Tag Archives: cmx

Stolen Hearts Volume 2

Stolen Hearts Volume 2 by Miku Sakamoto

I’m picking up my last volumes of CMX books with a bit of sadness, because it is a little depressing thinking of all the great series that will now be unfinished in English translation. But the over the top adorableness of Stolen Hearts provided an antidote to the CMX blues. Incredibly short Shinobu and tall giant Koguma are now going out while continuing to work at his grandmother’s kimono shop. Grandma decides to push forward the relationship by sending Shinobu a text from Koguma’s phone inviting her over to his house. Shinobu is shocked to meet the rest of his incredibly tall family, which includes three strapping older brothers. Kimono designer Miki offers to make a custom creation for Shinobu, something that he’s only done before for women he’s gone out with. Miki and Koguma become walking advertisements for the shop when they go on a New Year’s date to a shrine together dressed in kimono.

Miki keeps paying attention to Shinobu, but she remains oblivious that Koguma’s older brother might be attracted to her. Or is Miki just trying to tease his younger brother the way he always does? Even with this minor added complication, there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind that Shinobu and Koguma are meant for each other and their relationship can survive any strain. Stolen Hearts reminds me a bit of one of my favorite CMX titles, Venus in Love. Both are refreshingly angst-free, featuring stories about nice characters with a minimum of fuss. The kimono shop setting gives Sakamoto plenty of chances to draw cute outfits, and their work gives Shinobu and Koguma an additional focus that provides a counterpoint to their budding relationship. I’ll really miss not being able to read the rest of the series. Fortunately the second volume does wrap things up to an extent, so even though there isn’t a huge conclusion to the series I think the two volumes that CMX put out can be enjoyed on their own. There’s a lack of truly cute, feel-good shoujo shoujo series out there and Stolen Hearts is a great series to turn to if you need a quick dose of warm fuzzies.

Swan Volumes 12 and 13

One of the series that I’ll miss the most with the passing of CMX is not being able to read the end of Swan. I remember being at ALA shortly after CMX launched and they were giving out copies of Swan and From Eroica With Love. I remember reading and liking both first volumes in a lukewarm sort of way, but I didn’t really get into these series until several years later, when I read some of the subsequent volumes. I think both series really hit their stride in their second volumes. Swan’s relentless girlishness might take a bit of getting used to, but the struggles of a novice ballerina who refuses to give up has more in common with the traditional shonen sports story than you might think. I always find Ariyoshi’s layouts and art inspiring.

Swan Volume 12

Masumi has her final dance of the Tokyo Ballet Competition and she’s entered into a fugue-like state. Utterly unaware of what she’s doing, she gives a performance of a lifetime, but she loses the gold medal to her Russian rival Lilliana.

Leon wins the gold for the men, and the Japanese dances are disheartened that they ranked second in the first international ballet competition held in Tokyo. The end of this competition signals a time of transition. Masumi is invited to dance in New York with Leon or go to Russia to train with Lilliana’s father. Although he loves her, Aoi knows that Leon is the best partner for Masumi now and he leaves to go to Morocco. Leon corners Masumi to talk about their future together. While he’s infuriating, Masumi’s also drawn towards him and she knows that her dancing reaches another level when he partners her. Here’s Leon engaging in one of his favorite hobbies: armchair psychoanalysis of Masumi:

Ariyoshi is fond of using collage with different perspectives in her work. Leon and Masumi are seated across from each other at a table but all the details disappear in order to show Leon seated against the reaction shots of the couple’s faces. Leon looks mischevious and slightly smug, and Masumi is reacting in disbelief that he’s actually talking to her in this manner. I like how Leon’s hair sort of looks like what would happen if a Ken doll wore a wig made out of cotton candy. That’s how you can tell he’s Masumi’s ideal man, even if she doesn’t know it yet. Masumi is torn about the idea of going to New York and leaving her beloved teacher Sergeiev behind. She asks her sensei to dance Swan Lake with her one last time.

Swan Volume 13

Masumi travels to New York with Leon and finds a set of new challenges. She can’t adjust to the style of modern ballet. Everywhere she goes she seems to be the subject of gossip. She dances with Leon in the classical style and her new instructor is underwhelmed:

She finds out that Leon refused to dance in New York unless she was asked to accompany him. Masumi’s always had problems with self-confidence, but even though she’s shaken by this revelation she tries to understand why she feels disconnected from modern ballet. Masumi meets a number of Leon’s friends, and one who is most supportive of her is the self-destructive male soloist Luci. Luci’s dismayed that Leon is letting Masumi struggle on her own to grasp the essence of modern ballet but he has his own problems as he barely completes a performance before collapsing due to the effects of dancing with a hangover. One of the more admirable aspects of Masumi’s character is that she refuses to give up, even if the situation she’s in is impossible. Her new instructor may replace her as Leon’s partner, but she still practices as much as ever.

Farewell CMX

Like most people in the manga blogosphere, I was disappointed to hear that DC Comics decided to get rid of CMX. Dead/dying publishers like Aurora and Go Comi have been silent for months, but CMX was still soliciting new titles so hearing that this publisher was ceasing to exist was an unpleasant shock. In retrospect, I guess it shouldn’t have been a total surprise. DC has never supported the manga titles from CMX well. They were hard to find in bookstores, and it never seemed like there was that much of a marketing push behind them. I wonder if CMX manga titles would have been more successful if DC had spent even half the time marketing CMX as they did on their quickly launched and canceled Minx line for teenage girls.

I probably used the phrase “under the radar” to describe CMX too much. Perhaps that was part of the problem. Many of the series were a little quirky and would probably tend to appeal more to a manga aficionado than a casual reader. But I always knew that if I was bored with some of the slickly overly produced or cynically edited mainstream manga offerings I would be able to find something genuinely weird and wonderful in CMX’s catalog like Swan or From Eroica With Love or Moon Child.

CMX’s shoujo line always seemed like it was carefully curated. One of the reasons why I’m upset about CMX’s disappearance is that it had some great titles for a underserved demographic – tween girls. As a librarian, I knew that I could always turn to CMX if someone was asking me for a good manga for 9-12 year olds, because so many of their shoujo titles were simple and sweet, without any objectionable elements that parents might be wary of. CMX’s offerings seemed more personal than other manga publishers, and the titles they selected seemed to be chosen because someone working at CMX genuinely liked them. I’m sure other manga publishers like their titles, but the human element seemed more present with CMX since they were choosing to go out and license hidden gems like Name of the Flower and Stolen Hearts.

So when I think of CMX I’ll be grateful for all the great series they were able to finish like Emma, Land of the Blindfolded, Penguin Revolution, and Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne. I’ll miss not being able to read the endings of some of my favorites like Venus in Love and Swan. Now there’s not much else to do but evaluate some of the holes in my CMX collection and try to snag some volumes before they go out of print.

So goodbye CMX. I’m sorry you were dumped so unceremoniously. You did a service to the English manga reading community by putting out 15 volumes of Swan and From Eroica With Love, along with all the other great titles you published. You will be missed.

Oh! My Brother Voume 2

Oh! My Brother Volume 2 by Ken Saito

I was a little disappointed with the first volume of this series because it didn’t have the emotional complexity of Saito’s other series The Name of the Flower. Masago’s superstar older brother Shiro sacrificed himself to save her from being killed in a freak accident. He’s unable to move on to the next world and possesses her body. The mournful origins of the split-personality scenario weren’t really touched on a whole lot in the first volume, and I suppose I expected a bit more angst from Saito. The emotional ramifications of Masago’s spirit possession start to be developed a bit more in the second volume, so I can now see myself following this series to the end even if it doesn’t reach the heights that Saito seems to be capable of.

Masago was exhausted from arranging the school cultural festival in her brother’s memory, and Shiro took her exams for her. She got a perfect score and is now being singled out to run for student council. She has to deal with the usual complications including mean girl bullying and her feelings for Shiro’s best friend Kurouma and the watchful presence of Shiro’s rival Kuga. Where things start to get more interesting is the ways the brother and sister start reacting to their predicament. Masago gets angry as Shiro’s meddling and tells him to go away. Shiro initially warns Kurouma about dating his sister, but when he learns that Masago views Kurouma as an idol he relaxes because her view of his friend is that he’s entirely out of her reach. Shiro is upset that he can’t do more for his sister. Her reliance on him starts to look more and more co-dependent. While she is starting to assert herself more at school, she still doesn’t want her brother’s spirit to leave her.

Masago’s body language totally changes when her brother takes over, which is fun to see. While I think I can predict the ending of the manga after reading the second volume I’m more interested in seeing her journey as she hopefully moves towards greater independence. I’m probably judging Oh! My Brother a little too strictly because I like The Name of the Flower so much, but I think the series is starting to get much better. This is usually why I decide to sample the first couple volumes of a manga before deciding to keep buying or drop it.

Key to the Kingdom 4-6

As I was reading the latter half of this series, I thought that six volumes is a really nice length for a manga series. It isn’t so overly long that the author gets caught up in endless monster of the week fights or having the characters engage in circular plot loops. But it is long enough that the author is able to spend plenty of time setting up a complex plot and developing the supporting cast. There are spoilers ahead for the final volumes!

Key to the Kingdom Volume 4 by Kyoko Shitou

I started out being a little annoyed with the young sheltered hero of this manga, Asta. But as he makes his way in the world to Beltos, a country his older brother told him to visit if anything ever happened to him, Asta shows courage and ingenuity as he unravels the mystery behind the Key to the Kingdom. On the other hand, Letty, who initially seemed like a strong and vibrant girl is starting to act like a spoiled brat because her crush on her knight Alex isn’t reciprocated. She’s only 13 and is possessed by a demonic relic, so I suppose she has an excuse for acting like a brat. I still found her whining a bit annoying. I guess she serves as a good contrast to Asta’s journey towards maturity.

The competitors to the throne are scattered around all four points of the compass, seeking out invisible towers that are supposed to be accessible only on the summer solstice. There’s tension between Asta and Badd because the dragon man Gaius foretold Badd’s death on that day as well. Asta is confident that he’ll be able to change fate, and he uses his book smarts to figure out the deadly nature of the quest. The keys to the towers are actually the humans of royal blood, and their deaths will activate a powerful spell. After a couple volumes of character development and set-up, volumes four and five ratchet up the action, with battling dragon men, foiled kidnappings, and noble knights being good and wonderful.

Key to the Kingdom Volume 5 Kyoko Shitou

Badd’s dark prophecy comes true, and Asta is left alone to navigate back to his country. Of the five people who quested for the key, only Asta, Letty, and Fairheart are left after encountering the invisible towers. The dragon men reveal their true nature, and Asta is tempted by the opportunity to grab some power for himself. Asta’s aware of his own weakness but a magical way of gaining strength isn’t going to work out for him. The bond that Asta and Badd have built during their journey remains, but Asta will have to grow up even more without the guidance of his knight.

There’s a little more focus on Lord Fairheart in the last volumes of the seris. Even though he is all that is noble and good he somehow manages to be admirable instead of an annoying Dudley Doright type. When Fairheart learns some harsh truths about his ancestors he’s willing to ally with the abrasive dragon man Ceianus even though they’ve fought in the past.

Key to the Kingdom Volume 6 Kyoko Shitou

The final volume shows Asta being forced to confront what he always avoided, having to lead men into battle. He’s arrived at Fairheart’s lands, but the border lord hasn’t come back from his quest yet. The lords want to use Asta’s name as a rallying point to gather additional troops from neighborhood provinces. Asta reluctantly takes command, but his bookish way of waging war is designed to minimize the loss of life both for his men and the enemy. When his clever traps and strategy don’t prevent death, he wonders what he’s become.

While any sort of epic fantasy story involving dragons isn’t going to be entirely original, Shitou manages to put some unexpected elements in her story. She ties a creation myth and legends to Asta’s current problems and his intellectual approach towards dealing with kingdom building made him a little different from the “man of action” type hero you usually see in this type of story. One of the things I liked was the way the tone of the series shifted towards the elegiac at the end. While the beginning of the manga showed Asta starting out on his quest haunted by the deaths in his family, he and Badd quickly shift into a bantering type of relationship which Badd often provoked by boasting about his womanizing exploits. Badd’s fate and Asta’s reaction to it ensure that the manga ends with a melancholy and reflective moment, which isn’t what you might expect from a swords and sorcery fantasy manga. Key to the Kingdom was a solid, slightly quirky fantasy manga, which is just what I’ve come to expect from CMX.

The Key to the Kingdom 1-3

The Key to the Kingdom Volumes 1-3 by Kyoko Shitou

CMX can always be counted on to license good fantasy titles. The Key to the Kingdom follows a fairly typical fantasy adventure quest, but the characters and background details in the world Shitou created captured my attention. I picked up all six volumes in this series after reading a review from one of the manga bloggers on livejournal. It took a couple attempts for me to get into this series, mainly because the first few pages introduced a main character I didn’t initially care for. Once all the pieces were lined up for the quest to start I was eager to read about the rest of the journey.

Asta is an indifferent prince. He prefers to spend his time reading in the garden, and declines when his best friend Letty offers to teach him how to use a sword. Unfortunately when Asta’s father and older brother die in battle, his responsibilities are going to have to change. Just listening to all the ministers debate about who will be regent makes him sick (Asta is only 13) and he bursts out yelling that he will refuse to take the throne. The older nobility decide to hold a contest. If anyone with the right bloodline manages to find the legendary Key to the Kingdom within 2 years, they will be given the throne. If no one completes the quest, the throne will revert to Asta. Letty is the first to raise her hand to participate in the quest. She’s a lively girl, and her father gives her an entourage of handsome knights to help her in the hope that he’ll also get a son-in-law. Also competing are the older, potentially evil Duke Alan and General Bardus. Asta decides to participate in the contest too, mainly as a way to research a comment his brother said to him before he died about the need to journey to a nearby kingdom. Asta is aided in his quest by his brother’s right-hand man, a womanizing soldier Baddorias, nicknamed Badd.

Shitou’s art seems a little old-fashioned, but I enjoyed all the androgynous characters with their long flowing hair. She does keep things from being too pretty, as Asta and his rivals for the quest encounter strange creatures when they start to research the history of the legendary Key and its ties to dragons and dragon tamers. There’s a half-elf, half plant with dire prophecies that provides an element of the grotesque that is an effective counterpoint to all the shining armor and long eyelashes. Badd takes his responsibilities to the young prince very seriously, and decides to expose him to the world by removing him from the entourage that would pamper him as they start their quest. A mysterious dragon man named Gaius seems to be following Asta and Badd as they begin their journey.

While the first volume sets up the characters and the central quest, the second volume begins to explore the mythology and backstory of Asta’s Kingdom. Who are the dragon men? Are they dragons in human form or something else? How is the power of the key related to the legendary human dragon tamers, who drank the blood of wyrms in order to receive magical power and immortality? While the participants in the quest tend to scatter, sometimes Asta and Letty meet up. Letty has developed an attraction to one of her Knights, and Asta sees that his avoidance of the martial arts might not be such a great decision when he wants to protect the girl he likes. For the record, Letty is perfectly capable of defending herself, so it was nice to see an example of a somewhat headstrong girl in Key to the Kingdom, even though she does seem preoccupied with her first crush. While the dragon man Gaius might be benign, there’s another dragon man out there interfering with the quest. Ceianus has a well honed hatred for humans, and he doesn’t hesitate to use his mystical powers to strike out at them.

In the third volume Asta encounters the mysterious fifth participant in the quest, a border noble named Lord Fairheart. Asta begins to learn the disturbing truth behind his country’s history, as Fairheart shares some family legends with him. Different participants in the quest learn conflicting information and the dragon men seem to visit everyone to tell them about their destinies. While it isn’t an unexpected story arc, I enjoyed seeing Asta grow more mature as he is forced to confront the world beyond his castle walls. Asta and Badd are struggling in their individual ways with the aftermath of the Crown Prince’s death, and they look out for each other. Asta manages to be resourceful when drawing on all the knowledge that he’s amassed due to his reading habits, and Badd will do anything to protect the young prince. While the whole “quest to find the legendary object” plot is pretty shopworn, the combination of attractive art, sympathetic characters, and the mystery of the dragon men added up to an enjoyable first half for this manga series. Now I just need to set aside the time to read the next three books.

Stolen Hearts

Stolen Hearts Volume 1 by Miku Sakamoto

I bought this volume purely because of the cover image. A cute girl in a kimono has her mouth open in an “O” of surprise, while a red-haired boy lurks ominously in the background. At school Shinobu spills milk on a bag belonging to Koguma, the intimidating tough guy in her class. He announces that the bag contains a kimono and says that Shinobu has to work off her debt. He drags her to his grandmother’s kimono shop and she’s given the job of dressing up in the shop’s youth line and handing out leaflets. As Shinobu spends time with Koguma she realizes that his fearsome reputation is unearned. He’s actually a big softie, and he goes out of his way to take care of her while they are working.

Many other reviews of the book have mentioned the awesome character of Koguma’s granny. It is fabulous seeing her boss Koguma around, and the intimidating boy at school automatically becomes a compliant little lamb around his grandmother. It seems that she must have quite a past, judging by the way the local mafia is so solicitous of her grandson.

Sakamoto obviously spent a great deal of time researching kimono design. Her facility with facial expressions ensures that Koguma is an interesting male lead with the way he switches from his usual mode of inadvertent intimidation to bashful boyfriend. Shinobu is very direct for a shoujo heroine. She comments to Koguma that he looks handsome in a kimono, causing him to blush. When she realizes that she has feelings for him she just comes out and says that she’s fallen in love, “so I hope it’s ok if I stay by your side.” The couple start dating in the first volume of the manga, which is nice because some shoujo series take several volumes for the couple to get together. Since Koguma and Shinobu are so busy with work, their relationship progresses slowly. The workplace setting adds another layer of enjoyment to this manga. After reading so many series that are just set in high school, the extra plot point of kimono sales turns even stock plot developments like a school festival story fun. Stolen Hearts is yet another fun, under the radar shoujo series from CMX. They really seem to have a knack for finding unexpected gems to license.

Name of the Flower Volume 3

The Name of the Flower Volume 3 by Ken Saito

One of the many things I like about this series is the way the point of view will sometimes shift from character to character, giving the reader a chance to get to know the supporting cast a little better by seeing their inner thoughts. The third volume of this series shifts the focus to the cheerful and ever persistent editor Akiyama. We see the origins of his friendship with the moody author Kei when they were in college. The relationship between Kei and Chouko hits a crisis point as Kei abruptly leaves to be by himself, sending Chouko into a deep depression. A woman from Kei and Aikiyama’s past threatens to make the situation even worse.

There’s a turning point for the series in this volume, as the reader finally learns about Kei’s family history and the reasons why he struggles with relationships. The next volume is the concluding one, and I’m curious to see if there will be a happy ending for the moody couple of Kei and Chouko. While it is obvious that they find happiness with each other when they let themselves,they are both so emotionally unstable in their own ways and I’m not sure if a relationship that seems to be based somewhat on mutual dependency is going to work out. Despite the almost overwhelming moodiness of the plot, there are small moments that bring light and happiness to the characters. Chouko contemplates her garden, and her friends from school visit her.

Part of me wants someone to grab the main characters by the shoulders and give them a good shaking and a prescription for Prozac. But if that happened, that would take away from the moody charm of the book which has one of the best portrayals of inner darkness and despair I’ve read in a manga.

Swan Volumes 10 and 11

Swan Volume 10 by Kyoko Ariyoshi

Masumi and Aoi arrive at the competition with 20 minutes to get ready for their performance of “Legend of Love.” As Masumi dances she thinks of her feelings for Kusakabe, which contrasts with Aoi’s inner thoughts which reflect his character’s feelings for the woman Masumi is portraying on stage. The audience senses something different in the pair’s performance. The judges detect the work of a distinctive choreographer. Larissa thinks that something is different within Masumi. She’s never seen Masumi look so beautiful on stage. Masumi’s teacher Sergiev has been busy working with Lilliana, but he goes in search of Masumi backstage. He is shocked to find her with the older Russian gentlemen who helped her with her most recent dance. The mysterious Russian excuses himself and Sergiev congratulates Masumi on her performance, promising to help her prepare for round three of the competition. Masumi is touched by his faith in her.

Masumi ties with Lilliana as the top contestants when the scores are announced for the dancers who are allowed to progress. Aoi and Masumi just have a few minutes to celebrate before the judges announce that they changed their mind, and are going to penalize the couple due to their tardiness. The mysterious older gentleman pops into the room and explains that they were late due to the process he was putting the couple through as part of his coaching technique, and it was all in service of dance. Sergiev utters the name of the man who danced with Masumi’s mother, “Serge Lavrovsky. Twenty years ago he defected from Russia to the West. At that time he was Russia’s most gifted — no, the most gifted dancer in the world!” The judges are shocked that Lavrosky is still alive after living in obscurity for so long. Masumi is overwhelmed because she didn’t realize that she was being coached by her old partner. There’s no time to ask questions as the judges have decided to relent, and Masumi goes to find out that in the final round she is dancing the Black Swan against Larissa again.

I love the excesses of Ariyoshi’s art. Masumi and Aoi dance and are given a galaxy and the Planet Earth as a backdrop! The caption “We have to survive no matter what!” is centered in a circle of portraits of all the dancers in the competition. Lilliana is always accompanied by wings and floating feathers which highlight the effortlessly weightless image she projects onstage. In addition to the notes about the individual ballets the dancers perform, Ariyoshi also includes some elements of criticism as Masumi reflects on the way the judges react to Giselle when danced by Kyogoku and Lilliana. Masumi favors Kyogoku’s warmly human interpretation and thinks that the judges are too overwhelmed by Lilliana’s effortless presence on stage to realize that the Russian’s interpretation is inferior. How individual dancers make a role unique is brought up yet again when Masumi and Larissa both dance Odile. Masumi decides to tackle the difficult perfection of precise dance moves. Larissa decides to be extremely loose in her choreography in a bold response to Masumi’s triumphant performance. She does 32 double turns and the audience is in shock.

Swan Volume 11 by Kyoko Ariyoshi

As this volume opens the winner is announced. Masumi beats out Larissa even though she thinks that Larissa outshone her on stage and won over the audience. Larissa tells Masumi that she has no regrets for the way she danced the Black Swan. The girls agree that they will be competing in ballet for the rest of their lives, clasping hands and facing off Sergio Leone-style in front of a tree.

Masumi watches Leon dance. While the other girls are discussing his hot, muscular legs she is thinking about how strange and annoying he is. Masumi sees Leon play up to the audience reaction and senses that he’s secretly mocking all the women who are swooning over his body. Leon passes Masumi backstage and predicts that the pair competing against his Don Quixote will crash and burn. Sure enough, the male dancer has become infected with the strength of Leon’s performance and inadvertently tries to duplicate it, failing horribly in the process.

In the next round Kyogoku and Masumi are assigned to dance a trio with Leon, while Aoi partners with the Russian girls. Masumi reflects about her relationship with Kyogoku and how she looks up to the older ballerina. Aoi is surprised that when he partners with Lilliana she’s able to cover up for his small mistakes because she’s so light on her feet. He’s in awe of her ability. Masumi watches them perform and sees that even Larissa’s strong stage presence seems nonexistent when she is performing alongside Lilliana.

Leon gives the series a jolt of energy, just because Masumi has something new to react to. Leon’s smugness combined with the fact that he always seems to be drawn as if he has a personal wind generator artfully blowing his hair across his face always makes me look forward to his appearances. He irritates Masumi as a dance partner as he blows off rehearsal and says that he doesn’t need to prepare for the competition because he already watched Masumi dance once. They dance together before the judges and sure enough, Leon’s timing is perfect and he knows exactly what to do in order to support Masumi as a partner.

Masumi’s dance evolves as she partners with Leon and there are some beautiful panels of their faces close together framed by windblown flower petals. Something significant is happening! When you see flower petals like this, you can’t escape the pull of old school shoujo symbolism! When the dance ends Masumi goes to thank Leon for helping her to dance her very best. He turns to her with a dismayed expression on his face and says “Your very best? That?” He asks her if she can’t be expected to dance any better and turns away. As always when dealing with Leon, Masumi is left alone to deal with the psychological fallout of his comments. She wonders if he delights in making her feel inferior.

The trauma is not over for Masumi because she overhears Sergiev discussing her distressing psychological responses to stress with another person. The upcoming competition where she must share the stage with the ethereal Lilliana may trigger her psychosomatic illness again, making her unable to hear music. Masumi hears Sergiev say “If she is crushed today by her fears Masumi just doesn’t have what it takes!” and she runs away, not hearing him comment that she’s become stronger and he thinks she is ready to confront her issues. Masumi works herself into such a state of anxiety that she become feverish. Kusakabe finds her backstage and tries to comfort her, but Sergiev has a different approach. He brutally confronts Masumi with her weaknesses and tells her to get on the stage or leave the world of ballet. Masumi takes the stage with Lilliana while feeling like a broken marionette.

Even though the external plot elements like the endless ballet competitions are predictable, I’m still curious to see how Masumi will be able to overcome her weaknesses and become a better dancer. I have no doubt that she’ll succeed since she’s the heroine of Swan, but it’ll be interesting to see how her relationship with Leon will develop. I’m wondering if there will be an additional rivalry between Sergiev and Lavrosky when guiding Masumi’s career. There have been hints that the past relationship between Masumi’s mother and Lavrosky turned tragic, so that’s another plot element I’m looking to see explored. As always, Ariyoshi’s art elevates the melodrama portrayed in the series. It is hard not to be captivated by a manga that so easily portrays the dynamic range of the human body in dance as well as the tears and delight of the dancers.

Manga Gift Guide

Many manga bloggers are putting together gift guides to help people with their manga shopping this holiday season. Here’s my contribution, and I hope it helps you with some suggestions for different types of manga fans that might be on your shopping list!

1. For the younger set

It can be tricky to find good manga for younger readers. For younger girls I think the fantasy series from CMX Lapis Lazuli Crown is worth checking out. If they don’t like fantasy, they might enjoy the figure-skating antics in Sugar Princess: Skating to Win. For boys and girls, Hikaru No Go is a fun choice that just might pique their interest in a classic game of strategy.

2. For the comic fan who you want to convert to the manga fold

20th Century Boys is one of the best manga that I’ve read, and the gripping mystery plot combined with political and science fiction elements will pique the interest of many readers. If you have a fan of comics on your shopping list that strenuously avoids manga I think a title like 20th Century Boys will go a long way to convert them.

3. For the realistic comic/manga fan

The post-college malaise that settles on the group of friends in Solanin is something that everyone has gone through when growing up. The realistic setting combined with occasional panels with surreal images creates an interesting atmosphere and most people can relate to the quirky characters.

Ohikkoshi by Hiroaki Samura (author of Blade of the Immortal) follows similar territory in exploring the lives of a group of art students.

4. For the vampire fan

Someone in the grips of vampire mania may enjoy these two series that are complete in two volumes; Bloody Kiss is a lighthearted romance, and Millennium Snow is a cute series from the author of Ouran High School Host Club. Vampire Game might not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind since it came out a few years ago, but this series combines fantasy, a medieval setting, a headstrong princess, and a vampiric cat to create an entertaining and humorous series.

5) For the science fiction fan

Planetes is one of the best science fiction manga that I’ve read. This story about garbage men who have to clear up space debris focuses on the lives of the characters which is refreshing in a science fiction series. It looks like this is now out of print, but it is worth hunting e-bay for an auction to see if you can pick up the complete series.

For a series that is easier to track down, you might want to try Flat Earth Exchange. I enjoyed the first two volumes and have the next two on my shopping list.

Karakuri Odette is a charming new series from Tokyopop about the school adventures of a female android who wants to become more human.

6. For the fantasy fan

Whoever selects manga for CMX always does a great job finding under the radar fantasy series. Apothecarius Argentum is a well-executed fantasy series about an unconventional princess and her relationship with her poison taster, a former assassin named Argent. The series also incorporates some interesting political maneuvering between kingdoms and the combination of politics and medieval medicine makes the series a little different than what you might expect. The six volume Oyayubihime Infinity whips up reincarnation, butterfly tattoos, secret identities, and show business into a frothy shoujo confection.

7. For lovers of romance

My favorite romance series are Boys Over Flowers and Hana Kimi. I haven’t gotten my hands on Itazura Na Kiss yet, but I’m guessing that this classic series is sure to appeal to any serious shoujo fan.

Venus in Love is a series that has plenty of subtle charm, and the college setting sets it apart from the many high school romance manga being published today. The Name of the Flower is one of my favorite recently published romance manga and it has a melancholy tone produced by the unlikely romance between two psychologically damaged people. I also can’t overlook Shinobi Life, a romance manga about a rich girl and a time traveling ninja that just seems to get better with every volume.

8. For the manga fan who has everything

Why not get them some of the earliest manga put out by Viz? While Moto Haigo works are lamentably out of print, you can easily purchase Love Song: 4 Tales By Shojo Manga Artist Keiko Nishi on amazon. Or how about the post-apocalyptic tale Grey, Vol. 1: Perfect Collection, which has some very unique character designs.

For the shoujo fan, you might want to find some of the out of print works by Tomoko Taniguchi like Just a Girl or Call Me Princess. If your manga fan who has everything hasn’t experienced the wonderful strangeness that is Moon Child, that might be a good choice for someone who has become a bit jaded with the medium.

9. Epic series

Maybe you know someone who delights in long-running stories? You can’t go wrong with shoujo classics like Red River, Legend of Basara, or Swan, my favorite ballet saga.

10. The new trend: omnibus editions

I’m happy about the trend towards larger collected editions. I’m glad I procrastinated buying the single volumes of Vagabond because now I can collect the VizBig editions.

Even someone who might already have the single volumes of series like Fushigi Yugi, Dragonball, Ruroni Kenshin, or Hot Gimmick might like the larger collected editions for the extras included.

If you know someone who enjoys beautiful men suffering, historical fiction, and Wagner perhaps they would enjoy the two oversize volumes of Ludwig II by You Higuri.

Some people might find Clover annoying for too much bad poetry. I think it does feature some of the most beautiful layouts that I’ve seen in manga and Dark Horse’s new omnibus edition might be a nice holiday treat for someone who doesn’t have the older Tokyopop volumes.

I hope you’ve been able to get a few ideas for the manga fan on your holiday shopping list!

As to what’s on my wishlist, I’m enjoying Swan so much I am thinking of going back and collecting From Eroica With Love. I’ve only read stray volumes here and there of Red River, so that’s another series I’d like to fill in. Kekkaishi is another series that I wish I’d been collecting from the beginning. I also am sporadic about buying Black Jack, which is always delightful in its own gristly way.