RIGHT TURN ONLY!!
Judgement

by Rebecca Silverman, Jul 15th 2014

I have, despite how much and how quickly I read, a pretty hefty manga pile of shame – not series I'm embarrassed to own (although I have them too), but ones that I can't believe I haven't read yet. Recently I removed Outlanders from that stack, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. (Drakkun is now in the Pile, mostly because I can't find Caravan Kidd 1.) It was weird, but the characters grew on me and I loved the crazy bug ships. Other titles in my Pile are the end of Hana Yori Dango (is it bad that I can still sing the theme song to the anime?), Special A, and Izumi Kaneyoshi's Doubt!!, which I wasn't going to read because I thought the premise sounded offensive. Turns out I must have been feeling hyper-sensitive when that came out...So what's in your piles of unread shame? Or piles of actual shame (*cough* Hot Gimmick)? Are any of this week's series in there...?


A CENTAUR'S LIFE
Vol. 3

(by Kei Murayama, Seven Seas, $12.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

For Hime and her classmates, racial mixing is nothing new. Wings both feathery and leathery, tails pointed or furry, horns like goats' or like unicorns' - you'll find them all in this classroom. When the prospect of a new transfer student arises, is there anything left that would shock them? A UFO sighting, perhaps?!

REVIEW:

The gentle charm of A Centaur's Life is hard to deny – like all of the best moe slice-of-life stories, this one meanders along, touching on children at play, everyday school activities, and the basic interactions of different personality types. That those personalities belong to what we would call monster girls and boys only adds to its appeal. Murayama continues to take painstaking care to make sure that we understand the world his characters inhabit, with this volume looking at inter-racial interactions. Due to early racial tensions, everyone must take extreme care in how they talk about other races – in one almost wordless chapter about Hime's cousin at kindergarten, a little catboy points to her back and makes a comment that upsets her. The teachers come racing over, quick to chastise the boy. Since there has been no violence, we have to assume that he said something about her being a centaur. Later in the volume Hime discusses her fears of the Antarctic snake people and her friends tell her that she had better not say that in public. Given the ending of the volume, it looks like Murayama is going to continue to explore this theme.

When he's not making a (gentle) point about racism in the modern world, Murayama's story is as basic as any slice-of-life tale. The girls do cute things, like taking care of their sisters or playing softball. There are a few off-notes about the art – centaurs aren't always in perspective, goat legs seem to have one angle too many, and the ears uniformly look like rabbit ears – but the basic soothing qualities of the story keep it worth reading. If Monster Musume is too much for you or you just really like moe slice-of-life, A Centaur's Life's third volume continues to be a good answer.

RECOMMENDATION: This is a divided recommendation: If you like slice-of-life or really well thought out world building, read it. But if you prefer your slice-of-life and world building with a bit more story and maybe a little less attention to centaur toilets, borrow it from a library or a friend.


RIN-NE
Vol. 15

(by Rumiko Takahashi, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Ever since a strange encounter when she was a child, Sakura Mamiya has had the power to see ghosts. Now in high school, she just wishes the ghosts would leave her alone! When her mysterious classmate RIN-NE Rokudo shows up, Sakura finds herself following him into the amazing world between life and death!

The damashigami Renge has moved into the room next to RIN-NE's in the old club building. Renge has been giving away lucky cell phone charm straps for free, and as a result, RIN-NE's losing business! With everyone around Renge getting caught up in her affairs, RIN-NE has his work cut out for him!

REVIEW:

There was a day when Rumiko Takahashi's name on a book was a surefire guarantee of a good story, at least for the first ten to fifteen volumes. That day has apparently passed. RIN-NE's most recent English release continues to be plagued by the same issues that the series has suffered from all along – it is episodic, neither particularly funny nor especially touching, and just feels like the same basic story rehashed in every chapter. The addition of female Damashigami Renge to the main cast doesn't do much for the character interactions, although with Kain appearing more often we're at gender parity in the volume. The longest story in this book is about Ageha mistakenly thinking that Renge and RIN-NE are dating and using her special Break-Up Kit to try and separate them, inadvertently calling misfortune down upon herself. It just feels stale, as does much of the book. The best chapter is about the school baseball champ accidentally confessing to a ghost and having her latch on to him; the end of the story has a couple of panels that make it almost touching. Likewise it is nice to see RIN-NE's consistent devotion to Sakura, even if she's totally unaware of it – girls keep showing up, but his heart belongs only to her. On the whole, however, the book is more dull and mediocre than anything. Fortunately Takahashi's art is still attractive and no one draws cute little hands the way she does. Great art, however, cannot really save this book from the mire of “meh.”

RECOMMENDATION: Skip it. Unless you're a die-hard Takahashi fan, this is just not nearly as good as her earlier series. It's stale, kind of dull, and just not funny enough to merit reading.


JUDGE
Vol. 4

(by Yoshiki Tonogai, Yen Press, $12.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

"You are not the only ones playing this game."

Do clues discovered in a new room herald nothing more than a new despair? Soon the brutal sentencing of the third Judgment is visited upon the participants. Who here is the victim, and who the perpetrator?Until all is revealed, time is on no one's side...

REVIEW:

Things are getting more and more serious for the victims of the Judgement. Last volume ended with the discovery of the dead man near the stairs, which is shared with the other players. But this is only the first secret of the makeshift courthouse's that the group is about to find – there's a hidden room which reveals something that looks like it has much more bearing on the story than the fact that there was an extra person in the building, one that's clearly going to have a big impact on the rest of the tale. Meanwhile people are starting to snap under pressure, upping the tension for Hiro, the resident attempt at being the voice of reason. That everyone is being manipulated is more than obvious, but that manipulator's bloodthirst just seems to be rising. This gives the story a sort of Battle Royale feel. It's a little trite, but it's also pretty damn engaging.

That kind of sums up Judge as a series, with this volume being no exception. It isn't as tight as its predecessor Doubt!! was, although it is very tense. It's hard to get a feel for Hiro and his allies, which makes it a little harder to care about what happens to them, but Tonogai is good with the shock factor in both art and story, keeping up the pace to make this the kind of book you read in one sitting. It looks like volume four is setting us up for major action in volume five, or at least more on the big reveal, so if you've read this far, this book will keep you reading.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. This is great, but it just isn't as good as Doubt!! was – the story is less interesting and it's hard to care about Hiro because we know too little. It's still a good read, just not one that needs to be on your bookshelf.


HAPPY MARRIAGE?!
Vol. 7

(by Maki Enjōji, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

In order to help her father, Chiwa Takanashi agrees to an arranged marriage with the company president, Hokuto Mamiya—a man she doesn't know—at the request of Hokuto's grandfather. Chiwa believes the arrangement isn't binding, but her new partner seems to think otherwise. Can two strangers living together find their way to a Happy Marriage!?

Hokuto is working harder than ever after his promotion, and the couple rarely spends time together anymore.

Chiwa continues working at Ai-Max with Asahina, a guy she dated in college. Asahina knows she's married to Hokuto, but he still has feelings for Chiwa.

REVIEW:

Poor Chiwa and Hokuto just can't seem to get their relationship quite right, and as usual in romance manga – and often in the romance genre itself – the root of the problem is a lack of communication. Hokuto keeps working late, Chiwa hasn't told him about her (years ago) kiss with Asahina, and they keep bickering about his father. Both of them are suffering from jealously that could be resolved if they both exercised a little more maturity and actually set time aside to talk so that things don't escalate into the screaming match at the end of the book; their newfound physical intimacy doesn't immediately mean that they're emotionally intimate, which is something that Chiwa in particular seems to keep forgetting.

This is, as it has been, the major problem with this particular Maki Enjōji series: both Chiwa and Hokuto can be incredibly immature. (I've read other works of hers, and no, this is not the norm for her couples.) They often continue to act like overgrown high school students, making poor choices for their relationship and leaping to conclusions without talking things out. That Hokuto sometimes encourages Chiwa to reach those conclusions is hardly helpful, but the real issue this volume is the meddling of the requisite Bitchy Former Girlfriend ™. She's becoming a real problem, playing on their immaturity and insecurities in a truly annoying way, and really crossing the line. She may inadvertently drive them closer together, but getting there is pretty frustrating – which to be fair is often part and parcel of the genre. And really, this is an enjoyable romance in a lot of ways; if Enjoji can just get the protagonists to be more mature, or at least think about it, Happy Marriage!? would be a much more fulfilling story. Since that's likely to be what the major plot resolution/revelation will be, and since it is moving (slowly) towards it, it's probably worth reading along to the end.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. This is really still shoujo disguised as josei, and it is a lot of fun. But it isn't Enjoji's best work, and while it's worth reading, this volume isn't quite worth rereading, especially with that fight at the end.


GAKUEN POLIZI
Vol. 1

(by Milk Morinaga, Seven Seas, $12.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

UNDERCOVER LOVER!

All her life, Sasami Aoba has dreamed of being a champion of justice, but if she can't be a magical girl, she'll be the next best thing: a cop! Aoba is a polizi, an undercover officer assigned to Hanagaki Girls' High School. But when she arrives on the scene, she discovers that Hanagaki is a perfectly peaceful school with no crimes to solve, nad that her new partner, Sakuraba Midori, is a stern, by-the-book polizi who has no patience for Aoba's novice antics.

Will Aoba and Midori become friends, rivals...or something more? An all-new yuri series from the creator of Girl Friends and Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink!

REVIEW:

This may be yuri later, but right now, Gakuen Polizi is a sort of 21 Jump Street with two cute girls and a near total lack of crime. Not that that isn't an awful lot of fun – Milk Morinaga is good at making the ordinary seem extraordinary, and now with a wackier set up, she's clearly enjoying herself. Aoba is totally gung-ho about her work to the point where she's willing to stretch the law to its limits (or beyond, in one case) in order to do her job, and her joy is contagious. Midori is a much more complex character with a troubled – and possibly tragic – past who can't quite stomach Aoba's enthusiasm. I suspect that this is because she was once like Aoba, before the mysterious incident involving her former partner that, given that the girls are high school first years, can't be all that far in the past.

That's actually the most confusing part of this introductory volume. At first I had assumed that Aoba and Midori were adults masquerading as high school students, but instead it looks as if they are simply high school age girls who have somehow been allowed to join the police force because reasons. This doesn't become clear until about a third of the way through the book, which makes for kind of a garbled start. At this point Midori's backstory is looking like the most interesting part of the story, although a look at stalkers and how they affect their victims long-term is really quite fascinating. Basically this gets better as it goes on, and volume two should be terrific, with or without increased yuri content. Morinaga's art is less stiff than in her previous English releases, although she is a bit inconsistent with Aoba's height, and one can't help but wonder if the heroines' names are a reference to The Blue-Green Years (ao = blue, midori = green), which would be interesting. In any event, it's not the strongest start, but it certainly does improve within the volume.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. This is clearly going to get better and on par with Morinaga's other works, but as a start, it's slow and a little confusing. I'm just bummed that we have to wait until April for volume two...


DIGITAL SPOTLIGHT

DREAM GUYS GROW ON TREES
Chapters 1 - 4

(by Ruki Ichikawa, Renta!, $4 [4 tickets])

FROM RENTA!:

One day, Tsubomi receives a mysterious potted plant from her mother named "Makoto," which she treats with plenty of tender loving care. Who'd have thought the plant would grow up to be...her ideal guy!? Now it's Makoto's turn to repay the TLC -- if he can get Tsubomi to let her guard down!

REVIEW:

I have made a terrible mistake. I went to Renta with the full intention of proving that they have non-smutty manga, and then I stupidly clicked on this one. Maybe it's an interesting “Thumbelina” retelling, I thought.

Well...it basically is, kind of. The general plot has university student Tsubomi living on her own and getting a plant, which her mother has very thoughtfully named Makoto. After an unspecified period of time, the plant hatches a gorgeous and horny guy, also named Makoto. They have lots of sex. She thinks about leaving him. She doesn't, there's a plot twist, and they live happily ever after. The end. On the plus side, this is complete in four chapters, and the translation is better than some of Renta's other titles, even if the spacing of the words in the bubbles isn't great. The art is fairly basic and relatively tame as well, particularly given how raunchy the story gets. Really, this is a very run-of-the-mill, silly, smutty romance, and proof that when I think there might be a fairy tale involved, I have yet to learn my lesson. It's mostly harmless – there's one nonconsensual scene involving vines – and four dollars may be overestimating its value a little bit.

RECOMMENDATION: Skip it unless you're really in the mood for something dumb and romancey. (Although in that case, I'd say go read Tessa Dare's Beauty and the Blacksmith - it has more plot.) This isn't bad, but it isn't good and exists in mediocrity. Don't make my mistake: use your $4 to buy pastry instead – it will be more satisfying.


THE UNFINISHED

CAFE OCCULT
2 of 6 volumes published

(by Oh Rhe Bar Ghun and Ahn no Uhn, Infinity Studios, $12.95 )

FROM THE ENCYCLOPEDIA:

Taking shelter from the rain, Suh Rin goes into a little cafe called Cafe Occult. Soon after leaving the cafe, she is hit by a car, and then a strange man pulls her down an alleyway. She is saved by a young man, and he takes her back to the cafe. There her fears are confirmed; she was killed by the car, and has now become a spirit. Cafe Occult, the Master, its 'errand boy' Young, are all mysteriously connected to both the world of the living and the spirit world. Suh Rin's spirit is wanted for a reason unknown, and only Young and his special bullets can keep her from their grasp.

THOUGHTS:

As I prepared to write this up, it became apparent that I was one of the only people who really enjoyed this series. It's a combination of shounen action and mystery, with a good helping of the supernatural thrown in, and if it was tarted up a bit, it could be the next Showtime original series. The story follows Suh Rin, a girl who dies suddenly and finds herself in a mysterious cafe – the titular Cafe Occult. There she finds out that she is, in fact, dead, and that there is something special about her soul. At first she's something of a wilting wallflower, but the longer she has to depend on the handsome yet surly Young to protect her, the stronger she tries to become. The real turning point for her is when a friend of hers also dies (while visiting Suh Rin's death site), and Suh Rin watches as her friend's spirit fades away. This scene stands out as very powerful in that I still occasionally think about it, and it works as a motivating factor to get Suh Rin to take charge of her own afterlife. Ahn no Uhn's art is solid and attractive and the story moves at a good clip. It doesn't have the character development one might hope for, but Cafe Occult was still a fun supernatural action series and it's too bad it didn't finish its run in English. (You can finish it in both French and Spanish, though. I should get on that.)


And so ends another edition of RTO! I'm going to go give my cat Horus a stern lecture about leading Simeon – the year-old kitten – into the woods and then leaving him there. At least he didn't take him far. That cat is such a jerk...


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