Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1 by Aya Kanno

I really admire the way Kanno moves from genre to genre, coming up with unique stories each time, at least with her series that have been translated into English. Blank Slate and Otomen are utterly unlike each other, and now with Requiem of the Rose King there’s an entirely different series to enjoy.

Requiem of the Rose King is a retelling of the story of Richard III, which is a topic I tend to enjoy exploring, going way back to when I first read the classic mystery Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey as a young teenager. So I was really interested in seeing how Kanno was going to tackle this story. It opens with the childhood of young Richard during the Wars of the Roses. Richard is a favorite of his father, but his mother views him as a damaged child due to his physical abnormalities. The introduction to Richard is framed with a reference to Joan of Arc’s sin of dressing like a man. Richard is cloaked, roaming through the forest alone after his mother abandoned him. One of his eyes is more prominent than the other, but his face is entirely in shadow. As Richard’s mother sits back in the castle thinking about how evil her own son is, he’s shown being trapped by vines. Richard’s older siblings are integrated into their mother’s affections, but when Richard’s father goes off to fight the Lancasters, he loses his main source of love and affection.

Richard appears to be intersex, or at least having some feminine characteristics while being raised as a boy. Richard sees visions of Joan of Arc tormenting him. He’s determined to be the best son possible for his father. I wasn’t sure exactly which gender to use to refer to him, but since in the first volume Richard clearly identifies as male, I was just going with that for the sake of this review. Richard accidentally strikes up a friendship with young prince Henry. He also meets a girl named Anne Neville. While Richard experiences battle in this volume on the sidelines, the fear and danger that he’s exposed to being left behind are very real. His mother grows even more hostile throughout the volume, which I didn’t even think was possible given how she was introduced initially.

Kanno’s art is great in this volume, and it seems like the subject matter has given her more room to be experimental. Richard’s visions of Joan of Arc keep popping up to make the events he’s experiencing even more unsettling, and there seem to be shadows about to attack lurking in the woods and in castle corners. Close up of eyes are used for dramatic effect often, showing fear, anger, and mental instability. I feel like with this series and Black Rose Alice, Viz is being a bit more adventurous with some of their current manga that might appeal to shoujo readers. While I enjoy a good romance as much as anyone, I am really happy to get a bit more variety on my shelves.

Meteor Prince, Vol 1

Meteor Prince Volume 1 by Meca Tanaka

Meteor Prince is a super cute shoujo series that is ideal to read if you need a break from the winter blahs. It is in some ways like a kinder, less manic version of Urusei Yatsura, because the heroine of the story Hako is cursed with an incredible run of bad luck. The latest incident occurs when a naked alien prince suddenly appears and announces that she’s his soulmate. The alien prince Io is a bit of a benign horndog, as he is constantly asking Hako if she is ready to mate, but at the same time he is always in the right place at the right time to protect her from all the accidents that seem to constantly happen in her vicinity. When Hako protests that she can’t have a relationship with someone she’s not in love with, Io promptly yells “Let’s fall in love!” and their courtship begins.

Hako has a supporting cast of friends in the form of the paranormal research club, who stick close to her despite her bad luck because they are so interested in exploring unexplained phenomena. They are also fascinated by the sudden appearance of the alien, but also want to look out for Hako. Despite Io’s initial approach of dropping out of the sky naked and asking teenage girls to be the mother of his children, he’s actually incredibly enthusiastic about the new environment he’s exposed to on Earth, and his devotion to Hako is absolute. Hako and Io actually end up striking a bit of a friendship, through the usual high school milestones that a reader would usually expect in a shoujo manga. There are plenty of funny hijinks, but what I enjoyed most about this title was the genuine warmth and caring shown in the unlikely romance between Hako and Io.

Tanaka’s art switches between slapstick humor and exaggerated emotions as Hako tries to dodge her bad luck with more contemplative moments like when Io sits and communes with birds for the first time. Her art is engaging, with Hako inspiring feelings of sympathy and Io managing to look both regal and occasionally bizarre, which is exactly what a reader might expect from an alien prince.

This is only a two volume series, and sometimes I’m a little hesitant to recommend such short series because often they seem a bit unfinished or partially developed. I felt satisfied as a reader after reading the first volume of Meteor Prince. I’d be happy if it had gone on for several volumes, but the core of the story was just delightful and entertaining. I expect that this is going to be one of the rare two volume series that gets a permanent place on my bookshelves. I’ve been hoarding Tanaka’s four volume series for Tokyopop, Pearl Pink, and now I’m much more motivated to read that too, since Meteor Prince seems so charming.

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.