Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1 by Aya Kanno

I really admire the way Kanno moves from genre to genre, coming up with unique stories each time, at least with her series that have been translated into English. Blank Slate and Otomen are utterly unlike each other, and now with Requiem of the Rose King there’s an entirely different series to enjoy.

Requiem of the Rose King is a retelling of the story of Richard III, which is a topic I tend to enjoy exploring, going way back to when I first read the classic mystery Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey as a young teenager. So I was really interested in seeing how Kanno was going to tackle this story. It opens with the childhood of young Richard during the Wars of the Roses. Richard is a favorite of his father, but his mother views him as a damaged child due to his physical abnormalities. The introduction to Richard is framed with a reference to Joan of Arc’s sin of dressing like a man. Richard is cloaked, roaming through the forest alone after his mother abandoned him. One of his eyes is more prominent than the other, but his face is entirely in shadow. As Richard’s mother sits back in the castle thinking about how evil her own son is, he’s shown being trapped by vines. Richard’s older siblings are integrated into their mother’s affections, but when Richard’s father goes off to fight the Lancasters, he loses his main source of love and affection.

Richard appears to be intersex, or at least having some feminine characteristics while being raised as a boy. Richard sees visions of Joan of Arc tormenting him. He’s determined to be the best son possible for his father. I wasn’t sure exactly which gender to use to refer to him, but since in the first volume Richard clearly identifies as male, I was just going with that for the sake of this review. Richard accidentally strikes up a friendship with young prince Henry. He also meets a girl named Anne Neville. While Richard experiences battle in this volume on the sidelines, the fear and danger that he’s exposed to being left behind are very real. His mother grows even more hostile throughout the volume, which I didn’t even think was possible given how she was introduced initially.

Kanno’s art is great in this volume, and it seems like the subject matter has given her more room to be experimental. Richard’s visions of Joan of Arc keep popping up to make the events he’s experiencing even more unsettling, and there seem to be shadows about to attack lurking in the woods and in castle corners. Close up of eyes are used for dramatic effect often, showing fear, anger, and mental instability. I feel like with this series and Black Rose Alice, Viz is being a bit more adventurous with some of their current manga that might appeal to shoujo readers. While I enjoy a good romance as much as anyone, I am really happy to get a bit more variety on my shelves.

Tempted by Viz Digital Bundles

The bundles Viz has been running recently for digital manga are great deals! In many cases previously I’ve already had the print manga for the featured bundles, so I haven’t taken advantage of them. I forgot to get in on the One Piece bundle that was available before, but there are some great bundles currently available that I’m about to buy.

Cross Manage – I haven’t heard much of Cross Manage before, but $10 for a sports manga seems like a great bargain to me!

Claymore Vols 1-10 – I have a few scattered print volumes of Claymore, and I enjoyed reading the first three volumes of this series. $20 for a solid shonen fantasy manga is a great deal, and I’m probably going to buy this for myself.

10 volumes of Nana is a crazy deal for some great manga! I would totally be buying this if I hadn’t collected all the print volumes as they were coming out.

I also own all of Biomega already, but this is a wonderfully illustrated series that features a talking bear with a machine gun. Lovely art and action sequences. If you have to buy only one manga that features a talking bear with a machine gun, buy this one!

There are some other great sampler bundles for you to check out a variety of first volumes.

Meteor Prince, Vol 1

Meteor Prince Volume 1 by Meca Tanaka

Meteor Prince is a super cute shoujo series that is ideal to read if you need a break from the winter blahs. It is in some ways like a kinder, less manic version of Urusei Yatsura, because the heroine of the story Hako is cursed with an incredible run of bad luck. The latest incident occurs when a naked alien prince suddenly appears and announces that she’s his soulmate. The alien prince Io is a bit of a benign horndog, as he is constantly asking Hako if she is ready to mate, but at the same time he is always in the right place at the right time to protect her from all the accidents that seem to constantly happen in her vicinity. When Hako protests that she can’t have a relationship with someone she’s not in love with, Io promptly yells “Let’s fall in love!” and their courtship begins.

Hako has a supporting cast of friends in the form of the paranormal research club, who stick close to her despite her bad luck because they are so interested in exploring unexplained phenomena. They are also fascinated by the sudden appearance of the alien, but also want to look out for Hako. Despite Io’s initial approach of dropping out of the sky naked and asking teenage girls to be the mother of his children, he’s actually incredibly enthusiastic about the new environment he’s exposed to on Earth, and his devotion to Hako is absolute. Hako and Io actually end up striking a bit of a friendship, through the usual high school milestones that a reader would usually expect in a shoujo manga. There are plenty of funny hijinks, but what I enjoyed most about this title was the genuine warmth and caring shown in the unlikely romance between Hako and Io.

Tanaka’s art switches between slapstick humor and exaggerated emotions as Hako tries to dodge her bad luck with more contemplative moments like when Io sits and communes with birds for the first time. Her art is engaging, with Hako inspiring feelings of sympathy and Io managing to look both regal and occasionally bizarre, which is exactly what a reader might expect from an alien prince.

This is only a two volume series, and sometimes I’m a little hesitant to recommend such short series because often they seem a bit unfinished or partially developed. I felt satisfied as a reader after reading the first volume of Meteor Prince. I’d be happy if it had gone on for several volumes, but the core of the story was just delightful and entertaining. I expect that this is going to be one of the rare two volume series that gets a permanent place on my bookshelves. I’ve been hoarding Tanaka’s four volume series for Tokyopop, Pearl Pink, and now I’m much more motivated to read that too, since Meteor Prince seems so charming.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1 Phantom Blood Vol 1

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1 Phantom Blood, Volume 1 by Hirohiko Araki

I read this volume without much background in this series other than knowing that it was a huge and long-running series in Japan, has a bit of a cult following in Japan, and the books that Viz had been releasing under the shonen jump line started midway through the series. This volume goes back to the earliest story arc in the series, kicking things off with the English nobility, bloodthirsty Aztec masks, and people beating the crap out of each other.

The story kicks off in old school shonen fashion, where a scantily clad woman is sacrificed to the wearer of a mysterious stone mask who proclaims that his accessory drinks the blood of the living. Bones from the mask pierce his skull, but he’s still alive and taking on even more blood sacrifices, not worried about staining his stylish leopard skin pelt cape because he has found the secret to eternal life!

The story then skips over to England, where an evil red-haired young man offers his dying father some medicine. Dio’s father tells him a story about how he accidentally saved the life of a nobleman named Joestar when he came across the wreckage of carriage he was intending to scavenge. Brando tells Dio to go to the Joestars when he becomes orphaned, and Dio does, thus starting the torture of poor young Jonathan Joestar. Dio is immediately adopted as a second son by the Joestar family, but since he is basically the spawn of Satan and Jonathan Joestar is like a friendly naive puppy, things do not go well with the new brothers.

Dio is basically a human form of a cancer, undermining the heir to the Joestar family whenever he gets a chance. It has been a long time since I’ve read a shonen manga this manly! There are speed lines and yelling on almost every page. Jonathan and Dio engage in fistfights and boxing matches, where one blow will end up knocking a half dozen teeth into the air. Towards the end of the book the legacy of the blood drinking Aztec mask is further explored, and Jonathan finally begins to get proof of Dio’s nefarious deeds. The art is really dynamic although the proportions are often a bit off. Often one of the muscular bodies of the main characters will look like it is supporting a shrunken head. If Rob Liebefeld and Tetsuo Hara of Fist of the North Star mashed up their styles you might end up with something like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, except Araki can actually draw feet. I’m sure the art gets much better in subsequent volumes, and even though it wasn’t always to my taste I couldn’t deny the effectiveness of the energy of the many battle scenes in the manga.

As a main character, Jonathan Joestar lets himself be taken advantage of for far too long, but he does manage to battle back as shonen heroes always do. The hardcover edition is really nicely designed, with color pages shifting to further tonal pages where the black and white art is enlivened by shades of orange. This volume ends on a cliffhanger, and I do want to know what happens next, as I assume it will involve more stone mask blood drinking and face punching. I can certainly see why this is such a long-running and popular series in Japan. Recommended for those who want a major dose of testosterone in their manly manga.

Black Rose Alice Vol 3

Black Rose Alice Volume 3 by Setona Mizushiro

I’m glad that Viz is bringing out this series now, because I never collected beyond the first couple volumes of After School Nightmare, which I really regret now. So I’m happy to be able to read another Setona Mizushiro series, and so far my expectations for a manga that is both captivating and weird have easily been met.

In the third volume of the series Alice and her vampire suitors have established a daily life revolving around tasty desserts, with occasional vampire feedings and some light jealous bickering here and there. The stakes for who will procreate with Alice are much higher though, as Leo’s afterlife is about to run out. Leo and Alice always have had a bit more of a natural friendship compared to the other vampires in the house, and now Leo’s courtship of Alice is kicked into high gear by the knowledge of his impending death. Alice likes Leo very much, but she isn’t sure if he’s the one vampire she wants to choose.

In the meantime, Leo strikes up an acquaintance with a novelist who has a terminal disease, and offers her some vampire aid in order to help her finish her last novel. There are obvious parallels between their situations, as the novelist wants to finish one last work, and Leo has to procreate with Alice or he’ll disappear forever. Maximilian and the twins are concerned about Leo, but he forbids them to tell Alice of his impending death, because he doesn’t want to influence her decision.

Maximilian is devastated when Leo calmly faces his own death, but Leo says that he wouldn’t do anything differently and forbids Maximilian from telling Alice the truth. The tonal shifts of this series are really interesting. Each volume seems to be expressing a different main emotion, and the third is a shift away from the kooky slice of life vampire reverse harem scenario that was unfolding in the second volume. There’s sadness and regret in this volume, along with an increasing urgency on the part of the vampires to proceed with their campaign to get Alice to choose them. All along, Mizushiro’s clear and delicate artwork mixes with the elements of body horror that unfold in the manga to create a general feeling of unease and surreality as the story continues. This has got to be one of the oddest shoujo series currently coming out, and it is rapidly becoming my favorite!