the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Manga/Graphic Novels’ Category

I don’t always read manga, but when I do, it’s usually Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I got my first taste of this way back in the early 2000’s, and I’ve been following it ever since.

Ten years and 27 volumes later, two anime series, a movie and more t-shirts and fake tattoos than I want to think about, my journey with the Elric Brothers has come to an end.  Nearly my entire adult life, a small part of my mind has constantly been revolving around this series: waiting for the next issue, getting frustrated when the story moved too fast or too slow, masochistically smiling when every issue ended in a cliffhanger and I had to wait 6 months (at least!) for the next one, my shifting character crushes, losing my squeamishness towards prosthetics and amputation, etc. And unlike the jerk at the grocery store who insisted on telling me what happens at the end even though I asked him not to, this post has no spoilers. Just lots and lots of background.

More than you ever wanted to know about:

The Story

Once upon a time, there were two brothers, the elder named Edward and the younger named Alphonse. They lived with their mother and were happy. Sometimes she got this sad look on her face, especially when she thought about their father, who had abandoned them. The two brothers would do anything to make their mother smile. They studied the alchemy book their father left behind, using their new found science based magic to fix things around the house, make new toys, and make their mother smile. Alchemical transmutation was so easy, all you needed was the parts of the whole – a broken toy, a bowl of sand, a lump of metal, and you could make anything of equal element and mass – a fixed toy, a piece of glass, a new frying pan.

And then she got sick. And when she died, the brothers blamed her illness on their absent father. If only he had been there, they could have afforded a better doctor. If only he had been there, her sadness and loneliness wouldn’t have led to illness.  In the alchemy books of their father was the secret and dangerous answer. Human transmutation: take all the elements and pieces of a human body, salt and carbon and phosphorus and blood and water and everything else, and transmute the pieces into the whole. Bring their mother back, see her smile again.

But there is a reason human transmutation is forbidden, a reason it is hidden in code words and secret symbols in the alchemy texts.  Edward and Alphonse were too naive to realize why it should never be attempted. I won’t go into the details of the disaster, but the alchemical accident left Edward missing an arm and a leg, and left Alphonse as nothing but a soul attached by blood rune to a suit of armor.

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The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, by Ranmaru Kotone

published in 2009

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: loved the movie







Makoto is a relatively normal high school girl, she gets decent grades, she helps her Mom and her Aunty, she hangs out with her friends after school.  Too bad she’s got the worst sense of timing ever. She burns food in cooking class and does badly on an exam because she can’t figure out how much time is remaining to finish the questions.

while helping to clean up a classroom one afternoon, she thinks she sees a flash of light in the next room. But of course, it was nothing. On the way home, she loses control of her bicycle and falls into the path of an oncoming train.

And then wakes up as if nothing happened.

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Time for something completely different!  Work has been nuts lately, so I read something quick and easy. it had lots of pictures.

Oishinbo, volume 1, by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

Where did I get it: the library

I’d been hearing about this title for a while “The manga that’s all about food!”,  “a bestseller in Japan!”, “everybody is reading this!”, so when I saw it at the library, of course I had to get it.  The title, Oishinbo, means Gourmet, so this had to be for a food lover like me!

The first few pages of Oishinbo are character profiles, and with a large cast, you will want to take the time to read these. The main characters are Yamaoto Shiro, a young man who was trained in the traditional culinary arts and now works at a news agency, and his father Kaibara, one of the city’s foremost experts in traditional cooking techniques.Yamaoto had originally trained at his fathers school, but the two had a falling out and are now barely on speaking terms. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Yamaoto’s friends and co-workers, and Kaibara’s business associates.

Yamaoto’s newspaper is working on an “Ultimate Menu”, and each chapter in Oishinbo covers a different aspect of traditional Japanese cooking from Dashi, the chopsticks, to the basics of sushi, to knife use and treatment to tea ceremony to the connection between environment and meal enjoyment.  This isn’t so much a plot centered story as it is a discussion of the beauty of Japanese food culture. The food culture and culinary traditions of Japan focus around presentation, and the time, energy, and love that went into creating and preparing the food, the utensils used to eat it, the plates it is served on, even the environment it is served in.

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At first glance, I wasn’t sure what to make of Masahiro Totsuka’s Bamboo Blade. An abnoxious, impulsive, selfish Kendo coach? A diminutive high school girl who beats up bullies? Slapstick comedy? Sports? 

Was this going to work for me? Talk about genre mixing! 

Welcome to the manga genre called “Slice of Life”. We do it in American comics and literature too, but maybe not to the same extent. Slice of Life manga usually follow the day to day lives of young adults. Sometimes there is comedy, sometimes drama, sometimes relationships, sometimes all or none of the above. They are typically modern day pieces, with emphasis on everyday Japanese culture. Slice of Life stories push the boundaries of shonen (manga designed for a male audience) and shojo (manga designed for a female audience), and are often appreciated by a wider audience. 

When Kojiro was high school, he was a Kendo star (Kendo is a Japanese sport, somewhat similar to fencing. The sword is made of bamboo. Kendo is very popular with young adults). These days, he barely makes ends meet as a high school teacher. He runs the laxest after school Kendo club in the country, lives on instant Ramen, and dreams of his glory days. The members of the club barely show up, and when they do, they are usually beaten up by the two school bullies, who are also in the Kendo club. Sounds a little serious, but this is pretty much a slapstick comedy.

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We can’t finish out Graphic Novel November without a traditional historical Samurai tale. Ok, so maybe Blade of the Immortal isn’t super traditional. Or very historical. But it is damn good.

Manji has a problem. He can’t die. Infected with bloodworms, he recovers from injuries nearly instantly. After years of mayhem, and thieving, Manji finds himself directly responsible for his brother-in-law’s death. His little sister loses her mind in grief, and Manji vows to take care of her. When she is killed, Manji vows the only way to make up for having killed one hundred “good guys” is to kill one thousand “bad guys”, starting with the gang members responsible for killing his sister. Once he has killed one thousand bad guys, Manji will finally be able to die in peace.

But how to tell the good guys from the bad guys? Everyone suddenly wants to hire the bodyguard who can’t be killed, and Manji turns everyone away. Eventually he is approached by Rin. Rin was only fourteen when her swordsmaster father was killed right in front of her by the members of a rival dojo. She wants revenge and is a pretty good swordswoman herself, but even Manji can tell she’s no match for highway bandits that prowl the countryside. He agrees to help her, joking the whole time that he needs to protect her so she’s in good shape to sell to a Geisha house later.

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This review only covers the first 6 or 8 volumes of Deathnote, because that’s how far I have read. 

Light Yagami is a normal high school student with a normal life. His father is the chief of police , his little sister drives him nuts, and he’s worried about exams. Depressed by what he sees as a rise in corruption and crime, he idealistically wishes he could something about it, and that something should be done about it. 

Meanwhile, in the spirit world, Ryuk realizes his deathnote is missing. He must have left it on earth last time he was there! If a human touches the notebook, Ryuk won’t be able to get it back until the human dies or voluntarily gives it back! If the other Shinigami in the spirit world find out he’s lost another notebook, he’ll really be a laughing stock! Ryuk decides it’s time for an extended vacation in the human world. (Shinigami are death spirits who gain strength from the deaths of the living, be it a natural death or not) 

And who should find the notebook but Light? In the manga, each chapter starts with another “Rule” of the Deathnote. Early on, we learn if you write someone’s name in there and a time of death, that’s when they will die. You also have to know what the person looks like, and you can add in other details as well, such as how they die. Ryuk tells Light much of what the Deathnote can and not do, and although Light keeps waiting for Ryuk to be all judgmental, Ryuk just says he’s there to watch, to see what will happen. Light immediately pays much more attention to the local and national news. Someone arrested for some horrific crime and the person’s photo is shown on tv? They mysteriously die of a heart attack in jail. 

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if I haven’t mentioned it before, this is quickly becoming my favorite manga series. Yazawa puts in all the funny and emotional details of the characters lives. She must remember what it’s like to be twenty, to have selfish moments, to wish you were someone else, to get a reality check, to have your heart broken. And the fashion pr0n, don’t even get me started on the punk fashion pr0n! 

Nana K’s life couldn’t be better. She’s found a great job in a hip furniture store, she’s just gotten a live performance from her punk rocker roomate Nana O, and her boyfriend Shoji is holding down a resturant job while attending art school full time. And you know what they say about things that are too good to be true. Her relationship with Shoji is doomed – she whines that he doesn’t make time for her, but when they are together she constantly accuses him of cheating. When the store she works at closes, she realizes she’s spent all her savings and can barely afford her rent.

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Read or Die – the title immediately caught my attention. The main character, Yomiko Readman is described as a bibliophile, and that caught my attention too. In an alternate Britain, 25 year old Yomiko Readman works for The Library, a British secret service agency that rescues stolen rare books. Known as “The Paper”, Yomiko is a talented Papermaster, she can manipulate paper to what she wants (paper-bending?). But, since The Library doesn’t pay enough for her to indulge in her book purchasing addiction, she also works as a high school substitute teacher, and she has to balance both jobs.

Her idol is teenage author Nenene Sumiregawa, and when Yomiko is assigned a teaching job at Nenene’s high school, she becomes a rabid fan and drives Nenene nuts. Yomiko and Nenene eventually come to a “leave me alone when I’m working!!!” understanding, but she’s not Nenene’s only rabid fan. When Nenene is kidnapped by a superfan who enjoys calling her Paul Sheldon, it’s up to Yomiko to save her!

Read or Die tries to be every single manga genre at once: slapstick action, fan service, literary, alt history, sex comedy, supernatural, suspense, high school romance. . . and you know how it works when you try to offer something for everyone?

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Because I just can’t get enough of this stuff, here are some other wonderful folks saying wonderful things about wonderful graphic novels and manga.   Celebrate GraphicNovelNovember by clicking on something that looks interesting.

Graphic Policy and Manga Maniac Cafe have good things to say about the new Superman graphic novel.

I’ve been meaning to get my hands on the first volume of Y The Last Man, and Wolfshowl over at Opinions of a Wolf thinks it’s pretty cool too.

Interested in learning about another culture? check out Heather’s review of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea over at Book Addiction, Boing Boing talking about Tonoharu, and Sarah talking about Persepolis at So Many Books, So Little Time. I dare you to get through both volumes of Persepolis without crying.

Tasty Manga reviews abound as well!

I read the first few chapters of Vampire Knight, and cheesy title aside, I loved it. Dark, funny, creepy, sexy, good stuff. I’m happy to see the critics at The Discrimnating Fangirl are enjoying it as well.

The ladies of CLAMP always deliver, so I was thrilled to learn Darkhorse is reprinting the original Cardcaptor Sakura. Thanks to Sean at A Suitable Case for Treatment for the news & review.   I garuntee Tsubasa will make much more sense after you read Cardcaptor.

House of Five Leaves also looks really cool.

And then there are the books about comic books. Well, there is the book about comic books, and that book is The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. Everytime I try to talk about this book I just turn into a blabbering blob of goo, so I’m gonna give it up to Book Bloggy Blogg and Vegetalian (now, with more Mac & Cheese!) to convince you to go read The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay right now.

in closing, if I haven’t blown up your To Be Read pile, I am doing something wrong.

 You know how I’m constantly railing about how much I hate cheesy romance stories, cover art featuring half naked people and angsty romance stories in general?

It was all a lie.

Well, mostly a lie. A lot of the American style urban fantasy romance paranormal whatever you want to call it doesn’t do a damn thing for me. The covers feature half naked people with unrealisticly perfect bodies who stare smolderingly. The story follows some flighty chick who has magical powers but has to make a choice between different men – the unatainable hottie who doesn’t notice her, the guy whose in her league but who doesn’t respect her, or a third as yet unmet gent. Yeah, doesn’t do a thing for me.

Ahh, but Ha SiHyun’s manhwa series Comic is just so adorable that I can’t put it down. The covers feature Alice, the main character, dressed cutely, or one of her many love interests in some state of undress sporting unrealistic bodies and staring smolderingly. She might not have any magical powers, but she is a talented yet flighty young artist trying to balance finishing high school and working as a mangwha artist. Not to mention her love interests, which include the unatainable older hottie who barely notices her, a guy whose in her league but doesn’t respect her, and third gent who shows up later. Yeah, I can’t get enough of this stuff.

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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.