Manga Before Flowers -- Short Reviews

Like the title says...short-(ish) reviews of the manga volumes that I found the most memorable and / or enjoyable from the recent stack. The following are my general impressions and reactions to these titles, although I do try to expand upon my initial take on new series since those reviews are always the most useful to the manga-buying crowd.

Finally, I want to note that I will be released from my busy semester schedule soon and I'm excited I'll have more time for leisure reading and this column. My plan is to start posting few manga reviews a week *in addition* to my weekly column this summer. (Meaning, I might actually have time to both read manga and produce in-depth commentary on manga! Woohoo!)

After School Nightmare vol 7 published by Go! Comi. It feels as though things are really starting to move in the "real" world, while significant plot development in the dream world crawls to a halt. Kureha returns home to face her family and her demons, Mashiro struggles to accept his own feelings and, therefore, himself, and Sou...well, for once, Sou is the passive one here. What makes this volume such a revelation is the slow stripping away of Mashiro's illusions, as he is forced by those around him and, finally, even by his own desperation and loneliness, to acknowledge some pretty nasty things about himself.

Even though I had enjoyed the sixth volume of the series a great deal, I still felt as though the story had stalled, and the reader still needed to be taken to the next level. Now I realize that volume six's pace reflects the emotional stall Mashiro is experiencing, as he slowly starts to break through his own passivity at the end of that volume. Emotionally, the latest volume is a surprising punch to the gut every 40 pages or so, and strangely, it also feels simultaneously like a much needed release (I can't say more for fear of spoiling what is a very intense volume).

After reading volume 7, I am more convinced than ever that there is no other title like this being published in English and it still tops my "best damn shojo out there" list.

Review copy provided by Go! Comi.

Black God vol 1 published by Yen Press. A title I enjoyed very much in spite of an overly complicated (although potentially quite interesting) backstory. We open on a traumatic event in the "hero's" (if he can be called that) past -- the day his mother comes face to face with her own dopplanganger and is "extinguished" the very next day. In this world, it is possible to have not just one but two doppelgangers (a situation actually called "doppeliner" in the story) and incredibly bad things happen once you see each other. Or something. So there appear to be folks whose job it is to make sure that those bad things don't happen...enter a very strange girl named Kuro who is some unholy combination of your worst moe-nightmare and an insanely powerful protector of humanity (or if not humanity than the space-time thingamajig. Seriously, did I mention I'm not good with overly complicated back-story?).

Our irresponsible protagonist, Keita, grows up, but doesn't really mature and one random night manages to get between a strange other-worldly fight between Kuro and some truly bad badasses who are after her. Long story short -- strange other worldly girl ends up saving Keita's ass by giving him an arm after his is torn off (hefty dose of "eewwww" here) -- the new arm is hers by the way -- and the two are now connected as part of her power has been transferred to help Keita survive. Hmmmm. This sounds a bit like the opening arc of Bleach but the girl in question is no de-powered Rukia -- she kicks ass through out the entire first volume and once in a while Keita manages to do something besides bleed all over her (not very often though.)

Black God is kinda cool, and all kinds of strange. I actually liked it quite a bit, and even the (fairly limited amount of) fanservice tended to be amusing rather than offensive. I'm not really into fight scenes but they were generally well done, and furthered the plot (at least so far). It is also amusing as all get to watch Keita, Kuro and his long time gal-pal set up "house" together, as I suppose the three of them have to figure out what the hell to do...with their current situation and I suppose the whole you know. Part where incredibly bad things are probably going to be unleashed on the planet....but the dynamic between the three leads is interesting enough to make me pick up a second volume and see where all this "doppeliner" nonsense might lead.

Interestingly enough, even though the creators are Korean, the title was originally published in a Japanese manga magazine so the title reads right-to-left, just like Japanese manga does. Even though it might go without saying, I like to note that Yen Press manga is quite pretty, and this title includes very nice color pages.

Review Copy provided by Yen Press

Kieli vol 1, published by Yen Press. This title can firmly be placed of the genre "girl who can see ghosts" but offers enough innovative narrative devices, and detailed and attractive art, as well as a good deal of convincing character work, that I ended up liking it quite a bit. Like a lot of Yen Press titles there is an overly complicated back-story that I couldn't care less about -- something about undead soliders who once fought for humans and were then eliminated once they ceased to be useful. I mentioned the caring less, part right? The whole point seems to be there is a lot of "undead" energy happening, which will certainly affect our young protagonist....

What I did end up caring about was the title's heroine, the 14 year old Kieli, isolated from other people thanks to her "gift" and, therefore, particularly vulnerable to a strange character named Harvey, an ageless and possibly immortal "young" (looking at least) man, who can't seem to die and is also able see ghosts. Like a lot of "girl sees ghosts" stories, this one does follow a "ghost of the week" narrative (at least in the first volume) as Kieli is often drawn into the ghosts' tragic narratives (as opposed to ghost stories, heh, yes, I am lame that way), and poor Harvey (who has his own plot-tastic agenda) is often suckered into her attempts to help out the very needy & very dead. The real joy of this title is the developing friendship between Kieli (who manages to hit most cliches of the "girl who sees ghosts" genre and yet remains incredibly sympathetic and likeable) and the cranky, yet occasionally heroic, Harvey.

This was a strong first volume and I'm definitely interested in picking up the next release and leaning more about Harvey's backstory and watching the relationship between the two characters develop.

A few words about the Yen Press edition -- the translation is quite smooth (no shock there since the title is translated by Nibley sisters, who also work on Fruits Basket), the print quality is really lovely on this title and the paper is a nice creamy white -- no cultural notes to speak of but since the title doesn't take place in modern Japan, they weren't particularly missed.

Review copy provided by Yen Press

Venus in Love vol 2 published by CMX. Oh dear, I thought I was too cynical to like a romance title so endearingly wholesome, but Venus is just the right amount of college hijinks, fairly un-angsty romantic longing, and treasured friendships. The plot of the title is fairly simply -- a boy and a girl get closer to each other as they discover they have something very significant in common: they happen to like the same guy. There is a great deal of innocence to the story in spite of the fact the characters are in college, but actually, it keeps the everyone from wallowing in their own lovesickness, which is a complete and total relief for this hardened shojo reader.

Highly recommended for those who like to walk on the shojo-side of the street.

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