Dorohedoro 9

Q Hayashida – Viz – 2012 – 18+ volumes

It’s been awhile! No better way to get back into the groove than with one of my favorites. And there are few series I love as much as Dorohedoro.

The plot advances, in its own meandering way. Caiman and Nikaido dig deeper into a wizard school, where Caiman regains some of his memories, much to his horror. Elsewhere, Shin and Noi are teamed up with Dr. Kasukabe to find out about the leader of the Cross Eyes and do a little grave robbing. Also, members of the Cross Eyes try to get out of paying their rent, and try to get out of a murder rap in the most bizarre way possible. They do battle with a diet bug.

There’s not a whole lot of action, or answers, here. We learn things in the indirect way this series has of getting around to the main point. For instance, Chota picks up Nikaido’s diary and reads aloud, and we learn a little bit about her childhood, her magic, and her relationship to one of the devils. Elsewhere, we learn a lot about the devils when… ah, we see some punishment doled out. By an enormous, armless, inarticulate birdman with knives on his back. There’s a lot of gruesome stuff in this series, but that birdman was true nightmare fuel.

The story also feels like it’s on the brink of changing direction. As I said, there’s a lot of exposition here that has to lead to something big, but the other interesting thing that happens is that Caiman is slowly growing less stable the more he gets his memories back. At one point, Nikaido and Caiman have what the narration refers to as their “last conversation.” With at least nine volumes ahead of us, I find that hard to believe, but it’ll be a lot of fun to see the implications.

I’ve already said quite a bit about this series. The art’s still really great, with a lot of detail, all the usual weirdness is present and accounted for, and its strange storytelling style still hasn’t gotten old. I wish it came out more frequently, and I do hope it’s been doing well.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Sunny 1

Taiyo Matsumoto – Viz – 2013 – 2+ volumes

Taiyo Matsumoto! I’m a huge fan of his work, and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen one of his series in English. I was so happy when I found out this was coming out while doing research for another article.

It’s… about what you’d expect from Matsumoto. He has a way of covering potentially depressing subject matter with a light touch. Sunny is a collection of short stories about a children’s home and the kids that live there. Some of them have parents that come to visit periodically, some of them don’t. None of them really fit in at school. Or even at the home. The title of the series comes from the fact that there’s an old Datsun Sunny sitting on the front lawn of the home that the children frequently play in and imagine driving elsewhere.

Actually, the most heartbreaking instance of that was probably in the first story, which sees a new child being introduced to the home. The other kids embrace him in their way, but he refuses to be friendly with them, insisting that he doesn’t belong there and that his mother will come for him soon. It’s really, really sad. At the end of the story, he imagines himself driving back home in the Sunny.

The second story is about a younger kid who seems to enjoy life, but hates going to school. It seems to invite unwanted comparisons to his own lifestyle. He winds up stealing a classmate’s chopsticks, then when his teachers send him to apologize, the other student’s mother gives him candy. He has a near-constant runny nose and unclipped fingernails, and loves playing the harmonica badly. This one, and most of the others, are slice-of-life kind of stories, a day in the life of one of the main children at the home.

The third story is about an older boy who is the “cool kid” at the home. At the beginning of the story, one of the younger girls tells him she loves him, and later, the girl he likes asks him to bury a stray cat she found that had been hit by a car. They do so without much comment. It’s just a sweet slice-of-life story, with not much depressing content.

The next story makes up for the depressing content, and is about one of the older children/aides at the home. He has a father, but his father is an alcoholic, and he appears to spend a lot of time at the home helping out with the younger kids instead of taking care of his father.

The next story is about the house-master’s grandson coming to visit. The children at the home hero-worship him (he’s about college-age), and it’s a fairly upbeat story with him hanging out with all the kids. But even this is sad, because he has to ask the children who aren’t going home for their parental visits why that is.

And the last story is about the group going out and looking for one of the older developmentally disabled residents.

Basically, it’s an interesting read, and Matsumoto’s great at writing characters. It’s also nice to see his artwork after so long, and see how it looks nowadays. But… for a book called Sunny, it’s a depressing read. Great, and I wouldn’t advise against it because it’s depressing, but it’s still depressing.

Having said that, it’s true that any Taiyo Matsumoto book is worth a read, but Viz also does right by the books themselves. There’s nifty editions of Tekkon Kinkreet and Go Go Monster floating around out there, and Sunny is a very nice cloth-bound hardcover. Being a book geek, that’s also a huge reason to pick one up.


Tyrant Falls in Love 8

Hinako Takanaga – DMP/June – 2013 – 8 volumes

I’ve been refreshing akadot.com for the last month, waiting for this book to appear.  I may not have been reading very much manga lately, but I made damn sure I picked this one up.  Making me wait six months for the last book… on a cliffhanger!  Are you serious?!  But it only made getting my hands on the book that much sweeter.  And I’m thrilled that we got it at all, honestly, as that hiccup made me worry terribly.

And it was as good as I had hoped.  Very, very good.  Everything’s resolved.  It stays true to Souichi’s character and still had a happy end.  It had an appropriately apocalyptic “relationship moment” that seemed like a good crisis to end on.  There were some touches of humor at the end, but if I really had to level any sort of criticism at it, it’s that the funny character moments that made the series so much fun to read all the way through weren’t in this final volume.  But I’m a fan of drama, so I was all for this stuff.

The other thing is that it feels like it could keep going.  And it apparently does!  I think Takanaga has continued to write side stories about these two, which I hope she does forever.  The characters are so good that you could throw pretty much any situation at them and have it be funny, so I could see occasional volumes of their continued lives together being quite the treat.  I only hope we get to see them in English as well!  AND!  It looks like she decided not to write that sequel series about Morinaga’s brother after all!  Or, at least, hasn’t gotten around to it yet.  That makes me happy, because that couple was creepy, and I would have read it to see if there was more Tatsumi and Morinaga.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot or characters in this volume, since most people reading this will either have already read it or not want to be spoiled.  But if you’re trying to figure out if the ending is worth it, it is!  I couldn’t have been happier.  This is especially cheery considering the fact that I just wrote up the last volume of xxxHolic, which was… less than satisfactory.  But they can’t all be winners.

This was one of my favorite BL series of all time, and I’ve already gushed about it plenty, so I’m just going to leave the ending at this.  I do hope to see more of it, but for the time being… YES.  I couldn’t be happier to have the whole thing in my hands.  I’m going to re-read it right about… now.


Strange Tale of Panorama Island

Suehiro Maruo – Last Gasp – 2013 – 1 volume

Here’s a new release for you!  I read this as soon as it arrived in the mail.  I’ve been waiting on this for years.  I love Suehiro Maruo’s art, so I was thrilled to get a chance to read some of his work that was less than 20 years old.  It’s so rare we see his stuff in English.

This was a departure from the other work I’d read by him.  It starts off (predictably, in about 1920) with a novelist named Hitomi who is failing badly at his career.  He dreams of bigger and better things, and has trouble conveying his visions in novel format.  He soon gets news that his wealthy friend from childhood, Genzaburo, has suddenly passed away.  The two were always very close, but more importantly, they also looked identical.  Hitomi concocts a “miracle” where Genzaburo comes back to life and he steps into his shoes.  Not for a terribly sinister purpose, as you might imagine from that situation, but because he wants to use Genzaburo’s vast wealth to construct a pleasure island the likes of which the world has never seen.  He pulls off the deception perfectly, save for Genzaburo’s wife, whom he later dedicates the island to.

And… that’s about it.  It’s a very simple story, with a very simple progression.  It has a slightly creepy vibe throughout the beginning, but nothing ever comes of that.  Compared to Maruo’s other work, Hitomi’s deception is child’s play, and not much sinister happens in this book save for a quiet murder towards the end (well, and the very last thing that happens, which is a little gross, but nowhere near the levels you’d find in Maruo’s other books).  Hitomi’s quest for wealth doesn’t come across as very greedy at all, since it isn’t the wealth he wants so much as it is the means to make his dream come true.

The best thing about this book, however, is the artwork, as you might imagine.  Maruo’s sequential artwork has gotten much better, and this book is also a good entry point for people who want to check him out, but were to grossed out by the other books available (as you should be, as Ultra Gash Inferno is horrifying).  While the story is a bit bland and feels like it never takes off, the real payoff in this book is seeing Hitomi’s island.  It’s lushly illustrated and ingeniously laid out.  I can’t describe to you how wonderful this island actually is.  Landscapes that wind up and around, visual illusions that make things seem much more vast and monumental than they really are.  An underwater glass tunnel that magnifies sea life and has an ama diver to frolic with them.  Past that is amazing sculpture gardens, which are sometimes sculpted and sometimes people posing.  He uses several real sculptures that Hitomi has reproduced on the island, and they are amazing.  There are mechanical gardens, vast fields, towering staircases, and just about every kind of luxury you can imagine.  It’s an adult playground, although there’s only one panel’s worth of the orgy you might be expecting, and that only happens when things unravel at the end.  Hitomi explains the island can look limitless because of the panorama visual effect, and goes on to describe the history of the panorama, a popular kind of sideshow exhibit from the late 19th and eary 20th century.  From above, the island looks like a flower.  When Maruo draws all this, you will believe it possible.  It is beyond amazing to look at.

And as bland as the narrative is, one of my favorite things about this book is that Hitomi and the book itself starts off looking bland and boring, and the art gets more detailed and extravagant the further into the book you get.

Strange ending, though.  An unexpected appearance from Rampo Edogawa’s detective Kogoro Akechi at the end felt wrong, and the ending was rushed through for some reason.  Possibly because it didn’t have anyplace else to go.  But Maruo did what he wanted to do, which was to draw the Panorama Island.

And that, my friends, is well worth the price of admission into this (very nice hardcover!) book.  It was worth the wait.  I hope this does well, and we can see more of this somewhat mild Maruo work in English.


Utsubora

Asumiko Nakamura – Vertical – 2013 – 1 volume

I reviewed this over at Comics Should Be Good, so you can check out my lengthy review there.  It was good enough that I suspended my column’s usual format so I could review that at length.

In short: go out and buy this book.  It’s an awesome read, and reminds me a lot of Tezuka’s Barbara, except more sane and linear.  Nakamura is also an awesome artist and storyteller.  Doukyuusei was one of my absolute very favorite books on JManga, and that combined with this book make me think that I would read absolutely anything by Nakamura.  Vertical has hinted that they would only consider more of her work if Utsubora does well, so I hope very dearly it does.  Anything, ANYTHING else that is even remotely like Utsubora would be a treat indeed.


Say It With Manga: Suehiro Maruo Edition

This week’s Say It With Manga focused on Suehiro Maruo, and you can check it out over at Comics Should Be Good.  Basically, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is worth checking out, and more people should really see what an awesome artist he is.  The other two books available in English are… a little to a lot gross.  Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show is tough to read, but Ultra-Gash Inferno is not something most people are going to want to pick up.  I had forgotten about it until I re-read it for that column, then I remembered I don’t even like having it in my house.

Even while not updating over here, I did all my Say It With Manga columns, so there’s a bunch of stuff over there you can check out and catch up on.  Mecha, magic shops, manga named after places, Viz Spectrum, and others.  It’s all good.


Toradora 4

Yuyuko Takemiya / Zekkyo – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2011 – 5+ volumes

I like this series so much! I had to take a break for a while, because I read a big chunk of the novel series after I finished volume 3. The manga is a very faithful adaptation, so there’s only so much of the same story I can take. I wish light novels did better over here, because I would still buy every volume of the novel series. The characters are just so great!

But as a faithful adaptation, the manga is just as good, honestly. The artist is good at drawing comical facial expressions, and Ryuji’s scary face comes across much better in the manga.

Mostly though, the main appeal of the story to me is the way that it is kind of a subtle romance, without most of the terrible traps romcom series like this fall into. Granted, there’s still some of that if that’s your thing. The first half of this volume is about how Taiga doesn’t want to go swimming because she can’t hide the fact she’s flat-chested in a swimsuit, and much is made of well-endowed classmates. But the fanservice is relatively minimal, and most of this series is quite tasteful.

I also like how it side-steps the usual plot device that the characters are too shy and embarrassed to talk to the person they like. Both of the main characters are like this, to the point of paralysis, around their crushes, but the slowly building friendship/romance between Ryuji and Taiga is being built up through their mutual struggle to confess their feelings to their respective best friends. It’s nice to see friendship in a male/female relationship like this, even if I can see a romance coming from a mile away. It’s not there yet!

This volume? Well, it’s still a lot of fun. Ryuji does find a way to help Taiga with her swimsuit problem, and much is made of it on the first day of class swimming. The second half of the volume is a contest between Taiga and the annoying model friend to see who can swim better. Taiga can’t swim, so Ryuji helps her once again, as he is the prize to be won. Again, that’s a rather typical plot device, but the characters make reading it a lot of fun, and slightly more fresh than it should be.

Next volume? Summer trip to a vacation house! I hope you like ghost stories!


Vagabond 10 (VizBig ed.)

Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2011 – 35+ volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 28-30

These are mostly caught up with the regular English release, so I haven’t read one in awhile.  I got volume 11 some time ago (which may catch things up to within less of an omnibus), and thought it was a good time to read this one.  This is the kind of series that, when I finish a volume, I want to know there’s another to pick up afterwards.  It’s a very powerful read, and I’d hate to be left hanging if I didn’t want more.  This is a particular reading quirk of mine though, and I do this with novel series as well (I want to read Dance with Dragons SO BAD but I can’t until the next one comes out, for instance).

This one’s all about Musashi recovering and trying to figure out where his path takes him.  He was severely wounded in his last fight, to the point where he may no longer be able to challenge the best fighters anymore.  So Takuan comes and advises him.  What could he possibly get out of his current lifestyle?  Doesn’t it feel good to be waited on by Otsu?

But it also seems like everyone knows this is in vein.  Otsu knows Musashi won’t settle down, and he wouldn’t be the same if he did.  Musashi reflects heavily on his path, and on Takuan’s words, and on what those he’s met along his path before this have said.  He reflects seriously on his actions, and what they mean to him.  In any other book, this much reflection would be boring, but somehow in Vagabond, the characters and Inoue’s art make it feel just as spiritual as it does for Musashi.  That’s the really incredible thing about this series.  Sometimes, there’s volumes like this where there’s not much action and nothing going on.  And yet, they are still somehow very full reading experiences.

There’s still Kojiro’s path too, and I love how this is building up to an intersection.  Kojiro is also just… such a likeable character.  His fights are also interesting.  Here, an heir to a sword school is randomly challenged to a match by Kojiro idling with a stick.  The heir, a powerful swordsman, sees his death come at Kojiro’s hands just as if they had actually fought, and as if he had a real sword in his hands.  Kojiro apparently just has that much presence, and again, it’s conveyed amazingly well in the comic.  Far better than it has any right to be, in fact.

I read this some time ago (it was at the bottom of my to-review stack, and I’m just now getting to it, which is a shame), so a lot of the details are hazy.  All three of the volumes within are mostly in-between volumes though, while Musashi recovers from his fight, Matahatchi still tries to find his place, Kojiro continuing on to great things, et cetera.  But again, the presence these books have, the experience you get reading them, is incredible.  I would highly recommend the omnibus format as well, because one volume of this series just isn’t enough.  And it’s an amazing enough series that I’m heavily addicted, despite having not much interest in Japanese period stories or samurai.  It’s likely one of the best manga out there, and I’m delighted to be able to experience it.  I think he’s going to wrap it up soon as well, so I’ll be curious to see how that will be done over the course of the next several volumes.


XxXholic 19

CLAMP – Del Rey – 2012 – 19 volumes

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spoiled myself on the ending of this series, which is why I didn’t pick up the last volume right away. I knew it would only break my heart. Mainly because it simply stops what it’s doing abrupty, with no resolution. I was pretty angry when I found about about that. Happily (I think?), it looks like a sequel series called xxxHolic Rei started a month or so ago, so maybe that will bring the resolution I crave.

Again, I’m most upset about this series because I do like it so much, and I was so excited when I first started reading it that I thought it would de-throne X as my favorite CLAMP series. But Tsubasa seems to taint those around it, and it’s a shame that some of the plot elements are convoluted and just not included in this series at all.

Anyway.  More of the one-shot stories in this volume.  Somewhat more reflective and character-focused than their one-shot natures seem on first blush, but there were disappointingly few revelations to be had here, for it being a final volume.  The first story was my favorite, since the beginning went over some of the older Japanese festivals (one of which I’ve never heard of before, and the others I didn’t realize were ancient traditions), and Watanuki wound up brewing seasonal sake in a rather creative and magical way.  Most of them are very quaint, actually, about various old Japanese wards, ceremonies, et cetera.  It’s also a bit about the time passing outside the shop for Watanuki, which is what the conclusion shockingly comes back to.  I was a bit heartbroken, actually, by the final revelation.  I do wonder how the sequel will pick up from there… but honestly?  It doesn’t even look like that change even made a difference.  Oh well.

Hmm…  still pretty down on CLAMP after finishing this volume, even though it was mostly charming.  It was just… underwhelming, and I expected better.  I’ll still pick up the sequel, because I did like this series for the most part, and I’ll hope it’s good.  Maybe Drug & Drop is good too!  I should read that as well.  I was never Legal Drug’s biggest fan, but maybe it’s better now, or maybe I’ll appreciate it more now.

Look, I’m trying not to think about Kobato and Gate 7, okay?


beast & feast

Norikazu Akira – DMP/June – 2012 – 1 volume

I hate funky caps and punctuation in titles, but part of me also thinks it’s very funny.  The lowercase title stays!

Guys, I wanted to like this book very badly.  Norikazu Akira’s art is AMAZING.  It’s so rare that we get books like this with manly-looking characters in English.  These dudes have stubble, they look like adults, and they’re grown-ups.  This book was all for me.  Plus she uses a lot of heavy inks and tones, which makes it look very dark and stylish.  Flipping through this book right now, I would buy any other book by Norikazu Akira they published in English (which, incidentally, includes Honey Darling from SuBLime).  Unfortunately, based on the two books I ready by her… she’s just not my flavor.

Part of the problem is that there’s no preamble, just sex.  Detective and Yakuza meet for the first time since junior high.  There’s some thinly veiled excuse to get them together again after the first meeting (yakuza knows something about the case detective is working on), and from there, yakuza throws detective into bed and the two start having sex.  There’s no romance, really, although they do like each other.  The romance consists of “I’ve always loved you!” “Why didn’t you say so you can do whatever you want with me!” which… I probably shouldn’t complain about after reading hundreds of these, but when that’s all there is?  That’s really boring.  There’s lots of struggling, et cetera.  Unfortunately, the yakuza is the only one that looks manly, as the detective is still kind of a small dude, which is less interesting than I made it sound.

The case goes on through the various chapters.  Unfortunately, I’m giving a somewhat abridged summary since I read it some time ago and the only impression it left was that I loved the art, but the book itself didn’t do much for me.  Flipping through it, it’s plenty steamy, and it does have good art, which is a tough combination to find sometimes.  So there’ll be plenty of people for whom this will be worth picking up.  I’d still recommend it to myself based on its good points alone, but it just wasn’t a very satisfying read.  Not everything can be Men of Tattoos, but I always kind of want it to be.


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