Archives for December 2011

Dengeki Daisy Volume 8

Dengeki Daisy Volume 8

This volume contains a good dose of back story, as Teru finally learns how her brother Soichiro and Kurosaki met. She also learns why Kurosaki is filled with guilt over her brother’s death. After the events in the last volume, Kurosaki has decided to absent himself from Teru’s life. She’s depressed after hearing Kurosaki’s confession that he killed her brother, and devastated about the hostile text message that Akira sent in her place. In true Dengeki Daisy fashion the thing that snaps Teru out of her funk is a fist to her stomach, delivered by her friend Kiyoshi. He yells at her, “Stop acting like a victim looking for sympathy. Turning your back on him just because getting involved takes committment…that’s just plain horrible. You don’t do that to someone dear to you.” After a long lecture, Teru delivers a fierce uppercut to Kiyoshi and says with a smile through her tears that she feels better.

Teru decides to dedicate herself to finding out the truth behind Daisy/Kurosaki’s “sin”, and to do that she decides to fully inquire into his past. She gathers together all of Kurosaki’s old co-workers and protectors and begins to learn the truth behind Kurosaki’s development of a classified encryption program called “Jack Frost” and the people at Soichiro’s company who worked for the government. Kurosaki is now hunting down “Jack Frost” on his own, in an attempt to protect Teru. This volume was a little heavy on the exposition side of things, but I found I didn’t mind that so much because after 8 volumes, I’m really invested in finding out what will happen to these characters. It was also nice to see Kurosaki and Soichiro together in simpler times. Even thought the mystery of Kurosaki’s past is cleared up somewhat, there’s still plenty left to explore in the present as it is unclear who all the players are in the current hunt for Jack Frost and what they’ll do to get their hands on it. Dengeki Daisy is always fun to read, but I hope that Teru and Kurosaki get back together in the next volume!
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Stellar Six of Gingacho Volume 2 by Yuuki Fujimoto

Stellar Six of Gingacho Volume 2 by Yuuki Fujimoto

One of the things I found so frustrating about Tokyopop going down the tubes as a manga publisher is that it had really started to increase the output of nice shoujo titles right before it was dissolved. I will always feel a yearning to read the rest of the delicious crackfest that was Demon Sacred, wonder about the hot janitor student romance possibilities in Sky Blue Shore, and wonder what happened when the kids of Stellar Six of Gingacho grew up. If you read the first volume of Stellar Six, the second is very similar. The thing that makes this series so enjoyable is the nostalgic and humorous take on slice of life stories at a street market as the protagonists face the pressures of high school and teenagerdom.

Mike is still determinedly innocent, determined to stick together with all her friends from the street market even as they face attending different high schools from each other. She’s unaware of the feelings her best friend Kuro has for her, even though it is obvious to everyone else that he’s in love with her. Life goes on as it always does, with Mike’s gang investigating various incidents at the Gingacho street market. First they investigate a mysterious case of vandalism prompted by jealous love at a local shop. Next, Mike and Kuro are besieged by all the athletic clubs at their new school, because the displays of athleticism they’ve honed by promoting the market make them desirable prospects. Mike and Kuro help a new family to the neighborhood open their Bento shop, with some special care for the young girl who misses all of her old friends that she’s moved away from.

With a slice of life manga like Stellar Six, what happens isn’t as important as the interactions between the characters as they navigate their daily lives. Memorable moments from this manga for me were the blank stares Mike and her friends give the adults who predict that their friendship isn’t going to survive high school, or the awkward way Mike and Kuro discuss love after they see the effects of a love triangle in one of the cases they’ve investigated. It is too bad that we’re not going to see the full series of this manga, because angst-free, slice of life manga are hard to find.

Basara Volumes 7 and 8

Basara Volume 7

So the undercover Blue King Asagi’s manipulations are successful and Sarasa sets off to liberate her mother from the grip of the Red King’s General Kazan. As they travel on their ship, Tatara’s band encounters an unusual hunter – a young man who is taking on a whale all by himself armed only with a harpoon and a small sailboat. Asagi attempts to play the spoiler when they head into town, announcing Tatara’s presence in an arrogant and threatening manner. Sarasa yells at him, saying that isn’t the way they do things. The young whaler Nachi serves as the band’s guide, taking them on a meandering trip to meet his village that involves quite a bit of road reconstruction on the part of Tatara’s people. Tatara tries to gain the support of Nachi and his leader Hijiri. Chacha and Zaki head out to scout the situation and see something unexpected – Tatara’s mother refusing to leave the General even though she has the opportunity to do so. She comments to Kazan, “I cannot leave your side. Not until I witness your death.” Chacha vows to hide the potential complicity of his mother from Tatara. Up against impossible odds, Sarasa isn’t sure how she can succeed, but Hijiri promises to bring more allies if Tatara is able to successfully demonstrate his leadership.

At the same time, Shuri is traveling towards Kazan’s hideout, determined to punish his general for his insolence. As soon as Sarasa’s mother sees her, her internal thoughts highlight just how much her daughter has changed. She thinks “She’s only 15! She’s just a little girl!” and the General is determined to grab Tatara’s head as a trophy. Chacha confronts the General, thinking that the situation is her fault for not being more forthcoming with Tatara after her scouting mission. Sarasa is ironically saved by Shuri’s attack, but her eyes are injured and she throws herself into a burning building to rescue Chacha and Zaki. Hijiri tells Tatara that Zaki is risking his life for his leader, “Be proud of him boy! You have good followers.” Sarasa’s response is that no one is worth the sacrifice of a life and she blindly jumps on her horse to rescue Zaki. Hijiri decides that he’s figured out the secret to Tatara’s success as a revolutionary, “They don’t come to you looking for guidance…they just can’t bear to stand back and watch as you run ahead on unsteady feet bawling your eyes out.”

Basara Volume 8

The 8th volume of this series shows Sarasa and Shuri brought down incredibly low, but they’re about to head towards one of my favorite places in Basara, the Democratic Island of Okinawa. Sarasa has been blinded, and she doesn’t even have the consolation of her mother to help her with her illness. Sarasa’s mother confirms with Kaku that the prophecy identified Sarasa as the Child of Destiny all along. She decides to leave, saying “If I see her…if I hold her in my arms…I might undo… everything, turn her back into her mother’s girl.” Sarasa’s in a almost depressed fugue-like state as she deals with her injury and the burdens of leadership. Her people deal with the aftermath of battle in their own ways. Asagi, knowing Sarasa and Shuri’s secret, decides to scare her by holding her down and kissing her. Sarasa asks Nagi to make her eyes better sooner, and he points out that she has other senses she can now sharpen. Plots in the Red King’s city leave Shuri deposed and alone, dependent for the first time on the random kindness of his subjects who support him while the nobility turns on him. Even when being attacked, Shuri’s quick insight allows him to penetrate the truth behind the plot that is removing him from the throne, as he quickly grasps that one of his last trustworthy advisers has been turned only because his mother has been held captive. The scenes of Sarasa and Shuri facing their worst fears are juxtaposed with each other, showing how they deal with adversity in different ways.

Shuri escapes the city he’s worked so hard to build and ends up on the boat of Dr. Basho, the mentor of Sarasa’s trusted adviser Nagi. Shuri’s imperious mannerisms don’t tend to go over well with Basho’s apprentice Yuna and he soon finds himself doing the unthinkable – swabbing the decks. Sarasa is traveling towards Okinawa to meet Dr. Basho too, in the hopes that he’ll be able to assist with restoring her eyesight. Shuri realizes that for the first time he has no one to rely on but himself, and Sarasa tries to make the best of her own situation by exercising her other senses and visiting her people. Shuri sees Okinawa as a poorly-defended island paradise, noting that he’d have no trouble taking it over if he were still king. Sarasa is washed up on shore, and is rescued by another of Dr. Basho’s associates. Will the two lovers meet again in the next volume? Are there mysterious and complex geopolitical undercurrents tainting what appears to be a simple island paradise? Do you even have to ask?

Basara Volumes 5 and 6

Basara Volume 5

As horrible as many people think the Red King is, the Blue King is clearly worse. People are starving in his lands, to the point where infanticide and suicide are common occurrences, sometimes at the same time. Sarasa and Shuri are captured by the Blue King’s most visible subordinate, a crafty captain of the King’s elite ninja/bodyguard squad. They’re placed in a holding cell with a bunch of other prisoners and forced to run an uneven race where the elites have horses and everybody else has to run on foot. The course is booby-trapped to an astonishing degree, and there can only be one winner of the race even if the semi-finalists are forced to kill each other. One of the things it is fun to observe is the way Shuri expresses the depths of his feelings for Sarasa. When one of the contestants asks if she’s Shuri’s girl, he replies “Someday she’ll be a woman the likes of you won’t even be able to address.” Which prompts the question “Is she going to be queen or something?”

Sarasa somehow ends up being able to inspire revolution wherever she goes, because when she sees the corrupt Blue King rooting for the slaves in the race to kill each other, she makes an impassioned speech. While the Blue King is unmoved by the words of someone he deems as his property, Shuri declares that she’s a good woman and proposes marriage if they manage to live. The Blue King decides to use Sarasa as a sacrifice in a bizarre ritual, while Shuri appears to die in an escape attempt. Of course, with over twenty volumes yet to go, he’s not actually dead. Sarasa is determined to bring down the Blue King, not as Tatara but as herself. Ageha in his guise as an androgynous dancing performer arrives in town, and he seems to know absolutely anyone who is anyone judging from a charged conversation he has with the Blue King’s Captain.

Sarasa befriends a local rebel leader, and he rallies the depressed subjects of the Blue King. Sarasa wonders if she’s started something that can’t be controlled, and he says “History brought you here. This may be a river we cannot swim against.” Shuri’s been alive and disguised the entire time, and he makes a move against his older brother. As the Blue King is destroyed the Captain of the Guards Asagi feels nostalgic for the death of his unwitting duplicate. Shuri and Sarasa are briefly reunited only to be torn apart by an inconveniently timed flash flood. Those flash floods, always interfering with young love!

Basara Volume 6

One of the nicest things about rereading a series that I was pretty much following from the beginning is that I’m able to go back and appreciate again some of the details I’ve forgotten. I’d forgotten how great Ageha was in these earlier volumes. He’s so enigmatic and merciless, yet the reader assumes he’s going to be taking action to support Sarasa at some point. When Asagi decides that he’s going to go undercover in Tatara’s organization and manipulate everybody there like puppets, Ageha silently hears all of his plans and says nothing to Sarasa because if she gets fooled by Asagi, she’s not worthy of being the “boy of destiny.” Asagi just keeps hugging Ageha, declaring that he’s the only one who understands him, while Ageha silently muses that “There will always be a destroyer at the boundary of a new age…Now it’s getting interesting.”

When Asagi and Shuri confront each other, Shuri’s internal poor little rich boy tendencies are in full force. When Shuri hears that Asagi’s mother protected her son from his father by sending him away to be raised and swapping in a changeling baby in his place, he thinks about how his own mother never made an elaborate attempt to protect him. Asagi assumes the pose of an abused servant of the Blue King and immediately gets to work making everyone who supports Tatara start being suspicious of their young leader. Hayato is particularly susceptible to Asagi’s insinuations. While Sarasa doesn’t trust Asagi at all, she plays into his plot by being secretive about her plans to go off on her own to rescue her mother from General Kazan. Asagi’s entrance to the story as a foil for Shuri and Sarasa means that Basara will keep being interesting from a more cerebral standpoint as opposed to fights that are only determined on the battlefield. Asagi’s intercepting secret letters between the lovers, sending out mystical spies, and generally being evil. While Sarasa doesn’t trust him, she hasn’t yet uncovered the truth behind his manipulations.

Basara Volumes 3-4 by Yumi Tamura

I continue my rereading adventure through the delightfully epic manga Basara. There are female pirates, evil kings, and death races to look forward to! I’ll keep referring to Sarasa under her own name when discussing her internal thoughts, and as Tatara when people are reacting to her male disguise.

Basara Volume 3

Sarasa is continuing her semi-solitary quest, determined to succeed without the support of the villagers who she has sworn to protect. When she reaches the region where Suzaku village should be, she finds out that the village has sunk to the bottom of the sea. Instead she encounters rival pirates and an unexpected role model. Chacha has her own ship and when she captures the famous “boy of destiny” Tatara she promptly challenges him to a drinking game for his freedom. Sarasa gives it a try, but find an unexpected pinch hitter among Chacha’s crew to continue the contest. Kaku (Sarasa’s village adviser) drinks himself into a stupor in an attempt to help. Chacha is impressed with the loyalty that Tatara seems to inspire while Sarasa concludes after seeing Chacha “seeing a strong woman reminds me of what I should be.”

Sarasa vows to help her new pirate friends against the evil Shojo clan, and finds herself committed to a one-man mission where she has to steal a cannon and return to her companions quickly where they are pinned down in a race against the ocean tides. One of the things that I find admirable about Sarasa as a character is that she keeps moving forward even when to all outward appearances she is clearly over her head. While she might have internal doubts, she doesn’t spend too much time hesitating if it is clear that she has to take some sort of action. She’s rewarded by some strange quirks of fate, to the point where the reader begins to wonder if the land of Japan itself might be rooting for change in the form of Tatara. Tamura weaves together multiple storylines effortlessly, as while Tatara is battling on the high seas, Shuri deals with diplomatic intrusion from abroad in an explosive fashion and Shuri’s right hand man Shido is headed out to hunt for Tatara despite the tears of the new wife he is leaving behind.

Basara Volume 4

The fourth volume shows Sarasa wondering about the changes in her personality as she observes her enemies and thinks that she has the power to annihilate them. She wonders “When did I get so heartless? When did I start thinking like this?” The cost of war suddenly becomes more personal when she finds out that Shido and his men have captured Ageha. Seeing Ageha the former slave with his old master fills in details about his personality for the reader. Ageha knows he’s going to be used at bait to draw Tatara out, but he doesn’t stop taking the opportunity to needle Shido whenever possible, asking “Have you ever wondered between you and Tatara which of you is moving with the flow of history? Which has been chosen and which is fated to become obsolete?” Shido has unbreakable faith in Shuri the Red King, but it is clear that he’s been headed for tragedy from the moment of his introduction. Sarasa and Hayato head out to rescue Ageha and succeed against impossible odds yet again. While war on the high seas wasn’t particularly bloody, Shido’s death is both graphic and emotional as he realizes the truth of Sarasa and Shuri’s relationship and their false identities towards each other, thinking “They love each other, and they don’t know!” Ageha is both bitterly triumphant and sorrowful when his old master dies. Hayato struggles with his actions even though he essentially saved Tatara’s life.

Scarred by death, Sarasa and Shuri seek each other out. Shuri is facing a new threat in the form of his brother the Blue King and wants to scout out the situation while at the same time the Blue King has proposed an alliance with Tatara. It is the height of tragic irony that the only times Sarasa and Shuri can feel like they are being themselves is when they are together, unknowingly lying to each other but still finding a moment of respite in knowing someone who is unaware of the burdens of leadership and war that they both have to deal with. Tamura is great at creating dramatic tension because just as the reader wants to root for Sarasa and Shuri to get together and live happily ever after, it is easy to see that Tatara and the Red King are heading towards a potentially fatal confrontation.