Kiss Him, Not Me! Volumes 5 & 6

Kiss Him 5

“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.

Kiss him 6

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

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.

Karneval 5 cvr

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.

karneval cvr fr 10

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)?

Karneval cvr fr 8

(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)

Complex Age #1 Review

Complex Age volume 1
Despite being someone who doesn’t cosplay at all, it’s a hobby that I have a lot of respect for. All of the time, effort and money that people pour into making these costumes in order to become their favourite characters is certainly interesting to me, but not a lot of media seems to tell stories about cosplayers (that I’ve personally seen, anyway). So, perhaps to right that problem, we have
Complex Age by Yui Sakuma, which gives a realistic and down to earth look at what it means to balance being a cosplayer and an ordinary adult life.

Our story revolves around Nagisa Kataura, a 26 year old office worker who loves cosplaying in her spare time but chooses to keep it secret from her parents and coworkers. The synopsis on the back of the book implies that the story is about Nagisa deciding “what’s more important to her, cosplay or being ‘normal’?”, but that isn’t really correct for the first volume. The first five chapters of the volume (there are six chapters in total) focus on Nagisa dealing with her low self-esteem after meeting someone who can cosplay her favourite character far better than she can.

Nagisa loves cosplaying as Ururu from the fictional Magical Riding Hood Ururu anime series, which is supposedly a massive hit with females. She is a bit of a expert when it comes to all things cosplay and can sew up her costumes extremely quickly, never even dreaming of compromising on quality, but unfortunately this leaves her with a somewhat judgemental personality towards the hobby – especially when she sees other fans dressed as Ururu at conventions. When Nagisa makes a snide comment at some fellow Magical Riding Hood Ururu fans about how cosplay isn’t just a game and then walks away from a group photo opportunity, Nagisa’s friend Kimiko gets frustrated and orders Nagisa to create a costume for someone else as means of forgiveness for her rude behavior. When Nagisa is later properly introduced to the person she’s been working on the costume for, Aya, Nagisa begins to understand that cosplaying isn’t just about being able to copy the character perfectly.

In the final chapter of the volume Aya, who has become good friends with Nagisa and Kimiko, asks why Nagisa keeps her cosplaying a secret from her family and workmates. It’s here that the story feels like it’s finally coming into what it should have been from the start, but it’s cut short by the end of the volume. Now I feel like I’ve been left hanging for the next installment. That’s not to say the arc we started with was a bad one, because it wasn’t and I really enjoyed it, but it’s obviously not as important as what’s to come next and that’s a shame.

Story aside, what’s on show in this first volume is well done. Mangaka Yui Sakuma captures the feeling of conventions, cosplayers, and the general mindset of those who like anime and manga very well (with a nice amount of comedy slipped in). Nagisa and her friends are genuinely nice characters and very relatable, especially in one scene where Nagisa is working out if she can afford to attend to an event and is subtracting the costs of the new anime boxset she wants, costume materials, and the general cost of living. This is not a cheap hobby to have and I definitely fall into the pitfall of being distracted by shiny collector’s editions like poor Nagisa! I feel that Sakuma has worked hard at the little things to create a series that could be rather special.

This volume of Complex Age opens with some colour pages which quickly warm you to the art. Sakuma has gone for a pastel inspired style that looks really nice in colour, and throughout the book the artwork continues to captivate. The shading has been handled extremely well and adds a lot of detail to every panel. The end of the book is filled with designs and info for characters from Magical Riding Hood Ururu, which brings the series to life and helps connect us with the show that Nagisa loves so deeply.

Publisher Kodansha Comics have done a wonderful job with the release, which is bigger than your average volume of manga in both width and height. The extra space helps to emphasize the artwork. My best comparison for its size, that I own, is Viz Media’s release of the Tokyo Ghoul manga, which looks to be the same when I held them together. The Wolf Children manga from Yen Press matches up pretty closely as well. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with cosplay and the many different terms associated with it, Kodansha have put together a “Cospedia” in the back of the book alongside their usual translation notes. Between the Cospedia and the translation notes I never found myself lost with the many new terms, so hats off to Kodansha for a job well done there. This volume of Complex Age also comes with the original one-shot for the series which tells a similar (but very different) story to what we now have, so it’s well worth a read.

Overall I’ve come away from Complex Age rather impressed. The story has been well thought out and approached respectfully, and the artwork is simply wonderful to look over. Cosplay is a subject that generally isn’t covered that well, at least not as a main subject matter, so it’ll be interesting to see where the story is taken from here. My only issue is that the story we’re led to believe we’re getting doesn’t even begin until the end of the volume. That said, I’m more than happy to stick around for what’s to come and I’m willing to bet almost everyone else will be too. Highly recommended!

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information:
Title: Complex Age
Original vintage: 2014
Mangaka: Yui Sakuma
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Drama, Slice of Life, Seinen
Length (page count): 208

Platinum End Chapter 9 Review

Platinum End

Ian Wolf’s review

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

“There’s an ‘A’ bomb in Wardour Street. They’ve called in the army, they’ve called in the police too.” – The Jam

The ninth chapter of Platinum End sees hero Mirai continue to worry about whether or not he should attempt to kill someone.

It begins with serial killer Misurin, under the influence of Metropoliman’s red arrow, dumping her latest victim on the top of a large tower. She attracts the attention of the media and the local police, but she is able to deal with them with her own red arrows. Nanato and Mirai finally decide it is time to act and stop them.

In order to do this, Nanato has used his background working for an apparel company to get both himself and Mirai outfits to do the job. Nanato has a gigantic suit that was designed for the defence force, while Mirai has a rather fashionable suit that was designed to be used in motorsports, complete with a facemask with which to disguise himself. They then fly off to the tower with Mirai still unsure about using his lethal white arrows to kill Metropoliman, secretly preferring to use his red arrows instead. When they get to the tower, Nanato confronts Misurin, but she has something prepared for him: a bomb.

This chapter appears to be mainly setup for what appears to be a big battle between Mirai and Metropoliman. There is plenty of action, but this is just the build-up for something much bigger.

Therefore it seems that the main reveal for this chapter is the new costume that Mirai is given. His all-in-one suit made out of a special material, complete with hood and mask, gives Mirai a kind of cyberpunk look to him.

Score: 7 / 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+
Length (page count): 68

Haikyu!! Volume 1 Review

Haikyu!! Volume 1Since being given the chance to review the first half of the Haikyu!! Season 1 anime, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the original manga by Viz Media. As I mentioned back when I reviewed the anime, I am not much of a sports person but there is something special about this series that keeps me captivated. I wanted to find out if the manga would have the same hold on me and I’m happy to say that it does.

Haikyu!! is a Shonen Jump series that follows the story of Shoyo Hinata, who, inspired by a legendary player know as ‘the Little Giant’, wishes to become the best volleyball player ever. His major problem is the fact that he’s fairly short, but with determination and some amazing jumping abilities he’s hoping to overcome the wall before him. For most of his time in junior high, Hinata is the only member of the school’s male volleyball club, but after convincing some of his friends to join him, Hinata gets to take part in a tournament for his final year. In the first match Hinata’s team is put against the favourites to win and there he meets Tobio Kageyama, a king of the court with amazing reflex abilities but an inability to work well with his teammates. After Hinata’s team is beaten solidly by Kageyama’s, our young protagonist vows to someday surpass Kageyama and defeat him in their next game.

Hinata then starts the first year at Karasuno High, the school where his idol, the Little Giant, played volleyball. However, when Hinata goes to join the club he runs into Kageyama, who is also attending the school, and discovers that the two must now work together on the same team! Will the former rivals be able to put aside their differences and work together for the good of the Karasuno team?

The answer to this question, at least for as far as we get in Volume 1, is definitely not. Hinata and Kageyama are told by their three senior club members (Daichi Sawamura, Koshi Sugaware and Ryunosuke Tanaka), that they must prove that they can work as a team before they’re allowed to set foot on the court. Not only do they have to show real teamwork, they’ll also be playing in a match against two other newcomers to the club. If they lose, Kageyama will never be allowed to play his favourite role as a setter in the sport.

This first volume is home to seven chapters and doesn’t reach the conclusion of the decisive match of the Karasuno first years. It does, however, firmly set in place the relationship between Hinata and Kageyama. The two are rivals in every sense of the word but they also have a lot in common. Even within just seven chapters they begin to change one another for the better. It’s actually quite impressive to see how much the characters grow in such a short space of time, and Haruichi Furudate proves a very good mangaka in the way their development is handled.

Of course you can’t have a Shonen Jump title without a healthy dose of action scenes, which Furudate also delivers on. Haikyu!! is packed full of incredibly well drawn action scenes, such as when Hinata is playing his match in junior high and even when he’s simply just practising with Kageyama. The characters feel truly alive, just as if – although you’re looking at static drawings – you’re actually watching them run around the court. Every scene has been well thought out in the effort to keep the reader truly immersed in this world – and it works beautifully.

Production I.G have been working on the anime adaption and I originally thought that some of the stylistic choices were down to them, but that simply isn’t quite true. The studio are doing a wonderful job with the anime but Haikyu!! is just as special in its original form as a manga. The comedy, action and overall brilliance is all at the roots. That said, I definitely miss the wonderful anime soundtrack and while reading this volume of the manga I had the first opening and ending themes looping in my head! The anime also delivers slightly better with the comedy, but the manga’s efforts are by no means bad. More than anything I just need to spend more time with it.

My only other thought regarding the first volume of the manga vs the anime is that the anime gives us more time with Daichi, Koshi and Ryunosuke early on so you get to know them faster. In the first volume of Haikyu!! we’re introduced to them but they’re quite heavily pushed aside in favour of development for Hinata and Kageyama. I’m sure the second volume will solve this issue but for now I’m a little disappointed as I really like those characters and wanted to see more of them this volume.

It’s worth noting that you don’t have to know anything about volleyball to enjoy Haikyu!!. The sport is fairly easy to pick up but the series is also good at explaining the more complex elements as they come around. It’s never enough of an information dump to be intimidating and more little bits of info here and there to slowly build your knowledge (and not be bothersome if you already know plenty about the sport!). Too many series fall into the pitfall of overloading the reader with expositions but I’m really pleased that Haikyu!! strikes the balance nicely – something I also praised the anime for.

Having watched the anime and now reading the manga, I can see why Haikyu!! is so popular in Japan and why it has such passionate fans. The characters have boundless energy and thus so does the person experiencing the story, whether it be thanks to the manga or the anime. I think the anime is probably the better entry point to the series but the manga is still a solid read.

With Viz Media aiming to release a volume of the manga every month (at least until January 2017 judging by the release dates we currently have), I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with Haikyu!!. I cannot recommend this series highly enough for shonen fans as it’s just great fun with some wonderful artwork and a strong cast of characters. Like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and other Shonen Jump titles, Haikyu!! truly belongs in everyone’s manga collection.

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: 190

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

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