Review: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – Storm Front Vol 1: The Gathering Storm

 

Title: The Dresden Files – Storm Front Vol 1: The Gathering Storm

Authors: Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Ardian Syaf

Publisher:  Del Rey

ISBN: 978-0345506399

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

A graphic novel based on the bestselling Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher!

If circumstances surrounding a crime defy the ordinary and evidence points to a suspect who is anything but human, the men and women of the Chicago Police Department call in the one guy who can handle bizarre and often brutal phenomena. Harry Dresden is a wizard who knows firsthand that the everyday world is actually full of strange and magical things—most of which don’t play well with humans.

Now the cops have turned to Dresden to investigate a horrifying double murder that was committed with black magic. Never one to turn down a paycheck, Dresden also takes on another case—to find a missing husband who has quite likely been dabbling in sorcery. As Dresden tries to solve the seemingly unrelated cases, he is confronted with all the Windy City can blow at him, from the mob to mages and all creatures in between.

Review:

I am new to The Dresden Files, and I have been putting off reading this graphic novel adaptation of Storm Front because I was afraid I wouldn’t understand what was going on.  This is the second comic series based on the novels, which made me doubly apprehensive; I haven’t read any of the novels, I wasn’t familiar with the Welcome to the Jungle GN series, and I didn’t even know that there is a TV show based on the series.  Dean told me about the show when he saw me reading the book.  I felt like I have been living under a rock!

It didn’t take long for me to get caught up in the story, and by the end, I was totally engaged.  Dresden is pretty darn cool!  He even battles a demon in his birthday suit! Do you know how hard it is to look tough and intimidating when you are fighting for your life while you are as naked as a jay bird??  Harry pulls it off with aplomb.  I love his character – he makes mistakes, doesn’t really learn from them, but he sure can roll with the punches.  And the baseball bats!  I hope he has a generous health insurance policy, because he sure does get beaten up a lot!

In this adventure, Harry is helping the police track down a killer.  He’s quickly threatened by a mobster and a vampire, and neither one would shed any tears if anything fatal happened to him.  Even the White Council is out to get him; they think he is the only person who could have committed the grisly crime.   They are also good at holding grudges. Despite everyone warning him off the case, and the threats against him, Harry is determined to solve the mystery.  Whoever the killer is, they aren’t joking around.  The murderer is dangerous, and needs to be found before someone else turns up very, very dead.  Such an unpleasant and painful way to die. too!

I enjoyed my first foray into Dresden’s world.  The magical and the mundane mix together, disrupting Harry’s life.  Fairies, vampires, and demons all manage to cause him grief, some much more than others.  Harry’s life is complicated, and when you start tossing mobsters, vampires,  and women into the picture, it’s no wonder that the guy is still single.  He gets the crap beat out of him, pisses off several people by just breathing, and even double books a Saturday night date.  Oops!  I’m not surprised that his cat is about the only one who has his back.

Storm Front was a fun introduction to the Dresden Files.  I hopped on over to the library catalog and placed a hold on the first graphic novel, Welcome to the Jungle.  I am out of luck on the next volume of Storm Front though; I’ll have to keep checking the library and hope that they eventually get a copy.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Arisa Vol 1 by Natsumi Ando Manga Review

 

Title: Arisa Vol 1

Author: Natsumi Ando

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345522412

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Tsubasa thinks that her pretty and popular twin sister, Arisa, has the perfect life. Everyone at school loves Arisa—unlike the hot-tempered Tsubasa, whose nickname is “the Demon Princess.” But when Arisa attempts suicide, Tsubasa learns that her seemingly perfect sister has been keeping some dark secrets. Now Tsubasa is going undercover at school—disguised as Arisa—in search of the truth. But will Arisa’s secrets shatter Tsubasa’s life, too?

I like Tsubasa.  She’s impulsive and has a temper that has earned her the nickname “Demon Princess.”  She’s tough, and doesn’t hesitate to let people know that she’s pissed.  She gets into fights, has little patience for anyone, and has pretty much scared off anyone who would have been willing to be her friend.  Instead, she is now a loner, and she wishes that she could be more like her gentle, well-liked twin sister, Arisa.

What Tsubasa doesn’t know is that Arisa is desperately unhappy.  The two girls haven’t seen each other in three years, and instead keep in touch through letters after their parents’ divorce.  When they meet again, Arisa convinces Tsubasa to take her place at school. When Tsubasa expresses how jealous she is of her sister because her friends are so nice and her school is so much more enjoyable than her own, Arisa responds by trying to kill herself.  Whoa!  Suddenly Tsubasa is questioning everything about Arisa’s life, and she is determined to discover the reason for her desperate unhappiness.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would.  With the flowery cover, I was expecting a much lighter tale than the one I found.  The danger cranks up as Tsubasa searches for the truth about Arisa and her life.  By taking her place at school, she finds a mystery slowly enveloping her.  The King is a sinister being who exerts a dark control over Arisa’s class.  The King makes things happen, from a student getting good grades to the disappearance of the perverted gym teacher.  If a student questions The King’s method, they are marked as traitors and everyone turns on them, like a pack of rapid dogs.

With expressive art and an intriguing storyline, I’m hyped to read more of the series.  I only hope it doesn’t become a casualty of the Kodansha/Del Rey shakeup.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

The Wallflower Vol 18 by Tomoko Hayakawa Manga Review

 

Title: The Wallflower Vol 17

Author: Tomoko Hayakawa

Publisher:  Del Rey

ISBN:  978-0345506597

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

UNEXPECTED ROOMIES

Just when Sunako and the four hottest guys in Japan had finally gotten used to living together, their landlady springs a shocking surprise: She’s going to remodel the mansion and they’ll be temporarily relocated to a luxury hotel. Now Sunako and the guys are living it up in a gorgeous five-star pleasure palace–exactly the type of place Sunako can’t stand. To make matters worse, the landlady has reserved a special suite just for Sunako and Kyohei. Unable to cope, Sunako flees in terror, and Kyohei follows. Now Sunako and Kyohei are hiding out together in a tiny studio apartment. Wait a sec. It’s almost like they’re . . . shacking up!

I find that I enjoy this series best if I leave very wide gaps of time between reading each volume.  There isn’t much in the way of character development, and you don’t even have to read them in order.  The chapters are fairly episodic, so jumping around in the series doesn’t have that much impact on understanding and enjoying the story.  This particular volume was hiding under the bed, and it’s been almost a year since I read the previous installment, but I was able to quickly get back into Sunako’s very, very odd world again.

The mansion is being remodeled, and Sunako and Kyohei are renting a dumpy apartment instead of a staying at a five-star hotel with the rest of the gang.  Sunako despairs at their lack of funds; she can’t even afford chocolate!  When she accepts a high paying job in the red-light district, she thinks she’s accepting an evening cleaning position.  She doesn’t realize that the job is actually for a hostess!

I enjoyed this volume, as Sunako polishes and cleans her way to notoriety, selfishly uses the guys to finish off her collection of gachapon figures, and tries to convince Takenaga to leave his family’s home and come back to the mansion.  The chapters are presented with high energy and lots of humor.  Hayakawa’s art is hit or miss with me, but I thought the illustrations this time around very solid, except for the shirtless scenes, where the guys look like they are anorexic. 

Despite the lack of character development, The Wallflower is a fun series.  Sunako’s bizarre behavior is always good for a laugh, but I don’t think I could stomach a steady diet of the title.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Dark Wraith of Shannara by Terry Brooks Graphic Novel Review

Title: Dark Wraith of Shannara

Author: Terry Brooks

Illustrations: Edwin David

Adaptation: Robert Place Napton

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345494627

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

THE FIRST-EVER GRAPHIC NOVEL SET IN THE WORLD OF SHANNARA!

Possessing an awesome power he is only beginning to understand, young Jair Ohmsford must summon the devastating yet darkly seductive magic of the wishsong on a fateful mission to save his friends . . . and protect the future from the forces of evil.
If you’ve never ventured into the wondrous world of Shannara, consider this an ideal opportunity. Prepare to enter the breathtaking realm of the Four Lands, where beings both noble and sinister have quested and clashed, crossed swords in the names of darkness and light, and engaged in adventures rich with mystery and majesty.

This title has languished far too long in the TBR pile.  The Sword of Shannara was one of the very first fantasy novels that I ever read, and I still have fond memories of the book.  I was drawn to it because of the cover, which was illustrated by the talented Brothers Hildebrandt.  It even had a little fold out poster, which sealed the deal and convinced me to spend my hard earned allowance on the book.  The poster was quickly removed and placed on my bedroom wall, where I would stare at it and dream of lands far away.  I was an odd little teenager, and I think I am an odder adult. 

It’s been a long time since I have read anything by Terry Brooks, but I was reassured after reading the forward.  This graphic novel stands completely on its own, and you don’t have to be familiar with any of the previous novels to understand what’s going on.  After reading the book, I agree – this is something you could pick up and enjoy without having any knowledge of the world of Shannara.   It’s been so long since I read The Sword of Shannara that I only remember a few plot points, but I was able to understand this comic with no trouble.  I think maybe I enjoyed it more, because I had zero expectations for it, and was happy with the fast-paced adventure presented within the pages.

Jair Ohmsford is recruited back into the service of Allanon, after the wizard pays a spectral visit to the hero.  Jair only wants to go home and keep his promise to his sister.  After learning that he has used his wishsong magic to become Garet Nix, the dead Weapons Master, Brin is appalled and worried that Jair will lose himself.  So she makes him vow to never use the magic again.  When he agrees to save the lands of Shannara again, this time from the evil Croton Witch, Jair finds that keeping his word isn’t as easy as he thought.  I enjoyed his inner struggle to not break his promise, but with so much at stake, he finds it very difficult to keep his word.

The story is standard fantasy fare; Jair and a very reluctant companion set off to end an evil threat, one that they have little hope of overcoming.  The action is non-stop, the danger never ending, and I was quickly caught up in the adventure and Jair’s inner struggle to complete the task at hand without resorting to magical aids.  There is really nothing new or groundbreaking here, just a solid little action yarn with lots of fighting and daring do. 

I’m not so sure that I liked the art.  There are samples in the back showing illustrations prior to tone being added, and I liked them better.  I feel that details were lost with all of the toning added to the drawings, and there is almost no white space at all, anywhere in the book.  It just got overwhelming for me, and the visuals weren’t as crisp and clear as I would have liked.

Overall, Dark Wraith of Shannara is a fun read.   I think this would be a good title to coax a reluctant reader into sitting down with a book.  The even pacing and likable hero make for an engaging read.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Fairy Navigator Runa Vol 1 by Ikeda & Kikuta Manga Review

 

Title: Fairy Navigator Runa Vol 1

Story: Miyoko Ikeda

Illustrations: Michiyo Kikuta

Publisher:  Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345522269

 

May Contain Spoilers

From the back of the book:

THE LEGENDARY CHILD
As a baby, Runa Rindô was left in front of a school for foster children, wearing a mysterious pendant. Now she’s in fourth grade and strange things are starting to happen around her. It’s only a matter of time before she discovers her secret powers—and her quest as the Legendary Fairy Child begins!

It’s been a long week at work, and all I wanted to do when I got home was chill out, pick up a book that required no brain power, and forget that I have to start the torture all over again on Monday. Fairy Navigator Runa certainly delivered on the brainless part, and the book was about what I expected.  It is standard magical girl fare, with few surprises or shocking story revelations.  It ran in Nakayoshi, so it’s geared toward elementary school girls, and it does skew young on a read through.  There are some titles that are intended for a younger audience, but I enjoy them anyway, and consider them all ages.  Happy Happy Clover, The Big Adventures of Majoko, and Chi’s Sweet Home are good examples.  Runa never pulled me in, and it left me unmoved at the end of the volume.  I didn’t hate it, but it’s not something I will be waiting for future volumes with a great deal of anticipation.

Runa is an orphan, and she was left at the Children of the Stars, a school for foster kids, when she was an infant.  It’s not fair to say that she is clumsy; it’s more that she lives on another plane of existence from everyone else.  That’s a nice way of saying that she is a complete air head; she has taken the advice of one of her teachers much too closely to heart, and she is kind and considerate to everyone, even when she’s getting picked on.  Which only makes them pick on her more!  Her best friend is ignoring her because she lets everyone walk all over her, and Runa is trying to hide her hurt and confusion over Sae’s rejection.

When two mysterious beings appear and ask her if she’s the Legendary Girl,  she’s taken aback.  She’s not a legendary anything, let alone the long lost fairy princess!  When an evil fairy abducts Sae, Runa gathers up her courage and sets out to save her friend.  The resulting storyline is very generic and predictable, but it fulfilled my number one reading requirement for this evening; only a few brain cells were necessary to process the action taking place on the pages.

Fairy Navigator Runa delivers a quick read, with plenty of magical girl action and a surprising amount of blood.  Runa and her new companions, Mokke and Suneri, her new fairy protectors, set off to rescue Sae from the dastardly Kamachi.  I was fairly certain of the outcome before Runa ever confronted the evil fairy, which killed any sense of suspense.  About the only plot point I have any questions about is Tai, the mysterious (and oh so cute boy) who claims to hold the key to Runa’s destiny.  Is he good?  Is he bad?  What cute animal can he change into? 

The art is extremely busy, with lots and lots of sparkles and flowers and stars in the background.  I actually liked the illustrations, I just wish the background noise hadn’t been so intense.  Save some of that screen tone for the next volume, was what I kept thinking.  A brilliant flash of white background every now and again isn’t a bad thing, but so many of the artists for Ribon, Nakayoshi, and Chao seem to forget that.  Sometimes less is so much more.

If you are looking for something cutting edge, keep on looking.  However, if you enjoy magical girls in their full sparkly, screen toned glory, Fairy Navigator Runa might be for you.  If you are tired and overworked, and don’t have the energy to think while reading, this title is right up your alley.

Grade:  C+

Review copy provided by publisher

Panic X Panic Vol 1 by Mika Kawamura Manga Review

 

Title:  Panic X Panic Vol 1

Author:  Mika Kawamura

Publisher:  Del Rey

ISBN: 978-0345514639

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

DEMON-FIGHTING RIVALS
Mitsuki and Kakeru are childhood friends—and rivals! When Mitsuki is attacked by a demon, she and Kakeru discover that they have magical powers. An ancient scroll decrees that they must work together to save the world from a demon invasion. And so begins a demon-filled adventure. . . .

I actually enjoyed this book more than I thought I would.  I usually cringe when reading magical girl series with middle school aged heroines; they just skew too young for me and I have a hard time working up any enthusiasm for either the flighty storylines or the overly energetic heroines.  Panic X Panic started with the usual bickering between the leads, childhood rivals whose families operate temples that are located across the street from each other.  The plot settled down into a monster of week magical adventure, with Mitsuki and Kakeru forced to team up to repair the broken seal that prevented demons from creating havoc in their neck of the woods.

The demon hunting usually revolves around spirits that have invaded their school and are creating mischief for our leads.  They set aside their rivalry only long enough to banish the spirits, and then go right back to fighting with each other.  It doesn’t help that all of the girls in their class think that Kakeru is the greatest thing next to text messaging, and the boys all think that Mitsuki is cute, so their circle of friends are always talking about the other.  Since both Mitsuki and Kakeru profess to dislike the other, it’s not their favorite topic, and it only serves to irritate them even more when they are forced to interact with each other.

There is nothing original about the plot or the troubles that Mitsuki and Kakeru find themselves in, but the art, despite some very busy backgrounds, is engaging and full of energy.  I read the book in one sitting and never got bored, and even found myself warming up to the characters, including some of the demons.  It’s brain candy all the way, and what it lacks in originality, it makes up for with its fast-pacing and unbridled sense of enthusiasm.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by Del Rey

Four-Eyed Prince Vol 2 by Wataru Mizukami Manga Review

 

Title: Four-Eyed Prince Vol 2

Author: Wataru Mizukami

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345516312

May Contain Spoilers

From the back of the book:

Life isn’t fair! Sachiko has a huge crush on her new stepbrother, Akihiko, a cute boy whose glasses make him even hotter, but he shows no interest in her. When she meets a group of hard-core fans of eyeglasses, she learns about the dreamy "Four-Eyed Kiss." Can she convince Akihiko to give her one?

This series is a little infuriating.  At first, this volume lulled me into a false sense of security, and I didn’t mind the first chapter.  Akihiko, while he didn’t treat Sachiko like someone he actually likes, wasn’t mean to her, either.  A group girls with a crush on Akihiko and his glasses use Sachiko to get closer to their idol.  Nobody pushes glasses up the bridge of their nose as confidently or stunningly as Akihiko, after all.  Sachiko thinks she’s made the best friends of her life, but her step-brother sees right through the cunning girls.  He even saves Sachiko from the barracudas and doesn’t insult her much or berate her for being stupid.  No, he saves that for the next chapter.

Four-Eyed Prince has such a huge strike against it that I have a problem struggling through the pages.  Akihiko may be cool and good-looking, but he is also a big jerk.  He treats Sachiko like crap, and the one or two little kindnesses that he bestows upon her near the end of the chapters just don’t make up for how awful he treats her during the rest of the time.  The fact that Sachiko keeps chasing after him, despite him telling her, bluntly, that he’s not interested, doesn’t say much for her intelligence, either.  But looking at her mother and her relationship with Akihiko’s wayward father, I guess it was inevitable that Sachiko would end up a little confused when it comes to dealing with guys.  The fact that Akihiko makes her cry in almost every chapter should also tell her something. 

This series is just not my cup of tea.  I keep hoping that Sachiko will open her eyes and see that Akihiko is not a nice guy, despite how good she thinks he looks with his glasses on.  A scrap of kindness here and there doesn’t make for a fulfilling or healthy relationship.  Maybe the one who really needs glasses in Four-Eyed Prince isn’t Akihiko, but Sachiko.

The bonus short story Snow Has Fallen is also included, about a girl who dreams about being kissed in the snow.

Grade: D

Review copy provided by Del Rey

Only One Wish by Mia Ikumi Manga Review

 

Title:  Only One Wish

Author: Mia Ikumi

Publisher:  Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345514646

May Contain Spoilers

There’s a rumor that if you send a text message to a certain address from a non-existent staircase at school, an angel will grant your wish.  The angel will only grant one wish, and you have to be careful!  Not all wishes end up with a happy ending!

With few exceptions, I find story anthologies like this one tedious.  This particular volume skews to much younger readers, which made it very difficult to relate to the characters.  Mainly love struck girls, most of the stories revolve around how the current heroine of the chapter will win the love of the boy she has her eye on.  Resorting to magical assistance, the girls all take the easy way out by using an enchanted cell phone and an angel’s wish to win the boy of their dreams.  Because reality differs vastly from dreams, things don’t go as expected, and unhappiness often ensues.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t find any of the situations compelling and the book was a challenge to finish.  It just could not hold my attention.

The girls in most of the stories are pining for the loves of their lives, which is usually determined by how cute and popular the boy is.  Important things like personality don’t even play into the picture.  Because of the nature of the stories, there is no character or plot development, and the angel, who can be either good or evil depending on the maker of the wish, doesn’t have a distinct enough voice to make her memorable.  In addition to being populated with one-dimensional characters, the story situations are also instantly forgettable.  This is a good book to rent from the library, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a purchase.

Grade: C-

Review copy provided by Del Rey