Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 6 (Viz Big Edition)

September 5, 2012 1 comment

Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 6 (Viz Big Edition)
By Nobuhiro Watsuki
Viz, 584 pp
Rating: T +(Older Teens)

Rouroni Kenshin’s epic Kyoto arc comes to a head! For the past several volumes Kenshin and his allies, the brawler Sanosuke Sagara, former Shinsengumi member turned cop Saito Hajime and the rest have clashed with the forces of Shishio from Tokyo to Kyoto and now the battle comes to its conclusion with the final showdown between Kenshin and Shishio! But as one threat fades another rises as more figures from Kenshin’s past emerge from the shadows.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Rurouni Kenshin but one of the things that impressed me is how easy it was to get into the story even after a break of a year or more from it. As mentioned above this volume finishes off the Kyoto arc which is probably the best known and most well regarded arc from the series. I saw it years ago in anime form on Toonami and it’s lovely to see it in it’s manga incarnation. Everything that comes after it though, that’s all new material and uncharted territory for me. I’m rather interested in it all since finding out more about Kenhin’s history is always welcome. That said I’m a little worried that Watsuki’s repeating himself here. Shishio’s arc was pretty heavy with Kenshin being forced to face and deal with his violent past and judging from the second half of this volume it looks like we’re heading there again. At least it looks to be a little more personal this time around though.

Visually Watsuki’s art is pretty fantastic. While we get the odd hit or miss character design in this volume when he gets it right he gets it right in a big way. Shishio is an incredibly memorable figure as are most the cast involved in the final showdown with him. The new group doesn’t look quite as good at this point but we haven’t seen much of them yet but at least one character is noticeably anachronistic and another is the fourth or fifth X-Men we’ve seen so far. Watsuki’s action scenes are intense and full of splash pages that feel like they’re ready to explode off the page. While they’re lovely to look at I found myself wanting some more back and forth in the fight. Some smaller moments between the big moves and supposed one hit kills would have been nice and I think the final battle with Shishio which dominates the action in the volume really would have warranted them. It’s also worth mentioning that thanks to the paper quality of the Viz Big line Watsuki’s art looks absolutely fantastic and beautifully sharp and detailed. Whether it’s the line work indicating speed and force or just the quiet Kenshin gives Shishio it all looks crisp and amazing and as good as anything coming out today.

I’m still digging the hell out of the series even if the final battle with Shishio wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. It carried a nice emotional punch though and the following arc certainly seems to be something I’ll be interested in reading. Hopefully this time I won’t wait a year or so in between tracking down the Viz Big volumes.

Ruouni Kenshin, Vol. 6 (Viz Big Edition) is available now from Viz.

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The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 12

August 27, 2012 2 comments

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 12
Written by Eiji Otsuka, Art by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse, 224 pp
Rating: 18 +

After far too long of a wait Eiji Otsuka’s and Housui Yamazaki’s wonderful, black comedy, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service continues with it’s twelfth volume! We’re treated to three tales this time dealing with a Second Life-esque virtual world, stand up comedians and some rather disturbing dolls.

For those not familiar with this series here’s a brief rundown of the central idea behind it. A group of students at a Buddhist university are having trouble putting their unique skills and talents to use in the real world (embalming, dowsing, etc) so they come together via a college club and end up dealing with the dead. They communicate with them, solve mysteries, transport corpses and more all for a fee which often comes from the corpses belongings. It’s absolutely hilarious, well drawn and genuinely scary and disturbing in many areas. This particular volume continues the trend of shorter more stand alone tales though there are a few continuing subplots. This usually kind of annoys me since there are some mysteries and counting story arcs at the center of the series and for the past several volumes they’ve just kind of meandered showing the KCDS crew taking on various jobs here and there. Thankfully Dark Horse has been slow to release volumes of the series so by the time one does come out you’re so starved for it that you don’t really mind the fact that the volume consists of three one offs. It also doesn’t hurt that the one offs in this volume are pretty fun. The first is a twist on the idea of prisoners being forced to play online games as part of their punishments and while it’s not inherently funny there’s a certain visual that runs through it that’s both hilarious and kind of creepy. The second tale, probably my favorite for this volume, focuses on an ill fated romance between two would be stand up comedians. While the comedy is far more prominent it doesn’t really shy away from the disturbing imagery. It does a fantastic job at nailing the mix of humor and horror that makes the series such a treat to read. The final tale involving a certain dictatorship on the Korean peninsula is clever and focuses on the supporting cast as the two unofficial leads of the series are away for some unknown reason. It not only tells a rather disturbing tale that mixes historical fact into it’s tapestry but it also expands upon one of the characters histories and gives some possible hints regarding his particular mystery and “origin”.

Visually the book continues to be absolutely solid thanks to skills of Housui Yamazaki, It’s clean, easy to follow and he’s got a great sense of pacing for the more disturbing and horrific moments. In addition he knows when to ramp up the detail and when not to. Most of the book looks simple and clean but when gore is called for the detail ramps up, the pacing alters to heighten the mood and tension and it becomes a glorious bloody mess with corpses, faces being removed and much more. He’s really a fantastic and underrated artist who seems to deliver on a consistent basis.

The series takes forever to come out but once it lands I devour it. This volume was no different. It’s incredibly entertaining but the short story nature of this volume and most of preceding can make it feel like the series is just spinning it’s wheels. That said The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service in wheel spinning mode is still an incredibly fun and entertaining read that fans of black comedy and horror shouldn’t miss out on.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 12 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

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Dolls Don’t Cry

August 21, 2012 1 comment

Dolls Don't CryDolls Don’t Cry
By Kaoru Ohashi
DMP/DMG/Emanga, 223 pp
Rating: 18 +

From Kaoru Ohashi comes Dolls Don’t Cry, the tale of a girl named Sena who, after protecting a friend who would later betray her, finds herself attacked by a boy named Shin. The two fight on a foot bridge near their school and end up falling from it into a strange, fantasy, sci-fi world. Unlike the real world though, there are no women here, only strange engineered female sex toys called Dolls.

The story starts off like a fairly straight forward shojo or shonen series before it takes a hard left and begins to explore what it means to be a woman and ideas regarding the treatment and objectification of women in society. Sena’s starts off as a fairly strong and capable character but once she finds herself in the weird alternate reality she’s quickly thrust into danger as any man who discovers her secret, that she’s not a Doll but an actual woman, something that’s incredibly rare and unheard of in this world, pretty much attempts to rape her on sight. The story is fairly graphic in its use of sex as it puts Sena through the ringer, showing her as strong and capable one moment and helpless and scared the next. Along the way she begins to develop feelings for Shin. The feelings contrast with the sexual desire and urges that nearly every other male in the world has towards women and Dolls and the result is a complex look inside Sena’s mind. How on one had she desires Shin, fears him and how her feelings and how sex might change things between them and more. It’s a surprisingly complex tale that deals with the ideas of male/female relationships and the various ways in which they’re confused, tense and complicated by emotions and desires and to a degree societal pressures. Sena’s not the only one with mixed feelings towards a man. One of the Dolls, Thea, slowly develops feelings and a level of self awareness and comes to love her master despite his abusive attitude towards her.

While the story was a bit of a pleasant surprise the art wasn’t. It’s rather generic and bland looking with several characters looking alike. In addition to this Kaoru Ohashi uses a technique where there’s no toning or shading in some panels for emotional affect, but sadly this often leads to some of the characters who were only identifiable by their hair color looking exactly alike and things becoming confused. There’s a few short action scenes but they’re muddy and difficult to follow.

Dolls Don’t Cry is a bit of an odd duck. While there are certainly some interesting ideas regarding gender relations, the treatment of women in society and more, none of the ideas feel fully formed to me. The Doll and sex toy analogy is the most fleshed out on but even there it just didn’t quite click for me. It’s certainly an interesting manga and it does raise some interesting ideas and questions but in the end it just doesn’t hold together very well as a story.

Dolls Don’t Cry is available now from Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Real World

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Real WorldReal World
Written by Natsuo Kirino, Translated by Philip Gabriel
Vintage Books, 224 pp
Rating: Not Rated

Toshi and her three friends from school find themselves caught up in events following a neighbor’s brutal murder of his own mother. Real World is the third book of Natsuo Kirino’s to be released in the U.S. and like her other novels, Out and Grotesque, offers a dark and unnerving look at the life of women in various parts of modern Japanese society.

Real World depicts the events of the crime and the ensuing fallout through the eyes of the four girls and the killer himself with each chapter switching to a different character’s point of view. This allows us an in depth look into the mind and experiences of each girl and how they relate, not only to each other, but to the world at large. As things progress it becomes obvious that each girl is hiding something from the group. This ranges from sexual orientation, insecurities, broken relationships with their parents and more. Ironically nearly all these deep seated fears and secrets are glaringly obvious to everyone else in the group. Each girl is pushed and pulled by her own desires and the expectations placed upon her by both society, family and her own friends. The result is extreme isolation and alienation from even each other. Because of all the stresses and the feeling of being trapped, when Toshi’s neighbor murders his mother each girl is fascinated with the event. Some are envious, others resentful, and it’s the alienation and fascination with his willingness to cross the line and escape from his situation which draws them into the murder.

While Kirino does a good job at building up their characters and explaining their involvement and the choices they make the girls never quite feel unique and individual from each other. Maybe it’s due to the translation but if it wasn’t for the chapters being named after the character it’s focusing on I’m not sure I’d be able to tell who was narrating, they all seem to share a single voice. The only real noticeable variation comes from the male killers chapter which is marked by delusions which alternate from disturbing to humorous. Perhaps this was intended though, something to show that each girl is internally similar despite her own beliefs otherwise.

Real World is not the best novels I’ve read from Natsuo Kirino and I don’t think it’s my favorite either. The girls barely develop beyond the cliche’s they’re based upon and the killer’s loosing grasp on sanity never reaches the disturbing levels of similar descent into insanity that appeared in Grotesque. It’s still an ok read but it’s not as memorable or as fascinating as her other two books released in the U.S.

Real World is available now from Random House.

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Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 25

August 6, 2012 1 comment

Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 25
By Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse, 224 pp
Rating: 18 +

Manji and Rin have had some rough times of late. The two were separated, Rin’s quest for vengeance was put on hold as she undertook the rescue of Manji. Since then they’ve had rather clear sailing though with plenty of time for rest and relaxation. Unfortunately all that is about to change. The 25th volume of Hiroaki Samura’s samurai revenge epic brings us the beginning of one of the major and most anticipated showdowns in the series as Manji must face off against the psychotic Shira.

The last few volumes have slowed things down a bit introducing new antagonists and focusing on the machinations of Kagimura, the disgraced samurai now sworn to track down the Itto Ryu, and the Itto Ryu. Now it’s time for the spotlight to once again rest upon the duo of Rin and Manji. While the showdown with Shira is the driving point for this volume it’s not the only thing that happens. Samura takes the chance to fill in some blanks and call back to the torture arc which explored attempts at transferring Manji’s immortality to others as he reveals the final conclusion reached by Burando, the doctor in charge of the experiments. While it’s both interesting and vaguely fascinating to revisit that arc the revelations in this volume feel a bit out of place and forced. Samura essentially spells out the mechanics of Manji’s immortality boiling it down and explaining in detail, complete with a chart detailing certain biological aspects of it. The whole thing feels less like something I’d expect to see in this series and more like something I’d expect to crop up in the middle of a generic shonen fight scene. While his reasoning for spelling it makes a certain amount of sense and allows for a rather interesting and disturbing upgrade for a certain someone, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed with the revelation and feel that in doing so Samura’s stripped the series of a little bit of it’s mystery and charm.

Visually the book hasn’t lost a step at all and it looks fantastic. The action sequences are engaging and interesting, especially the opening chapter which briefly switches to a first person perspective before switching back for a rather incredible and gory two page spread. Beyond that though Samura’s art looks as lovely as ever, a trend which seems to have started with the end of the torture arc and which I’m glad to see continue here.

It’s a rather important volume for the series as several plot threads come together once again for what promises to be a rather brutal and entertaining battle. I can’t really see Manji or Rin dying, but Samura’s spent the last few volumes building up a supporting cast, several or whom are present and it’s quite possible that any number of them could end up dead before the end of Manji’s battle with Shira. I suppose the only way to find out is to stick around for volume 26, something I definitely intend on doing.

Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 25 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

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Mega Man Megamix, Vol. 1

July 25, 2012 1 comment

Mega Man Megamix, Vol. 1
By Hitoshi Ariga
Udon Entertainment, 220 pp
Rating: Not Rated

Udon Entertainment continues it’s trend of bringing out classic manga adaptions of Capcom video games with this, the first volume of Hitoshi Ariga’s Mega Man Megamix! Witness the creation of the legend and his earliest adventures, spanning moments from the first three Mega Man games and beyond!

I have to admit up front that I’m not a huge Mega Man fan. I played it when it first came out, sure, but I was never a huge fan who followed the story religiously and could pick up on subtle references to previous games and the like. That said Udon’s success with the various Street Fighter manga series had me curious about this series and Jason Thompson’s fantastic review of Ariga’s works in a recent House of 1,000 Manga finally tipped the scales for me. With that in mind I have to admit that I did find myself enjoying this even if I wasn’t blown away by it. The story itself is straight forward enough as a massively compressed version of the events of the first three games. We get to see Mega Man confronting most of the memorable robots and learn of his origins and such and it was all done in a nice, all ages friendly action adventure way. Still, there was just something about it that didn’t quite click for me. Maybe it’s because it was focused so heavily on the action that Mega Man and the rest of the cast end up feeling like flat, one note characters. Maybe it was the slightly stilted dialogue or the way certain events like Mega Man 3 and the first appearance of Proto Man are given a single page. I just know that while I enjoyed it I didn’t fall head over heels in love with the book.

Hitoshi Ariga’s adaption and plot might not have blown me away but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a damn good looking book. The art’s clean and all the characters are true to their original character designs. Their special attacks are all present and Ariga makes the action scenes fun, exciting, clear to follow and enjoyable to read. Sure, they might be super fast and Mega Man might not take a full volume to defeat whoever but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable to see played out on the page. There’s a lot of visual humor and gags and while I’m generally not a fan of over reactions and the like for comedic affect they definitely work here and don’t feel at all out of place. That’s probably due in large part to the nicely cartoony look of the artwork to begin with. It means that sudden and weird reactions or goofy expressions don’t break the visual flow or stick out like a sore thumb.

No, I didn’t fall instantly in love with the series but I definitely enjoyed it enough to want to read the next two volumes if nothing else. The action scenes are fun, the stories are simple and straight forward and the artwork is lovely and eye catching making the most of the simple, iconic and memorable designs of Mega Man and his friends and foes. Long time fans of the game series will clearly get the most of the book but it’s pretty new comer friendly and people coming in cold to the world of Mega Man shouldn’t find themselves too lost or overwhelmed. Mega Man Megamix, Vol. 1 has an undeniable charm and purity to it that helps over come it’s short comings in other areas and the result is a enjoyable, light read.

Mega Man Megamix, Vol. 1 is available now from Udon Entertainment.

Barbara

July 16, 2012 1 comment

Barbara
By Osamu Tezuka
DMP, 435 pp
Rating: Not Rated

From the mind of Osamu Tezuka comes Barbara, the dark and bizarre tale of writer Yosuke Mikura and the winding paths his life takes after a chance encounter with a homeless, drunk by the name of Barbara.

Barbara is over 400 pages of sexual deviancy, occult happenings, mystic babble and ponderings upon the source of creativity and more. The story focuses on the relationship between up and coming writer Yosuke Mikura and the young, homeless drunk he takes in, Barbara. What follows is a car wreck of a relationship full of abuse, hijinks and more. It’s difficult to really like Yosuke Mikura, which is a bit of problem for the book since he’s the main character and the narrator throughout it all. When we’re introduced to him he’s already psychologically disturbed and for a while it seems like Barbara might be his savior in that regard. Sadly it’s not really the case and he goes from being a perverted, unlikeable jack ass to an abusive, unlikeable jack ass. Even in the later parts of the story when he’s shown to be struggling, trapped in a dead end life and desperately looking for a way out I just couldn’t find it within myself to root for him or hope he’d get out of things. Barbara isn’t a whole lot better. She’s got that whole “Magical Pixie Girl” thing going on, a beautiful woman who helps lift a broken man out of his doldrums and inspires him, but her constant state of inebriation and her willingness to take the non-stop abuse just makes it difficult to do anything other than hope she gets her life together and moves on. Now a tale of abusive relationships between creative types might have had some traction. There’s been plenty of them in real life that have made for compelling tales (ie. Sid and Nancy, but then Tezuka throws in tons of stuff involving magic, the occult and the fact that Barbara isn’t just your typical drunk. No, she’s literally a muse from Greek mythology. At that point the story went from a troubled relationship and veered into weird supernatural funkiness. It just gets weirder as it goes as the story takes stranger and stranger turns as it attempts to say something about the nature of creativity and insanity. And ultimately it does. It just takes a little while getting there and at times feels like it loses itself along the way.

Visually it’s as solid as you’d expect an Osamu Tezuka work to be. He does a fantastic job at depicting emotions, managing the pacing and allowing the visual flow of the story to just grab you and pull you along with it’s deceptively simple artwork. It’s also full of other little Tezuka-isms, warping walls or backgrounds to help enhance the surrealistic or hallucinatory feel of a scene or sequence and things like that. The humor is toned a bit though it’s certainly still present, absent are the visual gags that are present in many of his all ages works.

This was one odd book. Despite the rather unlikeable characters it was still a fairly compelling read and I found the pages going by at a surprisingly fast pace. It was enjoyable but I don’t think it’s one of Tezuka’s better works. It will undoubtedly find a welcoming audience here and while it was kind of enjoyable, fun and interesting at times I don’t think it’s something I’d find myself re-reading again and again.

Barbara will available on August 29th from DMP. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

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