20 Oct, 2009

Manga Minis, 10/20/09

By: Michelle Smith, Melinda Beasi, Sam Kusek, Connie C. and Grant Goodman

Welcome to the special Tuesday edition of Manga Minis! We had so many reviews to share this week that we split them in two. Michelle starts things off today with a review of volume seven of Comic (Yen Press); Grant’s up next with a look at the ninth and final volume of Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun (VIZ); Connie votes in favor of volume eighteen of Tenjho Tenge (CMX); Sam professes his love for the fifth installment of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys (VIZ); and Melinda both adores and gets hungry due to the fourteenth volume of xxxHOLiC (Del Rey).

Comic, Vol. 7

comic7By Ha SiHyun
Yen Press, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen

The series that began with a heroine determined to learn more about the art of creating manhwa has now completed its transformation into a high school romance drama. Rather than reference Alice Song’s career goals in any way, this volume is full of sports festivals and love confessions.

On the heels of a particularly nasty fight, Alice and Patrick, the boy she loves, are fuming as the sports festival begins and end up partnered to different people for the three-legged race. Alice, determined not to let Patrick see how upset she is, is all smiles in the company of her smitten partner, Neil, and inspires him to risk his health in order to win the race. Patrick angsts a good deal about how happy they look together, and though he makes efforts to better get to know the scheming girl who’s been relentlessly pursuing him, he still can’t give up on Alice. Nor can she give up on Patrick, despite the fact that Neil has confessed his feelings to her. The volume ends with both of them out on the streets on a rainy night, trying and failing to connect.

“Trying and failing to connect” is the story of Alice and Patrick’s relationship in a nutshell, and one of the most interesting things about this volume is seeing how different Alice is in each boy’s company. Neil and Alice seem to mesh easily; with him, she shows a calm and gentle side that Patrick has not been privileged to see. When Alice and Patrick are together, on the other hand, quarrels are frequent and emotions intense. As far as love triangles go, this is definitely a compelling one; it keeps me invested in reading the series even though it’s strayed from its original concept.

Volume seven of Comic is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun, Vol. 9

nightmare9By Shin Mashiba
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen

This final volume opens with the entrance of Kashina, a girl who claims to have known Chitose back when he was a torture victim. From there, nightmares and entered and explored, the truth behind the mysterious briefcase is revealed to the person it was hidden from, and someone gets a knife in the gut. While it boasts an exciting start, the story falls apart from there.

Perhaps most disappointing about the story is that Azusa, the man set up to be the big, bad antagonist, has hardly any presence at all. Yes, his flowing, black overcoat is slick (he reminds me a lot of Subaru from X/1999) and cool, ghostly, black butterflies hover around him. Even so, he never truly strikes me as threatening, mad, or evil. A nightmare envelopes the city when he appears, but he never seems to care about what is happening. He just sits back and watches.

As the story races to its end, a bunch of plot twists pop up, some characters’ true identities are called into question, and absolutely none of it managed to stir up much emotion. The final crisis is poorly established, the solution feels rushed, and then it is all over.

If you have come this far, you should go ahead and finish what you started. You might not find much to like about it, though.

Volume nine of Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun is available now.

–Reviewed by Grant Goodman

Tenjho Tenge, Vol. 18

tenjho18By Oh! great
CMX, 200 pp.
Rating: M (18+)

The spring tournament continues with a fight between Aya and Kibane, a blind manipulator of ki that can make swords and armor out of particles of air. Aya is forced to leave Reiki with Maya, so she is forced to fight the red-wing Kibane without the nullifying power of Reiki. Later, Bunshichi shows up at the hospital and takes the unconscious Maya with him to confront Mitsuomi.

I like this series a lot, but it’s hard to take on a volume-by-volume basis, especially after a year-long break (which isn’t CMX’s fault, as the US release is basically caught up). Bunshichi’s actions in this volume appear to have set the beginnings of the final battle in motion, so I’m guessing that things will progress rapidly from this point. However, the story is less about fighting now and more about destiny, figuring out how the past and future affect one another, what strength is, the nature of love and friendships, and a lot of other philosophical questions. I would begrudge any other fighting series forays into such subject matter, but Tenjho Tenge has been building up these themes for some time, and the story is inextricably linked to them.

Basically, I feel like I need to start over and read from the beginning to understand everything that’s going on here, and once I reach this volume, I’m going to want to read straight through to the end, which is not possible since it hasn’t finished its run yet. The art is fantastic and the story has evolved and become so much more over the run of the series that what was once just a great fighting manga has turned into something that’s worth rereading and analyzing.

And I’m happy to see that the color pages and double-sided poster are still included with the new volumes.

Volume eighteen of Tenjho Tenge is available now.

–Reviewed by Connie C.

20th Century Boys, Vol. 5

20thcentury5By Naoki Urasawa
Viz, 216 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

What can you say about 20th Century Boys, besides that fact that it is amazing? I am particularly happy that I received this volume for review because this is a turning point in the story. The focus moves from pre-crisis in 2000, where Kenji and friends are preparing for the worst, to the post-crisis aftermath of the “Friend” attack and the subtle, yet still-effective beginnings of what has happened to our boys-to-men heroes. The first half of the book focuses on Kenji questioning his decisions to go through with his plans, at risk of leaving behind Kanna, his lovable niece. The second half picks up in the future, focusing on Kanna, now all grown up, and how she’s dealing with the lingering memories of her uncle and his rebellion.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I really liked this volume, especially because of the paradigm shift. When the time change happens, we are left with a cliffhanger. We have no idea what Kenji, Maruo, Yoshitune or anyone is up to, but we know we’ll find out. Also, the introduction of an older Kanna brings a fresh look onto the story. She is a plucky young woman, full of teenage rebellion. She represents, at least in the story, the voice of a lost generation, listening to rock-and-roll cassette tapes while dancing in her underwear. I’ve always had an idea why Urasawa chose T.Rex’s “20th Century Boy” as a title: the spirit of rock-and-roll (this is about to get cheesy) really represents that freedom and unity we feel as children and ultimately, as adults. Even if a “Friend” is out to get us down, we’ve still got our beliefs.

Volume five of 20th Century Boys will be available on October 20, 2009.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek

xxxHOLiC, Vol. 14

Del Rey, 192 pp.
Rating: T (13+)

With a quiet life restored thanks to her wish, Kohane gives her mother the space necessary for her to gain an understanding of how she must change by moving in with the fortune-teller from volume two, who will also take the opportunity to pass on her craft to Kohane. While visiting, Watanuki teaches Kohane to cook and Doumeki reveals to Kohane the reason behind his friendship with Watanuki. As they walk home later that evening, Watanuki startles Doumeki with a confession (no, not that kind) of his own. Back at the shop, a new customer arrives—a young woman with a wish to obtain cooking lessons. Watanuki is (unwillingly) tasked with fulfilling her wish, which gives him some unexpected insight into both Doumeki’s eating habits and the individual nature of cooking.

Though this volume proceeds more quietly than the last, it is filled with wry humor and thoughtful revelation, two of the series’ best qualities. Also notable in this volume is a strong sense of warmth, something that has increasingly become a part of the series. This is particularly evident in each character’s relationship with Watanuki—from Yuuko to the fortune-teller—including even dry-humored characters like Doumeki and Mokona (with whom Watanuki shares an especially sweet moment in this volume). It is the connection between people that makes this series feel so rich, a point made stronger in this volume when Watanuki reveals that it is these connections that have inspired him to continue his own existence. As usual, this volume also provides enough mouth-watering discussion of food to send every reader running to the kitchen (or at least the nearest Japanese restaurant).

With its gorgeous artwork and philosophical tone, xxxHOLiC continues to provide a feast for both the eye and soul.

Volume fourteen of xxxHOLiC will be available on October 27, 2009.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

Review copies provided by the publishers.

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