August 23, 2015
Kotaro Isaka / Megumi Osuga – Viz – 2012 – 10 volumes
Okay, so the last volume of this series was AWESOME. There’s a face-off with Fraulein. The son of the leader sends a group of crazy hobbyist murderers after Junya’s friends. Junya has to protect them, somehow stop Fraulein, and also somehow have his hands in the major speech Inukai is giving at the same time.
It is incredibly messed-up, violent, shocking, and awesome. I was blown away by the number of little twists and details that went into the anti-Fraulein plan. That was some powerful stuff. It’s kind of what this whole series is about, and that was one of its finest moments. Really. It’s why this series is worth reading.
But then… I didn’t like the weak stance the story took on Junya/Inukai at the last moment. I was actually fairly unclear what most of the epilogue was about. And the ending. That was disappointing.
Part of that may have to do with the adaptation? I either forgot or never knew that this was based on a novel. It has actually flowed quite smoothly, despite that. I often dislike adaptations. Perhaps the ending just didn’t translate well into a manga? That was very disappointing. This series was great, and fairly smart. That the first half of this volume was so good made my hopes for the ending skyrocket. It’s a shame it didn’t happen as good as I imagined.
But don’t get me wrong, this series is still worth reading. At 10 volumes, it’s not much of a commitment, and it’s a mystery series nobody read as it was coming out. The ending fizzled, but the rest of it was fast-paced, strange, and very much a compelling read. It had fantastic artwork as well. Very dark, detailed backgrounds, odd character designs, deranged-looking facial expressions, and great fashion sense. Give it a try, if you are so inclined.
June 16, 2015
Megumi Osuga – Viz – 2012 – 10 volumes
I was looking at the cover of this volume, trying to remember who this character was. And then I remembered, he was just some murderer. Then I realized the same is probably true for most of the cover illustrations in this series.
This series is so underrated. It is indescribably dark and depraved, and so unlike most shounen manga. It has a little more in common with Future Diary than almost any other series I read.
Junya comes up against the criminal organization Fraulein in this volume. Fraulein has control of the city now that Inukai has moved on to bigger and better political targets. The mayor isn’t a fool, and tries to string them along, but eventually they deal drugs that hook everyone in the area to their purpose.
The leader of Fraulein has a son who he dotes on. The son is an awful human being, but there’s something vaguely humorous about him doing something completely morally reprehensible, like running down a pedestrian, then calling his dad to tell a story about an accident, then his gangster-looking father getting drawn all shoujo-y because his son called him. Part of me feels bad for liking that as much as I do, but that’s just this series.
There’s lots of dealings with assassins in this volume, and Junya learns a valuable lesson that money can buy pretty much everything. There’s an amazing scene where Junya tries to make the argument that money can’t bring his brother back, but then the person tells him it buys everything else. So un-manga-like!
If I had a criticism, it’s that we’ve basically lost the thread of the story here. What started out as Endo facing off against Inukai… isn’t really about that anymore. Except it still kind of is, because Junya is trying to kill Inukai. But then we have to deal with Fraulein, for some reason? And all these other people teaching Junya how to be a murderer? Does there really need to be so many people doing it?
All the same, with all the strange goings-on, I am really pumped to see how this is going to end in one volume. It could wrap everything up, but I have no idea how.
March 18, 2015
Megumi Osuga / Kotaro Isaka – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes
This one was something I followed avidly, then after a major bump in the road in volume 7, I didn’t pick it back up. Not sure why, this is a pretty intense and clever series, and it was super underrated.
Actually, I do know why. It kind of ends in volume 7, and I was worried about the continuation from there, because I liked those volumes so much. But so far, so good.
The premise is basically that a charismatic high school boy named Inukai begins to gather a cult of people (initially youths, but eventually everyone) in an effort to overthrow the local government and get things moving their way. What starts as a modest movement turns powerful and creepy very quickly, and seeing the nature of the group, Ando tries to stop them. Some characters in the series have modest special talents. Inukai’s may be that he inspires blind worship of his ideals. Ando’s power is that he can perform a kind of ventriloquism and make people say whatever he wants.
Ando struggles as Inukai’s group, Grasshopper, gets more powerful and a more sinister group of people are hired to stop him. Inukai himself believes strongly in fate, in that he was meant to do what he’s doing, and Ando is likely meant to stop him. But this doesn’t stop him from cutting Ando out of the picture.
In this volume, the story picks back up with Ando’s brother, Junya. Junya is now after Grasshopper, but is basically at square one for trying to figure out what is going on with them. After witnessing a murder framed to look like an accident, he follows the killer home and finds out about the mild special talents. He also finds out about Grasshopper, and even gets an interview with Inukai himself at the end of the volume.
This is basically setting things up for Junya’s story, but there’s still plenty that goes wrong. Formerly happy and care-free Junya is now a smidge homicidal, and he wants blood and answers. The murder in this volume was, frankly, fairly disturbing, if only because something equally sinister was expected. And the aftermath involved some undeserved torture.
There’s some pretty visceral stuff in here, and it’s plenty disturbing. This volume didn’t touch on the politics of Grasshopper, but I wonder if the end of the series will dip back into that. I actually am very excited to see how things turn out. Hopefully I can wrap up the last couple volumes tonight.
June 12, 2012
Kotaro Isaka / Megumi Osuga – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes
This volume was REALLY GREAT. This is one of those short, really low profile Shounen Sunday series that I feel like nobody but me reads. I’m shelving this next to Law of Ueki and Nora: The Last Chronicles of Devildom. All of them are a low-key kind of awesome, but awesome all the same. Maoh is the best of all of them, though. It’s a thriller, and a bit more cerebral than the usual Shounen Sunday series.
And as if to prove my point about how classy it is, the volume opens with an excerpt from a Goethe poem. A very appropriate one.
This volume has the long-awaited confrontation between Ando and Inukai. Inukai’s meeting place is revealed, and Ando limps over there knowing he has to stop it. There’s an insane crowd between him and Inukai, however, and a police crackdown and some necromancy get in his way. But Ando perseveres. He really gives it his all.
Really, this scene could not have played out any differently than what I expected. And it’s a really great thing that it did. It’s much better than I could have ever imagined. Both Inukai and Ando’s points of view are shared. I really don’t want to spoil anything, because the ending to this is fantastic. You have to read it yourself.
Then part two begins, and the perspective switches to Ando’s cheerful brother Junya. Junya is no longer very cheerful, and he seems to have gained the ability to never lose at rock-paper-scissors, or perhaps at betting in general. He chases down Semi and his boss, and there’s a rather impressive game of Russian Roulette involved in getting information. This is a completely new direction for the story, and the plot enters the underworld as information is hunted. It’s… strange, and different from part one, but I definitely want to see where all this is going.
I’ve always been slow at reading this series, but maybe it’s for the best. I don’t want to get too burned out on it, and staggering the volumes only reminds me of how good it is when I read one like this. I could not be happier with part one, and I encourage those looking for a dark and serious thriller to check it out. I especially like the very light supernatural touch. It’s strange that things like Ando’s ventriloquism still work in such a realistic plot. Realistic enough to really pull off the fact that Inukai is successfully brainwashing everyone. Part two is promising, and I’m definitely curious to see how the climax of the series could possibly top what happened here.
April 16, 2012
Kotaro Isaka / Megumi Osuga – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes
The last volume of this just came out! I need to catch up. It is very, very good, and I think not many people are reading it.
One of the things I’ve always had a bit of a problem with was the fact that Ando has a “special power.” The power of this series is that it does such a good job illustrating crowd mentality, and just what a horrible and ugly thing it really is. Inukai seems to believe in his cause, and he is charismatic enough that he’s won over many followers who will go to great lengths to see that their town isn’t destroyed with a new shopping center. Ando disagrees, and finds it disturbing that Inukai’s followers are willing to go to abusive lengths to ostracize anyone having to do with the construction, including the families of the tiniest peons that work for the company that owns the site.
This is a fine story in and of itself. At that level, this volume advances it by showing us yet another example of Inukai’s followers abusing their power, but this time it backfires. Rather than anyone learning a lesson, it only incites them to near-riot levels of excitement to their cause, and they blame the backfire on how evil the corporation they’re fighting really is. Inukai is hosting a massive rally in the city, but the location is not made known. Ando has to get there to try and stop Inukai from riling up the city’s population any further.
And with just that, this is already an intriguing series, much different than most shounen manga. It’s very dark and cerebral, and both the art and writing do a good job of conveying just how terrifying the mob really is.
But the “special powers” are there as well. I’m dubious of the necessity. But this volume… this volume does amazing things with it. As good as the mob mentality plotline was here, it’s the special powers storyline that really won me over. And it’s more about using your head and not giving up than it is about the powers. I know most shounen manga are about using your head and not giving up, but here it really matters, because it is simply Ando and a man that wants to kill him, and Ando will certainly die if he lets his guard down around this man.
The man also has a “special power” that he’s using to try and kill Ando. Ando’s ventriloquism is merely a parlor trick, but this man can kill with his power. So Ando has to try and determine the limits of the man’s power, and keep himself in areas where he knows he can keep an advantage. It is always a near thing. There is never any doubt that Ando is scared nearly witless through this entire volume, and he has no problem admitting this. A big part of his battle is not panicking so that he can keep a clear head and one step ahead of his attacker.
The last eleven pages of this volume are ones that I will never, ever forget. They are absolutely triumphant, and they make a huge impact.
December 3, 2011
Megumi Osuga / Kotaro Isaka – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes
I’m just so torn with every volume of this series. On one hand, I get a little tired of the main character witnessing the madness of crowds, then taking several chapters to decide he’s going to be different. On the other hand, it’s a manga about the madness of crowds and how to corral and control them. It’s extraordinarily interesting in that way, and worth a read.
On that note, the ventriloquism that Ando can perform really is the perfect weapon to fight Inukai with. He demonstrates just how wickedly effective it can be in this volume, and it’s by far been the best scene in the manga so far. The way Ando dissects the crowd mentality to come to his conclusion, and use his weapon effectively, is also quite fascinating.
The mobs themselves in this series are also quite terrifying. They really are driven by revenge, and no logic or morals stand in their way. In this volume, they burn down a house with two elderly teachers in it because the teachers were seen eating with the son of the man who was trying to develop the town. It’s brutal stuff.
Elsewhere, assassins fight. One of them… well, is “known as a ‘suicider.’ One look into both of my eyes amplifies the inner guilt and futility that rest within every man, thus turning one’s every moment into a lifetime of mental agony.” Basically, if he takes off his eyepatch, with one look, he will drive a person to suicide. It’s so silly, and doesn’t quite fit in with the mood of the series. All the same, he’s effective on Semi, the cocky and unstoppable assassin we’ve seen a lot of so far in this series.
Unfortunately, both Semi and Ando rally themselves into action using lengthy self-motivation monologues, along with a lot of reflection. These slow things down, and are fairly redundant, especially in Ando’s case. They simplify things, and are ruining what is otherwise a really fascinating story. I had a hard time getting into this volume, because I could not bring myself to get through the lengthy scene where Ando sobs his way through the mob setting the fire to the house. I keep giving each volume the benefit of the doubt, thinking that the last volume had the final monologue, that the moment was so decisive and the reflection so long that we certainly have to be getting on with the story now. But they keep appearing.
All the same, the premise and plot are interesting enough that I’m going to keep reading. And hey, maybe the monologues really are finished now, and Ando’s going to start fighting back along with his brother and Semi and his friend. That would be awesome, because it seems like they’re going to put up quite a struggle. I’d love to see them fight back with the crowds that Inukai is so good at controlling. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, which is why it deserves to be read… I just hope it can lay off the weak character development from here on.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.
August 17, 2011
Kotaro Isaka / Megumi Osuga – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes
This… this is pretty effective psychological horror. I’m a little bit surprised by how good it’s gotten over the past couple volumes. The special powers part of it seems so silly in comparison to the rest, but it’s actually handled pretty well. After all, without something to fight back with, how would Ando ever convince himself to stand up to Inukai?
There’s a really powerful scene at the beginning of this volume where Inukai decides to accept Ando as his rival, and Inukai shows off just how much influence he really has. This devolves into an action scene, complete with assassin, but the scariest part of the series are these scenes that show just how effective a charismatic leader and mob mentality really are.
The mob mentality carries over into a later story, where the son of the developer Inukai is against transfers to Ando’s school. The boy is at the wrong end of a lot of bullying, and when Ando tries to stand up to him, he sees only a school full of Inukai’s disciples. Again, in the context of the series, this is quite terrifying. It’s difficult to explain without reading, but seeing Ando come upon a group full of impassive, evil faces again and again, and he begs and pleads and yells at them, tries to get them to see the evil in their actions… and then none of them see things any different from what Inukai tells them… it’s pretty scary stuff.
There’s some exposition at the end of the volume, the assassin from a few volumes ago enters the story… some resolve comes for Ando, but nothing good has started happening yet. I’m extremely interested to see how this will start working itself out. I’m a few volumes behind right now, so I plan to rectify that very soon.