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.
Empowered, Vol. 7
By Adam Warren
Dark Horse, 208 pp.
Rating: 16 +
After a nearly two year wait Adam Warren’s Empowered returns! For the first time this volume sees the focus shift off of Emp and onto her hard drinking, ninja princess buddy Ninjette as we delve into her past and learn more of her ninja clan!
The volume focuses heavily on Ninjette, though all your favorite cast members return and have their own individual arcs continued and pushed forward a little as well. The volume alternates between flashbacks involving Ninjette, Empowered and friends and a brutal fight scene set in the “present” involving Ninjette and a squad of ninjas sent to bring her in. The flashback sequences are where most of the other cast appear as we see everyone dealing with the continued fallout from the Willy Pete incident and now the fallout from Emp’s confrontation with Deathmonger from the last volume. Adam Warren continues to do a fantastic job at giving the characters heart in what’s ostensibly a sexy, superhero comedy and delves into the various aspects of their lives. Everyone in the series is flawed in some way and it’s really these insecurities and the genuineness of them that gives the book it’s heart.
Adam Warren’s artwork is fantastic as is to be expected and looks even better then ever thanks to the new glossy paper stock used in the volume. The huge ninja fight scene, something I was really looking forward to with this volume, is solid and entertaining but somehow felt a little underwhelming. In fairness that could be due to built up expectations. After a two year absence and hearing how the fight scene was initially intended to be nearly 100 pages your expectations tend to be raised. Still, it’s intense and clear with some incredibly clever moments. In addition the book continues to show off Adam Warren’s skill at depicting everything from violent battles to quiet intimate moments and more. His character designs are creative and range from the memorable and stylish to the weird, hideous and downright silly.
All in all this remains one of my favorite American comic series at the moment and is probably the best superhero series out there right now. With lovely art, creative action scenes, well written and well rounded believable characters Adam Warren’s continues to put most other American superhero comics to shame.
Empowered, Vol. 7 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Blood Blockage Battlefront, Vol. 2
By Yashuhiro Nightow
Dark Horse, 208 pp.
Rating: 16 +
The second volume of Yashuhiro Nightow’s horror action series Blood Blockade Battlefront has arrived! We return to Jerusalem’s Lot for three more tales of Libra struggling to keep the more destructive forces of the Otherworld in check.
I found this volume to be a bit more enjoyable than the first one. While the first heavily focused on Leonard, the newest member of Libra, this one switches things up and we spend a bit more time with the other members of the cast while being introduced to a few more members as well. This is a good thing as Leonard was pretty damn passive and boring, so getting glimpses at the rest of the cast is a welcome change of pace. The three stories within it also hint at a possible over arching plot line involving the most underexposed of all supernatural horrors… vampires. We get a short history of vampires in the world of Blood Blockade Battlefront, their origins and more before an all too brief confrontation with one. Meanwhile the comedy continues to miss for me and feels a bit too slapsticky and over the top. It also tends to stick out like a sore thumb and often feels awkward and forced, pulling. The characters aren’t terribly interesting or intriguing at this point either. They tend towards one or two traits cranked up to eleven and that’s about it.
Visually the book is pretty engaging and interesting to look at it. Nightow’s style is fairly unique and pretty stylish. The demons, monsters and weird bits of technology that fill Jerusalem’s Lot all look fantastic and are eye catching. The detailed backgrounds and crowds of demons, humans and things in between do help reinforce the weirdness of the setting and how it’s all usually taken in stride. Unfortunately when it comes to action sequences things get a bit messy. This is thanks in part to cluttered layouts, poses and the compressed nature of the action scenes. The result is something akin to the sequential art equivalent of the fight scenes from Nolan’s Batman movies. Some fast, undecipherable movement and positioning followed by a pose of the hero or villain looking cool as hell. They just lack the fluidity of other action series, both shonen and seinen alike.
The second volume of Blood Blockade Battlefront is a definite improvement over the first, thanks in part to the marginalization of Leonard and the shift in focus onto other characters. Unfortunately it failed to deliver in several other areas. The build up to the confrontation with the vampire was fantastic, the actual confrontation itself was rather short, underwhelming and failed to convey any of the menace or threat that the creature was built up to be. This seems like a good summation of the series so far. Lots of potential and interesting ideas but lacking in the delivery for various reasons.
Blood Blockade Battlefront, Vol. 2 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.