Welcome to the latest review at Sequential Ink! This week I’ll be taking a look at Battle Royale: Angel’s Border, but first some news items and things that caught my eye during the week.
- NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour takes a look at Edge of Tomorrow , the big budget live action adaption of All You Need is Kill and other movies in a show about “noble flops”.
- David Brothers has a nice little write up about the manga series, Ajin: Demi-Human. The series is currently serialized digitally on Crunchyroll, and is set to receive a physical release from Vertical at some point in the future.
- And finally, The New York Times Best Sellers List for the week for June 14th.
And now onto the featured review of Battle Royale: Angel’s Border!
Created in 1999, Battle Royale was the debut novel of Koushun Takami. It’s a brutal tale set in an alternate authoritarian version of Japan which holds a yearly contest known only as “The Program.” Once a year a 9th grade class is picked to take part in “The Program” which forces the students to fight to death until only one remains. Now, for the first time in nearly a decade, Koushun Takami returns to his international sensation with Battle Royale: Angel’s Border. This single volume manga’s a collection of two short stories set around the events of the original Battle Royale novel. In Episode I, Toushun explores the friendship between Yukie and Haruka, the two girls who helped organize the all girl group that hid inside the lighthouse in the original novel. Episode II likewise takes a character from the all girl group, Chisato, and expands upon her relationship with the athletic computer genius, Shinji Mimura.
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.
Hiroshi Yamamoto brings us MM9, an entertaining novel following the exploits of Japan’s Monsterological Measures Department, a group of civil servants tasked with predicting, studying and handling Japan’s defenses when it comes to kaiju (giant monster) attacks!
This is an incredibly fun read. It’s light, breezy and very entertaining. The book is essentially a short story collection, each chapter telling a tale of one of the MMD’s encounters with a kaiju. The stories are primarily linked by the small ensemble cast of characters more than any over arching plot line, though there is a vague one of those in a few of the stories as well. Hiroshi Yamamoto does a great job at capturing the feel of the monster movies with stories echoing and bringing to mind some of the various movies fans of the genre know and love. The entire book is also a love song to the genre as a whole with references and nods to not only Japans pantheon of kaiju but the international contribution as well. Keen eyed readers will pick up on passing references and nods to Lovecraft, the movie Them!, various myths from around the world and more. None of the characters are terribly fleshed out or three dimensional but that really only serves to reinforce the feeling of a kaiju movie and series where characters tend to have one or two pronounced personality traits and roles to fill. The explanations and scientific theories that are used to explain how the monsters exist are interesting and dabble lightly with ideas like consensus reality, quantum physics, Schoedingers Cat and more.
Obviously I’m not familiar with the original Japanese edition but this English language translation from Nathan Collins reads quite well. There’s not a lot of awkward phrasing or verbiage though this causes the one or two moments that an odd turn of phrase pops up too really jump out at the reader. Still it was light and easy, casual read.
Haikasoru has generally been promoting itself as a hard sci-fi/fantasy line, carrying the best and most popular works of the genre from Japan. This, however, feels like a light novel and not in a bad way. It’s incredibly and incredibly simple and easy read which bats around some high minded sci-fi concepts but doesn’t delve into them to the point where the text becomes dry and boring. Add this to the whole giant monster concept, a dedicated group of scientists battling and directing operations when it comes to them, some rather thin characterization and you have a recipe for a bad light novel. Thankfully, it’s not. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. All the ingredients gel together wonderfully and the result is the kind of light, easy read that makes for perfect vacation, traveling and beach reading. In the end, MM9 is an enthralling, fun read and in a perfect world more folks would be talking about it.
MM9 is available now from Haikasoru.
The fourth volume of Dorohedoro the beautifully weird series from Q Hayashida sees Caiman and Nikaido continuing their search for the mage that made Caiman into the lizard man he is today. As per usual it gets a bit sidetracked by the general weirdness of the world they inhabit. This time around they find themselves recruited for a baseball game which ends up dominating a large portion of the volume.
The volume’s a bit of a mixed bag with a little bit of plot development and a fair amount of silliness. The silliness actually outweighs any forward momentum the plot makes. Hayashida also dedicates a fair amount of this volume to the antagonists, primarily Shinji and Ebisu and their attempt at rescuing one of Shinji’s old comrades. That in turn leads into the baseball game which is the centerpiece of this volume and chalk full of weird, off beat silliness. While some of the events of the volume are indeed funny and entertaining to read, not to mention that they’re probably laying down foundations for something further on, at the moment they just seem to kill any forward momentum the story develops. I’m not expecting everything to be wrapped up by now, but I just wish it didn’t feel so directionless at times.
While the story is a bit hit or miss with me Q Hayashida’s artwork is anything but. Every page of this manga is a visual treat. Her dense, detailed style lends everything an aged, gritty and run down look to it that I absolutely adore. The grimy buildings, the dirty streets, filthy hall ways and more do a great job at conveying the decaying state of the Hole’s society. What’s perhaps most interesting is the way the grim and oppressive atmosphere of the world doesn’t clash horribly with the odd ball visual humor that’s also present in the book. The baseball game, Fujita’s ridiculous mask and hat combo and more all fit in perfectly with the visual feel of the book but are clearly on the silly and goofy side of things rather than the grim and gritty side. It’s a bit of a testament to her skill as a story teller that she can insert such visual humor and goofiness as a giant cockroach wearing sneakers and a baseball uniform and and have it mesh so perfectly with the rest of the oddball and post apocalyptic looking urban sprawl that you don’t even bat an eye.
Despite my minor complaints I do still enjoy reading this, but a combination of the meandering story and the lengthy wait between volumes keeps it from becoming an absolutely must read for me. Still, in a manga scene that’s still dominated by Shonen Jump titles Dorohedoro is an undeniable breath of fresh air and a rather fun little read to boot.
Dorohedoro, Vol. 4 is available now from Viz.
From the fine folks at Haikasoru comes Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse, the latest collection of short stories from acclaimed author Otsuichi. The book consists of three short stories, all skewing towards the horror genre. “Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse” tells the tale of a murdered young girl and her killers attempts at hiding her corpse, from the perspective of the corpse. “Yuko”, the shortest story in the collection, is the interesting tale of a writer, his wife, their new maid and the tragedy that ensues. Rounding up the collection is “Black Fairy Tale”, a chilling horror story about a young girl who receives an eye transplant, only to find herself assaulted by memories of the eyes previous owner.
Otsuichi is perhaps best known in the US for his horror work and that’s certainly on display here in spades. What’s often forgotten or over looked though, is that he has a fantastic sense of humor and that really comes through with the opening story, “Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse.” Sure, it’s about the murder of a nine year old girl and the subsequent attempt at hiding her body by the murderers, but Otsuichi does a masterful job at setting up hilarious close calls and near misses. The situations start out simple enough but they slowly escalate until the finale which is so gloriously over the top that you can’t help but laugh. The second tale, “Yoko” is also the shortest in the book. The story is one that bears many of Otsuichi’s trademarks, most notably unreliable narrators. There’s nothing terribly memorable about it and sadly I feel it’s the weakest entry in the collection. The third and final story in the collection is both the longest and probably the best. “Black Fairy Tale” is a beautifully done horror tale whose initial premise is more than a little reminiscent of the Taiwainese horror movie, The Eye. A young woman receives an eye transplant and shortly after she finds herself experiencing visions of the eyes previous owners life. Aside from being incredibly chilling it also features Otsuichi’s trademark love of misleading the audience with unreliable narrators and other clever word play tricks. Unlike the previous stories this one contains no less than three interweaving perspectives, one for a murderer, one for the main character and another featuring a short story written by one of the characters within the story itself. At it’s core though, “Black Fairy Tale” seems to be about transience and the passing of time, and with it memories and the changes that occur to us over time. The killer also reminded me of an idea Otsuichi briefly touched upon in his afterward to Goth, that of a yokai of murder. While it was certainly an interesting idea in Goth I just couldn’t make it click with what little knowledge I had of yokai, but for some odd reason the killer in “Black Fairy Tale” felt very much like an extension of that idea and theme.
The stories are very easy and light reads, with all being told in the first person perspective. Otsuichi uses this to his advantage and tosses in many twists and turns. Nathan Collins has done a good job at making the text flow and move smoothly. Some translated novels can be rather clunky with strange turns of phrases or simply awkward sounding sentences scattered through the text. None of that is here. That said it’s not quite perfect. The inclusion of certain Japanese terms without any explanation of what they really struck me as a bit odd. For the most part this isn’t much of an issue and I didn’t find that it made the book difficult to follow or understand, but it did strike me as a bit odd to include a Japanese phrase or teem with no clarification as to what they mean, but maybe I’m just used to manga which often includes some sort of glossary or explanation of certain terms in the back or in the panel borders.
Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse is a great read and it’s perfect for the current season. Also, while Otsuichi may lament the amateurness of “Black Fairy Tale” in the afterward, I thought it was easily the best horror story I’ve read from him since Goth and, quite frankly, think it’s worth the price of admission alone.
Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse is available now from Haikasoru.
From the minds of comics legend Stan Lee and the creator of Shaman King Hiroyuki Takei comes Karakuridoji Ultimo! Yamato is your typical teenager, crushing on a girl and attending classes until he encounters the mechanical puppet known as Ultimo in an antique shop… Except that’s not where the story begins. It actually begins in feudal Japan where Yamato first encounters the mechanical puppet Ultimo. Karakuridoji Ultimo is a saga that spans lives and centuries about the clash between good and evil and what those terms mean.
As mentioned above Ultimo seems to be an epic that spans time and space, jumping back and forth between the past and the present to tell it’s rather grand tale about the clash between the forces of good and evil. In this case the forces are represented by a set of mechanical boys, Ultimo (good) and Vice (evil), created by the mysterious man known only as Dunstan. We quickly learn, however, that they were just the beginning as it’s soon revealed that he’s created more puppets beyond the original two, all apparently for the purpose of finding out which is more powerful, good or evil. Each puppet is bond to a master who it obeys and studies in the hopes of learning more about the nature of good and evil. Of course this complicates matters as the various masters concepts about what’s good and what’s evil varies. For Yamato good seems to hinge upon his desire to protect his friends and loved ones, but what about the other good puppets and their masters? It’s a question raised only briefly in the first two volumes, but is one that feels like it will becoming more important as time goes on. While the idea of someone studying the concept of good and evil is hardly new, nor is the idea of battles involving a master/pet (ala. Pokemon or even Zatch Bell) Ultimo combines the two with enough style and twists that you end up with a surprisingly entertaining whole. The further idea of reincarnation and how the masters in the present may be reincarnations from the past further opens the door a variety of interesting spins. There’s no reason entire arcs or volumes couldn’t be dedicated towards exploring the exploits of the dolls in the past, or for that matter the idea of introducing new masters who have no history with the dolls.
Hiroyuki Takei’s artwork is sharp and stylish. His character designs, especially for the puppets, are interesting while maintaining a certain unified feel connecting them all together visually. They all look incredibly thin with huge gauntleted hands. It’s striking and the cover colors make them look even more fantastic. Sadly when it comes to action sequences the awkwardness of the thin arms and huge gauntlets, not to mention a few transformation sequences into bizarrely skinny and angular robots, sometimes results in confusing and difficult to deciper moments. There’s a small issue with scale and size when Vice and Ultimo occasionally transform into giant forms. At one point Vice looks positively massive, with trees coming up to his knees, but in another shot he and Ultimo seem only a few stories tall at most. He does show a nice versatility when it comes to body shapes and faces outside of the dolls though. The puppet masters run the gamut from heavily scarred and scary looking thug types to old, hunched over elderly men and more.
I have to admit that I’ve been curious about this title since it was announced but at the same time a bit hesitant to actually pick it up. With a few rare exceptions Shonen Jump material doesn’t really do it for me. With the closing of Borders I took a chance and picked up the first two volumes and I’m rather glad I did as Ultimo is a surprisingly enjoyable read. It’s certainly not the greatest read of all time, but it was definitely a fun read that’s left me wanting to pick up the subsequent volumes to follow the various twists and turns in Yamato and company’s lives.
Karakuridoji Ultimo is available now from Viz Media.
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.
Created by Tsutomu Nihei
Biomega follows the exploits of Zoichi Kanoe and others, as they attempt to foil the scheme of a large, globe spanning corporation to seed the earth with a virus that will turn just about everyone into mutated, flesh eating zombies. Make no mistake though, this is hardly you’re typical zombie apocolypse flick as it combines elements of the zombie genre with corporate conspiracies and jaw dropping action sequences, all wrapped up in a cyberpunk/industrial nightmare aesthetic courtesy of Tsutomu Nihei!
The plot is about as straight forward as you can get. Zoichi Kanoe is part of a special ops group designed by Toa Heavy Industries to help deal with the coming zombie apocolypse. He’s insanely fast, strong and durable, and comes equiped with a hi-tech motocycle and holographic AI companion. Together they fight the forces of a rival group, the Data Recovery Foundation, and do so in style! In fact that’s what this series is all about, style over substance. Zoichi and his allies, for their parts, are pretty much ciphers. He’s driven, silent, and that’s about all we know by the end of the first volume. The second expands upon his past and history, giving him a bit more meat and an emotional hook that might help garner some sympathy, but so far his personality is that of your typical strong, silent pretty boy. On the antagonist side of things, the DRF is a shadowy oragnization full of cannon fodder with plans that seemingly span centuries. One can only assume that more will be revealed as the series continues, but for now they’re pretty much an enigma as well.
Nihei’s art is eye popping to say the least with huge vistas of urban sprawl, built on a staggering scale and massive highways that span oceans, artificial island cities and more. The character designs for Zoichi and his group are fairly uniform; pale, vaguely adrogenous, dark hair and dark leather body suits. Aside from the zombies and generic flunky soldiers, the main group of villains are a nightmarish flesh and metal mix that’s reminiscent of the cenobites from Hellraiser fame. Leather aprons, faces that look like they were skinned and than nailed or otherwise attached to metallic heads and lots of black organic looking armor. It’s all incredibly striking and absolutely lovely to look at. The action sequences are beautifully over the top, featuring such feats as riding a motorcycle over a collapsing roof, across jet planes and more. It’s eye candy of a distinctly dark and gritty kind.
Biomega is an absolutely fantastic read. It’s fun, dark, action packed, nightmarish and just plain cool. Is it terribly deep? No. Is it hugely emotional with tearful confessions of love? No and it probably won’t be. Do the characters constantly emote and explain their motivations, tactics, skills, etc? Thankfully, no. What Biomega is, is one of the most over the top, stylish, action series put on paper.
Biomega, vol. 1 + 2 are available now.