Review: Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

 

Title: Now is the Time for Running

Author: Michael Williams

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 978-0316077903

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Just down the road from their families, Deo and his friends play soccer in the dusty fields of Zimbabwe, cheered on by Deo’s older brother, Innocent. It is a day like any other . . . until the soldiers arrive and Deo and Innocent are forced to run for their lives, fleeing the wreckage of their village for the distant promise of safe haven. Along the way, they face the prejudice and poverty that await refugees everywhere, and must rely on the kindness of people they meet to make it through. But when tragedy strikes, Deo’s love of soccer is all he has left. Can he use that gift to find hope once more?

Relevant, timely, and accessibly written, Now Is the Time For Running is a staggering story of survival that follows Deo and his mentally handicapped older brother on a transformative journey that will stick with readers long after the last page.

Review:

Now Is The Time For Running is a heartbreaking book.  Thinking of the horrible way that people treat each other is sobering and distressing.  I don’t know how Deo, a 14 year-old boy, was able to keep struggling to survive.  His life in Zimbabwe with his mother, grandfather, and brother is hardly an easy one.  They don’t have much other than each other.  Deo has a homemade soccer ball, and he lives to play the game in his dusty village.  His life is shattered when soldiers come to visit, destroying everything that he has in just few awful moments of blood and senseless violence.  Some of the villagers voted against the ruling Zed party, and those treasonous votes, in a sham of an election, have brought death to everyone.

Deo and his older, mentally challenged brother, Innocent, flee from the only home that they have ever known.  They have nowhere safe to go.  They have no relatives to care for them.  In an effort to save them both, Deo decides that they will make the dangerous border crossing to South Africa, a terrifying and perilous journey that almost gets them killed.  There are crocodiles, lions, hyenas, and the scariest predator of them all – men with guns – to evade.  Once in South Africa, they face a different kind of hell – xenophobia from native South Africans and people who won’t hesitate to take advantage of them.

Based on current events, including the 2008 riots in Alexandra, the life of a refugee is not kind to Deo or Innocent.  The book is so gripping because it is set against a backdrop of recent events.  It’s hard for me to think of a child being put through these terrible challenges.  I don’t think I could have survived the crushing poverty or the devastating heartache chronicled in this book.  Deo is forced to age beyond his years, and he must also live with the consequences of his decisions.  Guilt almost destroys him, but ultimately, soccer saves him when he has hit rock bottom.  The game gives him the strength, and most importantly, the hope, to continue living.

Grade: B+ leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Crimson Hero Vol 14 by Mitsuba Takanashi


Title: Crimson Hero Vol 14

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421532301

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In an attempt to stop the vicious rumors spreading at Crimson Field High School, Nobara ended her relationship with the boys’ team captain Yushin. But when she runs into Haibuki, a talented boys’ team player who mysteriously left school when he found out about Nobara and Yushin’s romance, Yushin is the first person she calls. Can Nobara and Yushin convince their heartbroken teammate to return to Crimson Field?

Review:

Lots of conflict resolution in this volume of Crimson Hero, and I enjoyed every melodramatic moment of it.  The focus this time around is on Haibuki and his efforts to repair all of his damaged relationships.  Instead of dealing with the difficulties between himself and Nobara and between him and Yushin, he’s ready to throw away his spot on the Crimson Field team and run away from his problems.  He’s been scouted by a stronger team, and the coach has promised to built a strategy with Haibuki as the key player.  Though they are almost guaranteed a shot at winning the National Championship, there’s something missing.  All of these great players lack heart, and victory seems to come a little too easily for them.

When Yushin shows up to convince Haibuki to return to Crimson Field, he has to show his estranged friend just how badly he wants him back on the team.  One of the aspects of sports manga that I enjoy the most is the determination the characters show in the face of defeat.  They refuse to give up, even when the odds are stacked so high against them.  They have this incredible persistence and belief in themselves that doesn’t allow them to quit.  I wish I had half of their drive and optimism, because then there would be little that I couldn’t accomplish.

Haibuki and Nobara come to an understanding as well, which leaves me hopeful that there is room in the next volume for Nobara and Yushin to repair their troubled relationship.  It bothers me that Yushin just let her walk away, and I thought he would at least try to talk some sense into her.  They have been through so much together, and it is a shame that they are willing to just give up on each other.  Hopefully, there will be some advancement in their relationship in the next volume of Crimson Hero.

Grade: A-

Review copy purchased from Rightstuf.com

Review: Crimson Hero Vol 13 by Mitsuba Takanashi

 

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 13

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421527970

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Girl power on the volleyball court!

Fending off a secret admirer with less-than-admirable intentions only intensifies Nobara’s feelings for boys’ team captain Yushin. As the two ace players grow closer every day, the boys’ and girls’ volleyball teams of Crimson Field High also grow closer to their goal of competing in the Spring Tournament. But when scandalous gossip about the volleyball club rocks the campus, Nobara is forced to reexamine her priorities.

Review:

Life is so complicated for Nobara!  Why can’t the poor girl just play volleyball and struggle with her studies, like a normal high school student? Nope, she is the heir to the super fancy restaurant that’s owned by her family, and her path was already set down in front of her.  Only Nobara decided to rebel and to follow her own way, much to her strong-willed mother’s dismay.  Kicked out of the house, she has been working in the Crimson Field Boys’ dorm, cleaning and cooking, while chasing her dreams of playing volleyball.  If nothing else, this girl has guts.  Too bad she never gets a break.

Ugly rumors surface that Yushin and Nobara as living together, which throws the campus into an uproar.  The principal and faculty are not happy to have the morals of their volleyball star, Yushin, questioned.  Nobara is the one who is forced to take the fall for this, and it’s not fair.  Neither she nor Yushin have done anything wrong, but nobody will listen to them.  I felt bad for Nobara, but she did find support in a surprising corner.  I was happy to see that plot development, because, in the past, the only understanding Nobara seemed to be able to find was from her teammates. It was nice to see her family finally step up to the plate and offer her some much needed emotional support.

Haibuki has disappeared, and Nobara feels responsible for his absence.  Again, she accepts all of the guilt and responsibility for something that isn’t her fault.  It’s a good thing she has such broad shoulders, because she is carrying around so much guilt that anyone else would have been crushed under its weight.  Everything she does is for her sport.  She knows how important volleyball is to Yushin, so she sacrifices everything for him.  I think it is so unfair that the adults at her school think so little of her ambitions, just because she is a girl.  That just infuriates me.

Even though I dislike volleyball, Crimson Hero has become a manga series that I look forward to reading.  The characters are so intense that it’s hard to not get caught up in their dramas, and Nobara’s determination to follow her dreams, no matter the cost, will suck you in and not let you go.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Ninja Baseball Kyuma! Vol 1 by Shunshin Maeda Manga Review

 

Title: Ninja Baseball Kyuma! Vol 1

Author: Shunshin Maeda

Publisher: Udon Kids

ISBN: 9781897376867

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Kyuma and his dog Inui live in the mountains, where Kyuma trains every day to become a great ninja. But when Kyuma mistakes a baseball coach for his training master, the local baseball team ends up with its first ninja player! Can a ninja step up to the plate and learn how to play ball? Find out in Ninja Baseball Kyuma!

I waited for such a long time to get my hands on this book!  There is only one copy in the library network, and I requested a hold on it all the way back in January!  My patience was finally rewarded!  Was it worth the wait?  Well, yes and no.  Here’s why:

The illustrations are so cute!  I love Kyuma and his faithful ninja mutt in training, Inui.  All of the characters are energetic and there is no mistaking the full range of emotions that the team experiences as they train for the nationals.  These little guys are intense!  They love baseball as passionately as I love manga! They want to win!  But there are limits to that drive to be victorious.  When Kyuma is injured, the team captain stops him from hurting himself more, even though it costs them a game.  This was a great message, and so was the reaction from a rival, after his team wins because Kyuma is hurt.

The book emphasizes teamwork and putting aside personal differences to achieve a greater goal.  I liked that, too.  Despite some friction, everyone is willing to work together and encourage each other to do their best to win.  But here’s my dissatisfaction with the first volume; there are too many characters to really get a handle on any of them, other than Kyuma and Kaoru, the team captain.  The end of the book felt especially cluttered with kids who didn’t really do much except take up space in Kyuma’s house and add to the balloon pollution invading the panels.

Overall, Ninja Baseball Kyuma! is a fun, breezy read.  Kyuma is completely clueless when it comes to baseball, and all he really understands is training to become a ninja.  When he applies the same dedication to the playing field, hilarity ensues.  There’s lots of action and even more speed lines as Kyuma struggles to protect his Lord Kaoru while learning to belt a home run.

Grade: B

This book was checked out of my local library. Support your local library!

Crimson Hero Vol 11 by Mitsuba Takanashi Manga Review

 

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 11

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher:  Viz

ISBN: 9781421523644

May Contain Spoilers

The Crimson Field’s girls volleyball battle against Aigaku continues, and Nobara and her teammates aren’t backing down by even an inch.  They want to win so badly that they are pushing themselves to play above their previous level, challenging themselves to hit the ball harder, jump higher, and block better than they have even done in the past.  When they win the first set, it’s a surprise to everyone, including Crimson Field.  Riding high on jubilation and adrenaline, it’s starting to look like they just might advance to the Spring Tournament.  When the Aigaku team suddenly focuses all of their attention on Tomoyo, their victory starts taking a nosedive.  Can they manage to win without relying on Tomoyo’s plays to give them a winning edge?

Grrr….I couldn’t stand the coach of the Aigaku team and that made me realize how caught up in the plot I have become.  The action sequences actually held my attention, where earlier in the series I was just struggled through them.  Here, Mitsuba Takanashi pulls out all the stops to deliver exciting action scenes intermixed with tense drama as Nobara and her friends try to defy the odds and beat one of the teams that is favored to advance to the Spring Tournament.  All of the girls put their disagreements aside and concentrate on one thing; playing the best game of volleyball that they possibly can. 

With their victory in doubt, the coach of the Aigaku teams coerces his team into targeting Tomoyo and taking her out of the game.  Since they don’t have any  backup players, loosing anyone means that Crimson Field will have to forfeit the match.  Because Tomoyo was such a formidable player, everyone knows about her injury and that it almost knocked her out of the game – permanently.  The Aigaku team is willing to do anything to win, and doing anything means injuring an opposing player.  The turn of events brokered just the reaction that was intended, and I instantly hated those Aigaku players.  Cheating isn’t winning, it’s just allowing yourself to sink to a new low, and there really isn’t any satisfaction in that. 

This was one of the best volumes of Crimson Hero so far.  The volleyball match was tense and exciting, with lots of emotional turmoil tossed in to keep everyone on their toes.  Nobara and her teammates refuse to give up, even when things are looking really, really bleak.  Encouraging words and a never say die attitude carry the action, and all of the girls pulled together to play an unyielding game despite pain, fatigue, and self-doubts.  This is the reason that I read manga.  To feel a connection to the plot and the characters, to forget myself for the span of a book, to feel uplifted when the underdog refuses to give up.  Sure, it gets corny at times, but gosh darn it, it’s just so much fun, and that is what this is really all about.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by Viz

Bamboo Blade Vol 1 by Totsuka & Igarashi Manga Review

Title:  Bamboo Blade Vol 1

Authors: Masahiro Totsuka &

Aguri Igarashi

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 9780759530058

May Contain Spoilers

Kojiro is a down on his luck kendo advisor who lives on cup noodles and is trying to ride out a tsunami of debt.  Just when things look their worst, his old friend offers up a challenge.  If Kojiro’s kendo team can beat his, Kojiro will win a year’s worth of free sushi.  Kojiro readily accepts the bet, even though he doesn’t even have enough members in the kendo club to have a match.  Will he be able to find more students and whip them into a winning kendo team?

Even though this is a silly comedy filled with stereo-typical characters, I couldn’t help but enjoy it.  Kojiro is far from Teacher of the Year material, and the only reason he’s developed an interest in his kendo team is because of the possibility of free sushi if he can hobble together a winning team.  The members of the kendo club include the usual character types; there’s Kirino, the team captain who despairs at getting Kojiro to help with the club, Nakata, an easy-going first year who really likes kendo, and Eiga, a dumpy complainer who would rather be in the ping-pong club.  To add to Kojiro’s miseries, he needs to put together a female kendo team, and two of the three members are male.  Looks like he’s going to have his work cut for him.

Kojiro is not a very good role model for his students, and they all pick up on this soon after meeting him.  His life is in financial shambles, he has no motivation for anything but a good time, and he is the poster child for being a slacker.  Still, I can’t find any fault with his sudden desire to propel his club to victory.  Free sushi would push all the right buttons for me, too.  When he learns about Tamaki, a petite student with a gift for the sport, he’s desperate to get her to join the team.  He concocts an elaborate ruse to try to get her to join even though she doesn’t want any part of it. But by playing on her weaknesses, he thinks he can trick her into becoming a team member.

Most of the first volume introduced the characters and their various personalities.  I love Tamaki – she’s serious and quiet, and though she’s been training since she was a young child, she isn’t all that gung-ho about kendo.  What she does get all worked up over is witnessing bullies picking on the weak.  She can’t help but jump to their defense every time she sees someone getting beat up.  She is badass with a shinai, but she believes very firmly in playing by the rules, and I like that about her.  She won’t cheat to win, but she will do whatever she has to to make sure defeats her opponent.

Bamboo Blade is a fast read. Tamaki’s kendo bouts are accompanied by a frenzy of speed lines and high intensity illustrations.  Though Tamaki is fairly emotionless, her opponents suffer a deluge of feelings during the fight scenes.  The action is easy to follow and the battles are exciting as blows are stuck and defended against. Most of the character designs are on the plain side, but a couple of the characters, such as Tamaki, have greater detail.  I wish that Eiga didn’t look like a circle with a bowl on his head, but maybe the illustrator suffered from anxiety at the thought of having more than five different characters to draw?

I enjoyed Bamboo Blade for its brainless fun, and I’m wondering where the story will go next.  Kojiro doesn’t seem smart enough to manipulate an entire team of kendo players into a bunch of winners, but maybe with all of the yummy sushi to motivate him, he’ll get the job done.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by Yen Press

Crimson Hero Vol 10 by Mitsuba Takanashi Manga Review

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 10

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN:  9781421523637

May Contain Spoilers

Now that Nobara knows how Yushin feels about her, she can concentrate on volley ball again.  Since they are keeping the fact that they are a couple under wraps until after the Spring Tournament is over, she has something to work towards.  Nobara wants to win, so she can claim a double victory.  Why, then, does she feel flustered every time Haibuki speaks to her?  Doesn’t she love Yushin?

Aw, why does Mitsuba Takanashi have to go and put a little niggling of doubt into Nobara’s heart?  After all of the effort that she put into winning over Yushin, even making a fool of herself by publically declaring how she felt about him?  Now she’s getting confused whenever Haibuki is around.  He’s the guy who would have treated her like a princess, but she bluntly pushed him away.  I like Haibuki, at least when he’s not being an arrogant jerk and trying to steal kisses from Nobara.  One of the conventions that can be so frustrating about shoujo series is the yo-yo effect as the heroine is torn between two really hot guys.  Just pick one!  Don’t be greedy and go after all of the cute guys!

Nobara also learns a lesson in teamwork.  Again.  When a team doesn’t play as a cohesive unit, they are not as strong as when everyone is on the same page.  Volley ball is a team sport, but when players are out only for their own personal glory,  team dynamics are compromised.  When an entire team is made up of glory hounds who fight to be starting players, they are a fundamentally weaker unit.  Nobara witnesses a practice session of their upcoming opponents, and she’s appalled.  The spirit of team unity doesn’t exist with them, and when players are willing to injury their teammates, Nobara vows that Crimson Field will never lose to the likes of them.  Too bad the team, Aiyu Gakuin, has made it to the semi-finals ten years running! 

Crimson Hero isn’t as fun as Prince of Tennis, but that’s probably because there aren’t as many hot guys.  The series does suffer from some uneven pacing, but overall, it’s a pretty solid title. Like the volley ball, emotions are batted about, usually with some very entertaining results.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by Viz

The Prince of Tennis Vol 12 by Takeshi Konomi Manga Review

Title:  The Prince of Tennis Vol 12

Author: Takeshi Konomi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 9781421503370

May Contain Spoilers

I love this series, and this volume is a great installment of Takeshi Konomi’s highly engaging and intense sports manga. The showdown between Ryoma and the very scary Jin gets underway, and all I can say is “wow!” The art is one of my favorite aspects of the titles, and it just zips and zings with excitement and barely contained fury.  Jin is a physically intimidating individual, and you get such a believable sense of action that you can almost hear the tennis ball thrum off of the racks.  For Ryoma and Jin, this isn’t a game of tennis, but a brutal battle to thoroughly humiliate and dominate the other player.  There is no room here for even a sliver of cowardice, because that tiny spark of fear will be instantly sensed, nurtured, and exploited. 

Jin is like a lithe and sinewy lion,  while Ryoma is like a clever and cunning coyote.  Jin smashes forcefully at the ball, thinking to overpower his smaller opponent, but Ryoma isn’t going to roll over and let Jin close in for the kill.  The match between these two gifted and passionate players was breathtakingly exhilarating.  Both of the boys have something to prove, and they aren’t going to quit until they have achieved the utter annihilation of the other.

While the match between Momo and Sengoku wasn’t anything to sneeze at, it lacked the cut-throat atmosphere of Ryoma and Jin’s confrontation.  I really love the tennis tournaments in PoT, as much for the illustrations as for the changes that always occur between the players.  Both Jin and Ryoma have lessons to learn, about themselves and about each other.  Pure talent will only get you so far in the game, and without a dedication and a love for the sport, true excellence will always be elusive.  I don’t even like tennis, and The Prince of Tennis is fast becoming a favorite read of mine.  When rackets are wielded with the ferocity of swords, both sweat and blood flow, sucking the reader into this impossibly addictive title.

Grade: A