The Manga Revue: A Silent Voice and Your Lie in April

It’s been a while since I checked in with Kodansha, so this week’s column explores two recent additions to the KC catalog: A Silent Voice, which explores the complex relationship between a bully and his victim, and Your Lie in April, which focuses on a piano prodigy who flamed out at an early age.

A Silent VoiceA Silent Voice, Vol. 1
By Yoshitoki Oima
Rated T, for Teens
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

Thirteen-year-old Shouya Ishida is at loose ends: he’s a mediocre student, a latch-key kid, and a thrill-seeker who goads his friends into dangerous stunts. When deaf girl Shoko Nishimiya joins Ishida’s class, however, Ishida’s recklessness shades into cruelty. He orchestrates a systematic campaign of harassment against her, mocking her speech, stealing her hearing aides, and blaming her for “ruining” the class.

What distinguishes A Silent Voice from dozens of other issue-of-the-week manga is its perspective: author Yoshitoki Oima tells the story from the bully’s point of view rather than the victim’s, thus avoiding the temptation to paint Ishida as a monster. As Oima capably shows, Ishida’s inability to control his worst impulses is not a sign of depravity, but of loneliness, frustration, and immaturity. Similarly, Oima resists the urge to blame Ishida’s mother for her son’s behavior, portraying her as a hard-working, decent woman who’s struggling to run a business and raise two children on her own. Instead, Oima zeroes in the complex dynamic between Ishida and his classmates, acknowledging the degree to which their own hostility towards Nishimiya validates–and encourages–Ishida’s cruelty.

In one scene, for example, the teacher calls on Nishimiya to read a passage out loud. Her words are labored and difficult to understand, prompting uncomfortable stares from the class. When Ishida is asked to do the same, he’s emboldened by his peers’ response. “Uwah! Uwoh! Argle! Bargle!” he declares, feasting on the giggles and snickers his impression generates. Though the teacher issues Ishida a stern warning, Mr. Takeuchi’s own contempt for Nishimiya seeps into their conversation, granting Ishida further license to harass his classmate.

I’d be the first to admit that A Silent Voice is a difficult read, not least for the scenes in which Ishida torments Nishimiya; Oima captures Nishimiya’s reactions with heart-breaking specificity, even though her character seldom utters a word. It’s a worthwhile series, however, for the truthful way in which it explores the role of passivity and group-think in creating an environment ripe for harassment.

your_lie_april_EnglishYour Lie in April, Vol. 1
By Naoshi Arakawa
Rated T, for Teens
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

Your Lie in April follows the budding relationship between Kosei Arima, a piano prodigy, and Kaori Miyazono, a violinist who plays by her own rules. When Arima first meets Miyazono, he’s crippled by his own perfectionism. Miyazono, on the other hand, is fearless, giving emotionally authentic–if messy–performances that irk judges and wow audiences. Miyazono has an equally messy personality–she’s impetuous, petulant, and bossy–but captivates Arima with the sheer force of her enthusiasm.

I’ll be honest: I’d like Your Lie in April a lot more if it focused on a drama troupe or a sports team. That may seem like an odd admission from a musicologist, but Miyazono’s character embodies what I dislike most about popular depictions of classical music. Her eclectic performances are offered as evidence of her “true” musical ability, while the judges’ disapproval is portrayed as a failure of imagination. Yet a score isn’t a loose set of guidelines to be followed at the musician’s whim, it’s an explicit representation of the composer’s intentions; willfully ignoring tempo markings, dynamics, and phrasing misses the entire point of musical notation. Miyazono may make Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata “unequivocally her own,” but is she really capturing the spirit of the piece in taking so many liberties with it?

Given my own prejudices, I don’t know if I can give Your Lie in April a fair shake. I found the artwork clean and expressive, and the dynamic between Arima and his non-musical friend Tsubaki Sawabe true to life. (In contrast to Miyazono, Sawabe is not simply a vehicle for the hero’s self-actualization, but a character in her own right.) I also enjoyed the program notes at the end of every chapter–a nice touch for readers who recognize Saint-Saens’ name, but can’t quite tie him to a specific composition or stylistic period. I’m not sure these small pleasures are enough inducement for me to pick up volume two, but a less fussy music lover might well enjoy this coming-of-age drama.

Reviews: Bust out your handkerchief–the final installment of House of 1000 Manga has been posted! Jason Thompson takes a few minutes to reflect on the column, list his ten favorite manga, and discuss what he’ll be doing next. Like many of ANN’s regular readers, I will miss House of 1000 Manga dearly; Shaenon and Jason did a terrific job of sharing their knowledge of and enthusiasm for manga with readers in a consummately effortless style.

Courtney Sanders on vol. 16 of 07-Ghost (Three If By Space)
Connie on vol. 2 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Knight’s Knowledge (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 3 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (Slightly Biased Manga)
Al Sparrow on vol. 1 of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (ComicSpectrum)
Ken H. on vol. 4 of Attack on Titan: Before the Fall (Sequential Ink)
Erica Friedman on Awajime Hyakkei (Okazu)
Connie on vol. 18 of Black Bird (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 10 of Black Lagoon (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 28 of Blade of the Immortal (Slightly Biased Manga)
Helen on Cardcaptor Sakura (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Connie on vol. 1 of Citrus (Slightly Biased Manga)
TSOTE on vol. 29 of C.M.B. (Three Steps Over Japan)
Connie on vol. 2 of Demon Love Spell (Slightly Biased Manga)
Rebecca Silverman on Dream Fossil (ANN)
Holly Saiki on Fragments of Horror (Examiner)
Courtney Sanders on Fragments of Horror (Three If By Space)
Ken H. on In Clothes Called Fat (Sequential Ink)
Luke Halliday on vol. 2 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (Snap 30)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 18 on Kamisama Kiss (ANN)
Sakura Eries on vol. 4 of Kiss of the Rose Princess (The Fandom Post)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 14 of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery System (Comics Worth Reading)
Connie on vol. 5 of Love Pistols (Slightly Biased Manga)
Kristin on vol. 3 of Master Keaton (Comic Attack)
Lesley Aeschliman on vol. 3 of Master Keaton (WatchPlayRead)
Anna N. on vol. 2 of Meteor Prince (The Manga Report)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Non Non Biyori (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Al Sparrow on Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (ComicSpectrum)
TSOTE on vol. 1 of Q.E.D. iff (Three Steps Over Japan)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 9 of Sankarea (The Fandom Post)
Megan R. on Seraph of the End (The Manga Test Drive)
Al Sparrow on vol. 1 of A Silent Voice (ComicSpectrum)
Connie on vol. 34 of Skip Beat! (Slightly Biased Manga)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (ICv2)
Matthew Alexander on vol. 9 of Triage X (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 16 of We Were There (Slightly Biased Manga)
Ash Brown on vol. 7 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Experiments in Manga)

The Manga Revue: Alice in Murderland and Demon From Afar

Reading Kaori Yuki is a little bit like eating a bag of Pop Rocks and washing it down with a can of Tab: the rush is undeniable, but the aftertaste is pretty gnarly. I swore off her manga years ago–too much stimulation for my taste–but her two latest series looked so snazzy I couldn’t resist giving her work a second chance.

AliceinMurderlandv1Alice in Murderland, Vol. 1
By Kaori Yuki
Rated OT, for Older Teens
Yen Press, $17.00

Nine Is Enough might be a better title for Alice in Murderland, as it neatly summarizes the main plot: per their mother’s orders, the nine Kuonji children must fight to the death to determine who will inherit the family fortune. Of course, if you’ve read Godchild or Angel Sanctuary, you know that even Kaori Yuki’s most basic story ideas are complicated by a profusion of subplots and supporting characters. Alice in Murderland is no exception: Yuki introduces over thirty people in volume one, each of whom has a stake in the outcome of the Kuonji Battle Royale.

The characters are so hastily conceived, however, that their behavior makes no sense; when they turn on each other, those reversals register not as betrayals but as speed bumps on the road to the next gruesome showdown. Even the revelation that the Kuonji matriarch is a bandersnatch–no, really–barely makes an impression, as her breathless monologue about demonic powers is no more shocking or ridiculous than the violent melodrama that precedes it. (On the plus side, it does explain her rotten parenting skills.) The artwork, though attractive, barely hangs together; small wonder that Yuki relies so heavily on dialogue to plug the holes in her storytelling.

The verdict: No amount of Lewis Carroll references can disguise the fact the Alice in Murderland is a flaming hot mess.

Yuki_DemonFromAfarV1_HCDemon From Afar, Vol. 1
By Kaori Yuki
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press, $18.00

In contrast to Alice in Murderland, Demon From Afar has a discernible storyline and real characters. Three teens–Sorath, Garan, and Kiyora–live on the estate of the wealthy, ruthless Baron Kamichika. As children, they found solace in each others’ company, as the Baron was a cruel guardian; as young adults, however, they unwittingly become pawns in his elaborate scheme to achieve immortality.

Though Kaori Yuki can’t help but populate the fringes of the story with beautiful, inscrutable figures, the main narrative never loses it focus on Sorath, Garan, and Kiyora’s increasingly tenuous allegiance. The supernatural elements–another potential distraction–prove organic to the story as well; from the very first pages, it’s clear that Sorath possesses unusual powers, though we don’t see them fully manifested in volume one. Only Yuki’s decision to invoke Walpurgisnacht raises a few eyebrows: surely there was a Japanese festival or tradition that would have made more sense in the context of the Taisho-era setting. (The story takes place shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.) Faust tributes aside, Demon From Afar manages the difficult feat of juggling many stylistic sensibilities–horror, romance, teen angst–without sacrificing coherence or pacing.

The verdict: Demon From Afar won’t win the Tezuka Prize, but it scores points for readability and visual flair.

Reviews: Sad news for fans of ANN’s House of 1000 Manga: Jason Thompson and Shaenon Garrity have announced that their final column will run next week. To mark the occasion, Shaenon counts down her ten favorite manga from the House archives.

Deionte Coates on vol. 5 of Cardfight!! Vanguard (BentoByte)
Megan R. on City Hunter (The Manga Test Drive)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Demon From Afar (Manga Xanadu)
Adam Caps on Dream Fossil (BentoByte)
Holly Saiki on Dream Fossil (Examiner)
Leroy Douresseaux on Fragments of Horror (Comic Book Bin)
Sean Gaffney on Fragments of Horror (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Orrin Gray on Fragments of Horror (Innsmouth Free Press)
Vernieda Vergara on vols. 1-3 of The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Women Write About Comics)
Ash Brown on vol. 2 of Hide and Seek (Experiments in Manga)
Alice Vernon on Judge (Girls Like Comics)
Nic Wilcox on Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink: The Complete Collection (No Flying No Tights)
Sarah on vol. 1 of Love Stage! (Anime UK News)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 5 of Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (Sequential Tart)
Ken H. on vols. 5-8 of The Seven Deadly Sins (Sequential Ink)
Paige Sammartino on vol. 1 of A Silent Voice (Women Write About Comics)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (Comics Worth Reading)
Richard Eisenbeis on vols. 1-2 of Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops (Kotaku)
Thomas Maluck on vol. 1 of Sword Art Online: Progressive (No Flying No Tights)
Karen Maeda on vol. 6 of Terraformars (Sequential Tart)
Ian Wolf on Tony Takezaki’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (Anime UK News)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 7 of Toradora! (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 28 of Toriko (Sequential Tart)
Rob Clough on Trash Market (High-Low)
James Hadfield on Trash Market (The Japan Times)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Trinity Seven: The Seven Magicians (ICv2)

The Manga Revue: Dream Fossil

The last two years have been kind to Satoshi Kon fans: Dark Horse and Vertical Comics have each released two volumes of Kon’s manga, from Tropic of the Sea, a supernatural mystery, to Seraphim 266613336 Wings, an unfinished collaboration with Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii. This week, I investigate Dream Fossil, which collects all of Kon’s published short stories into a single volume.

dream_fossilDream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon
By Satoshi Kon
No rating
Vertical Comics, $24.95

Dream Fossil is a window into a crucial stage in Satoshi Kon’s development: the six-year period between the publication of his first short story (1984) and his first long-form manga (1990). Readers may be astonished by Kon’s undisguised homage to Katsuhiro Otomo, and the flaws in his storytelling technique. Yet Dream Fossil is not simply a collection of juvenilia; these stories represent Kon’s first meaningful attempt to grapple with the themes that define his mature work, from Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers to Paranoia Agent and Paprika.

Consider “Carve” and “Toriko,” two of Kon’s earliest works. Both take place in dystopian societies that stress conformity and obedience over individualism and free will–an ideal set-up for exploring the boundaries between reality and illusion. Though Kon delineates these boundaries more baldly in “Carve” and “Toriko” than in his later films, all of Kon’s characters exist in a false state of consciousness; only shattering acts of violence force them to question what they think is real. These early stories also suggest Otomo’s strong influence on Kon; “Carve,” in particular, feels like a compressed retelling of Akira, as both feature a young male protagonist whose extrasensory powers turn him into God-like being.

“Beyond the Sun” and “Joyful Bell” are another instructive pairing. Both stories evoke the humanist spirit of Tokyo Godfathers in their fond, funny depictions of two city-dwellers who temporarily escape the confines of their daily routines. As in Tokyo Godfathers, the urban landscape proves an essential component of both stories; Kon treats the city as a playground where adults can shed the burdens of age, failure, and loneliness to recover their optimism and youthful wonder.

Other stories work well on their own terms. “Guests,” a cautionary tale about real estate, skillfully blends humor and horror, while “Picnic,” one of Dream Fossil‘s briefest selections, depicts the sepulchral beauty of a submerged metropolis. At the other end of the spectrum are Kon’s coming-of-age stories “Horseplay,” “Summer of Anxiety,” and “Day Has Dawned,” all of which suffer from tonal schizophrenia, see-sawing between wacky hijinks and meaningful lessons about adulthood. This combination might have worked in a longer format, but Kon’s characters are so underdeveloped that they never register as distinct individuals who are motivated by their own beliefs, fears, and desires.

If pressed to say whether I “liked” Dream Fossil, I’d be reluctant to give a simple yes-or-no answer. It’s difficult to overlook the rubbery faces and clumsy internal transitions in the volume’s weakest stories, or Kon’s flagrant efforts to cop Otomo’s style. Yet many of the stories feature the kind of arresting sequences, amusing plot twists, and flashes of genuine imagination that are hallmarks of Kon’s best films, making it difficult to dismiss this uneven body of work as “good,” “bad,” or “okay.”

Reviews: Jason Thompson makes a strong case that Kekkaishi is the best shonen manga you haven’t read. At Anime UK News, Sarah reviews Servamp, a supernatural adventure about–what else?–vampires. Closer to home, TCJ columnist Joe McCulloch sings the praises of Professor Layton, an untranslated manga in which “a top-hatted archeologist and his adolescent weed carrier solve extremely unlikely and sentimental mysteries” by means of word games, puzzles, and riddles.

Ash Brown on vol. 4 of After School Nightmare (Experiments in Manga)
Matthew Warner on vol. 2 of Akame ga KILL! (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 1 of Alice in the Country of Clover: Knight’s Knowledge (Slightly Biased Manga)
Alice Vernon on The Angel of Elhamburg (Girls Like Comics)
Connie on vol. 17 of Black Bird (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 5 of Crimson Spell (Slightly Biased Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 10 of Dogs: Bullets and Carnage (Comic Book Bin)
Helen and Justin on Donyatsu (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Connie on vol. 1 of Earthian (Slighty Biased Manga)
Kory Cerjak on vol. 44 of Fairy Tale (The Fandom Post)
Frank Inglese on vols. 1-2 of Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma (Snap 30)
Rich Johnston on Fragments of Horror (Bleeding Cool)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 6 of Gangsta (The Fandom Post)
Connie on vol. 11 of Inuyasha: VIZBIG Edition (Slightly Biased Manga)
L.B. Bryant on vol. 1 of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (ICv2)
Luke Halliday on vol. 1 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (Snap 30)
Tony Yao on Kiss Him, Not Me (Manga Therapy)
Seth Hahne on Last Man, Vol. 2: The Royal Cup (Good Ok Bad)
Kane Bugeja on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Snap 30)
Kathryn Hemmann on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Contemporary Japanese Literature)
Connie on vol. 9 of Maoh: Juvenile Remix (Slightly Biased Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 3 of Master Keaton (Comic Book Bin)
Robert Frazer on vol. 2 of My Neighbor Seki (UK Anime Network)
Dan Barnett on vols. 1-4 of Neon Genesis Evangelion (UK Anime Network)
Connie on Nonnonba (Slightly Biased Manga)
Erica Friedman on Seijun Shoujo Paradigm (Okazu)
Connie on vol. 18 of Sensual Phrase (Slightly Biased Manga)
Megan R. on Strawberry 100% (The Manga Test Drive)
Andy Hanley on vol. 1 of Sword Art Online Girls’ Ops (UK Anime Network)
Sakura Eries on vol. 2 of Sword Art Online Progressive (The Fandom Post)
Joceyln Allen on vol. 2 of USCA (Brain vs. Book)
Lori Henderson on vols. 1-5 of W Juliet (Manga Xanadu)
Erica Freidman on vol. 6 of Wandering Son (Okazu)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 8 of Wandering Son (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Connie on vol. 15 of We Were There (Slightly Biased Manga)
Robert Frazer on vols. 5-6 of Wolfsmund (UK Anime Network)
Ken H. on vols. 1-2 of Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches (Sequential Ink)
Connie on vol. 1 of Yukarism (Slightly Biased Manga)

 

The Manga Revue: One-Punch Man

Here in the US, VIZ has been in the vanguard of digital manga initiatives. VIZ was among the first publishers to make its catalog available across a variety of platforms, allowing readers to enjoy Dragon Ball and Vampire Knight on their device of choice. VIZ has also been using its app and website to re-release older titles, both from its own catalog–hello again, Basara!–and from Tokyopop’s. More recently, VIZ has experimented with digital-first titles such as Tokyo Ghoul, releasing two or three volumes online before introducing a print edition. Today’s column focuses on another digital-first title, ONE and Yusuke Murata’s tokusatsu spoof One-Punch Man.

One-Punch ManOne-Punch Man, Vols. 1-2
Story by ONE, Art by Yusuke Murata
Rated T, for teens
VIZ Media, $6.99 (digital)

In a scene that would surely please Jack Kirby, One-Punch Man opens with a pow! splat! and boom!, as Saitama, the eponymous hero, goes mano-a-mano with the powerful Vaccine Man, a three-story menace with razor-sharp claws. Though Vaccine Man is formidable, he has a pronounced Achilles’ heel: chattiness. “I exist because of humankind’s constant pollution of the environment!” he tells Saitama. “The Earth is a single living organism! And you humans are the disease-causing germs killing it! The will of the earth gave birth to me so that I may destroy humanity and their insidious civilization!” Vaccine Man is so stunned that Saitama lacks an equally dramatic origin story that he lets down his guard, allowing Saitama to land a deadly right hook.

And so it goes with the other villains in One-Punch Man: Saitama’s unassuming appearance and matter-of-fact demeanor give him a strategic advantage over the preening scientists, cyborg gorillas, were-lions, and giant crabmen who terrorize City Z. Saitama’s sangfroid comes at a cost, however: the media never credit his alter ego with saving the day, instead attributing these victories to more improbable heroes such as Mumen Rider, a timid, helmet-wearing cyclist. Even the acquisition of a sidekick, Genos, does little to boost Saitama’s visibility in a city crawling with would-be heroes and monsters.

If it sounds as if One-Punch Man is shooting fish in a barrel, it is; supermen and shonen heroes, by definition, are a self-parodying lot. (See: capes, spandex, “Wind Scar.”) What inoculates One-Punch Man against snarky superiority is its ability to toe the line between straightforward action and affectionate spoof. It’s jokey and sincere, a combination that proves infectious.

Saitama is key to ONE’s strategy for bridging the action/satire divide: the character dutifully acknowledges tokusatsu cliches while refusing to capitulate to the ones he deems most ridiculous. (In one scene, Saitama counters an opponent’s “Lion Slash: Meteor Power Shower” attack with a burst of “Consecutive Normal Punches.”) ONE’s script is complemented by bold, polished artwork; even if the outcome of a battle is never in question, artist Yusuke Murata dreams up imaginative obstacles to prevent Saitama from defeating his opponents too quickly, or rehashing an earlier confrontation.

Is One-Punch Man worthy of its Eisner nomination? Based on what I’ve read so far, I’d say yes: it’s brisk, breezy, and executed with consummate skill. It may not be the “best” title in the bunch–I’d give the honor to Moyocco Anno’s In Clothes Called Fat–but it’s a lot more fun than either volume of Showa: A History of Japan… Scout’s honor.

The verdict:  Highly recommended. Binge-readers take note: seven digital volumes are now available. The first two print volumes arrive in stores in September.

Reviews: Are you crafty? If so, then Jocelyn Allen’s glowing appraisal of sewing manga Tsukuroitatsu Hito will be right in your wheelhouse. Here at Manga Bookshelf, Michelle Smith, Anna N. and Sean Gaffney post short reviews of new releases, from D. Frag! to Seraph of the End.

Nick Creamer on vol. 1 of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (ANN)
Allen Kesinger on vol. 1 of Big Hero 6 (No Flying No Tights)
Megan R. on Death Note (The Manga Test Drive)
Joe McCulloch on Dream Fossil (The Comics Journal)
Helen and Justin S. on Father and Son (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 12 of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (Comic Book Bin)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 12 of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (Sequential Tart)
Lori Henderson on vol. 3 of Manga Dogs (Manga Xanadu)
ebooksgirl on vol. 2 of My Neighbor Seki (Geek Lit Etc.)
Ash Brown on The Ring of Saturn (Experiments in Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 5 of Seraph of the End (Comic Book Bin)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (Sequential Tart)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of So Cute It Hurts! (Anime UK News)
Hillary Brown on Trash Market (Paste Magazine)
Shea Hennum on Trash Market (This Is Infamous)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 8 of Voice Over! Seiyu Academy (Sequential Tart)
Ash Brown on vol. 8 of Wandering Son (Experiments in Manga)
Ken H. on vol. 3 of Witchcraft Works (Sequential Ink)

The internet is a big place, and it’s easy to miss a good manga review! If you’d like to see your work featured in our weekly link round-up, leave a comment below.

The Manga Revue: The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Evergreen

Are there publishers whose work you avoid? I’ll cop to feeling that way about Seven Seas, a company whose manga generally tilt too far towards the ecchi end of the spectrum for an old broad like me. In the last few months, however, the company has made some unexpected licensing announcements–The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Orange among them–that made me wonder if I’d unfairly dismissed their catalog. In an exploratory spirit, therefore, I’m dedicating this week’s column to two new Seven Seas titles: The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Evergreen.

magus1 The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Vol. 1
By Kore Yamazaki
Rated OT, for Older Teens
Seven Seas, $12.99

One part The Name of the Flower, one part Apothecarius Argentum, The Ancient Magus’ Bride freely commingles elements of romance, fantasy and horror, then seasons the mix with old-fashioned melodrama. The title refers to Chitose, a fifteen-year-old orphan with an unwanted gift: she can see fairies, ghosts, and other supernatural beings. For most of her life, she’s been passed between relatives and shunned by her peers. When sorcerer Ellias Ainsworth purchases her from an unscrupulous aunt and uncle, however, Chitose embarks on a new life as his apprentice and, perhaps, his bride-to-be.

I’d be the first to admit that the storylines often feel like they’ve been pinched from other fantasy manga, right down to a scene in which Ainsworth rescues Chitose from a malicious fairy. (Quick–name two Shojo Beat titles with a similar plot twist!) Though the plot has a been-there, read-that quality, Kore Yamazaki’s imaginative character designs and meticulously rendered backgrounds do not; his vision is so particular that the reader is plunged into Ainsworth and Chitose’s world as a participant, not a casual observer. The series’ other redeeming strength is its emotional honesty. Yamazaki convincingly depicts the characters’ grief and isolation without resorting to voice-overs or pointed dialogue–an impressive feat, given the plot’s reliance on such Victorian-lit staples as dead mothers and callous relatives.

The verdict: Although I’m not wild about the prospect of a May-December relationship between Chitose and Ainsworth, I’ll gladly soldier through another volume.

evergreen1Evergreen, Vol. 1
Story by Yuyuko Takemiya, Art by Akira Kasukabe
Rated OT, for Older Teens
Seven Seas, $12.99

Full disclosure: I usually loathe the costume failures, manic pixie dream girls, and improbable harems that are stock-in-trade of shonen romances. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered Evergreen, a smart coming-of-age story that devotes twice as many pages to the hero’s complicated emotional life than it does the heroine’s predilection for wearing swimsuits.

What distinguishes Evergreen from, say, Suzuka, is its principal character’s palpable angst. Hotaka bears a figurative and literal scar from childhood: not only did he lose his father at an early age, Hotaka also had open-heart surgery to treat the very condition that claimed his father’s life. (In other words, he’s earned the right to be unhappy, unlike the heroes of Suzuka, Love Hina, and countless other shonen romantic comedies who brood without real cause.) As a result, Hotaka vacillates between fierce self-loathing and cautious optimism in a way that seems genuinely adolescent. His conversations, nightmares, and interior monologues reveal the degree to which Hotaka’s fear of being judged prevents him from forging a meaningful connection with dream girl Niki Awaya, the “tawny haired” captain of the girls’ swim club.

Lest I make Evergreen sound like a colossal bummer, rest assured that Hotaka’s angsty monologues are balanced by slapstick and jokes. Hotaka’s fellow manga club members, for example, bring a welcome jolt of comic energy to the proceedings, functioning as the series’ low-rent Greek chorus. There’s also a soupçon of fanservice for folks who like that sort of thing; artist Akira Kasukabe never misses an opportunity to depict Awaya in her bathing suit. (Actually, it’s a pretty chaste suit by shonen manga standards; you could swim laps in it without flashing anyone.) Awaya’s objectification is balanced by a positive portrayal of On-Chan, the sole female member of the manga club and Hotaka’s self-appointed wingman. On-Chan’s can-do attitude, enthusiasm for manga, and mean left hook aren’t novel traits, exactly, but taken as a whole, make her one of the more appealing, empowered female characters in the Seven Seas catalog.

The verdict: A pleasant surprise; count me in for volume two.

Reviews: TCJ columnist Joe McCulloch takes an in-depth look at Drawn and Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels, focusing on contributions from Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Shigeru Mizuki. Elsewhere on the web, Ken H. reviews Dream Fossil, a collection of short stories by Satoshi Kon, while Tony Yao tackles Orange, a time-traveling drama that offers a candid look at teen depression.

Sarah on vol. 1 of The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Anime UK News)
Tessa Barber on Anomal (No Flying No Tights)
Wolfen Moondaughter on vol. 4 of Black Rose Alice (Sequential Tart)
Megan R. on Bloody Monday (The Manga Test Drive)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 6 of Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma (Comic Book Bin)
Megan R. on Girl Friends (The Manga Test Drive)
Lori Henderson on vols. 9-10 of Goong: The Royal Palace (Manga Xanadu)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 3 of Hide and Seek (Sequential Tart)
Joseph Luster on vol. 13 of Knights of Sidonia (Otaku USA)
Seth Hahne on vol. 1 of Last Man (Good OK Bad)
Alice Vernon on vol. 1 of Log Horizon (Girls Like Comics)
Sean Gaffney on vols. 5-6 of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Ash Brown on vol. 2 of Maria the Virgin Witch (Experiments in Manga)
Jason Thompson on vols. 1-2 of Meteor Prince (ANN)
Joseph Luster on vol. 2 of My Neighbor Seki (Otaku USA)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 70 of Naruto (Comic Book Bin)
Amanda Vail on vols. 1-4 of Noragami: Stray God (Women Write About Comics)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of A Silent Voice (Anime UK News)
Theron Martin on vol. 1 of Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops (ANN)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Tokyo Ghoul (ANN)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 27 of Toriko (Sequential Tart)
Terry Hong on vol. 8 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Book Dragon)
Sakura Eries on vol. 2 of Yukarism (The Fandom Post)

Are you a blogger who regularly reviews manga? Want to see your reviews included in our weekly round-ups? Leave a comment below so we can keep tabs on your latest reviews!

The Manga Revue: Love at Fourteen

Thanks to everyone who responded positively to last week’s inaugural Manga Revue! This week’s column focuses on Love at Fourteen, a romance manga that’s garnered good reviews around the web. I’ve also rounded up the week’s most notable manga criticism below. If you’d like to see your reviews here, leave a note in the comments.

Love-at-Fourteen-Volume-1Love at Fourteen, Vol. 1
By Fuka Mizutani
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press, $15.00

Love at Fourteen is an earnest, uneventful chronicle of first love. The teenagers in question are Tanaka and Yoshikawa, the tallest, smartest, and most responsible students at their middle school. Although they earn high marks and dutifully erase boards after class, they share a secret: they long to be as goofy and carefree as their peers. Their desire to cast off the yoke of maturity in favor of spontaneity becomes the catalyst for a chaste romance.

So far, so good: the premise has legs, and if Fuka Mizutani had better storytelling chops, Love at Fourteen might have offered young readers a meaningful alternative to the romantic histrionics of Kare First Love or Kare Kanno. Unfortunately, Mizutani relies heavily on interior monologues and pointed conversations to reveal what Tanaka and Yoshikawa are feeling, draining most of their scenes of tension, excitement, or ambiguity–the very qualities that make first love so memorable. Mizutani’s few attempts at generating drama fall painfully flat; moving Tanaka to a different row in the classroom hardly constitutes a meaningful impediment to her relationship with Yoshikawa, yet Mizutani dedicates two chapters to exploring the consequences of this new seating arrangement.

There’s nothing wrong with Mizutani’s commitment to charting the normal ups and downs of a teenage romance, of course; too many manga lean on false suitors, jealous rivals, or monstrous parents to prolong the inevitable union of the principle characters. Without a lively supporting cast, however, Love at Fourteen sinks under the weight of its principle characters’ personalities: surely one of them has a weird hobby or affectation, or wants to break into voice acting. Generic artwork and stock scenes contribute to the impression of blandness, making this a tough sell for readers who demand more than from a story than sincerity.

The verdict: Tweens and young teens feel like the right audience for this book; older readers may find it too pat to hold their interest.

Reviews: Over at The Manga Test Drive, Megan R. takes two older titles for a spin: Cafe Kichijouji De and V.B. Rose. Shaenon Garrity devotes the latest House of 1000 Manga column to Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny.

Matthew Warner on vol. 3 of Ajin: Demi-Human (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 4 of Assassination Classroom (Comic Book Bin)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 10 of Black Lagoon (ANN)
John Rose on vol. 2 of Bloody Brat (The Fandom Post)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 13 of Blue Exorcist (Comic Book Bin)
Erica Friedman on Chou Chou Nan Nan (Okazu)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 2 of Demon From Afar (The Fandom Post)
Sakura Eries on vol. 16 of Dengeki Daisy (The Fandom Post)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Emma (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
A Library Girl on vol. 1 of Inu x Boku SS (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
A Library Girl on vol. 2 of Inu x Boku SS (A Library Girl’s Familiar Diversions)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 17 of Kamisama Kiss (Sequential Tart)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of Let’s Dance a Waltz (Anime UK News)
Helen on Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Nick Creamer on vols. 3-4 of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (ANN)
Ken H. on vol. 2 of My Neighbor Seki (Sequential Ink)
Matthew Warner on vol. 74 of One Piece (The Fandom Post)
Ian Wolf on vol. 1 of Oreimo: Kuroneko (Anime UK News)
G.B. Smith on vol. 7 of Seven Deadly Sins (The Fandom Post)
G.B. Smith on vol. 8 of Seven Deadly Sins (The Fandom Post)
Matthew Warner on vol. 5 of Terra Formars (The Fandom Post)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of Tokyo Ghoul (Sequential Tart)
manjiorin on Tony Takezaki’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (Organization Anti-Social Geniuses)
Sarah on vol. 1 of The World’s Greatest First Love (Anime UK News)