Master Keaton Vol 1

Master Keaton Volume 1 by Naoki Urasawa, Takashi Nagasaki, and Hokusei Katsushika

I don’t have the best track record of finishing Naoki Urasawa series. I own all of 20th Century Boys and mean to read it all the way through again. I’ve checked out a couple volumes of Pluto and the first few volumes of Monster. One of these days I will finish an Urasawa series! This failing on my part didn’t stop me from trying out Master Keaton, and I enjoyed the first volume, even though there were a few aspects of the manga that didn’t quite come together for me.

Taichi Hiraga Keaton is a half Japanese half British archaeologist, apathetic professor, and insurance investigator with a unique set of survival skills due to his background in the SAS. He bounces between giving lectures and handling cases for Lloyd’s of London. Many reviewers have referred to Keaton as a mash-up between Indiana Jones and Macgyver, and that’s a good way to sum up the series. Keaton seems to have a bit more inner turmoil than a action hero though, and that’s what makes this series entertaining. We’re introduced to Keaton when a man named Leon Pappas with a substantial life insurance policy dies in Greece. Keaton is dispatched to investigate the murder, but he only has a certain number of days he can allocate to the task, since he has to get back into the classroom the following week.

Keaton’s sensitivity towards antiquities and his excellence in creating weapons out of random kitchen implements are showcased in this story, as he uncovers more facts about the subject of his investigation when he meets Pappa’s girlfriend and manages to fend off some unscrupulous and armed business associates. The rest of the volume is a bit meandering, as different chapters have Keaton explore new mysteries, deal with his teenage daughter, and confront a significant figure from his own past. Aspects of the story here and there are a bit didactic, as the reader is informed about illegal weapons trade, aspects of art forgery, desert survival tactics, and the opium trade. I enjoyed the way the manga skipped around from topic to topic, but I generally enjoy manga with infodumps more when there is some genuine enthusiasm behind conveying all the information. I would happily read chapters upon chapters of a Fumi Yoshinaga where the characters discuss nuances of vegetable chopping, but in Master Keaton I have to admit I found my attention wandering at times.

Keaton’s personality is so reserved and unaffected for the most part. He tends to create a random gadget that saves the day very casually, which is amusing, but it is difficult to see how his adventures are having any impact on him personally. I was glad when his daughter showed up and drew him into an adventure protecting an archeological site, and Keaton’s odd reflexive anxiety about his ex-wife getting married again hints at some deeper emotions. While Urasawa’s art isn’t as polished as his later works, the character designs are all unique and enjoyable and the action scenes are all capably handled. Early Urasawa art is way above the quality of what most artists could aspire to. The over ized deluxe signature edition is really nice, with color pages and a sound effects glossary in the back. I’m curious to see what the next volume of this series is like. In some ways, I liked the shift in focus from unraveling a mystery to family, back to a thriller type story dealing with the drug trade, but at the same time I’m wondering how well that will pan out if the plot continues to skip around like that too much in subsequent volumes.

I’m giving away a copy of this volume, so you can check it out yourself!

Assassination Classroom Vol 1

Assassination Classroom Volume 1 by Yusei Matsui

To be perfectly honest, I would have bought this manga for the title alone. The fact that it is a story about a mysterious tentacled alien teacher looking after a classroom of misfit teenage assassins is just a bonus. The premise of the manga is set up in an effective way, with some elements explained and others just left for the reader to simply accept and move on with the story. The manga opens as the happy face octopus stands in front of the classroom wearing an academic hood and gown. As the day opens the entire class leaps up from their desks with guns and begins to fire away. Their assassination attempts are fruitless, because their teacher can move at super speed and has amazing healing abilities. The assassination classroom is a room full of misfits held in the annex of a normal middle school. One day their teacher showed up, disintegrated a large portion of the moon and said that he would do the same to Earth in one year. Kuro Sensei inexplicably wants to spend a year educating the youth of Earth before he destroys it. The government has offered up a bounty to the member of class 3-E who succeeds in killing their teacher.

Assassination Classroom is filled with humorous elements interspersed with dynamic scenes of assassinations being foiled with ease. For poetry class, Kuro Sensei requires everyone to end their poem with the word “tentacles” and he is always using his supersonic flying power to randomly buy himself treats from around the world. The standout student is Sugino, who spends his days making careful observations of his teacher, slowly gathering intelligence that might eventually lead to a successful assassination. As the volume progresses, more members of the class 3-E are introduced, all of whom have unique abilities. The most amusing aspect of the volume is the fact that for all Kuro Sensei plans on wiping out all of humanity in a year, he is really dedicated to being an excellent teacher. He intervenes in the lives of his troubled students and actually does manage to teach them some useful life lessons. The uplifting aspects of the manga contrast with Earth’s imminent doom in an interesting way. The art is well-executed but somewhat generic. It is amusing to see the variety of expressions on Kuro Sensei’s face, and the unexpected ways his alien powers manifest. I think this series would really appeal to fans of Death Note. So far, Assassination Classroom seems like an ideal pick for people who enjoy manga with a healthy side of dark cynicism on the side.

Honey Blood Volumes 1 and 2

Honey Blood Volumes 1 and 2 by Miko Mitsuki

Two volume manga series are a bit tricky sometimes. They tend to be series that are canceled because they were not entirely successful, and sometimes have unfinished or rushed endings as a result. Sometimes there are two volume series that do end up telling a story satisfactorily, but most of the time when I read them, I either end up acknowledging that I just read a manga that was never going to work or I find myself wishing for just one more volume.

Hinata is a normal high school girl going about her daily life, slightly mystified about the vampire novels that are taking her school by storm. At the same time there have been cases of young girls who are the victims of mysterious attacks in her city. When she comes home one day after school, she bumps into a strange young man in traditional Japanese clothing. He’s accompanied by a clinging female editor. It turns out that he’s Junya Tokinaga, the writer of the novels that Hinata thinks of as ludicrous. Hinata has a tendency to burst out with whatever is on her mind and her first encounter with the famous author has her musing how the central plot point of a vampire giving up immortality to die with the person he loves is difficult to understand. Junya ends up acting bizarrely flirtatious around Hinata while she keeps making comments like “I can’t stand guys like you!”

The neighborhood attacks continue, and Junya saves Hinata from a man who almost assaults her when she is walking alone at night. She begins to be more fascinated with her next door neighbor, and he continues to demonstrate his interest in her. Hinata begins to suspect that Junya is a vampire, and it turns out that Junya’s novels describing a situation where a vampire who kisses a mortal is bound only to her until they both die is based on the conditions of his own vampirism. I thought the art in this series was attractive, but the storyline ended up shoving Hinata and Junya together a little too quickly to be believable. By the end of the first volume, they are almost a couple with Hinata pursuing Junya while he attempts to hold back details of his life from her. The continued vampire attacks make the reader a bit uneasy, as it is unclear if Junya is feeding on other women, or if in fact there are other vampires around.

I think the second volume shows the author throwing a bunch of ideas out to see if anything would stick. Hinata and Junya embark on their unconventional romance. The reader gets a bit of back story when it is revealed that Junya’s long lost love was one of Hinata’s ancestors. Hinata and Junya’s overly solicitous editor get into a conflict of personalities. A rival vampire named Setsuna shows up to complicate the situation further. I liked the romance better in the second volume when Hinata and Junya were an established couple. I also enjoyed the blend of vampire angst and little moments of humor, like when Hinata picks out modern clothes for Junya only for him to promptly become a target for aggressive modeling scouts. As the second volume wrapped up, I found myself wishing that the author had a bit more time to develop the series before launching it in the first place. It seemed like it was starting to get a bit more interesting only to be cut short. If a longer series by Mitsuki gets licensed, I would be interested in reading it, because I’d be curious to see what she could do with more space to develop a series. As it is, I’d recommend Honey Blood for vampire manga collections, or for people who don’t mind reading short manga with abrupt endings.

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign Vol 3

Seraph of the End Volume 3 by Takaya Kagami, Yamato Yamamoto, and Daisuke Furuya

One of the reasons why I like this shonen vampire dystopian series so much is that each volume propels the hero forward to a different stage of development and a different setting. In the third volume, brash yet unexpectedly capable hero Yuichiro has his demon possessed weapon, and now he’s about to become an official vampire hunter when he heads out with his squad to aid other soldiers in Shinjuku. Yuichiro’s new squad consists of the sarcastic and subversive Shinoa, earnest Yoichi, and his cranky new friend Shiho. The balance in the group is upset a bit with the arrival of Mitsuba, an abrasive girl who doesn’t understand why she’s been saddled with a rookie unit.

Yuichiro’s habit of rushing into battle causes tension with the group, since he doesn’t respect the standard tactical formations they are supposed to hold in order to make sure that the entire team is protected. They have a few skirmishes with vampires and survive more due to individual luck than coordinated effort. I have to say, I enjoy Shinoa’s leadership style because she makes pronouncements like “Let us be off on another fun-filled, vampire-slaughtering excursion!” While Yuichiro might be reckless, he’s also just as likely to risk himself to save one of his teammates as he is to charge ahead to fulfill his desire for revenge against vampires.

The reader gets a further glimpse into the life of Yuichiro’s adopted brother turned vampire Mikaela, and it seems like he will be meeting Yuichiro very soon. The combination of good world building, dynamic action scenes, and sarcastic quips makes me confident that Seraph of the End will continue to be very entertaining.

Kiss of the Rose Princess, Vol. 1

Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 1 by Aya Shouoto

I’m always happy to check out a new reverse harem manga. Kiss of the Rose Princess seems a little bit on the wacky and comedic side like Ouran High School Host Club, except it has random paranormal elements, is less ridiculous, and does not feature twins. So actually, not very like Ouran at all. The heroine of the story is Anise Yamamoto, a girl who is cursed with wearing the same rose necklace to school every day in flagrant violation of the dress code, because her father told her that she would be cursed if she ever took the necklace off.

Of course, only a few pages into the manga, Anise’s necklace falls off and she soon finds herself assigned mystical knights who she can summon to do her bidding by kissing cards imprinted with different colored roses. By day they are Kaede the slightly cranky yet typically handsome shoujo hero, Tenjo the secretly freaky student council president, the gothically morose Mutsuki, and the tiny but cute Asagi. Random events at school cause Anise to need help, and as she mystically summons her knights to her side she begins to learn a bit more about their personalities. There are plenty of amusing scenes in Kiss of the Rose Princess, even though it doesn’t approach the manic humor of a series like Ouran High School Host Club or Oresama Teacher.

The art is attractive, but fairly conventional. It doesn’t have much of a distinct style to it, and I tend to enjoy reading manga a bit more if the artist has some recognizable unique takes on character design, backgrounds, or paneling. I found myself picking up and putting down this volume a bit, which might have been a function of me being crazy busy recently, but the story didn’t really capture all of my attention. That being said, Kiss of the Rose Princess was enjoyable to read, as a good example of super light and fluffy manga. I’m hoping that the humor and the relationships between the characters develops a bit more in the second volume.