Bleach Volume 68

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The Ordinary Peace

The first volume of Bleach to be released in the UK after its official end over in Japan, Volume 68 does its best to regroup everyone for one last push, but does it do well?

The battle between the Shinigami and the Quincy still rages on, though most of the invading villains were wiped out in the last chapter (with little-to-no thought), leaving only the top brass on either side of the war. The goal of the Quincy, or specifically the goal of their leader (the still-hard-to-pronounce Yhwach), is to kill the Soul King, an omnipotent being that apparently ties all the realms together. After breaking into the Soul King’s realm and defeating its guardians in Squad Zero, Yhwach is finally about to achieve his goal as Ichigo and his fellow humans are hot on his tail.

The volume begins with several remaining Captain Level Shinigami gathering together, battered but not beaten, under the orders of former captain Urahara. The original mad scientist plans to open a portal to the royal realm and lead an attack on the remaining Quincy. Speaking of whom, Yhwach succeeds in stabbing the Soul King before Ichigo and his friends arrive, but then uses his influence over Quincy blood to force Ichigo to slice the Soul King in half to finish it off. This surely means the end of all realms of reality?! Right?! Well, I won’t spoil how, but no, and in fact when he is foiled Yhwach gets the chance to do it again, but goes down a different route, for some reason, and tries to absorb the Soul King’s power for himself instead.

Just to touch on some of the other happenings in this volume: Captain Commander Kyoraku visits Bleach’s iconic villain Aizen with an offer to partially free him in exchange for his help; classic Captain Ukitake finally does something in this final arc… briefly (but so you don’t get your hopes up, it’s not revealing his Bankai…) and the Quincy “Schutzstaffel”, or Elite Guard, who were powered up in the previous volume (at the expense of all the other characters Kubo had built up…) appear a few times in the background towards the end, with one or two lines shared between them. I mention that because Schutzstaffel member Askin Nakk Le Vaar is featured on the cover for this volume, but doesn’t even get a single line of dialogue and barely appears. Weird! You’d think maybe Aizen in his prison bondage (oo-er) or Ukitake would have featured on the cover instead.

The volume ends with Yhwach gaining even more power while his men watch on, and Ichigo and friends, along with the Shinigami, getting ready for one last run at them.

So, unlike the previous volume which was great and had a well drawn fight take up most of it, this volume is a come-down after that, where the good guys and the bad guys re-collect into groups and then get separated, leading to an inevitable final showdown between the two of them in the last few volumes to come. As always it’s well drawn, even if there’s a lot of standing around and talking, but it comes with a few “huh?” moments surrounding the lead villain’s goals and an interesting twist with a much-loved Captain… that literally become irrelevant two or three chapters later. This may be the final calm before the storm, but it wasn’t as exciting as it should have been. More… mildly annoying.

Review of Scumbag Loser

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SAITEIHEN NO OTOKO -Scumbag Loser- vols 1, 2, 3 © 2012, 2013 Mikoto Yamaguti / SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

“Employee of the month is a good example of how somebody can be both a winner and a loser at the same time.” – Demetri Martin

Released as a single omnibus edition, horror manga Scumbag Loser is a series that seems hard to appreciate. Maybe this is the reason why Yen have released it as one large book rather than three separate volumes, because the overall feeling reading it is that if the volumes were individually released the chances of stopping after the first volume would be much greater.

Perhaps one issue it is has is the unappealing central character, the “scumbag loser” in question. Masahiko Murai is a high school student who is pretty lower down in terms of popularity in his class. The only positive quality he seems to have is that he has a very good sense of smell, but this is outweighed by the fact that the smells he likes are usually unappealing. For example, the first thing he is seen smelling is a pair of girl’s knickers.

Murai is also obsessed with people he considers to be losers and trying to prove that is above what he calls the “biggest losers”. In his class the biggest loser is the ugly and smelly Yamada, but things then suddenly change when Yamada announces that he has a girlfriend, which in Murai’s mind means that he is now the biggest loser, something that he cannot handle. Thus, he falsely claims to have a long-distance girlfriend, and picks the name Haruka Mizusawa, a girl he knew five years ago. But then, to his horror, he finds that Haruka Mizusawa has transferred to his class – and she does indeed claim that Murai is her boyfriend, completely unprompted. The reason why Murai is filled with horror? Mizusawa died five years ago.

After school, Murai and Mizusawa meet up. Murai asks Mizusawa to actually be his girlfriend, and promises that he will do anything to keep the relationship going. Mizusawa, who appears to have a sadistic streak complete with a menacing grin, demands that from now on she wants Murai to introduce her to the “biggest losers” that he knows every Wednesday. This then begins to snowball, partly because of Mizusawa’s disturbing personality, but also because the personalities of everyone in Murai’s class, as well as those of his family, start to change dramatically.

As stated, it is a hard manga to like, primarily because the characters are relatively unappealing. The manga is called Scumbag Loser for good reason. Murai is unpleasant and unattractive, while Mizusawa is manipulative. However, as a horror manga, unpleasantness is what you should expect. The best character in my view comes later on in the story. Yumi Ookura is a wannabe pop idol who auditions for an idol group whose manager wants unappealing members. In the case of Ookura, it’s that she has no social skills. She too also becomes obsessed with Mizusawa, who also auditions for the group.

However, there are some positives to this series, the main one being the artwork. Mikoto Yamaguti’s art is suitably creepy, especially when it comes to drawing Mizusawa’s toothy grin. It kind of puts you in mind of the Titans in Attack on Titan, in that you can almost envision her eating those she torments. Plus, this smile starts to spread towards other people, making it even creepier in its sudden uniformity.

Having said this though, sometimes the artwork is not so great. The “Mature” rating of Scumbag Loser mainly comes from the violence as there is a fair amount of blood spilt in this manga. Whenever there is nudity or a sex scene, what are seen as the rudest parts (i.e. the groins and the nipples) are always obscured – sometimes in odd ways. For example, there is a scene where Mizusawa and Ookura’s idol group entertain some fans sexually, so they have their buttoned-up shirts unfastened and opened so you can see part of their breasts, but not fully so the nipples are covered. However, at some angles it feels like the shirt is covering so little that you feel that the nipples are almost on the sides of the boobs rather than on the front.

Scumbag Loser is a hard manga to get through: the length, the characters, the plot make it a bit of a slog. The artwork in some areas does make it enjoyable, but sometimes when you are reading through the book it feels that it just isn’t worth it.

Manga review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Volume 1

Miss Kobayashi cover

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Vol. 1 © coolkyousinnjya 2013

Everyone who has ever gotten drunk has probably done something they have come to regret, whether it’s making drunk texts to ex-loved ones, or accidentally buying a load of stuff online while inebriated. But these pale somewhat in comparison to inviting a dragon to come and live with you.

Miss Kobayashi is a low level systems engineer and closet otaku who, one drunken night, went up a mountain and met a dragon called Tohru, who had been attacked with a sword. Kobayashi helped the dragon and the two got talking. During the conversation, Kobayashi suggested that Tohru should stay in her flat, an offer which Tohru accepted. Now Kobayashi has to put up with co-habiting with a legendary monster in her home, but to make things easier for her Tohru adopts a human guise and decides to work for Kobayashi as her maid, although she can’t hide her dragon horns.

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Tohru has some talents. She is able to get Kobayashi to work incredibly quickly, although her hard skin makes the ride uncomfortable. If the laundry is taking too long to dry because it is overcast, a quick burst of flame towards the clouds will make a hole big enough to let the sun shine through. Tohru also has some problems though. She distrusts other humans such as Kobayashi’s work college and fellow otaku Makoto Takiya, and her cooking is terrible.

There is also the problem that soon other dragons start visiting Kobayashi. There is Kanna Kamui, ejected from the dragon realm for playing a prank; Fafnir, whose attitude to humans appears to be summed up with the word “kill”; and the oddly dressed and buxom Quetzalcoatl.

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid-2While this title comes from the same publisher as How to Build a Dungeon, this manga is much more family-orientated. However, you still get the feeling that perhaps the “all ages” rating is not quite true. There is a brief scene where Tohru is naked, and at the beginning of the volume Tohru claims she likes Kobayashi “sexually”. Apart from those instances however, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is pretty much suitable for all. Perhaps it is best to think of it as “PG” rather than “U”.

The main characters are what make the series work. Kobayashi has to put up with the stress of keeping Tohru and later Kanna in check, but is also free to loosen up and suddenly start debating with Makoto about the differences between Lolita fashion and maid outfits. Tohru meanwhile has so many different comic elements: trying to adjust to the human world, her love of Kobayashi, her jealous feelings toward Makoto, and then there is just her doing what to her is normal, but what Kobayashi and for that matter any human would think is bizarre – like play-fighting with Kanna, which involves a potentially massively destructive battle.

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It is certainly a jolly title and it already has built a fan base. There is currently an anime adaptation of the series in the works, so watch out for more.

Haikyu!! Volume 3

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This is the third month in a row that I’ve gotten to review the
Haikyu!! manga for the site and I’m still loving every second! Volume 3 features some notable changes to the Karasuno team but these are for the better. With the third season of the anime due to begin at the start of October this is the perfect time for some volleyball fun and I’m happy to say that the Haikyu!! manga hasn’t disappointed me yet!

Volume 3 kicks things off by introducing a new character, Yu Nishinoya, who is a second year student at Karasuno High. Usually Nishinoya plays the role of libero in the volleyball team but he’s been absent due to being suspended from school for a week (which explains why we haven’t met him yet). Nishinoya is short, which gives him a lot of movability for the role he plays and leads to great joy for Hinata when he discovers he’s an inch taller! Having Nishinoya back surely means great things for the Karasuno team, but the situation isn’t quite that simple. Karasino’s libero declares that he won’t be rejoining the club if the team’s ace won’t return too!

The ace is a position held by Asahi Azumane (another new character being introduced this volume), who left the team after an extremely difficult match that Karasuno faced before Hinata and the other first years joined. The job of the ace is to break through the opposing team’s wall of blockers and score points wherever possible, but during the match in question every move Asahi made was completely shot down. Ultimately Karasuno lost the match, which Asahi feels is all his fault rather than that of the whole team and leads him to believe that the team would be better off without him.

While Nishinoya is stubborn and refuses to officially rejoin the team, he does practise alongside Hinata, who regards him as a ‘senpai’. When Hinata and Kageyama learn about the situation with Asahi they go to introduce themselves and try to convince him to rejoin the team, which eventually leads to a passionate speech from Hinata that triggers something in Asahi’s heart. Will it be enough to bring him back to the team?

This volume also introduces a potential coach for the team in the form of Keishin Ukai, who used to play for the Karasuno team while he attended the school. He’s also the grandson of the previous coach Ukai, who was famous for his brutal practises but produced a brilliant team in his time. At first Keishin isn’t interested in the role and flat-out refuses each time club advisor Takeda asks him to consider the job. However, after hearing that Karasuno will be holding a practise game with the previous coach’s old rivals, Nekoma High, he finally gives in and agrees to take a look at the team.

While this volume is packed full of new character introductions, it still finds time for some volleyball as well as more development for Hinata. After learning about the responsibilities and fame associated with being an ace, Hinata begins wishing he could be an ace as he reckons that his current role, a decoy, is extremely boring. Some harsh yet encouraging words from Kageyama hit home and convince him that, despite not having the flashiest title, he can be the very best (like no one ever was) when paired with Kageyama.

I think it’s safe to say that Haikyu!! is still a very strong shonen series. The characters introduced in this volume are all genuinely likable and have their own story to tell, as well as a reason to be on the Karasuno team. Placing the focus on Nishinoya, Asahi, and Hinata does mean that we don’t see much of the other cast, and Tanaka is notably absent for most of the volume except for the odd panel, but what’s important is that I wasn’t left feeling like it mattered. A story about a sports team is always going to have noticeable absences; it’s just common sense that a weekly series won’t feature the entire cast all of the time. However, the characters in Haikyu!! are all so interesting that even if we lose some of them for a volume, I’m just as happy with those being focused on, and mangaka Haruichi Furudate has a knack for making everything just work.

On the whole this is yet another volume that has been beautifully handled where artwork is concerned. The characters’ eyes especially are very captivating, which is interesting because the way Furudate draws eyes is very simple: they’re just ovals with pupils, highlights, and pencil lines from side to side. Furudate is so skilled at conveying such deep and powerful emotion from these simple designs that it’s breathtaking, and I really admire how much skill this must take to pull off. In the back of the volume there is a four-paged short story that is drawn completely in pencil sketches rather than being inked over, and I have to say that even for a rough extra it looks wonderful.

Character designs for this volume are also very nice because while Nishinoya, with his blond streak and very pointy hair, looks like he belongs in a shonen manga, we also have Asahi, who is more of the gentle giant of the series. While his design doesn’t exactly stand out, he’s still rather unique in appearance. There are a couple of off-model shots when characters are in the background of smaller panels, but considering the fact that this is a weekly series in Japan it’s not too unusual and I certainly wasn’t bothered by it.

Overall Haikyu!! continues to be a fantastic read and with the third season of the anime on the horizon it’s a nice way of keeping my excitement for the series intact. I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with Haikyu!!, but these monthly releases are making sure I definitely won’t.

Immortal Hounds Volume 1

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In an alternate reality Earth, humans cannot be killed. Even if they are shot in head or stabbed in the heart, they will instantly revive in perfect health. However, a disease is spreading, RDS, or  Resurrection Deficiency Syndrome, that prevents humans from coming back when killed. After his sister dies as a result of RDS, Kenzaki Shinichi is put in charge of the Anti-Vector Task Force, a special group of investigators who hunt Vectors, humans who carry the fatal disease. Opposing the task force is a mysterious organisation who protect the Vectors at all costs, with people known as Escape Artists rescuing and protecting the Vectors. Despite this, Kenzaki is determined to put a stop to RDS once and for all and discover the secrets behind the shadowy organisation that opposes his team.  

If you’re looking for a manga series with buckets of blood and gore, you can’t go wrong with Ryo Yasohachi’s seinen action splatterfest Immortal Hounds. The idea behind Immortal Hounds – that everyone can instantly come back to life in an instant – is genuinely quite genius for a manga all about trying to be as violent and gory as possible, and it takes great advantage of its concept. Kenzaki and his team of investigators are killed and mutilated in a bunch of different and increasingly violent ways throughout the first volume and the sheer amount and intensity of the action here is incredibly over-the-top and very enjoyable, if you can stomach that kind of thing.

Whilst Immortal Hounds’ insane violence is certainly the element of this first volume that I enjoyed the most, the story is more than just an excuse for mindless violence and is an intriguing start to a larger story. The premise alone was engaging enough to keep me invested but these initial chapters set up plenty of plot threads that left me wanting to know what happens next. Despite the story being quite straight-faced and taking itself pretty seriously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the comedic in-universe public service announcements that pop up in-between some of the chapters. Not only are these shorts darkly hilarious, poking fun at real life PSAs, they also help to flesh out the universe by having the characters explain how RDS works and how people with the disease are treated. This makes the universe feel much more believable whilst also delivering some surprisingly good laughs.

When it comes to the characters, there isn’t really much to talk about, at least in this first volume. We do find out a little bit about Kenzaki and Rin, but there isn’t really a whole lot to them at the moment, although the ending of Volume One certainly leaves them in a good place for future development.  

Considering artist and author Ryo Yasohachi has never done an action manga before, with his only other notable work being the sci-fi/romance Uwagaki, Immortal Hounds is actually quite the impressive looking manga. It’s nothing particularly unique, but the action and gore look great. If I did have one complaint, it’s that I found it occasionally hard to follow in the more hectic scenes, but it was never really a huge issue.

In Summary

With delightful amounts of over-the-top gore and violence and an interesting premise, the first volume of Immortal Hounds provides a promising start to what could be a great splatter series.

Queen Emeraldas – Volume 1

Queen Emeraldas Cover

Leiji Matsumoto is one of those names that you hear all the time when you start getting into anime and manga, often in sentences that start with “classic authors like…” His most famous works include Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and Queen Emeraldas is certainly a lot closer to the latter than the others, though they obviously all share similarities in terms of setting. Emeraldas herself is a Space Pirate (and a Captain, I guess, as she has no crew…) and is in the same universe as Harlock, confirmed by various characters talking about the character.

The stories in this pleasingly hefty and well-crafted book (more on that later!) can be broken down into two categories: stories centred around Hiroshi Umino, a kid who wants nothing more than to travel the stars in a ship he’s built himself, and stories centred around Emeraldas, which is normally her arriving just before or after Umino and gently helping him achieve his goals, as they were goals she had at that age too.

The Umino stories are the heart of the piece, though they are often quite harsh. More often than not, the unpleasant adult types try to kill him for one reason or another, leading to the poor boy having to kill his fair share of people to achieve his goals. It doesn’t seem to bother him too much, and he often justifies these actions by saying he was upholding the “laws of space”. He does meet a few friendly people, though they frequently encounter rather unpleasant fates themselves. Umino is quite hard to like after a while. First you’re happy to see a boy with a presumably unpleasant upbringing chasing his dreams against all odds, but after a while you want him to stop being so cold and stoic and be a bit more… child-like. It probably doesn’t help that Emeraldas is also cold and stoic, so I guess I was expecting a more contrast to the two story types, even if she is following him around because he reminds her of herself.

Having said that, the Emeraldas stories are a bit more varied. Sometimes she just arrives in classic “bad-ass” cloaked fashion, everyone makes fun of her, finds out who she is, regrets their decision and then gets killed in either a fair duel or as they’re running away. There is a story about her background and how she met her faithful ship, the Queen Emeraldas (it has the same name as her, coincidentally… or perhaps not so coincidentally? We don’t know yet) which includes an interesting planet full of huge cities that has been completely abandoned by its natives and is now in the control of a small band of colonists. They refuse to share any of their now ample resources with anyone, despite having literally entire cities that are empty. It’s wandering the deserts of this near-empty world that has her come across the ship and its mysterious owner (who, it seems, gives the ship to Emeraldas as she reminds her of herself…).

The art is an interesting one. Emeraldas and a few soldier types are drawn very realistically, very thin with properly defined features, whereas the kids and some of the more regular people (doctors, mechanics et al) are drawn in a very cartoony style, full of big noses and hair that completely covers characters eyes. It reminded me of the original Gundam series, where the children and a few character looked cartoony, and the rest presented as regular looking people. I assume this isn’t a coincidence and that Gundam was simply using a style that was popular at the time, probably due to Leiji Matsumoto’s earlier work.

The last two stories in the book have never been reprinted before and actually had the original manuscripts lost (they were scanned from the magazine they appeared in), so although they didn’t feel any different to the other stories in this volume, it’s always nice to hear of more material being collected and released rather than being left to fade away. The book itself is of very high quality, hardback with top quality glossy pages. A lot of love and care has gone into this release.

So, overall, do I recommend you pick up Queen Emeraldas Vol. 1? Well, if you’re a fan of sci-fi, particularly more pulpy, 60s sci-fi, then there is a lot to enjoy here, likewise if you’re a fan of vintage manga or Leiji himself (though I imagine if you are, you don’t need to be convinced to buy this!) Otherwise some of the story points do start to wear a bit thin over the 400 odd pages, the amount of times someone dies due to the “harsh laws of space” was starting to grate a bit, and Umino’s custom ship crashing was a bit overused to get the story to a new location. Still though, there are a lot of fun sci-fi ideas, some great art and all collected in a very lovely hardback book. If you’re on the fence, I definitely give this book a high recommendation.

 

Kiss Him, Not Me! Volumes 5 & 6

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“Serinuma-san is my girlfriend. And I won’t let you make a pass at her!”
Asuma Mutsumi to Kazuma Mutsumi

High school! The happiest days of your life – but not always for fujoshi Kae Serinuma, who is still being ardently pursued by her four would-be boyfriends and fellow fujoshi/doujinshi-artist and kohai, Shima. Out of all her admirers, quiet, history-loving Mutsumi-senpai has always been the most supportive and the most restrained. But when a new (and good-looking) student teacher joins the school and falls for Kae’s charms, Mutsumi reveals a very different side to his character. Because the new teacher just happens to be his older brother Kazuma – and a serious case of sibling rivalry erupts with poor Kae the unwilling object of their affections. How will they resolve the situation? (You can be sure that the Mutsumi brothers will find an ‘unusual’ way to duel for Kae’s affections!) And how will the other members of Kae’s entourage react to the appearance of yet another contender?

By the beginning of Volume 6, Kae (prompted by her friend Ah-chan) tries to respond honestly to Asuma’s declaration of love by going on a date with each member of her entourage.

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Kae, however, still a true otaku through and through, is utterly distracted by the launch of a stirring new anime series: Katchu Ranbu/Katchu Love (Junko cheekily referencing Touken Ranbu, the fujoshi-favourite card game based on the anthropomorphization or ‘personification’ of famous historical swords into attractive bishonen – only here, it’s armour). Overnight, she is smitten – and so is Shima! But as they are ecstatically fan-girling together, it slips out that they hold totally opposing views when it comes to the correct way to ship the two central characters. The boys look on, mystified, as the two girls – such firm friends – fall out and stalk away.  (A nice little touch is Junko’s insertion of the drawing of a kitten as the girls argue with the caption ‘Reading this part is not essential…so please enjoy this picture of a cute cat.’) As a BL mangaka herself, Junko knows her readership well enough to do a little gentle (and genuinely funny) satirizing here of the terrible rifts that can erupt over such matters. The boys, bemused, do their best to patch matters up – but are the girls irreconcilable?

Kae Serinuma is a sympathetic central figure but still utterly clueless, it seems, when it comes to understanding the boys’ feelings for her. Which is good for extending a long-running series, although by now, readers will have their own favourite potential ‘One True’ for our heroine and will be hoping for some development. It’s interesting to see Junko’s comment in the (amusing, as ever) author’s notes that ‘It seemed like the penultimate volume but there’s still more to come!’ (Four more volumes and counting, according to Kodansha.) But I can’t help wondering how much longer this idea can be extended before it becomes old. The arrival of big brother and student teacher Kazuma in Volume 5 pushes the believability boundaries way off – such inappropriate behaviour towards his students would have him instantly removed from the school in the real world (but where would the fun be in that from a mangaka’s point of view?)

The Kodansha translation by David Rhie flows fluently and, as ever with Kodansha, the Translation Notes provide fascinating and invaluable explanations of cultural references in the text.

The autumn will bring the anime TV series of Kiss Him, Not Me

Who will provide a resolution to Kae’s dilemma first: Junko or the anime script writers?

In Summary

If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, just enjoy the art, the fun and the fantasy in this romantic comedy set in and around the world of high school fujoshi fandom.

Fairy Tail Zero Review

Fairy Tail Zero mangaThe Fairy Tail manga has long been one of my favourite shonen series. Like with all long running manga though, I always get left feeling that there are more stories to be told in the universe than just the ‘main’ story we read week to week. Thankfully the Fairy Tail Zero manga is here to help fill one such gap.

A certain story that I’d always longed to be told from the Fairy Tail universe was the origin of the Fairy Tail guild itself. We already knew that the first guild master was Mavis Vermillion, but just how did the creation of Fairy Tail come about? With this volume of manga we’re given all of the answers we could hope for and a few pleasant surprises.

Our story begins on Sirius Island (translated as Tenrou Island in the anime) where Mavis, as a child, lived with her parents. After her parents passed away she ended up working for the Red Lizard wizards guild and it’s during this time period that we’re dropped into Mavis’s life. One day the town is attacked by a rival guild known as Blue Skull and Mavis and Red Lizard’s guild master’s daughter, Zera, are the only survivors.

Flash forward seven years and we’re reacquainted with Mavis and Zera as some treasure hunters come to the island. The group of treasure hunters is made up of Yuri Dreyar (father of Makarov Dreyar), Precht Gaebolg, and Warrod Sequen (one of the ten wizard saints in the future) and to any avid readers of Fairy Tail will be familiar faces. The three have come to take the mysterious Sirius Orb, which is said to be worth a great deal of money. However, after meeting Mavis and striking a deal with her for the orb, they discover that it has actually already been stolen! Mavis determines that it was likely taken by Blue Skull during the attack seven years ago and thus the treasure hunters, along with Mavis and Zera, set out to find the guild in question and take back what belonged to Sirius Island.

As this is a single volume I won’t say too much more regarding how the story comes together because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I do want to mention that Zeref has some level of involvement within the plot. Not only does Fairy Tail Zero tell the Fairy Tail guild’s origin tale, it  also shares the story of how Mavis and Zeref became friends. In fact this manga strives to wrap up a few different storylines in one volume and I’m happy to say that it does what it sets out to accomplish rather well.

While we’ve seen a decent amount of Precht and Warrod in the main Fairy Tail manga it’s nice to see a bit more of them when they were younger. The same can be said for Mavis, too, because while we’re fairly familiar with her now, it’s nice to see her humble beginnings and experience the adventure that left her wanting to create a guild: a place to come home to. As far as new characters go, Zera and Yuri are both great additions to the Fairy Tail cast and it’s easy to see that Yuri and grandson Laxus have a lot in common – including their usage of electric magic! Zera is mysterious and very quiet but she’s also much more grounded and down to earth than Mavis, so the two make for a good team.

Fairy Tail Zero has been handled by mangaka Hiro Mashima, who many will already be familiar with as he’s also the mangaka behind Fairy Tail itself. Due to being created by the original mangaka, it leaves Fairy Tail Zero with the ability to slot into the canon perfectly while also working as a standalone story. Mashima penned the 13 chapter story around the same time as the end of the main series’ Tartaros arc (the arc spans chapters 356 to 417 of the manga, which is roughly volumes 42 until 49) and in the back of this volume Mashima notes how more of Mavis’s story is told in volume 53 of the series.

Despite the fact that this story can stand on its own fairly well for readers without a deep knowledge of Fairy Tail, I think you’ll get more enjoyment out of Fairy Tail Zero if you can read it within the timeline that I’ve listed above. As it is the origin story of the guild, it obviously delivers a greater impact the more you know about the series, but I also feel that it’s quite emotional and enjoyable all on its own.

As far as artwork is concerned, I think that Fairy Tail Zero is a really good example of Mashima at his best. The action scenes aren’t quite as impressive as in the main series but the battles still flow very well. What stands out the most though is the emotion that all of our cast display and how this shines through in every panel. Mashima is a strong artist and pays a lot of attention to the small details, even in the smaller panels that are home to a single character. It’s that attention to detail that brings his world to life and makes even a somewhat barren scene looking over a small lake seem pretty special. In the back of this volume there is also an interview with the mangaka, which really shows us just how much thought and effort goes into making Fairy Tail what it is. For a big fan like me it was brilliant fun to read through!

Overall Fairy Tail Zero is a great addition to the Fairy Tail universe. Not only does it expand on some much loved characters’ stories, how the guild came to be and so on, it also gives us time away from our usual cast of heroes and leaves us with something I can proudly recommend to shonen fans. Existing fans of the series will get more out of it but I think there’s a story here for everyone and as a single volume it’s well worth your time.

Score: 9/10

Manga Quick Information

Title: Fairy Tail Zero
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Hiro Mashima
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Shonen
Age rating: 13 +
Material length: 270 Pages

Karneval Volumes 4 & 5 Review

Karneval 4

Circus has rescued young Nai’s friend and protector Karoku from the clutches of the sinister organization Kafka at the Smokey Mansion – but to Nai’s distress, Karoku doesn’t recognize him. It seems that Kafka have been tampering with Karoku’s mind and memories, although no one at Circus is sure how to restore him. Gareki begins his new life as a student at Chronome Academy, sponsored by Captain Hirato. When Nai and Karoku manage to activate the old Circus ID bracelet, Gareki hears Nai crying out for help. Forbidden to leave the academy on pain of expulsion, Gareki finds himself suddenly transported far away. Has he been summoned by Nai – and, if so, can he find him in time before something terrible occurs? Whatever happens, his future prospects at the academy look bleak. Meanwhile, Kafka are planning revenge for Circus’s attack. Uro’s replacement, Ryuu, is determined to show utter ruthlessness to prove his worth to Kafka and orders his forces to kill everyone they encounter. A vicious battle ensues – and it’s far from certain who will emerge unscathed from this latest Varuga attack.

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Touya Mikanagi really gets into her stride here by seriously upping the ante in these volumes. The Circus combat specialists are forced to fight for their lives as they are ambushed by Varuga, leading to the summoning of ‘Silver’ Yogi, the sweet-natured combatant’s ‘other’ personality. And all the while, the hints increase as to the possible links between the biotechnology that has created the monstrous Varuga also being used in the creation of Nai.

In what begins as a typically frivolous, fun research trip to the Ancient Ocean Mermerai – where, for research purposes, the crew members are required to bathe naked in the warm waters to attract the Peranoa, native marine creatures – Yogi’s underwear goes missing. (Yes, it’s a wonderful excuse for fan service, but…) The thief turns out to be a cat. And the cat turns out to be connected to something – or someone – both sinister and sad. There’s the hint of a parallel with the underwear thief and Nai’s origins; although it’s not ever spelled out in so obvious a way, it gives the reader plenty to think about. And what begins as a farcical hunt for missing panties (no one blushes better than Yogi) turns into something far more dangerous.

As Karneval reaches its fifth volume in Yen Press’s English edition (Volumes 9-10 in the original Japanese) it raises an issue that has been intriguing and annoying me in equal measure. Some manga series which are serialized weekly/monthly manage to maintain a sense of onward momentum, pulling the reader along with the promise that the overarching plot issues set out at the beginning will be resolved and all the mysteries solved. But others dilly-dally along the way, going off down what turn out to be blind alleys and losing the narrative drive that is so important for sustaining reader involvement. I realize that this is often not just the fault of the mangaka; we see in series about the way manga is written and delivered from Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-Kun to The World’s Greatest First Love (okay, these are often emphasizing the crazy/humorous side of the process but nevertheless…) the very significant role played by editors in the final product we get to read.

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Karneval is published in Zero Sum, the magazine that has also brought us Loveless, Devils and Realist and 07-Ghost. All of these popular series have been made into anime before the manga was anyway near a conclusion – and this also seems to put the mangaka off their stride in terms of plot development (because why would you, when someone else – the anime script writer – has already finished it off for you or taken it in a different direction from the one you were intending?) Karneval’s strengths lie in its artwork and the character interactions, as young fugitives Nai and Gareki are rescued and then sheltered and educated by the eccentric and colourful crews of both ships of Circus. But the underlying mysteries are developing painfully slowly: who – or what – is Nai? Why was Gareki shipwrecked as a child from what seemed to be a sinister slave ship? Who was responsible for developing the terrifying genetically altered monsters called Varuga? Are Circus really the Good Guys? And how are all these issues related (as they most assuredly are)?

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(This cover image is taken from the French Ki-oon edition but is also used on the reverse of Volume 4 from Yen Press.)

It seems that mangaka are very much at the mercy of the popularity of their series (the magazines carry out frequent reader polls). If the series is popular, they’re encouraged to eke out the material as far as it will go. If its popularity starts to wane, editorial pressure is imposed to bring things to a swift (sometimes brutally swift) conclusion. This wreaks havoc for the mangaka in sustaining anything resembling a coherent, satisfying plot. So how well has Touka Miyanagi coped in what is (after all) her first major series (it’s been running for nine years now)? The good news is that she’s really developed as a storyteller. Karneval was full of good ideas at the start but the delivery was rather random at best. A shame, because this may have deterred some readers. But by now the story’s well underway and she’s much better at pacing the action and directing the reader to what’s really important without distracting them with fun but irrelevant stuff (like the charming rabbit and sheep crews on the two Circus ships). Well, most of the time, anyway.

The artwork is just as attractive as before and these trade paperback Yen Press editions are very handsome indeed, with the original colour splash pages and all the delightful extras (including, if you’re a seiyuu fan, the mangaka’s drawings of the cast of the drama CDs and the anime).

In Summary

If you’re looking for a fantasy steampunk manga with a likable cast of characters and an underlying mystery that needs to be solved, then Karneval is well worth your time – as long as you don’t mind the occasional meander down a plot side-street.

Score 8/10

Touya Mikanagi Yen Press 2016, translated by Su Mon Ha  OT c. 400 pages

Bleach – Volume 67

Bleach 67

 “Black”

As the announcement of Bleach’s final chapter still rings across the manga and anime-related internet, Volume 67 is released here in the UK, still several volumes away from the announced end.

The battle between the Shinigami (or Soul Reapers) and the Quincy Wandenreich continues on, though now the focus is entirely on the fight between the Elite Sternritter group, the Quincy leader Yhwach and the Royal Guard, a.k.a. Squad Zero. After a brief battle between Sternritter D: “The Deathdealing” Askin Nakk Le Vaar (wouldn’t be one of these reviews without a weird name!) and Squad Zero member Oetsu Nimaiya. It’s your classic Kubo-written fight, Nakk Le Vaar describes his convenient and long-winded power to his stricken foe before the tables are turned via an equally convenient but not as hard to describe power. This is actually one of my favourite things about Bleach, most of the powers wielded by the characters aren’t just your plain fire and ice powers.

In the previous chapter I talked about characters who have been hyped up being defeated off-panel; well, in order to revitalise his Elite guard, Yhwach kills a bunch of them, without us finding out their powers or anything. Again, very annoying. The revived Elite cause major trouble for Squad Zero, leading to Yhwach confronting the cover man of this Volume and Captain of Squad Zero: Ichibe Hyosube.

Of the ten chapters in this volume, the fight between Ichibe and Yhwach takes up a good seven of them, which is good as I was beginning to worry for the pace of this story arc. Squad Zero may have, for the most part, failed to live up to all their hype, but I’m happy to confirm that Ichibe, the strongest of them, more than lives up to it. He’s playful and nice, and also terrifying at times, and has a very unique skill set based around the power names have on things. I mentioned enjoying the battles in Bleach where there is a back-and-forth of crazy powers out-trumping each other; they’re unique and fun, and this fight supplies that in spades. I’ll leave it at that and let you find out and enjoy the craziness.

The final chapter ends on a big cliffhanger, leaving you with hope that the story will enter a new phase now that some of the lesser characters have been cut (as annoying at the way that was achieved is…)

I’ve had reservations about how this final arc has shaped up, with some questionable and rushed actions, and although there are some traces of that within this volume, the majority of it is just one large, over-the-top and crazy fight between two fresh and powerful characters. The art is once again great, both the characters and the depiction of movement during the fight scenes.

This arc may well be the weakest of an admittedly great set of storylines in the manga, but this volume on its own merits is one of the strongest volumes in the series, and certainly worthy of your attention.

Score 9/10

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: VIZ Media LLC