Monday, March 23, 2009

Reviewing The Mail: Week of 3/21

Last week I was rambling about the ebb and flow of review copies, and this week helps to prove my point: it's almost entirely comics/manga, led by the big monthly box from Yen Press.

As usual, I post these lists on Monday mornings because I know I won't manage to review every book I see, but I do want to at least note every one of these books -- usually at least mildly approvingly -- and look at them as they go out into the world to find their audiences.

Other Earths is DAW's paperback original anthology for the month of April, but it's a little different than the usual book filling that slot: it's edited by Nick Gevers and Jay Lake (with only the copyright page betraying the hand of Martin Greenberg's Tekno Books) and contains stories by such heavy-hitters as Jeff VanderMeer, Gene Wolfe, Robert Charles Wilson, Stephen Baxter, Lucius Shepard, and Alastair Reynolds. (Not to mention five other authors equally impressive, or nearly so.) The theme is also a bit looser than usual for a DAW anthology; Other Worlds contains alternate history stories -- not ones in which famous military leaders were cat-people, or ones where Alien Space Bats interfered at particular changepoints, or ones concerning the differences imaginable if Napoleon had been half-elf; but stories that just had to be alternate-historical, with no other prerequisites. Given the pedigree, this will probably be one of the major anthologies of the year -- and it's only $7.99.

Also from DAW in April is the second omnibus reprinting a near-future humorous detective series by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem, Ballistic Babes. (I don't know if the series has an official title, but -- since all of the titles are about the hair color of a pneumatic, dangerous female -- it would be something like "Hairy Babes"...and that might explain why there isn't a series title.) This one reprints the third and fourth novels in the series, The Radioactive Redhead and The Frost-Haired Vixen. I haven't read these books, but I did use to do business with Ganem, many years ago -- he was a great guy and a skilled negotiator, if that's any recommendation for his books.

And then we jump into manga, first with some books coming from Del Rey on March 24th. (Which would be tomorrow, so they're probably out in stores already.) Negima!? Neo, Vol. 1 is the beginning of a series based on the popular anime series Negima!...and I haven't worked out yet why the manga version gets a "? Neo" tacked onto the end of the title. (The subtitle, "Magister Negi Magi," is easier to figure out: it refers to the main character, ten-year-old Negi Springfield -- who is not, in any way, at all reminiscent of Harry Potter, even in a bizarrely twisted Japanese way, so put that right out of your head, Warner Brothers -- the super-magician from England who has to run an all-girls magic school in Japan because every Japanese story will find itself set in an all-girls school if not prevented by heavy artillery.) Negima!? Neo was written by Negima! creator Ken Akmatsu, with art by Takuya Fujima. It's rated "OT" (for older teens), so I expect a lot of fanservice, panty shots, and young women "accidentally" surprised in the hot springs. Hmmm...I may just have to read this one!

Also from Del Rey and rated OT -- but actually shrink-wrapped, which makes me wonder if it's the manga equivalent of a "Hard R" -- is the first volume of Gakuen Prince, by Jun Yuzuki. It's set in an all-girls school -- see! see!!! -- that very recently started allowing boys to attend as well. It's also one of those super-elite schools that -- at least in manga -- students only can get into and stay in through grueling exams, and which are heavily stratified and clique-ridden. From the back cover copy, it seems to be about the battle among the girls to "get" the boys. But, from a quick peek inside, it seems to be more focused on one particular girl. And, as one could have guessed, she's a quiet, mousy "A" student who frantically thinks such terribly Japanese things as "Everyone will notice me! I don't want to stand out! No way!" on the third page. So I'm pretty sure she ends up with the tallest, cutest, smartest boy -- who also has a closet-full of secrets. (I may have been reading too much of this stuff lately...)

And also from Del Rey is the first book of Samurai 7, credited as "Manga by Mizutaka Suhou, Original Story by Akira Kurosawa." I suspect this is a very, very loose adaptation of The Seven Samurai, translated into its current science-fictional garb only after Kurosawa died -- he lived until 1998 and this was published in 2004, which suggests to cynical me an estate looking to license whatever it could to establish new income streams. It's set in the solar system in the medium future, and the heroes are people who fight giant robots with swords. (And win, most of the time.)

And now I'll get into the big stack of Yen Press manga from April -- until I mention another publisher or date, just assume all of these are Yen April books, kay? I'll start with the new titles:

GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class is a four-panel humorous series set in an art school, by Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro's Satoko Kiyuduki. And all of the characters are female. However, I can't prove that this school is all-girls until I actually read the book -- though I certainly have my suspicions.

Oninagi is by Akira Ishida, and is one part "Ooh! I'm a cute fifteen-year-old in my sailor suit! I love my darling senpai and I hope to get closer to him this school year!" and one part "Battling the demons as they appear in random locations." The main character -- "average schoolgirl Nanami" -- has some secret connection to the monsters that draws the attention of one of those Slayer-types, and things go on from there.

Step is by Yu Yanshu, reads left-to-right, and is in full-color -- it's Chinese rather than Japanese, and I can't tell you what variation on manga/manwha this should be officially called. This volume is also titled "Dynasty Tang," which is the name of an orphaned boy vampire who's one of the main characters. (And, to paraphrase something my brother said many times, who looks at a bloody fetus and says "Yes! I will name this child Dynasty Tang!"?) The main character, according to the back cover, is Mr. Han, who is little Tang's guardian as well as being a professional monster hunter. (You have to watch out for the amateur kind.)

Pig Bride is Korean, so it also reads left-to-right, and it launched out of Yen's Yen+ magazine (in which I read, and reviewed, the first three chapters). It's by KookHwa Huh and SuJin Kim, and is about a typical highschool boy who accidentally married -- in a very old-fashioned ceremony -- a girl in a pig mask eight years ago, while lost in the woods. (Could happen to anybody, right?) Now his "bride" is back, and things are getting complicated in a very weird way I'm sure I'd understand better if I were Korean.

Also launching out of Yen+ is Svetlana Chmakova's Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 1, which I also looked at in the above link. Chmakova is from Russian and resident in Canada, so she draws in a manga-influenced style (but left-to-right) -- and she's well-known for her series Dramacon. Nightschool is --as you might have guessed -- yet another school story, this time a secret night-time school for witches, vampires, and their ilk.

And now for the later volumes from Yen -- I might start to run out of things to say about these, particularly at this time of night.

Kyo Shirodaira and Eita Mizuno continue the story of "younger brother" and the Blade Children in Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning, Vol. 7. I've reviewed many of the earlier volumes -- most recently Vol. 5 -- and that link can carry you backwards to discussions of the earlier books, if you want. I've found this series confusing and odd -- a psychological Japanese version of Saw, with complicated game-theory death-traps and lots of self-loathing. I still don't understand it, but here it is.

Croquis Pop, Vol. 4 continues KwangHyun Seo and JinHo Ko's story of a young "croquer" -- magically powerful artist, who of course has to use his powers to defeat regularly appearing "grudges" -- who is also the apprentice to a popular manwha-ga despite having essentially no drawing skills whatsoever. (To compensate, he has a self-image approaching that of a Mr. Naruto.) I've reviewed the first three volumes; click here to see Vol. 3 and go back from there.

One Thousand and One Nights, Vol. 7 is the latest in a series I haven't read at all; it was already a few volumes in by the time I saw it. It's by Han SeungHee and Jeon JinSeok and it's set in either a mythic Middle East or the modern day, or, just maybe, both.

Ume Aoki's Sunshine Sketch is a really sweet 4-panel series about four girls attending art school -- hmm; maybe it's time for a compare-and-contrast with GA, above? -- hitting its third volume this month. I reviewed the first two volumes -- go here for #2 -- but don't let the fact that this is set in a girls' school mislead you; it's gentle and cute, with no hint of panty shots.

And last from Yen this time is the second and concluding volume of Suzunari!, which I reviewed the first time around. (This one is also officially a March book, so it's already in stores now.) It's another 4-panel series, also set in a school, about a "normal girl" and her inexplicable, irrepressible catgirl double, who appeared out of nowhere at the beginning of the first book. Suzu is yet another one of those wacko oddball characters the Japanese love so much, probably for the obvious letting-off-steam reasons.

And now, on to a few last books that aren't published by Yen!

A cartoonist who bills himself as Box Brown -- again I invoke the spirit of my brother and the hypothetical bloody fetus, quizzically -- is publishing his first collection, Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing, into comics stores in June. (That means it's in the April Diamond catalog, Previews, which your shop -- assuming you do have one -- will beg etting very soon, probably this week.) Brown won a Xeric Award to help finance the publication of this book, which is a pretty big deal. He also has a website, so you can check out his work there -- though, despite the fact that he regularlly posts cartoons on the web, he insists he's not a "webcartoonist." Love is a collection of semi-autobiographical -- at least, I'm assuming they are, possibly on insufficient evidence -- stories about Ben and Ellen. It looks like fun, and I hope to review it -- after the Eisner frenzy ends, but (I hope) before the Diamond order deadline.

Andrew Fox wrote two books for Del Rey a few years back -- Fat White Vampire Blues and its sequel Bride of the Fat White Vampire -- which got admiring reviews but not (aparrently) a big surge of fan interest. But he's back with a new novel from Tachyon, The Good Humor Man, which is similar satirical, but SFnal rather than fantasy. It's set thirty years in the future, when all fatty food has been outlawed -- and it looks to be the usual tour of a bizarre, funny future. It's being published April 15th, in trade paperback.

And last this week is a book I was very happy to see: the new Dresden Files book from Jim Butcher, Turn Coat (eleventh in the series). I reviewed the previous book, Small Favor, last year, and I very much enjoy this Chandler-esque take on the modern urban fantasy series. I can't tell that this one is great until I read it, but I hope and expect it will be. Roc is publishing it in hardcover on April 7th.

1 comment:

Amy Goldschlager said...

Samurai 7 IS based on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai; the anime's been available on DVD for a few years now. I believe it was also showing on IFC. Del Rey has also previously published a Negima series, which is probably why the new series is called Neo.

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