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Like A Kid In A Candy Store

by Liann Cooper,

Buy It Now!

XXXHolic Volume 2
Story & Art by CLAMP
Released by Del Rey

$10.95 US

CLAMP never disappoints me. Their artistic talent and their gift for storytelling is something I always look forward to. XXXHolic is one of the few titles that have consistently dazzled me with its artwork and has caused me to laugh out loud more than once. Volume two picks up smack dab in the middle of Tsubasa, volume one – crazy isn't it? After Yuko gives Syaoran and Co. the Mokona “that looks like bean-jam rice cakes that snow-sightseers eat,” the normal “hitsuzen” riddles and quirky situations continue for Kimihiro. He's faced with having his fortune read, trying to not be a fool in front of Himawari, and befriending the less-than-congenial Domeki. To top it off, he's in charge of taking care of the black Mokona, who seems to have a predilection for beer. Perhaps the most striking aspect of XXXHolic is not the content of the books, but the stark and angular, black & white artwork. It's so characteristically CLAMP, yet it doesn't possess the lightness and soft shading that so many of their works do. It's really fun to read Tsubasa and then read XXXHolic. Trying to find the little, “hidden” cameos that appear in each volume is like looking through those “I Spy” books for kids. Humor, artwork, and a good storyline – it's everything a reader could ask for. I devoured volume two and I can't wait to read volume three.

Saikano Volume 1
Story & Art by Shin Takahashi
Released by Viz

$9.95 US

Chise and Shuji are normal, awkward high school students who are in love. However, their love is put to the test when Chise is turned into “the ultimate weapon.” It's hard to believe that such a touching story could be condensed into a two sentence synopsis. Content-wise, there's not a lot going on – mainly character development and dealing with the knowledge that Chise is a giant killing machine. Even in just this first volume, the reader can really sense the turmoil going through Chise's and Shuji's hearts. Personally, I feel the manga suffers a bit by not being in color. At times, the sketchy artwork is downright ugly and trying to discern between the “gray” of a jacket and the “gray” of a background can detract from the entire scene. As in the anime, Shuji still looks like he could be Chise's father, but since his hair isn't “colored” gray in the manga, the two don't look nearly as odd together. Saikano tackles this complicated thing called love, and does it without any nosebleeds, punches, or pantyshots. So, do your bookshelf good and add this gem to your manga collection.

Your and My Secret Volume 1
Story & Art by Ai Morinaga
Released by ADV Manga

$9.99 US

Ai Morinaga has taken the phrase, “Put yourself in the other guy's shoes,” to a whole new level with Your and My Secret. Nanako Momoi is anything but ladylike. She's crass, athletic, and boasts a bullying attitude. Despite this, Akira Uehara is completely in love with her and will do anything to make her his... like making a house call with her homework when Momoi calls in sick. Akira gets more than he bargains for though, when Momoi's grandfather performs an experiment that causes Momoi and Akira to switch bodies. Yeah, yeah... so it sounds like one of those “original movies” you see on the Disney channel. But, Your and My Secret is actually good and Raven Simone is nowhere in sight. Momoi finds that she actually likes being a guy while Akira has trouble accepting that he makes a better girl than he does a boy. Throw in the fact that their best friends develop crushes on the “new” Momoi and Akira, and you have emotional drama out the wazoo. The characters look exactly like those from Duck Prince – nice designs, but suffer from the “same old thing” syndrome that plagues other manga-ka like Yu Watase and Rumiko Takahashi. It's one thing to be able to recognize a particular style of an artist, but the thought, “Hmm... what is [insert character name] doing in this series?” is like an involuntary plea for variety. Though Your and My Secret was a title I passed on at first, it's a funny and cute series that I'm glad I went back and checked out.

Borrow It

Culdcept Volume 1
Story & Art by Shinya Kaneko
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

Like Suikoden III, Culdcept is based on a videogame of the same name. Supposedly, Culdcept was a very good game that kind of flew under the radar. I'm somewhat sad I never had a chance to play it. Taking place in a land called Bablashca, Culdcept tells the story of people with special powers called Cepters. Cepters scour the land looking for the cards that make up the book, the Culdcept. It is said that whoever acquires all of these cards will reform the Culdcept and gain divine power - needless to say, divine power is a highly sought after thing. Specifically focusing on a Cepter named Najaran, Culdcept follows her through a series of tournament battles in her quest to collect the cards. I can best describe Culdcept like this: imagine Yugi is a girl and the Dark Magician is now a Knight. Najaran completely believes in the “heart of her cards,” and wins her battles by placing her faith in her favorite card, Knight. The artwork is nice and detailed and for being the first volume, characters' personalities are well-fleshed out. Granted, I do foresee repetitiveness for this series. But, even if tournament card battles aren't your thing, you should at least flip through Culdcept. You may be surprised just how much you enjoy the book.

Mermaid Saga Volume 1
Story & Art by Rumiko Takahashi
Released by Viz

$9.99 US

Well, after I ripped the “From the Creator of InuYasha” sticker off of the cover and griped at the sticky residue it left behind, I cracked open Mermaid Saga and was hooked until the end. Containing three mermaid stories; A Mermaid Never Smiles, The Village of the Fighting Fish, and Mermaid Forest Part 1; Rumiko Takahashi takes us through macabre tales each involving gaining eternal life through the consumption of mermaid flesh. Characters are all distinctly “Takahashi,” possessing the Ikkoku/Ranma features we all know and love. The illustrations of “lost souls” and those of the mermaids, however, are impressively grotesque. Devoid of the slapstick comedy that usually graces the pages of her works, Mermaid Saga is dark and downright creepy. It may not be for everyone, but it's a nice change of pace for the prominent manga-ka.

Mars: A Horse With No Name
Story & Art by Fuyumi Soryo
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

It's been a while since Mars finished up, hasn't it? Well, it's been a while since I finished up the series, but I do remember that I loved it. Sadly, Horse With No Name greatly disappointed me. Maybe it was the length of time between the end of Mars and the release of this prequel, but the artwork, story, and overall tone of the book just didn't sit right with me. Telling the story of how Rei and Tatsuya first met, we get insight into what began as a very rocky and jealous relationship. It's interesting to see Kira and Rei's relationship from Tatsuya's point of view, but I think Horse With No Name would've benefited from being a “special side story” during the series, rather than being stuck into a collection of Fuyumi Soryo's short stories. There are two other stories included as well: Sleeping Lion and A1 – Carat Fruit; neither are related to Mars. Mars is a great series and I highly recommend it, but regarding this "cherry on top" - timing is everything. Horse With No Name is a must have for diehard Mars fans, but for casual fans of the series...it would've been better had this come out six months ago.

R^2 Volume 1
Story & Art by Maki Hakoda
Released by ADV Manga

$9.99 US

My mind was kind of blank after reading this, but my column conscience says an opinion must be written... so an opinion you shall get. R^2 is a story involving a young boy named Kenta and his involvement with a mysterious girl. Kano contains a power that's both desired and feared by an evil king. After Kenta awakens Kano, he sets off a string of events whose outcomes will determine the fate of the world. It was somewhat hard for me to form an opinion about a story mired in such mediocrity. There was nothing overtly original about the designs or personalities of the characters and the plot was fairly basic – the fate of the world rests in the hands of children. The whole “life in an hourglass – life outside the hourglass” world was a bit disjointed, but it provided a much needed twist in the story. Despite the “aura of generic” blanketing R^2, the sparkle and spunk that it does have makes it indescribably appealing. Kenta and Kano's relationship is downright charming and his devotion to protecting her is commendable. An enjoyable read, R^2 is fun, lighthearted, and very cute. Whether or not those characteristics are worth $9.99 to you – well, that's for you to decide.

Jinki: Extend Volume 1
Story & Art by Sirou Tunasima
Released by ADV Manga

$9.99 US

Jinki: Extend would be a great manga if it actually had any semblance of direction. Unfortunately, we're thrown into confusion in just the first couple of pages. We are introduced to Akao, a girl who has lost her memories and is living a happy life as a priestess-in-training. Sent to do an errand, she is assaulted by a strange guy who accuses her of being a “cognate.” The last three-quarters of the book then focus on cognates (including Akao) who pilot mecha, called Jinki, and the ensuing battles for ultimate control. If that last sentence was vague, then it successfully conveys the vagueness of Jinki: Extend. Let's ask ourselves the five questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Out of those questions, two can be answered – Jinki: Extend occurs in 1991, Japan. Other than that the reader is left with good guys vs. bad guys. Akao is obviously the main character of the story as she seems to possess higher levels of cognate ability than other cognates. I think this is a good thing as everyone seems to want her power, but even then I'm not quite sure. The mecha designs are quite nice and the battle scenes are exciting and well drawn. Characters are likeable with distinct personalities and I'm looking forward to seeing them mature as the series progresses. A title worth flipping through - my appetite has been whetted, but my mind is confused.

Princess Ai Volume 1
Story by Misaho Kujiradou, D.J. Milky & Art by Misaho Kujiradou
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

Man oh man has the buzz surrounding this title been loud. Tokyopop has been promoting Princess Ai like crazy and readers were dreading... *ahem*... anticipating its release. I don't know and don't care about rumors about Nirvana, Courtney Love, or anything remotely associated with the two. I went into this book with an open mind. Princess Ai is about a girl named Ai who remembers nothing about her past except for a few scattered flashbacks. We learn that she's not originally from Earth and that there are those who are trying very hard to find her and bring her back. With her heart-shaped locket as her only clue to her past, Ai tries to sing her way to happiness and piece together her history. Princess Ai is very light, very pretty manga. However, the storyline is pretty run-of-the-mill, and the humor seems a bit awkwardly placed. Even though Ai is supposed to be an alien obviously out of her norm, her personality is aggravatingly naïve. Ai tends to ask herself about anything and everything, which at times seem forced and out of place. Gorgeous outfits, aliens with angel wings, and a music-driven storyline – Princess Ai is has appealing elements, but nothing that really sets it apart from the rest.

The Seikai Trilogy: Banner of the Stars
Original Story by Toshihiro Ono
Story & Art by Hiroyuki Morioka
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

Whip out those Abh dictionaries because you're gonna need them to get through the second installment of The Seikai Trilogy. It's been three years since Lafiel and Jinto's escape Lafiel now serves as captain of her own ship, the Basroil, with Jinto at her side as a supply officer. The war between Abh and Mankind has escalated into the worst conflict that it's ever been. Lafiel and crew have been ordered to take part in an attempt to take over a large chunk of United Mankind's territory. I just can't seem to get into this series no matter how hard I try. So far this “trilogy” has proven that taking a series and condensing it down into one book is not a good idea. Everything seems rushed, muddled, and probably confusing even to lovers of the show. Lafiel and Jinto are more mature and less irrational in behavior than they were in Crest of the Stars, which is a plus. However, the Abh lexicon, action scenes that have no rhyme or reason to them, and that darn cat far outweigh the positives. Again, die-hard fans of the series will probably find themselves drawn to the book, but for everyone else I'd borrow before making any commitment.

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