Monday, May 28, 2007

Manga Monday 35

This week, I read a lot of Hana-Kimi. I love buying a lot of a manga series and reading it in quick succession. I did the same thing with Death Note. The stories just seem to flow better, and Hana-Kimi is a series with several volumes already out, so I have a lot of catching up to do...

Hana-Kimi (Volumes 2 - 4)
Hisaya Nakajo

This is a really fun shojo series to follow. Like I said before, this series follows a young girl named Mizuki who has left her family in America to go to an all boys' school in Japan in secret, to be close to Izumi Sano, her inspiration. She quickly makes friends and happens to be the roommate of her heart's desire... Each subsequent volume of the series is just as fun as the first. Silly, dramatic, funny and lovely. I really enjoy the supporting character in the series named Nakatsu, who has a crush on Mizuki without knowing she's a girl, but unable to help himself and his "gay" feelings. He's always funny and I keep help rooting for the guy, even if Izumi is who she's ultimately meant to be with. But anyway, another thing I like about this series is how each volume is kind of like a storyarc, moreso than most manga that I read. Volume two was about Mizuki's half-brother visiting her from America, volume three followed her and a few of her friends as they worked at a beach chalet over break, and volume four begins the annual war of the dorms. Even the opening of each volume is like opening up the trade collection of a superhero book, with a brief recap of the situation thus far before the characters continue their story. I found it a little odd to be structured this way, even though it makes perfect sense for collections (which is why superhero books do it), but like with Absolute Boyfriend, which also has storyarcs, there's never really a recap like this; It just continues, assuming you've read what's come so far or that you won't get lost if you pick up where the current chapter begins. It was just interesting to see. In the end, it doesn't really matter. It's all good and that's what's important. A-

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Vampire Loves

Joann Sfar

Vampire Loves contains some beautiful art from Joann Sfar. The art was probably the primary reason for picking this title up in the first place, that and I can be in the mood for a cute, silly supernatural book such as this sometimes, and the mood struck me when I saw this title. And it is all of that: cute, silly and beautiful. Unfortunately, the rest doesn't hold together all that well. This is a good book, but like the book jacket says about Sfar's writing style, it's rambling. And when I agree with that description, I mean it meanders. It's all over the place, without much focus. The book basically follows Ferdinand the Vampire as he goes on several adventures, seeking love in all the wrong places. But the story also shifts to scenes of Ferdinand's friends (sometimes even before they've crossed paths with Ferdinand) in their relationships and extracurricular activities. I guess if there is a theme to the book it's summarized in the title: it's all about love, or the illusion of it as werewolves, golems and invisible men grope blindly for Mr. or Miss Right Now, until things go wrong and they must find comfrot in the arms of another stranger. But then we find ourselves alongside Ferdinand as he gets involved in a murder mystery, a plot that suddenly just drops away, and we're left wondering what the point of its inclusion was. A lot of things that occur in this book seem to be there just to be whacky and the "story" if there is a central story in there, isn't tight, but goes all over the board, leaving readers with puzzled feelings over what they'd just read when all is finished, with a final page that could be seen from three pages into the book because it was really the only way to bookend the stories within to make for some semblance of order in what is ultimately a mess. A beautiful mess, but a mess nonetheless. C-

Monday, May 21, 2007

Manga Monday 34: Hana-Kimi

Hana-Kimi (Volume 1)
Hisaya Nakajo


I noticed this book while I was shelving manga at work...it was a really tame design - not as in-your-face-read-me as a lot of other manga, and I noticed that there were plenty of volumes out already. Then I saw the first volume at a used bookstore and read the back cover, consequently picking it up. And I'm glad I did. It's not the most original premise in the world or anything. It's about a young girl, Mizuki Ashiya, who goes all Mulan and joins an all-boys school when she leaves her parents back in America to attend school in Japan. She decides to pose as a boy so she can be close to high jumper Izumi Sano, who's a big inspiration to her, and whom she wants to high jump with some day. As luck would have it, not only is she in the same class, but she also becomes his roommate! Of course, this presents problems in itself, along with the infatuation most of the school seems to have for this new "pretty boy" who acts so strange. Hisanya Nakajo knows how to keep her audience in suspense with great cliffhangers at the end of most chapters as Izuki tries to keep her little secret, although I'm not sure that what Nakajo is doing for some plot threads is the best she could do for the tension. However, with what I've read so far, I'll just go along with it and trust that the creator has something up her sleeve at this point and that it's all for a reason. Hana-Kimi ("For You in Full Blossom") is great fun in the end, funny at times, silly at others, but overall, a fine start to a series. The bonus story included with the first few chapters of the ongoing story, "The Cage of Summer," did little to showcase the artist's talents, however, and could have been left out... B+

Mail (Volume 2)
Housui Yamazaki

The second volume of the supernatural thriller continues to be a series of little vignettes strung together with the common guest appearance of exorcist detective Reiji Akiba, who comes to save the day with his spirit gun and send troubled souls on to the next course of their journey in the afterlife. This book is pretty much consistent with the quality of the first volume, with genuinely creepy moments and fantastic art from the creator. Akiba could be doted on a bit more by the creator to give some depth to at least one person in the book, but for now, Yamazaki seems content with scares that involve pretty flat characters. But I think the generic characters kind of serve as everymen that the reader can easily project themselves onto, maybe making the events that much scarier. Readers may not be invested in the stars of the tales, but they're still freaky nonetheless. B

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Links

This is a great review of the fantastic 28 Weeks Later, courtesy of Sean Collins.

And here is a thought-provoking essay on something that should be rule-of-thumb.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Manga Monday 33

Eden: It's An Endless World! (Volume 5)
Hiroki Endo

The fifth installment of Hiroki Endo's post-apocolyptic sci-fi series delves into the past of one of the most intriguing characters of the cast of characters - that of Sophia, the "pretty hate machine" the first two chapters of the book are named after. Sophia shares her disturbing past, void of feeling, physically and emotionally, with a program that's manifested in her mind as she's being repaired. Afterward, the cast of characters involved in previous epic battles use their skills in an attempt to rescue the main character of the series' - Elijah's - mother and sister from enemy hands. Unfortunately, this volume of the series is very disappointing compared to previous installments. Sophia's past isn't very interesting and only serves to strip away much of the mystery that makes her character cool in the first place. The big battle that ensues is a pale shadow of former battles in the series with little emotional payoff even as major consequences are a result of the events. The battle sequences are less than spectacular, and are very forgettable. Especially in wake of Endo's Tanpenshu, reading this was quite the disappointment, particularly since this was by far the weakest volume of the series. I can only hope Endo hasn't lost his creative edge demonstrated early in the series, so soon into this work. But ultimately, I have faith in the creator and give him the benefit of a doubt that this was an off volume, and the disturbing scenes and great action sequences he's executed before, will again return to the title with the sixth book. C-

Love*Com
Aya Nakahara

The first chapter of Love*Com was previewed in the most recent issue of Shojo Beat. And it made the latest issue of Eden: It's An Endless World! look like a masterpiece. This was one of the most droll manga reads I've ever experienced. It follows a tall girl (Risa Koizumi) and a short boy (Atsushi Otani) who everyone associates with one another and who loathe each other. But in an amazing twist, we realize that these two actually like each other! .... Come on! The cliches pile up quickly in this book as uninteresting character after another is introduced. In one scene, during a double date where Risa nervously converses with a boy, she thinks to herself "Hey, this is going pretty good" after a completely awkward exchange of dialogue, a sort of scene that's repeated throughout the chapter, as if Nakahara had ideas for scenes, but wasn't interested enough to develop them into...you know, scenes. Fortunately for Nakahara, she is a talented cartoonist and beautifully illustrates the pages. But she should really be illustrating someone else's story since she seems incapable of producing anything of substance on her own here. F+ (the plus is for the art alone)

Shojo Beat also held some really exciting news about the next issue, because there will be an excerpt from Osama Tezuka's Princess Knight, a groundbreaking shojo series from 1953! Which of course means we will be seeing volumes of the book released in the coming months!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Young Avengers (Volume 2)

Family Matters

Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Andrea Divito, Michael Gaydos & others
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The second volume of Young Avengers takes place before the events of Civil War turned the Marvel Universe on its head, so the arguments that take place between the kids and the New Avengers is whether they are too young to fight as superheroes. Captain America believes so and would tell the kids' parents to stop them. Secrets are revealed as the Young Avengers debate the best course of action, and find themselves unable to hang up their tights. This volume also blatantly addresses the blooming love between two male members of the team: Wiccan and Hulkling, and portrays their relationship in a positive way, pretty much scrapping any stereotypes associated with homosexuality (aside from the obligatory coming out scene) and making them, for all intents and purposes, like any heterosexual couple in comics, but for the fact that they are both male.
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This book sees the young heroes battle Mr. Hyde and Super Skrull, and also includes Young Avengers Special #1 which guest stars Jessica Jones and gives readers a glimpse of their lives before Iron Lad gathered them all in the first storyarc to battle Kang the Conquerer. It also introduces new teammates and points to the heritage of all of the Young Avengers except for Kate (Hawkeye), whose background, I hope, is forthcoming. The art by Jim Cheung is fantastic as usual, and the fill-ins from Andrea Divito fit in nicely with the series. The Special was mostly drawn by Michael Gaydos, and those scenes were obviously some of the best in the book, while each of the Young Avengers' flashbacks got a different artist, all of which were great and boast names such as Gene Ha, Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Pasqual Ferry and Neal Adams. This is a great continuation of the story of the Young Avengers. I think that the series has hit its stride here, and I'm hoping Civil War didn't do too much to upset that. A

Monday, May 07, 2007

Manga Monday 32

This week, two quick reviews of books illustrated by Takeshi Obata...

Death Note (Volume 11)
Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

The latest installment of one of the best manga out there presently sees many pieces being set into place before the endgame between Light and Near. I believe there are two volumes left of the series, but I've heard from other sources that there is only one more, because they were published differently in America. Either way, the ending is going to be tense with what we've seen leading up to it thus far. The art is beautiful as ever among a few surprises and high tension between all of the players. Unforunately, this particular volume felt like it was leading up to something big with little in terms of memorable scenes. It's great in the context of the bigger picture of the series, but on its own, it hardly stands as something spectacular. B+

Hikaru No Go (Volume 9)
Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata

Takeshi Obata also does fantastic work on the new Hikaru No Go, where our protagonist Hikaru works hard over the summer to become a better go player in face of the pro test. Fortunately, Hikaru's confidence is built up as he makes progress toward becoming someone to reckon with, without the aide of his ghost Fujiwara-no-Sai, who becomes a little awed at his progress. The next few volumes are sure to be tense as Hikaru barely scratched the surface of the pro tests in this book, but is sure to get noticed by his rival Akira Toya in the coming weeks of the tournament. B+

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Living Statues

Emily Blair

A one-shot comic from the talented Emily Blair hits comic shelves this July (courtesy of Locust Street Comics) and should get more notice than it inevitably will. The black and white issue follows a cynical teacher on a trip to Florence with his class, where he sees that things have changed from his visit as a college student, for the worse. Particulalry in the form of the living statues, who pose as David and Neptune, stone-still, for money. But his contempt goes beyond that, as he sees all of the tourists, his students, his fellow chaperones, as simple and unappreciative beings. This lonely, bitter man wonders how those around him would react to different situations (like if he fell over a guard rail) and lets a stray word slip here and there as he does his best to alienate himself among the beautiful art that I can only think of calling a woodcut sort of style. It's a very interesting look and a work with a lot of depth, particularly impressive for a single 32-page work. I encourage people to watch for this one when it comes out. A

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rant: What's wrong with Justin Timberlake?

I don't get it when people say that they won't see a movie with Justin Timberlake in it. His performance in Alpha Dog is supposed to good, but because it's Justin, people won't see it. And people say they "can't stand" Sarah Michelle Gellar or Katie Holmes. I personally don't like Tom Hanks' performances because I think he overacts in a manner that I find abrasive, but that's the art and is fair game. Not liking a celebrity is just kind of immature. Because they're a celebrity, people suddenly have the right to make snap judgments? How would these people like the same treatment? I'm prone to like celebrity gossip as much as the next person, but some people are just so mean-spirited toward celebrities. Is Sarah Michelle Gellar too pretty, and women are jealous? Does Katie Holmes remind someone of a stepsister? I don't get it. Justin Timberlake is extremely talented. He's a great performer, great songwriter and singer, and he can act. And he's gorgeous. Yeah, get over it. Just because the guy's talented is no reason to hate the guy. Think he's overrated? Fine. But being so mean-spirited toward him doesn't make sense to me. There's the argument that he got a break because of his looks, and I say so what. Sure, there may be someone out there who's ugly who's extremely talented, but I still don't think they could do specifically what Timberlake does merely because he is so good-looking; He has a confidence that someone who's not as attractive would lack, and that lack of confidence would carry over into performances, songwriting and yes, acting. People who weren't blessed with the model gene can be great at these sort of things too, but I don't want to see them performing while singing "Sexyback." All this jealousy and viciousness just drives me crazy. Even I found a few performances by Tom Hanks to be subdued enough to enjoy. Just ask yourself why you "can't stand" that celebrity and see if you can come up with any good answers before spouting opinions grounded in jealousy.