Blog posts in Books for September 2007:

Book Reviews: The Guin Saga, Book Two: Warrior in the Wilderness (Kaoru Kurimoto) [HARDCOVER]

Here’s where the going gets (slightly) grimmer. The second book in the Guin Saga series doesn’t quite have the same propulsive energy as the first, if only because it’s essentially a transitional story: it deals with what happens immediately after...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/09/09 23:32
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Here’s where the going gets (slightly) grimmer. The second book in the Guin Saga series doesn’t quite have the same propulsive energy as the first, if only because it’s essentially a transitional story: it deals with what happens immediately after the leopard-headed hero Guin escapes from the chaos of Stafolos Keep with the royal twins Rinda and Remus in his care. The first book ended with a literal leap into the unknown, with the three of them plunging headfirst into the dangerous River Kes as hordes of the monkeylike Sem barbarians snap close at their heels.

That first book delivered the kind of rush I hadn’t gotten from a fantasy book in ages, partly because it was completely unabashed in its willingness to entertain. Here there were no attempts at socio-political analysis, no analogies or allegories to “current events”, just flat-out meat-and-potatoes adventure fantasy for the eleven-year-old soul, no matter what his biological age. Small wonder the second book felt like a step back and a retrenching, but now that I think about it, Warrior in the Wilderness really isn’t all that bad: it’s just that once you start with that kind of breathless burst of energy you sometimes need something else to leaven it.

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Tags: Alexander O. Smith Guin Saga Kaoru Kurimoto Vertical Inc. review


Books: ×××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...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/09/09 23:26
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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).

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Tags: CLAMP Japan manga review


Books: 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...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/09/09 23:24
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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.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Books: 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...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/09/09 23:22
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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.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Books: 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...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/09/09 23:01
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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.

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Tags: Japan Taiyo Matsumoto manga review


Book Reviews: The Guin Saga, Book Three: The Battle of Nospherus (Kaoru Kurimoto) [HARDCOVER]

Now this is a bit more like it, although I’m starting to see how even a series that runs to maybe fifty thousand words a book could withstand a bit of editing. The third book in the ongoing Guin Saga,...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/09/09 21:58
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Now this is a bit more like it, although I’m starting to see how even a series that runs to maybe fifty thousand words a book could withstand a bit of editing. The third book in the ongoing Guin Saga, over a hundred books strong in Japan and still going but only a pitiful four or five in English, kicks the series a little closer to the kind of action we saw and savored in the first book. To use a quote I’ve employed before, it may not be Bach but it is sure Offenbach—and it is exactly the kind of straightforward adventure fantasy that we have come not to know much of lately.

When we last left the leopard-headed Guin and his comrades—the royal twins Rinda and Remis, the mercenary Istavan and various allies from the ranks of the monkeylike Sem—they were trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, the armies of the Mongaul, pushing ever deeper into the wastes of the Nospherus that the Sem call home. They find themselves stuck in a valley populated by one of the weirder monsters found in the desert, the yidoh—giant amoebalike monsters that will probably make any Dungeons and Dragons player mutter “Gelatinous cube!” under their breaths. One of these walking stomachs is bad enough, but a whole gorge filled with them, and with no way around?

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Tags: Alexander O. Smith Guin Saga Kaoru Kurimoto Vertical Inc. review


Books: 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...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2007/09/09 19:37
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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.)

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Tags: Japan manga review


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