Manga Review: Limit Volume 2 by Keiko Suenobu

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

It’s been a long time since I read the first volume of Limit, but I didn’t have any trouble picking up where I left off.  Only five high school students have been left alive after a terrible bus crash in the mountains of Japan, and they are struggling to survive with hardly any supplies.  Personalities clash from the get-go, so not only are they fighting the elements, they are fighting each other.  Morishigi, a victim of bullying, has the only weapon, and she wants some pay-back for all of the humiliation she’s suffered at school.  Konno, a pretty, popular girl, mocked Morishigi mercilessly, so now she gets a taste of grief.  Forced to fight with one of her friends, a girl who is smoldering with jealousy of Konno, Ichinose hesitates to lash out at her friend when Morishigi taunts her,  ripping apart her friendship with Konno and driving Ichinose into a rage.   Yeah, these guys need a conflict mediator, so they are lucky to have Kamiya.

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Review: Tropic of the Sea by Satoshi Kon

 

Title: Tropic of the Sea

Author: Satoshi Kon

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Yosuke’s family has a strange tradition – once every sixty years they receive an egg from a mermaid. When the egg matures his family dutifully returns it to the sea, where the whole process is then repeated. In exchange for this favor, the mer-people bless his coastal town with bountiful catches of fish and calm seas.

But as a commercial development encroach on the sleepy seaside village and Yosuke’s father is lured away from tradition towards modern prosperity, and turns the egg into a tourist trap, what will happen to the promise their family made to the mermaids generations ago?

Tropic of the Sea Satoshi Kon’s first feature length manga, includes a dozen black and white art plates from his original release, along with a 5-page essay written by Kon in 1999 detailing his transition from the manga industry to the animation business.


Review:

I love it when a great read comes right out the blue and completely catches me by surprise.  I received a review copy of Tropic of the Sea, and was instantly interested in it for two reasons.  One, it’s complete in one volume, which is always a plus, and two, it’s about one family’s promise to protect the egg of a mermaid in exchange for the prosperity of their village.  As times change, and the pressures of a modern economy squeeze the village, Yosuke’s father has sold the family’s land and turned the shrine into a tourist trap.  His father doesn’t believe that the object their family has cared for over the last sixty years is really a mermaid’s egg, and he wants his hometown to experience the prosperity he feels has been passing them by.  As the young people leave for the city, with no plans of returning, he begins to fear for the future of his village, so he makes a deal with the Ozaki group, commercial developers chomping at the bit to turn the sleepy town into a luxury resort.

I love character driven stories, and Tropic of the Sea is filled with empathetic characters.  Even Yosuke’s dad, who I thought was a complete jerk at first, turns out to have the best interests of the town at heart, even though his misguided attempts to modernize it have sharply divided the townsfolk.  The fishermen are deeply opposed to the development, which will destroy their traditional fishing grounds.  This conflict has turned neighbors against each other, and is so volatile that the threat of constantly simmers, destroying the peace of the town.

Yosuke just wants to pass his college entrance exams and get out of Dodge; he doesn’t really believe in mermaids, but he performs the shrine tasks out of a sense of duty and out of respect for his grandfather.  The old man is ailing, and the stressful situation with the construction isn’t helping him.  He is deeply committed to keeping the promise his family made to the mermaids generations ago, but he’s helpless to stop his son from selling the land and destroying their traditional way of life.  To add to his unease, it’s been 60 years since he received the current egg, and according to the agreement with the mer-people, the egg has to be returned to the sea. 

There are no real bad guys in Tropic of the Sea, just characters motivated to make their lives and the lives of their friends and families better.  Everyone behaves in a believable way, even though I didn’t agree with some of the decisions being made, and the reasons behind them, but I could certainly understand them.  Through it all, Yosuke is torn.  He doesn’t believe in the mer-people or the promise that his family has kept for all these years, but he loves his grandfather and wants to make him happy.  As events begin to spiral out of control, he’s forced to choose sides and to fight for what’s important to him.

The pacing is phenomenal, and I was completely sucked into the story.  I couldn’t put it down.  I started to get worried – did the mer-people really exist, and what was going to happen if Yosuke’s family broke their promise.  Though the tone is quiet and introspective, the emotional kick is compelling.   The ending is a tad over the top, but it wrapped up all of the questions and all of story lines in a neat and satisfying way.  Vertical is putting out some great stuff, and I wish I had more time to really dive into their library.

Grade:  B+/A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Paradise Kiss Vol 1 by Ai Yazawa

 

Title:  Paradise Kiss V 1

Author:  Ai Yazawa

Publisher:  Vertical

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Yukari is a spirited high school senior in the process of studying for her college entrance exams. Sadly the prospect of subjecting herself to a meaningless dull life leaves her feeling depressed about the future.  In a bout of frustration, Yukari begins to ignore her courses and she begins to hang out with a group of fashion design students. But what Yukari doesn’t know is that this circle is known as Paradise Kiss, and they are run by a pair of young designers already making their mark on the Asian scene. Furthermore, while her life is going to soon change, it will not be due to the elite political or commerce based future her family may have hoped for, instead her life may eventually be set in a world of high fashion, with her strutting down the catwalk as the face of Asian fashion!


Review:

How lovely to see Paradise Kiss back in print after so long!  This series,  Peach Girl, and Marmalade Boy  are directly responsible for my love of graphic novels.  During the hey-day of the US manga craze, there were so many wonderful books being released that it was hard to keep up with them all.  There was also a lot of garbage hitting store shelves, in such an overwhelming wave, that buyers couldn’t keep up.  Then the recession hit, and it was bye-bye to several of my favorite publishers.   CMX’s demise hit me the hardest, because DC’s imprint had licensed some unique titles, and many of the series that I followed were being released by them.  When Tokyopop shuttered, I actually became so discouraged with comics that I started reading prose books again.  Am I bitter that I will never see the end of I Hate You More Than Anyone or Kamui?  Am I upset that Silver Diamond and Demon Sacred were never competed?  You betcha! That’s one reason why I was so happy to see ParaKiss back in print with a new publisher.  This is a timeless story of a high school girl’s coming of age, with fun characters and gorgeous illustrations.  It deserves to stay in print, and since it’s been ten years since it was last published, there is a brand new audience out there just waiting to discover it.

One thing that I love about Ai Yazawa’s storytelling style is how she sprinkles humor into her plot when events get emotionally intense.   There is so much drama, drama, drama, which I love, and then all of a sudden there is this marvelous little blast of humor – either a joke from one of the characters or a humorous visual to ease all of that tension, just a little bit.  It is more evident in NANA (speaking of which, what happened to NANA?), but there are small glimpses in this first installment of Ai Yazawa’s classic romance.  I enjoy the contrast to the heart-stopping tension, and look forward to seeing how she’ll maneuver her characters from emotional trauma to eliciting an chuckle from the reader. 

In ParaKiss, Yukari is a high school senior with a lot of her mind.  She is cramming for her college entrance exams, and she doesn’t have time to get involved with a bunch of weirdos from the local fashion school.  Once she meets charismatic George and is caught under petite Miwako’s charm, she has no choice but to model for their fashion show.  There is so much change in Yukari from the opening chapter,  where she is risk adverse and single-mindedly intent on her studies, to the end of this volume, where she is fabricating lies for her parents so she can spend more time with her new friends in their basement studio.  She is finally starting to assert herself, and to reject her mother’s stranglehold over her.  Finally, there is something that she cares enough about to fight against the carefully planned path her parents have laid out before her.  Is it in her best interests to get caught up in the lives of these creative and impulsive people?  Probably not, but the rush of being with them is intoxicating, and she’s not willing to let it go.

George is so far over her head that I worry for Yukari.  He is jaded and worldly, while she’s lived a very sheltered life.  No friends, no boyfriends, few connections outside of her family.  George is like a blazing torch, and she is drawn, against her will,  to his brilliance.  As I read the book this time around, I sympathized more with her confusion over her feelings for George.  She’s not accustomed to expressing her feelings or hanging out with a guy, and everything that George does sets her world on end.  He is intense and self-confident, and he rushes head-first into everything that life has to offer.  Yukari isn’t prepared for a guy like George, and now that she’s caught his attention, she isn’t sure how to keep it fixed firmly on her.  All of the emotional ups and downs of that first relationship are intensified by George’s vivid personality.  She doesn’t stand a chance against him, and I kept wondering if he was just dicking around with her from the moment he met her.

I love the art.  Ai Yazawa’s delicate, detailed character designs are distinctive and beautiful.  The clothing is also stunning, but how can you possibly have a story about fashion designers and have everybody wearing ugly clothing?  You can’t, and the clothing take on a life of their own.

If you enjoy drama and that pulse-pounding confusion of first love, give this series a shot.  If you enjoy comics with beautiful clothes and beautiful characters, give this series a shot.  If you are interested in manga and haven’t read any of it yet, this is a good, short (3 volume) title to get you started.  It’s still as pretty and as moving as it was 10 years ago.  As always, Vertical’s presentation is top notch, with a new translation and a bigger, bolder trim size than the previous version.

Grade:   B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Limit Vol 1 by Keiko Suenobu

 

 

Title: The Limit Volume 1

Author:  Keiko Suenobu

Publisher: Vertical

In stores October 9, 2012

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Mizuki Konno is your typical high school junior at Yanno Prefectural High School. Like many teens her age she is studying hard for college and when she has some down time she likes to fuss over fashion and make-up. While she may not be one of the class elites, Mizuki is fortunate to be on the right side of her class’s idols. But that might not settle well with those who are in a similar academic status but not so lucky with their social lives.

Mizuki really isn’t a bad person. However she understands that she is one of the haves. And even if she only has so a strand to hold on to, that’s much more than the introverts or the socially inept.
On the day of the field trip, Mizuki’s position with the cool kids cannot be better. But now a good portion of her class are now firmly against her. While this "lower" clique may not be united, their hatred is much stronger than their differences. Unfortunately tragedy strikes in the form of a traffic accident. And now the class is split into two new groups…the living and the dead!

Almost the entire class has been wiped out and the five remaining girls are injured and lost in the wilderness. They also hate each other, and in a mix of Lord of the Flies with Heathers these girls begin to assert their wills against each other to try to survive while enacting a new class structure where looks and style is no longer the definition of influence.


Review:

When it comes to manga lately, I feel like I’ve been living under a rock.  I received this review copy, and wasn’t familiar with the title at all.  I love the cover, though, with the main protagonist standing defiantly, yet a bit battered, and staring boldly ahead.  The cover is very simple and eye-catching, and I immediately sat down to read the book.  Keiko Suenobu is also the author of LIFE, which was being released by  Tokyopop before they shuttered their offices.  I haven’t read any of that series, but after reading Limit, I am tempted to track it down.

Limit is a Lord of the Flies type story.  After their school trip goes horribly wrong and their bus crashes, Kanno and four of her classmates are stranded in the middle of the woods with only their wits to aid in their survival.  With their teachers and classmates dead, the five girls must juggle their fear and panic with their feelings for each other.  This is a diverse group of personalities, from the bullied Morishige, who has the only weapon and is brimming over with hate and resentment, to Kanno, who was part of the popular clique who made Morishige’s life hell at school.  Sakura, the ringleader of the clique, is dead in the bus, and Haru, one of the survivors, isn’t dealing with her best friend’s death very well.  This is a powder  keg of emotions just ready to blow, and only Kamiya realizes that it’s going to take more than luck to survive until they are rescued.  She immediately attempts to use diplomacy and get everyone to work together to ensure their survival, but she’s not having much luck.  There is a lot of resentment and so much ill-will to overcome, that things look bleak for our intrepid cast.

Limit focuses on the complex relationships the girls have formed over the years.  Angry Morishige is delighting in her sudden ascent to the top of the food chain; she’s got the weapon, and she hates everyone enough that she won’t hesitate to use it.  She casts everyone else in the pyramid beneath her, leaving Kanno and Haru to battle it out for the bottom rung of the ladder.  With the weapon, Morishige also controls the meager food supply the girls have foraged from the wreckage of the bus.  After being a bottom-feeder for so long, she is ecstatic to feel some kind of empowerment over the girls who constantly picked on her and made each school day so horrible. 

I thought that this was a great introduction to the series.  I reached the end and wanted more.  The relationship dynamics bubble with emotion and kept me engaged in the book from the first page.  Kanno isn’t an extremely likable character because she always takes the path of least resistance.  She’s a sheep to Sakura’s domineering personality, and once Sakura meets an untimely end, Kanno realizes how meaningless her other relationships truly are.  Avoiding confrontation, kissing up to Sakura, and trying to hold a middle ground so she wasn’t bullied didn’t endear her to her classmates, she is learning the hard way.

I love Keiko Suenobu’s expressive artwork.  I never had to guess how her characters felt as they were maneuvered from one panel to the next.  Emotions are deftly rendered here, and the visuals are as compelling as the prose.  This is a great start to a series that will appeal to fans of conflict driven stories.  I don’t know how the girls are going to reconcile their feelings for each other and still survive all alone in the wilderness, with no food and only a cave for shelter.  I am looking forward to the next volume!

Grade:   B

Review copy provided by publisher

Waiting on Wednesday–Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Ai Yazawa is one of my favorite manga-ka, and Paradise Kiss is one of my favorite manga, so I am super excited to see that Vertical picked up the license.  This series deserves to be back in print, and I’m eager to see Vertical’s always classy presentation of this epically awesome story. 

In stores next week.

 

Yukari is a spirited high school senior in the process of studying for her college entrance exams. Sadly the prospect of subjecting herself to a meaningless dull life leaves her feeling depressed about the future.  In a bout of frustration, Yukari begins to ignore her courses and she begins to hang out with a group of fashion design students. But what Yukari doesn’t know is that this circle is known as Paradise Kiss, and they are run by a pair of young designers already making their mark on the Asian scene. Furthermore, while her life is going to soon change, it will not be due to the elite political or commerce based future her family may have hoped for, instead her life may eventually be set in a world of high fashion, with her strutting down the catwalk as the face of Asian fashion!


What are you waiting on?

Review: The Flowers of Evil Vol 1 by Shuzo Oshimi

 

 

Title: The Flowers of Evil Vol 1

Author:  Shuzo Oshimi

Publisher:  Vertical

May Contain Spoilers

 

Review:

ZOMG!  I feel a bit guilty for enjoying this tale of blackmail as much as I did.  In a moment of complete stupidity, shy, timid Takao steals the gym clothes of the girl he is crushing on.  Little does he know that this one lapse in judgment will bring about his downfall.  Witnessed by Nakamura, the weirdest girl in his class, she threatens to rat him out to their classmates if he doesn’t do everything she demands.  As he spirals deeper in to misery, Takao is at his wit’s end.  How does he get Nakamura to leave him alone, without being outted as a perv in the process?

I haven’t laughed this much in a long time.  I couldn’t help myself.  Poor Takao is such a wimp.  And an idiot to boot.  I hope those clandestine sniffs of Saeki’s t-shirt and shorts were worth the pain and embarrassment that this  hapless middle-schooler is destined to suffer.   Nakamura is one tough cookie, too!  She is relentless, and she won’t let Takao get away with anything now that he’s under her power.  I felt so bad for him!  He’s like a little puppy that keeps getting whacked with a newspaper.  And darn me, but I kept laughing at all of his discomfort. 

Even as his relationship with Saeki, she of the enticing gym clothes,  blooms, his dealings with Nakamura keep bringing him nothing but trouble.  His friends are rapidly ditching him because he’s too busy dancing to Nakamura’s tune to hang out with them, and his mother is fit to be tied because of his strange behavior.  I fear that Takao will need serious therapy sessions if this continues much longer.  I am eager to read more of this series, because I’m curious to see where it goes.  

Grade:  B+, leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

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Review: No Longer Human Vol 1 by Osamu Dazai and Usamaru Furuya

 

Title: No Longer Human Vol 1

Author: Osamu Dazai & Usamaru Furuya

Publisher: Vertical

ISBN: 978-1935654193

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

In honor of the 100th birthday of Osamu Dazai, Usamaru Furuya retells Dazai’s most important work No Longer Human in modern day Tokyo where modern vices can bring ruin to the self-loathing.


Furuya’s adaptation of No Longer Human takes place nearly seventy years after Dazai’s original. Set in modern day Tokyo, Dazai’s tale details the life of a young man originally from a well-off family from Japan’s far north. Yozo Oba is a troubled soul incapable of revealing his true self to others. A weak constitution and the lingering trauma from some abuse administered by a relative forces him to uphold a facade of hollow jocularity since high school. The series is composed of three parts, referred to in the novel as "memorandums," which chronicle the life of Oba from his teens to late twenties. The comic is narrated by the artist, Furuya himself, making appearances at the start of each volume. In many ways, it could be said that Furuya has traveled a path that may be similar to Dazai’s. Maybe that is what led these two together after 100 years.

In this first of three parts, alternative comic artist Usamaru Furuya appears to be overcome with deadlines. While he has been published by some of the biggest names in the comics industry, his star still shines brightest as a cult favorite, an underground artist whose emo comics are the voice of a new generation. To escape the duldrums of work, he loses himself in the internet and comes across the journal of a man whose life sounds very familiar–Oba Yozo. In Oba’s First Memorandum the teen is overcome by an intense feeling of alienation. This pressure is so strong he cannot cope with others making it impossible to socialize with those who surround him, even his own family. To counter this Oba plays the role of the fool in order to establish interpersonal
relationships.

Review:

Vertical has a strong track record for licensing thoughtful, provocative titles, and No Longer Human is no exception.  This somber tale of self-hatred and self-destruction fits in well with their other manga releases, but this story isn’t one that resonated with me.  After learning that time is truly a limited resource, I just can’t relate with Yozo Oba, a young man who seems to have everything, yet wanders aimlessly from panel to panel, with no goals, no attachments, and no appreciation for anything that he has. 

Born into a wealthy family, privilege and comfort are taken for granted.  Yozo’s problem, though, is that these luxuries mean nothing to him, because he can’t stand himself.  His self-loathing pushes him to be someone he isn’t, and only serves to make him miserable.  Pursuit of base pleasures leaves him empty, and he lacks the ability to make meaningful connections with others.  Yozo is emotionally isolated, unable to care for anyone or anything, and so he is much like a piece of driftwood, floating where ever the current takes him.  I quickly became frustrated with him, because he wasn’t living his life – he was just wasting it.

Yozo didn’t come across to me as a tragic character warped by the heavy expectations of his father.  He came across instead as self-indulgent and spoiled, always looking for the easy way out.  He squanders more opportunities by the time he’s 18 than most people are presented with in their entire lifetime.  I wanted him to knock the chip off his shoulder and pull his head out of his ass.  Every occasion when he had the chance to have a life-altering revelation, he turned away from it.  Because he is so emotionally stunted, he isn’t capable of growth or self-discovery, and he left me very indifferent to his self-induced plight.

So, much like Yozo, No Longer Human has left me feeling detached and disconnected from the book.  It is very well written, and the art is crisp and full of the emotion that Yozo lacks.  The fact that I read this in one sitting and was so caught up in the experiences of a character I did not like speaks volumes for Furuya skills.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Chi’s Sweet Home Vol 4 by Konami Kanata

 

Title: Chi’s Sweet Home Vol 4

Author: Konami Kanata

Publisher: Vertical

ISBN: 978-1934287965

Reading Level – All Ages

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the fourth volume of Chi’s Sweet Home, Youhei’s actions at the end of volume three has motivated his parents to look for a new home for their kids.  Chi is moving to a new address; someplace where cats can play to their heart’s content without having to worry about nosey managers and mean hungry bully cats.

But moving alone will be something of an adventure for Chi.  While the Yamada’s can handle changing their environment now and then, for a kitten their home means much more than just a place to sleep in.  When the old apartment starts to disappear, suddenly Chi starts losing all of her favorite toys and her naps spots.  She knows they should be in specific places, the smell is still there, but her nappy spot is gone and so are her favorite scratching areas.  And what are all those boxy things?  Why are they all stacked so high up?  And what’s up with all the noise around them?  Are there dogs behind all of this?!?

Review:

Awww, the cute attack continues!  Chi is so adorable that it’s hard to not get caught up in the sweetness of this series.  I love how simple the storytelling is – short chapters humorously follow Chi as the tiny kitten explores the world around her.  Her reactions are hilarious and occasionally bittersweet, but they are always satisfying.  The books make me feel good, and sometimes that’s all I’m looking for when I sit down to a new read.  A little perk to brighten my stressful days, to allow me to laugh as Chi and her people navigate through their lives.  Every new experience is an adventure that leaves me chuckling at the cuteness that is Chi.

In this volume, Chi and the Yamadas move to a pet-friendly apartment.  Chi no longer has to live a life in hiding – not that she was ever very good at it to begin with!  Through short vignettes, she greets the move with trepidation, confusion, and finally, contentment.  When her world changes abruptly, poor little Chi doesn’t know what to do!  First, the Yamadas pack everything into boxes.  Chi’s attempts to play only get in the way, so off to a secluded room she goes.  Listening to the activity of the move frightens her, and she wonders what is happening to her home.  Her feelings of safety are gone.  Her new home only confuses her, because it smells strange and unfamiliar, which makes her apprehensive and frightened.

I enjoyed this volume a lot.  As with previous visits with Chi, her emotions are clearly communicated through Konami Kanata’s wonderful watercolors.  The illustrations are bright and colorful, and it’s so easy to read Chi’s reactions to the newness that surrounds her.  The chapters where the Yamadas introduce themselves to their new neighbors are my favorite, as they showcase a spectrum of reactions to meeting the other pets at the apartment complex.  Like people, every animal has a different personality and look, and I am looking forward to more interactions between Chi and her new neighbors.

If you are looking for a fun and painless introduction to manga and graphic novels, Chi’s Sweet Home is a great place to start.  It is so cute, and it will keep you smiling as you get to know Chi.  Best yet, it’s an appealing all ages comic that you can share with the kids in your life.  Besides, who doesn’t love adorable little animals?

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher