Archives for January 2014

Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden, Vol 12

Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden, Vol 12 by Yuu Watase

I’m sure it sounds odd, but I was actually a bit nervous about picking up the final volume of this series that I’ve been enjoying so much, simply because I’ve been a bit frightened of the ending. I knew that plenty of deaths would be occurring. This is no big secret, since the heroine Takiko has been dying of tuberculosis throughout the series, and the presence of a couple ghostly Genbu Celestial Warriors in the first Fushigi Yuugi series gave enough hints towards inevitable tragedy that a certain air of melancholy has hung over this manga, giving it an additional theme that has offset all the fantasy adventure I’d expect from a Yuu Watase series.

When I put this volume down, I realized I was wrong to be nervous, because the ending was the best one possible given the set of circumstances the characters found themselves in. The final confrontation with the Qu-Dong army has arrived, and even though Takiko has married the Uruki, now Emperor of Bei-Jia, all the efforts of her Celestial Warriors aren’t going to fend off the eternal winter that is going to threaten all the people of Bei-Jia. The Celestial Warriors fight gallantly, but Takiko is determined to see her destiny as a priestess fulfilled, even if she ends up being consumed by the god that she summons. There are plenty of quiet moments between the characters mixed in with the battles, and each Celestial Warrior gets a bit of a sendoff. Tomite teases Takiko one last time. Hatsui is courageous in battle. Inami deflects volleys of arrows with her hair, arranged in a giant web. Naname undergoes an unexpected and meaningful last transformation.

Throughout everything that happens in this final volume, the connection between Takiko and Uruki remains strong and supportive. As a heroine, Takiko’s quiet and unwavering determination really sets her apart, and I thought that this series exhibited more maturity in storytelling than the first Fushigi Yugi series. This is one of my favorite Yuu Watase series, and that’s saying a lot since I’ve read and enjoyed most of her manga. I’ve read all the volumes of this series as soon as I’ve been able to get my hands on them, and the only thing that has marred the reading experience is the long wait between volumes! I really want to set aside some time and read the whole series again in a shorter span of time, to see what I think about it without having to wait months and years between volumes. Overall though, I don’t hesitate to recommend Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden to anyone who enjoys fantasy and adventure shoujo.

Attack on Titan, Vol 1

Attack on Titan Vol 1 by Hajime Isayama

At this point, given the ubiquity of Attack on Titan on manga best seller lists, reviewing it is a bit like reviewing the air, but I decided to finally get around to reading this series when Mangablog alerted me to the crazy deal for the kindle edition of the first volume that was running recently. Sometimes I have no trouble reading manga on my Kindle Paperwhite, but I had more difficulty figuring out what was going on with the art with the reduced size, and quickly switched over to reading this manga on my iPad instead.

I’ve been reading a bunch of post-apocalyptic fiction recently, just because there are so many YA dystopian novels out there, and I’m also in the middle of reading Justin Cronin’s The Twelve. Attack on Titan is an interesting twist on the dystopian genre as many years into the future humanity has retreated into walled cities in order to protect themselves from the Titian, giant zombie-like humanoid creatures who enjoy eating human flesh. Eren is in many ways a fairly typical brash and opinionated shonen hero, whose close companion is a quieter and seemingly more pragmatic girl named Mikasa. Eren is worried about the complacency his town seems to be developing, as Titans haven’t attacked it for a long time.

Sure enough, a devastating attack on the town follows, as a Titan bigger than anyone has seen before easily breaches the wall, causing panic and confusion in the town where few humans are equipped to deal with a direct attack. Years later, Eren and Mikasa are ready to take their work assignments in the town, and they have to choose the safer duty of directly protecting the townspeople or joining up with the riskier survey corps. Eren wants to avenge his family, and Mikasa is quietly determined to follow him in order to protect him.

By far the weakest element of Attack on Titan is the art. The characters are drawn stiffly and not in proportion. For much of the time Eren and his comrades are yelling at each other, with facial expressions that don’t have very much variation. At the same time, the more detailed renderings of the Titans are plenty creepy, with their musculature visible on their bodies due to lack of skin, wide jaws, and shark-like rows of teeth. In contrast to the art, the worldbuilding in Attack on Titan is excellent, and it is clear that Isayama has spent plenty of time plotting out the events in his future history, thinking through the weapon systems and defenses the humans have constructed, and setting up the relationships between the characters in an interesting way. The first volume ended on a cliffhanger that was both shocking and weirdly refreshing from a manga plotting perspective, making me wonder a bit if Attack on Titan is going to be serving up a bit of metacommentary about manga plot cliches. Even though the art was fairly awkward, I was still able to follow along with the action sequences, and the Titans were genuinely unsettling, with their grimacing silence and habits of eating people in one gulp. I’m a little leery of taking on such a long series, but I can certainly see why Attack on Titan is so popular.

Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar’s Game Vol 2

I enjoyed the first Alice in the Country of Hearts series much more than I expected to. I’ve since tried out some of the sequels here and there, and I think this series is one that I’ve enjoyed the most, just because the storyline seems to echo back to the first series in both theme and tone. While most of the other Alice series that I’ve read tend to focus more on what I think of as the core cast of characters, Alice in the Country of Joker introduces the Circus as a new place and the mysterious Joker accompanies the Circus. It is April season, which is a different and unsettling time for the inhabitants of Wonderland.

The second volume of the series continues with many of the things I enjoyed about the first. There are flashbacks to Alice’s previous life that hint at the psychological issues that might cause her to take refuge in Wonderland. Alice is reminded of her sister as she spends time with the obsessive white rabbit, Peter White. Blood Dupre continues his flirting campaign, but the influence of the Circus and the barrier that Nightmare placed in Alice’s mind are in conflict. There seems to be a cyclical conflict between the Circus and the rest of Wonderland, and Alice is trapped in the middle of it. The unsettling tone and hints of suspense were more of what I tend to look for in one of these many Alice stories. So far, this is the main spinoff series I would make a point of recommending to fans of the first Alice in the Country of Hearts. I still miss the art from Soumei Hoshino in the original series. There isn’t anything really wrong with the illustrations of the adapter here, but Hoshino’s art was more delicate and surreal, adding another dimension to the Wonderland portrayed in these stories.

Nisekoi: False Love Vol 1

Nisekoi: False Love Vol 1 by Naoshi Komi

I don’t tend to track trends in English releases of shonen manga as much as I do shoujo manga, but it certainly seems like it has been some time since we’ve seen a shonen romantic comedy set in high school. Raku is the typical shonen protagonist who (say it together with me!) “just wants a normal high school life.” Unfortunately while Raku has set his goal as becoming a reliable civil servant, his desire to be boring and normal is foiled by the fact that he’s the heir to a yakuza clan. Raku also is dealing with the aftermath of an encounter in his youth, when he exchanged vows of love with a girl he cannot remember. He has a special pendant in the shape of a lock, and his faceless beloved is holding on to the key. But Raku doesn’t remember her name!

Raku starts school awkwardly failing to ask out the nicest and prettiest girl in school, Ondera. His romantic ambitions are foiled when a new girl appears in his class. Chitoge is cute, athletic, and brash and she and Raku naturally start bickering immediately. They are assigned desks next each other as well as duties after school and they spend most of their time arguing so much, their classmates start to wonder if they are especially close. Things get even worse for Raku when he agrees to pretend to be romantically involved with the daughter of a rival gang boss in order to preserve peace, only to find out that his new “girlfriend” is Chitoge. Under the watchful eyes of retainers from both families, Raku and Chitoge go through the motions of a weekend date, only to find out that their romantic status has been announced at school as well, leaving them no rest from their charade.

There’s plenty of humor in this title even though it doesn’t reach the laugh out loud heights of Oresama Teacher. Komi frequently draws rictus-like facial expressions when his characters are in the grips of strong emotions. While the love triangle in this book is predictable, it certainly isn’t more derivative than the typical shoujo title. Chitoge and Raku’s similar backgrounds and tendencies to freak out often make them seem like natural friends with something in common, whereas Ondera’s more retiring personality makes her someone that Raku can easily admire from afar even though he doesn’t know her very well. While I didn’t connect with this title the same way I do my treasured shoujo romances, for anyone looking for shonen romantic comedy I think this will be an enjoyable manga to read. The art is well-executed, the personalities of the characters are interesting if a bit broadly drawn, and random yakuza thugs make everything more fun.