Darkhorse, 576 pp
Rating: 12 +
My first foray into the world of Clamp comes via the first omnibus of their classic shojo story, Cardcaptor Sakura! The tale revolves around a young girl named Sakura who stumbles across a mysterious book and it’s accompanying magical cards. The book and cards aren’t all she finds as she also discovers their magical guardian, Kerebos. After a quick history lesson from the talking stuffed animal, Sakura finds herself tasked with hunting down the magical cards before they wreak havoc.
At this point the tale feels like a fairly straight forward, but incredibly well done, magical girl series. Sakura spends most of the book chasing after the escape and wild Clow Cards, halting their rampages and sealing them away, gaining their abilities as she goes. There’s a rival/ally a close friend and several other mysterious characters floating around the edges of the tale as well. Through it all Clamp is able to also weave some interesting and touching tales regarding Sakura’s mother and her own relationship with her family and friends. There’s a heavy emphasis on friendships, romances and the like, but never quite to the point where it feels like you’re reading a traditional romance story. It’s a really enjoyable and engaging read, but there are a few moments that left me confused as to whether I was supposed to sympathize with someone or not. The most obvious and notable example of this is a tiny subplot involving one of Sakura’s friends and her mysterious older boyfriend. Spoiler alert, the boyfriend turns out to be her teacher. On one hand the idea of a young student crushing on her teacher isn’t terribly shocking, a student/teacher crush could be cute and amusing, but it takes a turn for the creepy as the adult reciprocates the feelings and actually gives her an engagement ring.
The book is absolutely gorgeous. Clamp’s artwork is lovely to look at and incredibly detailed with wonderfully creative and beautiful costumes and clothing. The layouts and panel flow are interesting and can be incredibly ornate with lots of bleed over images, borderless panels and more. They make nice use of toning and shading using it to visually accent emotional beats without going overboard as some manga artists do. Basically, it’s a damn pretty book. That said there was one thing that really jarred me and stopped me in my tracks. Every now and then there’s the odd shot of male characters where their heads are far too small to be sitting on shoulders that are very, very broad. The rest of the book is so lovely and there’s such a wonderful attention to detail, that these few shots really leapt at me out. Still, I suppose it’s a rather minor nitpick in an other wise stunningly beautiful book
Minor nitpicks on the art aside I really enjoyed Cardcaptor Sakura and I’m glad that it’s back in print and that I finally had a chance to check it out. I think one of the best compliments I can give to the series is that it hasn’t just left me wanting more Cardcaptor Sakura, but it’s left me wanting to check out more work from Clamp as well.
Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus, Vol. 1 is available now from Darkhorse.
Written by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, Translated by Anne Ishi
Viz/Haikasoru, 458 pp
Rating: Not Rated
Set in a future where contact with other humans is minimal and every single move you make is monitored and recorded by ever present computer terminals, three young girls find themselves caught up in a series of murders. Hazuki Makino, an incredibly shy young school girl; Ayumi Kono, the quiet strong one and Mio Tsuzuki, an eccentric prodigy. As the three girls attempt to unravel the mystery behind a recent series of murders, so too do two adults. Shizue, counselor to the girls and Kunugi, an aging police officer. From Natsuhiko Kyogku comes Loups-Garous.
This is one weird novel. The future it presents us with is a nightmare of political correctness run rampant compounded by the ever present eyes of the government ala “big brother” and the ubiquity of computer terminals. Terms such as abnormal psychology are considered offensive and discriminatory. Interaction between humans has dwindled to such a degree that it’s not uncommon for children to barely see their parents. Classes are needed to try an teach children how to interact in a face to face environment and more. It’s all quite twisted and disturbing. Everyone in it seems guilty of over thinking things to an insane degree. Artificial meat and food products have been created to avoid cruelty to animals, but there are still people fighting for the rights of microbes and objecting to the use of sterilizing sprays and washes.
I’m very conflicted over this book. I enjoyed the world building and the idea of a utopia run amuck, but at the same time it often felt like it came at the expense of the plot which moved at a snails pace for most of the book. There are endless reams of expository dialogue which are a bit of a slog to get through during which the plot grinds to a near stop. There were literally moments where the dialogue and exposition about the world and it’s history was so thick and heavy that I almost forgot about the murder mystery hook. It goes on like this for most of the story while tossing out the odd red herrings every now and then until the last one hundred pages or so. While I did find the expository dialogue awkward and clunky at times, I can’t deny that it does a fantastic job at creating an interesting, vivid and rather unnerving picture of the future. Also, on more than one occasion I found the characters to be so alien in their thinking with their inability to empathize and bizarre attempts at rationalizing apathy that it was a little difficult to connect and care about them. Kunugi and Mio Tsuzuki were the two that I find most compelling. Kunugi because he was raised in times closer to ours and his mindset was a bit more relatable, and Mio because she was off the wall goofy and brilliant that it was hard not to enjoy reading about her antics. I did find myself warming towards Shizue and Ayumi Kono in the later chapters though.
The translation read alright for the most part but there were some awkward and odd moments spread throughout book. Sentences that didn’t feel like full sentences and sentences receiving line breaks and being treated as full paragraphs dot the text. There’s a slightly awkward and stilted feel to it as well, though in fairness I seem to recall Summer of the Ubume having a similar odd flow and rhythm as well so it might just be something inherent in Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s style when it’s translated to English. That said, I didn’t find it quite as noticeable the first time around, so make of that what you will.
In the end Loups-Garous didn’t really grab me. I wasn’t terribly intrigued with any of the characters and the incredibly slow plot made it difficult to really get into it. Despite that I was glad to be able to read something else from Natsuhiko Kyogoku and would still be willing to give another work of his a look should something else make it’s way to the US. Also, the criticisms within it aimed at such things as the slow death of socialization, the reliance on computers and the growing fondness of digital and virtual interaction, not to mention the concept of a police state with 24/7 monitoring of every citizen and how such a thing could be abused are all pertinent and relevant issues that helped give it a bit of meat despite my issues with it.
Loups-Garous is available now from Haikasoru.
by Nao Yazawa
Rating: Teens (13 +)
Mizuki is a new, exclusive Emanga.com series! A young girl must come to terms with her families heritage and accept her inhuman bloodline so that she may protect friends and society at large from the various supernatural threats which bedevil mankind.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this series is how it’s being released through Emanga.com. Unlike the Vampire Hunter D series or other manga and novels I’ve reviewed from them Mizuki is an all new, original series being serialized by the chapter on the site. What this means is that every now and then a 32 page installment pops up. It threw me at first, but it’s an interesting idea and I’m very curious to see how it goes down with readers. The first two chapters are introductory stuff, allowing us to meet Mizuki, the girl with devil blood in her veins, and her close friend and compatriot Sekito, a young boy who’s aware of Mizuki’s heritage and is her ally in their adventures. It’s pretty straight forward magical girl adventure stuff right now with Mizuki and Sekito investigating some ghosts or legends and stumbling across the real thing, saving people in the process. It’s worth noting that right now Mizuki seems to be sporting a bit of a reluctant hero vibe and Sekito practically has to drag her kicking and screaming into battle.
Nao Yazawa’s artwork is solid, clear and clean throughout the volume. The few action sequences are no different as each is fairly short but very clear and easy to follow. The character designs at this point, outside of Mizuki’s devil form, aren’t anything amazing or terribly special. They’re serviceable and fit in with the story’s contemporary and school settings. Speaking of Mizuki’s devil form, despite her protests it isn’t nearly as horrible as she makes it out to be and I’m actually forced to wonder if she’s ever viewed herself in it before. I suppose for a young girl though, it could be a bit disturbing and not really something very desirable. The ghost and monster designs are actually kind of neat without being overly complicated or stylized. They look suitably inhuman and have a few interesting twists here and there as well.
With only two chapters available Mizuki seems like a fun, straight forward magical adventure. I rather enjoyed it and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of the series and seeing how things play out and whether it develops a longer term plot or sticks to these shorter vignette style chapters.
Mizuki Episode 1 is available now at Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.