09 Feb, 2009

Manga Minis, 2/9/09

By: Michelle Smith, Sam Kusek, Melinda Beasi, Ken Haley and Connie C.

With topics ranging from basketball to unlicensed doctors to sex education manuals, this week’s column has it all! Sam finds neither volume one of Bakugan Battle Brawlers (Del Rey) nor the third volume of The Record of a Fallen Vampire (Viz) to be his thing, Ken discovers volume three of Black Jack (Vertical) to be a fantastic read, Connie gets a kick out of Manga Sutra, Vol. 3 (TOKYOPOP), Melinda describes volume five of Shugo Chara! (Del Rey) as “unexpectedly insightful,” and Michelle enjoys the gameplay in volume two of Slam Dunk (Viz) while lamenting the awful art and ho-hum story in volumes one and two of Three in Love (Go! Comi).

Bakugan Battle Brawlers, Vol. 1

bakugan1By Elizabeth Hurchalla
Del Rey, 95 pp.
Rating: All Ages

Remember a few years ago, when Yu-Gi-Oh and Beyblades first came out? I do, because I have a bunch of the toys. Then there were Medabots, Yu-Gi-Oh GX, Dinosaur King and all that jazz. Well, Bakugan Battle Brawlers is the newest generation of the “never say die, believe in me because I believe in you” kids’ cartoon shows. Bakugan specializes in cards and marbles that turn into monsters, rather than something cool like robots or spinning tops. These marbles, which were found by kids all around the world after they fell out of the sky, are actually sentient beings from another world! So, the human race gets roped into helping another race, one which will ultimately come back to mess us up later on, avoid destroying itself. It’s just as bad as it sounds.

Sadly, I can’t even call this manga; it’s more ani-manga (stills from the anime for those who don’t know). I think this was the bubble buster for me. I mean, come on. Beyblade and Medabots both had their own manga alongside their shows and products, and hey, they weren’t half bad. Bakugan Battle Brawlers could at least try and make this an honest effort.

Volume one of Bakugan Battle Brawlers is available now.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek

Black Jack, Vol. 3

blackjack3By Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, 320 pp
Rating: Not Rated

I’m coming into this series blind, not having read either of the previous two volumes and having only seen that one Black Jack anime that Ani-Monday ran last year. So I basically opened the book knowing two things: he’s an amazing unlicensed doctor and he’s got nifty scars. Apparently that’s all I needed to know, too, since I had no problem following the various short stories that make up the volume. They all follow a certain formula but all manage to be entertaining and interesting regardless of the vaguely predictable nature of them. All the stories involve Black Jack somehow stumbling into a situation that requires a medical miracle that only he can produce. These range from utterly insane setups, such as performing self-surgery in the middle of the Australian outback while fending off a pack of dingoes, to performing operations on a train platform. How’s he do it? Well, he’s the Batman of the doctor set. It’s a pretty apt comparison, all things given: he’s fairly wealthy, almost an urban legend, mysterious, and carries the equivalent to Batman’s utility belt in the form of a medical bag. It’s a medical bag that comes equipped with everything ranging from a portable operating theatre to supplies of blood.

Tezuka’s artwork is cartoony and probably looks a bit dated, but the storytelling is clear and very easy to follow. The operating sequences are quite eye-catching as Tezuka switches from his cartoony trademark style to a near photo-realistic style for the close-up shots of internal organs during surgery.

Black Jack is by and large an outstanding manga. There wasn’t a whole lot about it that I could take issue with except for one thing. Arguably the worst thing about Black Jack is Pinoko, a small girl who looks to be eight years old who was apparently at tumor prior to Black Jack cutting her free. She’s supposed to be cute and endearing but misses the mark by several AUs and instead hits a bull’s-eye for obnoxious sidekick. A few pages of her talking and claiming to be Black Jack’s wife—with that horrifically overdone cutesy lisp—and it’s not very difficult to imagine her as a cancerous growth. Aside from Pinoko though, this is a fantastic and entertaining read.

Volume three of Black Jack is available now.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley

Manga Sutra, Vol. 3

manga-sutra-3By Katsu Aki
Tokyopop, 369 pp.
Rating: Mature (18+)

This series is unique in that it sets out to be a sex education manual done with a cast of characters and situations, and in this it’s pretty successful. You have to read it as such, however, because otherwise you’re left with some pretty terrible writing since the plot and characters are sacrificed in favor of information.

Two notable highlights in this volume include a large section on the Shijuhatte, a Japanese Kama Sutra that the main couple investigates at length (complete with diagrams of all 48 positions), and a really bizarre bonus section that goes into excruciating detail about how sperm function after they enter the body. The latter is done with a mix of scientific diagrams and little character faces involving two of the sex partners from the previous chapter. Not all of the stories are as clinical as that, though, and sometimes the stories touch on the love the couples feel, too. The book starts out with a story about Makoto and Yura dealing with being apart for the first time, and another story features Makoto’s sister and her first time with her boyfriend.

The volumes no longer include slipcases, and it seems like the color recipe cards have been changed to a page in the back of the book. It does keep its unique trim size and cover designs, though, and I still get a big kick out of the sex-oriented ads in the back, too.

Volume three of Manga Sutra is available now.

–Reviewed by Connie C.

The Record of a Fallen Vampire, Vol. 3

fallen3By Kyo Shirodaira and Yuri Kimura
Viz, 195 pp.
Rating: Teen, 13+

I’m one of those people who is not really into vampire “stuff.” After seeing Nosferatu and reading Dracula, I told myself that this was as good as it was gonna get for me. So it was no surprised that I wasn’t that taken with The Record of a Fallen Vampire. The story revolves around several different warring parties, one being the former vampire king Strauss, who is searching for his former lover. The other parties are out to stop him and gain control of the city/the world for themselves.

Volume three offers an interesting twist on the tale, suggesting that Strauss is not searching for his lover to revive her. Rather, he is looking for revenge against the woman herself. Apparently, she killed his real lover, a human, so she could take the throne herself. Obviously, this messes things up ethically for those involved, ultimately affecting their decision to strike him down. I was most impressed by this one instance of the book and I thought that this is what saved it altogether. The book is written in a rather bland fashion, rendering a lot of the characters uninteresting. Artistically, it carries itself well but its nothing special in comparison. All in all, I guess vampires will just never be my thing.

Volume three of The Record Of A Fallen Vampire is available now.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek

Shugo Chara!, Vol. 5

shugo5By Peach-Pit
Del Rey, 176 pp.
Rating: T (13+)

Volume four was a tough one for our heroine, Amu, whose self-confidence was shaken to the core by the departure of Nadeshiko, the arrival of new Guardians, and the appearance of an “X” on her new diamond egg. Here in volume five, she’s finding her way back on track as everyone else falls to pieces. Yaya is feeling pushed out of her baby role by the brand new baby at home, Rima accidentally reveals her true self to her entire class, Kairi is falling too far in with the Guardians (especially Amu), and Tadase nearly loses his guardian character, Kiseki, to Easter’s latest scheme and his own self-doubt.

What really makes this story work is that the plot is just a vehicle for playing out the often painful internal growth of these young characters, and in this volume it is Tadase’s weaknesses that are most on display. While shopping for Guardian supplies, Tadase chooses a gift for Amu—a heart-shaped barrette that makes her look more like her transformed self, Amulet Heart. Amu’s dilemma here is not much different than that of other superheroes who must helplessly stand by as the objects of their desire fall for their alter-egos, except in this case, Tadase can’t pretend to be ignorant of her identity. The fact that Tadase can stand before Amu and knowingly declare his devotion to her would-be self is both incredibly true to horrors of young love, and quite revealing of how far Tadase has to go before his internal beauty will come close to matching what’s on the outside. All of these children are works-in-progress, of course, but it’s interesting to note that it is only young Kairi who, while facing personal demons greater than most, is able to say to Amu, “I like you just the way you are.”

This series continues to be fun, compelling, and unexpectedly insightful into the human heart, both young and old.

Volume five of Shugo Chara! is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

Slam Dunk, Vol. 2

slam-dunk-2By Takehiko Inoue
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen

Volume two of Slam Dunk sure has been a long time coming! When we left off in volume one, hot-headed Sakuragi had grown frustrated with fundamentals training and quit the team. We pick up the story with Sakuragi regretting his decision, and he soon returns to practice after quickly polishing off a thug who’d been spoiling for a fight.

Although Sakuragi is still as clueless and boastful as before, he’s slightly less annoying than he used to be because he is starting to become interested in the sport more for its own sake than as a way to secure Haruko’s affections. Like a good shonen hero, his rate of improvement exceeds everyone’s expectations and he manages to impress the coach during an intra-team practice match despite needing to learn a special lesson about the value of teamwork.

The supporting cast gets a little more attention in this volume, most notably Assistant Captain Kogure and the team manager, Ayako, though they’re mostly relegated to reacting to the actions of others’ and/or calling out the names of moves like “Fly swatter!” The intra-team match is the highlight of the volume, giving readers an idea of how cool an actual game will be once the story advances that far. I’m personally looking forward to it!

Volume two of Slam Dunk is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Three in Love, Vols. 1-2

three1By Shioko Mizuki
Published by Go! Comi
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

The title and back cover descriptions for this series are misleading, making it seem like the “three-person relationship” is one in which any one person has romantic feelings for the other two. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Instead, two girls—Machiru, a chronic overachiever, and Hanakago, an earnest first year—are both in love with the same spacey boy. Also, each girl has an additional guy who’s in love with her, forming a kind of love phalanx.

Instead of being an intriguing story about an unconventional relationship, Three in Love is really just bland. Volume two in particular is full of stock scenarios like a group trip to the pool and the school cultural festival. Also, it’s hard to like Machiru when she brags about her “unmatched brains” then does inexplicably ridiculous things like agreeing to sleep with the boy who likes her if he scores higher than she does on exams.

As for the art, in Shioko Mizuki’s own words, it “sucks a lot!!” In one of her author talk sections she mentions that it was her first time drawing with a pen and she was using poor quality ink and rusty nibs, which might explain what Erin adeptly described as art that “looks as if it was drawn in ballpoint pen.” Asymmetrical faces also abound while backgrounds are practically nonexistent.

With so many better options to choose from, don’t waste your time on this one.

Volumes one and two of Three in Love are available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

9 Responses to "Manga Minis, 2/9/09"

1 | swanjun // soliloquy in blue » Blog Archive » Slam Dunk 2 by Takehiko Inoue: B+

February 9th, 2009 at 9:56 am


[...] took ages for volume two to come out, but it’s finally here! You can find my review here, in this week’s Manga Minis [...]

2 | swanjun // soliloquy in blue » Blog Archive » Three in Love 1-2 by Shioko Mizuki: C-

February 9th, 2009 at 9:57 am


[...] reviewed volumes one and two of Three in Love (published by Go! Comi) for this week’s manga minis. Two [...]

3 | there it is, plain as daylight. » Hi. Ow. Hi.

February 9th, 2009 at 10:48 am


[...] Yotsuba&! So exciting! I also have a review in today’s Manga Minis, for volume five of Shugo Chara! which is a series I have been enjoying very much. Be sure to check out Deanna’s latest post, [...]

4 | Connie

February 10th, 2009 at 2:09 am


That’s a shame about Three in Love. I liked her series Crossroads a lot, it sort of won me over after what seemed like a boring premise developed really interesting characters. I was thinking of trying another one of her series, and Three in Love sounded much better than Cy-Believers.

5 | Michelle Smith

February 10th, 2009 at 9:23 am


I think it’s one of her earliest works, so that might explain the issues with it. I’ve heard good things about Crossroads, but agree that the premise of Cy-Believers doesn’t much interest me.

6 | MangaBlog » Blog Archive » News digest

February 11th, 2009 at 9:23 am


[...] Orange this week for the Graphic Novel Reporter. The Manga Recon team turns in an eclectic set of Manga Minis on everything from Bakugan Battle Brawlers to Manga [...]

7 | Arkfamily Blog | Art | Manga Minis, 2/9/09 | Manga Recon

February 11th, 2009 at 5:13 pm


[...] Read more: Manga Minis, 2/9/09 | Manga Recon [...]

8 | Arkfamily Blog | Art | Manga Minis, 2/9/09 | Manga Recon

February 11th, 2009 at 11:14 pm


[...] Continued here: Manga Minis, 2/9/09 | Manga Recon [...]

9 | Shugo Chara! Volume 6 | There it is, Plain as Daylight

August 2nd, 2009 at 10:36 am


[...] and they provide quite a nice payoff. On a quieter note, something I mentioned in my review of volume five was how telling I thought it was that, despite his obvious personal conflict, Kairi was the one boy [...]