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PRETTY FACE VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Yasuhiro Kano
Translated and Adapted by Anita Sengupta
Published by Viz Media

Rando is, to use a phrase, cock-of-the-walk. He’s a star in karate tournaments, and many around him hate him and are afraid of him. But he does have a soft side, as evidenced by his deeply held feelings for the cutest girl in his grade, Rina Kurimi. However, those feelings have an unintended consequence: Rando is in a bus accident, and burned beyond recognition, and since he’s carrying no identification, the only clue the plastic surgeon has to what he would look like… is the picture of Rina he was carrying. Therefore, when he wakes up one year later, his family thinks him to be dead and has moved away, and he looks like the twin sister of the girl he loved. Fortunately for him, her real twin sister had ran away, and his claims of amnesia leave him living in the Kurimi household, assuming the other girl’s identity. You’d think one lie would be bad enough, but then there’s the other complication: his junk. Under the skirt, he’s still a guy, making his life as a female impersonator just a bit more complicated.

PRETTY FACE certainly has a wicked premise at its core, and if offers up a multitude of storytelling possibilities. Rando himself is considered dead, and as the story progresses, he begins to learn just how beloved he was not in his old life, which proves to be quite humbling. At the same time, he begins to grow as a person with Rina, seeing how much having her sister back in her life means to her, and knowing that there are many reasons to keep up his charade. But there’s also plenty of comedy and titillation; after all, sisters have no problem changing in front of one another, right?

I was quite surprised by PRETTY FACE, as the serious stuff turned out to be much stronger story material than I had expected. It would have been easy to simply make the book about the funny, but Kano-san balances it out nicely. My only complaint is one that I’d call a questionable editing decision; the book is labeled “Mature Content”, and it comes shrink-wrapped. There’s female nudity a-plenty. But in the single panel when Rando wakes up and his unit is dangling out, the image is pixilated. In for a penny, in for a pound- half the population has a penis, there’s no harm in it. I’m a straight guy, and I was more offended by having it blurred out than I would have been by seeing it.

Still, I ultimately have no problem recommending PRETTY FACE. It’s a well-written, well-drawn manga, and you can never have enough of those in your life.

Marc Mason

SUZUKA VOL.3-4
Written and Drawn by Kouji Seo
Translated and Adapted by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

When last we left Yamato he had screwed up, big-time. He had cultivated a friendship with his neighbor and girl of his dreams, Suzuka, but managed to blow it by uttering those three magic words: “I love you.” Now she’s freezing him out, and he has the big idea to join the track team so she can see what a great guy he is. But the last thing Suzuka wants is the slacker mentality of Yamato messing up the team that means so much to her. But undeterred, he soldiers on, and discovers the secret of what she may hate about him most: Yamato is competing against a ghost.

SUZUKA is something of a difficult manga to parse through. Ostensibly, it works as two types of stories: a classic “boy seeks unobtainable girl” tale and also as a track and field tale. Where it struggles is in maintaining a balance between the two. Volume three works the frozen relationship between the two leads characters quite well. However, volume four is much stronger on the track end of things. The other thing that offers some difficulty is that Suzuka, as a character, is a complete pill. She’s so driven to succeed at track, and so heartbroken about a moment in her past, that she doesn’t really register the slightest bit of warmth on the page.

She isn’t as bad person; far from it. But as brutal as she treats Yamato, and for as long as it goes on, you have to stop feeling sorry for him. There’s at least one other girl who genuinely does like him, and yet he keeps banging his head against the wall named Suzuka. Yamato isn’t the first guy to remain infatuated with a girl who’s a total bitch to him, but he might just be the dumbest and most pathetic.

Perhaps what that means is that the book is done well enough that you remain engaged in the characters and their story, even when you want to smack the holy living crap out of them. Kouji Seo’s ability to spin a yarn is unquestioned, as is the quality of his art. Printed in the “mature readers” size format, the book looks absolutely terrific. But it runs the risk of losing the reader if someone in front doesn’t begin growing a heart or a spine. I’ve watched the anime and know it can be done. Hopefully, it happens soon.

Marc Mason

JUNK: RECORD OF THE LAST HERO VOL.3
Written and Drawn by Kia Asamiya
Translated and Adapted by Yoshihiro Watanabe
Published by DrMaster

When last we left Hiro, user of the Junk suit, he was awash in his power, letting his arrogance grow beyond human comprehension, and generally treating everyone in his path like something he scraped off the bottom of his shoe. Not to mention he was fucking his girlfriend’s mother. Rarely do we get a more loathsome lead in a series. But during a concert for his favorite pop star, things began taking a turn: a mad bomber has saturated the arena with explosives, and he may finally be motivated to act on behalf of others instead of himself. Maybe.

Asamiya uses volume three to begin the process of transforming his main character a bit. The book’s title does say it’s the “record of the last hero” after all, and since the other Junk suit owner isn’t the main character, I’m working off the assumption that there will be some sort of redemptive process involved. Mind you, it isn’t immediate; Hiro still takes the time to bend over Ryoko’s mother for a little fun, after all. But when Ryoko goes missing, he finally begins to show some caring about another human being and some interest in truly figuring out how the suit actually works.

The one thing every volume in the series has been consistent in has been Asamiya’s work. JUNK is easily one of the best looking mangas on the shelf, no question. I also admire the subtle way that the story does push Hiro to begin thinking about himself and the power at his disposal. I almost think that the series would be more interesting in the long run if Hiro remained a complete ass, but as long as the transformation is slow and earned, I think it’ll be interesting to watch.

Marc Mason

GACHA GACHA: THE NEXT REVOLUTION VOL.1-3
Written and Drawn by Hiroyuki Tamakoshi
Translated and Adapted by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

After the first five-volume storyline in GACHA GACHA concluded, Del Rey made the decision to change formats and titles for the following volumes, as they featured an all-new story and cast. This proves to be a good idea, as beyond an incident with the Gacha Gacha game in the beginning here, this could be titled just about anything else. Of course, the real question is: is it any good? And that’s a bit more complex than you might expect.

The first series followed the adventures of a young boy who was given the task of looking out for his dream girl after the game gave her multiple personalities that had a habit of popping out and causing a lot of trouble. But this series takes a wildly divergent path. A typical Japanese teenaged boy named Akira Hatsushiba plays the game but becomes victimized by it in his own way: whenever he sneezes, he turns into a cute teenaged girl resembling one from the game. How it gets complicated: Akira is crazy about Yurika, but afraid to approach her. But, as a girl, Yurika takes an immediate liking to the new femme in town, and draws the female Akira into her social and family circle.

What this does is give the series two sets of ideas to explore. On the one hand, Akira, as a girl, gets to live his dreams, spending time with the love of his life, watching her change clothes and bathe, the whole gamut, an REVOLUTION delivers a metric ton of fanservice. The book earns its “mature content” label. But on the flip side, it allows Tamakoshi to delve into the world of transgender teens. And it also plays out as something of a fetishistic portrayal of a boy feeling sexual confusion. This is especially prevalent as the story progresses and the boy Akira finally begins entering Yurika’s life himself, and discovers that he’s possibly become his own romantic drain plug- she thinks that her female friend and Akira are an item.

What frustrates about REVOLUTION is that, with just a minor shift in tone, it could really become something quite fascinating. Akira, without it being said, obviously prefers his existence as a girl, though he’s still swooning over Yurika no matter what genitals he wears. But instead of digging in and examining his situation seriously, too often, the author backs off and goes for a hefty helping of T&A to placate his audience. That’s a shame. The potential in this book seems almost limitless, but as of yet, remains mostly untapped.

Marc Mason

PURI PURI VOL.2
Written and Drawn by Chiaki Taro
Translated by Daniel Sullivan and Asako Otomo
Published by DrMaster

When last we met Kamioda, he was on the road to fulfilling his life’s dream of becoming a priest, but that road was more than a bit bumpy. He had been assigned to a (now formerly) all-girls divinity school, and the girls had not taken lightly his intrusion into their lives. Indeed, many were so outraged that they have vowed to sabotage the poor young man so that he’s expelled. Also complicating matters: the presence of Ayano, the one girl who is nice to him and who seems to be interested in him. Torn between his desire to be strong and his natural teenaged hormonal progression, things were only going to get bumpier.

And they do. This second volume of one of the more… odd… fanservice books on the stands presents an all-new set of challenges. First, Kamioda must actually convince the faculty that he truly wants to become a priest, which is a bit of a problem- he now only has two years to complete a three-year curriculum. That means joining clubs and getting their approval of his progress, leading him to not only join the rock and roll choir on campus, but joining in an exorcism that lays bare his weaknesses and desires for others to see, shaking his faith completely.

What makes the book odd is that, unlike most fanservice books, Kamioda really is trying to be good and maintain a sense of piety. He isn’t a lustful boy at all, merely one coming to grips with the destiny he’s chosen and the roadblocks in front of him. The T&A elements seem a bit more low-key because of it, giving the story at least a bit of room to stay on the character’s arc and move it forward.

PURI PURI isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it is consistent and pleasant reading. And unlike mangas that play up the forbidden romance angle, you can’t be quite sure which way the series will ultimately go in the end, and I like that.

Marc Mason

GURU GURU PON-CHAN VOL.5-9
Written and Drawn by Satomi Ikezawa
Translated by Doug Varenas
Adapted by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Published by Del Rey

I’ve had a very… complicated… relationship with this manga from the very start. It’s meant to be a cute little piece of shojo fluff, of course; thanks to the magical Guru Guru Bone, Ponta the dog is able to assume human form as a cute girl, whereupon she falls in love with a human boy named Mirai. Hilarity, misadventure, and something beginning romance follows. But the element of whether or not the budding pairing between the two constitutes bestiality has always gnawed at me and given me the icks. And the discomfort only rises in the final five volumes of the series.

Why? First and foremost, the series (and Mirai) has to deal with Ponta going into heat. And not only is she in heat as a dog… she’s in heat as a human girl, too. That puts Mirai on the spot, of course, because Ponta the girl doesn’t understand the concept of sexuality, let alone that she’s putting out pheromones that are attracting the boys of the neighborhood, as well as the dogs. Plus, Mirai is kinda horny and wouldn’t mind seeing some action, but he’s still conflicted about the whole bestiality issue himself. Oi. Plus, a later story deals with Ponta stuck in dog form and having to deal with a bigger male dog who doesn’t want to take “no” for an answer when it comes to his needs and wants, putting the concept of rape into the book, even though for dogs, it’s perfectly natural behavior.

Honestly, if Satomi-chan wasn’t insistent on this being a shojo book, I think she could have taken a deeper look into some of these issues and come up with some real, serious answers. But instead, she ultimately scratches the surface, leaves Mirai to wipe his brow at each narrow escape from a conflict, and moves on. It’s frustrating. And even then, she almost saves it in the end- the ending heads for a tragic placed that feels decidedly earned- painful, sad, but earned. Yet she chicken-shits her way out of it, doing a 180 that feels forced and inappropriate to get to a happy ending. Gah!

Ikezawa is a wonderful manga-ka, having produced the superior OTHELLO, and she produces high quality art here. But GURU GUR PON-CHAN never quite works on a story level, because she cheats herself out of fully dealing with her premise in a serious manner. I remain an admirer of her skill, but will be glad to see what she has coming next, now that this is in the rearview mirror.

Marc Mason


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