31 May, 2008

Manga Minis, May 2008

By: Chloe Ferguson, Isaac Hale and Katherine Dacey

Welcome to the May edition of Manga Minis! This month’s crack team of reviewers includes our anime expert Carlos Alexandre, fellow manga maniacs Chloe Ferguson and Isaac Hale, and yours truly. Our survey runs the gamut from angst-ridden shojo to fanservice comedy and includes volume seven of After School Nightmare (Go!Comi), volume one of Foxy Lady (Tokyopop), volume nine of Kaze Hikaru (Viz), and volume one of Gorgeous Life of Strawberry-Chan (Media Blasters).

After School Nightmare, Vol. 7

By Setona Mizushiro
Go!Comi, 200 pp.
Rating: 16+

asn7.jpgForget gender bending–the latest installment of Setona Mizushiro’s surreal horror masterpiece snaps gender in half and throws it out the window. Girl/boy protagonist Mashiro continues to grapple with his identity in the midst of drama so thick you could practically take a knife to it. On the rocks with one-time admirer Sou and ex-girlfriend Kureha, Mashiro is shocked to see the two begin a relationship–and to realize that his interest in Sou might just be called jealousy. Mizushiro in turn sends everyone into varying bouts of angst and self-reflection, choosing to plumb the depths of character backstory in place of nightmare-world action.

It’s clear that something funky is going on just about everywhere, but with every revelation comes a new, more twisted batch of questions. Mizushiro’s evidently gunning for the slow reveal, and even has the moxie to throw a serious new romantic player into the game this late. There’s the usual dose of metaphorical blood, violence and killing in the dream world, but the action this time around remains firmly rooted in the real, determined to pressure the characters into exhibiting just what they’ve learned from six volumes of nightmares. The result is a newly invigorated series that promises a strong end… and a maddeningly engrossing journey getting there.

–Reviewed by Chloe Ferguson

Foxy Lady, Vol. 1

By Ayun Tachibana
Tokyopop, 192 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

foxylady1.jpgFoxy Lady is the by-the-numbers story of a boy named Jin and an attractive, skimpily dressed half-demon named Kogane, where the latter must mate with the former in order for the latter to turn human. Between Jin’s inexperience with women, Kogane’s superhuman powers, and the supporting cast’s various quirks creating a multitude of misunderstandings, Jin looks to have his proverbial hands full for quite some time. Hilarity and hjinks supposedly ensue.

What’s that genre called, the one that is all about magical girls wanting to get it on with ordinary teenage boys, that piles on layers and layers of fanservice at the expense of little extraneous things like characterization and plot? Because Foxy Lady is a textbook example of that genre. And just like pretty much every other anime and manga that falls under that genre, it is targeted at a very specific audience. Foxy Lady will likely satiate that audience, while leaving the rest of us yearning for something with a bit more depth.

–Reviewed by Carlos Alexandre

The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry-Chan, Vol. 1

By Ai Morinaga
Media Blasters, 192 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

gorgeouslife.jpgDespite the arm-flapping, shouting, and profuse shedding of crocodile tears, not much actually happens in The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry-Chan, an odd collection of short stories about a talking frog who lives at an all-boys boarding school. Calling the thirty-odd chapters that comprise Gorgeous Life “stories” exaggerates their length and coherence; each chapter is really just a vehicle for risque humor (e.g. boys in drag, boys in compromising positions) and violent slapstick. The yaoi japes are mildly amusing, but the frogsploitation is not. Morinaga clearly intended these scenes to be funny in an Itchy-and-Scratchy sort of way–see Strawberry-Chan’s owner flatten him with a shoe! see Strawberry-Chan’s owner bury him alive!–but the cumulative effect of so much sadistic behavior is exhaustion, not amusement. Making matters worse is the art. Morinaga’s fondness for busy backdrops (e.g., psychedelic swirls, pulsing plaids), extreme facial close-ups, and dark, indeterminate patches of screentone yield something akin to a manga migraine: hard on the eyes and the frontal lobes. Perhaps the editorial staff at Media Blasters shared my reservations about Gorgeous Life, as their efforts seem half-hearted at best. Typos crop up throughout the text, as do awkward sentences and grammatical errors. The layout department chose an especially ugly font for the dialogue, adding another element of visual chaos to Morinaga’s cluttered layouts. In sum, The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry-Chan may not be the worst manga of 2008, but it certainly is a contender for the short list.

–Reviewed by Katherine Dacey

Kaze Hikaru, Vol. 9

By Taeko Watanabe
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

kazehikaru9.jpgVolume nine of Kaze Hikaru offers more of the same gender-bending shojo drama of previous volumes. Don’t be deceived by the swords and samurai outfits–this series is all about the shojo drama. Fortunately, the samurai action is hardly the main attraction of Kaze Hikaru. The true testament to Kaze Hikaru’s quality as a manga is that the gender-bending keeps a lot of the original humor it had at the beginning of the run. Even though many of the main characters are perfectly aware of the protagonist’s female identity, many of the Shinsengumi do not, resulting in humurous homosexual under/overtones. The strange gender interactions and running inside-joke is really what keeps this series at its running high quality. The series’ art is another high point. Even with the traditional hair cuts and period outfits, the character designs are still fairly attractive and unique.

Unfortunately, the gender-bending that makes Kaze Hikaru so fun is its main flaw as well. After nine volumes and lots of time passing, it seems a little silly that Sei is unclear on which characters know about her gender and which don’t. This is kind of confusing, and makes it especially difficult for readers trying to jump into the story now. Also in true romantic shojo style, not a whole lot happens in this volume. As is often frustrating in manga romances, the relationship buildup is full of self-doubt and constant backpedaling. If Sei weren’t such an entertaining character, this series would fall easily into mediocrity. Fortunately, Kaze Hikaru’s fine-tuned sense of style and character depth make it a comic worth reading.

–Reviewed by Isaac Hale

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