Tallies for June 2011

It’s time for the results show, just like on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars! Well, partly, because only one poll depends on popular votes. So the other half is more like when Tom Colicchio decides who gets knifed on Top Chef, except I’m not an icon to the bear community. (I don’t honestly think Colicchio is either, and how would Andy Cohen know if Colicchio is or not? I just don’t see him doing exit interviews at the Green Lantern.) Anyway, thanks to your votes and input, I’ve managed to complete my Previews order.

First up, we’ll discuss this month’s Boys’ Love Blind Date. Now, as I strongly suggested, I eliminated Only Serious about You, as it sounds exactly like something I’d really enjoy, so no vetting was necessary, and I just ordered it. While A Fallen Saint’s Kiss would probably offer valuable insights into adult novelties, the power dynamics might negate that value by making me wish for death. A similar problem taints Private Teacher, and it doesn’t even sound smutty, so why risk it? This leaves Mr. Tiger and Mr. Wolf as this month’s choice. Characters with animal ears don’t do a single thing for me as a reader (see also: angel wings), but there does seem to be a likelihood that this book may be funny and/or cute.

Moving on to the infinitely more dangerous, fully crowd-sourced Dubious Manga Selection, it is my duty to report that the majority of comments were in favor of Mardock Scramble. This is actually kind of a relief. I can’t honestly imagine any way that Tales of the Abyss won’t be crushingly boring, and reports indicate that Bloody Monday is actually pretty good, as these things go. There’s a giddy, frightening uncertainty to Mardock Scramble. It could be interesting and provocative. It could be dull and formulaic and pandering. It could be so deliriously awful that I may require hypnotherapy to recover from the reading experience. I just don’t know, and that’s the fun of these polls, at least for me.

To wrap things up, I noticed an omission in my Previews overview post:

Gate 7 vol. 1, written and illustrated by CLAMP, Dark Horse Comics, item code JUN11 0039: I have a mixed history with CLAMP titles, but I’m kind of high on them at the moment, still coasting on my overwhelmingly positive reaction to Cardcaptor Sakura. Here’s the skinny on Gate 7:

“Chikahito Takamoto has always read about the beauty and mystique of Japan’s ancient capital city, Kyoto. Now, two years into high school, he’s finally visiting there for real. But wandering the grounds of Kyoto’s legendary Shinto shrine of Kita no Tenmangu, he chances upon a mystery that his guidebooks didn’t prepare him for – two handsome men and an attractive woman, all strangely-garbed, wielding powers…and fighting monsters! The two men treat poor Chikahito with suspicion – but the girl seems to like him. They aren’t worried about what Chikahito’s just seen, because they have the power to erase his memory…except for some reason, that power doesn’t work! And why does the girl kiss him before sending him away? One thing’s for sure: Chikahito is going to be seeing a lot more of these three strangers…”

Hardly untraveled territory for CLAMP or a hundred other mangaka, but I’m hoping for lots of lovingly drawn scenery and some gender-neutral romantic geometry. These do not seem like unreasonable expectations.


Boys’ love blind date June 2011

Gather ‘round, and help me ponder the boys’-love titles in the June 2011 edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog! How else can I separate the men from the bores?

Private Teacher! vol. 1, written and illustrated by Yuu Moegi: Not only is the schoolwork so confusing that Rintarou needs a private tutor, but the maelstrom of emotions he feels when spending time with Kaede-san is weirdly unsettling. But when Kaede-san decides to reward unsatisfactory progress with some unusual punishment, Rintarou figures out that what he is feeling is love. But what about Kaede? Does he love Rintarou or is he just a perverted sadist? Juné Manga proudly presents the first volume of the popular manga by Yuu Moegi in her English language debut!

Sounds kinky, which may mitigate the likelihood of high-school boy dullness, but it could cross over into creepy town. It originally ran in Core Magazine’s Drap.

Mr. Tiger and Mr. Wolf, written and illustrated by Ahiru Haruno: When a tsundere wolf finds an adorable kitten, he thinks he has found the perfect wife candidate to bring up. But when it reaches adulthood, it is not only male, but rather unexpectedly is a huge Bengal tiger. The wildly popular comedy fantasy story now in English for the very first time.

That description is barely coherent, which doesn’t raise my hopes very high. Also, I’m not remotely keen on anthropomorphic boys’ love or stories with a pet construct, so you would have to sell this one very, very hard. It originally ran in Houbunsha’s Hanaoto.

Only Serious about You, written and illustrated by Kai Asou: Yoshioka is a regular at Oosawa’s workplace, and always seems to be bringing in yet another boyfriend that he wants to introduce the good food to. As a single parent, Oosawa works very hard and doesn’t have time to make many close friends, or even consider dating. But when his beloved daughter Mizu falls ill and Yoshioka offers his help, Oosawa finds he must accept this frivolous seeming person’s outstretched hand. Sometimes, people are not quite what they seem, as Oosawa discovers – a tender romance story of a single father, a lonely businessman, and the child who brings them together.

Okay, I should probably disqualify this one, because the description tracks so closely with my tastes that I’m 95% likely to just order it no matter what the consensus declares. Grown-ups with jobs and complicate personal lives! It originally ran in Houbunsha’s CitaCita.

I was going to include Seven Days: Friday – Sunday, written by Venio Tachibana and illustrated by Rihito Takarai, but it’s just a sequel to Seven Days: Monday – Thursday, which I haven’t read. They have really nice covers, though. Moving on to the 801 smut!

A Fallen Saint’s Kiss, written and illustrated by You Higashino: When high school teacher Okano is molested on the train on his way to school, the last thing he wanted was for his shame to be witnessed by anyone. But one of his students not only witnessed it, but decided to use the incident to blackmail his teacher! Threatened with exposure, Okano must submit to Tokiwa’s perverted will or have his shameful secret exposed.

Well, take that, Private Teacher! I’m not entirely sure what that pink thing is that’s strapped to the teacher’s thigh, and I’m not entirely sure I want to know. On the other hand, I do like making the comic shop clerks uncomfortable. It was originally published by Taiyo Tosho.

That’s certainly a range of options, isn’t it? What say you?

Upcoming 5/11/2011

After last week’s bonanza and Free Comic Book Day over the weekend, it’s tumbleweed time on the Comic List. This drove the Manga Bookshelf crew to an alternative approach to our Pick of the Week, but there are tons of relatively recent books under the microscope in the current Bookshelf Briefs.

Of course, if you depend on Diamond for your manga needs, there is a piece of good news: the seventh volume of Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica arrives from Vertical. This series gets better and deeper as it goes along, and it was pretty darn good to start. As a bonus, this volume is about a hundred pages longer than average, and it’s fairly packed with character development and event. Highlights include a summer visit to heroine Asumi’s home town, a training exercise set in a prison, and lots of little revelations about our quintet of would-be astronauts. If forced to identify a failing in this series, I would have to say that Kei (the gung-ho, “energetic” girl of the group) is overdue for some serious examination. She’s still functioning as bossy, easily flustered comic relief, and she needs some nuance.

Oh, and I’ve been meaning to tell you the results of my latest boys’-love blind date: like so many of us sometimes do, I’ve cast aside my usual standards in favor of looks. Yes, in spite of my aversion to BL where the “boys” is literal, I’ve cast my lot with Puku Okuyama’s Warning! Whispers of Love (DMP) based almost entirely on its lively, attractive cover. Thanks to everyone who put in their two cents!


Blind date May 2011

We have three candidates for this month’s boys’-love blind date, all courtesy of Digital Manga (a publisher I feel kind of owes me one). You can check out last month’s inaugural attempt for the parameters of my taste in this category and some disclaimers. Now, let’s check out the gents!

Sky Link, written and illustrated by Shiro Yamada: Ban Ritsuki was looking forward to his university life. Then, on his very first day, he bumps into a strange man on campus who tells him that he has the sort of face that he likes. Reacting badly, he tells the man he is disgusting. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter, as the stranger turns out to be one of his lecturers, Takagi Shoutaro. Ban finds this irritating enough, but Takagi can’t seem to get the message that he wants him to just leave him alone as much as possible. To be honest, Takagi just really pushes Ban’s rage buttons. That is, until one unguarded moment when Ban catches sight of Takagi sky gazing, with a look of intense melancholy upon his face. Finding his heart unexpectedly moved, Ban discovers that sometimes irritation can be a symptom of something besides anger, but what is it?

You get three guesses, Ban, and the first two don’t count. On the plus side, I like manga set in universities. On the down side, I’m getting a “no means yes” vibe from this. Yamada seems to have done a lot of Gin Tama doujinshi, which is a mitigating factor, as it seems like relatively intriguing slash fodder. Sky Link originally ran in Taiyo Tosho’s HertZ.

An Even More Beautiful Lie, written and illustrated by Kei Kanai: When art student Kurosu Keiichiro notices a young man leaving his umbrella on the train, he runs after him to return it. In so doing, he ends up missing his last train home. Feeling responsible, the young man offers his place for the night. Turns out he is a fellow student at Keiichiro’s university, one Yukari Yohito who has already garnered considerable attention for his artwork. Yukari may be a genius with paints and a canvas, but is completely hopeless at everything else as Keiichiro discovers. Striking up a friendship, Keiichiro begins coming by to take care of things for Yukari. The more he involves himself in Yukari’s life, however, the deeper Keiichiro’s feelings begin to run. It’s no longer mere friendship or even admiration that moves him, but just what should he do about it?

Bus stop, wet day, he’s there, I say, “Please share my umbrella.”

You guys, I seriously hate that song, but this comic sounds like it could be pretty good. This is obviously not qualitatively relevant, but it makes me smile that it’s right next to All Nippon Air Line in DMP’s title roster. An Even More Beautiful Lie also ran in HertZ.

Warning! Whispers of Love, written and illustrated by Puku Okuyama: The beginning of high school is a time of dreams, which are all too soon broken. So while one may fall in love at first sight, the other may run. But love and romance are a hard dream to kill off. Running prey simply have to be chased in order to be caught, right? And in the classroom, there is no real escape from whispered words and subtle actions. Comedy ensues when two classmates play cat and mouse, with their hearts at stake!

Since it features high-school boys, it would take some enormously persuasive argument to get me to seriously consider reading this comic. It would have to be really funny and surprising, and I’m already totally picturing the trite stuck-on-cleaning-duty-with-him scene. Warning! Whispers of Love ran in Taiyo Tosho’s Craft.

So, there are our mystery men. Thoughts?


The dreary skies of Hou Ou High

When I do my “pick a dubious manga” polls, I have two preferred outcomes in mind. The first is that I’ll be pleasantly surprised by a manga that sounds questionable, finding a nugget of gold in an unexpected place. The second is that the book will be even worse than it sounds and that I’ll be able to unleash a bitter diatribe on something that’s offended one of my core values. The worst potential outcome is that I’ll merely be bored.

Unfortunately, the first choice in this series of reader-generated selections achieves that last result. Arata Aki’s The Beautiful Skies of Hou Ou High (Digital Manga) is garden-variety bad. Oh, it’s very bad, I assure you, but it’s not memorably bad.

It’s about a young lesbian whose mother contrives admission to an elite, all-boys’ school in the hopes that the complete immersion in a sea of wealthy dreamboats will burn the gay out of her daughter. (“The students are all fat-cats!” Mom crows. “If she gets pregnant, then we win!”) Aki doesn’t stage a train-wreck of skin-crawling sexual politics like Jun Yuzuki did with Gakuen Prince, mostly because I suspect Aki isn’t writer enough to conceive of a plot outlandish (or consistent) enough to be that awful.

Instead, we get a lot of quirky classmates out of central casting who harbor an inexplicable fascination with our heroine, Kei, whose defining characteristic is her stupidity. (“She really is an idiot,” Kei’s younger sister notes. In a moment of what’s later revealed to be understatement, her mother calls her “dimwitted.” “Man, everything about you is weak,” her first friend at school concludes.) Manga has a rich history of endearingly dumb protagonists. Kei Saeba is not among their number. She’s frantic and grating and dull, and her stupidity is so generic that it’s hard to invest any interest in it.

What passes for an ongoing subplot isn’t especially promising. The school’s administration has been blackmailed into admitting Kei, and they basically want her gone. (Sympathies, gentlemen!) The director is terrified of potential scandal involving a girl secretly attending the prestigious school, but he’s equally concerned with concealing his own secrets. I could go on, but I don’t care. Even a little.

I don’t care about stupid Kei. I don’t care about the blurry boy harem that Aki is assembling for her. I don’t care if the headmaster arranges for her to be tossed into a deep, icy well.

I do care about the fact that Digital Manga couldn’t be bothered to include translation notes for the volume, as at least knowing what some references were would have given me something to think about besides the manga I was trying to read. But no, all I had to work with were dull characters, inane plot developments, and a tone that couldn’t even work up the energy to offend me.

Blue Exorcist, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.


Upcoming 4/20/2011

After you’ve taken a look at the Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week, we’ll tiptoe through the current ComicList.

Are you back? Great! I’m so excited! Sort of! Also frightened! Because this week sees the arrival of my first chosen-by-committee dubious manga! For those of you who have forgotten, the “winner” was Arata Aki’s The Beautiful Skies of Hou Ou High from Digital Manga. It’s about a girl who likes girls whose mother sends her to an all-boys’ school so that she’ll start liking boys. I’ve tried to refrain from reading early reviews of the book, partly not to color my own opinion and partly to stave off the ominous despair that Wednesday may bring, but even quick glimpses at these analyses suggest that the book is kind of terrible. We’ll soon find out! (Oh, and please help me pick between the two titles left standing in the last round of this exercise in horizon-expanding masochism.)

Perhaps I’ll turn to Digital Manga to recover from that reading experience, as they’re kindly also delivering the fifth two-volume collection of Kaoru Tada’s totally adorable Itazura na Kiss. I’m not quite caught up with this series at the moment, but it’s nice to know that more volumes are out there, waiting to provide the healing power of snarky shôjo romance.

While Midtown is a week ahead of Diamond in terms of new Viz releases, those dependent on the distributor can at least count on the arrival of the 14th volume of Naoki Urasawa’s excellent, Eisner-nominated 20th Century Boys. This is possibly my favorite Urasawa series to be published in English.

What looks good to you?


Decisions, decisions

Thanks to everyone for their input on my Previews order for the month. Here’s what most of you voted for in terms of potentially dubious manga:

Animal ears and a bell around her neck… this one isn’t going to be easy, I can feel it.

As for the boys’ love candidates, I really did take all of your feedback into account, though I didn’t go with the title that received the majority of votes:

I just adore that cover. And I figured if I had to order a book with a cover that makes me deeply uneasy, I could at least indulge myself with one that looks really nice.

Here are some other highlights from the current catalog.


Blind date

What’s the point of having a blog if you don’t use it to needlessly complicate your life from time to time? The newest edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog has arrived, and while I plan to do my usual “make me suffer” poll later in the week, I’ve decided to add a new wrinkle to the process.

You see, I feel like I should read more boys’ love titles, but I like to do a certain amount of investigation prior to investing, because sometimes something sounds good and ends up embodying everything that makes me uncomfortable about books in the category. So I’m going to ask for your help, and your vote, in winnowing out the listed title that best matches my taste.

For the record, those tastes include: adult characters with interesting lives outside of their romantic relationships; a sprinkling of issues related to sexual identity; and no forced sex, or at least as little as possible. I also tend to prefer a light touch, though high drama is fine if it’s persuasively done. I don’t think that’s asking for too much, and if none of these candidates pass the test, I make no promises that I’ll suffer through one, but if enough of you make the case for a particular work, keeping my preferences in mind, then I’m on board.

So here are the candidates:

Tonight’s Take-Out Night, written and illustrated by Akira Minazuki: Matsumoto was sent from his company’s planning department to assist in the expansion of a fast food restaurant. Little did he expect to encounter sexual harassment from Iwakiri Kiyoshi, the extremely competent manager of this successful shop. How should he respond? And is it all in jest?

Okay, they have jobs, but sexual harassment is right there in the solicitation, so I’m leery. It ran in Taiyo Tosho’s Hertz.

Entangled Circumstances, written and illustrated by Kikuko Kikuya: Himeko and Shibui not only work for the same company, but had also attended university together. Himeko was wildly popular, and nicknamed “The Prince.” But whatever Shibui may be trying not to recall about their shared past, one thing is certain. Their present and future are tangled together, with the past knotting it quite firmly. Seeing Himeko everyday, Shibui finds his feelings ever more swayed. “Whatever it takes to get you…”

I absolutely love the cover art for this one, though I would vote for a moratorium on any character ever being nicknamed “The Prince” again. It also ran in Hertz.

A Liar in Love, written and illustrated by Kiyo Ueda: After receiving an interesting phone call from his brother, Tatsuki Hiroshi decides to go for a visit. There he encounters Miura, and as the two get to know each other, they begin dating. It is not supposed to be for anything but fun with no strings attached. So when did Tatsuki become a fool for love? What is he to do? As he finds out, affairs of the heart are complicated!

My ears perked up at the use of the word “dating.” This is not a word I usually see in BL solicitations. It’s apparently Hertz month.

I Give to You, written and illustrated by Ebishi Maki: Reeling from betrayal at the hands of his lover who left him in incredible debt, Ryouichi finds himself aimlessly wandering in the midst of a storm. Suddenly finding himself standing at the door of a teahouse. He goes in, and soon finds himself indebted to the owner. Helping out around the shop to pay back the owner’s kindness. Ryouichi finds that he’s looking forward to it, and not just to pay back the debt either. Has Ryouichi found where he belongs?

Again, it’s a gorgeous cover, but that blurb is kind of tortured. I know that doesn’t reflect on the book, but it is a little irksome. This one ran in Taiyo Tosho’s Craft.

This Night’s Everything, written and illustrated by Akira Minazuki: A certain politician has his own private security group. In that group is someone special. That man, Aoi, is someone who is extremely capable at his job, handling even dirty work with ease. But in that heart lies not only cold reason, but passion. Can love survive in such circumstances, and light a path out of the darkness?

Drama, drama, drama. I’m leaning backwards, because it’s getting really intense and all up in my face. We’re back to Hertz to wrap things up.

All right, those are the choices. Advice? Insights? Revealing tea leaves or possibly coffee grounds?


Blood, brains, or brawn

The new Previews catalog is here, so it’s time once again for me to throw myself at the mercy of you, my readers, to help me pick from three questionable manga prospects. Let’s begin!

Moon and Blood vol. 1, written and illustrated by Nao Yazawa, Digital Manga Publishing, page 281:

When high schooler Sayaka awoke one morning, to her surprise, she found an unexpected guest at the family kitchen table – Kai. A cool, handsome and aloof character, a so-called family friend of Sayaka’s father, his temporary stay in her household and attendance to Sayaka’s school, is more than she’s bargained for. But what secrets does Kai hold and what are his true intentions for his sudden appearance into Sayaka’s life? Why does he excel so well in school but sleep through every class? Here does he disappear every night? Will Sayaka find her answers? Or will her curiosity get her into trouble? And what is up with that black cat?

This generic-sounding title from the creator of Wedding Peach (Viz) originally ran in some magazine from some publisher that I cannot unearth in any of the usual sources. It almost certainly involves vampires. I almost always hate vampires.

A Certain Scientific Railgun vol. 1, written by Kazuma Kamachi and illustrated by Motoi Fuyukawa, Seven Seas, page 314:

Welcome to a world where mysticism and science collide, and supernatural powers are derived from either science or religion. In Academy City, an advanced metropolis populated by scholars, the majority of students are enrolled in the city’s “Power Curriculum Program,” where they must learn to master their latent psychic powers. Out of several million students, only seven are deemed powerful enough to have Level 5 status. Mikoto Misaka, the third most powerful Level 5 esper in Academy City, delves deep into the dark heart of the scientific sprawl she calls home – and uncovers secrets she wishes she hadn’t!

Aside from an awkward title and (again) generic premise, this series came to be in Media Works’ Dengeki Daioh, which has produced some great manga but has an uncomfortable fixation on little girls. Also, use of the word “esper” bugs me.

Kampfer vol. 1, written and illustrated by Yu Tachibana, Tokyopop, page 318:

Senou Natsuru is an everyday school boy, who wakes up one day to discover that he’s been chosen to be a Kampfer (fighters) whose objective is to fight other Kampfer. There’s just one catch: In order to fight others, he must turn into a girl!

Seeing as Tokyopop couldn’t be bothered to spell the name properly in its catalog listing, I don’t know why I should be expected to feign enthusiasm. Kampfer originally ran in Media Factory’s Comic Alive, which foisted Maria Holic on the world.

Those are your choices for the month. I’ll take a much more optimistic look at catalog on Monday. For now, please vote in the comments!


Win some, lose some

My latest experiment in crowd-sourced Previews ordering has come to an unexpected conclusion. I feel compelled to order both of them.

This is primarily because Tsuta Suzuki’s Your Story I’ve Known (DMP) has been revealed to not be the kind of comic I’d like to include in these experiments. Enough people who should know have spoken highly of Suzuki’s work to the point that I actually just want to order it because I’d like to read it. Basically, a known quantity that may have qualities I enjoy a lot has crept into the roster of candidates due to my failure of due diligence. This cannot stand.

So, that means the winner by default is Maid Shokun, written by Nanki Satou and illustrated by Akira Kiduki (Tokyopop). Disqualification aside, I was much moved by Erica (Okazu) Friedman’s eloquent plea, and I was frankly unnerved by Tokyopop editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl’s favorable comparison of the book to Chica Umino’s Honey and Clover (Viz). In my experience, Lillian is completely reliable and further evidence that Tokyopop should let its editors write its marketing text.

This one’s backfired rather badly on me. Fun, though.