Finder, Volume 8 Review

Copyright: Finder no Mitsuyaku © 2016 Ayano Yamane

WARNING: This article covers an adult title and may cause offense. May also contain spoilers from earlier volumes.

“A photograph is neither taken nor seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you. One must not take photos.” – Henri Cartier-Renoir

There will some people who will be annoyed by the latest volume of Finder, but not strictly because of the contents inside the book.

Among those who will be annoyed are Digital Manga Publishing, who in 2015 went to all the effort to re-release the entire series via crowdfunding, which they did successfully, bringing out all seven volumes that had been previously been released in English, and then they ended up losing the entire licence to Viz Media who have now published the latest volume under their SuBLime label. This in turn leads to another annoyed group: people who will be frustrated that the new cover sticks to SuBLime’s house style, and thus doesn’t fit in with the rest of the books released by DMP under their June label. You also other changes, like changes of staff. However, new translator Adrienne Beck seems to have taken over the reins from Sai Higashi perfectly well. However, we can only really judge when we get access to the volumes DMP have already published as opposed to a brand new book.

However, these issues are merely cosmetic. Once you get into the book itself you see that SuBLime have taken the effort to try and produce a good product, as the eighth volume of Ayano Yamane’s yaoi crime series features bonus side stories and a colour poster. On the down side, in the review copy I was given one of the pages is nearly cut off a bit too much (e.g. part of the “u” in “you” is missed of the page). It doesn’t affect the story really and again it is a cosmetic issue, but it is a sign that when it comes to printing the book you do need some care.

The eighth volume of Finder again continues to follow the relationship between freelance journalistic photographer Akihito Takaba and crime boss Ryuichi Asami. This time, Takaba goes undercover in a club run by one of Asami’s subordinates, Shu Sudo, in order to find a woman who has gone missing. Takaba finds the woman, but learns that she grew up with Sudo and she drugs Takaba.

When Takaba wakes up, he is bound up and attached to crane in a remote warehouse. Sudo has kidnapped him, because he is fed up of Takaba being so close to Asami all of the time, and so plans to kill him using a knife to cut his throat, but not before having his own wicked way with him in the process. It is not long however before the cops show up to arrest Sudo, while Asami is lurking in the darkness protecting Takaba. Takaba and Asami return to their apartment and… well you can guess what they do… but when Takaba wakes up from a nightmare concerning the events that have just happened he finds that there is a blackout in the apartment. Then suddenly a bunch of armed men burst in to try and take both Asami and Takaba down.

Now, clearly this series is not for everyone. There will be people who will find some of the sex scenes objectionable because they are non-consenting and thus are arguably rape scenes. Not only that, but Sudo is also using a knife to threaten to kill Takaba, and thus there is blood in the scene too. However, there are plenty of other sex scenes in the volume that are less of an issue, between Asami and Takaba themselves. Even after writing a series which this year turns 15 (it has taken two-and-a-half years for this volume to be published following the last one), Yamane is still capable of writing some good stuff.

Aside from the erotic side of things, there is still plenty of actual action in this crime-driven story. When the apartment is invaded, Asami gets his gun out to deal with the attacks while Takaba arms himself with a frying pan. There is still plenty in the story to thrill you.

While there will be debate about whether DMP should have lost the license or not, we should be glad that the story is still accessible in English and that the tale itself has not lost anything that makes it enjoyable. But if you are still annoyed by the fact the cover style differs from the rest, then don’t worry, because SuBLime are going to re-release the earlier volumes too, with some extras of their own, with the first volume scheduled for July.

 

Title: Review of Finder, Volume 8
Publisher: SuBLime
Genre: Action, Boys' Love, Crime,
Author(s): Ayano Yamane
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2002
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Mature (+18)
Length: 216 pages

Score: 8/10

Complex Age Volume 4 Review

“It’s probably not true for everything, but sometimes there are things about your hobby that just aren’t as fun.” – Shiho, Complex Age volume 4

It has been awhile since I reviewed the first volume of Complex Age. Back then I was really pleased with what the series was trying to portray but I didn’t think I’d have enough to say on Complex Age to warrant further reviews. However, volume 4 has left me with the urge to talk about just how special this manga is and why the problems it’s dealing with this time around are so important.

This review contains spoilers for Complex Age volumes 1 to 4, so if you hadn’t heard of the series before now then check out my first review here.

Volume 4 of Complex Age starts off with Nagisa dealing with struggles within her current relationship (which began in Volume 3). She begins debating if the partnership and cosplay can ever safely coexist after her partner becomes jealous of the pictures of her posted on the internet. However, this isn’t where the volume really shines, as the latter half of the book tells a much more interesting tale (for me anyway).

About a quarter of the way through the book, a new character is introduced, known as Riu, who Nagisa previously talked down to at a convention by telling her that she hadn’t put enough effort into her cosplay (this happens in Volume 1). It turns out that Riu has been working hard since that conflict to become better at creating her costumes and wishes to be involved with Nagisa and her group of friends. Everything seems fine on the surface and Nagisa invites Riu to a photo shoot with her group, but afterwards one of Nagisa’s friends, Aya, runs into some trouble online where photos of her are receiving nasty anonymous comments. When Nagisa and another of her friends, Shiho, get involved they quickly discover that Riu may not be all that she seems…

I picked the opening quote for this article because I truly believe it’s true to life. Every hobby has its ups and down, and one negative within the world of cosplay is attracting hate online. Of course hate messages aren’t limited to cosplay, and as a writer in this day and age it’s easy for people to single you out for no particular reason and have a laugh at your expense or send you hurtful messages (I’ve certainly been a victim of it). It’s a very real and important issue that I’m glad Complex Age dealt with in a realistic way. Not only did the series perfectly convey Aya’s thoughts and emotions as the victim, it also provides the perspective of a bully and why they picked out Aya.

Throughout its run Complex Age has never shied away from dealing with hard, genuine issues that young adults deal with and this volume just reinforces that. It’s something I really respect mangaka Yui Sakuma for because they’ve created a series that offers something different in the manga market that nothing else caters to. I also like that many of the issues we deal with, including the bullying in this volume, generally isn’t limited strictly to cosplay: much of it reflects anime/manga fans on the whole and can even stretch into other hobbies. This makes Complex Age easier to recommend because, provided you have the slightest interest in cosplay, the characters and story will carry you through the rest of it.

It has to be said that the artwork for Complex Age also remains a strong point with Yui Sakuma and showcases that she has a good grasp of how cosplay is put together and how the clothes should fit on a woman. Panels are well detailed throughout and the soft, rounded faces of the cast are always very welcoming to see as a reader. It’s not hard to slip into the series from volume to volume and feel right at home, despite there being months between releases.

Overall this volume of Complex Age is one of the best yet. It’s highly emotional but deals with issues that a lot of media shies away from. With a cliffhanger at the end of the book,I find myself hooked yet again and eagerly awaiting Volume 5. I always pegged Complex Age as a strong series, but I think this volume brings the manga to the point of being something truly special that I’d highly recommend to everyone.

Title: Complex Age Volume 4
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Seinen
Author(s): Yui Sakuma
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 210 pages

Score: 8/10

Bleach – Volume 69 Review

Against The Judgement

The 69th volume of Bleach has hit British shelves and it’s full of build-up and returning characters! Let’s take a look.

The volume begins with the gathered members of the Gotei 13 as they try to create a gate to reach the Royal Realm and have a crack at the still- annoying-to-pronounce Yhwach (seriously, I’ve visited several threads on how to pronounce it all over the internet, and several completely different ways were put forward, all with valid reasons as to why they’re right…) Yhwach, by the way, absorbed the Soul King at the end of the last volume, thus for all intensive purposes has become God. He soon displays this power by building a Quincy town around the Royal Palace using his mind and the rubble around Soul Society. The Gotei 13 get some help from disgruntled Quincy soldiers who managed to survive their master’s attempted wiping out of his own forces and are more than a little upset about it.

We then switch over to Ichigo and his crew, where we get the now classic Kubo set-up of comedy interactions and several panels of explanation about how and where they are, all leading to the big end fight (for real this time…) These chapters include a few returning characters from both the Arrancar arc and the Lost Agent arc, but I won’t go into details in case you want to be surprised. Anyway, Ichigo and crew, as well as the Gotei 13, all arrive in the Quincy-fied Royal Realm and see a rather large and imposing castle pop up, and both decide to charge towards it and take their enemy’s bait.

That’s about it, apart from the last few chapters. They deal with the backstory of Yhwach’s right hand man Haschwalth and this volume’s cover boy Bazz B, one of the surviving lower-tier Quincy who has changed sides. It’s actually refreshing to see the backstory of these characters, it used to be a Kubo classic that most villains got flashbacks (normally right before they die…), which often really added to them and the overall story, but we’ve had none of that so far. It’s one of the reasons why the Quincy army is far less interesting than the Arrancar army, we simply don’t know or care about any of them (well, apart from Uryu…)

The artwork is of course still on form, though with the exception of the last chapters (give or take) this whole volume is setting up the final battle rather than having much action to convey… which is funny because I’m pretty sure I wrote the same thing last time… and possibly once before that even. Still, the final volume is 74, so even without future knowledge it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall, as this volume sets up the last battle for real this time. There are a few returns to the comedic art style Kubo does during the more silly talky scenes with Ichigo and co, so it’s not all people standing around in the middle of the book, talking.

It goes without saying that Bleach Volume 69 isn’t a good book to pick up if you’re not already following the series, but it is a good example of Kubo’s writing in amongst volumes that have displayed some of his worst. The use of comedic exchanges and black-paged flashback stories feels nostalgic after multiple volumes of neither, and a nice final return to the more familiar Kubo style before we dive head first into the grand finale.

Title: Bleach - Volume 69
Publisher: Viz
Genre: Shonen, Action, Supernatural
Author(s): Tite Kubo
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: T
Length: 192 pages

Score: 7/10

Review of Clockwork Planet, Volume 1

“How many steampunks does it take to change a light bulb? Two: one to change it and a second to glue unnecessary clock parts to it.” – James Burnett

A long time ago, the Earth died.

Then, a man known as Y was able to use his skills with clock parts to rebuild the entire world using nothing but gears. Cities were built inside gigantic cogs, each city having a large spoke sticking out called a “Central Tower” which controlled the climate. The Earth itself went around a gigantic spring that ran around the equator to generate power. A thousand years later, this is the society that humanity lives in, with the Earth now known as “Clockwork Planet”.

Naoto Miara is a student living in the Giro Kyoto. He is also a machine otaku, with his only passion in life being technology, which as a result sees him being bullied by everyone else at school. On returning to his flat, suddenly a crate drops out of a plane and crashes through his roof. He opens the crate to find a coffin, inside of which is a female automaton. Naoto decides to repair the automaton before his flat collapses, which he does just by hearing which gear in the automaton is wrong.

The automaton awakes, having been malfunctioning for over two centuries, and gets Naoto out of the flat before it collapses. The automaton also requests that Naoto should be her master, and he agrees. Her name is RyuZU “The One Who Follows” YourSlave, and she promises to serve Naoto with absolute submission and loyalty. RyuZU becomes a pupil at Naoto’s school and arranges things so that Naoto can carry on living comfortably, even if she is not aware of certain legal issues. For example, she is unaware that is inappropriate for someone as young as Naoto to stay in a love hotel. They later move into the city’s best hotel.

However, there are bigger problems to deal with. Giro Kyoto appears to be suffering from a “gravity glitch”. Those within the top of society know that in 42 hours the gear upon which the city lies will collapse, killing everyone living on it, and no order has been given to evacuate the area. The job of solving the problem has been given to Dr. Marie Bell Breguet, the youngest person ever to be made a “meister”, part of a non-profit guild dedicated to keeping the clockwork going. She is also a member of one of the five great corporate families of the world, is accompanied by a bodyguard and mechanical soldier named Vainney Halter, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to solve problems – like threatening people with syringes full of mercury.

Breguet and Halter are also on the lookout for an automaton created by Y, who it turns out is RyuZU, and they later meet each other at the hotel RyuZU and Naoto are staying at. This encounter results in an event described at the end of the book’s first chapter. Namely, that in one month’s time, all four will be together in Akihabara – having now become history’s most infamous terrorists.

Clockwork Planet already has plenty of things that make it worthy of reading. For starters there are the people behind it, with the most recognisable name being Japanese-Brazilian co-author Yuu Kamiya, who is also the creator of popular gaming fantasy series No Game No Life. It is certainly a fun series and there is plenty of excitement to be had in this work as well.

Another part of this manga that makes it engaging is the setting. At first it feels like steampunk because of all the gears and the use of old technology to power the world. But on the other hand, there is no steam technology used, it’s set way into the future, and the society looks very much like our modern day one with the exception that just about every building has cogs sticking out of it. Fortunately, there is already something out there that fits this mold better than steampunk, which is the subgenre of “clockpunk”. This is akin to steampunk, but rather than being based on Victorian technology it’s based on even earlier technology like that of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.

The setting in turn results in the next element that makes this manga entertaining, which is the art. It is fun to see a world that is run by clockwork. All the cogs and gears look cool. That is why things like steampunk took off; because it looks good. For example, when Naoto is repairing RyuZU, he opens her up and you see all the delicate workings inside her. There is something beautiful about seeing all of the machinery exposed, and in the story the entire workings of the planet are out in the open, for all to see. A planet made out of this stuff looks great. While writing this review up I ended up thinking of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the planet Magrathea, which was home to a luxury business that made custom-built planets. I’m starting to fall in love with the idea of ordering a planet made out of clockwork.

The way the plot is structured is also intriguing. At the end of the opening chapter it is already revealed that the main characters are going to become terrorists. We already know where the plot is going, even though Breguet and Halter haven’t even been properly introduced yet, with only their names being mentioned. However, it keeps the reader engaged. Often with a new manga you might read the first volume, but it is not enough to sustain your interest and you don’t bother to progress with the next. In Clockwork Planet the author has already fed you with what is going to come, and it sounds exciting.

One final interesting bit about it is that this series is being adapted as an anime, and it begins next month. Now, we all know that Clockwork Planet, and indeed just about every other anime series, is going to be in the shadow of the second series of Attack on Titan which begins at the same time. We all know that it is going to win every popular vote going – unless all of a sudden we learn that Yuri!!! on Ice will begin a new series at the end of the year. However, given all the elements I have discussed, it may well be that Clockwork Planet might have a decent chance of getting noticed too. It could be one of the many surprises that have occurred this year. After all, who would have thought that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid would be the hit series for this season? (Well actually, at least four of the people who write for AUKN, and we are smug about it.)

Anyway, Clockwork Planet is certainly a series I plan to continue reading and one I plan to stream if it is possible.

Title: Clockwork Planet, Volume 1
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Action, Clockpunk, Fantasy
Author(s): Yuu Kamiya (story), Tsubaki Himana (story), Kuro (art) and Sino (character design)
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 16+
Length: 216 pages

Score: 9/10

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Volume 1 Review

“If you ever meet with an Outsider, you mustn’t touch them…because their touch will curse you.”

An ash-blonde little girl in a white smock has fallen asleep gathering flowers in a dark forest. A male creature of darkness – horned, beaked head, tall and garbed in black  – looms over her. The little girl wakes and…

In most stories, this encounter would not end well. But when the sinister creature speaks, his words are filled with gentle chiding and we see that he has come to protect the little girl Shiva, not attack her. A walk to the nearby town – utterly deserted – enables the unlikely pair to gather food and water before they return to their house. We see their domestic routine and learn that the little girl, Shiva, is waiting eagerly for her auntie to come and collect her. Her companion, whom she calls Teacher, is courteous and caring and reads to her (she’s too young to know how) from a book which tells about the God of Light banishing the God of Darkness who came to be known as the Outsider. He reminds her gently that he cannot – must not – touch her, or she will become an Outsider too. And then the story shifts to reveal knights searching the forest for a little girl. Their orders are blunt: “Kill it.”

This is the first manga by Nagabe to be translated into English and it makes for a very strong debut. Like The Ancient Magus’ Bride (also published in Mag Garden) it exudes a powerful and seductive feeling of Otherness; even though the subtitle is Irish the atmosphere evoked by the wonderful dark, grainily-textured art and the fairytale setting is more Northern European Grimm than Celtic (the knights’ armour) and the tall, slender tree trunks bring to mind the illustrations of Danish fairy tale artist Kay Nielsen. Nagabe is especially gifted at story-telling without words, making the most of the contrasts of black and white in some striking and genuinely disturbing sequences.

Nagabe delivers a believable and unsentimental portrait of a young child and Shiva’s relationship with Teacher is touchingly portrayed. We do not know who – or what – he is, except that is obviously one of the feared Outsiders. What we do see is his fatherly concern for his young charge – faced with trying to protect her not just from the Others but from the humans who have abandoned her as well.

And what of the subtitle: Siúil, a Rún? It’s an Irish folksong, sung by a woman lamenting the departure of her lover who’s gone to the wars. Wikipedia tells us that it can be translated as, ‘Go, my love!’  Will it be significant? It’s too early to say…

The edition from Seven Seas is attractively presented with two colour plates at the start and includes two 4-koma extras. Adrienne Beck ‘s sympathetic translation captures the archetypal fairy tale tone of voice perfectly.

At the end, we are promised that Volume 2 of  ‘A tranquil fairy tale about those human and inhuman’ is coming soon. But this volume ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger which is far from tranquil. The Girl from the Other Side is an unsettling yet strangely beautiful manga that will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading.

© nagabe / MAG Garden

Title: The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Supernatural
Author(s): Nagabe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: All Ages
Length: 180 pages

Score: 9/10

Erased Volume 1 Review

Last March I started watching Erased, a mystery story that was being adapted by A-1 Pictures. Over the course of its airing many anime fans took notice of the series and by the end of its run we were all very engrossed in the story and how it would turn out. Fast forward a year and the manga is now being brought to English thanks to Yen Press, and I’m here to give my thoughts on it.

For those of you who don’t know, Erased tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, who is a fairly ordinary guy to the average eye. He’s a published mangaka but struggling to pen his next hit, so he’s also working part-time as a pizza deliverer guy. However, Satoru has a special ability that randomly triggers when someone around him is in danger. This ability sends Satoru back in time to a key moment before a fatal incident occurs – how far back depending on the situation. Once in the past, he must focus on what is going around him in order to solve the incident at hand before time will move forward normally again. If he misses the obvious fix then time loops round again and places Satoru back at the beginning to relive the scene over and over again.

Usually this ability never sends Satoru back more than a few minutes, but after someone close to our hero is brutally murdered, he’s sent back eighteen years to when he was a child in elementary school. At the time many children in the neighborhood were being kidnapped and murdered, including a classmate of his: Kayo Hinazuki. Remembering the incident, Satoru vows to protect Kayo and discover the connection between the murder in the present day and the disappearance of the children so many years ago. With so much on the line, can he figure it out or will be forced to relive these days forever?

Now I’m someone who likes a good mystery story, so when Erased came along I was more than happy to give it a shot. Apart from the fact that the series doesn’t outright explain Satoru’s abilities very well, or even why he has them, the story at hand is a good one. Even for someone like me, who has watched the anime through to the end, it’s not obvious who the kidnapper is, which so far has made revisiting the story enjoyable. There are just enough hints and revelations to keep readers on their toes and it’s easy to find yourself considering the numerous possibilities as the story unfolds. It’s a series that really makes you think and that’s the real charm it has going for it.

This volume might be labelled as Volume 1 but actually it’s an omnibus that includes the first two volumes that were released in Japan. This is a good way of releasing the series in the west as the first volume doesn’t really drag you into the mystery as well as it could. It’s not until the end of the first volume that Satoru is sent to the far past, and as the real meat of the series takes place during this period, I’m glad that we had a second volume included to read through.

A problem that I do have with the manga though is sadly quite a big one. My complaint lies with the artwork itself, which spends the majority of its time looking very disjointed. Characters’ heads are drawn at too sharp an angle, so they look much more pointed than they should. There are a few scenes where a character’s hair is blowing in the wind and not once does it look natural. Instead the hair looks very flat and, as with the faces, far too rigid in design. The artwork completely ruins any attempts the series makes in conveying emotion as the expressions never feel like they fit, and throughout the two volumes the eyes of our cast look completely empty – almost dead to me. Sure, pupils are drawn okay but they’re just black circles with almost no highlights to speak of. The other problem with the eyes is that, on the whole, they’re not circular enough and often drawn to a point (I think you can see where I’m going with this). It all makes for a very jarring experience.

Initially I wondered if the issues with the artwork came about because the manga was older (not that there is anything wrong with old manga!). I honestly didn’t know. However, it turned out that Erased was first published in 2012 in Japan, so it’s not actually old at all. After that I wondered if maybe mangaka Kei Sanbe was just inexperienced, but with numerous titles to their name that appears to not be the case either. Erased ran in Japan from 2012 until 2016 and a part of me hopes that the artwork will improve in time, but I’m not willing to bet on it. It’ll be disappointing if the art doesn’t improve, because the anime of Erased was very emotional, and to lose that depth due to the artwork would be a crying shame.

Overall I liked Erased enough as an anime to continue the manga for now, but I do think the manga is a hard sell for others who perhaps weren’t big fans of the anime or haven’t seen the series at all before. If you like the sound of the story then I recommend checking out the anime, but if you can overlook the artwork then the manga isn’t a bad starting point. The Erased manga is by no means bad, it just isn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be.

Title: Erased Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Author(s): Kei Sanbe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 384 pages

Score: 6/10

Review of The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” – William Gibson

The new Ghost in the Shell film, made in America and to be released at the end of March, has already attracted plenty of comments. Most of this commentary is along the lines of: “How come they cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi? This is whitewashing and racist!” or “*sigh* Oh no, not another attempt by the Yanks to make an anime adaptation.”

What is it with Hollywood and their seeming inability to adapt anything that isn’t American properly, especially when it comes to anime? Personally speaking, I have no problem with us in the west adapting stuff from Japan for our own audiences. Take The Seven Samurai – that was turned into a film set in the Wild West, and became The Magnificent Seven, a perfectly good film. The difference, however, is that they clearly changed the location and thus casting American actors in the roles was perfectly fine. The new Ghost in the Shell film fails to do this, at least from what we currently gather. It would be fine if they had set the film in the USA and changed the entire cast, but they haven’t. They still got Japanese actors to play other parts, including major roles, like Takeshi Kitano playing Chief Aramaki. If they can cast a Japanese actor as Aramaki, why not cast one for the Major? I don’t think I’m qualified to say if this is racist or not (excuse my cowardice), but I do feel that it is wrong.

If there is at least one good thing about the new film, it is that it gives everyone a chance to re-evaluate the original work. Manga Entertainment is re-releasing the films [[and the Stand Alone Complex TV series]] on both DVD and Blu-Ray on 20th March, and now Kodansha Comics have released “Deluxe Editions” of the original manga, in hardback and, for the first time, printed in the correct right-to-left unflipped format.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in the fictional floating Newport City in Shinhama Prefecture, and begins on 5th March, 2029. By this point in time, technology has become so advanced that people are able to possess “cyberbrains” that allow their bodies to interact with various networks. People can also gain various forms of prosthetics and even complete prosthetic bodies. The problem with all this technology is that you can be hacked and made to do things by whoever controls you.

The action follows Public Security Section 9, group of ex-military officers and members of the police who investigate crimes that normally involve the hacking of cyberbrains. They are led by Chief Daisuke Aramaki, who everyone always comments looks a bit like a monkey, while most of the main work is done by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has undergone full-body prostheses.

There are some individual cases in this manga, but there is also the overriding case involving “The Puppeteer”, a criminal who is hacking into humans to commit a wide range of crimes. Major Kusanagi and Chief Aramaki attempt to get the bottom of these cases along with the other members of the team, including Batou, who is recognisable by his cylindrical cybernetic eyes; and Togusa, one of the few members of the team not to have any cybernetic enhancements. All the time, Kusanagi believes she able to solve the cases because of what her “ghost” is telling her, but what is her ghost? Is it a soul? Can someone so mechanical have a soul?

If you are confused by the plot, don’t worry: everyone seems to get confused by the plot of Ghost in the Shell. It and Akira are two of the most cyberpunk manga/anime around, and two of the hardest to get your head around. It is made even harder by the inclusion of loads of notes in the margins of the pages. If you turn to the back of the book, it even gives you a note of caution saying: “This book contains a great number of margin notes and commentary. If read alongside the narrative, this may cause confusion and interrupt the flow of the story, so it is recommended that they be enjoyed separately.” You know when some people tell you to read a book twice because you might miss all the hidden references and jokes in it? With Ghost in the Shell you have to read it twice to make sense of everything.

Also, because it was written in 1989, it has dated badly in some places. This is a story with all kinds of futuristic technology, but also one in which the Soviet Union still exists. There also appear to have been some problems with translation. At one point, a Tachikoma (an intelligent tank) says to Kusanagi: “We demand the use of use of natural oil!” It is odd that this error has occurred, especially when you compare it to Dark Horse’s release of the manga in 2004, which has the line correctly written as: “We demand the use of natural oil!”

Where Ghost in the Shell really stands out, however, is the artwork. Now, it should be mentioned that the quality of the art does vary. For example, sometimes it looks like Batou’s eyes are a bit out of place. But on the other side, especially when you get to the colour pictures, the artwork looks brilliant. The shading and the details all look wonderful, and the characters are also great in colour, especially Kusanagi. This does lead to one of the issue that some readers might have, which is that creator Shirow Masamune is someone who is also known for doing erotic art, and thus a few of the outfits worn by the female characters may be a bit too revealing for some tastes. Put it this way: it appears that in Masamune’s vision of the future, nurses are more than willing to wear uniforms that show off their sexy knickers.

However, arguably the fact that you are not seeing something even sexier is worse. A quick bit of research is enough to show you that Kodansha have made some changes. At the beginning of the third chapter, we see a swimsuit-clad Kusanagi on holiday on a boat. We see her jumping into it with two women already on board, also in swimsuits, waiting for her. At least that is what you see in the Kodansha version. If you read the 2004 Dark Horse version, you see that Kusanagi and the other two women are in fact naked. Not only are they naked, the two women already on the boat are having sex, and Kusanagi is about to join in, which she does in the Dark Horse version. What then follows are two pages of a raunchy, lesbian threesome, in colour – at least in Dark Horse’s copy.

In Kodansha’s “Deluxe Edition”, a title which should at least imply that it includes all of the manga, they not only put clothes on the women and moved the characters so they sit separately rather than making love, they removed two entire pages of the book. Now, if they were doing this because they were trying to make the manga more accessible to the public by getting it down to a 16+ rating for example I can at least understand the reasoning even though I would disapprove. Yet Kodansha’s version still has a 18+ “Mature” rating. If the manga is still being aimed only at adults, why censor anything? It serves no purpose.

When I was writing up the conclusion to this review I was going to argue that while there are many reasons to not buy Ghost in the Shell – including the varying quality of the art, some errors made in translation, the difficulty in understanding the plot, the fact that it is not the most feminist story out there in the way some women are depicted, and also the issue of it dating badly in certain places – it was still worth investing in. After all, it is a rare release of a hardback manga, it is now finally in the correct right-to-left format, the wonderful quality of the colour pages outweighs some of the dodgier segments, the chance to see the earliest origins of one of the most famous characters in all of manga, and then there is the biggest reason of all – it gives you a chance to enjoy the Major as she should be enjoyed, before Scarlett Johansson has any chance to potentially spoil things.

However, the censorship tipped me over the edge. Not only are there all the other issues, but Kodansha made this stupid decision to cut out a bit of the story. Yes, it doesn’t add anything to the plot, but the fact they felt the need to do this is just wrong, especially when it serves no purpose at all. This has made me so angry as to change my view, to get rid of my defence of this new book. I originally want to say “read it before the Yanks ruin it”. Kodansha have already ruined it for me.

The worst manga I have ever reviewed is Cardfight!! Vanguard, which I principally hated because it was too commercial among other reasons. Only the artwork prevented me from giving it a 1 out of 10. I think The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition may well tie with it. The only things saving it are the colour artwork, and that it’s in hardback, it’s unflipped and the Major is so iconic as a character. However, publishing a book in hardback is not a difficult thing to do; the unflipped nature of the manga is just something we now expect, unlike back in 2004 when flipping was more commonplace; and removal of the sex scene also removes another major aspect of Kusanagi as a character, in that this scene clearly proves she is also an LGBT character.

In conclusion, you can cope with it being flipped. Save your money and get the older, paperback Dark Horse version instead.

Title: The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Crime, Cyberpunk, Sci-fi
Author(s): Shirow Masamune
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1989
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 18
Length: 352 pages

Score: 2/10

Review of Battle Rabbits Volumes 1-3

Kokoryuu Kaguya’s high school life takes a turn for the unexpected when he’s struck by a bolt of light while waiting for a bus. Then he’s accosted by Mao-chan, a pink-haired, rabbit-eared girl who claims to be from the moon. Next minute, he’s fighting for his life against a murderous ogre that’s taken over the body of one of his fellow high-schoolers. It’s only then that Kaguya undergoes a life-changing transformation. Later, Mao explains to him that he – like her – is one of the Battle Rabbits, a force established to defend humanity from the ogres. Kaguya realizes that his father was killed by just such an ogre.

Battle Rabbits is the new manga from Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara (Ameichi), whose first major collaboration, 07-Ghost, won many admirers (including me). 07-Ghost was made into a 25-part anime TV series (still available on Crunchyroll) and ran to 17 volumes. So I had great hopes for their new series (originally published in Zero Sum, the magazine that has also brought us Loveless, Saiyuki and Karneval). However, as with Bisco Hatori’s new series, Behind the Scenes, sadly, those hopes have not been fully realized. The problem? The story is presented to the reader in full-on, ‘hit the ground running’ fashion – not a bad thing, in itself, if it can be fluidly delivered. But it’s all over the place. The concept of Battle Rabbits who come from the Moon to protect the Earth is wonderfully daft and the sight of the dashingly handsome warriors with their cute bunny ears is distinctly moe. Mao, the bunny girl Battle Rabbit who becomes Kaguya’s companion, even – annoyingly – says ‘desu’ at the end of every sentence. Are Ameichi gently sending up the whole fantasy action genre?

Volume 2 is a distinct improvement on the first. Kaguya learns more about his role as the bearer of the golden Rabi-Jewel and is put through a harsh shounen-style training by Battle Rabbits Earth Force Defense Commander Hijiri who, it seems, has been watching over him for some time. We get to see Kaguya’s difficult and painful childhood, which makes him a more sympathetic protagonist, but by the end of the volume, the golden Rabi-Jewel cracks in battle and it seems as if his life is over. Which is when he finds himself on an endless staircase (very familiar to readers of 07-Ghost) talking with a black-garbed, fair-haired man wielding a death-scythe. Yes, to all intents and purposes, it’s Frau. Is all finished for Kaguya before he’s achieved his aims, protected the earth and avenged his father?

Volume 3 brings answers – not as straightforward, of course, as Kaguya (and the struggling reader) could wish. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that neither the two mangaka nor their editors were sure which direction was right for the story and the downside of this is their failure to build up Kaguya as the viewpoint character. Too many needless digressions into other characters are annoying when the main character has not been given enough time to let us relate to him (a large part of this volume is taken up with the backstory of another battle rabbit and his little sister). This exudes a rather tired vibe, as if the mangaka were being forced by their editor to take the story in directions they hadn’t intended. A major plot twist occurs in the very last pages which seems promising after all the digressions and confusing background material piled up in the preceding pages. And more names from 07-Ghost are tantalizingly yet frustratingly dropped into the mix. I suspect that there’s a lot of foreshadowing embedded in the text but because of the clumsy way that the story is being revealed, it just adds to the confusion.

Battle Rabbits looks good; the character designs are attractive and distinctive and the action scenes are thrillingly (if sometimes confusingly) depicted. The translation by Jill Morita flows smoothly and each volume of the Seven Seas edition boasts two glossy colour images. Ameichi’s quirky sense of humour is allowed to show through sometimes with some cute chibi designs and one 4-koma strip per volume.

So why the disappointment on this reader’s part? Well, it’s difficult for any writer to follow up on a very successful title and 07-Ghost was deservedly very successful in the josei fantasy/action field, inspiring a 25-part anime series. However, 07-Ghost was set in a fantasy world with a dark, compelling and well-developed mythology/belief system and Battle Rabbits labours under the disadvantage of being set in the present day. This ought not to present problems (Harry Potter, after all, is set in the real world too) but instead of this being helpful, the story has to keep stopping to explain the many fantasy elements that intrude – and the whole warriors from the Moon set-up ends up feeling awkward and underdeveloped. There are allusions to Japanese moon mythology: the rabbits, Tsukuyomi (the Japanese moon deity), Kaguya’s name (as in the recent Ghibli film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, in which the moon princess visits the earth) but much more intriguing yet frustrating are the appearances of familiar names from 07-Ghost. Will these characters make more than a brief appearance? There’s only one more volume to go as the series was brought to an abrupt end, presumably because it didn’t do well in reader polls in Zero-Sum.

In Summary

Battle Rabbits is drawn with all Ameichi’s considerable skill and flare but the story it tells is all over the place and lacks focus. Nevertheless, if you loved 07-Ghost, you’ll definitely want to give it a try.

Title: Battle Rabbits
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Josei
Author(s): Ameichi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T 13+
Length: 180 pages

Score: 7/10

Bleach Volume 68

bleach-cover

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.

Title: Bleach Volume 68
Publisher: Viz
Genre: Action, Adventure, Supernatural
Author(s): Tite Kubo
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T
Length: 208 pages

Score: 5/10

Review of Scumbag Loser

scumbag-loser

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.

Title: Scumbag Loser
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Horror, Psychological
Author(s): Mikoto Yamaguti
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book
Age rating: 18
Length: 600 pages

Score: 4/10