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Manga Shorts

This year, we're going to start something new at Animefringe. Due to the increasing volume of new titles released each week, we've decided to write a handy slew of mini-reviews of manga, anime, and video games each month. That way, we can cover more books, DVDs, and games quickly to supplement our full-length reviews and comprehensive features. Santa was particularly good at picking out some nice manga titles for Christmas, so for January, we're going to start the new year with a sleigh-full of manga reviews.

Raijin Graphic Novels

First of all, how about those collected editions of the serials published in Raijin Comics? This new publisher puts out books in right to left format and at roughly the same size as a TOKYOPOP standard release. Raijin features comics geared toward guys, such as Fist of the North Star, City Hunter, Slam Dunk, and Grappler Baki. It's not as cutesy as the stuff you'll see in Shonen Jump, and it's certainly not shojo.

Bomber Girl Vol. 1

By Niwano Makoto

Price: $9.95
Rating: 82%

This is the perfect book to introduce readers to the take no prisoners style Raijin Comics has chosen to embrace. The heroine of the tale, Rashomon Emi, is intelligent, strong, and will have you humming "Brick House" when you get a look at her character design. She's a bounty huntress with suspect motives who battles terrorists with a deadly ferocity, despite her good will towards children.

The story is funny and fast-paced, though the faint of heart should note that there's some graphic violence involved here. There's also the overt sexuality of Emi's figure and outfit, though there is no actual sex or nudity in it.

With exaggerated artwork that is nevertheless appealing, a solid storyline, energetic characters and pacing, this is a good book to read for action addicts who prefer a leggier-than-average heroes.

The First President of Japan Vol. 1

Art by Tsugihara Ryuji, Story by Hidaka Yoshiki

Price: $9.95
Rating: 89%

Completely unlike the sex-fueled bounty hunter rampage mentioned above, The First President of Japan is a frighteningly realistic political thriller for the sophisticated reader. In this book set in the modern day, North Korea takes major military action against South Korea, starting a new Korean War. The Chinese government sees this event as an opportunity to threaten Japan, and the treaty binding America to the Land of the Rising Sun begins to fall apart when the US senses a more strategic alliance elsewhere.

Suddenly, the world is pulled into Asia's war, and Japan's first president - a man elected by popular vote - is in a position to do something about it.

Fans of The West Wing might find this series appealing. While I'm not exactly a political analyst, it never bored me with the real-world details it accurately portrays via art and action. This is a great book for older readers. Not because it has raunchy content, either, but simply because younger manga fans might not get it. A very good series.

Guardian Angel Getten Vol. 1

By Sakurano Minene

Price: $9.95
Rating: 79%

At first, this series seems like nothing more than an Oh My Goddess ripoff.

Well, at the end of it, it still feels like that. But the characters are charming (even if the titular Getten is a little too innocent, sometimes), the artwork is good, and the romantic story rounds out Raijin's catalog nicely.

In this tale, Shichiri Tasuke is given a magical ring (called the Shitenrin) from China. The ring summons the attractive Shao Lin (the actual name of the guardian angel), who declares her devotion to Shichiri (a 14-year-old boy, of course). For this series to keep a hold of my interest, it's going to have to move along in ways Oh My Goddess hasn't, otherwise, it may get old quick. For now, it has potential, and I'm interested in checking out the next one.

Fist of the Blue Sky Vol. 3

Art by Hara Tetsuo, Story by Horie Nobu

Price: $9.95
Rating: 87%

This moody prequel to the classic Fist of the North Star series is set in the Shanghai of 1935. Gangsters and high-ranking politicians work together to control the lives of the oppressed people in the "City of Devils." Kasumi Kenshiro is the current master of Hokuto Shinken, the "Fist of the North Star," and the star of the series.

In this volume, Kenshiro finishes the Execution Game, though it isn't quite the way the underworld bosses might have imagined. His goal remains the same - to seek out the leaders of the Kokakai and destroy them for usurping the Chinpan gang. While the Chinpan wasn't exactly populated by saints, they ran Shanghai far more equitably than the greedy Kokakai.

The artwork can be brutally vivid at times, and the violence in the book justifies the 17+ rating on the back of the book. Big, burly men and well-built women populate this world, and Hara Tetsuo isn't afraid to make them bleed. A lot.

Broccoli Books

They're not dumping scores of titles on us, but Broccoli is a notable new contender in the manga arena. They've only released two books so far (both Di Gi Charat titles), but they're pretty high in quality. There's color art in the front, the books are unflipped, and the sound effects are unscrewed-with. Cover art is also pretty on both. Unfortunately, the next book is due out in summer, though Broccoli is putting out two other series early this year. The Di Gi Charat titles are one-third extra material (some haiku, character profiles, interviews, cultural notes, and more), making the actual core content kinda slim, but the extras make up for it.

Di Gi Charat Theater: Dejiko's Summer Vacation

By Koge-Donbo (and others)

Price: $9.99
Rating: 82%

Like most other manga series featuring the mascots for Gamers, there is a great number of inside jokes. If you're familiar with the game industry (and the Japanese gaming scene in particular), then you have a much greater chance of understanding the funny parts. That said, this is still an awfully cute series, and the plot progression for this particular series has more continuity than others available in print.

Anyone who's seen Sugar (The Little Snow Fairy) knows how adorably cute Koge-Donbo's designs can be, so a whole book full of her artwork is quite a treat for the sweet tooth in all of us. Just be wary of the fuzzy cute demons that inhabit this book. Dejiko is actually pretty mean, which balances out the cuteness nicely. In any case, this is a solid start for Broccoli, and another worthy entry in the domestic Di Gi Charat lineup.

ADV Manga

It's weird appending "manga" after ADV, but if the pile of new titles churned out over the past two or so months is any indication of the company's dedication to publishing manga, then it'll soon feel quite natural. These titles all vary in size, with Azumanga Daioh being the largest at the size of older Viz titles, Steel Angel Kurumi and Those Who Hunt Elves arriving in TOKYOPOP-sized bites, and the Demon City Hunter series are all tiny itsy bitsy little things about the size of a mass market paperback novel.

They're all, naturally, the same price. Sorry about that, if you're a fan of Demon City Shinjuku, but them's the breaks.

Demon City Hunter Vol. 1

Art by Shin-ichi Hosoma, Story by Hideyuki Kikuchi

Price: $9.99
Rating: 72%

What's a town to do when God comes down, apparently insane, and starts using His divine powers to randomly mess with reality? If you're a good guy, such as the nenpo-wielding Kyoya Izayoi, then you try to stop him. If you're a bad guy (that is, a member of the Dark Order), then you try to harness the power of the Mad God to further your own destructive goals. If you're an innocent, you'll probably die.

This series (which is connected to Demon City Shinjuku and Demon Palace Babylon) is older than most new manga coming out here, but it's fairly engrossing and stocked with nifty supernatural action. It might be a bit scary for younger readers, but it doesn't get too far out of hand.

The small size and slightly bland rewrite hinder this title a little, but it's classic spiritual action and a worthy read.

Azumanga Daioh Vol. 2

By Kiyohiko Azuma

Price: $9.99
Rating: 89%

This may be my favorite ADV release so far. It's composed of a series of short, one-shot strips though it's broken up periodically by a longer seasonal special every now and again. Even though there's only one panel per day, characters develop well and I found myself attached to the whole cast almost instantly. The artwork is good enough for a strip - the characters are distinct even though they're all girls around the same age as each other, and sometimes, it's downright cute.

Azumanga Daioh follows the daily lives of a class of female students and their teacher, presenting nothing more than real-life scenarios and the occasional bizarre dream. Readers may not catch all the cultural references, but there are plenty of things to find awfully funny in this series, and I can't recommend it strongly enough. It's also a nice, big release, and so it is more worthy of your hard-earned cash than other books may be.

Those Who Hunt Elves Vol. 1

By Yu Yagami

Price: $9.99
Rating: 87%

More than merely Slayers with a tank, Those Who Hunt Elves takes a few strong characters, dumps them in a fantasy kingdom they desperately want to leave, and forces them to strip elves to accomplish their goal.

Nice, eh?

This is one of the funniest comedies I've read in a while, with slapstick and ironic humor aplenty. Even after seeing the anime series, the manga is still funny and makes for a good read. If you enjoyed Sorcerer Hunters or Slayers, then this is something you should certainly try.

Gunslinger Girl Vol. 1

By Yu Aida

Price: $9.99
Rating: 81%

Like Leon and Noir, Gunslinger Girl features one of the greatest storytelling elements ever - young girls with guns. Right. In this series, young girls are brainwashed and biologically enhanced (not in THAT way, you sicko!) to create the perfect assassin. All of the usual conventions exist here, including themes dealing with memory loss, an older trainer who grows feelings for his protégé, and the juxtaposition of innocence with horrible acts of murder for a cause.

The artwork outshines the writing and originality here, but the story has the potential to get more interesting given the time. I hope the series lives up to my hopes for it.

Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. 1

By Kaishaku

Price: $9.99
Rating: 86%

Many of us have been eager for Kurumi to finally make it stateside, and I'm glad I had it before 2003 was over. And before the sequel series was fully released on DVD.

Fanservice central, but just like special effects in the first Matrix film, they're not the focus of the experience. No, there's actually some genuine humor and an interesting sci-fi storyline beyond the wobbling melons of the Angels and flashing panties-a-plenty. Just like Saber Marionette and Chobits this series deals with the old Pinocchio problem, asking what designates humanity.

Or, if you'd prefer, it simply puts panties in your face every ten panels or so. Either way, it has its perks. Just don't call it porn, or I'll have to slap you with a Hello Kitty battery-operated massager.

Dark Horse

No stranger to the manga publishing world, and domestic publisher of some of the best series out there such as Trigun, Astro Boy, Oh My Goddess, Blade of the Immortal, and so on, Dark Horse has suddenly increased their workload to bring us more manga goodies than ever. Look for full reviews of some major titles not covered here elsewhere in the issue, but for now, here's a sampling of what I grabbed this month.

Oh My Goddess Vol. 17: Traveler

By Kosuke Fujishima

Price: $17.95
Rating: 81%

Still (fortunately) published at the same size it always has been, and still (unfortunately) flipped for English with new sound effects slapped over the original ones, Oh My Goddess remains entertaining even after almost twenty volumes. Sadly, there's not much story progression, but rather new spins on the same old conflicts. The artwork remains as untouchably beautiful as ever, though, and that alone should be worth the price of admission. Too bad that price is so high!

In the defense of Dark Horse, however, the translation is top notch, the paper is high-quality, and the cover art is perfect.

I'd summarize the plot, but what Oh My Goddess story doesn't start with "Keiichi and Belldandy's relationship is threatened because she's lost her powers." Then you know Bell's sisters will interfere, Keiichi will get wounded, and Belldandy will recover in the end, save everyone, and smile in a way to make everyone fall in love with her again. Not that I mind - OMG is one of the few reliable things I can think of in my life right now, so no complaints.

The Ring Vol. 1

Art by Misao Inagaki, Story by Koji Suzuki

Price: $14.95
Rating: 83%

Retro-style art makes this release seem tamer than it really is, but this is the manga based on Koji Suzuki's creepy novel which was made into a movie (Ringu) and re-made into another movie here (The Ring). They were both pretty successful, but I thought I'd mention 'em for those of you living under rocks. With an Internet connection. It could happen.

Reading this version is every bit as scary as watching it or reading the novel (which is also available domestically), so horror enthusiasts (Is that an oxymoron? If you're enthused about horror, is it really horror, or just entertainment? *shrug*) will be glad to read this version of the tale.

Part of a refreshing change for Dark Horse, this is actually unflipped and retains the original sound effects in Japanese. Finally. Sadly, it's also smaller, but they've gotta make money somehow. For the record, I didn't start buying manga by the boxload because it was smaller, but because it was cheaper, unflipped, and less edited. Not because it fits in my pocket.

Nextworld Vol. 1

By Osamu Tezuka

Price: $13.95
Rating: 87%

This may not be as wonderful as Buddha or Tezuka's Phoenix series, but it still offers a timely commentary on the dangers of mindlessly messing with nature and the human tendency to do stupid things.

In Nextworld, nuclear testing has accelerated the evolution of creatures on a remote island, creating what will most likely be the successor to humanity on Earth. The question is, will mankind destroy itself, or will this new super-race kill us first? Featuring familiar characters from Metropolis and Lost World. I'm of the opinion that every manga reader - and every fan of science fiction - should pick up at least one Tezuka work. While this may not be his strongest, it's still brilliant both for its time, and today. Like Tolkien, Tezuka revolutionized storytelling in the 20th century, changing Japanese culture irrevocably, and from the perspective of a fan of manga and anime, for the better.

Well, that wraps up this first installment of quickie manga reviews. Don't refrain from sending feedback our way to let us know if you're keen on this, or if it isn't quite right for some reason or another. Now, run off and start the new year right by getting some of the books off of this list.

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