Monday, December 17, 2007

Mail Volume 1

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: Created by the artist from Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Housui Yamazaki, the series follows private detective Reiji Akiba, who specializes in the paranormal. Volume 1 opens with a nude model shoot, which immediately tells you why the books are wrapped in plastic. The shoot is in a river, and according to the location scout, it was beautiful. Apparently, it flooded, and everything from trash to a skeleton got washed into the area.

The photos reveal even more creepiness. Aside from the nude woman, there is also a headless girl in the photo. This is when we're introduced to the eccentric (a nice way of saying very weird) Akiba. He believes that the dead try to communicate with us every day, and that if we read their "mail", then we can help put them to rest. Sometimes, the dead aren't cooperative, so he also has special bullets with prayers on them that help put the more unruly spirits to rest as well.

I like Mail, but I hope it picks up steam. There are a lot of parallels to Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, which I love, but it doesn't quite capture the dark humor. It's more like Trigun meets horror, which could be fantastic if the series builds up steam.

Check out more manga and anime reviews at Hobotaku!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

High School Debut Volume 1

Overall Rating: C
Synopsis: A shōjo manga created by Kazune Kawahara, the series follows Haruna Nagashima, who has just entered high school. In Middle School, Haruna was dedicated to softball, and didn't get involved in much else. Now, in High School, she has decided to apply the same dedication to finding a boyfriend. There's only one problem, she doesn't have a clue how to get started.

At the beginning of the manga, we see Haruna in ridiculous outfits (well, not that ridiculous, but pretty bad), and awkwardly standing around at dating spots. Fortunately, she accidentally runs into Yoh, who gives her some advice. She decides she wants him to coach her, and help her find a boyfriend. It doesn't hurt that he is a hottie.

At first, Yoh refuses, but eventually he relents, on one condition. Haruna is not allowed to fall in love with him!

So far, High School Debut seems thoroughly average. The plot is your standard high school makeover, with the hot guy coaching the plain girl on how to be more attractive. Will they end up falling in love with each other? I hope not, since that would be boringly typical for a plot like this. I'm hoping for something more along the lines of The Wallflower, an excellent makeover manga about a goth girl and four bishōnen. Unfortunately, this manga isn't doing much for me. I don't love it, but I don't hate it either. Hopefully, the plot will pick up some, and the characters will become more interesting.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hell Girl Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: Hell Girl is a series of short stories that detail the suffering of different people. Typically, there is an antagonist who causes them to suffer, making the individual's life miserable. Fortunately, there is hope for these unfortunate souls (OOoooo dramatic!). Heard about through whispers and rumors, there is a website that can only be accessed at midnight. Known as Jigoku Tsūshin (Hell Correspondence), should someone submit the name of their persecutor (or really just anyone you hate), the Jigoku Shōjo (Hell Girl) will visit them. She has a creepy voice and red eyes, and will offer you a straw doll with a red string wound about its neck. If the string is pulled, she will send your persecutor to Hell by way of trippy hallucinations. However, if you condemn your persecutor to Hell, your soul will also be sent to Hell when you die.

I really like Hell Girl so far. The only reason I didn't rate it higher is there is a lot of repetition of the way the Hell Correspondence works, and the fact that each episode is an unrelated short story. However, they seem to be setting up the series to follow Ai (Hell Girl) and give her more of a background. That holds a lot of promise, so hopefully as the series progresses, it will get even better.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: Originally titled Tekkon Kinkreet in the Japanese release, the title is a play on "Tekkin Concrete" the Japanese term for reinforced concrete. The movie was directed by Michael Arias, animated by Studio 4°C, and adapted from "Black and White", a one-volume seinen manga series by Taiyō Matsumoto. Set in the fictional Treasure Town, the movie centers around a pair of orphan kids who live on the city's streets, Black and White. Black is older and tougher (some say he's the toughest kid in the city), and protects the child-like (and perpetually snot-nosed) White). Together they make up the gang known as Neko (or Cats).

Black & White seem to have some special abilities, such as the ability to fly (or at least jump and glide further than a normal person could), and being pretty fucking bad-ass for a couple of kids. The first part of the movie focuses on the duo as they confront rival orphan gangs and even the local yakuza.

Things are going well for Black & White until a mysterious snake-faced entrepreneur with blue-skinned giant assassins show up. He begins working with the some of the local yakuza to tear down Treasure Town and replace it with an amusement park. Since Black and White are against the idea, he sends his assassins to kill them.

The most interesting (and confusing) part of the movie comes when White is seriously hurt and then separated from Black. Without White's influence, Black goes insane and even more violent than he already was. Can Treasure Town, and Black, be saved?

When I rented Tekkonkinkreet I was expecting a fun movie about orphan kid gangs with cute animal names "fighting" each other over territory. What I got was a very strange, pretty messed up, and pretty awesome movie. It's not what I expected, and it felt really slow in parts, but I definitely recommend it. Especially if, like me, you're into philosophy.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Yume Kira Dream Shoppe

Overall Rating: D
Synopsis: This fantasy shōjo, created by Aqua Mizuto, we meet Rin. A mysterious shopkeeper, Rin makes dreams come true, but only for a steep price. The shop in question, Yume Kira Dream Shoppe, is magical and (as is driven home at the beginning and end of almost every chapter) flies through the sky at dusk.

If you happen across the shop, or Rin hears your wish, he may grant it in exchange for something valuable in return. For example, in one story a tree wishes to become human. In exchange for granting the wish, Rin asks for the trees leaves. He travels with a stuffed animal named Alpha, who has been animated by Rin's magic.

I picked this book up on a whim, and regret it. From the description, I was hoping for something along the lines of xxxHolic, which has similar (but darker and more interesting) themes. Unfortunately, Yume Kira Dream Shoppe insists on ending every story with a sugary sweet happy ending and a reminder about how awesome the shop is. That was fine the first chapter or two, but it got old quickly.

On top of that, each chapter is a short story, and the only connection between stories is the shop. As a result, it was hard to care about any of the characters or situations presented. I recommend you steer clear of this one.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Overall Rating: A
Synopsis: The series is created by writer Mike Carey and artists Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel for DC Comics' Minx line. It follows Jen Dik Seong (or "Dixie"), a high school girl from a poor Korean American family. Dixie's passion is training in the ancient martial art of hapkido. The only problem is that her training keeps getting messed up, because she has a HUGE crush on a boy in her class, Adam. In order to impress him, she buys him a very expensive statue of one of the first Hapkido warriors with the money her parents gave her to enter a Hapkido tournament.

Now, Dixie has to figure out how to get into the tournament, and win Adam's affections.

I really enjoyed this book. Hell, I could almost just leave it at that. Re-Gifters is a fun, cute book with realistic characters and a well-done plot. It reminded me a little of the Karate Kid, if the main character was a young Korean American girl, and the story was a lot better. Oh, and Daniel-san had a crush on "Sweep the Leg" Johnny. Check this one out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Wallflower Volume 1

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: A Shōjo comedy/romance manga created by Tomoko Hayakawa. At the beginning of the manga, Sunako Nakahara confesses her love to a boy, who utterly rejects her and tells her she's ugly. As any reasonably young person would do, Sunako then discards all traces of her femininity, and retreats into odd and morbid hobbies, such as collecting skulls.

Fortunately, Sunako's aunt owns a mansion that four gorgeous boys live in (huh?). Apparently, the boys pay rent to live in the mansion, and the aunt offers them free rent if they give Sunako a Pygmalian-esque makeover, and she becomes a "perfect lady". The boys set to work, and hilarity ensues.

Often, Sunako is shown as an exaggerated version of her true self that looks like a female version Cartman from Southpark. Will these gorgeous boys succeed? Will Sunako's inner beauty shine through?

I passed over The Wallflower several times before checking it out. I'm not a huge fan of the art, but I love the ridiculous plot so far. This works pretty well as a comedy/romance Shōjo, and I'm interested in the characters. The series is ongoing, so I'm not sure how long they can keep the plot interesting, but I'll definitely be reading it for awhile. It has a lot of potential.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

XS Hybrid Volume 1

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: Created by S. Ji-Hyung, the series is a science fiction story, and one of Dark Horse's new Manwha (South Korean manga) titles. The story is set in a future where some humans have become "hybrids", with special powers, and follows Mina, a tomboy with psychic powers (clearly one of the hybrids). These hybrids police the planet, or kill many, many people, or both.

A lot of the plot in the first volume focuses on Hinchang, a normal kid who is in love with Mina (despite the fact that she put him in a coma years before. That's love.) Hinchang spends most of the book saving Mina from being attacked by another hybrid (who looks cool and has psychic powers), and various other mysterious men (re: bad guys) who are trying to capture/kill Mina.

I like XS Hybrid, but I don't love it. I don't think there are enough really good science fiction manga/manwha, and this one comes close. Basically, I want to love it, but it hasn't grabbed me yet. I think it's because I'm not totally thrilled with either Hinchang or Mina. Hinchang isn't really interesting aside from apparently being a daredevil, and Mina seems incapable of defending herself, despite having psychic powers. Hopefully, both will develop into interesting characters in later volumes.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Shugo Chara! Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: Created by Peach-Pit, the series is a shōjo manga that follows Amu Hinamori, a student at Seiyo Elementary. Amu has a reputation for being stylish and cool (that's her to the left), but she's really very shy. One night, she makes a wish that she could be her real self, and the next morning she finds three brightly colored eggs in her bed. Each egg eventually hatches a Guardian Character, angel-like beings able to change Amu into a new personality. She also has to deal with the Guardians of Seiyo Elementary, a student council group who have their own Guardian Characters (and a really stupid looking cape).

Of course, the current Guardian King at Seiyo (Guardians are based on cards, so you have King, Queen, Jack and Ace) is Tadase Hotori, Amu's love interest. As an example of how a Guardian Character can affect someone, whenever someone refers to Tadase as "Prince" (his nickname), he changes into a violent, egotistical king who wishes to rule the world. Fun, right?

I grabbed the first volume of Shugo Chara!, because it looked ridiculously cute. So far, the first volume has delivered on that cuteness in spades. The plot is interesting and while it has some familiar aspects (for example, student council being treated like royalty, and the main character having mixed emotions about joining said council), I like the concept of Guardian Characters, and it's different enough to be intriguing. Hopefully the series will live up to its promise.

Friday, November 16, 2007

School Rumble Volume 1

Overall Rating: D+
Synopsis: Created by Jin Kobayashi, the series is a romance comedy that follows Tenma Tsukamoto. Tenma attends Yagami High School, and is in love with the stoic Oji Karasuma. Meanwhile, the male protagonist, Kenji Harima, a delinquent, has developed a crush on Tenma. Both Harima and Tenma have difficulty telling their respective crushes how they feel, and so (of course) hilarity (supposedly) ensues.

There is also a large cast of supporting characters, and I could go into great detail about all of their various relationships to the main characters, but unlike Cromartie High School, the supporting cast doesn't consist of a robot, a gorilla or Fred Mercury (at least not that I've seen).

When I picked up volume 1 of School Rumble, I was hoping that it would be in the same vein as Cromartie High School. A large cast of interesting characters that I wanted to read more about and made me laugh. Not so much. Volume 1 utterly failed to get me interested. I didn't hate the characters, or the plot, but I just didn't care about either. I'm wondering if, like Cromartie, this one's better as an anime. For its sake, I hope so.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bombos vs. Everything Volume 1

Overall Rating: F
Synopsis: Created by Maximo V. Lorenzo, the series follows the titular Bombos, a paperboy who talks and fights too much. In the series, paperboys are a guild that involves a lot of strange challenges and fighting, and very little paper delivery. In the world of Bombos, there is only one goal, to get out of the backwater town he lives in, and move to the "totally awesome" city of Bokonon. To accomplish this goal, Bombos must win the mysterious (and somehow at the same time uninteresting) Qualifiers, overcome the bizarre challenges his editor-in-chief throws at him, defeat his annoying rival Veng, and dealing with his feelings for his friend Addy.

I like checking out American manga to see what's being done in that style these days, so I tried checking out Bombos vs. Everything. This book was a big disappointment for me. The art looked cool, and I was hoping for something in the vein of Scott Pilgrim or Black Metal, but the series is trying too hard. Maybe it will get more interesting in Volume 2 (apparently the series is a trilogy), but I can't recommend this one. If you're looking for good non-Japanese manga, pick up Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley, East Coast Rising by Becky Cloonan, Black Metal by Rick Spears and Chuck BB, or King City by Brandon Graham instead.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kitchen Princess Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: Written by Miyuki Kobayashi and drawn by Natsumi Ando, Kitchen Princess is a shōjo cooking series that follows Najika Kazami. Najika is an orphan from Hokkaidō, who lost her parents in an accident. After the accident, Najika thought about trying to kill herself to be with them again. Before she falls into a river to drown, a small boy catches her. He gives her his flan which has a silver spoon it. As he runs off to join his parents, Najika promises to make him the best treat ever. Eventually, she learns that the emblem on the spoon is from the Seika Academy school, so she sets out to become a great cook and get into the school.

However, after getting into Class A (the special class) at Seika Academy, Najika learns her problems are only beginning. She has to figure out who her "Flan Prince" is, and suffer the insults of the other girls in Class A. It turns out that every kid in Class A has a special talent, and the girls in Najika’s class think she doesn’t deserve to be there. She also meets and befriends Sora and Daichi Kitazawa, two brothers who hate each other, but are the most popular boys in school. They also realize what Najika's special talent is, her amazing cooking.

I liked the title of Kitchen Princess, so I decided to read the first volume. It's a cute manga, and the only reason I didn't give it an A is because the plot isn't very original. That being said, I love that they print the recipes for everything that Najika makes in the back of each volume. Especially since so many of the recipes sound delicious!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Ouran High School Host Club

Overall Rating: A
Synopsis: Created by Bisco Hatori, the series follows Haruhi Fujioka, a scholarship student at the prestigious Ouran High School. Haruhi is a girl, but she got gum put in her hair so she cut it short, and wears boys clothes. This wouldn't be terribly important, but one day she stumbles across the school's Host Club. The Host Club is basically a place for six idly rich pretty boys to be idly rich pretty boys, and idly rich pretty girls to come and fawn over them and pretend the boys are their fiancées and boyfriends. After breaking an extremely valuable vase, it is determined that Haruhi will work off her debt by becoming a member of the club. Despite the fact that she is neither idly rich, nor a boy. Oh ho dear readers, what will happen next?

After reading the description for the series, I knew I would love Ouran High School Host Club. Or, more accurately, I hoped it wouldn't be one of those manga that sounds really good, and then sucks. I read the first volume last night, and kept bothering my girlfriend by giggling while she was trying to work. I particularly loved the Host Club members, and especially loved Tamaki, the Host Club King.

He insists that everyone call him the king of the host club (even though no one does), and sulks in the corner if anyone is mean to him (which happens a lot). In short, he reminded me of me. Therefore, I spent most of the night posing, pouting, and acting like the characters in the book. I couldn't tell if this delighted or annoyed my girlfriend, or both. I am betting on the latter.

I also enjoyed how fascinated the club members were by "proletarian" food, like instant coffee and ramen. They had never eaten it before, and make a huge fuss about trying some "prole coffee". It's hilarious. I highly recommend this one to fans of Shojo manga.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Yakitate!! Japan Volume 1

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: Created by Takashi Hashiguchi, Yakitate!! Japan is a cooking/comedy manga that follows Kazuma Azuma, a boy on his quest to create "Ja-pan", a national bread for Japan. He hopes to create a bread that people will want to eat as much as rice.

A few months ago, I was picking up some manga and comics from Chapel Hill Comics, when Andy (the owner) suggested I check out Yakitate!! Japan. I picked up the first volume, and was highly amused by it. It pokes fun at shonen titles, using standards of that genre in the context of baking. The only problem is the joke can get a little old. Fortunately, it gets funny again pretty quickly. If you want something that'll make you laugh, check this one out.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Zombie Powder Volume 1

Overall Rating: D-
Synopsis: Created by Tite Kubo (creator of Bleach), Zombie Powder is an unfinished manga with a futuristic-western setting (not unlike Trigun). The main characters is Gamma Akutabi, a mysterious man wrapped in a past shrouded in enigma (or something). He is hunting the Zombie Powder, which supposedly can bring the dead back to life and give the living immortality. Gamma has mastered an art of fighting called Karin Zanjutsu (which normally takes 32 years to master) in only 4 years. He is helped in his search for the Zombie Powder by a pickpocket named Elwood, his partner CT, and Wolfina, a female "journalist of justice".

I picked up Zombie Powder because I love Bleach, and the same creator did both series. However, the quality of work on this manga is much lower. The plot and characters have a recycled feel to them, and none of it really draws you in. I kept waiting to get into the series more (I've read the first two volumes), but I kept being disappointed. The only thing the series has going for it is that Gamma looks cool. Unfortunately, that's not enough to make me want to keeping spending money on it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Black God Volume 1

Overall Rating: B-
Synopsis: Written by Dall-Young Lim and with art by Sung-Woo Park, Black God follows Keita Ibuki, an immature computer programmer who mooches off of his girlfriend, Akane Sano. One night on his way home from getting wasted, Keita meets a young woman named Kuro (who refers to herself in the third person) in a ramen stand. Feeling sorry for someone he mistakes as homeless (though technically she is), he gives her his soup. Unbeknownst to Keita, Kuro is a Mototsumitama (a godlike creature charged with maintaining balance in the world). When a fight between Kuro and a mysterious man breaks out, Keita is caught in the crossfire and loses an arm. He blacks out, only to wake up the next morning in his apartment, arm intact. Keita soon realizes that the arm attached to him is Kuro's, and that the arm now connects him to her. As long as she is near him, she is more powerful, but if they are separated, she weakens. Keita's life just got a lot more complicated!

I like giving new publishers of manga a shot, so I have been working my way through the new titles from Yen Press. After enjoying Zombie Loan, I decided to check out Black God. I was intrigued by the premise, and so far it hasn't disappointed. I like the characters, and the plot may not be ground-breaking, but it is solid. The only major drawback is the plot is seems to be taking it's time building up. Hopefully the second volume improves on that.

The second volumes of Black God and Zombie Loan come out in February 2008.

Monday, October 29, 2007

St. Lunatic High School Volume 1

Overall Rating: D+
Synopsis: Created by Majiko, St. Lunatic High School (also known as Yoru nimo Makezu) follows Niko Kanzaki and her brother Atchan. At the beginning of volume 1, we find them jumping out the window of their apartment because they are several months late on rent, and Atchan just got a job at the prestigious St. Lunatic High School. Niko is enrolled in night classes, which are full of demons. What wild hijinks will happen when you mix a human girl with a bunch of demon kids?

The answer, as far as I can tell, to my own question is inanity. I found little to like about the first volume of St. Lunatic High School, other than that the art is very cute (which is what drew me in initially). Beyond that, the plot seems weak and the characters haven't drawn me in. Some of the demon/human interaction is funny (the demons keep picking on and making fun of Niko because shes a human), but otherwise I just found myself bored.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Welcome to the NHK Volume 1

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: It's difficult to summarize "Welcome to the NHK". Written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto with art by Kendi Oiwa, the series follows Tatsuhiro Satō, a 22-year-old hikikomori (a shut in) who has no job. His only source of income is his parents giving him money. He is also a massive pervert. In the first volume, he learns that Kaoru Yamazaki, a fellow otaku from the same High School, is living next door (and playing anime soundtracks loudly). Tatsuhiro also meets Misaki Nakahara, a mysterious young woman who claims to be part of a group that helps hikikomori. Tatsuhiro and Kaoru decide to develop a porn video game, and hijinks ensue.

I kept running across Welcome to the NHK in stores and considered buying the first volume. Then Amazon started recommending I buy it. I don't know if it was the fact that I kept running in to the title, or whether the concept eventually convinced me to give it a try, or what, but I recently decided to take the plunge and read volume 1.

Having finished it, I'm still not sure what to think. The story teeters between Tatsuhiro being an endearing otaku and an outright pervert. He develops a disturbing lolita complex, that gets so bad he goes to take upskirt photos of school girls as they leave school. It's hard to root for a guy that's so disturbed, but I found myself hoping he would pull out of the tail-spin and get his life together.

I will say this, the book made me laugh and cringe, sometimes at the same time. I will probably flip through the second volume to see if it's worth following the series.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Shinshoku Kiss Volume 1

Overall Rating: D-
Summary: Shinshoku Kiss by Kazuko Higashiyama is the story of Kashiwagi Kotoko, an amateur dollmaker who idolizes Fool, her favorite doll designer. Unfortunately, the old adage "Be careful what you wish for" applies in this case. She gets to work as his assistant, but Fool curses her with a "shinshoku" kiss. If she doesn't do as he says, she will turn into an old woman.

I picked this one up, because it sounded like an interesting premise, and it is. Unfortunately, after reading the first volume, that's all it has so far. The most interesting character is fool's mute brother, who has a mysterious bandage on his neck. Where does Fool get his powers? What does Star (Fool's mysterious masterpiece) look like? These questions may eventually be answered, but I'm not sure if I care or not.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Red Garden Anime Review of Disc 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: Red Garden is a supernatural/horror/drama/mystery anime by Gonzo studio. The plot follows Kate, Rachel, Rose, and Claire, who all go to the same private school in New York. All four wake up one morning with no memory of the last night. The following night, they are all visited by red butterflies that lead them to a woman named Lula who tells them they are dead. For obvious reasons, this only confuses them more. She also reveals that the four girls must fight strange creatures for them to stay alive. However, they soon realize she's telling the truth, as one of the creatures attacks them.

I'll be the first to admit I have a soft spot for supernatural manga and anime. So, when I heard about Red Garden I knew I had to check it out. I haven't gotten that far into it yet, but I'm already glad I got the first disc from Netflix. The plot shows a lot of promise, and I want to know the whole story behind the four girls and how they're alive.

I will say there are a couple of scenes where Rose cries a lot. Based on her crying alone, Rose is my least favorite character. Seriously, if you heard it, you'd probably agree. Ouch. I would have rated Red Garden higher if it weren't for that, and the pretty bad musical montage in one of the episodes.

Aside from those pretty minor aspects, I'm looking forward to where the series is going. I recommend checking this one out if you like supernatural plots.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tokyo Godfathers - Anime Review

Rating: A

Synopsis: Three homeless people, Miyuki (the runaway girl), Hana (the ex drag queen) and Gin (the drunk) discover a baby abandoned in the trash on Christmas Eve. They baby becomes a catalyst for a journey that time after time serves up some crazy coincidences.

Tokyo Godfathers is a ridiculously heartwarming and wacky movie, while simultaneously having a lot of serious content - the main characters are homeless, people get beat up, etc..

Satoshi Kon directed/wrote/lots of stuff for this movie, and his ability to combine wackiness and true human feelings in an animated setting really shows. One of the elements of his style that show up a lot are ridiculously detailed and realistic backdrops, with slightly overly-cartoony characters set against them.

I don't want to give away any of the major plot points of the movie, it has a lot of twists and turns, and despite the darker components of the plot, it is lighthearted overall. Many elements of the Christian Christmas story come up, as well as the importance of family, giving the movie a good chance of becoming a Christmas tradition in any house - I highly suggest watching it in December!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Zombie Loan Volume 1

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: Michiru Kita is a mousy girl, who runs errands for her friends, and has Shinigami Eyes, which allow her to see a ring around a person's neck. This ring symbolizes the person's impending death; once they are marked to die, a gray ring, which is invisible to normal people, appears around their neck. Over time, the ring gets darker, and once the ring turns completely black, the person dies. Chika Akatsuki and Shito Tachibana, two boys in her class, both have black rings around their necks, but to her surprise, they are not yet dead. Who are these boys, and what do they have to do with the strange loan office called Zombie Loan?

I picked up the first volume of this one because of the title. It doesn't hurt that I like things with zombies in them. Then I checked out the description and it drew me in. I was sure I would be rating this one with an A+. Unfortunately, the first volume didn't blow me away. It's actually a little slow paced, but I really liked the concept so I stuck with it, and I wasn't disappointed.

Zombie Loan is basically a twist on the numerous manga out there featuring shinigami, and life after death. Chika and Shito provide the bad ass dudes aspect to the story, with a gun and sword attached to their bodies by chains, and mysterious pasts. However, instead of the usual buxom girl we get the mousy Michiru. Unfortunately, that's where the characters stop in the first volume. We're also introduced to some minor characters, who add flavor to the book, and hopefully are expanded on later in the series.

So far, I have a bit of a soft spot for Michiru, but I hope she grows as a character more in future volumes. One of the reasons I only rated this volume a B is because I haven't grown attached to any of the characters. The plot is interesting, the art is good, and I'm looking forward to where they go with things, but the characters seem pretty one dimensional. Hopefully this will pick up soon (and maybe add another woman to the cast) so I can cosplay Chika. I think Will would make an excellent Shito.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Scott Pilgrim Volumes 1-3

Overall Rating: A³
Synopsis: Created by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim is an action/comedy/romance comic/graphic novel/manga depending on how snobby you want to be about those sorts of things. At the beginning of volume 1, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Scott is 23 and dating Knives Chau (a 17-year-old). He's in between jobs and in a band called Sex Bob-omb. He is awesome (if a little sketch for dating a 17-year-old. The story is set in Canada, and Scott is living with his gay roomate, Wallace Wells. All pretty normal, right? Then Scott meets and falls in love with Ramona Flowers, she's a delivery person for, can travel through sub-space, and has seven evil boyfriends. In order to date Ramona, Scott has to defeat her ex-boyfriends. Somehow, this isn't that weird.

I can't remember when I first heard about Scott Pilgrim or why I ended up picking up the first volume, but I wish I could travel back in time and high-five whomever or whatever caused me to do so. I've devoured the first three volumes and am eagerly awaiting the fourth. The book is hilarious, differently awesome, and makes me laugh out loud.

If you have not read the first volume of Scott Pilgrim, do so now. Now!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Aishiteruze Baby ★★

Overall Rating: C+
Synopsis: Kippei Katakura is a 17-year-old playboy who spends his time chasing girls, careless of their feelings. But when his 5-year-old cousin Yuzuyu comes to live with his family after her mother's sudden disappearance, Kippei is put in charge of taking care of her.

I wasn't sure what to think when I started reading Aishiteruze Baby ★★ in an issue of Shojo Beat, and I'm still not sure. Kippei, the main character, is a horny 17-year-old (no surprise there), and has no idea how to take care of a 5-year-old. At one point, he forgets she needs a lunch and gets her some onigiri from the store instead. I've only read the first volume, but already I can tell that Kippei is going to learn a lot from taking care of Yuzuyu, become more responsible, and will probably have only one girlfriend. I'm also sure wacky hijinks will ensue. The only real question is how soon that will happen, and what pitfalls stand in his way. Unfortunately, the first volume didn't grab me enough to make me want to read any more unless I'm really bored one day. Or I have to start taking care of a 5-year-old cousin I never knew I had.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Q-Ko Chan Volume 1

Overall Rating: C+
Synopsis: Q-Ko Chan is written by Ueda Hajime, who also adapted FLCL into manga form. The story follows Kirio Muji, who doesn't care about anything, not even his sister. As he is walking home one day, an air raid begins (apparently a common occurrance in the world of Q-Ko Chan) but Kirio seems unfazed and continues home. Outside his home, he finds a robot girl who protects him from a barrage of bullets and then flies into a forest. From there Q-Ko Chan becomes stranger and stranger.

I love FLCL, so when I saw that the person that adapted it for manga was doing an original manga, I was excited. Q-Ko Chan's art and style are fun and different from most manga, but the plot is hard to follow, and the characters are difficult to relate to. That being said, the art really is neat, and extremely cute. I recommend flipping through it and seeing if it's to your tastes. You can check out a 30 page preview by clicking the title of this post.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cutie Honey

Overall Rating: A+
Synopsis: The live action Cutey Honey is based on the long running media franchise of the same name. Created by Go Nagai and is considered the prototype for the transforming magical girl. Honey Kisaragi is a regular Catholic schoolgirl, until the day her father is murdered by the "Panther Claw" Organization. After his death, she learns she is actually an android created by him and within her is the Fixed System of Air Elements. By saying "Honey Flash!" she can transform into the sword-wielding red-haired superhero, Cutie Honey. Also, according to the theme song, she has the tiniest butt.

Cutey Honey is ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome. Cutey Honey gets her energy from eating...a lot, and she loves onigiri. The movie is basically campy fun, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a good laugh and a great time. Just don't expect to take it seriously.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Gentleman's Alliance Volume 1 Manga Review

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: Written and drawn by Arina Tanemura, Gentleman's Alliance follows 15-year old Haine Otomiya as she starts high school at the exclusive Imperial Academy. Haine has been in love with Shizumasa Togu since she read the fairy tale he wrote as a child. However, he is now the Emperor (top student) at the Academy, and almost impossible to see if you aren't a Silver (second tier student) or on the student council. Haine is only a bronze, and rumor has it the Emperor already has a lover...a man.

I wasn't sure whether to love or hate Gentleman's Alliance when, in one of the earliest scenes in Volume 1, the school's delinquents released snakes into the assembly room (I am terrified of snakes). Fortunately, the snakes didn't look remotely real, and Haine captures all of them (apparently she can do so easily because she was born in the year of the snake). So, I kept reading and enjoyed the rest of volume 1.

Haine was a yanki in middle school, but has since reformed. However, she ends up getting pretty violent a couple of times in the first volume (especially after she becomes the Emperor's bodyguard) and knocks around some of the pretty boy delinquents (who are not what they seem). The only drawback is the series is I keep feeling like I've seen these characters in other manga and anime (Haine reminds me a lot of Tohru's mom in Fruits Basket).

That being said, overall it's a fun book, and I'll definitely be checking volume 2 out to see if the series develops more.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: CLUBBING is an original graphic novel written by Andi Watson (Geisha, Paris, Skeleton Key) and illustrated by Josh Howard (Dead @ 17) and done in the manga format (size, style, etc.). The story follows Charlotte "Lottie" Brook, a rich kid who lives in London, is into goth music, and platform shoes who lives a life of luxury. Then she gets caught with a fake i.d. and is "exiled" to her grandparents country club in the middle of the English countryside, which is to say, the middle of nowhere as far as Lottie is concerned. However, everything is not as it seems, as murder is afoot at the country club. Will Lottie save the day? Will she fall in love with the groundskeeper?

Murder mysteries involving golf courses would normally not interest me, but the cover of the book drew me in. I'm a sucker for goth girls, and I love Andi Watson's writing. CLUBBING is also the third book from DC's female-friendly Minx> line of comics, and I was interested in seeing what it was like. So, I flipped through the book a little, and decided to pick it up.

The book is a fun read, and worth the cover price if you enjoy all things gothic. The humor value of a club kid out in the English countryside is hilarious enough, but throw in the satanist goths she meets out there, her hapless grandparents, an evil cult, and you've got a pretty good book. Unfortunately, the story is a little too predictable, but if you're not looking for something too deep, check it out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

East Coast Rising Volume 1

Overall Rating: A
Synopsis: Becky Cloonan writes and draws East Coast Rising, a story about punk rock pirates in a world where New Jersey is submerged in water.

East Coast Rising is one of those books I have been meaning to pick up for awhile, but for one reason or another, I haven't gotten around to it. Fortunately, I finally picked up the first volume, and am glad I did. Becky Cloonan has created an alternate universe full of punk rock pirates (my favorite kind).

The series follows Archer, a young pirate whose ship is destroyed at the beginning of the first volume. He's rescued by Cannonball Joe, the Captain of La Revancha, and Archer soon joins the ship as a cabin boy. Along with Joe, the La Revancha is home to Deathsnake, a man who loves trouble, Deathsnake's adorable niece El, and Abby (she's crazy good at fishing).

The crew is in search of a legendary treasure, but they have a number of obstacles to overcome. Not least of which is Lee, the reckless and vicious captain of the Hoboken, whose crew runs most of New Jersey. Punk rock may be dead, but it's a pirate's life for me.

The first volume is charming and fun, and the second volume is scheduled to come out in October.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lolita Shopping Online

A lot of us in the States are now into the lolita style that has been spreading like a cute and dastardly climbing rose. In my case, I have a hard time finding any of the clothes locally, and must rely entirely on online shops to feed the cuteness. I haven't found a good list of lolita shopping bookmarks online, so I compiled my own. And now I'm going to share.

Lolita Shops Online
(All shops located in the U.S. unless otherwise indicated)

Pegasus Maiden - $70 - $90 for a dress, All loli-styles, original designs (also accepts custom orders)
Stocking Shock (U.K.) - All loli-styles, original designs (also accepts custom orders), will send price quotes on request
Rakuen Fashion - $120 - $150 for a dress (usually includes petticoat and headress), all loli-styles, tons of dresses to select from, original designs (also takes custom orders)
Candy Violet - $140 - $170 for a dress, all loli-styles, small selection, original designs
Blasphemina's Closet - $125 - $180 for a dress, mostly sweet loli style, small selection of handmade items (including accessories)
Starry Petals - $210 - $280 for a dress, mostly Elegant Goth loli style, a small selection of very good dresses, also carries cosplay uniforms
Fan Plus Friend (Asia?) - $50 - $130 for a dress, all loli-styles, wide selection and price ranges, also carries cosplay items
Momo's Handicrafts (Canada) - $35 - $85 for a dress, all loli-styles, eBay shop, wide selection and price ranges, handmade/custom items, carries tons of accessories
Retroscope Fashions - $50 - $150 for a dress, mostly Elegant Goth loli style, a small amount of really nice dresses, lots of accessories, some really nice menswear also
In the Starlight - $80 - $100 for a dress, all loli-styles, lots of selection separates, new and original designs (will take custom orders)
The White Peacock - $40 - $90 for a dress, all loli-styles, small selection of some basic dresses, lots of accessories
Shattered Glass Designs (Canada) - $80 - $150 for a dress , small selection of constantly changing dresses
Capsule Tokyo (Europe) - $200 for a dress, all loli-styles, some different designs, mostly ordered from Japan
Nique Tour (Japan) - $40 - $50 for a dress, all loli-styles, custom made dresses, eBay store, also carries cosplay items & loli accessories
Neko Works (Singapore) - $130 - $150 for a dress, Pre-order goth loli clothing items

Here's a few places not in English, so if you're multi-lingual, this may work for you:
Lucky Pinky - All loli-styles, in Japanese though
Pinky - Mostly gothic lolita, all in Dutch?
Metamorphose (Japan) - All loli-styles, tons of selection, $200 for a dress

Mostly Accessories:
Victorian Trading Company - a fun place to look for accessories like fans and other Victorian style items
Gloomth - A few goth loli clothing items, mostly goth accessories, regular shop and eBay shop
Black Alice (Singapore) - Only goth loli accessories, some Baby the Stars Shine So Bright branded things, also carries cosplay items

I even made a guide on Amazon, for anyone who's not interested in venturing very far into new online stores: Goth Lolita guide

Note: Measure yourself! One of the things you're going to have to do if you're going to order any lolita dresses is get accurate measurements for the various requirements that they request. Have a measuring tape handy, and happy shopping!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poison Candy Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: Written by David Hine and with art by Hans Steinbach, Poison Candy is a science fiction manga. The South Korean Adolescent Virus is the newest plague humanity has to face. Sam Chance, a wanna be rockstar becomes infected with the virus, and wakes up a century later to find out that his girlfriend killed herself, and everything has changed.

I heard a little about this manga at Comic Con, and it sounded interesting, so I thought I would check it out. After reading the first volume, I like the plot (even if the full name of the virus sounds a bit ridiculous), and the characters are interesting. I especially like Yusuf, Sam's friend, who is a 1950s-obsessed, video game playing, Indian. David Hine is traditionally a comic book writer, who is trying his hand at manga. His attempts to write in a manga-style stumble at times, but overall it works. This is a good one for anyone trying to make the transition from comics to manga.

What happens next is completely up in the air, and I'm interested in finding out more.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Battle Royale Volume 1

Overall Rating: A
Synopsis: Battle Royale began life as a novel by Koushun Takami, which was then turned into a movie and most recently, a manga. The series has become infamous in Japan and throughout the world. In it, Japan is a police state, and every two years fifty 3rd year junior high (grade 9) classes are chosen to forcibly fight against one another until only one student remains alive. The results of the battles are then aired on television. The series follows Shuuya Nanahara and six other characters as the try to stay alive and find a way out of the "Program".

I first saw the movie version of Battle Royale a few years ago, and was blown away by it. It has a unique plot, is brutally violent, funny, and shows just how far humans will go to survive. I picked up the first volume of the manga recently, and it was just as good as the movie. The manga version is a little more explicit than the movie, so be forewarned, but it's an interesting read.

If you can take some graffic scenes of sex and violence, I highly recommend both the movie and manga versions of Battle Royale. It's definitely fucked up, but in a good way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Shakugan No Shana Volume 1

Overall Rating: C-
Synopsis: A manga series by Ayato Sasakura based on the light novels by Yashichiro Takahashi. The series follows the stereotypical protagonist, a seemingly normal high school boy named Yuji Sakai as he learns about the existence of demons (called Denizons of the Crimson Realm), Demon Hunters (Flame Hazes), and Torches (this one's hard to explain, but basically spirits that temporarily replace humans that have been killed). When Yuji meets Shana, a Flame Haze who wields a sword and dresses in black, he has his first encounter with this strange world, and learns that he is a special kind of Torch called a Mystes. He contains within him a "treasure", a device that gives the bearer special abilities, but they do not get in to what that is in the first volume. Shana then decides she must protect him from the Denizens.

When I originally heard about this series, I thought it sounded promising. Then I read it. It still sounds promising, if a little stereotypical, but the first volume really didn't get me excited about the series. I hope the second volume turns out to be more interesting, but I probably won't pick it up without at least flipping through it first.

The biggest problem I had with the series is it seems like I've already read it. It follows so many of the standard plots and character types you see in manga these days that it doesn't seem to have much life on its own. I am interested in checking out the light novels to see if they're any better.

Monday, September 17, 2007

People in Manga to Know About: Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka
(also called "The Father of Anime")
1928 - 1989
Manga Career Started 1946

Famous works include:
Astro Boy
Black Jack

Quick Bio:
(Look at that, he had a stamp! More than one!)
Writer/artist Tezuka literally invented the "large eyed" character style typical in Japanese animation. In his lifetime, he drew over 150,000 pages of manga (80,000 of those being for published work), started the animation studio Mushi Pro (which pioneered TV animation in Japan) and had his medical degree (which lent him expertise in his series Black jack).

Osamu Tezuka's style is very similar to what we would refer to as "traditional Disney". He loved to do stylized Japanese adaptations of western literature, but his stories covered nearly every type of genre. Some of his work that includes Africans and Vietnamese has been criticized as racist, with exaggerated manners and underdeveloped homes.

Effect on Hobotaku:
It's interesting, but Hobotaku (and other Western otaku) are having an influence on publishers so that they are finally translating Tezuka's works into English and distributing them in America. Which means we'll finally be able to get a much fuller understanding of one of the most innovative and influential people in anime history.

In Conclusion:
Osamu Tezuka is called the Father of Anime because he essentially built this city of manga and anime that we love so much. The next time you're stretched out reading some manga under a table or watching a new AMV, spare a moment to think of the kindly looking dude in the beret up there, because a little bit of him is in there.

Check out Tezuka lectures and exhibitions at the Marvel of Manga Blog

Friday, September 14, 2007

My Dead Girlfriend Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: A series by Eric Wight, which follows Phineas "Finney" Bleak, whose family has an interesting legacy. They all die in extremely odd ways. At the beginning of the story, Finny is recovering from a recent breakup and weighing the pros and cons of breathing. His parents are ghosts, and his pet is a gargoyle named Mookie. He attends Mephisto Prep, a school for monsters. His life may not be normal, but his problems are definitely typical of a middle schooler. During the first volume, Finney meets Jenny Wraith, whom he falls in love with. Unfortunately, Death gets jealous and kills her, and she becomes a ghost. Okay, maybe not all of his problems are typical for middle schoolers.

I'll be honest, I picked this one up because Joss Whedon reviewed it and said he liked it. Flipping through it in the store, it didn't draw me in, but I figured it couldn't be that bad if Joss liked it. I was right, it wasn't bad, in fact, it was pretty good. It has a fun spin on teen angst, and has some interesting characters. I'm interested to see where the series goes after the first volume, so I will probably pick up volume 2 when it comes out, but there's no indication when that will be (an unfortunate trend in English language manga).

My Dead Girlfriend is definitely worth picking up if you enjoy cute stories involving the supernatural.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

King City Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: A
Synopsis: King City, by Brandon Graham, follows Joe, a man with little going for him aside from his cat. Fortunately for Joe, his cat is a super cat. With an injection of cat juice, he can be anything from a weapon, to a tool, to a snuggly companion. Joe carries the cat everywhere in a bucket. He's a sweetie like that.

I kept picking King City up in Chapel Hill Comics, but wasn't sure whether to buy it or not. It had an interesting concept, the art looked awesome, and it seemed like a fun read, but I would end up putting it down for the next volume of one of the series I read regularly. Then, I saw Brandon Graham at Comic Con and heard him talk about the book. I immediately went out and bought a copy.

What originally seemed like a joke that would get old fast (A cat that can do anything with an injection of cat juice? Really?) was actually just one aspect of the story, and I quickly fell in love with King City. There is an insidous drug called Chalk, that turns users into the drug, so they have a steady supply until they're dead. There's zombies, gangs, and spies. It kicks ass.

Side note: I wanted to take a second to give a shout out to Chapel Hill Comics, my not so local comic book store. The store is about a 30 minute drive, and there are closer comic shops to me, but Chapel Hill Comics is easily the best comic store in the area. They are woman-friendly, have a great selection of indy and mainstream comics and manga, and are genuinely cool people. If you're in the area, be sure to stop by.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (GameCube) - Videogame review

Rating: A-

Synopsis: Baten Kaitos is an RPG for the Nintendo GameCube distributed by Namco. It's the first in the Baten Kaitos series. the world of Baten Kaitos is a series of islands in the sky, and there is a myth about the "Lost Ocean" that existed once upon a time. The main character is Kalas, a young, brash man who is missing half of his wings (everyone from all but one island have "wings of the heart", a physical wing manifestation of their emotions).

Kalas is initially on a revenge quest for his brother and grandfather, but as more people join his group, and more information comes to light about the world he lives in, it becomes obvious he will be instrumental in saving the world (of course, this is an RPG).

Baten Kaitos is one of the few GameCube games to take up two discs. The game itself took a little less than 70 hours for me to complete, but that included almost every single side quest. I really loved the amount of detail that went into this game, with the character design, world design, and the music written specifically for each place. I even ended up downloading some of the music.

Baten Kaitos game comparisions: Chrono Trigger, Tales of Symphonia,

  • Translation and voice acting: These were rough in a few places: sometimes the voices were so weird (either overly emotional, or not at all) I would skip the sounds
  • Map Confusion: Sometimes, it wasn't clear how to get to things you're supposed to be able to get to on the map - and it was unclear whether this was intentional in order to get you to defeat some sort of trial, whether it was an accident or a translation errorr
  • Innovations Confusing at First: At first, I was a little bewildered by the card-based fighting and all of the new information, but to handle this, the game has a very gentle learning curve and lots of explanation

  • Good long game: It took us around 70 hours to complete (but we did almost every sidequest too)
  • Interesting Innovations: The card-based fighting was easy to learn, and really cool to build interesting attacks with once I got the hang of it, you make money by taking pictures of the monsters you're fighting and selling the pictures, and there are strange and interesting items you can build by putting together cards in your attacks
  • Character & World Detail: The overall character development was incredibly done, with lots of twists and turns in the plot, revellations about the character's histories, and the world was lavishly designed, with such great detail that I enjoyed immersing myself in it
  • Easy to find for Cheap: We got this in a clearance bin for $13, and it's such a good game

Overall, awesome game, especially for the money.
I would suggest using a walkthrough to ease any confusion you may have (and to let you know all the cool/weird combos you can pull).

Friday, September 7, 2007

Shutterbox Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: F
Synopsis: Shutterbox follows Megan Amano, as she begins to have strange and troubling dreams the night she watches a handsome stranger drown himself. She begins dreaming of the man she watched die. As her dreams progress, she begins to attend the afterlife's most famous school, M.U.S.E. as a living exchange student. In theory, hijinks and plot then ensue.

I got maybe 20 pages into this manga before I put it down. I got it for free at Comic Con after buying a bunch of other manga, and it sounded interesting, so I hoped I had found a fun, new series. NOPE! The art and plot are horribly cliched, and even worse are extremely boring. Maybe the series gets better further on (or even later in the first volume), but I couldn't bring myself to care. Maybe it's just me, but in my never humble opinion, unless you like stories involving inane girls arguing over their prom dresses (and I like a good dress argument) or plot that feels tacked on, I don't recommend this one.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Hayate: the Combat Butler (by Kenjiro Hata) volume one - Manga Review

Rating: B-

Synopsis: Hayate Ayasaki has spent his entire life in part-time jobs because his unemployed parents spend all their money on drinking and gambling. The story opens with Hayate experiencing the worst Christmas ever - he loses his job, his parents have picked up his last paycheck (and gambled it away) AND his parents owe the Yakuza so much money they've sold him off to them for blackmarket organ parts.

Hayate is ridiculously fast and tough (from constantly having to do work) so he escapes the Yakuza and decides he's "going to be bad" - and decides to kidnap the next person he sees. He picks a girl, but unfortunately some other guys try to hit on her, and he ends up rescuing her and giving her his coat. THEN she actually does get kidnapped by some other guys, and he risks his life to save her again. The girl ends up being the daughter of a ridiculously wealthy family, who offers him a job as her bodyguard/butler in exchange for saving her life. So Hayate's crazy days in the wealthy mansion begin.

There are a lot of romantic misunderstandings that drive Hayate: the Combat Butler - the rich girl originally mistaked Hayate's crappily attempted kidnapping and saving as declarations of love. Hayate thinks the maid he works with is the most beautiful girl in the world, but remains indebted to the rich girl because she took him off the street. It's all dealt with in humorous and cute ways.

A lot of the book and plot break the 4th wall, with characters saying things like "I know this is a Shonen manga, but you don't have to stare at me in my nightgown" or "I haven't interrupted you for three pages!" - this sillyness has a lot of appeal for me, and acknowledging the occasional fan service without being creepy. The three main characters, rich girl Nagi, maid girl Maria, and combat butler Hayate, are all teenagers, so sometimes they act their age with hilarious results (for example, when Nagi wants to apologize to Hayate, and instead creates a superhero alter-ego to apologize for her).

I look forward to more volumes, and I hope that the characters grow some more over time. At the moment, they could easily get trapped in a "Hayate fights X to keep his job" repetition, and I hope they don't.

Overall, the series is very cute and funny, and has a lot of potential.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Battle Angel Alita Manga Volumes 1-9

Overall Rating: A
Synopsis: Battle Angel Alita tells the story of an amnesiac female cyborg named Alita. Alita's head and upper torso are found in a state of suspended animation by cybermedic/bounty hunter Daisuke Ido while he is searching for useful scrap. After giving her a new body, Alita begins to learn how to live in the Scrapyard, the home of the poor and out-of-luck, who live in the shadow of the floating city of Tiphares, where the rich live. Although she has no memory, Alita soon realizes she knows the legendary Martian martial art, Panzer Kunst. The series follows Alita as she recovers her past and uncovers the secrets of Tiphares.

My only complaint about Battle Angel Alita is that the story can get a little slow over the 9 volumes. Aside from that, there is a lot to love. For a series that was written in 1991, Battle Angel Alita holds up surprisingly well as a science fiction story.

Set in a futuristic dystopian society, Alita shares the stage with some excellent supporting characters as well. Along with her father figure, Ido, there is Desty Nova, an insane nanotechnologist, and Kaos, Nova's son, a frail and troubled radio DJ with psychometric powers. These characters make Alita more interesting as a character as she struggles to retrieve her memory.

I definitely recommend checking the series out if you're into Science Fiction. It may not be as much fun if you aren't a sci-fi nerd like me, but give a shot and see what you think. Battle Angel Alita is a classic manga that's worth trying.

Friday, August 31, 2007

ME2 Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: A-
Synopsis: ME2 is a shojo/josei manga series by creator Sho Murase. The story follows Aki, a shy high schooler whose older brother, Ken, recently died. Aki sports a nasty scar on her cheek, and is bullied at school, so when the most popular boy in school starts talking to her, she isn't sure what to do. To add to her problems, Aki has been suffering from blackouts, and she wakes up in unexpected places and finds strange clothes in her closet. Aki struggles with her school life, and trying to figure out what's causing her blackouts.

First of all, the art in ME2 is fantastic. It's striking and unique from other shojo/josei series. Unfortunately, the storytelling falters a little. The plot ges overly confusing at some points, and a little too vague in others, but that may be resolved in later volumes.

Overall, I like the concepts in ME2, but I'm a philosophy nerd, so questions about what's real, and whether someone's insane or there's something deeper going on, fascinate me. I like the Aki character and there are some great teasers about what happened to her brother Ken.

ME2 is definitely worth checking out if you are looking to broaden your shojo/josei collection, or think girls that kick ass are cool (and who doesn't?)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Push Man and other stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Rating: A

Synopsis: Originally published in 1969, this manga is a surprising departure into a gritty realistic world. This is a collection of short stories that give us a glimpse into the more private and horrible details of the character's every day lives. Though there are not recurring characters in every story, there is a theme of isolation, lustfulness, and violence that runs throughout each one.

I picked up The Push Man and other stories in the library and I was completely amazed by the great drawing style, and by the fact that this gritty noir-style manga was published over 35 years ago. The collection was picked up and re-published in English by Drawn & Quarterly (the link in the title of this entry will show you a preview). As I mentioned, there are no recurring characters, but several have similar character designs, and there's usually one average joe and one bar hostess in each vignette.

Piranha (a story sample):
A man intentionally smashes his hand in the machinery at work so he can get an insurance payout, to buy his girlfriend her own bar to hostess. When she ends up spending more hours at her new bar, he purchases some piranha as pets to keep him company. When his girlfriend begins to insult him for loafing around all the time and threatens to leave him, he sticks her arm in the piranha tank, and a struggle ensues. The piranha get tipped out and die, and his girlfriend demands he leave. He wanders the city all night, and in the morning, finds a factory that will employ the disabled.

I highly recommend this, but as I said, be prepared for a dark and gripping look at people's dirty secrets - the art style really lends itself to this. You don't look at the first page and think to yourself "There's going to be a fairy princess in here" and there certainly isn't.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Loveless Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: B-
Synopsis: Loveless is a shōnen-ai fantasy manga by Yun Kouga. In the world of Loveless, people are born with cat ears and a tail (this is called Kemonomimi). They lose these features after they become an "adult", and the implication is that it is when they have sex. The series begins with Ritsuka starting at a new school after an incident at his last one. There he meets Yukio, who refers to herself in the third person and tries to be Ritsuka's friend. The same day, he meets Soubi, a mysterious 19-year-old who says he is a friend of Ritsuka's dead brother Seimei. As soon as he learns this, Ritsuka wants to hang out with Soubi, and "make memories" with him (this refers to taking photos in the park, but there is crazy innuendo and homosexual undertones, as well as overtones, in the series.

In the park, the pair is attacked by two kids, who call themselves Breathless. It's revealed that Soubi can fight by casting spells with his words, and that Ritsuka's real name is Loveless. Ritsuka's older brother Seimei's real name was Beloved, and was paired with Soubi, but after his death, told Soubi to pair with Ritsuka/Loveless (see crazy innuendo). The full meaning of all of this begins to unravel in the first volume, but there is still a lot we don't know.

I'm still not sure how to feel about this one. I'll be honest, kemonomimi usually isn't something I like in my manga or anime, but Loveless at least has an interesting plot reason for it. The plot as a whole is growing on me, and I'm interested in where all of it is going.

If you can get past the cat ears and into the story, the first volume is interesting, and has a lot of layers to it. For example, there is a subplot involving Ritsuka/Loveless' mom, who doesn't believe Ritsuka is himself, but is someone else in his body. There's also the fact of Seimei's death, which we learn a little about in the first volume (he died in a fire and his body was put in Ritsuka's chair in elementary school, and was killed by Septimal Moon), but we don't know who or what Septimal Moon is.

There are also some parts that annoy me, like the fact that Ritska/Loveless is a little too angsty, and he's always saying that he hates stupid people, or people who don't make their own decisions, or who don't like cheese (ok, I made that one up). This is ok in small doses, but it's a recurring theme for him, and it gets old fast.

That being said, I would recommend giving Loveless a shot, especially if you like shōnen-ai and/or kemonomimi. I will be picking up volume 2 to see how the series progresses.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hollow Fields Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: The series, by Madeleine Rosca, follows Lucy Snow, a 9 year-old (sorry, 9 and a half year old) girl. Volume 1 starts as she heads out to her boarding school. However, she's running late, and, of course, decides to take the shortcut through the foreboding woods. There she finds a strange castle, and meets Miss Notch, a guard/maid who is...we'll say strange. It turns out that the castle is actually Miss Weaver's Academy for the Scientifically Gifted and Ethically Unfettered--also known as Hollow Fields.

Lucy unwittingly joins the school before learning it's curriculum, or the fact that the student with the lowest grades every week is sent to detention. Even then, it doesn't sound so bad when she gets her own room (at the school she was supposed to go to, she would have had to share with 12 other girls), and everything is free. Then Lucy learns that no one has ever come back from detention, and the only person who has been nice to her so far just got sent there. Her new classes include Live Taxidermy, Cross-Species Body-Part Transplantation and Killer Robot Construction. Lucy has to master her new classes, and find a way to escape before she is sent to detention!

I picked up Hollow Fields after talking to a nice woman at the Seven Seas booth when I picked up Venus Versus Virus (and Kashimashi for Leah's husband Will). She recommended Hollow Fields, but it hadn't come out yet. So, when I was finally able to pick up a copy, I was excited. Unfortunately, I was also at Gen Con, so I wasn't able to read it right away. I'm finally done with the first volume, and was not disappointed.

Hollow Fields is the kind of book where the concept (girl goes to strange and interesting boarding school where danger and excitement await at every turn) isn't that original, but the characters, little extras (clockwork robots! graverobbing class!), and art make it worth the read. Plus, I am dying to know what happens when you get detention. I definitely recommend checking this one out if you're in the mood for something light and fun with a touch of macabre.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

CLAMP School Detectives by CLAMP (Vol 1 & 2)

Rating: C+

Synopsis: The three student body chairmen of 4th through 6th grades (Suoh, Nokoru, and Akira) attempt to plan several events for the CLAMP school commune grades that they represent. Unfortunately, they keep finding damsels in distress, and thy can't help but solve their problems.

The characters are cute, and the plots are pretty silly in places. Though the volumes are enjoyable, they seem to lack any real hook or reason a reader would keep coming back. There's no over-arching plot, and each mystery is pretty easy and they sort of become repetitive - this could be a symptom of it's "young adult" designation.

Some things, like Nokoru's amazing ability to detect a female in distress over 2km away, or Akira's insane ability at cooking, make the characters themselves remarkable, overall, the CLAMP School Detectives isn't.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Train Man

Overall Rating: A+
Synopsis: Based on a true story, Train Man, or Densha Otoko, is the story of an Otaku who intervened when a drunk man was harassing women on a train. Train Man has a huge crush on one of the women being harassed, which likely resulted in him trying to stop the drunk man. After the incident, Train Man begins awkwardly dating the woman he has a crush on with advice from his online friends. Through the course of the movie, he goes from geek to...well not exactly chic, but definitely less of a geek.

I can sum up Train Man in two words, awkwardly adorable. Watching the main character struggle with his otaku personality, and trying to figure out how to impress the girl he is in love with reminded me of when I first started liking girls. Fortunately for me, I didn't have quite so far to go, and I didn't have to resort to help from my equally inept online friends, but I had my moments.

At any rate, the real fun of the movie begins when Train Man starts posting his story to a board he frequents and starts getting advice from his online friends. They consist of a student-age shut-in, three other otaku who hang out in internet/manga cafes, a married couple who don't realize they are both on the same board because they have grown so distant, and a nurse. These 7 "friends" give Train Man advice on hair cuts, places to eat, and more to try to help him win the girl. There are moments of geeky excellence, where TM is able to overcome his otakuness and do some very sweet things, and some moments where it becomes a train wreck, where you keep watching even though everything is going wrong. It all comes together as a movie that feels like it really happened (probably because it did ;-) and had me going "Aw!" a lot and clasping my hand over my mouth. Definitely worth seeing if you like geeks and romance.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hobotaku Dictionary - Terminology in Manga/Anime

Sometimes, as State-side Hobotaku, we all have some trouble figuring out the different ratings and designations for manga and anime - that's where this handy Hobotaku Dictionary can help. Now you'll know what it means when a manga said to be Shonen Yuri or a character typically Moe.

Kodomo (Target Audience: All kids)
Distinguishing Features: Child-friendly plots that may be moralistic, and marked lack of fan service.
Examples: Hamtaro, Doraemon

Shōnen (Target Audience: Males under 18)
Distinguishing Features: High action and humor
Examples: Bleach, Naruto

Shōjo (Target Audience: Females 13 - 18)
Distinguishing Features: Character development through realistic human relationships
(Note: Viz Media is re-defining Shōjo for their line of manga to mean having a male and female teenagers target audience)
Examples: Lala, Hana no Yume

Seinen (Target Audience: Males 18 - 30)
Distinguishing Features: Encompasses a variety of styles - can be strange, avant-garde and/or pornographic
Examples: Ai Yori Aoshi, Maison Ikkoku, Akira)

Josei (Target Audience: Females 18 - 30)
Distinguishing Features: Realistic characters who grow through realistic romance, sometimes with older characters and adult situations
Examples: Paradise Kiss, Nana, Gokusen

Shonen ai
Distinguishing Features: Never sexually explicit, focuses on homosexual relationships between male characters
Examples: Eerie Queerie, Little Butterfly, I Shall Never Return

Distinguishing Features: Sexually explicit, focuses on homosexual relationships between male characters
Examples: Bonds of Love, Lies & Kisses

Shoujo ai
Distinguishing Features: Not sexually explicit, focuses on homosexual relationships between female characters
Examples: .hack, Kashimashi

Yuri (technically, at this point, Shoujo ai and Yuri are interchangeable)
Distinguishing Features: Can be sexually explicit, focuses on homosexual relationships between female characters
Examples: Strawberry Panic, Burst Angel

Hentai (Target Audience: Over 18)
Distinguishing Features: Extreme sexual activity, including bondage, creatures with tentacles, or other fetishes
Examples: Cream Lemon, Bastard!!

Other Terms

Moe (pronounced "mo-eh")
A character with personality or appearance designed to elicit a protective or loving response from the audience.
Example: Tohru in Fruits Basket, Suiseiseki in Rozen Maiden

Bishonen (Sometimes called "Bishi")
Literally "beautiful youth" - a young male whose youth and sexual appear transcend the boundaries of gender
Example: Yuki Sohma in Fruits Basket, D'Eon in Chevalier D'Eon

Self-published comics, largely they are of licensed works and feature sexually explicit material.

Japanese term for "Lolita complex" - term for sexual attraction of either gender to girls below the age of consent - childlike female characters are over-sexualized.

Japanese term for sexual complex where in an adult of either sex is attracted to an underage boy (to some extent FLCL and Negima have shotacon elements where older women press themselves on younger boys)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Air Gear Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: B
Synopsis: Air Gear is a shonen manga by Oh! great. The story follows Ikki, who is the toughest kid in his school and the leader of a gang. One night, Ikki bites off more than he can chew when he runs into the Skull Sabers Storm Riders. We're also introduced at this point to the concept of Air Treks, special skates that let the wearer "fly" (it's really more the sensation of flight). Ikki gets his ass kicked, and learns that his "sisters" (three women that Ikki lives with) are the legendary Storm Riders, the Sleeping Forest. They give Ikki his first pair of Air Treks and help him get revenge on the Skull Sabers.

I picked up the manga because it looked interesting. I kept reading because it reminded me of the game Jet Set Radio on the Dreamcast. If you've never played the game, check it out. It may get it's own review someday. Regardless, Air Gear is a pretty fun manga with an interesting concept. If you are in to fan service, there's plenty of that too, but it's pretty gratuitous (fair warning).

All in all, I enjoyed checking out the first volume, and will probably read the second one as well to see how the series holds up. It reads like it could go either way, building on the setting and becoming even better, or falling short and becoming a vehicle for more fan service. Let's hope it's the former. There's nothing wrong with a few panty shots or nude scenes, but I usually like a little plot in my manga.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Black Sun: Silver Moon (Manga Review - volume 1) by Tomo Maeda

Rating: A

Synopsis: Taki Juhas is the oldest of ten children and his parents apparently owe a debt to the local Catholic church. In lieu of paying off the debt, the priest Shikimi Farkash comes and takes Taki as his indentured servant. As Taki spends his time cleaning the giant cathedral and serving his sensei tea, he wonders why on Earth they need to keep such a secluded church so clean. That night, Shikimi introduces Taki to the other part of his job - zombie killing.

Though there seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding about how the Catholic church works in this comic (owing debts to the church that are repaid with indentured servitude, and as a priest's servant, Taki is given a priest's outfit to wear) it doesn't really seem to affect the overall story.

Taki and Shikimi are both very attractive, and just seeing the cover one might think that there is going to be some shonen-ai going on, but that is definitely not the case. Their relationship is mostly humorous, with Shikimi being unreadably cheerful, and Taki being a teenage grump, always about to pull one over on his new master (like giving him mop water in his tea).

Supernatural elements of the story are introduced to us through Taki's introduction to them, and then Shikimi explains them. Shikimi hands Taki a sword and takes him to the graveyard to "see how he reacts" on his first night. Once a zombie pops up, and Taki kills it, Shikimi explains "Oh, that was the dead fisherman's wife we buried three days ago." It lets the story unfold and get explained to the reader very quickly, but it doesn't leave much to be answered in the next book. But now I really enjoy the characters, so I'm still going to read the next book (perhaps that was the point all along).

As Taki learns more about killing zombies that rise from the church's graveyard, Shikimi begins to reveal the reasons behind his silver hair (which seems to demonic to the townspeople) and why Taki is just so dang good at killing zombies. Though usually, he's not good enough for Shikimi, who critiques him constantly - "You used way too much energy getting the head off of that one."

Overall, it's like a supernatural slice-of-life friendship between unlikely people manga, and I think you'd like it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

King of Thorn Manga Volume 1

Overall Rating: B+
Synopsis: The series is a science fiction and mystery manga by Yuji Iwahara. The story follows Kasumi after she awakens from being cryogenically frozen. She, and 159 others were frozen after contracting the Medusa virus, which causes your cells to solidify into a clay-like substance. The result is similar to being turned to stone, hence the name. Kasumi and her twin sister contracted the virus, but only Kasumi is frozen. The 160 survivors awaken from their suspended animation in an undetermined future where blood-thirsty monsters and strange plants seem to have taken over the laboratory, and they must fight to survive.

I was first drawn in by King of Thorn's art. I usually find new manga by reading blurbs about what's coming out, flipping through a few pages in the store, and/or hearing good things about the series. It's very rarely the art that draws me in, even though art is so clearly an integral part of any manga. King of Thorn was different. There is something about the style of the art that made me want to like the book. Fortunately, after reading it, I can say the story (at least in the first volume) doesn't disappoint.

I'm big on science fiction and mystery, so this is a win-win for me. I want to know how long the survivors have been asleep, and where the creatures come from. What happened to Kasumi's sister, did she die of the Medusa virus? What is up with Marco Owen, the mysterious tattooed man? I would have given volume 1 a higher rating, but I don't know how the rest of the series is going to turn out. The first volume is high on suspense, builds lots of questions, and gives very few answers. Here's to hoping the series will play out well, I am definitely drawn in.