Manga Shorts

by Janet Crocker, Shannon Fay and Patrick King

Manga Shorts image.Alichino Vol. 3

By Kouyu Shurei
Rating: 4/5

Alichino has always had a great plot, but this is first time that the story actually grabbed my attention more than the amazing artwork. In volume three, we finally learn about the past events that connect most of the main characters together. Sometimes learning the back story of mysterious characters can lessen their allure, but luckily in Alichino, it just makes them more interesting, and it clears up a lot of plots points that have been pretty vague till now.

Alichino is a vampire story without vampires. Instead, it has the Alichino, beautiful creatures who grant wishes in exchange for souls. Tsugiri, one of the few people who have the power to kill Alichino, has teamed up with Ryoko and his Alichino partner, Myobi to rescue his friend, Enju. The Alichino who took Enju, Matsurika, has a history with Ryoko which they’ll have to settle before he and Tsugiri can get Enju back.

If you’ve only been reading Alichino until now solely because of the artwork, this volume will be a pleasant surprise. If you’ve been avoiding the series because of its style over substance approach to the story, this volume proves that there is a good plot to go along with all of the pretty pictures. --SF

Manga Shorts image.Flowers and Bees Vol. 7

By Moyoco Anno
VIZ Media / USD$9.99
Rating: 4/5

Moyoco Anno’s final entry in this unconventional romance wraps up Komatsu’s quest to become a better man. However, you’ll need to read the book to find out how it ends.

From its inception, the series offered a sexy, sensual and pitiless look at how much a man will do to get himself a woman. The book is consistently funny and painfully realistic, allowing readers to endure every bit of humiliation that fate and Komatsu himself dumps upon the primary protagonist.

Anno’s style is unusual, with a noticeable emphasis on the eyes and lips of characters. Her linework, however, almost always yields something that is appealing, amusing, or believable, with an attention to detail from her sadistic (read: female) point of view when deciding what should next befall poor Komatsu.

This is certainly a romance that anyone who may be tired of typical shoujo works -- especially if you like to see guys suffer. And hey, who doesn't? --PK

Manga Shorts image.Harlequin Pink: A Girl in a Million

By Betty Neals / Kako Itoh
Dark Horse Manga / USD$9.95
Rating: 2/5

A Girl in a Million is one of Dark Horse’s first Harlequin romance manga to be released. It’s in the Harlequin Pink line, meaning that it is strictly romantic without anything sexually explicit. A love story doesn’t need sex to make it interesting, but A Girl in a Million is so tepid that anything to liven it up would have been a welcome shot in the arm.

Caroline is a young British nurse who meets Marius, an attractive, rich man while on vacation in Amsterdam. She goes back to London thinking that she’ll never see him again, but fate brings the two back together when Marius’ nephew, Mark gets hurt and requires a live-in nurse. Caroline comes to Amsterdam, where she and Marius grow closer. But Caroline is not sure whether Marius likes her or if he’s still in love with his old flame, his sister-in-law.

A Girl in a Million has pretty, old-school shoujo art, and it lays the panels out in a straightforward, easy to read manner. Even though it reads from right-to-left, most people new to manga shouldn’t have any problem following the panel layout. This graphic novel would be a good gift for someone who hasn’t read manga, but who likes Harlequin romances. It’s an easy introduction to romance manga, especially with its lack of anything scandalous. It may even lead to them picking up less conventional manga like Happy Mania, Tramps Like Us or Nana. For people already fans of romance manga, this tame and formulaic story may be a bit too simple. --SF

Manga Shorts image.Lady Snowblood Vol. 1: The Deep-Seated Grudge Pt. 1

By Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura
Dark Horse Manga / USD$14.95
Rating: 3.5/5

With a cover invoking Kill Bill and memories of how I enjoyed the original Lady Snowblood movie, I picked up this manga at the bookstore.

The story of Lady Snowblood is rather simple. Sayo Kashima was arrested and sentenced for life for murder. We soon learn, however, that the murdered man well deserved to die, as he participated in the group murder of Sayo's husband and her son, and the gang rape of Sayo. Unable to continue her quest for vengeance, Sayo gets herself pregnant while in prison, intending to give birth to a son, who would pick up the sword and continue her quest, so to speak. However, the baby is a girl. Sayo commands Yuki, named after the snow falling outside of the window, to achieve the purpose of which she was born to do (i.e. kill the rest of the murderers), imbuing the newborn with the power of her demonic vengeance. Sayo dies, and the baby is given to Otora, the midwife, to raise and train. The years pass, and Lady Snowblood, assassin for hire, emerges from the shadows.

It has aged reasonably well from 1972, when it was originally released in Japan. However, it still has that distinctive cheap 70's feel to it, which is not necessarily a bad thing; it's simply the tone of the era. Lady Snowblood has Koike's touch all over it, so fans of Lone Wolf and Cuband Samurai Executioner will enjoy the story, which flows at the speed of Lone Wolf and Cub while sharing many of the same themes and motifs; Yuki's quest for vengeance is revealed early on, but she spends the entirety of the volume doing assassination missions for money. What the money is for is left unanswered, as it is in Lone Wolf and Cub. The five chapter stories move quickly, but they lack in depth, instead focusing on the artwork and Yuki in motion.

Lady Snowblood is a lot more graphic than Lone Wolf and Cub in its depiction of violence and sex. Like a good 70's samurai film, the blood oozes off of the pages, and Yuki gets liberally splashed and disrobed frequently by her foes. The manga has an almost hentai tone with the amount of violence and sex that appears almost joyfully in each chapter, as prostitutes frequently appear in the chapters. Simply put, if Samurai Executioner disgusts you, don't pick up Lady Snowblood. Kamimura's artwork is quite detailed, with a preference for rounder eyes and curves. It's not quite the popular manga style of today with huge eyes, but it is a lot less angular than Kojima's style in Lone Wolf and Cub. I like how Yuki dresses in both Western and Japanese traditional dress, and the reaction of others to her "exotic" Western clothing perfectly reflects the identity confusion of the Meiji era.

I would recommend giving this volume a try, but it definitely requires a taste for blood and for older manga. --JC

Manga Shorts image.Samurai Executioner Vol. 5: Ten Fingers, One Life

By Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
Dark Horse Manga / UDS$9.95
Rating: 4/5

After seemingly a long time, the fifth volume of this earlier Koike and Kojima work is out. This volume of Samurai Executioner includes seven chapters, each one a separate story, and at 300-plus pages, you are definitely getting your money's worth.

Stories run from the mundane to the more philosophical. The title story, "Ten Fingers, One Life" uses the metaphor of a dying man clenching his fists for how we grasp at life in futility, whereas "The Leaf Thief" is a short tale on a girl dying from TB who sweeps dead leaves continuously, believing that it will bring her father back to her. What I am really enjoying about this series is how it seeks to educate the reader about how life really was for the ordinary person in the Edo period. Koike focuses in particular on the lack of job security for non-samurai castes, such as the policeman who must appeal for his job to be renewed each year.

So far, the shrink wrap and mature warning label for each volume of Samurai Executioner has been well-earned, and this volume is no exemption; the final chapter, "Life Link" contains a continuous prison sex scene that would fit in Lady Snowblood. Excesses like this will turn off many readers from this series, but if you can stomach the graphic content, Samurai Executioner is a great series for fans of Koike and Kojima. --JC

Manga Shorts image.Sensual Phrase Vol. 8

By Mayu Shinjo
VIZ Media / USD$9.99
Rating: 3.5/5

This series falls into the guilty pleasures category of reading. The story and characters are relatively strong, although the series has fallen into a bit of a pattern lately. When Sakuya, the leader of the mega-popular band Lucifer took on Aine, an innocent schoolgirl, as his lyricist -- and more importantly, as his lover -- she knew that her life would be changed forever. It seems like the author, Mayu Shinjo can’t get enough of putting Aine into situations where she doubts Sakuya’s faithfulness, only to discover that he loves her more than ever. Still, an interesting subplot with a set of twins -- one male and one female -- provides worthy content for the steamy sex scenes.

However, in all fairness, the sex scenes aren’t really as hot as the dialogue that is spoken leading up to them. Compared to other series, such as Dance Till Tomorrow, it’s actually rather tame. Either way, the adaptation is one of VIZ Media’s best-written works out there.

Very attractive characters and artwork that is almost on par with Yuu Watase’s work (and certainly reminiscent of it) helps to round out this series, shaping it into a very worthy release, altogether. Perhaps Aine will start to trust Sakuya a bit more after this volume -- that way, we can move on to more entertaining crises for the couple to face! --PK

Manga Shorts image.Stellvia Vol. 1

By Xebec and Ryo Akitsuki
DrMaster / USD$9.95
Rating: 3/5

As you can tell from my frequent reviews of the anime, I am a big fan of Stellvia. When I heard that the manga series was coming out from DrMaster, I did have a moment of despair, as I could see the translation butchered already. However, I can happily report that I was wrong.

The first volume of the manga follows the anime very closely, with only two major additions. One is Shima being drunk on brandy chocolates when achieving a goal in Astroball against the Big Four. The other is seeing Miss Leila lose a bet with fellow teacher Jinrai, and being forced to wear a schoolgirl outfit. These additions do add a lot of comedic value, and they don't detract much from the more serious moments. I won't reiterate the plot of Stellvia here, as I've told it multiple times before in reviews, only that it's a coming of age story about a girl, and it involves spaceships and mecha.

Fans of Stellvia will enjoy the manga series, but it's nothing new if you have seen the anime. The first volume finishes in the middle of the Astroball game between Foundations Stellvia and Odyssey. Not an ideal stopping point in the story, but at almost 200 pages, this is a lot of story for a good value. The book contains four color pages at the beginning, which was a pleasant surprise. There are three bonus mini-strips at the back of the book as well. I did not find any glaring translation or grammar errors, but DrMaster does have a bad habit of hyphenating words in speech bubbles, which really erodes the flow of the story while reading. Overall, this is a good manga, but the anime version is so much better. --JC

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