Archives for April 2015

Master Keaton, Vol 2

Master Keaton Volume 2 by Naoki Urasawa

I enjoyed the first volume of this series a lot, but I was hoping that the second volume would be a bit more consistent, without some of the pacing issues that I noted in the first volume. My expectations were met, as the stories in the second volume had a good balance of mystery of the week, background on Keaton, and just enough crazy wilderness badassery.

The pacing of the chapters in this volume was more episodic, and I enjoyed the faster pace as Keaton moved from case to case. He investigates a stolen Olympic medal only to uncover a complicated friendship between two champion runners, then moves on to investigating an insurance case that manages to touch on the legend of William Tell. “Red Moon” features more of a medical mystery, and the male equivalent of a Black Widow. Keaton’s personal life is touched on as well. The second volume feels more settled, without needing to frantically introduce both his academic and military background. The fallout of Keaton’s tendency to travel instead of teach is followed up on, with him losing his previous position. He’s now serving as a guest lecturer in another university that is about to close its doors, but he manages to convey his passion for education and reconnect with a long-lost mentor.

Keaton’s military background is showcased in a couple stories. In “Black Forest” he helps the object of a manhunt by building improvised weapons drawing upon his knowledge of archaeology and in “Little Big Man” he crosses paths with a group of bounty hunters, only to singlehandedly deal with his job and expose them as amateurs. There are a couple scenes showing more of Keaton’s family, as his daughter shows up to visit for one story, and an entire chapter is devoted to Keaton’s father solving a case of a missing rare dog.

Overall, this volume just felt more self-assured in the storytelling throughout the manga, with the pacing and variety of the stories just right in terms of exploring the variety of situations Keaton can find himself in. With chapters exploring murder, survival, the value of higher education, and the strained relationships among the folks who end up as the subject of an insurance investigation, the second volume of Master Keaton made me more interested in picking up the rest of the series.

Gangsta Vols 4 and 5

As I embarked on getting caught up on Gangsta, I found myself very grateful for the character bios and plot summaries in front of the volumes. The first couple volumes focused on the slightly more intimate lives of Alex as she meets and is taken in by the Handymen Worick and Nic inter cut with various scenes of violence, but the series is now headed into a full on gang war, and it is useful to be reminded of just who is who in the ever expanding cast of characters.

Gangsta Volume 4 by Kohske

The fourth volume deals with the personal problems of the characters as well as introducing more members of the sprawling underworld in the city of Ergastulum. The handymen are cleaning up after an attack, and Alex is distracted with memories of her younger brother. After shaking the dependency on the drugs she was previously addicted to, more of her normal memories are starting to come back, but she’s not yet able to recall the details of her past life. One of the things I like about this series is the artful way Kohske portrays her action scenes. Alex goes on an errand for the Handymen, and when she happens on a scene where another woman is being attacked, she grabs a stray piece of lumber and rushes in to defend a stranger without thinking of her own safety. Alex is about to get attacked herself, when on the next page a single panel of Nic in motion, mid-leap behind her attacker shows that the problem is being taken care of with almost frightening efficiency.

Alex and the Handymen go to a party thrown by the Cristiano Family, one of the weakest mafia families who is also the most charitable when it comes to taking care of Twilights who would otherwise not have a place to claim sanctuary. The head of the family is a tiny young girl named Loretta, who pragmatically surrounds herself with skilled bodyguards. An equally young twilight hunter shows up at the party and sets off a bloodbath. Another hunter names Erica appears, and while the Handymen and their allies manage to fight off the attack, they sustain huge losses in the process.

Gangsta Volume 5 by Kohske

In this volume it seems clear that the mafia factions in Ergastulum are going to be headed into war. The team of Destroyers becomes more defined, and the situation for regular Twilights not affiliated with an organization is looking worse and worse. Alex has gained even more of her memories, remarking to Nic that she knew him before, only to not get a response. Worick is forced to use his sense for objects to identify corpses, and he and Nic are separated throughout most of this volume, with dangerous consequences. The Destroyers begin to tear through the city, and identify themselves as agents of the Corsica family. Still, even in the middle of a tidal wave of violence, there are quick scenes of normal daily life, when Nic hands Alex a mug as soon as she wakes up from some disturbing dreams of her past. Nic heads off to help out Loretta, and Worick is left to help fend off an attack at the Monroe family house. Things are looking fairly grim for the found family the Handymen have built for themselves. We’re starting to get more caught up with the Japanese release of Gangsta, and I know I’m going to start getting impatient as the wait between volumes grows longer.

While Gangsta does feature plenty of action and grim themes centered around drugs, class issues, and the mafia, the core story circling around Alex and her relationship with the Handymen ensures that the violence in the manga always seems to have a narrative purpose. Koshke’s narrative start small and builds up to a intercut scenes of a sprawling cast headed into some serious confrontations is building more and more suspense and tension as the series progresses. I’m also always impressed with the variety of character designs and defined looks as the manga includes more and more characters. I’m glad that Viz is continuing to give quality seinen some serious attention in the Signature Line with this title.

Yukarism Vol. 2

Yukarism Volume 2 by Chika Shiomi

I enjoyed the first volume of this series very much, and was interested to see how the dynamic of gender-swapped past lives would play out in the present for the young novelist Yukari.

I was impressed with the sheer amount of plot and world building Shiomi was able to develop in the first volume, but I was interested to see what would happen in the second volume when character motivations were already established. At first the relationship between Yukari and his female fan Mahoro seemed to mirror the relationship of courtesan Yumurasaki and watchful bodyguard Kazuma. It turns out that the burn mark that Mahoro and Kazuma share across the centuries might be a red herring because when a new character named Satomi appears to act as Yukari’s housekeeper, Mahoro’s fierce possessiveness and sudden magical abilities resemble the Witch Doctor Shizuka. Shizuka was one of Yumurasaki’s most ardent lovers, and Yukari wonders if the Witch Doctor was the cause of his past incarnation’s death.

While much of the first volume focused on established Yukari’s unique time traveling ability and defining his personality as well as Yumurasaki’s, the second volume delves more into the relationships of the people who surround the author/courtesan in the past and the present. Mahoro starts sleepwalking and uttering magical curses when she sees Satomi, and then she switches back to normal with little memory of what she did. The instant antagonism between Satomi and Mahoro is filled with glares and a sense of real menace, since both of them seem to have little control over their actions. Yukari continues to learn more about his past, with a subtle observational approach that fits in well with his personality as an author. Mahoro is falling more and more in love with him, which might make her emotions and connection to her own previous life more extreme. All in all, this was a solid second volume and Yukarism is positioned well to rotate in to fill the paranormal romance slot in your current manga reading list, since a few series in that genre have recently concluded.