Archives for May 2014

The Darkest Night Vol 1

The Darkest Night Vol 1 by Earithen and Gena Showalter

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Usually when I read Harlequin manga, I haven’t read the books they’ve been adapted from, but in this case I have read a few volumes of Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld series before trying out the manga adaptation. As you might expect from the title, this is a contemporary paranormal romance. Ashlyn is hanging out in Hungary, intrigued by local rumors that angels live in a mysterious castle in the woods. She’s tormented by her psychic abilities and is seeking peace. She’s been alone almost all her life due to her psychic powers, and was raised as a bit of a lab rat as opposed to growing up with a normal family. Alone in the woods, Ashiyn encounters a tall, dark, brooding, and handsome man who seems to enjoy lurking about while carrying a variety of weaponry. Ashlyn thinks that Maddox is extremely hot despite the blood he is splattered with, and she notices that the voices in her head go quiet when she’s near him. True love!!!!

Maddox takes Ashlyn back to his castle, only for her to discover that his large group of roommates are also equally hot and tormented. It turns out that they are suffering various eternal conditions due to a curse, and each embody a negative so Maddox has to be chained up and killed every night, only to be resurrected the following day. Even for someone familiar with the source material, there’s too much backstory to be contained in just one manga volume, and the explanations of the Hunters the Lords of the Underworld fight, the women that tempt them, and something about Pandora’s box sort of derail any forward momentum with the plot and make the motivations of the characters a bit opaque. I don’t remember this being quite as much of an issue in the novel, so I think it is just very difficult to shoehorn that much worldbuilding into the number of pages allowed by the manga format.

The adaptation by Earithen is good, with distinct character designs for all the Lords of the Underworld. Maddox looks appropriately tormented and Ashlyn is charming and innocent. I was amused by the number of panels where Maddox totes Ashlyn around by balancing her on one of his arms. There are a few panels here and there with awkward poses, but for the most part the art is better than usual for a Harlequin manga adaptation. I feel like generally historical or contemporary Harlequin manga get translated into English a bit more often than paranormals, so it is nice to see emanga branching out a bit more into various romance subgenres.

Shojo Beat Quick Takes – Midnight Secretary Vol 6 and Dengeki Daisy Vol 14

Midnight Secretary Vol 6 by Tomu Ohmi

This volume of Midnight Secretary shows the relationship between Kaya and her vampire boss Kyohei on firmer footing, but the manipulations of the vampire clan start to interfere with the couple. Kyohei takes Kaya to a party as his date, and there’s a bit of unexpected fallout from the action. Kyohei’s vampire mother shows up to warn Kaya off of becoming involved in a human/vampire relationship. Kaya has a bit of a pregnancy scare, and she’s worried about what would happen if she had a vampire baby, because the vampire clan would swoop in and claim any vampire child as one of their own. It turns out that Kaya’s not pregnant and Kyohei tells her that he has no intention of marrying her or having children with her, simply because of the way their relationship would be stressed with outside interference as soon as it takes on the appearance of being serious. While he doesn’t want Kaya to be manipulated by the vampire clan, she’s soon deluged with marriage offers as the clan takes steps to separate her from Kyohei. Vampire politics soon becomes even more of a focus of the volume, as the head of the clan shows up, looking less evil than one would suppose! Throughout the trials and tribulations in this volume Kaya and Kyohei’s relationship remains strong, but we’ll have to see in future volumes if they can withstand the forces that are seeking to drive them apart. This series continues to be very entertaining. I’m always amused by the combination of heartfelt romance, the paranormal elements, and boardroom politics.

Dengeki Daisy Vol 14 by Kyousuke Motomi

Dengeki Daisy is still going strong in its 14th volume. I have to say, I don’t really care about the latest hacker drama that is occupying all the characters, it is really the way that they interact with each other when dealing with the high stakes world of computer viruses and conspiracy theories. In their search for “M’s Last Testament”, the group has finally found out more information about the mysterious hacker Akira, and learned how exactly he became so twisted. One of the reasons why I like this series so much is that the reactions of the characters seem so much more authentic and less reliant on what I’d expect to see in a shoujo romance. When Teru learns the truth about Akira she can see why her other friends feel an obligation to help him, but her own suffering at his hands has left her wondering if he’s a person without any hope of redemption. In a more typical series, the disclosure of a character’s tragic past would prompt people to immediately move towards forgiveness, but Teru isn’t able to get over the past and she’s very forthright about her feelings. This drives a bit of a wedge between her and Kurosaki, as he moves on with the rest of the team even though he understands Teru’s reasons for not wanting to participate. In true Dengeki Daisy fashion, this first crisis of their relationship is solved with text messaging, in a nice bit of circular plotting that echoes back to the beginning of the series. Motomi could really just call each new hacker MacGuffin 1 or MacGuffin 2 and I’d still love reading this series just because it is so well executed and the characters are very memorable.

Sailor Moon, Episodes 1-4

I think one could easily write about Viz streaming the original Sailor Moon again with just four paragraphs of the word “SQUEE” and have that be a perfectly serviceable review, but having enjoyed watching the first few episodes of the series, I thought I would write about it a little bit. I’ve read some (but not all) of the Sailor Moon manga. I encountered the franchise first in the old Tokyopop editions, but I haven’t watched the anime that extensively before. I probably caught a few episodes of the dub when it was on TV before, and I’m quite fond of Tuxedo Mask animated gifs.


I haven’t watched the anime in order in subtitle format at all before, so I was quite happy that it was now available. The first four episodes firmly establish the character of Usagi/Sailor Moon, who starts out as a clumsy crybaby, and then becomes a clumsy crybaby with magical girl powers thanks to the intervention of the magical talking cat Luna. The clumsy girl who turns out to have extraordinary abilities is a very typical character type in both anime and manga, but Usagi manages to be a very appealing example of the type due to her inability to study for school, her devotion for naps, and her single-minded devotion to taking the easy path whenever possible. The first few episodes of the series follow the story elements of the manga fairly closely, as Usagi investigates the evil forces that seek to destroy the balance of the universe by capturing human energy through costume jewelry. Seriously the villains of Sailor Moon might have hit on something by appealing to the weak aspects of human nature, but they are surprisingly ineffective. Also, the balance of the universe often seems to be centered on struggles that take place very near Usagi’s neighborhood.

One thing that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would were the musical cues in the series. It is hilarious that whenever Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask makes an appearance, he brings with him the distant sound of castanets. I was also amused by the fact that Usagi’s crying sometimes acts like a sonic weapon. The first four episodes were fun to watch, but I find myself growing a bit impatient for the appearances of the other Sailor Guardians. Just as in the manga, there are references here and there to Sailor V, and I’m hoping that Mars and Mercury will show up very soon. I have a subscription to Hulu, so that’s where I’ve been watching Sailor Moon, but you can also watch it for free on Viz’s Neon Alley. I feel like Viz has kicked off the summer season by giving everyone a huge present, and I know I’m going to be looking forward to Mondays when new episodes are released!

Devils and Realist, Vol 1

Devils and Realist Vol 1 by Madoka Takadono and Utako Yukihiro

Devils and Realist is an amusing fish out of water supernatural tale about a young scientific aristocrat and the devils who torment him. The realist of the title is William Twining, an elite member of the English aristocracy who prides himself on his elite status and his logical mind. He makes an uncomfortable discovery when he goes home for a school holiday. His uncle, who was in charge of his fortune has rendered him penniless. William discovers that his house is almost entirely empty and he only has one lone servant left in Kevin Cecil, who is staying on without being paid and learning how to garden for vegetables in the absence of any other food.

William is determined to come up with the money to pay for his tuition, because it would never do for someone of his standing to apply for a scholarship. As he and Kevin scour the house trying to find something valuable, they happen across a hidden room, with a door that is unlocked by William’s blood when he suffers an accident trying to break it down. A mystical spell is invoked and the demon Dantalion appears in grand fashion, only to tell William that he’s now a central figure in the electoral politics of Hell, because William possesses “the Blood of Solomon”. William isn’t ready to believe that he has a mystical connection with a bunch of demons, and invents a series of comically rational explanations for all the supernatural phenomena he’s starting to encounter. Dantalion is joined by other demons, all of who want to win William to their side. William remains stubbornly focused on finishing up his schooling in the human world, leading to additional wacky complications.

There are some parallel themes here with Black Butler, but I found that series to be a bit mean spirited and creepy.
Devils and Realist is more of a gently comedic take on the genre, with William’s stubbornness manifesting in various ways. There are hints that William’s ancestors might not be all that innocent and Dantalion has some hidden motivations that might serve to illuminate his character in later volumes. The art for Devils and Realist is attractive, with particular attention paid to the character designs of the parade of demons which makes it much easier to distinguish them. I enjoyed this volume, and I’ll try volume 2 before deciding to go all in on following this series. I could see William’s realism being used for jokes getting a bit tiring after multiple volumes when he’s surrounded by an army of demons, so I’m interested to see if the author comes up with some other plot devices to keep things fresh.

Gangsta Vols 1 and 2

Gangsta Volumes 1 and 2 by Kohske

I was pretty intrigued by Gangsta when I first heard that Viz was going to be translating this title. I always am interested in series that get the deluxe treatment of the Viz Signature line. The art looked very stylish, and I generally enjoy the few examples of seinen written by women authors that we get translated over here, so I was already intrigued for a few months before finally getting my hands on a couple volumes.

First of all, to totally judge a manga by its cover, I was immediately captivated by the cover designs! The front and back covers of both volumes show the same scene from different perspectives, showcasing the personalities of the main characters Nic and Worick. The first volume shows Nic glaring out at the reader, with Worick turned away. On the back Worick has his finger raised over his lips to prevent someone from telling a secret. Worick and Nic are handymen, mercenaries, couriers, and assassins taking on jobs no one else will. Their day opens in a way that conveys the gritty and corrupt nature of the city of Ergastulum, as a hooker gets beat up and the police chief asks the handymen to deal with recent gang activity, promising them “all their goods” as payment.

As the day unfolds, more gets revealed about Nic and Worick. Nic is a “Tag” or “Twilight,” who appears to be an ex-soldier who was the subject of some sort of enhancement experiments that have turned him into a deadly warrior. Nic is deaf, and Kohske has come up with some clever ways of portraying this, by representing his sign language with a different style of word balloons and carefully drawing them as emanating from his hands as he gestures. Nic is incredibly deadly, but he is viewed as subhuman by almost everybody but Worick. The duo quickly becomes a platonic (so far) threesome, as the handymen decide to liberate Ally, the hooker who was being beat up by her john before. When the police chief objects, Nic yells that the handymen will take whatever they want.

What follows is a mix between slice of life communal living issues, drug deals, and over the top action scenes as Ally putters around the handymen’s apartment, reading sign language dictionaries and answering their phone. She gradually learns a little more about Worick and Nic, including the fact that Worick occasionally hires himself out as a gigalo and that his past might be very far from the circles where he runs in now.

There are a few elements of Gangsta that reminded me of other series, but not in a bad way. The intense friendship of Nic and Worick set against a gritty background with mysterious drugs enhancing human abilities gave me some slight Wild Adapter flashbacks, although Gangsta isn’t very shonen-ai (yet). I’m sure there’s some Gangsta doujinshi out there that is though! Worick’s mysterious and privileged past made me remember Antique Bakery a bit. And the 3 rules for Twilight behavior are basically Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics. But Kohske hints at so many different plots to be explored in future volumes, I’m wanting to see the shared past of the handymen explored, wondering if Ally is better off with them than without them, and curious to see how Nic manages to deal with the latest in a procession of super human enemies.

Kohske’s art is gritty and stylish, showcasing the dynamic nature of the fights the handymen find themselves embroiled in as well as the run down area of the city where they live. The illustrations in this book are for sure not style over substance, as there are nuanced and varying character designs for all the members of the expanding cast. Nic’s growling antagonism and Worick’s intelligently constructed careless facade are both nimbly portrayed, as are the wordless exchanges and day to day moments that say volumes about the friendship they share. After enjoying the first two volumes, I’m certainly going to see about reading the rest of this series.