Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Maoh: Juvenile Remix by Megumi Osuga YP FIC OSUGA

Ando blends in.  He learned at a very young age the Japanese idiom “the hammer that sticks up, gets nailed down first,” was true.  Thus, he relies on his not popular/not unpopular enough for daily beatings status and tries to always have the same exact views and interests as his friends.  Everything changes when the Grasshoppers show up.  A group of young vigilantes pledged to saving the city led by a charismatic leader named Inukai, the Grasshoppers have a dark side that scares Ando.  This fear and admiration lead Ando to start standing up for himself and others and using his long secret gift: the power to make others say whatever he is thinking.  Unfortunately, his new found resolve and long hidden power also put him directly in the sight of the Grasshoppers and in the line of fire!

This is an exciting new series.  It has very dynamic and exciting art (however some of the female designs are gratuitously fan service to a degree that birders on self-parody) and I quite like the character design.  The art is nicely detailed and it feels like a premium title.  The story has a very Deathnote feel, special powers, mysterious deaths, teen violence just under the surface of a normal city, etc., but that’s not a bad thing.  This manga may not be the most unique I’ve read, but it moves fast, has excellent art, and has a truly intriguing mystery. The main character is a very believable coward.  I certainly wouldn’t want to get brutally beaten for sticking up for fellow classmates and I DEFINITELY wouldn’t tell my high school chums that I have Special Secret Powers!  It was one of the better examples of reluctant hero that I’ve seen in manga in a while and I hope the series can keep up the realistic character growth, because it really helps ground the more fantastic elements.  Check it out otaku, it might become your new favorite series!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Big Questions, or, Asomatognosia: Whose Hand is it Anyway? by Anders Nilsen YP FIC NILSEN

A staggering, surreal fable in which birds, an owl, a snake, a bomb, a crazed pilot, and an idiot struggle with Big Questions and try not to die too horribly while pondering them.

Asmomatognosia is a disorder in which your brain doesn’t recognize the sensation of one or more limbs. It’s a fitting subtitle to this book in which most every central character loses one’s self or life searching for a greater meaning. This is a 600 page epic of over 15 years work.  The art style is haunting and stark.  Nilsen’s simple designs make his largely animal protagonists indistinguishable from each other, but this has a larger thematic point.  This book uses animals to look at the deepest philosophical questions humankind face, but as the title suggests, this tome contains big questions not big answers. A must read for fans of comics as an artistic medium, but probably a little dry and offbeat for fans of the average manga or superhero comic.  Check it out and give it a chance, it just might wrinkle your brain a bit!

Mangaman by Barry Lyga Illustrated by Colleen Doran YP FIC LYGA

Ryoko Kiyama is not your typical transfer student.  He isn’t from Japan.  He’s from Japanese comics.  Now he’s stuck in a world that he doesn’t understand, a world that fears and distrusts him: high school.   When he meets Marissa Montaigne he falls in love and has a dilemma: go home or stay with Marissa. 

This is a great concept.  Eastern comics meeting ‘realistic’ Western comics.  Ryoko has all the manga clich├ęs we know and love: speed lines, giant sweat drops, deformed features in response to emotion, etc.  You can see how seeing these things from a person in real life would be very upsetting.  All this would make for a fun examination of some of manga’s sillier tropes, but Lyga does more with this story.  He uses it to examine the fabric of reality and the nature of the comic medium.  This is an absolute must read for manga fans and I think non-manga fans will enjoy it as a parody of manga. 

Americus by M.K. Reed Art by Jonathan Hill YP FIC REED

Life in a small town like Americus is tough for a lonely freshman nerd that loves books in a town that seems to hate them.  Neil Barton loses his best (and only) friend to military school after his friend’s mom discovers he SHUDDER reads fantasy books.  Now Neil is all alone in the frozen wasteland that is a Small Town America high school with only his favorite fantasy series, Apathea Ravenchilde, to keep him company, but when his best friend’s mom takes her war against Neil’s favorite books to the city council, he faces losing his only source of joy and hope.  Can he take inspiration from Apathea and fight the forces of darkness?

This is a sweet, funny look at growing up and coming of age in a small town.  The fact that it sort of elevates libraries and young adult librarians to a heroic status didn’t figure in my positive review at all.* The art has a simple, cartoony appeal and I loved the Apathea Ravenchilde fantasy interludes. Americus takes a close and hilarious look at censorship, alienation, the power of literature and imagination, and dark side of unquestioning certainty.  The villains of the piece aren’t the dragons and orcs of Neil’s fantasy series, but the small-mindedness that seems to follow teenagers everywhere. A great read for fans of realistic, slice-of-life comics.  I also think that fans of the Harry Potter books could really enjoy this skewering of anti-Harry Potter hysteria.

*Okay, maybe it did a little tiny bit.

7 Billion Needles Volumes 2, 3, and 4 by Nobuaki Tadano YP FIC TADANO

Hikaru thought Maelstrom was completely obliterated, but instead something unimaginable has happened.  It has changed.  And now it wants to break the endless cycle of obliterating all life until Horizon destroys it, only to repeat the actions on a new planet.  However, when the cycle is broken it has consequences that could nullify all life on the planet or reduce everything to its original evolutionary form.  Only Hikaru can unite Maelstrom and Horizon fight the new evil threat, and stop the Moderator hitting the big reset button on all life on Earth.

Volume 1 was a great start to this 4 part series (you can read my review here), but the rest of the series is even better than I hoped.  The plot manages to enlarge greatly in scope while still keeping focus on the characters it started with.  The stakes are greater, but the action is grounded by a human element at all times.  It really kept me invested in what happened beyond just loving the super cool artwork.  And the artwork is definitely great.  The mutated monsters are gory, grisly, and gruesome and the human characters are all very well designed, too.  You never get that samey look where all the characters look alike except for the hair, which plagues so much manga.  Best of all this is a four volume series with a very satisfying beginning, middle, and end.  A great read for any fans of Sci-Fi looking to get into manga or any manga fan that likes a great story and isn’t squeamish about gore.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bokurano Ours by Mohiro Kitoh YP FIC KITOH

Want to play a game?  You get to hang out with your friends and use a giant robot to defend the Earth from aliens! Sound fun?  Well, sign on up.  One more thing…it’s a REAL giant robot, real alien, and you and countless innocent civilians can and probably will die. 15 young friends stumble on a scientist in a cave and sign on for the most dangerous  game of their lives.

This is a clever twist on the mecha (giant robot) genre.  Kids piloting mechs and questioning the morality of their action isn’t brand new(Neon Genesis Evangelion did it ages ago), but Bokurano has a different take.  The kids choose to sign up for the game and play out of boredom and a sense of adventure.  It looks at the drive for violence in people and how the line between simulated and real violence is quickly blurred.  This is especially timely as warfare often uses remotely controlled drone aircraft to kill from afar.  I’m not sure if this is meant to be a direct comparison, but it definitely fits as a metaphor.  This is a fast paced series, with a main character being axed in the very first volume, so readers get pulled in fast.  The art has an appealing rough quality to it.  All the characters are drawn with sketchy uneven lines.  I look forward to future volumes eagerly and strongly recommend manga fans of all tastes give Bokurano a chance.