My Darling! Miss Bancho Vol 1 by Mayu Fujikata Manga Review

 

Title: My Darling! Miss Bancho Vol 1

Author: Mayu Fujikata

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220556

 

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Souka and her recently divorced mother move to a new place to start over. In looking for a school to enroll in, Souka decides to leave her preppy, private high school behind and transfers into a technical high school. To her surprise, she’s the only girl student in the entire school! The first day of school is nothing like she ever imagined — boys crashing through the window, fighting for all they are worth. One day, the school’s current "Bancho" (a term for a gang leader) ambushes Souka. Determined to protect her, Yu, one of the classmates, comes to her rescue, but Yu ends up in a struggle. Trying to help, Souka swings her book bag and ends up taking down the Bancho herself! What Souka didn’t know was that when someone takes down the class’ leader, you became the leader of that class. This wasn’t a role she was expecting for herself, but will she be able to relinquish it?

I needed this book!  After a stressful day at work, it worked like a soothing balm to rid my agitation.  It is like cotton candy, light and fluffy, and you can’t help but smile as you read it. It has a sugary rush of silly comedy, as well as the awkward bloom of young romance. 

Souka has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.  To help her mom after her parents divorce, she transfers to a technical school, leaving her former preppy school behind.  What she doesn’t know is that her new school is like a war zone, and all of the other girls have transferred out because of all of the fighting and commotion.  She discovers within the first few minutes of class that there is a danger to not doing enough research.  Her school is a nut house, she is the only girl of out 851 students, and now she’s stuck here!

Things get totally out of hand when Souka accidentally KO’s the current bancho when he’s about to clobber one of her classmates.  By the school rules, this admirable feat propels her into the spotlight and she assumes the mantle of the new school leader!  Only she doesn’t want anything to do with it!  All Souka wants to do is study and make her mom proud.   Being the head honcho of an entire school full of delinquents is the furthest thing on her mind.

This is a cute read.  Souka is quiet and kind of shy, and she is immediately intimidated when Katou comes crashing through the window while pummeling one of his rivals.  She’s not a total wimp, though, which is a good thing, considering her current surroundings.  When she gets pushed into a corner, she comes out spitting like a mountain lion.  She is a fun character because you never really know what is going to push her over the edge.

Katou is like a mother hen and he quickly takes her under his wing.  He promises to protect her, so it’s cute when she ends up protecting him.  Everyone has been led to believe that he’s a tough guy, but under his tough exterior, he’s really just a marshmallow.  I liked him a lot, and I love how awkward he and Souka get with each other.  Lots of blushing and stammering ensues in the last half of the book.

Even though the delinquents really aren’t all that delinquent, My Darling! Miss Bancho offers up a goofy high school comedy that zips along with lots of energy.  The illustrations work well with the story, and at times reminded me of Nari Kusakawa’s work. This book doesn’t take itself very seriously, so if you need a little pick me up, this is a good go to title.  It’s even got a fluffy little lamb, which = FTW right there.  

Grade: B

Review copy provided by CMX

Rampage Vol 1 by Yunosuke Yoshinaga Manga Review

 

Title: Rampage Vol 1

Author:  Yunosuke Yoshinaga

Publisher:  CMX

ISBN:  9781401224103

May Contain Spoilers

From the back of the book:

China: 184 A.D., a time of great turmoil. Zhang Fei stumbles upon a slaughtered village and has a chance encounter that will change his life forever. Guan Yu, second in command of a volunteer army, recruits the brash but inexperienced young Zhang. The army’s first duty is to repel an invasion of a walled city, and although Zhang misses most of that action, he has his own. As he saves the life of a little girl, an arrow to the neck throws him off a cliff. He is rescued my two wizards who give him the power to resist all wounds. Zhang is about to become the most powerful soldier in the army, but at a price that could cost him his soul!

Though I was occasionally confused by the rapid presentation of events and changes in perspective, I enjoyed this introductory volume of the action heavy Rampage.   The art is stunning, with big, bold battle scenes dominating many of the pages.  I thought the book skillfully captured the chaos of ancient China.  Peasants are at the mercy of anyone stronger than them, and marauding armies prey upon peaceful villagers.  Even the soldiers who claim to be fighting for peasant rights trample carelessly through their fields, murdering and plundering every village they encounter.

Zhang Fei decides to volunteer in Liu Bei’s army.  Life hasn’t been easy for him, and he’s more concerned about eating than battling enemies.  His true motive for joining the army is to prove a point – he thinks he’s been dissed by the second in command, and he wants to prove that he’s just as brave and strong as the next guy.  With no battle experience and little stomach for fighting, his first skirmish is a disaster.  A chance encounter with two mysterious beings grants him the power to go toe-to toe with even the best fighter but their gift has an unwelcome side effect; it could mean losing his soul forever.

Though it’s the art that initially hooked me on this title, the plot is politically charged and the personal wrangling for power kept me intrigued.  When Zhang Fei is possessed, he is a kick-ass fighter, and his battle scenes are thrilling and involving.  Now I want to know more – will Zhang Fei lose his soul?  Will Liu Bei’s secret destroy the army?  Why does Zhang Jiao have a chip on his shoulder the size of China?

Rampage is a thrilling, non-stop roller coaster of action and excitement, and it’s a tale that will leave readers hungry for more.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by CMX

Stolen Hearts Vol 1 by Miku Sakamoto Manga Review

 

Title: Stolen Hearts Vol 1

Author: Miku Sakamoto

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220518

May Contain Spoilers

Shinobu Okuma’s day goes from bad to worse when she spills a carton of milk and most of it ends up in Miharu Koguma’s bag.  Koguma is a hulking giant and his stern expression scares all of his classmates.  When Shinobu discovers that she’s ruined a kimono, she feels so awful about it that Koguma easily pressures her into making things right by working for his grandmother at her kimono shop.  Though Shinobu is terrified of Koguma, she agrees to help out.  As she gets to know him, she discovers that she’s misjudged him.  Koguma is kind and caring, and Shinobu is falling in love with him!

This was so cute!  Okuma is tiny and petite, unlike her name, which means “big bear.”  Koguma is also misnamed, because his name means “bear cub.”  Like everyone else in her class, Shinobu has misjudged Koguma because he’s big and because he always has a stern expression on his face.  When Shinobu starts working with him, she learns that you can’t judge people by the way they look, and she falls head over heels for him.

The story is very simple, but it’s charming nonetheless.  The characters are so much fun, especially Koguma’s mercenary grandmother.  She is always scheming to make a buck, and most of the time, Shinobu and Koguma have no choice but to help her carry out her plans to rake in the dough.  Grandma is overbearing and strong willed, and even Koguma can’t stand up to her. 

Shinobu is pretty strong willed too.  When she realizes that she’s made a mistake about Koguma, she is determined to put things right by making their classmates see that he isn’t as scary as they all think.  This doesn’t go as smoothly as she would have liked, and so most of the conflict in the story comes from Shinobu’s efforts to try to get everyone else to see that Koguma is a nice guy and isn’t anything like they all think.  Koguma is accustomed to people running in fear when he enters a room, so he isn’t very hopeful that they will ever accept him enough to want to be his friend.

The pacing of Stolen Hearts won’t appeal to everyone, as the events meander along at a rather leisurely clip. It’s like taking a stroll through a crowded street, stopping every now and again to really take in the sights or to partake in a little window shopping.  There is a lot of attention paid to kimonos and yukatas, and some may find the proper method of donning the garments a little dull.  I found the premise and the execution charming, and I’m looking forward to the next volume.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by CMX

Name of the Flower Vol 2 by Ken Saito Manga Review

 

Title: Name of the Flower Vol 2

Author: Ken Saito

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401215972

May Contain Spoilers

This volume kind of caught me off guard.  Chouko is hopelessly in love with her guardian, Kei, and she has grown awkward in his presence.  So much so that even Kei is picking up on her gawkiness.  Neither one of them is very adept at communicating their feelings,  and things are getting a little uncomfortable.  When Kei agrees to go on a trip to an onsen with Akiyama, he is eager to create some space between them.  What he doesn’t realize is that Chouko’s new friends are huge fans of his, and they plan on following him to Hakone!

Chouko begins to blossom after meeting Yousuke, book nut who is just as socially inept as she is.  Yousuke is on a recruiting drive for his book club, and Chouko is lassoed into joining.  She soon begins to enjoy hanging out with the club members, and when they learn that Kei is her relative, they beg her for a photograph.  Kei is camera shy, and Chouko fails to nail a shot.  After discovering that Kei is travelling to Hakone, they all decide to take a club trip to the onsen in hopes of meeting him.  Sounds like a recipe for more misunderstandings, and that’s exactly what Chouko gets. 

I thought that this volume started out a little too slowly,  and I was easily distracted as Chouko moved through her daily activities.  However, as the pages continued to turn, I found that I couldn’t put the book down.  When the focus turned to Kei, and his confused feelings for Chouko, that’s when I was totally hooked on this series again.  There is a darkness in him that is almost frightening, and it isn’t clear whether what he feels for Chouko is love or something more sinister.  Is he just possessive, unwilling to share her with others?  If that is the case, what is going to happen as she continues her friendship with Yousuke, a young man who is clearly smitten by her.

A destructive influence from his past abruptly appears on his doorstep, and now I wonder if Kei has the strength to resist a slide into the darkness that resides in his soul.  He doesn’t strike me as the most mentally stable guy around, and it seems that it would only take a nudge for him to go over the edge.  If he heads down the path of self-destruction, will Chouko’s love be enough to save him?

Grade: B+

Fire Investigator Nanase Vol 2 by Hashimoto & Ichikawa Manga Review

 

Title: Fire Investigator Nanase Vol 2

Story by: Izo Hashimoto

Art by: Tomoshige Ichikawa

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220440

May Contain Spoilers

Things are a little crazy with the holidays looming so closely, so please bear with me as I try to muddle through these last few days of craziness before I finally get a break.  Things will be a little slow here for the next couple of days, but then I should be back on track.  Now, on to the review:

Nanase Takamine lives a very exciting life.  It’s a little too exciting, if you ask me.  She’s a novice at her job, but she is working hard to learn all the secrets that lurk in the searing flames of a raging fire.  She’s receiving a lot of guidance from “Firebug,” an arsonist with a track record for causing destruction and death.  With friends like him, she certainly doesn’t need any enemies, because now her colleagues look at her with suspicion and distrust.  She did allow the notorious arsonist to escape capture, and now everyone has some doubts about her loyalties. Can Nanase solve the mystery of Fire Chief Tsuruga’s death, and prove that she’s a team player?

Sometimes I feel sorry for Nanase for all of the grief her co-workers give her.  She is so dedicated to finding out the cause of every fire that her gung-ho attitude has alienated some of the people she needs help from the most.  Instead, she has that creepy arsonist whispering hints to her, then trapping her in deadly situations where she needs to use her noggin or get turned into a charcoal briquette.  It is a good thing she can think on her feet!  I’d have been barbequed back in the first volume, so I have a lot of respect for the over-achieving Nanase.

Fire Investigator Nanase has some decent who-dun-its, and even if I figure out who caused the latest inferno, it’s fun to follow along with Nanase as she sniffs out clues and recreates the blazes.  She really sticks her neck out, which leads to plenty of suspense; while you know that she’s not going to meet a fiery end, you still get caught up in the story arcs and wonder how she’s going to get herself out whatever trouble she lands herself in.  She’s got the arsonists to worry about, but an even more ominous character to look out for is “Firebug.”  What is this guy’s deal?  He loves setting things on fire, especially if those things happen to be alive, and he seems to have a soft spot for Nanase.  But is he just setting her up for a painful fall?  Their unconventional relationship keeps me engaged in the story, and I can’t help but wonder when he is going to turn on her.

This series isn’t getting nearly enough attention, and I can’t figure out why.  It’s got pulse-pounding excitement, mystery, and even some gruesome corpses.  You’d think that would give some people a little incentive to at least pick it up and give it a quick run through.  The art even manages to give the illusion of searing heat and out of control flames.  Fire Investigator Nanase will appeal to fans of thrillers and psychological suspense, so if you like those, give it a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Grade: B

Ballad of a Shinigami Vol 2 by Izumi & Hasegawa Manga Review

 

Title: Ballad of a Shinigami Vol 2

Author: Asuka Izumi

Original Story: K-Ske Hasegawa

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220594

May Contain Spoilers

Momo the shinigami and Daniel the talking feline return to help guide souls to the afterlife.  The problem with Momo is that she isn’t a very good shinigami.  She prefers helping people keep their souls than collecting them away from them.  Much to Daniel’s dismay, Momo can’t seem to stop herself from interfering with people’s lives, which really interferes with their deaths.   Or prevents them altogether.  I don’t think this tendency of Momo’s is a work avoidance ploy, and I believe that she genuinely wants to help her assignments remain in the land of the living.  No wonder she gets in so much trouble with her superiors!

I am enjoying Ballad of a Shinigami much more than I thought I would.  It’s got a lot of positives going for it.  The art is attractive, with very appealing character designs.  It’s always easy to follow along with the action, and facial expressions are especially effective.  That is a good thing, because there is a lot of emotion packed into these pages.  Since death plays a central role in the episodic chapters, all of the characters have to deal with mortality in their own way.  Some refuse to accept it, and others are resigned to whatever fate awaits them.

My favorite chapter this time around is “That Time with a Push Broom.”  Shiori gets a little more than she bargained for when she catches a glimpse of Osuke floating in the air, surrounded by cherry blossom trees in full bloom.  She snaps a picture, and he destroys her digital camera.  Life then becomes a crusade to have him buy her a new one.  This is a cute romance with magic and a mysterious guy.  Shiori’s life will never be the same , and neither will her camera!

The other stories are satisfying, and they offer enough variety that the premise don’t start to feel stale.  A lonely orphan tries to accept the death of her parents and her overwhelming loneliness, a cat attempts to comfort a young girl whose mother has abandoned the family, and a teenage boy falls in love for the first time.  All of of the characters are likeable, and you really want all of them to have a positive outcome by the end of their chapter. 

Though I am not usually a fan of episodic manga, Ballad of a Shinigami delivers solid entertain through well-crafted short stories, with eye-pleasing illustrations that tie everything neatly together.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by CMX

The Lizard Prince Vol 1 by Asuka Izumi Manga Review

 

Title: The Lizard Prince Vol 1

Author: Asuka Izumi

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220532

May Contain Spoilers

When Canary, the princess of Linaria, is betrothed to Prince Heath of Gazania, she is none too pleased with her father’s choice of a husband.  Rumors of the prince’s ill-manners and womanizing ways have travelled as far as her kingdom, and she doesn’t want to wed a man with such a bad reputation.  Agreeing to meet him and give him a chance, Canary is pleasantly surprised to find that the prince is nothing like rumors suggest.  Instead, he is polite and kind, and Canary falls for him instantly.  What she doesn’t know is that Heath has pulled a fast one, forcing a lizard magically transformed into a man to switch places with him.  Can love between a human and a lizard survive the test of time?

This comedy romance did not tickle my funny bone.  I found it tedious and had a hard time working my way through the book.  Setting it down and reading something else between chapters helped somewhat, breaking up the saccharine events into more manageable chunks.  The book wasn’t a complete waste of time, but it is definitely skewed to  younger readers.  The conflicts and plot resolutions presented in each chapter were more sappy than compelling, even though the characters are likeable.  It’s the situations that they are find themselves in that left me detached and disconnected from the story.

Canary is a feisty tomboy, and she’s not going to spend the rest of her life shackled to a loser like Heath.  When she meets him, she is delighted to discover, not the rude cad she expected, but a charming, handsome young man, and she is smitten.  It’s during the subsequent meeting that she learns the truth; the boorish Heath is indeed as awful as suspected, and the sweet and gentle guy she met wasn’t Heath, but his pet lizard.  Without a second thought, she confesses to the lizard, breaking a curse that trapped Heath’s older brother, Sienna, in the body of a lizard. 

Sienna is a nice match for the bold Canary; where she is fierce and independent, he is more reserved and even a little clingy.  He wears his love unabashedly on his sleeve, and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.  He doesn’t even hold a grudge against Heath, when it was his younger brother’s fault that he was cursed in the first place.  After tormenting a lizard, it was Heath who was supposed to be transformed into a reptile, but Sienna valiantly stepped up and took his place.  Then everyone forgot about the curse and wondered where the older prince had disappeared to.  Even Sienna lost his memories of being human, and was stuck being a lizard for years.  Poor guy!

While I love the premise of The Lizard Prince, I didn’t care for the execution.  The episodic chapters were too bland and sugary to provide much enjoyment, and the pacing was haphazard at best.  Most of the focus is centered on Sienna and his ability to turn into a lizard at will, but then only time will change him back.  While he is waiting to transform back into a human, he is helpless and spends most of the time running from one threat after another.  The formula gets old quickly and there isn’t enough variety between chapters to provide a satisfying read.  Despite some very, very charming illustrations, this book left me disappointed.

The Lizard Prince gives new meaning to fairy tale romance when a princess falls for a lizard.  The story will appeal more to the younger crowd, but its uneven pacing and bland chapters probably won’t appeal to older readers.

Grade: C+

Review copy provided by CMX

Two Flowers for the Dragon Vol 5 by Nari Kusakawa Manga Review

 

Title:  Two Flowers for the Dragon Vol 5

Author: Nari Kusakawa

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401222260

May Contain Spoilers

Shakuya is still troubled when she thinks that she could have lost Kuwan during the battle at the Oasis of the Shade. Only luck and the timely intervention of her father saved his life.  When she receives a tip on the whereabouts of the man suspected in the attempted assassination of Lucien, the three head off to a neighboring village in search of some answers.  What they get is danger and plots years in the making, both of which threaten to break Shakuya’s heart.

Nari Kusakawa, how could you?! How could you have taken everything I have come to understand about the people in Two Flowers for the Dragon and turned it shockingly askew?  The comfortable truths that I had come to believe turned out to be mere illusions, and now I, too, feel betrayed!  You played me with this one, and that’s just wrong!

I am still mourning the end of The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, though new volumes of Two Flowers for the Dragon bring a smile to my face.  The series isn’t as light-hearted, but it still provides some solid entertainment.  It’s about a girl who can transform into a dragon, and if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.  Despite her awesome ability, Shakuya still has some problems to sort out.  She is the most gifted of her bloodline, but she only has a tenuous control over her powers.  When her emotions get the better of her, she changes into a dragon and rages out of control.  She would never do anything to intentionally harm others, but when you’re a huge, emo dragon, sometimes people are going to get hurt.  Shakuya has friends and family to help keep her powers in check, and chief among them is Kuwan.

Kuwan is another of the complications that Shakuya has cluttering up her life.  Not only Kuwan, but also Lucien, create some grief from the young woman.  They are both fiancés, and she is supposed to choose between them with the help of magical tattoos on her hands that grow with her love.  Originally betrothed to Lucien, she became engaged to Kuwan after Lucien’s mysterious disappearance.  After she falls in love with Kuwan, Lucien reappears, adding unsettling baggage to her life.  What is soon obvious to Lucien is that Shakuya is hopelessly in love with Kuwan, though he valiantly continues to try to win her affections. 

This volume kicks up the complications even further.  When Shakuya and Kuwan are caught sharing tender moment together, Lucien is none too pleased.  This scene was unsettling, because I thought Kuwan acted out of character, revealing a hint of a darker personality.  This proved to be an ominous foreshadowing of a tragic event that tears apart Shakuya’s dreams.  While Kuwan and Lucien have always had an uneasy friendship, their relationship seemed more of a good-natured competition than an all out war for Shakuya’s affections.  Here, Kuwan displays that he is a lot more sly and scheming than was previously in evidence.

When Kuwan and her father go missing, Shakuya and Lucien go searching for them.  What they find is not what either could have ever expected, and it rattles both of them to the core.  I have to admit that I was shocked, and I never saw this plot twist coming.  Ugh.  I didn’t like it one bit, and the wait for the next volume will be agony. 

This fifth volume packs a lot of storytelling into its pages.  Questions about both Lucien and Kuwan’s pasts are uncovered, there’s swordplay with cloaked villains, and Lupina, fast becoming a favorite character, even gets in on the action by tossing pots at enemy fighters.  What’s not quite so fun are the shocking discoveries that Shakuya makes during the search for her father and Kuwan, which makes her realize just how painful love can be. 

With Two Flowers for the Dragon, Nari Kusakawa dishes up an entertaining story featuring magic, mystery, and romance.  She is one of the most underrated artists out there, so if you haven’t given her a chance yet, there’s no time like the present.  You won’t be sorry!

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by CMX