RIGHT TURN ONLY - By Request

by Rebecca Silverman,

You never can tell what you'll find when you're unpacking. Sometimes it's horribly melodramatic stories written in middle school (I can't even read them – what was I thinking?!), sometimes it's lamentably bad artwork from the same period (my sister shoved them right back into the box), and sometimes...

...sometimes it's horrible, 100-page Gundam Wing doujinshi, written by one sister and drawn by the other two.

On the one hand, my, weren't we ambitious little fangirls! And I can actually see how the Doujin of Terror actually helped us learn about creating comics as we worked on it. On the other hand, oh my god. We wrote and drew a 100-page Gundam Wing doujinshi. Well, I guess it's better than the Rose Petal fanfiction I wrote in second grade...maybe...I think I'll go hide under a rock while you read about manga.


HAPPY MARRIAGE?!
Vol. 8

(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 resigns from Mamiya Commerce and takes on a failing company, risking everything to become heir in one year. Chiwa and Hokuto are closer than ever, so why is he saying they can't be a true married couple?

REVIEW:

The last few volumes of Maki Enjōji's romantic comedy have suffered from Chiwa's inability to function as a mature human being. This books takes steps to change that. With Hokuto's decision to rethink his goals – mostly because all of a sudden Chiwa is more important to him than revenge against his cold, unforgiving family – Chiwa thinks that this may finally mark a shift for the better in their relationship. And to a degree, it does: Hokuto is finally being open with his feelings and acting like less of a jerk and Chiwa at last feels secure as his wife. Or at least, she thinks she does. Hokuto's new position has him working himself to the bone, but when Chiwa tries to suggest that maybe he should take better care of himself, he flips out. This is where our heroine finally stands up. She tells Hokuto that if he can't operate in a partnership, then he can just go it alone. She then moves back into her own bedroom and lets the games begin.

To a degree, this is Lysistrata the josei manga. Like Aristophanes' comedy, Chiwa's withholding of wifely duties makes Hokuto pay attention to the fact that just changing his job won't make them into a differently functioning couple; he'll have to make some personal changes as well. While it is difficult for Chiwa to wait for him to see that, this volume does mark a change in their relationship in terms of functionality. By the end of the book, while neither has drastically changed their personalities, both have come to a better place of understanding. He may still be a jerk and she still may be immature, but finally we get the sense that their marriage could really work. This still isn't up to the level of Enjoji's Private Prince or Yoru Cafe (why aren't those translated?), but at last Happy Marriage!? is starting to get back being as good as it started.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. This volume shows some major improvement in the titular marriage, but it still isn't quite where it should be in terms of a fun and fluffy romantic comedy. Hopefully next time I'll be able to tell you to buy it, because things are definitely moving forward.


VINLAND SAGA
Vol. 5

(by Makoto Yukimura, Kodansha, $22.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

A Life Without Purpose

After the assassination of King Sweyn and the execution of Askeladd, Thorfinn lost the object of his vengeance, his sense of purpose, and his freedom. Now a broken young man, he labors far from the battlefield, clearing a forest for his slave master's farm alongside the amiable Einar. But a sudden and brutal tragedy will shock Thorfinn out of his apathy, and force him to answer the question, “Do I still want to live?”

REVIEW:

Askeladd's death in the previous volume continues to cast its shadow over Thorfinn. Working on the farm in Jutland along with British slave Einar, Thorfinn starts out the book being almost a living ghost – he can't seem to be bothered to care about anything and just goes through the motions. Every night he is plagued by nightmares he can't remember. It is this evidence of what today we would most likely call PTSD that really drives Thorfinn's change across the pages: it provides an entry point for Einar to begin a friendship and it makes Thorfinn think about what and who he's going to be now that his empty revenge quest has ended. And it was empty – Yukimura does an excellent job of showing both the reader and Thorfinn that there was never any real meaning behind his need to avenge his father's death. Symbolism-spotting readers will have seen Askeladd's death as being illustrative of that, and subconsciously Thorfinn does realize it. When we finally see his nightmare at the end of this volume, we can see that he did know it all along and just needed to come to terms with it. Einar helps to provide that resolution, and we can also see a parallel relationship gone a different direction in that of farmer Ketil and his son. Being a warrior, they show us, doesn't necessarily mean being more of a man – and in our eyes, it can mean being less of one.

Along with this well-realized inner journey, we also see some interesting physical transformations as well. Dream-Thorfinn who never left Iceland looks drastically different in terms of body language from Revenge Thorfinn, who bears little to no resemblance to Broken Thorfinn. The Thorfinn who begins to move on with his life is likewise different...but he clearly has carefully trimmed his facial hair to a style that looks a lot like Askeladd's. That he should chose this style over his father's seems like a deliberate choice, and reinforces the dysfunctional father/son relationship he and Askeladd had. Add to this the detailed and beautiful images of medieval Scandinavian farm life and a varied cast of characters, to say nothing of a nightmare that will give you nightmares, and this is a volume that can stand up to any others in the series – if not surpass it.

RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. This is a phenomenal series, and it really just keeps getting better as it goes on. And can I just mention again how amazing that nightmare scene is? Seriously, you should be reading Vinland Saga.


GANGSTA.
Vol. 3

(by Kohske, Viz, $12.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Ergastulum is a tough town, the kind of place where the rule of law takes a backseat to the law of violence, and where Handymen like Nic and Worick make a living doing odd jobs for their clients, from routine deliveries to extrajudicial killings. Discreet, ruthless, and efficient, the men are respected by both the police brass and the Mafia dons, but it took many long, hard years for them to make their names. Behind those years is the hidden history of how the scion of an elite family and a boy soldier of the Twilights ranks formed an improbable, unbreakable bond.

REVIEW:

How did Worick and Nic end up the inseparable duo they are today? What is behind the founding of the story's setting, Ergastulum? If these are questions you've been asking, this is the volume for you. But for those leery of flashback books, don't worry – Kohske once again proves that she is more than up to the task of telling this complex story in the most interesting way possible by intermingling chapters about Worick and Nic's childhood with the ongoing tale of the present, pointing to parallels between the two times along the way in a fairly subtle manner. In Nic's treatment of Nina and other children we see the effects of Worick's early kindness – and perhaps a certain amount of wish-fulfillment on Nic's part, as he tries to give today's kids the childhood he didn't have. Most importantly, this volume really helps us to understand the bond between the two men.

Alex plays a fairly small part in this book, but we can still see her as both our point-of-entry character and a contemporary parallel for young Nic and Worick. Ally's simultaneous need for love/companionship is balanced with her fear of getting close to people, and she seems somehow drawn to the same qualities in Nic specifically. There are vague undertones of a potential love triangle, but in all honesty, that may just be because that's something we as readers are used to looking for. Meanwhile Kohske is setting us up for a major war to come between the Twilights and those who don't think they have the right to exist. This also is built on by the boys' past, and some of the imagery can get pretty graphic while still being subtle enough to let our imaginations fill in the worst parts. To say that this volume is intriguing isn't quite doing it justice...

RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. Gangsta. is so gritty that you kind of feel like brushing off your skin after reading it, but it's that way with a purpose that is starting to become clear and it's going to feel like a really long wait for volume four.


BLOOD LAD
Vol. 5

(by Yūki Kodama, Yen Press, $20.00)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Using Staz's powerful magic, Braz has successfully resurrected his father, Richarz, former king of the Demon World. Staz is furious that his brother has swindled him yet again--with Staz's blood and Braz's efforts going toward resurrection research, Staz and Fuyumi are back to square one on restoring her human body. But more pressing than Fuyumi's precarious state is that of the Demon World! When the dust settles, will a vampire or a werewolf be sitting on the throne?!

REVIEW:

There are a lot of reasons to love omnibus editions, and Blood Lad tends to showcase two of them: you get more story at once, and it dulls the pain of a boring volume when you have a more exciting one right there with it. Not that the first book in the omnibus is deadly dull or anything – the truth about Richarz and Akim's crazy rise to power are both really interesting. But there's still a lot of standing around explaining things and a marked lack of the humor that made Blood Lad stand out in the first place. While there's nothing wrong with a shounen action series, I picked up Blood Lad as a shounen comedy, so the shift, while not bad, also isn't quite as good as the humor and definitely not what drew me to the story in the first place. Luckily the second half of the book gets back on track with Staz offering the theory that because vampires and werewolves are fictional in the human world yet popular in their media, perhaps other fictional things in human media are real in the demon world. The best way to find them? Read through his manga collection, of course! This gets the gang excited about finding demonic guitars and giant robots, among other things, as they look for what sometimes feels like the most ridiculous way possible to defeat Akim. Meanwhile there's also a hint of romance as Staz starts to feel jealous over Fuyumi's relationships with other guys and she's definitely feeling some attraction to him. (And his blood. But that's another story.)

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. With only half of this volume showing Kodama in top form, this is fun, but just not as good as some of the earlier books. The story has definitely wandered a bit, making this okay but not great.


SPELL OF DESIRE
Vol. 2

(by Tomu Ohmi, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Kaoruko Mochizuki runs an herb shop in a small seaside town. One day, a mysterious man dressed in black named Kaname Hibiki enters her shop and reveals that Kaoruko is actually a witch. And what's more, Kaoruko needs Kaname to help control her awakening power!

The only thing that can keep Kaoruko's powers in check is a kiss from Kaname, but she can't help but be drawn to him! While Kaname struggles with his own growing attraction to Kaoruko, he suspects that Kaoruko's volatile powers will bring unwanted attention from the Black Witches Coven…with dangerous consequences for her!

REVIEW:

Just Because! you like one series by an author doesn't mean that you'll like all of her works. Tomu Ohmi's second English-language release is a case in point. Whereas Midnight Secretary featured a strong heroine making conscious decisions about her relationship, Spell of Desire's Koko is a bewildered innocent saddled with a power that makes all men go mad with lust for her, resulting in a lot of unwanted advances. If the so-called “rape fantasy” isn't your thing, Spell of Desire is likely going to make for some uncomfortable reading, almost moreso in its second volume than its first.

On the other hand, if you enjoy that sub-genre of romance, this is a good one. Because of her Witch Queen mother's power being temporarily transferred to her, Kaoruko (better known as Koko) finds herself in a totally bizarre situation. Raised by her White Witch grandmother, she's completely unprepared for the sexual power her Black Witch mother has bestowed upon her – and as the volume goes on, it looks as if she's got no small measure of power of her own, although whether it is black or white is never really stated. (I personally would love to see her become a Grey Witch, but no mention of that has been made.) As Koko tries to come to terms with her frightening new attraction – and she is frightened – she's also coping with the fact that she's falling in love with Kaname, her mother's knight whose kisses are the only way she can quell her mom's power. In any other genre we'd have to question her feelings for him, but given that this is a romance – and that he's clearly falling for her too – it isn't hard to accept it at face value. In fact his increasing emotions for Koko are a major draw for this book. We have several sections from his point of view, and getting that inside knowledge really helps to make the story more palatable. It also gives us some hope at the end of the book, when the coven is essentially setting Koko up for rape by an incubus – something Kaname is determined to stop.

RECOMMENDATION: This is a divided case: 1) If you like the more forceful form of romance, often called “rape fantasy” although no actual rape takes place, buy it. Ohmi does a great job with the genre, showing Koko's inner conflict about being desired to the point of madness, and it looks like she's about to embrace it more fully.

2) If you are not a fan of borderline non-consensual romance, skip it. Thus far Ohmi has stayed away from penetrative sexual assault in the story, but this volume does have Koko suffering bruising at the hands of someone captivated by her power, and Koko is in no way in charge of her own sexuality or relationships. If you are not a fan of this type of romance, I really do recommend that you steer clear.


DIGITAL SPOTLIGHT


CROSS ANGE: RONDO OF ANGELS AND DRAGONS
Chapters 0-6

(by Kenjiro Takeshita, Comic Walker, Free)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

[A big new project from Sunrise x Comic Walker!!!] … What can you see reflected in the eyes of a girl with a secret vow hidden deep inside? What lies ahead of the steel body speeding forward? Lend an ear to the brand-new epic ballad weaving the tale of a girl and a mobile weapon. At the end of this turmoil will there be heartache or utopia......?

REVIEW:

Before you ask, these chapters end before “that” scene that has caused so much controversy. In fact, the manga version of what may well be the fall 2014 season's most controversial (or at least contentious) title focuses much more on both foreshadowing and the harsh treatment of the Nomas, people who cannot use a specific power known as the Light of Mana. If you've seen episode one, you'll actually be able to get much more out of these chapters, as knowing what's to come allows the reader to see all of the hints that Takeshita places throughout the artwork. (Pay attention to both Angelise's personal attendant and her brother.) Some interesting details are also left out of the manga version, such as the blood on Angelise's dress towards the end.

For those unfamiliar with the anime, Cross Ange: Rondo of Angels and Dragons follows the beautiful and privileged Princess Angelise, beloved by all, as she is about to undergo the ceremony that will mark her entrance into adulthood and allow her to become a functioning member of the government. Having been given everything, Angelise is somewhat spoiled and views the world from her pedestal, giving her a narrow view of regular society. Among those views is a socially-ingrained hatred for the Noma, a group of people born without the ability to use the Light of Mana. Angelise remarks that Nomas are clearly not human as they have been unable to evolve to the point where they can use this magic. This turns out to be something of a cruel irony, as at her ceremony it is revealed that Angelise herself is, by her own reckoning, sub-human. The manga is much less visceral than the anime it comes from, although Angelise's remarks are no less chilling (and ignorant, to our ears) in this form. It also feels like the harmless fanservice has increased, with more shots of ruffled underpants and less of the harsher content, although as I said, the infamous scene has yet to be reached. On the whole, the manga version of the story is much less cruel than its original, and it might be a good way to check out whether or not the plot (devices aside) is going to work for you if you're leery of the show. In any event, the art is attractive and the story moves at a decent clip, so both fans and the curious should find something in its pages.

RECOMMENDATION: Unless you have a violent aversion to the anime, it's a decent read and Comic Walker's translation is quite clear. Plus it's free. Can't argue with that!


THE UNFINISHED

ARIA
6 of 12 volumes released

(by Kozue Amano, TokyoPop and ADV, $9.99)

FROM THE ENCYCLOPEDIA:

On the planet Aqua (formerly Mars), Akari Mizunashi has made her home in the charming town of Neo-Venezia, a reproduction of the ancient Earth city. Determined to become an undine, Akari spends her days training in the labyrinths of canals throughout the city. She enjoys the primitive lifestyle of her ancestors and has no qualms about doing her own laundry or cooking meals from scratch. Pursuing this career and becoming independent are her dreams and, with the help of some curious Martians, underground dwellers and even wild creatures, Akari will one day captain her own gondola through the city of Neo-Venezia.

THOUGHTS:

Few series have suffered as much in the English-language market as Aria. A soft, charming story falling somewhere between “moe” and “iyashikei” (or “healing”), it is set on the planet Aqua, once known as Mars but terraformed with a town meant to resemble Venice, Italy and follows Akari in her quest to become a superior Undine, or female gondolier. It doesn't feature any big explosions, major romances, or even particularly exciting events – it just glides along like a gondola through water, showing us scenes of the girls' everyday lives, which are both familiar and strange. Perhaps, in fact, Aria was too harmless in the days before such stories really came into mainstream popularity, because the poor thing went through two English publishers – ADV and Tokyopop – with neither of them finishing it. Granted, neither exist now either, but the fact that two different companies failed to completely release it pretty much doomed it from getting a full English release in the future. And that really is a shame: for calm and beautiful, it's pretty hard to top Aria. I'll admit that at times the series bored me, but then I'd just put it down, read something else, and come back to it. Perhaps that wasn't something that others did; in any event, we'll have to be content with the anime version, all of which did get a release. But if the weight of the world gets you down and you just need to drift for a time, find a copy of any of the volumes and let Aria take you on a quiet ride.


So that ends this week's RTO. It was a hard one to write because I had to say good-bye to my dog as I was working on it. Nonny had a good, long life and fourteen is nothing to sneeze at, but I miss her all the same.


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