Previous Posts: External Book Reviews: September 2007

External Book Reviews: ×××HOLiC Vol. #10 (CLAMP)

The girls of CLAMP have been serving up a heady brew named ×××HOLiC (typically just pronounced “holic”) for some time now, and it’s one of those series that gets almost incredibly unfairly dismissed. First there’s the bizarre name—although you get...


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The girls of CLAMP have been serving up a heady brew named ×××HOLiC (typically just pronounced “holic”) for some time now, and it’s one of those series that gets almost incredibly unfairly dismissed. First there’s the bizarre name — although you get around that fairly quickly — but then there’s the question of what exact pigeonhole to allot to this mix of frothy situational comedy and Gothic-mystical morality play. It’s fun and funny, to be sure, but there are times when its waters run much deeper than you might expect, and that throws people off. But it also reeks of the kind of pungent originality that I read manga to find in the first place, and it has some of the most luscious (if also at times heavily oversimplified) artwork throughout CLAMP’s canon.

The premise actually isn’t that complicated, but the CLAMP team have rung a great many changes on it over the course of the previous nine volumes, so you’re almost certainly going to need to back up to the beginning and read from there. Watanuki, a young man in high school, has an unwanted affinity for spirits — he can sense them and interact with them even if he doesn’t want to. Enter Yūko, the boozy, leggy, cigarette-holder-wielding owner of a curio shoppe (it makes sense to spell it that way in this series). Her forte is cutting deals of a supernatural bent: she can give you what you want, but always at a cost, and sometimes you won’t know the dimensions of the cost until it’s too late. Likewise, she can remove Watanuki’s “curse,” but only if he puts himself in her employ … and the depths he’ll have to traverse to work off the cost will in time take their toll on him. There are also intermittent crossovers with CLAMP’s other ongoing series, Tsubasa (and also previously in Legal Drug), but you can read either series without having to read the other (although according to the creators you get more of a perspective on what’s going on if you read both). Read more


Tags: CLAMP Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Andromeda Stories Graphic Novel 1 (Keiko Takemiya)

After the fascinating “shojo space opera” of To Terra… (also adapted into a TV series now licensed by Bandai Entertainment for us lucky folks in the West), Vertical Publishing picked up another of Keiko Takemiya’s works for English publication. Andromeda...


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After the fascinating “shojo space opera” of To Terra… (also adapted into a TV series now licensed by Bandai Entertainment for us lucky folks in the West), Vertical Publishing picked up another of Keiko Takemiya’s works for English publication. Andromeda Stories features Takemiya’s art but a story by one Ryu Mitsuse, nominally known as an author of historical fiction and SF in Japan, and he was apparently a major influence on Takemiya to begin with. Their collaboration’s yielded up a story that’s markedly unlike Terra but at the same time clearly informed by the same kind of imagination. Terra gave us a rogue, telepathically-enabled offshoot of humanity reaching out across the stars to its brothers on Earth; Andromeda gives us a machine civilization that’s crossed the universe to colonize an unsuspecting and peaceful world by literally and figuratively tunneling under and invading from within.

Takemiya and Mitsuse make an ambitious creative team, and they kick things off with a bang — as in, the Big Bang. The creation of the universe itself occupies the first several pages, a nice way to signal to the readers that the fate of the cosmos itself hangs in the balance (although exactly how that’s the case won’t be clear for a good long while). Then Takemiya’s camera eye zooms in a little closer — down to Planet Astrias of the Cosmoralian Empire, where a royal wedding is about to be staged. Pricess Lilia of the Kingdom of Ayodoya and Price Ithaca of Cosmoralia (that’s King Ithaca to you, now) are brought together with much rejoicing by the common folk. But all is definitely not well under the surface: through the celebratory crowds strides a serious-faced young woman who wields a sword as well as any man, and with a deep sense of foreboding hanging over her. Her name is Il, and only by degrees do we learn the real nature of her presence — along with many others who have concealed themselves in secret for generations. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Gunsmith Cats Revised Edition Vol. 3 (Kenichi Sonoda)

Every time I crack the spine to another Gunsmith Cats omnibus collection (this is #3 out of 4), I end up with the same lopsided smile. Female bounty hunters, prostitutes turned explosives experts, drivers-for-hire, criminals, cops, and assorted underworld scum—it’s...


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Every time I crack the spine to another Gunsmith Cats omnibus collection (this is #3 out of 4), I end up with the same lopsided smile. Female bounty hunters, prostitutes turned explosives experts, drivers-for-hire, criminals, cops, and assorted underworld scum — it’s the best of every Hollywood action movie rolled into one, and it’s all in a manga. Heck, if all four Lethal Weapon movies had ended up being this good, I might never have gotten disenchanted with Mel Gibson.

Volume 3 opens with Rally Vincent, everyone’s favorite bounty hunter and girl gunslinger, still trying to live down the mess from the end of the last book. After being dosed with a powerful hallucinogen, Rally’s had her gun license pulled in the interest of public safety — and Rally without a gun is like a fish in an empty swimming pool. Worse, everyone around her makes the ghastly mistake of rubbing her nose in it (again, and again), and gun license or not, she’s determined to catch up to the man who screwed things up so badly: Bean Bandit, the man you hire to drive cargo from A to B , no questions asked. Rally goes after Bean and discovers, to her fury, he’s about to cut a deal to run another batch of the same drug that messed her up. Never one to pass up a challenge, Bean cuts her a deal: if she can prevent the whole thing from going down without firing a single bullet or calling in the cavalry, he’ll swear off dealing with the drug gangs for good. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White: All in One (Taiyo Matsumoto)

It’s difficult to write about Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White without explicitly comparing it to the movie that it inspired. I was actually worried the book might not measure up, since Tekkonkinkreet so far outpaced any other animated production I’ve seen...


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It’s difficult to write about Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White without explicitly comparing it to the movie that it inspired. I was actually worried the book might not measure up, since Tekkonkinkreet so far outpaced any other animated production I’ve seen this year, and so comparing it with the book might seem unfair. But TK:B&W was written and drawn by Taiyo Matsumoto, whose other works have stood up wonderfully on their own (No. 5) and have also been adapted into live-action films of distinction (Blue Spring, Ping Pong). If Tekkonkinkreet was such a wonderful movie, it was only because the book itself had that much going for it.

Now we have proof of that, in the form of the comic that inspired the film, and I plan on filing it on my shelf along with Sexy Voice and Robo, Hiroki Endo’s Eden, and Robin Nishi’s as-yet-untranslated Mind Game (also made into a stupefyingly wonderful movie, by the same animation studio that brought Tekkonkinkreet to life). I should point out that Black and White was originally published in a set of standalone volumes back in 2000, but those have been out of print for some time, and so having them all restored to print in a single omnibus edition is hugely welcome. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review Taiyo Matsumoto


External Book Reviews: Kurohime #1

The diabolically sexy anti-heroine of Kurohime leers out at us from the cover of volume one, skintight outfit stretched over acres of curves. Then you open the book and find out she spends most of her time looking absolutely nothing...


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The diabolically sexy anti-heroine of Kurohime leers out at us from the cover of volume one, skintight outfit stretched over acres of curves. Then you open the book and find out she spends most of her time looking absolutely nothing like that, and if you shelled out $7.99 to goggle at some skin there’s a chance you’ll feel … cheated. There’s a good reason this book isn’t sold in shrinkwrap.

So what do you get for your $7.99? Well, Kurohime takes a premise that would normally be turned into something “dark” and “edgy” and stands it on its head for laughs. This is never a bad idea in the abstract — after all, there’s enough “dark” and “edgy” material out there to keep the manufacturers of black eyeliner in business for decades, so why not turn that stuff upside down and see what falls out? Incidentally, the whole thing has been penned and written by someone with the single best name I’ve seen in manga since Oh! great (Ogureito): Masanori • Ookamigumi • Katakura. (Yes, the dots are on the original copyright page, too.) Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Gin Tama Vol. #2

The second volume of Gin Tama cracked me up in a way that hadn’t happened since, well, the first volume of Gin Tama. I chalk this up to GT being a truly whacked-out original; it’s got the goony glee of...


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The second volume of Gin Tama cracked me up in a way that hadn’t happened since, well, the first volume of Gin Tama. I chalk this up to GT being a truly whacked-out original; it’s got the goony glee of Buckaroo Banzai* when so many other manga are the stale Star Wars prequels. The jokes are that much funnier if you’re already a general J-culture fan, but I think anyone can laugh at the sight of a giant alien dog thinking that his new owners are tasty as well as fun to play with.

What I loved right off the bat about the first book in this series was the setting — a reworking of post-feudal Japan that swapped “aliens” for “foreigners,” and combined that with an acid streak of irreverent humor to make sly jabs at the world we live in now. Also, the lead character was a true original as well — the perpetually broke and hypoglycemic odd-job man Gintoki, henpecked by everyone from his landlady to his buddies, and despite all that somehow living up to the ideals of a bygone age in his own way. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation Vol. #1

Muhyo and Roji couldn’t be a more mismatched pair. Roji is a tall, light-haired fellow with the minimal skill set and the can-do attitude of many a shonen hero. Muhyo’s a short, morbidly-grinning little imp who looks like a chibi...


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Muhyo and Roji couldn’t be a more mismatched pair. Roji is a tall, light-haired fellow with the minimal skill set and the can-do attitude of many a shonen hero. Muhyo’s a short, morbidly-grinning little imp who looks like a chibi version of Peter Lorre, and with a library of magical incantations at his command. From the third floor of a tiny Tokyo office building they operate a “Bureau of Supernatural Investigation,” where clients come to them with problems involving misbehaving spirits and they lay yards of smack down on the offenders thanks to Muhyo’s command of “magical law.” (Plea-bargains do not appear to be part of the deal.)

That’s the premise for Yoshiyuki Nishi’s Muhyo and Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation or BSI for short, a fun new Viz title that takes a few basic manga patterns — the all-knowing genius detective and his hapless sidekick — and spins them in clever new directions. For one, the genius detective and the hapless sidekick seem to be about the same age, although Muhyo, with his weird “onion-head” appearance (he’s called that more than once), will probably look the way he does for decades on end. Muhyo reached the dizzying heights of the title of “Executor of Law” at a very young age, and delights in gloating about that fact in front of the lowly Roji. Put them together, though, and they make a sharp team — although Muhyo still does most of the leading. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Claymore Vol. 10

Norihiro Yagi’s Claymore’s been dismissed as “Berserk lite,” but I don’t think that’s a fair description of what is one of the better new manga I’ve come across lately. It’s got some of the same elements of Berserk—a medieval setting...


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Norihiro Yagi’s Claymore’s been dismissed as “Berserk lite,” but I don’t think that’s a fair description of what is one of the better new manga I’ve come across lately. It’s got some of the same elements of Berserk — a medieval setting ruled by violence and superstition, a single warrior alone against all, and so on — but it’s not a clone or a retread, and it carves out a very worthy niche for itself. Part of my curiosity about the series was sparked by watching the animated series that has been adapted from the comics with a remarkable degree of fidelity, and when I was offered the chance to read the comic itself I jumped on it.

The premise: In a world reminiscent of Middle Ages Europe, creatures called yôma, which are carnivorous monsters that prey on humans, have appeared. They’re tough to destroy, not just due to their strength but also their ability to disguise themselves as other humans, and they also assimilate the memories and personalities of those they consume. To deal with them, there exist a special class of warriors called Claymores — young woman who have been biologically modified in certain ways to grant them exceptional strength and regenerative ability. They hunt down yôma and exterminate them, often without the help of society at large, which fears them almost as much as the creatures they hunt. Worse, Claymores (all of which are female) have a very limited lifespan: since they’re created from yôma, they eventually turn into yôma, and if they know the end is near they can elect to have one of their own kind finish them off before they devolve entirely into beasts. Such beings have a label of their own — “Awakened Ones” — and are in many ways far more dangerous than the original monsters. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Naruto Vol. 18

Even a “slow” volume of Naruto is still a good one. The amount of action in Volume 18 is relatively minimal compared to the last time we checked in, but that only allows the other things that are so good...


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Even a “slow” volume of Naruto is still a good one. The amount of action in Volume 18 is relatively minimal compared to the last time we checked in, but that only allows the other things that are so good about the series to step forward. The most important is how character and motive, not coincidence and happenstance, drive this story: things happen in Naruto because of the way people are, not because the plot demands it happen just-so.

Volume 18 gives us two parallel bits of story that intersect, each fueled by their respective characters: Naruto and “Pervy Sage” Jiraiya, student and mentor; and Orochimaru and the future Fifth Hokage, Tsunade. In the former, Naruto’s on the verge of making a key advance in the command of his powers thanks to Jiraiya’s close tutelage. In the latter, Orochimaru preys on one of Tsunade’s hidden weaknesses — the loss of her lover and her younger brother — and offers her a deal that would make the devil jealous. “I’ve mastered the forbidden jutsu,” he tells her — you guessed it, the ability to bring the dead back to life (or at least he says so). All he wants in exchange for that is the use of her prodigious healing skills to repair his damaged arm … and maybe her assurance that she won’t get in the way when he levels Konoha for keeps. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man Vol. #3

What a day. One minute Banya’s being chased by toothy sandworms that eat anything slightly more tasty than rocks, and the next he’s slathering himself in dragon droppings to keep from being sniffed out by yet another kind of monster....


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What a day. One minute Banya’s being chased by toothy sandworms that eat anything slightly more tasty than rocks, and the next he’s slathering himself in dragon droppings to keep from being sniffed out by yet another kind of monster. And then there’s this horde of black rats dripping fatal venom from their fangs, and that enclave of kill-crazy warrior monks, and …

Welcome back to the dog-eat-rat-eat-beast-eat-man world of Banya: The Explosive Deliveryman, which specifically ought to give a broad chuckle to anyone who actually walks a delivery route with a mailbag on their shoulder. Dealing with that testy old terrier that likes to fray your trouser cuffs doesn’t seem quite so bad when you’ve walked (or run, or staggered) a few hundred kilometers in Banya’s rather raggedy shoes. His job is to get your package to its appointed destination, even if what lies between you and it is like something out of one of those movies where various ragged tribes have gone to war over gasoline and canned goods. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man Vol. #4

For its first three or so volumes, Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man had set up a good, regular groove, and seemed to be thriving in it. The premise was nifty and creative: Postal worker in grim, vaguely post-apocalyptic setting braves...


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For its first three or so volumes, Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man had set up a good, regular groove, and seemed to be thriving in it. The premise was nifty and creative: Postal worker in grim, vaguely post-apocalyptic setting braves all manner of challenges — human, natural and supernatural — to deliver his cargo on-time and on-budget. Then at the end of Volume 3 (something that I could really only talk about now in the context of Volume 4), author and artist Kim Young-Oh sprung a twist on us — something meant to widen the scope of his story a bit and dig into the past of his main character.

At the end of the last volume, Banya and his young sidekick postman-in-training Kong were charged with delivering a young girl (wanted by the authorities for her magical powers) to safety. After being cornered by a gang of assorted plug-uglies, something inside Banya snaps and he turns into a one-man slaughter machine. And right before his enemies are torn in half, they realize they’ve seen this man before. That’s right — before Banya was a postman, he was a “Slayer,” one of a group of elite government assassins, but apparently went rogue, butchered the rest of his company, and then (conveniently) lost his memory. It takes another gang of goons going after Banya to bring this information to the surface — and this time, when faced with the prospect of death, Banya provokes himself into unleashing the demon within. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Oldboy Vol. #4

So why would someone kidnap a total stranger off the street, lock him in a custom prison cell for ten years for no apparent reason, and then just as blithely let him back out again? The fourth volume of Oldboy...


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So why would someone kidnap a total stranger off the street, lock him in a custom prison cell for ten years for no apparent reason, and then just as blithely let him back out again? The fourth volume of Oldboy begins with the first real hint as to why all this happened to Goto, the Everyman hero of the story whose life as a cipher in urban Japan ended when he was spirited away a decade ago. “Look into your childhood,” a woman moans to him after she agrees to trade sex for secrets, and Goto soon begins digging into everything from his high school yearbooks to his estranged family members.

In an attempt to determine if something in his past led him here, Goto reaches into his own history and excavates an unexpected amount of unease. He wanted to be as unextraordinary as possible, he confesses to his girlfriend Eri (his sole confidant for now), and he eventually slid into gambling and alcoholism — and then one day he ended up in that little cell. Was it something he did in a fit of drunken rage, or something deeper — something that he hasn’t been able to unearth yet? Read more


Tags: Japan manga review


External Book Reviews: Berserk Vol. #7

There’s what we do, and then there’s what we say we do. It’s all too easy to say you didn’t do something out of guilt or foolish pride, when the things you have done speak far louder. No one, not...


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There’s what we do, and then there’s what we say we do. It’s all too easy to say you didn’t do something out of guilt or foolish pride, when the things you have done speak far louder. No one, not even Griffith, the charismatic leader of the mercenary Hawks, is immune from this. Certainly not Casca, the girl who joined Griffith out of admiration for his purity of purpose, or Guts, the bruiser who chose to follow Griffith (for now) as a way to perhaps find a place in the world.

Volume 7 continues Casca’s reminiscences about how she came to meet Griffith and ride with his band — and also how she came to realize, by degrees, the depth of his commitment to his vision. At one point Griffith prostitutes himself to a wealthy lord with a taste for handsome young men; the next morning, while compulsively scrubbing himself clean in a river (this part is hardly subtle but absolutely on the mark, psychologically), he admits he did it for the sake of the group as a whole. Or did he do it as a way to assuage the guilt he buries away about those who die in his services, whose names he never even knows? Read more


Tags: Berserk Japan Kentaro Miura manga review


External Book Reviews: Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, Part Two (Hideyuki Kikuchi)

When I received the first installment of Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, I had to wonder: How would the nominally fleet-on-its-feet Vampire Hunter D deal with suddenly having twice as much room to tell its story? This is a...


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When I received the first installment of Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, I had to wonder: How would the nominally fleet-on-its-feet Vampire Hunter D deal with suddenly having twice as much room to tell its story? This is a series I’ve savored for being fast and furious, and for not getting bogged down in the kind of prolonged plot gymnastics that are the stock in trade of most fantasy novels these days. The idea of seeing it bloat up into something big and boring didn’t thrill me.

The good news: for the most part, that hasn’t happened. The second half of North Sea, by and large, contains the same spring-heeled step as the first, and preserves the lively pace of the whole rest of the series. Hideyuki Kikuchi has made good use of the additional length of the book — he gives us details about the world he’s created and the people in it that don’t feel like filler. In each book he’s used the locale — whether it’s a city that floats above the surface of the earth or a frightened frontier town — to address different aspects of his outlandish setting. He does that here, too, with his seaside setting of Florence, a former resort for the Nobility (i.e. vampires), overlooking an ocean brimming with monsters … and with the hidden laboratory of the mysterious Baron Meinster. There’s not much more about everyone’s favorite Vampire Hunter, though, but I suspect only because a little goes a long way — and we get one amazing hint near the end of this book about what D really is. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review



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