RIGHT TURN ONLY!!
by Rebecca Silverman,
When I was little, my top career choice was lighthouse keeper. In large part, I blame the book Abbie Burgess: Lighthouse Heroine by Dorothy Holder Jones and Ruth Sexton Sargent. Abbie's one of those unsung heroines of coastal life, a girl who, at fifteen, manned the Matinicus Rock Lighthouse, which is 22 miles off the coast, by herself during some of the worst storms Maine saw in the mid-19th century. She got her sick mother and little sisters to safety in the tower, kept the lights burning while waves were breaking over the towers, and she even saved her pet chickens. Even today Abbie is one of my personal heroes – I actually got my dad to bring me out to Matinicus Rock when I was in my teens, and it is an experience I've never forgotten. I may have become a teacher and a writer instead of a lightkeeper (I was crushed when I learned that wasn't really a viable job anymore), but every time the fog rolls in or the storms blow, I look out to sea and I think of Abbie.
One of these days I'll actually start this column talking about manga.
(by Eiichiro Oda, Viz, $9.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
As a child, Monkey D. Luffy dreamed of becoming King of the Pirates. But his life changed when he accidentally gained the power to stretch like rubber…at the cost of never being able to swim again! Years, later, Luffy sets off in search of the "One Piece," said to be the greatest treasure in the world...
After defeating the diabolical Caesar Clown at Punk Hazard, Luffy and crew head to the kingdom of Dressrosa. Awaiting them there is Caesar Clown's former boss, Doflamingo. Trafalgar Law has a plan to take down Doflamingo, but can he get the wild Straw Hat crew to stay focused?
Luffy and the Straw Hats have faced off against some diabolical bad guys before, but Doflamingo may just take the cake. Not only is he just generally evil, but as this volume proves, he's also really conniving to boot, expertly luring the gang into his lair. Of course, while we suspect this from the get-go, it only really becomes clear at the end of the book, which makes for a strong finish to a kind of rambling volume. For most of the book we have Luffy entering a tournament in Dressrosa's coliseum, Zol/ro (your call, guys) chasing after his stolen sword, Robin and Usopp helping Law to hand off Caesar, Sanji falling in love, Franky talking, and the rest of the group guarding the ship. Add to that a ton of new characters who may or may not be important once the fight is over and you've got a book that not only meanders, but is also kind of overwhelming. Yes, the character designs are all great and the fighting exciting, and the fact that the crew seems to have taken disguise lessons from Mel Brooks is also awesome, but all of the absolutely perfect Gulliver's Travels references in the world can't quite make this as good a volume as it wants to be. This is really a “gearing up” book, one that is laying the groundwork for what is to come. It does pull this off quite well, and is doubtless seeded with clues for the rest of the arc. That's actually one of the most interesting parts about One Piece – picking through the complex illustrations to see who or what is hiding there and guessing whether or not it's at all important. While Oda's art can get overwhelming at times – the coliseum scenes absolutely do – it's also an invitation to go back and look more closely once you've read the book, because you never know where Panda Man is lurking or what else you might find. There's definitely something to be said for the reread value of that.
RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. One Piece is great, but this is a volume that overwhelms with characters and and scattered stories while underwhelming with main plot. Doubtless that's going to change, but not in this particular book.
ALICE IN THE COUNTRY OF JOKER: CIRCUS AND LIAR'S GAME
(by QuinRose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru, Seven Seas, $12.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
In the quest to free her sister, Alice faces terrible truths. Something about her life in her old world is tangling her up inside, and it's not just her residual feelings about her lost love. Now, in Wonderland, she discovers that she's falling in love once again - despite her emotional scars and the danger in choosing between psychopaths. In her deadliest battle yet, who is Alice's greatest foe?
If you only read one of the many Alice manga series based on QuinRose's otome games, it really should be this one. Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar's Game has been continually building the story with each volume, and this one is definitely tense. With Alice seeing her sister Lorina in Joker's prison, Peter is growing ever more concerned about her emotional wellbeing, and he's ready to take drastic steps to make sure that she's okay. Alice herself is really starting to question herself, and through both her inner monologue and Peter's we learn some important facts about just what happened when Peter brought her to Wonderland...and about herself. Really this is the discovery volume for both the readers and Alice, and some things begin to become a little clearer. Others are just as mysterious – who is Joker and why are there two of him? What's the deal with Ace? And does Alice really love who she says she does? That seems like it may be a murkier topic than she thinks. It's difficult to say too much more about this volume without delving into spoilers, but suffice it to say that this is one of the most intense Alice books and it deals with a lot more plot than even Cheshire Cat Waltz. With Mamenosuke Fujimaru's art improving with each volume and a deepening story, this is the kind of manga that makes you understand the insane popularity of the franchise.
RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. Seriously, this is the best of the Alice bunch. There are some answers coming and the plot is both building and getting twistier. Plus pretty much all of the guys make an appearance, so your favorite is here somewhere.
TIGER & BUNNY
(by Mizuki Sakakibara, Viz, $9.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Superpowered humans known as NEXT appeared in the world 45 years ago. Some of them fight crime in the city of Stern Bild while promoting their corporate sponsors on the hit show HERO TV. The people love their superheroes, even if they don't completely understand them, and not all of the NEXT use their powers for good.
Because of a kidnapping threat, Kotetsu and Barnaby have their hands full babysitting the mayor's infant son, who is also a telekinetic Next! Unfortunately, Kotetsu's face just makes the child cry, setting off his destructive wailing. Pao-Lin and Karina have the right touch for this job, but sinister forces are lining up against them!
If you thought that the babysitting plot from the previous volume was a little lame, don't worry – it morphs into something far more exciting and sinister with this one! Those “sinister forces” mentioned on the back cover make themselves known in a big way, and for Barnaby that means a major revelation. While it certainly keeps with the Batman theme the series has had going on – there's a clear Harley Quinn tribute in the woman's outfit – it also heats things up for the reluctant partnership of Tiger and Bunny, one that was just starting to show some promise as Barnaby began to open up.
That said, most of this volume is really set up for what's coming up next. Granted, the babysitting plot was too, but that mixed things up a bit by making the story serve as humor; this is just pure plot-building for the inevitable showdown/meltdown that's on the horizon. While it is certainly exciting, it also is so clearly set up that it feels a little heavy-handed. It flits from one hero to the next, never really pausing to let any one character shine, or even really reflect. That Sakakibara's art is very stiff this time around doesn't help much, although the level of detail in costumes and backgrounds remains impressive. Simply put, this is the preview for the much more exciting story that is to come.
RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. It's gearing up for awesome, but this book is such obvious set up that it suffers from an attempt to be too suspenseful at all times, making it feel overdone.
(by Shiwo Komeyama, Yen Press, $11.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Recovering the first Prophecy Book nearly cost Tsukimiya her life, so securing the second will be no small feat. Now that Satsuki has mobilized in the race to collect God's inheritance, he and Tsuzuki clash violently when the second Book and its key appear simultaneously in two separate locations. Tsuzuki has the conviction, but does he have the strength to defeat the fallen angel, whose determination is such that he is willing to fly in the face of God himself?
Tsukimiya is a pretty great heroine – she holds her own, she kicks serious butt, and she's no one's damsel in distress. So why does she spend so much time having her breasts grabbed by guys? This one seeming contradiction is merely indicative of Bloody Cross' base issue: it has a lot of really great parts and a lot that just seem to be there for the pandering. This book is mostly concerned getting back the Second Prophecy Book, which was taken out from under Tsuzuki's nose by his fallen angel brother. When it's doing that, the story's exciting with battles, spells, and illusions – the phantom zone set up by one of the Arcana guys is really creepy, what with all of the hands and dissolving body parts. When it isn't advancing the plot, we're meeting Nao, another half-blood who likes to grope Tsukimiya, and watching the happy adventures of our goofy gang of heroes as they hang out in Tsukimiya's apartment and eat delicious food. That neither section is really all that strong is also a problem. Shiwo Komeyama's story is always just good enough and never quite good...although the end of the volume is very strong, so things really may be looking up. Komeyama's art appears to be improving somewhat as well, or at least getting more creative as Tsukimiya changes clothes and Nao looks different from the other male characters in the book. The base premise of the series – that someone is going to replace a vaguely Judeo-Christian god, may not sit well with some readers, and that really still is pretty central, but mostly this is just a shameless action series that is definitely showing improvement with each volume.
RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or a friend. I almost went with “skip it,” honestly, but it really is better than volume two in terms of balance and just general enjoyment. Now if only the guys would leave Tsukimiya's body alone...
(by Julietta Suzuki, Viz, $9.99)
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Nanami Momozono is alone and homeless after her dad skips town to evade his gambling debts and the debt collectors kick her out of her apartment. So when a man she's just saved from a dog offers her his home, she jumps at the opportunity. But it turns out that his place is a shrine, and Nanami has unwittingly taken over his job as a local deity!
Nanami has gone back in time in order to find the fallen kami who cursed Tomoe, but the past is a lot more violent than she expected. Before she can even start her search, she has to deal with suspicious villagers and a mortally wounded Tomoe!
Hopeful romantics who were thrilled by the previous volume of Nanami's adventures in the past should continue to be pretty darn happy with this latest installment of Kamisama Kiss! The revelation about Yukiji in volume fourteen keeps playing out here as the mortally wounded Tomoe slowly recovers his strength – and readers who have been paying attention should be able to guess how this miracle is accomplished. Nanami's efforts not to effect the past are interesting since we've figured out what's going on even if she hasn't. Ultimately, however, her quest is to find the fallen kami who cursed Tomoe in the first place, so Suzuki has to sort of hustle us along. It's rushed if you stop to think about it, but not in the moment of reading, which to my mind means that it works. Visually the relationship between Nanami and Yukiji is just enough to make the story believable, and Akura-Oh's sort of punk-rock look forms a good contrast to the more traditionally dressed people around him. Also interesting is the untamed ayakashi incarnation of Tomoe – we've seen him before, but rarely for so long, and to see everyone's favorite elegant kitsune as a much more sexual being is quite something. It's not as pronounced as in the previous volume, but it's still definitely there in the way he's drawn.
The only major downside to this book is that it cuts off when it could have fit in one more chapter in favor of two side stories. They are sweet and adorable, but with time running out in the main plotline, it's frustrating to have them in lieu of a continuation. Oh well, there is something to be said for a breather, I suppose.
RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. This is one of the more urgent plots we've had in Kamisama Kiss, and Suzuki is definitely up to the task. Plus the implications for romantics are really pretty wonderful...when's that next book coming out again??
THE BED OF MY DEAR KING
(by Sakae Kusama, SuBLime, $5.99)
A suite of emotionally resonant, romantic stories told by a critically acclaimed manga creator. In “The Bed of My Dear King,” an electrician called to a remote job deep in the mountains discovers the startling reasons behind the behavior of the house's lone occupant, an eccentric young sculptor. In “Cherry,” an overachieving high school student forms an unexpected bond with a laid-back classmate. And in “Flowers,” the secrets surrounding a tragic death lead to an unexpected, and poignant, resolution.
The Bed of My Dear King is a bittersweet collection of three stories. The title story, which also gets a brief epilogue at the end of the volume, has a bit of the feel of the old “blanket fics” that were once so popular in fanfiction circles. (For those unfamiliar with the term, it describes a story where two characters are stranded somewhere cold and/or damp with but one blanket between them.) Koga is a cable repairman sent out to fix the wires at a mountaintop home far out in the middle of nowhere. The house, it turns out, belongs to sculptor Tohno, who is suffering with feelings of guilt over something that happened to his brother. These themes will be revisited with more skill in “Flowers,” but the relationship that evolves between Koga and Tohno during their snowed-in night has a lot to say about the way a partner can help people to deal with their senses of guilt, blame, and general unworthiness. “Cherry,” the middle tale, is probably the weakest of the three, both in terms of emotional and physical content. The last story in the volume, “Flowers,” is both the strongest and the most disturbing. Framed by town gossip, this is the tale of Kumon and Ozu, two high school boys participating in club activities over summer break. Ozu has become embroiled in a family scandal, ostracizing him from his influential family and making him the target of town disgust. Kumon is a bit fascinated by him, and actually has been since the other boy ignored him earlier in the year. When he asks Ozu what really happened, Ozu tells Kumon that he is gay, and if Kumon will let him use his body, he'll tell the whole story. This is where the somewhat disturbing aspects come in – at this point, it is not at all certain that Kumon is attracted to or has feelings for Ozu, and this bargain smacks a of prostitution. The end somewhat resolves things, but this is definitely a relationship that feels unequal. On the brighter side, the themes that Kasuma began to explore in “The Bed of My Dear King” are more fully developed here, and her treatment of the way our own guilt can destroy us is used to great effect.
RECOMMENDATION: Read it, but only if you're not looking for something light and fluffy. This collection has its moments of beauty, but there's a lot of cruelty here too. It is, however, quite well crafted.
(by Ricaco Iketani, price and publisher varies by country)
FROM THE FRENCH PUBLISHER:
Madoka's parents have won the lottery and decided to return home to fulfill their dreams of education. That means that their high school student daughter has to go live with the cold Mrs. Asagi, who forces her to live in a garden annex. Before she knows what's going on, Mrs. Asagi's son, an amorous middle schooler, has begun to visit her in secret. Between school, love, and part-time jobs, Madoka has to figure out how to get her feet on the ground!
Bito Lollipop, or just Lollipop as it's known in French, is one of my favorite shoujo discoveries of recent years. The story follows Madoka, whose lower class parents win the lottery one day and suddenly become millionaires. They quickly decide that this will enable them to become doctors and throw themselves into study...which they're not very good at. Madoka ends up living with a wealthy family whose patriarch feels indebted to her dad, and his wife is not happy about it. She sticks Madoka in a crappy old annex that doesn't even have a bathroom and tells her that she'll bring her meals, but that's it. But unbeknownst to her, her middle school age son Tomoyo has been hiding his manga in the annex, and soon he's falling hard for Madoka, who just desperately needs a friend. There's a three year age gap between the two, but the evolution of their relationship feels very real - at times sweet, at other intensely frustrating, but rarely melodramatic, even after a two year time skip between volumes five and six - one of the few times I've seen that particular device actually work.
Part of what is so good about Iketani's series is that it goes into parts of life that we don't always see in shoujo manga – one of Madoka's school friends got his middle school girlfriend pregnant and now has a child, another character contracts a real serious illness (not a mysterious manga “wasting disease”), and Madoka's life is a constant struggle to stay emotionally afloat. Despite all of the adversity, she tries really hard not to give up, though she does stumble sometimes, making her a person rather than just a manga heroine. By the end of the series the emotional stakes are really high, and if you don't feel a catch in your throat, I will be surprised. These are characters who have to work for their happy endings, and it is in no way assured that things will turn up roses. When they do, it makes it that much sweeter. This is a story that plays on your emotions, but never feels like it's manipulating them. It doesn't hurt that Iketani's art looks like a hybrid of Ai Yazawa and Miwa Ueda either...
DON'T WORRY! READ IT IN: French, Korean
That's all for now, but there are three Tuesdays in for RTO in July this month, so get ready for lots of manga!
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