Monday, January 19, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/17

I have a truly epic number of books to write about this week, courtesy of our friends at Yen Press -- I got a gigantic box from them this week, which seems to be their complete output for the last two or three months. It's not all manga, if any of you have irrational versions to such things, and I'll throw in an actual SF novel at the end as a teaser to liven up what will be a very long post.

As always, these are books that just arrived on my doorstep: I haven't read any of them yet, so what I have to tell you today is based on a quick glance, prior knowledge, and an occasional communion with the Cosmic All. If I accidentally slander your favorite author, please leave a comment to let us all know how very, very wrong I am. Unless I say otherwise, all of this stuff is from various parts of the fine Yen Press imprint, part of the larger Hachette empire, and is available in book or electronic form right now.

I'm going to deal with the flood of Yen in more-or-less alphabetical order by title, separated by physical size of the actual books (because that's how they're currently stacked on my desk.) So we start with the larger-format manga and light novels:

 Accel World, Vol. 2: The Red Storm Princess is the second light novel in the series by Reki Kawahara about a chunky teenage loser and his much more able avatar in the online "Accelerated World" game. As usual, there are black and white illustrations by Hima throughout, and an eight-page color section up front to introduce the characters and their relationships. This time out, our hero has developed an unexpected kid sister -- he's as surprised as you are -- and is on a quest for a rare and cursed suit of armor in the game world.

Barakamon, Vol. 2 continues the fish-out-of-water story by Satsuki Yoshino, with master calligrapher Seishuu Handa settling into a small island community, where everyone is much friendlier than he's used to (in that usual small-town way). I reviewed the first volume a few months ago.

Another light novel series launches -- at least on this side of the Pacific; the back-cover copy claims it's one of the most popular series ever, presumably in Japan -- with Kazuma Kamachi's A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 1. Illustrations are by Kiyotaka Haimura. Here we've got another sad-sack young-man hero -- the only guy without supernatural powers in the magnificent Academy City -- when he meets a weird delusional girl who turns out to be more than she seems. (Yes, that's the Japanese equivalent of "I'm a sexy young woman with complicated relationships with my vampire boyfriend -- now check out my tramp stamp on the cover" in America: they're equally common and I expect the trick is always in the execution.)

And here's a new manga series: Kaori Yuki's Demon from Afar, Vol. 1. I'm not entirely sure what this one's about -- there's a major earthquake in the opening pages, and an amnesiac boy found in the rubble, but the back cover focused on a love triangle among that boy and his noble benefactors somewhat later. And the title hints at supernatural stuff, as well.

Park SoHee's alternate-history romantic drama continues with Goong: The Royal Palace, Vol. 17. It looks like the divorced princess and prince of Korea are coming back together at this point -- the early books were about their arranged marriage, and then came the inevitable (n a soap opera, anyway) breakup.

Another new light novel series: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 1 is by Fujino Omori with illustrations by Suzuhito Yasuda. This one is set in a generic fantasy RPG world, where adventurers venture into Dungeon in search of treasure and fame -- but one guy wants to go there to save damsels in distress instead.

Some books tell you exactly what they're about, and one example is Fuka Mizutani's Love at Fourteen, Vol. 1. Yes, it's about two middle-schoolers and their first love; you get a cookie for figuring that out. Mizutani's art looks very expressive, and I like the lack of genre fripperies here -- it could be a real gem.

I missed the first book, but I do have here Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol. 2 by a manga-ka credited only as Sirial. It's on very nice paper, and the art is impressive -- some of it looks like watercolors, but it might all be drawn using computer tools. I think this is about a cat named Milkyway that wanders through the lives of various people, but I could be very wrong; the package doesn't give a lot of details. But it's definitely intriguing: I'll have to check it out.

Yoshiki Tonogai -- creator of the popular Judge and Doubt psychological horror comics -- is back with Secret, Vol. 1, with another cover full of unsettlingly animal-headed people. It's another ticking-clock story in a small group with deep secrets and tragedy in their past: the six survivors of a bus crash are told by shadowy forces that three of them are murderers, who must pay for their crimes, and that the police will be told in a week.

And here's another light novel -- well, light short story collection, really -- with Isuna Hasekura's Spice and Wolf, Vol. 13: Side Colors III. It's got illustrations by Jyuu Ayakura, and collects a bunch of side stories from the popular series about a master trader and his sidekick, an ancient fertility goddess in the form of a wolf-girl.

More light novels: Sword Art Online 3: Fairy Dance is the latest in this series about an online MMORPG where death is real and the players keep getting trapped in gameworlds with no way out. (And yet people keep playing these games, which may perhaps show a deep understanding of the gamer mind.)

Etorouji Shiono's Ubel Blatt, Vol. 1 is not the first book in the series, despite appearances -- I reveiewed the gigantic zero volume last year. This is epic fantasy in comics form, with cursed black blades, treacherous history, a mysterious young man with elfin ears, and evil hordes poised to destroy all of the lands of man. And each volume is hefty, too, providing a lot of story for the dollar.

I think I've explained this before, but, just in case: Umineko WHEN THEY CRY Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch, Vol. 3adapts into manga form one of a series of murder-mystery computer games (all under the umbrella title Umineko; this story is "Alliance of the Golden Witch") that each tell versions of a similar story. It's got a story by Ryukishi07 and art by Soichiro -- I'm not going to be able to tell you if either of those are single people or post-human swarm collectives living in the sun's mantle, or anything in between.

A more straightforward manga is Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 8, the latest in the series by Hiroshi Takashige (story) and DOUBLE-S (art) about a blind swordsman and the precognitive girl that he protects, as they flee and/or battle the usual shadowy forces of evil and control.

Hey, remember Accel World, the light novel, up above? Well, in best transmedia fashion, there's also a manga series, and so I also have here Accel World, Vol. 1, which seems to have been adapted by Hiroyuki Aigamo from Reki Kawahara's original novel. (There's also a credit to HIMA for character designs, which makes me think there's an anime lurking somewhere in the mix as well -- but I'm not diving in there, since Ive got twenty-some-odd more books to get through.) I believe this volume adapts part of the middle of the first novel, but I don't claim to be an expert.

Then I have a couple of new series: first up is Akame ga KILL!, Vol. 1, which is by Takahiro (just Takahiro, like Madonna) and Tetsuya Tashiro. It looks to be a relatively medieval story, since there are lots of swords, and our main character is a young man who has just reached The Capital (called only that, as far as I can see) and immediately gotten confused by several factions and individuals who rob him and/or enlist him in their causes.

Also new is Ani-Imo, Vol. 1by Haruko Kurumatani, which is entirely different. It seems to be a body-swap incest sex comedy, with the two main characters being twins -- he's tall and strong, she's small and mousy -- who swap bodies and then the sexy hijinks ensue. Sounds weird and possibly creepy to me, so I'll have to read it myself. (Hey! That's what they want me to do!)

Ikumi Katagiri is back with Are You Alice?, Vol. 7, which is also credited as "original story by Ai Ninomiya." (I think this is another manga based on light novels, or animes, or computer games -- or a series of plush toys sold only in one supermarket chain, for all I know. The world is full of stories that show up in strange places.) It's still a quirky take on Alice in Wonderland, with a young man in the assumed role of "Alice" in a weird land of gangsters and parties.

And here's an even longer-running series: Black Butler, Vol. 19 by Yana Toboso. This one is Victorian England as seen by modern Japan (or, more specifically, seen by this one modern Japanese guy), and it's full of mysteries and strange goings-on for our young lord hero and his amazingly accomplished butler.

Shiwo Komeyama has a new volume out, too: Bloody Cross, Vol. 5. I covered the first three books in the series, but didn't read number four. This series has what I like to think of as the Japanese equivalent of all of our North American stories about ninjas and their secret supernatural weaponry: it's about angels and demons, with an explicitly Christian background, fighting a very plot-coupon war to be the next God (the big one, YHVH hisownself).

Junya Inoue also has a new volume in his series, BTOOOM!, Vol. 8. I read the first one, covered it in a roundup of various comics, and haven't looked into the series since. It's basically Battle Royale retold with bombs -- a bunch of random people were hijacked to a remote island, given various explosive devices, and told to kill each other until told otherwise.

A more complicated series is Durarara!!: what I have in front of me right now is Yellow Scarves Arc, Vol. 2 and it's created to creator Ryohgo Narita (who wrote the original TV series, if I remember right), character designer Suzuhito Yasuda (self-explanatory), and art by Akiyo Satorigi (which I think includes adapting everything into manga form). I did review the very first Durarara!! volume almost three years ago, but I think it's all gotten more complicated since then.

And here's another new series: Gou-dere Sora Nagihara, Vol. 1, by Suu Minazuki. I think it's pretty fan-servicey -- I say that in large part because my copy is still sealed in plastic, with a big M-rating on the back -- although the two women on the cover does give a big clue even without that. The title character is our hero's perfect woman, but, sadly, she's fictional -- until she leaps out into his world, latches onto him, and completely messes up his life. Yes, it's yet another of the many grandchildren of Lum, and we can enjoy it for that.

Also brand new: He's My Only Vampire, Vol. 1, from Aya Shouto. As the title implies, it is a vampire story, focusing on a young woman saved from death by her childhood friend/new vampire lord, and immediately plunged into the obligatory world of plots and dangers. (It looks a lot like a boys-love story, only with an actual girl in the feminine boy role -- and don't ask me if that's a quirky new twist or sadly retrograde, because I just don't know the landscape enough to have an opinion.)

I read the first volume of the High School DxD series -- by Hiroji Mishima, from a light novel series by Ichiei Ishibumi -- last year, and enjoyed it for what it was, though what it was was very blatant  fanservice, full of semi-naked teen girls and their revealing school uniforms. I've got two new volumes here now, both the latest in the main series -- High School DxD, Vol. 3, by Mishima -- and a side story. The side story is called High School DxD: Asia & Koneko's Secret Contract!?, it's by a manga-ka named Hiroichi, and it's about thw two title characters, two devil girls out to grant wishes to humans.

I think this next book is the very last one in its series, but that series has been so complicated that I want to hedge my bets. It's Higurashi When They Cry, Vol. 26: Dice Killing Arc. This, like Uminekyo's similar crying-time-based storytelling, is based on a series of murder-mystery computer games, all of which I think are about the death of the same schoolgirl. (Sucks to be her.) Anyway, this possibly final volume, which is smaller in scope and format that the earlier books, is written by Ryukishi07 and drawn by Karin Suzuragi.

And here's Inu x Boku SS, Vol. 6, continuing Cocoa Fujiwara's story about the secretly supernatural children of Japan's most powerful and rich families, as they live together in an exclusive apartment building in Tokyo. I read the first three books, though didn't quite figure out why half of these folks -- all equally from top families, as far as I could tell -- are servants to the other half.

I seem to see JinHo Ko's Jack Frost only sporadically -- either that, or I can't manage to spell his name correctly, so my searches for this series on this blog turn up bad info -- but I did review the first two volumes for ComicMix, a number of years ago. It's ultra-violent and stylish and weird, sort of an afterlife secondary world fantasy with a lot of characters who yell at each other nearly as much as they try to kill each other with various bolts of coruscating force. And the new one is now available: Jack Frost, Vol. 11.

I thought the Kingdom Hearts II manga originally came out some time ago -- when the game did -- but I can't find any reference to that in Kingdom Hearts II, Vol. 3, by Shiro Amano. So it's possible that this is the first time the comics adaptation of that game has been available in English. In either case, this is the usual Kingdom Hearts thing: a weird mash-up of Final Fantasy and Disney characters, with Mickey Mouse alongside a spiky-haired manga kid with a giant sword shaped like a key racing through various Disney-property-based worlds to save it all from the evil whatzis.

In newer Kingdom Hearts news, there's also Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Vol. 5, also by Shiro Amano. The title still baffles me -- books only very rarely ask their readers to do math to figure out what the title is -- but I'm clearly not the audience for this to begin with. As far as I can tell, this sub-series is much more manga and much less Disney -- young folks training in a paramilitary save-the-universe organization (a la Soul Eater) with the title timing possibly being the ticking clock in which to save the universe this particular time.

And here's a new volume in a very popular series: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 20, with story by Nagaru Tanigawa and art by Gaku Tsugano. This is still about the SOS Brigade of supernatural folks in a typical Japanese high school, and the manic pixie girl of the title, but I can't tell you much about the specific plot convolutions ofthis volume.

We've also got a side-story for Ms. Suzumiya as well: The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, Vol. 9. This one is written by Tanigawa with art by Puyo and if you think I can figure out what makes it distinct from the parent title based on the back-cover description, well, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. This is more in the same universe, possibly with a slightly different emphasis, but that's all I can tell you.

I can tell you more about Nico Tanigawa's No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 6, since I reviewed all five of the prior volumes over the past year. (Those words are each separate links.) And you can check out those links for the real in-depth stuff, but, for a top-line view: Tomoko is deeply geeky, in a very Japanese female way, but is introverted and socially awkward in the way of all geeks. In the stories here, she tries to navigate the world, both the only that really exists and the one she expects based on her favorite games and stories.

And then there's Jun Mochizuki's Pandora Hearts, Vol. 22, another long-running series. I reviewed the first volume for ComicMix, back when the world was young and men were as gods. As I recall, this one is also something of a really sideways retelling of Alice in Wonderland (in common with several other things, like Are You Alice?, leading me to wonder why so many Japanese creators gravitate to it).

I've also read some of Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater series -- I reviewed the first one when it came out, and then dipped into volume eight to see what the series had gotten up to while I was away -- but my sons are much more the fans of this one, devouring every volume to date. And Yen is running full-tilt on this series, because there were two different volume of the main series in my big box this week: both Vol. 23 and Vol. 24. As far as I can see, it's still about the "Death Meisters" -- or possibly just the ones in training -- who battle witches with the help of their sentient shapeshifting weapons.

There's also a Atsushi Ohkubo side story, and the new volume of that is also here: Soul Eater NOT!, Vol. 4. (One wonders if this man sleeps, or if he just has a really, really large number of assistants.) This is a less-dramatic take on the same universe, though I'm not sure if these stories are in continuity with the main story.

I had a Spice & Wolf light novel up above, and there's also a new volume of the manga: Spice and Wolf, Vol. 10, in which the trader and the fertility goddess are hunting a narwhal. (Why? I dunno.) This one's sealed in plastic, so expect the usual dose of wolf-girl nudity -- this may perhaps be a strong reason to buy, for some of you.

Similarly, there's also new stuff from Sword Art Online in manga as well. First up is Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance, Vol. 2, adapted by Tsubasa Haduki from the Reki Kawahara light novel of the same name. (So this one is volume 2 of volume 2 -- it's as two as you can get.)

And then there's Sword Art Online Progressive, Vol. 1, which has a story credited to Kawahara and art by Kiseki Himura. This one follows the girlfriend of the main character of the central Sword Art Online series -- I've heard grumbles that she's often the Princess Peach of the series, off somewhere else to be rescued for long stretches of time -- and it seems to be set in the timeline of the first novel of the series. It is nice to see a side-story focus on the female lead; I do have to give them that credit.

Sesuna Mikabe brings us Tena on S-String, Vol. 6, and ... I have no idea what this one is about. The back cover describes a love story with complications (Tena and someone named Kyousuke), but there also seems to be a paramilitary organization (maybe made up of only women? maybe using music somehow?) conquering and holding territory and worrying about the loyalty of various people.

And last of the manga -- my this is a long one, isn't it? -- is Shouji Sato's Triage X, Vol. 8. I've been reading this series as something of a guilty pleasure -- it's big and flashy and fan-servicey in really, really obvious ways, but is a lot of fun as what it is -- so you can see my reviews of volumes one through five, six, and seven.

One last thing from Yen: a big art book, in a slipcased softcover, from Jun Mochizuki, the creator of Pandora Hearts. It's called (reasonably enough) Pandora Hearts: odds and ends, and it collects a lot of art with very little text. (That's common for art books, though.) It looks like most of the stuff in here is the covers from Pandora Hearts, but they're presented much larger -- front and back covers often on connected spreads, on nice paper, with no overlays.

Very last this week is that SF novel I promised you. It has the hard-to-type title (R)evolution, and it's by TV and movie writer/producer/publicist PJ Manney; it seems to be her first novel. You can get it from Amazon's 47North imprint in June. (R)evolution is near-future SF in the vein of Greg Bear's classic Blood Music: a bioengineer finds some of his nanotech has been stole -- and then it's used to kill tens of thousands of people. This does not go well for him, as you'd expect, and he both injects himself with his own nanotech (which predictably turns him into a super-genius, because that's what always happens when you inject yourself with your experimental products) and gets caught up with the sinister, world-controlling Phoenix Club. It does sound like a story from a TV writer, I have to admit, but it's probably better than I'm making it sound. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a cover for it yet, so it will have to live here image-less.

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