Danielle Leigh's Reading Diary -- Shonen Sunday Review Special

In honor of Viz's new online manga magazine (Shonen Sunday, click here to read chapters of new shonen titles for free), I'm going to cover a handful of recent or upcoming on-going shonen manga titles.

Bleach volume 27 by Tite Kubo.  The volume opens mid-battle between Ichigo & the Soul Society versus Aizen's (the soul society traitor) Arrancars.  Well, it is more like multiple battles taking place at once, and jumping from crucial moment in one battle to a crucial moment in another is a technique Kubo really, really seems to like.  However, it turns out this whole assault is really just a distraction so that Aizen can get his hands on Orihime and her powers.

Ulquiorra, Aizen's new and very creepy right hand man, convinces Orihime to come with him peacefully...or her friends will die.  And then he does something that makes for excellent drama but probably doesn't make much common sense -- he allows Orihime 24 hours to say goodbye to one person. The catch being that the person she picks may not be aware of her presence.  Orihime's heartfelt good-bye to her strongest emotional tie to life on Earth is sniffle-inducing and devastating.  Orihime is such a *good girl*, ya know?

Of course, once Orihime is captured, the best of the original old teams comes out to save her.  Chad and Ishida are newly powered up and ready to rock 'n roll, and in spite of the fact we may be on a long journey, stretched out with battle-after-battle, till we get to the end "boss," it is hard not to fell the thrill of reunion as Ichigo, Chad and Ishida all saddle up to go after their princess...who may be a helluva lot more powerful than they ever suspected.  The question remains, when exactly will Orihime figure out her own worth?

Review Copy provided by Viz Media.

Cirque du Freak volume 2 by Darren Shan and Takahiro Arai.  As volume 2 opens, Darren is starting to realize the true cost of becoming a "half-vampire."  He blames and hates his mentor in the (half) undead life Mr. Crepsley, in spite of the fact Crepsley seems to genuinely care for his young charge.  Darren refuses to drink human blood, no matter how many times Crepsley explains that just because you drink does not mean you have to kill.  He can't seem to untangle the associations he has with drinking human blood and being evil.

Still, Darren can no longer deny he is unable maintain normal human relationships after he brutally hurts a boy trying to play soccer like he did in the good old days, not knowing his own strength.  Very kindly, Crepsley takes Darren back to the Cirque du Freak, where Darren can make friends of people who will accept him for who he really is...even if he refuses to accept himself.  Darren's journey to self-acceptance -- i.e. the act of finally drinking human blood -- is no less than heart-breaking, while Crepsley continues to watch over Darren like a true father, something Darren refuses to acknowledge or understand.

Cirque du Freak nicely blends creepy characters, supernatural circumstances, and very human and understandable emotions -- even when Darren "half" vamps-out, he is pushed and pulled by recognizable feelings, such as fear, anger, pain and sadness.

Review Copy provided by Yen Press.

Slam Dunk volume 5 by Takehiko Inoue.  Volume 5 opens in the middle of Shohoku's exhibition game, and Hanamichi continues to provide comedy gold by being the most petulant, yet adaptive, basketball rookie you've ever seen.  He refuses, at first, to pass to his own teammate, the very chill Rukawa.  Although Rukawa may seem like a very cool dude, I think he's starting to feel the pressure from Hanamichi, who manages to fall into good basketball practice -- seemingly by accident -- in the middle of the game.  Still, the two are complete morons since they are more competitive with each other than towards the opposing team.

Like any good shonen here, Hanamichi's skills continue to grow exponentially in "battle" and the old standby question if two rival / friends (frenemies?) can learn to work together for the good of the team somehow seems entirely fresh in the hands of Inoue.  Besides the art, there is nothing about this work shows its age of almost 20 years, as Inoue seems to invent anew the hilariously proud heart of the shonen hero.

Review Copy provided by Viz Media.

Spiral volume 8 by Kyo Shirodaira and Eita Mizuno.  Volume 8 continues the stand off between the extraordinarily messed up "Blade Children," with our pathetic hero, Ayumu, immobilized and taken hostage by Kanon, who may win most "dysfunctional" adolescent award in this manga.   Or all of manga even.  The battles of strategy can be extremely convoluted in Spiral, since even when you *think* people are just shooting at each other, they in fact have deep and complicated *reasons* for shooting at each other.  (Seriously, it is almost kind of amusing how characters can spend an entire chapter talking about the logic behind trying to kill each other in particular ways).  After eight volumes, I've learned to go with the flow and usually end up involved in the storyline thanks the very disturbing references to the "God" pulling everyone's strings, i.e. Ayumu's brother.

What exactly does "God" want?  Kanon, who is a bit on the crazy side, turns from wholesale slaughter of all the Blade Children, to the possibility he may only exist as a catalyst that will help Ayumu man up and take charge of his destiny.  In other words, crazy Kanon has decided to sacrifice himself to "God's" plan, by offering to allow Ayumu to kill him.  This book is so totally messed up and I have to admit I'm looking forward to seeing how Ayumu gets around this particular dilemma in volume 9.

Also, one of the special pleasures of this book is watching two female characters who are close to Ayumu kick both serious strategic and literal ass.  In other words, they are exactly what this story needs.

Review copy provided by Yen Press.

EXCL. PREVIEW: Black Hammer: Age of Doom #8

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