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The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 11

November 22, 2010 2 comments

Written by Eiji Otsuka, Art by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse, 232 pp.
Rating: 18 +

After a lengthy wait the 11th volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service has arrived! The latest installment includes one of the longest stories of the series as the gang finds themselves caught up in a case involving a young girl accused of murdering her family.

Eleven volumes in and the on going subplots are still kind of vague and rarely touched upon, but it doesn’t matter a whit as the series continues to be one of the best reads from any country. Otsuka creates an intriguing tale loosely based upon the now infamous Nevada-tan incident and uses it to criticize societies fascination with childhood murders and similar outrages. If that wasn’t enough, scattered throughout are references to other recent well known instances of violence, including a stabbing at a school which echoes similar incidents from several years ago and even a brief nod to the Akihabara van attack. As an outsider I’m not that privy to the ins and outs of Japanese societal concerns, but it’s nice to see a manga reference and discuss a few of the events I recognize. Of course topical subjects and plots ripped form the headlines aren’t all this volume has to offer as it also includes the wonderfully off beat humor that helps give the series a large portion of its charm. Watching Yata and Keerellis attempting to teach history class is comedy gold to say the least. In addition to that there’s a surprising, possible development in the ongoing story as well!

Yamazaki’s artwork continues to be clean and sharp and he maintains a fantastic eye for story telling. His characters are always interesting to look at with their own unique mannerism, dress style and more. Despite the contemporary setting a moment never goes by when you’re unable to tell folks apart. Likewise he gives enough time over to drawing backgrounds to help ground it in “the now” but not in a way where it will feel dated or alien to those not familiar with contemporary Japan.

This continues to be one of my favorite reads and is probably one of my top five manga series of all time. Fantastic writing, sharp art, interesting characters and just the right mix of horror and humor all combine to create a winning formula that keeps me coming back and helped make it one of my most anticipated reads, regardless of how long it takes to come out.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 11 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

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Fafner: Dead Aggressor, Vol. 1

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Original Concept by XEBEC, Adapted by Mikami Akitsu
DMP, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen (13 +)

Fafner: Dead Aggressor vol. 1 is an interesting creature. It’s the manga adaption of a light novel adaption of an anime series from a few years ago. The story follows a band of young kids who are forced to pilot hi-tech mecha known as Fafner’s in an attempt to defend their home from alien invaders known as Festum.

I have to admit it, after reading this I couldn’t help but think of Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s an easy comparison to make and the manga doesn’t really do anything to drive you away from making it. Young kids piloting mecha against mysterious alien invaders, hints of conspiracies and secrets behind the existence of their mecha, all dressed up in names and symbolism borrowed from Western mythology. Add to that the fact that the main character, Kazuki, just happens to be the son of a distant father who heads up the whole operation and it’s a hard comparison not to make. The characters are flat and unmemorable. Relationships are hinted or suggested on one page but fail to carry any emotional weight since everyone involved is a name and a face and nothing more.

The artwork doesn’t help the series any either. There’s a distinct lack of backgrounds throughout it and the action scene’s are rushed, cluttered and difficult to follow. The mecha designs look awkward and incredibly bland and the Festum aliens only fair a little better. Perhaps the biggest crime is that big momentous things fail to look big and momentous. The entire tale is set on an island that we quickly learn is artificial and even mobile! The idea of a giant, mobile, island base complete with a town and everything that entails is fantastic and should look amazing when it finally begins to move. Sadly it doesn’t. We get some water trails and that’s about it. I’m sure it looks better in the anime, but here it’s just an aerial shot of the island with some lines in the water to the depict motion. Ah well.

I went into this not expecting much, but hoping for enough of an interesting story to make me want to check out the anime series and well, I kind of want to now if only to see how much had to be slashed from this adaption. Unfortunately the adaption itself feels like an average paint by numbers mecha tale. Anyone who hasn’t seen Fafner and was thinking about checking out the manga to get a taste would be better off going straight to the anime.

Fafner: Dead Aggressor, Vol. 1 is available now at Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Gear School, Vol. 2

November 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Written by Adam Gallardo, Art by Nuria Peris and Sergio Sandoval
DarkHorse, 96 pp.
Rating: 8 +

Teresa’s trials and tribulations continue in the second volume of Gear School. After her spectacular showing during an alien attack, Teresa finds her confidence in piloting the giant war machines known as gears increasing. Sadly everything else seems to be dropping off. Her grades are down, athletics are down and she still can’t get up the courage to admit to her crush on a fellow classmate!

Gear School is very much a coming of age, high school tale set against a sci-fi backdrop. Teresa continues to contend with a wide variety of problems that most teens have to. Keeping up grades, peer pressure, a desire to fit in, a burgeoning love life and more. It’s just that her education also happens to include piloting giant war machines. One of the core issues in the second volume is Teresa’s problems with her more popular classmates. We had some glimpses of this in the first volume, fellow students insulting her friends, her abilities and the like. It’s a problem that causes her to take a rather large risk in this volume in an attempt to keep get them off her back. It’s an interesting idea and I’m sure most folks can certainly relate to wanting your more obnoxious and vocal classmates to leave you alone but we don’t really get to see much of the harassment in this volume and it makes her decision in the second half feel a bit odd for someone who’s generally been portrayed as fairly level headed.

The artwork continues to be lovely. There’s the vaguest hint of Japanese influence to it. I continue to love the character designs, particularly for the staff. The large amount of cybernetic implants and artificial limbs, combined with the creative designs for said prosthetics, make for some very unique and memorable appearances, even for characters that only appear for a panel or two. The land mech’s aren’t quite as cool or memorable looking as the the aerial ones from the previous volume. They look less like war machines and more like some of kind of awkward construction robot.

I enjoyed Gear School, vol. 2 even though I don’t think the story is quite as tight as it was in the first volume. I would like to have seen some more example of Teresa’s problems with her classmates, but given the slim size of the volumes I can kind of understand why we don’t see much of it here. Still, I did enjoy and hope to see more of this fun little series.

Gear School, Vol. 2 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

Itazura na Kiss, Vol. 1

November 10, 2010 5 comments

by Kaoru Tada
DMP, 335 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

Itazura na Kiss tells the tale of Irie Naoki and Aihara Kotoko, two high school students of radically different intellect and social levels. What starts out as an innocent crush on Kotoko’s part quickly spirals into the talk of the school and more in this surprisingly entertaining romantic comedy.

I’m not a big fan of romantic comedy manga, but after seeing some of the positive buzz regarding the latest volume of Itazura na Kiss on Twitter I felt the need to look into it. Kotoko is a young girl who’s seemingly incapable of doing anything correctly. This is mostly limited to academics but occasionally it spills over into other realms such as cooking and the like. The apple of her eye, Irie, is the exact opposite. He’s perfect to the point of being obnoxious. He’s a master at everything he attempts and manages to do so with little to no effort on his part. He’s also a hugely unlikeable jerk. With one character functionally useless and the other making me want to slap him, I didn’t exactly have high hopes for this. Much to my surprise though I found myself drawn into the story, thanks in part to the charmingly plucky nature that Kaoru Tada imbues Kotoko with. The relationship that develops between the two over the course of the book is still fairly one sided, but much like myself it seems that Naoki is slowly being won over by Kotoko’s determination to succeed and better herself.. regardless of how often she fails. The relationship and the interaction between the two is unquestionably the highlight of the story. It has a nice, friendly antagonism to it that feels incredibly genuine and real at times, though it does occasionally dip into rude jerk territory on Irie’s part from time to time.

Kaoru Tada’s artwork is deceptively simple and very delicate looking at times. In several places portions of the artwork almost look like they’re uninked pencils, which is actually something I’m kind of keen on. It gives the artwork a certain home made edge and feel, and I mean that in a good and complimentary way. It’s most notable in Naoki’s hair, but several of the other lighter hair characters and some other items that appear also have a rough, pencil feel to it. The backgrounds are a bit sparse, but with the amount of dialogue being flung around it’s not terribly noticeable. There are a few bits and pieces where the anatomy just gets odd. In Naoki’s first appearance his face looks fairly horrible and towards the end of the volume there’s a sequence where his shoulders are incredibly broad and his head looks tiny. Those small flaws aside I thought the artwork fit the book and liked Tada’s used of background patterns to enhance reactions throughout the story. The fact that many of the characters have different body types, facial shapes and even a few distinctive gestures and body language also helped compensate for the odd moments here and there.

I didn’t think I’d enjoy this but much to my surprise I did. I don’t think it’s destined to become a favorite read of mine, but just like I occasionally watch and enjoy the odd romantic comedy I read and enjoyed this. A fun, light read that I’m glad I gave a chance.

Itazura na Kiss, Vol. 1 is available now at Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

7 Billion Needles, Vol. 1

November 7, 2010 2 comments

by Nobuaki Tadano
Vertical, 180 pp.

Created by Nobuaki Tadana and based upon the Hal Clement sci-fi novel Needle,
7 Billion Needles finds school girl Hikaru Takabe trapped in a struggle between alien life forms that may decide the fate of humanity.

Not having read the novel this is based upon I don’t really have much to say with regards to how it holds up or handles the themes from the original novel. But coming at it with a newcomers perspective I can safely say that it’s an incredibly enjoyable read. The basic set up will be familiar to fans of Parasyte. An alien life form known as Horizon falls from the sky and bonds with a teen, the two must then co-exist while attempting to out maneuver and defeat another hostile alien critter known only as Maelstrom. Along the way we get some ruminations on the nature of mankind, humanity, society and more. The story is flipped however, as Takabe is reluctant to get involved with the situation and has to be poked and prodded into taking action by her alien companion. In fact the first volume is as much about Takabe overcoming her strong antisocial and introverted ways and learning to reconnect with humanity, as it is about the chess game between the two super powered aliens. It’s a very well done bit of growth too and I definitely found myself warming up to her as the story progressed.

Tadano’s artwork is fantastic. It’s crisp, clean and incredibly easy to follow and a treat to look at. There’s a nice amount of detail given to the backgrounds, which helps to give the book a nice of time and place, unlike many manga which seem to occur in a void of toning and white. Tadano also handles the quiet moments just as well as the more explosive action scenes and has a knack for conveying personality and emotion through body language without going overboard. His creature designs are a bit hit or miss though. The initial visual form of Maelstrom is almost comedic, but his second “Feeding” form is fairly horrific with some wonderfully disturbing details.

If the first volume is anything to go by, then 7 Billion Needles is going to be a fantastic read. The similarities to Parasyte are undeniable and any fans of that series should absolutely give this a look. With an engaging story, interesting characters and strong artwork this looks to be fine addition to anyones reading list.

7 Billion Needles, Vol. 1 is available now from Vertical, Inc.

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Knights, Vol. 2

November 3, 2010 1 comment

by Minoru Murao
DMP, 192 pp.
Rating: Young Adults (16+)

The second volume of Knights is out and the story and action continue apace. More is revealed about Mist and his allies, old foes return and the plot takes an unexpected twist towards the end.

The second volume continues to follow Nina, one of the women Mist and Euphemia rescued in the first volume, as she attempts to track Mist down. Unfortunately things don’t go well and soon she finds herself in need of the duo’s help once more. The first half of this volume is actually quite good and action packed, not to mention that it reveals more information on Mist and the organization he’s a part of and gives us a rather tantalizing glimpse into the organization of the Saints as well. The second half, sadly, didn’t really click for me. Following the action and twists in the beginning it slows down considerably as Mist and his allies find themselves participating in a jousting tournament. While it does introduce a new character and touches upon Mist’s childhood trauma some more, something about it just didn’t click. At this point it feels a bit separate from the ongoing battle between Mist and the Church but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a solid connection built in the third volume. There was also something about the tone of it that just didn’t work for me. It had a slightly lighter and more comedic tone while my appetite was still whet for action and intrigue.

While the second half felt a bit lackluster after the fantastic opening tale it’s far from my biggest issue with Knights. No, that would be Euphemia. She continues to be bizarre and fan servicey, at one point she dumps aphrodisiac upon herself and lures a group of enemies away, allowing Mist to do battle with their leader. Later it’s revealed that she, uh, exhausted them through carnal means with the exact means being depicted in silhouette . In a series full of manly men, even pretty men being manly, and running each other through with swords, Euphemia’s quirkiness and rampant sex drive sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure, she provides some comedic relief, but at the same time she’s so over the top and unbelievable that it’s distracting and pulls me out of the story.

Minoru Murao’s artwork continues to be solid and impressive throughout. The highly detailed character designs, exciting and interesting action scenes and more all help make the book shine. The amount of detail he crams into some of the scenes is really impressive and during the fight scenes he’s able to lend a strong sense of weight and impact to the various techniques and attacks. It’s really a fantastic looking book and is a worth a look for the artwork alone.

We’re two volumes in a so far Knights has been pretty enjoyable so far. While the humor doesn’t quite click with me, particularly Euphemia, it’s not enough to turn me off from this lovely looking action series.

Knights, Vol. 1 is available now. Digital review copy provided by the publisher, Digital Manga Publishing.

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