Orange: The Complete Collection #2 Review

Orange Collection 2Back in May I was busy singing the praises of Orange as the manga series had just seen the release of Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 1. I’m here again to review the second volume and tell everyone about this wonderful series. This second complete collection of Orange contains the final two and a half volumes of the original Japanese releases collected into a massive 384 page omnibus.

As a general note this review contains spoilers for the first complete collection, so if you haven’t already read it then stop reading now!

When we left Naho in Volume 1 she was struggling with how to best help Kakeru. Despite following the advice of the letters from the future, Naho couldn’t always prevent Kakeru from being hurt or feeling lonely. However, at the start of the second volume our young protagonist has discovered that the rest of her close friends have also received letters from the future and are doing their best to support Naho in helping Kakeru. By working together can the group encourage Kakeru to open up to them and prevent him from committing suicide?

The first major story arc kicks off by covering the school sport festival. In the original timeline this was a notable event for Kakeru as he began feeling even more depressed due to the fact none of his family (especially his deceased mother) could be at the sport’s festival, while other students had their families present. Coupled with the fact that he lost the relay race for his class, it’s easy to see how this festival was a defining moment in Kakeru’s mental health and potential future. In the current timeline, Suwa helps out Naho by making sure that Kakeru’s grandmother can attend the event, which lifts Kakeru’s spirits a great deal. To try and avoid losing the relay, the friends also work hard training together and pass along an inspiring message to Kakeru when they finally run together.

For a moment it appears that things are actually starting to look up. However, it’s soon revealed that life for Kakeru truly isn’t improving. Despite their best efforts, and him and Naho beginning to grow closer romantically, Kakeru still starts to distance himself from his friends.

This is the point where I’ll no longer discuss the plot because knowing more would definitely impact your pleasure when reading the series for yourself. Instead I’d rather talk about how impressed I am with mangaka Ichigo Takano’s work with the story and characters. I said this in my previous review and it rings true here, too: that how the characters deal with Kakeru and their own feelings is very realistic and down-to-earth. Naho is tangled up in her feelings for Kakeru and her fear of not being able to save him – so much so that she doesn’t always make the right choices or say what she truly wants to say. Likewise, we have Suwa, who has feelings for Naho but knows he should push her together with Kakeru despite this.

Hagita, Azusa, and Chino, who were somewhat glossed over in the previous volume, finally come into their own in this collection. As the series starts to draw to a close and Naho learns that everyone in the group has been getting letters from the future, which gives Hagita and co. the chance to really shine. Now that they have more reason to be involved, and aren’t just helping on the sidelines, their personalities really come through to the reader. They’re still not quite ‘main characters’, yet I feel as though I know all of their feelings perfectly. It’s further proof of how well written our cast is.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the artwork. Takano has continued to do a brilliant job by creating very moving scenes through what appears to be quite basic art. Apart from the faces of the characters, panels are often fairly empty, but since Takano draws people so well, this doesn’t matter. If anything, the artistic focus on the cast compared to the backgrounds just heightens the emotions that Takano is trying to convey. Naho and friends look cute and a little rough around the edges at a distance but this also makes them feel more alive. All along, apart from the time travel aspect, Takano has worked hard to build a realistic story and the artwork further illustrates this point.

Generally speaking, I am also impressed by the work publisher Seven Seas have put into the release. The book opens with some wonderful colour pages which showcase the cast in the future and past. Not only that, this release also homes another of Takano’s work – Haruiro Astronaut. Rather than being a brief one-shot, Haruiro Astronaut is about a volume’s worth of content. It’s a love story about a pair of twins and a rather handsome boy. The plot is a simple affair when compared to Orange but still nice to see brought out in English. My only criticism is that perhaps Seven Seas should have published Haruiro Astronaut as a separate release instead of including it with Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 2. Doing such means that the book is so big I left a crease in the spine (right where Haruiro Astronaut begins) and fear it could be a potential weak point for tearing on future reads. It’s not a major complaint but I am a little disappointed when this is an otherwise flawless release and, being one of my favourite series now, I hope that the book will stand up to future wear and tear.

Even on this second read-through, Orange has continued to tug at the heartstrings and be a wonderful experience. The story is simply splendid and I’m sure that I’ll continue recommending it to friends and family for years to come. With an anime in the works, I’m hoping that Orange continues to be popular. Perhaps the anime can even be a gateway for newcomers to manga, who are looking for an insightful view into the minds of those with depression and the friends around said person. One thing is for sure, I’ll certainly be reading Orange again and again as, for me, it’s a true masterpiece.

Score: 10/10

Manga Quick Information

Title: Orange
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Ichigo Takano
Published by: Seven Seas
Genre: Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Sci-fi
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 384

Platinum End Chapter 8 Review

Review of Platinum End, Chapter 8

 Platinum End

Ian Wolf’s review

 “One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow!” – Charlie Chaplin.

 The latest chapter of Platinum End begins in an unexpected way, with a dead schoolgirl’s body being found at the top of a tower. Things take an even more disturbing turn in the following scene, where we see two schoolgirls making out. Nothing is fully exposed, but there are unbuttoned shirts and breast fondling. One of the girls is a friend of Metropoliman, and from him we learn that this girl is “Serial Killer Girl A”. Real name Mimimi Yamada, also known as Misurin (Mi3); she was arrested when she was 14, murdering girls in middle school.

Thanks to Metropoliman using his red arrows to control her, Metropoliman is now using Misurin as an ally in his attempt to destroy the other God Candidates. Mirai, Saki, and their new ally Nanato, learn from the news that Metropoliman allowed her to escape from jail, continue her murders, and allow Misurin to use both red arrows and wings. Nanato’s plan is to get Mirai to use his white arrows to kill Metropoliman while he and Saki will try to approach Misurin. Mirai does not want to go ahead with this plan, not wishing to use his arrows to kill, saying that he has lived by a creed that he would rather be the victim than the perpetrator: “I’d rather be murdered… than a murderer.”

Nanato however puts his belief to the test, saying that if Metropoliman was about to kill Saki, would he use his white arrows or red arrows. This leads to a nightmarish sequence as Mirai plays out the horrible scenario in his head: could he kill someone if it meant saving the one he loved most? It is a scene that brings him out in a terrible sweaty panic as he tries to figure out the answer.

This chapter has to be the most shocking of the lot so far, for its use of violence, sexualised scenes, and psychological horror. It results in you making some mistakes when you read it first time around. For example, there is a scene where Misurin is about get kinkier with her next victim, by tying her up with rope and blindfolding her, before taking out a knife hidden in a cuddly toy rabbit. When I first looked at the page, I didn’t notice the whole rabbit at first, just one ear, which Misurin is holding in a position so it is placed near her groin while in profile. However, because I only noticed the ear, which was all one colour, and didn’t spot the rest of the rabbit, somehow I thought: “Is she wearing a strap-on dildo?” The best sequence in the chapter however is when Mirai is contemplating the question of whether to use the white arrow on Metropoliman if Saki was threatened. The terrified facial expressions of both Mirai and Saki as they contemplate their doom are engrossing, and Mirai’s reaction to the question makes you answers questions about your own morality.

This is probably the best chapter of the story so far, although no doubt it will also be the most controversial due to the sexualised scenes involving Misurin and her underage victim.

Score: 9 / 10

 

Title: Platinum End
Original vintage: 2015
Mangaka: Tsugumi Ohba (story) Takeshi Obata (art)
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Supernatural
Age rating: 18+
Material length: 69

 

 

Platinum End © 2015 by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata. SHUEISHA Inc.

 

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts #1 Review

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts vol 1 coverThe mangaka team Maybe first came to my attention thanks to Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Crunchyroll streamed the anime adaptation back in 2012, and since watching Dusk Maiden, I’ve kept an eye on the team behind the manga. They’ve since been working on two currently running series called Tales of Wedding Rings (a manga that Crunchyroll simulpub) and To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, which is being published by Vertical Comics. I’m here to review the latter.

Sacred Beasts follows the story of Nancy Schaal Bancroft, who is on a mission to kill the man who murdered her father. During a civil war between the South and the North, the northerners were outnumbered and started experimenting on humans with forbidden arts. Eventually they created Incarnates, humans that have been transformed into beasts with godlike powers but with an inability to turn back into what they once were (except for a few exceptions). With the power of the Incarnates, the war was swiftly put to an end but afterwards the beasts were met with a life of uncertainty and hatred. Due to the Incarnates being so powerful, the government wanted to bring an end to their lives, and thus a Beast Hunter came into existence.

This Beast Hunter, known as Hank, is an Incarnate who has the ability to transform between human and beast. Hank, who struck down Nancy’s father as the Beast Hunter, was previously the captain of a platoon of Incarnates during the war. At the beginning of our story Nancy seeks him out in a faraway town and asks why he had to kill her father, but their conversation is interrupted by the return of the Incarnate that Hank is currently on a mission to kill.

Nancy ends up tagging along with Hank, looking for answers as to why the Incarnate must be put down, and while the two adventure she realises that the beasts quite often have no sense of humanity left in them. It’s a sad situation because some of the beasts still show signs of who they were as humans, yet others do nothing but harm to those they’re living amongst. The story is written in such a way that we’re never lingering on the life of one Incarnate too long, and you’ll often find yourself pondering what could have been had they been left alive.

Throughout the story it’s slowly revealed that Hank has a past with each of the Incarnates he’s currently hunting down as they were all members of his platoon. It becomes clear to see that he’s not necessarily a bad guy and instead just completing a job that he believes has to be done. He’s a likeable character but perhaps a bit too aloof from Nancy and the world, yet certainly well written and easy to understand.

Nancy is a strong-spirited character. She’s not built for fighting, and prone to slowing Hank down when he’s battling an Incarnate, but she has the intelligence to make up for her lack of physical ability. For every time she might stumble in a battle, Nancy’s able to offer an interesting insight on a given situation, which redeems her character a great deal. Being the daughter of an Incarnate also puts her in a position to share opinions and perspectives that contrast with Hank’s and pave the way for some interesting conversations.

This is the first of Maybe’s work to be published physically in English and (while I’m disappointed it wasn’t Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) Vertical Comics have made a good choice. The story, as I’ve hopefully explained, is very well written, the artwork is gorgeous, and the character designs are striking. Maybe have always had a good eye for designing characters and Hank and Nancy are both well done. They’re simple designs but are brought alive by the little details, most notably the realism of their eyes and facial expressions. Backgrounds are also very detailed and remarkable. There is always a lot to see and I found that the shading was really well done to show the distinction between night and day scenes.

Action scenes are striking and packed with detail but this was never enough to confuse me as a reader. It’s always easy to work out where any character is at a given time. To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is only the second series the team have done that is so heavily focused around action and Maybe definitely deserve some recognition for handling their battle scenes so well. It’s pleasing to see and leaves me feeling satisfied that this series has a good future ahead of it in this regard.

Overall the first volume of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts offers a satisfying read and ends on just enough of a cliffhanger to leave you wanting to know more. Maybe have crafted an interesting story with a – so far – small but likable cast and I’m really excited to see where things go from here.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information

UK Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Fantasy, Shounen
Mangaka: Maybe
Number of Pages: 200

Blood-C Demonic Moonlight #1 Review

Blood C demonic moonlight volume 1

  • I’ve never watched Blood-C before. Long have I wanted to see the anime series but I’ve never quite got around to doing so. Thankfully, a handy introduction to the series finally made its way to me in the form of the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight, published by Dark Horse. This two-volume manga acts a prequel to the Blood-C anime and so far I’ve found it a good introduction to CLAMP/Production I.G’s mysterious world.

    The story is set in the year 1946 and centers around a second lieutenant of the American military, David, who’s job is to investigate “strange” incidents. These bizarre cases can range from murders that couldn’t possibly have been committed by a human, to reports of children being ‘spirited away’. During his investigations, David runs into a mysterious man known as Kagekiri, who seems to have an understanding of these supernatural occurrences. All of these incidents tie back to the Ancients: creatures that take advantage of humans as a means of feeding on them. Unfortunately, this volume doesn’t clearly explain the intents of the Ancients, simply that they’re the cause of these incidents in order to find food.

    What David lacks in knowledge is made up for with his good fighting reflexes and investigator’s intuition. While he and Kagekiri are polar opposites in terms of personality, the two make a fairly good team whenever fate puts them together. David is a caring man and shoulders the burden of being an American stationed in Japan after the war, so he, like many other Americans, isn’t treated all that well by most Japanese citizens. Despite this, however, he always does his best for the people in the towns that he travels through.

    Kagekiri is a respected priest that travels from shrine to shrine investigating any mysterious cases that the locals have been discussing. Although he’s known as a priest, he doesn’t do any of the duties that a priest would normally perform. Instead Kagekiri comes off like a bit of a carefree freeloader to others but when faced with an Ancient his personality changes drastically to a much more serious tone. Kagekiri wields a mysterious sword, which is actually just the hilt of a sword that can create a full blade through spiritual power, and hints are dropped throughout the book that perhaps he isn’t even human!

    Whatever the case may be with Kagekiri, our story overall is an interesting one. This first volume includes three different stories (one of them being split across two chapters) and it’s nice to see that David’s whole life doesn’t revolve around his being stuck with Kagekiri. The two only encounter another every few months going by the timeline of these stories. These periodic interactions keep their relationship fresh and prevents either of them getting on the other’s nerves (or ours).

    This type of episodic storytelling also leaves room for plenty of intrigue surrounding Kagekiri and offers more than enough secrets to leave you wanting more. I could see this approach to the story begin to feel stale if this were aiming to be a long running series but for a two-volume plot it works rather well. How this story links up to Blood-C is not yet all that apparent (apart from Kagekiri’s sword) but artist Ryo Haduki teases that the connection will become clear in the next volume.

    Blood-C Demonic Moonlight has been put together by CLAMP, Production I.G, and handled by Ryo Haduki. Haduki doesn’t yet have any other manga tied to his name so there isn’t anything to draw comparisons to, but regardless I’m fond of the work that he’s done here. Backgrounds and characters are drawn well and the panel layouts always fit nicely for the action scenes. The Ancients too are nicely drawn and suitably intimidating for the role they’re meant to fill.

    My only complaint in regards to the artwork is that I feel as though the action scenes were too smooth. The images are detailed and work for this type of series, but the problem is that they work too well. The characters react too precisely and methodically and the environments unrealistically favour their success, and as a result I’d frequently start to lose my connection with what was happening. The battles didn’t draw me into the world enough, nor did I ever truly believe that the cast were in real danger. It’s a difficult feeling to explain but I think saying that some scenes, even for a fantasy series like this, just didn’t feel believable enough for these characters.

    Overall I had a good time with the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight. Putting my complaints about the art aside, I’ve been drawn in by the cast and I’m hooked enough to be interested in volume two. I think that this works rather well as an introduction to the Blood-C universe, and now I really do need to actually watch Blood-C itself…
  • Score: 6/10
  • Manga Quick Information
    UK Publisher: Dark Horse
    Genre: Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
    Mangaka: Ryo Haduki
    Number of pages: 184

Toppu GP Chapters 1 & 2 Review

Review of Toppu GP, Chapters 1 & 2

Toppu GP

Ian Wolf’s review

 “What I like about a bike is that if you get it wrong, you die. See what I mean? What’s good about that is that it sort of keeps me on my toes.” – Ross Noble

 If you came across Kosuke Fujishima’s Paradise Residence, recently released by Kodansha Comics a few weeks ago, you would have seen the splendid image of a schoolgirl riding the tiniest motorbike you could imagine. Fujishima’s latest work lets him delve further into this sport.

Of course, this being a sports manga, this does lead to one particular issue: namely the inevitable attempts by people to imagine that all the guys in the series are somehow gay. Does this happen in Toppu GP? Surprisingly, I think in one way it does, but let’s stick to the story for now.

The story starts with 18-year-old Toppu Uno, about to start a race which may see him become the world’s youngest ever MotoGP champion. Before it begins, he says to himself: “Big sis, I hope you’re watching.” From then on, the entire story is told in flashback, taking place seven years earlier. Toppu’s sister, Myne, is a top 250CC biker. Toppu watches her devotedly, and is even able to tell her laps times exactly without the need of a stopwatch, but he would rather not race. He would rather spend his time making Gundam models.

Their father, who works as Myne’s mechanic and is also an inspiring novelist, manages to persuade Toppu to ride a bike too, even though he has never ridden one before. However, after some instruction, he takes to the course, with Myne motivating him more by saying that if he can complete five laps of the track and come out first, she will buy him another model. Can he come out on top at the end of his very first race?

Kodansha released the first two chapters together, which considering the pacing of the plot makes sense as you do have Toppu’s first race told over the course of both of them. There is a fair amount to enjoy, such as the relationship between the three main characters, and there is some humour thrown into the mix as well when we find out what happens at the end of the race. The artwork however does look slightly wrong in some places. For example, at times it looks as if  people’s dark trousers are blending in with the bike tyres.

But there is plenty to keep the reader interested, primarily due to the use of the flashback. We know that something has happened to Toppu’s sister. The first and most obvious conclusion is that Myne has been in some form of motorbike accident, cutting short her career or perhaps even killing her, but we don’t know for sure yet. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

But as it is a sports series, we do end up back at the same issue: whether the fujoshi and fudanshi will somehow find an angle that will turn this somewhat innocent series into having those homosexual overtones. When you first read it, it seems like there won’t be any. After all, the only regular characters so far have all come from the same family, and the only possible relationship would be between father and son, wrong in all sorts of ways.

Then I realised something. Something that not only makes this series one for the fujoshi community, but one that could arguably make it more gay than possibly any of the other sports series around: leathers! Every single person on the circuit is dressed in protective suits, made out of possibly the kinkiest, most stereotypically homosexual material around. What this manga now gives us is a reason for the more fetishistic cosplayers to experiment a bit. Safe to say, we can probably expect to see some big shiny helmets coming soon.

The third chapter comes out on 24th June.

Score: 8 / 10

Title: Toppu GP
Original vintage: 2016
Mangaka: Kosuke Fujishima
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Action, Coming-of-Age, Drama, Sport
Age rating: 13+
Material length: 57

 

TOPPU GP © Kosuke Fujishima/ Kodansha Ltd.