Saturday, October 31, 2009

March on Earth, vol. 2

The story: A big secret is revealed in this volume, with an even bigger decision following it. Whatever choice is made will certainly affect Yuzu's and Shou's future, as well as that of the mystery decision-maker. In the end, it comes down to Yuzu honoring the wishes of her sister, Tsubaki. Later, when Yuzu is faced with choosing her future, she finds herself wondering what would be best for her and Shou's future. What will become of Yuzu and Shou?

Reaction: This volume was a huge tearjerker for me. There's a lot of emotion poured into these pages, making it difficult to not shed a tear or two (or several, in my case). However, there were also some fairly predictable moments, especially when Yuzu and Shou joined the class camping trip with Shou promptly becoming lost in the woods. It made me wonder where the adults were; they're kept mostly on the periphery, which seems counter-intuitive considering Yuzu's situation.

Deep thoughts: When Yuzu and Shou visit Tsubaki's grave, I was reminded of los Días de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday celebrating the dead that takes place Nov. 1 and 2. During these same days, celebrants believe that the spirits of the deceased return. Much like Yuzu and Shou do, families throughout Mexico visit the gravesites of their loved ones, cleaning the grave and leaving flowers and favorite foods, drinks, and, in the case of children, toys.

Artwork: There were some inconsistencies in the artwork in this volume -- from awkwardly shaped faces to costume discrepancies between panels. While the story was highly engrossing, I found myself distracted by these minor details. Otherwise, the art is much the same as the first volume.

The verdict: If only... While I found myself more emotionally involved in this volume, there were too many small inconsistencies for me to ignore, especially because of my high expectations based on the first volume. On the whole, though, this is an uplifting story in the end and shows the family that Yuzu worked so hard to build. March on Earth is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Friday, October 30, 2009

March on Earth, vol. 1

The story: When she was younger, Yuzu's parents passed away and her older sister Tsubaki, then a high school student, raised her sister alone. When Tsubaki became pregant, things got tougher, but the small family of three got along as best they could with help from their neighbor and landlady, Ms. Kurano. One day, Tsubaki dies in a car accident, leaving 16-year-old Yuzu alone to raise her toddler-aged nephew, Shou. Will Yuzu be able to rise to the challenge of paying back her sister's kindness by raising Shou by herself?

Reaction: This is a cute, if not somewhat depressing, story. There are laughs here and there, oftentimes involving Yuzu's neighbor, Seita, who has a huge crush on the oblivious teenage girl. While Yuzu is fairly resilient considering her situation, she has weaknesses, too, like a fear of riding in cars following the automobile crash she was in that also killed her sister. Because of her honest emotions -- which range from guilt and self-doubt to optimism and hope -- and the situation she's in, Yuzu's an immediately likable character. While it would be easy to pity her, or find the storyline too dramatic and unrealistic, as a reader, I found myself wanting to help her.

Deep thoughts: If Yuzu and Shou lived in the United States, it's fairly likely that they would be in foster care. As of Sept. 6, 2006, there were 510,000 children in foster care in the U.S., with about half spending less than one year in the system. Unfortunately, many of those children who emerge from the system at 18 face many difficulties as newly minted adults.

Artwork: When I first opened this volume up, I had to check the cover for the mangaka's name -- it's very reminiscent of Natsuna Kawase's works, especially Tale of an Unknown Country. Of course, with toddler Shou in the mix, I was also reminded of the Shojo Beat series Baby and Me. Otherwise, this is a pretty straightforward shojo story with abundant screentone, non-traditional paneling and emotional facial expressions.

The verdict: Highly recommended. Yuzu is the kind of character you want to root for. And even though she's really mature for her age, she still has some growing up to do. Hopefully, there's still a happy ending for Yuzu and Shou in the second and final volume. March on Earth is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fire Investigator Nanase, vol. 2

The story: Whoever killed Nanase's co-worker Tsuraga is now after Nanase, going so far as to sneak into her home to try and silence her permanently. While Nanase uses her wits to defeat her would-be murderer, she still gets saved by mystery arsonist, the Firebug, in the end. While she wonders what the Firebug has in store for her, she gets involved in another investigation. This time, it's a warehouse fire and Chief Tachibana's son is involved and Nanase is determined to prove his innocence. In the second half, more is revealed about the history and relationship between Nanase and her adopted son, Shingo. Also, Nanase gets her very own stalker, but the Firebug stops him from attacking his favorite firefighter. At volume's end, readers are left on a cliffhanger when Nanase, Shingo and dozens of other victims get caught up in a fire taking place in a newly opened high-rise building.

Reaction: While I initially liked the surprisingly independent Nanase and her success in a male-dominated field, the first chapter in the second volume featured a practically nude Nanase. Of course, she used it to her advantage, although she ended up being saved by a co-worker following an anonymous tip phoned in by the Firebug. There's also "suggestive situations" when a sexual offender stalks Nanase. While the overall storyline is interesting — Firebug's plans for Nanase and his subsequent involvement in her investigations — it still carries an air of sexual exploitation. Instead of focusing on Nanase the firefighter and rescuer, we're seeing Nanase the victim.

Deep thoughts: After seeing the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, it was difficult to not draw parallels between that tragedy and the last chapter in this volume, titled "Towering Inferno." On the evening of the grand opening of the Astro Tower, several fires break out and it's presumed to be arson committed by a group of individuals. Of course, I saw several things that are strongly discouraged when evacuating a building — namely Nanase using an elevator to get to the fire instead of the stairs — that really tested my suspension of disbelief.

Artwork: As mentioned earlier, there's some brief nudity in this volume. Otherwise, we're treated to more fires and fire-related science. Firebug doesn't pull the Mission Impossible-esque mask-removing technique, but he does appear in a couple of different guises. The panels are action-packed throughout and their design and pacing reflect that. But, I did experience some confusion when the stalker character was introduced. Initially, I thought it was the Firebug — the guy does have a huge portrait of Nanase in his abandoned church-cum-lair — but it ended up being some new, nefarious guy instead. With all of the costumes that Firebug wears, I found myself wondering if each new character introduced just happened to be him in disguise.

The verdict: Meh. Again, I wasn't particularly drawn into this manga. While the fire science bits are interesting and the story itself is action-packed, I couldn't ignore the sexual exploitation of Nanase. Honestly, I think this would be a really great manga if it focused more on the protagonist's professional role and less on her being a woman. Fire Investigator Nanase is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Embalmer, vol. 2

The story: Shinjyurou Mamiya is an embalmer in Japan, where the profession is seen as unclean. In this volume, filled with episodic tales, he helps Azuki, his neighbor and friend, come to terms with the death of her cat. Later, Shin recalls his first love, a woman who lied as much as he did. In another vignette, Mamiya meets a woman who makes dolls of those whose bodies are too damaged to embalm and watches a family torn apart by a best friend-cum-mistress. Shin spends yet another Christmas alone and finds himself once again unable to give Azuki his present. In another showing of Mamiya's devotion to Azuki, he intentionally makes his flat messy in order to entice Azuki into cleaning it, to no avail. Lastly, Mamiya's colleague, a doctor, reveals why she's an advocate of embalming in a country dedicated to cremation.

Reaction: No tears this time around, but these stories are nonetheless touching. It's hard to watch Shinjyurou push and pull Azuki around with his affections (or, more often, lack thereof). While it's obvious she cares for him, it's not so obvious to her that he feels the same. Out of all the episodic stories, I liked those with Azuki the best, as it reveals a profound part of his relationship with her. It's a codependency of sorts, although it's uncertain what he provides her with, and it reveals a bit of the humanity Shinjyurou works so hard to hide.

Deep thoughts: In the Christmas story, it's mentioned that Shinjyurou is especially busy, as it's a popular time of year to commit suicide. While Christmas has a more romantic undertone in Japan than in the United States, people still experience loneliness when not surrounded by loved ones during this important time of year. On the heels of Christmas is the New Year's holiday, where many people head to their hometowns or visit family members in order to ring in a prosperous new year.

Artwork: Mitsukazu Mihara's artwork is still typified by lithe, long-limbed people with fantastic hair and fun fashion. After reading through several manga series, I can't help but notice that the artwork in The Embalmer reminds me of that other embalming manga, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. There's something about characters' eyes and facial expressions that are evocative of the shonen series. There are also some nearly gruesome moments featuring corpses, but, on the whole, they are few and far between.

The verdict: If only... I wasn't as moved by the chapters in this volume as I was the first. While there were momentary glimpses into Shinjyurou's motivations and history, I felt myself wanting to know still more about his background. Of course, the teases regarding his seemingly non-existent relationship with Azuki are interesting in its own curious way. The Embalmer is available in the U.S. from Tokyopop.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Manga Reads

Since Halloween is this Saturday, I thought I'd list some of my reviews of appropriate manga reads with "creatures of the night" and other creepy situations. Click on the links to see what I've thought of these series so far — there's something for everyone whether you're a shojo lover or seinen fiend!

Ballad of a Shinigami: From murder to suicide, this shojo manga takes an up-close look at the ways people die and how those left behind must deal with the aftermath. From tragic to sweet, this shinigami, or death god, has seen it all.

Black Bird: This supernatural romance features the aforementioned yokai and a young girl who sees demons, ghosts and the like. When she her life is endangered, she finds herself becoming an unwilling "demon's bride."

The Embalmer: Dealing with dead bodies isn't for the faint of heart, but this story is mostly about those left behind after the death of loved ones. Not the most Halloween-specific of the bunch, but a good read nonetheless.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service: Maybe actual zombies are more your speed? Then look no further than this funny, mysterious and often creepy series. While the episodic stories are usually in the spotlight, there's a common thread that's built through the series, too.

Me and the Devil Blues: RJ, an aspiring guitarist, wants to play the blues so bad, he's willing to sell his soul to the devil. While he's gotten what he wanted, the devil is waiting to get his due from the traveling bluesman at any cost!

Millennium Snow: This unfinished series comes from the mangaka behind Ouran High School Host Club and features a love triangle between a vampire, werewolf and the girl they've come to love. While it could easily go down an angsty trail (again, see: Twilight), it's mostly fun and funny, with a few touching scenes thrown in here and there for good measure.

Monster: This thriller is in the vein of perennially popular films featuring homicidal killers. Of course, there's no denying that Naoki Urasawa's masterpiece will draw you in!

Parasyte: Aliens invade the Earth in this Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-esque manga that is equal parts creepy, gruesome and thoughtful. Will they take over the world, or will Shinichi save the day?

Vampire Knight: This series is a vampire-centric story in the same vein as the Twilight series, with a love triangle, teen angst and plenty of blood-sucking fun. And don't say I didn't warn you — it's a guilty pleasure of mine for a reason!

Yokaiden: Ever wonder what those "bumps in the night" are? Well, in this tale, it's most likely caused by a yokai, or Japanese demon. From possessed lanterns to monsters that cut the bottoms of feet off of misbehaving children, there's a monster for everyone!

Edit: Eep — I just realized I forgot a couple of other Halloween-friendly manga (and manhwa) reads, so I've included a couple more below!

The Antique Gift Shop: In this Korean manhwa, be careful what you wish for! Bun-Nyuh, the reluctant shopkeeper, can see spirits and her mysterious store is a burden she's looking to shed.

RIN-NE: The newest series from famed mangaka Rumiko Takahashi follows "sort of" shinigami Rin-ne and his friend, Sakura, as they deal with lingering ghosts and evil spirits.

Yurara: High school Yurara has the ability to see spirits and ghosts, but she's always kept the ability to herself. When two of her high school classmates learn her secret, she's in for more than she bargained for!

MangaCast Review: The Name of the Flower, vol. 2

Head on over to MangaCast, a manga news and reviews website, to read my latest review of The Name of the Flower, vol. 2. Here's an excerpt:

A few years ago, Chouko’s parents died in a tragic accident, rendering her mute. After being shuffled around to various relatives, she settled in with her father’s cousin, Kei, who also happens to be a popular, yet reclusive, author. Since then, her voice has returned and she leads a normal, if shy, life. Now in her second year of college, Chouko finds herself falling ever deeply in love with Kei. ... After a slow start, The Name of the Flower picks up a bit more in this volume with the introduction of several new characters, a mysterious woman from Kei’s past and a developing love triangle.

To see more about what I thought of this quiet and seemingly tragic shojo manga, head over and read my review now! The Name of the Flower is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fire Investigator Nanase, vol. 1

The story: As an investigator for the fire department, Nanase is still looking for redemption after her parents died in a fire many years ago. She has a passion for saving lives and figuring out arson; she's also the only person to have ever seen the elusive Firebug, an arsonist, after saving him from a fire three years ago. While Firebug owes her for saving his life, he's also got another agenda and, for some reason, is helping Nanase solve a recent spate of arson cases. Why is Firebug helping Nanase and what is he hoping to gain in return?

Reaction: Considering that Japan is a heavily masculine country, not to mention the fire fighting profession's inherent "manliness," I found Nanase to be a character unique in her independence and strength. Much like Apothecarius Argentum, there's a heavy dose of procedural crime scene science, in a CSI kind of way. The common theme of Firebug was initially interesting, but eventually became a gag of sorts, with Firebug and his Mission Impossible-like masks becoming predictable by volume's end.

Deep thoughts: As I've mentioned before, Japan is a very masculine countries in several respects; from valuing traditional male traits to rigid social roles, the country's women have a hard time being recognized even in the modern day. Because of this, Japanese women have few long-term career options, making Nanase's success all the more intriguing. While Japan is considered highly masculine, the United States ranks somewhere in the middle, while northern European countries, like Sweden and Denmark, are considered highly feminine.

Artwork: The art here reminds me of Rumiko Takahashi's work -- marked by cartoonish character design with a shonen sensibility. Given the Firebug's penchant for identity-hiding masks, Tomoshige Ichikawa is successful in making a common thread in Firebug's guises apparent. Unfortunately, there's a good deal of fan service early on; in one scene, Nanase removes her emollient-doused clothes, to be left clad in only her underwear and fainting right into the Firebug's arms. Lastly, there is a burnt body or two, making it a gruesome read for some.

The verdict: Meh. While this wasn't a particularly bad story, it just didn't do it for me. While there's the reference to Firebug's plans for Nanase, I was a little creeped out by his devotion to her. However, I will say that those who are fans of CSI, Bones and similar programs will most likely enjoy this book. Fire Investigator Nanase is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Name of the Flower, vol. 1

The story: Chouko's parents died when she started high school. The tragedy of her parents' death left her despondent and mute, and she was shuffled from home to home among her relatives. She ends up with a cousin of her father's, Kei, who also happens to be a self-loathing, if reclusive, author. After living with him for two years, she's coming upon her high school graduation and facing the freedom of college. What will Chouko choose for her future?

Reaction: This is a slow, but deliberate story. Mangaka Ken Saito has created a sweetly fragile and tragic character in Chouko, with Kei as the angsty and deeply lonely curmudgeon she's grown to love. There's a quiet desperation throughout this story that is much more endearing than one would suspect. It quietly builds upon you, like an ocean's tide, pulling you unconsciously deeper and deeper into the bittersweet world that Chouko inhabits.

Deep thoughts: When Chouko graduates from high school, Kei releases a book about a mentally troubled man and a girl who has lost the ability to speak, or aphasia. Of course, Chouko is the model for the main character in Kei's book, although she chose to be mute. People with aphasia often experience total loss of language, including written and spoken skills, due to a lesion on the brain.

Artwork: Saito's artwork is understated, yet perfectly detailed. He uses a mostly conventional form of paneling to tell the story, and fills each frame with Kei's and Chouko's subtle emotions. And while I didn't notice it until a second reading, the age difference between Kei and Chouko is very obvious at the beginning, with Chouko maturing slowly as the story goes on. There's also a balanced use of screentone and quite a few blushing cheeks throughout, marking its shojo categorization.

The verdict: If only... I really did like this book quite a bit, but I couldn't help but think it was plodding along at some points. I also wished there were more than flashbacks to Chouko's first few days with Kei; it leaves out a crucial component of their relationship development. However, this is still a mellow and worth-the-wait shojo story that I'm looking forward to reading more of soon. The Name of the Flower is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Apothecarius Argentum, vol. 3

The story: Princess Primula's 17th birthday is quickly approaching and, with her father's ill health, it's been decided that she will make her debut and meet princes from neighboring kingdoms. However, it goes awry when some uninvited guests crash the ball, effectively ending the party. But, one of the crashers, Prince Lorca of Navara, has a surprise -- he's there to ask for the hand of Primula. And while Lorca seems like a sweet, young man, he's actually hiding a secret agenda, along with a strange illness that's also affecting many of the people of Navara. Can Argent the Silver Apothecary cure Lorca?

Reaction: This volume had lots of laughs initially, but got fairly serious quickly. While Lorca seems innocent and young at first, Soda notices something peculiar about him -- that he's much like the king, hiding his tough interior with an overly doting relationship with his daughter. The one thing that kind of creeped me out was the focus on insects and bugs. Since he was kept indoors as a sick child, his only friends were the insects that got into his room. Because of that and the overuse of pesticides in Navara, there's a fascination of sorts with bugs.

Deep thoughts: The cause of the disease that Lorca suffers from, as well as the people of Navara, is an endemic one related to the use of pesticides. Perhaps the most well known book regarding pesticide use in the United States is Silent Spring, which came out in the 1960s. The book, written by Rachel Carson, helped launch the environmental movement. The title refers to the lack of noise because of all the birds killed by the widespread use of DDT. Because of the book, DDT use was banned in 1972.

Artwork: The art is much the same as it appeared in the first two volumes. However, I particularly liked the scenes involving Primula's debutante ball; there was a fairytale feel to it. From the scenes of the castle's exterior to Primula's ballgown, there were lots of regal details. Also, midway through the volume, there was a diagram showing the effects of the various antidotes used in the volume. It was reminiscent of an old English botanical drawing in style, although it's placement is unexpected and breaks up the chapter.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I'm still loving Apothecarius Argentum, especially since this volume ended on quite the cliffhanger. While this book was more comedic than the prior two and less about political intrigue, I continue to love this unique tale. Apothecarius Argentum is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apothecarius Argentum, vol. 2

The story: Argent, the royal apothecary, now has an apprentice -- sort of. Soda, who was wowed by Argent's skill and knowledge, would love to be his apprentice, but Argent's wary of taking the young boy under his wing since he's not a member of the guild. After experiencing another setback, Primula heads to the countryside to learn more about the country she will eventually rule, while Argent sets out to find her. Unfortunately, the area is experiencing hardship because someone is stopping the aid that the king sends. Once Primula arrives, another plot to dethrone the king is discovered. What will become of Primula and will Argent be able to save her in time?

Reaction: There's more political intrigue in this volume and, via flashbacks, we learn a great deal more about Argent's and Primula's relationship. I really liked the addition of Soda as the narrator in the beginning -- he's a sweet boy, if a bit silly. But, what I enjoyed the most was the character growth shown by Primula. She's given some heavier burdens to bear in this volume and she becomes a better person and future ruler because of it. Her commitment to her people and to those she cares about is admirable, while helping her shed her former selfishness.

Deep thoughts: One heartbreaking story alludes to a homicide turned euthanasia, bringing up the hard decision of one's right to life. While some argue that people should be able to commit suicide in light of degenerative or terminal illnesses, others believe in the sanctity of life. How it's dealt with here is well done, considering the emotional hardship involved. The tone is just right and the repercussions are appropriate when all factors are taken into account.

Artwork: The artwork here seems more competent somehow, with a better composition overall and a seeming sense of permanency. The story didn't feel as fleeting in this volume, possibly due to the many flashbacks. I really liked the scenes including a young Primula and Argent, especially since they don't look as humorous or silly as Soda. While they're younger versions of themselves, the depictions of younger pair still holds fast to their base characteristics -- Primula is a cute and caring princess, while Argent is more the strong and silent type.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This volume examines the tough reality of war and its aftermath, as well as the history between Primula and Argent. All in all, we're shown the backstory of their friendship-cum-romance, and it's quite the endearing story. Apothecarius Argentum is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Apothecarius Argentum, vol. 1

The story: Lady Primula is a teenage princess in the land of Beazol, which is under threat by unknown enemies. When the princess falls ill, a new apothecary, or pharmacist, is called in to treat her. But, the apothecary isn't exactly new -- he's Primula's former food taster, Argent. Raised as a basilisk, Argent was forced to ingest various poisons as a child and is now immune to many toxins because of it. It also makes it impossible for him to touch others, lest he poison them -- even fresh flowers wilt in his grasp. After reuniting with princess, Argent becomes the royal apothecary and the two grow closer. What does the future hold for Beazol, let alone Argent and Primula?

Reaction: With a fictional kingdom, a seemingly tragic love story and a penchant for science, Apothecarius Argentum quickly caught my attention. I appreciated the medical references and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the mangaka, Tomomi Yamashita, worked as a pharmacist for a decade. However, it was the characters that drew me in the most -- Princess Primula is a mercurial teenager and prone to bouts of childishness, while Argent is a more serious and deliberate in words and action. There's a wonderful balance created, but it's easy to see that there is more to their relationship than either of them is willing to admit, even if others see it all too easily.

Deep thoughts: The idea of a basilisk is intriguing -- that the human body can be made toxic by increasingly ingesting poisons. It's common knowledge that people can build immunities to viruses and other infectious agents, but, as far as I know, it's unknown whether the same can be said for other possible poisons. While some poisons have medicinal uses, such as foxglove (mentioned in the book) or aspirin, large doses can often prove fatal.

Artwork: The art here is pleasant enough, making Argent mysteriously handsome and Primula innocently cute. At times, I was reminded of '90s-era shojo, like Mars, especially in the panel reprinted on the book's back cover. Otherwise, characters are all memorable and easy to tell apart. Backgrounds evoke a mostly rural kingdom, with none of the telltale signs of modernity. But, one of my favorite scenes is when Argent is receiving etiquette training and is dressed up like some romance novel heartthrob -- knowing his personality, it's quite humorous in its own way.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I really enjoyed this opening volume because of its budding romance and political intrigue. The bits of science are interesting, while the characters entertaining. If you're looking for a shojo romance off the beaten path, I couldn't recommend this series more. Apothecarius Argentum is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Manga Bookshelf Review: The Antique Gift Shop, vol. 8

Another guest review for folks to enjoy—this time, at the recently renamed Manga Bookshelf, formerly known as There it is, Plain as Daylight. Manga Bookshelf is a manga blog by Melinda Beasi, writer and manga reviewer. The review I contributed today is of The Antique Gift Shop, vol. 8. Here's a short excerpt:

This volume is split into two distinct stories related to the volume’s namesake. In one, a mysterious Nepalese goddess, or kumari, comes a-calling to the Antique Gift Shop and she has an amazing gift for sales. Hoping that she may soon be free of her commitment to the store, Bun-Nyuh is both amazed and ready to call it quits. ... I jumped into this volume without any prior knowledge of the series. While I was confused at first — which, I think, is entirely normal considering this was the eighth volume — I caught on quickly and recognized the situations and characters for who they are.

Be sure to read my review in its entirety to see what I thought of this Korean manhwa! The Antique Gift Shop is available in the U.S. from Yen Press.

Review copy provided by Yen Press.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

MangaCast Review: Broken Blade, vol. 1

Be sure to check out my latest review on MangaCast, a manga news and reviews site. This week, I reviewed Broken Blade, vol. 1. Here's a short excerpt:

In the land of Krisna, nearly the entire population has the inherent ability to power up quartz, which runs all the machines. Nearly everyone that is, except, Rygart Arrow. Arrow, who was born without the ability, is an “unsorcerer,” making him unable to power even the most basic machinery. ... This is CMX’s first foray into the ever-popular mecha genre, which encompasses such series as Mobile Suit Gundam, Escaflowne, Code Geass and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Honestly, I’m not all familiar with the genre outside of my cousin’s long-held fascination with all things Transformers and Gundam. Nonetheless, I still found Broken Blade compelling with its mix of political intrigue, old versus new technology, and a collegial friendship that has somehow gone awry.

To see more of my thoughts on this new mecha series, be sure to check out my review! Broken Blade is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lapis Lazuli Crown, vol. 1

After a short, unplanned hiatus, I'm back to regular reviews of manga and graphic novels. While I'm not sure that I'll be posting everyday, please expect around four to five posts per week.

The story: Miel is a teenage girl in the magical kingdom of Savarin. While everyone in Miel's "fallen aristocratic family" seems to be quite adept at magic, she isn't; at times, she's proven a magical menace of sorts. But, Miel does have a claim to fame that she tries to keep quiet—her abnormal strength. While in town one day, she runs into a young man named Radi. While he bears a strong resemblance to the kingdom's Prince Radian, she helps him find his way around town. Once Miel gets to know Radi, she finds herself in the position of wanting to stand at his side as his equal. Has Miel finally found the motivation to improve her magic?

Reaction: I had a mixed reaction to this story. When Miel's first introduced, there's mention of her family's history as magicians in the king's court. Unfortunately, they've fallen on harder times and, so, Miel wants to "marry up" in order to restore her family's standing. Of course, once she meets the right guy, she's all for bettering herself in magic in order to stand by his side. While this story is cute enough and has some great fantasy elements, I feel like it gives younger readers a false impression of why we should want to improve ourselves. (Note: This story is rated E for "Everyone".)

While the purpose of Miel's training is to better herself, its end goal is to make her Radi's equal. And I can't exactly agree with that—doing it for her own self-satisfaction rings truer to me than doing it because of the guy she likes. Then again, wanting to be a better person because of who you love is admirable in its own way, too.

Deep thoughts: In the one-shot at volume's end, "Daisy Romance," a prolific thief receives some flattery via imitation when a copycat burglar emerges. Hinagiku, a young woman from a well-to-do family, works with the original thief when the copycat targets her house. Since the story was in a Japanese setting, I was surprised to see how personally empowered Hinagiku was in pursuing the copycat and protecting her home. In comparison to other countries, Japan has a high rate of masculinity, which includes rigid social roles. While a similar romantic thread runs throughout this story, I liked Hinagiku moreso than Miel at times.

Artwork: After reading A Tale of an Unknown Country, also by mangaka Natsuna Kawase, my same criticisms stand in regards to the character's faces. The eyes, at times, look awkward and the pointy chin look dominates. At one point, Miel's older sister's eyes seem almost comically crossed when, in fact, she's reading a book.

However, unlike her previous work, there are more signs of the shojo style here, including more screentone use and other "sparkles." And it's obvious in Lapis Lazuli Crown that Kawase has grown as an artist since her earlier work—the backgrounds are more elaborate and characters are more well developed.

The verdict: If only... I liked this better than Kawase's earlier work, but still had reservations regarding the basic storyline and art. Yes, this is a fun fantasy series, and a short one at that with only two volumes. But, Miel's motivation worries me as a feminist. Despite those reservations, I will more likely than not read the second and final volume. Lapis Lazuli Crown is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.