Manga Friday: Four and Four and Four
Sometimes I even confuse myself, and I think I’ve just done it with that sub-head. These three books are all the fourth volumes of their series, all things I reviewed before, and all from Yen Press (because they and Del Rey are the most consistent at sending me books for review – hint, hint, other manga publishers).
Alice on Deadlines, Vol. 4
By Shiro Ihara
Yen Press, November 2008, $10.99
I’ve reviewed all three of the previous books in this series: one, two, three. And I’ve enjoyed them each slightly less than the one before, as the series wandered away from its lecherous-angel-of-death-wreaks-havok-on-the-life-of-a’”normal”-teenage-girl premise into more generic monster-fighting, evil-corporation, and true-love lands.
Lapan is that angel of death I mentioned – shingami, to be more Japanese about it – and Alice is the nubile young woman whose body he is currently inhabiting, and cladding in unlikely underwear almost as often as he’d like. Alice was bounced out to a skeleton in the first volume, but she’s off in the spirit realm as this book opens – spending a season dead, more or less – and returns later on. There are a number of other characters, including, in this book, several members of the Tsurukame family, which owns and runs the corporation that sends out the shingami. They, confusingly, also seem to be part of the natural order of things, so perhaps the Tsurukames are subcontracting from whatever gods are behind everything.
Anyway, this book gets really confusing, as everyone seems to be the wrong gender, and multiple villains – the Tsurukames, the soul-less Regina, and probably other people I don’t recognize – are tearing about. Add to that the fact that the Japanese honorifics fly fast and furious – generally attached to friendly diminutive versions of odd pieces of the characters’ names – and I had a hard time telling who was who, what gender they were this week, who they were fighting, why, and whether anybody won.
This volume ends the series, with a sad dearth of panty shots and ridiculous underwear and an equally sad increase in dramatic poses and speeches, and of conventional plotting and a thuddingly bland ending. Alice on Deadlines ends just like a good shojo series should, which is odd, because I would never have thought that was the audience for a story about a lecherous skeleton.
Black God, Vol. 4
Story by Dall-Young Lim; Art by Sung-Woo Park
Yen Press, October 2008, $10.99
I missed the first volume of Black God, but I’ve seen books two and three. It’s a supernatural adventure series, in which otherworldly motosumitamas – fast and deadly humanoids with various ill-defined powers who need to bond with a human by literally swapping body parts – are running around doing things that aren’t entirely clear yet.
Keita is our hero, and is slowly becoming less of an abrasive asshole as the series goes on. (In this book, the action is entirely on Okinawa, so there’s nothing to do with his job – I suspect that will continue to drop into the deep background as the superpowered fights become more and more important.) Kuro is his young, inexperienced motosumitama – though, when they work together, their power is unstoppable – who is also the usual wide-eyed happy girl, surprised and thrilled by everything they see. And Akane is Keita’s best friend, a young woman tagging along with them so that she can be saved from danger…and possibly, eventually, so she can get a motosumitama herself.
The three of them have come to Okinawa to find Keita’s grandfather – always and only called “Gramps,” which saves me from having to remember another name – who can’t be found until it’s convenient for the plot. They also battle twin “feral” motosumitamas, the teenage girls Kakuma and Makana, as they search for the truth behind a mass-murder that happened a decade ago.
The plot of Black God is well-worn but serviceable, with stock characters acting their usual parts but making a decent show of it. The real treat here is Park’s art, which is a bit reminiscent of Ikegami – more in the backgrounds and the timing of the action sequences than in the characters, where Park uses more stylized, cartoony faces. Parks art is compelling and always perfectly balanced: the ideal for an action comic.
Zombie-Loan, Vol. 4
Yen Press, October 2008, $10.99
This is another series where I missed the first volume, but I did cover books two and three. This is another supernatural story, set around a company of bounty hunter/bail bondsmen, who bail people out of being dead. (The no-longer-dead are called zombies, but I’m coming to think that’s more like a racial slur than a description.) The company both sets up new zombies, and goes after old ones who have run out on their debts – the stories tend to focus on the latter, since the former would be mostly “now fill out this form in triplicate.”
Our viewpoint character is a mousy girl with glasses, whose name is rarely enough used that I can neither remember it nor find it right now. She’s the mousy girl with glasses – you know her, you find her bland and slightly tedious, and she infests manga like dengue fever – something non-fatal and a bit obscure, but painful, lingering, and annoying.
The main zombie-hunters in this series are brunette Shito and blonde Chika, who swapped hands after dying for a reason I don’t understand. However, the big hand switch gave them neat-o keen-o weapon-manifesting superpowers, which are useful in blasting evil zombies. (Though not nearly as useful as you might imagine, since they practically have to link hands and scream “Wonder Twin Powers Activate!” to make it work.)
In this volume, the first story sees Chika’s awfully young father and awfully old younger sister show up for a short time to smother him, confuse things, and then disappear – probably never to be seen again. Then we start to delve into the Deep Dark Secrets of Shito – he’s brooding and he has black hair that falls into his eyes, so he must have a Secret Tragic Past…and so he does. He’s older than he looks – of course – and has a nasty “master,” and…well, I won’t give everything away.
This is another confusing one, for similar reasons to Alice on Deadlines – too many characters, too many versions of too many names, and layouts that make the action confusing. I wouldn’t think a book about zombie bounty hunters could ever let me down, but Zombie-Loan, Vol. 4 left me scratching my head and yawning.
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.