Kiichi and the Magic Books Vol 4 & 5 by Taka Amano Manga Review

 

Title:  Kiichi and the Magic Books Vol 4 & 5

Author: Taka Amano

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401217587 & 9781401220969

May Contain Spoilers

Wrapping up with two fantastic installments, I am very sad that Kiichi and the Magic Books has come to an end.  Looking back over the series, it’s impressive that each volume was better than the one before, and it left off with a satisfying finale.  The race to the end was tense and exciting, and I couldn’t stop reading once I picked up the fourth volume, so heed this warning – make sure you have Vol 5 on hand before diving into Vol 4.  Trust me on that.

All of the mysteries surrounding the onis and the trees are explained, and best of all, it all makes sense in the context of the story.  The major characters are also given back stories to help flesh out their personalities, and in doing so, each became more dear to me.  Especially Mototaro, now that I understand the reason for his gruff demeanor.  His power caused him to commit a horrible mistake, something so awful that it’s haunted him ever since.  When he puts things back into books, bits of the real world get sucked in with them, and there’s nothing he can do to prevent that.  The proud boasting of a child becomes a lifelong nightmare, one that he never wants to repeat.  By keeping to himself, by being unapproachable, he thinks that he is reducing the chances of hurting anyone else.  All he’s really doing is hurting himself, and preventing himself from moving forward with his life.

Kiichi learns what it means to be an oni, and he, too, is plagued by the burden that’s been thrust upon him.  If becoming a tree means saving the world and the people he’s come to care for, can he sacrifice himself to the pit at the depository?  I love when a character grows and matures, and Kiichi develops into a caring, loving boy who is willing to give up his life to save another.  You can’t help but admire this kid as he bravely faces his fate.  It was a pulse pounding chase to the last page, not knowing if Kiichi or his friends would find a way to save him from his destiny. 

Like The Recipe for Gertrude, my favorite CMX series, Kiichi didn’t wow me with the first volume.  The concept was intriguing, but there was an emotional disconnect from the characters.  As the series processed, however, that all changed.  Peopled with likeable cast, each of them has a different agenda that often runs counter to everyone else’s.  Part of the charm was watching them alter and shift their personal goals after being in contact with Kiichi.  Like with me, the boy manages to win over even the most resistant of his companions.

Offering up an enchanting fantasy, Kiichi and the Magic Books is worth checking out, and it’s only five volumes long.  That’s not a big investment for this solid reading experience, so take my word on this one and give it a shot. 

Grade: A

Junior Escort by Sakurako Hanafubuki Manga Review

 

Title: Junior Escort

Author: Sakurako Hanafubuki

Publisher:  June

ISBN: 9781569705971

May Contain Spoilers

Junior Escort is a BL anthology that offers up a fairly bland batch of stories.  None of them connected for me, not even the title chapter, which features Ayukawa, an up and coming idol, and superstar Mizuhara.  After being set up by his manager, Ayukawa finds himself alone with Mizuhara, and the two sleep together.  Shortly after, Ayukawa is told that if he keeps Mizuhara happy, he’ll continue to get work.  Ayukawa’s relationship with Mizuhara is then built, not on feelings of love or affection, but on furthering Ayukawa’s acting career.  There is zero romance in the two chapters they are featured in, or in any of the chapters that follow.  It seems that all of the relationships in the book are about deception or controlling another person, and not about attraction, love, or even desire.  Everything is so clinically presented, too, and that made the characters seem distant and unapproachable.

One of my complaints about BL anthologies is that there isn’t enough time to get to know the characters, and it’s hard to set up a convincing set of circumstances for them to overcome.  Instead, the characters have to drive the stories, but in Junior Escort, that just doesn’t happen.  Their personalities aren’t compelling enough to make the reader want to learn more about them, and in a couple of the stories, they are just downright unlikeable and I didn’t care to know what makes them tick.  Aki, one of the callous leads in “Baku,” treated his live-in lover Megumu so poorly that I couldn’t figure out why they were still together.  Especially when there was the kind-hearted Senno looking out for Megumu’s best interests.  I was hoping that Megumu would actually dump Aki and hitch up with Senno. 

In “Behind Closed Doors,” Rin is drawn to the scarred Haitani.  Haitani is rumored to sell himself for sex, but Rin doesn’t let that stop him from wanting to get to know Haitani a whole lot better.  This was probably my favorite chapter, but there’s a lot of build up that doesn’t really go anywhere.  “Angelic Seduction” was a little to shota for me to enjoy, though the story flowed the best.  Yuta’s age was a huge turnoff, and I just couldn’t get past it.  “So Loveable, So Kind” is about an insomniac and the friend who tries to help him sleep.

The mix of stories in Junior Escort is disappointing and ultimately forgettable.  Bland characters, bland settings, and scratchy art form a volume of BL tales that is, at best, worth a borrow from the library.  Read Toko Kawai’s Cut instead, and just skip this one.

Grade:  D+

Review copy provided by June

Rasetsu Vol 2 by Chika Shiomi Manga Review

 

Title: Rasetsu Vol 2

Author: Chika Shiomi

Publisher:  Viz

ISBN: 9781421527512

May Contain Spoilers

It is always a happy day when a volume of a Chika Shiomi manga arrives at my house.  I love her elegant illustrations and careful plotting, and how she mixes humor into tense situations to break up what would otherwise be too heavy an atmosphere.  The way she crafts scary supernatural elements with dizzying romance always provides a thrill.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it doesn’t hurt that all of the characters are drop-dead gorgeous, either.

Yako is still slaving away at Hiichiro Agency, assisting Rasetsu as she exorcises evil spirits.  He doesn’t understand the girl’s preoccupation with finding a boyfriend, and he can’t help but tease her about it.  What Yako doesn’t know is that if she doesn’t find her true love by the time she turns 20, a powerful spirit is going to claim her as his own.  Will Yako be able to keep his promise to protect her from this terrifying danger when the time comes?

Rasetsu is starting to feel more than a little disconcerted whenever Yako is near.  She’s confused by her blushing, girly reactions to him, because she is supposed to be tough.  She’s been working hard to become stronger, so she isn’t helpless when the demon comes to claim her.  Doesn’t she have the ability to almost single-handedly banish even the most evil of ghosts?  Then why does her heart keep going bam-boom when she’s with Yako?  I know why!  It’s because he’s hawt!

In addition to Rasetsu warming up to the cool Yako, Kuryu impishly experiments with his kotodama powers, much to the chagrin of both Yako and Rasetsu.  Kuryu can be a funny guy, especially when he’s putting someone else in the hot seat.  The trip to the amusement park, and the lengths he and Rasetsu go to to force Yako to loosen up were hysterical.  The uptight Yako didn’t stand a chance against them, but I don’t know if what he was feeling was enjoyment.  More like the urge to kill his co-workers.

Rasetsu gets the “I want more” seal of approval.  The daily activity at the Hiichiro Agency is loaded with action, suspense, and humor, and it draws the reader helplessly in.  I couldn’t put the book down until I had reached the last page, and that came much too quickly.  The character interaction is fun and convincing, and everyone has a unique personality that doesn’t always mesh with that of their co-workers.  The only thing that Yako and Kuryu really agree on is that they will each protect Rasetsu from harm, but each of them has a decidedly different approach to ensuring her continued health.  

Chika Shiomi’s books remind me of the gothic romances I love so much.  She is like the Barbara Michaels of manga.  There is just something appealing about scary, life-threatening situations and a hunky, fearless love interest.  They are a guilty pleasure, and I am counting the days until the next volume is released.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by Viz

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai Picture Book Review

 

Title: The Snow Day

Author: Komako Sakai

Publisher:  Scholastic

ISBN: 9780545013215

May Contain Spoilers

A snow storm brings a day at home for a little rabbit.  What the rabbit really wants to do is run outside and play in the snow, but the rabbit’s mother won’t let it.  Not until the snow stops falling.  As the day progresses, the snow continues to fall, and father’s flight home is canceled.  Will the snow ever stop falling, and will little rabbit ever get to enjoy some time romping in the cold, white drifts of snow?

I admit that I am not qualified to determine whether or not this book and it’s subdued illustrations will appeal to the target audience of children 4 – 8.  I will therefore make a few observations, and then turn the floor over to my littlest niece, Elly-Bean, who is in that age bracket.  Elly loves her books, and she is carefully being groomed to pick up the slack here at Manga Maniac Cafe.  Only a couple more years, and she can start pulling her own weight and helping me out with con coverage and review chores.  I wonder what kinds of stories she will take a hankering to…

The Snow Day chronicles one of my favorite days, following a young rabbit as it learns that there won’t be any school that day, and that there’s no need to rush out of bed.  But wait!  It’s snowing, so the excited bunny isn’t going to waste time snoozing when there is all of that snow to play in.  Mom is pretty strict, putting a damper on plans to romp through the freshly fallen snow. 

The book is very simple and offers up the excitement and magic of a day a home, waiting and watching as the snow continues to fall unabated.  The illustrations effectively capture the quiet solitude of a snow storm, of the feeling of isolation as the snow piles up ever higher.   The colors are soft and muted, echoing the snow outside, with occasional flashes of red or blue or yellow.  The sense of solitude is enhanced when the rabbit and its mother venture outside, and only they are scampering through the drifts, making snow balls and snow dumplings. Their world is muted, seeming to contain only them and the mounds of pure white snow.

Now it’s time for Elly-Bean to take the floor:

1.  Did you like The Snow Day?

Yeah.

2.  Why did you like the book?

Cause I liked it snowing and she was making snow dumplings.

3.  What did you think of the little rabbit? 

The little rabbit was cute.

4.  Did you like the pictures?

Yeah.

5.  Why?

Because they look like home.

6.  Do you think other people should read The Snow Day?

Yeah.

7.  Do you like snow days?

Yeah.

Well, there you have it.  It’s a winner for the Bean, a soon to be 4 year old.

Review copy provided by Scholastic

[PR] The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology–New from No Starch Press

The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology
—New from No Starch Press

Travel Inside the Human Body in this Exciting Cartoon Guide

The Manga Guide to Calculus

San Francisco, CA, August 26, 2009—Rin and Ami have been skipping molecular biology class all semester, and Professor Moro has had enough—he’s sentencing them to summer school on his private island. But they’re in store for a special lesson. Using Dr. Moro’s virtual reality machine, they’ll travel inside the human body and get a close-up look at the fascinating world of molecular biology.

In The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology (No Starch Press, August 2009, 240 pp, ISBN 9781593272029), readers tag along with Ami and Rin as they journey inside the body’s cells and nuclei. As they travel, they learn about core topics in molecular biology like protein synthesis, amino acids, cell division, DNA replication, and genetics. Along the way, they experience chemical reactions first-hand and even meet entertaining characters like Enzyme Man and Drinkzilla, who show them how the liver metabolizes alcohol.

"Molecular biology can be difficult because it involves the study of things we can’t normally see. But it’s an absolutely essential subject," said No Starch Press founder Bill Pollock. "I’m excited about this sixth installment of our Manga Guide™ series because the comics and the story are just so compelling. Who wouldn’t want to be small enough to see DNA at work?"

In The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology, readers learn about:

  • The organelles and proteins inside cells, and how they support cellular functions
  • Transcription and translation, and the role genes play in synthesizing proteins
  • The pieces that make up our genetic code, like nucleotides, codons, introns, and exons
  • The processes of DNA replication, mitosis, and cytokinesis
  • Genetic technology like transduction and cloning, and the role of molecular biology in medicine

Whether readers need a molecular biology refresher or are just fascinated by the science of life, The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology will give them a uniquely fun and informative introduction.

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Animal Academy Vol 2 by Moyamu Fujino Manga Review

 

Title: Animal Academy Vol 2

Author: Moyamu Fujino

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427810960

May Contain Spoilers

I liked the second installment of Animal Academy much better than the first.  All of the pointless slapping in the first volume is gone, and replaced instead with slice of life chapters as Fune tries to fit in at her new school.  It’s not easy, seeing as she is the only human other than Yuichi attending the incredibly weird school for shape-shifting animals.  Fune’s group of classmates settle into their studies, learning about each other as the semester progresses.  Can they overlook their differences and become friends after all?

The fluffy adventures that Fune and her companions embark on hardly provide for a challenging read, and that’s not a bad thing.  There is a sense of wonder as the young characters learn about the human world, starting with an unauthorized trip to the outside after Kotaru finds a portal out of the isolated school grounds.  The forbidden exploration, which culminates with the discovery of a treasure trove of junk, set a light-hearted tone that remained during the rest of the book.

Though the activities that Fune participates in can hardly be considered unique, they are related in an even-paced, interesting fashion.  Personalities are slowly revealed, friendships are formed, and Fune learns just as much about herself as she does about her friends.  There are even mysteries to solve, such as the identity of the snake, who keeps turning up when she’s at her wit’s end, and the purpose of the student handbook, which is eerily updated in almost real time.

I was grateful that Miiko’s personality, though still extremely obnoxious, was toned in this volume.  Instead of going out of her way to antagonize other students, she merely resorted to name calling.  No physical attacks, and her outbursts of jealousy over Fune making new friends has widely evaporated.  She still believes that she is better than other, lower animal life forms, but what else would you expect from a cat?

Age Rating – 10 & up

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

(PR) DMP proudly presents the Little Butterfly Omnibus and special exclusives for Yaoi Con!

Gardena, CA (August 27, 2009)- Digital Manga Publishing is proud to present their newest reissue, the Little Butterfly Omnibus! Collecting the now out of print three volumes of Little Butterfly, the omnibus edition spans over 560 pages! Hinako Takanaga has long been a fan favorite and her Little Butterfly manga, one of the early yaoi titles printed by Digital Manga Publishing, quickly became a top seller, and has continued to be one of the most requested manga series in the Digital Manga library. Finally, the three beautiful issues of Little Butterfly will be available in this limited omnibus edition!

As a special thank you to our fans, Digital Manga Publishing will make exclusively available at Yaoi-Con only, a limited number of the Little Butterfly Omnibus for purchase! The street date is not until February 2010, and we will only be making the book available for Yaoi-Con attendees! After Yaoi-Con, the book will not be available until it ships to stores next year. So come to Yaoi-Con to own this beautiful title, way, WAY ahead of it’s ship date!

Also at Yaoi-Con, in honor of our amazing guest, Makoto Tateno, Digital Manga Publishing will have early advances of the Yellow Omnibus: Volume 1 AS WELL as early advances of Yellow 2: Episode 1 for con attendees! Yellow has remained one of Digital Manga’s best selling titles, and Yellow 2: Episode 1 is a special series of short stories written exclusively for cell phones in Japan. Never before published in print, Yellow 2 will be a three episode series of short 64 page booklets following additional adventures of Taki and Goh. Come and get these amazing advances, and then have them signed in person by the amazing Makoto Tateno!

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[PR] VIZ MEDIA TO RELEASE ROCK AND ROLL MELODRAMA NANA IN A SPECIAL UNCUT DVD BOX SET

VIZ MEDIA BRINGS THE STYLISH ANIMATED

ROCK AND ROLL MELODRAMA NANA TO NORTH AMERICA IN A SPECIAL UNCUT DVD BOX SET

Romantic Drama About Two Women With The Same Name Coming Of Age In Tokyo

San Francisco, CA, August 27, 2009 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies, will release the Uncut DVD Box Set for the animated romantic rock and roll melodrama, NANA, on September 8th. The 3-disc set featuring 12 episodes will be rated ‘M’ for Mature Audiences and carry an MSRP of $59.90 U.S. / $85.99 CAN. The first box set will also include an exclusive NANA guitar pick.

The NANA anime is based on the popular manga by Ai Yazawa, which has sold over 43 million copies in Japan and is published in North America by VIZ Media under its SHOJO BEAT imprint.  NANA follows the adventures of two girls both named Nana. While they share the same name, they couldn’t be more different. Nana "Hachi" Komatsu follows her boyfriend to Tokyo in the hopes of finding a fresh start, while Nana Osaki, who arrives in the city at the same time, is a punk rock beauty with the ambition for making it big in the world of rock and roll. Although these two young women come from opposite backgrounds, they quickly become best friends while chasing their happiness and dreams.

Ai Yazawa is the creator of many popular manga titles, including Tenshi Nanka Janai (I’m No Angel) and Gokinjo Monogatari (Neighborhood Story). Another series, Kagen no Tsuk (Last Quarter), was made into a live-action movie and released in late 2004. American readers were introduced to Yazawa’s stylish and sexy storytelling in 2002 when her title Paradise Kiss was translated into English.

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