Emily's Manga Reviews
Some beginning notes:
Generally, if there's a series I'm interested in, I buy either the manga or the anime, but not both, sometimes (but not always) after a sample of both. The decision to buy one or the other depends largely on the animation/music quality of the anime, and whether the anime is a complete adaptation of the manga. Thus: I enjoy Fushigi Yuugi quite a bit in the TV format. It has pretty animation and good music, and all of the manga was adapted into anime. So, I haven't continued beyond the first two manga, though I've watched over half of the TV series. Basara, on the other hand, is something I've enjoyed as a TV series (for the first two episodes, anyway), but I think I'll continue only with the manga because the anime only covers the first five volumes. One notable exception was with Utena, which came in two extremely well-produced and very different versions, both of which I've seen in their entirety. So, these reviews really have nothing to do whatsoever with the anime versions, and apply only to the manga.
I may be rather unfairly cruel to some manga when I've only read one, or two, or perhaps three volumes of a rather long series. Well, that's simply because I won't continue buying something if I don't like it that much, just because I think it might get better. That's just because I'm broke. I wish I could buy all of Fushigi Yuugi and Marmalade Boy, and review them in their entirety, but I don't have that kind of money.
Amagi Sayuri, Matendou Sonata (10 vol. of 20)
Filla is a demon, but not the kind of guy you'd traditionally think of as a demon; he's sweet and outgoing, and very much in love with Micael, an angel with a dark past. Micael at first wants nothing to do with him, but gradually they develop a closer relationship. There's quite a wide range of stories; some are cute and light-hearted, and some are darker, especially the volumes that deal with Micael's past, and the points where it takes an apocalyptic turn. Well, this isn't Angel Sanctuary, and I for one am glad that there are 'tenshi ai' ("angel love") manga that only occasionally take themselves quite so seriously. I mean, it's good to be dark and gothic occasionally, but there are times when you need a story where you know who the good guys are and that they're going to win. Fun to read with great dialogue and great characters. The art isn't the greatest, as Amagi herself admits, but nonetheless it's very, very addictive. And, after all, who can say no to cute guys with wings?
CLAMP, Card Captor Sakura (1 vol. of 11?)
Kinomoto Sakura opens a book, releases the cards inside it, and has to collect them all with the help of her Obligatory Cute Mascot Kero-chan and best friend Tomoyo. Standard magical-girl fare; CLAMP's artwork is pretty, but at times the pages are just too busy and tire out the eyes a little. There are some interesting stories in here, but I wasn't intrigued enough to buy any more volumes yet; I think there are better takes on the magical girl genre.
CLAMP, Clover (2 vols. of 4)
Suu is a '4-leaf clover,' a girl with magical powers, sold to the government by her mother and raised in solitude. Kazuhiko is sent to take her from her 'home' there and protect her from the Azurite army, which seeks to harness her powers with evil intentions. Meanwhile, Suu seems to have some connection with Kazuhiko's dead girlfriend, a famous singer. A very appealing near-future science fiction series. The art is minimalistic, and I love the way the song lyrics are worked into the pages. The plot isn't the point of the series, really; the heart of the manga is in the dialogues between Suu and Kazuhiko, where much is said and far more remains unsaid. The writing and the artwork work together to evoke an atmosphere of wistful loneliness. Kudos to CLAMP, incidentally, for the wonderful English translation of the song, which they had enough sense to hire a professional to do.
CLAMP, X (2 vols. of 14?)
Kotori and Fuuma are a sister and brother who are pretty normal high school students, despite the violent and unexplained death of their mother many years earlier. Then their childhood friend Kamui shows up, a dozen characters are introduced all at once, and it's clear that they're all becoming involved in a huge war to determine the fate of the universe. Again, I find CLAMP's artwork too busy, although I have to give them credit for being able to make gore look good. The plot, too, is far too busy. The catch-22 I have with complicated works like this one is that I have to be interested in them to read them closely enough to understand them, but I have to understand them to really be interested in them. Yuki Kaori's Angel Sanctuary deals with similar subject matter, but managed to get me interested far more quickly. Very ambitious, but to some extent an ambitious failure, albeit one that I'm still curious about.
Hagio Moto, Zankokuna Kami ga Shihai Suru (1 vol. of 15)
The setting is modern Boston. Jeremy is the fairly normal teenage son of a widow who owns an antique shop. Things seem to be going well when his mother meets a well-to-do English businessman; they fall in love and get engaged. But of course, things are never that simple. Greg, Jeremy's soon-to-be-stepfather, starts sexually abusing the boy.
This is a very complicated manga for me to review because…to me, nearly everything has a certain level of 'art' and a certain level of 'enjoyment.' They usually aren't very far apart, but in this case there's a great deal of distance between them. Hagio Moto is an amazing artist, and I don't mean that in the sense that she draws pretty pictures. Rather, she's extremely talented at evoking emotions from the reader without making it seem contrived and manipulative. On the other hand, the emotions that she makes you feel are really not happy ones. And with this manga, it's somehow impossible to dissociate it from reality in the same way I can with other darkish series like Angel Sanctuary—that may be because of the setting, or it may have more to do with the author's purpose. Still, I want to read more, because it's so well written and I do feel suspense about what's going to happen next. I really admire Hagio for dealing with a serious topic in a serious way, while injecting enough reality into it for it not to seem like she's hitting you over the head with what she's trying to say. This is a disturbing work, and one that's definitely for mature readers only, but just from the first volume it seems like it'll be worth it.
Hiwatari Saki, Boku no Chikyuu o Mamotte (5 vol. of 21)
Seven modern Tokyo youths are the reincarnations of seven alien scientists who lived on the moon long ago, and experience dreams of their past lives. Arisu is one of these teenagers. To explain the various subplots and elements would be too hard to describe without taking up several pages—and of course, there's intrigue and many mysteries that haven't been revealed just yet. This is another complex work, in the same category as X or Angel Sanctuary, and it's one that's rewarding to try to figure out (but there are times when I'm not sure whether the ambiguity is intentional or just a result of my miscomprension.) There is a lot going on in this manga, and so far I feel like not enough time is spent on all of these subplots. But that's the point, I suppose. That there's so many unresolved ends is perfectly appropriate for a manga so long that's only a quarter over at the point I've reached. Hiwatari takes a long time to develop things, and I suppose that might try people's patience. Still, there's a lot to admire in this work. I think that the most, and the least, I could say about it is that there is much glittering 'potential' there—and I'm very eager to find out whether the ending makes full use of that potential.
Obana Miho, Kodomo no Omocha (10 vols. of 10)
Less hyper and more touching than the TV series, of which I've only seen four episodes.
Kurata Sana is a hyper 6th grade child actress (she enters 7th grade towards the middle of the manga). Hayama Akito is her cold, scary classmate with problems…at the beginning of the series, at least. The two quickly form a very close bond that's not without its problems, complicated by Kamura Naozumi, a child actor who's romantically interested in Sana, and Matsui Fuuka, Sana's friend who becomes involved with Hayama for a while…then there are Sana's mother, who keeps her pet squirrel in a hat, and her manager/'pimp', Rei…This is a really humorous series at times, but it's at its best during the more serious moments. Some pretty dark issues are confronted, but are solved a bit too easily and glibly…which is almost enough to make you think that Sana should be a therapist instead of an actress. This made the last story arc come as a surprise that genuinely moved me. A little slow during the 'filming a movie in the mountains' arc—I never much cared for Naozumi—but on the whole a really good coming-of-age series that mixes humor, romance, and drama.
Ozaki Minami, Bronze (1 vol. of 10)
Kouji the gorgeous and very talented rock star and Izumi the gorgeous and very talented soccer player have problems. Yeah, well, I didn't exactly start at the beginning of the series, because I didn't know when I bought volume 1 that it was a sequel to Zetsuai. While I could describe what I understand of the plot, the plot really isn't the point. The point is the gorgeous artwork, gorgeous writing (I can remember a certain feeling of "Let me translate this!" about halfway through), and Ozaki's ability to wring a supernatural amount of angst out of anything. It's very enjoyable to read, if you like that kind of thing (if you don't like shounen ai/yaoi, stay far, far away). But at the same time I don't feel as if I can possibly rate it objectively. Do I particularly like the plot? No, not particularly. Or the characterization? It seems like there's far more under the surface than what I've read, which is always a good sign, but I've read too little, too late in the series, to judge it. For some reason the relationship between Kouji and Izumi just strikes me as really fascinating, and something that I want to read more about.
Riyoko Ikeda, Rose of Versailles (1 vol. of 5—I actually have the whole series but I'm trying to preserve a little of the suspense for myself by not reading further than I have translated).
The historical saga of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, focusing on Oscar Francois de Jarjayes, a female member of the Royal Guard. The one thing I admire most about this manga so far is the sheer amount of historical research involved—it includes a bibliography! The artwork looks a little bit dated, to be honest, but that's entirely understandable given how long ago it was written. Again, this is a story that shows much potential. There's a lot of character development in the first volume—you really feel like you know Marie Antoinette, Oscar, and some of the other peripheral characters by the end of it—and it sets the scene of royal ostentation juxtaposed with the extreme poverty of the lower class to set up the conflicts that are coming soon. The one thing that I must say about Rose of Versailles is that it exerted an undeniable influence on "Utena", which takes the real revolution as metaphor, and also has a way-too-cool-for-words crossdressing heroine. (Saitou Chiho herself, in an online chat, said that Riyoko Ikeda was one of her favorite mangaka). It's a must-buy for any manga fan with an interest in the French revolution.
Saitou Chiho, Shoujo Kakumei Utena (5 vols. of 5, not including Adolescence Mokushiroku)
Tenjou Utena lost her parents at a young age, and, wandering about on the rainy day when she learned of their death, fell into a river and was saved by a handsome prince, who gave her a ring and words of encouragement, and has been sending her letters ever since. She finally finds out where to go look for him, and transfers to Ohtori Academy, where student council members compete in mysterious girls for Himemiya Anthy, the "Rose Bride." Determined to save Anthy and become a prince herself, Utena becomes embroiled in a world of deception and betrayal. All of the members of the student council are locked inside their own coffins of beliefs and obsessions that they can't escape from, and Utena has to confront each of them and herself in the end. A marvelous, marvelous work, deep with emotions. It has a message, but carries it with subtlety and dignity. The characterizations are very different from those in the anime (Juri loves Touga, not Shiori; Miki loves Utena, not Anthy; Anthy's character has a less sinister tone to it, Nanami is gone entirely). Overall, there's less symbolism and metaphor in the manga, but somehow it resonates with me on a more emotional level than the anime, leading me to think that Ikuhara Kunihiko understands art better, but Saitou Chiho understands women better.
Shinohara Chie, Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori (Heaven on the Shores of a Red River) (1 vol. of 21)
Suzuki Yuuri is a normal 9th-grade girl whose life seemed to be going really well. She just got her first kiss, and she passed the entrance exams for the high school she wanted to get into. Then water in various forms (in a glass, in an aquarium, in her bath) starts trying to attack her and she develops a phobia of water. Then, on a date with her boyfriend Himuro (who assured her only seconds earlier that he would protect her from whatever she was afraid of), she steps in a puddle and is sucked into ancient Turkey. She runs around for a little while, confused, and then is caught. The Queen is trying to sacrifice her—publicly as a sacrifice to the gods, secretly so that she can curse her stepsons so her son will ascend to the throne instead…but one of those stepsons, Kairu, steps in to save her…
This is an interestingly complicated plot with good characters. Yuuri is hardly the passive whining type; she's assertive, if bewildered by her surroundings. Likewise, Kairu is far from the ideal guy—to Yuuri, having him rescue her is better than death…but not by very much. An intriguing story that I'm definitely going to need to see more of…exciting and suspenseful though it is, it hasn't yet really gotten under my skin, which is understandable since I've only read the first of many volumes.
Tamura Yumi, Basara (2 vols. of 27)
In a future after the destruction of civilization as we know it, fraternal twins are born in a now-desert area of southern Japan. The brother, Tatara, is raised as the child destined to save his village, and all of Japan, while the sister, Sarasa, is raised as an ordinary girl. But when the Red King destroys her village and kills Tatara, Sarasa assumes his role as the 'child of destiny' and takes it as her mission to avenge her brother's death and save Japan in his place. She cuts her hair and pretends that it was Sarasa, not Tatara, who actually died. To complicate matters, while healing a wound at a hot spring, she meets a young man named Shuuri—who, she does not yet know, is actually the Red King. I've heard this described once as the "shounen answer to Fushigi Yuugi," but it's a very shoujo work—it only proves that "shoujo" doesn't necessarily equal "whiny and melodramatic." Sarasa is a very cool heroine, with real strength and emotional depth. I also really like the characters who advise her—first Nagi in her village, then Ageha on her travels. This seems like a very Joseph Campbell-ian archetypal story of the hero adventuring into the world and bringing back a boon to his/her people. It may be an old myth, but it really resonates with me.
Tanemura Arina, Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne (2 vols. of 7?)
Kusakabe Maron is a schoolgirl by day, thief on a divine mission at night. As Kaitou Jeanne, with the help of her little angel pal Finn Fish, she uses chess pieces to capture the demons in pictures that make people act evil. She has to contend with the police, who see her as just an art thief (led by her best friend's father, with the assistance of her best friend), her rival, Kaitou Sinbad…and her own romantic troubles, as she's involved in a love triangle with her best friend Miyako and a boy named Chiaki…who's really Kaitou Sinbad, unbeknownst to Maron. Did I mention that she's also the reincarnation of Joan of Arc?
This is what a magical girl manga ought to be. It's about as bright and colorful as a black and white manga can be, but not without hints of sadness and tragedy. Maron is a strong character with vulnerable spots—like the hope that her absent parents will return—and it's very easy to sympathize with her. The artwork is extremely appealing. The stories are episodic to a certain extent, but there's also a lot of plot development going on—and of course, there's the tension you get just by wondering what's going to happen when the secret identities are revealed. Chiaki/Sinbad also makes a really interesting character, neither really a villain nor a hero. I'd definitely recommend this one to fans of the magical girl genre.
Tsuda Masami, Kareshi Kanojo no Kijou (1 vol. of 9)
Miyazawa Yukino pretends to be the perfect, ideal student, but it's all just an act and her personality changes drastically when she goes home. When she starts high school, her position as the best student gets challenged by Arima Souichirou, the boy who seems to be even more perfect than she is. So she studies like a maniac and finally beats him…only to be infuriated when Arima accepts his defeat gracefully. She feels ashamed of putting on appearances and being a fake when all of Arima's perfection is real…but of course, she finds out later, he has his own problems. Naturally, they start to fall in love. I like this series because it's a lot more psychological in nature than a lot of schoolgirl romances, and doesn't overidealize either of the main characters. It's very well drawn and there's a lot of emotion in it. I don't think I'll really know what I think of it until I read a little bit further, but Arima and Yukino are such interesting and well-defined characters that I'm definitely going to read some more of it.
Watase Yuu, Ayashi no Ceres (4 vols. of 14)
Mikage Aya, on her sixteenth birthday, finds out that she carries the blood of a vengeful goddess, and her family wants her dead because of it; at various times she turns into Ceres, who wants to kill Aya's family, including her twin brother Aki. Tooya, though he works for the Mikage family, serves as Aya's protector/love interest—in a classic moment early in the series, he's about to shoot her, but 'unfortunately,' he 'forgot' to reload. The Aogiri family—Suzumi and her younger brother-in-law Yuuhi—take Aya in, and she tries to figure out what exactly is going on and get things back to normal. I'll admit that Watase doesn't write the deepest stuff, but she's great at writing good entertainment. I can't read volume 4 without thinking how much I need the next one. Aya isn't as annoying as Miaka in Fushigi Yuugi is, and Tooya's a very cool character with a certain amount of ambiguity. The artwork is pretty and the plotting is very fast-paced. I have to admit, when I think about it, that this manga is essentially brain candy—but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It tastes so good, who cares if it rots my brain?
Watase Yuu, Fushigi Yuugi (2 vols. of 18)
Okay, does anyone need the plot summarized? Noo…ordinary girl, old book, mysterious world, melodrama.
I have very mixed feeling about this manga, because upon reading the first two volumes and enjoying them thoroughly, I promptly went out and bought the TV series, and having spoiled myself with it, I no longer feel like I want to continue with the manga. I used to blame myself for this. But there are some manga that can easily stand up to being read and re-read, even after having seen the anime version, and I think I know why I don't feel the same way about Fushigi Yuugi. Sure it has good artwork and interesting characters, but the most salient attraction was the plot twists—which actually managed to surprise my little brain which has an underactive 'predictability' indicator. There's a nearly constant feeling of suspense—I continue along more because I need to know what happens than because I think it's good. Ultimately, I think that suspense is used to compensate for a lack of something deeper. 'Ayashi no Ceres' is certainly a more mature work that feels like it might have some of that something deeper.
Yabuuchi Yuu, Shin Mizuiro Jidai (1 vol of…?)
Yuuko is a normal 12-year-old girl with normal 12-year-old friends and normal 12-year-old problems. Yeah, that's the whole manga. It's brimming with innocence tinged with a very real sense of what it is to be a girl of that age in Japan. I find it very enjoyable, in a certain way, but on the other hand…I think there are both good and bad points to the fact that it very clearly captures the feeling of being that age. Essentially, people other than 12-year-old girls might not find a lot of drama in it. And, after all, that's the point; Yuuko's worries are very genuine, and I can remember worrying about a lot of the same things, but at the same time, the emotions this manga evokes are closer to nostalgia than any real feelings of emotional involvement with the characters. I don't mean that a story has to have aliens and love polygons to interest me, but…I've 'outgrown' it in a way that I haven't outgrown some other very innocent and young stories, particularly certain Miyazaki movies. The manga is just so good on one level, though, that I really hope that manga becomes more mainstream in the US so that 12-year-old girls can enjoy reading it before they're too old.
Yoshizumi Wataru, Marmalade Boy. (3 vol. of 8)
Miki's parents divorce, switch partners with Yuu's parents, and get remarried. Then, predictably enough, Miki and Yuu find out that they like each other…a couple of other people show up and interfere, and things are generally complicated. I really liked the first volume or two of this, but I thought the third really drifted and I lost interest. The artwork is pretty nice, and the dialogue isn't badly written. I can't really put my finger on what I don't like about it. Maybe even I have a tolerance limit for soap-opera melodrama. Or it might be just that the last little bit gave me an 'ehh, so what' feeling, and I'm unfairly judging the whole work because of it.
Yuki Kaori, Angel Sanctuary (3 vols. of 18)
You know things are bad when being in love with your sister is the least of your problems. Setsuna is also the reincarnation of the organic angel Alexiel, and is therefore being pursued by both demons and angels—including Alexiel's twin brother Roshiel. This is, without a doubt, the most complicated manga I've yet tried to read, and it took me several detailed re-readings before I even started to think that I'd captured the basic line of the plot. Nevertheless, I adored this manga whenever I managed to capture that thread. The artwork is simply marvelous. Emotions are etched into the characters. You feel their pain. Confused as I was by the plotline, I also found it intensely fascinating, laden with undercurrents and foreshadowing. The most remarkable thing about this manga is how Yuki manages to give a distinct personality and motivations to each one of the large cast of characters. I had a new favorite character each time a new one appeared on the page. Although there are some characters that are obviously doing 'wrong' things, it's extremely easy to sympathize with each one of them. There's a lot of moral ambiguity, a great sense that neither side in this great war is entirely in the wrong, and also a sense that both are. As artistic as it is entertaining. Highly addictive.