Tag Archives: shonen

Deadman Wonderland

Deadman Wonderland Volume 1 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou

This title wasn’t on my radar before, but when I got it the cover design immediately caught my attention. Who was this disturbed boy with his hands on his head wearing a collar with a bar code? I was drawn into the story further when tons of action was packed into the first 20 pages. Let’s see…it is the future, there is a terrible earthquake that has placed most of Tokyo underwater, and the most popular tourist attraction is a privately operated prison called Deadman Wonderland. Ganta is having a normal day at school talking to his friends when he sees an armored red man dressed in a tattered cape floating outside the classroom window. The red man promptly slaughters everyone in the classroom except Ganta and implants a red stone in Ganta’s body. Ganta wakes up to see random body parts belonging to his classmates scattered all over the desks. As the only survivor of the massacre Ganta is promptly convicted, given the death penalty, and sent to serve his sentence in Deadman Wonderland.

When Ganta arrives at the prison the story really begins. He’s bewildered by his circumstances and semi-suicidal. Prisoners have to compete to obtain Cast Points which they can trade for better food or other items. The special collars the prisoners wear inject them with a poison that kills them in three days unless they eat some special “candy.” So every day in Deadman Wonderland is a race against an already imposed death sentence. As Ganta begins to adjust to his new environment he makes a friend of sorts in the albino girl Shiro. She randomly pops up out of nowhere and seems a little deranged, but she knows how the system works and tries to help Ganta in her own way.

Deadman Wonderland is a tourist attraction because the prisoners work at deadly carnival games just like Death Race 2000. The prisoners are obsessed with getting better food or privileges, which helps the wardens control the prison population. Ganta’s unique situation causes him to be singled out for extra punishment and the stone implanted in his chest ensures that he’ll be seeing the mysterious Red Man again. The art is slick although to my eyes it lacks a distinct style. The character design for the Red Man was interesting. This manga has the large bosomed prison warden you might expect from a shonen manga, but I was intrigued by Azami, a girl who tries to resist the bullying prison subculture. Shiro’s character of loony girl in a body stocking was a little grating, but I was amused by some of her insane habits like talking about afternoon snacks as prisoners die around her or getting beat up for Ganta with a grin on her face.

This is the type of manga that I think would have a lot of commercial appeal, which I’m guessing will be magnified once the recently announced anime version of the manga comes out. The combination of a unique setting, a compelling mystery, and a dark sense of humor will make Deadman Wonderland appeal to readers who want something a little different from their sci-fi shonen manga. Many manga take a couple volumes to really get the story going. Since the creators packed the exposition into a few short pages and immediately explored the unique rules of the prison, I felt like I wanted to read more when I reached the last page of this manga. It is more edgy and intelligent than the typical shonen manga. At 220 pages, this manga is a little bit thicker than the typical volume due to the inclusion of a preview of the new series Hanako and the Terror of Allegory by Sakae Esuno, creator of Future Diary. There are color pages included in the front of the manga and a few bonus omake pages with joke panels and Deadman Wonderland advertisements in the back of the book. Deadman Wonderland would be a good manga to recommend to Death Note or Future Diary fans looking for something similar in tone.


Review copy provided by the publisher.

Pumpkin Scissors Volumes 2 and 3

I read the first volume of Pumpkin Scissors some time ago, and I finally got my hands on the next two volumes. I’m still enjoying this cerebral action series, despite the sometimes clunky art.


Pumpkin Scissors #2 by Ryotaro Iwanaga

The second volume of Pumpkin Scissors explores the past of the giant soldier Randel Oland. After disabling a tank at point blank range, one of his squad mates named Machs is suspicious of his background. Machs launches an investigation and learns that Randel was a member of a group that doesn’t exist, “The Invisible Nine.” Randel is injured in battle yet again and recuperates in the hospital, only to find an unexpected connection with his roommate. Pumpkin Scissors’ mission to help with war reconstruction sends them down to the sewers to relocate refugees. The team uncovers a drug trade, military conspiracies, and Randel has a close encounter with an old acquaintance from his past.

I like the layered complexity of the plots in Pumpkin Scissors. As Machs begins to uncover Randel’s secrets he begins to question himself for prying into Randel’s past without his knowledge. Is Machs going to accept Randel as a fellow soldier, despite his fearsome fighting abilities? The relationship between Randel and his commanding officer Alice is explored as well, as she shows up in a furious state to visit him at the hospital. There’s obviously something between them, but it isn’t acted on and it remains below the surface. With Alice coming from the nobility and Randel’s past as a military lab experiment and human weapon I’m not sure if a romantic relationship would even be possible. Despite Randel’s disruptive presence as a new member of the team, they still carry out their mission. The hint of competing goals between different military sections is going to cause problems later on.


Pumpkin Scissors #3 by Ryotaro Iwanaga

The third volume opens with plenty of action as Pumpkin Scissors deals with the aftermath of the drug trade and are almost executed by a competing military unit. Alice takes on a squad all by herself, and the reader learns more about the experimentation that created flawed human weapons. Randel is forced to confront his past, and Alice makes a detour into the world of the nobility where she joins her family and her fiance?! The comedic element is provided by Major Stecchin who notices that Randel seems depressed and decides that a rousing group song and dance will improve morale.

Iwanaga’s art continues to be the weakest aspect of the book. The best I can say for it is that it is serviceable. The poses and character expressions are frequently stiff. I did notice that he seemed to be experimenting a bit by showing facial close-ups against a blank background whenever people were discussing a matter of high tension, and I thought these panels were effective. I enjoy the interaction between the ensemble cast and the social issues associated with military reconstruction there’s a wistful element summed up by the Pumpkin Scissors’ captain as he sits in his office and wonders why he is still hearing gunshots three years after a ceasefire.

While there is a lot I enjoy about Pumpkin Scissors, since there are so many plots and themes being juggled, it seems to progress at a slow pace. This manga falls into the middle tier for me – if I happen to get my hands on it I’m happy to read it but I’m not likely to make a special effort to seek it out. I am going to eventually try to read the next few volumes of the series to see if I end up liking it more.

Firefighter! Daigo of Company M

Firefighter!: Daigo of Company M, Volumes 1 and 2 by Masahito Soda

An engaging shonen hero fights fires and learns valuable life lessons in the first couple volumes of Firefighter!: Daigo of Company M. This is an older series from Viz that appears to be out of print, although many volumes are still available. When he was a young boy Daigo ran back into his burning house to rescue his dog. A firefighter came to save him, saying “You’ve got guts, kid! You’re a little firefighter! Years later Daigo has just graduated firefighter school and is so enthusiastic about his new career he stops by his old high school to show off his new uniform to his beautiful former teacher Miss Ochiai. Daigo reports to work 2 days before his official start date. He’s dismayed to discover that the members of Company M seem to be doing anything but fighting fires. They are listening to language tapes, eating, smoking, and the leader Captain Gomi is addicted to horse racing.

Daigo thinks Company M is filled with slackers. He finds out that Company M is assigned to one of the least active districts, and that’s why he hasn’t been able to fight any fires. Daigo explodes in frustration at work, saying that he wants to shine in the field. Captain Gomi points out that Company M is a great place for a hothead like Daigo to learn to simmer down, and questions why Daigo wants there to be fires. Daigo knocks of Gomi’s cap, revealing severe burn marks all over his forehead.

An alarm sounds, and Daigo soon learns that going out to rescue people in real life is more difficult than he expected. He manages to find a man trapped in a house with a gas leak, and freezes, afraid of setting off sparks. The members of Company M come to rescue him. Daigo throws himself into another dangerous situation and needs rescuing, but he saves a fire victim in the process. Captain Gomi tells him “You’ve got guts, kid!” and Daigo remembers hearing that voice before.

The second half of volume one and the second volume deal with Daigo’s intense rivalry with Amakasu, a fellow rookie firefighter assigned to an active district with a pyromaniac. Daigo and Amakasu keep trying to race each other to the fire hydrants whenever their companies are called to put out fires at the same sites, and they lose sight of what they’re called to do as firefighters. Once again Captain Gomi intervenes to teach some important life lessons. There’s a hint of romance supplied too, as Daigo makes plans to go out to dinner with Miss Ochiai and a former classmate named Jun is not happy with this development. Daigo begins to exhibit an almost uncanny instinct for saving people, he’s able find victims that other firefighters overlooked and saves a family trapped in a car on his day off.

While a not very smart protagonist who triumphs by working hard isn’t uncommon in shonen manga, I found Firefighter Daigo quite entertaining. Soda’s art always portrays Daigo with a flushed face, because he’s so emotional and passionate about his job. The firefighting scenes are dynamic, with plenty of details. The first time Daigo tries to use a hose in the field it goes wild, and he’s amazed that the small statured Gomi has so much control. I think that this series didn’t do so well for Viz, which is a pity because I think Firefighter Daigo offers a lot to a reader who is looking for an unconventional action series. While I don’t think I’ll be tracking down the all of the other 18 volumes of this manga, I’ll definitely buy a volume here or there if I manage to run across it. I’m curious to see how this series ends and if Daigo is able to improve on his rookie mistakes and become a great firefighter like Captain Gomi.

Bleach

Bleach by Tite Kubo 3.5 stars(amazon)

Sometimes I wonder if contact with spirits from the beyond is the manga equivalent of developing superpowers after a horrible encounter with radioactivity. It certainly seems like a convenient way for a teenager to encounter a life-changing event. Bleach is the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a teenage boy who has always been able to see ghosts. He’s mischevious and doesn’t mind fighting, but he does step in to help people who can’t defend themselves. The story opens with Ichigo beathing up some bullies who were knocking over an offering by the grave of a little girl. The girl’s spirit was not happy about her grave being desecrated. He returns home to his family and sees that he’s being haunted by a new spirit, a girl dressed like a samurai and carrying a sword. Her name is Rukia and she is a soul reaper, someone who is charged with vanquishing evil spirits.

When evil spirits attack the family, Rukia decides to lend Ichigo some of her power so he can help defend his house. Something goes wrong and Ichigo gets all of Rukia’s power, transforming him into a soul reaper. Rukia sticks around, pretending to be a normal high school student as she tries to make Ichigo act like a proper soul reaper. Bleach combines action and humor as Ichigo attempts to adjust to his new powers.

Death Note

Death Note #1 (amazon) 5/5 stars

Out of all the recent manga series starting these days Death Note was the series I’ve been looking forward to reading the most and it didn’t disappoint me. This is a Shonen Jump Advanced title, which means that it is geared towards an older teen audience. Death Note begins with the stories of two beings who are drawn together by boredom. Ryuk is a Shinigami (death god) who finds his realm very unexciting. Light Yagami is an overacheiving high school student who thinks his world is a mess. Ryuk drops a death note in the human world – the death note is a notebook that holds the power of life and death over humans. If the owner of the death note writes a person’s name in the book while visualizing their face, the selected person will die of a heart attack within 40 seconds . The death note’s owner also has the ability to specify the details of the death, if he wishes to stray from the default heart attack setting in the notebook.

Light picks up the notebook and promptly embarks on a righteous crusade to make the world a better place by killing off criminals. Light is the only person who can see Ryuk, and the death god sticks around to observe the fun as he finds Light’s actions very entertaining. The authorities start to realize that there’s a problem, and Light shows himself to be diabolically clever as he negotiates his new power of death. He’s determined to build a world without crime, and like most teenagers he sees himself as the most important person in the universe.

Takeshi Obata’s art is great, Ryuk is both demonic and endearing and Light starts to look a little worn about the edges and slightly manic as the volume progresses, what with all the stealthy killing he’s involved with. I’m totally captivated by this series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next – is Light going to maintain his conviction that he’s making the world a better place, what is Ryuk hiding, how is Light going to deal with his family, and how is he going to evade capture when the law is after him?

Go!

Hikaru No Go by by Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata (amazon) 4 stars

I’ve heard good things about Hikaru no Go and I’ve read a couple random chapters in Shonen Jump, but I recently sat down with the first and second volumes and found it very entertaining. The plot of the manga combines spirit possession and the typical “try hard and succeed” storyline of many sports manga.

Hikaru is a normal 6th grader who is scavenging for items to sell for pocket money. He finds an old go board in his grandfather’s attic, and is promptly possessed by the spirit of Fujiwara no Sai, a go master from the Heian period.

Sai wants to play go to fulfill his last mission on earth, but Hikaru finds it terribly boring. As Hikaru is exposed to the game, he begins to enjoy it, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be content to be Sai’s puppet in go games for very long. Hikaru and Sai begin to explore the world of Go by taking classes at a community center and visiting a go salon. Sai learns how the game has developed in the modern era. Hikaru’s irreverence sometimes gets him into trouble as he encounters the traditions of Go. Hikaru and Sai beat a boy named Akira who is being groomed by his father to become a professional go player, and an intense rivalry develops between the boys, more on Akira’s side than Hikaru’s, since Hikaru seems to be blissfully unaware of the reactions his spirit-derived go skills provoke in others.

This is an all ages title that has wide appeal, the art is very expressive and Takeshi Obata (also the artist on the new title Death Note) makes the act of sitting down in front of a Go board seem filled with tension and emotion. This is the type of title that librarians and teachers would naturally love – the manga serves as an introduction to a challenging game of logic, and it is so easy to think of activities that could compliment the manga. If you have a manga club at your library or school, you could read the book and play the game. I think the Hikaru no Go anime is going to be released on DVD in the US starting in December.