RIGHT TURN ONLY!!
by Rebecca Silverman,
Have any of you read Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight? I just read it and none of my friends or acquaintances have...and I really want to talk about it with someone. The basic plot is that a woman, Kate, receives a call from her daughter Amelia's high school to come pick her up, but by the time Kate arrives, Amelia is dead – ostensibly she killed herself. It soon becomes clear that there was much more going on than Kate knew, and the book follows her attempts to reconstruct what happened, as well as who her daughter was. It's told in both Kate's third person perspective and Amelia's first person, giving it a hybrid YA/Adult feel that works very well. It offers no false hopes, no supernatural comforts, but it does make you really think...even if they aren't happy thoughts.
Anyway, if you've read it, let me know. If you haven't, I definitely recommend it.
Now let's talk about some manga.
CAGE OF EDEN
(by Yoshinobu Yamada, Kodansha, $10.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
THE DEPTHS OF DARKNESS
Sengoku has a plan to infiltrate the mad doctor Nishikiori's camp, but things backfire and Sengoku and his crew are sent on what may be a suicide mission to explore deep inside the mysterious pyramid. As they explore the treacherous depths of the pyramid, they make new discoveries but as always, just as the mysteries of this island begin to reveal themselves, Sengoku and his crew encounter more questions than answers. What incredible and inexplicable things will they find next in the deepest regions of this puzzling pyramid?
Sometimes when someone tells you not to go somewhere, you should listen. That at first appears to be the case when Akira and his group of friends go to the pyramid against the advice of an escapee from it and the doctor who has taken charge of it turns out to be every bit as psychotic and narcissistic as they were warned. Nishikiori imprisons Ohmori and sends the rest of the gang inside the pyramid. Their explorations are some of the best parts of the book, as it shows them using their smarts, particular skills, and teamwork in exciting ways as well as builds on the discoveries made by Yarai and his group at the lighthouse. Unfortunately Suzuki is part of this group, and his hormonal inner monologue is both distracting and just generally annoying. If he's going to be two-faced, let's just get it out there and add to the danger, not just watch him indulge in boob fantasies. As for the rest of the cast – those left with Mariya at the antenna, Yarai's gang, and Ohmori, now a hostage of Nishikiori, there just isn't enough time to do them all justice. Yamada gives us glimpses of everyone, hints of what is to come, but it just feels rushed – it might have been better to space things out a bit more, or to leave out the antenna group and give Yarai more page time, because there are some worrying developments over there. All in all, however, the answers are getting tantalizingly closer and Nishikiori is a despicable and worthy villain as things start to build. I can forgive some silliness and excess fanservice for that.
RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. While I hear rumors that things may go downhill at the end, right now this is still a tense, interesting survival story, part Lord of the Flies and part sci fi thriller.
UNTIL DEATH DO US PART
(by Hiroshi Takashige and Double-S, Yen Press, $18.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
In the tunnels of the Kakuhoukai's secret base, Mamoru chooses to challenge Wiseman to a duel on the criminal mastermind's own turf! Mamoru realizes that his enemy has the advantage of numbers and weaponry and will stage a coordinated attack that Mamoru has no hope of surviving - alone, that is. Haruka's guidance will be critical to her protector's survival. Gathering her courage, Haruka rallies the resources she has on hand and leaps into the fray!
If ever a series could use a summary of past volumes, this is it. The initial confusion each new book causes, however, is generally swept aside by the sheer speed and excitement of the events – this volume pits Mamoru's sword against a goddamn tank in the secret underground facility he, Haruka, and Haruka's new knight in tarnished armor are infiltrating...while reminding us that what he and Haruka apparently did during their secret training time was harass bears. Luckily this has taught the two to work together really well, to say nothing of honing Haruka's precognitive powers and her fighting skills. In fact, she's really come into her own as a character, going from damsel in distress to someone who does the saving, and she does it while encouraging her partners not to kill, which given that she's working with a super-assassin and an ex-yakuza at the moment is pretty impressive. Where the book falters is in some of its writing. This volume adds more oddly named groups to the mix, most notably the bank robbers known as “The Trigger-Happies,” which really just sounds silly. It also becomes a cross-over with two series by Yoshihide Fujiwara, neither of which are licensed in English: Yami no Aegis and Jesus. While it doesn't feel like we're missing too much by not having read Fujiwara's works, there's still a clear feeling of missing something, which does bring the book down a little. But still, the crazy fight scenes almost make up for that...
RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. Until Death Do Us Part is fun like a B-grade action flick, and Haruka's really growing as a character, but it's also confusing at times and now it's a cross-over with two series we don't know. Double-S' omakes are very entertaining, though!
ITAZURA NA KISS
(by Kaoru Tada, DMP, $16.95)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Kotoko may be an old hand at college, but she still can't wait for the annual Tonan University Festival! After all, she'll definitely be crowned "Best Couple" with the ever-brilliant Naoki... right?! But what will Kotoko do when her adored husband graduates and plunges headfirst into his medical career? Can this clumsy nurse-in-training keep up?
This volume once again looks at the major issue behind Kaoru Tada's shoujo classic: does Naoki love Kotoko as much as she loves him? That question has been raised multiple times – okay, pretty much in every volume – but this one once again brings it to the fore with Naoki's graduation from medical school one year ahead of Kotoko's from nursing school. His decision after getting his diploma at first seems like his usual cold-hearted behavior, but Tada has started including scenes of him talking with his father-in-law, which give us a much clearer picture of his emotions. We also see this in the chapters where he accompanies Kotoko and her dad to her mother's grave – it's not that Naoki is an ass, he just acts like one...and if you had his mother, you might be leery of emotional displays too. She is mercifully absent for a lot of the volume, although in one section Kotoko takes a page from her book and is dreadfully annoying. Mostly, however, she's the clumsy, well-meaning shoujo heroine all grown up and trying her best to get through nursing school and to be there for her husband and family. She's definitely more immature than one might like, but she is learning, as we see in the section when her friend goes into labor. Where Kotoko used to dither, now she tries to help, much like where Naoki used to push away, now he tries to be more supportive. It's an uphill battle, one that is fought for most of this book, so it can get tiring to read. But ultimately it's rewarding, with both protagonists making steps forward. This isn't a Rose of Versailles level of classic, but it still is clearly a landmark in shoujo, even if of some of the more annoying parts.
On a separate note, it's fun to watch the fashion move forward – check out Kotoko's pseudo-grunge circa 1996-7!
RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. While both Naoki and Kotoko are taking steps forward, Kotoko's immaturity and Naoki's coldness are almost too much for where they are in life. The book is good, but needs to be read in small doses.
FROM THE NEW WORLD
(by Yusuke Kishi and Toru Oikawa, Vertical, $10.95)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Now twenty-six, Saki and Satoru seem to be well-adjusted adults. While they've never forgotten the cruel fates of their childhood friends, reforming the town's severe ways has been beyond them. Change has a way, however, of crashing in. And in this case, at a time when those within the rope are celebrating their summer festival, change is going to rain on them violently!
Perhaps it's just as well that there has been a time-skip in From the New World. The volume opens with the by now practically requisite lesbian love scene, only this time it's Saki remembering – and mourning – her lost friends Maria and Reiko. This, and other events, prove that Saki's never really gotten over their loss, so skipping ahead in time nicely relieves us of the need to watch her pine after them for volumes on end. It also throws us right back into the action. Things may start off fairly business as usual with Satoru gearing up to propose to Saki and a lovely festival, but they quickly take a turn for the bloody. This is one of the most gore-heavy volumes of the series thus far, and Oikawa pulls very few punches – eyeballs fly, viscera is revealed, and the sense of panic is palpable. That Saki and Satoru have experienced something similar before in earlier volumes does not lessen the horror; it simply gives them slightly cooler heads...only slightly, because Saki is, if anything, even more emotional now than previously. Both feel like they've grown up believably, however, and after the big cliffhanger this volume ends on, I'm very curious to see how they'll handle what comes next.
All of this excitement makes it possible to ignore some of the more sexualized or ridiculous elements of Oikawa's art, such as Saki's now much more lush figure and all the women's preference for skin-tight pants. Some of Oikawa's horror imagery, on the other hand, is excellent, with some seriously stomach-twisting moments that keeps the tension high. (Just don't read it while eating...or while you're at a festival, for that matter.)
RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. This volume is less emotional and relies on the world already established before, but that in no way stops it from being exciting and horrifying all at once. Actually, you really may want to wait for volume five to come out and then buy them both at once, because that cliffhanger is pretty brutal.
VOICE OVER!: SEIYU ACADEMY
(by Maki Minami, Viz, $9.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
ime Kino's dream is to one day do voice acting like her hero Sakura Aoyama from the Lovely ? Blazers anime, and getting accepted to the prestigious Holly Academy's voice actor department is the first step in the right direction! But Hime's gruff voice has earned her the scorn of teachers and students alike. Hime will not let that stand unchallenged. She'll show everyone that she is too a voice acting princess, whether they like it or not!!
Hime's producer Yamada has decided to let her have some time off for good behavior, so he sets up a trip to a lake for her and the rest of the Stragglers. But will Hime ruin the vacation when her idea of a fun time turns out to be a bust?!
That back-of-the-book summary only tells you what happens in the first chapter of this volume, and while it's a fun one, as well as the only chapter to incorporate all of Hime's school buddies, it also has nothing to do with the rest of the book. That's devoted to the recording of Beast Renjai and focuses on Hime and Mizuki's co-cast member Fujimori and how he hates Mizuki. When it begins to have a negative impact on his work, Hime (as Shiro) tries to help him out. This all leads to a fairly predictable love rivalry that Hime is totally unaware of. It's kind of nice to see a shoujo heroine blissfully clueless about the romance plots in her story because she's so zeroed in on her goals, and as with previous volumes, Hime's determination drives the story.
Actually Mizuki seems to have totally usurped the role of hero from Senri Kudo, who only shows up in the bonus content at the end of the book. He's rather an easier hero to get behind, so this isn't really a major detriment. What's more of an issue is that while Hime is the driving force behind the plot, her struggles aren't really the plot itself this time. It's as if the story got away from Minami, and while it's still good, it isn't quite what it started out to be.
RECOMMENDATION: I'm torn, but I think I'm still going with buy it. We may have gotten away from Hime's troubles and totally lost Senri, but the story is still a lot of fun with (purposefully?) over-sparkled art and a likable heroine. Plus the bonus comics are really funny.
FLAVOR: PLASTIC BLUE
(by Aji-ichi, Gen, Monthly Subscription $1.99 or Digital Archives Purchase, $24)
FROM GEN MANGA:
Tales of high-school girls who make friends with the unlikeliest outcasts—witches, ghosts, and living dolls, ostracized and bullied because of their gloomy appearance and introspective temperaments. These hapless characters find companionship and acceptance though serendipitous encounters with their seemingly commonplace counterparts. Both cute and endearing, the psyche of high-school girls is explored in a cute fantasy world of ghosts and other ghastly misfits.
Well, maybe that synopsis will be true of other stories in the Flavor series, but “Plastic Blue” is simple a sweet and charming little yuri tale. When her friend Minato asks her out, Shizuku freaks, but almost immediately regrets it. But a year later, Minato has a boyfriend, and Shizuku's not sure what that means or how to handle it. The resolution isn't complicated, but it's heartwarming and lovely, making this twenty pages of sweetness. Aji-ichi's art is attractive but doesn't spend much time on backgrounds – just a few pieces of furniture and the odd window to show that it takes place at school. This gives the story a sort of other-worldly feel, which works pretty well for its simplicity. It feels like a story where the author really cares about her characters, and in just twenty pages, that's kind of impressive.
RECOMMENDATION: Read it, especially if you like sweet yuri stories. Plus if you get access to the digital archives, you can read Sorako, which is an excellent slice-of-life manga in the Inio Asano vein.
MY DARLING! MISS BANCHO
1 volume out of 5 published
(by Mayu Fujikata, CMX, $9.99)
FROM THE ENCYCLOPEDIA:
Souka enters a tech high school and is in for several surprises. First, she's the only girl, as the others have been scared away. Second, kind of on accident, this rather spacey sweet girl beats the school bancho -- and becomes the new leader.
When CMX went away, it left some really fun series (and some great ones) unfinished. While most often you hear (totally justified) lamentations about Swan, Mayu Fujikata's My Darling! Miss Bancho is another series that should be missed. Heroine Souka has to transfer to a technical high school because of her family, but when she gets there, she learns that she's the only girl in a thug-heavy student body. One of her classmates slips an iron plate into her schoolbag to offer her a little protection, and when she hits the reigning bancho (head of the gang), forgetting that the plate's in there, she becomes the next bancho. Now she's got the entire student body at her beck and call – not because she's the girl, but because she's the new gang leader. No one's willing to challenge her because they don't want to hit a girl, true, but there's also sort of a sense of relief, because clearly the whole bancho debacle is settled until she graduates. Fujikata executes the story with a lot of humor and warmth, playing with the bad boy stereotypes and setting up a cute romance between Souka and Yuji as well. Her art's pretty basic, but she gets a lot out of it, making the only volume published in English a delight. The ship's probably sailed on this one, sadly, leaving it to languish without license rescue, but the single volume isn't too hard to find and is worth seeking out.
And so we bid a fond farewell to another column! Now I'm going to go frolic in the forest and on the shore (and hopefully not get Lyme disease again – I swear I'm being more careful!) until we meet again in July!
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