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.

Title: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, Volume 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Yuri
Author(s): Coolkyoushinja
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: All ages
Length: 150 pages

Score: 7/10

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.

Title: Haikyu!!
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Author(s): Haruichi Furudate
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 192 pages

Score: 8/10

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.

Title: Immortal Hounds Volume 1
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Action, Seinen, Supernatural
Author(s): Ryo Yasohachi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 204 pages

Score: 7/10

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.

 

Title: Queen Emeraldas - Volume 1
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Space Opera
Author(s): Leiji Matsumoto
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1978
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 415 pages

Score: 8/10

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.

Title: Kiss Him, Not Me!
Publisher: Kodansha
Genre: Harem, Romantic Comedy, Shoujo
Author(s): Junko
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T 13+
Length: 160 pages

Score: 8/10

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

 

Haikyu!! Volume 2 Review

Haikyu!! Volume 2I’ve recently had the chance to catch up with the second season of the Haikyu!! anime on Crunchyroll and due to this I’ve been in the mood to sample even more of the series. Enter Volume 2 of the manga. It’s time to find out if this volume continues the excitement I felt reading Volume 1 or if it drops the ball.

The second volume of Haikyu!! continues the volleyball game from the end of the previous book, with Hinata and Kageyama playing a 3-on-3 match with the other first years new to Karasuno’s volleyball club. The match is to determine if the Hinata and Kageyama should be allowed to join the club. After displaying some impressive teamwork and winning the match they gain the approval of captain Daichi. The worry of acceptance to the club may be over but now Karasuno have a practice match with the powerful team Aoba Jousai! While rough around the edges, will Hinata and Kageyama’s newfound ability to work together allow them to prevail against their opponents?

The majority of this volume is taken up with the first years’ volleyball game and the match against Aoba Jousai. It’s great reading about Karasuno playing in their first official game and it’s just the right length to prevent the match from becoming boring. That said, I’m relieved to find that it also leaves plenty of time for some character development.

This volume doesn’t introduce any new characters to the Karasuno team until the end of the book (except for the club adviser, but more on him in a moment), so instead the focus has been split neatly between the rest of the team. A lot of time is still spent with Hinata and Kageyama, which is great but not as necessary considering that Volume 1 did nothing but develop the two. Thankfully Tsukishima and Yamaguchi also had a good deal of the spotlight, so I got to know the two fairly well. It made me feel satisfied that we won’t just be getting volume after volume of Hinata and Kageyama scenes. I love them both dearly, but I think we’d have a fairly uninteresting manga on our hands if the series ignored everyone else on the team!

As mentioned earlier, this volume introduces the club adviser to the scene: Ittetsu Takeda, who proclaims to know nothing about volleyball but obviously has a real passion for watching over the team. We don’t see as much of him as in the anime, where he acts as the audience surrogate for having information explained to him about how the game works, but there is still plenty to establish him as a likable member of the cast.

My only complaints regarding characters is that we still haven’t seen much of the third year members, Daichi and Sugawara, which is a real shame as I’m fond of both of them in the anime. Sugawara does turn up to offer words of comfort to Hinata, who is in a tizzy ahead of their game against Aoba Jousai, but we don’t get to see him partake in the match due to Kageyama taking his position as setter. Daichi on the other hand is around but more often than not is seen but not heard. Having watched the anime I’m sure that later volumes of the manga should solve my problems here.

Overall the layout and artwork for Haikyu!! continues to be well put together by mangaka Haruichi Furudate. Panels flow nicely and it’s always easy to see where the cast are on the court (helped along by some useful charts displaying starting positions and how the rotation works throughout the game), and there are some gorgeous two/full-page spreads presented to really grab your attention. The artwork is generally a little rougher and not as well done for the comedy moments or the panels of less importance, but this actually adds to the charm of the whole thing. You can always count on Furudate to supply some extremely detailed scenes when required and, for what runs as a weekly series in Japan, the most important panels really stand out and tend to be memorable.

Due to this volume including the first official match for Karasuno there are many volleyball terms and team positions discussed that might go over your head if you don’t know much about the sport. Thanks to the anime I’m now well versed in how the game works, but I wanted to quickly point out for newcomers how well Haikyu!!’s manga manages to explain information. Usually there are small notes below panels to explain simple terms, while more complex information is drawn out on a chart. It’s presented in a way that is easy to grasp but also equally painless to skim over if you already understand the game. I wish more mangaka understood how to easily present information like this rather than giving large scale information dumps that will never stick in my mind.

I’ve come away from Volume 2 of Haikyu!! just as eager to read the next volume as I was when I finished the first volume. Haikyu!! continues to be a well presented, thought out, and overall just a great example of the shonen genre. I’m having so much fun that I’m just bouncing up and down on my chair awaiting the next edition!

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information
Title: Haikyu!!
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Haruichi Furudate
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 200

Paradise Residence Volumes 1 and 2 Review

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Hatsune Takanashi is a girl of simple tastes; she like curry and her friends, but her real love in life is pudding. Hatsune has begun her new life at Kikka Academy, an all-girl boarding school atop a mountain, and she is looking forward to making some new friends and eating delicious food. With a grade schooler for a Dorm Mother, a mean rival who has weaponised soy beans, and a foreign exchange student who doesn’t fully understand how clothes work, her new high school life is guaranteed to be interesting to say the least!

Paradise Residence is one of the latest manga series from author Kosuke Fujishima, the man behind Oh! My Goddess and You’re Under Arrest!, and it’s a fairly enjoyable slice of life comedy, even if it does come across as a little bit forgettable.

Standing out from the crowd is something that I feel is very important in anime and manga, and in the slice of life genre in particular. It’s so easy for a slice of life anime and manga to become just another generic high school comedy, and become instantly forgettable. The best way to make a slice of life show memorable, of course, is to have a memorable cast of characters. The standout example of this has to be the classic Azumanga Daioh, a run of the mill manga on paper, but elevated by a fantastic cast of memorable – not to mention hilarious – characters.

While this is the best way to go about making your series stand out, you could also resort to to using a unique gimmick to pull in readers. Of course, this is less effective; the characters can make or break a series. However, it at least provides something original and fresh. This is where my biggest issue with Paradise Residence comes in; it doesn’t really do either.

Paradise Residence is probably the very definition of a generic slice of life manga and there honestly isn’t really a whole lot to say about it. Whilst there isn’t really a whole lot of story here, as you’d probably expect from a manga like this, it hits familiar story beats and doesn’t really offer anything original or interesting to people who are already familiar with the genre. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable. Despite its shortcomings, I managed to get quite a few laughs out of Paradise Residence, mostly due to its cast of characters. Again, I really don’t find them particularly memorable, and they don’t exactly get any kind of depth or development, however they’re the source of most of the laughs that I had throughout these first two volumes. The protagonist, Hatsune, makes for a decent enough lead, although I do feel that some aspects of her character do come across as a bit forced, like the whole pudding obsession. If I did have to pick a favourite character, it would have to be Stephanie, the English foreign exchange student. Whilst her gag of not really understanding clothes can come across as an excuse for some fan service at points, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get some good laughs out of me.

Fujishima’s artwork in Paradise Residence is fairly nice but nothing really amazing, serving the story well but not pushing the envelope. The character designs are somewhat unique looking, being quite different from Fujishima’s previous popular works such as Oh! My Goddess and You’re Under Arrest!; here the designs look more contemporary than his other series, which were more rooted in the conventions of the 90s. There is a decent amount of panel variety and it all flows well, with it never being hard to tell which character is speaking.

Something worth noting is that as well as coming with the first volume of Paradise Residence, Volume 1 also includes Paradise Residence Zero, a prequel manga that leads into the main series. Although it’s at the back of the book it’s probably worth reading first, seeing as the main manga references some events of the prequel. Also included in Volume 1 is a short story written by Kanan Norihara and seven pages of coloured artwork.

In Summary

Whilst it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, the first two volumes of Paradise Residence still make for quite an enjoyable read, providing a few laughs throughout.

Score 7/10

Title: Paradise Residence
Original vintage: 2014
Mangaka: Kosuke Fujishima
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life, School
Age rating: 16+
Length (page count): 308 (Volume 1) 158 (Volume 2)