Review: Deadman Wonderland Vol 3 by Takaoka and Kondou

 

Title: Deadman Wonderland V 3

Author: Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou

Publisher:  Tokyopop

ISBN: 978-1427817433

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Ganta’s desperate struggle for survival continues as the second round of the Carnival of Corpses kicks off, but when he is matched against Minatsuki, Ganta learns that his new friends are not what they seem…and it may cost him his life! Yo, having infiltrated Ward G, trespasses into the ring and reveals that Minatsuki is his sister. Although memories of Ganta’s childhood friend, Shiro, return to him when he needs it the most, his savior may prove to be a devil in disguise. This downward spiral into the insanity of "Deadman Wonderland" holds startling revelations!

Review:

Deadman Wonderland is the perfect example of one of the reasons I feel like  I have lost my manga mojo.  I was thoroughly enjoying this action-packed sci-fi series when its US publisher, Tokyopop, abruptly shut their doors for business.  Stu Levy, per his own infamous Tweet, was bored with the publishing industry.  Books were too old-school for him, so he turned his back on all of his fans and totally rained on their parade.  Bye-bye almost ten years’ worth of collecting the old fashioned, boring books his publishing company had been blitzing the market with.  Bye-bye series that I had come to love and anticipate, and in part prompted me to start this blog in the first place.  Ouch!  Talk about a slap in the face…

Deadman Wonderland is the type of series I didn’t have much interest in when I first heard about it.  I’m not a big fan of horror yarns or stories with graphic violence, though after taking a look at some of the titles I am following, I am going to have to admit that I do like some of these kinds of books.  While this title doesn’t have a lot of over the top violence, it does offer its fair share of blood sprays, explosions, and destructive combat scenes.  After reading the first volume, I was hooked.  How is Ganta going to survive and get out of Deadman Wonderland?  Will he survive the Carnival of Corpses?  At first glance, it doesn’t seem that he will survive very long, with his skinny frame and gullible nature.  Better for US fans if he had only lived the span of four graphic novels – we wouldn’t have been left hanging when yet another manga publisher shuttered their offices.

This volume has Ganta facing off against Yo’s sister in the second round of the Carnival of Corpses.  Minatsuki is a psychopath, and she gets off on lying and killing.  Her hair is her deadly weapon, and she can whip her opponents to bloody ribbons with about as much effort as it takes a normal person to yawn.  Their battle gets off to a fierce and furious start, and it looks like Ganta’s going to go down fast.  Then Yo arrives to complicate matters even more for the hapless Ganta.

I like this series, and I don’t know why.  The action is mind-numbing, the plot is erratic, and most of the characters are one-dimensional.   Still, there are enough twists and suspense to keep me turning the pages.  I like Ganta quite a bit, and I want him to survive, to find out why he’s in DW, and to somehow find freedom for himself.  I also like Shiro.  I want to know everything about her.  A few little crumbs of information were scattered throughout this volume, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Since I only have the first four volumes of the series, I will have to tune into the anime series to find the answers that I’m looking for.  If you find the manga for a decent price, I would suggest snapping them up and giving them a try, especially if you enjoy action-adventure titles. 

Grade:  B

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout

 

Title: The Boy at the End of the World

Author: Greg van Eekhout

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

ISBN: 978-1599905242

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Fisher is the last boy on earth-and things are not looking good for the human race. Only Fisher made it out alive after the carefully crafted survival bunker where Fisher and dozens of other humans had been sleeping was destroyed.

Luckily, Fisher is not totally alone. He meets a broken robot he names Click, whose programmed purpose-to help Fisher "continue existing"-makes it act an awful lot like an overprotective parent. Together, Fisher and Click uncover evidence that there may be a second survival bunker far to the west. In prose that skips from hilarious to touching and back in a heartbeat, Greg van Eekhout brings us a thrilling story of survival that becomes a journey to a new hope-if Fisher can continue existing long enough to get there.

Review:

Wow, was this a great read!  I wasn’t expecting to have my socks blown off, but they were.  This is the perfect book to entice reluctant MG readers to read.  The pacing is swift, the characters are wonderful, and the suspense never takes a backseat as the plot progresses.  It keeps building and building, until it is impossible to put the book down.  And then when it was over, I wanted more!  The ending is very, very satisfying and this is a completely self-contained work, but I would so love it if we could revisit with Fisher again.

So, why is this book so awesome?  To start with, the characters have so much depth, and after Fisher starts off on his journey to survive, the reader becomes totally invested in his continued success at living.  It’s a harsh world that Fisher awakens to, and it’s scary and dangerous.  One false move and he’s failed his mission.  As the last human alive, it’s critical that he not give up and die.  And it is so hard to keep going when the world around him is so treacherous.  That alone kept me turning the pages; Fisher is at such a huge disadvantage that it doesn’t seem possible that he will live for more than a few days.  He turns out to be so much more resourceful than even his robot companion gives him credit for, and he survives one death defying mishap after another.

When the story begins, Fisher is abruptly jolted awake in his pod.  The Ark where he was born is under attack and is being destroyed around him.  He knows nothing.  It’s like he’s newly born.  He knows his name.  He knows the world is a dangerous place.  He knows he’s alone.  And that’s it! Na-da!  Nothing else to help this kid survive in a world gone mad.  As he flees into the wilderness, he’s joined by Click, a damaged custodial robot.  Fisher is the only one to make it out of the Ark alive.  He is alone.  He thinks he is the last human on the planet.

Fisher and Click set out on an adrenaline rushing adventure.  Fisher just wants to stay alive, but he hasn’t been given much in the way to help with this seemingly monumental task.  He has the personality of a fisherman, but no tools to fish.  As his journey continues, there is no place to fish, either.  He has a daily struggle to forge for enough to eat.  Even catching enough insects to satisfy his raging hunger is a challenge.  He never gives up, though, and that is what I loved about him.  In the face of such incredible odds, he never gives up. 

The other aspect of Fisher’s personality that I love is his loyalty.  He and Click encounter a baby mastodon, and instead of killing and eating it, Protein becomes a member of Fisher’s little entourage.  When Click or Protein are in grave danger, Fisher ignores his mission of staying alive and always tries to help his new friends, even when it puts his own life in peril.  He is one brave kid!  There were a few times when I thought that someone was going to meet an untimely end, but Fisher’s bravery and resourcefulness saved the day.  The book is so suspenseful that I didn’t want to put it down, so I didn’t!  I stayed up far past my bedtime to finish it, because I couldn’t bear to not know how things turn out for Fisher and his odd assortment of friends.

I am not saying much about the plot because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers.  That was another fun part of reading the book; I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.  The Boy at the End of the World is one of the best Middle Grade books that I have read this year; it was a wonderful escape from the stresses of real life, and I am looking forward to Greg van Eekhout’s next project.

Grade: A

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Gantz Vol 14 by Hiroya Oku

 

Title: Gantz Vol 14

Author: Hiroya Oku

Publisher: Dark Horse

ISBN: 978-1595825988

For Readers 18+ Only!

 

Most Definitely Does Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Our alien-hunting gang meets a vampire gang who can grow samurai swords from their hands! Once again, Hiroya Oku is pushing the envelope with his crazy manga Gantz! And to add to it, these vampire yakuza guys might not even be aliens! This isn’t a mission. These guys seem to know who is working for Gantz, and are coming after them. On the streets where they work and live. In the daylight. All of a sudden the wall between everyday humanity and Gantz’s nighttime, extradimensional hunts is crumbling. What will Kei and the others do? Can they regenerate when they’re injured outside of a mission? Find out!

Review:

WTF?!  What is going on in my favorite manga series of gratuitous violence and barely any plot?  I have no idea, but the danger is on an upswing for Kurono.  Again!  You’d think that battling a ginormous alien dinosaur without his suit – and defeating it- would be hard to top in terms of a near death experiences (as well as triggering an involuntary bowel moment) but no!  NO!  There are even worse things in store for Kei!!  What? What?? There are now vampires!  Vampires in the world of Gantz!  These are not those sparkly pretty boy pushovers from a certain popular YA paranormal series either.  These are big, bad, deadly monsters that walk the streets during both the day and the night, and they have a great big grudge against the saps that Gantz has recruited to be the playthings for a bunch of alien sickos.

So, Kei doesn’t rub me the wrong way anymore – falling in love with Tae has made him finally think about someone other than himself, and that’s a good thing.  Now I care about whether he gets bloodily slaughtered in each new mission.  Izumi – he’s a different story.  While I don’t like the big adrenaline junky, I certainly do enjoy watching him get his moves on.  He is poetry in motion with that sword of his, and he doesn’t care who he uses it on.  Aliens, vampires, comrades in arms.  He also sees green every time he looks in Kei’s direction.  How can the little guy score so much higher during alien combat missions?  It just grates on Izumi’s nerves.  Ha, serves you right, you big jerk.  Maybe when you start to care about others you’ll finally wipe the floor with Kei’s battle suit.

I am most appalled with myself for enjoying this series as much as I do.  It really has no plot to speak of, and it celebrates wanton death and destruction.  But so, too, do the big summer blockbusters.  Gantz just has bigger boobs to go along with the one-dimensional, brainless females who drift in and out of Kei’s life.   Each new wrinkle in the barely there plot is really just another excuse for more bloodshed and even more flying body parts.  I don’t even want to contemplate overly long on any one aspect of the series, because I’m afraid it will ruin the reading experience for me.   If you enjoy over the top action and adventure, this is the series for you.  Just make sure you enjoy it for what it is – the summer blockbuster of manga.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Human.4 by Mike A Lancaster

 

Title: Human.4

Author: Mike A Lancaster

Publisher: Egmont USA

ISBN: 978-1606840993

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exit.

Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister?

Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far.    

Review:

What an odd book!  Odd in a good way, too, but Human.4 is hard to classify.  What is this?  Sci-Fi, mystery, psychological thriller?  I’m still not sure what I would call it, but I do know one thing; I could not put the book down, and I polished it off in just a few hours.

Kyle Straker volunteers to be hypnotized by his friend at the annual community talent show.  He doesn’t really want to, but he doesn’t want to see his friend crash and burn when nobody else wants to help him with his act.  Kyle finds himself onstage with three other townspeople, and when he wakes up from the hypnosis, the world is completely different.  He’s not sure what’s going on, but he can tell that it is not the same.  His parents are acting very oddly, and the phone lines are all dead. So are the computers and the television sets.  Is he losing his mind? Or did something happen while he was hypnotized?

The suspense is overwhelming!  I wanted to find out what was going on just as much as Kyle did.  Have aliens invaded? Is he trapped in a nightmare?  Is he nuts?  The narrative is tense and exciting, and the pacing never slows.  The story is so fast-paced, and the short chapters add to the urgency of Kyle’s predicament.  I kept telling myself I would only read one more chapter before I turned the light off to go to sleep, but then I would say – just one more!  I couldn’t stop reading!

Kyle’s narrative kept me engaged in the story, but the occasional editor notes were very jarring.  The narrative is supposed to be a transcription of Kyle’s audio tapes, which described his ordeal.  The premise is unique and I thought it was very interesting, but the research and scientific notes slowed down the pace of the story.  They just didn’t fit well into the narrative, and I grew tired of them very quickly.

The book ends neatly, with all of my questions answered.  I found the reason for Kyle’s extraordinary ordeal to be kind of “meh,” but the run up to the final revelation kept me engrossed in the story.  The ending was a bit of a let down, though, and I don’t want to say much more because it will spoil the suspense of the read.  I think that this book will have a lot of appeal for boys, and readers who enjoy thrillers and mysteries.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

 

Title: Invasion

Author: Jon S. Lewis

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

ISBN: 978-1595547538

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Invasion is an action adventure book on steroids.  It’s a comic book in prose, with so many death defying acts of heroism packed into 300+ pages that you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.  The momentum never slows, but at times I found the pacing exhausting.  I don’t know how protagonist Colt made it through the whole book without ever stopping to catch his breath!  I was gasping for air several times, and had to set the book down slow my heart rate.  I’m not joking!

Colt’s world comes tumbling down after his parents are killed in an accident.  He is shipped off to live with his grandfather, and right away, Colt gets caught up in danger and intrigue.  A mysterious phone call informs him that his parents were murdered because his mother was working on a story to expose Trident Biotech and their nefarious mind control device.  As Colt strives to uncover the truth behind his parents’ death, he exposes an alien conspiracy to take over the world!  Can he and his new friend Oz save the day?

The plot doesn’t really stand up well under inspection, so set your brain on auto-pilot and just go with the flow.  I had no problem accepting flying motorbikes and gateways into other worlds, but I did have a few problems accepting the computer hacking aspects of the story.  I just found it hard to believe that a bunch of aliens intent on world domination would have such lax network security.  Gah!  I don’t know why that jumped out at me and jarred me out of the story.

Colt is a likable character who is having a hard time.  His parents are both dead, he’s been relocated to Arizona to live with his grandfather, and he’s having a hard time dealing with his feelings of loss.  I thought Colt’s personality was nicely fleshed out.  He’s trying to get on with his life, but he’s not finding it very easy, even with the support of his grandfather and his childhood friend, Dani.  Once the action kicks into high gear, he doesn’t have much time for his grief, and he puts all of his focus into staying alive and bringing his parents’ killers to justice.

Invasion should appeal to reluctant readers who enjoy video games and comic books. What is not to like about a secret government organization, murderous, shape-shifting aliens, and ultra-cool technology? Appealing characters add icing to the cake. The sketchbook included at the end of the book is a nice extra, too. I am looking forward to the next installment of the story, because that promises to be even more exciting!  I don’t know if I can take that much excitement! 

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2 by Hisae Iwaoka

Title: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2

Author: Hisae Iwaoka

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421533643 & 978-1421533735

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Mitsu has just started working as a window washer, a dangerous job that five years earlier led to the loss of his father. As Mitsu struggles with being the new guy—making mistakes, struggling to keep up, petty workplace resentments—he also discovers the simple pleasures of befriending his coworkers, enjoying time off and getting to know his absent father through the eyes of his colleagues.

Review:

Mitsu is a window washer on a gigantic apartment complex 35,000 feet above the surface of Earth.  The planet has been evacuated and declared a nature preserve in a last ditch effort to save what native life remains on it.  The complex is segregated into stratified social classes.  Those from the lower levels, like Mitsu, must obtain passes to visit the upper levels, where the structure’s wealthy residents live.  Mitsu is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, even though Aki was killed in a tragic accident five years earlier.  What he finds is that washing windows isn’t as easy as it sounds, and that understanding his co-workers can be even more difficult.

This is a slice of life series, and the chapters meander along as Mitsu learns the ropes of his trade.  He’s accepted into the guild because of his father, which earns him some animosity from a co-worker.  Fresh out of school, Mitsu’s biggest challenge is learning how to get along with others.  It doesn’t help that he feels pressured to live up to his dad’s reputation as a hard worker. 

Wow, window washing 35,000 feet up is hard, dangerous work!  I can’t imagine doing it! I love the story concept, and find the idea of evacuating everyone on the planet to a huge, orbiting apartment a fascinating concept.  I never once considered that the windows would get dirty, and need to be cleaned to allow sunlight to filter in and brighten up the place a bit.  Forcing the apartment population into a class-based social structure adds complexity to the plot, too.  Like any resource, there’s a limit to the amount of natural light available, and the more affluent residents get a lot more exposure to it than the poorer lower levels.  A lack of natural light leads to sickness and weak immune systems.  The units of the wealthy residents have vast windows, and they can afford to have them cleaned.  People like Mitsu have tiny little apartments, with no windows to the outside.

Saturn Apartments is a character-driven story.  Mitsu is struggling to deal with his father’s death, as well as trying to do a job he can be proud of.  His first day on the job almost ends in disaster, but afterwards, he feels that he has a better understanding of his father.  After getting a look at the earth outside of the apartment complex, he is awed by its beauty, and he is determined to someday go to the surface.  He knows that his dad must have felt the same way.  For the longest time he thought that Aki committed suicide and abandoned him, but after being outside, he realizes that he was wrong and that his father really was the victim of a fatal accident.

I love the character interactions.  Mitsu tries to keep himself apart from his neighbors and not be a burden on anyone.  They aren’t so willing to let him do that,  which adds all kinds of complications to his life.  His customers are surprising demanding, too, and each of them affect his life in a different way.  Though they are often a pain to deal with, they also enrich his solitary life for the better.

The art is kind of weird.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  The characters have big round heads and tiny little eyes and at first they looked so odd to me.  As I made my way through the first two volumes of the series, though, I found them very expressive and very unique.  Hisae Iwaoka has a distinct style; it’s not smooth and clean, but instead has a rougher texture that make the illustrations visually arresting.

I found my introduction to Saturn Apartments a pleasant experience, though there were a few moments when the pacing was just a tad too leisurely for my tastes.

Grade: B

Review copies obtained from Amazon (Volume 1) and from publisher (Volume Two)

Review: Gantz Vol 13 by Hiroya Oku

 

Title: Gantz Vol 13

Author: Hiroya Oku

Publisher: Dark Horse

ISBN: 978-1595825872

For Mature Readers

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Dinosaurs. Seriously, can the frantic world of Gantz get any more scary? How about a giant doughboy with crazy fangs and a strange outie bellybutton? Yeah, it’s not just scary; it’s a very strange world for Kei and whomever is unlucky enough to die when Gantz is gathering random people and animals for a new mission. At least this time the Gantz crew have a sweet new weapon! It’s an awesome uni-motorcycle thing! And one of the characters uses a massive space samurai sword. It’s Gantz! And it’s totally rad.

Review:

I am so happy to start my New Year reading with a new volume of Gantz.  Once again, developments are sadly lacking on the plot front, but who cares?  Kei has to duke it out with a bunch of dinosaurs.  Like, freaking huge, tail whipping, foot stomping, I’m going to crush the life right out of you dinosaurs.  How can you not get caught up in the excitement of that??

This entire volume kicks dino butt!  Kei doesn’t even have his suit, and he’s dashing into one razor-toothed fray after another!  He even grows a few, if you know what I mean, and tries to defend other people!  What is going on?  Is Kei actually experiencing a flash of character growth?  Wow!  I never thought that would happen, especially when he’s about to be skewered on a ton of T-Rex teeth.  And wait!  Hold the phone!!  He even goes out of his way to protect the weak!  My heart can’t take shocks like this!

Wanton bloodshed and severed body parts have never been so much fun.  This series is not for the faint of heart, but it is a blast if you enjoy over top action and adventure.  It’s a very quick read which will have you turning the pages non-stop right to the end.  Then you will say, “Crap!!!!  How does he get out of this mess??”  But, just like me, you will have to wait until the next volume hits book stores to find out.  ARGH!!!!!

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Greyfriar by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

 

Title: Vampire Empire Book One: The Greyfriar

Author: Clay & Susan Griffith

Publisher: Pyr

ISBN: 978-1616142476

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once great cities were shrouded by the grey empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to reestablish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.

It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.

Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is The Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire is the first book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternate history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, The Greyfriar brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

Review:

The Greyfriar is a very fun book, and once I picked it up, it was very difficult to put it back down again.  With a full cast of compelling characters, there is a lot going on as the humans and the vampires battle it out for world domination.  After a horrible plague of vampires sweeps over the northern regions of the world, life has become a struggle that the humans can’t afford to lose.  Fleeing to the south because of the vampires’ inability to tolerate the heat, the nations of the world have fought hard to find prosperity and security from their vampire adversaries.   The human nations have been rebuilt in a world very different from our own. 

Princess Adele is soon to be wed to the brash Senator Clark, in a union that will bring the Empire of Equatoria and America together.  With the strength of both of their armies working in unison, the nations should be able to end the vampire threat forever.  Too bad the vampires aren’t so willing to allow the wedding to take place.  After kidnapping Adele, the plans of human domination are threatened.  As Adele struggles to survive, and Clark battles to free her, the dark plans of Cesare, a vampire prince, are put in motion.  Will the vampires bring the humans to their knees?

I loved the setting, and found this alternate future Earth fascinating.  And deadly.  The vampires in The Greyfriar are brutal and dangerous, and they only see humans as cattle to feed their appetite for blood.  Humans travel in air ships and battle their vampire enemies with blades and firearms, struggling to keep control of their hard won territories.  The humans have painstakingly rebuilt their cities in the south, but the threat that the vampires will launch a campaign against them hangs constantly over their heads.  In an effort to make the first strike, the two strongest nations plan to join forces.

Adele is one tough princess!  She holds her own in a fight, but when sheer numbers overwhelm her small contingent, she is captured by a scary, scary vampire.  Then only her wits see her through her ordeal.  I liked that Adele didn’t turn into a cowering captive once Cesare got his grubby claws on her.  She knows her duty and she is determined to live long enough to carry them out.  Once she and Clark are married, the joint forces from Equatoria and America will be hard for the vampires to fight off.  Even though she’s terrified on the inside, she is valiant and brave on the outside.  Just my kind of heroine!

Adele gets a little help from the mysterious Greyfriar, a rebel who battles vampires within their own lands.  The attraction between Adele and the Greyfriar is instant and intense.  As they fight to escape the vampires, they also try to resist their feelings for each other.  When Adele learns the Greyfriar’s secret, their friendship is tested to the extreme.  I was a little disappointed with Adele for her reaction to the man who risked so much to help her, but given her circumstances, I could at least understand her feelings.  She needed to mature, and her conflict with the Greyfriar gave her the much needed impetuous to achieve this.

Senator Clark.  You I didn’t care for.  At. All.  Pompous, abrasive, annoying,  I am embarrassed to admit that I was hoping the vampires would put an end to your obnoxious presence.  How can this braggart ever be a world leader?  How can Adele ever marry him?  Ah, that’s a relationship to watch in the next installment of the series.

For a rollicking read, look no further than The Greyfriar.  It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it flies by. I can hardly wait for the next book in the series. And, oh, that cover is to die for!  

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher