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Manga!


PRETTY MANIACS VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Shinsuke Kurihashi
Translated by Eimi Stokes
Published by DrMaster Books

PRETTY MANIACS is a sequel series to MANIAC ROAD, though the focus shifts a bit. The new series puts the spotlight on Shinano, a young woman who goes to join the manga club at her school… only to have the sole member quit at that point and leave her in charge of trying to save the club from oblivion. But dedicated to the art form, Shinano refuses to give up, and her persistent efforts begin to pay off when she meets a young artist who is tired of painting and sculpting and would rather create something more in the pop vein. Along with another classmate who has nothing but contempt for Shinano because of her taste in mangas, the three girls must navigate their school, and otaku culture, in order to put together something that will thrive long term.

Shinsuke’s art has a light and pleasant look to it, and he eschews fan service elements, even though his book is about young girls. Because of that, the book is much more suitable for the younger audience, not to mention both genders. The characters are well defined and fun, and the story breezes along at a quick pace and keeps you involved. There’s nothing about PRETTY MANIACS that makes you jump up and down, mind you, but the book is just solid and very readable.

Marc Mason

LUNAR LEGEND TSUKIHIME
Written and Drawn by Sasakishonen
Translated by Michiko Nakayama
Published by DrMaster Books

LUNAR LEGEND is a surprisingly complex manga that turns out to be a much different story than you believe it to be at the start. The book opens by introducing us to Shiki, who has been hospitalized by an accident. When he awakens, he can see the natural cracks in both people and things, the cracks that will eventually leads to their demise or destruction. And it turns out that if he uses any sort of cutting tool, he can exploit those cracks and destroy/kill in an almost mystical manner. But when a series of murders begins taking place in his town that are attributed to a “vampire”, Shiki has to begin to wonder what’s really going on in his life… especially when a voice in his head forces him to slice apart a young woman he passes walking in the park. Horrifying, you’d think, but it gets weirder… especially when the young woman shows up looking for him a couple of days later restored to one piece.

Dark, violent, and disturbing, LUNAR LEGEND is an engrossing piece of entertainment, and one that doesn’t take the easy route towards its plotted goals. Shiki is a compelling lead character, and his confusion about what’s happening to him feels real and earned as a reader. The art does a fine job of presenting action and character alike, and the shots of how Shiki can truly see the world are creepy. This is a very good book, and one I recommend.

Marc Mason

KAGETORA VOL.1-2
Written and Drawn by Akira Segami
Translated by Akira Tsubasa
Adapted by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Published by Del Rey

Kagetora is a young ninja with a bright future. Leaving his hidden village, he heads to Tokyo to take on the most glorious assignment his clan can offer: working for the Toudou family. However, much to Kategora’s surprise, he is not meant to be the bodyguard to the family’s leader. Instead, he has been called to provide training for the family’s daughter Yuki, who will lead them in the future. However, there are two complications to this assignment; one, Yuki is an un-athletic klutz who is lucky to put her shoes on without breaking her neck, and two, she’s adorably cute, and Kategora finds himself falling in love with his new master, a huge no-no.

Forbidden and/or unexpressed love is a common theme in manga, and Segami-san certainly hits a number of familiar beats. There’s the over-protective female best friend bent on getting Kategora out of the picture, the “caught naked” scene, the untimely arrival of a childhood girlfriend who still has the hots for Kategora, the continued risk of exposure as others figure out Kategora is losing his heart to the girl… even by adding the ninja element, KATEGORA gets dangerously close to paint-by-numbers. But then something unexpected happens.

You find yourself getting sucked in to the story and charmed by it despite yourself. I struggled to figure out why, and then I realized that there is something a little different going on here. Most manga that deals with forbidden or unexpressed relationships is generally one-sided. The other person is clueless and doesn’t really care about the feelings of the main character. But in KATEGORA, you gradually begin to get the sense that Yuki had begun to feel something for the young ninja, something real, and that causes the book to raise up a level to something more hopeful. Recommended.

Marc Mason

SUGAR SUGAR RUNE VOL.2-3
Written and Drawn by Moyoco Anno
Translated by Yayoi Ihne
Adapted by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Published by Del Rey

When last we left young witches Chocolat and Vanilla, their contest to become Queen of the Magical World had gotten underway in earnest. Their job was simple: go to the real world, make boys fall for them, and collect their hearts. The girl who collected the most would be the future ruler. Chocolat, brash and popular in the Magical World, was faring poorly, discovering that Vanilla’s shyness played strongly with human lads. Plus, Chocolat had run into the devastating Pierre, who could not only resist her, but might just be from the Magical World himself, and a danger to her life.

What seemed like a very simple story in volume one really finds some expansion in these two efforts. No longer is the book simply concerned with the interpersonal relations the girls develop with Earth boys; instead, the plot thickens as Chocolat discovers more about the true nature of Pierre and the history of the Magical World, and a rift begins to develop between the two young friends that had been competing on a friendly basis up to this point.

The shift in focus is a welcome one. My biggest issue with volume one was the general message it was sending to young female readers: you win by making boys like you. Talk about a self-esteem destroying statement! The book is extremely cute and appealing, so having that sitting in the background was kind of harsh. In volume three, it becomes a bit more apparent that Anno-chan has a bit more in mind for her thematic movements as the series progresses. Now the book seems to be more about friendship and emotional repair, and that’s something I can get behind. I hope that the series continues to develop in this direction.

Marc Mason

SCHOOL RUMBLE
Written and Drawn by Kobayashi Jin
Translated and Adapted by William Flanagan
Published by Del Rey Manga

SCHOOL RUMBLE takes a classic manga theme, the unrequited school crush, and adds some new, amusing elements. Tenma is head over heels for Karasuma, but petrified to tell him. However, when he announces that he’s transferring schools in two days, she realizes she has to act. That action takes the form of a lengthy scroll proclaiming her feelings for him. Which, on the surface, sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately, she left one tiny detail out of her massive missive: her name. But the mystery is enough to convince the boy to stick around and finish the school year before he leaves, giving Tenma some time to work up her courage and speak her heart. Of course, nothing will be easy or simple for the poor girl.

It’s here that we see Kobayashi-san brings his story up a notch. What Tenma and Karasuma don’t know is that they’re involved in a triangle. Harama Kenji is the school’s most notorious delinquent, having been suspended for fighting so many times that he’s not even supposed to show up for the first day of class. But Kenji has decided to turn a corner in his life; he wants to explore his heart. And his heart is set on the one girl who was actually kind to him many years ago: Tenma. Sadly, though, Kenji’s ability to express himself and his feelings is even worse than Tenma’s, creating a comedy of errors between three people who barely acknowledge each others’ existence, no matter how desperately they wish they could.

This is a cute book, easy on the eyes, and full of characters that bring a smile to your face. The title is really rather ironic; there’s not really any fighting going on, except for Tenma and Kenji’s battle against their own emotional ineptitude. And Kobayashi doesn’t always take the expected path with the characters, especially Kenji. His journey is surprisingly rich through these first two volumes, making him one of the more intriguing characters appearing right now.

Marc Mason

 

Clerks II - July 21, 2006

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