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Written and Drawn by Fuyumi Soryo
Translated and Adapted by Ikoi Hiroe
Published by Del Rey

Dr. Mine Kujyou’s life has taken turns she could have never foreseen, thanks to her knowledge of a vicious scientific experiment. That experiment involved using a cloning process to create genetically engineered metahumans. One of those metahumans, Shuro, has entered her life and begun working alongside her in her lab, and is trying to learn exactly what he is and what his true nature really means. But his clone, Isaac, is quite a bit different; he’s physically aged to only to the age of ten or eleven, but he has no qualms about using his powers to control and influence minds for evil ends. Unfortunately, that’s leaving a trail of bloody and broken human bodies across Japan. That leaves Mine and Shuro only one choice: find a way to bring him down. And the only way it looks possible to do it is by exploiting his relationship with a female classmate, a little girl who is being horribly abused by her own unloving mother.

Wow, does this book kick into high gear over these three volumes. The first two were good, but a little on the slow side as they set things up. But these three stand on the gas and go; Mine and Isaac’s confrontations get more terrifying, Isaac’s unconscionable use of his powers grows, including his use of one of Mine’s friends to get at her, and Shuro begins to really come into his own as a character you can get interested in. But the real power of the story is vested in Mine’s interest in the little girl, Yuri. At first, she’s only interested in using her to get to Isaac, but as she gets to know the little girl, she becomes truly caring towards her and determines to get to the heart of her mother’s abuse. And what she finds is far more horrifying than anything involving Isaac or Shuro, proving once again that it’s regular ol’ humans who are the greatest monsters.

ES also features one of the best adaptations I’ve read in quite some time. Hiroe does an outstanding job of keeping the script tight and the characters’ voices unique. Sometimes the folks who adapt manga struggle with that, particularly with how difficult idiomatic Japanese is to translate and get across to English speakers. But Hiroe has the secret figured out for this book: less is more. It has a very cinematic quality.

This one has jumped to top-of-the-pile read status.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Kotaro Mori
Translated by Misato Sakamoto
Published by DrMaster

Linfa’s grief turns her to the dark side, unleashing the deadly Ishtar upon the spirit world. Taking Pam’s spirit animal, Zu, she transforms him into an apocalyptic beast of destruction. With the odds stacked against her and her devil friends, can Pam remain the sweet little devil she is, discover the truth about her nature and her fall from earth into the spirit world, and find out why Linfa bore such a direct resemblance to her Earth best friend Rinka?

This is the final volume of DEVIL, and all I can say about it is “What the hell just happened?” I loved the first four volumes of this series; they were charming, and Pam’s story was compelling. She had been thrust into a world where she was expected to be a bit of a bad guy, but her sweet disposition and relentlessly positive attitude were a breath of fresh air. Her dealings with going to school also showed a nice parallel to her mortal existence, giving the subtle message that even those who might seem different are going through the same things as everybody else, and that even those who are wildly different can put aside those differences and become friends. That’s the sort of message that I want a book I can give to a teen girl to have.

So what does the conclusion bring? A two hundred-page fight scene. It’s one long battle from start to finish, with only a few pages taking the time to stop and move characters along in their arcs and to explain Pam’s true nature. It feels rushed, and it feels antithetical to the rest of the series. I was very disappointed. She’s given a grand destiny, but if she needed one, I’m not sure this was how it had to be played out.

This doesn’t take away from just how much fun the first four volumes in the series are. I’d recommend their purchase on any day of the week. But you may want to consider whether or not taking the series to its conclusion is the right thing for you. Caveat emptor on volume five.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Mizuki Kawashita
Translated and Adapted by Yuko Sawada
Published by Viz Media

Junpei Manaka is beneficiary of his own mistakes, and for most of us, that would be a good thing. One afternoon, on the school roof, he caught sight of his dream girl and her strawberry print panties. Driven to meet the object of his fantasy, he believes it can only be the prettiest girl in school, Tsukasa, so he asks her out… and she accepts! Now he’s the object of jealousy of all the boys in his class. But before he can settle in and be satisfied because he’s got an amazing girlfriend, his friendship with Aya, a quiet and talented girl in the class, develops, and he discovers that he not only has feelings for her, but that she might also be the owner of those strawberry panties.

Volume two of STRAWBERRY was actually somewhat surprising in a couple of ways. It does feature some standard tropes of this sort of manga (the inexperienced boy home alone with the dream girl bit being the main one), but it also moves the plot along quite quickly. Many series would try and drag out Junpei’s dawning realization about how he feels about Aya for at least two more volumes. But what really shocks is Tsukasa’s role in the mix; unlike many manga heroines in this genre, she’s whip-smart- she determines right away that Junpei’s heart has divided its attention, and she’s up front about it. And even better, she doesn’t fold, cry, or whine. Instead, she moves her and Junpei’s relationship forward because she genuinely seems to like spending time with him. He was the first boy to ever be brave to her, and it means something.

Kawashita’s art has a very nice, simple look to it, and she keeps her cast of characters small and tight, allowing her to focus her energies on developing the story. This is a step up from volume one, boding well for the future of the series.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Kia Asamiya
Translated by Yoshihiro Watanabe and Toshikazu Hosaka
Published by DrMaster

When last we left Hiro, he had used the Junk suit to track down his kidnapped friend Ryoko, and had saved her from sexual assault. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make his life any better or even make him more heroic. Ryoko is scarred and traumatized, perhaps beyond recovery. Hiro discovers that the suit has a failsafe that prevents him from killing people, and the assailant lives. And a news tabloid exposes Hiro’s affair with Ryoko’s mother, complete with pictures. So when he misuses his powers to take revenge on the publisher, it looks like the cops finally have him right where they want him. That is, until another black Junk suit arrives on the scene… and this one has figured out how to use it to kill. Gruesomely.

I’ve had a lot of respect for this series so far, if not really a genuine like or enjoyment of it. I like that Hiro is a shitbag who doesn’t really seem to learn or become a better person when granted power. That makes him far more interesting than most characters we read about in comics. There’s also the incredible Asamiya artwork to ooh and ahh over. We’re talking about the work of a legend here. But the storylines themselves haven’t been all that compelling through the first three volumes; however, that changes here. Not only does the exposure of Hiro’s affair liven up the proceedings, but we also get the third Junk suit wearer, and he seems so completely batshitinsane that it may work as a catalyst to get Hiro to move fully to the side of the angels; time will tell.

Plenty of time to jump in and catch up on this one, if you like. Certainly worth your time to do so.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Takuya Fujima
Published by Del Rey

Cyan is a happy little cat, content in his life with the young boy he calls master. But when the kid takes ill, mom finds herself unable to deal with having a pet in the house. Abandoned, Cyan discovers a gang of stray cats living in the basement of the building he calls home. They call themselves the Free Collars, and they’re dedicated to breaking away from human influence and living as the animals they were meant to be. The Free Collars also spend their time battling a rival gang of cats who want the Collars’ home; it’s supposed to be the location where the legendary Wild Cat lived, and his collar (which grants ultimate power) is rumored to be somewhere on the premises. Can Cyan put aside his love of humanity long enough to protect his friends? Or will his quest to remain a pet doom his friends to failure and death?

FREE COLLARS KINGDOM is… weird. Really, really weird. Some of it works, mind you; when alone, the cats appear as anthropomorphized characters with distinct looks, which moves the stories along well. The individual cats have intriguing personalities, and their conflicts make sense and have real depth to them. And certainly Fujima is a capable artist with a lovely sense of style.

But, ohhhh boy… some of this stuff is absolutely nuts. One sequence features a cat captured by the enemy and driven off in a cat-sized car. And if that isn’t crazy enough, the good cats figure out how to manipulate a human car to chase them! When they fight one another, they announce their battle moves like in a video game. Huh? There’s also apparently an equivalent of manga for cats, as one sequence deals with the rival gangs appearing at a signing by their favorite art.

Obviously some of the things that happen are meant to be metaphorical; one of the good cats wants to be a rock star, and we know that cats do sing to one another, so it’s easy to swallow that bit. But some of the other stuff stretches it way too far and fails to switch on your suspension of disbelief. I’m not asking for realism, but a sense of internal consistency, however, is a must.

These three volumes comprise the entire series.

Marc Mason

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