Monday, July 24, 2006

Manga Monday!!

Welcome to the very first Manga Monday post! This feature will appear weekly on Comics-and-More!

Domu: A Child's Dream
Katsuhiro Otomo
The acclaimed creator of Akira provides his readers with a tale of a haunted apartment complex. People often die of homocides or strange accidents or simply jump off of the rooftop (when the door to the roof is locked!). And each of the victims are missing items, from a pen to a hat to a teddy bear. It's a mystery that has the police baffled and the residents of the complex quaking with fear. Otomo introduces us to several eccentric residents with this tale, including a college student who's failed his entrance exams three years straight by neglecting his homework in favor of constructing model airplanes, and a woman who pushes around a stroller despite having lost her child during a late-term miscarriage. Things at the complex change one day when a little girl moves in, gifted with mental powers, who sees exactly what is going on. The art on this book is fantastic. That goes without saying. There are several beautiful scenes (some horrifying and gruesome, but still beautiful) and some really well-played fight sequences. Unfortunately, the book is supposed to be scary, and it comes off more silly once the threat is revealed fairly early in the story. It's still suspenseful, but it does lose me. And despite the easily-recognizeable characters and odd qualities surrounding them, there's nothing there that makes me particularly care what happens to them. They're all fairly generic, stock characters. The creepy lady is the creepy lady, the big mentally-handicap kid reacts exactly as you think he would. The story itself is the unique thing here and the way that Otomo has the main characters of the tale use their powers for destruction and mayhem. I would still recommend this book for its art alone, and there are some cool moments that really grab you (and a few genuinely spine-chilling panels). Anyone who liked Akira will at least get something out of this silly horror tale. C+

Dragon Head (Volume 3)
Minetaro Mochizuki
Everything changes in the latest installment of Minetaro Mochizuki's survivalist tale. In wake of the battle with Nobuo, Teru and Ako fight to make their way to the surface amid a collapsing tunnel. As is typical with the series, the art is fantastic without a chapter passing that doesn't bring with it a truckload of suspense. Despite the series moving in a new direction, it is still a survivalist tale, as the protagonists soon discover. Shadows seem to live and breathe as Teru tries to understand just what has happened and strives to get back home. This is one series I would not recommend putting off. A

Octopus Girl (Volume 2)
Toru Yamazaki
Toru Yamazaki continues to amaze with his wonderful characters in this disgusting over-the-top dark comedy/horror title. This book is all about the excess and the artist indulges in abundant amounts of snot, blood, violence and death as our anti-heroes rip the flesh from mens' backs and swallow little girls whole. But it's all really great (and to be fair, the little girl was torturing a fish at the time). Despite the sick comedy that oozes from the pages of Octopus Girl, I really do like the main characters and care whether they see themselves out of some pretty bad situations. They're charming despite their awful actions. The only thing that bugs me about this book is that it's so overly sexist. The women survive to find a good man. That is their goal. They kill, maim and back-stab just to be able to cook a meal for a man to try to win him over in hopes that he proposes. And there are two stories in this volume where men nobly sacrifice themselves to save their families. The women aren't so selfless and are usually portrayed as serial killers or trying to lure unsuspecting virgins to early graves. It bugs me. An additional story that does not star Octopus Girl is included in this volume as well - Night of the Rotting Girl's Tears, which is a decent little self-contained horror story, albeit a pretty predictable one. I would really recommend Octopus Girl for anyone who enjoys overdone dark comedy and doesn't mind a little excess gore and sexism sprinkled in for good measure. A

Planetes (Volumes 1 & 2)
Makoto Yulimura
Planetes is a much mellower book compared to the other manga reviewed this week. It's a lot quieter and more internalized with subtle characterization and action that isn't depicted in quite so flashy a fashion. Despite it's being a science fiction work, it's more hard science, grounded in a reality that could conceivably take place years from now as man makes a move toward colonization in space. With it are forseeable politics as terrorists sabotage man's attempts to delve further into the unknown, and characters differing in opinions on philosophical matters. Much of this is background noise, however. The thrust of the story is of three debris cleaners in Earth's orbit. Glorified garbage men. Fee is an in-your-face tomboy with a heart of gold, Hachimaki dreams of playing an important role in humanity's frontier in space, and Yuri suffers from a tragic past that he struggles to put behind him. A series of events occur to these characters over the years, including sabotage, collecting unexpected debris and getting hospitalized so their bodies can deal with the stress of gravity upon reentry on Earth. But don't think it's not exciting, because it really is. The first volume left me wondering whether I wanted to actually continue with the series or not, but by the time I was finished with volume two, I knew that I would pick up the next installment as the astronauts' futures looked more interesting and complicated. This book has a lot of edge-of-your-seat moments with characters that you really grow attached to. There's a lot of heart in this work, but give it a few volumes to work its magic on you. B+

Shojo Beat: August 2006
Vampire Knight
Matsuri Hino
The second chapter of the new Shojo Beat title Vampire Knight disappoints. Despite the promising premise introduced previously, the author doesn't have enough confidence in his readers to build on the story, instead rehashing the premise around St. Xocolatl's Day, where girls give the guys they fancy chocolate. With the anniversary issue of Shojo Beat, the chapters have been told in alternating pink and blue colors, something that I find distracting. Vampire Knight suffers from a bright pink story on top of its mediocre storytelling. D

Absolute Boyfriend
Yuu Watase
Following the best story of the series so far, Absolute Boyfriend falls back into its formula as the love triange of Riiko, Night and Soshi steps up a notch in intensity, with the two men vying for Riiko's heart. Despite an unexpected twist at the end that will force the three to really confront the matter-at-hand, the repercussions from the previous story should have been a lot more powerful. Watase doesn't explore Riiko's feelings nearly as much as she should in light of the trauma that well, I as a reader went through. C

Ai Yazawa
The big moment arrives! Nana Komatsu brings Nana Osaki back home to meet the family before going to the big Trapnest concert where Osaki will see her former lover Ren on stage. Osaki and Komatsu share some very tender moments as Komatsu admits that she's aware of Osaki's past with Ren, and Osaki speaks lovingly of Komatsu to her family. Then there's a really intense moment at the concert right before it begins that had me shifting in my seat. I didn't feel the emotional punch that I usually feel from the title, but with the note this chapter ends on, I'm sure some tears are in store for next month. A-

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