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Graphic Novel Goodness

by Liann Cooper,

Buy It Now!

Descendants of Darkness (Yami no Matsuei) Volume 1
Story & Art by Yoko Matsushita
Released by Viz

$9.99 US

There's little more that can top a series filled with bishies, but what about a series filled with dead bishies? All too tempting, I know. Asato Tsuzuki works the easiest beat on the map for the Summons Department, an organization whose job is to round up wayward souls of the mortal world. When the Book of the Dead has an abnormal influx of names, Tsuzuki is ordered to find out why. Bound by agency regulations, shinigami Tsuzuki is required to have a partner during any investigation. Enter cutie Hisoka Kurosaki. With looks equally as dashing as Tsuzuki's, he also shares the same reluctant attitude to having been assigned a partner. Setting their friction aside, the team quickly cracks down on the case to discover that a man by the name of Dr. Muraki is wielding some crazy powers of his own in order to commit these heinous crimes. Even though Dr. Muraki is the obvious antagonistic focus of the story, I found the hints of Tsuzuki and Hisoka's past lives and backgrounds to be more interesting. This is one good-lookin' intrigue of a story and is a smorgasbord for any reader, especially for those who enjoy smatterings of shounen-ai. Containing mystery, elements of the supernatural, romance, and humor, all tied together with some really nice artwork and, an infantile, yet solid plot - there's hardly anything not to like. I'd race to the bookstore for this one; you'd be hard pressed to find a better looking pair of dead guys anywhere else.

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

$10.95 US

Tsubasa may be a shameless display of beloved CLAMP creations, but it is a darn enjoyable shameless display. Mixing old and new, this series reads like a “Where's Waldo” of characters from such series as: Magic Knight Rayearth, Chobits, XXXHolic, and most importantly, Card Captor Sakura. With Sakura's memories scattered across time and space, Syaoran and his friends must work hard to collect her memory “feathers” in order to save her life. After some fierce and beautifully illustrated battles, the first of the feathers is found. But, will the consequences of Sakura's memory loss be too much for Syaoran to bear? Perhaps the strongest selling point of Tsubasa is the focus on strong relationships of love and friendship. The love Syaoran has for Tsubasa, and even the rocky friendship between Fai and Kurogane, are so vital to this series that without them Tsubasa would just be a multi-volume CLAMP art collection. By combining their storytelling ability with flowing artwork, CLAMP has created another series that is sure to touch your heart. If the first volume wasn't tantalizing enough to get you to bite, I bet volume two will reel you in hook, line, and sinker.

Pretear Volume 2
Story & Art by Kaori Naruse
Created by Junichi Satou
Released by ADV Manga

$9.99 US

If you're going to do fluff, you better make sure you do it well. Even the creator writes, “... I wanted to do a project that people who love good-looking young boys could really enjoy being a part of.” Pretear is just that, pages and pages of good looking boys all built upon a loose foundation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves- beautiful, cottony fluff. Earth is protected by a chosen guardian called the Pretear, who is aided by the powers of seven hunky guys called The Leafe Knights. Himeno is still struggling to decide whether or not she wants to commit to being the Pretear or not. When the truth behind the previous Pretear's demise surfaces, the Knights hesitate revealing it for fear of scaring Himeno away. However, driven by her strong desire to help others – like any good shoujo heroine - that truth proves to be what Himeno needs to stop being wishy-washy and firmly declare herself the Pretear. Within this series, you won't find deep, meaningful plot twists or a complicated storyline. However, what Pretear lacks in depth, it more than makes up for with pleasing illustrations and loveable characters. Come on, everyone needs a little fluff in their diet and Pretear has more than enough to sate your hunger.

Trigun Maximum Volume 2
Story & Art by Yasuhiro Nightow
Released by Dark Horse Manga

$9.95 US

Being the spoiled reader that I am, making the transition from the aesthetics of the Trigun anime to the manga has been tough. But, dare I say it; I do believe that the Trigun manga artwork is growing on me. This installment in the escapades of Vash the Stampede is mainly filler material. Filler or not, it's still entertaining and somehow maintains that forward momentum to keep the series from becoming stagnant. Vash and Wolfwood encounter some ugly gun-wielding ruffians, a crazy swordsman, and lastly are left in a standoff against one whacked out puppet master. We also get some glimpses into Wolfwood's past as well as a visit to the crashed transport ship Vash calls “home.” A nice stepping stone into what's sure to be a clash of not only weapons but also of buried pasts, Trigun is shaping up to be one of those must have titles for any avid manga reader.

Angel Sanctuary 3
Story & Art by Kaori Yuki
Released by Viz

$9.95 US

There's nothing like a good, complex gothic manga to make you whap yourself in the face and just scream out, “What the HECK is going on?!” If you thought you had seen it all... you haven't read Angel Sanctuary. Let's do a recap of what has happened in these past couple of volumes to try and get our bearings. Male Setsuna is the reincarnation of the female angel named Alexiel. Sara is his younger sister. Setsuna and Sara love each other very much, and not in that sibling sort of way. Setsuna's best friend, Sakuya, is actually some immortal spirit who is just using Sakuya's body to be close to Setsuna because he loved Alexiel in a previous life. They're all being followed/watched/hunted by crazy angels or demons that either love or hate Alexiel. Volume three just adds more fuel to the fire when Setsuna and Sara totally snap and run off together and consummate their relationship. Now, before you go writing this series off, I will tell you that despite all of the obvious “shock factors,” Angel Sanctuary is very well-written — and gorgeous to boot. There are far too many series out there that branch out into so many complexities and side stories that they get lost in themselves. Kaori Yuki, does an excellent job of giving the reader just enough “twists” to keep them interested, but not so many that the reader is discouraged from continuing. Yes, this is a weird manga and if there were an award for most messed-up plot, Angel Sanctuary would be a strong contender. But, amidst all of the bizarro relationships and religious references you become acutely aware that this title has a sinful appeal that just makes you desire more.

Juvenile Orion Volume 4
Story & Art by Sakurako Gokurakuin
Released by Broccoli

$9.99 US

Someone asked me what Juvenile Orion was about the other day and I told them, “Pretty boys fighting.” I realize now that this was perhaps too general of a description since so many other series -*eyes Pretear*- fall into this category. So, what is Juvenile Orion about? It's about pretty boys with supernatural powers that fight against other pretty boys with supernatural powers. Alright, so I watered it down a bit, but you get the idea. We're on the verge of wrapping things up with the Aquarian Age – the age old battle for Earth supremacy. Kaname and Mana appear to be coming to terms that they like each other which cause jealousy amongst the other members of the group. Jealousy aside, the group has finally learned to fight as a team and realize that Mana is the key to ending the conflict between good and evil. Just when things seem to be taking a turn for the good, power-hungry Kaoru captures Mana. Bound by the promise to protect Mana, the boys set off on a rescue attempt that could ultimately decide the fate of the world. The beginning of Juvenile Orion was a bit rough; it seemed a thinly veiled attempt at just marketing cute boys. However, volume three marked a turning point in the series and volume four adequately keeps the plot moving with foreshadowing of what are sure to be explosive battles for Kaname and Tsukasa. Don't get left behind on this one – there's only one more volume to go and it's sure to be a doozy.

Borrow It

The Vision of Escaflowne Volume 8
Story & Art by Katsu Aki
Released by Tokyopop

$9.99 US

Van and Hitomi's Energist exploits in their mission to save Gaea finally come to an end in this eighth and final volume. Pulling out all the stops, the concluding book reveals the dastardly desires behind not only Dornkirk, but Dilandau as well. With his sights set on Earth, Dornkirk makes the ultimate merge and absorbs Hitomi into his crusty, old body. Unfortunately, this absorption proves to be a fatal mistake after it awakens Hitomi's true powers – the power of her own sentiment. We wrap things up with our heroine making the ultimate sacrifice in the name of love, but don't worry because we're still given that “fairy tale” happy ending. Escaflowne definitely makes the most of its dramatic story and vivid characters, but this volume's melodrama meter is set to the max. By mid-volume you just want everyone to suck it up and take action, rather than crying about what's going to happen next. Being an alternate, shounen version of the Escaflowne saga, readers will notice storyline variances between the anime and manga. Character designs have been tweaked – most noticeably Hitomi who has been turned into a busty babe. Hitomi is probably shown naked more times in this volume than in the previous seven volumes combined. Granted, half of the time she's shown with shards of Energist disturbingly jutting out through various parts of her body, but her clothes could've stuck around for the party. This is perhaps the reason for the little “Parental Advisory/Explicit Content” stamp on the cover of the book. At only eight volumes and being a fairly enjoyable read, this series would be a nice addition to any Escaflowne or manga connoisseur's collection.

Case Closed Volume 1
Story & Art by Gosho Aoyama
Released by Viz

$9.95 US

Inspector Poirot take note because young Jimmy Kudo could probably run circles around you. Aspiring to be the next Sherlock Holmes, Jimmy Kudo possesses intuition and observation that rival even the best detectives. One evening, while following a particularly suspicious subject, Jimmy's presence is detected and as a result is administered an experimental drug. The drug didn't kill him, but it had a devastating side effect that shrank Jimmy's body into that of a grade-school kid. Still possessing his keen, investigative mind, Jimmy takes on the alias of Conan Edogawa and continues to aid the police with their cases while hoping that one day he'll stumble upon a cure for his condition. Case Closed probably possesses appealing elements for certain readers, but for me it was a rather boring read. The catch phrase of the book is “Can you crack the case before Conan does?” The answer is yes, since all the police always choose the wrong suspect and Jimmy ALWAYS finds that missing piece of key evidence that's all too obvious. How can you not see the gigantic earring underneath a chair? This title is marked “For Older Teens” as it does contain some pretty icky murder cases. Harmless to me, but the sight of a headless body spewing a fountain of blood could be too much for a nine-year-old. Since this is such a long series, you just know that things are going to be just a repetitive series of “Cases Solved by Conan” with only hints of a possible cure for Jimmy. A long series with no end in sight, I'd think twice about plopping down the money needed to commit to little Jimmy's mystery adventures.

Duck Prince Volume 2
Story & Art by Ai Morinaga
Released by CPM Manga

$9.99 US

It matters not what you are on the outside, but what you are on the inside that counts. Try telling that to Reiichi who went from eyesore ugly to drop dead gorgeous in the blink of an eye. Thanks to the powers of a less than cute dog named Mister, Reiichi is now the hottest guy in school. Now he can get everything he ever wanted: attention, popularity, and affection... all except from the one girl he wants it from. To complicate things, due to a gross misunderstanding everyone thinks Reiichi is dating the most unpopular girl in school. The tables have turned on our bowl-haircut geek and he is quickly learning that being beautiful isn't everything... not by a long shot. I was initially charmed by Duck Prince's humor and easily relatable storyline. But, volume two is simply a carbon copy of volume one, except for the fact that everyone thinks Reiichi is dating the “ugly girl” of school. Supporting characters, Mister and Mr. Takemura, do provide some additional amusement, but that humor isn't anything new. We're already to the point of “let's introduce a new character (Blanche) and see if she spices up the story's chemistry,” and this only the second volume. Still entertaining, but lacking any progression, Duck Prince is a prime example of why a series cannot exist on hijinks alone.

Ultimate Muscle Volume 1
Story & Art by Yudetamago
Released by Viz

$7.95 US

“The Kinnikuman Legacy” – It's like a bad name for a line of soy sauces. Almost as bad as the hypothetical line of seasonings, Ultimate Muscle is a story about Earth-protecting wrestlers. Yes, superhero wrestlers. Long ago, bad wrestlers called the DMP threatened the well-being of Earth. Thankfully, our pristine planet was under the protection of good wrestlers called the Muscle League. Lead by its super strong leader, King Muscle, justice prevailed and Earth lived in peace until 28 years later when the DMP reared its ugly head again. Now when the planet of blue and green most needs their help, our team of wrestling protectors have aged too much to be of any use. Now our fate lies in the hands of a newer, younger Muscle League with King Muscle's son, Mantaro, as the leader. Too bad Mantaro is a wuss who is more interested in books than brawn. What can I say about Ultimate Muscle? The artwork alone is enough to clothesline itself and the whole concept of superhero wrestlers is like a mangafied Mucha Lucha. However, unlike Mucha Lucha, once you get around the lame story and Mantaro's banana lips, Ultimate Muscle is actually pretty funny. Much of Ultimate Muscle's humor comes from some of the ridiculous superhero names for the characters: the Canuckler, Dik Dik Van Dik, and my personal favorite, the Boaconda. Additional amusement is provided by their equally ridiculous wrestling moves – everyone say “Butt Basher” with me. Your basic tournament series, Ultimate Muscle may be full of enthusiasm, but it isn't going to knock anyone's socks off. Nevertheless, if I had a younger sibling and an extra $7.95 lying around, I'd have no qualms about getting this for them.

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