Now that I’ve finished with the second volume of the new adventures of Rally Vincent and Minnie-May Hopkins, I think I’ve finally worked out the filing category for Gunsmith Cats: Burst. “Manga that take place in the United States” was one possibility, and “Homage to American action movies” was another consistent one, but I think the best label so far has been “Manga I read with a crooked, silly grin all the way through.” Come on: What other comic shows us a seven-foot-tall mercenary driver with a bulletproof bandanna slicing through the wall of someone’s house with a hunting knife big enough to skin an elephant — and does all this with a straight face, because it’s allegedly set in the “real world?”
Burst #2 continues all the plot threads that were kicked off in Volume #1 — mainly, the mystery behind the theft of Rally’s prized Shelby GT 500 muscle car, her pride and joy. Now it’s been packed with explosives and about to be turned into a weapon of mass destruction. As in the earlier Cats adventures, Rally manages to stay a step ahead of her tormentors by outsmarting, outpacing (and occasionally outshooting) them — and by drawing on her friends, from Minnie-May the explosives expert to Miss Farrah the hacker-cum-researcher who will dig up any tidbit of information for a price, a percentage, or both. And I shouldn’t forget Bean Bandit, the any-time-any-place driver (I sometimes wonder if Jason Statham’s Transporter character was a polite nod to Bandit) who alternates between being a competitor, an ally, and a nemesis depending on the breaks. Read more
Gamers use the term nerfed to describe something that used to have impact but for whatever reason has been watered down. Black Sun, Silver Moon feels like a horror story that got nerfed — or maybe it’s a cute story with some horror added to it to spice things up. Either way, the cute wins, and if you like cute, that’s what you’ll get in surplus. (The adorable dog and the flowers on the cover ought to be a giveaway.)
I’ve said before that if you take the same basic story outline and give it to five different people, you’ll get five entirely different stories in tone, mood, content, and execution. BSSM plays like the outcome of one of those exercises, where someone got handed a plot outline for a potentially dark story and the results were anything but dark. The summary: Taki, a young man with many siblings and heavy family debts to pay off, takes a job with a local priest, Shikimi. At first the job doesn’t seem to involve anything more than keeping the priest’s library in order and keeping his teacup full. Then one night they trek out into the graveyard behind the church, and Taki is pressed into service to kill the zombies rising from the graveyard. It’s a job he’s suited to whether or not he wants to admit it, and so now he’s serving in the dual job of house servant by day and zombie hunter by night. Read more
I used to hate epic fantasy — or rather, I hated what epic fantasy had devolved into: cynical assembly-line knock-offs of the Tolkien estate designed to sell a series, rather than any one book. The Wheel of Time cycle turned me off after one book — although the shock and dismay of having Robert Jordan himself die before he could finish the series proper was absolutely not lost on me — and Eragon was almost too awful to be believed.
By that token, I should never have picked up The Guin Saga at all. Here we have a Japanese fantasy novel series that has been running for decades in Japan with over one hundred books in the series and with more still on the way. But I’d been hearing about Guin for over a decade through one channel or another — after all, any series that had sold something like twenty-five million copies in its native country was going to be hard to ignore. Everyone from upscale film director Nagisa Oshima to manga-ka Kentaro (Berserk) Miura described themselves as Guin fans. Read more
I’ll probably grouse forever about the shady illogic that underpins the central premise of MPD Psycho, but I also know it’s not going away. Last time around I wrote about how the central character was being treated like a clown car, with new facets of himself popping out at each new trauma. Kazuhiko Amamiya, alias Shinji Nishizono, alias Yosuke Kobayashi, alias Kiyoshi Murata, alias — How many multiple personalities can you fit in a single body? Five in the brain and one in each nostril.
The reason this bugged me wasn’t because it wasn’t interesting — if anything, MPD Psycho Volume 3 has shaped up to be the most absorbing book in the series so far — but because I was wary of this device being used to excuse any number of sloppy plot shenanigans on the part of the authors. I’m still wary, but I also get the impression that the authors do in fact have a bit more on their mind than just front-loading poor Amamiya/Nishizono/Kobayashi/Murata/etc. with a persona du jour each time something horrible happens. The real ambitions of this series are finally coming to the fore, and maybe it wasn’t really possible for them to be brought upfront until this point. Read more
And so at last we come to the fifth and final volume of Banya: The Explosive Deliveryman — although at this point we might as well call the series Banya: The Explosive Berserker. We’d started with a character who was instantly likeable and interesting — Banya, the Mailman of the Wasteland — and traded up him up for a character who was far less intrinsically interesting, a Berserker with a Tragic Past. There’s just enough of Banya as we remember him here to justify keeping the name, but really, I was against this whole detour to begin with. I was more interested in Banya when he was actually outsmarting the bad guys, not just slicing them into Salisbury steak.
It’s doubly annoying since most of the climactic plot shenanigans involve a bunch of stuff that could have been phoned in from any fantasy series, really. Most of them revolve around the (re)appearance of Kamutu, the man who was once Banya’s master, now missing an eye and thirsting after the kind of ultimate power that can only be awakened through a little girl. I also groused about the Mysterious Lone Swordsman character, Soah, stirred into the mix as of last volume. All of these things just felt like distractions from the series’ original and most inventive premise: how does Mister DHL-Of-The-Desert deal with getting his delivery to the destination this time? There’s only the faintest hint of that whole idea left in this volume; Banya’s cleverness and wit has mostly been traded up for the sight of him going Rambo on the bad guys. Read more
Lady Anne: Villain, thou know’st no law of God nor man:
No beast so fierce knows but a touch of pity.
Gloucester: But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
— Shakespeare, Richard III
Those words were tailor-made to describe Griffith, possibly the most pitiless and fascinating character in any manga currently running. He’s a good part of the reason why Berserk is, in turn, one of the most fascinating manga running, period. We have to know what he does next, and next, and next — and not just him but everyone else he’s gathered around him, too.
Throughout the eighth volume of Berserk, Griffith employs his friend and right-hand man, Guts — the seemingly unstoppable “Hero of a Hundred” — to destroy his opponents not only on the battlefield, but in the dark corridors of power. Griffith’s plans as a mercenary warlord are all just prelude to his even greater plans to create his own kingdom at any price, and anyone who has followed the series thus far will know in their bones that means, yes, any price. There’s very little that will give pause to a man who prostituted himself (to another man, no less) to pay for his own army’s rations and equipment. Read more
The second volume of MPD-Psycho does one thing right and another thing (still) somewhat wrong. On the good side, it tones down the often-gratuitous helpings of pathologically explicit gore that justified Dark Horse jacketing this gruesome little item in shrinkwrap and slapping an “18+” sticker on it. This time around, apart from a few sudden spurts of gore — including one thoroughly nasty scene where a girl throws herself off an apartment balcony and skewers herself on an electric pole — the book’s almost PG-13 rated all the way through.
On the bad side, we still get a story that milks multiple personality disorder (the MPD of the title) as shamelessly as it can for plot twists. Detective Kazuhiko Amamiya (originally “Yosuke Kobayashi”) has at least one sociopathic, don’t-give-a-damn alternate persona lurking inside that hide of his, Shinji Nishizono — and it has a horrible tendency to ooze on out when he’s confronted with someone else equally or even more sick (which happens with immense regularity). Fine, except that series author Eiji Otsuka isn’t content to just let him wrestle with one inner demon, or two, or even three. Amamiya’s three-way personality gains a fourth facet, “Kiyoshi Murata,” and by the end of the book we feel like the poor guy’s gone from being the closest thing to the story’s protagonist to becoming a veritable psychological clown car. I’m half-tempted to run a betting pool to see how many alters he ends up with by the time we get to the last book. Read more
At first, Asa Nonami’s Now You’re One of Us ambles along like one of Yasujiro Ozu’s movies about Japanese home life, a drama of manners about marriage and extended families. Then it reveals its real subject by degrees — how a cult mind-set works to seduce outsiders and break their resistance — and it goes from Ozu coziness to full-blown Takashi Miike madness. In a good way, that is. Read more
Bride of the Water God is the first sunjeong, or shojo-style comic from Korea, that I’ve read so far. What surprises me is not how different it is, but how familiar: if you’ve already had some exposure to the tropes and eccentricities of shojo comics, you won’t find this difficult to get into at all. In fact, if it weren’t for the names and some of the internal references, there would scarcely be any way to know this was a Korean production.
I shouldn’t make those things sound like a criticism, though. Country of origin aside, Water God is light romance first and foremost, with some excursions into the godly and the supernatural. Sadly, it doesn’t have anywhere near the narrative confidence of something like Real / Fake Princess — it has the same diffuse storytelling I've seen in other shojo titles, and when you get down to it there’s really not a lot going on. It looks good, but I’m hoping it eventually evolves past just being a fashion plate and becomes something more memorable. Read more
When I looked at an early galley draft of Manga: The Complete Guide earlier this year, I wrote “It promises to be just the sort of buying and critical guide that English-language manga readers need now, more than ever.” Now that the book has finally been released, that promise has been more than fulfilled. What we have here is one of the few really indispensible and complete guidebooks to a subject that has become so sprawling and difficult to assess on one’s own that we need all the help we can get.
M:TCG serves two duties. First, it’s a buyer’s guide, akin to the Rolling Stone or Trouser Press record books, where you can look up a series you’re curious about and get a general feel for what it’s about and whether or not you’ll want to blow about $10 a book on it. Since the book itself is $20 list price and covers just about everything of significance released in English translations over quite a span of time, it’s almost certain to prove its worth in the long run, especially if you spend $20 a month or more on manga and are just now getting started building a serious collection. Read more
It’s always a pleasure to pick up the second volume of a series you’ve had great expectations for and not feel like you’ve had the rug jerked out from under you. The first volume of Parasyte kicked off what promised to be a great premise, and the second volume doesn’t just rehash what we know; it boldly moves the story forward into new territory. Author and artist Hitoshi Iwaaki was clearly not content to just take the situation he’d set up and beat it to death, and I’m grateful as both a critic and a fan that he decided to stick his neck out a bit.
The second book deals with roughly three intertwined plot threads — school teen Shinichi’s relationship with the alien (?) parasite that’s cohabitating with him in his body; Shin’s mother falling victim to one of the parasites; and Shin’s on-again-off-again relationship with two different girls around his age. The first two are the most important, while the third is just a real-world leavener — a kind of bookend for the main action this time around, a reminder that the world outside of Shin’s increasingly bizarre life is at least halfway normal. Just because your arm’s been turned into a protean monster doesn’t mean you are going to automatically give up on feeling Read more