Manga Friday: Here We Go Again
This time around I have a volume two, a volume three, and a volume four – all in series that I’ve read at least some of the earlier books. Let’s see if I can still remember what went before – since manga often don’t have “who the heck are these people and what are they doing” pages – and whether they’re getting more or less interesting.
Kaze No Hana, Vol. 2
By Ushio Mizta and Akiyoshi Ohta
Yen Press, August 2008, $10.99
This is the series about an amnesiac teenage girl, Momoka, who is part of a family that wields magical swords to drive monsters away and protect their city. I reviewed the first volume in April, and had to admit then that there were too many characters with too few faces for me to keep them all straight.
Well, this time, we get even more characters, including another sword-wielding family that likes the monsters and wants to see them take over the earth or rampage through Tokyo or do whatever it is these particular monsters would do. Their leader is the cute girl Kurohime – and the only thing more dangerous than an old man in a Hong Kong movie is a cute girl in manga – and they have “sacred swords,” which are utterly different from the heroes’ “spiritual swords” in ways that perhaps don’t entirely translate well.
Also in this volume: the cycle of plot re-complication brings us to the point where Momoka remembers important details about her past. Such as the fact that her family was killed by her older sister, who had turned to the evil side – and that sister, who should be safely dead, has come back. We also see, as we suspect if we’ve read much popular fiction at all, that Momoka is immensely powerful once she can manage to draw her sword. (She’s also uncontrolled and seems to have a different personality, which is also not uncommon in situations like that.)
Despite all of the explanations, I’m still not sure what the monsters are or why Kurohime’s evil Shichijou Group wants the to be free, but, now that they’ve shown up, there’s a marked increase in the number of sword-to-sword battles, which is fine by me. (People vs. monster fights can only go so far.)
Alice on Deadlines, Vol. 3
By Shiro Ihara
Yen Press, July 2008, $10.99
I really loved the first volume of Alice on Deadlines (with an uneasy feeling that doing so was horribly sexist and juvenile of me), and was quite happy with the second – it’s about a lecherous shingami (collector of the dead) who got himself stuck in the body of a cute teenage girl, and bumped the girl’s soul into a skeleton. Lapan, the shingami, only takes roughly PG-13 rated liberties with his new body – he’s not out looking for sex, generally, just wanting to model scanty underwear on him/herself (and others). Alice is the girl, and she’s trying to keep her body having a normal life until she can get back into it.
That was the set-up at the beginning, but the school year is over by this volume, and the cast has ballooned – there’s also Ume, another shingami (previously male) who has a huge crush on Lapan and got himself incarnated as another cute teenage girl to try to seduce him. And yet another character – who I’m pretty sure was also originally male in the spirit world – showed up at the end of volume two as yet a third hot teenage vixen, to keep an eye on Lapan for shadowy higher-ups and to prevent him from remembering something mysterious. (One suspects the artist of taking a good thing too far at this point.)
As this volume begins, those three men-in-girl’s-bodies are all going to the beach with Alice’s normal, actually-a-girl friend Somu, who I don’t think knows about the shingami shenanigans. Lots and lots of self-referential fan service follows, with very little plot or purpose to connect it all. (There are some cultural references and jokes, but they’re much funnier if you are a Japanese girl going to the beach.)
And then the Lapan’s-secret-memories plot, and his past as a vastly powerful shingami, starts to ratchet up. Frankly, that bores me; I’ve seen it too many times before. And when that leads to a by-the-book save-the-maiden (Alice, momentarily incarnated in a life-size porcelain doll body – also scantily clad and voluptuous, of course) sequence, I teetered between laughter and boredom.
Alice on Deadlines still has moments of goofy, sexy (and usually sexist) fun, but this book is first too culturally specific and then too adventure-story generic to be really entertaining. With any luck, it’ll snap back for the fourth book.
Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning, Vol. 4
By Kyo Shirodaira and Eita Mizuno
Yen Press, July 2008, $10.99
Spiral is a deeply, deeply Japanese book – it’s all about working hard under the burden of expectations (from others and yourself) to live up to the traditions of your family and do the work you’re not sure if you’re capable of. Salarymen work themselves to death in Japan because they grew up reading comics like this, all about cunning puzzles, immense brainpower, and crushing self-doubt. I’m not saying there’s a direct connection, but it’s hard to ignore in this series.
I missed the first volume of Spiral, but reviewed both the second and third books in the past nine months. The second was more of a traditional mystery plot, with a hero solving fiendish puzzles, but the third and fourth volumes have shoveled an additional layer of guilt, fear, and lack of self-esteem onto the shoulders of Ayumu, the main character whom everyone keeps calling “little brother.” (Because his dead older brother did everything much, much better than he ever could – and then failed, and died, as Ayumu thinks he will do.)
Spiral is relentlessly talky, as the various “Blade Children” – the mysterious group of antagonists, all young and all missing a rib, but who still don’t have any coherent plan or method – taunt Ayumu with his various shortcomings (mostly that he’s not as great as his dead brother), explain their fiendish death-traps, and say “in other words” just before repeating in different words what they said in the last four panels. Ayumu and his sidekick Hiyono also talk a lot – they try to be as rude and nasty as the Blade Children, but they just don’t have the knack for it. So Spiral is one part fiendish death-traps and about twelve parts jabbering about self-esteem, families, and the logistics of death traps. Personally, I like my real death-traps a bit higher in the mix.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.