Manga Shorts image.Baron: The Cat Returns

By Aoi Hiiragi
VIZ / USD$9.95
Rating: 5/5

The Studio Ghibli films are magical works that let viewers feel a variety of emotions and yet books the books they are based on can be as deeply moving or, as in the case of Baron: The Cat Returns, even more so. Studio Ghibli is widely known for their stylized adaptations and The Cat Returns was no exception. At 215 pages, subtitle and major differences abound in the manga right down the fully fleshed out list of rewards Haru receives for rescuing the Cat King's son to the trek Haru takes to reach the Cat Bureau and even more so with the manga's elaborately different take on the labyrinth in the Cat Kingdom.

Baron is a tale where a simple act of kindness can take you to places you never dreamed you'd see. It uses the same otherworldly formula that made A Wizard of Oz a classic and attaches shoujo stylings and once you reach the end of the main story, you feel all warm inside. And even then, you get to enjoy a good laugh with the Cat King in a special bonus omake.

For me, Baron holds a special place in my heart. For two years, all I could do was look at my import copy and silently wish that one day I would be able to look upon this story and finally be able to read it. Now that Viz has released this wonderfully heart-felt story, I can smile and begin hoping for the day when both volumes of Aoi Hiiragi's Whisper of the Heart, the manga that preludes Baron, will find a place alongside a certain volume about a suave cat in a top hat. --AA


Manga Shorts image. Exploitation Now Vol.1

By Michael Poe
Keenspot / USD$9.95
Rating: 5/5

I have a confession to make: I preach more than practice the fine art of supporting online comics. I have good intentions; I really do, but when I'm in the store, there's so many other books that strictly speaking, I haven't already read. And ordering online... well, I'm not really one for impulse online shopping.

However, I couldn't resist picking up Exploitation Now, one of my favorite webcomics of my college years which ended in 2002. A mature comedy series, it stars red-head Bimbo Moneymaker, ex-porn star and slacker; her best friend, Ralph Givememore, a cross between a pervert and a moogle; and Jordan Kennedy, girl genius and the landlord of Bimbo and Ralph, whose hobby is world domination. The series is their adventures, a mix of reality, perverse fantasy and dramatic flashbacks, ranging from Bimbo and Ralph's memories of high school to Jordan's tragic history. You can tell from the character descriptions that this series is filled with eechi and pure hentai humor, and its audience is college students who have been through the hell dimension that is high school and seen the other side, as well as been tainted by unlimited broadband/T1 internet access in their dorms. Breasts appear, masturbation is practiced and sacrilege is committed without a blush.

I had a great time re-reading the first half of Exploitation Now and remembering the strips that I had seen years ago online. The website is still active, so check out the strips online (http://www.exploitationnow.com/) before buying this book. If you like what you see, then you'll love to add this title to your bookshelf! --JC


Manga Shorts image.Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 1

By Hiromu Arakawa
VIZ / USD$9.99
Rating: 4/5

Fullmetal Alchemist is just one of those classic titles that once you start it...you're hooked. There is just something about the characters that makes it enjoyable. Maybe that is due to the fact that they all feel exceptionally human and well developed. Plus, the story is one that is quite intriguing and thought provoking and, at times, quite the tearjerker.

As with the anime, the manga opens with the Elric brothers arriving in a town where the priest Leto has taken complete control through his use of a powerful ring. Though quite similar in story and in flow with the anime, the manga does have some slight differences as with most manga to anime transitions. One point that is worth mentioning is that the there isn't nearly enough information given as to why Ed lost two limbs and Al doesn't even have a body. Also the circumstances surrounding their mother are equally as vague. Still, as this is the first volume, there is still hope future volumes will fully explore these events in greater detail. There are a lot of mystery still to be had and it is that hook that makes Fullmetal Alchemist such an enjoyable read and one to watch! --AA/MS


Manga Shorts image.Over the Rainbow

By Keiko Honda
CPM Manga / USD$9.99
Rating: 2/5

Over the Rainbow is a simple story about two lawyers who meet a girl named Key on a roller coaster who seems to have completely lost her memory. The lawyers take the girl in as a secretary, and one of them starts to fall in love with this mysterious girl.

Key's mystery is like a cheese stick, or at least that's what the manga says. I'd have to say it's not nearly as exciting. She suffers from random amnesia for no reason. When she gets her memory back, she seems to morph from a good girl to a slut, but the memories that she gets back are just false memories. Her real ones start coming and going after she marries her lawyer boy. All of this has no logical explaination within the manga. I tried very hard to understand why Key would fall in love with the lawyer, have sex with him, run away, have sex with someone else (who's existance isn't really explained), and then come back without a fight, but it was impossible.

Although drawn well, this manga suffers from trying to cram a big story into a single volume. There's just no time to develop sympathy for these characters, or to explain their constant mood swings. --ML


Manga Shorts image.Pita-Ten Vol. 8

By Koge-Donbo
TOKYOPOP / USD$9.99
Rating: 4.5/5

Finally, the conclusion to this romantic comedy! With Shia gone and Misha apparently out of the picture, Kotarou is romantically-free. Koboshi seizes this opportunity, declaring her love for him. But is Kotarou really over Misha? Or does he truly have the same soul as Misha's lost Kotaroh, frozen in the cycle of reincarnation and self growth? Can Misha finally pass her angelic exams? Will Kotarou allow her to ascend into the heavens as a full-fledged angel, to never see her again?

The ending to Pita-Ten was rather somber and not the happy-happy couplefest that I had suspected from the earlier volumes. It was a nice change from the usual romantic comedy formula, focusing on all of the characters becoming better people because of their experiences with Misha and Shia; self-growth that comes at a bittersweet price.

I would definitely recommend this series for everyone of all ages, though this may not hold the interest of those under the 13+ age recommendation for Pita-Ten. It's a story that centers more on being and doing your best for yourself, as well as for the people that you care for, and that's a great and refreshing moral to read and see. --JC


Manga Shorts image.Samurai Executioner Vol. 3: The Hell Stick

By Kazuo Koike and Goeski Kojima
Dark Horse Manga / USD$9.95
Rating: 4/5

This volume only contains three stories, but it's definitely a full and complete volume. The first story, the longest of the three, involves Asa saving a loyal samurai daughter from clan shame and a plot to change clan leadership using sadistic blackmail. The second tale is that of Tsukuba Bakushu, the stereotypical second son of a poor samurai family who desires to take Asa's position as sword-tester and samurai executioner. The final story involves Asa giving advice to a young policeman on how to be the best at his job by giving it his all, including his life.

The artwork and stories are up to the usual high standards of Koike and Kojima, and this volume, despite the first story's focus on acts of sadism, has less gory mature content than the previous volumes. However, this series is still definitely deserving of a mature rating, based purely on the morally ambiguous situations where the right choice may not agree with the reader's opinion. --JC


Manga Shorts image.Sensual Phrase Vol. 2

By Mayu Shinjo
Viz / USD$9.95
Rating: 4/5

Teenage girl and professional lyricist, Aine and Lucifer's lead singer, Sakuya are happily in love, now that they've confessed their feelings to each other. Then the president of Lucifer's record company (and Sakuya's half-brother), Ralph decides that he wants Aine for himself. She must give herself to him or Ralph will destroy Lucifer, completely. This volume ends with Aine searching for Sakuya, finding him drugged and held captive by Ralph, driving the stakes even higher. What will Aine do?

Everyone has a guilty pleasure, and Sensual Phrase is mine. Take Ayashi No Ceres, and kick the drama, angst, and story pacing up a notch. Now you can see why this series has me so entralled. I love Shinjo's artwork, with its simple, clean lines and a focus on the characters. It really compliments the soap opera drama of the story, which hardly even pauses within the pages. We move directly from one crisis to another, with brief moments of happiness for Aine and Sakuya. (So shojo-like.) I only wish that Shinjo gave more space for these too brief and rare moments.

Sensual Phrase is a mature title; I would consider this to be a step-up for people who loved Fushigi Yuugi or Ayashi No Ceres and don't mind some nudity and adult situations: Yuu Watase with whipped cream, if you please. I definitely know that this title will become a bad habit of mine. *wink* --JC


Manga Shorts image.The Sword of Shibito Vol. 1

By Hideyuki Kikuchi
CPM / USD $9.99
Rating: 2.5/5

Hideyuki Kikuchi the creator of the classic Vampire Hunter D is now working on a manga thatís "Frankenstein meets medieval Japan" in this supernatural, fantasy, horror story. There is a problem from the start though with the first volume not seeming to get much accomplished.

In this volume you have Kinzou who is a traveling medicine man that gets caught up in the plan of the Saezuki family to bring Shibito back to life so he can become the greatest samurai in Japan and restore the Saezuki family to power. Kinzou was saved from being killed and is now being used as Shibitoís guide to teach him about modern society, but right now Shibito doesnít even know who he is and wonít for about three days. Until then it will be a struggle to control Shibito who seems like heís going to do as he pleases.

The Sword of Shibito tries to throw in some comedy to lighting up the mood between decapitations, but so far hasnít pulled it off very well. Also the art isnít the most impressive. Youíll see many parts seeming too "sketchy" and cluttered, while others panels are very empty. I questioned just how hard they tried, like with the character designs that can sometimes look alright, but thatís very rare. The cover art looks great and you get two pages in the manga that look excellent so itís upsetting to see this. It seems like The Sword of Shibito could be a alright pick up for people who enjoy fantasy and samurai, but after the first volume youíre left not knowing what direction this manga will go in due. --JL


Manga Shorts image.Witch Class Vol. 1

By Lee Ru
Infinity Studios/USD$9.95
Rating: 4/5

Dorothy is a cute high school girl who finds a mysterious shop one day on her way to school called 'Witches.' There, the witch who runs the place offers to take Dorothy on as an apprentice. At first, Dorothy isn't crazy about the idea, but after she accidentally casts a spell on the witch's hot-but-obnoxious nephew Jean, she has no choose but to learn magic in order to lift the spell.

Everything in this manwha works so well. Dorothy is adorable as she tries to become a witch, and all the other characters are hilarious as they try to help her. The story never went where I was expecting it too, often using the reader's expectations of fantasy to make fun of itself. For the most part, the book is a funny, light-hearted comedy, but a twist near the end hints at a darker, more serious story underneath it all. The reveal made me anxious to find out what happens next and get some answers to the mysteries raised.

Lee Ruís art is really cute. Her style is a nice mix of older shoujo and modern manga. Though she complains about having to draw the characterís detailed hair and clothing, the effect it gets is worth it.

During a gag strip, Dorothy asks Lilly, the witch, when she will be able to quit her magic training. Lilly tells her training will end when the "story gets lame and the publishers decide to drop this book," which makes Dorothy happy and hope that it happens soon. Unlike Dorothy, I would be very sad if the Witch Class got axed. --SF

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