Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Manga Review: A Bride's Story (volume three)

Due to real life craziness (work, prepping for thanksgiving, my online class, studying for the JLPT, too much time spent on tumblr, wait is that even an IRL thing?) no emanga review this time but I was recently able to finally get a hold of the third volume of A Bride's Story. For some odd reason my local libraries before I moved had volume four but not three and, even though I read it, it was too long ago for me to do a proper review (plus, volumes four and five are the same "arc" so it would make more sense to review both of those at once) along with this one. But enough chit-chat, let me tell you why I still adore this series.

A Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori

Summary: Mr. Smith, the British researcher who had been staying with Karluk and Amir's family, has decided it's time that he go off and explore more of the region and meet even more people. But when trying to meet up with his guide some things go a little strange and he briefly becomes a houseguest of a widow and her lovely, welcoming daughter Talas.

The Good: I didn't see why so many people were saying this was a sad story until very late in the book and I was amazed at how easily Mori made the switch from a happy, hopeful mood to one that decidely wasn't. While I enjoyed Emma, her earlier work, I never quite connected with any of the characters or sympathized with their relationships (the trouble with having quiet characters, like Emma, is that it's a surprisingly thin line between having them be mostly internal characters and having them come off as rather flat) but here I feel like her storytelling skills have grown and that she is more successful in conveying more subtle and mature relationships.

The Bad: Well, while I did enjoy the chapter when the cast went "hey we're hungry, let's eat!", because it appears that Mori can also draw some beautiful food porn, it did feel a bit out of place in the story. Perhaps she wanted to have Mr Smith and Talas' story fill an entire volume and realized she would be a chapter short otherwise but I thought it was an odd place to put it regardless. 

The Art: I, and the rest of the internet, have made no secret about how much I adore the level of detail Mori puts into her art here and, while I certainly enjoy the story, it's the art I look forward to every time. In fact, normally when I read manga I'll get a hold of a few volumes in a series and either read one a day for a few days or read them all in one sitting, similar to how I read print novels in large chunks (which can end up being all at once when I lose track of time). But with this series that just doesn't quite feel right, instead I prefer to read it a chapter at a time, spending a long amount of time on each page, right before bed as I'm relaxing. I think that should tell you quite a bit about the art, I consider it to be so engrossing that it's the one time I change my habits.

So I'm still heartily recommending this series and hope that one of my new local libraries has the fourth volume so I can re-read and gets a copy of volume five soon (since that only came out two months ago I can almost guarantee that they don't already have a copy, plus even if they did the waiting list might be quite long).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Manga Review: Coda

Augh, sorry that I didn't get this up on time folks, I'm really late now, for a bit of an odd reason. You see, this was recommended to me on tumblr over the summer and I really enjoyed it but it doesn't seem to have updated since September so I was wondering if I should take it off my list of things to review this year. I should have skimmed back through it earlier than I did to prep but apparently this was the week that a lot of my tv shows/manga decided to have really important updates so I wasn't able to find the time or the focus just to think about Coda. But I've got it now and expect what should have been today (Monday's) review up on Wednesday!

Coda by Ichimura Hitoshi

Haruichi is part of the dance class at his school, known for being a fine fine art school, with a concentration in Japanese Dance and he likes watching ballet quite well too. He knows his father would be angry to hear about it (why we never know, probably because it would be seen as a distraction from his studies) but he even practices some of the female parts on his own time. And so, through a series of odd events and blackmail he ends up becoming the partner of the internationally renowned dancer Yuri and practicing with him for an upcoming performance, except he's playing the female role!

Some series I love because they're like a good cake, full of lots and lots of layers and so rich that you occasionally need to stop eating and just sit and think about the flavors for a little bit, maybe go for a walk, and then keep devouring it. This series reminds me a little bit more of pietit fours, they still look great and taste wonderful but you can cram but you can cram a surprising number of them in your mouth at once without feeling too full. This is a fun little breather series for me, it has a simple plot that holds everything together, not too many characters, has a concise goal, and a bit of cross-dressing. Funny enough even though the main characters are two boys, and two boys doing ballet together at that, I wouldn't really call this even a BL series, it wasn't written with the sly *wink wink nudge nudge* that many other slash-able series are but of course that's just me, I'm sure that for some fans this is more than enough to make them excited. 

There's not a lot of plot to speak of in this story per-say, it's complete at three volumes and up to the first part of the third has been finished, and it really is a straightforward story, Haruichi is drawn in, half against his will half not, into doing ballet with Yuri and practices to get better, to better understand his role, and to better understand why Yuri has refused to dance as someone's partner for so many years while puzzling out why he suddenly choose him. He meets other people who provide some insight, I felt like none of the characters were too stiff (although these aren't the roundest characters, this story is so much Haruichi's that there just isn't a way to flesh out some of the supporting characters), and for once the cross-dressing gag feels just like that, a silly detail in the story that doesn't demean anyone but does make everything slightly more awkward (often I find that cross-dressing gags in manga don't make things awkward for the characters as much as it feels hella awkward to me because Gender Politics, which is far too long to get into here).

So, do I think this stands a chance at getting licensed? Yes and no, the fact that it's complete at just three volumes is great, however the publisher is Mag Garden and they haven't had a thing in print in the US since JManga went down and took down all the titles they had license-rescued from TokyoPop with them. It's rather strange to think that there's a good sized publisher out there who doesn't have a single story currently licensed in the US, I've never heard anything so I doubt that they have terrible relationships with any of the current US companies but there was some eye-brow raising when I realized that (funny enough they published Carat as well). I feel like this title might work at Seven Seas (especially with the recent news that no I wasn't imagining it, they really are doing better this year with sales that are something like 100% higher than what they were last year) although I wonder if the fact that it's not particularly "slashable" BL might mean it appeals to a smaller audience. So, not especially but it's not something that's completely unlicenseable either?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Manga Review: Star-Gazing Dog

Hey guys, so life got a little hectic for me last week and I actually haven't had a chance to look at any other Emanga titles but I actually have been reading a fair bit of manga from the local public library so here is something I grabbed only because I had heard such good things about it. If I hadn't and had just looked at the back cover I doubt I would have picked it up since it's not really my thing and, well, while I'm not unhappy I picked it up it didn't affect me so profoundly that I'm especially glad that I did. 

Star-Gazing Dog by Takashi Murakami

Summary: Happie was adopted as a puppy into a family and even though Mommy and Miku don't pay attention to him anymore Daddy still feeds him and walks him which is all he wants. Happie doesn't understand how humans live but he's more than content to stick with Daddy through the thick and thin, through his life falling apart and deciding to go on one final trip.

The Good: The basic premise of the story, that it was about the life of a man and his dog from the point of view of the dog, wasn't something that interested me at first since I thought it would be too sappy and sentimental for my taste. I can happily say now that it wasn't, while it was written in such a way as to tug on your heartstrings it never felt overly forced or conniving in that way, it just fits with how we have a non-human (which in this case means, a rather innocent) narrator. 

The Bad: I'm in two minds about the ending, well, three actually. From one point of view I think the ending was handled perfectly fine and fit in well with the themes already established by the story. On the other hands, these involve small spoilers so I'm putting them in a footnote*, basically however I almost wish that the story had ended a tiny bit differently but I certainly don't dislike what happened or think it was badly done.

The Art: While the art has plenty of details it doesn't use a lot of tones or shading which gives it a bit of a simple look which I think fits the story perfectly. The mature tone of the story means I can't really call it a simple story, even if it is perfectly straightforward, but the art certainly fits the understated tone well. Plus, while straightforward this story is told from the point of view of the dog which gives it not precisely a whimsical or fantasy feel but nevertheless distances itself from reality just a tad which I think makes the art fit even better.

In the end I give this manga a 3.5 out of 5 for being well done and emotional without being cloying but in the end it still just wasn't my thing.It appears that you can read a few pages of the story here however so if this sounds like it might be your thing go ahead and give it a shot!

*So Daddy dies alone except for  Happie and his family never finds out about it. While I do think that fits with the themes already established with the story I do think it would have been interesting to see their reactions to the news, to see characters figure out how to mourn someone they once cared for who was one of the most important things in their lives and how they, well, weren't anymore. I thought that would be a really interesting direction that could only work in a more mature work like this one. And on the other other hand, I didn't really see the point of the framing aspect in the end of the story when the man whose land Daddy died on goes out searching to find out who he was. Since he ultimately fails, both to find out anything and in my opinion to add anything to the story or theme, I did wonder a bit if  Murakami was just padding for time there, although I'm sure some people will find that the inclusion of that part of the story made it more poignant.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Manga Review: Bokura no Kiseki

I half remember where I first stumbled across this manga, I could have sworn I was on a thread on Anime News Network, I believe something had just gotten an anime adaptation, and someone said something dismissive about this title so of course I went and looked it up. I checked yesterday though and could not find the thread at all so perhaps I found this one via tumblr as well. Regardless, I looked it up and went ahead and tried out the first chapter expecting, based on the tone of the person who first mentioned it, to dislike it and quit halfway through. After the first chapter though there was a little bit of swearing on my part as I realized that this was exactly the kind of manga I loved, I was hooked, and had next to no hopes that it would ever get licensed, a truly winning combination!

Bokura no Kiseki by Kumeta Natsuo 

The manga title translates as "Our Miracle" but I've never seen anybody actually use it, probably because it's so generic (and I have no idea at this point what the "miracle" is supposed to be, that they've all been reincarnated???).

When he was a kid Harusami Minami told his classmates that he was the reincarnation of a princess from a far off land and unsurprisingly was teased for it mercilessly. By middle school he knows well enough to keep quiet about it and seems to doubt even himself a little bit. But when cornered by bullies he almost unthinkingly uses magic to scare them off and suddenly there's no doubt that everything he remembers, from the people around him to being killed by invaders from his fiancee's country, is completely true. A few years later he's starting high school with a surprisingly tight-knit class and jotting down everything he remembers from his former life in a notebook written in the old language. When a few of his classmates find the book they don't tease him about it, Minami has gotten too good at lying over the years to distract them, but some of them seem confused by it. And later that night when someone starts firing off magic in the school building he finds out why, suddenly his classmates are remembering their past lives as well and they were all connected to Princesse Veronica's life. As everyone begins to sort out who they were and which side they were on the various groups of students all have the same goal, to figure out what happened hundreds of years ago and why they died.

Often I feel bad about writing a long synopsis of a story but considering just how detailed the set-up for this one is this time it feels reasonable. This truly is a story best read in chunks and preferably with a character chart nearby (heck, I even took one from one of the later volumes and added onto it since it wasn't detailed enough!) since there are about five different factions of characters to keep track of, some of whom overlap, and about 20 characters which means 20 in the present day and 20 in the past (plus a few key players from the past who haven't shown up yet that the reader knows of, most notably Veronica's betrothed Prince Eugene). And in case anyone was wondering if they've been reading this right, yes Minami is a guy and Veronica was a girl, both cisgendered and straight, honestly since he's grown up with most of her memories it just doesn't seem to phase him at all (I believe either the series proper or the omakes makes mention of this at least once). 

I actually really like Minami as a main character since he's just a bit more manipulative than normal which keeps things interesting. Admittedly, part of the reason he is manipulative is due to his friends advising hiding that he really is Veronica (which I honestly do agree with from a logical perspective, not just because it makes things more dramatic) but I still find it rather interesting to see that his classmates who knew Veronica (who wasn't that terrifying) completely cave in to his bluffs and think it speaks volumes about how isolated Minami has been if his classmates can't work out that if Minami isn't like this and Veronica wasn't like this then it must clearly be a bluff. This doesn't mean that I think the other characters are dumb however, I'll certainly allow that high emotions and general confusion (unlike Minami whose memories gradually returned over 15 years, and still aren't completely there it seems, all of his classmates had theirs return all at once and are having a hard time reconciling the war with their current situation) account for a lot of the character's freaking out. 

Heck, I like a lot of the character dynamics here. Like I said in the summary, they've all just started high school so some of them have known each other for years and years but a lot of them haven't yet they were shaping up to be a really fun, close-knit class. And then you have characters realizing that their childhood friends were on the opposite side in their past lives which means that they very well could have been fighting and killing each other* and have to work it out. I'll admit that I like the "characters on the opposite sides for reasons they can't control" trope more as I get older but what I really like here is seeing the characters having to choose how they'll let it define each other, especially since some groups were keeping secrets in the past and have to deal with those as well. And the story really does focus on a lot of different characters, lately it's branched out from following just the three main groups (the Zestrains, Moswicks, and the neutral Church) to follow some characters who are forming splinter groups and I just love both how complicated it's become and watching one or two characters in particular navigate and manipulate their way through because they don't know that much which in my eyes makes them even more relatable. All of the characters that the story has focused on thus far feel like real, fleshed out characters with a lot of different emotions and goals right now since they are so rounded I can't fault the story for not focusing on every character (although I do wonder if there will be an important reason later on why some of them, namely a few servants on both sides, were also reincarnated).

So what exactly is the plot some people might be asking by now, especially since that's what I usually talk about first about a story. Well, in short the characters have two goals; one that everybody shares is trying to figure out how they all died and putting together what everyone remembers (since even the Moswicks, where the attackers came from, have said that they don't know anything and given that the story shows their points of view I'm inclined to believe them). Minami's group, and the Church as well to a lesser extent, is also trying to figure out who was attacking people with magic that first night in the school since at this point it's clear that this person is a key player in the current day plot and probably the story of the past as well. I have my own theories on who it might be (since again, there are two key players and one moderately important one still missing, although the story has all but confirmed one of them is present this has become more complicated) but I'm sure that no matter how it turns out that it'll be interesting. I'm slightly torn on the pacing of the story again, the chapters are long (I think the magazine it runs in is published every two months) so a lot happens but the story so far, at 8 volumes, has all happened within the span of a month I believe which does stretch my suspension of disbelief a bit. Then again, as I already mentioned, add together teenagers, sudden intense memories about how you were just attacked and dying, plus the realization that you have no idea whose telling the truth and whose lying around you, yes I can see why a lot is going on at the same time. 

As for licensing, well, I'm not that optimistic here. The publisher is Ichijinsha (and it looks like the magazine is a spin off of Comic Zero-Sum, of course that's why I liked it!) so no publisher except Kodansha is restricted from it but I don't know how well it really fits with any of the current manga publishers. Someone asked Seven Seas about it on tumblr and it sounds like the fact that it's already 8 volumes long has them hesitant (I don't see it ending in under 12 volumes myself, under 20 but maybe more like 12-16, but that's just going by how the plot currently feels to me and the scanlations seem to be behind by at least a few chapters if not an entire volume). The manga-ka hasn't had anything published over here before, looks like she hasn't done much except a shorter series or two and contributed to a few anthologies, so that's nothing to worry about here but it's always good to check. And aside from the size, this is older shojo (not precisely josei but rather close to the line), fantasy, not much romance going on (since with how messy everything has gotten people are a bit turned off by romance for the moment), and it has some kinda-complicated politicking in it. I would love to be wrong about all of this and have it picked up but as it currently stands I guess this is another manga which I need to plan on importing for myself someday.

*admittedly it's unlikely that they managed to kill each because of one detail, that you had to be killed by magic to be reincarnated, although a large chunk of the characters were magic users. And that detail actually makes the story even more interesting, how did all of these characters die by magic, especially some that were nowhere near Veronica's castle when the hostilities go down? It seems that everyone's memories get hazier right before their deaths so no one knows, Minami actually realizes that what he thought were Veronica's last moments in fact weren't and unsurprisingly it looks like her last few moments were rather important ones.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Manga Review: Marin (Volume One)

Another emanga/DMG title and I was quite delighted when I opened it up and saw how retro the art style was. Despite that however I'll note that some point I thought I saw a note saying that book is from 1992 but I can't seem to find my source for that again, although I've found another source saying it's from 1998. If that is the case however then it's not quite old enough to be retro (I refuse to call anything younger than myself retro until I'm at least 30) but doesn't change the fact that I wished I had checked it out earlier because of the artwork.

Marin (volume one) by Miyoko Satomi

Summary: Marin wants to live out his life as a cute, normal boy who happens to have a talent for fortune telling rather than learning magic like his grandfather wants him to. However it seems like he's going to have to pick up a few tricks for his own safety since he's suddenly being targeted by strange people left and right, thank goodness it seems that he already knows more magic than he already thought....

The Good: Somewhat episodic supernatural stories are just up my alley so I rather liked it, I think it's my favorite DMG manga I've reviewed so far and there have certainly been some other good ones in the mix. It's true that a lot of the set-up, someone doesn't want to get involved with magic yet turns out to have a surprising aptitude for it which comes in handy, is fairly tired but I rather liked Marin and his buddy Rikishi, just something about their personalities worked well for me (I think in Marin's case it's because while you often see the "cute young boy whose popular with girls" trope they're rarely the main character, so that was a nice change for me). The plot also doesn't play out expectedly or with any special reveals, aside from the fact it was a bit darker/gorier in places than I expected, so again, for me what made the story enjoyable was that this was the right combination of looks, characters, and genre, not stunning technical prowess in the writing or such.

The Bad: I'm not quite sure where this story is going and it's puzzling me. Fiction has taught me that with great powers comes great plots but I don't know if there will turn out to be a group pulling the strings behind all of the events in Marin's life or if all these incidents will turn out to be unrelated after all, so far some of them seem rather random. It doesn't help that I can't seem to find much information on the series either, it looks like it was part of a two volume series which I suspect means that either Satomi wasn't sure what kind of story she wanted to write either or that it was unpopular enough that it got canned before everything could get really moving.

The Art: The art is a bit of an odd mix here actually, the characters look more like they're from the 1970s than the 1990s (note the big eyes and lack of pomanders mullets on the male characters) but the use of screentones feels more modern to me (especially some of the special effects against various monsters, felt like I was reading something from the 90s then!). Whatever decade it's from, the paneling flows fairly well but some of the characters look a bit to similar to each other and made me wonder if I had missed someone explaining that they were related or such.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book and, if my research is right and there are just two volumes, I hope that DMG gets the second volume as well. And if there are more than two volumes, well, obviously I hope they get as many as there are and I hope that someone informs me of just how many there are then! As of writing this book is digital only and can be read online or downloaded once purchased.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Manga Review: Assassination Classroom

These days most of the manga I try out I find out first from tumblr. It doesn't have a really unified manga community per-say but there are always a lot of people squeeing over series they love, posting screencaps, sending in license requests to various publishers, or in this series case making those odd powerpoints about why something is awesome. And that's what eventually convinced me to try out this series, a powerpoint that is, since I had heard about it a bit before (from what I can tell this became a hit almost immediately in Japan) and, well, the premise was just crazy enough to be interesting!

Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushisu) by Yusei Matsui

One day part of the moon vanished. To be precise, some sort of strange creature, that looks like a giant, walking, yellow, octopus, appeared on Earth and blew it up. Whatever the thing actually is it possesses inhuman abilities such as supersonic speed and a resistantance to all known weapons, every nation in the world has tried to kill it and no one has come even close to succeeding. Which is why they have to accept his compromise, he will teach Class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High, in Japan, for one year and if he isn't killed by the end of that year he will destroy the world. Since he has promised to not harm his students, but they can try to kill him themselves, they're the best chance anyone has, too bad that students there have already been through the ringer. As students of the best school in the country they're all exceptionally bright in some areas but all of them are weak in others and have been placed in Class E (as in "end") to serve as an example to the rest of the school with crappy teachers and equipment. But despite all of that the students are surprisingly resilient and it seems like their strange new teacher actually cares about giving them a proper, well-rounded education even when they're trying to kill him.

As I said earlier, it's a premise strange enough to actually be interesting and I can now see why it's already such a hit, it's a surprisingly fun series despite it's semi-dark premise. Make no mistake, these kids are trying really hard to actually kill their teacher (whom they've nicknamed Koro-sensei, he also has a huge bounty on his head) and he really truly doesn't want to be killed (after seeing all the crazy, insanely plotted out attempts the kids have made so far I wonder how they're going to actually, finally succeed) yet it rarely gets "dark". Let me rephrase that, the fact that the students are trying to kill their teacher isn't what makes the story dark at times, the fact that a lot of them have been bullied and by students and administration alike for being in Class E is what makes the story more sober at times but even then everyone manages to plow through their troubles and come out better for them on the other side.

Another reason why this story seems to work so well is because it's rather well structured. The cast is a tad over 30 characters (the students plus teachers) yet Matsui knows to focus on a core set of students (all centered around a boy whose more or less the point of view character, Nagisa) so that the reader's don't get lost and to give the other students "a day in the limelight" every now and then to flesh everyone out. While I can't remember every character's name I can at least recognize them every time they appear and usually their personality and skills as well, that's really impressive considering not only how many characters there are but how comparatively few chapters there are out there. Which is another great thing, in story four or five months have already passed and the story is only six volumes long, no super long drawn out shonen arcs here! I have no doubt that it'll suffer from arc creep later on but even if it does it seems likely that the story will end in less than 20 volumes and I honestly can't think of anyone who would be unhappy about that (well, except for Jump of course). And finally, since I don't feel like I've stressed this enough, this is a pretty funny series in it's own way. It helps that the series doesn't start at the beginning of the school year but a little after by which the students have adjusted to the fact that they have a nigh-unkillable yellow blob for a teacher and have just become rather snarky about everything. The story is big on puns, weird situations and reactions to strange events which is exactly my kind of humor. Tvtropes has a really good example of it on one of their pages, when one character comes crashing through a wall (not the teacher), no one stops to wonder how he was able to do that but instead the entire class rather grumpily thinks in unison "You couldn't use the door instead?" I find characters dealing with the strange in a deadpan manner more hilarious than overreactions and every chapter is good for at least one or two laughs.

As for licensing, I feel like it could be picked up since crazier things have been released in the US, however apparently the American editors of Weekly Shonen Jump (which I think is referring to the people at Viz, the only ones who could publish it) say that they doubt it could ever get printed over here due to the subject matter which I do understand. I wonder if that would ever affect a potential anime release as well, I'm almost certain it will have one in the next few years, it's already popular enough that an OVA is coming out sometime next year. I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best since, as odd as it sounds, of all the series I'm talking about this month this one seems to have the most widespread appeal and I really don't want to have to import the Japanese volumes and have to translate the many many puns in the series by myself.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Manga Review: Dark Fable of the Forest

Another Emanga title, I would say I was trying to get to some of the more dark fantasy/horror ones right around Halloween but since this one is a fantasy shojo title to start with it was already fairly high on my reading list. Too bad for me it ended up being more gothic than fantasy since I've never been a big fan of gothic works.

Dark Fable of the Forest by Yuriko Matsukawa

Summary: Alyssa is an American college student who is interning at a mystery magazine where 90% of the stories they investigate turn out to be bunk. However, that means that the last 10% are real and Alyssa's goal is to investigate those 10%. Although, just because you know a mystery is real doesn't mean you understand it at first, or that it wants to be understood at all.

The Good: I have to admit I like how the story set itself up as acknowledging that most supernatural mysteries out there are fake, even if all the stories it investigated turned out to be true, since it was just enough world building for the story to feel grounded and in a supernatural story you have to let the audience know what's possible and what's not or else it will feel like the writer just doesn't care about their story. While it was a bit unexpected I was happy that I got to review a full story again, even if the pacing was a bit shaky so it was a little hard to tell that the story was going to wrap up in just two volumes. 

The Bad: Not exactly a fault of e-manga but I wasn't able to download the first volume my normal way, as a PDF, so I had to do some kind of special download for the iPhone in an odd format and I really don't recommend it. I can't recall what the exact name of the format was but it didn't scale as nicely and turned the pages the wrong way, thank god emanga puts a link on all of their "Stop! You're reading the wrong way!" pages so you can skip to the real beginning, just download it as a PDF if you plan to read it on your phone guys. As for the actual story, it felt a little choppy to me, as if the manga-ka originally planned for it to be a longer, more episodic series and then decided to turn the first arc into the main one of the story. That could have just been a miss-impression on my part, feeling like the story didn't fit since I expected something else, but something about it didn't just click for me. I wasn't a fan of the fact that one character vanishes and another who looks just like them takes their place, since it wasn't even used for a romantic plot point I can't figure out for the life of me why the manga-ka did that (could she not think of a different character design?). The other characters weren't much more distinctive, some felt more like a collection of tropes than anything else and really everything just felt a bit bland. The story was nothing new, the characters weren't new, I just couldn't get excited about any of it and when the endgame is finally revealed I more or less rolled my eyes that another cliche had been introduced and wondered how much longer until the end.

The Art: Yep this is 1990s shojo alright. We have the impossibly long faces, somewhat shaggy hair on everyone, and what I think of as odd fashion. One thing that did catch my eye however was just how full each page was, not that each panel was especially detailed but there are a lot of panels on each page and practically none of them had plain white backgrounds. Sure some of them only had a prop or maybe some reaction lines or screentones in the background but it never felt like the manga-ka/their assistants got lazy and didn't fill it in*.

Sorry for the short, delayed review folks, a combination of real life stress (the same stress that has me going to a reduced blogging schedule) and a really persistent head cold kept delaying this. Well, that and as you can tell, this was just so bland that in the end there's not much to say. I'm not a big fan of gothic stories to start with and this story just wasn't interesting to me at all. For fans of gothic sort-of-romances however both volumes are available on and other online retailers and there is no print version as of this time.

*although I do keep meaning to pull a whole bunch of shojo manga from the past four decades and compare the usage of white space vs screentones, I feel like this is actually another stylistic choice which dates rather clearly.....

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Manga Review: Akatsuki no Yona

In the past few years I've gotten library cards to even more libraries and I've been able to see that some of them have had a very devoted staff member, or perhaps more than one, whose been championing buying manga for years now and I've had a chance to read quite a few things which are harder to find these days. Some of my favorite finds have been in what I've dubbed the "epic shojo" category where the stories are large, the casts are huge, and each conflict is multi-layered and complicated to the point where the line between hero and villain can get very blurred indeed. Which has lead me to wonder, where did all these stories go? Was this some fad of the late 80s/90s, similar to the "Girl Power!" trend in the West from around the same time? But in the West we have a thriving YA book market which must have been inspired, both the characters and the writers, by that culture so why don't I see at least a few epic shojo manga out there today? After thinking for a bit I realized that this is close to being an "epic shojo", although with a distinctly post-2000 flavor, so not all hope is lost yet!

Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn, The Girl Standing in the Blush of the Dawn) by Mizuho Kusanagi

Princess Yona was a naviie and a bit spoiled young princess who was doted on by her father and protected by her bodyguard Hak (even if they had a bit of a tsundere relationship). The only thing she wanted in life was to marry her cousin Soo Won which was oddly forbidden by her father (also that her hair wasn't as flaming red but that was even less likely to happen). No matter, she planned to ask her father again after her sixteenth birthday party but upon arriving at the king's room she finds him dead, stabbed by Soo Won and who frames her and Hak after they flee the palace. Broken she tries to adjust to life outside the palace and finds that with her father's death a veritable political maelstrom is brewing with each of the five clans that make up the country weaseling around trying to gain power and favor with Soo Won the new king. After a period of mourning Yona snaps and finds the strength to vow revenge against Soo Won and that she will find out the truth behind the things he said about her father and why her father was keeping secrets from her. But to get revenge one must have power and she's going down an odd path for it, on some odd advice she turns to an old legend for help. The story goes that centuries ago her country was founded by a great dragon and that four of his fellow dragons blended into the human population, waiting for the day their king will return to seek them out. So far this plan is working surprisingly well, although it seems like there was a lot more truth to that old legend that even Yona realizes.

As a note, the scanlations are quite a few volumes behind the Japanese releases and I have both skimmed through some of the Chinese scans I was able to find and track down a few people on tumblr who are reading the Japanese raws and translating bits and pieces and summarizing others. So I am going to talk about where the scans are up to and where the story seems to be going after that since after looking around it's become clear that the "major" arc the scans are on wasn't the "main" arc of the story but rather the first major one and I can see what the second major arc is now (and that knowledge also lets me guess at how the rest of the story beyond that arc will play out as well).

I feel a bit odd writing such a long summary and honestly that does cover at least one, maybe almost two, volumes of the manga but given how the story it setting itself up (it's going to take probably years in-verse, doesn't have a "first episode twist/reveal", etc) I feel like it's just one of the stories which needs a lot of background before you can discuss it. I'm also torn about how I feel about the pacing, on the one hand when I was reading the series I had no problems with the length or progression of each arc (and while each arc is longer than the previous one so far no arc has been so long this has become a problem), I always end up worrying that a long series or even just a series with long build-up will scare off potential fans*. It's not quite epic in scale, yet at least, but as I mentioned above if Yona collecting the four dragons was supposed to be The Major Arc of the story then this would be a little different. Instead the story is becoming a classic "let the king-to-be see the people he will rule from the vantage point of one of them" with Yona realizing that there were some terrible things going on under her father's rule and trying to figure out why. Was her father unknowing, unable to fix them, or did he know but not care as the peasants seem to think? It's certainly nurtured the seeds of doubt that Soo Won planted when he told Yona that her father had been keeping many secrets from her and now it seems like the country is in a much more delicate position than she ever could have guessed.

Speaking of major arcs, as of the current manga in Japan Yona has managed to find all four of the dragons and form a band of badassery with them and when I was glancing through tvtropes I realized something about the story, we the readers know more about that legend than Yona does. It's both subtle and not, as of the scans each of the dragons has chosen to follow Yona partially because they have their dragon ancestor yelling inside their head that the time has come to follow their king, very unsubtle, but Yona doesn't know that. She thinks they've all chosen to follow her since she's won them over, which she certainly has done as well, but that combined with a note on tvtropes (more or less, Yona like the dragons' descendants also has an improbably strange hair color, red like the Red Dragon King) makes me wonder how much more there is to that legend and the idea that Yona might actually be fulfilling a prophecy of sorts, not simply taking advantage of it for her own needs like she believes, certainly gives the story a different, more epic, feel to it. I'd be frustrated if this gave her an 11th hour superpower, especially given the circumstances she's already been through, but I doubt the story will do that.

To talk about Yona herself, I rather like her as a character. While it does take more than a single chapter for her to process her father's death and choose what her path will be, I believe it was closer to a volume's worth of chapters, it felt like a very natural progression and she has ended up being a complete badass and a determinator as a result and I always love to see characters grow into those roles. Actually, some of the scenes make me wonder if  Mizuho Kusanagi ever wants to write a horror manga since the way some scenes are drawn, when Yona is at her most intense and prepared to kill someone, there's this "pause" like the pause right before a scare that I feel like makes them extra effective. I was also rather pleased that despite the fact Yona has a good sized reverse harem going on (six people currently, seven if you count Soo Won) there's not much romance in the series. Of course, with Soo Won committing familicide the story established that Yona and Hak would one day be the OTP pretty firmly (first guy wins and all of that) but other than a couple of tsundere-esque advances on Hak's side the story has been relatively romance free which I like. Of course, I would like there to be, you know, more main female characters, not just ones who show up only for one arc but given how large the cast has already grown and all the juggling it takes to show everyone's viewpoints I'm not holding my breath here.

So yes, Akatsuki no Yona isn't quite the same as the epic shojo of the 80s and 90s but it's slowly growing into something similar, just with a 2000s flavor of styling. And when I say that I mean the artwork, pacing, types of characters and their interactions, and I'd argue that humor has been incorporated into more and more genres of manga in the past decade, a la Fullmetal Alchemist's very serious tone at points broken by a single panel or two of humor. You can find all these things in older manga of course but if this is what the next few years of epic shojo look like then I think we're in good shape and just hope that I can find more of it!

As for it's chances at being licensed, well, I'm not super hopeful. As noted earlier, it's already getting to be pretty long and since it's a long proven fact that each successive volume of manga in a series will sell less than the first (I wonder if that's the same for regular novels in the US as well) that's going to make publishers a bit shy. It's published in Hana to Yume which means that Viz could get it which I do think is it's best chance, they've published other manga from that magazine in their Shojo Beat line and that's really where it fits in the best. However, the manga-ka has already had two series published in the US (NG Life and Mugen Spiral, I've tried a bit of each and didn't care for either), by TokyoPop, and I have no idea how well those series did. Other publishers would know, they'd have access to places like BookScan which could tell them, and if they sold poorly then I think that would be the final nail in the coffin in getting a long, adventure-first-then-romance, shojo manga published over here. Finally, this is just me but I do wonder if the fact that Viz already has a longer, 10+ volume, shojo that features a red headed heroine (who hates her hair color) caught up in royal family politics with the word "Dawn" in the name would make them nervous about splitting the fanbase and diminishing sales for both series, although there's no way to ever ask them this**.

*which is silly given the size of the Game of Thrones and Doctor Who fandoms out there, plus if you're not willing to take some time to let the story set-up then clearly this is not a good story-fan match for you.
**the other series in question is Dawn of the Arcana which I tried out and did not like the relationships so I stopped. I'm told it gets better but I was so disgruntled by the time I finished the first chapter I didn't see any reason for ever picking it back up.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Introducing November Month of Manga

Long time followers of the blog probably remember that I usually have a really odd blogging schedule in November to make time for NaNoWriMo (since I calculated it out and an average month's worth of posts is somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 words on it's own, good lord). I'm not doing NaNo this year, just too much stress in the rest of my life (hence the reason no posts on Wednesday and Thursday after all, sorry guys I just could not make them happen) to sit down and think about a story, but I'm still switching over to the weird schedule so I can focus on something a little different, just manga. On Monday we'll have reviews of more e-manga titles and Friday will be manga I'm currently reading which yes, does mean scanlations (what should have been today's review will be up tomorrow so I don't have to write two posts in one night). 

It's  funny looking at past years and seeing what I'm still reading, some stories I've fallen so behind on the official releases that I've sworn off the scans until I catch back up buying the series first, a few have finished, some have gone on hiatus (some on the scanlators side of things and some on the creator in Japan's side of things), and I've lost interest in others when they seemed to lose their purpose and I just didn't like them anymore. In some ways it's quite sad, it'll be a long time before I can catch back up buying them (to put it in perspective, I haven't been able to buy more than five new volumes of manga in over a year since I'm trying to save money so badly), others I wish I knew why they vanished off the face of the internet, and some I just feel sad when I remember how much I used to enjoy them and what they turned into. But that's not going to stop me from trying new things and telling other people about them, I'd be completely unsuited to be a reviewer if I was!