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Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Vol. 2

October 30, 2010 2 comments

Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Illustrated by Jun Suemi, Translated by Eugen Woodbury
DMP, 220 pp
Rating: None

The second volume of Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, the tale which Hideyuki Kikuchi considers his masterpiece, picks up immediately after the cliffhanger ending of the first. Doctor Mephisto and Setsura Aki are both facing off against powerful opponents and incredible lethal and diabolical traps on their own as they attempt to squash a take over of Demon City Shinjuku, a take over attempt mastermind by a group of ancient Chinese vampires. And while they deal with the immediate threats before them, in the shadows seeds planted during the first volume begin to take root.

The second volume is just as interesting as the first and a bit more focused on the plot and developing the relationships between the Chinese vampires. Kikuchi does a good job at giving each of the antagonists their own unique motivations and desires, several of which are in seeming conflict with their leader and master, Princess. Ryuuki gains the most from this development as we not only find out more about how he relates to the others in the group, but we also get a glimpse at this life prior to becoming a vampire and how he came to join her entourage. Fleshing out your antagonists is generally a good thing, but oddly enough I’m not sure if this was the way to go here. Don’t get me wrong, I loved finding out about them, but by the end of the volume I felt I had a better handle on the motivations, desires and personalities of several of the antagonists than I did for Setsura Aki and Doctor Mephisto, though in the later case this seems to be deliberate. There are also some minor pacing issues. This is primarily due to how busy the book is and the fact that Kikuchi’s protagonists are almost never phased by anything they encounter. Throughout the book there are hints and lines that Mephisto and Setsura are meant to be racing against the clock and moving quickly to defeat the Chinese vampires, but the characters rarely act in a manner that conveys the apparent urgency of the threat.

This volume is also a glowing example of one of favorite aspects of Kikuchi’s writings. Namely his seemingly endless supply of bizarre monsters, powers, threats, and insane ideas. Every book I’ve read from Kikuchi generally has a few fantastic monsters and ideas, ranging from a flying city to weird alien plants living in someone’s blood stream, but Yashakiden seems to be absolutely brimming with them. People with weird tubular bodies, demonic ghosts, ancient Chinese myth, water spirits who seduce men by literally rocking their boat and more all make appearances within this volume. Add in to this living houses, sentient puppets, glimpses into the past of the city and more. It’s just fantastic to see what kind of insane and off the wall creature or situation he’ll come up with next.

Of course it wouldn’t be a light novel without artwork. Like the previous volume Jun Suemi handles the art here, and like the previous volume it’s nice but surprisingly infrequent. They’re so few and far between that you forget they’re even there until you turn the page and find yourself staring at a two page spread. Despite it’s infrequency, the illustrations do help clarify certain details on occasion. One scene in particular springs to mind where Kikuchi’s description of a character’s true form left me a bit confused and unsure of what it actually looked like, but thankfully Suemi’s artwork was present to show just how weird and bizarre it was meant to be.

The revelations regarding the antagonists, some of the twists that are tossed in and the constant stream of insane ideas all combine to make the second volume of Yashakiden an entertaining and enjoyable read. While I’m still a bit reluctant to call it his masterpiece, it’s definitely a must read for any fans of his other work and anyone who really enjoyed the anything can happen attitude and energy of 90s anime and manga.

Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Vol. 2 is available now at Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Tale of a White Night

October 20, 2010 1 comment

by Tooko Miyagi
DMP, 184 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

Tale of a White Night is a collection of short works from Tooko Miyagi and is the first time I’ve ever been exposed to her work. The volume is split into two sections, the first consisting of several stand alone tales which are akin to ghost stories, while the second is a single fantasy piece entitled “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” in which a young girl seeks out the person who betrayed her village.

Out of the two halves of the volume, I think the first was my favorite. It opens with a creepy little tale about a young man’s encounter with some oni and the bizarre obsession that some oni have with a human being’s legs. From there they range from a dreary tale about a secret from long ago and how it comes back to haunt the children who shared it, to a rather humorous story involving a young girl lost in the woods and confronted by the local wolf deities. That doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining though. Watching some of the stories play out is quite interesting, my favorite being the one of the girl on the mountain and the fox gods who reside there. All of these are short, stand alone stories that which follow a certain formula consisting of set up followed by a tragic twist at the end. Despite the heavy reliance on this formula nearly every tale is marked with a strong, haunting sense of loss to the point where several feel almost mournful. The lengthier tale, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” is set in a fantasy world where the dark skinned Remulus people were all but wiped out by another kingdom. The Remulus’ village had previously been hidden and a secret so Jilldora, a Remulus survivor, heads off in search of the person who betrayed her people and is responsible for the death of her brother as a result. The story focuses heavily on Jilldora’s indecision regarding what she’s actually going to do once she finds this peson. There’s a marked difference in the tone of this tale from the earlier ones and it makes this story’s inclusion feel a bit odd. On top of that Jilldora isn’t a terribly interesting character. Her entire people were all but wiped off the map, she watched her brother die and she can’t decide on what she’ll do once she finds the man responsible. That’s taking indecision to a whole new level, especially since at no point does she seem terribly angry or hell bent of vengeance, so it’s not a tale about her learning to forgive or anything.

Much like the stories in each half, Tooko Miyagi’s artwork varies drastically between them. The first half of the volume features some fine, almost delicate looking artwork. The lack of blacks or heavy lines cause each tale to take an almost dreamlike quality which adds to their haunting, foggy, half remembered dream like tone. The artwork in “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” looks like a different creature entirely. It’s not quite as detailed and the line work is much thicker, giving it a more solid and sturdy look. It almost makes it look a tad more generic than the first half. The costume designs in the longer story are a bit odd as well with one character, Raul, sporting a weird combination of loose fitting, just above the knee khaki shorts with knee high fantasy boots.

Tale of a White Night is an odd collection. The first half of the book is a nice collection of short, spooky and haunting reads, while the second half is an unmemorable fantasy tale. The tone shift between the two is so drastic that it almost gave me whiplash. I wasn’t that into “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, but I really enjoyed the first half and kind of wish the whole book was made up similar tales.

Tale of a White Night is available now. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

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Vampire Hunter D, Vol. 5

October 13, 2010 2 comments

Original story by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Adaption by Saiko Takaki
DMP, 242 pp.
Rating: M (Mature Readers)

Just in time for Halloween, the fifth volume of Saiko Takaki’s adaption of the Vampire Hunter D series arrives! After a mysterious dream D finds himself drawn to a town where Nobles and humans once lived side by side in peace, but times have changed and the Nobles left long ago. Despite this the town still seems to prosper, but beneath the apparently idyllic surface lies a secret. A woman named Sybille was attacked thirty years ago by a Noble and she’s been in an ageless, coma like sleep ever since. Now D must unravel the mystery surrounding her and the shared dreams of the towns people

The mystery is interesting enough but the story itself plays out in a rather confusing manner. It relies heavily upon dream logic and plays with the idea of dreams within dreams making it fairly difficult to tell what’s going on and exactly what’s happening at times. Of course this does kind of add to the dreamlike feel of it, but generally clarity in a story is a good thing. Despite the faintly confusing plot, there are some nice character moments throughout the volume, particularly the love triangle between Ai-Ling, Sybille and Sheriff Krutz. There’s a certain doomed and hopeless air to it which I just found touching. Another pleasant surprise is that the women are actually handled surprisingly well in this volume, with none truly fitting into the damsel in distress motif that often populate Kikuchi’s works.

After five volumes it’s getting a bit difficult to find new things to say about Takaki’s artwork, but I think I may have lucked out this time around. It might just be my imagination, but the artwork looks different this time around. It looks a bit cleaner and sharper with more emphasis placed on the use and contrast between the blacks and whites. While there’s still plenty of shading and toning used it really felt like it took a bit of a back seat to the blacks and whites. In addition the line work seemed a bit slicker and cleaner as well. I was especially keen on how she rendered one of the towns older citizens, a 120 year old woman whose face is wonderfully worn and heavy with lines and wrinkles. She looks her age and I found myself lingering upon the details of her face from time to time.

This is definitely the weirdest of the five Vampire Hunter D volumes out at the moment. While it’s in no danger of becoming my favorite story in the series, it’s definitely an interesting read with some engaging and enjoyable characters, not to mention eye catching artwork.

Vampire Hunter D, Vol. 5 will be available on October 20th. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

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Otodama: Voice From the Dead, Vol. 1

October 6, 2010 2 comments

by Youka Nitta
DMP/DokiDoki, 191 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

Otodama is a supernatural mystery series that at times echoes episodes of X-Files with it’s focus on the line between the supernatural and science. Kaname Otonashi and Yasuhide Nagatsuma are ex-cops who team up to work in the private sector as PI’s and the like. Hide does most of the heavy work, while Kaname pitches in thanks to his extraordinary hearing which can pick up sounds outside of the normal human range, including those from beyond the grave!

Otodama is a piece of weird fiction that straddles the line between the police drama and the paranormal detective genres. The heavy emphasis on tracking down a suspect while working within the confines of the legal system blends with bits of pseudo science like EVP recordings to deliver a rather interesting mix. The characters of Kaname and Hide are both fairly interesting and share a bond so intense that I was surprised they went the entire volume without cuddling or kissing. I’m guessing they might have if it wasn’t for the fact that they were neck deep in murder investigations the entire time. While the reason for their bond isn’t quite revealed, it’s heavily suggested that it involves their reason for leaving the police force and seems to involve Hide’s brother, Yasuhiro, who’s still on the police force.

Nitta’s artwork struck me as very average. Just about everyone has the same basic facial shape – at least everyone that’s supposed to be attractive – to the point where one of the female characters looks suspiciously like a drag queen. I half expected a scene where she goes home and takes off her wig and make up to reveal a pretty boy with short blonde hair. The backgrounds are a bit barren and there’s a heavy use of toning for shading and attempts at conveying textures. On top all this, most of the full body shots or brief action sequences come off as stiff and awkward.

I love the fact that Otodama dabbles in that weird area where science and the supernatural meet and attempt to feel each other out and I really hope they do more with it in the future as it would help give the stuff some bite. The weak artwork was a bit of a turn off, but if things get interesting enough in future volumes I think it’s something I could learn to live with. In the end, it was an ok read but right now I have hard time imagining myself becoming a long term fan of it.

Otodama, Vol. 1 is available now. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Categories: Manga Reviews, Reviews Tags: ,
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