Who knew it was possible for this space to be even quieter than it was when I was reviewing for MangaLife? I’ve hardly read any manga this summer, as evidenced by my growing to-read stack–it got a bit out of control after I shopped at Anime North in May, and I haven’t dented it noticeably since then.
In the last couple of months I’ve had a handful of rewrites hit the shelves: Sgt. Frog 19, Zone-00 4, Animal Academy 5, and my first book from VIZ, volume 1 of Seiho Boys’ High School! I’ve also seen some new cover art, which is always a treat for me: covers have popped up on Amazon for Animal Academy 6 and Shinobi Life 6.
Most excitingly, there’s finally art for Demon Sacred volume 1 and volume 2. I adore seeing the first artwork for a new series, and Demon Sacred is all the better because the series’ release was on hold for so long while TOKYOPOP made some more schedule adjustments. But now I’m back to work on it, and the first two volumes (which are super cheap!) will be hitting shelves really soon. I hope lots of people will check it out.
On the review front: last I checked there were still one or two reviews of mine that hadn’t run over at MangaLife, but I think they’ve gotten lost in the shuffle. This one ran a while ago, though:
Rasetsu vol. 4 (B)
I assume I’m not the only person who sometimes has trouble solving problems when I’m staring at them. This happens in all kinds of ways, like the times when I know how to spell a word properly but am unable to remember when looking at a misspelling. (Let’s not even talk about math classes.) Spelling’s an easy one to solve, of course; if I’m looking at a screen, I probably have access to the OED (what’s available online for free, anyway. Ask me if I’m bitter that my old university now offers students subscriptions to the OED online!). But of course that doesn’t much matter, because the act of clicking away and not looking at the typo usually fixes the problem.
And yet sometimes I forget that backing away can be the easiest and best answer. When I get stuck on the wording for a particular line, I can find myself picking away at it over and over, knowing that the version I want is on the tip of my tongue but playing coy. In first drafts I get around that by highlighting the line to come back to, but that only works on the first go-round.
While working on the script for a volume of Seiho Boys’ High School! last week, I got stuck on a line. It wasn’t a hard one–no complex thoughts, no hard-to-translate concepts–but I was completely blanking on the right way to turn the phrase. And then I got around the problem completely by accident: while I was out with my husband, I mentioned to him that I was snagged on a perfectly generic line, and I quoted it to him to see if he could see the obvious way to turn it around…
…except I quoted it to him the way it should be. All it took was saying it aloud to someone else and my brain rewrote it on the spot, so automatically that I didn’t even realize it had happened until I got home, popped open my adaptation, and clued in. (And between that and getting an email from the translator a few minutes later, bang, I had a complete adaptation waiting for one last go-over. So that’s done and turned in, and it’s time to move on to the final volume of Animal Academy.)
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It’s been two months since I officially stopped reviewing for MangaLife.com, and I was holding off on posting links to my final reviews there, but…well, it’s been two months, and I think there’re still two or more in their posting queue. So here are links to the most recent five, anyway, and I suppose sooner or later the rest of them will go up:
Beast Master vol. 2 (B-)
NANA vol. 20 (A+)
Sand Chronicles vol. 7 (A+)
Wild Ones vol. 9 (B-)
Vampire Knight vol. 9 (B+)
Today the news broke that Manga Recon is disbanding, since PopCultureShock is shutting down. That’s a real shame; I’ve always enjoyed their collective reviews. I’m glad that several of the reviewers are still going to be easy to follow, especially Melinda and Michelle.
In other linkblogging, Telophase has a post on Visual Languages of Manga and Comics up at Hooded Utilitarian.
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Recently on Twitter I commented that it was a little funny that I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t had time to post that I’ve gotten too busy to review regularly at MangaLife anymore. But a couple of weeks ago I spoke to the current Editor in Chief at ML about stepping down as a reviewer there; two years is a very respectable run, and I have enough else on my plate at the moment that reviewing felt like over-committing myself. (Of course, in a month or so I’ll undoubtedly hit a dry spell to make up for all that’s going on now, but that’s how it goes.)
So for now I’m taking a complete break from reviewing. I hope to come back to it once I’ve recharged my internal reserves a bit, though, and when that happens I plan to post any reviews here on my blog instead of on another site. Meanwhile, there’s still a backlog of reviews I’ve submitted to MangaLife, so there’ll be another batch or two of links here as they come out [see below].
On the work front, this month saw the release of both Animal Academy: Hakobune Hakusho volume 4 and Fruits Basket: Banquet (don’t ask me why the title doesn’t exactly match that of the first fanbook, which came out as Fruits Basket Fan Book -Cat-. Such mysteries are beyond my ken).
Cover art has come out for Zone-00 volume 4, which is due for release in June. I think that volume has the distinction of being the only book I’ve ever adapted when all of the preceding volumes were already out in English and I had a complete set of hard copies to refer to for consistency. Obviously release schedules don’t ordinarily allow for that, but it was a treat.
Meanwhile, I was excited to hear that TOKYOPOP has rescheduled Demon Sacred for this fall. I adapted volumes 1-2 quite a while ago, and now they’re coming out as a double volume. I’m looking forward to getting to read more of the series. It’s by the creator of Jyu Oh Sei, and it has a lot of strange but intriguing stuff going on.
And finally, here’s the first of my final heap of reviews over at MangaLife. I think there’re about eight more reviews still waiting to be posted there.
Arata: The Legend vol. 1 (B+)
Skip Beat! vol. 20 (B)
We Were There vol. 8 (A)
There was also one final batch of mini reviews [vol. 9 of Honey and Clover (Chica Umino), vol. 9 of We Were There (Yuki Obata), vol. 7 of Mixed Vegetables (Ayumi Komura), vol. 15 of S.A. (Maki Minami), vol. 4 of Black Bird (Kanoko Sakurakoji), vol. 11 [the series finale!] of The Gentlemen’s Alliance † (Arina Tanemura), vol. 17 of Kaze Hikaru (Taeko Watanabe), and vol. 2 of Natsume’s Book of Friends (Yuki Midorikawa)].
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It’s been a quiet few weeks on the work front, which may be just as well since things are about to get a lot busier. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to find the bottom of my review copy stack, which means that the reviews I’ve been turning in for the last week or two will be coming out gradually for the next while. But here are the reviews that’ve gone up since the last time I made one of these posts:
Honey and Clover vol. 8 (A+)
Kaze Hikaru vol. 16 (A-)
The Magic Touch vol. 5-6 (C-)
Natsume’s Book of Friends vol. 1 (B)
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In the growing tradition of all the series I work on releasing new volumes at once, the last couple of weeks saw the appearance of vol. 18 of Sgt. Frog, vol.3 of Animal Academy: Hakobune Hakusho, vol. 5 of Phantom Dream, vol. 4 of Shinobi Life, and vol. 3 of Zone-00. Whew. That brings Phantom Dream to an end–the first complete series I adapted! (Well, not counting a very short one which got caught up on TOKYOPOP’s cuts a couple of years ago. Technicality.)
Have a bit of link-blogging, while I’m here: my friend Sean Gaffney has caved and started a manga review blog, where he’s been reviewing quite frequently. Sean really knows his stuff, so seeing him doing this formally is pretty awesome.
MangaLife has a new Editor in Chief as of this week, although Park, the former EiC, is still on board as a staff writer. Will this mean sweeping changes over at ML? Who can say?
I had only a few new reviews posted in the last month or so, but here they are:
Love*Com vol. 16 (B-)
Monkey High! vol. 8 (B+) (series finale)
Otomen vol. 4 (B-)
I also did a round-up of mini reviews at the end of December, which covered vol. 13 of Ouran High School Host Club (Bisco Hatori), vol. 2 of Black Bird (Kanoko Sakurakoji), vol. 7 of We Were There (Yuki Obata), vol. 15 of Kaze Hikaru (Taeko Watanabe), vol. 5 of St. Dragon Girl (Natsumi Matsumoto), vol. 6 of Mixed Vegetables (Ayumi Komura), vol. 12 of Crimson Hero (Mitsuba Takanashi), and vol. 14 of S.A. (Maki Minami).
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Amid all the uncertainties of the glamorous freelance life, it’s good to know one thing: if I adapt a fanbook, there’s a 75% chance of it happening over Christmas. This time three years ago I was doing my very first adaptation, the Fruits Basket Fan Book – Cat-; two years ago I was adapting the Genshiken Official Book; and now I’m working on the second Fruits Basket fanbook. (Sometime in between I adapted the second Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle Character Guide, but clearly that was an anomaly.)
Add in the fact that fanbooks are a lot of work, that it’s the holiday season (and we have a friend visiting for said holidays), and that I have another assignment pending which probably wants a very quick turnaround, and once again my review copy backlog is being neglected. There’s a lot of stuff in that stack that I’m dying to read–the new Sand Chronicles, which I can’t crack open until I get at least two more reviews written!–but right now I’m mostly hunkering down and banking on getting as many written as possible come January.
I’ve still been holding steady at roughly one review a week, though, so here’s what I’ve been talking about lately:
Beast Master vol. 1 (B-)
Butterflies, Flowers vol. 1 (B+)
Fushigi Yûgi: Genbu Kaiden vol. 9 (B+)
High School Debut vol. 12 (A-)
Rasetsu vol. 2 (B+)
I’ve also been squeezing in a bit of non-review reading, which (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) recently included reading vol. 1-6 of Yotsuba&!. Vol. 7 is winging its way here via Amazon, and I can’t wait to get it. I keep thinking of new people to recommend it to. Other people have been taking care of reviewing it on MangaLife, so I’m glad to see it represented over there. This series is definitely on my to-buy list, despite the library graciously offering to lend it to me any time I want.
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One of the great things about the manga-blogging contingent on Twitter is its spontaneity. Within hours (or more likely minutes) of David Welsh (Precocious Curmudgeon) noting the total absence of manga on the New York Times’ Graphic Novel Gift Guide, the notion of the Great Manga Gift Guide was born. (Here’s the Twitter hashtag, for the curious.) With no set rules and only a few practical guidelines to follow, the results so far have covered a wide spectrum of material and approaches–go to David’s round-up post to see some of the lists people have come up with!
My own manga reading skews heavily towards shoujo (girls’) series–a trend that was only strengthened when I began receiving predominantly shoujo review copies from VIZ Media. I’ve tried to compensate for that in my list, though, in hopes that there’ll be something for everyone here. And while the temptation at the end of the year is to suggest new series that started coming out in 2009, I’ve decided to focus on ten series which are currently available in English in their entirety so that new readers have the option of reading a complete story without waiting on new volumes.
None of these comments are terribly spoilery, but in a couple of cases may refer to events past the first volume when the series takes a while to establish the premise.
For those who’re fascinated by the mysterious (and sometimes twisted) things lurking in the human psyche and/or exploration of gender roles and perceptions: After School Nightmare.
Mashiro has a closely-guarded secret: although he looks and identifies as male, he’s actually caught between genders. Male from the waist up and female from the waist down, he badly wants to be “truly” male, but is desperately insecure and questioning about his identity. A school nurse brings him into a special class conducted after school, in which students–none of whom know each other’s identity–enter into a dream world, where they appear as reflections of their individual issues and neuroses. Mashiro develops relationships with two other students, Kureha and Sou, forming a very unusual triangle as they all try to overcome their demons. After School Nightmare is an intriguing piece of work, with good characters and interesting plot twists.
(10 volumes, available from Go!Comi.)
For those who crave a sweet story that tugs at the heartstrings: Aishiteruze Baby.
Kippei, a popular 15 year old boy, has his life changed overnight when his 5-year-old cousin Yuzuyu is abandoned with his family, none of whom have time to take charge of her. The task of being her primary caregiver falls on Kippei’s shoulders, and although he initially resists the idea, he and Yuzu gradually become close. It’s all incredibly cute, but it also deals well with Yuzu’s experience of losing her mother, and while Kippei and Yuzu’s relationship is at the heart of the story there’s also a strong love interest between Kippei and a classmate, Kokoro. Bonus points for Yuzuyu being a believable little kid.
(7 volumes, available from VIZ Media.)
For those who enjoy epics, mistaken identities, and star-crossed lovers: Basara.
My only reservation in recommending Basara is that some volumes are apparently difficult to lay hands on these days, which is a shame, because this is a fantastic story. Growing up in a post-apocalyptic Japan, Sarasa is a normal girl whose twin brother, Tatara, is the prophesied “child of destiny” who everyone believes will overthrow the tyrannical rulers of the country. But when Tatara is killed, Sarasa sacrifices her identity and adopts his name, starting a revolution in his place.
There’s a lot of great stuff in here. Sarasa is the kind of heroine who gets things done through pure determination, and is a fallible but gifted and charismatic leader. The people who surround her are a diverse and interesting bunch, and the romantic subplot is important without taking away from the epic scope of the events that unfold as Sarasa tries to fulfill “Tatara”‘s destiny.
(27 volumes, available from VIZ Media.)
For those looking for a story about love and friendship with a touch of fantasy (which just happens to be one of the best-known manga around): Fruits Basket.
A recently orphaned, tender-hearted girl winds up living with a classmate and his two cousins, and as she gets to know them, she discovers that their family is cursed by the spirits of the Chinese zodiac animals. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Fruits Basket has become incredibly popular in North America, and rightly so. There’s something here for just about everyone, with the mood ranging from the light humor you expect from a high school romantic comedy to a painful yet hopeful depiction of a family trying to break free of both a literal curse and a longstanding cycle of abuse. This is a powerful and skillfully crafted story with an amazing cast of characters, and it takes its potentially silly-sounding premise and explores the implications in a meaningful way.
(23 volumes, available from TOKYOPOP. Gradually coming out in a hardback omnibus edition as well. ^_^)
For those who know geeks, love geeks, or are geeks: Genshiken.
Genshiken is the epic tale of an otaku club at a Japanese college [read: all of the geeks who don’t fit in with the more specialized geek clubs] and a normal girl who gets sucked in via her boyfriend. Only not so much with the epic. Genshiken takes a group of people whose hobbies and ways of approaching life make them social outcasts, and both empathizes with them and pokes fun at them in a way that lets you know that the author loves them and expects readers to as well. The series tells their story and explores their passions–whether for cosplay, model building, doujinshi, anime, manga–and shows the people behind the stereotypes, through their own eyes and the eyes of an outsider who…doesn’t exactly come to love them, but develops a strong sense of “no one messes with my geeks but me”. And admit it–that’s more fun.
(9 volumes, available from Del Rey Manga.)
For those who appreciate a high school romantic comedy that has fun playing with its genre’s conventions: High School Debut.
Athletic, tomboyish Haruna starts her first year of high school with a mission: having devoted her junior high days to sports, she’s ready to find the romance promised by the countless heaps of shoujo manga she’s devoured. When it turns out that manga hasn’t really taught her how to catch herself a guy, Haruna concludes that what she really needs is a love coach, and she chooses Yoh, a popular older boy, to show her the ropes. Given that the next part of the premise is “he accepts, on the condition that Haruna can’t fall in love with him“, it may be obvious what happens next–but it happens with irresistible charm and enthusiasm. Haruna is a bit like the anti-shoujo heroine: she tries to do things by the book (literally), but her own personality is too strong. Her relationship with Yoh is one of those lovely ones where it’s obvious why the characters like each other, and what each of them brings to the table. High School Debut is a funny and heartfelt story that should appeal to new manga readers as well as fans of the genre.
(13 volumes, available from VIZ Media. Well, 12 of them are, and 13 will be out pretty soon.)
For those who love psychological drama, layered stories, and a driven, intelligent hero: Monster.
There are two Naoki Urasawa series that are all the rage right now: 20th Century Boys and Pluto (the latter being a retelling of Astro Boy) are both amazing pieces of work, and deserve all the praise being heaped on them as each new volume comes out in English. But this list is for complete-in-English series, so let’s talk about Urasawa’s Monster. Set in several cities across Europe, Monster gives us Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a brilliant brain surgeon who follows his ideals at the cost of his promising career, choosing to operate on a young boy instead of the prominent man admitted after him. Tenma is ostracized within the hospital for his politically-unwise decision, but the child survives…and grows up to become a fiercely intelligent sociopath, a fact Tenma discovers when he himself is falsely accused of murder. When no one believes his incredible story, Tenma becomes a wanted man, pursuing the boy he once saved in order to rectify his mistake and prevent any more deaths. In the process he uncovers a truth and a conspiracy far darker than he had imagined, and learns that countless lives are at stake.
Monster is a fascinating story, full of twists and turns and intriguing characters. It’s also very different from many non-manga readers’ image of “manga”, and could be just the thing for that person you know (we all know at least one) who insists that manga is all wide-eyed shallow fluff.
(18 volumes, available from VIZ Media.)
For those who’re drawn to fashion, creative minds, and difficult romances: Paradise Kiss.
A short, engaging series from the creator of NANA. Yukari is a high school student with no real sense of purpose whose life is turned upside down by a group of eccentric fashion design students who persuade her to model for their label, Paradise Kiss. As they befriend her and pull her into their world, Yukari discovers how much she’s been missing in her life and finds herself falling for George, the group’s designer. It’s a glittering world populated with believably flawed, charming, and (mostly) wonderful characters. I have a particular soft spot for the supporting cast, whose stories are just as interesting as the leads’ without ever quite taking the focus from them.
(5 volumes, available from TOKYOPOP.)
For those who want to read about self-discovery in a soft sci-fi package: Please Save My Earth.
Like Basara, Please Save My Earth can be a bit tricky to come by in its entirety, but it’s well worth tracking down. This shoujo classic tells the story of six high school students and a young boy who share similar dreams about living on the moon and observing Earth. As they meet each other and compare notes, they realize that what’s happening to them is something much bigger and more life-changing than a dream. Please Save My Earth manages to have a complex, intriguing story while focusing heavily on the characters’ relationships, particularly the connection between Alice, a shy teenage girl who can’t quite bring herself to accept what’s happening, and Rin, the little boy who lives next door to her and knows far more than he lets on. It also has some interesting world-building, although the sci-fi elements take a backseat to the characters’ journey of self-discovery.
(21 volumes, available from VIZ Media.)
For those interested in historical drama, the politics of a rapidly-changing society, or heroes seeking redemption for past sins: Rurouni Kenshin.
Kenshin begins in 1878, just over a decade after Japan went through the massive social upheaval called the Bakumatsu and began to westernize. A wandering swordsman, Kenshin Himura winds up at a dojo run by a young woman named Kaoru, who isn’t at all sure what to make of him. Kenshin is unassuming and apparently harmless, but it quickly comes out that he’s also a former assassin once known as Hitokiri Battōsai, whose reputation as a brilliant swordsman haunts him as he travels the country, trying to atone for the lives he took for the sake of the cause he fought for. He tentatively settles at Kaoru’s dojo and begins to build a life and friendships there, but peace is impossible to come by when his legend still brings people after him to challenge him, settle old scores, or force him out of retirement.
(28 volumes, available from VIZ Media. Also currently coming out in shiny omnibus editions!)
After having a few adaptations come out all at once earlier this month, it looks like the only book I have left for the rest of 2009 is volume 13 of DN Angel (out this week or next, depending on who you ask). That catches us up to the Japanese release, I believe–at least, I haven’t heard anything about vol. 14 being out in Japan yet, and Alethea & Athena are big enough fans of the series that I suspect I would’ve heard.
Boys Over Flowers: Jewelry Box (B+)
The Gentlemen’s Alliance † vol. 10 (B)
Love*Com vol. 14 (B+)
Rin-ne vol. 1 (B+)
Vampire Knight vol. 8 (A-)
I also wrote another round-up of short reviews (although they were longer than usual for this format; a few could probably have gone up as stand-alone reviews, but I wanted to get them posted). This time I covered vol. 19 of Skip Beat!, vol. 11 of La Corda d’Oro, vol. 7 of B.O.D.Y., vol. 6 of Haruka -Beyond the Stream of Time, vol. 3 of Honey Hunt, vol. 8 of Wild Ones, and vol. 14 of Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs.
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I only had one adaptation come out this month (the second Character Guide for Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, which was my second project for Del Rey Manga), but there are three volumes coming out right at the beginning of next month: Phantom Dream vol. 4, Shinobi Life vol. 3, and Zone-00 vol. 2.
Reviewing is still going slowly but steadily, and here are the reviews that have gone up in the last few weeks:
Honey and Clover vol. 7 (A+)
Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You vol. 2 (A-)
St. Dragon Girl vol. 4 (B)
We Were There vol. 6 (A)
As you can see, I think those were some really good books. I’m always a little sad that Hagu is a deal-breaker for some people who read H&C, although given my own initial reaction to her, I can’t say I don’t understand at all. Kimi ni Todoke kind of falls under the category of “more charming than it has any right to be”; the concept is extremely simple and would so, so easy to do badly. Instead, the execution is remarkably endearing.
Today I’m writing a couple of reviews that’ll go up within the next few weeks, and I’ve got to say, I’m suddenly a lot more interested in Vampire Knight than I was before. (I just read vol. 8, and haven’t read any further, so please don’t spoil me.) What was just revealed might not have been much to write home about if it had been part of the premise all along, but as something coming up so far into the series it’s a complete shake-up of what the story has been about, and that interests me.
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