Minima! Vol 4 by Machiko Sakurai Manga Review

 

Title: Minima! Vol 4

Author: Machiko Sakurai

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345510723

May Contain Spoilers

I can’t figure out what makes this title so appealing to me.  It’s really an average title, with stereotypical characters who don’t really stand out and make themselves very memorable.  Ame is a shy girl who can’t express her feelings, while Midori is her childhood friend.  He’s hopelessly in love with her, but can’t get her to realize that he’s the guy for her.  Instead, Ame has her sights set on the stunningly handsome Sasaki, leading to a love triangle that stays rather low-key and restrained.  Most of the story is told with subtle, quiet overtones that lead up to big emotional outpourings from Ame.  She’s lacking confidence in herself, she can’t communicate effectively with other people, and she doesn’t see the love that is right in front of her.

What makes Minima! special for me is Nicori.  He’s a stuffed toy that can talk.  Like Ame, he’s afraid of being rejected and forgotten.  He doesn’t want to be thrown away, and this fear eats away at him and keeps him from finding happiness.  He is so afraid of Ame setting him aside and forgetting about him that he leaves her and goes back to the amusement park where she found him.  While he’s there, he begins to learn what love really means, and that there are far worse worries than being thrown away.  Two stuffed dogs make him see that his concerns are groundless, and that never being loved is a fate worse than being thrown away.

The scene with the dogs really got to me.  This book just kind of steams along, and then, out of the blue, there is a jolt of emotion that actually makes your heart ache.  It’s about the fear of being alone, but finding the strength to finally reach out for what you want the most.  It’s about finding within yourself the power to reveal your deepest feelings, regardless of the consequences.  Both Ame and Nicori finally face their feelings, leading to a touching, bittersweet ending that seems a little blurred and dreamlike.

I really enjoyed this series.  It seemed a little rushed and jumbled at the end, but overall, it delivers a touching read.  Do I have to admit that I cried at the end?  Both times I read it?  At five volumes, this is a fairly short series, so it won’t dent your wallet too much.  Give it a try, and I think you’ll get sucked into the magic of Minima!

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by Del Rey

The Wallflower Vol 17 by Tomoko Hayakawa Manga Review

 

Title: The Wallflower Vol 17

Author: Tomoko Hayakawa

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345506597

May Contain Spoilers

The Wallflower continues to chug along, dishing up comedy as four beautiful boys vainly attempt to transform Sunako into a lady.  This isn’t easy because she’d rather be watching slasher flicks or collecting gruesome skulls than making small talk at tea parties.  She’s happiest shrouded in the dark, gloomy confines of her bedroom, and she avoids all things bathed in light, including her dashingly attractive housemates.  Will they ever succeed at turning her into a lady, and collecting their reward – rent free living at the comfortable mansion they call home?

Episodic in nature, this series isn’t for readers expecting character development or evolving relationships.  That kind of depth just doesn’t exist here.  Sunako is basically the same solitude-seeking girl she was in the first volume.  She doesn’t care about fitting in with the rest of society, preferring instead to just be left alone.  Her motivations in life are definitely out of whack, and the secret to getting her to occasionally do what’s desired of her lies in offerings of food, scary collectibles, or trips to dark, dank environments.  Coxing her to undertake girly activities, like bathing regularly or shopping for new clothes are a big zero to Sunako. 

The premise of the story is pretty shallow, I’ll readily admit, but it’s humorous nonetheless.  This volume offered up a nice blend of adventures, striking out with only one chapter.  “Unending Blues” recounts the landlady’s attempts to turn Kyohei into a gentleman, and I thought parts of it pushed the envelope of bad taste. The rest, though treading in familiar territory, offer up amusement as Sunako fails, yet again, to become a lady.  I can relate to Sunako to a certain degree – she just wants to be left alone, and food is the magical motivator for her.  Yeah, just wave a container of sushi in front of my face, and I’m pretty game for anything, too.

Readers content with the status quo will be satisfied with this volume.  Those seeking some romantic progress between Sunako and Kyohei are going to be disappointed.  There is no new ground covered, and Tomoko Hayakawa prefers to stay on a safe and well-worn path.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by Del Rey

Gakuen Prince Vol 2 by Jun Yuzuki Manga Review

 

Title:  Gakuen Prince Vol 2

Author:  Jun Yuzuki

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN:  9780345508966

May Contain Spoilers

Azusa Mizutani and Rise Okitsu both attend Jyoshi High, a school that has recently become co-ed.  A large majority of the students are female, and the few young men brave enough to walk the halls of Jyoshi have to keep on their toes.  Why?  The girls are like a school of piranha,  eager to devour the helpless males.  In order to survive without being harassed, the boys must do one of three things; play the role of a prize beyond the reach of anyone, love all the girls equally, or bequeath one’s chastity to only one girl.   Mizutani just wants to graduate with as little fuss as possible.  Rise just wants to go unnoticed.  What happens with Mizutani declares his undying love for Rise, all so the other girls will just leave him alone?

I still think that Mizutani is a pathetic excuse for the representation of the male gender.  He’s a coward and all he wants is to be left alone.  When he picks out Rise for his protector, nobody can believe that he’s chosen the plainest girl in school to save him from the hoards of ravenous females swarming around him, unable to keep their hands to themselves. Being groped by strangers proved to be too much for him, and he quickly resorted to underhanded tactics to protect himself by hiding behind Rise’s skirt. 

Though the series continues to skate on the edge of sensibilities, I am enjoying it quite a bit.  It doesn’t hold back from mocking conventional shoujo titles, and Jun Yuzuki takes delight in pushing the behavior of the characters to the limit.  The rampaging student body, with the exception of the quiet Rise, are out to get whatever they can from the boys.  There is no subtlety as they jockey for sexual favors, and bullying takes on a life of its own.  While occasionally I wonder where the hell the teachers are, for the most part I just allow myself to get swept up by the absurdity of the plot. 

With their fake relationship causing a stir, Mizutani has to convince Rise to attend the Fiancailles with him, a faux wedding ceremony that culminates with a kiss between the loving couple, all of which is witnessed by the entire student body.  Rise is understandably reluctant to  join him in this endeavor; she has seen Mizutani at his worst, and knows that he’s only out to save his own skin.  I am having a hard time deciding whether or not I like Rise.  She has a powder keg of a temper, and the littlest of offenses will set her off.  For a quiet girl, she also carries around an awful lot of pride, and that gets her in trouble more than once.  She has a weird sense of justice that won’t allow her to just leave Mizutani and the great big headache he represents alone to face the music.  I wouldn’t have had the patience to deal with a guy who totally destroyed my peace of mind, so I have to admire Rise for constantly  backing him up.

Akamaru is turning out to be a rather interesting character.  Big, burly, and a man of few words, he has taken a curious interest in Rise.  He thinks that Mizutani is a worm, and the tension between the two of them is building up to what I hope is a nuclear confrontation.  The sullen quiet types pique my curiosity, so I’m looking forward to learning more about him.

Grade: B

Orange Planet Vol 2 by Haruka Fukushima Manga Review

 

Title: Orange Planet Vol 2

Author:  Haruka Fukushima

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345513397

May Contain Spoilers

Rui’s life is very complicated.  She has a terrible crush on Kaoru, a cute young teaching intern ended up as her roomie, and her childhood friend, Taro, is hopelessly in love with her.  When Kaoru makes an unexpected confession, Rui’s heart is broken.  To make matters worse, a jealous classmate has discovered that Eisuke is living in her apartment, and she’s spreading some very nasty rumors about them around school.  How could Rui’s life get any worse?

I found the first volume of Orange Planet to be a convoluted mess, but the second shows a lot of improvement in the storytelling. This is still a brainless read, but at least it isn’t as painful as the introductory installment.  With its many large illustrations, the book is also a very fast way to spend a little down time.  There is little effort required on the part of the reader; reading Orange Planet is like eating cotton candy.  No substance, just teeth gritting sweetness.

Rui gets a very painful shock when she learns that the boy of her dreams loves her buddy Taro.  Argh!  That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen!  Now Rui is humiliated and embarrassed.  This was a fun little twist, but soon after Kaoru makes his eyebrow raising confession, that plot revelation gets shoved to the background.  Instead, Rui and Eisuke’s living arrangements become public knowledge, and the teaching staff isn’t very understanding.   Accusations fly, and both of them are in hot water.

Rui’s overly melodramatic life is about as subtle as a freight train.  Everything that happens is over the top, and is accompanied by noisy panels with lots of sound effects and screen tone.  Nothing right ever seems to happen, and Rui’s loneliness resonates in this volume.  She’s lost her parents and is trying to take care of herself, but it’s hard without any steady parental figures in her life. When Eisuke moved in, things were rough at first, but she finally had a guiding presence to help steer her along with her decisions.  Admittedly, Eisuke isn’t an ideal role model, but he is compassionate and caring.

While I am gradually warming up to Orange Planet, I think the series will be much more appealing to younger girls.  I had a hard time setting aside reality and just going with the flow of the story.  There are some fun moments in the series, and my curiosity has been piqued about the mysterious boy from Rui’s past, but the tsunami of emotions can be exhausting. Despite how busy and crowded the panels can be, the art easily conveys the wellspring of feelings that pour from the pages from beginning to end.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by Del Rey

Dragon Eye Vol 8 by Kairi Fujiyama Manga Review

 

Title:  Dragon Eye Vol 8

Author: Kairi Fujiyama

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345506733

May Contain Spoilers

The VIUS tournament continues, and when Kazuma realizes that both Leila and Yukimura are missing, he starts getting a little worried.  He knows that Yukimura would never be late for his match unless something or someone was preventing him from being there.  When Kazuma tries to go looking for his squad members, he is immediately reprimanded by Sakuraba.  The stakes at this tournament are high, and if Kazuma blows it off,  Mikuni is going to be humiliated.  If only the two of them knew that the Dracules were planning on destroying the city, the tournament wouldn’t matter anymore.  If everyone is dead, what difference does it make who wins?

Most of this volume focuses on the exhibition tournament, with sporadic jumps to Leila and Yukimura.  They have been captured by Dracules, but thankfully for them, the Dracule guarding over them is more than slightly inept.  While Yukimura has taken a beating, Leila is uninjured, though she awakens to an unnecessary wardrobe change.  I don’t understand why creators feel the need to have helpless female protagonists end up in their underwear, but I realize that I am not the target market for this particular manga series.  Still, it adds nothing to the plot, though it is good to note that Leila coordinated her undergarments before her capture.  It’s always reassuring to know that characters plan ahead for any possibility.

Anyhoo, Leila and Yukimura don’t feature prominently this time around, and instead, the tournament takes center stage.  Again, I wonder why everyone hates little Kazuma so much.  Everyone just wants to beat the crap out of him, and so far, he hasn’t done anything to deserve this.  Sure, he had a rough patch  in his past, and the incident still looms up to haunt him, but people have got to learn to live and let live.  Holding a grudge isn’t good for anyone, as several contestants discover.  Holding a grudge leads to public humiliation and many, many bruises.  Broken bones, too.  Some people never learn.

While this volume piles on the action, it doesn’t advance the plot at all.  We know those nasty Dracules are lurking outside the city, waiting to be let in to cause mayhem and death.  However, the tournament matches is where Kairi Fujiyama placed most creative efforts.  Now, while the fighting is entertaining, and it’s fun to see everyone’s special moves, it does get tedious, especially knowing that there are deadlier confrontations waiting in the wings.  Despite the frantic pace of the battles, it seems that events in Dragon Eye are only dragging on.  I hope that there is a shift in events, and that the tournament plays second fiddle to the Dracule invasion.  I would much rather see the VIUS members use some of their overabundant energy to beat the snot out of the real monsters, instead of gunning for Kazuma.

While Dragon Eye has fallen into the shounen battle of the chapter trap, there are still enough compelling elements to prompt me to follow the series.  I just wish the tournament story arc would wrap up with a little more haste.

Grade:  B-

Review copy provided by Del Rey

X-Men Misfits Vol 1 by Telgemeier, Roman & Anzu Graphic Novel Review

 

Title: X-Men Misfits Vol 1

Authors: Raina Telgemeier & Dave Roman

Art: Anzu

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345505149

May Contain Spoilers

Kitty Pride is going through a rough time.  It’s kind of hard to make friends when you keep falling through floors and walls.  Everyone thinks she’s a freak because she’s a mutant, and even she thinks it weird when she suddenly becomes transparent.  When she receives an invitation to attend Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, she’s not sure that she’s happy about her parents shipping her off to live with a bunch of strangers.  Once she arrives at the school, however, she has a sudden change of heart.  She’s the only girl in the entire student body, and she has her pick of all of the really, really hot guys!

I enjoyed this take on the X-Men franchise much better than Wolverine: Prodigal Son.  Kitty Pryde’s got it kind of rough at home, what with her unpredictable episodes of becoming transparent.  Makes being on any floor other than the first kind of risky.  No wonder she wears that bicycle helmet when traveling the countryside to Xavier’s School, but I don’t know how much good it will do if she fell out of a moving bus onto the freeway.  Anyhoo, when Magento shows up at her parents house to offer her a scholarship at the school, she’s a little reluctant to accept.  Are her parents just trying to get rid of her so that they don’t have to acknowledge the fact that one of their kids is a mutant?

Once she gets to the school, Kitty warms up to the idea, and what girl would blame her? She is the only girl at the entire school!  She has her pick of the hot guys!  And there are tons of them!  She quickly falls in with a group bad boys under the patronage of Professor Magento.  They are cocky, reckless, and never play by the rules. The other students are afraid of them and try to avoid them.  But Kitty is attracted to the handsome Pyro and ignores all of the warning signs when she’s hanging out with them.  A trip to New York turns disastrous, and then Kitty has some hard decisions to make.

The tension between normal humans and mutants is only touched on here, as students and professors each choose sides over the issue.  To live peacefully with humans or to use their superior abilities to rule them?  That is one of the aspects of the X-Men universe that is very fascinating.  How some humans and mutants strive, even after so many failures, to craft a world where everyone can live in peace.  Then there are the ones who would like to eliminate those different than they are, either because of fear or arrogance.  I hope that this becomes a meatier issue in following volumes of the series.

For the most part, this first installment of X-Men Misfits focuses on Kitty’s struggles to adjust to her new life at Xavier’s, where she is trying to fit in and learn to control her powers.  She is introduced to the Danger Room, which is amusingly turned into the Hellfire Club.  All of the lean, muscled, and scantily clad bad boys turn Kitty’s head, and it’s hard to fault her for that.  They are hot, and it’s not just because Pyro is in the room.  Kitty has to deal with familiar teen problems, including homework, dealing with a possessive and jealous boyfriend, and finding the courage and confidence to stand up for what she believes in.

The art is sort of a mixed bag.  On one hand, the faces are very expressive, and I really like the character designs. It’s when action comes into play that the illustrations seem wooden and motion is not fluid or elegant.  I also thought that the art at the beginning of the book was more detailed and had a more finished look than closer to the end.  I love the cover illustration, with the battling hues as Pyro and Iceman strut their stuff, with Kitty standing tensely between their images.  It’s a very attractive and eye-catching cover.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by Del Rey

Four-Eyed Prince Vol 1 by Wataru Mizukami Manga Review

 

Title: Four-Eyed Prince Vol 1

Author: Wataru Mizukami

Publisher:  Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345516244

May Contain Spoilers

When Sachiko confesses her feelings to the cool, bespectacled Akihiko, he bluntly shoots her down.  Her heart broken by his rejection, Sachiko is in for an alarming surprise.  Moving in with the mother she hasn’t seen in 15 years, she learns that Akihiko is her step-brother! Gah!  Talk about awkward.  Will she have another chance at winning his heart, or will he continue to be cold and rude to her at school and at home?

My favorite thing about Four-Eyed Prince is the art.  It is so crisp and clean, without much background noise to confuse the eyes.  The character designs are typical of series found in Nakayoshi magazine;  Wide faces, large eyes, improbably pointy chins.  Wataru Mizukami doesn’t go overboard with tones and needless background details, so the illustrations are fresh and uncluttered.  With the big faces, expressions are also readily conveyed, so there is no second guessing about how anyone is feeling.

Too bad that plot isn’t as engaging as the art.  This is one convoluted romance, and Sachiko’s personal life is full of all of the usual shoujo drama conventions.  Too many of them, unfortunately.  Her grandmother has been raising her, but she’s suffering from an illness so she’s moving into a nursing home.  Sachiko’s father died the year before, and now she has to move in with the mother she hasn’t seen in 15 years!  Her mother abandoned them when Sachiko was a baby, but now she wants to be a part of her life again.  And to make matters more awkward, Akihiko is her step-brother, and she’ll be living with him, too.

Argh!  For having this complicated personal life, Sachiko has still managed to foster a bright, sparkly outlook on life.  Too bright and sparkly.  Even though Akihiko has flatly put the brakes on any sort of romantic entanglement, she still fantasizes about the two of them living together and creating a loving bond that goes way beyond being siblings.  Ick.  I don’t care for stories where the heroine and hero are related, even if it’s only through marriage.  It just isn’t socially acceptable when siblings are scoping each other out over the dinner table.  I don’t even like this particular plot device in BL, and pretty much anything goes in that genre!

OK, to complicate matters, Akihiko has two personalities.  Yup, he’s the cold, studious four-eyed prince during the day, but presto changing, a pair of contact lenses later, he’s the charming, handsome bartender Akira.  Bartender?  He’s 17!  Don’t they have a drinking age in Japan?  Even more jarring is when Akira gives Sachiko a shot a brandy after being caught out in the rain, in front of his boss, at the bar where he works.  All of this so Akira can carry Sachiko home on his back, and listen to her relate the sad tale of her life, and the recent rejection of the love of her life, to the guy she has just met. 

The entire plot continues in a similar fashion, and the suspension of belief, for me, was just too much.  Through the “Coolest in School” contest, to the trip to the hot springs, the activity taking place on the pages failed to draw me in.  The pacing was too uneven, the characters weren’t approachable, and the plot was weak and not terribly interesting.  Needless, jarring complications arise at every turn, throwing a wrench into the relationship that Sachiko is trying to foster with Akihiro.  If the art hadn’t been so appealing, it would have been difficult to wade through all of the muck to get to the end of the book.

Also included is the bonus chapter “Mean Boy,”which features another happy, sparkly heroine, and another cold, aloof hero to capture her romantic aspirations.   Ugh.

Grade:  C-

Review copy provided by Del Rey

[PR] LIVE AUTHOR CHAT WITH X-MEN: MISFITS AUTHORS ON SUVUDU.COM

LIVE AUTHOR CHAT WITH X-MEN: MISFITS AUTHORS ON SUVUDU.COM

Who: Raina Telgemeier (SMILE, The Baby-sitters Club graphic novels), Dave Roman (Agnes Quill))

When: 2 PM EST, Monday, August 24, 2009

Where: www.suvudu.com

Join the husband-and-wife comics writing team of Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman live as they answer your questions about what it took to write X-MEN: MISFITS, a new original English-language shôjo manga featuring your favorite Marvel mutants! If you can’t make it for the live chat, feel free to send your questions in advance to delreymanga@randomhouse.com.

Other upcoming events with the X-MEN: MISFITS authors:

NYC Japan Street Fair

Signing

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fair opens at 11 AM

Madison Avenue between 43rd and 44th Sts.

New York, NY

X-MEN: MISFITS LAUNCH PARTY

Talk & Signing

Friday, August 28, 2009

7:00 PM

Rocketship

208 Smith St.

Brooklyn, NY 11201

Brooklyn Book Festival

Panel & Signing (Raina Telgemeier)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Festival begins at 10 AM

Brooklyn Borough Hall

209 Joralemon St.

Brooklyn, NY 11201