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.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Volume 3

I’m always struck by how fast the pacing of the story is in Sailor Moon. The first part of this volume deals with the “my soulmate is evil” storyline as Tuxedo Mask has been possessed by the Dark Kingdom. They’re after the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal, and Sailor Moon has to call upon her friends and her own reserves of power in order to fight the evil Queen Metalia. Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask disappear and the Sailor Senshi promptly track them to the Arctic Ocean. Because that’s where evil lurks! Sailor Moon is filled with memories of the past life she and Tuxedo Mask shared as Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion. Sailor Moon has come a long way from the babyish little girl in the first volume. Even though she’s occasionally frightened, for the most part she tackles her new battles without hesitation. The Sailor Senshi give up their power in an ultimate attempt to save Sailor Moon. Tuxedo Mask is healed from his demonic possession, and gives her the support she needs to battle her strongest enemy so far.

There’s a dramatic reunion between Usagi and Mamoru after the battle, when they embrace possessing all the knowledge of their past lives and romance together. Their combined powers bring back all of the Sailor Senshi. After a cosmic struggle involving trips to the Arctic and to the moon, the next storyline focues on a more mundane setting. Sailor Mars finds herself caught up in fortuntelling for a school festival, where there seems to be some suspicious activity involving the paranormal and UFOs. Usagi’s life becomes more complicated when a little girl drops out of the sky, landing on Mamoru and interrupting a tender moment. The little girl says her name is Usagi and she has a similar hairstyle to our heroine. Chibi-Usa soon works her way into the affections of everybody except for Usagi, aided by some fancy hypnosis. Usagi reacts with suspicion and anger, while Mamoru thinks they should wait to see what the lost little girl has to reveal. Seeing the new menace introduced through Sailor Mars’ point of view is a nice contrast with the usual Sailor Moon-centric narration. While the new threat seems earthbound so far, I feel confident that things will grow more cosmic in the next volume. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon continues to be a fun action-filled magical girl series, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story is going to go next now that all the major characters are introduced.

Codename: Sailor V Volume 2

Codename: Sailor V Volume 2 by Naoko Takeuchi

The fun part of Sailor V for me continues to center around seeing Takeuchi work out some of the plot lines and characters that are explored more fully in Sailor Moon, with the benefit of a more breezy angst-free heroine. The most hilarious aspect of the book is the sudden appearance of Sailor V’s latest crush, Phantom Ace. I know some people may find Sailor Moon’s boyfriend Tuxedo Mask, what with his tuxedo, mask, and habit of throwing roses everywhere, but Phantom Ace seems to enjoy running around town throwing playing cards while wearing some sort of bizarre girdle over his clothes. It is truly something else. Sailor V fights off evildoers who are trying to make girls pudgy with mysterious candy, deals with her own loss of popularity when she slacks off on her public appearances, foils a plan involving brainwashing kittens, and even assists a hapless mangaka.

Gradually the threats that Mina has to deal with move from being the typical formulaic monster of the week to adventures that involve a little more of the emotions and personalities of the characters. Mina intervenes in the life of one of her classmates who has always been a loner. She tries to pursue Phantom Ace and in the process learns that she’s going to have to choose duty over love, which is about as unshoujo-like an ending as I’ve ever read in shoujo manga. Perhaps because Mina is fated to become a supporting cast member in another character’s manga, she’s not going to get the typical happy ending in her own series. While the storylines in Sailor V were not particularly complex, I do think that reading this series gave me more of an appreciation of Sailor V when she makes her dramatic appearance in Sailor Moon. Mina appears as a character who is already familiar, and it was fun to see how much she’d evolved between the ending of her own series and her new supporting role in Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon Volume 2

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Volume 2 by Naoko Takeuchi

A ton happens in this volume! It takes a bit of an adjustment to get into the story pacing of Sailor Moon because everything moves so much more rapidly than most recent shoujo manga I’ve read. Usagi/Sailor Moon and Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask are inexplicably drawn to each other. Usagi knows that she should tell the rest of her team that Tuxedo Mask is aware of her secret identity, but she can’t bring herself to talk about it. The sailor senshi speculate about the crescent-shaped mark on the mysterious Sailor V’s forehead and wonder what her significance is to the lost Moon Kingdom. They fight a typical monster of the week scenario when they go up against an evil video rental shop and Sailor V finally makes an appearance, and Luna introduces her as the heir of the Moon Kingdom, the Princess Serenity. I have to say it was amusing to see Sailor V in her fully awakened state in this series, because it stands in stark contrast to the way she was portrayed in her own series. Here’s she’s calm and cool, immediately assuming the role of mentor to the other sailor senshi.

Usagi has been slowly losing her innate silliness as the series progresses, and with the appearance of Sailor V she willingly assumes the protector role she thinks she should have in her role as Sailor Moon. When she’d act like a wimpy crybaby about going into battle before, she announces “Then it’s our job to protect you!” when Sailor V is determined to investigate a mysterious disturbance on Tokyo Tower. Sailor V’s role as royal decoy doesn’t last long as it is quickly revealed that the real Princess Serenity is Usagi. She and Mamoru are playing out the lives previously lived by a princess of the Moon and a prince of Earth. By the end of this volume the Usagi and the sailor senshi have been to the moon (TO THE MOON!), encountered a hologram of Princess Serinity’s mother in a past life, experienced mystical hair growth, and dealt with the terrible heartbreak that happens when your desired future boyfriend has been turned into a minion of evil (MINION OF EVIL!). It is almost on the verge of being a little exhausting, but I find myself amused by all the little quirky touches in this manga, like the way Sailor Mars is always glaring off into the distance and making pronouncements that she senses evil, right before something evil appears. Sailor Moon continues to be both fun and cute, and the more complex mystical bits about mystical reincarnation and the sadness of decrepit architecture on the moon save it from being too sweet for me to enjoy.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Volume 1

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Volume One by Naoko Takeuchi

Sailor Moon is back in print! When I was reading these new editions from Kodansha I decided to start chronologically, so I read Sailor V first and Sailor Moon second. It is interesting seeing the contrasts in character present from the first few pages. In Sailor V, Mina gets in trouble for attempting a daring gymnastics move. In Sailor Moon, Usagi is running off to school with tears in her eyes from dismay at being late. Usagi is presented as the typical not very bright, somewhat ditsy shoujo heroine that most manga readers will be familiar with. But part of the reason why I like Sailor Moon so much is that Takeuchi does manage a couple subtle spins on the well-worn formula that she’s working with.

Usagi has a fateful encounter with a mysterious cat, then goes to school for a typical day. She gets punished and gossips with her classmates about Sailor V. She visits the jewelry store belonging to the family of her friend Naru. Outside, she throws one of her abysmal school papers into the face of a boy wearing a tuxedo and sunglasses. She thinks he’s a pretentious jerk for being so dressed up during the day, and he tells her to “study harder Miss bun-head!” IT IS TRUE LOVE! Later that evening the mysterious cat Luna visits Usagi and tells her that she’s been chosen to be a guardian. She gets her magical girl accessories and the phrase that triggers her transformation sequence (Moon Prism Power Make Up!) and she is off to fight the forces of evil at the jewelry store. This first chapter shows how Takeuchi’s storytelling has improved in contrast to Sailor V. By starting out with an enemy that could be directly hurting one of her friends, there’s more dramatic tension in Sailor Moon as opposed to the endless progression of pop idols that Sailor V fights. Of course, Usagi as Sailor Moon barely fights at all on her first outing. She halfway thinks that she’s dreaming and is surprised that she’s getting hurt, then she reacts to the fight by throwing a tearful temper tantrum. Fortunately her tiara boomerang vanquishes her enemy, and she finds out that she’s being watched by a mysterious man who introduces himself as Tuxedo Mask and says “Sailor Moon, I’ll certainly take note of you.”

Now that Usagi’s general situation is set up, she has to deal with Luna’s demands that she train and gather allies. There are other sailor scouts out there and Usagi has to collect them all (like Pokemon!) while struggling with her feelings for Tuxedo Mask and her own ineptitude. Usagi’s companions are generally in some way more capable than her, but you can see how their different personality traits would contribute to the formation of a good team. Sailor Mercury is a teen genius. Sailor Mars has the moral certainty of a shrine maiden. Sailor Jupiter is strong and brave. The sailor scouts are going after the “Legendary Silver Crystal”, as are their mystical enemies and Tuxedo Mask. Usagi is uncertain if Tuxedo Mask is an enemy or an ally, because while he certainly seems to appear often if she’s in the need of a rescue his motivations are unclear.

Takeuchi’s art seems to have grown a bit smoother when comparing Sailor Moon with Sailor V. The paneling is slightly more complex, although it is still a manga the focuses most on the faces of the characters without much attention paid on setting scenes or background images. The battles and team building in Sailor Moon seem to owe a lot to shonen manga, but being as girly as it is the battles involve costume changes and awesome battle cries instead of violence. While it might be pretty silly for girls to don sailor suits to fight evil, there’s a certain exuberant girl power vibe about the scenes when Sailor Moon and her allies line up to announce that their enemies are about to be punished. I do not know how it is possible not to love a manga that features a girl yelling “You will refrain from underestimating women! And with Mars Power, you will burn! These high-heeled legs will deliver your punishment!”