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Robot Reviews: Del Rey sends 'em and I critique 'em

Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking Vol. 1by Koji KumetaDel Rey, 192 pages, $10.99

It seems like just about every manga down the pike these days involves some awkward high school (or thereabouts) student who manages to overcome their anxiety and master their talent in what-have-you thanks to help from a caring, knowledgeable teacher.

To be honest, I'm more than a little sick of it, which is probably why I was drawn to Sayonara Zetsuobou-Sensei ("Goodbye, Mr. Despair") since it snarkily inverts the premise by having a teacher who is a neurotic, suicidal wreck and advice usually consists of "give up and die."

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Unfortunately, Kumeta doesn't really do enough with the premise to suit my tastes. Sayonara is a curiously calm, staid work, with a overly minimal, precise art style that makes the characters look like they belong on street signs instead of a manga. It doesn't help much that this is a very Japanese-specific work. There's a lot of references to Eastern pop culture, TV shows and the like that simply cannot translate well.

I did like the running gag about the girl who keeps flashing her fruit-patterned panties. That was funny.

Negima Neo Vol. 1Written by Ken Akamatsu. Art by Takuya FujimaDel Rey, 208 pages, $10.99

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I'm simply not enough of a pervert to enjoy any of the Negima books. OK, I am a pervert, but not the kind who gets his jollies over watching ten-year-old boys fumble around in sexually awkward situations involving prepubescent girls whose clothes keep tearing to shreds. I'm funny that way.

This is an asinine and horribly contrived book about asinine and horribly contrived characters behaving in completely ways foreign to any human being on the planet. If you are willing to accept that a 10 year old boy, wizard or no, would be forced to teach at a (older mind you) girls' school as part of his "training" then you don't have very high standards. Either that, or you just want to see the little tweens nekkid, in which case I want you to stay far away from me.

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Oh, apparently this new series is based off the anime version in some sort of snake eating itself frenzy. So there is that.

Gakuen Prince Vol. 1by Jun YuzukiDel Rey, 192 pages, $10.99.

Speaking of highly contrived, here's another series set in one of those schools where there doesn't seem to be any discipline or adult authority and the kids can do whatever the fuck they want with no consequences. Is Class of 1984 some big pop culture touchstone over in Japan?

Anyway, the story here takes place at a mostly all-girls school, where the few boys are treated like sex objects to slake the uncontrollable lusts of hormone-crazed teen-age girls. Seeking to avoid being mauled by beautiful women, new student Mizutani tries to pretend his the girlfriend of the mousy, quiet girl, who, of course, looks gorgeous as soon as she takes off her glasses. Attempted hilarity ensues.

This one's a little better than Negima in that the main characters are largely sympathetic and they're not 10 freaking years old. Still, I didn't believe a bit of it. Not even when a bunch of mean girls tied the hero up and force fed him an aphrodisiac.

Samurai 7by Mizutaka Suhou, based on a story by Akira KurosawaDel Rey, 224 pages, $10.99.

I'm not sure why Suhou felt the need to do a futuristic take on Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. There's already been several different attempts to transplant the story in different settings, including one sci-fi version.

It doesn't help that Suhou unwisely refuses to "Samurai" part of the story, so that you have men with swords slicing apart 50-foot robots and battleships. Sequences like those do have a sort of ignoring-the-laws-of-physics silliness that's charming, but they're also so goofy that they pull you out of the narrative completely.

Still, Samurai 7 is a relatively enjoyable if light read. Part of that is no doubt due to the strength of the original tale, which Suhou closely apes whenever possible, and the rest is due to Suhou's clean, direct style. The book doesn't feel the least bit necessary nor does it add anything to enrich our understanding of the source material. But its good dopey fun.

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