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Back And Hopefully Better

by Liann Cooper,

Buy It Now!

Fruits Basket Volume 4
Story & Art by Natsuki Takaya
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

The cover of the latest Fruits Basket manga is heartbreakingly misleading as Shigure doesn't even have much of a presence. More important things are at hand; backgrounds of preexisting characters are revealed and new characters appear. In the beginning we're confronted with a doozy of an introduction when the mysterious Akito makes his grand appearance. In a surprise visit to the school, Akito creates tension-filled waves when he meets Tohru, much to the chagrin of Yuki and Kyo. Later on we meet a new Sohma family member. Possessing the spirit of the snake, Yuki's older brother Ayame is a welcome addition to the story. Though both versions are good, the one thing that I'm really enjoying about the manga over the anime is that it's much darker; much slyer. There's still humor and charm, but undertone of a bigger scheme lurking beneath the surface is more evident. From the lighthearted banter of the Shigure/Hatori/Ayame trio to the small glimpses we're given of Yuki's relationship with Akito and Ayame, an intense mood of mystery and melancholy surrounds those consanguinities. Speaking of melancholy, the reader's given a good dose of that as well, since also included in this volume is the first anniversary of Tohru's mother's death as well as the painful truth behind Momiji's relationship with his mother. Fruits Basket is a beautifully-drawn, touching story about just how much impact one person can have on a group of people. Characters have depth and personality, and the concept of using animals of the zodiac is superbly executed. If you haven't jumped on this series by now... what are you waiting for? After you read Fruits Basket, I guarantee you'll be conjuring ideas on how to make space on your bookshelf for the series' entirety.

Bleach Volume 2
Story & Art by Tite Kubo
Released by Viz

$7.95 US

Okay, so I wasn't overwhelmingly impressed by the first volume of Bleach, but upon reading the second volume I admit that now I'm sucked in. With its plot of spirit channeling and demon butt-kicking, the parallels between Shaman King and Bleach are apparent. However, Bleach takes the spirit channeling element and kicks it up a notch. Ichigo has taken his soul reaper duties fully in hand and wales on some seriously bad wayward soul butt. After defeating a particularly nasty hollow, Ichigo discovers that not all demons are bound for peaceful eternity. When the gates of Hell appear to take Ichigo's latest defeated hollow, he learns just how scary things can get for a hollow that's too evil to be saved. Things get even freakier when a defective soul is accidentally placed as a stand-in for Ichigo when he goes into soul reaper mode. As in the first volume, Rukia is surprised that Ichigo's spirit powers are so strong for a soul reaper newbie and her amazement continues into this volume. It's nice to see how Ichigo is maturing in leaps and bounds just after two volumes. He is a character with a distinct attitude and purpose-driven ideals that the reader will root for no matter what. Bleach is pretty standard fare as far as Shounen Jump titles go – lots of action, lots of “fighting for the sake of good” – and if it weren't for such an eclectic, rich assortment of characters, it would probably be tossed out as a simple monster-of-the-week read. Don't let that big “SJ” turn you off from buying this one. Go ahead and pull a copy off the shelf, take $7.95 out of your pocket and proudly slap that cash on the check-out counter.

Rurouni Kenshin Volume 6
Story & Art by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Released by Viz

$7.95 US

Kenshin is by far one of my most favorite series of all time. However, in the beginning of the series it stumbles a bit by taking a trip down the trail of introductory filler. Peer pressure... everyone does it, why not the swordsman? Though it's entertaining and well done filler, the reader is all but chomping at the bit to get on to bigger and better things. This latest arc – the Raijuta Arc - thankfully wraps itself up mid-volume. Sanosuke gets his moment in the spotlight in a noticeably shorter installment of the Tsukioka story and the volume rounds out with a special end story about Hiko (pre-Kenshin days) and a young farm-boy named Isshinta. Nobuhiro Watsuki has created an amazing world of swords and selflessness that make this series a must-have in anyone's manga collection. Nearly flawless in characters, storyline, and artwork, Kenshin is a complete package that can be read over and over again without ever getting old. It's not too late to jump into the series. With introductions out of the way, Kenshin's past is about to catch up to him. Man, that preview pic of Saitou got me totally anticipating the Kyoto Arc.

Borrow It

Maniac Road Volume 1
Story & Art by Shinsuke Kurihashi
Released by ComicsOne

$9.95 US

Alrighty, chalk another one up to mindless fun and blatant cheap shots at the anime/manga community. Maniac Road is simple: Cute girls run a dying electronics shop and the marketing genius and full-blown otaku, Takezou, waltzes in and saves the store. This is all due to some luck, really cute cosplay outfits, and some l337 model-building. Is there a plot? Well, not really. But, it's fun to read and the cliché characters are a hoot. You have your over-the-top otaku (male, of course), your overzealous younger sister, very sweet and willing older sister, and a sporty, totally-not-into-the-whole-nerdy/otaku-thing middle sister. Slightly disturbing that we've all probably seen these characters in real life and if we haven't, can undoubtedly imagine someone like one of them wandering around at a convention. Unfortunately, Maniac Road's greatest asset could also be the volume's biggest downfall. Because the story is fluffy and non-stop fun, it contains practically nothing else. We're left with an empty longing for something to really sink our teeth into. Lighthearted, funny, and probably best taken in small doses, this is a good title to cleanse your “reading palate” before you tackle something heavier... like... Love Hina, Comic Party, or Ranma ½.

Dream Saga Volume 1
Story & Art by Megumi Tachikawa
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

Oh, to be young again. For if I was, I probably would've enjoyed Dream Saga a lot more. Dream Saga looks just like Mink or Saint Tail or anything else Megumi Tachikawa has ever drawn/written. For this mahou shoujo tale, fifth-grader Yuuki Wakasa encounters a magical stone that transports her to an alternate land where she must use her powers to save the fate of the world. Riveting, I know. Strangely, this alternate world has people in it that resemble people from Yuuki's own world; including a dreamy boy identical to her crush. I see the pattern for this one clearly. There are actually five stones (Yuuki's and four others) that must be collected. She finds all of the stone-holders, is torn between liking her crush in the real world and the alternate world, and must fight some great evil to save humanity with her group of boys in tow. Mahou shoujo never has anything new to offer, but it's insanely addictive. Cuteness and pointlessness overwhelm your mind and brainwash you into wanting to read volume after volume. Tachikawa's art style is somewhat bothersome to look at since it's so light; things feel very washed-out as if they're going to fade into the background. Because of this, I find that things tend to be very crowded and messy on certain pages causing me to become distracted from what's actually going on in the story. Then again, who cares about story and art when you get to read about Yuuki riding a magical bird and having the ability to understand plants and animals? Cotton candy for the brain - Dream Saga is enjoyable, but would be better appreciated by a younger audience.

Tramps Like Us Volume 1
Story & Art by Yayoi Ogawa
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

At first glance I thought this was a manwha because of the flowy art style and disproportionate anatomy. Upon further inspection (mainly the “STOP! This is the back of the book” page), I discovered that Tramps Like Us is indeed a manga. Even more intriguing is that Yayoi Ogawa's book falls into the rarely dabbled-in genre of josei; the subject matter is usually aimed at young women rather than teens. How many of us have lost a beloved pet, beloved boyfriend, and have gotten screwed over by our jobs? Well, Sumire Iwaye has. Things are pretty much as low as they can get for our “heroine”... that is until she finds “Momo” in a cardboard box. He's obedient, caring, and will do anything to make sure his “master” is happy. Did I mention “Momo” is a man? Tramps Like Us is just... weird. Seriously, that's probably the best way to describe it. Sumire has completely deluded herself into seeing “Momo” as a pet; she looks forward to washing “Momo's” hair and feeding him. I'm not quite sure what the novel's trying to do, where it's trying to go, or what it's trying to accomplish - artwork is sub-par and doesn't do much to add to an already vague plot. One good thing about Tramps Like Us is that the “heroine” isn't crazy-annoying. After reading Happy Mania, I almost made a vow to steer clear of josei manga because Shigeta was unbearably over-the-top. This series has somewhat renewed my faith. Comparable to a reality-TV soap opera, it's best to test the waters before making a financial dive into this one.

Negima Volume 2
Story & Art by Ken Akamatsu
Released by Del Rey

$10.95 US

Beware! Panty shots and blatantly exposed breasts reside within these pages. Oh wait... it's Akamatsu... to be expected – scratch that warning. “Wiz-kid” Negi Springfield's teaching adventures continue as he tries to deal with his fawning female students and meeting the principal's expectations all while hiding the fact that he is a wizard. Things get even more hectic after he gets an official order saying he has to keep his class from placing last in school rankings otherwise he won't become an official teacher. *Groan* now because it only gets b-e-t-t-e-r. I'm not a “fan” of Akamatsu by any means, but I really enjoyed the debut volume of Negima so I had high hopes and expectations for volume two. Even though Negima retains the charm from the first volume, it practically self-destructs in the second. Let's just say taking a trip to an island library where the girls have to fight rock sentries with math problems and strip in order to get an elevator within acceptable weight limits is more than ludicrous. As far as “harem” manga goes, though, Negima is actually quite refreshing. Rather than have a nerdy guy whining about a girl he can't get, Negi literally has to beat the girls off of him with a stick... er... staff. You experience zero face punches, zero “you pervert” cracks, and everyone seems to be able to think for themselves. Pros and cons balance out to give us a mediocre release from Del Rey. Despite its lackluster, gloriously shrinkwrapped, “mature audience” stickered glory, Negima is still beautifully presented and is far from being a recyclable title. From what the preview pages show us, I think we're in for a bit more action and less silly stuff in the third volume. I cross my fingers with that hope because I'd have to shoot myself if Negima got anymore ridiculous than this.

Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade Volume 1
Created by GAINAX Story by Satoru Akahori & Art by Ryuseu Deguchi
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

You know how things are funny until they're the same *funny* over... and over... and over... ? Abenobashi suffers this fate. Okay, so the titty slapping and destructo “na-na”s are funny in the beginning, but when they are in EVERY chapter it's just really, really unnecessarily annoying. Scott Bakula - eat your heart out, because I describe Abenobashi as Quantum Leap with a very big twist. I'm sure had Mr. Bakula encountered such well-endowed ladies in his time hops he probably would've never wanted to return home. With their neighborhood being demolished in the “name of urban renewal,” Sasshi and his best friend Arumi accidentally stumble into a portal conveniently located in their favorite shopping arcade, Abenobashi. This portal transports the pair to parallel anime/manga parody worlds where they must battle whatever evil lurks there. Once the evil is defeated, a baby demon appears and grants them a wish. Usually resulting in a mis-transportation to another “alternate” Abenobashi arcade location, Sasshi and Arumi hope to one day end up back in their familiar Abenobashi world. Over and over, boobs and boob wisecracks, and clothes-eating kittens, and more boobs build up until the reader is practically suffocating. To top things off, there's also a big-breasted chick who follows the duo around demanding their immediate surrender. Anime parodies = funny in moderation. Boob jokes/provocatively-placed panty shots = funny in moderation. Abenobashi manga ≠ moderation. Please don't tell me I'm “not getting something” that I'm supposed to be “getting.” I see the parodies, I see the breasts *cough* humor, but exercising a little restraint is the advice I'd give to this series. A definite “get your friend to buy it first," Abenobashi should only be purchased by someone looking for a headache.

Et Cetera Volume 1
Story & Art by Tow Nakazaki
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

Either I'm being abnormally picky, or there is an overabundance of ridiculousness in this column's books. Et Cetera sounds like it'd be a good western romp, but the stupidity of the series is evident from the very first shot fired by the coveted Eto Gun. MingChao is a young girl with ambitions of becoming a Hollywood star. Equipped with her grandfather's wok and the Eto Gun, she sets off to Tinseltown to fulfill her dreams. On her way she is joined by a wandering priest who appears to be more than just a mere priest. She and the priest manage to get themselves into many a predicament in which case the Eto Gun comes to their rescue. Here is where the story gets silly – the Eto Gun is a powerful weapon that fires spirit bullets using the powers of zodiac animals. Sounds cool, doesn't it? Cool until you discover that the pigtailed pipsqueak has to find the essence of a zodiac creature anytime she wants to fire a bullet. You want to fire the snake bullet? Find some snake blood, venom, whatever, douse the gun in it and you're good to go for one spectacular shot. Cow bullet? Roll the gun in cow dung, etc., etc – yeah, you get the picture. I'm sure there's some uber-exciting plot twist just lurking around the corner for MingChao and Mr. Priest , but I don't think I'm going to stick around to find what that twist may be. The artwork is actually fairly appealing in a comical sort of way and I found myself liking the stylized look of the book. There are just too many wrongs and not enough rights. Et Cetera isn't bad enough for me to completely trash it, but it's not good enough for me to tell you to go out and get right away. Buy it at your own discretion.

Recycling It Would Be Too Kind A Fate...

Warriors of Tao Volume 1
Story & Art by Shinya Kuwahara
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

I didn't think it was possible, but I think I may have found a manga bad enough to be the companion to Evil's Return. Yes, folks... it's that bad. This baby is shrink wrapped and for good reason – to hopefully discourage you from buying it. Oh geez, where to start? There are just so many "good" parts to choose from. We start out with ugly guy #1 – Toma - who walks into his classroom only to find that there is a naked girl breathing heavily on the floor. A fight breaks out when ugly guy #2 – Karma - comes in to reclaim the naked girl and take her “back to where she belongs.” Things just start to get crazy from here on out. After Toma's right eyeball is ripped from its socket, he's transported to an alternate world, told he's part of an intergalactic gladiator competition, and now posessess strange powers because of some contraption that's been affixed over his empty eye socket. Karma is also part of this “team” of Earth Warriors, but Karma wants nothing more than to kill Toma. Toma's then given a glimpse of what would happen to the people of Earth via a virtual reality “preview” of mutated alien things that enjoy eating people; mainly the breasts of young ladies. Um... Then we're transported back to the “real” world where Toma sits in a koi pond with a blowfish firmly sucking on his manly bits. Needless to say, the fish must have performed some seriously abrasive action because Toma ends up in the hospital with his precious treasure bandaged and in traction. My mind pretty much blanked out from this point on. Probably a defense mechanism implemented by my brain in order to protect what few brain cells I had left. I think there was a battle with more mutated alien gladiator people, Toma's arm turned into a laser-sword thing, and the naked girl had many panty shots and more naked appearances. Warriors of Tao might actually surpass Evil's Return in awfulness. At least Evil's Return had decent artwork going for it.

Fish...manly bits...suckage (on so many levels)...*twitch*

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