2001 Nights Vol. 3
My local comic book store has been selling a lot of older manga titles for cheap lately, giving me a chance to check out some more obscure series. The first one Iíve picked up is 2001 Nights: Children of Earth by Yukinobu Hoshino, a collection of hard sci-fi stories in the same vein as Planetes. Each of the stories is set in outer space or on a distant planet that humans are trying to desperately to colonize. Although self-contained, the chapters come together at the end of the book, but in a loose and slightly confusing way.
The art doesnít make things any clearer. Itís not bad; just bland. The manga-ka uses a lot of detail, but itís still hard to tell whatís happening in the story at times. The characters all look similar, which makes going from one story to the next difficult. The landscapes fair better, with each alien world distinct and interesting. When trying to remember what the book was about, the first thing that came to my mind was the exotic planets in it.
The manga plays with some really interesting ideas, but it all hinges on the characters in each story. If the characters had been better defined, this could have been a really great manga. As it is, I donít regret spending five bucks on it, but Iím glad I didnít spend more. --SF
Arcana Vol. 1
As a title that was on my Wanted! list a few months back, I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Arcana. TOKYOPOP really put a lot of effort into this release. The front of the book includes extras such as a pull-out miniposter featuring the main character, Inez and a dragon, and multiple glossy colored pinups of the central characters, posing with their weapons of choice and cryptic prologue/prophecy text.
Arcana tosses you into the story without much introduction. Inez, her dog Zode, and her grandfather are travelling to the capital city when it starts to snow, a sign that the cycle of prosperity in the kingdom is about to end as the long winter approaches. Inez has a unique ability: she can talk and understand animals. Upon seeing sheep for the first time, she runs over to talk to them... and one of the sheep is actually a demon. Her life is saved by a mysterious warrior who banishes the demon, and Inez is taken to the palace. Once there, we learn that in order to stop the demon invasion of the country, a guardian dragon must be found and brought to the city. Only two people seem able to do this: Inez and her grandfather, who is apparently a wizard. However, her grandfather is too old for a dragon-hunting adventure. Happily, Inez jumps at the idea of adventure, so she sets off with a pendant called The Heart's Blood, and Yulan, our demon-banishing warrior from before. However, dragon-hunting isn't as easy as it seems, and many others are interested in obtain The Heart's Blood.
I'll admit to having a weakness for pulp fantasy, but Arcana actually is a good story, although the plot set-up is overused. Lee leaves a lot of questions unanswered and raises more as this volume goes on, but I felt satisfied, willing to wait it out for the next volume. I liked the artwork; not too sketchy, and Lee seems to have a gift for drawing long, wavy hair. If you're up for reading some good stock fantasy with pretty pictures, pick up this title. --JC
Bleach Vol. 7
To quote Animefringe's February 2005 feature on Bleach, Bleach oozes coolness. Itís a fun and extremely stylish series, but luckily, it doesnít coast by on coolness alone. Thereís some substance along with style in this supernatural fighting manga.
To start with, the plot is really dense, especially when compared to other fighting series (hereís looking at you, Dragonball Z). In this volume, we get to see Ichigo take on two high level soul reapers, see our first glimpse of the Soul Society, and find out what everyoneís summer vacation plans are. Ichigo plans to spend the summer training in order to spring Rukia out of the Soul Societyís prison, unaware that Orihime, Chad and Ishida have the same idea.
Even with the main characters training rather then actually fighting, the series is still action-packed. At volume seven, the series is continues to be exciting and unique. In fact, it gets a little better with each volume. At this point, Iíd follow Ichigo and company anywhere, or at least to the bowels of the Soul Society.
VIZ Mediaís translation of the series is excellent, except for the big, ugly English SFX on every page. It obscures the artwork and distracts from the action scenes. Luckily, itís not enough to bring down a cool manga like Bleach. --SF
Tokyo Mew Mew A La Mode Vol. 1
As the sequel to Tokyo Mew Mew , Ikumi does a good job of introducing the world and its characters, although this entire volume feels more like a continuation than a new series. A new Mew Mew appears just in time to replace the Mew Mew's former leader, Ichigo, who has lost most of her powers and is currently out of the country, as an evil group called the Saint Rose Crusaders aims for world domination. Berry is a rather shallow character who decides to attend an exclusive private school purely because their uniforms are cute. I had a hard time bonding with her before she becomes the first cross-species Mew Mew -- part catgirl, part rabbitgirl -- who somehow is also the most powerful Mew Mew , and only naturally, their new leader. Alongside her new job as a Mew Mew and going to school, Berry works on her relationship with Tasuku, which is somewhere between simple childhood friendship and a budding crush.
Unfortunately, Tokyo Mew Mew A La Mode really doesn't give us anything new. It's the same old magic girl group plot, the only difference being that the girls sprout tails and ears when they transform. The Saint Rose Crusaders even have costumes and super villain master plans swiped straight from Sailor Moon. Oh, and the Count, the leader of the Saint Rose Crusaders, dresses in white KKK robes. Always great to see in manga.
If I wasn't coming off of Pita-Ten, the cuteness of Ikumi's artwork might appeal to me more, but unfortunately, it just seems like a blend between Koge-Donbo and the standard style found in most shoujo titles. If you are a fan of Tokyo Mew Mew , then you will probably enjoy this series, but don't expect to see anything new in the story, as Berry seems to be merely repeating the life of Ichigo. If you are not a fan of the series, then try something with a little more meat in between its pages. --JC
Yotsuba&! Vol. 1
Once in a while, a manga comes around that is so appealing and accessable to all ages that it will surely become a classic. This was the case with Azumanga Daioh, and now with Yotsuba&, a hilarious manga by the same author. When I speak of this accessibility, I mean that this title is absolutely free of most conventions of generally popular anime, such as giant robots or angsty love stories. The only archetype found here is the cuteness of the main character, a young girl who happens to have green hair, and is absolutely clueless about nearly everything. Needless to say, it is one of the funniest and well-executed manga that I have ever read, and at times I get weird looks from people for bursting out in laughter just thinking back on some of the scenes.
Following a format that is fairly similar to that of Azumanga Daioh, Yotsuba&! (or Yotsubato; either one is correct, and an explanation is provided in the book itself) is told in fairly standalone episodes, although they are chapters instead of the four panels found in the former. The artwork is great, albeit fairly simple, though at times the author does seem to put plenty of detail into the backgrounds and character expressions, which are hilarious.
Yotsuba&! is such a well-done manga that it should not be passed up by any manga fan, even those who generally only read action or mecha. So far, this is the best manga that I've read this year, and hopefully it will just keep getting better. As a side note, one little gripe I do have is with the translation. It seems that a couple of the jokes were toned down from the Japanese to make it more acceptable for all ages. Despite this, they still have the same effect, and obviously, they have not affected the score. --CI