Manga Friday: Three, Two, One!
This week, in a desperate attempt to disguise the fact that he doesn’t have any coherent way to tie the reviewed books together, Andrew Wheeler will adopt a “countdown” format to write about three brand-new Manga volumes.
Adding to the difficulty level: he will also write about himself in the third person, for no good reason.
Kaze no Hana, Vol. 3
By Ushio Mizta and Akiyoshi Ohta
Yen Press, December 2008, $10.99
This is the end of “Book One” of Kaze no Hana, in which not nearly enough is wrapped up and hardly any indication is given that the series will continue on to a “Book Two” sometime, somewhere. (For those who are lost: reviews of Volume One and Volume Two.)
To recap briefly: Momoka Futami is yet another typical cute Japanese teenage girl, who just wants to live a normal life. But she’s actually part of a family that has spent the past few hundred years defending the world against the minions of an evil god that was trapped under a mountain, using eight “spiritual swords.” There’s also an opposed group that wants to free the evil god – they don’t seem to consider him evil, actually – and they use “sacred swords,” which are totally different in a way that’s never been clear.
Kaze no Hana has a fairly large cast of people with vestigial (at best) noses, and it’s difficult to tell them apart much of the time. This book also has a lot of talking and emoting rather than fighting monsters, though one character does turn out, unexpectedly, to be a werewolf. There’s also a huge plot problem that gets resolved exceptionally quickly, leading this reader to wonder if perhaps the original serialization of this story was hurried to a conclusion quicker than the creators had planned.
It ends on a moment of tension, and the larger issues are completely unresolved – even the small ones are mostly just put aside. If this will be the only ending that gets published, it’s a lousy one. If it’s just a spot to pause before Book Two, though, those complaints are just quibbles.
Kaze no Hana is more of a soap opera comic than it looks like, with all of its talk of swords and gods. No monsters have shown up since the first book, and the few battles that have been shown since then were all short and inconclusive. So, for those of you still on the fence, note that this is more of a girl-manga than a boy-manga.
Y Square Plus
By Judith Park
Yen Press, December 2008, $10.99
Y Square Plus is the direct sequel to Y Square, but it’s more like the sequel to a novel than “volume two” of a continuing story. It features the same characters, but is structured like a complete story. On the other hand, Y Square seemed more like the first volume of a continuing series – setting up a lot of characters in their situations, winding them up, and letting them go through their paces without a whole lot of closure at the end.
Plus does have some closure – not a heck of a lot, so Park could still come back with Y Square ++ or Y Square # if she wanted to, but the main couple does end up together, as solidly as any teenage couple ever is, at the end. And the gay friend gets a bit of hope, if not a full-fledged relationship of his own. (Y Square Plus is more conservative than a lot of manga that way; the gay guy isn’t quite a quirky sidekick like on American TV, but he’s tending in that direction.)
This is another relationship book – it’s set in a small circle of friends (two boys, two girls), with a guest appearance in the middle from an older brother – with most of the scenes featuring one or more characters talking past each other because none of them know what they want or how to get it. (Once again: they’re teenagers. This is only to be expected, and Park makes them real without making them annoying – well, no more annoying than actual teenagers, at least.)
The readers who like relationship books seem to prefer them to be endlessly extended, so that the nebbishy hero will never quite get together with the girl of his dreams. They might not enjoy Y Square Plus as much, since there is an ending. But, otherwise, it should be right up their alley.
Yokaiden, Vol. 1
By Nina Matsumoto
Del Rey Manga, November 2008, $10.95
And this is the first in a brand-new series, by a creator who gained a little fame (and a lot of chops) on the webcomic Saturnalia, and then, suddenly, a lot of fame quickly from her fan-art piece “the Simpsonzu,” which re-imagined the famous animated TV family (and supporting cast) in a manga style. Simpsonzu led to penciling jobs on various Simpsons comics, and then to a deal with Del Rey Manga.
And not Matsumoto’s first book has appeared, a roughly two-hundred-page book in a Western manga style – it reads left-to-right, but the style and matter owe a lot to Japan. Yokaiden is a fairly typical first GN from a Western fan of Japanese culture; it’s a bit like Mu Shi Shi, but broader, sillier, and more obsessed with its own Japanese-ness.
Hamachi is a nine-year-old orphan, living in some unspecified Japanese historical era, in a small village in the middle of nowhere, obsessed with yokai – call them spirits, or demons, or whatever. He’s absolutely nuts about them, and drags around a guide to them everywhere. His grandmother, however, hates yokai, as do most of the people in his own. (An itinerant ronin – is that redundant? – comes into town, with the stated goal of killing as many yokai as he can, and they’re generally happy.)
Hamachi clearly embodies Matsumoto’s own huge enthusiasm towards Japanese folklore – it’s unlikely that even she could have missed that. He does look awfully big – and acts awfully old – to be only nine, but part of that might be Matsumoto’s art style. By the end of this book, he’s deep in the land of the yokai, on a quest to either save or revenge his grandmother, and the story will obviously continue into at least one more volume.
Yokaiden is funny and amusing; Hamachi is a well-delineated example of the young know-it-all hero, and Matsumoto gets some good jokes in along the way. Hamachi could get annoying if the series runs too long – he’s too wide-eyed and in love with every spirit, just because it’s a yokai – but, for now, he’s an entertaining protagonist.
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 should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.