Posts tagged ‘Shonen ‘

Death Note

TITLE: Death Note
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Ohba
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
SCORE: 10 (Masterpiece)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Tsugumi Ohba (writer of Bakuman.), Takeshi Ohba (mangaka of Bakuman. and Hikaru no Go), Death Note anime, Death Note live action movies, supernatural, drama, mystery

I’m not, generally speaking, a big fan of shounen manga. It’s definitely the least represented demographic in my personal collection, but there is one shounen series that managed to completely win me over. That series is the megahit manga Death Note.

The story begins when the brilliant, but bored, high school student Light Yagami finds an abandoned notebook on the ground. On the inside cover is a list of rules on how to use the so-called “Death Note”, which allows a person to kill whoever they want just by writing down their names. Light believes the notebook is nothing but a silly prank, but when his curiosity leads him to test out the notebook’s alleged powers, he discovers that the Death Note is real and was dropped into the human world by a shinigami (death god) named Ryuk, who is also looking for a little excitement in his life.

Though at first horrified by what he has done, aspiring police officer Light decides it his responsibility to put the Death Note to good use. Wanting to rid the rotten world of evil, he begins a mass murdering spree, killing dangerous and evil criminals with his “divine” punishment. It doesn’t take long, however, for the mysterious deaths of numerous criminals to catch the attention of the authorities. Enter L, the number one detective in the world. When L is put in charge of solving the “Kira” case, it begins an epic game of cat-and-mouse between intellectual equals as Light attempts to keep his identity as Kira a secret at any and all costs.

Death Note is a very plot-based series. Although the premise obviously brings up questions concerning the morality of the death penalty and whether or not “Kira is justice”, the series isn’t particularly interested in answering idealogical dilemmas. (It was, after all, targeted toward the Shounen Jump crowd, not adults.) If you go in expecting deep philosophical debates, you’ll probably be disappointed. What you will get, however, is a well-crafted intellectual thriller that will constantly keep you guessing how Light will manage to outsmart those who are after him. I was extremely impressed with how much thought Ohba put into the various schemes and gambits employed by the characters in the story.

I also liked how the story developed into different arcs, keeping things fresh and exciting. If all twelve volumes had been dedicated toward the conflict between Light and L, I imagine things would have gotten rather stale after a while, but with the addition of new Kiras and other groups looking to bring Kira to justice, the main conflict changes several times over the course of the series. In fact, in one of my favorite arcs of the series, Light and L actually work together on the same side when a new Kira comes into power. Though some fans feel the story loses steam around the mid-way point, thanks to a shocking spoiler (that I will not divulge for those who have somehow managed to remain spoiler-free), that was not the case for me. In fact, I think I may even like the second half slightly more than the first half.

Even though the story is mostly plot, that doesn’t mean the characters are lacking. Light is actually one of my favorite manga characters ever, despite the fact that we hold completely opposite beliefs regarding the killing of criminals. It can be a risk to set up a villain protagonist as the hero of the story, but Light’s descent from an idealistic teen who believes he’s doing what is right to an egotistical serial killer with delusions of godhood is fascinating to watch. Even those like me, who are opposed to Light’s methods, can’t help but be impressed by his powers of manipulation and the lengths he goes through to successfully evade capture.

Quirky, sweets-loving L is also quite the memorable character, although he’s not really one of my favorites. (He’s a little too quirky for my tastes.) Though he’s the leader of the “good” side — depending on how you view things — he’s not exactly a paragon of morals, agreeing to head the Kira investigation not out of any real sense of justice, but simply because he wants to win against Kira. If it can help the investigation, he has little problem with kidnapping, torture, and even letting other people die. It’s only due to objections from the members of the Kira task force that L’s more troubling plans never come to fruition.

As for the artwork, it’s amazing how dynamic Obata’s drawings are when there’s actually very little action in the series itself. Death Note is definitely a “wordy” manga, with the majority of scenes consisting of characters talking, talking, and — for a change of pace — talking some more, yet it never feels as dull as that, thanks to the art. I also really loved the character designs, especially for Ryuk (who looks like the Joker-gone-rock-star) and the other Shinigami. The human characters are well-designed as well, from clean-cut pretty boy Light and eternally disheveled L to Light’s cute Goth-Loli “girlfriend” Misa and the various members of the task force.

Even if you don’t tend to read much shonen manga, I would recommend giving Death Note a try. With fascinating characters and an engaging plot, it’s well-worth a look.

Add a comment September 15, 2011

Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders

TITLE: Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders
RATING: Youth (7+)
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, CLAMP School Detectives, Man of Many Faces, X, etc.), comedy, sci-fi, action, adventure, supernatural, romance

Continuing with yet another out-of-print CLAMP title, this month’s review focuses on the goofy, but charming, Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders, in which the mangaka team tackles the world of sentai.

Duklyon, along with CLAMP School Detectives, Man of Many Faces, and some parts of X, is set at the CLAMP School, where the brightest and best come to study. Functioning as a small city, the CLAMP School encompasses all grades from kindergarten up to graduate school, and the extremely wealthy Imonoyama family who founded the school spares no expense when it comes to keeping the students happy, allowing them to hold frequent fun and elaborate festivals and celebrations.

Tenth graders Kentaro Higashikunimaru and Takeshi Shukaido are students at the school, but they are also a part of the CLAMP School Defenders, a secret sentai team formed to defend the school from attackers. Together with team leader and informant Eri Chusonji, the CLAMP School Defenders fight against the evil Imonoyama Shopping District Association, who plan to take over the world.

It is impossible to take Duklyon seriously, and that’s what makes it such a fun series. The whole thing is completely ridiculous and over-the-top. The Imonoyama Shopping District Association claims that it wants to take over the planet, but it’s difficult to see how any of their schemes — such as holding the president of the kindergarten class (Utako Okawa from Man of Many Faces and CLAMP School Detectives) hostage or taking over the school’s cafeteria — would actually lead to world domination. Not that the CLAMP School Defenders are any brighter, mind you. Kentaro, especially, has a bad habit of almost letting it slip to people that he’s a member of secret fighting duo that defends the school from evil, and neither they nor their classmate Kotobuki Sukiyabashi — the not-so-secret head of the Imonoyama Shopping District Association — figure out each others’ identities until near the end of the series, even though the three of them are always disappearing at around the same time to fight. In fact, they are on rather friendly terms with each other in class. 

However, as funny as the tongue-in-cheek humor is, the first half of the series is etremely repetitive. Most of the chapters in the first volume can be pretty much be summed up as such:

1) Kentaro, Takeshi, and Kotobuki start out by having a conversation (usually about food) when Kotobuki suddenly announces he has to leave.
2) Kentaro and Takeshi hear the music to summon them and head to the Dukylon Bakery, where they travel down a hidden chute in the bakery’s oven to the secret base.
3) There, Eri yells at them for being late, and a person referred to as the General — Nokoru Imonoyama from CLAMP School Detectives, though he never shows his face — gives them their instructions.
4) The CLAMP School Defenders show up and defeat whatever animal-based monster the Imonoyama Shopping District Association has sent out.

I have to admit, it was kind of a chore to get through the first few chapters, but things start to get a lot more interesting when Kotobuki and Eri end up developing crushes on each other, neither of them aware that they are actually enemies. In fact, Kotobuki’s and Eri’s budding romance becomes more of the focus of the story in the second volume, relegating Kentaro and Takeshi to bit players for the majority of the second half — something they constantly break the fourth wall to complain about. It’s a welcome change in my opinion, leading to some great — if somewhat random — plot developments that may take a few readers by surprise. (I won’t say anything more than that, so not to spoil anybody.)

With a lot of the comedy being dependent on the characters, Duklyon also has a good cast. Serious and responsible Takeshi plays the straight man to more light-hearted Kentaro, who loves cooking food for Takeshi and claims to want to become his bride. Their dynamic is similar to that of Kurogane and Fai from Tsubasa Reservoir Chroncle — incidently, they do make a cameo appearance in TRC, along with Eri — and provides plenty of fuel for the slash fans out there. My personal favorite characters were Eri and Kotobuki, though. A tough and rather violent girl, Eri can often be found chasing her subordinates around with a mallet, but she shows a softer, cuter side to her personality whenever around Kotobuki. On the other hand, Kotobuki, despite his role as the antagonist, is actually rather kind and a bit on the shy side when he’s not playing the bad guy, and it’s pretty clear that his “civilian” identity is far closer to his true personality. Seriously, the two of them interacting together is just adorable.  

There’s no need to mention that the artwork is great. It’s CLAMP; that’s pretty much a given. I do take issue with Takeshi’s and Kentaro’s character designs, though. With the two of them being roughly about the same size and sporting dark hair that’s styled somewhat similarly, it can be difficult at times to tell them apart until they speak. It’s even worse when they’re in their armor, which features helmets that completely cover their faces. While their suits are different colors, that doesn’t help a bit when the manga is in black-and-white and the colors are indicated with similar-looking screentone.

If you were a fan of the Power Rangers or other sentai shows growing up, you’ll probably enjoy the wonderful cheesiness and humor present in Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders. If you weren’t, there’s still a lot to enjoy, like the cute romance between Eri and Kotobuki. I wouldn’t call this a must-read, but it’s a fun, short series that even younger readers can enjoy.

Add a comment March 15, 2011

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle

TITLE: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
RATING: Teen (13+)
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of xxxHolic, Card Captor Sakura, RG Veda, Magic Knight Rayearth, etc.), Tsubasa Chronicle anime, xxxHolic anime, Card Captor Sakura anime, action, adventure, supernatural, romance, comedy, drama

I remember when I first heard about Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, right around the time CLAMP first started working on it. I thought it sounded like some kind of terrible alternate universe Card Captor Sakura fanfiction and dismissed it as something I would never want to read, despite being a CLAMP fan. After all, if I wanted to read about Sakura becoming a princess, all I had to do was check out the CCS section at, where practically every second story featured a “Princess Sakura” — an exaggeration, of course, but not by much.

Fast-forward a few years, when I spotted an omnibus edition of the first three volumes at Barnes & Noble. (I believe the omnibus was a B&N exclusive; I never saw it anywhere else.) As I have admitted several times on this blog, I’m an absolute sucker for omnibus editions, so despite my previous reservations, I decided to give Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle a chance.

The main characters of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle are slightly older versions of Sakura and Syaoran, the leads from CLAMP’s popular series, Card Captor Sakura. Here, Sakura is the beloved princess of a desert kingdom called Clow ruled by her older brother King Toya, while Syaoran is the adopted son of Fujitaka (incidently, Sakura’s father in CCS), an archeologist who is studying one of Clow’s ancient ruins. One day, Sakura ends up activating the ruins, causing an army of unknown enemies to storm the country and a pair of wings to sprout from Sakura’s back. The wings soon break apart, however, scattering into countless feathers that fly away. Sakura falls unconscious, and the high priest Yukito — another CCS character — sends her and Syaoran to see the Time-Space Witch named Yuuko in order to save Sakura’s life.

At Yuuko’s shop, Syaoran is introduced to two other people who arrive at roughly the same time he does from other worlds. Kurogane is a battle-loving ninja from Japan — though not our Japan — who was sent against his will by Princess Tomoyo (yet another CCS character) to see the Time-Space Witch, and Fai is a magician from the country of Celes, on the run from Ashura (a character from another CLAMP work called RG Veda) for reasons unexplained. They all have different, but similar, wishes. For Syaoran, he needs to travel to many different worlds in order to collect Sakura’s feathers, which also contain all her memories, in order to save her life. Fai doesn’t care where he goes, as long as it’s far away from Ashura, and Kurogane just wants to return back home to his Japan and Princess Tomoyo.

They all need a way to travel to different worlds, but according to Yuuko, the price is too high for only one person to pay. The three decide to pay the price together, each giving up the thing that matters to them most, and in exchange, Yuuko gives them a strange, pork-bun shaped creature called Mokona Madoki, familiar to those who have read Magic Knight Rayearth, who has the ability to teleport them to other worlds. Together, the group start on a journey to find Sakura’s lost memory feathers, but sadly, the one memory she will never recover is that of Syaoran as part of Syaoran’s payment to Yuuko.

The first half of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is a fun action/adventure story, as the group travels to different worlds (where they often meet alternate versions of other CLAMP characters) and gets to know each other better. Syaoran and Sakura, being expys from CCS, have much the same personalities as the originals, but Kurogane and Fai are new characters, unique to TRC. My personal favorite is the “daddy” of the group, Kurogane, whose gruff and hot-tempered exterior hides the fact that he actually comes to care quite a lot about the people he is traveling with. In contrast, light-hearted “mommy” Fai is seldom seen without a smile on his face, and he loves annoying Kurogane by giving him silly, cutesy nicknames. (He’s the one who starts the “daddy” joke.) The image is just a facade, though, as Fai has gone through more than his fair share of sadness and pain, as the reader learns later in the series. (Fai is the woobiest woobie to have ever woobied. Seriously.) There’s also the white Mokona (a black Mokona is briefly shown who plays a bigger role in xxxHolic), who, unlike its counterpart in MKR, can talk and say more than “Puu!” all the time. Mokona is adorable in TRC and is just as vibrant and developed a character as the other four members on the journey. Rounding out the group of main protagonists is the sexy and fashionable Time-Space Witch Yuuko, who occasionally helps out the travelers on their journey — provided the price is right, of course.

However, at around the halfway point of the story, when the group lands in a world commonly referred to as Acid Tokyo by fans, the series takes a sharp turn into Mind Screw territory that lasts until the final volume. (The ending of the anime classic Evangelion is mere child’s play compared to the second half of TRC. Trust me.) Many fans mark the Acid Tokyo arc as the point when the story really gets going, and it’s true that Acid Tokyo signifies the beginning of the main meat of the plot, so to speak, but for me, I much prefer the first half of the series. The second half turns what until then was a fairly simple plot into something that, quite frankly, doesn’t make much sense. (In fact, the goal of Fei-Wang Reed, the antagonist, is the breakdown of reason, because his ultimate wish can’t come true in a universe of reason.) You will get a headache trying to understand all the various twists and turns the story throws at you, and even then, you probably still won’t be able to comprehend it, especially if you’re not following the companion series xxxHolic as well. (Though Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic are (theoretically) supposed to be able to stand on their own as separate series, you really do need to be familiar with both canons in order to get the full story starting around this arc.) I figure that after about my fifth reread of the entire series (as well as xxxHolic), I might be able to understand about half of what is going on. … That’s a big “maybe”.

The storytelling at that point also becomes more than a bit sloppy, with a strong reliance on deus ex machina to make the plot — whatever that plot might be — work. (Actually, instead of being called the Time-Space Witch, Deus Ex Machina really seems a more fitting title for Yuuko.) While the travellers did, on occasion, ask Yuuko to help them out in the first half of the series, it becomes pratically an everyday occurence in the second half. Something impossible or shocking will happen, then a couple of chapters later, it’ll be revealed that a character/group of characters had actually made a deal with Yuuko beforehand to make that certain thing happen (since quite a few characters have the ability to see the future). Once or twice might have been fine, but when it happens at least once or twice a volume, it starts getting ridiculous. (Again, that’s an exaggeration…but not by much.) It seems almost like the characters can’t make a move without Yuuko’s assistance, weakening the story in my eyes. All the flashbacks also make it really difficult to figure out the chronology of the story — already an almost impossible task when time travel (and certain other spoiler-y plot points) is involved.         

Putting aside the plot, being CLAMP, of course the artwork is fantastic, but some may be intitially put off by the long and lanky look of the characters’ limbs. It took me a while to get used to the style myself, but now I rather like it. Of special note in my opinion are the various clothes the characters wear. Yuuko’s gorgeous wardrobe is far more extensive in xxxHolic, where she is seen more often, but the outfits we see her wearing in TRC are just stunning, cementing her spot as the most fashion-forward character in the CLAMP universe ever (which is saying something when she’s competing against the CCS Sakura’s multiple battle costumes, Clover Ora’s beautiful gothic-inspired dresses, and CLAMP’s ultimate dress-up models from Chobits, Chii and her identical “sister”.) The other characters get in the fun as well, often adopting fabulous new clothes when arriving in a new world. (And I’m not even touching on the amazing outfits the characters wear on the “just for fun” title pages.) Seriously, TRC almost works as well as fashion magazine as it does an adventure story, giving a bit of shoujo flavor in a largely very shounen-type story.

This is rather a hard title to recommend. The first half is great and a lot of fun to read. I would probably give it at least a score of seven, maybe even eight, if I were reviewing it separately. But how much you enjoy the second half will depend on how much you enjoy (or can tolerate) crack-filled stories. Some fans think the series gets better starting with the Acid Tokyo arc; others, like me, feel like CLAMP begins losing their way at that point and miss the humor and heart present in the first half. Add that to the fact that the series is really long — at present, TRC is the longest manga series I own, and I probably wouldn’t have started reading it had I known it was going to be nearly thirty volumes long — and that reading xxxHolic — another relatively long, still on-going series — is almost required to understand the plot, it’s a tough sell. (It also doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the rest of CLAMP’s body of work, Card Captor Sakura in particular, although the translation notes provided in each volume do a good job of pointing out most of the cameos.)

Still, I did enjoy the series overall and think that most CLAMP fans will, too. It’s the ultimate crossover, featuring many of CLAMP’s most beloved characters in a variety of interesting worlds, and Kurogane, Fai, and Yuuko are welcome additions to the CLAMP family. If you don’t mind giving your brain a mental work-out, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle might just be the series for you.

Add a comment December 1, 2010

Azumanga Daioh

TITLE: Azumanga Daioh
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Kiyohiko Azuma
PUBLISHER: ADV Manga and Yen Press
RATING: Teen (13+)
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Kiyohiko Azuma (mangaka of Yotsuba&!), 4-koma manga, Azumanga Daioh anime, Lucky Star, comedy, slice of life

Before I begin, I’d like to point out that for the purposes of this review, I’m referring to the new Yen Press omnibus edition that came out last year. For those who don’t know the history, Azumanga Daioh was originally licensed to ADV Manga, who put out the four individual volumes and an omnibus edition of their own, but those versions are now out-of-print. I’ve never read the ADV version, so I’m afraid I can’t compare the two. Chances are, though, if you want to pick this title up nowadays, this is the edition you’re going to get, since it’s easier to find.

Now, onto the review.

Azumanga Daioh is different in format than your typical manga. Instead of being drawn as one continuous story, the majority of this series is made up of yonkoma (or 4-koma, as it is commonly known) comic strips. What is 4-koma? Well, it’s similar to the comic strips (like Garfield, for example) you read in the Sunday paper. Each strip consists of four panels of equal size, usually vertically drawn, and they are almost always comedic in tone. Though you can read them each individually and still get the joke most of the time, there is a sense of chronology in Azumanga Daioh — the  volumes are broken up into sections titled by month — and a lot of the strips build on each other to form story lines.

This is my first true foray into the world of 4-koma. Some of the other manga series I’ve previously read have featured 4-koma strips as bonus material — the Death Note 4-koma strips, in particular, are favorites of mine — and I watched the Azumanga Daioh anime years ago, which I enjoyed quite a bit, but I was curious how a series consisting of almost entirely all 4-koma would fair. Turns out, quite well.

Azumanga Daioh is, in a word, hilarious.

The premise behind the series is simple. It’s about a group of five — later six, and maybe seven if you count Kaorin — female classmates who become a close-knit group of friends during their three years of high school. It’s the characters, however, who provide the laughs, and what an eccentric group they are.

Let’s start with the teachers. The girls’ homeroom advisor and English teacher for all three years is Yukari Tanizaki. She’s greedy, she’s jealous, she’s sarcastic, she’s lazy, she drives like a maniac… She’s comedic gold. In fact, she’s my favorite character in the series, though I don’t think I would have wanted her as my teacher. Her best friend Minamo “Nyamo” Kurosawa, who is a gym teacher at the school, is quite frankly a saint for managing to put up with Yukari for so many years and not killing her. Rounding out the “teachers” group is the only male character of importance, the creepy classical literature teacher Mr. Kimura, who boldly informs the class that the only reason he became a teacher is because he likes high school girls. He’s especially obsessed with Kaorin. How he managed to get such a pretty wife is one of the series’ greatest mysteries. 

Moving onto the girls themselves, Yomi and Tomo are the backbone of the group, in my opinion, as they have been in the same class ever since elementary school. If I had to chose a favorite of the girls, I would probably pick Yomi. I can certainly empathize with her dieting woes, and she’s the most “normal” of the group, often playing the straight man to the other characters (especially Tomo). But on the occasions when she shows a naughtier side to her personality — such as when she tricks one of the girls into eating a flaming-hot chili croquette — Yomi gets some of the biggest laughs. As for Tomo, she’s like a hurricane, always leaving destruction in her wake. She is a force not to be trifled with, saying and doing whatever comes to mind, no matter who it might hurt or inconvenience. Admittedly, she’s a bit of a jerk, but she’s so funny that you forgive her for it. 

Then there’s Chiyo, an adorable ten year old who is allowed to enroll in high school because of her high intelligence. Though she is a genius, she can’t compete with the older girls in physical feats, and her short stature is a source of annoyance for her, as most people still treat her like a little kid. On the other end of the height spectrum is Sakaki, one of the tallest girls in school and admired by her classmates for her quiet, cool personality. Behind her elegant facade, however, Sakaki has a secret love for all things cute, especially animals. Too bad the cats in her neighborhood inexplicably hate her.

Though she’s mostly oblivious to it, Sakaki has a friendly rival in Kagura, who joins the class during their second year. Kagura, a member of the swim team, is into sports and considers Sakaki her biggest threat in athletic events. Outside of competition, though, she tries to become friends with Sakaki, something that would be much easier if she would stop doodling violent images of animals being killed.

And last, but certainly not least, is Ayumu “Osaka” Kasuga. Osaka is… Osaka is… I’m just going to quote directly from the back cover: “Well, she’s…different.” That about sums her up in a nutshell.

It would be nearly impossible for me to talk about my favorite strips without spoiling most of the jokes, so I won’t. Just know that it’s funny stuff. And if you enjoyed the anime, you’ll probably like the manga as well. I thought a lot of the material actually worked better in the manga, although, like I mentioned before, it’s been years since I watched it.

Presentation-wise, Yen Press did a really nice job on this omnibus edition. There are twelve color pages, including a short colorized “special” — chapters that are drawn with the more typical manga paneling — focusing on Tomo, a section of translation notes between each volume break, and a handy index in the back that makes it easy to find your favorite strips as long as you remember the title. Azuma’s artwork itself is nothing special — to be expected, given the limitations of 4-koma — but well-suited for a manga like this. He has quite the talent for portraying comedy, with nice comic timing.

I was a bit hesitant to give a 4-koma series a try, but I’m happy to report that Azumanga Daioh more than exceeded by expectations. Looking for a good laugh and maybe feeling a little nostalgic for your own high school days? Azumanga Daioh may be just the title for you.

Add a comment July 7, 2010






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