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Written and Drawn by Ken Akamatsu
Translated by Toshifumi Tashida and Adapted by T. Ledoux
Published by Del Rey

These four volumes of NEGIMA constitute one amazing, lengthy story, and actually are best read as close to back-to-back as possible. Negi and his class attend the biggest school festival of the year, Mahora Academy Festival, and so much goes on that it takes nearly 800 pages to tell it all. In fact, day one is so packed full of adventure and intrigue that in order to experience everything he needs to do, the young mage uses a time travel device that allows his to relive the entire day four times, each go-around allowing him to do something different. As days two and three finally roll in, he prepares to compete in a martial arts tournament that will determine the academy’s greatest, warrior, but more than ten million yen suddenly becomes at stake when he learns that one of the competitors has the ability to converse with his long-missing father.

NEGIMA continues to be one of the most popular mangas on the shelves, but the reasons for that have evolved over time. In the beginning, it was definitely not as much for the story and characters; Akamatsu is a master at providing fanservice moments, something he perfected while creating LOVE HINA, and Negi’s cast of nubile teenage girls gives him plenty of room to play. But while this remains a solid part of the book, it has ceased being one of the book’s primary functions. Instead, the stakes of the story itself have been increased, and Negi has developed as a well-rounded character with an honest, sincere, and emotional quest in his life. And the art has also shifted gears as well.

Akamatsu and his studio mates have been using more and more 3-d backgrounds in producing the art, and the result is that NEGIMA is one of the more artistic and densely drawn mangas I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most compressed in terms of storytelling. Many mangas draw out the story and use fewer panels per page to adjust for the smaller printing size, but not this book. The level of detail and number of panels per page in NEGIMA is astounding at times. I really found myself lingering over many of the sequences in these four volumes and admiring the work that had been done. Each volume comes with a guide at the back as to how the 3-d models were created and used as well, offering up a little bit of education value with the entertainment provided by the story.

Strong, solid work all the way around. NEGIMA is a worthy and fun read.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Kaishaku
English Adaptation by Allen Lujo
Published by DrMaster

A young boy named Aruto is obsessed with Alice and the works of Lewis Carroll. In fact, he’s so into them that he has been writing an Alice story of his own. But on one fateful day he learns there is much more to the ALICE stories than he could have ever guessed; there is a final, unpublished tale floating around in the ether, and it is spread out amongst the spirits and imaginations of many young girls, each of whom has developed the power to move and battle each other in a secondary dimension where they fight for the lost pages locked in one another’s hearts. And Aruto discovers that he, too, can enter this space and get those pages from the fallen warriors. Now, alongside a group of young girls that includes his sister, he must work toward putting together the final ALICE tale, one that will grant its reader the ability to make their imagination reality.
Reading the above paragraph, I realize that I barely scratched the surface of what this book is really about. There are evil players in the game who use their powers for destructive purposes in the real world, a living descendant of the original author who wants the story for his own means, and a couple of subplots that the book could really do without. ETERNAL ALICE RONDO is unquestionably one of the most creative and ambitious mangas I’ve read recently; the premise allows for a broad spectrum of plot possibilities, and the cast of characters is unique and intriguing enough that you can put them in completely strange scenarios and still produce compelling stories. Throw in some solid artwork, and ALICE is certainly a worthwhile read.

My only qualm about the book is the strong fanservice element. Aruto is surrounded by young girls (including his sister) who put him in sexual situations. I’m no prude by any means, but this is a book that could have very strong appeal to young female readers, but with an incest-flavored subplot informing the whole first volume, I would hesitate to recommend it to that demo. It feels like perhaps Kaishaku didn’t trust in the creativity of their plot enough and chose to up the sexuality quotient to make up for it.

Volume two scaled back a bit on the sister plot, so it’s a bit more tasteful, and overall, I was wrapped up enough in the story itself that I can offer a recommendation of the book to the more mature audience. I’ll be interested to see where future volumes take the series.

Marc Mason

Story by Fuyumi Ono and Manga by Shiho Inada
Adapted by David Walsh
Published by Del Rey

The crew from Shibuya Psychiatric Research takes on three new cases over the course of these three volumes, but that isn’t the story when discussing GHOST HUNT. What makes this book notable is just how much it continues to improve from page to page and book to book. Indeed, GHOST HUNT now rivals NODAME CANTABILE as the best release in Del Rey’s manga line.

A large part of the improving nature of this book is the stories themselves. Volume four begins a tale set in a school haunted by multiple spirits after the suicide of a student who could no longer tolerate the oppressive nature of the faculty. The genuine sense of horror and dread that laces this tale is impressive. Rarely does sequential art achieve a level of creepiness that’s tangible to the reader, but “A Forbidden Game” succeeds. For the first time the book also uses more than one volume to tell its story, giving the plot the pace and space to deliver on its setup.

In fact, with volume six, Inada switched GHOST HUNT away from magazine serialization and took the series straight to book format, and shows that she made a wise decision. Volume six begins another multi-volume story, and the pacing and characterization feel stronger for it. Not having to cram scenes into smaller bits allows for the most character development we’ve seen in the series to date.

GHOST HUNT is intelligent entertainment, meant for readers looking for mature and complex material. I highly recommend it.

Marc Mason

Written by Please! and Drawn by Akikan
Translated by Gretchen Kern
Published by DrMaster

Maiku Kamishiro is already leading a rather unusual life; he’s a high school student, living alone, and struggling to make his rent by taking on freelance computer programming work. But his life is about to get infinitely more complicated: within hours two young girls show up on his doorstep claiming that they believe to be his long, lost twin sister. None of them knowing whom is truly whom, the girls move in and put themselves under Maiku’s care. But what none of them count on is falling in love with each other and the denial that such a relationship must bring to their lives.
ONEGAI TWINS is another multi-format smash from Japan, this manga adaptation only a part of its cultural presence. The subject matter’s controversial and odd nature certainly would seem to make it an unlikely hit, though, and that’s part of what makes it interesting. Even the slightest whiff of an incestual relationship can kill a story or film in many cases, so handling it tastefully and with some restraint becomes very important. ONEGAI manages to do this, keeping an appropriate distance between the trio as they sort out their feelings and their familial ties. A strong sense of what is proper is never far from any character’s mind, each knowing that what they feel is ultimately futile until the true sister is determined.

Akikan’s adaptation is pretty good, though there’s a surprising amount of fan service and out and out nudity for a book that carries a 15+ label. The story itself meanders a bit, moving from moment to moment without a lot of forward movement, instead caving into sitcommy territory here and there and marking time until finally addressing everyone’s parentage, but gains some traction and depth late in the book. ONEGAI TWINS is a solid entertainment and worthy read, but a stronger through-line in the plotting could have truly made it a next-level book.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Kio Shimoku
Translated and Adapted by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

I’ve run pretty hot and cold with GENSHIKEN, not enjoying it at first, but later finding some enjoyment in the characters as they grew. These two volumes find me back somewhere in the middle on the series, offering up some genuinely interesting moments and character movement, but also losing some of the steam and power the previous volumes had built up.

The character Ogiue gets a healthy amount of the spotlight in these two volumes, and I think that’s where I had a bit of my cognitive dissonance. Ogiue is a quiet, grumpy, internal girl, and you’re obviously not meant to like her an enormous amount or deeply sympathize with her… but Shimoku succeeds all too well in this endeavor. Given that much screen time, she becomes a huge pill, honestly, and I just wanted her to lighten up and grow, the way the rest of the characters here do.

Indeed, growth is at the center of the book for the rest of the cast. Some have graduated or are about to, and job hunting becomes a part of their lives. Others are old enough to have gotten more serious about exploring their sexuality. Members of the club are actually leaving now, and the fate of the club must be handed to another who has different ideas about what the Genshiken should actually be. What you eventually see as you read the books is that these are kids in transition, and the series is definitely following their lead. If I recall correctly, the series only has a couple of volumes left. So the pieces are being laid on the table for an actual conclusion.

Regardless of my qualms with how the Ogiue character has been handled here, the book is still very readable, and continues to look fantastic. I admire how the evolution of this group has played out on the page, and that Shimoku has displayed respect for young otaku and their lives, making them real and believable enough to care about.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by I. Huan
Translated by Yun Zhao and Adapted by Ailen Lujo
Published by DrMaster Books

Zhi Li was raised to live a perfectly normal life, but it was all turned upside down when the Emperor’s Seeker came to town; unbeknownst to her, she was born Yi Fu, Princess to the Crown. And now, she must return to the capital city and prove her birthright… even though she has absolutely no interest in it and would prefer to stay home and profess her love to the man she’s been denying her feelings for. However, in the meantime, the Seeker himself has fallen for her and the woman who loves him isn’t about to take that lying down (even if she is a courtesan).

REAL/FAKE is an extremely frothy and soapy book, driven by its multiple relationships based upon unrequited and unspoken emotions. Certainly, it also looks very beautiful, Huan demonstrating that she has the skills to put classical shojo onto the page. And Zhong Lu (the Seeker) explodes off the page as a dynamic character. Yet, the book falters when it comes down to trying to make Zhi Li’s predicament feel real.

Part of the issue is that the pacing here is extraordinarily languid; very little in the way of action or forward plot movement genuinely happens until halfway through volume three. Volume two is basically 150 pages of internal monologues about who loves whom and why it will never work because that person really loves someone else, and yadda yadda yadda. The fatal flaw is that Huan is actually a near genius-level romance novel writer. Zhi Li is defined minimally on the page, allowing the female reader an easier “in” to project herself into the character of “lost princess”, and giving her two amazing suitors who would die for her. Unfortunately, that doesn’t create a compelling story.

Of course, if I were the in the demo for this book, I might feel differently. So my caveat would be that, if you love romance novels, this is easily the best representation of the genre that I’ve ever seen put to paper, and you’ll love REAL/FAKE PRINCESS. But for a more complex and gripping shojo manga, I would look elsewhere.

Marc Mason

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