Deka Kyoshi Vol 1 by Tamio Baba Manga Review

 

CMX, don’t you get your cover images in to Amazon on time?

Title: Deka Kyoshi Vol 1

Author: Tamio Baba

Publisher:  CMX/Flex Comics

ISBN: 9781401218904

May Contain Spoilers

Toyama is a rough and tough police detective, and he’s been sent back to school.  On assignment, he’s working undercover at an elementary school, investigating the mysterious death of a teacher.  Once in the classroom, Toyama learns that dealing with a group of kids is a lot harder than he thought it would be!  In addition to the usual rowdiness, he also has to deal with Makoto, a young boy who is being bullied because he claims he can see monsters.  What if he’s telling the truth?

Deka Kyoshi follows in the path of Kindergarten Cop, where a tough guy is forced to interact with a bunch of kids.   Toyama is taking the place of a deceased 5th grade homeroom teacher, hoping to discover if she really did commit suicide, or whether or not she was pushed to her death.  His students are the usual mix of bullies, class clowns, and overachievers, with one unusual kid.  Makoto says that he can see monsters, but nobody believes him.  Because they all think he is lying to get attention, the other kids pick on him mercilessly, and even the other teachers aren’t very patient with him.

There is one person who believes him, and that’s Toyama.  Toyama quickly realizes that Makoto can see the demons lurking inside of people, and when they manifest themselves, something bad is going to happen very soon.  Makoto and Toyama quickly team up, and they are scrambling to figure out why so many weird things are happening at the school.  Are they coincidences, or is something much more sinister afoot?

Judging this book by the cover, I was honestly not expecting much from it.  I was surprised to find an engrossing story with likeable characters and creepy monsters.  Toyama is not the brightest guy on the police force, let alone the classroom, but his dedication to his job and then to his students, makes up for his shortcomings.  He is big and a little clumsy, but his determination to solve the mystery at the school is admirable.  He is also very sincere and earnest when it comes to the students in his class, and after a few false steps with them, he wins them over and then begins to care about them.  Keeping them safe from whatever is menacing the school quickly becomes an overwhelming concern for him.

I sympathized with Makoto right away.  The poor kid is picked on mercilessly, just because he can see everyone’s inner demons.  OK, so that’s a little creepy, but it’s no reason to beat him up all the time.  Quiet and shy, he just wants to be accepted for who he is, and when Toyama does just that, Makoto starts to gradually emerge from the shell he’s withdrawn into.  Working with Toyama gives him the courage to reach out to other kids in the class.

Deka Kyoshi is an enjoyable romp with mystery, suspense, and the monsters that lurk inside everyone.  The pacing is very fast, as Toyama and Makoto race to save the students from themselves, and research the teacher’s death.  Each chapter focused on another student and the monster that threatened to consume them, and the atmosphere was very tense as Toyama and Makoto tried to figure out a way to save them.  Each scenario was interesting, making me wonder what they would have to do to get rid of the demon.  There is also the compelling aspect of the larger mystery – what really happened to Ms Shimizu?

The CMX/Flex titles have been surprisingly fun, and Deka Kyoshi is no exception, despite the awkward title.   Deka Kyoshi?  It sounds like a newly discovered species of frog.  Eh?

Grade: B

Review copy provided by CMX

Venus in Love Vol 7 by Yuki Nakaji Manga Review

 

Title: Venus in Love Vol 7

Author: Yuki Nakaji

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220990

May Contain Spoilers

CMX has certainly managed to license some very under-rated but emotionally involving titles.  Venus in Love in another series that isn’t getting the attention it deserves.  Some of the earlier volumes did feel a little redundant, but the author has settled into a much more solid mode of storytelling, focusing on the characters and their changing feelings for each other.  It has become very involving and even a little suspenseful, as Suzuna continues to make a positive impression on everyone she encounters.  For a girl supposedly lacking in feminine wiles, she has gathered quite a group of admirers around her.  I wonder who she is going to end up with?

Eichi is finally feeling the heat, and he is seething with jealousy.  It wasn’t disturbing enough that he had to worry about Suzuna falling for handsome model Yuki, but now a childhood friend is making advances on her, too.  It’s refreshing to see the guy squirm for a change, and Eichi is wiggling like a worm on the end of a hook.  Suzuna’s old friend, er, tormentor, Shu, has appeared on the scene, and he is obviously interested in her.  Suzuna is so friendly and carefree that she quickly welcomes him back into her life, which Eichi doesn’t like at all.  Now, instead of the girl being conflicted and torn by her feelings, it’s the guy, and Eichi isn’t dealing with his emotions very well.  A lot of their problems could be solved by just getting them out in the open, but that wouldn’t be as fun, would it?  Instead, there is this tug of war between Eichi, Yuki, and the new rival Shu, and the resulting tension is delightfully engrossing.

While the series retains an overall light-hearted tone, things are getting serious between Eichi and Suzuna.  The story is now driven by the characters and how they feel about each other, and even a trip to a museum can cause some unsettling shifts in how they regard each other.  The pacing is anything but swift, but the leisurely events allow for some quiet reflection amongst the cast.  Simple daily activities also invite new opportunities to view someone in a different light.  The change in how Suzuna and Eichi feel about each other has taken place gradually and convincingly.  While both of them can be dense at times, they are a fun couple and I want them to end up together.   Venus in Love has finally hit its sweet spot, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Grade: A-

The Palette of 12 Secret Colors Vol 6 (Finale) by Nari Kusakawa Manga Review

Title: The Palette of 12 Secret Colors Vol 6

Author:  Nari Kusakawa

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401224318

May Contain Spoilers

Oh, Nari Kusakawa, how I loved this series.  It was charming from the get go, and as it continued, the characters grew more and more dear to me.  I am embarrassed to admit that I cried like a baby along with Cello and then spent the rest of the book sniffling and blowing my nose.  This is yet another shining example of why I love graphic novels; the characters become real for me, and their emotions touch my heart.  They allow me to forget the disappointments and annoyances in of real life, and allow me a place where anything is possible and dreams just might come true.

In this final volume of The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, Cello is knuckling down and preparing for her exams.  She is determined to never repeat another year, and she’s promised Yoyo that she’ll pass this time.  The first two days of testing is smooth sailing, and even her teachers are starting to think that she’ll breeze right to second year.  Finally.  But then Cello learns that Dr Guell has applied for an overseas expedition and he’s planning to leave Opal Island.  How can she possibly concentrate on her exams, knowing that the man she loves will be leaving her?

Ouch!  What a devastating blow to Cello’s heart.  After confessing their feelings to each other, she thought that they would be together forever.  Instead, he’s applied for a job that will take him away for several years!  The revelation shocks her and then threatens to crush her.  How could he just leave her, and without even sharing with her his plans to go?  This terrible blow to her confidence puts her hopes of passing her exams in jeopardy, because she is so devastated by the news that she totally blanks out during her tests.  Performing well under normal circumstances can be a challenge, but when your heart is breaking, it’s impossible!

While this volume was a little more serious than previous romps around Opal Island, Nari Kusakawa’s trademark humor was still very much in attendance.  It was even in the more somber scenes, like Cello breaking down while apologizing to Yoyo for messing up her tests again.  Even as she’s pouring her heart out, Yoyo is gnashing his beak in frustration.  He doesn’t want to have to repeat freshman year again, and especially not because of the annoying Dr Guell!  If there was one disappointment with this final book, it was the lack of focus on the birds.  Olga made a few guest appearances, but she didn’t have any substantial role to play. 

Cello matured over the course of the series, changing from an awkward teen into a self-assured young woman.  She learns that once arriving at a goal, the only way to attain it is through hard work.  She also learns that opening yourself and your feelings to other people invites both happiness and the pain of rejection.  As Cello has developed more depth of character, so has her control over the palettes strengthened.  That was a gratifying aspect of the story, watching her struggle with her abilities, and then slowly gain mastery over them.  Nobody should have to repeat the same grade three times!

Dr Guell has always been a bit of a mystery, and while more of his background is revealed, he remains a bit of an enigma to the end.  He’s come a long way too, though, finally facing his past so he can move along with his future.  And while his methods at times seemed a little harsh, he really did have Cello’s best interests at heart.  Because their relationship could be considered inappropriate, there was a distance that was kept between the doctor and both Cello and the audience.  This enhanced his mysterious aura, and made their relationship seem a little forbidden and a little more intense.

With a satisfying wrap up, all of the characters are paraded through the final chapter.  Though it ties up the loose ends, it’s open ended enough to allow for some one shots in the future, should Nari Kusakawa feel the urge.  Clocking in at six volumes, The Palette of 12 Secret Colors offers up a giddy blend of comedy, fantasy, and romance.  The characters are very approachable, and their quirky personalities make them very endearing.  The art blends all of the elements together, and the end result is a story that is as visually exciting as it is emotionally involving.  If you have yet to take the plunge into this series, give it a try – you won’t be sorry.

Grade: A

Tower of the Future Vol 2 by Saki Hiwatari Manga Review

 

Title:  Tower of the Future Vol 2

Author: Saki Hiwatari

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401208158

May Contain Spoilers

Takeru is still trying to come to terms with his emotions after his mother’s death.  When she makes a deathbed revelation, shock is added to his grief.  Learning that he has a sister has strained his relationship with his father, especially since his mother’s dying request was to have Hyoju relocate from England and move in with them.  An only child, Takeru feels threatened at the thought of her living with them, and he is having major issues dealing with his anger after discovering his parents were keeping a secret from him. 

Poor Takeru!  His life has been turned inside-out, and he is feeling bitter and powerless about the transitions taking place.  Everything has changed with the death of his mother, and nothing will ever be the same.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for the high school student, and his out of control emotions make for some very engrossing reading.  This series focuses on character development, with the lens honing in on the changes taking place for Takeru.  He’s learning that life is rarely fair, and that no matter how traumatic an incident is, life keeps moving forward, even though he would like it to come to a screeching halt so he can try to figure out how to deal with everything that is happening around him.

Zen has me fascinated.  Who is this slightly creepy kid who seems to know everything about everyone?  How can he be so wise, and yet be so childlike at the same time?  His unnerving ability to pop up whenever Takeru needs someone to talk to is just bizarre.  I am dying to find out why he keeps hanging around outside of Ichigo’s house, too.  Even if I didn’t like the rest of the book, I am so curious about the kid that I would be compelled to keep reading until I discovered what the heck is going on here!

Saki Hiwatari effectively captures Takeru in all of his jumbled, mixed up emotional glory.  The art is a little old-school, but I find that the illustrations deftly capture his inner turmoil.  Facial expressions are painfully clear, and I couldn’t help but be caught up with each triumph and each defeat as Takeru tries to keep things together now that his life has been turned upside down.  One thing that I’m not overly fond of is his sense of fashion – he looked like a garden gnome when he went to the airport to pick up Hyoju, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s why he couldn’t muster up the nerve to meet her.

Tower of the Future is a title that didn’t interest me at first glance, but I am glad that I took the time to start diving into the series.  There isn’t a lot of action, but the character driven plot is fascinating none the less.  There aren’t many older shoujo series available in English, so I have to thank CMX for being brave enough to release some under the radar treasures.   If you enjoyed Moon Child or Saki Hiwatari’s Viz release, Please Save My Earth, I highly recommend giving Tower of the Future a shot.

Grade: A-

Broken Blade Vol 1 by Yunosuke Yoshinaga Manga Review

 

Title: Broken Blade Vol 1

Author:  Yunosuke Yoshinaga

Publisher:  CMX

ISBN: 9781401218829

May Contain Spoilers

In a world where everyone has the inherent ability to power up quartz, Rygart Arrow is an outcast. Quartz is the fuel source that makes machines run, and without the ability to manipulate it, Rygart is helpless. That is until he ends up trapped in an ancient battle suit.  With his country under attack by an army of invading mechs from Athens, Rygart’s ability to work the battle suit might just mean the difference between victory or defeat.

Broken Blade is a fast-paced action adventure yarn that big on battles and huge, powerful mechs.  The King and Queen of Krisna are old friends of the hapless Rygart, as is Zess, the cunning leader of the attacking army.  The invading army has made an offer for peace, but one of the conditions is the execution of Krisna’s royal family.   King Hodr knows that the odds of beating the mightier army from Athens are slim, but he’s not willing to sacrifice his family as easily.  After unearthing an ancient battle suit, he’s hoping that his own army will be strengthened after analyzing the old mech.  The only problem is that nobody can operate it, until, you guessed it, Rygart finds himself behind the controls during an attack by the enemy.

The story isn’t groundbreaking, but the art is clear and crisp, and it is very easy to follow the action as the battles unfold.  The mech designs aren’t exactly unique, either, but again, the detailed illustrations make them a little more interesting.  I am usually not very keen on battling robot stories, but there’s a believable sense of tension that builds up as Rygart desperately attempts to protect his friends and keep himself alive.  While the book does showcase some spectacular battles, the real focus is on the relationship between Rygart, and his group of friends.  I am interested to learn why Zess is so fired up to kill his buddies, and how Rygart is going to stop him.

I’m hoping that Broken Blade develops like the other CMX titles that I have enjoyed.   I am usually unimpressed with the first volume, but each subsequent installment builds on itself, making for a rewarding read.  I will admit that I judged this book by its cover and couldn’t resist Rygart’s determined stance or fierce blue eyes when I ordered it.  Yeah, I’m shallow and sometimes that’s all it takes to grab my attention – pretty boys and pretty art.

Grade: B-

Kiichi and the Magic Books Vol 4 & 5 by Taka Amano Manga Review

 

Title:  Kiichi and the Magic Books Vol 4 & 5

Author: Taka Amano

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401217587 & 9781401220969

May Contain Spoilers

Wrapping up with two fantastic installments, I am very sad that Kiichi and the Magic Books has come to an end.  Looking back over the series, it’s impressive that each volume was better than the one before, and it left off with a satisfying finale.  The race to the end was tense and exciting, and I couldn’t stop reading once I picked up the fourth volume, so heed this warning – make sure you have Vol 5 on hand before diving into Vol 4.  Trust me on that.

All of the mysteries surrounding the onis and the trees are explained, and best of all, it all makes sense in the context of the story.  The major characters are also given back stories to help flesh out their personalities, and in doing so, each became more dear to me.  Especially Mototaro, now that I understand the reason for his gruff demeanor.  His power caused him to commit a horrible mistake, something so awful that it’s haunted him ever since.  When he puts things back into books, bits of the real world get sucked in with them, and there’s nothing he can do to prevent that.  The proud boasting of a child becomes a lifelong nightmare, one that he never wants to repeat.  By keeping to himself, by being unapproachable, he thinks that he is reducing the chances of hurting anyone else.  All he’s really doing is hurting himself, and preventing himself from moving forward with his life.

Kiichi learns what it means to be an oni, and he, too, is plagued by the burden that’s been thrust upon him.  If becoming a tree means saving the world and the people he’s come to care for, can he sacrifice himself to the pit at the depository?  I love when a character grows and matures, and Kiichi develops into a caring, loving boy who is willing to give up his life to save another.  You can’t help but admire this kid as he bravely faces his fate.  It was a pulse pounding chase to the last page, not knowing if Kiichi or his friends would find a way to save him from his destiny. 

Like The Recipe for Gertrude, my favorite CMX series, Kiichi didn’t wow me with the first volume.  The concept was intriguing, but there was an emotional disconnect from the characters.  As the series processed, however, that all changed.  Peopled with likeable cast, each of them has a different agenda that often runs counter to everyone else’s.  Part of the charm was watching them alter and shift their personal goals after being in contact with Kiichi.  Like with me, the boy manages to win over even the most resistant of his companions.

Offering up an enchanting fantasy, Kiichi and the Magic Books is worth checking out, and it’s only five volumes long.  That’s not a big investment for this solid reading experience, so take my word on this one and give it a shot. 

Grade: A

Venus in Love Vol 6 by Yuki Nakaji Manga Review

Title:  Venus in Love Vol 6

Author:  Yuki Nakaji

Publisher: CMX

ISBN:  9781401220952

May Contain Spoilers

Despite its leisurely pace, I like how this series is developing.  At times it seems a little repetitive, but this volume strikes a nice balance between slice of life activities and the complicated emotional minefield that is yawning out before the three young leads.  Suzuna has fallen for Yuki, her one time rival, but she doesn’t know how he feels about her. To add to her confusion, handsome Eichi has a crush on Yuki, too!  Lately, though, Eichi’s been more attracted to Suzuna, and he’s not sure how he feels about that.

Now that convoluted triangle has been etched out, the series is getting a lot more interesting.  Everyone is very hesitant to confess their feelings, which is only making things more complicated.  Yuki and Eichi now see themselves as competing for Suzuna’s affections, but she’s so clueless she doesn’t realize it yet.  She still thinks that she’s trying to win Yuki from Eichi, when it’s Eichi and Yuki who are vying for her attention.  To keep themselves from getting hurt, everyone has their own defense mechanism that also hinders any forward progress in the romance department.  Talk about frustrating! It is so obvious to anyone but these three how they feel for each other.

The character interactions are what carry the book, and if ordinary, daily activities like shopping for the ingredients for the perfect romantic dinner for two, which turns out to be for three, or if the thought of a friendly, no holds barred game of tennis doesn’t capture your imagination, you haven’t hung out with Suzuna.  She is the stereo-typical girl next door, a little plain, a little goofy, but she likes everyone and she’s a lot of fun to be around.  Before you know it, you get caught up under her spell, and you keep turning the pages, wondering what kind of trouble she’s going to run into next.  The plot is deceptively simple, but the hopes and dreams of the characters is anything but.  All of them, Yuki, Suzuna, and even Eichi, deserve a happy ending, but I can’t help but worry about how that is going to pan out.  Can the three of them remain friends in the end?

Grade: B+

Dorothea Vol 2 by Cuvie Manga Review

Title: Dorothea Vol 2

Author: Cuvie

Publisher:  CMX

ISBN:  9781401214364

May Contain Spoilers

Dorothea and Orfina are published by CMX, and I sometimes have a hard time keeping the two straight.   Both feature strong female leads who are forced to fight for what they believe in, and they both feature medieval type settings.  Fana and Dorothea are skilled warriors, they don’t hesitate to put their lives on the line, and they live in fairly grim surroundings.   I think that it is unfortunate that both of these titles were published at around the same time, because the look and feel of the series are a little too similar, and as a result, neither stands out.  When push comes to shove, I think that Orfina is the more compelling of the two, though Dorothea does offer an interesting read.

The world that Dorothea lives in is not a happy place.  Religious factions clash and ruthless individuals grapple for power and wealth.   Commoners bear the brunt of the conflict, and they are forced to fight to protect their lands and their beliefs.  The warfare lays waste to fields and towns, leaving battlegrounds littered with the corpses of the dead.  Dorothea ventures into this madness, where she’s in for a very rude awakening.  In the heat of battle, her comrades are just as villainous as the enemy, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. 

Through the eyes of an idealistic young woman,  the horrors of war of seem even more gruesome.  Dorothea has lived a sheltered life, and she’s even been pampered as her grandmother has groomed her to become the leader of her people in her stead.  Dorothea thinks that she’s one of the good guys, but what she discovers is that that all depends on what side of the conflict you happen to be standing on.  She’s not defending the helpless and promoting peace; she’s caught up in a bloody free for all, where anyone, and anything, is fair game.  In addition to having to defend herself from her brothers in arms because of her looks, she also has to deal with her own guilt when she sees how her comrades prey upon helpless citizens after devastating their villages.

The scenes of battle are toned down and not very graphic, which is surprising considering the Mature rating on the book.  So far there hasn’t been much to nudge it past a T for Teen; it’s certainly nothing like Berserk, the king of violent fantasy adventures.  Dorothea’s struggles to overcome the bias of her wraithlike appearance adds another layer of complexity to her venturing away from the safe, sheltered confines of Nauders.  People are all too eager to accuse her of witchcraft, and in Dorothea’s little corner of the universe, the mere suspicion is enough to get her burned painfully at the stake. 

Dorothea offers a look at the toll that war takes on everyday people.  They just want to live their lives peacefully, but the conflicts surrounding them makes that impossible.  The flow of action takes a backseat to the flow of emotions, where people and their beliefs clash tragically together.  I wonder if Dorothea will remain as optimistic that she is making a positive change in future volumes.

Grade: B