Taka Amano – CMX – 2009 – 5 volumes

I am shocked. I completely forgot about this, and somehow it drifted to the bottom of my to read pile. I’m not sure how that happened, because I was really looking forward to reading the ending. It was a good all-ages fantasy comic with a lot of action, in the same vein as +Anima. Great stuff all the way through.

Kiichi, Mototaro, and Hana have to make some tough decisions as they delve deeper into the oni legends and find out that Kiichi can be saved if Hana turns back into ink, but Kiichi’s sacrifice to turn into the world tree will keep Hana alive. We get to meet some new characters, including another oni-Mototaro pair that try to help out.

It comes down to the wire, with lots of tough decisions, swordplay, traps, flying on the backs of gigantic birds, erupting volcanoes, and gigantic trees exploding everywhere. Everyone gets to contribute a little of themselves by the end of the story, and of course… well, it’s all ages, so you know where things are headed. Even so, it’s a pretty rough ride to get there, and even I, as an adult, found it to be pretty gripping reading.

Again, I’m baffled by the Teen rating on this series, unless the self-sacrificing themes were a little much. There’s not all that much loss of life, and it is a big deal when it happens, but I don’t really think it’s too dark for a preteen audience. It’s a wonderful story, and I still like the idea of a rural society that runs around books, storytelling, and people who can bring things in books to life with magical ink. The themes of Kiichi finding himself, even while being told he was a sacrifice, and finding out he’s scared to do it even when he knows it will save everyone’s life, were all nice, too.

Another series that was nice all around. It didn’t knock my socks off like One Thousand and One Nights, but it’s not meant to. It is what it is, which is an excellent light fantasy. I can’t praise it enough for that.

This volume starts off by explaining the current slump Mototaro is in.  It goes back to his past to show him with his father, who he inherited the Mototaro title from, and what happened between them that relates to his current situation and makes him a bit afraid to use his power.  It’s a nice story, and its interesting that Mototaro is the name for the librarian in the family (it is the “Mototaro” clan) and not his given name.  We meet his grandfather later, formerly Mototaro, and neither his given name nor Mototaro’s are revealed.  Tricky.

We also learn… well, just about every secret the plot has been holding out on all this time.  We learn exactly what an oni is, what their historical role was, where they come from, Kiichi’s exact past, and we learn a lot about the Amamori tribe of bird-people.  The revelations are quite excellent, if nothing terribly earth-shaking (what the Amamori did with the onis in the past was a little horrifying, though).

Despite the fact that the Amamori have backed off, the hunt is still on for Kiichi, and even after the group reaches the water depository, they run into problems with researchers and people seeking power and glory.  There’s even a way that someone comes up with to avoid sacrificing Kiichi.  This part of the story was pretty horrifying, especially since it involved something quite terrible for each of the characters (Mototaro, Kiichi, and Hana).  I’m looking forward to seeing how things wrap up in the next volume.

Oh!  I forgot how much I liked this!  The slow release schedule made me forget how much I liked it.  I’ve got 3 and 4 here to read, and apparently the story wraps up in volume 5, which should be out… oh, now?  I… need to go do something about that.

This story is one of very few that makes me happy just reading it, which is surprising given the fact the subject matter isn’t all that light in this volume.  In fact, things get pretty dark.  Kiichi is hunted down by librarians and researchers, and is even threatened from within his own traveling party by the birdman Saame.  Most of the chapters are Kiichi stumbling into traps and people trying to take advantage of him, with Mototaro and company helping him out of his jam.  That’s fine, given the variety of people that show up wishing Kiichi harm.  The librarians are always a vague background threat, but the main points of contention directly related to the plot of the story (ie linked to the huge fire that happened last volume) include a lone female researcher that Kiichi helped last volume, a wily old man trader that tries to swindle the group, and a village of what appears to be blind old men that pull a pretty creepy kidnapping act.

The thing all these stories have in common is their ability to pull off a really convincing feeling of safety.  Because of the relatively light nature of the story, when Kiichi runs across someone who is treating him nice, you are inclined to breathe a sigh of relief since that means he’s found a safe haven.  But that’s almost never the case in this volume.

In addition to the people connected to the Book Depositories/out for personal gain, there’s also a chapter featuring monsters that escaped from books.  I forgot what an incredible plot device this is, and the chapter that has gigantic cycloptic troll-like creatures melting and chasing Kiichi and Saame through the fog is pretty incredible.  It always feels like a fairytale-within-a-fairytale when things like that happen, and it’s one of the best things the series has going for it.

There’s some foreshadowing for next volume, mostly about the continued trip to the next depository and how Kiichi seems to be magnifying everyone’s power.  I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Kiichi and the Magic Book 2

September 29, 2008

I continue to be surprised by how entertained I am by this title.  It’s an all-ages title and really quite wonderful.  I don’t like it quite as much as +Anima, which makes me forget that it is an all ages title, but I still found myself caught up in the story.

This volume has only a chapter or two of the characters on the road before everyone gets to the Book Depository.  One of the early chapters explained the mechanics of bringing the characters from books to life, and also explained who could do it and why.  There was a really sad story involving a mother and her little boy that played out, and we also find out why it’s necessary for the illustrations to stay dry once they leave the book.

Once at the depository, Kiichi winds up staying behind with a terrible headache.  At this point, he’s no longer wearing a hat, which is surprising.  He himself has come to terms with being an oni, but it seems like the sort of thing you’d still want to hide in a crowded area soas not to draw unwanted attention to yourself.  The message is a positive one, in any case.  He winds up by himself while Mototaro goes inside and finds some medicine for him, but outside he makes a friend and shows off some super-human feats of strength in the process.  Nobody seems that impressed by his ability to control a rather large illustration gone wild, but Mototaro seems to see the significance of it.

Inside the depository, Mototaro meets up with a scholar who offers to meet up with Kiichi and tell him about onis, but his intentions don’t seem to be that… er, pure.  We find out why so many people are gathered at the depository, what the role of the establishment is, and a little about the mythology of the world as well.  The mythology we get to hear about is a creation myth for that world, which I kind of liked, but the present customs are somewhat linked back to it as well.  I liked finding this level of detail here, and I was even more pleased when the myths started basically coming to life by the end of the book.  The story ends on a pretty epic cliffhanger, and I’m really looking forward to the next volume.

I mentioned that this doesn’t quite make me forget it’s an all-ages title while I’m reading it, and I think the main reason for that is probably just the fact the characters are a bit flat.  Granted, every single one of them is interesting and very well done, a detail you don’t often find in stories like this, but they’re just not developed that much yet.  The nature of the series being what it is (about the characters from books coming to life and the mythologies from the books coming to pass and all), it also feels like this is the way it should be, because you’re more aware of the characters being… well, characters in a book this way.  It doesn’t bother me, and the story is compelling and detailed in a way that makes it fun to read, so I’m pretty much in for the ride at this point.

I think I mentioned this before, but I really like finding all-ages titles like this every once in awhile.  The kind that you wouldn’t hesitate to give to an 8-10 year old and are also really fun to read.  The story’s gotten very serious as of the end of the volume, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the next one.  I’m surprised there’s four volumes, because what happens here is pretty… climactic, so I’ll be interested to see where the story goes once that is resolved.

Also, I got an arc of this from CMX, but I decided to wait a couple weeks to review it until the full version came out.  Then the company I ordered the full version from didn’t ship it until a week or so ago, so now I feel really bad for waiting so long.

This one won me over in the first few pages.  It opens with a little boy spying on a young man and a little girl.  The young man is making oni jump and dance off the page.  Then a short flashback starts.  The main character, Kiichi, is an orphaned boy who’s been thrown out of his village for being an Oni, or demon.  The village found out about this when his mother died and he was seen without his cap on for the first time, uncovering his telltale stubby horn.  Lots of mushy stuff follows where his friends reject him, grownups turn on him at his mom’s funeral, etc.  What can I say?  All it takes to impress me is a little magic and a little sentiment, apparently.

The story is actually about Kiichi joining the young man (a librarian) and the little girl (of mysterious origin) on a journey to learn about and find other oni.  It’s kind of a simple story with simple characters so far, but there’s just enough unique magical elements thrown in to be pretty fun.  The librarian, or at least the librarian we are following, has the power to bring parts of books to life, and also to return books that have come to life back to their pages.  Kiichi seems a bit faster and stronger than a normal kid, but it’s refreshing to see that he is not faster and stronger than, say, a bandit and other strong adults.

The setting is ambiguous, but it is a historical rural setting, where the librarian travels from village to village with books.  Apparently the librarians are the only ones who are allowed to handle books, which are
stored in several depositories throughout the country.  It’s implied that the librarian may be more than a librarian, so I’m not sure if all of them have magical powers or whatever.

Like I said, the story is sort of simple and somewhat ambiguous so far.  As it stands, the characters are on their way to the nearest depository, where Kiichi will meet someone who can tell him about Oni.  The backgrounds and purposes of the other characters are left somewhat up in the air, and the characters don’t have much depth yet.  I’m not sure how long this story is (it looks like it’s at least another volume), but it seems like it’s set up at the moment to either take a really long time in getting to the depository, or not take long at all and have the characters part ways or something.  It’ll be interesting to see what direction it takes.

It’s simple and fun so far, so I’m pretty excited to see where it goes.