02 Nov, 2008

Manga Minis: Blast From the Past Edition

By: Katherine Dacey, Isaac Hale, Chloe Ferguson and Ken Haley

In the process of migrating reviews from our old website to our new one, we missed a couple of entries. This installment of Manga Minis originally appeared at PopCultureShock on April 30th, and focuses on two Tokyopop titles, Dragon Sister! and eV, the second volumes of Love Master A (Go! Comi) and Sakura Ganbaru! (UDON), and the best-selling Naruto fanbook (Viz), which has been flying off shelves since its release in February 2008. Hope you enjoy this encore presentation!

Dragon Sister!, Vol. 1

By Nini
Tokyopop, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

Buried beneath the slapstick, speedlines, and extreme mammary close-ups is an intriguing premise: what if ancient China’s greatest warriors were, in fact, women? Dragon Sister! begins around 184 AD, when three brothers—Zhang Jiao, Zhang Bao, and Zhang Liang—acquire a set of magical scrolls capable of granting any wish. In their desire to overthrow the Han Dynasty, the brothers pray that no more heroes will be born, only beautiful women. Their scheme backfires, however, transforming them into a cabal of power-hungry girls. As the country descends further into chaos, young nobleman Liu Bei forms a volunteer army to oppose the Zhang sisters (formerly brothers), recruiting two busty babes, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu, to aid his cause. None of this is explained very clearly—we never have a sense of who the various factions are, or why Liu Bei remains faithful to a corrupt emperor. Instead, manga-ka Nini treats us to a seemingly endless parade of costume failures, crude jokes, and scenes of predatory lesbianism, all delivered in speech that vacillates between present-day dudespeak and wuxia film formality. Strictly for the fanservice crowd; others are advised to look elsewhere for more enlightened tales of female empowerment.

–Reviewed by Katherine Dacey

eV, Vol. 1

Created by Roger Mincheff, Written by James Farr, Art by Alfa Robbi and Papillon Studio
Published by Tokyopop, 192 pages
Rating: Teen (13 +)

From the mind that brought us The Covenant comes eV, the tale of a brilliant young woman, Evie, who finds herself injected with über-nanomachines that give her a vast array of physical and mental abilities. Once injected, Evie is taken to the far side of the universe to serve as Earth’s ambassador in a galactic federation.

Farr does a good job with the material and the characters, crafting a fairly fun and fast paced sci-fi adventure story. The whole thing has the feel of a summer blockbuster right down to certain stock characters: a workaholic father who will do anything for his daughter, the daughter who’s bitter and resentful at her father for being away all the time, and a mother who tries to hold the family together the best she can. On the other hand, the book also manages to translate the summer blockbuster feel to the story in terms of the size, scope, and set pieces. You can practically hear the pop rock songs playing at certain parts of the story. On top of that Farr manages to throw in some nifty tweaks to keep things interesting. Evie’s powers aren’t limited to simply amazing physical feats; her subconscious manifests itself in the form of a lil’ flying talking orb, which leads to some comical moments here and there.

Alfa Robbi has some solid story telling abilities but the art style itself just didn’t click. Something about it had me wishing the entire thing had been in color. Maybe it was the various alien life forms, or the moments towards the end when Evie utilizes some energy manipulation abilities, but I really felt that this was a story that would have benefited from some color. Ultimately eV is fluff, but sometimes fluff can be fun.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley

Love Master A, Vol. 2

By Kyoko Hashimoto
Go!Comi, 200pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

It’s hard to conjure words to describe Love Master A, and it’s certainly not because the title is breathtakingly brilliant. The second installment of Kyoko Hashimoto’s middling school-life romance is so achingly mediocre it’s hard to tell if there’s anything original at all in between all the clichés. The first year school council crew—each easily summed up in three word archetypes—finds itself faced with a healthy plethora of problems, ranging from romantic infighting to the imminent closure of the council itself.

The resolutions are, of course, vaguely heartwarming and grindingly endearing, and with bland shojo everygirl Aria helming the story, it’s hard to find any respite from the standard shojo drudgery. That said, Hashimoto’s attempt to refresh the central love story by reversing the primary perspective is at least moderately novel, and works well to prolong the romantic angst well into the last pages of the book. There’s nothing new here in terms of artistic invention, with Hashimoto bringing out plenty of flowery screentones, sometimes overly so, resulting in visuals that are sufficiently sparkling but occasionally overdone. The dialogue, however, is want to wander more freely into the realm of cheese, resulting in a love confession so unbelievably corny that most other shojo manga would only tackle the same material if they were parodying the genre. With so much else out there on the market, it’s hard to imagine recommending Love Master A to anyone—but if you’ve truly exhausted the offerings, feel free to bide your time with a copy.

–Reviewed by Chloe Ferguson

Naruto: The Official Handbook

By Masashi Kishimoto
Viz, 288 pp.

Looking at ICv2, I can see that Naruto: The Official Fanbook has moved quite a few copies. In fact, it was number fifteen on the best-selling manga list in February. After taking a peek, I’m going to say there aren’t a lot of reasons why it should be selling. The vast majority of the content is plot summary, and the parts that aren’t are generally pretty mundane. There are a ton of quizzes in this, which I found to be inane or largely uninteresting; and even the interviews with Masashi Kishimoto are totally pointless. He reveals nothing, and answers no serious questions.

This is not to say that there weren’t some pleasant surprises in the volume. After opening the book, I found a nifty two-sided color pinup. It’s one of Kishimoto’s more whimsical pictures to, so I was quite pleased to see it. Also, if you don’t feel like picking up the issue of Shonen Jump, this volume has the bonus Naruto pilot story. Despite this material, I don’t recommend buying this volume unless you’re a hardcore completist. If you want the good material (e.g. the full-color art and the pilot story), grab the issue of Shonen Jump which contains it, and grab the Naruto artbook out right now, Uzumaki. You’ll be much more pleased with your purchases.

–Reviewed by Isaac Hale

Sakura Ganbaru!, Vol. 2

By Masahiko Nakahira
UDON Entertainment, 200 pp.

Following the events of the first volume and the conclusion of Kairin’s street fighting tournament, Sakura Ganbaru! continues along the lines of a paint-by-numbers shonen, but with everything compressed into two volumes. The results are wonderful as the fights are fast paced and exciting, and plots aren’t dragged out for dozens upon dozens of volumes. Much like other shonen protagonists (or Ryu from the Street Fighter Alpha manga), Sakura grows and learns more about herself, the nature of fighting and even attempts to discover what it means to be a true fighter. Her encounters with various other characters such as Gen, Chun Li or Zangief serve to illuminate different aspects of her quest and growth, and show the pitfalls of it as well.

Nakahira’s art is as clean and strong as ever, and he does a fantastic job with the various characters and their signature abilities and fighting styles. Unlike the previous volume, this one clearly alludes to the events in the Street Fighter Alpha manga, making some of the character interactions seem a bit odd. I suppose it’s best to think of them as loosely connected. Still, you won’t need to have read the Alpha manga to understand or enjoy Sakura Ganbaru! and doing so might actually leave you scratching your head a few times. At any rate, it’s still a fun and enjoyable series, and it’s great to see a young girl who’s capable of kicking butt and not in need of rescue.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley

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