by Naoko Takeuchi
Kodansha Comics, 240 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)
After nearly a decade of being out of print, Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon returns to America thanks to Kodnasha Comics! Arguably one of the most influential manga series in the US, it kicked down doors and welcomed an entirely new generation of young girls into the sequential art form! The tale of Usagi, a school girl chosen to lead a group of other school girls in a battle against the forces of evil begins here.
The story in this first volume is surprisingly simple and straightforward almost to the point of predictability. Luna, a magical cat from the Moon arrives and informs Usagi, your typical, hapless school girl that she’s been chosen to help save the world as Sailor Moon. She’s tasked with several quests, including finding a powerful gem, gathering her allies and finding and defending a princess. Much of the volume is devoted to introducing the various characters and ideas, such as powerful, otherworldly aliens sucking energy from helpless earthlings, and some of the different girls who are Sailor Moon’s allies. At this point, emotionally, it feels a bit hollow and empty. There’s a lot of mystery and questions surrounding mysterious dreams and the enigmatic man Tuxedo Mask, but at this point it feels awfully plot heavy with villains and allies popping up randomly in each chapter. For their part, Sailor Moon and her allies are fairly straight forward and almost archetypal in their personalities and characteristics. The vaguely ditzy, blonde brimming with love and good will, the quiet and intelligent brainy girl, the tall and strong girl with a protective streak and so forth and so on.
The visuals are… sparkly. I haven’t read too many shojo series but I have to admit that Sailor Moon is quite possibly the most stereotypical looking one that I’ve come across. It’s dripping with slightly chibi-esque moments, sparkles, flowers, toning patterns and more. Nearly everyone in this book is incredibly pretty and those that aren’t are usually villains or, possibly, secretly pretty! The panel lay outs are surprisingly dense and busy with lots of images bleeding into other panels, patterns splattered across the page and more. While the visuals do do a fantastic job at complimenting the emotional content of the text and at conveying various moods and emotions, the story telling seems a bit messy and stiff. The panels don’t really flow and motion and action are almost nonexistent. Confrontations with the villains are bland, un-engaging and often times incredibly short and quick.
Sailor Moon is an interesting read in terms of it being a classic and hugely important to the development of the American manga market, but at this point it’s not quite blowing me away or making me fall in love with it. There are moments that seem interesting and are amusing, along with story elements that seem to hold a lot of promise, but there’s just something lacking from the first volume to pull it all together and make it fantastic. As it is, knowing it’s importance and having a vague idea of what’s to come, I’ll probably be sticking with it for a bit longer. If I didn’t I really couldn’t see myself following the series for much longer.
Sailor Moon, vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics.
by Yamaaki Doton
One Peace Books, 474 pp
Rating: Not Rated
Breathe Deeply by Yamaaki Doton is the latest release from One Peace Books, a relative newcomer to the US manga market. On it’s surface Breathe Deeply is the story of a love triangle between Sei, Oishi and Yuko, a sickly girl who’s the object of their mutual affection. However, as the story progresses it becomes apparent that rivalry and conflicts between Sei and Oishi aren’t limited to those over Yuko’s love, but include the different schools of thought with regards to medical ethics and research that they come to represent.
Yamaaki Doton crafts a fantastic story, hooking readers with the romantic rivalry and the tragedy that Sei and Oishi share through their mutual love of Yuko, and uses it to frame a lengthy and compelling look at a myriad of ethical questions that modern medicine must deal with. This ranges from organ transplant, stem cell research to issues regarding the quality of life, brain death and more. For the most part it handles these issues rather well, though on occasion it does seem to cross the line into anti-organ transplant propaganda. This is heavily due to the sketchiness of several of the doctors involved with the procedure throughout the story. While most of the book is a complex and thoughtful read, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the one of the doctors who’s a proponent of organ transplants often comes off as ghoulish and villainous. This would seem to go beyond the idea of a cultural fear or uneasiness over the issues and into the realm of manga villainy as it features a sequence where the aforementioned doctor engages in the kidnapping and drugging of another doctor after a brain dead patient goes missing. Thankfully this seems to be something that’s limited to certain members of the supporting cast and Oishi and Sei are depicted as wonderfully complex and multidimensional characters who approach the same problem from vastly different points of view.
The artwork is gorgeous and really a treat to behold. I understand that Yamaaki Doton is the pen name for a husband and wife duo, so I’m not sure who contributes what to the artwork, but it really is a beautifully drawn book. The characters all look different, not just in clothing or in hair style, but physically their facial features, body types and even body language varies greatly. The backgrounds are detailed and help ground the story, giving it a nice solid feel and adding detail to certain characters backgrounds and personalities.
So far Breathe Deeply is the only release I’ve read from One Peace Books and I have to say that if their other manga releases match this one in terms of quality then that’s something I need to rectify. Breathe Deeply is a compelling read which touches upon political and ethical issues that are relevant in much of the developed world. And if the social issues it raises and deals with aren’t your cup of tea, you still have a very engaging, entertaining and gripping read.
Breathe Deeply is available now from One Peace Books. Review copy provided by the publisher.
by Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse, 208 pp
Rating: 18 +
The twenty fourth volume of Hiroaki Samura’s award winning series, Blade of the Immortal, arrives! Old enemies return to form and a small group of Itto Ryu members engage in a daring raid on the political heart of Japan.
Subtitled “Massacre”, this volume has certain expectations to live up to. It’s safe to say that it meets those expectations, if not surpassing them altogether. The first chapter sees the return of Shira in more ways than one. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him indulge himself, not since volume seven, and here we get a chance to see him indulge himself once more. It’s a rather dark and disturbing way to but it does a lot to reestablish Shira and remind us of why he’s so memorable and dangerous, something that might have been forgotten during the lengthy prison arc. If Shira’s past time of torture and mutilation isn’t your thing then you’re in luck, because it’s only the opening chapter of the volume. Indeed, the bulk of the book is given over to a massacre of another sort as Anotsu, Magatsu, Baro and Ohzuan return to Edo Castle. What ensues is essentially a one hundred plus page massacre. While the volume doesn’t do a whole lot to move the over all plot or character development forward, it does show us some rather interesting things about the world of Blade of the Immortal that we might often forget. Namely that the Itto Ryu and their founding members are indeed that damn good. When you see Itto Ryu struggling or getting offed throughout the series it’s easy to forget that they’re meant to be an incredibly strong, skilled and unorthodox group of swordsmen. That’s usually because they’re going up against the immortal Manji or specialized groups like the Mugai Ryu who’s members are often on par with them. Here though, we get to see what happens when four of the Itto Ryu engage the rank and file of the Japanese military in battle and the results are a bloody good read.
As always Samura’s artwork is fantastic and enjoyable in nearly every aspect. His story telling is wonderful and the action sequences flow across the page beautifully and are clear and easy to follow, even with the odd combination of panel rearrangements/flipping that the series undergoes. As usual the fight scenes are one of the book’s highlights and the massive raid on Edo Castle is an intense and exciting visual treat. Samura handles the few quiet and lighter moments with equal skill. The recent introduction of Megura and Tanpopo, a pair of female ninja who are clearly intended as comedic relief has given him a chance to show off his lighter side. While some of the comedy certainly comes from the dialogue, Megura’s spit take in this volume is actually pretty hilarious and shows off Samura’s flair and ability with comedic visuals and timing.
After a huge, two volume battle in Edo Castle only a few volumes ago, returning to the idea again may be a bit odd but after seeing it pulled off I’m rather glad they did. It was a fantastic moment in the series that really served to show just how extraordinary the Itto Ryu, and by proxy Manji and those they fight, really are when it comes to the sword.
Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 24 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.