Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Well, I might as well keep this zombie train rolling with another review.  Unfortunately it's not about the recent show that actually did have zombies, trains, and zombie trains.  No, instead it has zombies, boobs,, that's pretty much it.

HIGHSCHOOL OF THE DEAD (Gakuen Mokushiroku: Haisukuru obu za Deddo), written by Daisuke Sato and art by Shouji Sato.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2011.


Takashi Komuro was already having a bad day.  He's bitter because his childhood friend Rei is dating his best friend Hisashi, wondering why childhood pinky swears don't automatically translate into promises of commitment.  Then strange people start attacking his school and it seems that no one is safe from the onslaught.  Now Takeshi and Rei must team up and find any remaining survivors if they want to stand a chance.


Highschool of the Dead has a reputation for trashiness, and it's not completely unwarranted.  It's not for nothing that the most memorable moment from its recent animated counterpart was an enormous pair of boobs performing a sort of bullet-time jiggle around a high-caliber bullet.  If reading the manga has shown me anything about it, though, it's not that Highschool of the Dead is inherently trashy.  It's just a very formulaic zombie survival tale.

A big part of what makes great zombie films great are the living people at their core.  While what makes those character great varies greatly, most can be said to be memorable.  That's not the case here, as the main cast has no more personality about them than the zombies that chase them.  Takeshi is a moody little bastard, Rei alternates between crying and yelling at Takeshi, Saya is your standard snooty rich bitch, Kouta is a feeble geek, and Shizuka is a flat-out ditz.  Takeshi and Rei's quasi-relationship is about as complex as things get, and it's hard to not get choked up over the tender moments the two share.  How could you forget moments like the time where Takeshi slapped Rei to stop her from crying?  How about all the times he saves her because every time Rei tries to fight on her own, she ends up falling down and crying even more?  It's really quite beautiful, if by 'beautiful' you mean awful and more than a little bit sexist.

Otherwise, there's nothing in this particular plot that you couldn't find in a million other zombie movies.  The undead uprising begins, the cast is pared down to the primary group, and they end up teaming up to fight zombies more effectively.  They try to reach out to the authorities, but fail in their efforts.  Those in charge either start to break down under the stress or exploit their power for gain.  Not even the zombie attacks onto themselves possess any novelty.  People get bitten and torn apart while zombies get stabbed, shot, and clubbed.  The craziest things ever get is when the feeble nerd turns a nail gun into a rifle, and that's far too little insanity to make up for what is otherwise a bog-standard narrative.  What on earth could be drawing people to this otherwise mundane story?


Oh, how could I forget the real draw of this series: the fanservice.  Shockingly, there's not nearly as much fanservice here as there was in the animated series.  That being said, there are panty shots a-plenty and I'm sure are purely prurient reasons that all the women keep getting their clothes torn off from low, exploitative angles.  I'm sure it will not shock you to learn that the Sato brothers got their start in hentai, as one glance at how they draw boobs will give that away immediately.  Shizuka in particular has a set so big that sometimes they hang outside of the borders of the panels.  The porninesss also shows up in other weird little ways.  I swear that Rei's screaming face is always drawn in a weird, open-mouthed way that normally isn't seen without the subject being covered in drool and semen. 

Beyond the lewd elements, there isn't much to the character designs here.  They tend towards the long and gangly side of things, with lots of floppy hair and pointy chins.  They also don't have much of an eye for the violence, as the violence usually ends up reverting to extremely high or low angles and filling up the panel with flailing bodies and sprays of blood.  It's also quite stiffly drawn, and more than once the Satos draw bodies twisting and turning in ways not possible in nature. You'd think that schlockmeisters like these guys would revel in the chance to draw some extreme content, but instead they just settle for drawing some extreme boobs and slacking off on the rest.


I don't know how on earth the Satos managed to make a zombie apocalypse boring, but they found a way with Highschool of the Dead.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I would much sooner watch the TV series, Stephen Foster dub and all, than I would reread this manga.

This series is published by Yen Press.  This series is currently on hiatus, with 7 volumes available.  All 7 volumes have been published in print, in e-book, and omnibus form and is currently in print.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Thanks to Monster Musume, the notion of a romance with a monster girl isn't as weird of a notion to manga readers as it was when this series first came out.  It's a shame, as today's review is frankly a far more palatable take on the idea.

SANKAREA: UNDYING LOVE (Sankarea), by Mitsuru Hattori.  First published in 2009, and first published in North America in 2013.


Chihiro loves zombies.  It's not just that he loves zombie movies and memorabilia and such.  He has a veritable fetish for zombie girls, and he's experimenting on his beloved dead cat to try and perfect a zombification potion.  It's during this work that he discovers Rea Sanka, daughter of the girls' school headmaster, shouting her woes into a well.  The two bond over their mutual secrets, but the bond is short-lived thanks to Rea's abusive, controlling father.  She accidentally puts Chihiro's formula to the test, and the results are a success.  Rea is a zombie, free at last to enjoy the world, but the beginnings of rigor mortis might put that to rest before it can ever truly begin.


If you had told me previous to reading this volume that I could find enjoyment in a shonen romance about a boy in love with a zombie girl, I would have told you that you were insane.  Yet here I am, fully prepared to explain why Sankarea totally worked for me on a story level.

A big part of what makes it work is that our leading couple are a bit more down-to-earth than the usual sort who populate these sorts of stories.  Zombie obsession aside, Chihiro isn't some nervous nebbish or unrestrained perv.  That allows him to actually engage Rea like a person before everything goes to hell, much less the other wandering clichés that surround him.  They actually get to have something resembling a connection, and it's sad that this is such a novelty.  As for Rea, it takes longer for her charms to come through.  That's understandable once you start to learn the sort of pressure and horrendously broken home life she has to deal with.  The abuse she suffers would be enough to drive anyone to the brink of suicide.  It's only after the accident that her charms start to truly shine.  It seems like there's nothing like escaping a horrible home situation to bring out a certain giddiness in her.  It's not just that she's getting to experience all sorts of otherwise mundane things for the first time, but that she savors the freedom her undeath has brought.  At long last, she can go anywhere and do anything she pleases.  When she's acting like that, it's pretty easy to see why anyone (much less Chihiro) would find her adorable.

It's a good thing that Rea turns out to be so charming because her backstory turns out to be positively Gothic.  It's not just that she's practically a prisoner in her own home, there's also the fact that her father is obsessed with her in the unhealthiest of ways.  It verges upon the incestuous at times, and it's bound to give you the shivers far more than the prospect of zombie romance.  Like a Gothic villain, he's also incredibly over-the-top.  The only strange thing is how swiftly he seemingly gives up once Rea dies and comes back to life.  In comparison, Chihiro's life is quite mundane and his world populated mostly by a lot of clichés.  We've got the pervy sidekick, the pervy old man, and an older-sister wannabe of a cousin who is mostly there so the readers can ogle someone.  As things get more serious, they feel less like comic relief and more like the lazy, half-hearted space-fillers that they are.

It's not often that a shonen romance actually gets me invested in its own story, much less one with a premise like this.  It just goes to show what a little time and care can do towards making the prospect of a zombie romance not just palatable, but something I would be willing to read more of.


Sankarea's art also wants to keep the focus on the romance and not on the horror elements...well, at least most of the time.  It does indulge in fanservice from time to time.  Most of the time it doesn't go beyond the odd gawk down a girl's shirt as she leans into frame, although sometimes it gets rather indulgent when it comes to the cousin.  It's the only way I can explain why she's the one who ends up in ludicrous, coquettish poses or baring her boobs in a totally pointless bath scene.  Otherwise the characters are perfectly ordinary.  The youngsters have an anime-friendly look and plenty of goofy expressions to go around, while the adults look more serious and squared-off.  Despite the premise, there's not a lot of gore to go around.  The most graphic moment is the one they use for the cover, which tells you just how tame the art is all around. 


One minor point that I do want to point out is that Hattori does throw in a few references to other zombie media here and there.  That's part of the reason the title is what it is.  It's not just Rea's name, but also a reference to the Japanese title for Zombi 2.  I also love that the translation notes confirm that Chihiro's cat is indeed named Bub as a reference to Day of the Dead.  References like these aren't frequent or obvious enough to distract, but if you know the material you can appreciate the little nods.


Sankarea is a monster girl romance I can actually kind of get behind.  It works where others fail because it takes its time with the core relationship and it keeps things tame enough (for the most part) to keep the concept tasteful.  It's not brilliant, but it's a far better start than most non-undead romance manga can hope to deliver.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is complete in Japan with 11 volumes available.  All volumes have been published and are currently in print. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016


It's October once more, which means it's time to look over some monstrous manga.  That is, manga about monsters and hopefully manga that ARE monstrous.

Well, hopefully at least.

Let's start things off with a quirky little oddity from the dying days of CMX and their short-lived partnership with web manga distributor Flex Comics.  It was meant to bring revolutionary new titles to the States.  The actual result were weird little one-off projects like today's selection.

ZOMBIE FAIRY (Kyonshii Sennyo), by Daisuke Torii.  First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2008.


Aoto Hozoki's family didn't think much about the weird old coffin in the basement.  All they knew is that Grandpa picked up 20 years ago from an old Chinese monk.  Until Aoto took it on TV for experts to examine, they had no idea what it could contain.  What it did contain was Chun-Ai, a jiang-shi (or Chinese hopping vampire) who turns out to be a magical being under a terrible curse.  Now Aoto and his family must help Chun-Ai break her curse and return her to normal all while keeping things under control in their own household.


Zombie Fairy.  That's a weird combination of words.  It simultaneously offers up something overdone and kind of boring with something magical and exotic.  In other words, it's a perfect reflection of the work itself.

At its core, this is another sitcom-style comedy, albeit one with a touch of action to it.  Torii certainly wrote his cast like they were in a sitcom, in the sense that they are the blandest sitcom stereotypes you could imagine. You know you're dealing with a serious lack of character when the most well-defined member of the cast is the horny old grandpa pulled straight from some 90s schlock.  Aoto might as well not be there for all he contributes to the story.  That being said, the magical beings aren't treated much better.  Chun-Ai has only two modes: innocent girl and mindless monster.  For a while it looks like they will trade on Lin-Fa's vanity as a gag, but she mostly gets relegated to the role of Giver of Exposition.  When it comes to the cast, Torii was clearly just going through the motions to get to what he really wanted to write about: the mythological angle.

To his credit, Torii digs deeper than most supernaturally-themed manga do for his creatures, which is part of the reason why the title is so clunky.  It's not that it's inaccurate, it's that Chun-Ai is a combination of creatures that few in the west would recognize off-hand.  Jiang-shi are obscure enough (unless you like old Hong Kong exploitation films), and it's weird that they went with 'zombie' when they are often more closely tied to vampirism.  The 'fairy' part is even more complicated.  Chun-Ai is meant to be a sennyo, a being from Chinese/Japanese Buddhist mythology that's closer to what westerners would call a 'nymph' versus a fairy.  The story finds a terribly convoluted way to make combining such drastically different ideas work, one that involves demons and seals and the Chinese zodiac.  None of it makes a bit of sense, and the worst part is that it ultimately doesn't matter.

That's right: there's no ending.  The story sets up a big quest to hunt down a bunch of demons and simply leaves it there.  It seems that Torii was no more successful in Japan than he was in the States.  Maybe if Torii had put more effort into the story overall, that might not have happened.


That's a real shame because Torii's artstyle is pretty cute.  The character designs are more doll-like than the standard, anime-friendly look that most works like this use.  He also plays with perspective a little, and the character designs can actually hold to that without looking weird.  It's actually kind of unique looking in that sense.  That's about the only unique quality, though.  He's a perfectly competent artist, but no more beyond that.  The jokes, the action, the backgrounds - all of them are drawn in a perfectly unremarkable way.  Honestly, the title and the characters might be the only original ideas to be found in the entire thing.


A title like Zombie Fairy demands a certain degree of commitment and skill to make it work without being ridiculous, and this Torii guy simply wasn't up to the task.  This renders the book nothing more than an obscure oddity, even by the standards of the CMX library.

This book was published by CMX.  It is currently out of print.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


So like most sensible anime fans, the show I'm looking forward to most is Yuri On Ice.  Sayo Yamamoto working with MAPPA on an ice skating show?  SOLD.  That got me to wondering if there was any ice-skating manga out there.  The good news is that I was successful.  The bad news?  Well...

SUGAR PRINCESS (Shuga Purisensu), by Hisaya Nakajo.  First published in 2005 and first published in North America in 2008.


Maya Kurinoki was simply showing off so inspire her brother to give ice skating a chance.  She didn't expect her impromptu double axel to catch the eye of a local coach.  She certainly didn't expect it to lead her to Shun, a champion figure skater with a bad attitude.  Now Shun has been tasked with coaching Maya (how reluctantly it may be) into his new pairs partner, but the stakes have never been higher.  She's got to compete with Shun's grumpiness, potential rivals, and having the fate of the local skating rink rest upon her next performance.


Did you ever read a manga that left you completely ambivalent afterwards?  It wasn't necessarily good or bad in any particular way.  It was just so generic that it couldn't inspire any sort of feeling afterwards.  That's how I felt about Sugar Princess.

It's weird because I do genuinely like figure skating.  I don't follow it regularly, but any time it's on television (be it Olympic or otherwise), I'm hooked.  That's been true since I was a little girl watching footage of the Lillehammer Olympics, and it's still true now.  That's why I found myself wondering where the mangaka's own passion for it might be.  She knows her stuff - the actual skating techniques are explained well, there are little sketches of actual skaters on the splash pages between chapters, and she even includes a short bibliography of reference books she used for this work.  Despite all that, I don't get any particular sense of passion from Nakajo here and that lack of enthusiasm makes it hard to get all that invested.  Maybe the problem is her own heroine is dampening everything.

That would make sense, as Maya is a veritable drip as far as shoujo heroines go.  She mostly stumbles into the sport.  She shows a bit of fire at first, but spends most of the book apologizing for herself or gazing in awe at others.  It seems any spine she possessed disappeared once Shun showed up.  As for Shun, he's your generic shoujo love interest in the sense that he's a dark-haired grump with a secret tragedy that's meant to make him a prime subject for the heroine's gentle love.  Mostly I just wanted to thump him as he does nothing but grouch at Maya, even when he's trying to be nice.  At least everyone else around Maya is supportive of her work.  Her family, her friends, and even the other skaters encourage her at every turn and give her useful advice.  Normally, I would be thankful for a lack of drama around that, but it seems that Nakajo decided to save it instead for the end of the volume.  That's when she pulls a completely nonsensical bet out of her butt just so the story can turn into "let's put on a show to save the theater community center skating rink!"  I was already doing a lot of eyerolling at the overused tropes here, but that moment made me eyeroll so hard that they threatened to stay that way.

Maybe I'm just more sensitive to the lack of enthusiasm because this is one of the few times where I actually know and care about the sport in a sports manga.  Nonetheless, I wanted some actual love for the sport to be here.  All I got instead were a pile of half-baked shoujo clichés, a lot of technical talk, but not a lot of love of the game.


Maybe Nakajo herself isn't an enthusiastic person.  She's certainly not an enthusiastic artist, that's for sure.  Her characters are scrawny and generic, and her faces in particular are weird.  It's not just the fact that anyone over 18 simply looks bizarre - so many shoujo artists think that they can just slap some wrinkles or scruff on the same old bishonen face and call it a day.  It's not just the fact that so many people have the same, super-pointy chin.  It's the fact that everyone's eyes are just wide-set enough to make everyone look vaguely alien.  The fact that the rest of their faces are so minimal only highlights the weirdness of the eyes.  Nakajo can certainly do better.  The sketches she does of actual skaters look so much better (even if they all tend to have the same face), so the disparity just makes no sense. 

She can't make up for that with the actual skating.  While the poses are nicely drawn, there's not much fluidity to them.  In a sport where graceful movement is everything, this is a serious downside.  She also abuses her shoujo flair, as she's prone to throwing in all sorts of feathers, flowers,  and sparkles into panels.  It's so frequent that it verges upon random.  It's meant to distract from the rather minimal backgrounds, but if anything it only highlights the matter.  Like the story, the art is a mediocre affair from cover to cover that does nothing to elevate the already lackluster story.


It's little surprise that I had not heard of Sugar Princess previous to my search for sports manga.  It's a half-hearted work with no beauty and no passion behind it.  It's too spiritless to work as a sports manga and too generic to work as a shoujo romance.  It's just simply...there, being boring.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available.  Both volumes are available and are currently in print.  This series is also available as an e-book through Viz's website.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Of course, these days when people think of sports manga, they think of the fujo-friendly shonen series of recent years.  Y'know, your Frees, your Yowamushi Pedals, your Kurokos.  Let us not forget, though, one of the series that paved the way for such modern successes.

SLAM DUNK (Suramu Danku), by Takehiko Inoue.  First published in 1990, and first published in North America in 2003.


Hanamichi Sakuragi is a tough guy that has no luck with the ladies.  His high school years look to be much the same until he meets Haruko.  She's cute and friendly, but she's only interested in guys who play basketball.  Thus, Sakuragi is determined to become the star of the school basketball team!  He's got a long way to go, though.  He's got to find a way to master the basics, impress the team captain, and win his way into Haruka's heart, all while fending off the goons from the upper classes.


Wait, isn't this supposed to be a sports manga?  It's not like my last review, where the lack of sports was part of the joke.  Slam Dunk is generally regarded as one of the classics of sports manga.  So why is it then that this feels more like a shonen romance or one of those yankii-themed manga from back in the day?

If you've read any of the latter, then Sakuragi will feel very familiar to you.  Hell, all the characters will feel very familiar to you. Sakuragi is kind of dumb, stubborn as a mule, super strong, super girl-crazy, and yet simultaneously terrible with women.  He's got a weird-looking gang of hangers-on who serve as his personal Greek chorus, and Haruka neatly fills the role of the generally pretty positive girl who serves as the prize for the protagonist to win.  There are even the usual, uglier rival gang leaders and a sullen and super-strong rival for both his glory and Haruka's heart.  You have seen these character types done a thousand times and everyone is as one-note as their types would suggest.  I can't say that Inoue write them any better than the others, but they are also far from the worst.  There is one thing that distinguishes them: they all apparently attend a high school for giants.  This is a cast of Japanese high schoolers, but every boy seems to be at least six feet tall and built like brick outhouses. 

So when the story does finally get around to playing some actual basketball, how does it treat the sport?  Mostly it treats it as a substitute for the interpersonal fights.  It doesn't get terribly deep into the details of basketball, as we get a lot of dribbling practices and a few dunks.  We get more information about the local gang structure than we do about basketball, which feels both like a failing and a distraction.  When you combine the lack of sports with the lack of character, all I got out of it was a lack of interest in the series as a whole.  Maybe it gets better and earns that classic status later on, but this is far from a promising beginning.


There is one thing that holds up about this series: its reputation for great art.  While the characters may be ridiculously tall, they are all handsomely drawn, strong-looking, and have lovingly detailed hair.  Sure, Sakuragi's perma-pompadour and the team captain's Kid-n-Play flat-top may be incredibly dated, but Inoue loves drawing them nonetheless.  The only times she deviates from this is when things shift into superdeformed mode for the sake of a gag.  It's jarring at first, but she makes it work with her general style. 

The backgrounds are also exquisitely drawn.  Rarely do you see this level of effort put into something as mundane as a school gym.  Once the guys start to play some games, the action is drawn beautifully.  There's an early shot that evokes the glory days of Michael Jordan, and it only gets better from there.  It's a shame that the panels are so small because it doesn't do the art any favors.  It's hard to believe that such a good looking work could come from the pages of Shonen Jump.


I read the Viz edition, which tried oh-so-desperately to appeal to actual sports fans by including the stats of a random player and tips for improving one's game.  It's a shame that such effort is aimed at an audience that's the least likely to be picking up a manga.


Slam Dunk's story is off a to slow and stereotypical start, but the artwork is remarkable for its time and genre.  It wasn't enough to sell me on the series, but it did make it a lot more tolerable.

This series is published by Viz, and formerly by Raijin Comics.  This series is complete in Japan with 31 volumes available.  The 5 Raijin volumes are out of print.  Viz publishes all the available volumes and is currently in print.