First look: Yen+

Yen+, August 2008
Published by Yen Press
Senior Editor JuYoun Lee
Rated OT, for Older Teen
About 450 pages, $8.99

Yen+ is good. It’s beautifully produced, with attractive covers and plenty of extras. The manga look really good on the larger pages, and the Yen folks have picked a wide variety of very readable manga for this debut issue. I do think the lineup is flawed, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s get the inevitable comparisons to Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat over with right away. Yen+ has a slightly smaller trim size than the same trim size as those two, but it’s still big enough to make for a noticeably better read than the standard volume of manga. It’s thicker but also more expensive. It has no extra articles on fashion, music, or Japanese culture, as Shojo Beat does, but this first issue carries lots of pieces of congratulatory art by the manga creators.

Here is the big point of divergence, though: Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat carry manga with different storylines but a pretty consistent style and tone, and I have always imagined that Japanese manga magazines run along similar lines. Yen+ has a much wider variety of stories, and that is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, the reader gets to sample a wide range of stories, but the downside is that the magazine seems unfocused, not aimed at any particular reader.

This first issue starts with two global manga that are guaranteed crowd-pleasers, Maximum Ride, based on the novels of James Patterson, and Nightschool, by Svetlana Chmakova, of Dramacon fame. Both have lovely art and show a lot of promise, but to be honest, one chapter isn’t enough of either one. Maximum Ride starts out by introducing us to a slew of characters who have some obvious peculiarities and tosses in some action right away, but by the end of the chapter I still wasn’t too sure of what was going on. The story revolves around some teenagers with various special powers, and some bad guys who are their enemies, but its not at all clear how it all fits together. (I like it that Patterson chose a strong woman, Max, as his main character, but I wasn’t crazy about the moe-esque little girl Angel.)

With Nightschool the problem is not so much the basic premise, which is pretty clear, but the sheer number of characters who are introduced all at once. Again, it’s hard to tie it all together and see where the story is going. This is the biggest limitation of the anthology format—there isn’t enough space to lay the whole story out in a single chapter. Still, the bottom line is that I want to know more about each story, and after all, I think that’s the point.

Next come a couple of very standard-issue manhwa. Pig Bride is a supernatural love story with mythic overtones, Sarasah starts out like unrequited-love shoujo manga but takes an odd turn right at the end. Both are worth a look, and I might not have picked them up on their own. Well played, Yen Press!

One Fine Day is a slice-of-life manhwa about a guy doing ordinary things with his three companions, a cat, a dog, and a mouse, all of whom morph into little kids in animal costumes. It’s a little odd, but Yen+ is actually a very good showcase for it, as the bigger pages allow creator Sirial’s spare layouts to really breathe.

So, we’re cruising along with lots of pretty manga and manhwa, and I’m feeling pretty good about Yen+ at this point, and then I turn the page and suddenly the whole tone changes with Jack Frost, a splatter manhwa that features pages and pages of a girl’s decapitated head looking at her kneeling body, panties on full display, while some sort of fight goes on in her classroom. This manhwa is all kinds of bad. It mainly centers on some sort of fight, but we don’t really know who’s fighting or why. The girl has just been decapitated and the lower part of her body arranged in a sexually suggestive position (we get several tight shots of that so we won’t miss it) but her biggest concern is that she can’t see one guy’s face. (You would think that the artist, having made that a plot point, would conceal the face from the reader, but he doesn’t.) It’s a little hard to imagine the reader who picked up Yen+ for Nightschool or Maximum Ride enjoying this story. It seems like it’s pitched to an entirely different reader, and I think a lot of readers will find it off-putting—just as the reader who buys Yen+ for Jack Frost may very well find Pig Bride a turnoff.

At this point the magazine flips, and the four manga stories are read right-to-left. The Yen folks do a nice job of making this a smooth transition. Of the four manga, Soul Eater pretty much matches Jack Frost in terms of gore and fanservice, but the other three manga are all pretty readable. They are all action-oriented but not incongruous in this setting. I was all set to hate Higurashi When They Cry, but I ended up liking it a lot—think Kindaichi Case Files meets Aoi House, with an extra sprinkling of weird. Again, I ended up liking a manga I wouldn’t have picked up on my own.

I know that an anthology is supposed to have variety, but I think the editors of Yen+ have cast the net a bit too wide. The differences in tone as well as content are likely to turn off some prospective readers. On the upside, this is a great choice for people who like to read a lot of different genres. The stories are strong overall, and the design and production are top-notch. Yen+ feels like a quality magazine, and I’m looking forward to the second issue already.

(Full disclosure: This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. The toner of Nightschool, Dee Dupuy, is a friend of mine, and I have socialized with Svet as well. They both collaborated on the Toning 101 primer I ran in MangaBlog recently. And I occasionally freelance for Shojo Beat.)

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Comments

  1. danielle leigh says:

    oh boy! I just posted my review of Yen+ right here:
    http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/07/29/manga-before-flowers-weighing-in-on-yen/

    We are very much in agreement about most issues concerning the mag (and you do such a lovely job of saying what you think so succintly, great job!)

  2. Yen+ is not aimed at any particular readership, and i can understand why in a way. I do think Jack frost should have been excluded, it’s a bit to violent for me. there areso many other good manwha they coold have had such as ID or Uble Blatt.

    As for why it’s all mixed together, i think Kurt says it bets, so i’ll QFT:

    We’re targeting this to the US market, and the US market is not big enough to approach it like you would in the Japanese market. The Japanese market is so huge and well-developed, so it makes total sense to target a magazine to a specific demographic.

    But when you’re looking at a nascent market like the US, where so much of the readership crosses over to read books targeting different demographics, then you really have to take a broader perspective on it. So we’re really not looking to limit it like, ‘this is a boys magazine’ or ‘this is a girls magazine’ – this is a magazine for anyone interested in manga.

  3. Great review, Brigid. I have never, EVER been a fan of mixing manga of different RATINGS in the same magazine. Mixed genres, fine, but putting cute stuff next to graphic stuff? No. When Mixxzine first came out more than 10 years ago, I was a freshman in high school, and my friends and I were oh so excited to be getting Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth together in the same magazine. Then we turned the page and somebody got his head ripped off in Parasyte. The father of one of my friends literally took a pair of scissors and cut out the pages of Parasyte from her magazine because it offended him so deeply. She was never allowed to buy the magazine again.

    I can understand the desire to try and appeal to a wide variety of genres in a Western manga mag because our market is smaller than Japan’s, but there’s a line you don’t cross. Misogynist, sexually-undertoned splatter manga (or in this case manhwa), one of the most offensive of the manga genres, DOES NOT BELONG MIXED IN WITH ANYTHING. Whenever I see the unnecessary and purposeful sexual exploitation of a girl’s wounded or dead body, I want to set whatever I’m reading on fire. That stuff needs to be sold alone and sealed for its specific audience. It offends a lot of people just being unsealed, so being crammed into a magazine for a broad audience is both stupid and insulting.

    Boo, Yen Press. Boo.

  4. hmm, I like Jack frost and Sarasah the most out of the comics. I completely disliked the japanese side, everyone looks too moe like to me (even if they are not). I dont realy like Square enix stuff (thats correct?).

    urg… Uble Blatt is more of a turn off then Jack. 3 rap scenes in 1 chapter is a bit much.

  5. Anonymous says:

    ITT, Americans are all Puritanical prudes who can’t handle a a little bit of violence+T&A in their comics?

  6. i think i’ve seen worse than Jack frost.

  7. I read Yen+ while waiting in line for a panel at Comic-Con, and I have to say that of every title in there, only Maximum Ride and Jack Forst interested me at all. And what’s even sadder is that the manhwa titles in the magazine were more far enjoyable than to read than the Japanese ones. Titles like Soul Eater and Sumomomo were all so generic that they just felt like a choir to even read. And don’t even get me started on how crappy the Higurashi: When they Cry manga was compared to the amazing anime version.

    But the biggest disappointment was Nightschool. I really enjoyed Dramacon, but it’s like Svetlana’s art took a complete nosedive here. Maybe it’s the fact that the art is being presented so huge in Yen+, but it all looks so flat and sketchy (and the toning doesn’t help matters at all). But I could forgive the art if the story were any good, but even that falls short of expectations. Nothing about this title hooked me at all in its first installment.

    All that said… at $8.99, this is one magazine that I sure won’t be spending money on each month. I’d much rather just by the individual volumes.

  8. I’ve also read worse, but i think the main thing is the placement.

    It comes after One Fine Day, which is very light and fluffy (think Aria). To go from that to Jack is a bit of a huge change. I would of put it between Maximum Ride and Nightschoool, it wouldn’t have been so bad there.

    Also Shojo Beat and Viz’s other magazines are all aimed at young to mid teens, where as Yen+ is aimed at older teens to adults. Though it be honest i’m not sure about having Jack Frost in it at all, it’s a tad to violent for me. There are several great manwha i would of liked to have seen. ID especially. I really wish someone would license ID.

    That aside though i really like the mix and match element. Rather than pay £10-12 for both of Viz’s releases, i can get Yen+ for less than half that.

    It’s finding the balance though, you need to balance the shonen/seinen and shojo/josei correctly. I don’t think they did that in the first issue looking back on it again. Though it depends on how Sarasah and Pig Bride turn out i suppose

    Also Brigid, i thought this when i read your post, but i’ve finally been able to check. Shojo Beat and Yen+ are exactly the same size, hight and width. Yen+ is thicker though, at over 450 pages, with Shojo beat at just over 325 pages.

  9. Brian, what do you mean by the statement “And what’s even sadder is that the manhwa titles in the magazine were more far enjoyable to read than the Japanese ones”? How is a manhwa title being better than a Japanese title “sad”? If you liked Dramacon, you can enjoy manga that’s not from Japan. What’s wrong with Korea?

  10. Has anyone even talked about the controversy over which side of this magazine is the front? If the said controversy doesn’t exist, it should be initiated. Because, to me, everyone is talking about reading it starting with the Maximum Ride manga. Me, in manga mode, automatically flipped the magazine to where Soul Eater is the front. I wonder if the way you read it shows you like OEL better than manga. I just bought it yesterday and plan on starting it tonight. Personally, I like the fact that there are so many different kinds of manga in it. To me, flawed or not, I’m just grateful to Yen for even giving this a shot and I want it to be successful so maybe we’ll get something similar from Del Rey (does Faust count? Not really), Viz, and Tokyopop. I mean, no matter what people complain about, at least we’re getting to see titles that might not have ever seen the light of day otherwise. It’s pretty sad that after only one volume, people are ready to burn some of the titles at the stake. And ready to burn the anthology itself. I mean, give it a chance to breath. It’s just the first volume and it will probably take a bit before Yen decides a set format or what sort of direction it wants to go. I doubt that the variety will last. America is a land of pigeonholers. Most people don’t like shojo in their shonen, romance in their adventure, violence in their comedy, and so on. It just sounds like this manga is made for a broader reader instead of a category reader. I can’t really say anymore until I read it. I know I’m going into with an open mind though. Uh, the controversy thing was a joke, sorta.

  11. @Sesho

    Does it matter which is the front?? If you wanted to get technicle then from a purely shop floor stand point then the japanese side is the front. Why? Because the barcode is on the OEL side.

    Also i wouldn’t say you like oel more for starting with maximum ride, or japanese more for starting with soul eater.

    I think it comes down to what your expecting, and what your interested in. I stareted with Maximum Ride because of all the build up Yen Gave it, and the fact that Soul Eater lead off the japanese side, which i have next to no interest in.

    As for whether Manhwa or manga is better, again is it relevant? It’s all about personal taste. I’ve read some manhwa i would consider better than manga, but also the other way around as well. They both have their good and bad sides.

    I also don’t think it’s fair to dismiss Yen Plus so soon. While i may not like some of the included manga, overal i was happy with the release and i consider it value for money. I think given time the selection inside will improve. Who know later on we may get a seperate release for the more adult ones, such as Higurashi and Jack Frost. Would be sweet to get a pure seinen/josei magazine. No publisher has released on of those yet.

  12. @Anonymous: if it’s Puritanical to dislike being surprised by sexualized violent gore placed side by side with fluffy shoujo, sign me up for some regicide and pumpkin pie. I picked up Yen+ today, flipped through it, experienced some cognitive dissonance over the fanservice-y violent chapter placed amidst gentler material, and opted not to buy it; the juxtaposition made me feel iffy. Some artists can pull off that kind of thing deliberately (like Junko Mizuno), but I don’t think that’s the effect the editors intended.

    @Tiamat’s Disciple: not that it really matters, as you say, but periodicals have their bar codes on the front covers; non-serials have them on the back. If the barcode is on the Patterson cover, that’s the front, and it will be displayed accordingly.

  13. Anonymous: I haven’t actually read Jack Frost, so I can’t make any definitive statements about it, but I suspect from reading this review that I would find it offensive. And while I may actually *be* a puritanical prude, I don’t think what makes me that is lack of appreciation for a comic written by someone who thinks I should find a woman’s decapitation sexually arousing.

  14. I can see why they took this road. They have to set themselves apart from Shoujo Beat and Shounen Jump, and one way to do that is to provide a mix of genres and storylines. If we’ve learned anything this summer, it’s that the business is due for some shaking up. The market is over-saturated with “safe” titles. Even if YP didn’t get it perfect on their first try, they’re at least trying something new and attempting to set themselves apart from what’s already out there. How can they establish a brand identity without taking risks?

  15. Jack frost is definatly one of those titles you’ll either love or hate, no middle ground. The big thing i think they failed on is the placement, putting it after the light and fuzy title was a big mistake, it should have been after Nightschool. I doubt it would have had such a bad reaction if it had been

  16. Got my copy last night, and I actually did read Jack Frost so I guess I can make some definitive statements. First one is no way did the creator expect the girl’s decapitation to be sexually arousing! She gets beheaded (and LIVES…at the end she says this is all a reoccuring dream she has) and FIFTEEN PAGES LATER you see her panties! When you do see her panties, it’s clearly a JOKE. (Her disembodied head is mortified at the compromising position her body fell in.)

    Honestly, I subscribe to Jump (WHERE ARE OUR SUBSCRIPTIONS YEN PRESS BTW???), and I’ve seen as much splatter and fan service in bits of Bleach. And Jump is rated for teens! I have no problem with Puritans, but come on. The magazine is rated for Older Teens (the top of the review here even points it out), and judging by all the manga I have on my shelves, it seems like a good call.

    I will say that it could’ve gotten better placement. As suggested above, Nightshool probably would have been a better transition… No arguments there. But I also LOVED that One Fine Day. (KAWAIIIIIIIIIIIIII!! Wait, how do you say that in Korean……?) Don’t think it’s something I’d ever have found without having it in the magazine, so I really appreciate the diversity. They didn’t announce that one ahead of time, so is it gonna be a regular feature does anyone know?

    I’m right there with the reviewer and looking forward to the second issue.

  17. Ha! I liked both Jack Frost and Pig Bride. So there! (Also liked Sumomomo Momomo.)

    I don’t expect to like everything in an anthology. I wasn’t exactly bowled over by Higurashi and Soul Eater, but I appreciate the variety that Yen is providing. Let’s hope they can stay the course and avoid the homogeneity that finally overtook Shoujo Beat.

  18. Higurashi looks cute right now, but in later chapters it beats Jack Frost on violence terms. A little heads up.

  19. Wow! So many great comments! I’m sorry that RL issues kept me from responding, but I am really interested to hear so many divergent viewpoints.

    FWIW, I am offended by Jack Frost but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it should exist; I hope Yen gets enough good feedback that they can start a seinen magazine for titles like that. I think Lianne articulated very well what the problem is with a combined magazine.

    And Ligbi, consider me warned about Higurashi! Although I enjoyed Kindaichi, which gets bloody at times. It’s the gratuitousness more than the gore that gets my goat.

  20. I’ve just heard back from Kurt Hassler who i was talking to on this and while the placement for the second issue won’t change (to late now) from issue three Nightschool is going to be used as the transition. So i’m guessing Jack Frost is going to be moved to in between Ride and Night School.

  21. And yeah, i agree with Ligbi, the anime suckered me in with it’s cuteness, then it went all psycho on me. I had nightmares for weeks ater that of cute grls running around with machetes and trying to decapitate me so they could eat me :(

  22. I guess I’m confused. How is this a combined magazine? It’s rated for older teens, not teen thru older teen. While there may be some content in it that wouldn’t necessarily be rated for older teens on its own, the magazine as a whole is still rated for older teens. That should be a pretty big head’s up that you’re gonna find something in there that’s not appropriate for all audiences.

    I used to be a ravenous reader of Mixxzine myself after falling in love with Sailor Moon, but the significant differences here are 1) Mixxzine wasn’t rated and 2) Sailor Moon and Rayearth were the lead titles in that magazine. (Plus I never thought Parasite was very good…) The lead titles in Yen+ seem to be Soul Eater and Higurashi. Jack Frost is a pretty good fit with that mix (which would be considered shonen, not seinen). To get the additional content on top of that is a pure bonus for me, and I guess that’s what I like most about it. It doesn’t ASSUME that because I’m a girl I won’t appreciate titles like Jack Frost or because someone’s a boy that they couldn’t find something they like in a One Fine Day. I don’t WANT to be pigeonholed into just one flavor!

    On a side note, I got my September issue of Jump yesterday, and it actually seemed kinda stale to me. Not sure if I’m comparing the two or if it’s just because the first chapter of Ultimo was so, so bad…

  23. I read the ‘Maximum Ride’ preview as part of Free Comic Book Day, and I was *really* uncomfortable with the way the characters were drawn. The artwork was technically competent, but the female characters were creepily over-sexualized, particularly in light of their ages: 14-year-old Max is introduced standing in a t-shirt and panties, there are several shots of 11-year-old Nudge’s cleavage, and the moe-esque first shot of 6-year-old Angel is straight-up gross.

    I don’t know that any of this stuff was overt enough to bother longtime manga readers, but I don’t think I’d recommend this book to manga newbies–particularly not to manga newbies whose parents might see such images and pitch a (partially justifiable, at least in my eyes) fit.

  24. Julia, the art for Ride is actually conservative against alot of the current trends doing the rounds. Take a look at strike witches, where you have pre-teens done up in as sexual way as possible, without it becoming illegal. Same with Rocket girls, Sky Girls and slew of other anime like it. The start of it was probably Kodomo no Jikan, which despite all the fuss is actually the least provocative of the lot o.O

    Also, older teen rating is usually 16 an up, so the art style is used to reflect that, it’s raunchy, saucy, but without being OTT. It’s similar to a lot of recent releases on the manga side as well, Rosrio + Vampire, Enchanter D’Eon, Ikkitousen, Battle Vixons, Air Gear, Negima the list goes on.

    Mostly it falls under the radar because people don’t tend to pick over manga to much, but a new anthology usually becomes a free for all when it’s first released. Within a few months no one will care that the art is provocative, it’ll just be part of the fixture and fittings.

    Personally i just melted with the first pic of Angel, she was just so damned cute :)

    It’s funny in a way, it’s fine when our own kids do stuff like that, but when it comes to it being in manga or anime, it suddenly obscene. Not targetting you specifically Julia, just a general comment.

    I remember when my sister was 6 years old she used to do stuff like that as well, hell she used to slepp in my bed until she was 9 cause she was scared of thdark (she’s 18 now and still hates the dark hehe)

    Yet if it was in a manga ore anime, that sort of thing would be obscene.

    For me i just saw it for what it was, Max opened the curtain just as Angel was getting up.

  25. Howdy, Tiamat’s Disciple.

    I understand what you’re saying, and I agree, at least in part: I definitely wouldn’t call these images obscene. However, it’s my job to recommend books, and I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending this series to the many, many tween girls who read the Maximum Ride books–particularly not if their parents heard that I was the one to suggest it. (I can only handle so many nasty e-mails, and I’ve already painted a target on our e-mail box by criticizing the ‘Twilight’ books this week.)

    A lot of manga art–this is true of American comic book art, too–is designed for young male readers, and female characters are drawn in a sexualized way as a matter of course. I suspect that this story is one of them. That wouldn’t bother me, but this is a series with a lot of very young female fans, and I’m a little wigged by the idea of them comparing themselves to characters that look 10 years older than their true age, which I thought was definitely true of the Max and Nudge portrayals.

    As for Angel… well, I might find it cute if a real kid did that, but I gotta say: that particular image grossed me out. However, to be fair, by the time I saw that characterization I had already been taken aback by the pictures of the older female characters, so maybe my mind was already fixated on the notion that these characters were a tad creepy.

  26. Yeah i can understand that. I’d never heard of Maximum Ride till Yen+ was anounced, and i’ve only read this manga chapter. TBH i thought Max was around 17/18, i just looked again and she still feels that way to me.

    Also, Patterson signed off on it, i don’t think he would of done that if he wasn’t happy with the way the characters looked. But i def wouldn’t say Max looked 10 years older. I know a few 16 year olds that could give her a run for her money hehe

    Also, it’s rather sad in a way, but i’ve seen more young kids dressed a lot worse. We had the marines parading in town today after they’d just come back from iraq. Some of the girls there would of made your eyes pop, i know they made mine.

    My thoughts these days are more along the lines of, if they do it real life, why not in manga?

    Sure on paper it looks a lot worse, but they do it in RL as well. Really says alot about the morals of society as a whole when it’s common for young girls to wander around in outfits that are barely belts.

  27. um. i know i said i’d seen worse than jack frost…but i just wanted to also say that i didn’t read it. i skimmed through it, saw everything everyone complained about and labeled it violent fanservice, it looks stupid. all i really meant was that leanne was overreacting.

  28. Finn, you’ve expressed my sentiments as well. I don’t want to be pidgeon-holed either. Though in my case, it’s because I’m female and older the assumption is that I like josei. For the most part, I can’t stand it.

    This is an “older teen” publication, why are people trying to turn this into a lowest common denominator type of thing in terms of readership. There are titles that younger readers could enjoy in it, but the rating is 16+. This is not intended for tweens or the young’uns.

    Finally, Jack Frost is not seinen. I’ve read seinen and this is no seinen. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) I think many of the criticisms are overreactions with a good amount of overinterpretation as well. I liked it a lot.

    As a female and an older reader, I appreciate the variety that Yen presents in this anthology. I read a lot of material meant for readers younger than myself (not much choice) and enjoy manga across
    genres, so I don’t see the problem. What I don’t want to see is the type of anthology that Shoujo Beat has become – so narrow and focused that all the stories lie in a very narrow range, seemingly same story , different pictures.

  29. @Pat i like shojo beat :)

    I agree it’s a bit narrow though, and i don’t like their printing methods, so damned hard to read at times :(

    With Jack Frost, it’s a bit unfair to really judge it now, i mean it’s only one chapter. It’s kind of like reading the prologue of a book and deciding you hate it already.

    I don’t really like the horror and violent sides of manga, but i’ll be giving jack a few more chapters.

    I’m also wondering if colour leeching has played a part, making it seem more darker than it would??

  30. Dreammuffin says:

    I liked just about everything…I will give Jack Frost another chapter or two to prove it’s worth, otherwise I liked just about every titles.

    My clear favorite was Nabari No Ou…the most original and interesting series I have seen in a while. Other faves are Pig Bride, One fine Day and Maximum Ride…needless to say I am definately buying the second issue.

    I was confused by the problem some people have with Maximum ride, everyone is dressed rather conservatively and not unrealistic for people their age…yes 14 year old girls look and dress like that; as much as we want to deny it.

    Strike Witches…not THAT weirded me out…every other image is a crotch shot of a young preteen girl….DEFINATELY made my stomach turn.


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