Category Archives: Manga

Outside of Japan, the word “Manga” refers to comics originating out of Japan. Over the years the Japanese have developed a fairly unique art style, approach to storytelling and visual layouts that makes reading them a vastly different experience from your mainstream American or even British-produced comic books. Due to the high volume produced, almost all manga seeing the light of day gets pushed out in black and white inks only and cover almost every aspect of life, from sports, heroes, demons, romance, drama and even work. In other words? There truly is something for everyone here.

Review: Last Fantasy (Volume 5)

The feverish fight to rescue the town from complete annihilation makes reluctant allies of everyone – Tian and Drei, Anna and her special task force, the religious chick, and, worst of all, Nagi, the thief. And, surrounded by Zombies and with little hope of making it out of the city alive, the lot of them sallies forth into the hordes of walking dead to face death… or worse.

From writer Creative Hon with art from Yong-Wan Kwon, volume 5 of the Last Fantasy Korean manhwa brings to a close the short fantasy/comedy adventures of the low-level magic user who can pretty much only throw fireballs Tian, and the strong as an ox, but dumb as one too warrior Drei von Richenstein, the two unlikely heroes (who are almost always broke) with a knack of turning allies into foes.

Plunging our main characters directly into battle against the hungry horde of zombies right from page one, the action is relentless until the final and satisfying closing scenes, which bring about the end of the main storyline around two thirds into the book – leaving the rest of the volume to be padded out with some extra stories set in the world Creative Hon has created from the inspiration that is Final Fantasy, generating enough story threads towards the end so that should they ever be called upon to one day craft some more Last Fantasy books, they’ll at least have something to carry on from!

Although the book maintains it’s slapstick comedic value from the previous issues, it definitely is a lot less silly in tone thanks to the loads of action and anguish that drives the lion’s share of the story along. There is a lot of drama to be had, and as a whole, this is a really gripping finale to an enjoyable fantasy romp, one that doesn’t seem to have a problem mixing up as many genres as possible and to be frank, getting away with it.

On the artistic side of things, I have to say I really enjoyed Yong-Wan Kwon’s illustrations, with him coming up with some beautifully detailed and full panels, dripping with loads of line work, and with a knack of correctly capturing the mood of the panel based on what is happening in the text. His facial expressions all work, and he manages to capture all the dark and gritty action sequences just perfectly.

In other words, other than his sometimes tiny waists that he puts on his characters, very little to complain about!

In summary, volume 5 brings with it a great end to an enjoyable little comedy fantasy romp, featuring great art and not so bad writing. It’s a pity that the main action is over two thirds into the book, but I guess it could have been worse – they could have just left it unpadded and thus leave you with a much lower page count in your hands!

So worth a read if you are looking for a break from Japanese manga and American superhero comic books, and are in particular a fan of sword and sorcery based fantasy, mixed with a splash of comedy of course.

Related Link: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=5955

Review: Switch (Volume 5)

Kai Eto may look like a squeaky-clean kid, but the Greater Kanto Narcotics Control Division’s new investigator hides a violent alter ego and a dangerous past. Together with his stoic partner Hal Kurabayashi, Kai is assigned to track down and stop the distribution of a dangerous new drug – Dragon Speed.

A night on the town with fellow NCD employee Mari turns into a nightmare for Kai when they get mixed up with the Ryugen drug ring in a deadly case of mistaken identity.

Volume 5 of Naked Ape’s (Saki Otoh & Nakamura Tomomi) Switch manga continues the story of the child-like Kai and serious Hal as they continue their drug investigation. Although not much in terms of character development really occurs in this volume, the story is deepened with the introduction of some key and enigmatic players, amping up the level of danger just a notch.

At the same time, amongst all the expected angst and drama, Naked Ape do inject their usual brand of silly humour into the story (particularly in the first half of the volume), but to be honest, it does drag back the tone a bit, and in the end, volume 5 doesn’t exactly hold your attention, particularly because it can’t make up its mind as to which mood it is trying to convey. Add to that the jumping around in the story and the often confusing artwork, this certainly isn’t a volume to pick up if you a) aren’t already invested in the story or b) aren’t existing hardcore fans of the Naked Ape group.

In terms of the art, I originally thought that this was aimed squarely at the girls, what with all the pretty boy designs and hairstyles, and to be honest, it does often feel like I’m reading more of a shojo story than a shonen story (which it is being punted as).

The action sequences are particularly poorly done in that they are often quite confusing and it is not always clear what is happening. That said, the line work is very clean and quite often the facial expressions of the characters are well done, but unfortunately this is let down by inconsistencies in the level of panel detail presented (sometimes great, sometimes not), as well as some pretty poor proportions and background renderings at times.

Overall, I find it difficult to recommend Switch to anyone other than girls who like pretty boys in black and white, meaning that for me, this book was a loss. The story didn’t capture me and the artwork turned me off, meaning I can’t be too bothered into looking at the rest of the series still to come.

Meh, leave it at the bottom of the pile where you found it then.

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switch_%28manga%29

Review: Fullmetal Alchemist (Volume 15)

The horrors of the Ishbalan campaign occurred years before Ed became a state alchemist, and had serious repercussions, which set the tone for the complicated dealings of present-day state politics. Lieutenant Hawkeye reluctantly tells Ed all the dread details of the role Colonel Mustang and the other state alchemists played in this tragic event.

As you might be able to tell from the volume blurb above, volume 15 of Hiromu Arakawa’s popular Fullmetal Alchemist is devoted entirely to telling a backstory around the Ishbalan Civil War, focusing in particular on Colonel Mustang as he is drawn into the senseless conflict through his military orders, as well as the pretty bloody and dirty stuff the state alchemists were called upon to carry out, as the Amestrians under King Bradley systematically killed every man, woman and child living in Ishbal. Other stories touched on is the tragic birth of Scar, the death of Winfrey’s parents, the betrayal of Solf J. Kimblee, as well as the expanded actions of Colonel Gran.

Hiromu steps out to make this a very bloody and cold-hearted book, as she leads you through what can only be called murder by all the characters you have come to love and admire in the military up until this story arc. This doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the Amestrian military but it certainly does paint a lot of the backstory and reveals a lot of the motivations for what is happening in the main story timeline.

Of course, this does mean a book with much less (if any) humor and reads quite differently from what has come before. It is dark and dirty, and certainly won’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy as you turn the final page.

Artistically Hiromu continues her interesting look made up of very simple and flat lines mixed in with great backgrounds (and quite often pretty bloody spotches), but as per usual her somewhat “cartoony” style (well to me at least) just doest match the tone of the book, though that said, this is a complaint I’ve had from volume 1 right up to this point, so it wouldn’t be fair to lump that criticism on this volume’s shoulders alone.

It’s important to note that this isn’t a good volume to jump on the bandwagon in terms of Fullmetal Alchemist as a whole, thanks in particular to the lack of appearances from the main protagonists, i.e. Ed and Al, but if you have been following the story up until now, then this one is actually pretty crucial thanks to all the backstory and character motivations it reveals.

A decent and entertaining read most certainly, but certainly not a must read, and certainly not one to take off the shelf if you are more interested in the laughs Ms. Arakawa provides than her horror segments.

In other words, even if you are a big fan of Fullmetal Alchemist, if you don’t care too much of the history, then you can quite safely give volume 15 a skip!

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fullmetal_Alchemist

Review: GetBackers (Volume 4)

They’ve found the Stradivarius. Now to the hard part – getting it back! Of course, that is their job… and do it they must, even if it means once again going up against the mighty Protector, Ryudo Hishiki. The Protector is a big, burly, bone-crushing bodyguard with a serious beef to with our fearless heroes.

But when Ginji takes out the lights, the brave turns to the blind Madoka to get them out of the bind!

Volume 4 continues the adventures of the GetBackers retrieval service duo of Evil Eye-bearing Ban Mido and electrically charged Ginji Amano, with them this time around tasked with trying to retrieve a young, blind musician’s prize Stradivarius violin from a seedy underworld family.

To make matters even more difficult, the man who has stolen the priceless violin has hired a number of freelancers to protect it, including Shido the Beastmaster and Ryudo Hishiki, the unstoppable protector. What happens from here on out is one long struggle and fight as the boys and their charge face off against their adversaries in an attempt to reach the violin, before tackling the even more difficult task of getting back out again! And to make matters worse, there are a couple of hidden assassins also waiting in the wings to strike when the opportunity presents itself!

Writer Yuya Aoki, under the pen name of Tadashi Agi, is behind the adventure once more, delivering a volume that is full of action and suspense, brining in no less than six or seven big fights before the last page. As per usual there is a lot of clever use around the Evil Eye ability, and of course Ginji’s more mundane electricity generating abilities, and so to sum it up this volume is very much about the action.

However, apart from the very cool use of the Evil Eye ability, it is really difficult to get into and enjoy Aoki’s style of writing, which often feels very forced, over dramatic and sometimes over the top. It just doesn’t flow all that well and I found myself laboring to get through the book, despite the fact that is contains so many fight sequences which normally should fly by!

The art of Rando Ayamine is quite frankly inconsistent, bordering on terrible at times, with his biggest problem appearing to be putting heads on bodies. The way his heads often connect to their respective bodies are often quite ridiculous, and too many times do his hardcore characters of Ban and Ginji just appear to… well “girly”. Still, it is not all bad and he does capture a lot of the action sequences quite well, as well as present some fantastic horror sequences when it comes to the Evil Eye bits. Oh and his comedy switch up style is pre

Overall, I really didn’t enjoy this outing, and it’s a pity because I remember kind of enjoying the anime series (based on this) a couple of years back. I found it a chore to work through, and that is quite frankly never a good thing, meaning that I can’t really recommend anyone bother with this.

Ouch.

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GetBackers

Review: Air Gear (Volume 5)

So Ikki and his rather makeshift little group finally manages to get a proper Air Trek team going after a fair bit of scrounging around, and even partake in their first official battle as a team (though after a proper preliminary round of fisticuffs of course!)

Although Agito ignores them and Buccha and Onigiri fail them, Kazu is given a moment to shine and they are rescued through the arrival of a mysterious female skater as well as the skills of Ikki who continues to ascend his Air Trek skating path.

But there is an unexpected turn of events that awaits for them back home, one which will see Ikki possibly losing his skates for good, as we are let in on more of the mystery surrounding the legendary Sleeping Forest clan…

Mangaka Oh! Great continues his madcap action comedy shonen romp with Air Gear volume 5, giving us again plenty of action, fight and skate sequences, plenty of juvenile humor to have a giggle at, and of course sprinkled with serious scenes so over the top that they do end up feeling a little silly to have there in the first place.

It is definitely a shonen story through and through, and so if you are fans of this kind of silliness and over the top action with power escalations, then you’ll probably get a real kick out of this one, which doesn’t really let up on anything promised inside. (And as a bonus if you are actually enjoying the storyline, Oh! Great tantalizes us with even more titbits from the past, once again deepening the mystery of the family backstory as you reach those last few pages).

Artistically Oh! Great never fails to entertain, particularly with his penchant for drawing beautiful girls and delivering the quota panty shots, butt admiration views, and veiled nudity on a regular basis (remember, this is the artist who has had no qualms about producing adult works like Silky Whip before). His drawing style jumps the full range as he stretches from his cartoony, super distorted pieces to emphasize all of the slapstick humor, to his fantastically rendered and detailed action sequences which do well to capture the pace and energy of the events.

For me though, I must note that at times his faces or rather the head-to-body joins do let him down just a little bit, but for the most part this is the perfect art for this type of madcap shonen adventure.

In other words, Air Gear Volume 5 is an enjoyable continuation of this anime-inducing romp and certainly if you are a fan of the over the top action with loads of juvenile and slapstick humour genre, then this one will certainly entertain you.

Of course, if you are aren’t, then it probably won’t! :)

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Gear

Review: Bleach (Volume 2)

Goodbye Parakeet, Good Night my Sista – Immediately after checking into the Kurosaki Clinic with a mysterious scar on his back, the muscle-bound Chad goes AWOL. Accompanying Chad is a talking parakeet imbued with the soul of a young boy named Yuichi. It doesn’t take newbie Soul Reaper Ichigo Kurosaki long to surmise that a Hollow must be involved – by far the strongest spirit he’s faced to date. Ichigo is about to discover that not every soul is bound for the Soul Society, especially if it’s tainted with innocent blood!

Mangaka Tite Kubo is back with his huge hit Bleach in volume 2, continuing the almost non-stop action that saw off volume 1, with Chad being chased by an unseen foe, Ichigo and Rukia desperately trying to intervene and an underpowered Rukia going up against what is a very powerful Hollow, stalling him until Ichigo can first deal with his problems on the home front!

However, there are a lot of pages in here, and following the first half we get thrown straight into the next arc, featuring a shady shop owner, modified souls, more back story on the Soul Society and yet another headache for Ichigo, one that is literally jumping out of his reach!

Again Tite Kubo comes up with an enjoyable story, mixing all out intense action and “what happens next” moments with his trademark silly humour, to produce a thoroughly enjoyable story to take in. There is a fair bit of character development, more than a couple of reveals in terms of the Soul Reaper situation and of course some great fight scenes with his usual over the top monster creations.

Similarly, his artwork continues to entertain, often over the top, but always capturing the necessary speed, motion, action, and almost as important, comedy, perfectly, even if every now and then he forgets about things like proportion and maybe an eye or two. It is certainly dynamic art which fits the pace and type of the story perfectly.

In summary, Bleach volume 2 is again an entertaining, action-packed read that is well suited to those who enjoy a decent mix of over the top action, monster encounters and of course silly, cheap laughs. Well worth picking up, even if it isn’t going to make you a better person for reading it! :)

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleach_%28manga%29

Review: Basilisk (Volume 1)

The Iga clan and the Kouga clan have been sworn enemies for more than four hundred years. Only the Hanzo Hattori truce has kept the two families from all-out war. Now, under the order of Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, the truce has finally been dissolved. Ten ninja from each clan must fight to the death in order to determine who will be the next Tokugawa Shogun. The surviving clan will rule for the next thousand years.

But not all the clan members are in agreement. Oboro of the Iga clan and Gennosuke of the Kouga clan have fallen deeply in love. Now these star-crossed lovers have been pitted against each other. Can their romance conquer a centuries-old rivalry? Or is their love destined to end in death?

Volume 1 throws us right into the middle of our first ninja battle, as Yashamaru of the Iga clan squares off against Shougen from the Kouga clan, pretty much letting us know what we are in for the rest of this battle-a-minute adaptation of Futaro Yamada’s 1958 novel. Writer/artist Masaki Segawa skillfully guides us through the story as he sets up all the elements necessary to spark the upcoming violence and then hits the accelerator as he unleashes all manner of fierce and grotesque ninja, each possessing some or other very strange and unexpected secret technique as the two clans battle it out for the main prize.

The writing on Basilisk is very steady and very detailed, and Masaki ensures that you are onboard at all times. This is not an action comedy, but when some comedic elements need to be thrown in courtesy of some of the more larger than life characters, Masaki proves he is as adept at making us snigger as what he is at cleverly setting up scenarios and keeping us guessing as to what might happen next! There is a lot of clever scripting that intertwines with his often clever and sometimes purposefully vague visuals to create a very compelling and exciting ninja-fuelled read.

In terms of the artwork Masaki proves to be very skilled when it comes to designing and depicting a huge assortment of people, with him often taking certain characteristics of the various ninjas and drawing them out, thereby creating some very interesting and often quite twisted character designs. His sense of motion, action and fighting is also well captured in his visuals, making for some great looking sequences indeed.

However, the one thing I didn’t really appreciate was his complete and utter seeming refusal to draw any background imagery whatsoever – instead relying on PhotoShopping in photographs and messing with their opacities and focus in order to blend in and provide the backgrounds for the characters.

Sure, sometimes the effect did work, but for the most part the beautiful lines of his drawn characters simple don’t mesh all that very well with the often obvious photo work, and on top of this, because the photos are often dark in nature, he is often forced to give all his characters very noticeable white halos for contrast purposes – which then completely detracts from the pictures because the backgrounds and characters no longer blend in correctly!

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Review: Fullmetal Alchemist (Volume 13)

In an alchemical ritual gone wrong, Edward Elric lost his arm and his leg, and his brother Alphonse became nothing but a soul in a suit of armour. Equipped with mechanical “auto-mail” limbs, Edward becomes a state alchemist, seeking the one thing that can restore his and his brother’s bodies… the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.

In the midst of a heated battle, Ed and Prince Lin of Xing are swallowed whole by the homunculus Gluttony. Will they survive the depths of Gluttony’s gullet like Jonah in the whale, or has Al lost his brother for good? And the political power structure of the military may be irreparably shattered when Colonel Mustang confronts Fuhrer President King Bradley with his horrifying suspicion that Bradley is a homunculus!

Volume 13 pitches us straight into an all out battle between Edward, Alphonse and Prince Lin, against Envy and Gluttony. However, things are cut short when Gluttony accidentally eats Ed, Lin and Envy, sending them straight through the portal door that lurks in his stomach. This leaves the three of them to either battle it out in the pitch black nightmare they now find themselves in, or team up and try to find a way out of this impossible situation. As for Alphonse, he is now lost without Ed and has no choice other than to persuade Gluttony to take them to the Homunculi father figure in the hopes of learning more.

And in case you think the side story of Colonel Mustang’s quest to learn the truth about the military has stalled, think again as some horrifying secrets get revealed – and he and his squad get placed in rather immediate danger.

Hiromu Arakawa continues her enjoyable mixture of action, political intrigue, drama, humour and fantasy, setting up an enjoyable volume that ends up answering a lot more mysteries than creating new ones. There are some big reveals here and if you have been following up to this point, you’re certainly going to enjoy them. As per usual the tale is dark, but nicely balanced with some comedic moments and timing arising from her varied casts’ interactions.

As for her art, she continues with the fairly simple lined characters and minimal backgrounds, but she does this to great affect and although the final outcome is sometimes a little too cartoony to carry perhaps the more sinister tone of the writing, it does look good and her clean lines make for an easy follow as you work your way through the book. Overall this is a good looking book with some fantastic action sequences and some well portrayed comedic moments.

In summary, Fullmetal Alchemist continues with the great work laid out in the previous volumes and is strong enough to pull new readers back to the series if they’ve just hopped on for the first time at this point.

Well worth the effort of picking up then, even if you have already seen the anime adaptation, which if you weren’t aware, doesn’t actually mirror the manga at all!

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fullmetal_Alchemist

Review: Eyeshield 21 (Volume 8)

We continue the story of one wimpy Sena Kobayakawa who has assumed the on-field identity of one “Eyeshield 21″ as he comes of age by trying his hand at American Football, thanks to his gift of super fast legs, honed by all the years of running away from bullies and being a gopher in order to avoid getting beaten up.

Volume 8 is devoted in its entirety to the big game with rather big consequences that was being built up to in the previous volumes, that of the Deimon Devil Bats versus the visiting American school, the NASA Aliens. Instantly the boys are up against the wall thanks to the Alien’s quarterback, Homer’s immensely strong “shuttle” passes, and instead of an even race, it quickly becomes an immense uphill battle to contain the fiercely strong and muscular Americans who completely overpower and dominate the Devil Bats in each and every way.

And then of course there is the added threat of the Aliens’ best player by far, the under-utilized Panther with his zero gravity running ability, who has the potential to single-handedly run the entire Devil Bats team ragged! (Thankfully though, the rascist of a coach Apollo doesn’t like the idea of sending in a black kid to play).

Hiruma will have to dig deep within his tactical prowess in order to come up with something that can bring the Bats back into the game. And he had better do it fast because the scoreboard is already racing away from them!

Admittedly by volume 8 of the series I’m beginning to tire a little of the story, which is beginning to feel very much of the same. That said, there is not denying that this is an action-packed volume from start to finish, and properly captures the exciting and tense game between the Devil Bats and the Aliens. As per usual writer Riichiro Inagaki delights in finding a good balance between the serious, the funny and the absurd, and makes for a very entertaining read that should pull more than a few laughs out of even the staunchest of readers.

Similarly, the wonderfully detailed and hilariously exaggerated caricatures and elongated poses flow naturally from artist Yusuke Murata’s pen as he puts forward both delightfully pule-pounding action sequences mixed in with some very laugh out loud imagery indeed.

In summary, a very humorous and action-packed coming of age sports title that will entertain and delight those young at heart – just as the series has done right from the get go – and is definitely another winning entry into what has been up to now quite an enjoyable, if a little silly, title.

(That said, if you have been following from volume 1, don’t be surprised if you are starting to feel like you’ve seen it all before. I’m not all that sure what more they can do in the current format other than keep increasing the roster with over the top characters and taking on teams stronger than themselves and coming out on top. Might be time to let this one go for a bit methinks…)

Related Link: Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyeshield_21

Eyeshield 21 (Volume 6)

Devil Bats Take Flight: Wimpy Sena Kobayakawa has been running away from bullies all his life. But when the football gear comes on, things change – Sena’s speed and uncanny ability to elude big bullies just might give him what it takes to become a great high school football hero!

The Devil Bats are going to feel like dancing for joy if they can beat Banba and his hulking team, the Taiyo Sphinx. Sena and crew have held their own in the first half, but they’re going to have to come up with something really special to defeat this bunch of bruisers. And don’t forget, the winner of this game gets to play against a championship team from the United States!

Writer Riichiro Inagaki and artist Yusuke Murata are back with their smash hit coming of age sports comedy action title, and as per usual Eyeshield 21 volume 6 simply doesn’t disappoint!

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