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.

Alice in the Country of Hearts Omnibus 2

QuinRose / Soumei Hoshino – Yen Press – 2012 – 6 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols 3-4

Okay, I did have to write this up, because I enjoyed this volume a lot more. I think my impatience with the last omnibus had more to do with the fact I didn’t want to sit through the basics again. I knew about the clocks and about the value of life in the country of Hearts, and I knew all the characters and how much they loved Alice already.

This volume pointed more at the overall picture, though. There was more of Nightmare (which, to be fair, I read the volume 1 section some months before I started this recent marathon, but I don’t remember him being a big part of the plot before, and talking to Alice?), and there was more of the resistant fellows hinting at their attraction or fondness, creepy or otherwise. I still don’t know what Nightmare has to do with everything, or why it’s significant for him and Peter White that Peter was the one that drew Alice into the world.

I also think the mortality thing came across much better this time, although I’m not sure if it was the translation or the fact I was reading it through the second time. Originally it just seemed like a thing that Alice was destined to preach, whereas this time through it came across much better that residents of Bizarro World kill each other because they can be brought back to life, and it’s no big deal like it is to Alice. Granted, she’s got some converts now, but for the most part, she’s mostly just talking to herself.

Most importantly, I can read volume 6 now! I’m all excited to see how it ends now, and what the explanation for all of this is!

Amnesia Labyrinth 2

Nagaru Tanigawa / Natsumi Kohane – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2011 – 2+ volumes

Okay! I was surprised by how much I liked volume one of this, but unfortunately the second one got buried under my significant to-read pile and was forgotten. I thought I’d clear it out of my backlog while I had some time off this weekend.

Now, I was a little more excited about this than I should have been, because I thought volume two was the last one. Apparently this is an ongoing series, but it looks as if no new volumes have come out since 2009 in Japan, so we may never know. I did the research just now to make sure, but I actually finished this volume thinking that was how the series ended. I’m so glad that wasn’t the case, because there was absolutely no conclusion.

There’s some exposition here, to be sure. The family situation doesn’t get any less crude or creepy, and in fact we only meet Souji’s “twin brother,” locked up in the basement of the family compound. While it’s not stated explicitly, and I’d like to give Tanigawa more credit than to be this obvious, I fear that there’s a rather obvious plot device rearing its head right here as well.

Other than that… things get messed up for Yukako. Very messed up. I’m not entirely sure how that will work out, because I haven’t decided how or what level of crazy the family is working on. Some characters seem crazy in one scene, and normal in others, so it’s hard to tell.

Randomly, towards the end of the book, there’s a flashback to what appears to be an ancient Japanese band of vaguely supernatural-flavored assassins. This doesn’t tie into the plot nearly at all right now, so I was especially mad when that was thrown in as an unrelated thread at the end of the volume, then the story ended. But! Supposedly, there’s more coming at some point. I suspect Tanigawa’s output has been rather slow since the Haruhi Suzumiya series hit it big, but I so do want to see more of his work, and I’d love to read more of this one.

Blade of the Immortal 22

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2010 – 31 volumes

I forgot to write this one up! I thought I had forgotten to read it, but volume 23 made too much sense. A shame, because this was an awesome volume. I wound up re-reading it for the review to figure out if I actually finished it, but it was totally worth it.

This was a good aftermath/prologue volume, which shows us what happened to the official who was in charge of the experiments on Manji and wound up killing all the prisoners and almost flooding Edo castle. He’s ordered to commit suicide, but he gets 30 days to hunt down the members of the Itto-Ryu along with several death row inmates. Meanwhile, the new official that took his place makes a deal with Anotsu to get the Itto-Ryu out of Edo in 7 days, so the stakes are raised and the remaining members of the Itto-Ryu are hunted down. Except their numbers are only increasing, and they don’t really seemed too concerned.

Highlight: The conversation between Anotsu and the new official. I still don’t know which way that situation would have gone, which is something that very few series are good at.

That was the boring wind-down part. Elsewhere, there are adorable parting scenes between Rin and Doa, and lots of cute domestic stuff between Rin and Manji. Rin is pampering Manji due to his loss of an arm, and Manji isn’t that into it. Manji also looks like one of the Itto-Ryu members, so he’s also being hunted by the death row assassins, which is mostly just a silly feint.

There’s one… really intense scene between Manji and Rin. It took me by surprise, since romance isn’t something the series has bothered with all this time. It feels right at the time though, especially with Rin still buzzing after her victorious liberation of Manji.

Another nice addition is a pair of shinobi girls who are spying for the secret organization. They wind up staying at the same place as Manji and Rin without realizing who they are.

There’s also a cute scene between Anotsu and Rin at the end of the volume, which is more common as the series goes on, though still fairly unlikely.

Lots of good stuff on offer here, although that scene with Manji and Rin alone is worth the price of admission.

Excel Saga 2

Rikdo Koshi – Viz – 2003 – 27 volumes

I started this series towards the end, and I liked it well enough to go back to the beginning. The problem was, I was afraid to read additional volumes of it because the first volume was a bit too nonsensical for my taste. But I had bought the first few together, and I don’t want to read the later volumes that have accumulated without giving the beginning of the series a try again, so I dove in.

I… liked the second volume a lot better! Maybe I was in the mood for it this time more than the last, but the missions that Excel and Hayate did seemed a lot more cohesive in this volume, and the sense of humor has stabilized and just struck me as much funnier. Hayate’s sudden illnesses are much better timed. Doctor Kabapu was very funny. The terrible part-time jobs that they eventually skipped out on and stole food from were good, as was the fact they made the food last too long and it made Excel very sick.

There’s still not much plot to speak of, though it does seem like, somehow, Il Palazzo knows someone is after him, and Doctor Kabapu has organized the Environmental Security Administration to, uh… combat Hayate and Excel. I did like the chapters about that organization forming quite a bit.

As it is still kind of a gag series at this point, I don’t have much to add other than that. The humor was better, the stories seemed more on target, and I can see it’s going somewhere. I loved it, so I’m going to pick up volume 3 now that I’ve got the review for 2 out of the way.


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