Manga Shorts image.Amazing Agent Luna Vol. 1

By Nunzio DeFilippis, Christine Weir and Shiei
Seven Seas / USD$10.99
Rating: 4/5

One of the first round of titles from newcomer Seven Seas, Amazing Agent Luna is a shoujo tale centered around the title character, Luna. Genetically engineered and trained to be a superspy for the US, Luna finds herself taking on her most difficult assignment yet: high school! Lacking any sort of social skills, she finds herself lost until she is befriended by Francesca, the essential best girlfriend, and Oliver, the resident skater boy/slacker who has a crush on Luna. Then who should show up at Nobel High than the son of Luna's archenemy, Count Von Brucken, and Luna's crush! Better yet, Jonah might have a crush on Luna as well. Secret undercover assignments shouldn't be this hard!

I've been following Amazing Agent Luna online as the chapters from this volume have been posted on Seven Seas' web site, so I had almost read the entire volume before I picked up this paperback version. However, I found myself understanding the earlier chapters better, as the font and artwork is more accessible. As far as being a new manga company, Seven Seas is doing a great job as long as the quality that I found in this volume continues. Amazing Agent Luna Vol. 1 includes full color and black and white, glossy mini-posters in the front, creator ministrips between chaptures, character dossiers, and a behind-the-scenes look at how script and artwork comes together to make manga magic. For an extra dollar, these extras are well worth it, especially when the artwork and book-binding quality ranks among the king pins of manga publishing.

Shiei's artwork is beautiful, with a fluid anime feel to it, and the plot seems to be getting onto its feet near the end of the volume, as I found that the momentum slowed down around the middle. The characters are unique; stereotypical in their roles, yet each one seems to have a personality quirk of their own that allows them to step out of the mold and shine. I want to see the next volume and how the life of Luna as an ordinary girl in love progresses, and I want to see if Seven Seas can maintain the high bar that they have set with this elegant volume. --JC

Manga Shorts image.Angel Sanctuary Vol. 1

By Kaori Yuki
Viz Media / USD$9.95
Rating: 4/5

I've been meaning to pick up this volume for a long time. I've been a fan of Angel Sanctuary pretty much since I got into anime, and I've read the entire manga series via fan translations and summaries. Story-wise, Viz's publication brings nothing new for me, but it is nice to read and see the story in your own native language.

Angel Sanctuary has a rather complex plot. On the surface though, it appears to be your standard hentai fare. Setsuna is in love with his sister, Sara, and vice versa. Separated by their divorced mother, the siblings meet once a month, but their feelings refuse to die.

Besides his incestous desires, Setsuna has a bunch of other problems. Bullies constantly pick on him, and Setsuna can't fight back; he gains a killer's lust when he sees blood. Then there's the fact that he's the reincarnation of the organic angel Alexiel, admirable leader of the Evils in the war between the Evils and Angels. Alexiel's body was sealed in a angelic crystal prison, while her soul was condemned to reincarnate among humans, with a guardian angel watching over her. The Evils Kurai and Archane are now searching the world for Alexiel's present form, seeking the return of the third most powerful being in creation to make things right in a dying world. God lies sealed away, asleep since the end of the war. The angels fight among themselves in Heaven.

However, there are other supernatural players in Setsuna's life. Katan, a Cherubim, has broken the laws of Heaven, descending into the world. He seeks the revival of inorganic angel Rosiel, Alexiel's twin brother and her opposite in the war. The twin's final attacks against each other sealed them, with Rosiel deep within the earth. Katan uses a computer program to gather energy in a dark magic spell to revive Rosiel, as surely he, the purest of all angels, will go to Heaven and reinstate order. However, Rosiel is more than a little insane, so he seeks Alexiel as well, wanting to see her again and perhaps kill her. Tossed in the mix is Setsuna's best friend Kira, who seems to have amazing regenerative powers and knowledge of the current supernatural situation.

With such an epic set-up, Angel Sanctuary has miles of plot to go, in fact, twenty-odd volumes. Kaori Yuki's artwork is without par in the world of pretty boys. If you like bishies...well, Angel Sanctuary is your manga. My only complaint is that the story seems to drag on, and knowing the plot beforehand helps a lot in enjoying the foreshadowing of future character revelations. I will probably pick up a volume here and there of this series, as it is a good, abeit long story. --JC

Manga Shorts image.Bleach Vol. 6

By Tite Kubo
Viz Media / USD$7.95
Rating: 4/5

When you have a manga like Bleach that delivers on many levels (comedy, action, some horror as well as great characters and art) you have to nitpick in order to find things wrong with it. In my case, it’s the ugly English sound effects that lessened my enjoyment of this great series. Though Viz does a really good job translating the series (it’s one of the few manga titles that I actively quote dialogue from), the SFX just clutters up the page and distracts from the action.

Otherwise, it’s another good installment. Ichigo and Ishida finish up their contest, though not before a huge hollow, Menos, shows up. How the monster gets defeated seems a little cliché to me (how many times have you seen a Shounen Jump character say something like, "He...deflected it?!" while staring in wonder at the main character?), but for the most part it’s an exciting end to the story. The manga doesn’t stop to let the characters rest before a new story starts. It’s seems that when Rukia gave Ichigo her powers, she broke a major law of the soul society. Now, a couple of soul reapers are after Rukia with a warrant for her death.

A bunch of little things add up to make this a really fun series, such as the poems that start off each volume and the manga-ka’s sketched omakes at the end of each chapter. The character profiles are also very insightful and interesting to read, though for some reason there are no character bios at the end of this volume. With such a large cast still left to be profiled it will hopefully return in the volume 7. --SF

Manga Shorts image.Cromartie High School Vol. 1

By Eiji Nonaka
ADV Manga / USD$9.99
Rating: 3.5/5

Eiji Nonaka valiantly forges ahead with his story of one young man's journey into the toughest high school around: Cromartie. Sixteen-year-old Takashi Kamiyama turns his promise to a friend into reality when he makes the jump from a respectable life as a junior high bookworm (if you can call him that) to a notoriously normal life amongst the cities ruffians.

With wickedly laugh outloud moments, Nonaka presents a colorful world of characters that are freakishly hip and realistic. Although the main character, Kamiyama appears intelligent enough to be attending a more astute high school, the furthering of the story proves that he truly is as dull-witted as the rest of the cast. There is a lack of brain capacity in most characters to understand almost anything. By the end of the first volume, you might question yourself about how the students got to where they are now. Sure, most of them are brain dead and others might not even be students, but that is part of what makes Cromartie High School hard to put down. Three of the so-called students are unbelievable. First, there is Freddie, a seemingly thirty-something (or maybe even older) who says nothing the entire time. Then, there is the gorilla, who is a gorilla. The one thing that you learn is that the gorilla is fairly smart, maybe even the smartest student in the class. Then there is Mechazawa, the mechanical brain of the school. Well, he's not a brain; he's just a robot that no one seems to notice is a robot. That excludes Kamiyama and his pal Hayashida, but then they've become convinced that they are the ones who are wrong. What about the tough guy who gets motion sickness? He's a real riot.

The artwork of Cromartie High School fits the story with perfect precision. It has a rough, sketchy look that draws out the storyline more. The look of the characters is as comedic as the story itself, which is down right hilarious at times. The vivid colors, yellow and red, accentuate the cover. On the back cover, there's a quiz to see how tough you are. Me, apparently I'm an errand girl.

Now for the plot. The concepts for the individualized stories are so out of this world at times that it's hard not to laugh at them. At other times, it feels like an escape from the humdrum of existence known as life. Left over scenarios makes up a small section of the book, taking on a life of their own. The inclusion of Cromartie's history and its theme song was a great touch as they are just as funny as the story. So, if you want a feel-good chuckle fest, then Cromartie High School should be your pick. If not, then pass this one by. For those who aren't sure, flip through it first. --MB

Manga Shorts image.Kare Kano Vol. 14

By Masami Tsuda
Rating: 4/5

What makes you the person you are? The environment you grew up in? The choices you make? If you asked Soichiro Arima, he would probably say genetics. All his life he’s been taught that if your parents were bad people, you’re fated to turn out the same way regardless of any outside factors. So, when Arima meets his biological mother after more then a decade and finds that she’s a selfish, manipulative person, he’s more then a little concerned about his future.

The volume starts off a tad repetitive, with Arima angsting (again) about how he still can’t open up completely to Yukino. Luckily, things get shaken up when Arima’s mother Ryoko enters the picture. Until now, Kare Kano has never had such an outright villain in the series. She’s the type of character that I love to hate, and I found her a refreshing addition to a manga where everyone else is incredibly nice.

TOKYOPOP does an admirable job with the translation of the series. A lot of the text is super-imposed over the images in this manga, but TOKYOPOP does a good job re-touching the art so that Masami Tsuda’s artwork stays intact. The dialogue and printing are also good, adding bonus points to one of my already favorite series. --SF

Manga Shorts image.Nambul War Stories Vol. 3

By Hyun Se Lee
CPM / USD$9.99
Rating: 4/5

As the second volume of Nambul showed off Hyun Se Lee's prowess at drawing epic battle scenes, the third volume of his politically charged series is a highlight of the human end of war. Foreign nationals in Japan are forced to wear identifying tags and are eventually all shipped into Holocaust-like ghettos as Japan continues its war over the oil rich Philippines.

At the beginning of this series I wasn't sure if it would be very interesting. Lee's style is very cartoonist, and his message felt a little too radical for me. However, I'm glad that I continued reading, because all the characters have been more fleshed out, and Lee has begun to blur the lines between the good and the bad as some Japanese redeem themselves and some Koreans act in a disgraceful way.

Even though Nambul was written a while ago, the politics it covers is thriving in our world today, which makes the depressing outcome of this volume disconcerting. As I read I was both glad that we haven't gone back to the mad times of WWII, and worried about how easily that would be to do. Lee seems to have done a very good job at realizing a world that anyone would be glad to avoid. --ML

Manga Shorts image.Othello Vol. 3

By Satomi Ikezawa
Del Rey / USD$10.95
Rating: 4.5/5

Othello continues its greatness streak with Volume 3. Yaya continues to be the weak girl she has been in the previous volumes, and as her romance continues with Moriyama, more ridiculous shenanigans ensue as she transforms into Nana every time she wishes to participate in his band.

This volume was actually above the others in terms of storyline substance just because some of Nana's insecurities and vulnerability is revealed. As Yaya's love interests in Moriyama continue to grow, it almost seems as if Nana is fighting against her alter-ego for him. In addition to this, the identity of the man at Moriyama's concerts is finally revealed, another source of conflict between the characters. A lot of character development goes on in this volume, which is a great contrast to the constant ass-kicking from the previous volumes. Once again the artwork is fantastic and the story moves at a good pace, despite all the character growth.

I really can't stress enough how great a job Del Rey has consistently done with this release. Once again there are translation notes at the end of the book, explaining some of the Japanese culture found in the previous pages. They've also done a great job of keeping the honorifics and translating the sound effects.

Overall, Volume 3 is a great addition to the Othello series. --CI

Manga Shorts image.The Tarot Café Vol. 1

By Sang-Sun Park
Rating: 4/5

I've been looking forward to this series, as the back cover description and artwork sounded really interesting, and I wasn't disappointed at all. From the creator of Les Bijoux, The Tarot Café is a series of gothic romance stories, tied together by Pamela, a tarot reader who has the knack of always being right about the future, an ability that she doesn't seem too fond of having. The clientele of The Tarot Café tends towards the supernatural, with vampires, fairies, wish-fulfilling cats and alchemists in this volume. This manga jumps straight into the first client's story, without much background at all, which works fine. I'd like to hear more about Pamela in the next volume though. I liked how tarot card meanings are added without detracting from the story, so no familiarity with the cards is required to enjoy this manga.

The artwork really stands out. If you're a fan of goth/loli culture, then you'll love these character designs! All of Park's characters are breathtakingly beautiful, both female and male, with long, flowing hair and elegant clothes. The stories themselves contrast this visual beauty by showing love without the 'happily ever after' ending, as all of Pamela's clients find themselves heart-broken, dead or at the best, a better person afterwards.

My only beef with this volume is that it ends abruptly in the middle of a client's story. I don't know if this is TOKYOPOP's fault or not, but it does leave me irritated and wanting more, which I suppose is a good thing at the end of the day. The Tarot Café is a title that I'll definitely be watching. --JC

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