Hush A Bye Baby
By Yuriko Matsukawa
DMG, 198 pp
Rating: 13 +
Hush A Bye Baby is a collection of three short stories from Yuriko Matsukawa, each focuses on a young woman and the man she loves. The title story is about a young woman working at an all night store who ends up handcuffed to a former member of a biker gang who’s out to clear his name. The two stories that follow it, “No Saint of Soupe” and “Professional Passion” take place at a French restaurant called Poete and focus on romances involving it’s two French chefs.
The three stories are rather run of the mill romances and follow the same formula, a young woman finds herself flustered by a pretty boy only to eventually realize that she has feelings for him. In “Hush A Bye Baby” this budding romance is set against the young man’s fight to clear his name for murder, while in “No Saint of Soupe” it’s set against the young man’s attempt to prove himself as a chef to his older brother and in “Professional Passion” it’s set against a young woman’s struggle to prove herself as a reporter. They’re not terribly memorable and all three male leads and female leads felt awfully alike.
Yuriko Matsukawa’s artwork is rather forgettable and unmemorable. There’s no stand out scenes and it all feels like the stereotypical shojo manga style, pretty boys, borderless panels, sparkles and toning scattered about. There’s little panel to panel flow and at times I had trouble following the flow of dialogue as the word bubbles were often accompanied by bubbleless internal dialogue scattered about, narration boxes and more. In addition to this none of the characters look particularly amazing, memorable or impressive and often look eerily similar to each other at times. Most of the book is composed of talking heads and upper body shots floating against white, grey or minimal backgrounds, giving the whole thing an oddly ungrounded feel.
Hush A Bye Baby ultimately did nothing for me whatsoever. None of the stories were particularly interesting and the book didn’t do much to make me want to seek out further works by Yuriko Matsukawa. I get that I’m not the target audience for shojo, but surely there are better and more memorable romance stories than this out there. Itazura Na Kiss, springs immediately to mind. At any rate the bland artwork and bland stories resulted in a wholly forgettable read.
Hush A Bye Baby is available now from Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.
Dolls 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.
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.
Maodhen, Vol. 1
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Ary by Jun Suemi, Translated by Eugene Woodbury
DMP, 258 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)
The latest Hideyuki Kikuchi release from DMP is a bit of blast from the past. Originally published in 1986, Maohden is a tale of Demon City Shinjuku predating Yashakiden but involving the familiar faces of Doctor Mephisto and Setsura Aki. A mysterious and deadly figure from Setsura Aki’s past reappears in Shinjuku after nearly 15 years. What secrets does he hold and how does it all connect to the Demon Quake and the current state of the city? This series promises the answers!
While I’m used to Hideyuki Kickuchi mixing sex and horror in his other works I don’t think any other book of his that I’ve read has ever ever been quite as crude and extreme in it’s usage as Maohden. Within the first thirty pages we’re treated to an employee at a hostess club being raped by a were-bear creature and a female co-worker stripping down and masturbating after watching Setsura Aki slaughter the clubs security. It just gets more bizarre and in your face from there. While Kikuchi’s hardly going to be mistaken for a feminist or a progressive when it comes to gender relations it all just feels a bit more omnipresent in this book. After finishing the novel and reading the Afterward I found out why. He wanted it to be more extreme and over the top in the sex and violence content. The result is a rather brutal, crude and graphic read full of just that, people being slaughtered and screwed. Interestingly enough the sex comes off as cruder and more graphic than the violence but admittedly that could just be my American cultural biasses and influences showing. Aside form all that this book is loaded with information about the city and some rather tantalizing hints regarding the bigger questions surrounding the Devil Quake and what the Demon City means for the world at large. It’s full of Kikuchi’s usual imaginative and over the top characters, powers and bits of world building history that he tends to pepper his books with. References to specific streets, stores and buildings abound! As for the characters, they’re what you should be expecting from Kikuchi at this point, beautiful, stoic, kind of dark and mysterious. I doubt they’ll develop much beyond that during this series.
The translation is courtesy of Eugene Woodbury, who happens to have been the translator on both the Yashakiden series and the Demon City Shinjuku collection from DMP. From what I remember of Yashakiden I thought the translation was ok with some odd bits here and there. Sadly I feel that the translation for Maohden is a bit rougher and the book suffers from it. I’m hardly a grammar expert so when I start to notice strange sentence fragments lurking about that cause the flow of the text to come to a screeching halt you know something is up. I’m not sure if he was simply attempting to be literal in his translation and these floating fragments are due to grammatical differences between Japanese and English, but they stick out like a sore thumb and make the book rather awkward to read in places. I’m not really expecting perfect grammar throughout, but more often than not these seem like fairly noticeable things that some minor editing or proof reading could have taken care of.
Jun Suemi, whose work appeared in Yashakiden, provides the spot illustrations here as well. His work here also feels a little rougher and stiffer than in that later series and even the cover doesn’t click or grab me in the way Yashakiden’s did. Still, they’re decent enough and don’t really detract or take away from the reading experience at all and in fact do a good job at depicting one or two of the minor characters.
This isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read from Kikuchi and I don’t think it’s in danger of becoming my favorite. Still, there are seeds of what’s to come here. The exhaustive and lengthy asides that flesh out the history and culture of the city are as enjoyable as ever. Likewise the teasing hints and promises that we may find out some secrets behind the city’s existence should be enough to warrant a look from any hardcore fan of his or of the Demon City itself. Assuming they can get by the huge amounts of graphic and crude sex that is. It’s not a good introduction to Kikuchi’s work and is something long time fans will probably get the most out of.
Erementar Gerade, Vols. 8 + 9
by Mayumi Azuma
Rating: Teen (13+)
Mayumi Azuma’s saga continues with the eighth and ninth volumes of Erementar Gerade! Following the dramatic and violent events of Coud and company’s battle with the Viros it’s time for a visit to the doctors. Unfortunately for our heroes the mysterious Org Night which has been pursuing Ren is still on their tails.
These two volumes are a bit of a mixed bag for the series. You can see where it’s starting to tread water with the villain of the week formula and there’s a huge info dump in volume nine which stops any momentum the story had dead in its tracks. Worse, it’s an info dump that lays out the power tiers and hierarchy of Edel Raids, complete with diagrams. If there’s one thing I’ve always hated about shonen series it’s their inexplicable love of tiering for characters and their abilities. Despite this there’s some interesting twists and turns along the way as well. A figure from Ren’s past appears all to briefly and we get a better look at Org Night and their forces. Sadly we also see the departure of my two favorite characters, but I’m hopeful that they’ll both pop up in a future volume. The odd sexual exploitation theme that the series has been flirting with takes something of a back seat in these two volumes. We get some small mention of a doctor who molests his Edel Raid patients and there’s a line that seems to confirm that whatever Viro did to Ren was akin to rape, but that’s about it. That said one of the villains is bonded to multiple Edel Raids which does raise some interesting questions and ideas about relationships and emotions in general. With rare exception the Edel Raid/Pleasure pairings have been female/male and they’ve touched upon the idea of using women as objects and exploiting them versus a healthy relationships, but with this volume we’re introduced to a male Pleasure who’s bonded to no less than ten Edel Raids! If we continue along the idea of an Edel Raid/Pleasure relationship being akin to male/female relationships then what are to think about this? Edel Raids can only be bonded to one Pleasure at a time but apparently Pleasures can be bonded to as many Edel Raids as they want. Is there some kind of weird commentary about men being able to juggle multiple women but women only being able to give their heart to one man at a time or am I simply reading way too much into it?
The artwork is still solid but not terribly spectacular. The fight scenes take a small step backwards as well in volume nine, losing the clarity and flow that they had started to develop in favor of panels full of barely decipherable lines which contain the suggestion of action and movement rather than the depiction of it. The new characters who are introduced don’t strike much of a chord with me visually either aside from the figure from Ren’s past.
Overall these two volumes were a bit of a surprising read. The unveiling of the Edel Raid tiering structure, something that had been hinted at before but never explicitly explained, was incredibly disappointing and its inclusion was awkward and clunky. The repetitive nature of the villains is also starting to grate though at nine volumes this seems like something that won’t be changing any time soon.
Erementar Gerade, Vol. 7
by Mayumi Azuma
DMP, 184 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)
The seventh volume of Mayumi Azuma’s Erementar Gerade continues the adventures of Cou and company as they attempt to reach Edel Garden. Unfortunately due to the events of the last volume, and Cou’s horrid attempt at border hopping, the group has to use more round about methods. They find themselves attempting to cross a forest via a gondola only to find themselves in a trap set by one of their own!
This volume is heavily focused on Viro, a young girl who joined the group a volume or two ago as a Cou fangirl. She began acting strangely last volume and engaged in some very disturbing activity with Ren. While it wasn’t really explained at the time it read like a sexual assault of some kind. At any rate it’s time for Viro’s secrets to be revealed in a tale that does a great deal to reinforce my belief that the underlying theme of the series is the exploitation of women in society as sex objects. For all intents and purposes she’s been raised and bred to serve, treated like a slave and had it ground into her that she’s just an object and less than dirt. By undertaking this mission to infiltrate the group she had hoped to rise from a toy to.. uh, well, a slightly more valuable toy. That’s what fascinated me about this volume. Her motivations are the horribly twisted ones of someone who’s been exploited and dehumanized to such a degree that they can’t recognize a healthy relationship or a way out of the cycle of abuse when it’s biting them in the ass. Instead she pursues self damaging obsessions and unknowingly continues the cycle. At least that’s my interpretation of it all. Viro and her secrets aren’t the only interesting moments of the volume though! We also get our first glimpse of Rasati and Lilea Reacting with each other and it’s kind of interesting, not to mention some more information regarding the antagonists and the introduction of potential cannon fodder for our heroes to deal with as well.
The artwork continues to improve though the character designs still fall flat for me, though a new villain in the series who appears here is a step in the right direction. The action scenes are becoming clearer and easier to follow as well which is a definite bonus in my mind. Mayumi Azuma does a fine job at depicting the quieter moments and this volume has a fair amount of them before things explode into mass combat. I’m a little tired of reading manga set in the woods though. I suppose it’s a little easier to draw sparse, rocky woodland areas than big urban cities, but it’s just so generic and bland that the physical setting for these fantasy/action shonen manga often blur together.
While it wasn’t quite as dark as the last volume I was reasonably impressed at some of the psychological themes that played out with Viro, even if it did ultimately come down to the typical good/evil dynamic that dominates shonen manga. I am starting to wonder whether Mayumi Azuma is actually going to say something about society and its treatment of women beyond that of “women are people too”, but I suppose that’s still a bit more than most shonen manga. The series continues to surprise and entertain!
The fifth volume of Mayumi Azuma’s Erementar Gerade finished off the fight club story and expands upon the background and personalities Rasati and Lilea, a Pleasure and Edel Raid duo that was introduced at the beginning of the arc. From there the ever growing group begins their journey across the sea. In the sixth volume the group continues their journey across the ocean and crosses swords with the mysterious Greyarts!
With these two volumes we see the relationship between Edel Raids and their Pleasures shift a little bit. Up until volume five the Edel Raid/Pleasure relationships have generally been Male/Female. While there was a brief encounter with a Female/Female team, it’s only with these volumes that we get a real introduction and look at a same sex Edel Raid/Pleasure duo. Rasati and Lilea’s relationship shifts the idea of love and closeness from one of friendship, romance and exploitation to one of familial love and care instead. Given that up until now there was a strong underlying theme of men exploiting women for their own needs versus genuine love and friendship it’s interesting to see this permutation show up. The end of volume six features a return to the underlying theme of exploitation and abuse as we see an antagonist being punished in a way that’s more than a little evocative of sexual abuse. It’s actually a rather disturbing scene and stands out in stark contrast to everything else that’s been going on in the series so far. In fact the entire second half of volume six takes a surprisingly dark and disturbing tone. As for the cast, Cou continues to be slightly obnoxious and hot headed though he’s slowly beginning to calm down a bit. Unfortunately it’s not enough to really make him likable and I still find myself far more interested in the Arc Aile group and Rasati and Lilea.
Mayumi Azuma’s art continues to improve though I’m still not in love with it. It’s certainly serviceable and the action scenes are getting significantly easier to follow, but the designs still feel a tad too generic with few standing out or really capturing the imagination. Greyarts, for example, just kind of blends into the background as someone who’s supposed to be slick and stylish and cool looking but is ultimately forgettable. It’s a hard thing to really define. The best comparison I can come up with is the differences between Street Fighter and King of Fighters character designs. While the King of Fighters characters often look cool, modern and very hip and stylish they don’t quite capture the imagination or break into that iconic territory that make the Street Fighter character designs so memorable. I think a lot of it has to do with the designs conveying something of the characters personalities and when you dress an entire cast like they just walked out of an upscale, high fashion boutique they generally won’t convey much. Rasati, so far, is the stand out for the series in my opinion. Her design is interesting, not overly complex, and it conveys quite a bit about her character and who she is as a person.
The series is.. interesting. The dark and slightly disturbing twists and turns of these two volumes really has me wondering what the hell’s going on. It’s just such a strong shift in the tone of the series that it’s really taken me by surprise. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little curious to see how some of it plays out though.