RIGHT TURN ONLY!!
Manga Musume Magica

by Rebecca Silverman, Jun 3rd 2014

Reading almost any set in the present by Fumi Yoshinaga makes me feel like a very dull cook. And I suppose I am – if it isn't dessert, I have a hard time getting enthusiastic about cooking. Dessert, as you may have guessed, is another story – I love scouring old cookbooks for puddings that no one's made in decades and I'll happily beat egg whites until my arm is numb for a sweet. As a result, if Yoshinaga were to draw up a menu for my homecooked meals, it would probably look like this: Boring Chicken, Sauteed Green Beans, Bowl of Lettuce, Chocolate Maple Sponge Pudding Cake with Homemade Vanilla Cream. Ah well. We can't all be Shiro Kakei.


MONSTER MUSUME
Vol. 3

(by OKAYADO, Seven Seas, $12.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

So far, Kimihito's been lucky. The monster girls living with him have been cute, curvaceous, and have never tried to kill him on purpose. But now, the dark side of liminals rises to the surface. Piggish orcs run hog-wild over Japan to satisfy their perverted desires. And the team that the government assembles to combat them is every bit as strange and inhuman as the criminals they're fighting. Meanwhile, Kimihito has to contend with adding the lovely and elegant mermaid Mero to his ever-growing menagerie of monster girls. How will the possessive Miia, the noble Centorea, the bird-brained Papi, and the slime-girl Suu react to the newest addition to their household - and yet another contender for Kimihito's heart?

REVIEW:

If you thought the monster girls came in quickly over the last two volumes, look out! Volume three introduces no less than five new (female) monsters, although none of them have moved in with Kimihito – yet. This is stopped from being too overwhelming by the sheer amount of thought OKAYADO has clearly put into each species, which is obvious from both the story and the character profiles in the back of the book. He's not just randomly throwing RPG monsters out there – he's really nailing the details down. This is perhaps clearest with Zombina, the zombie – who is an Attack on Titan fangirl. (And a literal fujoshi – a rotten woman.) All of this helps to offset some of the more prurient aspects of the story, although with the Papi-lays-an-egg chapter, one can't help but wonder if OKAYADO is making a little fun of himself and his readers. That suspicion is equally true for the chapter about male orcs trying to take over a doujinshi shop – they look awfully like the stereotypical depiction of male otaku, just with pig faces. The art remains fanservice heavy, and a few scenes, such as how Suu nurses Kimihito back to health, may make some readers uncomfortable. Also, OKAYADO still puts tone on the ladies' breasts, which continues to look frankly weird. There is thankfully less Smith in this volume, which is good because she was beginning to grate, but Miia is a little more annoying as the competition for Kimhito piles up. Fortunately, Mero the mermaid's idea of a good romance is amusingly not a problem...as well as a terrific Hans Christian Andersen reference. Yes, this series continues to be much smarter than it at first appears.

RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. Unless you're uncomfortable with some very blatant fanservice – seriously, parts of this are nearly M worthy – Monster Musume is a lot of fun. The story is smarter than it looks and the details of the monster girls are really well thought out.


SHERLOCK BONES
Vol. 5

(by Yuma Ando and Yuki Sato , Kodansha, $10.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

LOOKS THAT KILL

Takeru and Sherdog have once again found themselves in the midst of a mystery! This time, the prime suspect is the beautiful Mayor Takasugi, and with her iron-clad alibi, it looks like she has brains to match her looks. How will they solve the case to reveal the murderous devil that lies behind the angelic face of London's mayor?

REVIEW:

Sherlock Bones may be slightly formulaic – murderer kills, Sherdog likely observes, Takeru traces back the evidence to get a conviction – but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. With the world still firmly gripped by Holmes Fever, this series fits right in, as well as being something of an overlooked gem in its own right. This volume finishes up the case involving the mayor from the previous book before an unexpected time skip: between the resolution of that case and the start of the next one, three years pass. It's a little unnerving, mostly because one minute Takeru is trying to decide what he'll do after graduating from high school and the next he has graduated and is a policeman. Really, the only saving grace here is that it makes more sense for him to be solving murders as an actual police officer, although in a series that features Sherlock Holmes reincarnated as a dog, a teenage boy detective isn't that much of a stretch.

In any event, this volume sees a rise in the violence and mania of the murders themselves. As the mayor case progresses, a lot of questionable sanity emerges on the part of the villain, and Sato ups the distorted and crazy faces by quite a bit. Takeru has begun putting himself in real danger, and the artwork does its best to reflect that. Since volume four there has been a linked progression between cases, and the death of his friend in that book functions as Takeru's impetus to continue solving crimes. Simply put, he's gone from a hobbyist to wanting to be professional, and that really works for the story. Watching him piece together the clues remains interesting, even if we already know whodunnit, and while this is no Kindaichi Case Files, it's still a solid mystery manga.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a friend or a library. This is a good book, but there's not a lot of mystery solving for the reader to do, plus the unexpected time skip sort of jars you. The new case is certainly looking interesting, but the addition of Nanami as a love rival does nothing for the overall plot. Plus whatever happened to Meowriarty?


WHAT DID YOU EAT YESTERDAY?
Vol. 2

(by Fumi Yoshinaga , Vertical, $12.95)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

In this second installment of Fumi Yoshinaga's deliciously charming slice-of-gay-life, we delve into the beginnings of Shiro and Kenji's relationship.

Shiro continues to expand his culinary creativity while dealing with problematic clients and his well-meaning but misguided mother, who comes to rely on him when a health scare hits close to home.

REVIEW:

This one is all about the food. By that I don't mean to imply that cooking played a less important role in the first volume of this series, but rather that this book is much lighter on the plot. The story itself is there in small portions – we learn how Shiro and Kenji first met, see the progression (sort of) in Shiro's relationship with his mother, and learn a bit more about pre-Kenji Shiro – but these snippets function more as background for the mouthwatering meals prepared by the protagonist. Personally, I'm more interested in reading a story than a cookbook, and thus I feel that this volume is a slight step down from its predecessor. The small glimpses of plot that we get are as always beautifully written in Fumi Yoshinaga's simple but complete style, and the art remains delicate and lovely. Shiro's devotion to his work and cooking serves as his outward expression for his kind heart, something he clearly is uncomfortable doing on any other level, and this does come through very well. As always his interactions with his mother give us insight into how he perceives others...and just how much work it is to deal with Mrs. Kakei, especially for a man who holds his emotions close to his chest. The balance simply feels off this time; as an example, fourteen of the sixteen pages making up chapter ten are cooking, with only the last two featuring any sort of character interaction. For an ostensible slice-of-life story, there should perhaps be a little more story in with the slicing.

RECOMMENDATION:Borrow it from a library or a friend. I really, really loved the first volume, but I feel Yoshinaga went too far in one direction with this second one. If you're just as into the food as the story, however, you'll likely want to own this.


PUELLA MAGI KAZUMI MAGICA: THE INNOCENT MALICE
Vol. 5

(by Masaki Hiramatsu and Takashi Tensugi , Yen Press, $13)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Trapped inside the witch's barrier with the vengeful Kanna, Umika and Kaoru struggle to protect Kazumi as their beloved friend slowly succumbs to her darkening soul gem. If the girls can rally, the witch's grief seed could be used to purify all of their gems, but even that would be only a temporary solution. Facing cruel fate and questions of her own identity, Kazumi will make the ultimate choice whether or not to join her friends in their vendetta against destiny in the final volume of The Innocent Malice!

REVIEW:

Kazumi Magica took a long time to really get going, but it did manage to in volume four. Now in the fifth and final volume things...sort of stay going. Then they get confusing again before coming to a semi-conclusion. The continuation of the revelation about Kazumi's true nature is probably the most interesting part of the book, with the Kazumi/Michiru disconnect having serious repercussions for the other members of the group, and Kanna's own madness brought on by her similar situation driving the other characters' actions. Then we get into a series of flashbacks going ever further into the past, and things start to get a little murky. Kyubey is as creepy as ever, which is a big plus for the series' ending, as the Pleiades' motive for action directly involved him, something he shrugs off like the sociopathic furball he is. That Kazumi is able to overcome him – and the Pleiades – for any time at all is one of the most triumphant moments in the series. But that is bogged down by the general lack of clarity in the story, fight scenes that look dynamic but are kind of confusing, and an overplayed discussion of hope, arguably one of the strongest tools in a magical girl's arsenal, no matter what series she's from. Kazumi tries really hard to be as edgy and compelling as its mother series, but in the end never quite makes it.

RECOMMENDATION: As a series, skip it. It tries, it really, really does, but Kazumi Magica never quite realizes its promise. If you're really invested in the Madoka franchise, you may want to borrow it, but honestly, it just never quite makes it to “good enough.”


NISEKOI
Vol. 4

(by Naoshi Komi , Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Love triangle! Comedic antics!! Gang warfare?! You won't want to miss out on Weekly Shonen Jump's laugh-out-loud feel-good manga series!

It's hate at first sight when Raku Ichijo first meets Chitoge Kirisaki. But much to their chagrin, the two are forced into a false love relationship to keep the peace between their feuding gangster families. Meanwhile, Raku's still hung up on the girl he made a promise to ten years ago, keeping a pendant around his neck as a memento. The girl, in turn, holds the key that opens the pendant. To Raku's surprise, he discovers two girls have keys from a promise they also make ten years ago, Chitoge and his current crush Onodera! Making matters worse, another girl with a key appears on the scene...

REVIEW:

Since its first volume, Nisekoi has been building up quite the harem. Within the last two books we've added boyish Tsugumi and now Marika, the third keyholder mentioned in the synopsis. Thus far it's been handled pretty well, so the issues with this volume lie not in the fact that there's a new contender for Raku's heart but more in the fact that she's really frigging annoying. Other potentially irritating female characters have been given saving graces – the best example is that Chitoge knows that she's unreasonable with Raku and generally tries to make amends for her unwarranted attacks on him. While it's still not especially funny to see a nice guy pounded because of imagined slights, this is a case where the “dere” really makes up for the “tsun.” But Marika is simply selfish and mean, and that's somehow harder to stomach.

Fortunately other aspects of the book continue to be a lot of fun. Onodera's friend Rin is probably the most interesting and entertaining female character in the volume with her deadpan statements and far from subtle tactics, and Komi's variety of shocked and otherwise creepy faces are definite highlights. Every character remains visually distinct, even some of the background classmates, and the slow romance between Onodera and Raku is sweet in a vaguely frustrating way. It's too bad that this third keyholder was brought in, really, because the volume was much more enjoyable before she showed up.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a friend or a library. Nisekoi is gathering a few too many girls who like Raku to be as enjoyable as it was when it was just a love triangle, and this new one is not a great addition. (Am I the only who dislikes her so much?) Underneath it all is still a fun manga, but there's a definite downturn with this book.


DIGITAL SPOTLIGHT

STAR LIGHT WOMAN
Chapters 1 - 15

(by Rie Kanou, Crunchyroll, premium subscription)

FROM CRUNCHYROLL:

The fate of the Earth has been entrusted to a single woman! A new SF comedy series! As more and more witnesses report seeing UFOs, a plain woman named Hoshi is working late at her part-time job. But she has an important secret!

REVIEW:

In her early twenties, Yumako Hoshi was abducted by the jellyfish-like Aah Aliens and experimented upon. The aliens hoped to create humans with superpowers who could help them free their home planet from oppression, but they didn't count on the humans not being thrilled with the whole abduction thing. That was mostly fine, since until Hoshi, #214, most of the powers people gained weren't helpful to them. But Hoshi has basically been turned into a combination of Wonder Woman and The Flash, and boy, do the aliens want her. They even go so far as to create #215, a girl with similar powers if she wears the supersuit they give her...but all to no avail. Hoshi is not having any of this.

Starlight Woman mostly reads like a Japanese version of an American superhero comic. Costumes, powers, aliens...the whole thing is like a mix of “The Greatest American Hero” and any number of DC and Marvel Comics. In fact, at one point someone quotes Spiderman, so it seems safe to say that the similarities are deliberate. Unfortunately, also like many superhero comics, there's no real resolution for any of the characters, least of all Hoshi, who just wants to return to her normal life. These fifteen chapters do make up the entire series, and it feels like it should have been a little longer. While Kanou's art is detailed and features characters with reassuringly solid bodies – to say nothing of Hoshi's lovely locks – it doesn't quite make up for the less than stellar composition of the story overall. It's interesting, but not quite interesting enough to be truly good.

RECOMMENDATION: There's no “borrow it” for digital manga, but that's basically where this sits. Let's phrase it as if you have a 48 hour guest pass to Crunchyroll or a free trial of the manga, read other stuff before you go for this one. It's good enough if you have the subscription, but not good enough to use your freebie on.


AND NOW FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT

It's not unusual for things like films or mascot characters to get manga or anime adaptations – look at the Super Sonico anime (and its attendant figures) and any number of movie-to-manga titles, or an equal, if not greater, number of light novel adaptations. What's a little less common is when a Japanese property becomes an American comic book, and today we're going to look at two currently on the market. We'll start with one that's fairly high profile:

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL
single trade paperback

(adapted by Nick Mamatas, art by Lee Ferguson, Haikasoru, $14.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

When the alien Mimics invade, Keiji Kiriya is just one of many recruits shoved into a suit of battle armor called a Jacket and sent out to kill. Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to be reborn each morning to fight and die again and again. On his 158th iteration, he gets a message from a mysterious ally--the female soldier known as the Full Metal Bitch. Is she the key to Keiji's escape or his final death? Now a major motion picture starring Tom Cruise!

REVIEW:

Based on the novel of the same name by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need Is Kill tells the story of two soldiers trapped in an endless day, sort of like “Groundhog Day” with more murderous alien invasions. It's an interesting story, but with only 96 pages (as opposed to the novel's 230), there really isn't much time to tell it. In fact, reading this feels sort of like reading an illustrated outline for a more intense piece of fiction. It grabs you, you're into it...and that's it? You can feel where there should be weighty emotions and gripping battles, but when each is given a panel at least and a page at most, there's just not enough to fully immerse you in the story. It's too bad, because for the most part the adaptation reads smoothly – there's one weird moment where Rita address us as “dear reader,” but that's it – and the art, while not breathtaking, certainly is eye-catching and works pretty well. Unfortunately “pretty well” really isn't good enough for a story with this much potential, and so this comic adaptation falls short of the mark.

RECOMMENDATION: Skip it and read the novel instead, unless you just want the basics before the movie comes out.

Our other entry into this category is the much more bizarre Ame-Comi Girls graphic novel from DC. The characters are based on a series of under-dressed statues from DC Direct and are supposedly inspired by the anime/manga aesthetic. Check out Hawkgirl here. In any event, this series of collectibles gave us this gem:

AME-COMI GIRLS
Vol. 1

(by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, DC, $14.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

AME-COMI GIRLS is based on the best-selling product line from DC Collectibles that brings the distinct Japanese influence of anime and manga to DC Comics' female heroines and their foes.

In the new series the heroines must unite to stop an invasion by the female Braniac, who is aided by a group of "bad girl" super villains including Duela Dent, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn.

REVIEW:

While there is an ongoing plotline (I'm assured) that will become evident in later volumes, this first graphic novel is more of an anthology than a cohesive book. Each chapter focuses on a different figure/female superperson, including Wonder Woman and a female Joker, and each is drawn by a different artist, which certainly makes the book interesting to look at. Characters' personalities have changed a bit for these incarnations, with the most obvious one being a very young and kind of petulant Wonder Woman. (She does have the good sense to be embarrassed by her outfit.) It does try very hard to make each character and chapter more than just eye candy, with varying amounts of success. If nothing else, it's kind of interesting to see what American comic artists think “anime-style” is...

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. It's (unwittingly?) entertaining, but not worth the shelf space...or full price, really.


And that's all for this time! Things will be back to normal next column, but I had to work in All You Need Is Kill somehow...Enjoy the start of summer, and if anyone wants that maple pudding cake recipe, ask me in the forums!


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