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Danielle Leigh’s Reading Diary — 2/3/09

by  in Comic News Comment
Danielle Leigh’s Reading Diary — 2/3/09

For someone who doesn’t really like fantasy, I ended up reading and ultimately enjoying quite a few fantasy manga titles recently.

Today, I report on the following reading experiences:

Berserk, volumes 1, 2 and 3, by Kentaro Miura

Gakuen Alice, vol 5, by Higuchi Tachibana

Momo Tama, vol 1, by Nanae Chrono

Berserk, volumes 1, 2 and 3.  (Published by Darkhorse).  There are about a million reasons I wouldn’t expect to like this series — the most significant being my love of shojo and my usual disinterest in fantasy works.  Also I’m not into “manly” displays of sheer will and the generous amount of blood that tends to get spilled when manly men go do manly things in manga.  But this series completely won me over — it helps that anti-hero, Guts, is a complete and total badass who is introduced to the reader as someone who has already embraced the most desolate, nihilistic outlook in life.  He’s the kind of guy who isn’t into protecting the weak because he is strong — in fact, his strength is reserved for his survival alone (one assumes so he can get his revenge on some dudes who did him really, really wrong).  Volume 3 begins to delve into his backstory and that is what really hooks the reader — by this time we can’t help but want to know what kind of horrors happened to this man to make such a cold, power-hungry swordsman.

The strongest fantasy element in the story is in the little elf, Puck, who follows Guts around, attempting to appeal to Guts’ better nature.  Puck, who is not human, ends up being the voice of humanity in the manga and a character that could have been too precious ends up being a welcome relief to the never ending pain and suffering of the human world.

Great title that captured the affection of this hearts-and-flower-background kind of girl.

Gakuen Alice vol 5 (Published by Tokyopop).

In many ways I feel this title is the spiritual successor of Tokyopop’s Fruits Basket.  It is a shame the sales numbers haven’t followed suit just yet.   On the surface these titles don’t have much in common besides their tone — I feel there’s that same kind of darkness lurking in this fantasy world that often drove the emotional core of Fruits Basket…the fact there’s a “plucky” heroine at the center of both titles doesn’t negate the darkness, but tempers it so both titles always remain engaging, if heart-rendering at the same time.

In this volume of Gakuen Alice, we finish off the school festival arc and students get to put on a ridiculous play in which characters play against type or gender assignment (I know, cliche central, right?), but the mix of various student personalities always makes each chapter a surprise.  You never know who is going to be up in whose business, and it is surprisingly fun to watch all these little spazzes run around like normal children…that just happen to have very powerful and frightening abilities.  I’m very fond of the sweet relationship that has developed between ditzy heroine Mikan and master of animals Ruka.  Overshadowing the connection between these two looms the angry firestarter Natsume, who in spite of himself often pushes the other two together even though he obviously cares for Mikan as well.

Although I’m never in a rush to read this title, I’m always warmed by it when I finally sit down and power through a text-heavy volume.

Momo Tama vol 1 (Published by Tokyopop).

There are times when I read a volume of manga that completely overwhelms my ability to explain why I liked it so much.  This is one of those volumes — the set-up was confusing and I didn’t really understand the plot…however, I really, really enjoyed the reading experience as a whole.  Why does that happen?  Manga, you so crazy.

Basically, in the world of Momo Tama orgres actually exist and there is a whole school devoted to training young adults with special powers to defeat them.  Suddenly stage left (or is it right?) Kokonose Mutsu enters — a strange, fairly creepy, 9 year old who claims to be a descendant of orgres and wants to claim what his rightfully “his”, the island where the school is located and which used to be the orgres’ habitat.  By accident, and through some fairly confusing plotting, Kokonese ends up running into a teacher at the school, who risks his life to save him from harm.  Long story short, Kokonose ends up at the school, where people potentially might be learning to kill him and he picks up a geeky sidekick for comic relief.

“Momo Tama” is the name of the hero that originally ousted the orgres from the Island, and his descendant — currently the headmaster of the school — and Kokonose seem to be natural enemies.  The fun of this volume is how much wrong there is — as an oddly confident 9 year old, you want to strangle Kokonose, yet when the current Momo Tama points a gun at him for endangering the life of a beloved teacher — a very clearly *human* child — you’ve got to wonder about morality in this universe.  This work was strange, fun and surprising.  I can’t wait to check out the second volume.

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