Monday, January 2, 2017

Review: TSUBASA WORLD CHRONICLE

It's January once more, which means it's time for yet another month of CLAMP works.  Let's start things off with one of their most recent works.  Like most of those new works, it's a rehash of a previous work.  In this case, it's a rehash of their most...troubled work.  Has enough time passed that CLAMP can make some sense of it once more, or is it just more of the same?

TSUBASA WoRLD CHRoNiCLE:NIRAIKANAI, by CLAMP.  First published in 2014 and first published in 2015.



PLOT:

Syaoran and company continue their quest across the multiverse.  This time, he, Fai, Kurogane, and Mokona end up in the pleasant paradise of Niraikanai.  It's a tropical island overseen by a young girl who serves as a divine vessel (as well as a vessel for noodles).  To help them in their quest, she urges them to the entrance to the underworld.  There the gang will meet up not only with another guardian, but also a lot more danger and mystery than they could have anticipated...

STORY:

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle's ending was no more well-received than xxxHolic's was back in the day.  While its story fit the sort of "and the adventure continues!" ending it got, it went through a lot of convoluted nonsense to get there and most CLAMP fans wanted some actual closure after nearly 30 volumes.  So when they announced a sequel, there was a tiny bit of hope that maybe this time they might wrap things up in a way that didn't require a flowchart to make the tiniest bit of sense.  The joke was on us, though.  World Chronicle is just more of the same, with all the same charms and many of the same flaws.

To their credit, reading this you'd never guess that CLAMP stopped writing Tsubasa for the better part of a decade.  They pick up right where they left off and our team of adventurers are just the same as we left them.  Syaoran is still his blandly heroic self, Kurogane is still a grump, and Fai and Mokona still team up on the regular to tease the hell out of Kurogane.  The interepersonal dynamic between the group was always the most charming (if predictable) part of Tsubasa, so for me that's not a bad thing.  Alas, the plot demands that Sakura be left home during all of this, so all she can do is pray from the sidelines and be just as bland as Syaoran.  I guess that's better than being an often literal load like she was for most of Tsubasa, but it's little consolation.

When I say that it picks up right where it left off, that means all the little plot-related details too.  That means that if you dropped this series at some point, you might not understand why Syaoran is so concerned about Kurogane's arm or why Syaoran and Watanuki are having a nice long chat at the very beginning.  This intro actually pissed me off, albeit for reasons not related to this manga. The worlds of Tsubasa and xxxHolic are still as intertwined as ever, you see, and the same is true for their sequels.  So Watanuki has to go right ahead and explain what he's been up to in the meantime.  In doing so, he spoils the big twist about xxxHolic Rei.  Good job spoiling your own manga before you finish it, CLAMP!  Maybe I wanted to watch that unfold as it was released instead of you ham-handedly explaining it all here! 

After that, the gang mostly dithers around this new universe for a while taking in the sights and enjoying the food.  Quickly enough, though, the CLAMP multiverse cameos begin, and this time it's Gate 7's turn.  Sadly, I lost interest in Gate 7 once it entered hiatus and Hana and her associates got less compelling over time so this inclusion didn't exactly thrill me.  Also, it's probably not a good idea for them to so blatantly compare Fai and Kurogane to the expies of Sakura and Tachibane.  It kind of makes it obvious how much the latter rip off the former in both looks and concept.  Still, they're the ones that start pushing the plot forward, so I can deal with it.

It doesn't go very far, though, and it's not entirely clear what's going on.  CLAMP has gotten into a bad habit lately of keeping their plots so mysterious and cryptic that it becomes nonsense.  Tsubasa always suffered the worst from this and it seems that this has not changed where the sequel is concerned.  That doesn't give me much confidence that CLAMP is going to make this manga any more focused or comprehensible than its predecessor.  It's still got some of its old, pre-Acid Tokyo charms, but it's also got the same dawdling pace and the same refusal to explain the necessary details versus all the ancillary stuff.

ART:

CLAMP's art here hasn't changed either, and that mostly is a good thing.  We've got the same clean confident linework, the same noodle-like character designs, and the same sorts of action scenes full of beautifully chaotic swirls and tendrils of magic.  While this series is still technically shonen, there's a lot more shoujo-esque visual excess here, almost an artifact of their art style of old.  They do a lot of layering of panels and staggering long, narrow panels and there's a lot more flowers and sparkles than we've seen in a lot of their modern works.  It gets kind of confusing at times, even outside of the action, and it drowns out what beauty is there.  I didn't really expect them to shake things up too radically at this point, but I did hope that the new start would let them simplify things a little.

PRESENTATION:

As per usual, we've got a translation notes section.  Apparently in addition to the Gate 7 & RG Veda cameos, there's a lot of references to Okinawan culture here, so that's kind of novel.

RATING:

Tsubasa World Chronicle is everything you would expect from a Tsubasa sequel.  It's got all the charms and beauty it held before, but it also comes with all the nonsensical plot threads and excess that came before.  Unless you were really invested in Tsubasa, this can be easily missed.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing with 4 volumes available.  3 volumes have been published and are currently in print.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 In the Rear View Mirror & Holiday Giveaway Winner

First of all, let me announce the winner of this year's Annual Holiday Giveaway.  The $25 RightStuf gift certificate will be going to...KIM P.!

Requiem of the Rose King is my favorite new manga since it's drawn by Aya Kanno and the story is based on Shakespeare so it's full of plot twists!

Congratulations Kim!  You can claim your prize by either contacting me on Twitter at @brainchild129 or by sending a quick email to mangatestdrive@gmail.com.  Also, I'm glad you're enjoying Requiem of the Rose King, as it continues to just get better and better.  For me, it's easily Kanno's best and most ambitious work.

I doubt I'm going to surprise anyone when I declare that I'm glad to see 2016 go for reasons that are too many and (mostly) too political for this blog.  That's really saying something considering that two very big and very happy events happened to me: I got married and I finally got to travel overseas, to Japan no less.  It was also still a very good year for manga overall.  The big shonen hits just kept on selling, and the market overall is still healthy and growing.  We saw the debut of a lot of great shoujo and josei works, including the print debut of stuff like Orange and Princess Jellyfish.  Seeing so many comments calling that their favorite of the year made me truly happy inside.  It also makes me all the more regretful that I wasn't able to fit Princess Jellyfish into this month's lineup.  I already had so many Kodansha titles!  Choices had to be made!  Even ongoing series like Requiem, The Ancient Magus' Bride, and My Love Story managed to just get better and better with each new volume.

The world is a big question mark as far as 2017 goes, but I do at least have hope that the world of manga will only continue to get more interesting and diverse.  There's already a lot of interesting manga titles that will be turned into anime this year, and I'm eager to see how they go over with a wider audience.   There's some interesting cult titles on the horizon, along with what I sincerely hope will be the breakout year for yuri in the US.  Seriously, we've got nearly a dozen titles on the way from 3 different publishers, along with who knows how much more yet to come.  At least one of them HAS to make an impression.  Hell, maybe this year Udon will finally get around to putting out The Rose of Versailles.  After all, what could be more appropriate for this upcoming year than a classic manga that ends in revolution?

The Manga Test Drive will be coming into its fifth year of existence, and as always I'm glad for all of you that have come along for the ride.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Review: SWEETNESS & LIGHTNING

Well, it's time to wrap this year's holiday review up, and much like I've done in the past, I end it with a series that's not just one of my favorites to come out this year, but one that's all about food and family.  If that's not appropriate for Christmas, I don't know what is.

SWEETNESS & LIGHTNING (Amaama to Inuzuma), by Gido Amagakure.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

Kouhei Inuzuka is trying his hardest to keep his life together after his wife's recent death.  He not only has to juggle his teaching job, but also raising his 4-year-old daughter Tsumugi.  As such, things like cooking fell by the wayside and they mostly subsist on take-out and restaurant food.  Then they meet Kotori Iida, one of Kouhei's homeroom students.  She's the daughter of a single mother herself, and thanks to her mother's job Kotori is often left alone in their family's empty restaurant.  Kotori offers to help Kouhei learn how to cook, and together the three not only gain new skills but also the warmth and joy of family and friendship.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Review: FUKUFUKU: KITTEN TALES

Well, it's time to start wrapping things up with something warm and fuzzy.  Naturally, what else could be warmer and fuzzier than a manga about a kitten?

FUKUFUKU: KITTEN TALES (FukuFuku Funyan Koneko da Nyan), by Konami Konata.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

FukuFuku is a mischievous kitten.  His attempts at play delight and charm his elderly owner as well the other cats in his neighborhood.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Review: EVERYONE'S GETTING MARRIED

This might have been the first year in a long time that we started to see some movement as far as josei licenses.  Not only did we finally get Princess Jellyfish in print, but Viz managed to slip a really good josei series into their Shoujo Beat line that deserves a lot more attention.

EVERYONE'S GETTING MARRIED (Totsuzen Desu ga, Ashita Kekkon Shimasu), by Izumi Miyazono.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

Asuka Takanashi is a successful realtor, but her real dream is to get married and become a housewife.  This is proving difficult, as her boyfriend of five years just broke up with her and most of the guys she meets are turned off at the idea of a woman who wants to settle down.  Things only get more complicated when she meets handsome newscaster Ryu Nanami.  He's coming out of an affair that ended badly and wants nothing to do with marriage, but there's an undeniable spark between the two.  Can these two every make things work, or is their relationship doomed before it starts?