Tag Archives: shonen

Cowa! by Akira Toriyama

Continuing on with my impromptu spooky manga for the rest of the month, I just finished reading Cowa! by Akira Toriyama. While I’m aware of the whole Dragonball phenomena, I haven’t read that manga because super-long manga about fighting is generally not my thing. So I was happy to sample this single volume about the adventures of Paifu, a half-vampire half-werekoala.

Paifu lives with his mom and friends in a little monster village in the country. He hangs out with a little ghost named Jose Rodriguez and struggle with his nemesis Arpon, a self-proclaimed monster kung-fu expert. The first few stories of the collection deal with the mischievous antics of the monster kids ditching school and visiting the scary house where a human murderer lives. The murderer is a retired sumo wrestler who was exiled after getting too enthusiastic in the ring. When monster flu strikes down most of the residents of the town Paifu and his friends decide to go fetch secure the antidote from a witch who lives on top of a mountain far away. They get the human Maruyama to drive them, and the quest begins.

There are plenty of misunderstandings as the odd group enters human territory on their way to find the medicine they need. Maruyama ends up having quite the reputation in his former life as a sumo wrestler nicknamed “The Volcano.” They make friends along the way, and defeat enemies when needed and end up getting a new car and some cotton candy. Toriyama’s drawing style for Cowa! is cute and whimsical. I could easily see making all of the characters in the book as amigurumi. As you might expect, there are plenty of fart jokes, and Paifu’s hulked-out were-koala form comes in handy whenever Maruyama’s sumo strength can’t solve a problem. I really liked the muted and dark color palette used in the first story in the collection, the rest of the book was in black and white. Cowa! is rated for all ages, and I don’t think I’d have a problem giving it to a younger child, because all the violence in the book is so cartoony and bad things only happen to bad people. Maruyama’s beady-eyed expression of constant resignation as he deals with the monster kids is funny and there’s plenty of humor throughout the volume. I think one of my favorite scenes was when Maruyama was fighting a forest spirit who was armed with gigantic razor sharp knives, waving them around and causing inadvertent deforestation while yelling “Trees of Wood Weep!” I’d recommend Cowa if you enjoy your Halloween stories to be light and funny instead of super-spooky.

Future Diary Volume 7

Future Diary Volume 7 by Sakae Esuno

I enjoyed the first volume of this series. I’ve always meant to pick up more volumes but I was surprised to see that I’m six volumes behind. Future Diary is about a hapless boy named Yukiteru who is given a cell phone that displays his actions in the future. The twist is that he’s also caught up in a game involving a battle to the death with other future diary holders, each with a phone that has slightly different characteristics. He’s aided by a slightly unhinged girl named Yuno, who’s phone also details Yukiteru’s actions.

The seventh volume shows Yuno and Yukiteru fighting another male-female couple, Marco and Ai. Their phones are “journals of love” that note everything the partners do. Marco and Ai challenge Yukiteru and Yuno, saying that the battle will be a test of the power of love. Yuno moves to protect Yukiteru and Marco accuses him of being weak and hiding behind a girl. One of the things I like about Future Diary is the way it appears to play with some of the stereotypical roles in shonen manga. It is fairly common for the weak but growing in power shonen hero to get a devoted girl sidekick. Yukiteru has his sidekick, but her devotion combined with her stalker-like tendencies makes her personality quite unsettling. He isn’t sure if he can trust her or not, despite the fact that she yells in glee “Yuki gave me a compliment!” as she deflects a series of throwing knives aimed at her chosen partner. She’s so devoted to Yuki that her expressions of enthusiasm are unsettling. Yuki’s father returns and he starts to hope that his broken family may get patched up. But his father’s motivations seem just as questionable as Yuno’s and ultimately Yuki has to choose between them.

I appreciate Esuno’s art more with every volume of his manga that I read. He has a mobile, expressive line when drawing his characters. He switches from portraying enraged fighting to panic to pathos with ease. There’s a certain amount of world-weary cynicism in the way that Marco and Ai meet their ultimate destinies that I appreciated. Future Diary does appear to be a little more complex than the typical fighting shonen series, and the presence of characters who seem to be genuinely unhinged creates some surprising plot developments.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Hyde and Closer Volume 1

Hyde and Closer Volume 1 by Haro Aso

How much you enjoy this manga largely depends on how amusing you find cigar-chomping, chainsaw-wielding magical fighting teddy bears. I always enjoy the juxtaposition of chainsaws and cute cuddly things, so I found this manga amusing despite the fairly unsurprising shonen storyline. The Closer in the book is Shunpei Closer who displays many of the prototypical sad-sack hero traits shown in the first volumes of almost every shonen manga. Shunpei has absolutely no self confidence. He’s bullied at school and not particularly talented at anything. But his life is about to change.

Shunpei’s beloved grandfather turns out to be the Sorcerer King of the 20th Century. Grandpa’s gone missing so now Shunpei is the target of rival magicians who want to tear out his heart and consume it in order to inherit the magic of his bloodline. The way sorcerers do battle is to send cursed stuffed animals to their enemies. Shunpei gets a delivery of a little stuffed monkey. When he turns his back on the monkey it comes after him with an exacto knife. The deranged cursed monkey informs Shunpei of his predicament. Shunpei freaks out and runs away, only to be rescued by Hyde, the teddy bear his grandfather gave him years ago. Hyde wears a fedora, swigs honey out of a shot glass, and chomps on chocolate cigars. The bear has a world-weary cynical attitude and level of care for Shunpei that is explained by his personality taking after the traits of his creator, Shunpei’s missing grandfather.

One thing I enjoyed about this manga was the character designs. The sorcerers that Shunpei battles are all very distinct, with cursed stuffed animals that reflect their personalities. Having magical battles take place through sentient stuffed animals is funny, and the contrast of the weak and sniveling Shunpei with the old-man tough-ass attitude of Hyde was amusing. In some ways Shunpei seemed almost too weak in the first volume. It is easy to see that Hyde will train him to perfect his magical abilities, but Shunpei always seems to be drenched in flop sweat or on the verge of tears. I’d probably panic too if stuffed monkeys with knives were coming after me, but it would have been nice if Shunpei’s personality was a tiny bit more nuanced.

Still, with many shonen manga titles just consisting of dudes with rippling muscles duking it out I found the idea of battle through magical stuffed animals a little refreshing. I also find Hyde as a character totally amusing. His button eyes and diagonal stitched mouth gives him an air of casual menace that is at odds with his teddy bear body. He always seems to have an evil grin on his face as he’s helping Shunpei out of magical death traps. I think that the combination of humor and vicious teddy bear battles make Hyde and Closer more entertaining than the typical shonen fighting manga.

This is a Shonen Sunday title, so you can read some of the chapters of the manga online.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Deadman Wonderland Volume 2

Deadman Wonderland Volume 2 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou

I liked the first volume of Deadman Wonderland because it seemed a little different than most of the shonen manga out there. It had a darkly cynical sensibility that seemed refreshing, and the storyline about a boy forced into a prison death trap was interesting. The second volume of the manga moves into more conventional territory, but Deadman Wonderland still delivers some slick action and stylish gore.

Ganta learns that he has a similar power to the Red Man who slaughtered his classmates, framing Ganta for murder and sending him to the prison/entertainment complex called Deadman Wonderland. Ganta hears a rumor that the Red Man is locked up in isolation in Ward G of the prison and he runs off to confront his mysterious enemy. Instead of the Red Man Ganta finds a young man with similar powers named Crow. Ganta learns that his mysterious power called “the branches of sin” is triggered by blood, but his explosive method of using the power will quickly leave him drained and unable to fight. The authorities break up the fight. Violence isn’t to be wasted in dark corridors – Ganta will have to face off against Crow again for an audience.

There are still hints of a larger mystery that first captured my attention in the initial volume. Busty Guard Makina seems to have an issue with the warden. Takami still is acting as a double agent, pretending to befriend Ganta while reporting to the authorities. Shiro continues to be incredibly spacey and gifted at acting as Ganta’s occasional bodyguard. While the second volume was less surprising than the first, I’m hoping that the third will spend more time exploring the origin of Ganta’s powers and the meaning behind the mysterious Red Man. I’d be interested to see more of the other characters’ background filled in as well. Even though the second volume didn’t have all the shocking twists that the first did, I’m still entertained by Ganta’s storyline and I’m wondering if he’ll be able to rise to the top of the prison battlefield in Deadman Wonderland.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rereading To Terra

I’ve read all three volumes of To Terra before, but I haven’t posted about it very much on this site. For an introduction to the manga, hop on over to the inaugural post of this Manga Moveable Feast over at The Manga Critic. When I read the series again these were the things that stood out for me:

Characters – The yin/yang relationship between Jomy, the young leader of the Mu and his human counterpart is carefully constructed. In fact, Takemiya takes a very cerebral approach to character development and back story which might prevent people from feeling much affection towards the characters in To Terra. Jomy functions as the ultimate outsider. Raised by humans, he manifests telepathy during the maturity check of his fourteenth birthday. The maturity check wipes the memories of a child, turning them into a perfect citizen with only the desire to serve humanity’s ancestral home Terra. Jomy preserves his childhood memories and is contacted by the next stage of humanity, the enemy Mu. Jomy is singled out by their leader Soldier Blue as his successor. Jomy is “too human” in the Mu’s eyes because he doesn’t exhibiting any of the refinements of their telepathic society. Jomy’s strength of will allows him to assume leadership of the Mu and lead them towards confronting the mechanized human society that prevents them from reaching Terra.

Jomy’s counterpart is Keith, who functions as the ultimate human insider. Created by artificial means and raised in a test tube until maturity, he has no childhood memories at all. Viewed by all who see him as the ultimate expression of the perfection humanity is engineered for, Keith has doubts about the computer “grandmother” who has molded him and given him orders. He dedicates himself to raising his rank in the hopes that he’ll eventually be told the truth by the artificial intelligence that controls human society. Keith seems weirdly attracted to and repulsed by the idea of the telepathic Mu, using hidden human telepathy and destroying them depending on his needs at the moment. Keith and Jomy both rise to positions of ultimate power in their conflicting societies, and the three volume arc of To Terra leads the reader towards their ultimate conflict.

Jomy’s telepathic nature aligns him with emotion and feeling. Keith’s closest thing to a parent is a computer. Jomy’s nurturing tendencies result in the Mu trying natural reproduction, resulting in a nine child new generation of Mu with expanded powers that represent yet another stage in evolution. Keith’s focus on bureaucracy turns him neurotic and spiteful. He has no friends, only people he commands or manipulates.

Art – I was struck by how influential Tezuka is. Takemiya does have her own style, but the way some of the supporting characters are presented as caricatures in contrast with the wide-eyed, fluffy haired main characters seemed straight out of Tezuka. Also there were several slapstick bits scenes in volume one where Jomy is acting irrepressible against the totalitarian society of the planet where he was raised that reminded me of Tezuka as well – the injection of comedy into a set piece with more serious themes. I enjoyed the contrast of the space battles with the confined spaces where the humans and mu are forced to live, either on colonies or in a spaceship hidden inside a planet. Every time I saw a field of stars or a space ship headed for attack it felt a little bit like going outside after being cooped up too long.

Science Fiction Goulash – For some this might be a negative aspect of the book. I’d really be curious to see if a bibliography exists that details some of the author’s sources and influences, because To Terra is heavily influenced by themes and plot points that were typical in 60s science fiction. There’s complications with genetic engineering of humans. The rise of a mutant race, followed by a mutant-mutant race that may have to create test-tube babies in order to reproduce. A central computer controls a weakened version of humanity. The time runs out on childhood at 14 when citizens report for brainwashing. Gleaming spaceships and colonies evoke 2001: A Space Odyssey. Reading To Terra induced a pleasant nostalgia for me, because I read a lot of juvenile hard sci-fi when I was a young teen. Maybe if I remembered Takemiya’s influences more clearly I might find the manga too referential, but I liked all the tropes it evoked.

Style – Takemiya’s retro-futuristic style makes To Terra a lovely thing to look at. Everyone wears jumpsuits, and the gadgets of Jomy’s childhood reminded me a bit of the Jetsons. Takemiya does some lovely thing with collage in her layouts. The psychic mu are frequently superimposed over the space battles as floating in space, directing attacks with their minds. One of the things I found particularly delightful was that the new even more mutated Mu children immediately band together and start wearing a wing-like emblem on the front of their jumpsuits, setting them sartorially apart from the previous generation of Mu even as their powers and mannerisms disturb their elders. Little details like this made me appreciate Takemiya’s craft. Her paneling and layouts are very clear, making it easy to follow the action. I was impressed with the facility in the way she handled detailed spaceship and cityscape design, as well as her more cartoonish approach to portraying her characters. The contrast in styles makes To Terra very appealing visually.

Space Angst
– One of the things you don’t find so much of in hard sci-fi is people crying and freaking out. It seems like To Terra is Space Opera with an emphasis on the opera. Characters think in soliloquies about their longing for earth. The mistakes of past generations are doomed to be repeated, and Earth is represented as the ultimate dream quest that is forever out of reach. Psychic assaults cause people mental torment. The cover designs by Chip Kidd really play up this aspect of the story, showing characters gripped with emotion juxtaposed against spaceships. This is an element that is present in Takemiya’s work again and again as characters react to the space war they find themselves drawn to against their wills.

When rereading To Terra again I was struck with the impression that it really isn’t the type of manga to appeal to all readers. Some may find Takemiya’s art old fashioned or her work overly referential. I tend to think of the manga as a great sci-fi pastiche, and I’m happy that we got a little bit of early manga by an influential female creator translated over here. Early manga might not sell very well, but I’m glad that a few companies are publishing a handful of selected titles, and To Terra is handsomely served by the excellent packaging from Vertical. To Terra might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is undeniably important and I found it entertaining.


Ratman: The Smallest Hero!? Volume 1 by Inui Sekihiko

While I don’t write about superhero comics very much on this site, I have a great deal of affection for them. When I was little I honed my reading skills by going through my mom’s stacks of Marvel comics from the 1970s, and while I don’t buy floppy comics every week I do pick up an occasional trade. There are plenty of super powered folks in manga but they aren’t usually directly based on the western capes and tights superhero tradition. Sekihiko obviously has a ton of affection for superheroes even as he pokes fun at the genre.

Shuto is a too-short boy living in a world where superheroes are celebrities backed by corporate endorsement deals. He’s obsessed with the idea of becoming a superhero himself. He plasters his room with posters and lends a book about heroism to his classmate Mirea. Another classmate, Rio, is the daughter of the president of the main superhero association. When Shuto is practicing his heroic kicks and accidentally launches one of his shoes at a school bully Rio comes to his rescue with her martial arts moves. His dreams of becoming a hero take an unfortunate turn when he and Mirea are kidnapped by an organization of super villains and she’s dangled over a steaming hot vat. Shuto accepts a transformation watch and signs a contract with the Jackal organization. He transforms into a dark-looking hero and saves Mirea. Unfortunately it seems that Mirea’s older sister is the head of Jackal and now Shuto is forced to become a villain instead of the hero he aspired to be.

In many ways Ratman is a conventional shonen manga. Shuto has the typical scrappy personality you would expect. Mirea is the quiet retiring girl with hidden depths. Rio is a dynamic fighter who is occasionally surprised when people walk in while she’s taking a bath. Both girls seem to regard Shuto with some affection. When Shuto’s forced to play the villain he learns that the heroes he idolizes might not be so heroic after all. Where Ratman is very entertaining is the way Sekihiko plays with superhero stereotypes and images. Skull-faced henchmen enjoy cuddling kittens. The Ratman costume references Spawn. Shuto savors the moment of standing on a roof, looking down at the city just like a certain Caped Crusader. While I don’t think the art has a very distinctive style the action scenes are easy to follow, which is something I don’t take for granted when reading shonen manga. Sekihiko is also good at drawing funny situations, especially the way he portrays the Jackal henchmen who appear to be able to communicate only in mime. Ratman was fun to read and I think it’ll be a good manga for superhero fans to try if they don’t take their genre too seriously.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Knights of the Zodiac Volume 4 (Saint Seiya)

I’ve mentioned before that I have a certain fondness for the Saint Seiya franchise because the anime was the first non-Robotech anime I really got into, back in the day when the only way you could watch anime was to sneak into your local University’s anime club for viewings of hazy-looking third generation subtitled VHS tapes. Viz deserves a medal for putting the manga out. I can’t imagine that it is a huge seller, because the art does have a very vintage feel to it. But Saint Seiya is shonen manga distilled into its very goofy essence. I wouldn’t want to sit down and read 5 volumes at once, but I like picking up a volume here and there because the goofy fighting serves as a palate cleanser when I’ve been reading too much shoujo.

The fourth volume continues the battle for the gold cloth as Seiya and his fellow Knights face off against dark versions of themselves in the secret caverns underneath Mt. Fuji. Seiya fights Black Pegasus, Hyoga fights Black Swan, etc. I always thought before that Shiryu the Dragon Knight was my favorite simply due to his habit of coming back from near death experiences so often. However, I found myself being very entertained by Hyoga. He’s mocked for his devotion to his dead mother (he likes to visit her shipwreck in the icy ocean) and yells all his battle cries in Russian. Everyone faces off with their evil twin, and Shiryu comes back (in a coffin!) from sacrificing half his blood to repair his comrades’ battle armor to fight back yet again.

My favorite moment in this volume was when Black Swan records Hyoga’s ultimate move with his eye, and right before he dies he plucks out his eye and teleports it to Phoenix. The Phoenix uses the recording on the eyeball to learn the secrets of Hyoga’s fighting technique when he fights Hyoga later. How awesome is that?! If you are in the mood for plenty of punching, blood spurting, gouged out eyes, and battle cries like “Black Meteor Punch!” Knights of the Zodiac delivers all of that shonen goodness.

Kekkaishi Volumes 2-5

I read the first volume of this series over a year ago, but it has taken some time for me to get around to reading a few of the subsequent volumes in the series. I recently sat down with the next four volumes of this entertaining shonen story about a boy and the girl next door who happen to be demon fighters.

Kekkaishi Volume 2 by Yellow Tanabe

While the first volume mostly focused on setting up the background and situation of the hero Yoshimori, the second volume gives the reader a peak into the motivations of his older next-door neighbor Tokine. Her father continued the family tradition of protecting the sacred site in their neighborhood, even though he didn’t have enough power to truely be suited to the task. When a demon-tamer from the mysterious and aptly named Shadow Organization arrives Tokine is forced to confront her past and Yoshimori is even more determined to act to make sure that she doesn’t come to harm. The final story in the volume provides a unique perspective on demon hunting, as Yoshimori’s classmate Yurina reveals that she has the ability to see spirit, and she suspects that there may be another reason for his constant sleeping in class.

Kekkaishi Volume 3 by Yellow Tanabe

Yoshimori continues to train. His cranky Grandpa assigns even more difficult tasks to Yoshimori while keeping secret the depth of his grandson’s untapped power. One the ways Yoshimori and Tokine complement each other is that she has a greater degree of accuracy and control when trying to fight demons, while Yoshimori just tends to blast away with his strength. They both vow to get stronger. Yoshimori wants to improve his technique so he can match Tokine, and she resolves to refine her abilities even further. One of the things I like about the series is the variety of demon character designs. Yoshimori battles a fox with ice powers and then is forced to battle a demon dog with three hangers-on. The power of the Karasumori site that Yoshimori protects often gives the demons the power to transform, growing larger and scarier. The dog was an old companion of Yoshimori’s spirit dog Madarao. Yoshomori releases the binding that keeps Madarao from exercising his full power and comes to a new understanding with his family’s guardian spirit.

Kekkaishi Volume 4 by Yellow Tanabe

One of the things I like about this series is the shifts in tone from chapter to chapter. Just when things might be getting too serious with all the demon fighting, Tanabe brings up Yoshimori’s addiction to making castle cakes. The first part of this volume deals with the spirit of a departed pastry chef and Yoshimori’s efforts to help him find peace. The rest of the volume focuses on the introduction of a new character, Yoshimori’s older brother Masamori. Masamori wasn’t chosen to inherit the guardian role that Yoshimori occupies. Instead Masamori has gone to work for the Shadow Organization and refined his talents, turning him into a formidable potential foe. Is it just sibling rivalry that causes him to test Yoshimori, or does he have darker motivations? Yoshimori is annoyed even more when it appears that Tokine may have a crush on Masamori. I like the way the spirit animal companions reflect the personalities of their owners. Yoshimori and Tokine both have sidekicks that appear to be dogs, but Masamori is accompanied by a dark fish and he’s surrounded by images of dark water with hidden depths.

Kekkaishi Volume 5 by Yellow Tanabe

The fifth volume has my favorite spirit so far. Lord Uru is a squat creature with a wide-brimmed hat who appears at Yoshimori’s school. Uru is ravenous, causing people to exclaim when they find that all their food has mysteriously disappeared. It turns out that Lord Uru was once a forest deity with a connection to Yoshimori’s family. After cleaning out the school Lord Uru visits Yoshimori’s house and sits down to dinner with the family. Yoshimori offers to make any treat the god would like and Uru picks donuts.

Uru has appeared because his bed is broken, and Yoshimori has to travel to a parallel world in order to fix it. Lord Uru’s former realm might be the energy source of the Karasumori site that Yoshimori and Tokine have to protect. While Tanabe’s art has always been clearly designed and pleasant to look at, he takes things to another level with the portrayal of Lord Uru’s refuge, which can only be reached by jumping into a black hole in the middle of a lake. Yoshimori’s Grandpa warns him that he must maintain his focus because he may forget who he is while visiting the other realm, so Yoshimori scrawls the most important things to him all over his hands and arms.

Clarity of storytelling isn’t something I take for granted when reading manga. Tanabe manages to juggle so many elements in Kekkaishi like monster of the week battles, the possibility of a romance between Yoshimori and Tokine, the duo’s struggles to refine their power, and the mysteries behind the Karasumori site and the Shadow Organization. So many ongoing plots certainly keep me intrigued as a reader, and when Tanabe needs to take a break to focus on cake baking or roach hunting she’s able to accommodate humorous episodes without them feeling intrusive or like they are taking away from the main narrative. Tanabe slowly reveals the history of Yoshimori and Tokine’s linked families, and the reader can appreciate Yoshimori as he slowly grows in understanding of his role in the world.

The first and eighth chapters of Kekkaishi are available on Shonen Sunday. Kekkaishi is well worth checking out if you like intelligent shonen adventures.

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Volume 1 by Hiroyuki Asada

Tegami Bachi starts off with a familiar device in shonen manga. A prequel chapter shows a cool older character meeting up with a little kid, who vows to be just as cool when he grows up. The land of Amberground is shrouded in perpetual darkness, with only the capital city Akatsuki illuminated by an artificial star. Mail carriers called Letter Bees are a rare class of people that are free to move from town to town as they complete their errands. Gauche Suede is a Letter Bee, charged with delivering a small child named Lag Seeing to his aunt. Lag isn’t thrilled about being a letter or going along with Gauche. His mother vanished and he’s being sent to his Aunt in another town. As Lag travels with Gauche he learns about the dangers of the road the Letter Bees travel. There are dangerous insect-like creatures called Gaichuu that lurk in the countryside and attack the Letter Bees. The central message of the first chapter is “You’ve gotta have heart.” The Bees have special guns embedded with spirit amber that are fueled with fragments of their heart, and they are aided in their journey by animal sidekicks called dingos. They are dedicated to delivering letters that express the hearts of the postal customers. Lag has an eye made of red spirit amber, which gives him the potential to have more power than the average Letter Bee. There was a little too much weeping for my taste as Lag processes his emotions about his lost mother and begins to relate to Gauche. After Lag and Gauche have many adventures along the way to their destination, Lag vows to become a Letter Bee when he grows up.

It is five years later and Lag is ready to leave his town to take the entrance exam to become a Letter Bee. Along the way he finds a girl stuck in a crevice with a misaddressed label stuck to her arm. Lag names her Niche. As they begin their journey together, Lag learns that Niche’s hair can harden on command into sword-like blades. She’s a powerful companion. Lag wants to find Gauche, but he has to become an official Letter Bee first.

I enjoyed the world building aspects of the title. The illustration of a world shrouded in darkness, with the only illumination being a false star that looks like a Christmas tree ornament made for some compelling images. Asada uses a thick line and European designs for his buildings, making some of the background images feel vaguely like wood cuts. I’m not surprised at a certain amount of fan service in shonen manga, but a subplot involving Niche’s refusal to wear underwear and Lag’s instance on giving her a pair of boxers was more than a little bizarre. I did like Niche’s Medusa-like superpowers, which reminded me of old issues of the Fantastic Four.

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee Volume 2 by Hiroyuki Asada

The second volume shows Lag and Niche on their way to the Letter Bee headquarters. They stop in a town that’s the end of the line and quickly get into trouble when Lag’s transit pass is stolen by Nelli, a local street urchin. It turns out that she’s struggling with her feelings of anger towards an older kid in her town named Jiggy Pepper who left to become a Letter Bee. Her little brother died soon after Jiggy left, leaving behind a letter that couldn’t be delivered. Lag goes beyond the call of duty to try to help resolve Nelli’s situation and then travels on to face his Letter Bee test.

I thought the underwear shenanigans that I found off-putting in the first volume were mitigated by the second volume. It was pretty hilarious when Lag asked Niche what she was wearing on her head and she produced an animal that was all mouth and sharp teeth and announced that his name was Steak. The reader learns more about her background as a semi-mystical creature known as “the Child of Maka.” There’s a little more action and less angst from Lag as he battles the forces that tormented Nelli’s heart and then turns to his outward test of Letter Bee ability. The art in Tegami Bachi can sometimes be a bit on the crowded side, but I actually enjoyed all the extra tiny stars that often decorate the panels, as they help remind the reader of the fantastic world that Lag is navigating. I have to say that the covers illustrations for these books are incredibly attractive, with tones of blue and lavender serving to illustrate the darkness of Amberground. I wish there were even more color pages included in these books, although there are a couple at the beginning of each volume. I’m glad I read the first two volumes at once because after reading the second volume it was clear that Lag’s adventures are just beginning. There are hints of additional subplots that might be explored like the motivations of various people in the Letter Bee bureaucracy and Lag’s quest to find Gauche again. As long as Tegami Bachi concentrates on action and world building I’ll be interested to see what happens next.

Review copy of volume 2 provided by the publisher

Bleach Volume 30

Bleach Volume 30 by Tite Kubo

Well, it has been a long time since I’ve read a volume of Bleach. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard for me to pick up on what was going on even though I’d only read up to volume 16 or so in the past. Ichigo and his band of friends are on a rescue mission to save Orihime in the Hueco Mundo story arc. They have to fight, and fight some more! I was interested to see that Chad has developed “The Left Arm of the Demon” as he beats up a man in an afro to a pulp. There are many other skirmishes, but the heart of this volume is Rukia’s struggle as she faces down what appears to be the resurrected Captain Kaien Shiba, the mentor who she was forced to kill.

Perhaps because Rukia was sidelined so much in Bleach’s first story arc, I really enjoyed seeing her duke it out in volume 30. She had such a haunted expression in her eyes when confronted with the reanimated corpse of her former comrade, but she didn’t give up when she realized she had to fight. Part of the reason why I dropped Bleach was that I thought the endless fighting of this shonen manga would get to be a little boring. But while I was reading this volume I was struck again by what a great artist Kubo is. Bleach is relentlessly stylish, with giant sound effects incorporated into the action scenes, the words themselves looking like explosions of energy. He isn’t afraid to get absolutely ridiculous with character design, as shown when the final villain reveals that his head is a jar filled with two other shrunken heads that look like mad balls. While I might wish for more complex plots and character development, I found myself enjoying the execution of the individual fight sequences.

While I might not rush out and read all the volumes I missed, revisiting Bleach did remind me why I liked it so much when I started reading it. It is somehow comforting to know that Ichigo will always be out there on a mystical battlefield with people yelling things like “Six-Rod Light Restraint” in order to cause explosions of energy. The formula is always the same, but Bleach has constant elements you can always count on. The villains will always take the time to explain how unbeatable they are. A hero will find hidden reserves of strength at the last possible moment and blow their enemy away. The paneling and pacing of the fight scenes will be epic, and the protagonist will strike a super-cool pose and affirm the power of friendship. That’s what this shonen manga does well.

Review copy provided by the publisher.