Animal Academy Vol 4 by Moyamu Fujino Manga Review


Title: Animal Academy Vol 4

Author: Moyamu Fujino

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427810984


May Contain Spoilers


Everyone’s on edge with Yuichi having left Morimori after the devastating revelation that he isn’t actually human. Aside from losing one of her best friends (and maybe something more?), Neko is distraught at how the truth about Yuichi affects her own place at this school for animal shape-shifters. But when she herself decides to leave the academy, it’s up to Kotaro to bring her back!

This is developing into such a good series!  Fune’s distress over Yuichi leaving is convincing and I felt so badly for her.  She is torn by conflicting emotions, and she doesn’t know what to do.  Yuichi’s reaction to learning the truth about himself has devastated both himself and Fune. After he leaves, she is left to try and deal with her out of control feelings, and she just can’t do it.

Now that she realizes that she’s the only human at Morimori, the differences between herself and her classmates are jarring and make her uncertain about her place there.  She no longer feels like she belongs there, and it’s eating her up.  Her unhappiness is powerfully communicated to the reader, and I was starting to get upset with her.  Her solution to her problem mirrors Yuichi’s; she runs away and goes back home.

Thankfully, Kotaro goes after her, and their interaction was so sweet!  He has no problem relating to her now that he knows that she’s a human, but getting her to accept that nothing has changed between Fune and her friends isn’t easy for him to do.  His halting arguments for her to go back to school with him kind of choked me up.  Kotaro may be a shape-shifting fox, but darn it, he proved how human he can be during this scene with Fune.  He helped her to open her eyes and see the connections that bound her together with her magical friends.  Yay, Kotaro!  I like you even more than before!

I am dying to know what is up with the Sagami brothers.  All is not right with them, and they can be so sinister at times.  I can hardly wait to find out how they play into the larger scheme of things, and how Yuichi is going to reconcile himself with the truth about who and what he is.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Phantom Dream Vol 4 by Natsuki Takaya Manga Review


Title: Phantom Dream Vol 4

Author: Natsuki Takaya

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427810922


May Contain Spoilers

From RightStuf:

Eiji’s life hangs in the balance as factions once again shift and realign. Asahi struggles with her new powers and guilt over what happened in the past, while Tamaki strives to control the continuing outbreak of chaos in the present. And a mysterious new figure emerges to join the battle, but is he an ally or an enemy?!

Phantom Dream is an emotionally complex series that isn’t getting half of the attention it deserves.  It features one of my favorite plot devices – reincarnation – and love that survives over countless years, only to explode in a complicated collision of past and present personalities.  Time has marched steadily forward, changing and altering all of the individuals who have served Suigekka, both before and after her brutal murder at the hands of frightened humans.  Her lover, Hira, vows to have vengeance against the entire human race, while his younger brother, Saga, vows to save them from Hira’s wrath.  Both sides battle for over a century, until Suigekka is reincarnated as Asahi.  When she regains knowledge of her past life, she abandons her lover, Tamaki, the current head of the Otoya family, the line that descended from Saga. She goes back to the Gekka family, who are descended from Hira, to fight against Tamaki and his companions.

The participants in the battle of good against evil are all rendered sympathetic.  Even those who fight for Hira, whose only wish is to destroy mankind, are given depth and motivations that are easy to relate to.  Alliances shift and change, as the characters are forced to interact with each other and as they begin to question their own actions.  Everyone must take a good, hard look inside themselves, and most of them don’t like what they see.  Loyalties are questioned, altering the conflict between Hira and Saga. 

I think I like this series so much because everyone is so willing to sacrifice themselves for the people they love.  Tamaki is doomed if he continues to use his powers to exorcise the Jaki that Hira’s followers continue to create, but he stubbornly refuses to give up his never-ending battle.  He’s changed from the beginning of the series, when he used his spells only out of a sense of duty.  The stakes have increased to the point that he can’t give up, because doing so will doom humanity.  Asahi’s defection has been a terrible blow, but it has made him even more determined to defeat Hira.

This is not an uplifting story, and that’s another reason why I like it so much.  The characters are driven to fulfill their duty, even knowing that it will result in their destruction.  Everyone is pushed along on a tide of emotion and obligation, and they are helpless in its relentless current.  There is no turning back for any of them.  They can’t escape their fate, and that makes for some very compelling reading.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Animal Academy Vol 3 by Moyamu Fujino Manga Review


Title: Animal Academy Vol 3

Author: Moyamu Fujino

Publisher:  Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427810977


May Contain Spoilers

From the back of the book:

As Miika struggles to be more independent, Fune gets a fever overnight! A small conspiracy begins regarding how to get her human cold medicine without revealing her secret, but someone seizes it as an opportunity to spy on something else. At the same time, Kotaro decides to impress Miika as she still seems to be ignorant of his true feelings. However, in midst of all the mess, Yuuichi is the one who will take the point of no return…

Animal Academy is shaping up into a solid title.  The series emphasizes the characters’ interactions with each other, and their diverse personalities don’t always promote harmony between them.  They bounce against each other like pinballs, trying to find some common ground and accept their differences.  Fune is a sweet girl with a kind heart, and all she wants is for everyone to get along.  To add complications to her already convoluted life, Miiko, a cat with an attitude, has claimed Fune as her own.  Sharing isn’t something she’s good at, and neither is getting along with anybody else!  It figures that she would make a beeline for Fune’s attentions.

The group is starting to come together and they rally behind Fune when she falls ill with a cold.  Even Miiko manages to muster enough interest to help Fune with her first assignment for the ninja club, even though she thinks it’s pointless.  I thought that Miiko has shown a lot of growth since the first volume, when I couldn’t stand her and her self-absorbed attitude.  Now she has been painted with more sympathetic brush strokes, and I see her indifference as uncertainty and trepidation of making a mistake and getting hurt.

Kotaro is one of my favorite characters.  He is so positive and sunny, it’s almost impossible to not be drawn to him.  He always sees the bright side of every situation, even when Miiko continually turns him down cold whenever he expresses his interest in her.  She must have the heart of an ice cube to not have the teeniest bit of affection for him.  Who cares that they are different species?  Love is supposed to conquer all obstacles.

There is a huge character revelation in this volume, and it is hard to keep this spoiler free.  Takuma is forced to do some serious soul searching, and his dilemma is turning Fune’s world upside down.  Of all of her new friends, Takuma is the one she feels the most comfortable with, and his distress is tearing her apart.  She doesn’t know what to do to make him feel better, and her inability to help him is breaking her heart. 

I am looking forward to the next volume, and I hope we’ll learn more about Sasuke and Yusuke.  There is something going on with them, and I haven’t figured out quite what it is yet.  I am also wondering how Takuma is going to resolve his issues.  But probably the biggest question I have is how long will it be before Miiko starts to warm up even a little to Kotaro?

Grade:  B

This book was rented from my local library.  Support your library!

Deadman Wonderland Vol 1 by Kataoka & Kondou Manga Review


Title: Deadman Wonderland Vol 1

Authors: Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Publisher:  Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427817419

May Contain Spoilers

Ganta Igarashi survived the Great Tokyo Earthquake ten years ago, and now the middle school student is focused on his studies and his friends.  When the mysterious “Red Man” appears at his school and slaughters all of his classmates, Ganta is the only one left alive.  Tried for the murders, Ganta is found guilty and sentenced to death.  He’s sent to the prison known as “Deadman Wonderland,” where the inmates compete in bizarre games to entertain visitors.  Can Ganta stay alive long enough to prove his innocence?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Deadman Wonderland, but I was pleasantly surprised with the high intensity action that starts early in the volume and doesn’t let up for the duration of the read.  Ganta is a horrified bystander as a creepy being dressed in red swoops down and massacres his classmates.  When Ganta wakes up, he’s in the hospital and some very humorless law enforcement officials let him know that he’s going to be packed off to Deadman Wonderland to carry out his sentence.  Oh, yeah, his sentence is death, and he’s going to be jailed with some very unpleasant individuals.  What hope does a kid have to survive in that kind of environment?

The prison is privately owned and operated, and it earns its revenues as a tourist destination.  There are scheduled events featuring the prisoners, sort of like the Coliseum and the gladiators of ancient Rome.  Ganta quickly gets off on the wrong foot with a ruthless inmate, and his first contest turns into a deadly obstacle course where he has to avoid getting killed by his new enemy as well as avoid the deadly traps set along the path.  The blood and gore never stop, nor do the terrifying realizations that the prison is harboring something very deadly and very scary within its walls.

The characters are a mix of diverse personalities.  Ganta is out of his element,  bewildered and intimidated by the ruthless criminals surrounding him.  The guards aren’t much better, and the chief prison guard, Makina, takes an instant and intense dislike to him.  He is stuck in a game and he doesn’t understand the rules, and struggling to survive one nasty scrape after another has distracted him from doing something really, really important.  What’s that?  Reading the handy dandy little rulebook that’s issued to every new inmate.  Instead, he’s too busy trying to not get killed to worry about reading the prison handbook.

The art keeps the story going full steam ahead, rendering Ganta’s activities in easy to follow illustrations.  The story may be dark and mysterious, but the art never leaves you guessing.  Terror, rage, and determination flitter across Ganta’s features, and each and every emotion is plain to read.  This kid is screwed, and he doesn’t know how to get himself out of madness he’s now wallowing in.

Deadman Wonderland yields up a roller coaster of action as it careens from one page to the next.  It does a great job making you want to read more.  Volume 2, where are you?

Grade: B

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Portrait of M & N Vol 1 by Tachibana Higuchi Manga Review


Title: Portrait of M & N Vol 1

Author: Tachibana Higuchi

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427817242

May Contain Spoilers

This book was so not my cup of tea.  There is just something very off-putting about a bruised and battered girl begging to be beaten, kicked, and punched.  That she is overcome in a frenzy of ecstasy at the mere thought of being physically abused is even more disturbing.  Because I consider the subject matter so repulsive, the humor didn’t work for me at all.  It was a struggle to reach the last page, and worse, the bonus story also featured an abusive relationship.  I think that ‘”A Girl in a Birdcage” was even more upsetting, because the heroine justifies the verbally abusive relationship and then accepts that it is all right to remain in a relationship with a guy who scares and intimidates her.  No thanks – don’t want!

Getting back to the title story, Mitsuru has a dark secret.  When she experiences a jolt of pain, she craves more, and her alter ego emerges, demanding more abuse until she loses consciousness.  She is starting at new school, and her family is putting a lot of pressure on her to not repeat the spectacle that she caused at the old one.  When her secret is revealed to aloof but handsome Natsuhiko, she’s mortified.  Until she learns that Natsuhiko has a terrible secret, too.  He’s a narcissist and he loves only himself!  Can two dysfunctional people form a lasting friendship?

Part of my problem with Portrait of M & N are the extremes that Tachibana Higuchi pushes her protagonists through.  The sight of a bleeding, bandaged girl just didn’t elicit much amusement from me.  Natsuhiko’s vice isn’t as visually upsetting; he transforms into a quivering ball of self-love when he catches a glimpse of himself.  Maybe due to the absence blood, his displays of self-adoration, while not exactly funny, as least didn’t make me want to throw the book against a wall.

Both of the characters are very reserved and keep themselves at a distance from everyone, including the reader.  In an effort to remain detached and invisible, they only draw more attention to themselves. It doesn’t help that they are also very attractive, and they have piqued the interest of their classmates.  When Mitsuru thinks she’s finally found a kindred soul, Natsuhiko tries to give her the cold-shoulder.   If there was any aspect of the book that I did like, it was the gradual thawing of Natsuhiko’s personality.  He is not a likable guy because he thinks so highly of himself, so it was somewhat gratifying to watch him change because of Mitsuru’s influence.

Because I felt uncomfortable with the premise of the story, I did not enjoy reading Portrait of M & N.  Yes, I realize that it’s supposed to be funny, but I was too appalled by the subject  matter to find any humor in the events taking place in the book.  Tachibana Higuchi’s sense of humor is just a little too dark for my sensibilities.

Grade: C-

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Happy Cafe Vol 1 by Kou Matsuzuki Manga Review


Title: Happy Cafe Vol 1

Author: Kou Matsuzuki

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427817303

May Contain Spoilers

Happy Cafe reminded me a lot of Pearl Pink, both in terms of artist style and storytelling.  The illustrations are energetic and facial expressions offer up a surprising amount of detail.  The story is fast-paced and Uru’s bubbly personality carries the cast. 

Uru is desperately seeking happiness after a misunderstanding at home sends her out on her own.  Her mother has remarried, and the 16 year old feels like a burden to her mom and new step-dad, so she convinces them to let her live on her own.  Uru wants to work at Cafe Bonheur after overhearing some customers comment about how happy they were after eating there.  After meeting Shindo, who is not the friendliest of people, she has to convince him to give her a job and a chance to prove herself.  All she really wants is to make people happy, and Uru believes that being a waitress at the restaurant is her ticket to beaming smiles.  If Shindo doesn’t nag her to death first.

Happy Cafe is a pleasant read, and it has a feel good vibe going for it.  Uru isn’t cut out for waitressing, because despite her diminutive stature, she is surprisingly strong and clumsy.  These are obviously not good traits for a waitress to have, and broken glasses and dishes soon pile up around her.  Shindo is only happy when he’s making his pasties, and he isn’t very encouraging when Uru first starts working at the cafe.  It’s hard to blame him, though, when you tabulate all of the broken place settings.  Uru has such a positive outlook, though, that it will only be a matter of time before she wins Shindo over.  In the meantime, there is a steady dose of comedy as Uru tries to adjust to her new job duties without destroying the cafe.

This is a character driven story, and the personalities are interesting enough to carry it forward.  I was disappointed with the premise, and felt that Uru’s background circumstances were flimsy and unconvincing.  Putting that aside, the book does a good job drawing out Shindo and Ichiro’s quirks.  The interaction between the three main characters kept me turning the pages, and I am wondering where the relationship between Uru and Shindo will go.  Shindo is not an encouraging or friendly kind of guy, so it will be interesting to see if Uru’s breezy personality can transform him into a nicer guy.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil Vol 2 Manga Review


Title: Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil Vol 2

Story:  Kazuki Nakashima

Art: Karakarakemuri

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427815712

May Contain Spoilers

This series has come out of nowhere and has knocked my socks off.  I don’t feel that the humor always hits its mark, but the combination of attractive art and rollicking action has yielded a one-two knock out.  There were several twists in this installment that took me by surprise, and when I hit the last page, I didn’t want the adventure to end. 

The three Takerus have been accepted by the women warriors of Jagara, and they have agreed to help them defend their kingdom and the Sword of Susanoh against the invading armies from Amamikado.  Izumo is still intent on finding the weapon, and he thinks he’s getting closer to recovering it.  When the armies of Amamikado launch a surprise attack, traitors are revealed and all hope for survival is almost lost.  Will the Takerus be able to fight their way out of this mess?

Galloping along at breakneck speed, this volume uncovers Oguna’s true identity, and turns allies against each other.  With most of the focus on the confrontation with the forces from Amamikado, once the battle begins, the action doesn’t let up.  A couple of the plot devices seemed a little too convenient, but there is so much going on that a few bobbles didn’t detract from the story.  This is very much like a popcorn action flick, and as long as you don’t examine all of the underlying structures, it provides some solid entertainment. 

The characters are fairly one-dimensional, with the villains providing a splash of evil for no other reason than to drive the action forward.  There is no character development, just a group of individuals who behave within a rigid set of rules.  If you’re good, you’re good, and if you’re bad, you’re really bad.  Unless you are possessed by a cursed sword, and then all bets are off.  The formula works because the good guys are likeable and you’ll want to see them win. They have certainly become the underdogs, though, and things have gotten very precarious for them.  It’s going to be a long wait until December, when volume three hits the shelves.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Karakuri Odette Vol 1 by Julietta Suzuki Manga Review


Title:  Karakuri Odette Vol 1

Author: Julietta Suzuki

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427814074

May Contain Spoilers

The premise of this series is very simple, yet still very compelling.  When Professor Yoshizawa creates the beautiful android Odette, she convinces her creator to allow her to attend high school.  Odette wants to learn what it means to be human.  The professor is reluctant, but he finally relents.  Will Odette be able to make friends and discover the true meaning of being human?

I love this book!  Through simple, slice of life vignettes,  Julietta Suzuki shares Odette’s introduction to all things human.  Despite having emotionless facial features and a very low key personality, she comes across full of curiosity and with an eagerness to learn.  As she discovers what sets her apart from her classmates, she asks Yoshizawa to make modifications to her programming so that she doesn’t stand out so much.  When events go awry, she also learns the limitations of being an ordinary human, which pushes her to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her new friend.

As Odette navigates her way through the ritual of making friends and surviving high school, she comes across as much more human than some of her classmates.  With her inquisitive mind and lack of guile, she accepts everyone at face value and expects them to be as upfront with her as she is with them.  That’s all she knows.   Even with her restrained expressions, she manages to draw people to her once she decides that she wants to be friends.  Because she isn’t very experienced with human emotions, she is incapable of making harsh judgments about others.  When she learns about the school delinquent, she wants to be his friend, even though he doesn’t want to spare her another thought and even her other friends are cautioning her against it.  He quickly learns, though her quiet persistence, that even he can’t remain immune to her earnest attempts at friendship for very long, and her friends learn that first impressions can be deceiving.

With its understated presentation, Karakuri Odette delivers a surprisingly charming tale.  Featuring a very compelling heroine, it’s hard to stay detached from the events taking place in the story.  Odette succeeds as an engaging character because she possesses the very traits she is desperately trying to understand.

Grade: A

Review copy provided by Tokyopop