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Descending Stories, Vol. 1

January 21, 2018 1 comment

Cover to "Descending Stories, Vol. 1"Descending Stories, Vol. 1
Created by Haruko Kumota, Translated by Matt Alt
Kodansha Comics, 160 pp.
Rating: Older Teens (16+)

Yotaro is fresh out prison and determined to turn his life around, and leave his gang member days in the past. To do this, he plans to study the art of rakugo, a traditional form of Japanese comedic storytelling, under one of the art’s great living masters, Yakumo Yurakutei VIII. Unfortunately for Yotaro, Yakumo has never taken on an apprentice, but this fact won’t keep Yotaro from trying. From Haruko Kumota comes Descending Stories, Vol. 1.

Descending Stories is awash in the tensions that come with change. For Yotaro it’s his attempt to change his life, from one of a criminal to a practitioner of an art form he’s come to love. For Yakumo, it’s the change that’s taking place in society which sees the Japanese public drifting away from traditional forms of Japanese entertainment like rakugo in favor of more modern ones. For yet another character, Konatsu, it’s not so much change but her desire for change. As the orphaned daughter of one of Yakumo’s contemporaries, Konatsu has been his ward for a number of years, but the one thing she hasn’t been and won’t be is his apprentice due to rakugo being a traditionally male occupation. Deeply frustrated at her place in the world and her inability to follow her father’s footsteps, Konatsu stews in resentment and loss, unable to be where she wants to be due to tradition. Such things give Descending Stories the potential to be a fantastic and compelling series, but it has one major flaw: Yotaro.

Despite his troubled past, Yotaro is a bland and forgettable figure throughout most of the volume. His personality can be summed up in two words, dumb and overly enthusiastic. These are traits which are probably intended to make him endearing, but they really just make him unlikeable and uninteresting. Instead, the most interesting character in the first volume is Konatsu. Her troubled relationship with Yakumo is engaging, and her struggle and desire to follow in the footsteps of her father is genuinely moving and frustrating at the same time. At one point, the cruel way in which Yakumo shoots down her ambitions made my teeth grind. Her struggle feels real and relatable, and I found myself far more invested in her struggle and story than anything Haruko Kumota was trying to do with Yotaro. His criminal past is the only thing that begins to lend him any sort of personality or characteristic beyond “annoying goofball,” but it rarely plays into things at this point and when it does come up it is too little, too late to make Yotaro an interesting figure.

Note the body language and shadow placement in the third panel.

Admittedly, one of the reasons for my fondness of Konatsu over Yotaru might have something to do with Haruko Kumota’s artwork. The visuals bounce between lovely, and forgettable. Anytime Yotaro is the focus of the page, his exaggerated reactions and mannerism detract from the emotional heft of the scene and the whole thing feels a bit cartoonish. His constant upbeat attitude, goofy grin, and overly emotive facial expressions make him come off like a cartoon character who has been crammed into a very different story. In contrast, Haruko Kumota’s styles seems to tighten up and become more detail focused during the scenes between Yakumo and Konatsu, and he does a particularly good job at conveying their emotions through their eyes. In one particular scene, Yakumo confronts Konatsu about her secret study of her father’s rakugo stories. He literally throws the book of stories in her face, and Kumota imbues Yakumo with an aloof, dismissiveness that is startling. Likewise, the need and hurt that Konatsu feels is clearly evident in the way Kumota renders her eyes. The result is a scene whose dialogue and visuals are crackling with an energy and tension that is lacking throughout most of the book. Another visual highlight comes during one of Yakima’s rakugo performances. In the story, Yakumo takes on the role of a woman, and Haruko Kumota renders the shadows and folds cast by his clothing in such a way that they take on the look and feel of the woman’s long hair tumbling over one of her shoulders. It was a subtle, clever, and did an amazing job at conveying how completely Yakumo vanishes into his performances.

Due to the constant back and forth in both tone and visuals, Descending Stories, Vol. 1 ends up being a very uneven read. Yotaro is too bland and too uninteresting to really get behind. He feels less like the main character, and more like the comic relief sidekick. The combination of the unevenness of the book and the lack of a compelling main character makes for a rather awkward introduction to the story and its world. All in all, this was a less than inspiring first volume.

Descending Stories, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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Attack on Titan: Choose Your Path Adventure

January 12, 2018 3 comments

The cover for Attack on Titan: Choose Your Path AdventureAttack on Titan: Choose Your Path Adventure
Written by Tomoyuki Fujinami, Illustrated by Ryosuke Fuji and Toru Yoshii, Attack on Titan created by Hajime Isayama, Translated by Kevin Steinbach
Kodansha Comics, 256 pp.
Rating: Teens (16+)

Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan has become an international hit, and like most international hits, it’s branched out into other media and product lines. It’s been adapted into live action, anime, video games, visual novels, audio plays, light novels, and now… a Choose Your Own Adventure novel! Set during the Siege of Trost, the opening arc of the manga, Attack on Titan: Choose Your Path Adventure allows readers to take part in the the battle and fight alongside Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and the rest of their fellow cadets. Your decisions can influence the outcome of the battle, and even cause it go in new and unexpected directions unseen in the original series or its various adaptions. Will Eren and his friends die at the hands of the Titans? Will the walls fall, allowing the Titans to overrun humanity once and for all? And most importantly, will you survive long enough to find out?
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Virgil

December 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Virgil
Written by Steve Orlando, Art by J.D. Faith, and Colors by Chris Beckett
Image Comics, 96 pp.
Rating: Mature Readers

Virgil is a corrupt cop, working the mean streets of Jamaica. With his partner and childhood friend, Omar, and the rest of the force, he shakes down the local criminals, pockets the cash and drugs and leads a pretty good life. However, Virgil’s got a secret, his boyfriend Ervan. When his secret is discovered, Omar and his homophobic friends on the force turn on Virgil. Omar leads an attack on Virgil’s home, killing several of his friends, kidnapping Ervan, and leaving Virgil under a pile of corpses on the beach. Only, Virgil wasn’t dead, and now he’s out for revenge. As he tracks down Omar, Virgil must contend with corrupt, homophobic police and the criminals he once harassed. From writer Steve Orlando, and artist J.D. Faith comes the 2015 graphic novel, Virgil, a brutal tale of love and revenge.
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Ghost in the Shell 1.5 Human-Error Processor – Deluxe Edition

July 24, 2017 1 comment

Ghost in the Shell 1.5 Deluxe EditionGhost in the Shell 1.5 Human-Error Processor: Deluxe Edition
By Shirow Masamune, Translation & English Adaption by Frederik L. Schodt and Toren Smith, Additional Translation by Stephen Paul
Kodansha Comics, 192 pp.
Rating: Mature (18 +)

Released after Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor takes place between the the first and second Ghost in the Shell series and represents Shirow’s first, aborted attempt to continue the Ghost in the Shell franchise in manga form. As a result, Ghost in the Shell 1.5 is an unfinished project. It’s essentially a short story collection depicting several different investigations undertaken by a post-Kusanagi Section 9. Togusa and Batou become the main two characters, with several of the other supporting cast being fleshed out a bit here and there over the course of the volume.
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Princess Jellyfish, Vol. 2

July 10, 2017 1 comment

Princess Jellyfish, Vol. 2Princess Jellyfish, Vol. 2
By Akiko Higashimura, Translation by Sarah Alys Lindholm.
Kodansha Comics, 384 pp.
Rating: Teens (16 +)

Tsukimi and Kuranosuke struggle to find a way to keep Amars from being destroyed in the name of urban renewal and development! If that wasn’t bad enough, Tsukimi slowly begins to realize that she’s fallen in love with someone, a thing she never thought possible. Can Tsukimi confront a part of herself she never knew existed, while attempting to save her home? Akiko Higashimura’s brilliant series continues, with Princess Jellyfish, Vol. 2!
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Cosmic Commandos

June 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Cosmic CommandosCosmic Commandos
By Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers, 192 pp.
Rating: Young Readers (8 – 12)

From Christopher Eliopoulos, the writer of Marvel’s adorable Pet Avengers trilogy, comes the cute, light hearted adventure of twins Justin and Jeremy. When Jeremy finds a magic wish granting ring in his box of cereal, his favorite video game comes to life, but will he be able to defeat it and save the world, or will his frustration at being compared to his brother, Justin, drive an unreconcilable wedge between the two, dooming everyone? Find out, in Christopher Eliopoulos’ Cosmic Commandos!
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That Wolf-Boy is Mine, Vol. 1

June 26, 2017 Leave a comment

That Wolf-Boy is Mine, Vol. 1That Wolf-Boy is Mine, Vol. 1
By Yoko Nogiri, Translation by Alethea and Athena Nibley.
Kodansha Comics, 192 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

After crossing classmates at her Tokyo school, Komugi finds herself a social pariah. Thankfully, her mom’s leaving town and offers Komugi a choice. Stay in Tokyo, or move to the countryside to live with her father. Komugi takes this opportunity to start over with a blank slate and a chance to make friends at her new school! Unfortunately for her, those friends harbor a secret of the supernatural kind which promise to make her life even far more complicated than it was before. From Yoko Nogiri, comes the romantic drama-comedy, That Wolf-Boy is Mine!
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