when I started out) and that is largely due to the wonderful editors I have had. Doing reviews and roundtables has fueled my creative interests, pushing me to go out and research series, authors and industry news. Manga Recon even helped me to increase my online and convention presence, driving me to start actively using Twitter, as well as taking part in panels. This has really been the best experience that I could’ve had; it has opened the door to countless opportunities and I hope to continue to take what I have learned here and carry it on into the future.

Thanks to all the readers over the years, especially my close friends who’ve supported my writing, and thanks to the wonderful staff of writers that I have had the pleasure of getting to know. You will be missed.

KATE: Thanks for the kind words, guys!

Like everyone else who’s chimed in so far, Manga Recon was the place where I cut my teeth as a reviewer, where I learned the difference between snark and criticism, where I learned how to write for an audience instead of myself, and where I learned just how passionate fans are about their favorite series— woe to her that pan Vampire Knight! I’d never been to a comics convention before contributing to PCS, so Manga Recon provided me with a crash course on the manga publishing industry, not to mention the various subcultures within the fandom. And Manga Recon gave me a place to let down my hair and experiment with my writing, something that’s a lot harder to do within the narrow confines of academia. Put simply: Manga Recon was an educational experience for me.

None of this would have been possible without Jon Haehnle, who originally invited me to join PCS back in September 2006. Lord knows what Jon saw in my writing—it was pretty uninformed—but reviewing turned out to be an exciting way to explore what was then a new interest for me. Jon was patient with me in the early going, and an indispensable collaborator when Manga Recon blossomed from column to blog to full-fledged website. I owe Jon a big debt of gratitude for his support.

I also wanted to thank Michelle for her excellent stewardship of Manga Recon. She’s raised the editorial standards well above the benchmark I established, she’s developed some exciting new features, and she’s recruited some great talent for the site. Michelle is a natural-born editor; not only does she have a keen eye for detail and a good ear for language, she is one of the most organized people I know. (This from a woman who alphabetizes her spice rack—I know organizational skillz when I see ‘em.) Michelle also has a terrific, dry wit that I really came to appreciate when we worked together in 2008: who but Michelle could work in a Robert Goulet reference to a review of Slam Dunk?

MICHELLE: Thank you, Kate. You and Jon know how hesitant I was to attempt to fill your shoes, but it ended up being a lot more fun than I had expected! Sometimes you have to take risks to realize that you’re capable of doing something, I guess.

Sadly, I think you’re the only person who ever really appreciated the Goulet!

CHLOE: I, too, tip my hat to Kate on this one—you’re an excellent curator of talent, and I feel exceedingly privileged to have been scooped out of the big pond and dropped in the lovely little enclave that is Manga Recon. Reviewing has been one of the most fun, exhausting and thrilling things to do and pushed both my creative and analytical skills to new areas, not to mention getting my hands on some cool books in in the process. I’m going to miss the reviews, the community and, of course, these roundtables!

ERIN: My friend and Dungeon Master Hal Johnson, a clerk at Midtown Comics, asked me if I’d like to earn some free manga by writing reviews back in 2006. I enthusiastically and foolishly agreed. Free comics! Oh boy! A crate of yaoi from DMP arrived and promptly took up a lot of space in my living room. (My boyfriend complained about it and tripped over it a lot.) I was quickly overwhelmed and buried in books.

Jon Haehnle and I worked together to come up with the ninja-themed name “Manga Recon” to go with my podcast persona. I started the “Ninja Consultant” podcast in 2005. It was always my intention to tie Manga Recon into the podcast, or give it its own podcast. I commissioned a logo from E.K. Weaver but only ever produced a few shows.

In the early days I picked manga randomly from the shelves of Midtown Comics and reviewed it in “monthly” columns, with no regard to publication dates. Without an editor to reign me in I rambled on and on for hundreds of words. I couldn’t meet my self-set goals and only ever produced a few columns.

I was surprised and a little territorial when Kate was hired on as Chief Editor or Head Manga Reviewer or whatever. When did I get demoted? Worse still, Kate’s reviews were all very polished and much smarter than mine, and she was able to write on a near-daily basis. When I met her in real life it was even more upsetting: she’s gorgeous and doesn’t look nerdy at all, outside of a classy CLAMP bag. I was slouching around conventions in black T-shirts with frizzy pink hair and a Katamari hat.

When I first starting writing the column I figured the readers were probably the same high school-aged manga fans who crowded the aisles at Barnes and Noble. Then I met Brigid Alverson at New York Comic Con, and she really opened my eyes. Traffic was going through Manga Blog to PCS, and it wasn’t a bunch of Fruits Basket fourteen-year-olds at all—it was librarians, the publishers themselves, and other literary manga fans like Kate! I had to re-think how I was writing my reviews.

My most-viewed review is undoubtedly the Kare Kano comic I drew. I was unemployed in early 2007, and it took a couple days to put together the comic when I should’ve been job hunting. I also painstakingly reviewed individual volumes of the series with the idiotic idea that fans could save money by not buying the unimportant volumes. Nowadays I realize that’s ludicrous; even the most casual of manga fans can’t stand to miss a single volume. I wasted months writing those things, and the comic was a last-minute addition to the much-longer piece.

A horrifying thought occurred to me later: what if Masami Tsuda sees my comic? It’s been passed around the internet a lot, and even linked to from The Comics Journal website! After all, Rivkah herself commented on my review of her OEL manga Steady Beat. That really freaked me out! What if I ran into Rivkah at a convention (very likely)? Would I have said those things to her face? Tsuda probably can’t read English, but I drew myself slapping her…!

Through a combination of podcasting and writing for PCS I got a lot of press passes and went to a lot of conventions. I loved the ICv2 conferences and learned a lot about publishing. I met Ed Chavez of the Manga Cast, who hooked me up reviewing manga for Publishers Weekly. I used my Manga Recon reviews as writing samples for the job. When an opportunity came up to write about the Tekkonkinkreet movie for the second issue of Otaku USA Magazine, I pointed to my writing samples and got the job. Earlier I had reviewed the first issue of Otaku USA on Manga Recon with some harsh design notes. Ironically, I quickly became a staff anime reviewer for the magazine.

Paying gigs took up more of my time and I couldn’t contribute as much to Manga Recon (not that I ever contributed all that much per year). Fortunately, Jon and Kate kept adding more staff. I feel lucky to have met (almost) everyone on the incredible staff, and to have done some great panels with a few of you at conventions.

Last October I was approached to take over Bamboo Dong’s Shelf Life column on Anime News Network. It never would have happened without Manga Recon. In the last nine months, my writing has improved more than it has in five years of Manga Recon, thanks to tight deadlines, a tremendous volume of work, and extra editorial oversight. Obviously the paychecks also help. It bothers me that the readers there treat me like a n00b, even though I’ve been a reviewer for years!

In 2006 I worried that no one was reading my reviews, but now, thanks to Manga Recon, I have a tremendous number of readers. Otaku USA has a circulation of about 100,000 and Shelf Life has about 35,000 readers. I’m not sure how many readers my Publishers Weekly reviews have reached, but some of them turn up in Amazon’s database under “Editorial Content.” I have no idea of how many readers Manga Recon has reached over the years, but oddly enough I have found my Manga Recon reviews quoted in Wikipedia as “Critical Reception.”

MICHELLE: That’s an awesome glimpse into Manga Recon’s early days! I know that I had the Kare Kano review bookmarked for a long time before joining the staff myself. I’m not sure of Manga Recon’s readership levels myself, but I’ve seen some things I’ve written here turn up on Amazon, too, so they definitely get around.

Your account of your reviewing journey reminds me to encourage everyone to let readers know where you can be found! Just because PCS is closing down doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop writing about the manga that we love! Personally, I still have my original blog, Soliloquy in Blue, and also intend to ramp up my contributions to the Comics Should Be Good blog at Comic Book Resources.

Where will y’all be?

KEN: I had been writing long, rambling reviews for movies, comics, novels and more since ‘05, but those were mostly only read by friends and folks who stumbled across my livejournal. It wasn’t until I joined the TOKYOPOP site that Kate found me and brought me into the MR fold, which in turn served to introduce me to the larger online manga community. Thanks to that I’ve not only learned a little self-control in my reviews, but I’ve also met a number of interesting people, both online and off, that I probably never would have encountered otherwise.

Thanks to Kate, Jon, Michelle, the rest of the MR team and the readers. It’s been a fun and interesting few years.

ERIN: Oh yeah, I’m tagging my livejournal entries with “manga” if I put up an odd scrap:

erinfinnegan.livejournal.com/tag/manga

I believe you can subscribe to an RSS feed for a specific tag.

KATE: Jeez, Erin, you’re embarrassing me—without you, there’d be no Manga Recon at all! You were the person who puts PCS on the map as far as manga is concerned, and your reviews of Kare Kano and the Death Note movies were among the site’s all-time most-viewed articles during my tenure. I know we had some awkward moments, but I will always regard our Definitive Guide to Fumi Yoshinaga one of my proudest moments at PCS; I’m particularly fond of your Flower of Life cartoon review, and might even like it better than your legendary Kare Kano piece. Heresy, I know.

As for where to find me, I have my own website, The Manga Critic, and I’m also a contributor to Good Comics for Kids, a blog at the School Library Journal.

SAM: In terms of future projects, I am moving aside from reviewing content and am currently working on a podcast project that explores the comics community as whole; who the people are who love comics, who shell out money week after week, why they attend cons, the relationships they’ve built through comics etc.

I really want to explore why people are so passionate about the artform in general and I want to do this through a series of themed interviews and stories. Think of it as a much nerdier approach to This American Life.

So I will be keeping people posted through my Twitter, @SamKusek, and hopefully you all will be able to hear the first episode within a week or so!

MELINDA: Sam, that sounds great. I think you are just the person to undertake a project like that. I really look forward to it!

As always, you can all find me at Manga Bookshelf, which also serves as the home for Off the Shelf, a new weekly discussion column that is a collaborative project with Michelle. We’ve got a couple of other such projects in the works as well. I’ve also just started a new manhwa-specific blog as a companion site, Manhwa Bookshelf, where I’ve been hosting this month’s Manhwa Moveable Feast.

Speaking of Twitter, I’ve put together a Manga Recon Twitter list to make it easy to keep up with everyone’s future exploits!

GRANT: I was both shocked and thrilled when I was recruited to write for Manga Recon last January. I knew that there were review sites for manga, but never imagined I’d ever find myself writing for one (let alone being quoted on Wikipedia or landing a blurb for the Cirque du Freak manga series in a Yen Press promotional flyer). In a lot of ways, this was a huge learning experience, from poring over the MR article style guide to coming up with new ways to write reviews without falling into a pattern. I also found myself revising my reviews several times before submitting them: there was a standard of quality that all of you established and I had to make sure my work was always at that level.

Being able to write for Manga Recon truly helped me show other people what it is I see in graphic novels. Our review site was full of insightful breakdowns of what makes manga worth reading. Even better, it served as a reminder that there are plenty of other people out there who read manga with a critical eye. My students often tell me that their parents refuse to consider manga to be proper reading. I think our site proves that it is a legitimate story-telling form a thousand times over.

It has been a dream to write for MR. Just like many of you, I plan on continuing to write reviews. I look forward to commenting on your blogs and websites.

CONNIE: Manga Recon was one of the most fun projects I’ve been involved with, and I’m very sorry to have to say goodbye. I’ve been involved with other review sites before, and have had my own blog at Slightly Biased Manga for almost six years, but it had been a few years since I’d written real reviews for a site that was not my own when Michelle asked me to join the Manga Recon crew. I enjoyed the guidelines and deadlines I worked with at Manga Recon. Most of my writing is informal, off-the-cuff responses after I finish a book, so writing with purpose and coherency for Manga Recon was both fun and very good for me.

Most of all, though, I think I’ll miss the roundtables and the sense of community. I’m naturally very shy, so it’s hard for me to jump into a conversation or comment on things, even on the internet. But watching Twitter conversation and participating in roundtables has been an experience I haven’t had at any of the other sites I’ve worked at, and it’s what I’ll miss the most.

I’ve only been here a year and a half, and it’s felt like no time at all. I feel sorry that I couldn’t contribute more, but I am very, very happy with the time I’ve spent here. Thanks a million.

MICHELLE: Thanks again to all of you for being part of Manga Recon. It was a lot of fun working with each of you and, like Melinda mentioned, becoming part of a warm and welcoming manga blogging community. Although we won’t be writing here, I hope we still continue to follow each other’s endeavors in the future.

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Manga Minis, 6/28/10 http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/manga-reviews/manga-minis-62810/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/manga-reviews/manga-minis-62810/#comments Mon, 28 Jun 2010 04:10:23 +0000 Melinda Beasi http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5881 In this, our final minis column ever (see our Farewell Roundtable for an announcement and some reminiscing), Melinda checks out the BL oneshot Blood Honey (BLU Manga) while Connie reviews the second volume of Madness (BLU Manga) and the fourth of 13th Boy (Yen Press).


Blood Honey

By Sakyou Yozukura
BLU, 178 pp.
Rating: M (Mature)

Yuki Akabane is a vampire, but descended so far down the line, the only family trait he retains is a thirst for blood. His job as a nurse at a blood donor clinic keeps him hooked up with occasional meals, but his intake gets jacked up immensely by an obsessive donor named Osamu Mayazumi. Mayazumi is a teacher with a bad temper that seems to be quelled by donating blood, and thanks to a fear of needles, the only nurse he’ll trust is Akabane. Frequent visits to the clinic shift to nightly dinners at Akabane’s home, and before they know it, the two are harboring feelings for each other more serious than those of donor and nurse.

Despite the fairly creepy premise, this series’ most consistent trait is that it is quite simply a lot of fun. Yozakura’s sense of humor fits her characters perfectly, particularly in the second half of the book, where she introduces Akabane’s precocious nephew, Kiri. The book is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek, but it thankfully lacks the overblown ridiculousness of some humorous yaoi. As a bonus, there are some genuinely touching moments as well.

Yozukura’s artwork is quite expressive and frankly adorable, though her characters fall visually into the typical seme and uke roles, almost to the extreme. Thanks to that, both Akabane and his nephew look about fifteen, one of the book’s few major downsides.

Though it’s certainly not profound, Blood Honey is a fun, sexy, take on the current vampire trend.

Blood Honey is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


Madness, Vol. 2

By Kairi Shimotsuki
Blu, 245 pp.
Rating: M (18+)

In the concluding volume, the surviving members of Madness find out that they may have been manipulated into doing nearly everything they can recall in their lives. When their hunters are uncovered and the reason behind the Madness crew is reveaed, Izaya has to take a good, hard look at his beliefs and decide for himself how to lead his life.

This series falls into the rare category of “action yaoi,” where there’s a relatively involved plot to go along with the sex/flirting. Actually, there’s very little sex to speak of, and aside from a handful of non-con harassment scenes, there might only be one or two brief encounters between the main couple. Which means that we’re left with… the rest of the book.

The simple plot becomes convoluted when explained by the plethora of characters with different personal motivations running around after Madness. The fights also suffer from poor panel layouts and flow. Madness does get points for being something other than pure smut, and while I’m not the biggest fan of dark action yaoi, at least it isn’t an interminable string of sex scenes in the middle of a convoluted plot. It also has some pretty ridiculous dialogue, and aside from a hilarious theological discussion in the middle of a fight, there are some choice cheesy lines scattered throughout.

I think there are plenty of other series out there better than this (Yellow, for instance), but there might be a lot of fans starved for this type of story that might want to give it a try.

Volume two of Madness is available now.

–Reviewed by Connie C.


13th Boy, Vol. 4

By SangEun Lee
Yen Press, 180 pp.
Rating: Teen

Hee-So continues to look out for Sae-Bom and help her weather the teasing she receives from the other girls, causing a major split with Nam-Joo, her best friend. Teasing meant for Sae-Bom goes wrong, and Hee-So finds herself in yet another situation risking her life for the girl, only to be saved by Whie-Young. But with things getting more intense between Whie-Young and Hee-So, is Won-Jun stepping back into the picture to try for Hee-So’s affection again?

Where the other volumes introduced a lot of off-the-wall elements that made me like this series more and more, things have leveled off here as some of the relationships in the love triangle are sorted out. There’s still Hee-So’s obsession with fate, Whie-Young’s out-of-place magic, and Beatrice the talking cactus, but all that begins to work towards the noble goal of finding boyfriends and girlfriends for everyone. It’s still a lot of fun, though, and the story only gets more interesting as Hee-So and Nam-Joo begin coaching Sae-Bom on how to stand up for herself so she doesn’t get teased. Little by little, Sae-Bom begins to shake her eccentricities, and I love that her much more serious story goes right along with the silliness of Hee-So finding her destined boyfriend. We also learn a bit more about why Sae-Bom has stayed in her state of arrested development, meaning the former “playground accident” explanation isn’t nearly as inadequate as it seemed.

While nothing much new in the way of oddities gets added in this volume, the story continues to be among my favorites. It has just the right number of quirks and a pleasant mix of likable characters to make the oldest girls’ comic plot in the book very fresh and new.

Volume four of 13th Boy is available now.

–Reviewed by Connie C.

Review copies provided by the publishers.

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Manga Minis, 6/14/10 http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/manga-reviews/manga-minis-61410/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/manga-reviews/manga-minis-61410/#comments Mon, 14 Jun 2010 04:15:04 +0000 Michelle Smith http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5836 Fairy Navigator Runa and more!]]> It’s the ides of June, and the PCS crew is back with another set of minis! Michelle starts things off with a look at Fairy Navigator Runa, a new magical girl series from Del Rey. Next, Connie checks out the two-volume story of Lord Calthorpe’s Promise (Harlequin/SOFTBANK Creative), Melinda is disappointed by 9th Sleep (DMP), and Sam wraps things up with his reviews of volume four of Sumomomo, Momomo (Yen Press) and volume nine of 20th Century Boys (VIZ).


Fairy Navigator Runa, Vol. 1

Story by Miyoko Ikeda, Art by Michiyo Kikuta
Del Rey, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

When the female protagonist of a series is “a completely uncoordinated fourth grader,” you just know you’re dealing with a magical girl story. Fairy Navigator Runa is an unoriginal example of the genre, starring a clumsy but kind-hearted girl who learns that she is not only the princess of the fairy world but also possessed of a great power. Yawn.

Runa is resistant to this news at first, but when one friend—whose sole character trait is “the one who clutches a teddy bear”—is nearly struck by a car and another is captured by an evil ferret creature, Runa’s desire to protect her friends awakens her awesome ability to… send fairies back home. Yes, that is her amazing talent, and the inspiration for the manga’s title.

This manga is simply boring. It’s also full of cheesy dialogue like, “I am the one who holds the key to your destiny.” The only original elements are the creepy third eye on the back of Runa’s neck—such an uncute element is rare in this kind of tale—and Sae, the tomboyish best friend who looks at Runa in a very special way upon being rescued. Slashy!

There’s no shortage of magical girl manga out there, so if that’s what you’re after, it shouldn’t be hard to find one better than this.

Volume one of Fairy Navigator Runa is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Lord Calthorpe’s Promise, Vols. 1-2

Story By Sylvia Andrew, Art By Rin Ogata
Published by Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.
Rating: 16+

England, early 1800s: Katherine, after the death of her brother, is forced to live with her uncle and his abusive family. She is soon rescued by the handsome Adam Calthorpe, a colleague of her brother’s who promised to look after her. However, the stubborn Katherine has no interest in Adam’s charity or his proposal to send her through the debutante season in order to satisfy the requirements to collect her family’s wealth. As her feelings for Adam slowly begin to change, she will need to deal with Adam’s greedy ex-lover and a scheming cousin who is after her fortune.

The two volumes in this set are two halves of a whole story. The plot summary is more or less everything you need to know, and I enjoyed it quite a bit for its period setting and the unique debutante angle. Katherine was also a great heroine, since after the abuse she took from her family early on, she wasn’t willing to submit to anyone or anything. She was forceful and had no interest in in the values of the society class, and it was fun to see her transformation from a “country bumpkin” to a very successful debutante that could pay lip service to the things she hated.

What you see is what you get, and while there’s very little depth to speak of, if it sounds interesting to you, you’ll probably enjoy it since it delivers exactly what it promises. Be advised of the sloppy text editing in the Harlequin titles, though.

Volumes one and two of Lord Calthorpe’s Promise are available now at emanga.com.

–Reviewed by Connie C.


9th Sleep

By Makoto Tateno
Digital Manga Publishing, 200 pp.
Rating: 16+

Luke is the child of a “Maria possession,” meaning that his mother was still a virgin when he was born. What he soon finds out is that he is also a god-prince fallen to Earth, as well as the reincarnation of the “King’s Soul,” which he received upon the death of his father. Unwilling to wed the bride chosen for him, Luke carried that soul with him when he committed suicide sixteen years previous and placed it in the womb of the earth-woman he loved. Now that sixteen years have passed, he must fight his “brother” Malchus for possession of their father’s soul and kingdom.

If that summary seems convoluted, that’s no mistake. The premise of this manga is extraordinarily opaque, despite the fact that the mangaka attempts to explain it repeatedly, mainly by playing out the original scenario two more times over the course of the volume. In each incarnation, Luke avoids his final standoff with Malchus by killing himself, thus impregnating another unsuspecting young woman on the earth below.

While boys’ love plotlines are rarely required to be coherent (or even to exist at all) in order to attract a major portion of their fanbase, in this case there is also no boys’ love to speak of, leaving very little for fans of the genre to latch on to. Though the mangaka does offer up very pretty drawings of her two warring brothers, even standard fan service is in short supply.

Despite some attractive artwork, a confusing, vapid plot and lack of boys’ love action leave this one-shot manga without a clear audience.

9th Sleep is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


Sumomomo, Momomo, Vol. 4

By Shinobu Ohtaka
Yen Press, 208 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

Sumomomo, Momomo’s fourth volume is where the action that I predicted really kicks in and it does a surprisingly good job. Koushi and his ragtag group of loveable and insanely powerful misfits are challenged when the Koganei or Tiger clan finally strikes. This attack really shakes things up for the group, leaving Koushi feeling inadequate about his lack of super-powered martial arts knowledge, Momoko upset over the fact that she can’t comfort him and Tenka torn between friends and family. This large disturbance of the light comedy that we’ve seen so far creates some brilliant and frankly much-needed characterization.

As for the rest of the book, it sets the story up well, with enough tension to make me really care. My only concern is that the art isn’t going to keep evolving at all. This book’s artwork seemed a bit stale, with more obvious, awkward flaws. I’d like to see Shinobu Ohtaka really tighten up his style but for now, the awkwardness works.

Volume four of Sumomomo, Momomo! is available now.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek


20th Century Boys, Vol. 9

By Naoki Urasawa
Viz, 216 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

On a whole, I really love the 20th Century Boys series. The story is very emotional and the characters are so relatable that it is frightening how real they are sometimes. Volume nine, however, just didn’t sit as well with me as I was hoping it would. This volume focuses intently on Kanna and her journey as she begins to gather the pieces she needs to take down the Friend corporation.

It is a really exciting volume, as she almost gambles her life away amongst other things, but I felt like it was way too much. There were just so many exciting moments, one right after another, that I felt like I had no time to pause and soak it all in, ultimately causing the events to make a much smaller impact than they intended to.

Fortunately, the art was able to carry these feelings along, providing some really intense, lasting scenes. This is one of those volumes that is a not-so-great piece in a puzzle that is a wonderful, whole picture. You’ll find yourself wanting to get ten immediately after reading nine.

Volume nine of 20th Century Boys will be available on June 15, 2010.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek

Review copies provided by the publishers.

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Manga Minis, 6/7/10 http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/manga-reviews/manga-minis-6710/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/manga-reviews/manga-minis-6710/#comments Mon, 07 Jun 2010 04:05:30 +0000 Michelle Smith http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5822 Deadman Wonderland and more!]]> Not a lot of winners in this week’s batch of minis, I’m afraid. Ken starts things off with a look at the second volume of Deadman Wonderland (TOKYOPOP), which has at least begun to grow on him. Next, Melinda is disappointed by the squandered promise in volumes one and two of Maria Holic (TOKYOPOP). Lastly, Michelle finds aspects of Yokan: Premonition’s (DMP) first volume to be intriguing while others are troubling. Enjoy!


Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 2

Written by Jinsei Kataoka, Art by Kazuma Kondou
TOKYOPOP, 208 pp.
Rating: OT (16 +)

The plot thickens as yet another layer to the Deadman Wonderland park and prison is revealed! The second volume in the series keeps the action coming and provides some tantalizing hints to the true purpose behind the park and Ganta’s imprisonment. Not to mention that it expands the cast and raises even more questions, namely just who’s running Deadman Wonderland anyway?

One of the things that I really liked about this volume is how Jisnei Kataoka is beginning to move Ganta from a traumatized passive wreck into a plucky shonen protagonist. The change isn’t sudden, as he’s still fairly scared and prone to freakouts and bouts of naivety, but it’s clear that Ganta’s heading in that direction. Meanwhile, Kazuma Koundu’s artwork continues to be stylish and highly energetic with several dynamic fight scenes scattered throughout the volume, along with a rather trippy sequence where Ganta nearly passes out. The designs for the new characters are rather eye-catching as well.

The series is starting to grow on me. I’m still not exactly blown away by it, but Kondou’s artwork, the way Ganta’s slowly growing as a character, and the myriad of mysteries floating about are engaging and interesting enough to make me want to read more.

Volume two of Deadman Wonderland is available now.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley


Maria Holic, Vols. 1-2

By Minari Endou
Published by TOKYOPOP
Rating: OT (16+)

Kanako is a high school student seeking true love. Since she despises men, she decides to look for it at the same all-girls’ school where her parents met (her father was a teacher). Unfortunately, the first “girl” she falls for, Mariya Shidou, turns out to be a cross-dressing boy! Worse still, in order to keep her from revealing his secret, Mariya installs himself as Kanako’s new roommate, so that he can watch her every move.

What could have been a thoughtful-yet-funny manga about a teen girl dealing with her sexuality, love, and Catholicism at an all-girl’s school in Japan (as unlikely as that manga might have been) is unfortunately not much more than a non-stop barrage of fanservice and male-centered fantasy. In the most obvious of these fantasies, of course, though Kanako lusts after nearly every girl she meets at her new school, it seems clear that she’s being set up to ultimately fall for a man.

The saddest thing about this is that in the midst of the series’ endless boob jokes, nosebleeds, and cries of, “pervert!” Kanako is actually a fairly rich character who, in another manga, might be both funny and touching. She’s smart and idiosyncratic, and is genuinely conflicted about her feelings for her classmates as well as her lack of connection with the Catholic church (in which she struggles to find meaning). Even her schoolmates, whose primary function is to facilitate fanservice, are a quirky, well-defined bunch. The series’ second volume, in particular, has maddeningly untapped potential, which is somehow much more upsetting than if it was just complete trash. The same could be said for Minari Endou’s artwork, which is actually quite expressive, even if what it’s expressing is most likely to offend.

Alternating between tragically wrongheaded and just plain crass, Maria Holic sadly fails to live up to the potential of its premise.

Volumes one and two of Maria Holic are available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


Yokan: Premonition, Vol. 1

By Makoto Tateno
Co-published by Oakla Publishing and Digital Manga, Inc., 200 pp.
Rating: Mature (18+)

Akira is the lead singer of a visual kei band and has somewhat of an attitude. He doesn’t care about the fans’ enjoyment, only his own, and refuses to sing anything he didn’t write himself. That is, until he overhears mainstream entertainer Hiroya Sunaga singing one of his own compositions. For the first time, Akira’s obsessed by someone else’s music and makes it his mission to get Hiroya to abandon his “adequate” career and really sing seriously.

Once again, Makoto Tateno has crafted a BL story with a fair amount of plot and a minimum of romance. Yes, Akira and Hiroya eventually become lovers, but there’s always an atmosphere of challenge to their encounters. In dragging Hiroya back into a world he left behind, Akira is creating a rival for himself, setting up a standard to be surpassed.

While this concept is promising, Yokan: Premonition is far from perfect. When Akira first expresses interest in singing his song, Hiroya demands payment. Readers expect this to be sex, but in fact, he only claims a kiss. This led me to hope the story would be free from a nonconsensual scene, but this is unfortunately not the case. The bonus story, “Sinsemilla,” is also pretty horrible, featuring one character dosing another with an aphrodisiac and said victim later suggesting that the drug made him gay. “I was completely hetero before!”

I liked Yokan: Premonition well enough to continue to the second volume, but it probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Volume one of Yokan: Premonition is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Review copies provided by the publishers.

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Hinako Takanaga Appearing At Yaoi-Con 2010 http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/news/manga-news/hinako-takanaga-appearing-yaoi-con/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/news/manga-news/hinako-takanaga-appearing-yaoi-con/#comments Thu, 20 May 2010 14:43:51 +0000 Melinda Beasi http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5772 Gardena, CA (May 19. 2010)- Digital Manga Publishing is excited to announce their special guest for Yaoi-Con 2010, the prolific and fan-favorite yaoi mangaka-Hinako Takanaga! The creator of numerous manga, including Little Butterfly, The Devil’s Secret, Challengers, Croquis, Love Round!!, Liberty Liberty, and the soon to be released The Tyrant Falls In Love, Hinako Takanaga has been one of the most popular yaoi mangaka in the US, and will be making her second appearance at Yaoi-Con!

So come up to San Francisco in October, and meet the immensely talented Hinako Takanaga in person, and hear her answer questions about her process and her work!

Yaoi-Con takes place over the Halloween weekend, October 29-October 31, and at a brand new location in Burlingame, CA! For more information on Yaoi-Con, including location, hotels, and registration, please visit their site at: www.yaoicon.com

——————–
THE TYRANT FALLS IN LOVE, VOL. 1, Rated M+ (for ages 18+), MSRP: $12.95, Available: August 18, 2010, B6 Size, June’ Imprint

University study Tetsuhiro Morinaga has been in love with his homophobic, violent and tyrannical sempai Souichi Tatsumi for more than four years now. Even though he’s told Tatsumi how he feels and even managed to steal a kiss, expecting anything more seems like nothing more than the stuff of dreams… That is until the long-oppressed Morinaga gets his biggest chance ever. Might his unendingly unrequited love finally be returned?

——————–

About Digital Manga Publishing

Located in Gardena, CA, Digital Manga Publishing is one of the industry’s most unconventional and innovative companies, specializing in building corporate and cultural bridges from Japan to the Western Hemisphere – specifically through the licensing, importation and preparation of anime (Japanese animation), manga (Japanese comic books) and related merchandise for the North American mainstream and subculture markets. In this capacity, DMI serves as a catalyst for the expansion of Japanese pop culture institutions into global arenas. The company’s imprint line includes DMP: its mainstream imprint, DMP PLATINUM: its classic manga imprint, JUNE´: its boys love imprint, 801 MEDIA: its adult boys love imprint, and DokiDoki: its exclusive co-publishing imprint with Shinshokan Publishing.

For more information about Digital Manga Publishing, visit www.digitalmanga.com

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On the Shojo Beat: Flower in a Storm and More! http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/on-the-shojo-beat/shojo-beat-flower-a-storm-more/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/on-the-shojo-beat/shojo-beat-flower-a-storm-more/#comments Mon, 17 May 2010 02:00:20 +0000 Michelle Smith http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5761 Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You and We Were There!]]> The Shojo Beat debut title for May is Flower in a Storm, which Michelle discovers is much better than the back cover blurb leads one to believe. She also takes a look at volume four of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, and Melinda wraps things up with her review of volume ten of We Were There.


Flower in a Storm, Vol. 1

By Shigeyoshi Takagi
VIZ, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

After being rejected by her first love because of her superhuman strength, Riko is trying to live as unremarkable a life as possible. She believes that the only way she’s going to fall in love is to be “normal,” but this point of view is challenged by the dramatic arrival (with gun and menacing retinue) of rich boy Ran Tachibana, who barges into her classroom one day and proposes marriage.

Unlike her first love, when Ran caught a glimpse of Riko’s abilities he was smitten and his unstoppable pursuit leads him to transfer to her school. Ran’s got quite a few enemies, so his proximity involves Riko in all sorts of dangerous situations involving assassins and treacherous friends, but his acceptance of her as she is gradually endears her to him despite all the chaos he introduces into her life.

In no way did I expect to enjoy Flower in a Storm as much as I did. In fact, I remember reading the back cover description aloud to someone and the two of us groaning. In reality, though, it’s actually a lot of fun, even though some of the situations the leads find themselves in are fairly ridiculous. Ran might be outrageous, but the fact that he appreciates Ran for her competence and independence goes a long way toward making his presumptive actions more tolerable. Also, this isn’t one of those series where the domineering guy must come to the aid of the helpless heroine; instead, they do their fair share of rescuing each other.

After Ran and Riko’s tale comes to a nice stopping point, there’s a bonus story called “Need for Artificial Respiration.” It’s about a girl, Toko, with a bad reputation at school due to frequently being spotted kissing different guys. After having his first kiss stolen by Toko while napping in a classroom, Kiyoharu becomes interested in figuring out why she does what she does. The answer is rather surprising, but the story is quite good and definitely more interesting than many bonus stories tend to be.

I like Takagi-sensei’s art a lot, especially Ran’s character design. Riko resembles the title character from Alice in the Country of Hearts, but Ran—with his tied-back hair and impressive collection of stylish specs—has a look all his own that I actually find kind of sexy. Also, there’s just something about Takagi’s angular profiles that reminds me at times of Tomoko Yamashita, creator of Dining Bar Akira.

Ultimately, Flower in a Storm was a very pleasant surprise. Probably a story like this would fizzle out over a long serialization, but the fact that it concludes in its second volume (due in August) reassures me that its end will be as unexpectedly entertaining as its beginning.

Volume one of Flower in a Storm is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 4

By Karuho Shiina
VIZ, 208 pp.
Rating: Teen

When Sawako Kuronuma was ostracised by her class due to her gloomy disposition and resemblance to a character from a horror movie, she never would have guessed that there are so many nuances to interactions with other people. Because of her inexperience in this area, she hasn’t learned to be distrustful, and so accepts as genuine the friendly advances of Kurumi, a girl who wants Kazehaya-kun for herself.

Kurumi does everything within her power to convince Sawako, who is growing increasingly curious about the depth of her feeling for Kazehaya, that what she feels for him isn’t anything special, and that she ought to try chatting up some other guys for the sake of comparison (then arranges for Kazehaya to witness this, of course). Things backfire for Kurumi, though, as Sawako manages to interpret this advice in the best possible light and ends up confirming and accepting that what she feels for Kazehaya is genuine love.

This is a huge step for Sawako, and her happiness at this achievement in self-discovery is contagious. In fact, the depiction of her thought process as she works this out is simply terrific throughout, as is that of Kazehaya as he realizes that, no matter what he may personally feel, Sawako is still not ready to begin dating anyone. The skill with which nonverbal and internal storytelling convey these revelations to the reader elevates Kimi ni Todoke beyond other sweet love stories and into the realm of great manga.

Volume four of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


We Were There, Vol. 10

By Yuki Obata
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)

After volume nine’s jump to the future, We Were There returns again to the past. This volume follows Yano in his first year away from Nanami as seen through the eyes of a classmate, Sengenji. While things continue to decline for Yano’s mother, Yano strives desperately to cling to his long-distance relationship with Nanami, even if this means shutting her out of everything he’s going through. Meanwhile, Yamamoto enters the picture once again and Sengenji battles her own feelings for Yano.

So much of this series revolves around questions of trust, and once again Yano falls short–not in terms of his own trustworthiness, but rather in his inability to trust Nanami with the things she most needs to know. Though he tries to justify this as concern for her, it’s obvious that what he’s really protecting is himself. “Even if wounds heal, scars are left behind,” he says to Takeuchi over the phone, following a labored metaphor about broken plants created to justify shielding Nanami from further truth. “So it’s better not to experience hardship if you don’t have to.”

Even watching Yano stumble, however, it’s impossible not to feel for him, and it’s exactly this kind of emotional ambiguity that this series handles so well. Every poor choice and heartfelt miscalculation is perfectly in-character, forcing readers to examine their own reactions just as in real life.

With its thoughtful tone and exceptional insight into the human mind and heart, We Were There continues to be a must-read for fans of mature shojo.

Volume ten of We Were There is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

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On the Shojo Beat: Stepping on Roses and More! http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/on-the-shojo-beat/shojo-beat-stepping-roses-more/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/reviews/on-the-shojo-beat/shojo-beat-stepping-roses-more/#comments Sun, 18 Apr 2010 15:41:21 +0000 Michelle Smith http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5699 Honey Hunt and Wild Ones!]]> Welcome to the April edition of On the Shojo Beat! Michelle starts us off with a look at the fourth volume of Honey Hunt, now available after quite a lengthy wait from volume three. Next, Jennifer takes a look at the debut title for this month, Stepping on Roses, a period romance from the creator of Tail of the Moon. Lastly, Melinda chimes in on volume nine of Wild Ones, which offers some resolution on the romantic front though the series has one more volume to go.


Honey Hunt, Vol. 4

By Miki Aihara
VIZ, 192 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

Despite having no prior interest in acting, Yura Onozuka, the relatively normal daughter of celebrity parents, discovers a talent for it when she resolves to surpass her mother in the dramatic sphere. She has achieved some moderate success pretty quickly, including a spot in a commercial and a supporting role on a new TV drama.

Yura’s career is less the focus in this volume than are her romantic prospects, however. While volume three ended with one pop star (Haruka) confessing his feelings, here Yura is swept away by his twin brother (Q-ta, also a pop star), to the point where she’s distracted during an audition and later ditches a dinner planned by her housemates—to celebrate her drama’s debut—in favor of spending a night on the town with Q-ta.

Although one might wish for a heroine more doggedly dedicated to her career, it’s not hard to sympathize with Yura as she faces the choice between two dreams—the nurturing family-type environment offered by her housemates and the love of a prince-like suitor. Even though she makes some mistakes, she’s still likeable. Q-ta, however, comes off as quite the brat here, and one can’t help but wonder whether his protestations that he likes Yura for herself rather than for her famous father are truly genuine. If not, I suppose it’ll make for good drama.

In the end, while Honey Hunt doesn’t leave a particularly strong impression with the reader, it’s still something I enjoy reading.

Volume four of Honey Hunt is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Stepping on Roses, Vol. 1

By Rinko Ueda
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

Sumi Kitamura needs to beat some sense into her older brother, Eisuke.

Not that this is proper for a girl of Meiji-era Japan, nor is it in her character to do so. They’re on their own, you see, and were it just Eisuke and Sumi—well, Sumi’s fifteen and Eisuke’s old enough to work, so they’d probably be able to make it on their own. That’s not how Eisuke rolls, though. He has this habit of bringing abandoned babies home for Sumi to care for, dumping them on her lap and heading out again to “work.”

“Work” is put in quotation marks here because Eisuke is essentially a gigolo. He’d probably bring in enough money to support Sumi and the children if he didn’t have a gambling problem on top of that. At the beginning of Stepping on Roses, he’s just dropped a fifth abandoned child into Sumi’s care right as one of the older children, a little girl named Tomi, has fallen ill.

It’s through the generosity of a stranger that Tomi gets the medicine she needs, but that hurdle is jumped only to run into another: Eisuke has been trying to romance the girlfriend of one of his thug creditors, and now said creditor has come to collect the 2,000 yen (worth about $33,000 in modern US dollars) Eisuke borrowed in Sumi’s name. Sumi ends up offering to sell herself to make the money (so the thug won’t sell the five young children on the black market).

Here’s where Soichiro Ashida comes into the picture. He’s rich, handsome, and stands to inherit his family’s fortune if he gets married by the deadline set by his dying grandfather. So he buys Sumi. She thinks at first that he’s just bought her body, but no, that’s not it at all: he’s bought her hand in marriage, so Sumi must relinquish her freedom to this man who can’t be bothered with romance. The biggest catch is this: she is not to love him, and he’s not going to love her.

So that’s the main story: destitute teenage girl, desperate to save the five children she cares for, sells her hand in marriage to a selfish rich boy. She’s forced into a crash course in manners (especially Western-style manners) and how to behave as part of the gentry, all the while not being allowed to even let Eisuke and the children know where she is or what’s become of her. She recognizes that she’s being treated like crap, but doesn’t feel like she has any choice in the matter since she’s been paid for. All of this is complicated even further by his sweet, affectionate treatment of her when they’re in front of other people.

While the art of Stepping on Roses is absolutely beautiful, the story is not. I have no doubt that such a concept could be done well in the hands of another storyteller, but Ueda-sensei’s storytelling leaves me feeling frustrated at the predictable way the plot moves and the horrible way that the bulk of the supporting characters behave toward the protagonist. I’m not going to give up on this one just yet, but I don’t have much hope for Stepping on Roses.

Volume one of Stepping on Roses is available now.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Dunbar


Wild Ones, Vol. 9

By Kiyo Fujiwara
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen

Having finally agreed to speak to the father who abandoned him so many years ago, Rakuto is confronted with the possibility that he may eventually have to leave Sachie’s side in order to make peace with his own past. Meanwhile, Azuma is determined to let Sachie know how he feels, whether Rakuto is ready to play his part or not. Who does Sachie truly love? Has this ever been in question? If so, this volume provides an answer at long last!

Finally the series’ romantic tension is resolved, exactly as it was certain to be from the beginning. Some formulaic romances are enjoyable to read simply because they are so predictable. With these stories, the charm is in the writing, and watching their familiar scenarios play out is, frankly, comforting and downright delightful. Unfortunately, this is not one of those series. Though the couple in question are undeniably sweet, their relationship is so labored and so painfully drawn out, one finds oneself wishing something truly shocking would happen (a deadly plague? an alien invasion? ) just to break up the monotony. With its unbelievable premise and its terminally clueless lovers, this series seems determined to remain lifeless until the end.

Well, almost, anyway. To be fair, this volume’s final pages are honestly sweet, and may even evoke tears from desperate readers grateful for a bit of romantic satisfaction. It may not be an alien invasion, but long-time readers are at least assured some payoff.

Volume nine of Wild Ones is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

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VIZ MEDIA ANNOUNCES GENTLEMEN’S ALLIANCE† CONCLUSION http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/news/manga-news/media-announces-gentlemen%e2%80%99s/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/news/manga-news/media-announces-gentlemen%e2%80%99s/#comments Wed, 07 Apr 2010 02:28:17 +0000 Melinda Beasi http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5676 April 6, 2010 – VIZ Media will bring on the conclusion of Arina Tanemura’s acclaimed shojo drama THE GENTLEMEN’S ALLIANCE† with the release of Volume 11 today.

Haine goes to Shizumasa and Takanari’s grandfather, the head of the Togu family, to ask him to release the twins from their fate. But he tells her that she must pass the same trial the twins went through for determining the rightful Togu heir. Haine agrees, but little does she know that a former friend is now out for her life!

Published under the Shojo Beat imprint, THE GENTLEMEN’S ALLIANCE† (rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens) has helped to define the shojo genre of manga, selling more than 2.5 million copies in Japan. Creator Arina Tanemura’s beautiful flowing art and spunky female lead characters has brought her international adoration.

THE GENTLEMEN’S ALLIANCE† opens when, in return for a business loan of 50 million yen, the prestigious Kamiya family gives their daughter Haine away to the Otomiya family. Haine, now an Otomiya, is appointed to the student council of the exclusive Imperial Academy, a private school for the aristocracy. Even though Haine is of proper lineage to be on the council, she finds herself struggling to find her place among the many secrets of its elite members, especially those of the president, Shizumasa Togu, aka “the Emperor”, who holds her heart.

Arina Tanemura began her manga career in 1996 with several short stories published in the shojo manga magazine Ribon. But she started to gain fame in 1997 with her series I•O•N (published by VIZ Media, rated ‘T’ For Teens), a high school romance with a supernatural twist. From 1998 to 2000, Tanemura worked on the popular series Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, about a young girl who is the reincarnation of Joan of Arc, followed by TIME STRANGER KYOKO in 2000–2001 and FULL MOON in 2002 (both also published by VIZ Media, rated ‘T’ for Teens). Both Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne and FULL MOON were adapted into popular TV series.

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Hooray for Harlequin, Part 2 http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/features/hooray-harlequin-part-2/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/features/hooray-harlequin-part-2/#comments Fri, 26 Mar 2010 18:36:24 +0000 Michelle Smith http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5662 We’re back with part two of Hooray for Harlequin, our look at the manga adapted from Harlequin romances currently being hosted at DMP’s eManga site. This installment features five more stories of happily ever after. To get us started, Michelle reviews Jack and the Princess, a simple yet effective tale, followed by Jen whose take on Keeping Luke’s Secret is generally complimentary. Melinda finds Only By Chance to be a breath of fresh air while Connie encounters mixed results with her two picks, The Sheikh’s Contract Bride and To Marry McAllister.


Jack and the Princess

Original text by Raye Morgan
Art by Junko Okada
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

Karina, the 22-year-old princess of Nabotavia, is going to be returning to her home country soon and getting married to an aristocrat of her aunt’s choosing. Lonely and looking to enjoy her final summer of freedom, she attempts to befriend Jack, the new head of security for her uncle’s Beverly Hills residence and only other young person around. Jack’s resistant at first, owing to the gulf between their social circumstances, but the extent of Karina’s isolation coupled with her resigned acceptance of her duties prompts his interest in her to grow and, in what will come as a surprise to no one, they fall in love.

The result is a sweet romance that, even though it contains far too many kidnapping attempts for a story this short, works well in the manga format. I think the reason Jack and the Princess was able to be adapted from the original novel so successfully is that the story is so simple. Lonely princess meets suspended cop who sees the woman, not the title. That’s essentially all that’s going on here, and while it’s definitely nothing new, the end result is still satisfying.

Junko Okada’s clean and attractive artwork complements the story well, with shades of early shojo in Karina’s character design and an appropriately studly look for Jack. While lettering problems persist—some of these lines really could fit the bubbles with only minor tweaking—this volume is completely free from grammatical errors and the script reads smoothly.

The original novel is evidently the first in a series (Catching the Crown) featuring more members of the Nabotavian royal family hooking up with ordinary folks. I have no idea if the others received the manga treatment, but if they show up on eManga, I’ll definitely check ‘em out.

Jack and the Princess is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Keeping Luke’s Secret

Original text by Carole Mortimer
Art by Hinoto Mori
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 128 pp.
Rating: 16+

When the aging actress Rachel Richmond calls young female historian Leonie Winston to her home, Leonie has absolutely no clue that Richmond is going to request that Leonie be her biographer. Not that Leonie hasn’t been published, but her first book was a biography of her grandfather. She’s stunned at the request, especially since thirty years prior, Rachel gave birth to a son she called Luke. The identity of Luke’s father is a secret to everyone but Rachel and Luke—hence the title. Luke fights against his mother giving up this information, thinking Leonie to be just another opportunist, but there’s a reason Rachel contacted this particular historian, and those reasons will shake Luke’s world to the core.

Interestingly, this manga adaptation of Keeping Luke’s Secret is the first time this title has been published in the United States. I’m not sure why—this version, at least, works just fine. Well. Sort of. I mean, the art falls into awkward angles sometimes and I absolutely do not understand why the boyfriend Leonie has at the beginning of the story has to gradually morph into king of all dirtbags in order to make room for Luke. They could just grow apart like adults, but I guess that’d be asking too much. Still, this is a pleasant enough diversion for a springtime afternoon.

Keeping Luke’s Secret is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Dunbar


Only By Chance

Original text by Betty Neels
Art by Chieko Hara
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)

Henrietta Cowper is a low-level assistant to an insufferable physician at a London hospital. Adam Ross-Pit is a well-respected surgeon at the same facility. When Henrietta falls ill in the middle of her shift, Adam forces her into an extended hospital stay, ultimately resulting in the loss of her apartment and her job. Feeling responsible, he steps in to take care of her cats and ends up finding her housing and a new job as well—as a tour guide in a large manor near his country home. Though Henrietta and Adam are each drawn to one another, their social stations place them worlds apart. Is it possible for two gentle souls like these to overcome societal barriers?

Very little happens over the course of this manga, but that’s actually what makes it work so well. While more ambitious stories fall to pieces under the constraints of manga adaptation, this simple, quiet romance slips perfectly into place with no obvious cuts or awkward shifts in tone. There’s no real drama here—no true villains or any genuine conflict. The romance is inevitable but lazily pleasant, like sunlight on a Sunday morning or a cat stretching out after a long nap. Do these comparisons sound ridiculous? They’re not. If you’re now picturing a lazy cat stretching in the sun, you’re actually right on track.

Betty Neels’ protagonists are sweet in an vintage sort of way, reminiscent of the quieter characters of Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery, perfectly matched by Chieko Hara’s old-fashioned shojo character designs. The art is a real highlight of this volume overall, especially in terms of pacing and emotionally rich imagery. Though the lettering is as sloppy as all the books in this series, its stodgy font choice actually feels rather appropriate.

Though Only By Chance delivers neither high drama nor epic romance, this gentle little love story is truly a breath of fresh, spring air.

Only By Chance is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


The Sheikh’s Contract Bride

Original text by Teresa Southwick
Art By Keiko Okamoto
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 128 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

Adina does not wish to go through with her arranged marriage to Malik, a powerful sheikh who was chosen as her husband by her father. She has fallen in love with another, but is too timid to tell her father or her fiancé. Instead, her twin Beth volunteers to go to the sheikh and break up the marriage so that Adina doesn’t have to rock the boat herself. But Beth finds herself falling for Malik and encouraging him rather than breaking things up.

I got exactly what I was looking for in this volume: a sweet story that was easy to read and follow. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters or story, and it’s not hard to tell where it’s going, but it was still enjoyable. I liked that Beth’s forwardness was what Malik was drawn to, and I also liked that he was a pretty nice guy, because so often in this type of story the powerful man is a jerk who is brought low or made vulnerable in order to give the heroine an opportunity at his soft side. The relationship between Beth and Malik is very natural and very slowly developed, and the subtlety surprised me. There is a twist at the end that threatens to wreck things (aside from the fact she’s been passing herself off as her twin sister), and of course it doesn’t amount to much in the end, but it was still appreciated.

It’s not going to win any awards, and I’m sure anyone not looking for a romance manga would find it extremely boring, but anyone who’s interested will probably be satisfied with it in the end. And I can’t argue with the e-manga format.

The Sheik’s Contract Bride is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Connie C.


To Marry McAllister

Original text by Carole Mortimer
Art By Junko Murata
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 128 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

Brice is a famous painter who is hired by the millionaire Richard to do a portrait of Sabina, his fiancé and a famous supermodel. But Sabina feels uncomfortable around Brice and continually avoids him. Brice comes on hard in situations where he forces Sabina to meet, and before long, he finds himself falling for the aloof woman. Sabina wants to stay faithful to Richard, but also feels chemistry for Brice. How will the situation work itself out?

The answer to the above question is a pretty obvious one, given the fact Richard is older and fairly sinister and Brice is a young and romantic artist. The story was an interesting one, and while it trod in familiar territory, I do like these Harlequin manga for following a completely different set of clichés than typical shojo manga. I liked this story less than the others I’ve read, however, since there was almost no chemistry between the couple. It was a shock to me when Brice declared his feelings, since he seemed more interested in pushing Sabina’s buttons, and it was even more surprising and abrupt when Sabina began to reciprocate.

There is also a secondary story about an obsessed fan that is handled badly and winds up being irrelevant, anyway. I did like the older characters and more mature emotions on display, though, which I do give it some credit for. There are better Harlequin titles out there, but if you’ve got an itch for the mature rich people story, this will do nicely.

To Marry McAllister is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Connie C.

Complimentary digital access provided by DMP.

All images copyright © Harlequin.

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Hooray for Harlequin, Part 1 http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/features/hooray-harlequin-part-1/ http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/index.php/features/hooray-harlequin-part-1/#comments Thu, 25 Mar 2010 13:19:52 +0000 Michelle Smith http://www.popcultureshock.com/manga/?p=5655 If you haven’t had a chance to check out eManga, the new digital manga portal for DMP, you really should. They’ve got lots of their BL up—some complete volumes and some just samples—as well as a smattering of titles based on Harlequin romance novels. Since there are quite a few of the latter, we thought the best way to showcase them was a special Hooray for Harlequin feature; this is part one, and part two will be posted tomorrow.

To start us off, we are joined by special guest reviewer Danielle Leigh (of Comics Should Be Good), who takes a look at The Apartment. Melinda’s up next with Honor’s Promise, followed by Michelle with Married Under the Italian Sun. Chloe wraps things up with two reviews: Prisoner of the Tower and Word of a Gentleman. Enjoy!


The Apartment

Original text by Debbie Macomber
Art by Ryo Arisawa
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adult 16+

He’s a little bit country and she’s a little bit…classical music? It isn’t just the leads’ love of different musical styles that keeps them apart, but the difference in their class status that is offered as the contrived impediment that keep the two from embarking upon a relationship in this run-of-the-mill contemporary romance.

This Harlequin manga—based on a Debbie Macomber story—is named The Apartment because a landlord has double-booked recent army vet Shaun and sheltered flutist Hilary for the same apartment. While Hilary’s delicate sensibilities are at first wounded by Shaun’s abrupt manner, it doesn’t take long before she realizes he’s a good guy and starts to fall in love with him. Meanwhile, Shaun is hung up on Hilary’s cultured upbringing, and does the dumb male thing by trying to wreck their budding relationship on purpose. For Hilary’s own good, of course.

Even for a formulaic romance, there’s next to no tension in the book and the final resolution is never in doubt. I must admit I have a secret fondness for historical romances, though I greatly appreciate a book set in a post-feminist era that generally treats the characters as equals. Although Hilary is assigned a “princess” background, she is still attempting to make it on her own as a young musician, and it is Shaun who mistakenly flaunts his masculinity as if that were an indelible class marker. While technically a “contemporary” romance, the characters’ hang-ups about the difference in their status seem rather quaint by today’s standards.

The art looks like conventional shojo, but pared down quite a bit to suit the story’s focus on maturing young adults, rather than excitable teenagers. That said, I found myself missing the impressionistic flourishes and all the storytelling excesses that often make shojo titles such a pleasure to read. In the end, this title lacked that artistic and narrative passion that makes representations of various affairs of the heart often so compelling in shojo manga.

The Apartment is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Danielle Leigh


Honor’s Promise

Original text by Sharon Sala
Art by Esu Chihara
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 125 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)

Though still mourning the recent loss of her mother, Honor O’Brien strives to keep her mother’s memory alive by caring for the restaurant she started after the death of her husband. When a young man from Colorado sweeps into town and sweeps Honor off her feet, she’s surprised to find herself experiencing real happiness alongside such fresh grief. She’s even more surprised to discover that the man she’s fallen for so quickly is actually in town to deliver a rather appalling truth about her own origins. Can Honor truly find love with the man whose job it is to tear down everything she’s ever known?

This manga starts out strong, easily establishing a believable whirlwind romance between Honor and her out-of-town suitor, Trace, as well as a solid foundation for Honor herself, including her close relationship with her mother and their restaurant’s built-in “family.” If Honor’s surroundings don’t exactly feel like Texas, they do feel like home and all the things (wonderful and hurtful) that go with it. Less well-developed are the story’s antagonists—long-lost relatives threatened by Honor’s arrival into their lives—which keeps the volume’s dramatic climax from truly packing a punch. The greatest sacrifice made in the name of single-volume romance, however, is the lack of time allotted to Honor’s grief after Trace’s revelation, which robs her of an opportunity to achieve real depth.

Though DMP’s adaptation suffers from stunningly sloppy lettering—pages and pages of square blocks of text artlessly pasted over rounded speech balloons—the visual storytelling is quite effective. Honor, in particular, is expressively drawn, which plays a large role in her believability, especially in the beginning.

Though the manga’s middle chapters are too rushed to support the story as well as they might in prose, Honor’s Promise is a sweet, dramatic, genuinely poignant romance.

Honor’s Promise is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


Married Under the Italian Sun

Original text by Lucy Gordon
Art by Mayu Takayama
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adult (16+)

When Angela—an actress who’s been playing a “dumb bimbo” called Angel for eight years—is jilted by her wealthy husband, she’s too weary to battle his lawyers and instead accepts an Italian villa for a divorce settlement. Upon moving to Amalfi, she meets Vittorio, the former owner who assumes a lot of negative things about her character, given the life she comes from, only to eventually be proven wrong when she makes sacrifices for the sake of the villa’s lemon grove and opens up to him about her background.

The relationship between Angela and Vittorio is rather shallow, but I suppose that’s what happens when a full-length novel is condensed into a short manga like this one. It’s entertaining for the most part, but sometimes they behave inexplicably seemingly only for the purpose of putting an obstacle in the way of their just being happy together. There’s also a pretty unusual twist on the love triangle idea, resulting in some amusing scenes of the unlikely threesome sightseeing together.

Mayu Takayama’s art is fairly attractive, though pages have a tendency to look a bit too busy when depicting the villa and its grounds. My main quibble with the visual presentation of the book is actually not the lettering—which, as other bloggers have noted, doesn’t even try to fit into the word balloons—but with the grammar problems in the text. Sometimes these are minor (“Can’t… breath…”), but sometimes they affect the meaning of what’s being said: “I think I will thank you” and “I think I will, thank you” mean two different things to me.

As a final note… guess what never happens in this book, despite its title?

Married Under the Italian Sun is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Prisoner of the Tower

Original text by Gayle Wilson
Art by Karin Miyamoto
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

There are, essentially, two kinds of bad shojo in the world: the irredeemably awful, and hence “just plain bad,” and the bad-yet-enjoyable, a class of works that manages to strike the right note between trashy and good to achieve the coveted “guilty pleasure read” status. Thankfully, Prisoner of the Tower features far more of the latter than the former, turning its all-too-familiar bag of chance meetings, mistaken identities and Regency lovers into a middling, if solid, dose of girl comics. A slightly older central pair keeps the focus from devolving into the typical tale of star-crossed young’uns; the youthful girl and boy are here replaced by a widow with a ward in tow and a troubled war veteran, whose post-traumatic stress from wars on the Continent is apparently Regency’s most popular “troubled male” trope.

Still, the combination of high melodrama and an almost retro sparkling look on the part of Miyamoto call to mind (not unpleasantly) some of shojo’s earliest soaps, a la Glass Mask or Candy Candy. It’s a bit like a thick slab of chocolate cake in comic form; nutritionally empty, but it goes down easy and sweetly, even if one is left feeling slightly ill afterward. Granted, there are better romantic one-shots out there, but for period piece fans with a taste for dramatic flair, Prisoner of the Tower remains nonetheless a perfectly serviceable (if forgettable) outing.

Prisoner of the Tower is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Chloe Ferguson


Word of a Gentleman

Original text by Lyn Stone
Art by Tsukiko Kurebayashi
Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp., 126 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

Taken completely objectively, Lyn Stone’s decidedly middle-of-the-road text for Word of a Gentleman will neither thrill nor offend Regency romance fans: spirited heroine forms (initially) purely convenient marriage contract with rakish nobleman; dangerous hijinks, falling in love, discoveries of tormented past ensue. And yet, it’s hard to willingly suspend disbelief and switch off the brain for a bit when Tsukiko Kurebayashi’s decidedly less than serviceable art reminds us why a sense of space and proportion should underlie every mangaka’s career. Gangly arms! Mangled hands! Awkward spaces! Junk-food stories are best consumed with a heavy sugar coating of good artwork, and the dearth of quality here will likely leave readers choking.

So too are unfortunate side effects of crushing a multi-hundred page novel into some 120-odd comic pages readily evident in both art and plot. Despite a supposed sense of urgency permeating the events, individual moments feel starved of importance: it’s a series of empty romance pictures, strung together by panels of tone. Plenty of tone. Overflowing, omnipresent backgrounds and squares of tone that substitute both for location and act as a rather bland way of signaling to the reader that (drama drama!) time is ticking…not that you’ll care in the end. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little mindless Regency now and again—but when the mindless indulgence becomes a distracting slog through terrible art, it may be time to look elsewhere for your romance kicks.

Word of a Gentleman is available now at eManga.com.

–Reviewed by Chloe Ferguson

Complimentary digital access provided by DMP.

All images copyright © Harlequin.

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