Will not finish Rating
Afterschool Charisma (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, dropped]
Anne Freaks (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] Entirely competent in a technical sense but somehow rather flat and unengaging. I just didn't really much care about any of the characters and had no particular urge to see how the story played out - reading Anne Freaks is a strangely dispassionate experience...and that can't be good in what's supposed to be a taut psychological action comic centred around matricide and secretive terrorist organisations. It takes real talent to make this stuff uninteresting. Overall, it's not really bad and it's fairly readable but it's also a missed opportunity.
Appleseed (manga) So-so
[1 volume, dropped] Having enjoyed the first movie adaptation of this, I was looking forward to reading the manga. Unfortunately, it's not one of Shirow's best, despite featuring all of his trademarks: snub-nosed girls, big guns, a dystopian near-future setting and a heavy dose of techno babble. It's not all that bad, mind you, but the narrative isn't at all engaging and the art isn't particularly good either. I'm told the art improves in later volumes but that the storytelling gets even worse. Frankly, I can't imagine it's worth sticking around to find out.
Aria (manga) Not really good
[2 volumes, dropped] Aqua was short and sweet. Too sweet, in fact - but still moderately enjoyable. Aria is just Aqua continued but what was pleasant, whimsical fluff for two volumes is downright unsatisfying and frustratingly vapid when stretched beyond that point. The backgrounds are still pleasant, most of the characters are satisfying on the eye and there's certainly some skill to be seen in the way certain frames are laid out but the chibi crap ruins the mood and, beyond that, it's just an unending exercise in watching uncharacteristic teenagers doing nothing very much at all in an irksomely cutesy fashion. Utterly undemanding and entirely lacking in depth - but then I suppose that's why the moe crowd like it so much.
Arisa (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, dropped]
Battle Club (manga) Bad
[2 volumes, dropped] It was clear from the outset that this wasn't going to be high art but the first volume at least held out the promise of being so-bad-it's-good. The second volume is enough to convince me that, actually, it's so-bad-it's-bad. Essentially, this is porn with all the porn removed and substituted with an unrelenting stream of softcore fanservice and bad slapstick.
Battle Royale (manga) Not really good
[2 volumes, dropped] The novel and the (first) movie were both quite enjoyable but the manga...not so much. This might have been rather better with an unbowdlerised translation but Tokyopop's "adaptation" is, by their own admission, so far from the original that it's impossible to tell. Based on their reworking and the art though, this lacks the humour of the movie and the intelligence of the novel - the plot is eclipsed under a deluge of deliberately exploitational depictions of sex and violence, melodrama poses as depth and the art, whilst admirably detailed, is a bad fit for the subject matter. The shoujo pretty-boy character designs only serve to distance the reader, particularly in the case of the protagonist who has been made, for reasons I dare not fathom, to look like a young Paul McCartney...
Beck (manga) Decent
[3 volumes, dropped] The teenage fantasy fulfilment factory that is shounen manga usually hones in on sating (a) the desire to be sexually desirable / active or (b) the desire to be "somebody" (powerful, important, popular, uniquely talented, whatever) and it usually does so in the crassest and most direct fashion possible. Beck wheels out that old teen standard, the rock star fantasy, which manages to simultaneously cover both (a) and (b) with a premise that also sidesteps most of the crassness, the infantilism and the staggering stupidity of the harem genre, the magical girlfriend genre, the martial arts tournament genre and so on and so forth. But it's still, when you get right down to it, an idealised adolescent daydream in which an unremarkable 14 year old nobody suddenly becomes - through a combination of grit and luck - a cool, popular, sexually attractive, musically talented somebody. Premise aside, the art's mostly okay but never much better than that with the exception of the character designs, which are simultaneously the best and worst thing about the series, visually speaking - there's a slightly unpleasant frog-eyed, plastic faced aspect to the core characters whereas the overblown caricatures that make up the rest of the cast (old geezers, fan girls, incidental school mates) are warm, humorous and animated. In other words, Sakuishi is great at making ugly look good but can't help but make pretty look ugly. If you see what I mean. It's a similar story with the characters - the core cast's personalities are a tad bland and unremarkable, while the supporting cast are often a lot of fun. The writing's fairly competent for what it is (though one might lament the tendency to balance the slavish devotion to American pop culture inherent in the premise with a slight but lamentable whiff of xenophobia and nationalism, at least in the first volume) and it's pretty well paced. Ultimately, if you're somewhere between 12 and 16, Beck is probably a pretty solid, recommendable title with rather more to recommend it than most of its peers - if you're much older than that, however, it will likely have all the relevancy of a condom dispenser in a convent.
Black Bird (manga) Decent
[5 volumes, dropped]
Black Cat (manga by K. Yabuki) Weak
[1 volume, dropped] An utterly uninspired snooze fest, Black Cat is a wholly derivative shounen action title with precisely zero redeeming features. That's not to say there aren't decidedly worse titles out there - it's just that there's absolutely nothing here that says "quality", let alone "originality". The under-developed cookie-cutter characters are clearly supposed to be achingly cool but don't come close to pulling it off, the episodic story arcs are all brain-numbingly over-familiar (as is the overarching plot), the dialogue is as tedious as it is unconvincing, the character designs are blandly uninspired and the rest of the art struggles to achieve mediocrity, including the yawn-inducing, static, "action" set pieces.
Bleach (manga) Not really good
[3 volumes, dropped] The art is generic, a little bit sloppy and generally pretty unmemorable. And the story? Well, it's generic, a little bit sloppy and generally pretty unmemorable. I guess Bleach hits most of the right notes for its intended 13 year old audience: there's a bit of (by the numbers) action, a bit of (forced) humour, a bit of (mild) fanservice and a bit of (shallow) angst, all wrapped up in an achingly familiar "spirit-hunting teen and his friends" set-up and Shonen Jump's usual plasticly slick pacing and editing. The problem is that, unlike the ostensibly similar Kekkaishi, Bleach has nothing that makes it stand out, nothing it does really well, nothing to commend it to a wider audience than its core demographic target - even relative to other long-running, written-by-reader-poll, SJ production line titles of a similar ilk, Bleach is pretty much a slightly tiresome non-entity.
Bokurano: Ours (manga) So-so
[3 volumes, dropped]
Bondage Fairies (manga) Bad
[N/A] A long-running porn series in which tiny winged ladies get gang-banged by a variety of insects, amphibians and other diminutive woodland creatures. The art's actually pretty good (particularly the detailed flora and fauna) but...WHO THE FUCK IS THIS STUFF AIMED AT? I'm aware that there are a seemingly endless number of truly odd sexual fetishes out there but are there really enough people out there who go weak at the knees at the very idea of fairies being humped by ladybirds, frogs and stag beetles to support this title being released over a period of years on both sides of the Pacific?! I'm inclined to think that everybody should see this comic once, just to soak up the sublime oddness of it. But then they should probably wash out their eyes with brake fluid and promise never to mention it again.
Cannon God Exaxxion (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] Where Gunsmith Cats hung Sonoda's various mechanical and sexual fetishes on the framework of a generic American action movie, Cannon God Exaxxion does the exact same thing but with a giant robot anime inspiration taking the place of the mean streets of Chicago. Otherwise, the two series are depressingly similar - Sonoda produces beautifully polished technical art (vehicles, guns, robots et al) and handles action scenes with aplomb but his character designs are still horrible, his dialogue is still cheesy, his pacing is still off and he still can't miss an opportunity to inflict his deeply unpleasant, highly creepy sexual proclivities on the reader. CGE does, at least, have an actual ongoing plot, however perfunctory, in contrast to GSC's disconnected and inconsequential vignettes but, on the other hand, GSC had a moderately sympathetic protagonist whereas CGE has a whiny, arrogant, annoying teenager who seems unbelievably unshaken by literally earth-shattering events. Kenichi Sonoda is living proof that you really can polish a turd - but once you look past the gloss of his often impressive technical proficiency, the substance underneath still stinks.
Chrono Crusade (manga) Not really good
[3 volumes, dropped] It would be nice to be able to say that all this generic exercise in supernatural action-adventure shenanigans really has going for it are a rich and atmospheric 1920s American setting and a potentially fun and novel premise. But no, it doesn't even deliver that much. The promise of the setting is squandered not only through the deluge of elementary historical inaccuracies but also because this is a singularly unconvincing and unevocative representation of the jazz age - change a few visual cues and you're pretty much left with a story that could equally have been set at any point in the past 150 years or so. And the premise? Not nearly as much dumb fun as I can't help thinking any manga starring a Tommy gun-toting, demon-slaying, teenage nun probably ought to be - the action is anaemic, the horror unimaginative and unconvincing, the characters and relationships all hoary old chestnuts passed down through far too many hands to be remotely believable, affecting or interesting. The art is heavy on depressingly familiar anime-style character designs, cluttered page layouts and overfull panels. Throw in poor pacing, weak humour, tedious fanservice and grating attempts at mystery and melodrama and we're left with a series that, whilst not actually terrible, is certainly sufficiently heavy-handed, pedestrian and tedious as to be worth avoiding.
Crying Freeman (manga) So-so
[1 volume, dropped] A dated-looking, fair-to-middling, ultra-macho seinen festival of naked ladies, big guns and implausible plot elements. It's moderately entertaining in a slightly ropey and ever so pulpy b-movie kind of a way but not something I really feel is worth continuing with (unless I happen to see subsequent volumes going very cheap) given how much better material is out there - including some of Kazuo Koike's other works.
D.Gray-man (manga) Weak
[1 volume, dropped] Effete teenage exorcist...faux gothic stylisation...monster of the week battles...yawn. Wake me when it's over. Everything about this title seems designed to encourage ennui. The Victorian English setting is ill-conceived, inconsistent, barely researched and utterly unconvincing and, even if it weren't so, it would be rather undermined by Viz's adaptation, which makes no attempt whatsoever to make the cast talk like anything other than 21st Century Americans. The art, whilst reasonably technically proficient, is almost painfully uninspired and overly familiar. Regular attempts at humour, excitement and mawkish sentimentality are all half-hearted, perfunctory and doomed to failure. The premise has "deja vu" written all over it in 50 foot high pink neon letters. The CLAMP inspired costumes just look silly and out of place here. It's an SJ title so it goes without saying that the standards are never allowed to drop too low (a shame - this would have been far more interesting had it been actively bad rather than just relentlessly dull and redundant), a certain frenetic pace is maintained throughout and I suppose it must have ticked the requisite number of reader survey boxes to maintain its place in the production line but, really, it's hard to see how anybody with even the slightest previous exposure to shounen manga and/or anime could find this even slightly intriguing.
DearS (manga) Awful
[1 volume, dropped] I picked this up for next to nothing but I still feel like I got ripped off. This is an ultra-generic fanservice comedy - the very definition of "lowest common denominator", then - with horrendous characters, deeply unfunny jokes, a broad streak of outright misogyny, zero original elements and more pandering than, uhm, a busload of Chinese bears. The art’s passable but uninspired and frequently undermined by lazy chibi crap (because everybody knows chibi art miraculously makes bad jokes funny, right?) – it’s certainly not enough to raise DearS out of the mire. Between the odious slave girl shtick, horrendous characters (the stolen-from-Mahoromatic teacher character is particularly awful), bad writing and lack of any novelty, this is real bottom of the barrel stuff.
Death Note (manga) Weak
[4 volumes, dropped] Death Note's art is consummately professional but it's also sterile, plasticly impersonal and has little real merit and no interesting novelty to offer. As far as the writing is concerned, it effectively builds and maintains suspense and builds to a fairly heady momentum in very short order - just what one might want of a paranormal thriller - but that has to be balanced against a pair of utterly unconvincing protagonists whose backgrounds and natures are singularly inappropriate for a comic that imagines it possesses a certain amount of grit and realism; dialogue that ranges from indistinct mediocrity to flat-out bad; a host of minor logical inconsistencies and elementary research errors (and a few major ones too); an enormously rushed set-up and a fundamental paucity of psychological, political and social nous. It's all very slick but absolutely nothing here rings true. Worse still is the title's nasty, cloying, pandering appeal to adolescent ego, angst, disenfranchisement, naivete and hubris - an intrinsic and constant aspect of the narrative - and the thoroughly depressing misanthropy and cynical amorality that permeate its entirety. Like junk food this is a popular, populist product that's attractively presented and carefully targeted but also cheap, insubstantial, unhealthy and ultimately unsatisfying.
DOLL (manga by M. Mihara) So-so
[1 volume, dropped] A series of short stories exploring what it is to be human and the obsessive relationships people have with surrogates for genuine companionship sounds like a passably good idea and Mihara has certainly demonstrated her competence with the short story format previously (particularly in IC In A Sunflower) but, unfortunately, Doll fails to live up to expectations. The stories, going by the first volume, are somewhat repetitive and not particularly engaging. There's a tendency here to state the obvious (and to do so with all the subtlety of a soap opera), the relationships aren't explored in any real depth and though the entire premise seems almost tailor made made for launching satirical barbs at contemporary Japanese society, said satire fails to materialise from the depths of the earnest, leaden melodrama. The artwork isn't bad but it is cold, lacking in depth and generally uninteresting and the gothic frills and flourishes that are Mihara's trademark are more of a minor annoyance and occasional distraction than they are a selling point in this instance. There is some intelligence to be found here and there is no one aspect of the work that is insufferably poor but all in all this is an opportunity missed.
Dragon Ball (manga) Good
[5 volumes (omnibus), dropped]
Eiken (manga) Worst ever
[1 volume, dropped] I kept hearing that Eiken was the worst manga ever made. What else was I supposed to do but check it out and find out just how awful it was for myself? After all, I reasoned, any comic that bad must surely be somewhat entertaining – not in spite of its flaws but because of them. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. Eiken takes every tedious cliché from every virginal otaku pandering, fanservice heavy, high school harem comedy you’ve ever encountered and recycles them. What’s worse it implements them badly – very badly – and without an iota of wit or imagination. Eiken’s unique selling point (and raison d’être) that sets it apart from its fetid peers is the author’s decision to take all these cookie cutter characters and give them gargantuan, misshapen breasts – breasts so unfeasibly large that they defy both logic and sanity. Even the obligatory icky loli characters get tits that swing around their ankles. Seriously. On top of all that, the artwork is terrible. I have rarely seen anything so amateurish and utterly without merit make it to print. Of course, given the sort of people this offal is aimed at, making the cast enormously over-endowed in chest measurements and under-endowed in birthdays is no barrier to commercial success but one would have hoped (forlornly, if the number of volumes released is anything to go by) that even the loneliest of the dysfunctional geeks who get off on this kind of crap would be able to recognise how shitty the art and storytelling on display are.
(The) Five Star Stories (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, dropped]
Gente - Ristorante no Hitobito (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, dropped]
Ginga Legend Weed (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] This canine adventure is unexceptional children's fare that's maybe okay for undemanding tots who can live with its amalgamation of treacly sentiment and slightly off-putting emphasis on (not very graphic) violence but is likely to be of little interest to anybody else. It's certainly not offensively bad, even for an adult audience, but it lacks the imagination and finesse of the best of its anthropomorphic peers. The chief problem is that Takahashi wants to present the cast as believable dog characters but he doesn't really understand dogs: their behaviour, anatomy, physiognomy, breed characteristics, body language and so on are all decidedly off and their understanding of their world is a strange mishmash of human and faux-canine perspectives, animal adventure and shonen trope. The art is mostly functional but the central dog characters have been semi-humanised to disastrous effect - they look most peculiar, especially when contrasted with the much more naturalistic looks of the minor characters. Moreover, much of the story revolves around (thankfully largely bloodless) dog on dog confrontations but the artist appears to have never seen two dogs scrapping in the park - or else considered the feasible too mundane to be endlessly repeated - resulting in lots of ludicrous scenes of dogs throwing each other six foot in the air or swinging each other round like ice skaters. As is usual with the earlier Comics One releases, the translation, adaptation and proofing are uniformly poor and, as is equally usual, provide occasional inadvertent comic relief as a consequence - I especially liked the pigeons that quack (strangely courtesy of a different translator and editor to those who gave us quacking vultures in Wounded Man).
GTO: The Early Years (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, dropped] GTO was crudely but effectively crafted and its premise was fairly rudimentary but never failed to deliver the laughs. This earlier incarnation is even cruder (and not in a good way), it's premise couldn't be any more rudimentary - two teenage delinquents get into fights and unsuccessfully attempt to lose their virginity over and over and over again - and this time the belly laughs are few and far between. Moreover, while GTO's heart of gold managed to charm the reader in spite of its gross sexism and massive lapses in taste, this title seems rather lacking in that department; partly because it lacks the latter series' amusing balance between base instincts and (ultimately) noble intentions and partly because its characters aren't nearly so well developed. The art, in addition to being crude, is badly laid out and repetitive and the cast are often hard to differentiate from one another. As if that wasn't enough, Tokyopop did an especially horrible job producing this - the lettering is bad, the adaptation is clumsy, there are numerous typos and panel edges are either hidden in the spine or lopped off at the bottom of the page. On the plus side, Fujisawa's humour, adolescent and unrefined as it is here, occasionally delivers and our preposterously dim-witted but tough (and essentially well-meaning) protagonists are peculiarly likeable enough to at least partially compensate for their lack of depth. It's interesting to see the roots of Fujisawa's later successes and there is some good stuff to be found here but probably not enough to justify wading through the thousands of pages of recurring mediocrity that surround it.
Gunsmith Cats Burst (manga) Weak
[2 volumes, dropped] Getting through the original Gunsmith Cats was a challenge. Ultimately, the slick action sequences and technical excellence were enough to get me, just barely, past the repugnant sexual elements, the vapid, underworked plots and the walking epitome of annoyance that is the Bean Bandit character. But enough’s enough. Years may have passed between GSC and GSC Burst but the two series are essentially one and the same – if it weren’t for newer models of (beautifully rendered) cars, you wouldn’t know there had been a break at all. With no novelty, it’s entirely familiar stuff and familiarity breeds contempt – the good points lose their shine due to over-exposure whilst the stuff that was always annoying becomes impossible to look past.
Hayate the Combat Butler (manga) So-so
[1-3 of 17+]
Heartbroken Angels (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] An adult orientated 4-panel gag manga that comes across like Short Cuts drained of all intelligence. Most of the humour is fairly infantile and it doesn't exactly cover much territory - mostly sex and excretia - though there's also a rather offensive series of gags about an impoverished father and son...because, you know, poor people are hilarious... Even when taking shots at broad and deserving targets (e.g. paedophilic otaku), Kikiuni somehow fails to come up with the goods. It's not entirely devoid of laughs but you have to look pretty hard for them. Kikuni's art isn't bad but this looks terrible because of Viz's bizarre production choices - they went out of their way to release Heartbroken Angels in hardback format with a double-sided dust jacket but printed what was originally a two colour manga in black and white resulting in something that, at best, is muddy and drab and, at worst, is pretty much unreadable.
House of Five Leaves (manga) So-so
[3 volumes, dropped]
I''s (manga) So-so
[3 volumes, dropped]
Initial D (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, dropped] Shuuichi Shigeno clearly has a great talent for rendering photo-realistic cars. His backgrounds aren't bad either. But his faces and figure work? Really, really bad. Laughably bad. Inconceivably bad. I mean, I salute the man for not giving us tedious, generic, anime-style blobs but...man, I can draw better character designs, anatomy and poses than that and I'm an absolutely terrible artist. And beyond the crappy art is the crappy adaptation. This is a real clunker, even by Tokyopop's famously low standards - much of the cast have been given incongruous American names and everybody speaks in an awful approximation of (already badly dated) American teen speak. Furthermore, the letterer has bolded words for emphasis in the manner of super hero comics, only the emphasis, more often than not, is on entirely the wrong words. It's hideous. And, ultimately, the combination of terrible adaptation and stiff, amateurish artwork regularly transforms Initial D into an entirely inadvertent comedy manga. As if all that wasn't enough, I have zero interest in motor racing or Japanese cars and an active aversion to never-ending tournament manga. Somehow, though, Initial D is actually kind of compelling and mildly enjoyable in spite of (because of?) it's clunky awkwardness and occasional lapses into accidental self-parody. In fact, since I didn't at any point care about the characters, the cars or the events in which they partook, I can only presume that had it been more polished and better adapted, I would have enjoyed it rather less. Still, its peculiar ugly duckling charm isn't enough to entirely compensate for its manifold weaknesses and it certainly isn't enough to sustain me through more than 30 volumes of woodenly serious young men endlessly discussing turbo chargers and racing each other around mountains in the middle of the night for no particular reason.
Inubaka (manga) So-so
[1 volume, dropped]
Iono-sama Fanatics (manga) Weak
[1 volume, dropped] A sickly sweet moe yuri manga…with no real romance. An all-girl harem manga…with no real fanservice. A light-hearted, chibi-seasoned romp…with no real jokes. Just who is this supposed to be aimed at? The plot’s no more than a hook for otaku-friendly pandering, the artwork is prettily competent but blandly unoriginal, the characters are insubstantial to the point of ethereality and the central premise is, as with pretty much all harem or reverse harem manga, as demeaning to its cast (and anybody who happens to share their gender / sexuality) as it is to the intelligence of the reader. All of which adds up to an eminently missable work that, whilst not terrible relative to other titles with similar themes, is likely to appeal only to the most critically undemanding of souls (or those lowbrow enough to think that the “yuri” label is, in and of itself, some kind of mark of quality). Infinity Studios deserve bonus points for the excellent physical quality of the release (large format, high quality paper, many colour pages and a dust jacket) but one can’t help but wonder why they didn’t spend the money on a more worthwhile title.
K-ON! (manga) Weak
[1 volume, dropped]
Kamunagara: Rebirth of the Demonslayer (manga) Weak
[1 volume, dropped] Mediocre artwork, generic one-size-fits-all anime-style character designs and an excessive use of bad toning are Kamunagara's visual hallmarks. The plot is similarly uninspiring: sulky teenager with an absence of parents and a destiny to reluctantly save the world from something or other...sound familiar yet? Of course, familiar ingredients can make for good comfort food but the emoting lacks conviction, there's no attempt at character development and the pacing is rushed and haphazard. There's nothing unspeakably dreadful about this manga but nor does it distinguish itself in any way whatsoever and its every facet is a weak reflection of something you've seen done better elsewhere.
Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~ (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, dropped] It surely goes without saying that this yuri love triangle manga written for a male otaku audience and including a central character that used to be male (male otaku wish fulfilment lesbianism…Japanese geek culture is a strange beast) is heavy on fanservice and light on literary merit but this could be much worse. There’s certainly some disturbing content (running gags – and gag I did – about a father wanting to sexually molest his son-turned-daughter and a cast who look rather younger than their stated ages) but beyond that there is some genuinely funny dialogue, some genuinely poignant moments and the art is blandly serviceable. The plot device that launches the series, however, is a nonsensical deus ex machina and the author doesn’t have the sense to promptly sweep it under the carpet at the earliest opportunity. There’s far worse out there than this but that’s no great recommendation.
Library Wars: Love & War (manga) Decent
[5 volumes, dropped]
Lone Wolf and Cub (manga) Decent
[1 volume, dropped] Dark Horse’s dinky little Lone Wolf bankoubon releases look rather nice on the shelf and the contents certainly have a certain muscular vitality. Unfortunately, the scratchy artwork doesn’t do much for me and it’s an episodic affair with little in the way of character development. I’m told both these things improve over the course of the series…and this is a seminal classic of its genre after all…but with a series this long I’m not sure I have the time, energy or money to waste waiting for it to reach its potential.
Love Hina (manga) Bad
[2 volumes, dropped] Ken Akamatsu is, perhaps, the definitive shônen harem romance artist and Love Hina is, perhaps, the definitive shônen harem romance manga. That’s not a good thing. This is puerile and repetitive. It crams in the full spectrum of unlikely female love-interest stereotypes, features a weedy, spineless and, frankly, dim-witted male protagonist with less personality than plain yoghurt and its entire raison d’être is to bombard the reader with softcore fanservice. Without its cornucopia of young ladies in states of undress and boob jokes, Love Hina would have to rely on its gags (fail: they’re all unoriginal, repetitive and tedious), its narrative (fail: the plot redefines the word “shallow”), its characters (fail: nothing but unconvincing otaku wish fulfilment archetypes as far as the eye can see) or its art (fail: Akamatsu’s style is impersonal, sterile and utterly bland). The moe and loli crap doesn’t help either. This is turgid, shallow, cheerfully lowbrow and has nothing to offer but fanservice...it really ought to be the sole preserve of 13 year olds who read their manga furtively, with their trousers around their ankles and a box of tissues within easy reach.
Maid Sama! (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] According to Tokyopop's cover blurb, our protagonist is a feminist. Unfortunately, Tokyopop's copy writing monkeys don't know the meaning of the word. Misaki hates boys (despite working very hard to surpass them in traditionally masculine areas), idolises girls and nags and berates everybody in sight. Through the course of the first volume, the rest of the cast help her to learn that no matter how strong and smart she is, she still needs to depend on a man (sample dialogue: "You seem to think your strength will keep you safe...but don't forget you're still a girl, Misa-chan" / "Do you think I'm not painfully aware of that already") and that she can gain self-validation (and popularity) through pandering to creepy men with a combination of servility and voluntary debasement (she has to call the patrons of her café "Master" but she's told this is okay because helping creeps to be happy will make her happy). I don't know what the fuck all that adds up to but it ain't feminism. Beyond the backwards gender politics and all of the predictably tiresome and depressing otaku crap - and maid fetishism aimed at girls is surely even more depressing than the similar stuff pandering to lonely, socially dysfunctional, fanboys; aspiring to be objectified and dominated is just sad - this has artwork that's not too shabby (in spite of being rather cluttered and not tremendously distinctive) and more than its share of wit and humour scattered throughout. Indeed, in parts the work is downright charming - just not sufficiently or consistently so that it saves the title from sub-mediocrity. Volume 1 also includes an unrelated short story that's lightweight but refreshingly inoffensive.
March Story (manga) So-so
[1 volume, dropped]
My-HiME (manga) Bad
[1 volume, dropped] The Mai-HiME manga was developed concurrently with the anime and game of the same name but with no communication between the development teams, each came up with a distinct interpretation of the same basic premise. I haven’t seen the other incarnations so I can’t comment on how well the manga does comparatively but I can say that, as a stand-alone product, the manga simply does not work. The art is fairly attractive in an over-polished kind of way but all it serves to illustrate is a lot of particularly pervasive fanservice and some confusingly orchestrated and badly laid out fight scenes. The narrative is messy and bewildering, the characters have no depth and the whole thing feels like a half-arsed rush job produced with no love and no attention to detail. The 18+ eye candy alone will undoubtedly bring in some readers and I’m sure the tie-in to the anime will bring in many more but I can’t imagine any but the least discerning of them will be willing to stick around for Volume 2.
NANA (manga) Decent
[7 volumes, dropped]
Naruto (manga) Decent
[26 volumes, dropped] For what is, perhaps, the definitive Shonen Jump success story (in the West at least), Naruto actually has surprisingly distinctive artwork. It's not massively impressive or anything - the flow and composition are weak, many of the character designs are either partially recycled or are just a little off and the action scenes are unnecessarily messy and confusing - but it's a good deal more detailed and more interesting than the blandly generic, interchangeable, anime-friendly designs of its stable mates. As far as the storytelling goes, well...just like every other SJ epic of similar type it's a seemingly endless romp consisting of fights, training, powering up, more fights, comedy, a touch of romance, pseudo mystical crap, powering up (again), overblown emoting and, yes, even more fights. This is not deep stuff. It is, however, peculiarly readable without ever being particularly engaging or engrossing - all despite a singularly irritating titular protagonist, rather more vapidly cheerful enthusiasm than I can normally stomach and some notably clunky dialogue, characterisation, plotting and exposition. I really can't imagine ever wanting to actually own any of Naruto or ever much caring what happens next (let alone going to any kind of effort to get hold of it) and I very much doubt I'll ever actually finish the series but I can quite easily imagine that I'll continue to flick through what we have of the series in the library I work in from time to time without feeling like I'm completely wasting my break time.
Neko Ramen (manga) So-so
[1 volume, dropped]
Neon Genesis Evangelion (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, dropped]
Pastel (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] Part sickly sweet (and decidedly shallow) teen romance and part masturbation aide for adolescents, Pastel distinguishes itself only in terms of the occasional quality of its backgrounds and the frequency and sledgehammer obviousness of its cleavage and camel toe fanservice. The character designs are super detailed from the neck down and super generic from the neck up and the composition is pedestrian and unimaginative but the art here is actually pretty good for a weekly title. The story, on the other hand, has nothing new to offer - the teenage nobody and the beautiful love interest who conveniently but inexplicably drops into his largely unparented life (soon to be followed, one suspects, by a host of similarly inexplicable competitors for our protagonist's affection) - and the best you could really say in its favour is that while objectification is the name of the game, it's a good deal less offensive than most of its ilk, a smidgen less dumb, a fair bit lighter in the crappy comedy stakes and marginally more amenable to suspension of disbelief. It's not a horrible manga - just utterly redundant.
Princess Princess (manga) So-so
[1 volume, dropped] As with Family Complex, to which this is tenuously connected, this is teen girl oriented fanservice with all the smut taken out - a crossdressing manga with a boy's school setting and a lot of homoerotic crushing that somehow manages to minimize the transvestitism and essentially eliminate the physical implications of a school full of adolescent boys falling in love with their "princesses". Given that I have no appetite for either crossdressing or BL, you might think that would be no bad thing but, as with Family Complex, it does leave you feeling that you're being presented with a sheen of fan pandering tropes with nothing much beneath the surface gloss - neither what the premise suggests nor any really substantive plot or drama with which to replace it. That said, Tsuda's dialogue is good (helping to make up somewhat for the lack of depth and ambition in her narratives), her characters are reasonably appealing and well developed and she has an understated but fairly deft feel for humour. Artwise, she's improved a bit since Family Complex - especially in terms of character art - but she still has decidedly unambitious layouts and an aversion to backgrounds.
Princess Resurrection (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, dropped] Princess Resurrection is a comedy horror that had some potential but, at least after two volumes, it doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry to go anywhere and it suffers from attempts to cram in otaku friendly tropes where the narrative clearly doesn’t require them. The art is nothing special but it is perfectly adequate to get the job done, the jokes hardly had me rolling around on the floor but they certainly raised a smile from time to time and the princess herself is a moderately appealing character. In other words, it’s not bad but no better than mediocre. The supernatural shenanigans that form the backdrop to the series had the potential to lead to interesting plot development but, alas, what I’ve read of the series remains stuck in monster-of-the-week territory. Similarly, there have been flashes of interesting characterisation but none of it ever seems to develop into anything substantive. This is readable enough but with nothing to get my teeth into and no signs of improvements to come, I can’t really justify spending time and money on this when there’s so much else out there to get through.
Puri Puri (manga) Weak
[1 volume, dropped] A bland, by-the-numbers and utterly redundant harem comedy – everything in Puri Puri has been done before and, while it doesn’t get anything terribly wrong, it’s all been done better to boot. It’s not awful though and if the idea of seeing generic cut-out milksop character #8647 dropped into an all-girl Catholic school (there to enjoy the usual fanservice and fumblings and romantic misunderstandings) sets your pace racing, you might just enjoy it. If you’re anything like me, however, you’re more likely to yawn, shrug and chuck it in the stuff-to-flog-on-Amazon box.
Ranma ½ (manga) Decent
[5 volumes, dropped]
Red Prowling Devil (manga) Not really good
[4 volumes, dropped]
Rosario + Vampire (manga) Bad
[3 volumes, dropped] This takes three particularly tedious and overly familiar shounen themes - the boarding school with a twist, the monster of the week formula and the loser-centred harem - and combines them into a single, particularly worthless, package. Hero is a reader self-identification friendly nobody > hero attends a fantastical (i.e. silly) boarding school > hero encounters a different monster each chapter > monsters are mostly large breasted girls who fall in love with hero or else competitors from whom hero is saved by large breasted girls > repeat > endlessly. Sigh. The art is weak, lazy and unoriginal, the humour is comprised not so much of gags as it is of arrows to instantly recognisable genre humour tropes and the unsubtle fanservice is a constant (but entirely inadequate) substitute for any semblance of narrative substance. This is a really boring manga, it has no new ideas whatsoever and it looks kind of shitty.
Rose Hip Zero (manga) So-so
[1 volume, dropped]
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] Take a suicidally depressed teacher, introduce him to the world's most naively optimistic girl and then have the two of them interact with a class full of pupils (but only the female ones - the male ones might as well be wallpaper), each with a crippling personality flaw (the hikikomori, the stalker, the one with OCD etc.) and hilarity will inevitably ensue...? Well, no, not really. This is a fairly shallow concept with a highly repetitive structure, neither of which would matter much if the format was tighter and the gags funnier but, as it is, it does nothing much for me. The material seems made for a four-panel gag strip layout and the contraction and precision that would involve would improve this material immeasurably - its chapter-length gags feel too loose, drawn-out and meandering and its punchlines, quirkiness and slapstick seem rather forced. Of course, it's possible that this works rather better in the original Japanese and consumed by a Japanese audience because a lot of what's on offer here is referential, allusional and pun-based humour that's been barely adapted for an English-language audience. Granted, adapting it to the extent required for it to read smoothly in English would likely put off its intended otaku audience but Del Rey's choice of a literal translation coupled with copious end-notes doesn't really work here either - if a joke has to be explained it isn't funny and constantly having to flip to the back of the book is a distracting dampener to the reader's enjoyment. That being so, one has to wonder why it was thought that this would be a good license in the first place: Del Rey should know by now that some stuff just doesn't translate well. Visually, Zetsubou-Sensei is decidely bland, with cutesy, anime-friendly, moe character designs, stark backgrounds and a cluttered layout. There are examples of surprisingly effective rendering and design to be found but the fact that they stand out so much is telling. Finally, the illegal immigrant character is deeply problematic - she may have been intended to parody Japan's rampant xenophobia but without exhibiting the degree of self-aware irony exhibited by, say, Family Guy or South Park when they deal with similar themes, it just comes off as crude "look at the funny foreigner" racism. When all's said and done, there is some (moderately) amusing material to be found here, the art shows moments of promise that may or may not blossom and pay dividends in later volumes and I appreciate that the weeaboo element will enjoy the Japanese societal and pop cultural references for their own sake but for anyone else, it's distinctly underwhelming stuff.
School Rumble (manga) So-so
[3 volumes, dropped] Volume 1 of this madcap, surreal school comedy is a hilarious delight. Volume 2 is pretty much exactly the same book as Volume 1 but, whilst it's still amusing, with repetition some of the novelty has worn off. Volume 3 is also pretty much the same book as Volume 1...and by now it's both boring and aggravating. In other words, School Rumble goes nowhere and it does so over and over and over again resulting in ever diminishing returns. I fear for the sanity of anybody willing to read the exact same thing for 20+ volumes. Still, the first volume is pretty good and I suppose if you left it at that you could have an enjoyable time with it.
Seraphic Feather (manga) Bad
[1 volume, dropped] Occasional panels demonstrate that, as far as art’s concerned, Utatane can produce the goods when he wants to. Unfortunately, such panels are extremely rare and, for the most part, the art consists of blandly competent space base backgrounds coupled with absolutely terrible character designs (of the pointy chin / enormous eyes variety). The pervasive fanservice (which is of a particularly sleazy and fetishistic variety) doesn’t help matters. The story’s no better – a meandering, loose tale of psychics in space and mysterious alien artefacts that barely holds together and pretty much fails to entertain on any level – making the idea of tackling the rest of this series (or at least as much of it as Dark Horse put out before wisely suspending it) a fairly unedifying prospect.
Sgt. Frog (manga) Not really good
[3 volumes, dropped] Somewhere in here is a halfway decent hyperactive gag manga with an inherently enjoyable premise trying desperately to emerge. Unfortunately, it's buried under the crushing weight of crappy art, weak writing and a poor adaptation. The cutesy art actually works quite well as far as the alien segment of the cast are concerned but it makes all of the human characters, including the adults, look like variations on the same six year old and it's entirely without distinction or merit in a sea of similarly illustrated comedy manga. The pacing is as frenetic as you would expect from a series of this type and the gags and pop culture references fly thick and fast. Some of them are even quite funny but even within the confines of the first few volumes, there's a lot of redundant repetition, a lot of duds and a lot of reliance on the fundamental funniness of things that aren't actually fundamentally funny (Look! Boobs! Panties! Hilarious! No?). The alien characters are a lot of fun but, again, things fall down when we get to the eminently forgettable human cast, all of whom are tired archetypes rather than distinctive personalities. Tokyopop's adaptation isn't among their worst but it suffers partly from their usual substandard editing and quality control and partly from a feeling that it doesn't seem to know whether it wants to go for localisation or otaku fidelity and thus just ends up coming across as being a bit muddled and unfocussed. So while there is an occasional flash of comedy gold in these here hills, I'm not at all sure that there's enough to justify the trek.
Silent Möbius (manga) Weak
[1 volume, dropped] This is preposterous, impenetrable, dated, faux-cyberpunk tosh peopled by characters with names like Lebia Maverick and Katsumi Liqueur. Asamiya is not an entirely untalented artist but his pointy-nosed, anime-style character designs are decidedly unappealing and his cluttered layouts and sloppy, confused handling of the action scenes are what really drags things down from an artistic point of view. The writing, unfortunately, is no better: techno babble and exclamation marks are no substitute for decent characterisation or a fresh and carefully constructed plot. This comes across like one of Masamune Shirow's weaker works only with crappier art, less personal investment and less attention to detail - not recommended.
Slam Dunk (manga) Decent
[6 volumes, dropped]
Strain (manga) Decent
[1 volume, dropped] This is seinen manga of the ultra-macho variety. Indeed, it's so preposterously macho that it's actually pretty camp - imagine a crime comic drawn by Tom of Finland and you'll have the right general idea. It's the sort of pulpy genre work that's cheerfully entertaining largely by virtue of its inadvertent tendency towards self-parody. And if pure manliness alone is not enough, Ikegami's artwork, whilst occasionally a little stiff, is wonderfully, sometimes almost photo-realistically, detailed (his faces are especially good) and utilises the Malaysian setting to atmospheric effect. Unfortunately though, once you're done absorbing the machismo from every testosterone-soaked page and eyeballing the pretty pictures, you're left with a strictly functional and uninspired narrative peopled by unconvincing, two-dimensional characters - it doesn't exactly draw you in to the proceedings. On balance, the series is worth wasting some time on but, given that the series is long out of print and copies of some volumes are thus hard to find and expensive to acquire, I won't be going out of my way to track down all five volumes: it's okay but it's just not worth that degree of expenditure.
Strawberry 100% (manga) So-so
[3 volumes, dropped] If you absolutely must buy a generic shônen harem romance, you could do a lot worse than Strawberry 100%. It has most of the usual flaws, of course – multiple girls lust after the protagonist despite the fact that they all appear to be brighter, more attractive and more interesting than he is; the series relies on cheap and plentiful fanservice rather than trusting in its ability to tell a story; the comic misunderstandings all seem forced and unfeasible; the female cast are all walking, talking tired stereotypes (and so on and so forth) – but it balances these flaws with moderately attractive artwork, some genuinely funny moments and, up to the end of Volume 3, no loli character or helpless, crying, sickeningly dependent moe bait. So, a not entirely nauseating harem comedy...that’s real progress! Unfortunately, it’s not enough progress to make me want to carry on with this title. I’d probably have enjoyed this rather more when I was 12 or 13 but that was a couple of decades ago and it hasn’t really got enough substance or depth to hook an adult audience.
Strawberry Marshmallow (manga) Awful
[1 volume, dropped] Cutesy paedophilic "comedy" designed to appeal to the grotesque denizens of the otaku subculture's underbelly - Strawberry Marshmallow is the epitomé of the moe trend of combining the oh-so-cutesy end of Japanese pop culture (in all its vacuous, kitsch, vapid glory) with the repugnant psycho-sexual trainwreck that is the average otaku - as drawn and written by a man who cut his teeth producing comic book child porn. The art, whilst tooth rottingly cutesy, is competent (thus saving this from "worst ever" status) but the jokes fall flat, there is zero plot and it's impossible to get away from the repulsive kiddy fiddler fanservice aspect of the whole thing. I don't know who's in more desperate need of help - the creepy nonce author or the equally creepy nonce fans who lap this crap up? Either way, any well-adjusted person reading this is liable to go away feeling unclean...and this is the last time I buy something on the basis of a review that says it's "just like Azumanga Daioh"...
Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee (manga) Decent
[10 volumes, dropped]
Tetragrammaton Labyrinth (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] I have no idea what the point of this manga is. The art's at a competent-to-good level (though the BESM character designs detract from the tone and setting) but it's an utterly derivative and utterly unengaging story. The horror element is uninspired, unoriginal and not remotely horrifying, the yuri overtones never go beyond tired fanservice tropes for easily pleased virginal fanboys and the historical English setting is all over the place - one minute it looks like the 1880s and the next minute it looks like the 1920s. All in all, this is not unreadable but it is very hard to think of a good reason for picking it up in the first place.
Video Girl Ai (manga) So-so
[2 volumes, dropped] The magical girlfriend genre is inherently infantile and fundamentally silly. Video Girl Ai manages to be rather less infantile than most (not least because the protagonist is capable of interacting with - and even attracting - a non-magical girl) and it certainly has more depth than most of the competition but its premise couldn't be much sillier. The series (based on my reading of volumes 1 and 10) starts as a light romantic comedy before transitioning into a rather mawkish melodrama that's played completely straight but in both incarnations it's still the usual adolescent wish fulfilment fodder. Katsura's art is certainly accomplished - indeed, sometimes lavish - but the faces of his female characters are creepily doll-like and the regular doses of photo-realistic fan service are as subtle as a brick to the face. The characters seem rather better developed than the usual and the art, as plastic as it sometimes looks, is a clear cut above, making this a superior example of its type but given my antipathy toward the genre that makes it no better than mediocre in my eyes - worth plucking from a bargain bin but certainly not worth sticking with.
Wandering Son (manga) Decent
[2 volumes, dropped]
Xenon (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped]
You're Under Arrest (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] Like Kenichi Sonoda, Kosuke Fujishima is exceptionally good at drawing cars, bikes and guns but is let down by weak (sometimes downright ugly) character designs and decidedly lacklustre backgrounds. And while Fujishima's work doesn't, thankfully, incorporate the same queasy paraphilias as Sonada's, the two men do both seem to regard their female protagonists as psychologically flat paper dolls capable of decorating shallow vignettes but not of demonstrating (much less developing) believable, multi-faceted personalities. The real problem here though is that the episodic short stories that make up YUA are utterly inconsequential - not to mention repetitive, poorly paced and silly without being funny. Most of these criticisms could equally be levelled at the anime adaptations of this title but, with the exception of the ghastly "mini-specials", the anime versions managed to bring a charm and definition to the cast that's notably absent here.
Yozakura Quartet (manga) Not really good
[1 volume, dropped] Yasuda's generically otaku-friendly art is decidedly lacking in innovation - character designs, backgrounds and composition are all strictly by the numbers. To give him his due, he is pretty good at endearing facial expressions but you have to balance that against the sometimes dodgy anatomy and the cluttered, confused action sequences. The premise is also by-the-numbers otaku bait: most of the cast are attractive teenage girls (and all of the girls can be summed up in sound bites like "hyperactive tsundere", "busty lesbian in glasses", "cutesy cat girl"...), the one male is a characterless surrogate for the reader, they all have supernatural adventures that are intended to be alternately oh-so-wacky or oh-so-moving and these somewhat confused adventures are sandwiched between hints at a wider but not very interesting plot, SD gags and otaku in-jokes. This isn't terrible - it's a great deal less fanservice laden than one might expect, the art is better than most of its ilk and the jokes don't all fall flat - but it's swimming with the current in a river of mediocrity.
Zatch Bell (manga) Not really good
[19 volumes, dropped] An inoffensive but highly forgettable shounen manga that breaks absolutely no new ground. The light-hearted "picked on boy meets alien friend (not a girlfriend this time, at least) and finds meaning and self worth in the midst of an interminable and illogical tournament" premise is every bit as hackneyed as it sounds and while there are occasional moments of effective humour, they don't hit hard enough or often enough to add much lustre to the series. The art, meanwhile, is mediocre at best - somehow managing simultaneously to be peculiarly ugly (albeit with flashes of cutesyness) and overly generic - and the characterisation is as shallow and predictable as the premise.