27 Nov, 2007

Weekly Recon, 11/28/07

By: Katherine Dacey

ice_wanderer.jpgApologies for the belated posting! After several days of turkey-induced torpor, I finally mustered the energy and brain cells necessary for this week’s column.

Whether you crave steamy man-on-man manga or prefer wacky comedies, you’ll find plenty of reasons to part with your hard-earned pennies this week. DMP and Seven Seas offer a robust selection of yaoi and yuri titles, from the zero-g angst of Ai No Kusabi: The Space Between (DMP) to the pistol packin’ nuns of Tetragrammaton Labyrinth (Seven Seas). Fans of I, Otaku: Struggle in Akihabara can tide themselves over with yet another comedy about a closeted otaku, Kyouhaku Dogs (Infinity Studios). Harry Potter junkies will find solace in the beautifully illustrated Aventura (Del Rey), a new fantasy-adventure series that takes place at an academy for young wizards. And older souls will thrill to the superb draftsmanship and lyrical storytelling of Jiro Taniguchi, whose long-awaited anthology The Ice Wanderer (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) finally arrives on American shores this week.

By the way, both Midtown Comics and Right Stuf are running major promotions this week. Midtown is offering a 40% discount on all manga and graphic novels until midnight tonight (11/27; website only), while RightStuf is offering a 30% discount on almost all merchandise until December 2nd. Hop to it or you’ll miss some sweet deals!

REVIEWED LAST WEEK: ArtRage (Ambient Designs Ltd.), The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls: Revenge of the Hori Clan, Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

REVIEWED THIS WEEK: The Key to the Kingdom, Vol. 2 (CMX), Nightmares for Sale, Vol. 1 (Aurora Publishing), Pumpkin Scissors, Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

After I Win (DMP)
Ai No Kusabi: The Space Between, Vol. 1 (DMP)
Air Gear, Vol. 6 (Del Rey)
Amazing Agent Luna, Vol. 4 (Seven Seas)
Aventura, Vol. 1 (Del Rey)
Berserk, Vol. 20 (Dark Horse)
Chun Rhang Yhur Jun, Vol. 4 (Infinity Studios)
Coyote Ragtime Show, Vol. 2 (Broccoli Books)
Cute Beast (DMP)
Dash (DMP)
Destiny’s Hand, Vol. 2 (Seven Seas)
ES: Eternal Sabbath, Vol. 7 (Del Rey)
From Up Above (DMP)
Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution, Vol. 5 (Del Rey)
Genshinken, Vol. 9 (Del Rey)
Glass Sky (DMP)
Gunslinger Girl, Vol. 6 (ADV Manga)
Harvey and Etsukos’ Manga Guide to Japan (Japanime)
The Ice Wanderer (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
Invisible Love (DMP)
Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno (Chronicle Books; click here for a review)
Ka Shin Fu (DMP)
The Key to the Kingdom, Vol. 2 (CMX; reviewed below)
Kyouhaku Dogs, Vol. 1 (Infinity Studios)
The Last Uniform, Vol. 2 (Seven Seas)
Laugh Under the Sun (DMP)
Let’s Make Cute Stuff by Aranzi Aronzo: Cute Dolls (Vertical; click here for a review)
Let’s Make Cute Stuff by Aranzi Aronzo: Fun Dolls (Vertical; click here for a review)
Little Darling Novel (DMP)
Love Bus Stop (DMP)
Mamotte Lollipop, Vol. 4 (Del Rey)
MPD-Psycho, Vol. 3 (Dark Horse; click here for a review)
My Heavenly Hockey Club, Vol. 3 (Del Rey; click here for a review of volume 1)
Newtype USA, December 2007
Nightmares for Sale, Vol. 1 (Aurora Publishing; reviewed below)
Orfina, Vol. 1 (CMX)
Pumpkin Scissors, Vol. 1 (Del Rey; reviewed below)
Shaman Warrior, Vol. 5 (Dark Horse; click here for a review of volume 1)
Sugar Sugar Rune, Vol. 7 (Del Rey)
Suzuka, Vol. 6 (Del Rey)
Tenjho Tenge, Vol. 16 (CMX)
Tetreagrammaton Labyrinth, Vol. 2 (Seven Seas)
Unbalance Unbalance, Vol. 2 (Infinity Studios)
Vanilla, Vol. 1 (DMP)
Venus Versus Virus, Vol. 2 (Seven Seas)
Witchblade Takeru Manga, No. 10 (Image/Top Cow)

The Key to the Kingdom, Vol. 2

By Kyoto Shitou
CMX, 168 pp.
Rating: Teen Plus (violence, language)

keykingdom.jpgAfter the king and elder prince of Landor die in combat, the country teeters on the brink of collapse. The next in line for the throne, Prince Astarion, is a young teenager, unable and unwilling to assume the responsibility of leading his people. Determined to prevent Landor from falling to its enemies, the late king’s advisors announce a competition: whoever finds an ancient relic known as the Key to the Kingdom will become Landor’s next ruler. A motley assortment of nobles declare their intent to locate the Key, fanning out across the country in search of clues. At the urging of his older brother’s closest friend, Astarion reluctantly joins the quest, trading his pampered existence for a life of camping, trekking, and dragon-taming.

Let me be candid: The Key to the Kingdom has its share of truly silly characters and moments. A womanizing protagonist answers to the name Baddorious, or “Badd” for short. (And yes, he wants to sex you up.) All of the characters have perfect, just-stepped-out-of-a-salon hair, even after clashing with firewyrms (a.k.a. dragons) and knaves. And the dialogue tacks between Arthurian formality and 1950s hokum. (Sample: “So even in the face of death, you wouldn’t change your libidinous ways?” “To be honest with you, I really don’t have time to chew the fat with a dragon!” Right on, Daddy-O!) But if you can overlook–or, better yet, embrace–these cheesy touches, you may just realize that The Key to the Kingdom is a tightly plotted fantasy tale with an appealing cast and rich, detailed artwork that evokes such early CLAMP titles as RG Veda and Magic Knight Rayearth.

Volume two of The Key to the Kingdom will be available on November 28th.

Nightmares for Sale, Vol. 1

By Kaoru Ohashi
Aurora Publishing, 224 pp.
Rating: OT (16+)

nightmares.jpgNightmares for Sale is yet another example of what John Jakala calls “comeuppance theater.” In exchange for having their dearest wishes granted–in this case, by the proprietors of Shadow’s Pawn Shop–foolish, vain, or mean people receive their just desserts. For this old-as-the-hills premise to succeed, three basic conditions need to be met. First, the audience needs to understand the subject is unrepentantly cruel (or stupid, greedy, conceited, etc.) and not merely flawed or misguided. Second, the audience needs to see the chain of decisions that lead to the subject’s downfall (i.e. making a pact with a demon, accepting a gift from a stranger). And third, the punishment needs to fit the crime.

Alas, manga-ka Kaoru Ohashi doesn’t satisfy these basic criteria in Nightmares for Sale. A few characters get what they deserve: an overly ambitious model grows uglier and uglier, a bully is reincarnated as her victim. But many of the stories are sloppily executed; we don’t learn how or why the subject is being punished until Shadow appears at the end of the story to tell us. By far the worst chapter is “Children of Darkness,” in which a woman is tormented by the spirit of her unborn child. No matter what your personal convictions on abortion, the story is both macabre and misogynist, and shows an astonishing lack of compassion for the subject’s situation. Not even the artwork can redeem this anthology. The awkwardly drawn characters are so nondescript as to be interchangeable, and the panels are a riot of clashing screentones and Photoshop patterns.

The verdict: boycott this pawnshop and seek thrills elsewhere.

Volume one of Nightmares for Sale will be available on November 28th..

Pumpkin Scissors, Vol. 1

By Ryotaro Iwanaga
Del Rey, 212 pp.
Rating: OT (16+)

pumpkin_scissors.jpgGiven the current situation in the Middle East, Pumpkin Scissors couldn’t be more timely. The story focuses on a military squadron tasked with restoring order to a war-torn country. Lead by the headstrong Lt. Alice Malvin, Section III of the Imperial State Army goes head-to-head with rogue soldiers and noblemen-cum-warlords while trying to win the hearts and minds of civilians whose villages were decimated in the conflict–in short, performing the same kind of work as US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Timely as it may be, I have two reservations about this series: the goofy naming conventions and the lackluster artwork. The Imperial State Army refers to Section III as “Pumpkin Scissors” for reasons never satisfactorily explained, leaving the reader to wonder if the name honors Ryotaro Iwahara’s favorite vegetable or simply sounds cool to Japanese speakers. Other names are giggle inducing as well, including a cease-fire agreement known as The Treaty of Thin Ice (between the Empire and Republic of Frost… get it?), and two top-secret military units known as Krankheit Jaeger and Gespenster Jaeger, so called because German sounds… cool? martial? sinister? (Or perhaps Iwanaga just fancies umlauts?) I also found the artwork wanting. For an action-oriented series, the backgrounds are surprisingly plain, conveying little of the Empire’s landscape or people; too often, speed lines and screentones serve as backdrops for the action. The character designs are fine, but their appearance varies considerably from panel to panel, especially when Iwanaga employs more cinematic perspectives (i.e. low-angle and high-angle shots).

That said, the three stories that comprise volume one are well-crafted and suspenseful, touching on such topical issues as chemical warfare and civilian casualties while offering action junkies what they crave most: combat and cool-looking military gadgets.

Volume one of Pumpkin Scissors will be available on November 28th.

6 Responses to "Weekly Recon, 11/28/07"

1 | phoenixfirev

November 27th, 2007 at 6:07 pm


Aww…you pan another book I ordered and was looking forward to. I loved the anime Hell Girl, can’t wait for that manga, and was really hoping Nightmares would be just as good, to tide me over. :(

And…it’s another small week. Only 2. Maybe I will actually catch up…probably not. :)

2 | David Welsh

November 28th, 2007 at 9:27 am


I actually went so far as to look up what “Pumpkin Scissors” meant. It still doesn’t make any sense.

3 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

November 28th, 2007 at 2:47 pm


I just looked up the explanation in the Wikipedia and you’re right, David, it makes no sense. Maybe Onion Scissors would have been a better (if more pungent) title?

As for Nightmares, Lori, it just doesn’t compare favorably with Presents, Time Guardian, xxxHolic and Yume Kira Dream Shoppe. I will give Aurora its due for high production values: they use great paper stock for their manga, which really makes the artwork pop. I wish CMX did the same!

4 | phoenixfirev

November 28th, 2007 at 6:04 pm


I’ve only read Yume from that list. I’ve been meaning to check out xxxHolic. Maybe I’ll borrow my brothers volumes at Christmas… I didn’t know Time Guardian was in that same genre. But, I prepaid, so I’m stuck with it. Who knows, maybe I’ll find something redeeming in it.

5 | Chloe

November 28th, 2007 at 6:32 pm


I’d second Katherine’s recommendation for xxxHolic, phoenixfire; it’s a nice dose of dark fun with good art to boot.

That said, I think I’ll pass on “Nightmares” for now. Even if the review wasn’t enough to convince me, that tacky cover font alone is more than enough…

6 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

November 29th, 2007 at 7:53 am


Time Guardian is in a similar vein as Yume Kira: cute artwork, heartwarming stories. xxxHolic is considerably darker in tone, and the artwork is more sophisticated (at least to my sensibilities).

And Chloe, I’m with you on the cover for Nightmares: it isn’t very good advertising for the contents. Nice review of Bride of the Water God, BTW!