COWA!

By Akira Toriyama
208 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

When Viz published Akira Toriyama’s Sand Land a few years ago, I was excited to see something that post-Dragon Ball coming into English. And while I enjoyed Sand Land, it was merely good, not great. Well, it turns out what I was really hoping for all along was COWA!; sure, I’d never heard of it and I’m still not entirely sure what the title even means, but none the less, this was it.

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Vagabond Vol. 26-27

By Takehiko Inoue
208 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

2008 appears to be the year that Takehiko Inoue gets a huge push in North America. Viz is bringing his new series Real into English, as well as reviving Slam Dunk (which was part of Gutsoon Publishing’s now-defunct English-language publishing line). Two Inoue art books are scheduled for this year, as well as adding Vagabond to the VizBig collected editions line. It’s worth nothing, though, that for those who are already know when it comes to Inoue, Vagabond‘s been published for several years now in English. And, quite frankly, it’s the best series out of Japan currently being translated.

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Gimmick! Vol. 1

Written by Youzaburou Kanari
Art by Kuroko Yabuguchi
224 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

There are some basic hooks for stories which we’ve seen over and over again—princess in need of rescuing, evil businessman tries to take over the world, that sort of thing. And then there are ones that, when they do show up, make you genuinely wonder why we don’t get them more often, because they’re so full of possibilities. That’s how I feel about Youzaburou Kanari and Kuroko Yabuguchi’s Gimmick!, in which a makeup/special-effects artist and a stuntman keep finding themselves solving other people’s dilemmas. When you think about the skill sets of those two characters, well, the possibilities are endless.

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Hikaru no Go Vol. 12

Written by Yumi Hotta
Art by Takeshi Obata
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

There are some series that, over time, I’ve grown bored with. It’s the same thing over and over again, and I’ve just hit that point where I don’t care. Twelve volumes in, though, I find myself a little amazed (and quite pleased) that this is anything but the case for Hikaru no Go. Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata have just crossed the halfway point for their saga to master a board-game, and I’m dying to see just what happens next.

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Phoenix Vol. 9: Strange Beings/Life

By Osamu Tezuka
256 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Strange Beings/Life is one of the final volumes in Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix saga, a series spanning over 3000 years of history, alternating stories set in the past and the future. The two stories in this book at a glance seem united only by the inclusion of the being known as the Phoenix, but a closer investigation proves otherwise. Strange Beings/Life shows Tezuka not only creating an uncanny prediction of the 21st century, but a larger statement on the nature of humanity in general, one that connects both of these stories together quite neatly. Some things, be it in our distant past or near future, apparently never change.

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Drifting Classroom Vol. 1-2

By Kazuo Umezu
192 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

When Viz released Kazuo Umezu’s Orochi: Blood back in 2002, I’d hoped it was the start of a long line of releases by the noted Japanese master of horror. It’s taken a few years, but Umezu’s works are now appearing in English again, both in Dark Horse’s Scary Book series of Umezu short works, and Viz’s The Drifting Classroom. With The Drifting Classroom two of its eleven volumes are now translated, and I can’t help but wonder if publishing the other nine books could somehow result in a worldwide shortage of exclamation points thanks to its relentless intensity.

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Hikaru no Go Vol. 7

Written by Yumi Hotta
Art by Takeshi Obata
216 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

One of the biggest problems with what I’ve started calling in my head “tournament comics” is that I can never read them for too long. Essentially, it’s a comic where the protagonist is going through a series of competitions, be it soccer, tennis, go, cooking, or even something like fighting ninjas or evil demons. Sooner or later, the comic always seems to fall into a rut where it’s yet another bad guy with an even bigger and tougher finishing move and our hero has to fight them against all odds and figure out just how to win yet again. That’s why when reading the latest volume of Hikaru no Go I found myself genuinely excited, because I think it’s one of the few books with this basic set-up that successfully avoids falling into that trap.

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Monster Vol. 1

By Naoki Urasawa
224 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Everyone knows the old theoretical philosophical question by now. “If you could travel back and time and kill Adolf Hitler as a child, would you?” I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what inspired Naoki Urasawa’s Monster. The one big difference? I think Monster‘s twist on that old chestnut is the far more interesting scenario.

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Death Note Vol. 1-3

Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

There are always series that you hear about, ones spoken with a sort of reverence. “Oh, you’ve got to read this,” is a familiar opening phrase. Sometimes you’ll even get the, “If you don’t like this, I’ll give you your money back,” gambit. After a while, it’s easy to get skeptical about such claims. Tastes don’t always intersect, after all, and even your most trusted friends can still lead you astray. In the case of Death Note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that all of those praising it (before the series was even officially released) were wrong… because it was actually better than they’d claimed.

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Shojo Beat Vol. 1, Issue 1

By Ai Yazawa, Yuu Watase, Kaori Yuki, Taeko Watanabe, Marimo Ragawa, and Mitsuba Takanashi
360 pages, black and white, some color
Published by Viz Media

It’s hard to believe it was just a few years ago that Viz first started publishing the English-language Shonen Jump monthly magazine, packing hundreds of pages of comics from Japan into an affordable unit and letting it infiltrate not only comic stores, but newsstands and bookstores as well. Now they’ve got a new magazine ready, Shojo Beat, with six serials of shojo manga (or “girl’s comics”) from Japan. Can lightning strike twice?

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