Archive for March 2010




The One I Love

Originally posted on Feb. 13, 2010 at LiveJournal.

TITLE: The One I Love
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of numerous titles, including Card Captor Sakura, Wish, Chobits, etc.), romance, slice of life

With Valentine’s Day just a day, it seems the perfect time to review The One I Love, a romantic anthology from superstar mangaka group CLAMP, telling stories of love focusing on a variety of different women, from high school girls to career women and those who are about to get married. (There’s even a Valentine’s Day themed story, making it perfect reading for the holiday.)

The One I Love is a bit different from your typical manga volume. Not only does it contain twelve one-shot short stories — well, actually, they’re more like vignettes than actual stories, coming in at only seven pages each — but after each story, the group’s leader Nanase Ohkawa has written a short essay detailing the inspiration behind each vignette and how they fit into CLAMP’s idea of love. Some of the stories are somewhat autobiographical in nature, based on things that happened in her or one of the other member’s lives, while others were inspired by stories told to Ohkawa by friends and family members. The fact that these vignettes were based on true stories gives a particular ring of truth about them, and even if you can’t personally identify with all the stories, there’s bound to be at least one or two that have you nodding your head, saying, “Yeah, I know exactly how she feels. I’ve felt that way, too.” (Yes, guys included, even though the main character in each story is female and the stories are told from her point-of-view. As some of the vignettes show, men can have the same insecurities, concerns, and worries about their relationships as women do. We’re not so different after all!)

My personal favorite is the vignette about a woman telling her boyfriend how she doesn’t understand the word “cute”. She complains about its vagueness and feels that it’s just something people say as a social nicety, yet whenever her boyfriend tells her that she’s cute, she gets all flustered and happy. For lack of a better word, the vignette is really…cute! (Okay, I can think of a few other words to describe it — adorable, heart-warming, and sweet come to mind — but I couldn’t resist!) I may not feel as strongly about the word “cute” as she does, but I do feel a little happier when somebody I love tells me I’m cute (especially since I don’t think of myself as a particularly “cute” person).    

I also identified with the one about a girl in a long distance relationship and the one about sharing interests with the one you love. My first (and only) romantic relationship was long distance, and while the circumstances were different than those in the vignette, I still sympathized with some of her feelings. As for sharing interests, it was video games in my case. He was a huge video game fanatic, so I became interested in them, too. (Well, maybe re-interested — wait, is that even a word? — is the more appropriate term, since I had always rather liked them. Just didn’t play them much.) The essay following that vignette actually addresses a common misconception some people have when a significant other decides to show interest in their partner’s hobbies. It’s not about becoming someone different, somebody they might like more, as some might see it, and losing your identity; it’s more about sharing and being together with the one you love. Out of all the essays, that was probably my favorite. 

Artwise, it’s CLAMP, so of course it’s gorgeous. Mick Nekoi is credited as the artist for this work, and it’s very similar in style to Wish, which she also drew. While the women are all beautiful and unique, I must admit that some of the men can kind of look a bit identical at times, a fact Nekoi admits to in the amusing omake comic at the end of the volume. But that’s really only a minor complaint. What’s really wonderful is that the first vignette (along with the title page featuring a drawing of all twelve women) is rendered completely in color. The effect is beautiful, and I wish the rest of the vignettes had been done the same. That would have been amazing, but, oh, well.

I think those who are already CLAMP fans (like I am) will really enjoy this anthology, but I don’t think it’ll hold as much appeal to non-fans. However, if you’re in the mood for some warm and fuzzy romance that doesn’t require a huge commitment, this title may be just what you’re looking for. You may even learn something about love.

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Add a comment March 30, 2010

Sugar Princess: Skating to Win

Originally posted on Feb. 10, 2010. Edited on Mar. 27, 2010 to update out-dated information.

TITLE: Sugar Princess: Skating to Win
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Hisaya Nakajo
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: All Ages
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 2
SCORE: 8 (Very good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Hisaya Nakajo (mangaka of Hana-Kimi), The Cherry Project, Ginban Kaleidoscope, Kaleido Star, Princess Nine, sports, comedy

In addition to my overwhelming love for manga/anime, I am a figure skating addict. Never been out on the ice myself — I am klutzy enough when not walking on slippery surfaces, thank you very much — but I never miss a televised competition or exhibition if I can help it. The Nationals are my World Series, the World Championships are my Super Bowl, and the Winter Olympics are practically my reason for living. (Okay, maybe that last part is overstating things just a tad, but the hyperbole isn’t too far off the mark…) I am, without a doubt, a huge fan of the sport.  

So taking two of my favorite things — manga and figure skating — and putting them together? Instant love.

Sugar Princess is a cute story about an eighth grade girl named Maya Kurinoki. Her first time on the ice, her younger brother dares her to do a “twirling jump” like the skaters they saw on TV. Not one to back down from a challenge, Maya amazingly lands a jump on the first try, the difficult double axel. Her impossible feat catches the eye of Eishi Todo, a figure skating coach. Offering to make her a “princess”, he convinces her to join the local skating club and introduces her to handsome but aloof Shun Kano, a former pairs skater who attends the high school affiliated with Maya’s junior high. Coach Todo thinks Maya should become Shun’s new pairs partner, but Shun is not interested in pairing with anybody, much less a total amateur like Maya, and says he’s only wants to skate singles.

Coach Todo makes a deal with Shun: if Shun can coach Maya up to the junior level, then he doesn’t have to partner with her and can continue doing singles. Though he initially refuses the offer, after seeing how determined Maya is to learn how to skate, even if she has to do it on her own, Shun agrees to coach her. When their rink is under threat of being shut down, however, Maya and Shun are forced to compete as a pair during a skating competition to win a bet between Coach Todo and the son of the rink’s sick owner to save it.

Maya’s a likeable lead. She can be a little dim-witted at times — at first, she thinks Coach Todo scouted her for acting, and she doesn’t even know the difference between pairs and singles skating until she reads a book on skating — but she’s very enthusiastic and determined to become a good skater. Shun takes a little while to warm up to. He’s a bit of a snob and isn’t very friendly to Maya at first, but he has a good heart under his harsh exterior. And, of course, as seems to be almost a prerequisite of most shoujo male leads, there’s a tragic reason why he decided to quit pairs and become a singles skater instead, although I like the fact that he doesn’t really brood on it. It’s rather refreshing for a change. 

One thing I preferred about this story over the unlicensed Naoko Takeuchi skating series The Cherry Project (which is my top “most wanted license” pick) is the fact that Maya isn’t some kind of superhuman skating prodigy. Granted, she is a bit of a natural when it comes to skating, and she’s a fast learner, but other than that double axel she lands at the beginning of the story (after which she falls, by the way, and hasn’t tried since), she’s not doing amazingly difficult jumps. By the end of the story, she’s only doing double toe loops, the easiest of the double jumps, and she and Shun don’t do any of the more difficult pairs moves like throw jumps and twists.

I also appreciated the attention given to the costs of being a figure skater. Figure skating is not a cheap sport, and as the third of four children, Maya does her best not to burden her family financially by finding ways to offset the costs — like (hilariously) making her own skating costume out of her school swimsuit (her more talented friends rescue her effort) and entering the competition not only to save the rink, but to win a pair of figure skates being offered as one of the top prizes. (She had been renting her skates from the rink.) Even having Shun coach her helps, since he’s not a professional coach.

Unfortunately, romance is weak and pretty much non-existent next to Maya sometimes thinking Shun is handsome. You can tell that Maya and Shun were intended to become a couple eventually, but their relationship doesn’t really go anywhere in these two volumes. This is largely due in part that the overall story the mangaka had in mind is incomplete. While Sugar Princess can be read as a complete story as is (and is marketed as such in the U.S.), it’s clear that this arc was intended to be the beginning of a longer series. Nakajo put the series on hiatus back in 2007 to work on character designs for a video game, and as far as I know, she has not resumed work on it. I have my fingers crossed, though, because I would love to have more of this series.

The romance aspect might be poor, but one thing this title definitely has going for it is comedy. There’s lots of chuckles to be had, mostly coming from the comic relief characters of scruffy Coach Todo and goofy Oda, Shun’s best friend. Maya’s and Shun’s budding relationship also provides some laughs, pitting Maya’s inexperience and general cluelessness against Shun’s more poised and mature personality. One of the funniest moments in my opinion is when Maya walks in on Shun naked in the bath (he spilled food on his clothes during dinner with Maya’s family). Switching their usual roles, he’s totally mortified, but Maya doesn’t even react and thinks it is no big deal since she shares a room with her younger brother.

Another plus that feeds right into my figure skating addiction is that between the chapters of the first volume, Nakajo has provided beatiful drawings of her favorite real-life figure skaters: 1998 Olympic gold medalist Ilia Kulik, 2008 and 2010 World champion Mao Asada, 2002 and 2006 Olympic pairs bronze medalists and 2010 Olympic gold medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, 2002 Olympic ice dance gold medalists Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, 2003 World ice dancer champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, and 1994 and 1998 Olympic bronze medalist Philippe Candeloro. (By the way, I also love how Nakajo is such a huge fan of skating! If we met and could speak the same language, I have a feeling we would be total BFFs.) Too bad she didn’t continue the practice into the second volume. I would have loved to have more, but considering how many chapters are in the second volume — I’m guessing that there wasn’t enough to release a third volume separately — I suppose there wasn’t enough room. I also wish that she had drawn the manga itself more in the style of her skater portraits. The artwork is…fine, I guess, but nowhere near as pretty as the portraits.

Overall, I really liked this series. It’s not quite a good as The Cherry Project, but it is licensed and easily available, which is a definite plus in its favor, and very cute. Since it’s rated All Ages, it’s also appropriate for young kids. I think it would make a great introduction to manga for the younger set, especially the little girls who fell in love with skating after watching the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (And on a purely selfish note, I would love to see more figure skating manga — and sports manga in general — be licensed here in the U.S., so if you’re the same, let your wallets do the talking and pick up this series. It’s only two volumes!)

Add a comment March 27, 2010

All My Darling Daughters

Originally posted on Jan. 27, 2010 at LiveJournal. There will be some discussion on female-on-male rape in the following review, so reader discretion is advised.

TITLE: All My Darling Daughters
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Fumi Yoshinaga
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Fumi Yoshinaga (mangaka of Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Antique Bakery, etc.), slice of life, romance

It’s great to see more josei titles — targeted toward older women — being licensed here in the U.S. There aren’t many available, so when I heard All My Darling Daughters was being released, I immediately put it on my “must buy” list.

All My Darling Daughters is a collection of five interconnected short stories involving the life of 30-year-old Yukiko Kisaragi and her friends and family. The first story deals with the fallout after Yukiko’s widowed mother Mari suddenly gets remarried to a much younger actor/former host after surviving a bout with cancer. Understandably, Yukiko is very dubious about this decision, worried that this guy is just taking advantage of her mother. Though Ken turns out to be a good guy who really loves Mari, Yukiko begins feeling like a third wheel and decides to move in with the average-looking co-worker she’s been dating. I’m not usually one to be completely awed by a single page of artwork, but I have to say the last page of this story is quite stunning in its simplicity. There are no words, just a picture of Yukiko crying as she’s packing her things and her mother coming up behind her, not embracing her, but comforting her just the same. You can really feel the strong connection between the two in the final scene.

I have…issues with the second story, about a friend of Ken’s named Kiyo. This story is the reason why I gave this otherwise excellent collection of short stories a rating of 7 instead of 8. The problem? Well, Kiyo is a lecturer at a local university, and one day he is raped by one of his creepy female students, who gives him a blowjob after he repeatedly tells her no. This would be fine, and even kind of interesting, if Kiyo actually acknowledged it as rape, but he doesn’t. (Other than using the excuse “She forced me!” when Yukiko expresses disapproval over what happened.) He rather enjoys the experience, and the two of them fall into a strange sort of sexual relationship in which the girl continues to give him blowjobs after hours while refusing any pleasure for herself. In fact, when Kiyo starts to develop feelings for the girl and suggests they go on an actual date, she decides to break off their little arrangement altogether, saying he’s “too good” for her.

This could have been a good story. Stories focusing on student/teacher relationships are, admittedly, a kink of mine, the “rapist” is fascinating in a tragic sort of way, and there’s some nice humor involved, but the fact that the girl raped him and nobody seems to acknowledge it just doesn’t sit well with me. I would have probably enjoyed the story more had Kiyo just consented in the first place. I get why he didn’t — the mangaka wanted the reader to see him as a nice guy — but it kind of makes him seem like the virginal heroine in a historical romance novel who is “ravished” by the hero. You can call it a different word, but it’s still pretty much the same thing. (Especially in this case, since, unlike those romance heroines who might secretly want to sleep with hero but feel they can’t because of society’s rules, Kiyo really did not want the girl to give him a blowjob. He was not attracted to her at all at first and knew it was against school policy.)  Actually, I don’t think I would have thought of him too badly if he had consented right at the beginning (provided it was done in the right way), because Kiyo really is a nice guy — especially in comparison to the girl’s former boyfriends — and the girl is old enough to decide what kind of sexual activity she wants to partake in (even if it’s clear that she has some serious self-esteem issues and could use a lesson in the meaning of self-worth). If it had been written just a little differently, it could have been an interesting story about how a strictly sexual relationship can turn into something more for one of the partners, leading to complications in said relationship when the other doesn’t want things to change, but instead, it comes off more like a case of a victim falling in love with his rapist, and I’m not interested in that.

Fortunately, the third story is excellent and by far my favorite in the book. The only two-parter in the collection, it centers on Yukiko’s friend Sayako, who decides to have an arranged marriage even though she’s beautiful, successful, and kind, and therefore shouldn’t have any trouble finding a husband. Her aunt sets her up with several possible suitors, but none of them catch her interest until she’s introduced to a man named Tatsuhiko. At first glance, he doesn’t seem like much of a catch, as he was in a car accident during college that left him crippled, but he is very kind, and the two of them hit it off well. However, when it comes time to decide if she will marry him, Sayoko chooses to break it off. I don’t want to spoil the reason why, but I will say it’s a wonderful story with quite an unexpected, but fitting, ending.

The last two stories are also quite good, but I feel the first and the third story are really the true highlights of the collection. Are they good enough for me to recommend spending thirteen dollars on the book? Well, it depends. The artwork is lovely — realistic without the huge eyes and cookie-cutter faces you often see in shoujo titles — and the presentation of the book is really wonderful. (It’s from the Viz Signature line, so it gets a few bells and whistles that you don’t usually get in the cheaper lines like Shoujo Beat and Shonen Jump.) If you enjoy slice-of-life and more realistic stories that are character-driven like I do and are interested in josei, then it will probably be worth your money; if you prefer more plotty fare, then this title probably isn’t for you.

Add a comment March 27, 2010

Tsubasa: Those With Wings

Originally posted at LiveJournal on Jan. 19, 2010.

TITLE: Tsubasa: Those With Wings
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 3
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Fruits Basket and Phantom Dream), Chobits, science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, romance, action, adventure, humor

It is no secret that I absolutely adore Fruits Basket, so I was happy to see more of mangaka Natsuki Takaya’s work licensed in English. Of her two previous series that have come out here in the U.S. — the other being Phantom Dream — I definitely prefer Tsubasa: Those With Wings. While not perfect, this series shows the potential later realized more fully in Fruits Basket.

The story takes place at the end of the 22nd century in a country named Neelse (located in the area of modern day China and southeast Asia). Thanks to the many wars of the 21st century, Earth has gone to ruin. Water is polluted and fields have fallen in decay. Only those in the upper classes — the rich, the politicians, and members of the army — enjoy any kind of comfortable life. The rest struggle just to survive.

The lowest of the low is a group called the Nameless, made up of orphaned children and those abandoned by their parents. They are considered “nameless” because the government refuses to issue them identification if they don’t belong to a family and have a family name. Most people treat them like trash, and opportunity to improve their standing in society is pretty much non-existent, as they are even denied a proper education. Most Nameless resort to a life of crime to survive.

One such Nameless is the sixteen-year-old thief Kotobuki. She isn’t much of a burglar, never stealing anything of real value, but she is fast and agile, making it easy for her to outrun the army police. Kotobuki, however, dreams of one day making an honest living and decides to put her life of crime behind her in order to find a legitimate job. Joining her on her journey is the brilliant Raimon Shiragi. A former army captain, he has been in love with Kotobuki ever since the first time he saw her fleeing the scene of one of her burglaries. After months of chasing her, with no real intention of ever arresting her, Raimon decides to resign from his army post, give up his life of privilege and prestige, and start a life with Kotobuki, whether she likes the idea or not.

Together, they travel various different towns as Kotobuki searches for a job. Along the way, they meet several people who are looking for the legendary Tsubasa. The Tsubasa, according to popular myth, has the ability to grant people’s wishes. Kotobuki initially isn’t interested, but when she discovers that an army colonel implanted a bomb in Raimon’s brain to prevent him from crossing the border and leaving the country, she decides to join in the search for the Tsubasa to find a way to save him. But to find the Tsubasa, they must also go up against the army, who are also looking for the Tsubasa — and Raimon — for their own nefarious purposes.

As with Fruits Basket, the greatest strength of this story is the characters. Kotobuki shares some similarities to Tohru, the heroine of FB, in that they are both kind-natured with an optimistic, can-do attitude and have the same kind of work ethic, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. Kotobuki is brash and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She also has no problem getting violent should the situation arise, and there are people she doesn’t like, which makes her feel more realistic than Tohru, who tends to love everybody she meets. Raimon, meanwhile, is definitely not your typical shoujo lead. Underneath his laid-back, kind of goofy and pervy demeanor (similar to Shigure from FB), he’s pretty much a psychopath. The only thing that matters to him is Kotobuki and her happiness. He couldn’t care less about other people, including himself, and has a habit of blowing up buildings, which becomes a bit of a running joke through the series. Yet it’s hard not to like him and even feel sorry for him when his past is revealed. Other fun characters include: Shoka, the sexy leader of a small group of thieves looking for the Tsubasa in order to wish for, in her words, “boys, booze, power, and prestige”; Adelaide Wilson, a smart little rich girl Kotobuki befriends while working as a maid; Yan Mizuchi, the leader of Teki, a Blue Rose resistance group that provides assistance to them; and Major Tohya Ingram, who has a bit of a hilarious obsession with Raimon.

Another thing this series shares in common with Fruits Basket are the little “lessons” that are interwoven throughout the story, things that seem like they should be common sense, yet are easy to forget. One that particularly sticks in my mind is that the Nameless are human and were born of human parents, even if those parents are dead or have abandoned them, just like everybody else. Obvious, right? Yet the way characters treat the Nameless, a lot of them don’t seem to remember that and consider them less than human. It’s incredibly sad, and echoes how even some people today look down on the homeless or members of the minority.

It is a bit unbelievable, though, that people would be so prejudiced against orphans in the future, to the point that they are denied last names and identification. That’s really what I consider the major flaw of this series: the fact that the whole situation seems really unlikely to ever happen in modern times just due to a devastating world war. (Maybe a meteor hitting the Earth, or something like that, but just a war?) I know, fantasy doesn’t have to be realistic, but I find it hard to believe that, for example, most records of the 21st century were destroyed, to the point that most people don’t even remember there ever used to be a country called “Japan”. That’s a lot to destroy, and I would hope that the survivors would do their best to record their memories. Then again, there is the Tsubasa… Well, I won’t spoil what happened, but I suppose it makes the world of the story a little bit more believable. Just be aware that you’ll likely have to suspend your disbelief a little to truly enjoy the story.

Another weakness is the romance aspect of the story. There’s a lot of “love at first sight” happening, with little to zero development afterwards. This is especially apparent with Yan and his love interest, whose relationship is completely shallow. Even Raimon fell in love with Kotobuki at first sight, although Kotobuki’s falling in love with him is handled much more realistically over time. Too bad it seems at times that the only reason she loves him is because he’s so in love with her. Seriously, when the guy only cares about you and you alone, what else is there about him to fall in love with? (Besides looks, of course. Raimon is rather handsome, although, personally, I find Tohya the hottest guy in the cast.) Well, I suppose Raimon has a fairly decent sense of humor, and he is kind to her, but he’s basically a jerk to everybody else, which makes it rather strange that a girl like Kotobuki, who cares a lot for other people, would fall in love with a guy like him.

On the technical side of things, the translation is kind of all over the place in respect to the romanization of names, especially between the first and second volumes. It’s understandable, as the first volume was translated by a different person than the last two, but it is rather distracting to have Kneels/Neelse, Toya/Tohya, Adilyte/Adelaide,  Phere/Fia, etc. Likewise, honorifics are used rather haphazardly. Concerning the artwork, it’s close in style to how Takaya drew at the beginning of Fruits Basket, so if you prefer her older drawing style, you’ll probably like it.

Despite these flaws, I found Tsubasa: Those With Wings to be an involving, entertaining and thought-provoking series. For fans of Takaya’s work, especially Fruits Basket, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Add a comment March 27, 2010

Angel’s Coffin

Originally posted on Jan. 15, 2010 at LiveJournal.

TITLE: Angel’s Coffin
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: You Higuri
PUBLISHER: Go!Comi
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: You Higuri (mangaka of Ludwig II, Crown, Cantarella, and Gorgeous Carat, among others). Le Chevalier d’Eon, Emma, historical fiction, romance, supernatural

This one-shot manga was quite the pleasant surprise, I must say. I bought it on a whim during a store-closing sale at my local Waldenbooks (*sniffle*), solely on the basis of the intriguing summary, the fact that it was a one-shot, and the gorgeous, drool-worthy bishounen on the cover. (What can I say? I love me some pretty boys.) Other than that, I didn’t know much about it, but, hey, it was 60% off retail, so even it if was terrible, it wouldn’t be a total waste of money.

Well, now that I’ve read it, I can say that I would have gladly paid retail and left completely satisfied with my purchase.

The aforementioned “gorgeous, drool-worthy bishounen” pictured on the cover is Seto, a former god. For centuries, he’s been trapped in an ancient book, sealed away by a Catholic monk, until one day a demon named Baphomet agrees to help set him free. In exchange, Seto must make the life of the first human he sees a living hell, as the demon feeds off the energy of souls in anguish.

The first person Seto happens to see after his release is pretty eighteen-year-old Baroness Marie Alexandrin Vetsera, a name that may be familiar to some history buffs out there, as the character is a fictionalized version of the real-life Marie Vetsera. Marie is head-over-heels in love with handsome Prince Rudolf of Austria (her real-life lover), but it is a love not meant to be as she is a lowly aristocrat and he is already married to Princess Stephanie of Belgium — not that his marriage stops him from having many affairs with the ladies of the court, mind you. As thanks for her breaking the seal, Seto offers to help Marie win the prince’s heart, knowing it can only lead to heartbreak for her, but along the way, he finds himself falling for her himself.

I think this story would really appeal to fans of the anime (and probably the manga, but I’ve never read it) of Le Chevalier d’Eon. Both stories take historical figures and events and reinvent them with a supernatural twist. They also both touch on royal politics. In the story, as in life, Prince Rudolf is much more liberal than his conservative father, Emperor Franz Joseph, and the two of them are at odds throughout the story. Rudolf even goes as far as to align himself with a group of radicals who want to dispose of (a.k.a assasinate) Franz Joseph and make Rudolf president of a new republic. However, at heart, Rudolf is simply a lonely man who longs to be loved: by his father, by his mother, by anyone, really.

It is that loneliness and depression that make Prince Rudolf a rather sympathetic character, in spite of his many extramarital affairs. I found him to be the most interesting character in the story. He’s quite a morbid person and keeps a human skull on display in his room, telling Marie he “fell in love with the pure white of [the] skull, it’s beautiful ‘nil’.”

For those who might expect that Marie’s love will show him the joy of living, cause him to change his playboy ways, divorce his wife and marry Marie… Well, it’s not that kind of story, which is one of this work’s greatest strengths. This is not a typical shoujo story in which a girl is conflicted between two men who love her, but in the end, everybody lives happily ever after. Despite Seto’s growing feelings for her, Marie doesn’t seem to have any sort of real romantic interest in him at all, as she is completely in love with Rudolf. Rudolf’s feelings for Marie, on the other hand, are less clear. He does seem to like her, but it’s up to reader interpretation whether he is truly in love with her, or if he just uses her to subdue his own feelings of loneliness.

The ending is truly tragic, as Rudolf, overcome by his feelings of depression, convinces Marie to commit double-suicide with him. This isn’t a spoiler, by the way, as it is stated on the third page of the story how it will end, not to mention being a historical fact. (Well, it is a historical fact that Marie and Rudolf were both found dead at Mayerling. It’s not completely known exactly what happened during what history now calls the “Mayerling incident”, but the two lovers committing double-suicide is one of the popular theories.) For fans of heart-breaking romance that ends in tragedy, this manga should be right up your alley.

On the technical side of things, You Higuri’s artwork is gorgeous, especially when she draws male characters. (Prince Rudolf is particularly yummy.) Backgrounds and clothes are beautifully detailed as well. It’s not quite up to Kaoru Mori (mangaka of Emma) standards, and it uses a lot of the typical shoujo style cues, but it is clear that Higuri did her research. Speaking of Emma, fans may also be interested in this story, as they take place roughly around the same period in history (the late 1800s). Just be warned that the characters in Angel’s Coffin have more of a modern feel to them, in contrast to the characters in Emma, who act mostly how you would expect people during the Victorian era to act.

One thing I want to point out is that I’m not quite sure why this manga was given such a high rating. There’s no nudity or sexual content, language is mild and practically non-existent, and the violence isn’t too bad, in my opinion. It does feature dark themes like suicide, but that’s the only thing I can think of that might require an OT+ rating, and even then, it seems a bit much. Also, for people who don’t care for BL (boys’ love), I would suggest you stop at the end of the main story and skip the short post-script story, revealing that Rudolf’s servant Loschek had feelings for the prince that went beyond loyalty toward his master. (Nothing explicit is shown.) For those who don’t mind, though, the extra story provides a little bit more insight into Prince Rudolf’s lonely life and is quite lovely.

If you’re in the mood for a tragic love story, then give Angel’s Coffin a try. I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Add a comment March 25, 2010

Night of the Beasts

Originally posted on Jan. 7, 2010 at Livejournal. Edited Mar. 23, 2010 to get rid some unnecessary possible spoilers. (This was my first attempt at writing a review, so I was still learning how to balance summary and commentary.)

TITLE: Night of the Beasts
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Chika Shiomi
PUBLISHER: Go!Comi
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 6
SCORE: 8 (Very Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Chika Shiomi (mangaka of Yurara, Rasetsu, and Canon), Ceres: Celestial Legend, supernatural, violence, romance

I’ve recently become a fan of Chika Shiomi, thanks to Yurara and its spin-off Rasetsu. While Yurara and Rasetsu are supernatural dramedies (leaning more toward the comedic side), this earlier work is much more serious in tone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed the humor in Yurara and Rasetsu, but I also liked the drama in Night of the Beasts, even in spite of how bloody and violent it could be at times. (It should be noted that the high rating is not due to nudity or explicit sexual content — of which there isn’t any — but the violence.)

The heroine of the story is 17-year-old Aria Yamaguchi, an orphaned girl who lives with her mother’s sister. Her mother died when she was thirteen, and she knows nothing about her father. Aria is a bit of deliquent, frequently skipping out on school and her job at her aunt’s cafe to hang out with her friends and have fun. She also gets in a lot of fights, defending girls from unwanted advances from guys.

There has been a series of grisly murders happening in Aria’s neighborhood, appearing to be the work of a dog who likes to eat humans. At the site of one of the attacks, Aria meets — well, more like crashes — into a handsome young man, who kisses her on the cheek, much to her irritation. They happen to meet again the next day, and he introduces himself as Sakura Kijima. (Yes, you read that right. He’s a guy named Sakura. I know, strange.)

Sakura turns out to be a distant, distant blood relation of Aria on her father’s side. He is possessed by the black demon Kagara, who has sworn to murder all four thousand descendents of the human woman Mikage who killed him over 400 years ago. He sought out Aria because of a prediction made by another blood relative who has the ability to see the future that revealed Aria has the ability to calm the demon inside of him. Sakura has managed to stop himself from killing any humans so far (the attacks in Aria’s neighborhood were the work of another black demon), but he’s afraid that once he does, he will be overtaken by the demon permanently, so he wants Aria to help him stay in control of the demon. Aria isn’t too keen on the idea at first, but she has a bit of a “saving people complex”, so she eventually agrees to help.

There are quite a few similarities between this story and one of my all-time favorite manga series, Ceres: Celestial Legend. Even the family founders in both stories are both named Mikage, although Mikage is a woman in NotB and a man in Ceres. What I found interesting is how the blood relatives in this story, who want to kill Sakura due to his demonic nature, are portrayed more sympathetically in NotB than in Ceres. I rather hated Aya’s family for trying to kill her because she was possessed by Ceres, but Shiomi made a point of showing just how frightened and terrified the blood relatives are of Kagara, and the reader can understand why they wantto kill Sakura. (It’ll be interesting to reread Ceres with this newfound perspective of things.) In fact, “kill, or be killed” is a major theme of the story, with several characters having to make that decision.

Like I mentioned perviously, this is a rather violent series. I’m not sure I would have bought it had I known just how bloody it would be — I’m not a fan of gore — but I’m glad I did, despite that. (Although reading this does make me a little hesitant to read Shiomi’s vampire manga Canon…) It’s action-packed with lots of drama/angst and has some great characters. My favorite is probably Shiro, Sakura’s older cousin who, unlike the rest of the family, is hoping to find a way to get rid of the demon without having to kill Sakura.

Personally, I would have liked to see Aria’s and Sakura’s relationship get a little more development before a certain event — obviously, they fall in love, although there’s very little actual romance shown — and the artwork (seeing as this is an earlier work from Shiomi, from the mid-90s) isn’t as good as her newer works — I could have sworn Aria’s short-haired girlfriend was a male the first time I saw her; the same with a mother character in one of the extra one-shots — but those are just minor complaints in an otherwise great series.

Add a comment March 23, 2010

Long Introduction Post

Welcome to Manga Kaleidoscope, yet another blog dedicated to reviewing manga (and possibly a few anime series in the future)!

Hello, my name is Zoe Alexander, and I am a mangaholic. Feel free to call me Zoe. It’s not my real name, but that’s the beauty of the Internet — you can be anybody you want to be.

I’ve been a fan of manga for, oh…going on about thirteen years, I believe. Like a lot of older anime and manga fans, I was (and still proudly am) a Moonie. Sailor Moon was my gateway drug into the world of anime. I was utterly devastated when the series was taken off the air in syndication, so a couple of years later, when I learned that the manga version would be serialized in a new manga anthology called Mixxzine, I immediately subscribed.

I have to admit, those first few years were all about Sailor Moon. I liked a couple of the other titles in Mixxzine, like Magic Knight Rayearth (which I eventually bought about a decade later) and Parasyte (which I have yet to pick up again), but I was just a poor student, so all my meager funds went into buying Sailor Moon manga and super-expensive Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura videotapes.

It wasn’t until around the time I graduated high school (in 2002) that I began to branch out and try other series, anime and manga-wise. My next manga series was either Ceres: Celestial Legend or Fushigi Yugi. I can’t quite remember which I started reading first — I have oversized, flipped editions (remember those?) for the first few volumes of both — but they introduced me to my all-time favorite mangaka, the fabulous and talented Yuu Watase. The rest, as they say, is history.

I became addicted to manga.

Shoujo manga tends to be my drug of choice, although I have started craving more josei and seinen titles as of late. As a general rule, I stay away from shonen — not out of any real dislike for the genre (though it’s true that most shonen titles don’t appeal to me), but because of the sometimes insane lengths of shonen series like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece. I just don’t have the money to support that kind of habit, you know? I have been known to break that rule on occasion with some shorter shonen series, however. I also don’t tend to read titles with a strong BL/yaoi focus. Nothing wrong if that’s your thing; it’s just not something (to continue with this whole “manga is a drug” metaphor I have going on) I get high on.

When I decided to create this blog, I wanted to do something a little different from the majority of manga review blogs out there. Most manga reviews focus on single volumes. They’re fun to read because the reviewer can concentrate on the events of that particular volume, but (with the possible exception of first volume reviews) I can’t imagine them being very helpful to general manga consumers looking for manga to buy. Not only are reviews of later volumes likely to reveal spoilers, but how many people out there read a bad review of a volume from a series they’re already collecting and decide not to buy it, especially when those volumes might have important plot points? (For episodic and/or series with a lot of filler, I suppose it would be easier to skip a bad volume or two.) I feel those kinds of reviews are best either for people who have already read the volume and are curious about other people’s opinion on it or those who don’t mind spoilers. (I have to confess that I am one of them, as I often seek out spoilers on purpose, but I can understand why some people like to stay clear of them.)

Personally, I’m a completist. If I start collecting something — whether it be manga, anime, or something else altogether — I have this overwhelming need to complete the collection, even if it’s not something I particularly like. (Needless to say, it also annoys me when a series I’m collecting gets dropped mid-way through translation or goes on hiatus.) I’m not someone who can buy the first few volumes of a manga series, decide I don’t like it, and then give away/resell those volumes to somebody else. In fact, if possible, I prefer to wait until a series is completely released, then scoop it up all at once. (I do have a handful of series I collect as they are released, but the majority are from mangaka whose works I know I’ll like and I feel reasonably sure won’t be cancelled mid-way.)

That’s why the majority of the reviews on this blog will cover completed series. (Should I ever be sent review copies, I will be happy to review them as single releases, but anything from my own collection will be reviewed as a complete series.) This is a blog for those manga readers who want to know if a series might be worth their time and money. I’m not arrogant enough to say that my opinion is the end all and be all — after all, people have different likes and dislikes, and there is no such thing as a manga that absolutely everybody will love — but I do hope my reviews will be helpful to those who may (or may not, as the case may be) share my tastes. 

What are my tastes? Well, lessee… I enjoy romance, drama, comedy, slice-of-life, magical girls, and the supernatural — stories about ghosts, witches, angels, demons, and the like. (However, I’m not generally a fan of vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.) A little action is good, as long as it isn’t too, too violent and it’s balanced with other things. I don’t like gore; gross-out, crude humor is an out with me as well. I like artwork to be pretty, and the male leads to be even prettier. Interesting characters are a must; a great plot filled with emotion even better. Not really into science fiction. With pure fantasy stories, it depends. For those curious:

Top Five Favorite Mangaka

Watase Yuu
CLAMP
Yazawa Ai
Takaya Natsuki
Shiomi Chika

Top Five Favorite Manga Series

Fruits Basket
NANA
Death Note
Chobits
Emma

Each review I write will be given a score on a scale from 1-10, based on how much I personally enjoyed it. These are not solely critical-based scores. I’m sure there are some incredibly well-written and/or well-drawn manga out there that may just not be my cup of tea; likewise, there are some manga that I realize may be lacking in some regards, yet I can’t help loving them. Objective critique will be a factor in the score, but overall, I’m looking at the entertainment value of a series. Did I enjoy it? Do I think others will like it, too? Would I recommend it?

I’m borrowing the ranking system for MyAnimeList.net.

1 – Unreadable
2 – Horrible
3 – Very Bad
4 – Bad
5 – Average
6 – Fine
7 – Good
8 – Very Good
9 – Great
10 – Masterpiece

Everything given a four or below, I would not recommend at all. Fives and sixes will be given to series I think are relatively okay — not terrible, yet not something I would personally recommend. Sevens and eights are titles I would recommend on a case-by-case basis, while nines and tens are series I would recommend to everybody without hesitation. I will also post a “Recommended For” list with each review, to highlight other titles and genres that are similar to the reviewed title.

I think that’s about it for now. Onto the reviews!
(Note: For the first couple of weeks, I will be reposting some reviews I posted on my LiveJournal, so bear with me.)

Add a comment March 22, 2010

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