D. Gray-Man and Skip Beat!

D. Gray-man by Hoshino Katsura 3/5stars(amazon)

D.Gray-Man takes place in an imaginary late 19th century England where the populace is haunted by demons called akuma. The akuma are created by a mysterious man called the Millennium Earl, who combines machinery and recently departed souls to form demons with destructive power. Allen Walker is a teenager who has recently taken on the role of exorcist. One of his hands has been burned red, with a cross embedded in it. The manga starts with a short chapter about policewoman exploring an abandoned church who finds both an akuma and Allen. Allen manages to deal with the situation with the help of his red right hand, and he continues on his journey to introduce himself at exorcist headquarters.
The storylines and art in D.Gray-Man will appeal to anyone who enjoys action horror manga. There’s a slightly twisted humor about some of the images, perhaps expressed most in the character design of the Millennium Earl, who wears a giant flower bedecked top hat, which goes well with his floppy ears, fangs, topcoat, and a jaunty umbrella.
I’m a little tired about reading stories about people who have a mystical super-powered hand. I that writers should mix it up a little bit and write stories about a magic foot, deadly elbow, right knee of power, or perhaps a fiendishly evil left shoulder. D-Gray-man seems like a decent enough manga, although I think that sometimes it suffers from an excess of exposition, and it looked like it was starting to follow familiar storylines when Allen got to exorcist headquarters. The Millennium Earl does seem like a very entertaining villain though.

Skip Beat! #1 by Yoshiko Nakamura 3.5/5 stars(amazon)

Kyoko works a ton of jobs. She works at a fast food restaurant where she overhears some of her co-workers discussing pop idols. They’ve decided to drop their allegiance to Ren Tsuruga in favor of the new singer Sho Fuwa. Kyoko is delighted that Sho has new members of his fan club, but she sinks into the depths of despair when she finds out that the other girls scored a promo poster of Sho that she doesn’t have. After some threats at a record store, Kyoko heads home, musing about her downtrodden state. She always liked reading stories about princesses as a child, but now she doesn’t spend money on herself because the next best thing to being a princess is living with her prince.
When Kyoko returns home she is surprised and delighted to see that Sho is at their apartment. They grew up together, both working at his family’s traditional inn, and she dropped out of school and followed him to Tokyo when he decided to move to follow his dream. She works multiple jobs to support him while he tries to become a celebrity, but it is clear that he doesn’t think anything of her sacrifice. He’s selfish and self-absorbed. Kyoko has to bribe him with food to get him to spend a few minutes with her.
Kyoko goes to visit Sho at one of his jobs and overhears him talking about her to his manager – he says that she’s plain and boring and only took her with him because it was convenient. With these words Kyoko’s repressed personality is unleashed. She vows revenge on Sho, but he tells her not to bother – the only way she could get to him would be to join show business, and she’ll never be able to succeed. Kyoko promptly starts trying to break in at a top talent agency which happens to represent Ren Tsuruga. She’s so relentless that she manages to scare a manager into inviting her to an open audition. Will Kyoko’s thirst for vengeance help her become a celebrity? Or will her personality hinder her ambition?
Nakamura’s art is serviceable, although sometimes her character’s hands seem a little out of proportion to their bodies. She switches into superdeformed mode often to exaggerate Kyoko’s violent moods, and the reactions she inspires in others. I have to wonder about Kyoko, because she certainly has become obsessed with most horrible boy on the planet. Still, I found the storyline a little unusual compared with a typical shojo romance title, and seeing a relentless heroine with violent mood swings was amusing.