Special Series-The Palette of Twelve Secret Colors by Nari Kusakawa

Ruby from Ruby’s Reads started a new meme.  Join her and share your favorite Special Series!

I love, love, love Nari Kusakawa.  She has a unique art style, and she is able to blend fantasy elements, humor, and romance into an absolute bundle of joy.  She pushes all of the right buttons for me with her quirky characters, clever dialog, and fun stories.  CMX, the shuttered manga arm of DC Comics, published a few of her series before their untimely demise, and I enjoyed all of them.  I am still a tiny bit bitter that the end of Two Flowers For the Dragon never saw store shelves, because I loved that series as well.  While it is difficult to find new copies of The Palette of Twelve Secret Colors to purchase, it looks like they are available used if you look around.

1. What’s the series about?

On the magical island of Opal, the plumage of vividly colored birds gives colors to many beautiful items.  Only Palettes can extract the colors from the birds’ feathers  and transfer them to cloth and other items.  Cello is studying to become a Palette, but she is a bit clumsy and struggles with even the most simple of spells.  With the help of her bird Yoyo, her friends, and handsome Dr Guell, Cello works hard to achieve her dream of becoming a Palette.

2. Why are you pushing this series?

The above description doesn’t do this series justice, so I will try to convince you to track the books down and share the wonder that is The Palette of Twelve Secret Colors.  This series is presented in slice of life chapters which tie the characters and their actions together into a larger, more sweeping story.  The action follows Cello as she bumbles her way through her studies.  Though she is incredibly gifted, she lacks confidence in herself, so she constantly has to fight with her self-doubts.  When her magic goes awry, and it often does, with humorous results, she has to visit Dr Guell so he can undo her spells.  I loved their relationship, and how it slowly blossomed from a reluctant attraction into something deeper and more meaningful.  They both try to fight their feelings for each other, but because they are made for each other, their struggles are in vain. They are polar opposites, and every time they interacted, I couldn’t help laughing at the dialog.  Nari Kusakawa also puts them both into ridiculous situations, and they often have to work together to get out of them.

When I first discovered Nara Kusakawa, I did not like her art work.  Not one bit.  Her drawings are very whimsical, and I didn’t like that.  But as I read more of her work, I began to see the humor and the attention to detail that she inserted into her illustrations.  Her characters are expressive and give a great deal of depth to her stories.  The cast is kept small, so that the focus can remain firmly set on Cello, Dr Guell, and both of their birds.  Yes, Yoyo and Olga, Dr Guell’s bird, make this story special.  They interfere with the deeper emotions that are growing between Cello and Dr Guell.  Olga is insanely jealous of Cello, and her single-minded attempts to keep the two humans apart always made me smile.  I came to love the birds as much as I loved Cello and Dr Guell.

3. Who would like this series? 

Anyone who enjoys humorous stories with light fantasy and romance elements would like The Palette of 12 Secret Colors.  Weighing in at six volumes,  it isn’t a long series, so it won’t leave a huge dent in your wallet.  If you are interested in graphic novels but not sure where to start reading them, this is a very good introduction to the world of comics.  The tone of the story is light, it’s easy to follow, and the characters and the situations they find themselves in are fun and endearing. Go on!  Give this series a try!

Your Manga Minute – CMX Revisited Posted at Newsarama!

Ok, I’m still a bit broken up about the whole CMX massacre.  All of those series that I started collecting, spending my hard earned dollars on, that I won’t have a chance to finish reading – that really bums me out!  Instead of dwelling on the negative, though, I thought I’d fondly remember some of the series that I did get to finish reading.  Check out my new Your Manga Minute over at Newsarama to see which CMX titles I have enjoyed over the years.  What were some of your favorites?

Say it Ain’t So. PLEASE!! RIP CMX Manga

DC Comics announced that they are shuttering CMX, effective July 1, 2010.  What awful news!  CMX was one of my favorite publishers, and they offered a wonderful variety of titles.  Some of my favorite series are CMX titles.  Nari Kusakawa is a must buy artist, and now I sob at the thought of the premature end to all of the CMX books that I have come to love. They will never receive the ending they deserve here, and that makes me very unhappy.  More importantly, I am very sorry about the lost jobs that this announcement brings.  CMX employees were always so wonderful to work with, and I wish them luck in the future.  My heart goes out to them.

This news has really got me down.  First, Viz eliminated 40% of their work force last week.  Now DC Comics is completely shuttering the CMX offices.  I am terribly worried about the future of manga.  So many companies have closed up shop, and each is a loss to the industry that I love.  With fewer companies publishing manga, there are fewer choices on bookstore shelves, and publishers will be very, very hesitant to license anything remotely chancy.  All of the little gems that don’t get much buzz will remain buried, like undiscovered treasure.  Last week I was looking for a silver lining.  Today I am looking for my tissues, to blot away my tears.  This is a bitter pill to swallow, and I wonder where it will end?

With CMX out of the picture, the manga landscape looks pretty bleak.  Sure, Viz releases many series that I enjoy, but they are, for the most part, just variations on the same theme.  We have the fighting manga and the high school romance manga, and until Viz gathered up a little courage and started giving us the Viz Signature and Ikki imprints, that was about it.  I love Bleach and Vampire Knight, but there are times that I want to read something a little more cutting edge or intended for an older audience.  Something that I can relate to, something that speaks to me.

Now here’s the scary thing – what other publishers are in a hurt box, and weighing the same decision.  To keep trying to make a buck in this challenging economic environment, or to call it quits and give up.  CMX had DC’s might behind them, but they have always been treated like the red-headed step-child in that house.  Not much effort went into trumpeting their books.  Worse, book store availability has always been an issue.  I personally have never had an issue buying their titles, but I purchase 99.9% of my books online.  It takes a raging fire to get me into the not so local Borders, and the disorganization of the shelves always sets my teeth on edge.

So, Dark Horse, DMP, Vertical, TOKYOPOP,  and Yen Press, what are you doing to make sure you aren’t the next victim in the manga publisher bloodbath?  DMP has slowed output way down, and has tried to shift their focus more to online offerings.  If Apple and Adobe were friends and my iPad ran Flash, I would be all over DMP’s eManga.com website.  Dark Horse and Vertical seem very cautious with licensing decisions, and they only release a few choice selections every month.  TOKYOPOP discovered the danger of flooding the market with too many releases each month; there are only so many dollars to go around, and when a company is sniping it’s own sales, life gets difficult very quickly.  Yen Press has an interesting catalog, and they aren’t afraid to adapt some high profile titles into a graphic novel format.  They did ax Yen Plus magazine.  And I wonder how profitable the Twilight GN really was for them.

So here we are, and I am feeling more pessimistic about the future of manga in the US than I have in a long, long time.  Like every other hobby, strained leisure spending is taking its toll on an industry that was flying high just a few short years ago.  Or was that all smoke and mirrors, much like the financial markets that have brought this once mighty economic machine to its knees? How much worse are things going to get, before they finally do get better?

Here is the DC press release:

Over the course of the last six years, CMX has brought a diverse list of titles to America and we value the books and creators that we helped introduce to a new audience. Given the challenges that manga is facing in the American marketplace, we have decided that CMX will cease publishing new titles as of July 1, 2010.

The shuttering of the CMX line does not affect the best-selling series Megatokyo which will continue publication, now as a DC Comics title with story and art by Megatokyo’s award-winning creator Fred Gallagher.

We’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the efforts and dedication of the CMX staff and to thank our fans who have supported CMX.

–Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio

The Name of the Flower Vol 3 by Ken Saito Manga Review


Title: The Name of the Flower Vol 3

Author: Ken Saito

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401215989


May Contain Spoilers

From CMX website:

Ever since Kei left home so abruptly and has stayed away, Chouko has been worried sick. Akiyama—Kei’s friend and editor—rushes over to check on Chouko’s state and is alarmed by what he finds. Her abandonment issues are back, and she has fallen into another depression. When word gets back to Kei, will the news make him rush back to be by Chouko’s side? Or will it push him further away?

If two people ever needed each other, it’s Kei and Chouko.  Both of them have been abandoned and have issues trusting other people.  Kei is living with the crushing guilt of feeling responsible for his mother’s death, and Chouko is just a shy and very lonely girl.  When she moves in with Kei, the two develop an awkward closeness that grows into something much more.  As Chouko begins to emerge from her shell and starts making friends in college, Kei begins to feel threatened.  When a ghost from his past reappears, he snaps.  Left alone again, Chouko falls into an abyss of depression of her own.  Will Akiyama be able to save both of them?

This series is interesting because both Kei and Chouko are so fragile.  One little bump in their road, and they descend into a black void created within their own souls.  After a flashback sequence with Kei, it is easy to understand why he is so distrustful of others.  He is consumed with a darkness that is so overpowering that it spills into his writing and sucks in Akiyama.  Akiyama is bright and carefree, but he is drawn relentlessly to Kei.  When Kei spirals into a deep, black hole of depression, a situation that Akiyama unwittingly causes, he runs, too, abandoning Kei yet again.

When Kei is revisited by his inner demons, it is Chouko who also suffers.  Kei disappears, and now it’s Chouko who is left alone.  Again.  As Akiyama tries desperately to save his friends from themselves and to redeem is failure in the past, the story takes a very dark turn.  Kei is one footstep from falling over the edge, and once he goes, it’s going to take a whole lot of therapy to get him back.  He really needs counseling now, and he probably needs some medication, too. 

One of the reasons that I like The Name of the Flower so much is because it tackles the issue of mental frailty with compassion and a whole lot of emotion.  You want Kei to find the inner happiness that has been denied to him, to free himself from the madness that threatens to consume him. You want Chouko to be his salvation, and ultimately, you want them both to find the contentment that they are so desperately longing for.  

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by CMX

Dorothea Vol 3 by Cuvie Manga Review


Title: Dorothea Vol 3

Author: Cuvie

Publisher:  CMX

ISBN: 9781401220242


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Dorothea has agreed to serve as a decoy for the army’s zealot enemies. The commander hopes that they can draw their opponents into the open and confront them head on. But their plan may prove to be riskier than expected. Dorothea runs afoul of a knight who’s burned 99 witches at the stake…and he wants to make Dorothea number 100! This knight may prove to be Dorothea’s deadliest challenge so… 

Between this title and Orfina, CMX pretty much has the market cornered on strong heroines finding themselves caught up in the nightmare of war.  Both of the series are intelligent and complex, with chaotic, frenzied battle scenes tossed in to illustrate both the horror of war and the personal toll the fighting extracts from the protagonists.  Dorothea is interesting because plot deeply connects the rigid religious convictions of the middle ages, and the terrible price that was often paid when someone didn’t blend in with the rest of their neighbors.  To be different was often bad for your health.

Dorothea is an albino, and her otherworldly looks have earned her fear and loathing from her enemies.  They call her a witch and want to see her die in agony, burned at the stake.  All she wants to do is live in peace with her friends and family.  This is no longer an option for her, and soon she’s marching off to war, desperate to save her village and Princess Else.  Time is running out, though, because her grandmother has been taken into custody, and is soon to be tried by the religious court in Bamberg.

The series deftly captures Dorothea’s fear and desperation, as well as her determination and resolution to do whatever it takes to save her people.  She has been groomed from a young age to cherish Nauders, and be willing to sacrifice herself to protect it.  Gyurk, her childhood friend, is just beginning to understand what it means for Dorothea to be the leader of the White House, and he isn’t dealing with this new realization very well.  When he wants to flee, Dorothea wants only to continue to do her duty.  Gyurk’s fear of losing her is driving a wedge between them and threatening to tear their relationship apart. 

Dorothea is a title that explores both the political maneuvering and deadly clashes of people driven by the righteousness of their ideologies.  Both sides believe, without a doubt, that they are the side of justice, whether to force others to conform to a certain way of behavior or to fight against it.  As ordinary people get sucked into the conflict, it becomes ever more complex.  Dorothea makes for a character who we all can sympathize with; she just wants to be left alone, to live her life in peace.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by CMX

Fire Investigator Nanase Vol 3 by Hashimoto & Ichikawa Manga Review


Title: Fire Investigator Nanase Vol 3

Story:  Izo Hashimoto

Art: Tomoshige Ichikawa

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220457


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Will her troubled past impede a young girl’s efforts to become a skilled firefighter? Firefighter academy student Nanase is a sharp but relatively new fire investigator, still haunted by her parents’ fiery death. Three years ago, she saved a man from a burning building. But he was no innocent victim–he turned out to be the arsonist responsible for the death of her parents. Now this serial fire-starter has started helping her solve fire-related crimes. His intentions seem good, but how can Nanase reconcile his willingness to help with his role in her own, personal tragedy? Meanwhile, another fire investigator (with his own vendetta against Firebug) becomes suspicious of Nanase and sets out to expose her relationship with the serial arsonist.

You have to give Nanase credit.  She has nerves of steel!  Sure, she may have started to lose it in this volume, but who can blame her?? Discovering bodies, obviously victims of foul play, and witnessing a murder would turn even the strongest person into a quivering puddle of fear.  Even worse, she trapped in an out of control fire that is threatening to burn her to a cinder!  Yikes!  This was one intense case for her, and all she wanted to do was enjoy her night off.

Though there are times when I am not so fond of the character designs, Tomoshige Ichikawa breathes life into the fires that are a part of Nanase’s daily life.  They are menacing and deadly, and totally unforgiving of mistakes.  One miscalculation, and poof!  Everything goes up in smoke.  The raging flames added a new depth of tension and danger in this volume, because both Nanase and Shingo, and not to mention the annoying Ogata, are all threatened by the blaze.  If Nanase can’t quickly plot a way through the flames, everyone is going to die, and she’s just not ready for that responsibility.

Fire Investigator Nanase is a high intensity series full of danger, excitement, and the constant threat of being burned to a crisp. Nanase is a strong character, and it takes a lot for her to loose her cool.  With the help of the deadly arsonist Firebug, her knowledge of fires is impressive and gives her an effective arsenal to use against them.   Because her colleagues are suspicious of her connection to Firebug, she is a bit of a lone wolf – nobody really trusts her, and her work relationships are distant because of it.  Now that hunky Hayato Hikawa has arrived on the scene, Nanase’s life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.  She’s attracted to the young investigator, but it doesn’t seem that he has her best interests at heart. 

This is another of those under rated series that deserves more readers.  It’s an action-packed race through the flames of death, and you never know what’s going to happen next.  I love Nanase’s intelligence and determination as she faces death head on.  With engrossing mysteries to solve and bad guys to catch, it’s got a winning formula that will captivate readers.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by CMX

Orfina Vol 5 by Kitsune Tennouji Manga Review


Title: Orfina Vol 5

Author: Kitsune Tennouji

Publisher:  CMX

ISBN: 9781401214296


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Fana and a group of allies have to act fast to save the Duke’s family. The traitor Ruskin has his wife Meilura imprisoned, and has convinced her that her daughter is dead! As Fana and her band attack, the rocky past between former allies Shettofgart and Ruskin is revealed, mysterious enemies confront Fana using her real name, and one of her companions is mortally wounded.

This is such an exciting series!  How could I have neglected it this long?  Probably because I didn’t want to wait four months between releases.  It’s got it all; damsels in distress, swords, guns, even fire breathing dragons!  Not to mention castle sieges, romance, mistaken identities, and goofy horned dog-like critters that seem much more reasonable than horses.  Don’t quote me on that one!

Fana has matured quite a bit, and she has developed an even more regal air.  She deftly leads her troops in an attempt to save Iluira and Meilura from the evil clutches of Ruskin, who is as vile a villain to ever grace the pages of a comic book.  Amazingly, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the kidnapping, child murdering, ravisher of helpless women.  How could this possibly have happened?!  Dear God, I felt like I lost my mind during the middle of the book.

The action sweeps you along helplessly, like a leaf caught in a tsunami.  Struggle as much as you want, but you aren’t going to escape from the engrossing grip of this volume.  There are such compelling characters to cheer for, and every deadly encounter is an agony of anticipation.  Will one of the good guys have his life brutally snuffed from the pages of the book?  Please, not Shettofgart or Cisun! Or even Hyleka, for that matter!  I have even developed a soft spot for some of the invading Granzians! What is the world coming to?

Orfina is shaping up into a series with a lot of depth, both in terms of plot twists and character development.  It’s the characters’ reactions to the tidal wave of events unfolding around them that gives the book its bite.  The goal of a peaceful life has taken a backseat to just surviving to see another day.  Freedom has become an expensive commodity, one that’s paid for with blood and tears.  Even the strong are made weak in the face of such overwhelming odds.  But you know what else?  Even the weak are given the strength to face their most fearsome opponents, to protect the land and the people they love.  Now that is what makes Orfina such a great story.

Grade: A-

Venus in Love Vol 8 by Yuki Nakaji Manga Review


Title: Venus in Love Vol 8

Author: Yuki Nakaji

Publisher:  CMX

ISBN: 9781401221003


May Contain Spoilers

From the publisher’s website:

Eichi’s younger brother, Tomoki, enters a hair styling contest with Suzuna as his model. Even though his parents wanted him to attend a regular college, they support his wishes and attend the contest. When the family meets Suzuna, they all fall in love with her. With everyone pushing for the young couple to get together, could love finally be coming out into the open for Eichi and…

I didn’t feel that there was much forward progression in this volume of Venus in Love.  Tomoki is given a larger role in this installment, and despite his family’s objections, he is determined to pursue his dream of becoming a hair stylist.  When he decides to enter a hair styling contest, he asks Suzuna to be his model.  I thought this was cute, because even though Suzuna isn’t the prettiest girl around, he likes her hair.  It’s easy to style, and her winning personality doesn’t hurt either.  Everyone is drawn to Suzuna because she is such a cheerful and positive person.  She’s always laughing and smiling, and it makes perfect sense that boys would be drawn to her like helpless honey bees.  She is so happy most of the time that everyone around her can’t help but be happy, too.

Part of my dissatisfaction with this volume is its lack of focus.  The point of view jumped from Tomoki to Suzuna and Eichi, to Yuki, with Makoto and Honoka thrown in for good measure.  That’s an awful lot of characters to be crammed in one book, without much really taking place.  This volume is an uneven mix of episodic events that didn’t hold my attention, except when Suzuna and Eichi were predominately featured.  I have felt this way with previous installments of Venus in Love, that some of the daily activities didn’t feel fresh and new, but instead ventured dangerously close to repetitive and uninspired.  Something wonderfully endearing would usually happen in the next volume, so I am hoping that is the case with Volume 9.  I still love the characters, but this volume jumped around too much to be truly satisfying. 

Grade: B-