The hardest part of this job is figuring out when a series that looks like a dud is just a late bloomer. I didn’t get winner’s vibes from the first couple of volumes of Kurohime; the whole thing seemed like a one-note joke. But then by some happy set of accidents I read later volumes, where there was not only a story and a theme but (gasp!) character development and (shock!) heart ‘n soul. Lo and behold, the dud blossomed into a delight — something I confirmed for myself when I cashed in some soda bottles and filled the gaps in my collection.
Now here we are at lucky volume thirteen, after our heroine has been booted back through time and send sailing head-over-D-cups through plot convolutions that would’ve reduced most any other series to laughable irrelevance. What keeps this particular book’s boat afloat is how everything that happens plugs directly back into its major themes, Love and Forgiveness. Mushy to be sure, but hey, I like this kind of mushy — the sort where big things are at stake, and everyone involved has to make hard choices, and you still go "Awww!" It’s the sort of popcorn entertainment that I don’t mind getting stuck between my teeth.Read more
Ruka’s vacation is ruined right on the first day of summer. She hits another girl in the face with her elbow during a handball game — in her mind, it’s payback for having her foot stomped — and the coach lays down the law: “Don’t bother coming back to practice.” She’s unhappy and remote, distant from other kids her age, annoyed by how the only attention she gets from adults — including her estranged father and incurious mother — is in the form of reprimands. This girl needs something to do, and doesn’t know what.
One afternoon she rides the train into Tokyo, for no particular reason, and finds herself standing at the lip of an inlet to the ocean. Someone else is there, a boy who doesn’t look Japanese but speaks to her: “The sea in Tokyo is kind of like a broken toy, isn’t it?” His name is Umi — “Sea” — and he has the dreamy, amused air of someone who will probably never grow all the way up.Read more
Black Lagoon has, from all we’ve seen, two types of storylines. The first is the slower, longer, more over-arching plot threads, like the Washimine-gumi saga that filled most of the last two volumes. Then there are the adventures where the scenery is punctured with flying lead, everything that can be blown up is blown up, and people reveal various perverse ways in which anything imaginable can be used as an assault weapon. Guess what we get this time around.
It’s not as if the series is missing anything when it jams itself into absurdist-overkill action mode, though. Even when things are going through the roof and punching holes in the bottoms of passing airplanes, there’s always still some tenuous semblance of story ‘n character, even if it’s relegated to second-banana walk-on status. The up-front themes this time around aren’t honor, loyalty, or the brotherhoods that exist between criminals — it’s Revy’s pissed-off psycho-smile and Rock’s pop-eyed stupefaction at what kind of crazy crap he’s managed to get himself into this time.Read more
In a fight between you and the world, bet on the world.
— Attributed to Franz Kafka
Except that some people like that sort of thing. They get a charge out of bucking the odds — the worse the odds, the bigger the thrill. They’re the embodiment of that Adidas ad tagline Impossible Is Nothing, and it doesn’t matter if the endeavor in question is soccer, mountain-climbing, chess, kickboxing or the unlicensed practice of medicine. You see where this is going.
Truth be told, it’s not just the fact that Black Jack is a risk-taker. It’s that he’s beaten these odds before, can do it again, and doesn’t like people telling him otherwise. Through volume six of Black Jack he faces one medical Iron Man triathlon after another, from brain transplants to brain tumors — but the real reason he flings himself so heedlessly at such outrageous jobs is to stand in stark contrast to everyone who settles for having no hope. His biggest resentments are reserved not for those who want to stick him in prison and make sure he never practices again, but for quitters and cop-outs of all stripes … whether they’re rival doctors or his own patients.Read more
Volume 29 of Berserk is Berserk as we may well have to like it. That must sound miles removed from the fanboy-ish praise I know I’ve lavished on this series in the first ten to twelve volumes of its run. But there’s no denying that the story has undergone major changes of direction, major shifts in tone, major alterations of focus. That might well be the karma, the fate of any long-running series; there were dozens of books in the hundred-plus Guin Saga series where protagonist Guin himself doesn’t even appear or only enters as a peripheral figure. That doesn’t make it any less problematic to grapple with whenever it comes up.
The first dozen or so books of Berserk were all setup. They gave us the three key characters and their conflicts: Guts, the demon-chased Black Swordsman; Griffith, the leader of the Band of the Hawk, who traded earthly life as a warrior (and the lives of his comrades) to be reincarnated as an embodiment of evil; and Casca, the woman mercenary caught between both of them. Now Guts has a new group of hangers-on — the witch Schierke, the would-be kid warrior Isidro, and the former holy knight and now potential witch-in-training Farnese; Griffith has returned to the earth and created a new Band of the Hawk, and seeks nothing short of world domination; and Casca is now a near-insensate husk of a woman, whom Guts and his crew have plans to take to a distant land in search of a cure for her madness.Read more
I once theorized that the difference between Japanese and American comics is that the former are about characters and stories while the latter are about franchises. I’m in the process of being proven wrong about this — or maybe it’s just the scope of the theory’s in need of revision. Case in point: the Blood: the Last Vampire continuity. It started with a short animated film, and then was rebooted into the Blood+ continuity: a long animated TV series (two seasons), a set of novels based on the TV series, a manga based rather loosely on the TV series, and now a new prequel manga series.
And yet, through all of these variations and offshoots, certain things remain consistent — much as they do, I suppose, in American franchise comics. The Hulk is always green and angry, Tony Stark is a genius playboy alcoholic, and Saya of Blood+ is always a mixture of girlish naïveté and deadly precision. Case in point once again: Blood+ Adagio, the newest installment in the franchise. It’s a prequel series, set in the early years of the Russian revolution, and purports to fill in backstory as to what happened to Saya and her compatriots during that time.Read more