Manga Reviews

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Dark Walker

Dark Walker
By Kisaragi Hirotaka and Yura Hikaru

Scanslated by Boku-Tachi
IRC Channel: #boku-tachi @

Topic: Action, Fantasy, Present-Day

Natsumi Orihara is a regular student who has been having trouble sleeping as of late. When she falls asleep, she dreams of an arrow though she cannot tell what it means. A few days after these dreams began ofccuring, a transfer student named Ryuuto Tenkawa shows up in her class. As he walks to his assigned seat, he twlls her that her "energy is overflowing."

Later that day, she falls alseep in her homeroom and dreams of watchign the water in the pool rise, engulfing her friend. Whe she waawkens, she finds Ryuuto looking intently at her, and learns that her friend (who was swimmign at the time) has disappeared. Ryuuto explains that there are two worlds, the real world and the dream world. A water demon from the dream world has crossed the boundary and taken her friend. To get her back, Natsumi and Ryuuto enter the dream world and defeat the water demon.

It turns out that both Natsumi and Ryuuto are "Dark Walkers", people capable of entering both worlds. But since female dark walkers are very rare, the demons of the dream world often enter the real world to target them. As a result, Ryuuto has been sent to protect her and train her to defend herself. Can Natsumi learn to weild her latent abilities in Time? Or will she be be consumed like almost all the dark walkers before her?

So far this manga follows a fairly generic pattern, wherein the main character is unaware of her powers and she learns to master her abilities via a combination of trainnig and trials by fire. Even the concept of two worlds is very familiar to manga readers. That said, the plot is lively enough and the action varied enough to make up for the use of the tired formulas.

The art style is very detailed (with plenty of attention paid to facial features, clothes, and hair) and the backgrounds are nicely filled out with details (rather than leaving them black or white). Despite this, I disliked the art as it failed to flow nicely. Often manga is read from right to left and top to bottom, with a few variations to this rule based on frame size. But there are some pages I had to try reading multiple times to understand how the text and art fit together, and to determine in what order events occured. Having to reread pages to determine the passage of events causes constant breaks in the flow of the story.

There hasn't been enough scnaslated for me to render a sounder verdict on this series but so far the story is sufficiently interesting to warrant continued reading. Hopefully the art will begin to take on a more logical flow.

Rating: 6.0/10.0

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Threads of Time

Threads of Time
By Mi Young Noh
Licensed by Tokyopop

Topic: Historical Action, Mystical

Warning: Some Gore

Moon Bin is a typical high school student in 1999 Korea: Smoking, hanging out with friends, and rating girls. He's also a member of the Kendo Club, where he's highly skilled with his shinai. But over the past few years he's been having a recurring nightmare, where he's not Moon Bin, but rather Sa Kyoung Kim, the son of a noble family sometime in the 13th century.

For these years, he's hated the dream but it's been no more than that. But recently, the past has begun to show itself in the present. The faces that Moon Bin knows in modern-day Souel are also there 1000 years ago (although they belong to different people). And he begins to suffer delusional episodes where he sees the past over-layed with the present (for example after defeating several opponents in a kendo tournament, he suddenly sees himself holding a real sword and surrounded by the corpses of many others).

One day, when he's swimming laps in the pool, a ghostlike figure of a girl appears and drags him down. Now Moon Bin is in a coma and his nightmare has become reality. He is now living the life of Sa Kyoung Kim, who has just awakened from a 5-year sickness induced coma. Korea (now known as Koryo), is under threat of attack by the Mongolians, and worst of all, he finds that he has a sister who was also knocked into a coma five years ago. That sister is the ghost who appeared before him in 1999 and dragged him under.

Which place is reality, and which one is a dream? How can so many things and people be similar between the past and the future? And if he really is Moon Bin, how can he return to his true body and life?

I highly enjoyed this manga as it's plot is fast-paced but does not skip any necessary information. The over-arching tension built by the coming invasion sets a wonderful background for this story and provides a nice parallel to Moon Bin's personal turmoil (in his case, his past is invading the present, or possibly visa versa).

The characters are well done although I'm surprised at the lack of "main" characters outside of Moon Bin and Atan Hadas (a mongolian warrior princess). Many other characters have recurring roles between the past and present but none of them seem to serve and purpose other than to take up space in a given scene. I do find Moon Bin's personality and actions very well done, as he acts much like any other teenager would when faced with the possibility that he might be going insane. It would be nice if there was more background story provided (such as what exactly happened 5 years ago to put Sa Kyoung Kim into that coma) but I'm sure that information will be doled out slowly, hightening the reader's anticipation.

Both the background art and the character art is amazing. Almsot ever frame has some sort of background, and the landscapes and battles are beautifully drawn. Furthermore, each character (not just the main ones) has their own clothing style, weapon, and facial features. This makes it incredibly easy to identify between all of them.

Overall, this is a very entertaining manga with plenty of psychological nuances set against a wartime background. I can't wait for the next volume to be released.

Rating: 9.0/10.0 (Reviewer's Choice)

.hack// Legend of the Twilight

.hack//Legend of the Twilight
Art by Rei Isumi
Story by Tatsuya Hamazaki

Licensed by: Tokyopop
3 volumes

Topic: Action, Adventure, RPG

Warning: Ecchi, Mild Violence, Overall fairly tame

In the enormous online adventure game "The World", the past exploits of the "dot hackers" are legendary. Two new players win a contest that grants them the use of the dot-hacker avatars. Pretty soon strange things start to happen, and the new players must band together with some other characters who knew the original dot-hackers and try to figure out what is going on, try to avoid having their characters deleted by the game administrators, and maybe save the world.

Can you say "gratuitous sequel"? I knew you could. To be fair, "Legends of Twilight" is fairly well done; it's a mostly pleasant read and I enjoyed many of the characters. But if you're looking for character development, meaningful conflict, a solidly constructed plot, or a satisfying ending, you're going to be disappointed. If you're already a fan of the dot-hack universe and want to hang out there a bit longer, you'll probably enjoy this series, but I don't recommend it to anyone else.

Note: There are a couple "extra" stories tacked on at the end of Volume 3. One of these drives home the lesson that it's more fun when you play by the rules, rather than trying to cheat. Yet in the main story, our heroes have abilities, items, and powers that are not available to other character and which they did nothing to earn. This seems a lot like "cheating" to me. I guess that since they didn't seek these things out but were granted them by an outside power, that makes it okay. Or something like that.

Rating: 3/10 (maybe 5/10 if you\'re already a fan of the series)

Reviewed by Forrest

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wild Life

Wild Life
Scanslated by: Boku-Tachi and Yakuza
IRC Channel: #boku-tachi @ and #yakuza @

Topic: Shounen, Comedy, Veterinarian

Warning: Graphic renditions of surgery

Iwashiro Tetsushou is a goof-ball 3rd year high-school student. He has no motivations to do anything with his life, and has no special skills save one; he has a perfect sense of hearing. That means he can clearly hear very faint sounds, or faint distortions from the norm.

One day, while sitting on his bike wondering what he's going to do with his life, he sees a man using a stray puppy as target practice. Tetsushou decides to save the dog, and his act of kindness brings him to the attention of a veterinarian who says that with his ability, he could become a veterinarian as well and save plenty of animals. Initially Tetsushou laughs off this notion as ridiculous but shortly after that, the puppy he saves begins to have a weird heart-beat that only Tetsushou can hear. After he rushes the puppy to a veterinarian, the puppy is eventually saved.

From that point on, Tetsushou becomes serious about his studies and a few years later, he's gotten his vet's license. His old high-school friend introduces him to a group called R.E.D., an internationally renowned group of vets who work to save lives rather than to enrich themselves. As a result, all the members of R.E.D. are incredibly skilled and well trained. Does Tetsushou even have a chance to make it past the entrance exam? And if he does, what's in store for him at this elite clinic?

Wild Life is a very innovative manga, where the antagonist is a variety of diseases and sicknesses, while the protagonist has to rely on his one talent to get through each diagnosis. Tetsushou is a well-rounded character, who's normally happy-go-lucky yet focused when he needs to be. Each chapter introduces new difficulties which he has to surmount, and the sheer breadth of these difficulties shows great imagination on the author's part.

Both the background and character art are excellent. As part of R.E.D., Tetsushou is sent to various locales (such as the arctic, or a ship in the middle of the ocean). Yet each scene is rendered with plenty of detail and even the more common panels have some background art. Meanwhile, the characters and the animals are all very well drawn. Each character is highly distinctive, and the art mirrors their personalities well (for example Tetsushou is very relaxed and his goggles and jacket exude laid-backness).

I'm definitely looking forward to more of this series as it comes out.

Rating: 9.0/10.0

Great Sword of Wah

Great Sword of Wah
Scanslated by: Lost Heaven and s.ADTRW
IRC Channels: #lost-heaven @ and #adtrw @

Topic: Shounen, Fantasy, Swords, Comedy

Warning: Gore

Unknown to most Japanese, demons exist. These demons live festering within the hearts of people, feeding on their hate until they finally take control of their hosts. At the end of the Shogunate period, there was massive public unrest which led to chaos throughout Japan. At this point in time, demons arose and added even more fuel to the fire. To combat the plague, a group was created, the "Devine Sword Group." Only the most talented swordsmen were chosen and trained to wield powerful weapons, allowing them to eradicate demons.

It's currently present-day Tokyo, and the group continues to exist. It's current incarnation consists of three swordsmen, Kijimiya Kazuma (the leader), Saruwata Natsume, and Kamiue Momosaburou. They attend a national Kendo tournament with the intention of scouting Sekizawa Keiichi for their group. But he's defeated in the finals by Inuzaki Takamaru, an incredibly talented and brash 15 year-old who's goal is to become the greatest sword-master in Japan.

It soon becomes apparent that Sekizawa has long harbored jealousy towards Takamaru and this hatred had grown to the point where he had been taken over by a demon. After the tournament, Sekizawa attacks Takamaru with the intention of killing him, but the Devine Sword Group intervenes, helping Takamaru kill the demon. Recognizing their strength and desiring to defeat them, Takamaru decides to join the group (now that their original candidate is dead, the group has little choice). Can Takamaru's innate gifts help him survive in the dark world he's now entering?

The plot for Great Sword of Wah is highly predictable as it follows the general pattern for most combat manga (new student with incredible talents appears and suffers from the training but at times shows amazing bursts of power shocking everyone around him). The comedic situations are rather fluid but once again, they are predictable. The characters are also cookie-cutter (the serious leader, the flirt, and the super-skilled kid form the original three members of the group). Yet even though it fails to break new-ground on any front, this still makes for an entertaining read.

The character art is surprisingly varied. Each character (including the various demons) has many distinctive features which allow a reader to absolutely identify each character at a glance. The characters aren't very detailed but they are highly expressive, which is sufficient and fits well with the light-hearted nature of this manga. There's very little background art which forces the reader to always focus on the characters. Most of the time, that's fine because the characters are performing important actions but in each chapter, there are a few frames which seem generally pointless.

Overall, I enjoy reading this series given that it follows a proven formula. However, the fact that it doesn't even try to throw any curve-balls leaves something to be desired.

Rating: 6.5/10.0

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sui Tang Heroes

Sui Tang Heroes
By Gao Yung

Scanslated by Fifaynet

Set towards the end of the Sui dynasty (581AD - 618AD), various events are driving China towards civil war. The current Emperor has been plagued by nightmares of his downfall and of the character for water. As a result, he's ordered the assassinations of many nobles and political figures, on the basis that they have that character in their name. He has also been oppressing the peasants and several smaller uprisings have already occured.

Meanwhile, the prime minister (Yuwen) has developed some ambitions towards the throne, and has begun recruiting talented warriors towards his side, so that he may take power once the Emperor falls. At the same time, the leader of the Turkish tribes in China has raised an army to kill the Emperor and take power for himself. And in the midst of all this turmoil, the Li family, a family of nobles, is beginning to move as well. Their second son Li Shimin is a brilliant philosopher, who envisions creating a utopian words where rich and poor are equal. Furthermore, he may be the one prophesized to start the next dynasty. However, the prophet has been killed and each of the sides is vying for control through a combination of diplomacy and backstabbing. What will happen when full blown war breaks out? And who is destined to be the new Emperor?

I'm generally a big fan of historical fiction and this is no exception. The amount of intrigue between the characters is entertaining, as each person has his or her own agenda and given that most of the story is based off reality there are never large leaps of faith or conflicting information. The plot is very fast-paced as we get to see characters moving their subordinates around constantly, in an attempt to prepare themselves for the upcoming war.

The characters themselves are very realistic in terms of emotions and actions (as well they should be, being based in part in reality). Ambition and desires play no small part in their actions and even cloud their judgement at times. The author does a good job of conveying this. Unfortunately, there are too many characters. As of chapter 10 (the end of the second volume), there are at least 8 major characters split over the three sides and many minor ones as well. This makes it very difficult to keep track of who's who and where each person is going.

The art is the one weakness for this manga. The background art is beautiful but rare and the characters are highly detailed. Unfortunately, the characters' emotions are poorly drawn, leading many scenes to look as if they are filled with beautiful china dolls. Even worse, many of the main characters have very similar features, relying only on one feature or another to distinguish between them (often it's the hair color). The fact that you have to put effort into distinguishing between different characters is a major sticking point for the art.

Overall, this is an entertaining romp through historical China and the well crafted plot keep it an interesting read. I just wish this was in a novel form so I could rely on my own imagination to conjure up the events.

Rating: 6.5/10.0

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Area 88

Area 88
By Kaoru Shintani
Licensed by Viz

Topic: War

Shin Kazama was a foreign student who transfered to Japan to study flying at Yamato Airlines. In the process, he fell in love with the company president's daughter, Ryoko. Unfortunately for him, his "friend" Kanzaki is also interested in her because it's his ambition to one day own his own airline. After drinking on night, Kanzaki dupes Shin into signing an agreement to become a soldier. Shin's rudely awakened the next morning and dragged off to Area 88, a mercenary group in North Africa.

It is now two years later, Shin has been flying a jet and killing people for the last couple years. In the process he's come to learn harsh truths about the world, none more startling than the fact that any of his "fellow pilots" will leave him hanging if they get a shot at a bigger target. At Area 88, the mercanaries are paid based on kills, and they have to pay for their own fuel, ammunition, and plane. Shin has been desperately saving up money to earn his freedom and return to Japan. But will he manage to buy his freedom before he runs out of luck? And how will his experiences in each battle shape his outlook on the future?

Area 88 is a loose collection of stories about missions Shin has to go on, and the things he sees. It's dissimilar from your typical mangas which try to tell stories, rather it focuses more on social and psychological commentary. The reader gets to see the harshness of Shin's world, a world where the only person he can truly trust is himself. As various other characters are introduced then rapidly killed, the reader begins to feel the loss that Shin has to go through on a daily basis. Interestingly, Shin's personality does not change that much throughout the series (as he's already been there for 2 years). Rather, it's the reader's outlook on Shin's personality that changes as we begin to understand him. In some ways, this can be viewed as a bad thing (the character does not really evolve) yet in my opinion, it's necessary for this type of manga.

The character art is interesting, with very expressive faces but extremely plain bodies. The background art on the otherhand, is often elaborate with highly detailed pictures of the various planes Shin and his compatriots pilot. Overall, I enjoyed this manga but it's bittersweet at best. If you want to try a manga that does not try to escape from reality, give Area 88 a shot.

Rating: 8.0/10.0

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hareluya I

Hareluya I
1 Volume
Scanslated by Gomasuri
IRC Channel: #gomasuri @

Topic: Comedy

Hareluya is a delinquent in Heaven, who enjoys spending all his time drinking, flirting with the angels, or sleeping. This is troublesome for his father Harebare, who just so happens to be the God of the 20th century. Within 8 years it will be the 21st century and Hareluya will assume the role of God. But because he hates humans, who he views as "selfish creatures", Hareluya prefers to relax and enjoy himself. Because he's too corrupt to become the new God, Hareluya is cast down to earth as a mortal to live amongst humans so that he may learn to love humans.

His first action on Earth is to beat up a group of delinquents who are harassing a nun (although in reality he does so because she's "his type"). In the scuffle he's hit over the head and knocked out. When he comes to, he's being hailed as a hero by the nun, who's taken him to her church. Of course now Hareluya has to live in a pious church and attend school because he's taken on the form of a teenager. Will he be able to survive in this new life and more importantly, can these events change him into a more compassionate person?

The art style is identical to that of Hareluya II Boy (which makes sense because they are drawn by the same artist). The characters rely on over-the-top expressions and poses whereas the background is usually non-existant, focusing each frame entirely on one character or another.

The characters aren't developed at all, which is rare even for a single volume manga. The author seems to have taken a bunch of comedy prototypes and thrown together a slap-stick series. (For example Hareluya is similar to a good version the road runner, he's strong, stupid and damage doesn't affect him until it occurs to him. If he were to run off a cliff he'd keep moving for several moments before looking down).

The plot isn't deep but watching Hareluya wander around acting perverted and beating up people is still pretty entertaining. If this had gone on for more than one volume I would have called it repetitive but the manga is short enough to avoid that pitfall. Overall, Hareluya I reads like a sketchbook. It plots out a general premise of God's son becoming human to learn compassion but goes nowhere with it. I'd personally read Hareluya II Boy first and if you enjoy that, read this as a side story.

Rating: 6.0/10.0

Note: Hareluya II Boy is loosely based off this one-volume manga.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Happy Hustle High

Happy Hustle High by Takada Rie
Licensed by Viz
5 volumes

Topic: Shoujo, High School Romance

Warning: Non-explicit Sex, Mild Violence

Oozora Hanabi is loud, brash, and friendly to everyone. Her classmates at all-girls' Uchino high school look up to her and rely on her for help, happily repaying her with free food. When it's announced that Uchino is being integrated with the all-boys Meibi High, most of the girls are so excited they can hardly function, but Hanabi just takes it in stride. On the first day of combined classes, Hanabi is late due to the bane of her existence - her pouffy hair, which she desperately wants to be smooth, flat, and sleek. Stopping to wet down her hair in the water fountain before going to the opening assembly, Hanabi meets a gorgeous but unfriendly guy, who turns out to be Yasuaki, the Vice-President of the Student Council.

Of course all three male student council members are so attractive that the girls are swooning with joy, but Hanabi is just jealous that the President has the kind of smooth, sleek hair she wants so badly, and pissed that the Vice-President was so rude and unfriendly! Hanabi soon becomes part of the Student Council, because she's the only girl who doesn't turn to mush when trying to deal with the male Student Council members. After successfully changing Meibi's "no dating" rule (by bribingTokihisa, the third Student Council member, stalking Yasuaki, and amusing Yoshitomo, the President), Hanabi and Yasuaki become friends of a sort, and their relationship progresses through a variety of misadventures.

Yes, this is a silly, fluffy, shoujo. However, it is also sweet and full of comedy in unexpected places! Hanabi is the kind of character you can't help but like: friendly and enthusiastic without being overly sweet; willing to fight when necessary but not constantly violent; not too concerned with school but not stupid either (at one point, when extremely motivated, she aces all her exams); and caring and helpful to her friends. She's also willing to make a fool of herself if that's what's necessary, and able to laugh at and apologize for her mistakes. Yasuaki is also likable and good-hearted, even though since he falls into the "aloof bishounen who doesn't like girls" category.

A lot of the comedy comes from Hanabi & Yasuaki's interactions, misunderstandings, and differing expectations, but it's never mean-spirited and always resolved fairly quickly. The story focuses on Hanabi and Yasuaki, with only a few supporting characters playing more than cursory roles. The recurring supporting characters do add a lot to the story, though, especially Yoshitomo, who can be highly and hilariously evil.

I thoroughly enjoyed Happy Hustle High (twice, in fact) but it's not a manga I'll keep on my shelves forever. The characters get bonus points for actually mentioning birth control at several points in the story, but lose a few for not mentioning it when they actually have sex. The art is pretty - lots of bishounen and cute girls - but the mangaka often draws Hanabi super-deformed while the rest of the scene is normal, which isn't a style I particularly like. I did really enjoy the way the mangaka set the story up for several of the stereotypical shoujo manga cliches, and then neatly sidestepped them and turned the story in a different direction. This is a fun and clever manga in many ways although the very fluffyness that makes it such a fun quick read also makes it easy to set aside.

Rating: 7.5/10.0

Review Submitted by TofuQueen

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Project ARMS

Projects ARMS
By Ryoji Minagawa and Kyoichi Nanatsuki
Licensed by Viz

Topic: Shounen, Action-Adventure, Paranormal

Warning: Death, Gore

Ryo Takatsuki is your average unassuming high-school student who lives what he believes to be a normal everyday life. He goes to school and hangs out with friends (especially a girl named Katsumi). But that all gets turned upside-down when Hayato Shingu transfers into the same class. After Hayato inexplicitly attacks Ryo, and Ryo counter-attacks, Hayato's left arm suddenly turns into a weapon. Meanwhile Ryo's right arm won't stop tingling.

Even weirder things begin to happen to Ryo, as various paramilitary units and even a few cyborgs begin to attack him. He's able to fend off their initial advances because of survival training his father taught him (which for some reason works surprisingly well against superior numbers of opponents). Ryo slowly learns that both he and Hayato are special children, who had a certain body-part replaced by a high-tech weapon known as ARMs. He also learns that there are two other children like them out there. But why were these ARMs created and placed into them? Why are other people constantly attacking them and trying to capture them? And will his abilities (both his training and his new-found weapons) be sufficient to protect those he loves the most? The four children will have to group together and set aside their differences if they want any chance to defeat their opponents and discover the truth.

The art for Project ARMs is above-average. The character art is excellent, with highly emotional and expressive facial features but the background art (although complete), fails to really evoke and feelings or add anything to the scene. The characters are surprisingly varied in terms of motivations and background stories. For example, Ryo is kind-hearted but wants to fight to protect himself and his loved ones. Hayato, on the other hand, is driven entirely by revenge for his family (which he saw murdered while hiding in a storage jar). Even the major enemies have time to develop personalities, which is a nice change from the typical "beat up one opponent, introduce and beat up the next opponent, repeat" motif that seems to pervade a lot of action mangas.

Surprisingly, the plot is both the strength and weakness of Project ARMs. The story moves along at a brisk pace, revealing secrets about the characters' pasts as it goes along. By itself, it makes for a very interesting story, full of conspiracies, biological engineering and a group more powerful than many governments, a shadow organization capable of influencing international policies. Yet there is no foreshadowing, nor any real plot-twists in Project ARMs. This keeps the reader at a distance from the events, rather than drawing the reader into the manga. You get to watch events from afar, rather then being drawn into their world and predicting what will happen next.

Project ARMs had much more potential than it realized. Afterall, who doesn't enjoy reading about kids fighting a shadowy group of super-soldiers and the government in an attempt to find out the truth behind their very existance. But the almost sterile presentation of the manga, without anyone thinking more than one-step ahead, makes for a far less engrossing read.

Rating: 6.5/10.0

Friday, May 12, 2006

Today in Class 5-2

Today in Class 5-2
By Sakuraba Koharu
1 Volume

Scanslated by Jinmen Juushin
IRC Channel: #Jinmen-Juushin @

Topics: Comedy, School-Life

Warning: Sexual Innuendo

Today in Class 5-2 is a series of short stories about fifth-graders from class 5-2. Each story is merely a few pages long (on average 8-10 pages) and focuses on a single topic of discussion. For example, the first story discusses Aihara's baby teeth and one of them being loose. To deal with this, she tries to chew on various things, such as gum, candy, pencils, and her dog.

Given the disjoint nature of the stories (they each focus on a different slapstick topic, and use a variety of characters from the class), it's hard to write a summary about the story (as you can see from above). However, the high-point of this one volume manga is not the story, nor even the characters who fall into very stereotypical categories. The manga's strength lies in the concise nature of the jokes it uses as it's topics. Within 8-10 pages, a given story will lay out background on the topic, introduce which characters will be important, and then tell the joke. The precise and concise way that the jokes are potrayed is very refreshing because it leaves no need for exposition.

The character art is highly detailed whenever a character comes into the foreground. There is almost no background art to speak of, but that's because it serves no purpose. For all intents and purposes, each story is the equivalent of a verbal joke, with illustrations. It would be like drawing a background when telling a yo-mama joke. The focus of the comedy is in the characters, and possibly the interactions between them.

As mentioned above, there is no real plot to speak of. The characters themselves are completely interchangeable as none of them really get developed in their short stories. However, even if you enjoy deep engrossing sagas, I highly suggest you try this manga out. It's very short and entertaining, I only wish there was more than one volume.

Rating: 9.5/10.0 -- Reviewer's Choice

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena
Manga by Chiho Saito, Story by Be-PaPas
5 Volumes

Licensed by Viz

Topic: Surreal romance/adventure.
Warnings: Contains suggestions of homosexuality (which are stronger in the TV and movie versions) but nothing explicit.

When Utena was six, her parents died. In despair, she was drawn to a canal and fell toward the dark waters, but was rescued by a mysterious man who dried her tears, spoke words of comfort and gave her a ring. He told her, "we will meet again if you do not lose your noble heart." Utenawas so impressed that she decides to become a prince herself! At school she pursues many activities and wears a boy's uniform ­ in pink. Following clues left by her unknown rescuer, she enrolls in the exclusive Ohtori Academy.

When she defends the honor of a friend, Utena is drawn into a series of duels which take place under a floating upside-down castle. There, other people wearing rings (like the one she was given) are following instructions from "World's End," seeking "the power to revolutionize the world." Although Utena would like to remove herself from the duels, she feels increasingly protective of the "Rose Bride" a powerful yet passive girl who is "engaged" to whoever is the current champion. In addition, the duels may be the path to finding her mysterious prince. But if Utena is becoming a prince herself, will they be partners, or rivals?

Many aspects of "Revolutionary Girl Utena" range from the slightly odd to the totally bizarre, yet (to me, at least) it all works together in a sort of dream-logic where everything seems reasonable, even though you might have a hard time explaining just what is going on. This also makes it extremely difficult to describe the plot in any coherent way. But even though the events are often bizarre, the characters are strongly realized and behave in believable ways.

Utena's opponents are frequently unpleasant, manipulative and dangerous, but they all have their reasons for acting the way they do, no one is simply mean for the sake of being mean. Although there are many points of humor, the overall tone is fairly serious, and the stakes are high. One common problem with stories of this type is that when the "mystery" is revealed at the end, it may not live up to what the reader had been imagining. Here Utena does not disappoint - ­ the ending manages to be surprising, yet consistent with what leads up to it, and satisfying while still leaving some things unexplained.

Utena probably will not appeal to everyone, but if you like romance, strong female characters, and a story that freely bends the rules of reality, you should definitely give it a try.

Note: There are manga, anime TV series, and movie versions of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Each tells basically the same story, but in very different ways. The TV anime is my personal favorite, but each has good qualities. If you enjoy one, I recommend checking out the others as well.

Rating: 8.0/10.0
Reviewed submitted by Forrest

Friday, April 28, 2006

Jaja Uma Grooming Up

Jaja Uma Grooming Up
Scanslated by Manga! Inc

Topic: Shounen, Comedy, Romance

Kuze Shunpei, a high school student, is on spring break going to Hokkaidou when he loses his wallet. Stranded in the mountains with no money and his motorcycle having run out of gas, he passes out in the snow on the side of the road. When he wakes up he finds that he's been saved and brought to the Watarai farm, a horse ranch that breeds race horses. There he meets a host of various people, ranging from stable hands to the owner and his family (which includes four daughters).

Shunpei is completely unsuited for the farm life, and his city upbringing contrasts sharply with the hard labor required to help the farm out. Yet despite all this, he tries his best to become accepted. However, he constantly gets into arguments with Hibiki (the second daughter), who views him as useless. Things come to a head when Shunpei scares one of the horses, who throws Hibiki (Hibiki is a rider). Ashamed, Shunpei flees back to Tokyo for the rest of the spring break. But back in Tokyo, Shunpei begins to long for the simple farm life. Will Shunpei ever be able to return and prove himself to be worthy of being a member of the farm?

The strong point of this manga is the character interaction. Shunpei's actions are ernest, but clumsy and his dialogue reflects that. As he slowly learns the various skills associated with running a farm, the ernest energy rubs off on the other characters, slowly bringing them to life. In many ways, the manga is not about the destination, it's about the journey.

The character art is fairly typical, with nothing special standing out about the characters. As with most mangas, the characters are better drawn when they are serious, and drawn deformed when they aren't. Even the horses aren't anything special, having almost no distinguishing marks between them. Outside of a few main characters, it's difficult to tell people apart from another. The background art on the other hand, is pretty, especially in scenic landscapes. The artist does an excellent job of drawing a realistic sky, rather than relying on white space with a few clouds. This simple action makes the scenes look that much larger.

Overall, this is a fun slow-paced manga. You're always watching Shunpei's life unfold, rather than some mangas where you get to see multiple events from different locales, because they occur concurrently. The plot isn't too compelling but the characters make up for it. The one major point I'll dock it for, is simply that the manga isn't addictive. Since there's no urgency anywhere, there's no overwhelming desire to continue reading at any point.


Saturday, April 22, 2006


Ares by Ryu Kum Chel
Scanslated by Korean Manga Translations
IRC Channel: #k-manga @

Topic: Historical Fiction, Fighting, Shounen, Action

Ares tells the story of four youths who join the Tample Mercenaries on the same day. Their names are Ares, Michael, Baroona, and Gohu. Each of them has dark secrets about their past, but all of them (with the exception of Gohu who's an artist) are extremely skilled fighters. Though they have nothing in common, they quickly form a tight friendship, which survives through the various battles they encounter. As Chronos, the country which hires the Tample Mercanaries, begins to wage a war after 10 years of peace, the four are inevitably pulled in. Will they be able to prove themselves or will they be struck down along the way? And how exactly did they attain such skills?

The art for this series is very detailed, but not in the typical manner. In most manga, where attention is paid to detail, it's the characters (especially their faces) which are the most elaborate. However, in Ares, the characters (outside the four protagonists) are often bland or hidden in the shadows. Rather, it's the entire scene, characters and background, that attains the same level of consistency. This creates an odd effect, although it does a good job of providing a sense that the characters are only a small part of the entire situation.

The characters themselves begin with plenty of question marks about them and their pasts, but over the first few volumes it becomes clear that the author has a background for each of them already planned out. The hints are always consistent, but never sufficient to reveal everything. For a mystery buff like myself, this makes the characters that much more compelling. It also enhances the plot. Without it, the manga would be about four talented soldiers going to war to establish their names. With it, the manga becomes about four youths pulled together by a common destiny of sorts, and their quest to discern what the destiny is.

Rating: 8.0/10.0

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hells Angels

Hells Angels by Hiromoto Sin Ichi
Scanslated by Tama-Chan Scans and Manga Translation
IRC Channel: #tamascans @ and #manga-translations @
3 Volumes

Topics: Comedy (Twisted)

Amagane Rinne is a student who's just transfered into a new school in the city. On her way to school for the first day, she's hit by a truck while saving a cat. As a result, she ends up in Hell, where all souls go after they've died. It turns out that, even in Hell you have to go to school and so she begins to attend the River Styx Academy, run by Principal Hellvis.

But there are strange things afoot. Why does Rinne have no memory of being killed when everyone else does? And why does she have blood even though she's supposedly dead (all the other stdunts are bloodless). It slowly becomes apparent, there was some sort of mistake which sent her to Hell, and now it's up to Rinne to return to the world of the living, using any means possible. To help her on her way are the members of her class (though they all have their own motivations), as well as the members of the student council (who oddly enough also seem to possess blood). Will their combined forces be sufficient to overthrow Principal Hellvis? And why was Rinne really brought down to Hell?

This manga is rather dark though humerous in an unconventional sense. Rinne's eternal optimism (constantly declaring she's not dead), is a breath of fresh air into a Hell where everyone has accepted their fate. Her presence causes people to act unlike they used to, leading to entertaining discussions and situations. The overall plot is interesting, with plenty of Biblical ties (it turns out that Hellvis is actually Cain, the first murderer). Somehow Cain has caused an imbalance in the world and created Hell, and it's up to Rinne to fix it. The story moves along at a fast clip, leaving no room for exposition but remains very focused on the ultimate goal (getting out of Hell).

The characters aren't very well developed but that's not very important given that the strength of this manga revolves around the story itself, rather than it's interchangeable characters. Outside of Rinne, Hellvis, and possibly Steela (a literally heartless student), none of the characters stick out much or do anything memorable. They're all just along for the ride, to drive Rinne towards her goal of re-establishing balance in Hell and returning back to Earth.

The art for this series is possibly the most perculiar I've ever seen. The backgrounds aren't very well defined, and the characters are all inconsistent. From one frame to another any given character's proportions, clothing style, etc may change. This seems to be part of the mangaka's art style, which relies a lot on the impression a character gives rather than the actual look of a character. Some people may like the scattered look (which I have to admit fits well into the concept of Hell), but personally I'm not a fan. It's just a bit too trippy (for lack of a better word) for my tastes. I enjoy the plot but neither the characters nor art is memorable. I'll definitely finish reading Hells Angels, given that it's only 3 volumes and I encourage you to read one chapter and give it a try. It's most definitely not everyone's cup of tea.

Rating: 7.0/10.0