RIGHT TURN ONLY!!
Boogie-Woogie Pop

by Carlo Santos, Mar 21st 2006

There's a candidate running for Congress in San Diego County who goes by the name of Alan Uke. To anyone familiar with the vocabulary of yaoi and Boy's Love, this is, of course, incredibly amusing. His campaign signs are posted up in several places around the neighborhood, and seeing them each morning on the way to work just brightens up my day.

I'm sure Mr. Uke is committed to building a better America... from the bottom up.


BABY & ME
Vol. 1
(by Marimo Ragawa, Viz Media, $8.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:
"Young Takuya has it tough. Since his mother passed away it has been his job to take care of his baby brother, Minoru, while their father, Harumi, works the long hours of a Japanese 'salaryman.'
Takuya must sacrifice the playtime usually associated with childhood for the responsibilities of an adult. Cooking, cleaning, sewing and scolding are all now an integral part of the young boy's life.
'All work and no play' has Takuya incredibly frustrated and resentful of his little brother. Will Takuya find it in his heart to love the brother who is causing him so much grief?!"

PROS:
Although "cute" might be one's immediate reaction, this struggle of bringing up a baby brother turns out to be more than just lighthearted fluff. Takuya's selfish outbursts of frustration remind us of how tough childhood can be, especially with no mother and an infant to take care of.  Even little Minoru, who only has a vocabulary of about ten words plus crying and screaming, comes across as a genuine character. This touching picture of sibling rivalry and love hits all the right emotional chords.

CONS:
It takes a while for the story to establish its tone; artistic jitters are evident in the first few chapters where Ragawa is still smoothing out the character designs. In fact, she also uses those chapters to smooth out the characters—early on, the brothers' interactions basically involve Takuya being frustrated and Minoru being helpless. It's a one-dimensional start, and only towards the middle of the book does their relationship really develop. The art settles down as well, but still suffers from the occasional roughness and irregularity.

RTO!! RATING: B


BOOGIEPOP & OTHERS
Vol. 1
(by Kouhei Kadono, Seven Seas, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:
"There is an urban legend that children tell about a shinigami that can release people from the pain they are suffering. This 'Angel of Death' has a name—Boogiepop. And the legends are true. Boogiepop is real.
When a rash of disappearances involving female students breaks out at Shinyo Academy, the police and faculty assume they just have a bunch of runaways on their hands. Yet Nagi Kirima knows better. Something mysterious and foul is afoot. Is it Boogiepop or something even more sinister...?
Experience the story through several characters' eyes as you piece together the true order of disturbing events, in this unforgettable prelude to the Boogiepop Phantom anime series!"

PROS:
Get your brains ready for this one, because Boogiepop rips the rules of narrative wide open. Instead of progressing forward scene-by-scene, it jumps around in time and uses first-person accounts to gradually reveal the whole picture. Each character sees a different aspect of the same story, and only in the finale do you realize: all the events in the novel had already happened by page 65! And yet you press on, because there's so much to uncover. A clear and thoughtful translation also makes Kadono's writing style go over smoothly in English.

CONS:
For all its groundbreaking plot techniques, Boogiepop still falls upon clichés when it comes to actual elements in the story. The main conflict involves a rather typical villain pitted against a rather typical (although uniquely mysterious) hero, all set in Generic High School, Japan. The network of characters is almost too big to manage, with the lesser ones being stock teenage stereotypes. By the way, whoever's writing the translation footnotes sure loves spoilers... the references to future volumes are nice, but irrelevant to someone who's only reading the first book.

RTO!! RATING: A



CLAYMORE
Vol. 1
(by Norihiro Yagi, Viz Media, $7.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:
"In a world where monsters called Yoma prey on humans and live among them in disguise, humanity's only hope is a new breed of warrior known as Claymores. Half human, half monster, these silver-eyed slayers possess supernatural strength, but are condemned to fight their savage impulses or lose their humanity completely.
A village is gripped by fear and paranoia when a Yoma claims six lives. The Claymore who is sent to slay the creature isn't what the villagers expect at all. In fact, she seems more monster than human. "

PROS:
Backstory? Who needs backstory? This first volume dives right in with fast-paced, monster-slaying goodness, only letting up when our deadly warrior has to travel between towns. The delicate, almost technical art style is a surprisingly good fit for the action—each fight flows effortlessly from panel to panel, buoyed by dense speedlines and dynamic angles. Subtle details and shading also add depth to this fantasy world. And it's not all action, either: the story does delve into personal histories in later chapters, and promises a tough emotional journey ahead.
 
CONS:
Rarely has a series taken the "Monster of the Week" concept to such literal heights. Every chapter follows the same formula: the Claymore takes on an assignment, hunts down the Yoma, and finishes it off. "I do it because it's my job," she says, which might as well be the creed of manga artists who repeat themselves story after story. Even as the characters' personalities fill out, it doesn't do much to move things forward. If you like pretty girls with big swords beating up monsters, well—that's about all you're getting here.

RTO!! RATING: C+


GALAXY ANGEL BETA
Vol. 2

(by Kanan, Broccoli Books, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:
"Secrets are revealed on the White Moon, as fragments of Chitose's past begin to surface and Prince Shiva's story is finally told.
Meanwhile, the Space Whale's picking up bad vibes, so Kuromie warns Takuto to be on alert. The Angel Troupe is up to something secretive—could they be the source?
With the discovery of a new Emblem Frame, the Angels are poised to take on Eonia once more. But when he launches his ultimate plan, hope begins to fade as the troupe is dealt a devastating blow."

PROS:
Gosh, those Galaxy Angel girls sure are cute! It's a trait that works to their advantage in the first couple of chapters, which carry on the light comedy mood of Volume 1. Milfeulle's inability to cook is still worth a laugh, and the playful ways of Prince Shiva provide an amusing contrast to his regal rank. Even if you can't remember everyone's names, the character designs are just creative enough to tell them apart. And it's not all fun and games—beneath the fluffy humor lies a shadow of the dangers ahead.

CONS:
Once those dangers come into full view, however, the story descends into dull, convoluted space opera. A lighthearted series like this one shouldn't even have to be that complicated, but a couple of predictable twists and backstory clichés is all it takes to make this another overblown adventure tale. The characters just aren't deep enough to support the epic story that it's trying to become. It doesn't help that the overall layout looks like something the manga-ka pounded out with Comic Studio software—flashy and professional-looking, but lacking artistic flow.

RTO!! RATING: D+


LIFE
Vol. 1
(by Keiko Suenobu, Tokyopop, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:
"Ayumu Shiiba is studying for the all-important high school entrance exams. She is struggling to get by, but thankfully has help from her best friend Shi-chan, who is at the top of their class. But when the test results come back, their friendship falls apart—Ayumu surpasses Shi-chan's scores and gets into her high school of choice while Shi-chan doesn't!
Losing Shi-chan is so painful for Ayumu that she starts cutting her wrists for comfort. Hoping for a fresh start, Ayumu arrives at her new high school and finally opens up to a new friend, Manami. But will Manami prove to be the friend that Ayumu truly needs or send her further in a downward spiral?"

PROS:
If your image of Japanese high school is soft-tinted afternoons and trembling confessions of love, get ready for a slap in the face. The melodrama of Life depicts adolescence in its true form: awkward, uncertain, and even destructive. Ayumu's growing guilt is a powerful theme throughout, and further complicated by cliques and friends where there are no clear lines between "good" and "bad." The familiar shoujo-style artwork is at its most effective during emotional climaxes, where Ayumu's pain is made visible through both her expressions and her actions.

CONS:
Unfortunately, cutting has become so synonymous with "whiny attention-whoring teenager" that some people will look on it with ironic ridicule anyway. Such real-world issues always run the risk of becoming a narrative crutch—a symbol that's just there for shock value.  The story itself gets off to a badly paced start, with panels rushing forward in time just to get through Ayumu and Shi-chan's exams. Even though the heart of the story is what happens after the exams, it could have done a much better job of getting there.

RTO!! RATING: B


SORCERERS AND SECRETARIES
Vol. 1
(by Amy Kim Ganter, Tokyopop, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:
"Nicole Hayes sure likes to daydream, especially during her boring part-time job as a receptionist. When she's alone with her notebook, she crafts a fantastic story and lets her imagination go-go-go! Meanwhile, Nicole's former neighbor Josh can't seem to snap her out of her daydreams and get her to notice him. If only he could see what it was she was dreaming about, maybe Josh could finally win her over!"

PROS:
The boy-meets-girl scenario may be a familiar one, but Ganter freshens it up with a modern New York setting, a sharp sense of humor, and likeable characters on both sides. Josh may be a womanizing cad, but he's so earnest towards Nicole that you root for him anyway; Nicole, meanwhile, is a well-meaning underdog who just needs a supportive hug. Simple but bold lines fill each page with energy, and luminous effects (sparkles, stars and spirals) bridge the real and fantasy world in a highly imaginative way.

CONS:
But about that fantasy world... it's clearly the least-developed aspect of the story, and doesn't fully weave into real-world affairs until late in the book. Elsewhere it's just a sidestep (but an exquisite sidestep, nonetheless) that shows how Nicole gets lost in her daydreams. Hopefully the next volume will bring further developments. Also, the heavy use of graduated tones makes the artwork look washed-out; take out that gray and replace it with textured black-and-white, and the pages could be even more visually effective than they already are.


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