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Written and Drawn by Hitori Nakano and Machiko Ocha
Translated and Adapted by Makoto Yukon
Published by Del Rey

How much of a phenomenon is TRAIN MAN in Japan? This based-on-a-true-story manga is actually only one of three different versions that will be published in the U.S. It’s been made into a movie that was one of the top ten grossing films the year it came out. It inspired a TV show that was even more popular than that. In short: the story of a fanboy who found love thanks to his online friends has been nothing short of a cash fountain for any number of people in any number of formats.

For those who don’t know the story, it is a very basic and sweet one. A young man named Ikumi who has been consumed by his love of comics and anime his entire life is suddenly thrust into a different world after he stops a drunken man from harassing a young woman on the train. But having no social skills of his own, he turns to the collective voices of an online community where he participates for advice on how to dress, talk, and comport himself in the company of the young woman after she contacts him to thank him for his heroics.

Thus, the story of TRAIN MAN is something of a post-modern take on PYGMALION. The role of Henry Higgins, however, is not filled by a smooth-talking British fellow, but by the collective voices of an internet community. But conflict awaits in every direction; Ikumi struggles with the idea that a woman could ever show genuine interest in him, especially after she finds out about his hobbies; alternately, some of the posters on the board are there solely for the original purpose it was created: to wallow in being single and alone, and they don’t take kindly to one of their own suddenly turning his back on that tenet. Plus, the young woman, Mai, has a boyfriend, and seems to see Ikumi solely as a friend.

TRAIN MAN is really quite the charming effort, and considering that it is complete in one volume, it is a rarity among manga. Ocha’s adaptation of Nakano’s novel plays up the sweetest elements of the tale, creating a sort of light-hearted “beach read” book that can be enjoyed by the serious or casual reader. This could be a perfect entry-level book for those who have yet to take the leap and join the manga revolution.

Marc Mason

BASILISK vol.1-2
Written and Drawn by Futaro Yamada and Masaki Segawa
Translated and Adapted by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

Also adapting a novel is BASILISK, though it couldn’t be much more different than TRAIN MAN. Yamada’s THE KOUGA NINJA SCROLLS gets the manga treatment here, and the result is a lively, energetic series that delivers one amazing action beat after another.

The plot is essentially “Romeo and Juliet with ninjas”; two warring clans that have been held under a peace treaty for hundreds of years prepare for a wedding that will see the son of one clan marry the daughter of the other. But a clandestine deal for future power arises behind the scenes, and the truce is severed. Each clan leader therefore lists ten ninja from their ranks who will be the participants in the coming battle… and it includes the lovers. Blood, sweat, tears, and suffering shall surely follow.

That plot alone wouldn’t do much to carry your interest; after all, it’s been done before. What makes BASILISK so much fun are the ninja involved; each has an amazing power or technique that makes them completely, insanely deadly. One has the body of a serpent and hides a sword in his gullet. Another can touch a man and drain the blood from his body. Another can meld his body into structures. The wild variety of abilities allows for great creativity in how the battles are fought, making this book much more interesting than you might expect on first glance. This isn’t just your traditional sword fight book.

As this is a “mature readers” title, Del Rey has printed it at a larger size to differentiate it from the rest of their line, and I like the decision. The paper size gives the action more room to breathe on the page, and the book looks fantastic for it. Overall, this is an outstanding manga, and definitely worth your time to pick up.

Marc Mason

IRON WOK JAN! VOL.12, 19-21
Written and Drawn by Shinji Saijyo
Translated and Adapted by Various
Published by DrMaster Books

As you might guess from the title, IRON WOK JAN! is the manga equivalent of the television show IRON CHEF. Jan Akiyama is a young, arrogant, but talented chef, high on his own talent and cleverness, and willing to battle another chef at the drop of a tablecloth. But as the series progresses, the challenges and battles only get tougher, and the chefs he must face only get better. But aided and abetted by a strong supporting cast, he stands ready to enter the kitchen arena and prove his version of Chinese cuisine to be Japan’s finest.

Volume 12 focuses on Jan’s match-ups with a young prodigy who wants nothing more than to prove his brilliance in all of life’s arenas. What makes this volume a good read is that it does a solid job of introducing each of the characters and explaining who they are and what they do, even though there is a listing at the beginning of the book. Were it lacking, you’d still be able to jump into the IRON series with ease. Plus, it delivers enough story that you feel like you got a lot of value for your dollar. Also, since his opponent Suguru gets so much focus here, his appearance in book 19 has a bit more resonance and investment to it.

19-21 focus in on a large Chinese-style cooking tournament that includes Suguru, Jan, and Jan’s two co-workers Kiriko and Celine. There are also more characters thrown into the mix, the best being a corrupt (and freaky-weird) tasting judge named Otani who describes himself as having the “tongue of God” (which is a line I may attempt to use later this weekend- but I digress). Otani wants nothing more than to prevent any of the eight chefs left in the tourney from being able to make even one respectable dish, which does raise the question of why he would do so considering his love of food, but it’s played so broadly that you just ignore it and accept the quirk for its entertainment value.

The battles have good character moments, but the star of the book inevitably becomes the food that gets made on the page. Saijyo is either a culinary master or a master of baffling the audience, but either way, the dishes themselves are completely engrossing. The only real negative to IRON WOK JAN! is the artwork, sadly; Saijyo’s odd take on faces and expressions, combined with a penchant to draw women who couldn’t stand up alone and unaided because of their chest size, takes away from what is a genuinely intriguing and well-paced story on the page. But that doesn’t prevent this series from being quality, riveting reading; merely from being truly great.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Oh!Great
Translated and Adapted by Makoto Yukon
Published by Del Rey Manga

Itsuki is the toughest kid in his junior high, and the leader of the most benign “gang” in town. But when another gang that’s far more dangerous and deadly moves in and brutalizes him and his friends, he has to find the next level in fighting and protecting himself. Little does he realize, though, that the Noyamano sisters, his guardians and roommates, are the key to getting back on his feet and becoming the most skilled fighter in town. Their secret? They are actually a gang in and of themselves, one of the crews of “stormriders” that fly on and over the rooftops in “Air Trecks”, a mechanized type of skate/rollerblade that allows for leaps from great heights and speeds far faster than any other type of footwear would allow.

AIRGEAR is sort of a strange mix of genres when you parse it out: Itsuki living with the sisters and the sexual tension involved comes from the romance/humor realm and reminds the reader of books like LOVE HINA (in nice twist from the manga norm, though, he’s never less than a total pervert, even walking in on the girls while they shower for fun); it’s an action story, with a ton of fighting, and some pretty severe violence; it’s a technology story, because of the Air Trecks, pulling from, say, a GUNDAM flavor; and it’s a coming-of-age tale, as Itsuki has to mature through the tale and figure out how to be a smarter, better, more mature boy. This blending is a big part of what makes the book so entertaining, as you never feel trapped in one aspect of the story because the plot shifts and changes gears with some frequency.

My major issue with the book comes from a huge pet peeve of mine. The book is rated “OT Ages 16+” and comes shrink-wrapped. But the adaptation script actually uses acronyms like “WTF?” rather than spelling out the words. I’ve seen this in books from other publishers and hate it. If this is a mature readers book, then use the word “fuck” and get over it. If it isn’t, get creative and change the script to something that works. I’m reading a graphic novel, not a text message on my phone.

That complaint aside, this is a pretty fun read. Definitely a winner from the Oh!Great studio.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Kotaro Mori
Translated by Misato Sakamoto
Adapted by Benjamin Stone and Ailen Lujo
Published by DrMaster Books

Pam Akumachi is a kind, sweet 13-year old girl. She has good friends, and being a teenager isn’t treating her too horribly. That is, until the day she and her friends attempt to summon a “benign devil.” Because rather than having a creature of the underworld pop through a portal, Pam falls through it instead, and she finds herself stranded in a dimension populated solely by angels and devils. And somehow during transport, she has become a devil herself.

Meeting the denizens of this world, Pam begins to get a crash course in just exactly what her life is going to be from now on. Because there’s really no going back for the poor girl; that is, unless she becomes a full-on devil.

Part fish-out-of-water story (try being the new kid in school when you don’t know anything about what’s going on and you can’t even read the language; it makes adolescence that much more difficult) and part teen-girl adventure (Pam has to find a familiar, navigate the issue of making friends, and learn the rules), STRAY LITTLE DEVIL is a very cute book. Mori also makes a wise artistic choice in the middle of it all; while he obviously likes drawing cute devil girls, he never turns SLD into a fan-service book. There are no panty shots or gratuitous poses to be found. That keeps the book friendly to its intended audience.

Pam is a very appealing character, and it is her willingness to fail or to accept karmic punishment for helping an angel (the good luck given to an angel equates to the exact amount of bad luck being given to a devil) that charms. I enjoyed this book very much, and future volumes will be top-of-the-pile reading.

Marc Mason

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