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Written and Drawn by Kaishaku
Translated by Gretchen Kern
Published by DrMaster

When last we left ALICE, the “Alice Royale” battle was moving towards its late stages, and the contestants had been whittled down to only a few. To the winner, the ultimate prize: the chance to read the “Never Ending Alice”, Carroll’s untold tales that exist only in the realm of imagination. But for those who hold Alice in their hearts and have great power because of it, the path is only going to become more difficult.

This final volume of RONDO may be the single most dichotomous bit of manga I’ve ever read. It was very much like watching a baseball game where the starting pitcher goes out and gives up eight runs in the first inning, but then the bullpen comes in and not only prevents the game from getting further out of hand, but also gives the offense time to score at least nine runs. The first half of this book is as close to god awful as anything in recent memory, including the recently reviewed BRAWL. The “Alice Royale” is a mess, nearly incomprehensible to read and follow. I’ve read the first three volumes, and even so, I couldn’t pick apart what was happening. I was very close to putting the book down and quitting on it.

But much to my surprise, once that section is over, the book actually becomes not only understandable again, but it ties every thread together in a nice, tidy bow. Bits from the earlier volumes suddenly make sense. Character explanations (with one major cheat of an exception that is no way even remotely earned) are clear and cogent. And the ending works and feels satisfactory. I would have never seen this coming.

I’d recommend reading all four volumes at once to get the maximum out of the experience, otherwise the issues late in volume three and at the beginning of this one will be too frustrating. In all, a pretty decent effort.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Masanori/Ookamigumi/Katakura
Translated and Adapted by Lance Caselman and Joe Yamazaki
Published by Viz Media

Kurohime is a witch, and a pretty powerful one. She’s also tall, stacked, and beautiful… and she knows it. In fact, she’s such a completely arrogant ass about it all that she’s also now on the receiving end of a very delicious curse from the gods: she’s been transformed into a little girl named Himeko. The only way she can return to normal and access her full powers is by falling in love or showing affection for another human being. Enter the legendary gunman Zero, who had been saved by Kurohime as a child. He’s willing to protect the young girl, as well as her true self, and occasionally, Kurohime sort of likes hi. Unfortunately for her, the feeling never lasts long… and she can’t quite seem to grasp that she needs to stop being a complete bitch when it comes to how she treats men.

KUROHIME is a very entertaining manga for a number of reasons. One, the cast is tightly put together, making the book easy to follow. Two, the plotting moves along at a very brisk pace. Three, the action and humor are well balanced. But the biggest reason is that it’s fun.

You remember fun, don’t you? Used to be something you’d find in comics on a consistent basis.

It also doesn’t bury itself in fanservice, even with a warrior heroine as the title character. It’s as if someone finally figured out that if your character is a pre-pubescent girl 75% of the time, it would be slightly wrong to over-sexualize her in her adult form. That sort of smarts alone would almost be enough to make me recommend the book.

This one earns a spot on the “continue to read” pile, definitely.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Tomoko Ninomiya
Translated and Adapted by David and Eriko Walsh
Published by Del Rey

Both Nodame and Shinichi are reaching critical moments in their lives and careers. Noda has become fanatically devoted to practicing her piano play, in the hopes of winning a competition for the first time, while Shinichi’s hand-built Rising Star Orchestra is about to give its first performance. And beyond that, each must decide where their futures lie; in Japan, never taking that step towards risking everything for greatness, or in Europe, where the world’s greatest musicians thrive and develop their talents. If only Shinichi wasn’t terrified to fly…

Last year I named NODAME my essential manga, and nothing here would change my opinion on that. Though I cannot read or play a lick of music, this remains my favorite book on the manga shelf. Why? Because Ninomiya simply gets better exactly where it counts: the characters.

The earlier volumes of NODAME made more expansive use of the supporting cast, and both Shinichi and Nodame occasionally came across as underwritten. But with each progressive volume, she has tightened up the cast, and fleshed out her two leads more. And with volume ten, she takes a huge step forward by taking them out of Japan completely. That brings in new side characters, but she smartly doesn’t over-extend their face time. Each one serves an exact purpose and serves it well, and having Noda and Shinichi out of their element broadens the story possibilities enormously.

Great characters, great art, great fun… and even if one of these would be your first volume of the series, you’d have no problem understanding the characters and story. It remains highly recommended.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Towa Oshima
Translated by Michiko Nakayama
Published by DrMaster

I suppose it’s a bit weird to be taking a look at these volumes now. After all, I started with HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS by reviewing volumes 1 and 7, and later wrote up volume 8. However, thanks to the terrific Yuki Chung at DrMaster, I’ve been able to catch up on what I missed, and I wanted to note a few things about the series’ midsection.

First, I’ve made no secret of my respect and enjoyment of this manga. It’d be easy to take it at face value and rate it on the level of fanservice that Oshima provides, but there’s a bit more to the series than that. Based somewhat on her own experiences as a teen, Oshima’s story has proven to be more about the nature of the friendships between her cast, and a pointed zinger at the way disinformation about sexuality, hygiene, and boys fills the head of teens because no one is truly educating them on what they need to know. It’s couched in broad comedy, but it’s never unrecognizable- my female friends in high school were awfully similar to these girls, and more than one scene here has brought about a snicker of remembrance to an incident here and there.

What does become more apparent in these volumes is that Oshima hasn’t totally figured out how to make the center of her series the most compelling piece of it. Eriko is loudly proclaimed to be the main character of the book, but she’s one of the least interesting bits of it. It’s Kouda, the flamboyant free spirit, who holds the reader’s attention more than anyone else. Her personality is fuller on the page, and Eriko’s fades too much when it should be springing to life in the middle of a scene.

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS is also one of the best translations to anime out there. GIRLS HIGH is brilliantly dead on in capturing the look, spirit, and zaniness of the manga, and I recommend it as highly as I do the manga. Both represent some of the funniest works of their kind on the shelves.

Marc Mason

Story by Tou Ubukata and Manga by Kiriko Yumeji
Translated and Adapted by Ikoi Hiroe
Published by Del Rey

Paris, France, the 1750s. A series of brutal murders are taking place around the city, obviously the work of a diseased mind. Young virgin girls are being slain, their blood used to fuel occult rituals that create demonic poems or “psalms.” The police are stressed and stretched to their limit, the matter complicated by the presence of more than murderer… and the arrival of a young female warrior, the Chevalier Sphinx, on the scene who is determined to kill the evildoers. But what role does D’Eon De Beaumont, the force’s biggest screw-up play in it all? Well, for starters, he isn’t as incompetent as he appears… and the Sphinx happens to be his deceased younger sister who possesses his body to do her vengeful work.

CHEVALIER is a nicely balanced police procedural/family drama/action thriller, with a lot of things going for it. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is zippy, and as gruesome as some of it is, it also has a nicely wicked sense of humor. It also uses a real life person in an interesting way. The real Beaumont was a member of the French secret police, but he was also a transvestite, which makes Ubukata’s concept of using female possession both clever and witty. He was also a great swordsman, and the Sphinx uses that talent to great advantage in this story as well.

Yumeji must be given special note for her art, as the level of detail in these pages is quite remarkable. There’s a very strong effort to give the story a real foothold in its place and time, and it succeeds admirably. Highly recommended for the mature and intelligent manga reader.

Marc Mason

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