Cy-Believers Volume 1 by Shioko Mizuki
Jacket Copy: Rui has just transferred to a new school, and hopes to make friends quickly. What better way to do that than by joining a few clubs? Unfortunately, it seems that most of the social groups around campus have been recently shut down — by the boy who just happens to be Rui’s fiance! Still, determined to get around her controlling, selfish betrothed, Rui starts a new club that won’t be so easy to get rid of. Welcome to the Cy-Believers!
I had a difficult time reading this manga. Usually I’ll polish off a volume in one or two sittings, but I must have picked up and put down Cy-Believers six or seven times before I finished it. There was something off about the pacing in this manga, I think it tried too hard to be funny and ended up being frenetic and erratic instead. Rui has transferred to a new school and the only way she could leave home was to go to the same school that her fiance attends. Natori is head of the Public Safety Commission and he abuses his power by closing many of the school clubs. He also has an unwholesome way of paying attention to Rui, as his idea of wooing a woman involves pinning her down on a sofa and instructing her to have his babies.
Rui meets an odd group of people that have banded together in response to Natori’s persecution. Three identical looking girls called the Believers are an offshoot of the public relations club. The Believers spend their time in a dark basement doing side jobs like sewing up stuffed animals in an attempt to raise club dues. Rio and Azumi work in a secret room next to the Believers. They enjoy repairing computers. Rio seems to be attracted to robots a little too much, and Azumi is followed around by hundreds of spirits. Azumi and Rio often rescue Rui from Natori’s unwanted attentions.
The art in this manga seemed a bit rushed. I don’t usually complain about a lack of screentone in manga, but often characters were talking to each other with just blank space in the background. The lack of backgrounds in many panels just gave me an un-anchored feeling while reading the manga. There were a few funny events in Cy-Believers. The three Believers function like a hapless Greek chorus. Azumi secures protection for the new club by submitting to the romantic attentions of the Student Council President. I think if Cy-Believers had taken some ritalin it might have become an entertaining comedy manga. As it is, it was just too unfocused and spastic to capture my attention. If I want to read funny manga I’ll stick to My Heavenly Hockey Club or Cromartie High School.
Crown Volume 2 by Shinji Wada and You Higuri
Jacket copy: Average, ordinary Mahiro has just discovered that she’s a princess — and heir to the kingdom of Regalia! Protected by her mercenary brother Ren and his best friend Jake, Mahiro feels safe for the first time in her life. Little does she know that her enemies have just hired the sexiest, deadliest assassin in the world…to seduce and destroy her brother Ren!
With the second volume of this series, I am loving it even more than the first due to the sheer amount of loopy insanity that Wada and Higuri provide. First, the cover features Mahiro and her maybe-he’s-her-brother-maybe-he-isn’t Ren on somebody’s wedding day. The manga opens with Mahiro opening the curtains in her brother’s bedroom and telling him to wake up. He blearily gets out of bed and heads to the shower. Mahiro leans over the naked woman Ren left behind in bed and cheerfully asks her how many pieces of toast she would like. Jake, Ren, and Mahiro then proceed to eat breakfast at a small table in the room while the naked woman cowers under the covers. Jake tells the nameless woman goodbye as he and Ren escort Mahiro to school.
At school, they notice Condor, the defeated assassin from the first volume. He appears to be homeless, hanging out, and stalking Mahiro. It turns out that Condor has become smitten after his initial meeting with Mahiro and the boys, and he’s observing the school while Jake and Ren are away. Ren decides to hire Condor as an additional bodyguard so he and Jake can concentrate on hunting down the goons sent by the false queen of Regalia. Condor is extremely socially awkward, spending a large amount of his time silently glaring at people. Mahiro views him as a lost little puppy. As the established trio adds a fourth person to the team the dynamic in the house shifts a bit. Jake and the Condor often find themselves bemused by Ren and Mahiro’s over the top displays of familial affection. Condor sees the siblings walk arm in arm and asks with a resigned look on his face “Is it…always like this?” and Jake clenches his fist in frustration and says “Yes! ALWAYS!”
One of the things I thought was hilarious about the first volume was the way Ren and Jake would frequently rip off their suits or tuxedos to reveal bulletproof vests and camouflage gear underneath. Sadly there was little clothes ripping in this volume, but they do swing from factory hooks while firing guns. The angst factor gets turned up a notch with the introduction of the cross-dressing assassin Angela who only loves diamonds. Ren recognizes his own damaged personality in Angela, but will Mahiro’s openness and acceptance win him over?
Bound Beauty Volume 1 by Mick Takeuchi
Chiyako can see the legendary mystical red threads that connect lovers. She has turned her power into a thriving matchmaking business at school, telling her classmates their love fortunes in return for cash. She’s determined to save up as much money as she can because she wants to become an adult and move out on her own. She fights with her father so she’s is eager to become independent. A tattooed boy at school with a hair-trigger temper named Tachibana confronts Chiyako about her business, ordering her to stop. Tachibana is rumored to be part of a Yakuza family because he has tattoos and earrings.
Chiyako has a huge crush on her calligraphy teacher Nagumo, who reminds her of a boy who saved her life when she was a little girl. Nagumo is the strong, silent, kimono-wearing type. A classmate draws the Kinnikuman symbol on Chiyako’s forehead as she daydreams of her teacher, so she sets off in search of a bathroom only to find a house connected to the classroom. She hears Nagumo and Tachibana talking about getting rid of a matchmaker. Nagumo looks harsh and angry, not like his usual self at all. A bespectacled boy named Aya sneaks up behind Chiyako and promptly starts strangling her for eavesdropping! She manages to escape, falls down a flight of stairs, gets wrapped up in mystical thread, and is transformed into a child.
It turns out that Nagumo, Tachibana, and Aya are Tyers, a select group of people that can influence the different types of mystical thread that control the strings of fate. Chiyako has the same ability to influence fate. She turned into a child because the string of fate connecting her to her wish to become adult was severed. Chiyako ends up joining up with the three guys in an attempt to learn how to control her powers, moving into their house in a reverse harem scenario typical of many shoujo manga. There’s also a fairly predictable “spooky shop” plot device, where various clients come to them for help. When Chiyako exercises her powers over the threads of fate she ends up transforming back into her true teenage form, so there’s a magical girl element present in the manga too. Chiyako tends to throw herself into any endeavor with enthusiasm so she tries to help people with her new powers without thinking of any potential consequences.
There were a few too many plot elements crammed into not enough space in Bound Beauty. Exposition about the thread magic system, the hints that Nagumo and the other boys may be taking orders from a sinister organization, the clients’ problems, Taichibana’s family issues, and Chiyako’s six year old fury all contributed into the manga feeling a tad overstuffed. There were some funny moments as Chiyako constantly manages to escape from Tachibana by pointing behind his back and commenting about naked women in order to distract him. I was also intrigued by the hints of darkness in Nagumo’s personality. I think I’ll give volume two of this series a try because even though so many of the plot elements are familiar Chiyako is an engaging heroine.
Crown Volume 1 by Shinji Wada and You Higuri (amazon)
Crown is a delightfully frothy confection comprised of a lost princess, magic necklace, an evil usurping queen, and super-hot ex-members of the French Foreign Legion. As the story begins Ren and his friend Jake abruptly resign their job as elite mercenaries. Ren blackmails Jake to come with him to Japan because Jake lost $20,000 to him at poker. Jake asks “What’s in this tiny oriental country that interests you so much?” Ren reveals that that they’ve come to protect his little sister.
Although Mahiro is a young girl, she’s constantly working. She’s a take-out delivery girl at a restaurant and when she leaves that job she goes to work directing traffic. When her parents died the unscrupulous Iizaka family moved into her house, claiming to be her new guardians. Mahiro ran away leaving all her possessions behind and has been working on her own ever since. Ren and Jake show up at her part time job, identify her by her name tag, and throw her in the back of a car. They kick the Iizakas out of Mahiro’s house. Mahiro assumes that the two attractive men who kidnapped her are members of the mafia and wonders when she’s going to be sold into slavery. Ren makes a detour to a fruit stand and buys her favorite oranges before taking her back to a condo and telling her to rest.
When Mahiro wakes up Ren gives her a hug and she realizes that he is her long-lost brother. They are the prince and princess of a small Asian country named Regalia where an evil queen has assumed the throne after their parents’ death. Lady Phoebula doesn’t have the proof of royalty, a pendant called the Crown due to the way it refracts light around the head of the person who wears it. Mahiro has the Crown, and she uses it as a dowsing tool. She settles in to her new life with Jake and Ren, but trouble looms! Lady Phoebula has hired mercenaries to kill Mahiro.
Ren and Jake then proceed to put their awesome French Foreign Legion skills to work. They must have an excellent tailor, because they are constantly ripping off their suits and tuxedos to reveal camouflage gear and bullet proof vests beneath. They set up elaborate traps for the would-be assassins, managing to protect Mahiro from a horde of mercenaries. There’s a particularly persistent assassin who is known only by the name “The Condor”, a man with dark hair, a scar, and a billowing scarf that constantly obscures his face.
The relationship between the trio is cute. Ren has a habit of gazing soulfully into Jake’s eyes and saying “I need you!” whenever Jake is reluctant to go along with the assignment of protecting Mahiro. Mahiro tends to act a little too much like a cute little puppy around her new guardians, and it is a little unclear if Ren is her actual or adopted brother. Jake helps Mahiro with her math homework and she comments on his ceaseless beer consumption. In any case the combination of the excellent art of You Higuri, royal plotting, and cute guys blowing things up creates a manga that I’ll be eagerly reading. I hope Mahiro’s personality gets a little more interesting as the series progresses, but as long as Jake and Ren are around to dramatically disrobe and throw grenades around I am sure I will be entertained.
Cross X Break Volume 1 by Duo Brand (amazon)
I had a mixed reaction to this manga because some of the characterization was lacking, but the attractive art and world building almost won me over by the end of the volume. Akito and his older Shinkai live on their own because their politician father is so busy with his work. While Akito busies himself with his studies, Shinkai appears to spend most of his time drinking beer, lazing around the house, and occasionally stirring to go to parties.
Akito is protective of his female non-girlfriend Yaya, rescuing her from bullies and helping her out with her homework. Akito’s surprised when Shinkai announces that he’s going to study abroad. Shinkai asks “Don’t you want to see the world?” and Akito passes out. When he wakes up he’s in an underground cavern filled with glowing mushrooms. Yaya has accompanied Akito on his journey and they set out to discover their strange new world.
Akito’s feelings towards mushrooms resemble Indiana Jones’ feelings towards snakes but he manages to pull himself together. They are suddenly attacked by a gang armed with spears who call them “floaters”. They are aided by a somewhat shady man named Neon, who carries around a briefcase of bugs for snacks. When Yaya gets sick Akito has to travel to a nearby town to fetch back some medicine for her.
The art is probably what sets this manga apart. I think Duo Brand usually puts out yaoi titles, and they can certainly draw attractive looking men. I was a little annoyed that Yaya seemed to be around only for Akito to have a focus to demonstrate his protectiveness and compassion, but it was amusing that she seemed to have handily packed away an inexhaustible supply of candy before being marooned in a strange world. Akito seemed like a typical shounen hero with a little bit of angst supplied by the relationship between him and his older brother. I actually found Shinkai to be the most intriguing character in the whole manga and I would have happily read a whole volume featuring him drinking beer and being an evil mastermind, but he only appeared in the first few pages.
The worldbuiding aspects of Cross X Break were better than the character development. The underground setting with caverns and towns carved out rock made the setting interesting. I liked seeing the design of Neon’s home, where a wire basket set in the ceiling held glowing mushrooms to illuminate the room. Akito has to struggle to find his way to the next town while fighting off gangs of warlocks. There seems to be a somewhat complicated class system in place that has branded Neon as a reject. While I don’t think the first volume of this manga really came together, there was still enough to intrigue me so I think I’ll give the second volume a try before I decide to drop the series.
Angel’s Coffin by You Higuri (amazon)
You Higuri is one of those authors whose work I automatically tend to seek out. I’ve read Cantarella, Gorgeous Carat, and I keep meaning to read more volumes of Seimaden after sampling the first two. Angel’s Coffin is complete in one volume and while it doesn’t have the intricate storyline that you might find in a work like Cantarella, it does manage to serve as an effective sample of her work for people who might not want to dive in to a longer series. Angel’s Coffin features many of Higuri’s trademark elements like European settings, handsome yet tortured men, tragic unspoken love, and billowing cloaks.
Angel’s Coffin is a fictional account of the Mayerling Incident. The owner of the billowing cloak is Seto, a god who was imprisoned in a book and compelled to ruin the life of whoever sets him free. Marie is the unfortunate library patron who knocks his book to the floor and sets him free. She’s obsessed with the married Prince Rudolph, and Seto promises to help her with her love life. Seto’s master Baphomet is looking forward to a terrible fate unfolding if Rudolph and Marie get together. While Seto loudly proclaims that he doesn’t care what happens to Marie, his actions and regard for her tell a different story. He aids her in her quest to catch Rudolph’s attention against his better judgment.
It was a little hard to root for the Marie/Rudolph romance. Marie seemed mainly attracted to Rudolph due to his looks and elegant manners, and while Rudolph was trying to liberalize the government he was also an unrepentant philanderer. Plus, I think if any sensible woman was given a choice between a mincing prince in a military uniform and a cute looking former god in a billowing cloak, they’d go for the god in the cloak. The romance doesn’t end well, but there’s plenty of time for tortured looks and beautiful men suffering, something Higuri excels at portraying. While this single volume might not have the strengths of Higuri’s longer works, it has many of her typical plot elements and always attractive art.
Song of the Hanging Sky volumes 1 and 2 by Toriko Gin (amazon)
In the remote mountains a doctor named Jack has taken refuge from war in an isolated cabin with only his dog Gustave for company. Jack spends his days writing letters to a woman named Natalie. One day he finds an injured bird-boy in the snow, a survivor from an ancient race of bird people who are almost extinct. Doctor Jack fixes the boy up and fruitlessly attempts to communicate with him. Other members of the tribe come to take the boy away, but when he returns to his tribe they find out that his soul has changed from contact with the human and his name is now the word “Hello”. The Native American influenced bird-people aren’t passive nomads. When one of their kind is spotted by a human, they turn to murder to protect the secret of their existence. Hello runs back to visit Jack with his friend Wolf. When he realizes that Jack’s life is threatened he confronts his elders. Jack’s house is destroyed and the bird people take the human back to their village. As Jack learns about the customs of the bird people, they closely observe him in order to learn more about the humans who control the world.
The second volume explores some of the back story for the characters, detailing what happened to the bird people and explaining why they fear a prophecy of destruction as well as showing the horrors of war in the human world.
The art for Song of the Hanging Sky has a subtle hazy quality that contributes to the dark folk tale quality of the work. This series is complex with plenty of moral ambiguity and philosophical exploration as two very different cultures collide. It reminded me a little bit of Planetes, which has a similar wistful philosophical tone even though the subject matter is entirely different.
This review was based on PDFs provided by the publisher, so I can’t comment on the quality of the physical books, but I expect that the production quality would be fine as it is for other GoComi series. Song of the Hanging Sky might be under the radar of most manga readers but it is well worth seeking out for those of you who enjoy thoughtful, character based fantasy stories. This is one of the most unique manga that I’ve read in a long time.
Bogle Bogle Volume 1 by Shino Taira and Yuko Ichiju (amazon)
One of the nice things about manga is there are so many subgenres. Manga has you covered if you like reading about fighting priests, vampire vampire hunters, warped student-teacher relationships, girls with magical transforming powers, or high school students forced to cross-dress for inexplicable reasons. One popular subgenre is stories about phantom thieves, where normal high school kids dress up in black and sneak out at night to perform daring heists.
In Bogle Asuka starts at a new school. She has a secret buried in her past; she used to be the phantom thief known as Cat, but she has decided to retire. She moved to a new high school because of her detective brother’s new job. As Asuka starts her day she gets lost on her new campus and she runs into two rather attractive boys.
The first is Ryoma, the captain of the Kendo Club. Although he is intense, abrupt, and brooding he is actually hiding his sensitive soul. The reader can figure this out rather quickly when Asuka stumbles across him when he is gardening and he asks her not to tell anyone about his hobby because it is a “threat to my honor.” Asuka has a poor sense of direction because she immediately gets lost again, and is helped by Masato, a irrepressible and flirtatious boy with a habit of building gadgets.
It turns out that the phantom thief group Bogle is run out of the school, with a teacher acting as the leader. Asuka’s gymnastic talents make her a natural to be recruited to join the group. They run a web site where people can request that their precious items be returned to them.
There’s a somewhat typical plot about Asuka being bullied at school by jealous girls, and later on she intervenes in the life of an old woman in her neighborhood. I wasn’t finding anything particularly gripping about either the storylines or the art, although I might flip through the second volume to see if it improves on the first. It looks like Bogle is a three volume series, so if you are looking for a short dose of phantom thievery, it might be worth checking out.
Asuka reluctantly joins Bogle:
Love Master A by Kyouko Hashimoto (amazon)
When a manga opens with a young girl vowing that she’ll experience a normal high school life after the trauma of middle school, you know that the high school she’ll be attending will be the opposite of the quiet and conventional haven that she seeks. In Love Master A, Aria has received the unfortunate nickname of “Love Master” due to her extreme ineptitude at romance. She’s confessed her feelings to 50 guys and been rejected each time, so she has forsaken love. Aria hopes that her new high school will be normal, but the instant she arrives she’s pulled out of class and told that she’s the new student council president.
She’s immediately thrown into a reverse harem situation. Her companions on the student council are Jin, a dim but good looking and sporty health and safety coordinator, a cross-dressing female-hating girl secretary named Mizuki, the conniving near-sighted treasurer Kurusu, and the strong and silent vice president Chikayasu. Aria resists joining the student council because being surrounded by cute guys isn’t good for her “closed-off heart”. But eventually she relents and finds out that news of her nickname has proceeded her. Students at her new school don’t realize that the “Love Master” title was ironic, and they start seeking out Aria for advice on their romance problems. Aria’s new student council buddies help her out as she begins to function as an unqualified high school matchmaker.
There isn’t anything new about the characters or storyline of Love Master A. Aria begins to fall for the attractive and energetic Jin and at one point everyone gets horribly lost in a snowstorm, a fate that seems to befall 2 out of 3 shoujo heroines and their male companions.
I think I prefer my shoujo reverse harem stories to have a certain amount of satire that isn’t present in this manga. My Heavenly Hockey Club and Ouran High School Host Club are superior examples of this subgenre. That being said, the art is attractive and there are a few funny bits in the book. This falls into the category of a manga I might check out from the library as opposed to collecting every volume.
Crossroad Volume 3 (amazon)
This was a good reminder of why it is sometimes best to follow the “2 volume rule” when evaluating a manga series. I liked the first volume of Crossroad well enough, but I thought that the second volume was much funnier, and the third volume sets up some interesting complications in the romantic lives of its characters. Kaijitsu embarks on a romance with her charmingly misanthropic substitute calligraphy teacher Akai, knowing she’s only using the situation to escape from her feelings for her adopted stepbrother Natsu. And Akai knows that aijitsu is really in love with Natsu, but he takes her out on a date anyway, and promptly quits smoking when she tells him that she doesn’t like it.
Kaijitsu is jealous of all the attention Natsu is getting from the other girls in school, and Natsu is jealous when he finds out that Kaijitsu has gone out on a date. In the midst of all the drama, Kaijitsu’s friend Tokihito aka “The Feudal Lord,” is rethinking his feelings for both Kaijitsu and her closest female friend Mano. Where Crossroad excels is the way it captures all the nuances of friendship between the characters. Mano is reminded about what a survivor Kaijitsu is when Kaijitsu runs away from home and promptly ingratiates herself with Mano’s mother. Kaijitsu tries a flying leap to prevent Natsu from running away from her. Kaijitsu’s talks with Akai are unconventional – perhaps because she thinks he’s only going to be a temporary presence in her life, she feels free to be open and honest with him about her feelings. Natsu negotiates Kaijitsu’s outpouring of affections, and they decide to try to stay siblings for the time being. This volume of Crossroad had a bunch of back-up pages featuring Taro and Satsuki, the other members of Kaihitsu’s unconventional family.