Del Rey – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 xxxHolic Vol. 16 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/11/29/xxxholic-vol-16/ Mon, 29 Nov 2010 07:00:49 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1602 By CLAMP192 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey

What do you do when your comic book series is past its expiration date but you want it to move on anyway? That’s a dilemma that the manga collective CLAMP had to deal with when it came to xxxHolic, a series about a mysterious shop that [...]]]> By CLAMP
192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

What do you do when your comic book series is past its expiration date but you want it to move on anyway? That’s a dilemma that the manga collective CLAMP had to deal with when it came to xxxHolic, a series about a mysterious shop that granted wishes that was also designed to run parallel to their other title Tsubasa. With the end of Tsubasa (the last volume of which hit bookstores this month), that should have been the end of xxxHolic too. Except it hasn’t, perhaps because CLAMP had become too fond of it, or perhaps simply because they had too good an idea to let it go. And the end result? It’s one of the stranger volumes of the series to date.

Up until now, the basic conceit of xxxHolic was fairly simple to follow. Our protagonist, Watanuki, works for the self-proclaimed space/time witch Yuko in her shop, where wishes of a supernatural nature were granted. Now that Yuko is gone, Watanuki has gone from employee to owner of the shop, fumbling his way through Yuko’s role even as he swears that he will never leave the shop (and in doing so has become immortal) until she somehow, impossibly, returns. It’s an interesting setup, pushing several of the characters up one rung on the ladder. Watanuki becomes Yuko, while Watanuki’s friend/rival Domeki is now inhabiting part of the role that Watanuki had in the earlier 15 volumes of the comic. Strictly from a plotting standpoint, things are slightly different now, of course. Watanuki doesn’t have the depth of knowledge or magical power that Yuko possessed, and his solutions look to be more trial-and-error (just like they were when he was just the assistant rather than the master) than Yuko’s ever were.

More importantly, though, CLAMP chose here to accelerate through several years rather quickly, jumping ahead to a point in time where in theory Watanuki is more accustomed to his role and position. It’s an interesting choice but one that I’m not entirely sure works. I appreciated that we didn’t get 200 pages of Watanuki saying, "Hmm, what does this do?" Still, there seems a lot of indecision going on even with the jump forward in time, and rather being able to hit the ground running the book moves remarkably slow. It doesn’t help matters that by removing Yuko and Himawari from the book, there are less characters to bounce ideas and situations off of; it’s a strange shift. There’s a lot of promise behind Yuko getting removed from the book, essentially taking away the safety net from Watanuki, but right now this doesn’t feel like it feels entirely confident in its own new direction.

I do still like the art of xxxHolic, with its elaborate sweeping lines and character designs. Thankfully CLAMP quickly put aside the idea of having Watanuki wear Yuko’s robes (it’s initially funny, then just slightly tiresome), and shifts back to the more familiar looks of the characters. There are a lot of great small moments throughout the art, like the sidelong glances that Domeki shoots Watanuki, and the languid curls of smoke that were such a trademark of Yuko are thankfully still present. And when the book enters the climax of the first new case for Watanuki, and the background goes dark? It’s a gorgeous sequence of pages, from the flowers tumbling across the panel, to the slowly shattering kimono. Honestly, so long as xxxHolic looks this good, I’ll keep reading.

In Japan, there are two additional volumes of xxxHolic already collected as of the time of this review’s publication. It’s just odd timing that this volume of xxxHolic ended up being the last one published by Del Rey Manga, with their licenses coming to an end on November 30. Some of Del Rey’s books will continue on from Kodansha USA, although so far no official release schedules (or word on which titles will still be published) are released. Hopefully this won’t be where xxxHolic ends for many of its readers and we’ll see more volumes before too long, if only to see whether or not CLAMP’s stories began to show a little more confidence and oomph that the earlier volumes contained. This is a new setup that could work, but we’re going to need more time to see if that actually happens or not.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/05/26/pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/05/26/pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies/#comments Wed, 26 May 2010 08:00:25 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1345 Based on the novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-SmithScript adapted by Tony LeeArt by Cliff Richards176 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a really funny idea, when you think about it; add a zombie invasion into the pages of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, but [...]]]> Based on the novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Script adapted by Tony Lee
Art by Cliff Richards
176 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a really funny idea, when you think about it; add a zombie invasion into the pages of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, but otherwise let the book generally play out as it did in its original form. There’s just one big problem with Seth Grahame-Smith’s transformation of Pride and Prejudice, though. This is a joke that cannot sustain itself for an entire novel. As the book moves forward, it starts to drag and the jokes grow increasingly tiresome and old. But with all that in mind, I was actually looking forward to the graphic novel adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, because it would almost certainly be shorter, and that meant that it might not wear out its welcome the way that the novel does.

The good news first: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as a graphic novel definitely doesn’t feel as long as the prose novel. In his adaptation, Tony Lee has chopped down the plot somewhat, letting it flow slightly quicker and more smoothly. He understands the need for expediency, and for that I thank him. At 176 pages, the adaptation is definitely the superior of the two in that regard. Lee also makes sure to keep the basic structure intact, and while a lot of Austen’s prose is lost by the very nature of transforming it from a book to a graphic novel, I do feel that on the whole he manages to keep the general feel around.

On the other hand, there are places where Lee removes what perhaps should have stayed, and keeps what should have gone. One of the funniest early moments in the book involves a sudden zombie attack during a ball, and the five Bennet sisters forming the "pentagram of death." It’s the first big shift in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from the original source material, and Grahame-Smith understands the need to make that scene stand out as both similar yet different from Pride and Prejudice. In the adaptation, though, the entire scene is over in one and a half pages. It feels like an afterthought, and to say that I was disappointed was an understatement. It’s all the more frustrating because there are sections later on that could have just as easily been left out, to help deliver that early, initial punch to the reader’s expectations.

More frustratingly, in the novel Grahame-Smith starts resorting to double entendres involving men using the word "balls" in conversation, over and over again, to try and grab people’s attention. The problem is, it’s not even funny the first time, and the book ends up being a deterrent instead of something exciting. (Never so much will you wish for a zombie invasion to try and spice things up, and this is the book where that should actually happen.) Lee keeps this most-purile form of humor in the book, something that’s especially notable because while the zombie attacks generally try to ape Austen’s writing style, this stands out like a sore thumb.

Cliff Richards draws the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with nice figure work; his women are a good mixture of capable and beautiful, and the men are appropriately dashing. Looking at Richards’ art, his pencils are a smart choice for this book and I’m glad they brought him on board. Unfortunately, it’s reproduced directly from his pencils, which I think is a mistake. Many of the pages look faded and unfinished as a result, as if they were drawn with the idea of either an inker or a colorist to come on board and finish the job. It ended up being a turn-off, which is a problem that I don’t think falls under Richards’ responsibility. It looks like it was drawn with the idea of someone else adding a little extra solid nature before going to print, and that process never occurred.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should have been a great graphic novel, but at the end of the day it’s just so-so. It feels like a lot of wrong decisions were made in the process of adapting it from book to comic, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t as strong as its potential. When it’s all said and done, the good parts still shine through, but there are enough distractions and missteps to keep it from finally getting to be as fun as the original concept promised.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11½ Anniversary Edition http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/03/24/splendid-magic-of-penny-arcade/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/03/24/splendid-magic-of-penny-arcade/#comments Wed, 24 Mar 2010 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1271 By Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik176 pages, colorPublished by Del Rey Books

Penny Arcade is one of the harder-to-categorize web comics out there. It’s a comic that at a glance appears to be about video games, but can just as easily zoom off on tangents about other real world situations. It’s not a continuing strip, [...]]]> By Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik
176 pages, color
Published by Del Rey Books

Penny Arcade is one of the harder-to-categorize web comics out there. It’s a comic that at a glance appears to be about video games, but can just as easily zoom off on tangents about other real world situations. It’s not a continuing strip, except when it is. Sometimes it shifts into a series of stories about characters that started as a one-off joke. It’s also becoming an empire run by its two creators, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, which includes charity drives, gaming conventions, and their own video games. It’s with all that in mind, though, that The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11½ Anniversary Edition makes perfect sense, a combination of "best-of" and "behind the scenes" books rolled into one.

The book opens with a history of the creators; their early lives, how they met one another, and began to collaborate. Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins wisely stick to information that would interest their readers the most, just about everything leading directly into their particular sense of humor as well as their love of many things geeky. As their backstory unfolds, they explain how different events got folded into the comic itself, sometimes in the form of characters, other times as narratives or even just a particular quirk. Krahulik explains the evolution of his art, showing examples from the late ’90s to the present day, with each stop talking about the techniques behind the art as well as his decision-making process.

Once all that serious stuff is out of the way, though, the book gets delightfully silly. Holkins talks about a lot of the regular "characters" of the strip, explaining how they were first introduced and then how they evolved. The two most notable examples early on are the Cardboard Tube Samurai, and the non-sequitur duo of Twisp and Catsby. With each of those, after we learn the genesis of the characters (both in and outside of the strip), the book then reprints successive appearances as well as a commentary from Holkins on why they stuck around and the ideas behind the later appearances. It’s in many ways the perfect example of the dual nature of the book; it’s reprinting popular strips and characters, but in a way that lets you understand why they existed even as you see Holkins and Krahulik slowly evolve their style and skill. By the time the later Cardboard Tube Samurai strips appear, it’s almost impossible to see the connection between them and the earliest, crude, going-for-a-quick-punchline strip.

From there, the book continues reprinting some of the more notable sequences (a zombie attack at the mall; an over-the-top ping-pong tournament), mixing them up with extended interviews with the creators, plus essays on the PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) conventions they created, their run-ins with a rather unique anti-game lawyer, and even a slightly more standard best of compilation of their favorite strips. For Penny Arcade fans, this is the kind of book where they’ll start to feel like they hit the jackpot.

The one question I had to ask myself at the end, though, was if non-Penny Arcade fans (or rather, people new to the strip) would find the book funny. I’m not entirely sure. A lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff might come across less than interesting if you haven’t read the strip for a while, although I can’t help but think that watching the evolution of the strip would be interesting to anyone who likes comics simply from a technical standpoint. And, there’s enough humor that has nothing to do with games that I think they’d find something to laugh at. It might not be the same level of fun for a new reader, but there’s still interesting material for them to enjoy. While The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11½ Anniversary Edition might be playing to the choir a bit, it’s still an impressive enough overall result. If you’ve read the strip in the past and enjoyed it, you’ll probably like this too.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Talisman: The Road of Trials #1-3 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/01/29/talisman-the-road-of-trials-1-3/ Fri, 29 Jan 2010 08:00:23 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1201 Original novel by Stephen King and Peter StraubAdapted by Robin FurthArt by Tony Shasteen32 pages, colorPublished by Del Rey Comics

I remember reading The Talisman back in the ’80s. One (or both) of my parents had read the book, and the hardcover sat on the entertainment center bookshelves in our family room. A good friend [...]]]> Original novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Adapted by Robin Furth
Art by Tony Shasteen
32 pages, color
Published by Del Rey Comics

I remember reading The Talisman back in the ’80s. One (or both) of my parents had read the book, and the hardcover sat on the entertainment center bookshelves in our family room. A good friend of mine in high school was a rabid Stephen King fan, and since we had a copy of King and Peter Straub’s novel in the house, I thought it was as good a book as any to start with. Because it’s been over 20 years since I’ve read the book, some of my memories are a little hazy, but I do recall liking the book. I’m also pretty sure that my memories of the book are still strong enough that I can safely say that the original novel was not quite as disjointed as this comic adaptation is shaping up to be.

After three issues of The Talisman: The Road of Trials, I found myself underwhelmed and slightly bored with the end product. I think it’s because Robin Furth’s script feels like it can’t find the right pace; lingering far too long on one scene, then whipping through others so quickly that you turn the page and are surprised to find that the book has moved on to a new spot. It’s strange because Furth isn’t a stranger to comics, but a lot of the problems with this adaptation feel like problems with the format. Our protagonist Jack talks to himself a lot to try and bring exposition to the reader, but it’s exposition that is sorely lacking in other scenes, with characters blithely making decisions that on the surface seem hard to fathom because King and Straub’s narration is no longer present.

I’m also less than crazy about Tony Shasteen’s art, which just doesn’t do it for me. I think the biggest problem is that it feels stiff and posed; there’s not any sense of movement in his pages. In the second issue, there’s a scene where Jack collapses and is caught by an adult, but it looks like two people holding still for a photograph. Movement is one of the trickiest things in comic art to nail, and I don’t think that Shasteen is there just yet. Page after page has characters striking different positions, like a series of flip cards instead of actual sequential art where the scene flows from one panel to the next. I think that if Shasteen does manage to get a better grasp on motion, the art as a whole will improve, though. The other problems are much smaller, like the various fantasy outfits looking ludicrous instead of realistic, or a certain sameness of faces. With time, Shasteen can get there.

It’s a shame because the basic plot of The Talisman, with two parallel worlds that a rare few can flip between, and events in one affecting the others, is a good one. Right now, though, this is a mini-series that feels jerky and uneven. Hopefully it’s something that can be fixed; The Talisman is a natural for being adapted into comics. But for now, it’s just not there, at all.

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Moyasimon Vol. 1: Tales of Agriculture http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/12/11/moyasimon-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/12/11/moyasimon-vol-1/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2009 05:00:37 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1127 By Masayuki Ishikawa240 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey

I love when publishers take a chance on slightly strange and out-there books, and I think that’s a category that Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture certainly falls into. After all, books and comics about brand-new university students are a dime a dozen, no need to do [...]]]> By Masayuki Ishikawa
240 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

I love when publishers take a chance on slightly strange and out-there books, and I think that’s a category that Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture certainly falls into. After all, books and comics about brand-new university students are a dime a dozen, no need to do more than bat an eye over them. On the other hand, take that idea and then add in the extra twist of the protagonist being able to see microscopic germs as cute little animated beings that talk to one another? Well, now we’re going somewhere sufficiently odd.

When I first heard about Moyasimon I’d thought it would be more like Mushishi, with its lead character that can see hidden spirits that plague people and try to heal them. Moyasimon goes in a different direction, though; the book feels like a strange combination of attempted educational tool (like Oishinbo A la Carte) and school-based adventure. When Tadayasu Sawaki sees the different germs swarming around, he doesn’t get to command them or even communicate. After all, they’re germs, right? So instead this is a book where he merely reacts to their presence. Sometimes it can work in his favor, like spotting E. coli around picnic food that everyone’s about to eat. Other times, like learning about a hidden body buried out in the forest, it’s fairly disastrous.

But really, Tadayasu’s abilities are almost second to everything else that goes on here. Sure, his professor wants to use Tadayasu’s gift to the advantage of the university, but there’s more to the book than that. I actually found other parts of the book more interesting, like Tadayasu’s childhood friend Kei, or the sake-brewing get-rich-scheming Kawahama and Misato. It’s as Tadayasu deals with the people around him that Moyasimon seems to find its strength; I like seeing the germaphobic Hazuki enter the mix, or having Professor Itsuki lecture them on just what the latest sighting of a germ really means. And of course, there are the strange traditions of the university that Tadayasu and Kei are just starting to learn about; they seem odd at first, but the more you read about each of them, the more sense they make to the reader. It’s an odd, slightly off-kilter world in Moyasimon but by the end I almost hate to admit that I found myself wanting to live in it for a little while.

Masayuki Ishikawa really knocks it out of the park, though, when it comes to his art. So far as I can tell this is his only major work, and that’s too bad if only because I love how he draws his characters and want to see more right away. His characters have faces that seem perfectly sculpted, with just the right curve on the edges of their jaw, and delicate individual hairs drawn onto the top of their heads. Ishikawa’s art defines the word "crisp" to me. Adding to the delight of the art, though, is how Ishikawa draws the germs that Tadayasu sees. Through his eyes, they’re jovial little beings with big heads and smiles. In other words, they’re absolutely adorable. Even deadly bacteria seem cute through Ishikawa’s art, which of course makes comments from the germs along the lines of, "Let’s brew up and kill ’em all!" that much more startling and amusing. Who knew drawings of alcohol fermentation could be so entrancing?

Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture is really odd, but I say that in the nicest possible way. I don’t think there anything else quite like it out there, and that certainly adds to its attractiveness. If you don’t mind trying something out that’s a little more off-beat, this is a fun trip. Ishikawa packs enough stuff going on here—not only germs, but character relationships and interactions—to keep you entertained from start to finish.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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X-Men: Misfits Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/10/21/x-men-misfits-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/10/21/x-men-misfits-vol-1/#comments Wed, 21 Oct 2009 04:00:57 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1073 Written by Raina Telgemeier and Dave RomanDrawn by Anzu192 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey

X-Men: Misfits is the second of two manga-influenced comics from Del Rey that feature characters licensed from Marvel. The first, Wolverine: Prodigal Son felt squarely aimed at boys and influenced by shonen comics, with Wolverine going through tests of [...]]]> Written by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman
Drawn by Anzu
192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

X-Men: Misfits is the second of two manga-influenced comics from Del Rey that feature characters licensed from Marvel. The first, Wolverine: Prodigal Son felt squarely aimed at boys and influenced by shonen comics, with Wolverine going through tests of skill and becoming a master of martial arts even while he’s unable to fight the battles of friendship. X-Men: Misfits, then, is more of a shojo comic and aiming towards female readers. With Kitty Pryde being the only female student at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, she’s the belle of the ball even while she is torn between two different camps of boys. Sounds an awful lot like all sorts of shojo comics out there to me.

I think that Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman really nail the idea of turning the X-Men into a shojo comic. I could just as easily see Kitty as the lead in a Yû Watase comic like Fushigi Yûgi, where she’s nervous about not only her abilities but the circumstances that she keeps getting dropped into. Unfortunately, that does mean that early on Kitty is less of a hero and more of a doormat. The boys of the Hellfire Club walk all over Kitty, and it’s hard to cheer on someone who lets herself get so abused. It’s a slow burn for Kitty here, and it’s not really until the halfway point that we start to get some signs of her gaining a bit of independence and backbone. Once she does, though, the book becomes much more interesting. After all, it’s hard to have an interesting love triangle if two of the three involved don’t interact with the third, but the potential for there to be an emotional conflict in future volumes is there by the end of Volume 1.

In adapting the X-Men into a manga-inspired form, Telgemeier and Roman have far too much fun with shifting around traditional characters. I like that they don’t fall into the easy trap of making the original X-Men now the teachers and anyone since then the students. Instead it’s a mix and match; Cyclops, Angel, Iceman, and Havok are teenagers alongside newer characters like Pyro, Gambit, and Forge, while Beast, Storm, and Colossus are all on the teaching staff. Or rather, characters with those basic power structures and names are here; Telgemeier and Roman make sure that it’s more than just dropping characters into a slightly different setting. So while concepts still exist, the execution is fair game for the changing. I think that’s actually where the story of X-Men: Misfits excels; the group of "Hellfire Club" students having some of the teachers in their pocket makes their dominance over the school that much more acceptable, for instance, and seeing the Cyclops & Havok relationship play out in a different manner than the comics is actually more entertaining than the original.

Anzu’s art is in the same delicate, almost ethereal style that a lot of shojo comics use. It’s a look that isn’t always to my taste, with wispy lines slowly draping across the page and strange patterns laid over the backgrounds of the panels. That said, while I’m not always crazy about that approach, it’s hard to ignore that Anzu has completely nailed it. For readers who like this particular style (and there are a lot of readers who do), they’re going to be over the moon with Anzu’s work. I think what I do like the most about the way Anzu draws characters in general is her determination that characters dress appropriately. There’s a high level of attention paid to the fashions in X-Men: Misfits, with accessories and trendy clothing all over the place. It would have been easy to just place the characters in X-Men uniforms all the time, but Anzu avoids that dull trap. Anzu’s redesigns of some of the characters are also fairly fantastic; Beast’s new look as a cross between a bear and a totoro made me wish that he was one of the main stars of the book, with his cute, burly look. Likewise, Colossus’s transformation into a metal man here reminds me of Tik-Tok from the Oz books, complete with metal mustache and seeing rivets and seams along his clockwork body. It’s a nice way to break away from the obvious and get creative.

X-Men: Misfits isn’t for everyone; if you’re going to find yourself getting frustrated over the number of differences between the regular X-Men and these "remixed" characters, just steer clear. If you think the idea of the X-Men reinvented as characters in a shojo manga sounds like a fun twist, though, take a look. I grew more pleased with it as the book progressed, and the promise for a change in the boy-to-girl ratio in future volumes makes me that much more interested in seeing another installment. It’s a solid start to the series.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Yokai Doctor Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/07/08/yokai-doctor-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/07/08/yokai-doctor-vol-1/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2009 04:00:42 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1000 By Yuki Sato224 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey

I think Del Rey is trying to corner the market on books starring yokai (Japanese spirits) in English. Late last year they released Yokaiden, and now they’re translating Yuki Sato’s Yokai Doctor. Yokai Doctor is definitely a step in the right direction for books with [...]]]> By Yuki Sato
224 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

I think Del Rey is trying to corner the market on books starring yokai (Japanese spirits) in English. Late last year they released Yokaiden, and now they’re translating Yuki Sato’s Yokai Doctor. Yokai Doctor is definitely a step in the right direction for books with yokai in them, but even then it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re seeing a little too much sameness between Yokai Doctor and a lot of other releases.

Kotoko’s a high school student whose grandfather was well known for his exorcisms of yokai, a type of spirit that is almost never up to any good. Now, Kotoko pretends that she has that same ability, even though the reality is that all she can do is see them. When a new classmate, Kuro, turns out to not only be able to see yokai but also acts as their doctor, it’s just too good an opportunity for Kotoko to pass up. But will their new partnership be a good or a bad thing for both of them?

Yokai Doctor is the sort of book that sounded at a glance a lot like Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi, with its protagonist who searches out strange spirits and cures those afflicted. In many ways, though, Yokai Doctor is actually the inverse of Mushishi. Here, our lead is helping the spirits themselves instead of the humans being beset by the spirits. And while Mushishi feels like it’s for slightly older readers, Yokai Doctor is squarely aimed at teenagers. As a result we’ve got obsessions with breasts and typical high school hijinks peppering this first volume of Yokai Doctor. It’s not a terribly serious book, although it certainly is much lighter-hearted. My big problem, though, is that so far I’m not entirely warming to either character. In the first half of the book it was Kotoko and her slightly abrasive personality that annoyed me; when she and Kuro finally agreed to work together, I was disappointed because I was hoping that Kotoko would just be a temporary supporting character and the entire series would be all about Kuro.

What’s interesting, though, is that at the halfway point of Yokai Doctor Vol. 1, the book flips around and starts retelling part of the story from the perspective of Kuro instead of Kotoko. It made me wonder if there might have been a slight gap in time between the publishing of the original two chapters and the later ones, and this was a way to catch new readers up. It’s a good technique in storytelling, but with Kuro kicking this new chapter 1 with talking about his love of breasts, I found myself getting slightly irritated with him, too. I don’t quite dislike either of the protagonists, but so far neither of them feel quite strong enough to make me cheer for them. Hopefully, with time, that will come.

I do, however, really like Sato’s art in Yokai Doctor Vol. 1. It’s clean and smooth, and of all of the childish high school art styles that I’ve seen cross my desk over the past decade, Sato’s definitely one of the best. Sato’s real talent starts shining through, though, when drawing the yokai. Sato’s able to hit all forms, shapes, sizes, and levels of scariness with his spirit drawings. Some of adorable and remind me of the cuter creations from The Muppet Show, while others are huge and terrifying. It’s this mixture of art styles that impressed me with Sato; I’d have figured that the comic would go in one direction or the other, but Sato’s ability to change things up is what gives me the most hope for future volumes of Yokai Doctor.

Yokai Doctor Vol. 1 serves almost entirely as introduction, but it certainly brings the characters and situations to life. If Sato can just make the characters slightly more interesting and noteworthy in future volumes, I’ll definitely be interested. Still, there’s enough here to want to read more, and the concept itself is certainly a good one.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Wolverine: Prodigal Son Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/04/29/wolverine-prodigal-son-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/04/29/wolverine-prodigal-son-vol-1/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2009 04:00:23 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=905 Written by Antony JohnstonArt by Wilson Tortosa192 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey

I know, it sounds at first like a bet gone wrong. A manga version of one of the most popular comic book characters of all time? But that’s exactly what Del Rey (with the obvious cooperation of Marvel Comics) aimed to [...]]]> Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Wilson Tortosa
192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

I know, it sounds at first like a bet gone wrong. A manga version of one of the most popular comic book characters of all time? But that’s exactly what Del Rey (with the obvious cooperation of Marvel Comics) aimed to do with Wolverine: Prodigal Son. It’s not a bad idea when you think about it; take the core ideas of what make the character popular and then map them onto another style. Considering Marvel has published every other alternate version possible of their own characters, it’s not a bad idea. But will manga fans pick it up? And if so, just what will they find?

At the Quiet Earth School for Young People, Logan’s a bit of a misfit. He doesn’t know any of his life before being found in the forest, he heals unnaturally fast, and while he’s a master of martial arts, his social skills would rank him at the bottom of the class. His only real friend is Tamara, the daughter of the head of the Quiet Earth School. When Logan agrees to take a near-impossible test in exchange for a weekend pass to New York City, it sets in motion a sequence of events that will forever change both his life and everyone else’s at the Quiet Earth School…

Antony Johnston hits just the right combination of elements for Wolverine: Prodigal Son; if you’d never heard of the X-Men or Wolverine before, it would be a logical assumption that this really was a Japanese comic series. The young outcast at the dojo, his rocky relationship with both friends and competitors, the crazy tests of skill, it’s all there. At the same time, though, it’s true to the original Wolverine’s character and basic background sketch. It’s interesting because on the one hand, Johnston is closely bound on some basic ideas of the character, but on the other hand beyond those he’s utterly free to do whatever he wants. There don’t seem to be any X-Men in the world of Wolverine: Prodigal Son (or even other superheroes) and it lets Johnston take the story in all sorts of different directions. That’s something that becomes particularly true around the halfway point of the book. I have to give Johnston credit that while I was enjoying the book up until that point, it’s there that things begin to pick up and you get the sense that anything could happen. So while familiar elements continue to show up in small bits and pieces, I have to say that all of the setup from Volume 1 just makes me more interested in what he’ll do with it for Volume 2.

I wasn’t familiar with Wilson Tortosa’s art before, but it’s nice. It’s certainly strongly influenced by manga, mixing the cartoonish with the rough and gritty. I actually prefer Tortosa’s art when it’s hitting more of the latter; the early pages of Wolverine: Prodigal Son felt a little too clean and polished for my tastes at first, but as the story grew darker (and presumably Tortosa got further into the project) the art began to shift into something that really worked much better. It may seem like a strange thing to fixate on, but I was particularly pleased with how Tortosa drew Wolverine’s claws. They’re rough and ragged, and it’s that sort of rough-hewn look that fits the story and mood that’s being generated here. It’s not perfect—most characters seem to have a limited number of expressions—but Tortosa’s work here is one of the few projects where you can literally see the artist getting better with every page.

With all of this, though, the question still remains—will the new generation of comic fans pick up Wolverine: Prodigal Son? I honestly can’t decide. There’s such a wealth of manga already out there that it’s not like there aren’t other options available to also be bought. And generally speaking, there doesn’t seem to be a particularly large crossover between kids who get into comics via manga and those through superheroes (although that overlap does indeed exist). Hopefully books like this and the upcoming X-Men manga might help bridge the gap. It might be a losing battle, but if so, at least Del Rey’s assembled strong creators to give it their best shot.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/03/13/sayonara-zetsubou-sensei-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/03/13/sayonara-zetsubou-sensei-vol-1/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2009 05:00:19 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=840 By Koji Kumeta192 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey

There are always times when I really wonder just how much I’m "missing" when reading a translation of a comic into English. Just reading comics that started out in English, it’s easy to see cultural references left and right, ones that even readers from its [...]]]> By Koji Kumeta
192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

There are always times when I really wonder just how much I’m "missing" when reading a translation of a comic into English. Just reading comics that started out in English, it’s easy to see cultural references left and right, ones that even readers from its place of origin might not initially get. So when you’re reading a comic from, say, France or Japan, the chances of missing those cultural references are much higher. That’s something that finally really came home while reading Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Vol. 1; the translator does the best job she can, and there are lots of footnotes at the end of the book, but it’s almost shocking just how much is going to fly over most people’s heads.

Nozomu Itoshiki is a teacher who’s been giving the perfect class. Sure, almost no one else in the school would agree that a class full of misfits and strange kids would be perfect. But for the eternally depressed and suicidal teacher, this group of students is probably all that’s really keeping him alive. (Well, that and his slight incompetence with his suicide attempts.) And just when you think that he’s finally plumbed the depths of strangeness with his students, another one shows up to prove him wrong…

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei loosely translates into Goodbye, Mr. Despair. For those who have ever seen or heard of the movie Goodbye, Mr. Chips, it’s easy to see the satirical nature of this comic’s title. But really, that’s just the beginning of Koji Kumeta’s satire that runs fast and furious throughout the book. On the simplest level of all, the put-upon school teacher with the oddball class is certainly something we’re all familiar with in comics, especially with manga being translated into English. Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei takes it all a step further, though, with each new student being even more ludicrous than the last. It’s a funny take on the subject, and on that level alone it’s certainly enjoyable. Some chapters are punchier than others, although I do think it’s safe to say that there isn’t really a dud chapter in the book.

It wasn’t until I started going through all the footnotes at the back of the book, though, that I began to realize just how much was flying over my head. References to Japanese pop stars who added a star to their name? Train lines known in Japan for regular fatal accidents? A Chinese astrological sign that only shows up once every 60 years and is considered bad luck and creates prejudice? Call outs to a famous female Japanese wrestler? Hopefully you’re starting to get the idea here. Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is just dripping with references that I’d hazard most non-Japanese readers are simply going to fail to get. It’s a little frustrating after the fact, to be honest, because while the initial experience is certainly entertaining, once you discover how much you missed it’s almost as if being told that you’d read an edition of a book that was missing every other page.

On the other hand, it’s very easy to feel like you’re fully "getting" Kumeta’s art, with its clean, crisp figures. They look almost iconic, everyone formed not so much out of lines but rather out of shapes pieced together perfectly. It’s a really attractive look, going for an uncluttered and simple final product that seems to almost be begging for animation. My sole complaint is that because everyone looks so iconic, there are moments where I really had to look at characters extremely closely to figure out which character had just shown up at first.

Honestly, when I got to the end of the first volume of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, I was surprised to read that there are more volumes to come. Maybe it’s because the final chapter of this volume would serve as a perfect conclusion, maybe it’s because it’s hard to imagine just how many more archetypes Kumeta is going to still be able to drag out of the vaults and onto the page. If I read future volumes, I can’t help but think that the best approach might be to first go through the footnotes and find all the page numbers and add sticky notes to those page. That way, every time I get to a cultural reference I’d be missing, I can flip to the end and see just what it is. On the other hand, that almost might be a fast way to ruining the book with all that extra work and pausing. I can’t help but wonder if the footnotes were absent if I’d have ultimately been happier about the title; it’s certainly a fun book, after all. Just know exactly what you’re getting into before you begin reading for yourself.

Purchase Link: Amazon.com

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Tsubasa Vol. 20 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/03/04/tsubasa-vol-20/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/03/04/tsubasa-vol-20/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2009 05:00:57 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=827 By CLAMP192 pages, black and whitePublished by Del Rey Manga

I will admit that for the past few volumes of Tsubasa, I’ve been less than thrilled with CLAMP’s dimension-hopping series. I’d always liked the original conceit of the book—traveling across the universes to reclaim the scattered fragments of Princess Sakura’s soul—and CLAMP has certainly proven [...]]]> By CLAMP
192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey Manga

I will admit that for the past few volumes of Tsubasa, I’ve been less than thrilled with CLAMP’s dimension-hopping series. I’d always liked the original conceit of the book—traveling across the universes to reclaim the scattered fragments of Princess Sakura’s soul—and CLAMP has certainly proven that they’re not afraid to mix things up a great deal. Any book which thousands of pages in suddenly reveals the main character to be a traitorous clone of the real, imprisoned hero automatically gets a second look, after all. But with the latest volume of Tsubasa, things seem finally back on track, in no small part by tackling what I’d always thought was an odd omission: the history and back story of the supporting cast characters.

Up until this point, we’ve known very little about Fai, the enigmatic magician traveling with Sakura and Syaoran as they search for the missing feathers that are pieces of Sakura’s memories and soul. His spells have certainly come in handy, and his teasing relationship with Kurogane have provided a lot of the comedy in the form of a double-act going on in the background. Now, though, everything has changed with Fai’s history revealed, and a journey to the frozen world of Seresu where everything first went horribly wrong for Fai. And then, of course, things get worse.

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken 150 chapters to finally get to the heart of Fai’s story, but it was certainly well worth the wait. CLAMP’s story of twins being imprisoned as a sign of evil is compelling and chilling, with Fai and Yui’s desperate attempts to reunite in their prison and somehow escape to another country where twins would be accepted. CLAMP also here show their knack of taking a bad situation and then making it worse, as Fai and Yui’s imprisonment is by no means the end of the blame that they receive for simply existing. Ever since the introduction of the real Syaoran into the book (and the departure of Clone Syaoran), Tsubasa has felt like it’s been floundering a bit for a direction, stalling for time until the next big story. Here, it feels like we’re finally getting it. (Could it be that Kurogane’s history will finally be next on the agenda?) It’s certainly a skillful take on the idea of a main character having lied about their past earlier in the story, and it doesn’t feel tacked on or conceived at the eleventh hour; instead they’re able to show some of the hints and seeds they placed earlier in the series and make them all come to life here.

Perhaps more importantly, Tsubasa feels like it has a purpose again, that things are being accomplished. While the previous story was, in retrospect, a massive set-up for this current volume, at the time it felt like the book was treading water with yet another contest for one of Sakura’s feathers to be retrieved. Here, things are moving forward full steam, and considering that half of the book is a flashback to Fai’s childhood, that’s no small feat. It also helps that CLAMP’s art is quite strong here, with scenes of Fai’s missing twin as well as the flashbacks to their imprisonment having just the right air of creepy and sad infused into the art. You can actually see the desperation on the twins’s faces during their attempts to escape, and the drawings of the young twins being given their sentence have such sadness and resignation that it’s hard to not just feel horrible for the two innocent boys.

It’s great to see Tsubasa really get rolling again; with too many dips into other universes that felt like nothing more than the creators playing for time, having the book strike forward again is a welcome relief. Installments like the latest volume of Tsubasa are, to me, a reminder on why this four-person comic collective is so beloved. Tsubasa Vol. 20 is a lot of fun, and I’m really eager to see what happens next. It’s been a while since I could say that about the title, and hopefully I’ll be saying it about future volumes to come, too.

Purchase Link: Amazon.com

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