JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1 Phantom Blood Vol 1

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1 Phantom Blood, Volume 1 by Hirohiko Araki

I read this volume without much background in this series other than knowing that it was a huge and long-running series in Japan, has a bit of a cult following in Japan, and the books that Viz had been releasing under the shonen jump line started midway through the series. This volume goes back to the earliest story arc in the series, kicking things off with the English nobility, bloodthirsty Aztec masks, and people beating the crap out of each other.

The story kicks off in old school shonen fashion, where a scantily clad woman is sacrificed to the wearer of a mysterious stone mask who proclaims that his accessory drinks the blood of the living. Bones from the mask pierce his skull, but he’s still alive and taking on even more blood sacrifices, not worried about staining his stylish leopard skin pelt cape because he has found the secret to eternal life!

The story then skips over to England, where an evil red-haired young man offers his dying father some medicine. Dio’s father tells him a story about how he accidentally saved the life of a nobleman named Joestar when he came across the wreckage of carriage he was intending to scavenge. Brando tells Dio to go to the Joestars when he becomes orphaned, and Dio does, thus starting the torture of poor young Jonathan Joestar. Dio is immediately adopted as a second son by the Joestar family, but since he is basically the spawn of Satan and Jonathan Joestar is like a friendly naive puppy, things do not go well with the new brothers.

Dio is basically a human form of a cancer, undermining the heir to the Joestar family whenever he gets a chance. It has been a long time since I’ve read a shonen manga this manly! There are speed lines and yelling on almost every page. Jonathan and Dio engage in fistfights and boxing matches, where one blow will end up knocking a half dozen teeth into the air. Towards the end of the book the legacy of the blood drinking Aztec mask is further explored, and Jonathan finally begins to get proof of Dio’s nefarious deeds. The art is really dynamic although the proportions are often a bit off. Often one of the muscular bodies of the main characters will look like it is supporting a shrunken head. If Rob Liebefeld and Tetsuo Hara of Fist of the North Star mashed up their styles you might end up with something like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, except Araki can actually draw feet. I’m sure the art gets much better in subsequent volumes, and even though it wasn’t always to my taste I couldn’t deny the effectiveness of the energy of the many battle scenes in the manga.

As a main character, Jonathan Joestar lets himself be taken advantage of for far too long, but he does manage to battle back as shonen heroes always do. The hardcover edition is really nicely designed, with color pages shifting to further tonal pages where the black and white art is enlivened by shades of orange. This volume ends on a cliffhanger, and I do want to know what happens next, as I assume it will involve more stone mask blood drinking and face punching. I can certainly see why this is such a long-running and popular series in Japan. Recommended for those who want a major dose of testosterone in their manly manga.

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.