Manga Before Flowers -- Weighing in on YEN+

Yen+ Is the new manga / manwha / OEL anthology from Yen Press and does something quite different from the two successful manga magazines currently on the U.S. market -- Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat -- by including comics from OEL creative teams as well as work from Korea. However, it actually differentiates itself from SJ and SB even more by not sticking to one specific "genre" of comic -- so that girl-oriented romantic comedies and fan-servicey action titles stand side-by-side.

Does Yen+ make it work?

Well. The question that might actually be more important is, "Did the first issue convince me to pick up the second?" Right now that answer to that question is "yes" although I do have some reservations about the magazine.

The object itself: The magazine gives you over 400 pages of black and white (newsprint-quality pages) manga for the price of $8.99.* So far there were only color pages attached to Maximum Ride (the adaptation of James Patterson's novel apparently), while some of the opening pages of the manga titles suffer since their original color pages are translating as almost pitch-black when turned into black & white. This isn't a deal-breaker for me or anything but I hope Yen Press can figure out how cost-effectively utilize color printing to give us more color pages that were intended to be colored when serialized in a magazine.

Holding it my hands, though, I certainly feel like the price is justified -- this really feels like the Japanese manga-magazine phone book experience, something Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump don't quite offer (with SB, however, you actually feel like you are reading a magazine due to all the articles and extra cultural content in the mag).

Content: As mentioned earlier there are three types of comics in the magazine: OEL and Manwha (Korean comics) split the front of the anthology, and once you've read those you turn the to the back and read the Japanese titles (oriented right to left, unflipped). In the interest of time I'm not going to break down every plot-line of every manga chapter but instead give general impressions about what kinds of comics are actually in the mag.

OEL (Maximum Ride & Nightschool): Neither hooked me right out of the gate. Maximum ride makes the cardinal sin of introducing five million characters in the first chapter and basically lost me from the get go. Nightschool (Svetlana Chmakova's new work) seems like it could be interesting and the art is quite excellent, as Cmakova adapts her shojo-style to an mystery and action-oriented narrative but the supernatural elements of the story haven't congealed yet for me -- not is it clear to me who the protagonist is yet as there might be three....I think....but the comic needs a stronger point-of-view character or position from my perspective.

Manwha (Pig Bride, Sarasah, One Fine Day & Jack Frost): One Fine Day is probably the worst comic in the collection as the overly sketchy art made me lose interest in it entirely. Pig Bride and Sarasah were probably two of the comics I liked best in the mag since they were clearly Korea's version of shojo and I'm a big fan of shojo (which if you read my posts at all you've probably figured out). Pig Bride, in particular, is interesting -- a fairly spoiled boy gets lost in the woods one day and stumbles into meeting his "destined" bride and her ninja sister (oh shojo. You so wacky). The catch? The "bride" is wearking a pig mask and he never knows what she actually looks like (she is supposed to be hideous according to "destiny" or whatever, but since this is romantic-comedy I'm guessing she's really not). Although returned to his original place, they girls reappear when he turns 16 to mess up his life, one supposes. The last title, Jack Frost is horror and quite odd. There are dismembered, but living, heads, and also panty-shots. Putting the two together freaks. me. out.

Manga (Soul Eater, Nabari No Ou, Sumomo, Momomo, Bamboo Blade, Higurashi: When they Cry): The majority of the Japanese titles were action-oriented fanservice fests. Which meant I didn't particularly care for the lot of them, the exceptions being Nabari No Ou and Bamboo Blade.

Nabari No Ou is an fairly atmospheric comic that packs a lot of punch in the first chapter -- a young man appears to have the incredible power to control the world within him and if he doesn't figure out what do about it, lots of scheming ninja are going to rip him apart to get that secret out of him. Everything about this title worked -- nice art, engaging story, lack-of-male-oriented-fan-service (amusingly, there are some yaoi-related jokes but they are just that -- jokes, not there for fangirl titillation as far as I can tell). This was my favorite title in the anthology and may be the only title I would buy in collected format.

Bamboo Blade has potential -- a girl who kicks ass at kendo but gets no joy from it (it appears to be her family's trade) is just the ticket to enliven a poor teacher's lackluster kendo club and potentially even his wallet (he's made a bet with a rival kendo-club instructor about whose team would win a match-up).

The fanservice in Soul Eater (lots of unnecessarily naked lady), Sumomo Momomo (multiple panty shots of teenage girl who looks prepubescent grossing me right the fuck out), and Higurashi (really? Only one boy in town of buxom girls?) really puts me off the mag, so if I don't continue with Yen+ it is because I heartily dislike male-oriented fanservice that is *also* creepy. It makes regular old fanservice ten times worse than it has to be. The truth is I think these titles would probably work well for me as comics if they didn't also include nods to a fanbase that I clearly don't belong to. (Meaning, the plot of each has something to recommend it but I'm so put off but the fanservice I won't even bother to recount the potential charms of each).

Conclusion: What makes Yen+ stand out is not that its comics come from three different cultures (the U.S., Korea and Japan) but that it mixes the cultures of manga itself. This may be the magazine's advantage (it offers very different things for very different people) and perhaps a potential problem. For people like me, the male-oriented fanservice can bore or offend me depending on how its implemented. I will definitely be giving the magazine a chance next month, though, so I will see how those fan-service titles develop along with the titles enjoyed without reservation.

Review copy provided by Yen Press. On sale now.

*(you know, Shojo Beat taught me to like the color print it uses (blue & pink) because it feels less like you are thumbing through newsprint, which Americans don't tend to like in their magazines. We like that glossy stuff, oh yeah. Yen+ feels pretty much *exactly* like thumbing threw a newspaper, at least if you go by my print-stained fingers after I've done reading a section of the mag).

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