Hirohiko Araki – Viz – 2015 – 113+ volumes
I call this an omnibus, but it’s a Japanese edition that is slightly larger than a normal volume.

I MISSED YOU, JOJO.

God bless anime.  I’m pretty sure the current anime has popularity enough to warrant starting this series from the beginning.  I’m torn on the edition, which is the Jojonium edition.  It is gorgeous, a hardcover with all the color pages reproduced inside (on non-glossy stock, which I love), including the entire first color chapter.  This volume has 3 chapters more than the regular edition of volume 1, so, in theory, the series will be shorter (but not by much).  There’s also translated bonus content from Araki in the back, in this case a couple pages of comments about part one from Araki.  He also drew new cover art for these editions, and they have very fancy cover designs.  It’s one of the nicest editions of manga available in English, I’m a book geek, and this is one of my favorite series of all time, so I’m dying of happiness.  But each volume also has a steep $20 pricetag.  I’d pay it over and over again, but I know many wouldn’t, and that’s the only reason I worry about these print editions.  On the other hand, if the print price is too much, these are also available digitally on Amazon for less than $10, which is perfect for a long series like this.

So far Phantom Blood (part 1) and Battle Tendency (part 2) are planned for these editions, which will take us through the first 12 volumes of the story.  On one hand, I would totally read Stardust Crusaders (part 3) again, but then I would have to wait even longer for Diamond is Unbreakable (part 4), and I do already have Stardust Crusaders in English.  So it’s hard to decide what to wish for.  Either is fine as long as the series continues.

Anyway!  The Jojonium edition is amazing.  It was fantastic to read the first chapter in color, which is muddy and hard to see in the tankoubon edition.  And it’s in English, of course, which is good and bad.  I can stumble through on key words in Japanese, but reading it in English makes me realize… uh, the dialogue isn’t… terribly natural.  Which is more than made up for by the fact that the story is batshit crazy.  In that first chapter, we see Aztec vampires, a corpse robber, a nonsensical fight between boys, and a young boy kneeing a dog in the face really hard as an introduction to his foster brother.  In color!  And that’s how this series starts.

The animal violence is still here.  Dio still incinerates Danny, who pops out and runs around in his death throes.  When on Ogre Street in London, a cat eating a puppy still pops out of an alley.  But don’t worry, Dio and Danny have made on the back cover.  But only for the illustration, apparently.

Dio has a really hilarious habit of talking about himself and ending statements with “me – Dio!” similar to Bender on Futurama.  It’s great.

The story… Dio antagonizes a young Jonathan Joestar after moving in.  After basically breaking him (turning his father against him, turning his girlfriend against him, making the other children ostracize him, and killing his dog), Jojo decides to just take it.  Seven years pass, the two are pretending to be friends, and Jojo’s father is dying.  He realizes Dio is poisoning him when he finds a letter from Dio’s father where Dio’s father explains he’s dying of the same symptoms.  He sets off to London to prove it, and meanwhile, Dio explores the powers of an Aztec mask the Joestars have lying around their house.

There are some moments of sublime strangeness in this first part.  Pretty much any fight, which are overly violent.  During a boxing match, Dio appears to take Jojo’s eye out with his thumb.  During a knife fight, one man takes the knife between his pinky and ring finger, and the knife slices the rest of the way down his hand, which hangs off by a strip of flesh before he drives it into a wall and pulverizes the rest of his fingers.  Dio swings a bottle into a man’s face and knocks out several teeth.

But the introduction of Robert Edward O. Speedwagon is probably the best.  For no reason, he does this fancy hat shuffle thing.  We realize later there’s a spinning blade in his hat, but man, those first few panels where he’s just whirling his hat around on his arms are fantastic, creepy, and completely without context.

The dialogue does get better as the book continues.  The art took some getting used to, because Araki’s art is an awful lot better now, to the point where it made me wince to read that first chapter.  But as I kept going, I realized this volume still has fantastic art – wonderful scenery, some awesome poses (though they get better), nice panel composition, and way more detail than Shounen Jump art usually gets.  There’s great atmosphere throughout, and Araki is great at setting the mood and drawing creepy things.  And gore.

This volume stops just before Dio’s iconic vampire transformation.  At the beginning of the next volume, he’ll be ready to let the UREEEEYYYs rip.

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2014 – 7 volumes
this is a 5-volume omnibus edition

I love this series so much!  I’m torn, because I’ve held this one in my mind as my favorite Tanemura series for so long.  Her later work is more complex, but there’s something about the simplicity, and the easy-to-like characters, that make this one very addictive.

The story moves along here according to shoujo script.  Conflicts that come up include the fallout of Maron finding out that Chiaki is lying to her, Maron dealing with the fact that her parents may love her in their own way (which reads pretty thin to me, since they never visit, call, or write letters), Chiaki and Maron falling slowly in love, and, most heartbreaking, a story at the end where Miyako approaches Jeanne to help save her brother, and Jeanne finds out Miyako wants to catch Jeanne to prove that Maron is no thief.

That’s a simple idea, but Tanemura writes a convincing and adorable friendship, so it hurts quite a bit when we find out that’s the reason.  Similarly, Maron has to wrestle with the fact that both she and Miyako may like Chiaki.  Miyako comes right out and says that Maron is more important to her, but the two have yet to have the conversation.  It’s fairly clear by the end of the volume who Chiaki prefers, though.

I still love all the little jokes slipped in here, too.  I missed the oddball sense of humor, as Gentlemen’s Alliance and Sakura Hime were both a little more serious.  During the Valentine’s Day story, Miyako gives Chiaki a chocolate sculpture of herself in a bikini.  While looking at the school newspaper, the headline, crammed into the bottom of a panel, says something like “Jeanne Anime Announced 2 days before deadline – Honestly I didn’t want Jeanne animated but I like Toei so I said okay.”  There’s lots of cute funny crammed in here.

Gasp!  We also get the first hints that not all is well!  Chiaki seems puzzled by a comment Maron makes about how the demon servants use cross pendants as well.

Is Jeanne still the best?  So far, it’s pretty close!  I’m going to hold off judgement until I finish it, though.

Skip Beat 33

May 16, 2015

Yoshiki Nakamura – Viz – 2014 – 34+ volumes

Here’s a TMI story, because I’ve been reading and writing about Skip Beat today, and I figured a change of pace for myself is in order.

So, when I was a freshman in college, my fun activity every week was walking down to Borders and buying myself a volume of manga (I had never lived close to a bookstore before, let alone one that sold manga).  $10 was a ridiculous luxury to spend on something like that every week, and I felt guilty.  So I decided to start reviewing it, in order to extend the value of the $10.  I quickly found out that reviewing the volumes worked a lot better if I didn’t read more than one volume of a series at a time (the details blur together that way), and I felt like I wasted the money unless I did review every single volume.

Flash forward about 15 years (shut up), and I find myself with a ridiculous compulsion.  I cannot bring myself to read the next volume of a series until I’ve reviewed the last one.  I tried to do this, because my to-read pile is terrifying and I wasn’t updating my site last year.  I figured I could at least enjoy the books I had.  But I can’t. I have to write about each one in between.

I will usually mention it if I do read consecutive volumes, because it is a ridiculous luxury, and I have to really be enjoying a series in order to convince myself to do it.  It happens occasionally with BL, because the series are so short.  It feels a bit naughty to binge, but I like re-reading the short series later when I write them up.  Even so, there have been very few.

Series that aren’t BL that I read consecutive volumes of?  In the last 15 years… Blue Exorcist, maybe Basara or Please Save My Earth.  And Skip Beat.  I can remember the day I caught myself up on the series.  I bought the first two, loved them, then bought the next seven and sat in front of the heater and read them in a day.  I’ve re-read this series three or four times over the years, which I can also say absolutely never happens, especially when a series is this long.  I can remember where I was when I read many of the volumes in the series the first time.  I love it so much, and it means a lot to me.

I say this because I had a three-volume marathon today.  I haven’t marathoned this series in a long time, but what’s going to happen is that I’m going to re-read all thirty-three volumes on Saturday, because this shit is ridiculous.

Kyoko and Ren… are having a conversation at the end of the last volume.  Kyoko rightly assesses the fact Ren is being a little bitch about this conversation, and then starts dominating it.  She is in character as Setsu, Ren… is not in character.  I think Kyoko isn’t really sure who’s she’s talking to (it’s Kuon, but she doesn’t know him.  She only knows it’s not Ren Tsuruga or Cain Heel), but she rolls with it as Setsu.  Things get… steamy.

Skip Beat – the manga where one of the main characters is always making a face as if the other is going to kill them.

Then, Kyoko breaks character as Setsu to state her opinion to Ren.  Her face, and her words, are downright cold-blooded.  I loved it.

Things never stop being weird.  I think Ren has… kind of gotten comfortable with Kyoko, and starts abusing the Heel Siblings’ relationship to get close to her.  He also starts picking up on her anxiety, and trying hard to help her feel better.  Does he know she’s close to falling in love?

One fantastic technique in this volume is that Kyoko is obviously forced to act as Setsu.  But she is warring with her emotions, and whenever Kyoko Mogami’s personality and wants make themselves known, there is a panel of her plain face in between the ones where she’s wearing Setsu’s makeup to indicate she’s not acting.

There is a great scene at the end of the volume where Kyoko imagines what Ren would say if he knew she was falling in love with him.  There’s a great panel where he’s telling her “I feel so betrayed… You have no willpower… and you’re slutty, too.  You’re not Kyoko anymore, I’ll call you Ho-ko instead.”

I feel like I want to cross-stitch it, put it on my wall, attribute it to Ren, and call it the greatest line in shoujo manga history.

Ho-ko. Because she fell in love with him.

Anyway.  At the end of the volume, we are finally making progress in Ren and Kyoko’s relationship.  Maybe.  Unless Kyoko takes it all back next time.

But the scene at the beginning of the volume was worth reading the entire series over and over again.

Crimson Spell 3

May 16, 2015

Ayano Yamane – SuBLime – 2014 – 5+ volumes

This volume is surprisingly serious, given the light tone of the early volume.  Havi is bewitched beyond saving.  Vald is trying to fight a sorcerer, who has possibly captured his younger brother and is making him fight Havi.  A few very bad things happen.  This takes up the first 2/3 or so of the volume.  It was nice.

Later, Havi and Vald are sort of at odds, and Vald is trying to come to terms with the fact that, maybe, he kind of likes Havi.  Havi is as brash as always about it, but Vald fought hard enough as a demon in the previous fight that he apparently kind of transforms while still himself, so he has to accept the way Havi bound him.  And he’s not really mad about that.  He’s more mad about the fact Havi is a brash jerk, which is an excellent thing to be mad about.

The major demon plot that started last volume still isn’t resolved, and there’s a newcomer at the very end of this volume.  I’m not sure if he’s evil yet.  Maybe!  Probably.

There’s also a silly short story in the back about how Vald and Havi met (maybe?) when they were children.  Yamane usually puts silly one-shots at the end of the main story, so I don’t put a lot of stock into it.  It was a cute story, and unlike her usual ones.  Yamane usually goes for the nonsensical sex one-shot, and I was expecting it this time too, since there was only one sex scene in this volume.  This may be a record for Ayano Yamane, two sex scenes in two volumes.  But the one-shot set in the past is a nice change of pace.  And Yamane makes up for it with her cheeky end notes.  It’s obvious she doesn’t take her smut too seriously, which is why she’s so great.

I like this series a lot.  I’m going to burn through the last two volumes quickly.  And then I’ll have to wait a bit.  Oh well.  In this volume, she makes it sound like she wanted to finish the series before they did a drama CD, so it can’t be that long, right?  Right?

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2013 – 31 volumes

Aaaand… here’s where we get into stories that involve the side conflicts, and not the main characters.  Again, I have no real interest in the conflict between the Itto-Ryu and the Rokki-dan, yet here I am, probably reading another 4 volumes about them.

To be fair, the first story arc in this volume is awesome.  Kagimura’s daughter goes into the woods with one of the Rokki-dan leaders and some footsoldiers, and get snared in an incredibly complicated and clever trap laid down by one of the Itto-Ryu and his posse of locals.  I don’t want to spoil the trap at all, because they kept hinting at this fatal situation on the mountain, and I was expecting trip wires and the usual kind of wooded mountain traps.  This one was much, much better.  More science was involved.

That doesn’t mean I warmed up to Kagimura’s daughter, the soldiers she fought with, or the Itto-Ryu baddie.  But it was still an awesome story, and quite frankly, that’s why I’m sticking with Blade of the Immortal until the end.

The end of the volume sets up another story arc that drags Hyakurin and her man back into the story.  On one hand, I really liked her, but on the other, I was also done with her, and it’s sad to see her drug back into the thick of things.  She had a semi-peaceful ending.  I want her to rest.

Her and her man are going up against one of the main Itto-Ryu generals, as (allegedly) some of the only people that could stop him and his people.  Elsewhere, Mugai-Ryu are squaring off against this Itto-Ryu’s disciples in a fight that I really, truly care deeply about.

Next volume will likely be the Hyakurin story… and I’ll probably like it, but I don’t know that I’m necessarily looking forward to it.

Also, the two shinobi girls are Tanpopo and Meguro.  I asked Google, and it referred me to one of my old reviews where I called them the two shinobi girls.  Their names are rarely used, but they’re in a gag comic at the back, so I thought I would record them for posterity.  I do really like those two.

QuinRose / Psyche Delico – Yen Press – 2013 – 2 volumes

My impression pretty much stayed the same through volume 2.  Cute love story, but I wish they hadn’t condensed the story from the main series into two volumes to tell alongside it.  I know it’s a weird, alien story if you don’t have the details (and still is, even if you do), but it’s also not meant to be told in two volumes.

In this volume, Alice is still trying to reconcile herself to the fact life means nothing to the Heart-landers, she learns the deal with the clocks, etc.  Elliot tries to check himself, although loses control once again when she sees Alice walking with Julius.  We continue on to a conclusion from there.

Again, if you’re familiar with the series, you know where these books are going.  There’s not a lot of surprises.  This one’s okay, but I’ve liked a couple of the other spinoffs better.

I was excited to read this one, because I liked Psyche Delico’s art in the BL books I’ve read by her.  The character designs are a little weird (maybe not quite suited to this series), but I still like her a lot.  She uses a lot of beautiful pattern and detail that make certain scenes quite lovely.

SLIGHT SPOILER:  There’s a scene at the end where Alice is trying to decide whether or not to leave, and Nightmare shows her an illusion of Elliot killing herself when he realizes she’s gone.  This strikes me as horrifyingly manipulative, although not necessarily out-of-character.  There’s a few intense scenes with Elliot in this volume, actually, which surprised me.  Slightly more intense and violent than your usual shoujo manga, and I tend to like books that shake things up like that.  But the suicide was a little too much for me.

Hoshin Engi 23

May 16, 2015

Ryu Fujisaki – Viz – 2011 – 23 volumes

Ah… it should have ended three volumes ago, and I liked it a lot better ten or so volumes back.  But it’s always nice to finish up a series like this, especially one I used to like so much.

I was bummed that there was… no fight with Dakki, really.  Literally and figuratively.  In fact, Dakki winds up saving the day.  To be fair, her ultimate end didn’t make much sense.  But man.  I would have liked to have seen her foiled even once.  Her last gamble was fairly entertaining, though.

The final fight with Joka was… what fights in this series usually are.  Energy being shot from paope.  I’m kind of over that, so this fight was rather anticlimactic for me.

I’m also kind of over the dozens of characters.  There are story resolutions for everyone that stuck around.

What I did like was the very, very end.  It was funny, in character for Taikobo, and brought everything back around to the beginning.

Would I recommend the whole series?  Ehhhh… I don’t know about that.  The style’s pretty funky, and I like the designs for characters and clothing.  I loved the beginning of the series, too.  But I think Chokomei’s ending was more fun than what actually happened.  It was fun for awhile, and I don’t regret reading it, but I don’t know how many other people would enjoy jumping into this one now.

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