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  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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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?

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't necessarily be putting so much emphasis on bringing over josei works as we should on lady-friendly seinen works.  Between Complex Age and today's subject, it seems to be where some of the most interesting work about women seems to be hiding.

PLEASE TELL ME! GALKO-CHAN (Oshiete! Galko-Chan), by Kenya Suzuki.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


Galko is tall, busty, tanned and stylish, but few would suspect from her looks just how sweet and accomplished she is. Otako looks like a stereotypical otaku, but her real interest is in quizzing her friends about all sorts of weird questions about sex, puberty, and such.  Ojou is sheltered and spacey, but she's also good at keeping the peace between friends.  You wouldn't think that three such girls would ever be friends, but together they tackle some of the grosser, lesser-discussed parts of being a teenaged girl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Yen Press scored a hell of a deal last year.  Not only did they rescue Fruits Basket, one of the last remaining gems of the Tokyopop library, but also picked up Natsuki Takaya's two most recent (and up to that point, unlicensed) works.  We only have time and space enough to check out one of those two, but I'm sure you're just as curious as I am to discover what a post-Fruits Basket Takaya is like.

LISELOTTE & WITCH'S FOREST (Rizerotte to Majo no Mori), by Natsuki Tayaka.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.


Once upon a time, a noblewoman named Liselotte exiled herself to a distant forest along with her two servants Anna and Alto.  Her situation was born from tragedy, but she's determined to be helpful and make the most of her exile, no matter how much Alto might object.  After all, it's said that there are dangerous witches in the woods.  There's also a strange young man named Engetsu who reminds Liselotte of her past, but he might not be all that he appears to be...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


From harem manga, we move on to reverse harem manga.  It's been a while since we've gotten a new one; most of the more prominent shoujo titles have focused either on supernatural romances or more traditional schoolroom stuff.  It even got the benefit of having a (fairly good, from my understanding) anime to pave a path for it.  So can it live up to its modest hype?

YONA OF THE DAWN (Akatsuki no Yona), by Mizuho Kusanagi.  First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2016. 


Princess Yona is the pampered child of the gentle King Il in a faraway kingdom.  While she wants for nothing, the only thing she truly wants is the love of her childhood friend and cousin Su-Won.  Her life is forever altered when Su-Won slays her father in a bloody coup.  She's forced to flee for her life with only her personal guard Hak to protect her.  Will Yona find the strength within herself to continue on, or will she be consumed by her grief?

Monday, December 19, 2016


Of course, I also can't talk about shonen unless I address that genre I've come to dread: the harem series.  God knows the genre as a whole isn't getting any better, even if you steer it away from the monster girl trend, and today's review is a gleaming example of its utter mediocrity.

SHOMIN SAMPLE (Ore ga Ojosama Gakko ni "Shomin Sanpuru" Toshite Rachirareta Ken or I Was Abducted by an Elite All-Girls School as a "Sample Commoner"), based on the light novel series by Takafumi Nanatsuki & art by Risumai.  First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2016.


Seikain Girls' School is a private, all-girls' school renowned for both the wealth and prestige of its student body and the extreme lengths it takes to protect them from the world.  In fact, the girls are so sheltered that have practically no knowledge of the everyday world, much less boys.  To help these high-class young ladies acclimate, their principal has abducted one Kimito Kagurazaka to be their token commoner to teach them the ways of his world.  Will he ever get used to his luxurious new home?  Will he ever be able to shake off the socially awkward tsundere Aika?  And what will he do when an innocent accident leads class president Reina to demand marriage?

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Now that we can get actual sports manga over here, publishers feel more confident about picking sports manga with less-conventional sports as their subject.  We've already covered most of the big ones: basketball, volleyball, tennis, etc.  So why shouldn't someone try to turn competitive dance into a sport?

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM (Ballroom o Yokoso), by Tomo Takeuchi.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.


Tataru Fujita has no real goals...or ambitions...or skills...or anything of note, really.  That all changes the day he's strongarmed into a local ballroom dance studio.  There, his eyes are open to the thrill and power of both the dancing and the dancers, and in particular to a cute classmate who happens to be one of the best dancers there.  Tataru is slow to learn, but his newfound skills are put to the test when his studio's best dancer goes AWOL during a competition.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Review: HAIKYU!!

Of course, we can't talk about modern-day shonen without talking about sports manga.  Thanks to their fujoshi-heavy fandoms, we're seeing an influx of sports manga that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable.  The only question I had to deal with was which one to pick.

HAIKYU!!, by Haruichi Furudate.  First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2016.


Back in junior high , Shoyo Hinata was "The Little Giant," a shorter-than-average volleyball player whose speed, high jumps, and powerful spikes more than made up for his height.  The only other boy to rival him was Tobio Kageyama, the "King of the Court."  He was able to master all the roles of a volleyball team, but his real skill is for setting up unbeatable shots.  The two end up at the same high school, where they must now find a way to work together if they want any chance at playing volleyball again. 

Friday, December 16, 2016


Now it's time to check on some of this year's shonen titles, and that means more monster girl manga.  This trend lives on well after the bloom has faded from Monster Musume, and if titles like this are any indication, they're only getting goofier and weirder.

MY GIRLFRIEND IS A T-REX (T-Rex na Kanojo), by Sanzo.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


In this world, dinosaurs survived the Mesozoic Era.  To survive, they evolved to fit in better with humanity, complete with human faces and torsos.  It's just Yuuma's good luck that he stumbled across Churlo, a T-Rex girl who has retained the simple mind and brute hunger of her ancestors.  Yuuma takes it upon himself to look after her, but inviting her in to his brings more chaos than he ever could have expected.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Leiji Matsumoto was one of the great creators of 1970s anime, but until this year the only time we've seen any of his original manga released here was back in the mid 1990s when Viz put out a Galaxy Express 999 sequel.  You can only imagine everyone's surprise then when Kodansha announced the subject of today's review.  Matsumoto fans know it well, but it doesn't quite have the brand-name recognition of something like Captain Harlock or Galaxy Express 999.  Was there room in today's manga market for an old science-fiction manga like this or would it just come off as a strange artifact of a distant time?

QUEEN EMERALDAS (Kuin Emerarudasu), by Leiji Matsumoto.  First published in 1978 and first published in North America in 2016.


Across the galaxy, the name of Queen Emeraldas is one that is spoken in both admiration and awe.  She is a solitary figure, soaring her way across the stars on her own personal quest.  A determined young boy named Hiroshi Umino crosses her path one day, and from that moment he is determined to find his way back to space under his own power to find her.  What he doesn't know is that Emeraldas is never too far away, smoothing his path with her mind and her deadly gravitysaber.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Despite their rather sparse release calendar, this year was probably the most active Dark Horse has been in a while.  In addition to their ongoing CLAMP releases and rescuing Planetes, they also put out a few new titles as well.  We already covered the most high profile one, I Am A Hero, but for my money this one was even better.

WANDERING ISLAND (Bokuen Erekitetou), by Kenji Tsuruta.  First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2016.


Mikura Amelia is a free spirit who spends her days helping her grandfather with his delivery service, flying back and forth amongst some of Japan's most distant islands.  After her grandfather dies, Mikura discovers his journals.  Within them is information on Electric Island, a floating island that's known amongst the old folks but only as a legend.  After a chance encounter, Mikura makes her grandfather's quest her own.  She'll use all the knowledge and skills she has at hand to discover Electric Island or die trying.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


One pleasant trend in manga this year was the marked increase in stories about women.  Not girls, mind you - there are a never-ending stream of stories about high school girls.  No, I mean actual grown-ass women doing things, and that includes geeky things like cosplay.

COMPLEX AGE (Konpurekksu Eiji), by Yui Sakuma.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


Most of the time, Nagisa is just another 26 year old office worker, but her true love is cosplay.  In particular, she loves dressing up as the main character from her favorite magical girl show and she demands no less than perfection.  That's why she'll stay up all night working on costumes, making plans with her fellow cosplayers, and scanning the internet for commentary from others on her cosplay.  So how will Nagisa cope when a new girl joins the group who is everything that Nagisa wants to be?

Monday, December 12, 2016


Of course, we can't ignore the world of yuri manga, even if we didn't get a lot of new ones this year.  That will NOT be the case next year.  Indeed, if all the licenses announced this year are any indication, next year's countdown will be blessed with a bounty of yuri titles to explore.  This title was easily the most distinctive yuri title we got, even if it's not entirely for good reasons.

NTR - NETSUZOU TRAP (NTR Netsuzou Torappu or Fake Trap), by Kodama Naoko.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


Yuma and Hotaru have been friends forever, but ever since Yuma got a boyfriend Hotaru has been....kind of weird.  Yuma's not used to romance and is uncomfortable with the possibility of something more physical.  Naturally, she turns to her best friend for advice.  Hotaru's response is to then force Yuma to 'practice' by making out with her and then some.  It seems that Hotaru's feelings run stronger than mere friendship, but they also run far darker than Yuma could ever conceive.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


In comparison, SuBLime just kept chugging on as steadily as ever.  Their biggest license wasn't even a new one, but one that was instead poached from the competition.  Still, they put out a few other new titles, including this one.

TEN COUNT (10 Kounto), by Rihito Takarai.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.


From the outside, Shirotani looks every part the poised and polished executive assistant.  His well-groomed manner hides a terrible secret: Shirotani has OCD.  He's so paranoid about germs and general dirtiness that he avoids contact, disinfects everything he touches, and wears gloves to hide the hands he washes until they are raw and cracked.  When his boss gets into an accident, he meets up with Kurose, a therapist who recognizes Shirotani's condition right away.  Together the two start a plan to help Shirotani cope with his condition, but what happens when the two start to feel something stronger than a patient/therapist bond?

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Of course, I can't let this year's holiday roundup pass without covering some BL titles. That being said, I didn't want to include a DMP title originally.  After all, I kind of made a big deal out of rejecting their company this summer.  Unfortunately, I contributed to a couple of their Kickstarters before that point and found myself with a handful of BL books that I needed to review if I was going to get my money's worth out of them.  It's not like they released anything else otherwise this year.

DON'T RUB YOURSELF AGAINST MY ASS!! (Ore no Ushiro ni Tatsu na!!), by Sakira.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2016.


Jin used to be a policeman, but he has fallen on hard times.  These days, he's forced to work as a private investigator to get by, and even then he's struggling to stay afloat.  Thus, he's all too eager to take Anri's offer for a case with a cheating girlfriend.  Quickly enough, he learns that there's a lot more going on in this case than meets the eye.  It seems that Anri has connections to Jin's past and that Anri is determined to make Jin understand with his body.

Friday, December 9, 2016


I wouldn't have planned on covering this one if not for the fact that it too will be getting an anime adaptation this winter, and by Kyoto Animation no less.  It seemed an odd choice of a property for them, so I wanted to find out myself if this was another Nichijou in the making or just another Phantom World?

As with most things, the truth is a bit more complicated.

MISS KOBAYASHI'S DRAGON MAID (Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon), by coolkyoushinja.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.


Kobayashi wasn't looking for a roommate.  She just happened to drunkenly wander her way up a mountain and bond with an equally distressed dragon named Tohru.  How was she to know that Tohru would end up at her door the next day in human form, offering to be Kobayashi's maid, protector, and one true love.  Now on top of her everyday job, she has to help Tohru acclimate to the human world.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


The only thing more common these days than manga licenses being spurred by animated adaptations are manga based on light novels.  Today's review allows me to cover both, along with a couple of all-too-common subgenres: the "otaku is transported to fantasy world" and "otaku trapped within a video game."

OVERLORD (Obarodo), adapted from the light novel by Kugane Maruyama & character designs by so-bin, with scenario by Satoshi Oshio and art by Hugin Miyama.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


In the world of virtual reality MMOs, none are more renowned than Yggdrasil.  Sadly, the game's servers are being shut down after 12 years, and only dedicated players like Momonga are still around.  He stays until the very end as tribute to the dungeon he built and the friends he made, but when the timer end, he finds himself transported into the world of the game inside the hulking skeletal avatar he created for himself.  Now Momonga has a new goal: to rebuild his army and find anyone else who might be trapped in the game.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


It almost goes without saying that a lot of new manga licenses this year were brought about because they got an anime adaptation.  Of course, just because a manga becomes an anime doesn't mean that the source material was any good to begin with.

OK, this one is sort of cheating as this series doesn't start until the winter season starts, but it's close enough.

MASAMUNE-KUN'S REVENGE (Masamune-kun no Ribenji), written by Hazuki Takeoka with art by TIV.  First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2016.


Makabe Masamune was a porky little rich kid whose heart was broken by the cruel taunts of one Adagaki Aki.  Since then, Masamune has desired nothing but revenge.  He has transformed his body, his lifestyle, even his name with one goal in mind: find Aki, make her fall in love with him, and humiliate her just as badly as she did before.  Masamune's plan hits a snag when he discovers something surprising: he's not the only one who wants Aki put in her place.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


There was actually quite a diverse selection of horror manga this year, and not all of it is gruesome.  Sometimes it was moody and gothic, much like today's selection.

THE BLACK MUSEUM: THE GHOST AND THE LADY (Kuro Hakubutsukan: Ghost and Lady), by Kazuhiro Fujita.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2016.


One night, a theater-loving ghost known as The Man In Grey tells his story to the curator of Scotland Yard's Black Museum.  In life, he was a duelist plagued by despair.  In death, he found himself bound to a young woman called Florence Nightingale.  He will defend her from vengeful spirits born from mankind's worst emotions, but if she should ever fall into the deepest possible despair he will kill her. Their bond allows her to survive family opposition, the horrors of Victorian hospitals, and even the perils of the Crimean War, but her greatest threat yet may be another spectre from The Man In Grey's own past.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Like Vinland Saga before it, today's review was a darling of the scanlation scene long believed to be unlicenseable due to its content.  Thankfully for us, Seven Seas took on the challenge and the result is nothing quite like we've seen previously in horror manga.

FRANKEN FRAN (Furanken Furan), by Katsuhisa Kigitsu.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2016.


Fran Madaraki is a patient young woman.  She's spent years waiting for her father and creator, the notorious Dr. Madaraki, to return.  In the mean time, she spends her time helping others through surgery in the name of saving lives.  Unfortunately, Fran's got a rather peculiar notion of what saving life means, and she's more than willing to use all sorts of horrific methods to get results.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Of course, I can't finish talking about comedy manga without talking about a 4-koma.  The problem is that there weren't many new ones to talk about and what was there wasn't all that good to begin with.

SERVANT X SERVICE (Sabanto X Sabisu), by Karino Takatsu.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.


In an ordinary town, within an ordinary public service office lies a Health and Welfare Department that is anything but ordinary.  The staff not only have to deal with paperwork, chatty patrons, and slacking on the job, but also with ridiculously long names, angry teenagers, interoffice romance, and a supervisor who works from home via a stuffed rabbit. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016


This year didn't bring quite the onslaught of comedy manga as last year did, but it did bring the unexpected license of what was already becoming something of a cult classic in anime circles.  With its animated counterpart on the horizon, now's as good of a time as any to check out its source material.

NICHIJOU: MY ORDINARY LIFE (Nichijou), by Keiichi Arawi.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2016.


Yuuko, Mio, Mai and Nino would be ordinary girls leading ordinary lives...were it not for the comic misunderstandings, forgotten assignments, random falling objects, life-or-death battles with stray deer, and a mad scientist who is also a little girl who like to keep hiding new features and spare food in her robot.

Friday, December 2, 2016


Folks will remember that two years ago I reviewed the first volume of Barakamon and really liked it.  Spoilers: the series is still charming as hell and it's still one of my ongoing favorites.  So naturally when I heard that Yen Press was releasing a prequel series, I had to check it out.

HANDA-KUN, by Satsuki Yoshino.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016. 


Long before Sei Handa went to Goto Island, he was a calligraphy-obsessed high school student.  His classmates think that Sei's aloof air makes him a cool guy.  What they don't know is that he's actually incredibly negative and insecure and perceives all the attention as mockery and gossip.  Sei is so oblivious to the truth that he manages to stumble his way through love confessions, school council elections, popular guys and class punks.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Let's start this month off with a manga about a subject manner that will be all too familiar to many of us: dealing with infectious diseases!

What?  That's a perfectly normal subject for a comic, what are you talking about?  Read on, it'll make sense soon enough.

CELLS AT WORK! (Hataraku Saibo!), by Akane Shimizu.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2016.


It's just another day inside the body for Red Blood Cell AE 3803.  She travels back and forth within the body delivering nutrients, trying her best to not get lost again, and forced to deal with everything from an invasion of pneumonia bacteria to hay fever to a scraped knee.  Luckily, she can rely on a particularly grim white blood cell for protection, along with all the other defensive cells within the body.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


That's right, it's almost December once more, so it's time for my annual Advent Calender of reviews!  Every day from tomorrow until Christmas,  I will be posting a review of some of the best (and worst) new manga titles to come out in 2016.

That also means that once again, it's time for The Manga Test Drive's Annual Holiday Giveaway!  As always, the way to enter is simple: just leave a comment below about the best new manga you read this year.  New or old, short or long, it doesn't matter so long as it was new to you!  The winner is chosen at random to receive a $25 RightStuf gift certificate so that they hopefully can pick up some of the titles we talk about this month.  The contest ends on Christmas Day, so don't delay with those comments!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Let's be honest, everything this month has been building up to this review.  Part of that is because this manga itself is a retelling of the story that started it all.  The other part is that this manga truly is the gold standard for not just Gundam manga, but for mecha manga as a whole.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN (Kido Senshi Gandamu The Origin), by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, based on the original story by Yoshiyuki Tomino & Hajime Yatate and mechanical designs by Kunio Okawara.  First published in 2001 and first published in North America in 2002.


In UC 0079, the Earth Federation forces are locked in battle with the Principality of Zeon, a rogue space colony that yearns for both independence and conquest.  The other colonies are caught in the middle of this conflict, and it is during one of these battles that young Amuro Ray finds himself piloting the Earth's latest mobile suit: the Gundam.  Now he's stuck on a ship full of junior officers and civilians, forced to fight in a war he never volunteered for, and facing down ace mobile suit pilot Char Aznable and the forces of Zeon in an effort to make it back to Earth.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Of course, there's more to Gundam manga than tossed-off adaptations of the actual shows.  There are loads of manga-exclusive spinoffs, although the vast majority of them have not reached our shores.  Today's review is one of those rare exceptions, and a UC continuity one no less.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: ECOLE DU CIEL (Kido Senshi Gundamu: Ekooru dyu Shieru), based on the series by Hajime Yatate & Yoshiyuki Tomino, with art by Haruhiko Mikimoto, mechanic design by Yoshinori Sayama, & produced by OUTASIGHT.  First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2005.


It is UC Year 0085, and Asuna is starting her first year in pilot training at Ecole du Ciel.  Sadly, Asuna is at the bottom of class.  She struggles with learning the controls as well as social scorn.  That's bound to happen when your father was not only a Zeon sympathizer, but also expects you to be the perfect pilot from the day you were born.  Just as Asuna is finding her place with her peers, they are put into some seriously non-simulated danger by forces outside their control.  It will now take all their skill to survive.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


At least Gundam Wing is fairly beloved, at least as far as Gundam series go.  Today's selection is an adaptation of one of the most divisive entries in the franchise, and like the last review its adaptation doesn't do it any favors.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM SEED (Kido Senshi Gandamu Shido), based on the story by Hajime Yatate & Yoshiyuki Tomino & art by Masatsugu Iwase.  First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2004.


In the Cosmic Era, war rages between the genetically enhanced Coordinators and the unmodified Earth forces for control of the space colonies orbiting Earth.  For Kira Yamato, though, it was just a distant conflict until he was shanghaied into service to pilot the Earth's latest secret weapon: the Gundam.  Now he and his friends have been conscripted into battle, but in doing so his darkest secret is brought to light and a former best friend becomes his enemy.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Around this time last year I covered all of the Evangelion manga, which was no small undertaking.  I figured that it would finally be time to cover the only other mecha manga franchise to rival it: Gundam.  While we haven't gotten as nearly as many Gundam manga as Japan has, we've gotten more than enough for a month's worth of reviews (and then some).  So why don't we start where most Gundam fans in the States started?

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING (Shin Kido Senki Gandamu Wingu), based on the story by Hajime Yadate & Yoshiyuki Tomino with art by Koichi Tokita.  First published in 1995 and first published in North America in 2000.


In the year After Colony 195, humanity has spread from earth to space, but those in the space colonies are suppressed by the Earth Allied Forces and OZ, the secret society that guides their every move.  To fight them, five young men with powerful mobile suits are separately sent to Earth to fight them...that is, if they can stop fighting amongst themselves and the mysterious Zechs Marquise long enough to do so.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: I AM A HERO

Naturally, I saved the best of what few zombie manga are out there for last.  It was one of the most coveted unlicensed titles for many years, and its announcement was five years (and an unprecedented cooperation between its Japanese and American publishers) in the making.  There's no way I could hold off on this one until December.

 I AM A HERO (Aiamuahiro), by Kengo Hanazawa.  First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2016.


Hideo feels like a supporting character in his own life.  He toils away as an manga assistant after his own solo attempts when nowhere.  He's surrounded by other, equally dorky and frustrated men.  He's plagued not only by doubt and depression, but also reoccurring hallucinations.  His only comfort is his girlfriend Tekko, and even then he can't be certain if she's completely faithful to him.

Then one day a mysterious plague turns the populace into ravenous monsters and Hideo's world is turned completely upside-down.  He doesn't understand what is going on, but he knows two things for certain: he wants to survive, and the key to survival is to keep moving.


I Am a Hero is one half zombie apocalypse and one half indie-comic character study.  It's a combination that might frustrate those who are just looking for undead blood and guts, but it's incredibly effective in establishing Hideo's world, his outlook, and the ultimate mood of the piece.

Dark Horse made the right move in publishing this series as 2-in-1 omnibuses because the first volume is literally just set-up.  At the most, the setup to the outbreak is all in the background.  You see a snippet or two of newscasters here, a gradual increase in people with sick masks or complaints of flu-like symptoms from passers-by there.  You could easily miss it if you just scan over the pages.  Then that slow simmer of dread bursts into a full-blown boil at the halfway point and doesn't really let up from that point on.

That's not to say that the first half is nothing but building dread or dreadful boredom.  Hanazawa does a brilliant job at making Hideo feel like a real person.  He has moments of ennui, frustration, and outright paranoia, but he also has moments of joy, even compassion.  Even if you can't relate to the mangaka-specific stuff, you'd be hard pressed to find a young adult who couldn't relate to someone suffering with a derailed career or uncertainty about whether their significant other really loves them.  In that sense, Hideo and the other equally messed-up folks around him feel very real and very sympathetic, which makes the horrors they experience all the more visceral.

It's also fascinating to see how Hideo reacts in the face of zombie doom.  He doesn't sack up and become a big damn hero right away like so many protagonists in these sorts of stories do.  No, if anything Hideo spends most of his time in a state of confusion, fear, and even denial.  His first concerns aren't taking out all the creatures coming at him, it's to take care of his girlfriend (even as she tries to bite him) and check on his friends.  That feels to me like a more realistic reaction to such an unthinkable disaster than it to load up on guns and melee weapons and turn your life into a Dead Rising let's play.  That's not to say that Hideo won't get a moment of glory.  The story takes some pains to establish that Hideo actually owns a shotgun, something that is extremely rare for a Japanese civilian.  It's not done too often, but it's frequent enough that it would be ridiculous to not have him use it at some point.  If anything, its presence adds to the suspense.  You're wondering not just if and how Hideo will survive, but when will Hideo break out his oh-so-literal Chekov's gun?

There's a lot more specific stuff I could touch on, but doing so would be a discredit to the book.  There's just so much going on in this book.  It's a zombie apocalypse told not in broad strokes, but instead in the small touches of humanity and everyday details that build into something greater.


It also helps that Hanazawa's art is more than up to the task of tackling both the emotional moments as well as the horror.  His characters tread this thin line between seinen-style reality and a sort of caricature-like gooniness. No one is what you would call traditionally pretty, but definitely look like people you could actually see on the streets of a middling Tokyo suburb.  Things only get weirder when they become undead.  Their eyes go bloodshot, their skin pales to the point that every blood vessel is visible, and their bodies mold and shift like Play-Doh as they suffer one physical trauma after another.  It's not too gruesome - the actual gore is kept to a minimum - but it's disturbing nonetheless.

The backgrounds also play a role in selling the reader on the reality and mendacity of its setting.  I'd be curious to learn if Hanazawa was using any particular town as reference or was working from more generic reference material because it really does look like the sorts of townscapes you'd see while zooming by on the trains.  The same goes for the interiors, which are mostly these cramped little apartment blocks that are full of little everyday details and wear. They're not glamorous, but they're all skillfully done.  He also does some interesting things with the framing.  Most of the time he keeps things fairly plain but also tightly focused on Hideo and his reactions.  It's only at the most dramatic and emotional points where he opens things up.  Sometimes it's just a single page spread, but one standout sequence features a zombie rising to attack as viewed through a mail slot.  It flows like a storyboard and it uses its fish-eyed perspective to convey both the speed of the attack and the horror of the situation.  It's moments like that really help me understand this manga's incredible reputation and it's something that you should experience for yourself. 


There are translation notes, but not nearly as many as I'm used to seeing in Dark Horse books.  I guess that's what you get when Carl Horn isn't the one translating for once.  There are also some color pages midway through.  I do wish they would use glossy paper for their color pages, as the colors seem to lose some vibrancy when printed onto normal print stocks.  That being said, adding color doesn't make too much of a difference to Hanazawa's art beyond capturing the sickly purple tint and nearly pinkish-red eyes of the zombies.


I Am A Hero more than earns its reputation as one of the best zombie manga out there.  Its slow-burn approach to storytelling combined with its excellent art makes it compelling in a way that a lot of zombie media hasn't been.  This series was well worth the wait, but don't wait to start reading this one.

This series is published by Dark Horse.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 20 volumes available.  Two 2-in-1 omnibuses are currently available and is currently in print.

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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


There are s suprising number of shoujo series about sports.  Few of them could be said to be comedies, though.  Fewer still could say that the point of the series is to not play the sport at all.

MY HEAVENLY HOCKEY CLUB (Gokuraku Seishun Hockey Bu), by Ai Morinaga.  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2007.


Hana Suzuki is a lazy girl with two primary habits: eating and sleeping.  Somehow, this endears her to one Izumi Oda, who loves her from afar.  In an attempt to get close to her, he convinces her to join the hockey club.  Hana has no interest in either hockey or Izumi, but she yields to the promises of away trips to nice resorts with gourmet meals.  To get to that, though, Hana has to endure early morning practices and a gaggle of pesky, pretty boys.  It's a good thing that this hockey club tends to be more occupied with planning trips and meals than getting around to the actual games.


Ai Morinaga has made something of a name for herself by turning various genres on their head for the sake of comedy.  Here she's doing double-duty by taking on both sports manga and reverse harems.  True to form, she ends up generating a lot of comedy out of subverting the readers' expectations.

Obviously, Hana couldn't be less suited to becoming the heroine of a sports manga if she tried, being both lazy and aimless.  She's not particularly interested in field hockey and shows no particular aptitude for it, so she's shoved into the role of goalie.  She's also not your standard reverse harem lead, either.  She might fight with Izumi off and on, but it's out of a sense of general annoyance than any sort of romantic tension.  Indeed, she doesn't take the least bit interest in romance or guys or anything that's not food and sleep.  So Hana doesn't aspire to be a great player or to get herself a man, so surely the point of the story is the build-up to the matches, right?

Nope!  That's the biggest subversion and the biggest joke in the entire book.  No matter how far the team might travel, shenanigans occur and the meet is inevitably cancelled.  Sometimes there might be fallout from these events (such as the time where the team is followed around by a bear), but most of the time you just have to accept the increasingly ridiculous circumstances as they occur.  That's pretty much the entirely of the comedy, as neither Hana nor her teammates have that much in the way of personality.  Like with most Morinaga works, it's got a rather particular sense of humor.  Either you will love it or you will be completely baffled.  No matter what, though, My Heavenly Hockey Club can be said to be like no other sports that it's not about sports at all.


I've always like Morinaga as an artist, and this series is no exemption from that.  Her character designs are generic and pleasant, which certainly works with the kind of gags she's going for here.  She's not afraid to veer them off into some ridiculous expression or some super-deformed gag, though, accented with much more wacky screentones than Morinaga usually uses.  At least she uses them well, letting them serve as punctuation for a punchline or an over-the-top expression.  Otherwise, the art is perfectly pretty and competent.


Being an old Del-Ray book, there's the usual trio of an honorifics guide, a food-heavy collection of translation notes, and a translated preview of Volume 2 in the back.


I enjoyed My Heavenly Hockey Club, even if it's arguably the weakest of her works published here.  The gags might be a bit more on the nose when compared to Morinaga's previous works, but it's just as subversive and silly as the rest and thus just as enjoyable.

This series was published by Del-Ray.  This series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes available.  8 volumes were published and all are currently out of print.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Now that I'm totally NOT distracted by replaying Persona 4 Golden, let's take things into a more active and athletic direction.  That's right, it's time for sports manga!  So of course the first example I could find was...a kendo-themed drama full of girls?

BAMBOO BLADE (Banbu Buredo), written by Masahiro Totsuka & art by Aguri Igarishi.  First published in 2004 and first published in North America in 2009.


Kojiro-sensei is not having a good year.  His teaching job leaves him hopelessly broke most of the time, living mostly off of instant noodles.  He could distract himself with his duties as head of the school kendo club, but most of the members have graduated and it's on the verge of being shut down.  That's when he makes a bet with an old friend/fellow kendo coach: if Kojiro's team can beat his, then Kojiro can eat for free at his father's sushi restaurant for a year. 

Determined to win, Kojiro sets off to find a winning team, and he first sets his eyes on Tamaki, a kendo prodigy from a long line of kendo dojo masters.  There's just one problem: Tamaki is more interested in tokutatsu than kendo and has no real desire to take up the sport again.  It'll take time, effort, friendship, and even a sense of justice to win her over and forge not only a great kendo team, but some lasting friendships in the making.


Bamboo Blade occupies a strange space, being not quite a traditional sports manga but neither the sort of aimless slice-of-life story that the all-girl cast might suggest.  Still, it devotes enough time and care towards its characters to make it an effective and affecting drama.

The cast is pretty universally endearing, if not all that deep.  Kojiro is mostly defined by his desperation, Kirino is your standard genki girl, Miyako vacillates between her sugary sweet public persona and the brutal girl lying just underneath, and the few boys that gravitate around them are mostly afterthoughts.  If anyone gets the lion's share of focus, it's Tamaki.  It would be all too easy to write her off as just another stoic anime girl, but once we start to see her home life we get a far more complete picture of her.  While she is very skilled at kendo, she's mostly viewed it as a duty up to this point, thanks to her father.  She's also got a very child-like fascination with super sentai shows, and from that she's gained a keen sense of justice and a desire to protect those in need.  As the volume goes on, we see Tamaki open up to others in subtle ways.  For her, the simple act of bringing food to share at lunch is big step forward, and on the whole it's qualities like this that makes her character arc both sweet and subtle.

Despite being about a sport, not much progress is made with the kendo club in this first volume.  Hell, the team isn't even fully assembled at this point and the closest we've gotten to a tournament is a one-on-one match between Tamaki and a bully.  This slow and sedate pace might turn some people off, even if everything else works for them.  Yet it's the sports-related stuff that helps to give the story some focus and forward momentum.  They have something to work for beyond 'make friends.'  They also have things like 'find more members,' 'buy new equipment,' and 'train for the tournament' to complete  Yet it also has a lot of sincere emotion and a minimum of moe pandering.  It's the sort of balance that a lot of manga strive for but that few can truly pull off, and Bamboo Blade is very much one of those exceptions.


Igurashi's artwork is well-suited for this sort of understated story.  The character designs are simple and cute, but also very distinct, very much lacking in fanservice, and fairly expressive.  Well...maybe not so much in Tamaki's case, but her lack of expression is part of the point of her characters so I can let that slide.  She tends to keep the panels fairly tight-focused.  That's not a problem in the conversational scenes, but it becomes one during those rare instances where the girls have to actually practice or compete.  She's got a bad tendency to drown the girls' movements in speedlines.  I understand that kendo is not as dramatic in movement as, say, saber fencing, but it's not enough to truly sell the reader on the speed of the action.  Still, that's probably the biggest flaw in what is otherwise very gentle and appropriate art.


Bamboo Blade is a pleasant combination of sports manga and slice of life.  It's not something that I'm particularly compelled to read more of, but those who want a sports manga without the burning spirit angle would do well to give this a look. 

This series is published by Yen Press.  This series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes available.  All 10 have been published and all are currently in print.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Sometimes the universe lines up in just the right configuration to drop a little bit of luck in your lap.  That's my explanation as for how I managed to stumble across this particular (and not invaluable) volume at my local Half Price Books, tucked away amongst the American comics just in time to close out Old-School Month.

FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (Hokuto no Ken), written by Buronson & art by Hara Tetsuo.  First published in 1983 and first published in North America in 1989.


In a world ravaged by nuclear disaster, there is a hero named Kenshiro who wanders the wasteland.  Trained in the mystic art of Hokuto Shinken, he can take down any opponent with nothing but a few well-placed blows.  What he seeks isn't violence or dominance, though.  What Kenshiro wants is revenge against the warlord who took his fiancé from him and lords over the land with an iron fist.


Reviewing a work like Fist of the North Star is kind of intimidating.  It's not just that it's got a violent reputation, one boosted by innumerable clips from the show and movie.  What's also intimidating is how much its still-dedicated fanbase has hyped it as one of the masterworks of the 1980s.  Now that I've finally had the chance to check it out for myself, I can see where that fanbase is coming from.  Fist of the North Star truly is more than just exploding baddies and "You're already dead."

That's not to say that it isn't violent!  Believe me, there's plenty of violence in the first half, and it tends to play out more or less in the same manner.  Some enormous, hulking marauder threatens others, Ken happens to come along, fights said marauder until he explodes, only to move on.  These instances are brief, but fairly graphic for its time.  It's little wonder that if these moments are your only knowledge of Fist of the North Star, you would presume it's just the story of Kenshiro acting as a wandering badass.  That's selling this series short, though.  There is in fact a lot more story going on here.

Halfway through, we meet Shin, the local warlord.  In fairly quick order, we learn that he has a history with Ken along with possession of Ken's beloved Yuria.  While we've seen moments of understanding, even tenderness out of Ken before this point, it's only in this second half that Ken is shown to be truly human.  He's not just some grim asskicker - he's also capable of love and regret, even in the face of a manipulative bastard like Shin.  There was a reason to care for Kenshiro beyond his great power, and at this point I was compelled.  I wanted to see what happened next, even if the answer to that was him fighting yet another hulking goon and finding a new way to turn him into bloody jelly.  In that sense, Fist of the North Star is a narrative success.  It just takes some time to get there.


It's a little tricky to talk about the art as well because the version I read has been altered from its original state.  In what I can only presume was a move to appeal to American comic readers, this version was fully colorized.  In all fairness, this was done with the full permission and supervision of the original artist, so this isn't a repeat of what happened with Marvel's edition of Akira.  It's also unflipped and printed in a large, almost coffee-table sized format, unlike the previous version released here.  Still, in doing so some of the appeal of Testuo's rich inking and hatching has been lost.  At least the colors are rich, if rather muted in hue as befitting a dark and dismal post-apocalyptic world.

Hara's character designs are both iconic and totally ridiculous.  Kenshiro, Shin, and the various thugs literally tower over everyone else.  Still, there's a fair bit of variety, even if some of the thugs are pretty much just copies of characters from the Mad Max movies.  Still, Kenshiro is distinguished by his relative litheness, an artifact of the influence of Bruce Lee on the character.  He still towers over the comparatively bland normal folk, but he's nowhere near as ridiculous looking as the monstrous, virtually cartoonish thugs he fits.  Hara's also has a brilliant eye for composition.  Every fight and dramatic moment is perfectly framed.  It's not just that every punch, kick and explosion is clear and easy to follow, it's that every panel conveys the awesome, supernatural power they wield through well-chosen poses and angles.  The composition of every page and panel perfectly fits the mood of the scene.  For me, that's what truly takes the artwork over the edge into brilliance.


Fist of the North Star earns its masterpiece status not through its plentiful and memorable gore, but through the heroic heart beating just underneath and the beautifully crafted artwork. That makes all the greater shame that this series has never been - and likely never will - be completed in English.

This series was published by Raijin Comics, and previously by Viz.  The series is complete in Japan with 27 volumes available.  4 volumes were published by Viz and 9 volumes by Raijin, and all are currently out of print.