04 Jan, 2010

Manga Minis, 1/4/10

By: Michelle Smith, Sam Kusek, Melinda Beasi, Grant Goodman and Chloe Ferguson

Happy new year! Five members of the PCS team are ringing in 2010 with six mini reviews for your reading pleasure. Chloe’s up first with Genghis Khan (CMX), Grant evaluates volume four of Gestalt (VIZ), Michelle is pleasantly surprised by Love Hurts: Aishiatteru Futari (BLU Manga), Sam pulls double duty with reviews of volume six of Shiki Tsukai and volume three of Yokai Doctor (both from Del Rey), and Melinda takes a look at the eighth volume of Tactics.

Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea

By Nakaba Higurashi and Seiichi Morimura
CMX, 194 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

First a novel, then a film, and now finally a media tie-in, Genghis Khan once again proves that adaptations, however competently rendered, are nonetheless too often victims of a very particular breed of mediocrity. The problem of compressing a multi-hundred page novel into194 pages of spacious (some might say overly spacious) comic frames becomes readily apparent from the get-go. Stuffed into nineteen hardworking pages, Temujin’s (later Genghis Khan) first thirty years and ostensible psychological motivations are shoved at the reader in possibly the fastest episode of stage-setting in comics history. The rest of the book reads like a mix of Hollywood biography and History Channel reenactment on fast forward; see Temujin have sons, win wars and build an empire, all in fewer than 180 pages! Granted, it’s plenty of bang for your buck, but likely not in the way most manga fans would prefer.

Pacing problems aside, Nakaba Higurashi’s solid, staid renderings of Temujin and his world provide a thoroughly serviceable and occasionally beautiful canvas to the drama. With dark lines and humanistic expressions, Higurashi’s art calls to mind the heavier stylings of seinen with a few snatches of French BD. It’s good stuff, and, when paired with equally powerful paneling, easily delivers on the visual punch. In her first serial effort, Higurashi has proved her artistic prowess; if she can find better original material than Genghis, she’ll certainly be one to watch.

Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea is available now.

–Reviewed by Chloe Ferguson

Gestalt, Vol. 4

By Yun Kouga
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

I’ve been really impressed with how Gestalt has shaped up from volume to volume. Even though it falls short of being spectacular, the story itself is nothing short of enjoyable.

Here’s what the characters are up to: Father Olivier, now armless, has taken up residence with Suzu and Sakata in a mansion owned by a (creepy) old man. Suzu forms a friendship with one of the house maids and Olivier is charged with teaching the old man’s mute granddaughter. Ouri, who blames himself for the loss of Olivier’s arms, has decided to stop running away and go back to Olivier. Shazan finds himself working with two of Ouri’s siblings before regrouping with Olivier.

When the time comes to battle his younger brother and sister, Ouri summons two gods to do battle, ending the fight instantly. This leads to one of the standout events in this volume when, later that evening, Ouri converses with the summoned gods about how to restore lost limbs. Kouga places Ouri in a grass-covered swatch of night, where his darker moods resurface. It’s a very well-done sequence that offers some excellent illustrations and some of the strongest dialogue found in the series so far.

A weirdly confusing incident punctuates Ouri’s discussion with the gods when the old man’s granddaughter reappears as a middle-aged woman and leaves Ouri with a baby. The baby, she reveals, is part of a curse placed on Ouri. I have no idea where this can lead, but I’m curious to see if it becomes anything meaningful.

Volume four is a worthy addition to this fun, magic-filled drama.

Volume four of Gestalt is available now.

–Reviewed by Grant Goodman

Love Hurts: Aishiatteru Futari

By Suzuki Tanaka
BLU Manga, 208 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

From the creator of Menkui! comes this collection of intriguing (and chaste!) boys’ love stories.

“The Fate of a Crime Fighter’s Love” features childhood friends Seigo and Touma, who hail from a village where everyone has super powers. Some seek to do evil with their abilities, while others work to stop them. This story has a fairly comedic tone, but the characters are likeable and their relationship evolves into love pretty organically. “Kanako’s Story” is actually not BL at all, but fits in with the others because it’s all about a boy’s feelings of love for his “stupid and weird… but cute” childhood friend and classmate, Kana. She’s been telling him her whole life that she converses with an alien, but he’d only nodded politely until it turns out that it was all true.

While the sci-fi tales are both enjoyable, the real standouts are the first two stories, “Unforgivable” and “Two in Love.” In the former, Koji has just discovered the corpse of his lover. While he’s still in shock, a guy named Kohaku arrives and, after talking to him and a mysterious stranger, Koji ends up declaring that he’s the killer. In “Two in Love,” we follow Kohaku and his lover, Kimihara, who share a violent relationship. On top of this, Kimihara is pestered by a psychotic student where he teaches who likes to confess her misdeeds to him. This time, she admits to killing a person. The link between these two stories is very interesting and my one real complaint about Love Hurts is that there’s no follow-through here.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by how good and unique these stories are. Definitely recommended.

Love Hurts: Aishiatteru Futari is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Shiki Tsukai, Vol. 6

By To-Ru Zekuu and Yuna Takanagi
Del Rey, 208 pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

Shiki Tsukai is hard to talk about. While I was really interested in the concept (the power to change seasons) promised on the back cover, the plot just doesn’t follow through at all. The story centers around Akira Kizuki, a young boy who is known as the Shinra with the power to control all the seasons, and his protector (and possible future love interest) Koyomi, who is the shiki tsukai of March. Shiki tsukai are very much like magicians, each specializing in a particular skill or element based on their month. Akira is caught up in the middle of the war of shiki tsukai and in volume six, Akira; Koyomi; Akira’s childhood friend, Satsuki; and their teacher, Rei, are on an island of Kijyuu, hoping to gain new abilities to battle their opposing forces. What they encounter instead is a mysterious young man who holds the power over several months and who isn’t ready to give that up to anyone.

As straightforward and predictable as the story appears to be, the volume actually isn’t terrible, though it’s not good enough in any way to make me consider reading more. While this is a battle-heavy volume, each fight is paced well. Nothing ends too soon and Akira and some supporting characters are given an opportunity to grow. Artistically, however, this book isn’t anything to write home about. Most of the characters have a very vapid, empty-eyed expression the entire time and the fan service seems really out of place. One thing that really threw me for a loop was the description of the overall use of abilities: each ability is summoned by chanting an incantation but almost all of the character can somehow bypass this. It’s never been cool to make limits and then forget about them!

Volume six of Shiki Tsukai is available now.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek

Tactics, Vol. 8

By Sakura Kinoshita and Kazuko Higashiyama
TOKYOPOP, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

This volume opens with the conclusion to Kantarou’s latest conflict with Raikou Minamoto and his underlings. Haruka arrives to save the day (and to reassure Kantarou of his loyalty) but though Minamoto’s immediate plans are destroyed, the fight ultimately ends in a draw. Things are looking up for Kantarou, however, as Haruka makes a promise to one day tell him about his past. The story then takes a break to make way for a string of short “Bedtime Stories” featuring the series’ regular characters, which provide filler for the latter two-thirds of the volume.

Though the volume starts strong, thanks to the underlying tension between Kantarou and Haruka, it quickly falls apart with the introduction of its short story series, “Record of One Hundred Goblins.” With a single exception, these shorts provide neither humor nor substance sufficient to hold readers’ attention. Fortunately, the volume’s final story, “Otoshi,” about an artist whose ability to paint youkai (supernatural creatures) has mysteriously failed him, has enough strength of its own to turn things around. Focusing on relationships between humans and youkai, this story provides one of the most poignant moments of the series so far, rescuing the volume from its flat middle chapters. “… How precious an ‘existence’ is to youkai,” muses Kantarou, having finally returned the artist’s ability to him. “… That’s why I use my writing to make them immortal and [the artist] uses his art to pass on to future generations.”

Despite its uneven storytelling and tone, the eighth volume of Tactics manages its way out of complete destruction with a healthy dose of true feeling.

Volume eight of Tactics is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

Yokai Doctor, Vol. 3

By Yuki Sato
Del Rey, 208 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

The third volume of Yokai Doctor brings a more serious tone, as Kuro faces off against his former best friend, Kaie, who is being mysteriously controlled from the shadows. It seems that certain yokai just aren’t comfortable with the fact that Kuro is trying to create a bridge between yokai and humans with his medical practices. This is a nice story element because it really draws out more of Kuro’s humanistic qualities. Fighting against your friends can be tough. This is the main focus of this volume, introducing a larger overreaching story arc, which ultimately becomes the reason behind the introduction of new supporting characters (this time a yokai thief!) and a great amount of insight into the complexity of Kuro and his relationship with the human world.

While it’s nice to see the story begin to plump up and begin to show the promise of bigger things, Yokai Doctor hasn’t lost the episodic storytelling that attracted me to it initially. In the confines of this volume, there are still wonderful, short tales of yokai and their world-weary problems. My new favorite is about a stumpy rock creature that just wants to make friends with human children. He tries to accomplish this in a variety of ways, by handing out candy and acting as a monster in a superhero show. This volume is essentially the best one yet of the series and I am hoping that the later ones are just as eye-opening.

Volume three of Yokai Doctor is available now.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek

Review copies provided by the publishers.

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