Manga Before Flowers - Manga Picks of the Week 8/14/08

This week we have a little of something for everyone -- shonen, shojo, yaoi, and seinen picks of the week!

Shonen Pick of the Week: Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning vol 4 (published by Yen Press). I have to admit, the first three volumes of Spiral didn't do much for me -- the story is quite improbable as a junior detective, Ayumu, goes around solving far-fetched crimes and generally feeling inferior to his world-class detective brother....who has disappeared. There's an over-arching mystery plot that is hinted at, but generally, there are usually individual mysteries explored in each volume, as Ayumu must solve crimes committed by a bunch of folks known only as the "blade children," who seem to really have it out for him. For some reason. Yeah, I'm not sure I get it either.

Volume 4, however, picks up the pace quite a bit as Ayumu is forced to play very dangerous games of cat and mouse games with some of these rather sociopathic "blade children." Hostages are taken, lives threatened, cute girls saved....yadda, yadda, yadda. By the end of the volume, I was pretty caught up in these matches of wit and potential life-and-death struggles between the various chess pieces on the board. The fun of Spiral is its complete improbability -- reading it is kind of like playing Clue, which is actually quite a compliment since this is first and foremost a mystery narrative. The volume ends with the cliff-hanger and I knew I was goner when my hands immediately twitched, looking for volume 5....which won't be out until October. Ack!

Spiral is light entertainment, but also interesting light entertainment, and while its attempts at long-term plotting fall short of the mark, in the moment, it manages surprising feats.

Review copy provided by Yen Press.

Shojo Pick of the Week: Fairy Cube volumes 1 and 2 (published by Viz). Kaori Yuki is the undisputed queen of gothic-manga (or is it just goth?). In Fairy Cube she maintains her goth-art style but also infuses her usual ornate style with references to celtic myths and imagery. Simply put, Yuki is absolutely at the top of her game as an artist. There is real beauty in her other-worldly settings and situations and an emotional intensity to everything she renders. You can't help but be sucked into the story of a young man name Ian who can see fairies...and is also incredibly vulnerable to the machinations one particular fairy -- Tokage -- who also appears to be Ian's double, save for Tokage's green hair and red eyes. Before he knows it, Ian is pushed out of his life, and the cruel and calculating Tokage takes his very existence hostage, in a sense, and Ian must somehow manage take back his own body and rightful place in the human world.

While Yuki's plots are always convoluted, since Fairy Cube is a short series (only three volumes), the narrative here is relatively clear compared to some of her other works. Which means, it actually can be followed with relatively little effort, probably making it her most accessible work published in English to date (The Cain Saga / Godchild only appears accessible until the last few volumes, and then things go batshit insane).

While I certainly enjoyed the story, the art is the real draw here as it manages to convey an intelligence that Yuki's plots often lack as far as I'm concerned. I'm looking forward to volume 3 -- out later this fall -- to see how our resident queen of goth wraps up her intense narrative.

Yaoi pick of the Week: Tea for Two vol 2 (Published by Blu Manga). (Couldn't find an image of volume 2 cover, so you will have to make due with this cover from volume 1). There is something absolutely joyous about reading yaoi when the author gets it so right -- this is what yaoi should be: smart, sexy, sensible, honest, engaging, funny, and sweet. What an absolute delight.

Tea for Two avoids most of the problematic things about yaoi that people dislike -- save one. While Tea for Two features a romantic relationship between equals who act like real people, it still features older high school boys. All I can do is implore folks to give it a try anyway, because this is a wonderful exploration of a new relationship, as each teenager struggles with learning how to be in a serious committed, not to mention gay, relationship, while also trying to make decisions about his own future. And the many problems that occur when both those very human and real dramas run into each other at a hormonally-driven 120 miles per hour.

What takes the comic to the next level is the individuality of the characters -- this isn't an insert type A boy into type B. Ur. Well. You probably know what I mean. Each character brings a particular set of baggage, circumstances and interests to the relationship. Tokumaru, the thoughtless, clumsy character (i.e. automatic uke), is also kind, curious and a little uncertain about what it means to love someone of the same sex. However, he also has his own mind and knows how to use it (in spite of the fact he probably isn't the brightest bulb out there, if you catch my drift). Hasune is patterned after the cool, serious, cold intelligent seme type, but he is actually struggling with his own uncertainties and fears. It is significant they are *partners* above all else -- together you have faith they will figure it all out and overcome all various obstacles -- be it, personal, familial, societal, or educational -- they encounter at this exciting and yet nerve-wracking time in their lives.

Two for Two is one of the few real treasures available right now from the English-yaoi catalogue. But don't take my word for it....please, go find out for yourselves!

Seinen Pick of the Week: Black Lagoon vol 1 (published by Viz). I've seen a bunch of reviews of Black Lagoon on the net this week and even the ones that dismiss it as a manga version of a John Woo action flick still rate the first volume pretty high. I'm a girl so I don't know anything about manly things *ahem* but isn't a John Woo action flick still pretty good?

While it is true Black Lagoon won't change the world, it is pretty kick-ass. The set up is basically as follows: a group of mercenaries travel around South Asia in a converted old WWII PT (or torpedo) boat, named Black Lagoon, doing very illegal jobs for a scary-sexy Russian chick who I suspect none of us would want to cross. The first chapter sets up the introduction of Rock, or Rokuro Okajima, just your average Japanese salaryman, to the team. While most reviewers focus on the female character gracing the cover of volume one -- "Two-Hand" Revy, named that because of her penchant for shooting John Woo-style, with both hands, which according to the editor's notes is both impractical and implausible -- I actually think Black Lagoon is really Japanese salaryman fantasy first and foremost. Guy with shit job is kidnapped, escapes certain death and gets to sit at the "cool kids" table, i.e. his former kidnappers, when he proves just how awesome he can be.

Also he gets to interact with that psycho chick pictured above. (And psycho she certainly is....I mean cut-off shorts? For shame, Revy Two Hand!) And also do crime and stuff.

Black Lagoon may just be an pulpy-action pastiche but it is a highly enjoyable one that reminds me why we love Firefly and Cowboy Bebop so much. Although this one isn't set in space and instead features mobsters and scary crime syndicate members as the villains of the piece. Also its hard not to identify with Rock and his desire to remake himself as someone completely new, hip and badass. Even if he remains a big old dork at heart.

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