27 Apr, 2009

Manga Minis, 4/27/09

By: Michelle Smith, Phil Guie, Sam Kusek, Grant Goodman, Ken Haley, Melinda Beasi and Connie C.

It’s another diverse column this week! Connie starts us off with a look at Crazy Star (DMP), the third installment of the Junior Escort series; Melinda gives a good grade to the teacherly romance in Hey, Sensei? (DMP); Michelle reviews the ninth volume of a personal favorite, High School Debut (Viz); Phil enjoys the creepiness in volume two of Higurashi When They Cry: Abducted by Demons Arc (Yen Press); Ken weighs in on a pair of hefty VIZBIG editions of Rurouni Kenshin (Viz); Sam favorably compares the second volume of 20th Century Boys (Viz) to The Empire Strikes Back; and Grant consigns volume five of Zombie-Loan (Yen Press) to manga purgatory.


Crazy Star

crazy-starBy Sakurako Hanafubuki
DMP/June, 168 pp.
Rating: M (18+)

The volume starts off with the focus on a boy band/rap group called X-Cross. It’s quickly revealed that Kyo Ayukawa, the main character in the Junior Escort series, is a member of this rap group, and that he’s lost all his memories of the last two years. It turns out that, as popular as some of the group’s songs have been, they haven’t made a true debut due to an illicit video called “Crazy Star,” starring none other than Ayu. All copies of the video must be destroyed, and both the older members of X-Cross and Koji Mizuhara, still Japan’s biggest star, are trying to destroy all evidence of this video before Ayu sees it and regains his painful memories of the incident.

This was marginally better than the last volume of this series (Love Code), but only because the premise made sense. There were still some serious coherency issues, and somehow I feel like they were made worse by the fact I had read the last volume. I was expecting the story to pick up where it had left off, but the gap between the two volumes is actually the heart of the mystery here. This isn’t adequately explained until well into the book. Other issues include poorly-developed characters, an almost complete lack of romance, and the fact it springs a serious plot twist at the end of the book, then drops the unresolved issue and leaves the book with a happy ending. The pieces of the story also just don’t fit together very well at all. It is a mystery in a way, but it’s not a very well written mystery, so mostly it’s just confusing rather than compelling.

Crazy Star is available now.

–Reviewed by Connie C.


Hey, Sensei?

heysenseiBy Yaya Sakuragi
Digital Manga Publishing, 200 pp.
Rating: M (18+)

Isa is a high school math teacher who discovers, not uncommonly, that one of his students has a crush on him. What’s unusual about this student, however, is that he happens to be a boy, Homura, who is also the younger brother of Isa’s ex-girlfriend. At first believing Homura’s advances to be a joke perpetrated in retaliation for his sister’s broken heart, Isa resists, despite recognizing his weakness in the face of Homura’s charms. Homura perseveres, Isa eventually succumbs, and the two of them begin a relationship.

Though this student-teacher relationship is problematic from the outset, putting aside Isa’s blatant irresponsibility as a caretaker of young minds, the story is really quite charming. The mutual history of the two characters gives them a place of intimacy to start from that helps to soothe the worst concerns, and Homura is so self-aware, it’s difficult to feel that he’s being taken advantage of. Both characters are lonely misfits of a sort—even Homura with his good looks and popularity with girls—and it’s gratifying to watch them finding a sense of belonging with each other as the story goes on. Though Homura’s impatience nearly causes him to take Isa by force at one point, thankfully he realizes this is not at all what he wants and does not go very far with it.

Yaya Sakuragi’s art is also a highlight. Her faces are expressive (both in the main feature and in the short extra story, “Unbreakable Bones”) and her lanky character designs help to alleviate worries about the age difference between Isa and Homura as well, as Homura’s body is unambiguously adult.

With its sweet, idiosyncratic characters and warm love story, Hey Sensei? is easy to recommend to any fan of the genre.

Hey, Sensei? is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi


High School Debut, Vol. 9

hsd9By Kazune Kawahara
Viz, 184 pp.
Rating: Teen

It’s sports festival time, giving Haruna and Yoh the chance to work together on the same team. Alas, the plans for togetherness don’t work out, as Yoh is elected grade captain and has to work hard to master his ceremonial duties and not disappoint those who elected him. Haruna, of course, is very encouraging and does things like make him foul-tasting radish juice to help his throat (since he has to yell a lot). Meanwhile, Haruna receives some encouragement herself from Yoh’s friend, Asaoka, who seems to be in in her vicinity quite often. Yoh figures out that Asaoka has feelings for Haruna and tells him not to confess, as doing so would only upset her.

I’ve read about sports festivals and romantic rivals before, but somehow High School Debut is able to take these familiar manga staples and make something new out of them. The sports festival, for example, provides many opportunities for sweet interaction between the two leads, from Yoh’s embarrassment at his own sentimentality to their inability to vote for other people in the captains’ election, even though they had agreed to do so.

Also, because so much time has been spent on developing the supporting characters, it doesn’t actually feel out of left field that Asaoka, who has seen how being with Haruna has changed Yoh for the better, might come to wonder what might’ve been. He’s an intriguing character, the kind who jokes so often that it’s impossible to tell when he’s serious, which has the additional benefit of pushing normally cool Yoh’s buttons in very entertaining ways.

Are there really only four volumes left of this series? How time flies!

Volume nine of High School Debut will be available on May 5, 2009.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Higurashi When They Cry: Abducted by Demons Arc, Vol. 2

higurashi2By Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi
Yen Press, 234 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

The conclusion of the “Abducted by Demons” arc delivers on the tonal change promised at the end of volume one. Whereas the series’ first entry occasionally resembled a silly harem manga, this volume is all about Keiichi, the main protagonist, descending into paranoia when he starts believing a demon’s curse has targeted him next.

More pieces fall into place regarding the mysterious deaths in the town of Himanizawa, as Keiichi learns his closest friends could be involved. Unfortunately, they already seem to know that he knows, and their behavior around him changes dramatically. Two former best pals show the ability to read his mind, and when pressing him for information, turn into some kind of cross between “Cat People” and the children from “Village of the Damned.”

Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi do a good job ratcheting up the tension, as Keiichi tries to outwit “Oyashiro-sama’s Curse.” We are effectively put into the mind of the character as he becomes increasingly confused and isolated, the situation being so incredible that he hesitates to tell his parents, or even the police detective who is adamant that people, not spirits, are responsible for these murders. Lots of canted angles and extreme close-ups are employed, conveying Keiichi’s disoriented point of view. But the writer/artist team also enjoys hiding shocks behind the cut; more than once, things look calm, then the reader turns the page and WHAM!—freaked-out faces stare back at us with spooky eyes.

Admittedly, I am slightly disappointed the harem stuff—which gave the friendship between the characters real depth, thereby making what happens all the more surprising—is brushed aside for a more straight-faced tale of terror. However, there’s no denying this is a well-paced, well-drawn tale that gets under the skin at times. Audiences looking for creepy manga should try it.

Volume two of Higurashi When They Cry: Abducted by Demons Arc is available now.

–Reviewed by Phil Guie


Rurouni Kenshin: VIZBIG Edition, Vols. 2-3

kenshin-vizbig-2By Nobuhiro Watsuki
Published by Viz
Rating: T + (Older Teens)

The second volume of the VZIBIG Edition of Rurouni Kenshin sees the end of the Oniwabanshu arc—introducing us to one of the few men who may be Kenshin’s equal, Shinomori Aoshi—before delving into several side stories and the lackluster Raijuta arc. Thankfully the slow going of the second volume falls away in the third as it kicks off what is arguably the most popular and well known arc in the series, the Kyoto arc. Kenshin’s past finally catches up to him and he finds himself drawn into a tangled web of conspiracy and is forced to face off with two of his greatest foes, one old and one new.

Watsuki’s art continues to be dynamic, crisp and clean. The high quality paper stock and the oversized nature of the books really benefit his artwork as it comes out looking spectacular. The bright white paper really makes his black and white artwork, which is sparse in its use of toning, stand out and I’m honestly having problems imagining it on your standard Viz stock.

Story-wise the second half of volume two takes a small dip in quality. It’s not horrible or anything, mind you, but it’s peppered with two side stories and the Raijuta arc which even Watsuki was unhappy with. Still, muscling through, it does come with a reward as volume three turns up the story, action and drama with the kick off of the Kyoto arc. Old enemies and allies alike begin to gather around Kenshin as he heads off to attempt to thwart Shishio’s planned coup of the current government. What makes Shishio stand out from his past foes is his unique background, for Shishio was none other than Kenshin’s replacement.

Rurouni Kenshin continues to be a fantastic series on just about all fronts and the VIZBIG treatment is a great way for folks who may have passed it over originally to find out what they’ve been missing.

Volumes two and three of Rurouni Kenshin: VIZBIG Edition are available now.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley


20th Century Boys, Vol. 2

20thcentury2By Naoki Urasawa
VIZ, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

Volume two of 20th Century Boys is very similar to volume one, in the sense that it is another building block for one of the greatest manga stories ever told. Volume two begins to draw out more details about Kenji’s past and how his childhood hopes and dreams are affecting the world around him. More importantly, in volume two, Urasawa’s focus turns to the minor characters, elaborating on Kenji’s relationship with his sister and the world’s strongest girl, Yukiji, and also introducing ever-so-tardy but rather cunning detective Cho; “Friend’s” enigmatic sponsor, Majome Inshu; and the all-seeing bowling fanatic, Kamisama.

I really enjoyed this volume and thought that it made the elements that were presented in the first volume much stronger. For example, the story behind Kenji and his sister is very heartwarming: due to financial circumstances, Kenji’s parents were originally unsure if they would be able to care for a second child until his sister stepped up to the plate. Kenji reminisces about how he more or less got whatever he wanted while she worked her butt off for the family. While this was might be a tearjerker for anyone who has a sibling, it also gives Kenji a much-needed sense of drive and determination, as he finally decides to shape up and take charge of his and Kanna’s life. Yukiji’s role also brings an interesting twist on the nostalgic element of 20th Century Boys, bringing in a possible romantic interest for Kenji.

Ultimately, volume two of 20th Century Boys does what The Empire Strikes Back did for Star Wars, giving readers a whole lot more to follow and a whole lot more to love.

Volume two of 20th Century Boys is available now.

–Reviewed by Sam Kusek


Zombie-Loan, Vol. 5

zombie-loan5By Peach-Pit
Yen Press, 192 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

Most of this volume is a search and rescue mission that finds the group chasing after Shito. It all leads to a showdown in an abandoned hospital with a mad scientist. (If you want an indication of how mad he truly is, there is a scene where he takes a detached eyeball and kisses it. It gave me the willies.)

Zombie-Loan’s mad scientist, Yoshizumi, takes the old “I seek eternal life” trope and does absolutely nothing new with it. He eventually allows his own experimental golem to absorb him and then a fight erupts. It’s hard to tell if there is any actual combat, or if the characters get in just close enough to spur on more of Yoshizumi’s predictable speech.

The aftermath of this incident leads some of the main characters to a celebratory party. There are whisperings of secrets, plenty of blushing boys and girls, and a stream of karaoke. It is a welcome respite from the chaotic hospital showdown and gives the characters time to vent their emotions. Confusingly, Yen Press has a “To Be Continued in Volume 6″ page at the end of Chapter 28, which is then followed by Chapter 29. A minor print error, I suppose.

Peach-Pit is capable of good art, but seems to avoid doing so as often as possible (to the point of leaving out any sort of background in most scenes). Two of the settings, however, are wonderfully original and really made me wonder why Peach-Pit skimps on them. The first one that caught my eye was a giant, svelte set of elevator doors surrounded by ghostly spiral staircases that run amok in both the foreground and background. A few pages later, readers are treated to a two-page spread of floating steps that rise above lily pads overflowing with water and a single, titanic lotus blossom.

This is a volume you might expect to find in purgatory: it’s not great, it’s not horrible, and maybe, with time, it can rise to a better place (in the world of manga storytelling).

Volume five of Zombie-Loan is available now.

–Reviewed by Grant Goodman

4 Responses to "Manga Minis, 4/27/09"

1 | swanjun // soliloquy in blue » Blog Archive » High School Debut 9 by Kazune Kawahara: A-

April 27th, 2009 at 9:47 am

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[...] I reviewed the ninth volume in this wonderful series for this week’s Manga Minis column. You can find that review here. [...]

2 | there it is, plain as daylight. » Ruminations on Grading

April 27th, 2009 at 10:14 am

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[...] things first, I have a review in today’s Manga Minis, for DMP one-shot, Hey Sensei? which is definitely my favorite of their BL offerings I’ve read so [...]

3 | pamela

March 5th, 2010 at 10:04 am

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en donde puedo consegir el manga

4 | Sam Kusek

March 5th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

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For English: Depending on where you are located, there could be a number of local stores or larger chains, like Borders or Barnes and Nobles.You can also order them online through Amazon.

For Spanish: Dependiendo de donde usted se encuentre, podría haber un número de tiendas locales o cadenas más grandes, como las fronteras o Barnes and Nobles. Usted también puede ordenar en línea a través de Amazon.

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