12 Apr, 2010

Manga Minis, 4/12/10

By: Michelle Smith, Connie C. and Grant Goodman

We’ve got four reviews on deck for this week. First up is Grant, who continues to be impressed by Cirque du Freak (Yen Press), as demonstrated by his review of volume five. Next,Connie checks out the second volume of Happy Cafe (TOKYOPOP). Lastly, Michelle contributes two reviews, one for volume three of Nightschool: The Weirn Books from Yen Press and the other for the second volume of CMX’s Oh! My Brother.


Cirque du Freak, Vol. 5

By Darren Shan and Takahiro Arai
Yen Press, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen

I am more and more impressed with each volume of Cirque du Freak that I read. Volume five finds Darren thrust into the vampire Trials of Death. Darren must complete five tests of will, endurance, and courage in order to clear Larten Crepsley’s name for the crime of blooding Darren at such a young age. There’s always a catch, though, and in this case, failure means death. He enlists the help of all of his allies in Vampire Mountain in order to prepare for each task. The training and trials are handled briskly, which the artist, Arai, laments, but I applaud.

As the volume progresses, each main character comes to life as his character complexity grows: Kurda is a pacificist but a skilled fighter, Harkat’s memory begins to return, and even Mr. Crepsley is not immune to the charms of a certain woman. Looming in the background is the constant whisper of a vampaneze attack on the vampires, threatening to disrupt everything in one fell swoop.

Cirque du Freak’s fifth volume is brimming with action, mystery, and betrayal—all of which add up to a create a manga you do not want to miss.

Volume five of Cirque du Freak is available now.

–Reviewed by Grant Goodman


Happy Cafe, Vol. 2

By Kou Matsuzuki
Tokyopop, 195 pp.
Rating: T (13+)

We are treated to more short stories about the staff of Cafe Bonheur, including some insight as to why Shindo decided to become a baker, a two-part story about a rival sweet shop, and a story about Uru’s mother. The author’s debut work, an unrelated short story, is also included in the back of the volume.

The series still lacks an overarching plot, but is consistently delivering fairly light, happy short stories with an emphasis on its quirky (but shallow) characters. It’s good at capturing candid, funny moments between the characters, and my favorite parts are all little throwaway jokes at Uru or Shindo’s expense. I’m still not too fond of Nishikawa, as he still has yet to make it past “guy who falls asleep gag” status, but he contributes in good ways a few times in this volume, worrying about Uru when she gets too wound up in the rival situation.

The episodic format is wearing a little thin, however, since the sense of humor isn’t quite good enough to hold up the stories and the formula has more or less played itself out. The two-part rival story was a nice touch, and was easily the best story in the volume, but even that felt more like simply part of the formula rather than anything unique. It did have a set of unique characters as the rivals, though, and I loved the devious ways they set out to sabotage Cafe Bonheur. There was definitely more to it than a simple rival story, but it also lacked anything substantial story-wise.

It’s a cute read with super-fun characters, but a second volume without much depth leaves me wondering if I’ve already seen everything the series has to offer.

Volume two of Happy Cafe is available now.

–Reviewed by Connie C.


Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 3

By Svetlana Chmakova
Yen Press, 208 pp.
Rating: Teen

Nightschool’s first two volumes introduced us to two groups of characters, the first being teen witch Alex Treveney and the denizens of the night school in which she enrolled to search for her missing sister, Sarah, and the second being a team of young “hunters” who are looking for Alex after she unwittingly injured several of their number. In volume three, the way in which these two groups will combine starts to take shape.

With the help of one of the few people at school who still remembers Sarah—and a nifty, nicely depicted scrying spell—Alex catches a glimpse of her sister’s fate. More significant, however, is a partial explanation for Alex’s occasional bursts of magical violence. The origin of this power ties in with a member of the hunter crew, and suddenly things start to make a lot more sense. I’ll always be happy to get answers to mysteries, but even better is just enough of an answer to feel like satisfying progress has been made while opening up even more potential directions for the story to travel. Chmakova handles this adeptly, and I find I’m even more excited to find out what happens now that I actually have a grip on what’s currently happening.

The one drawback to this series is that, for those following the story in the collected volumes, as opposed to its monthly serialization in Yen Plus, there’s a six-month wait until the next installment. Ideally, one would stockpile all of the volumes until the finale then gobble them up all at once, but when something is this good it’s hard to summon that kind of patience.

Volume three of Nightschool: The Weirn Books is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Oh! My Brother, Vol. 2

By Ken Saito
CMX, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen Plus

It’s been one month since Masago Kamoguchi’s brilliant older brother, Shiro, died and began possessing her. With all of this going on, Masago hasn’t been studying, so when exam time comes around, she allows Shiro to take the tests for her and ends up with a perfect score. Her impressive performance prompts a teacher to encourage her to run for student council, a decision she waffles about for a little while until gaining some confidence. Meanwhile, Shiro debates the wisdom of lingering in his sister’s body while his friend, Kurouma, deals with the knowledge that Masago likes him but views him as utterly unattainable.

I really want to like Oh! My Brother, and sometimes I manage to do so. I like Kurouma a lot, for example—it’s so refreshing that he actually notices Masago’s feelings!—and also the way Shiro’s possession is portrayed as a double-edged sword. True, his presence lends Masago strength in crucial moments, particularly in dealing with a bullying older girl, but her reliance on him is also holding her back in certain areas; although Shiro is willing to let go, it’s Masago who desperately makes him promise to stay with her forever.

On the other hand, there is a lot of extranneous material here that detracts from what’s good about this series. Some of the comedy feels out of place, and there are a few too many Shiro-obsessed characters floating around, from the aforementioned bully, to a former soccer rival, to a cool and competent member of the student council. If the focus had been more on the drama of Masago’s situation, coupled with the need to let go of Shiro in order to become open to other kinds of love, I’d like it so much more. As it is, I must be content with the occasional glimmer of what could have been.

Volume two of Oh! My Brother is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Review copies provided by the publishers.

3 Responses to "Manga Minis, 4/12/10"

3 | CJ

April 22nd, 2010 at 6:08 pm

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I can’t wait to finally be able to hit the Borders around here and get Cirque du Freak 5! Awesome book series, awesome adaptation, I just rather wish they hadn’t failed in making that movie so miserably. I died a little inside when I saw that movie. Not sure if you’ve read the books, but coming from someone who has (I rented the first manga which made me want to read the book series, so congrats, Yen Press, your marketing idea worked), this is the way to make a manga adaptation from good source material.

I think the art has been gradually improving, I went back and compared Arra and Kurda’s full body intro shots to the ones in volumes 1 and 2, the ones in 4 were a significant improvement to say the least.

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