Monday, October 26, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/24

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The following are the books that arrived last week at my house -- mostly unexpectedly, mostly happily -- because they were sent by the hard-working publicists of book publishing. In return, I review some of those books, some of the time. And I also list them all here weekly, so they all get at least this little bit of attention when they're shiny and new and fresh to the market. Here's what I have to tell you about this week.

This is another week with a big surge of books from Yen Press, the mostly-manga arm of the mighty Hachette Publishing Group, all of which are in final form and so are already out in the market or rushing there on trucks and railroad cars as I type. As usual, I'm organizing them by volume number. (And then, at the end, there's one skiffy novel.)

School-Live!, Vol. 1 launches a new series by Norimitsu Kaihou (Nitropius) and Sadoru Chiba, about an absolutely normal afterschool club, called School Living, composed of four absolutely normal girls (with the usual manga personality quirks) in it, living at their school after the absolutely normal zombie apocalypse has killed everyone else in the world. As you do.

Another series launch is Tsuyoshi Watanabe's Dragons Rioting, Vol. 1, in which our young hero Rintaro is going to a new school. Good news: it's a former girls' school, and the student body is 99% female. Bad news: he has some condition (unspecified on the back cover) that, well, means "sexual arousal can be deadly for him." Ugly news: the school is also one of those unruly ones with gangs vying for domination -- and the three gang leaders are the "dragons" of the title. I assume Rintaro will have something those gangs want, and the leaders will try to seduce him -- because what else do you do in high school, right? -- to get it. Wacky hijinks will undoubtedly ensue.

Our first continuation this week is the side-story The Devil Is a Part-Timer! High School!, Vol. 2, a manga by Kurone Mishima from the original light novels by Satoshi Wagahara. The main Part-Timer! series is set in the Tokyo fast-food restaurant where the former Dark Lord of an alternate world works (as a high school boy) and schemes to dominate this world -- but this side series focuses on their life in high school, because, as far as I can see, high school is the strange attractor that all manga series sit in various decaying orbits around.

Yoshinki Tonogai's latest psychological horror/torture-light story comes to a close in Secret, Vol. 3. This is another story about secrets, hidden crimes, mob justice, and crippling guilt -- I'd call that quintessentially Japanese if it weren't so deeply American as well.

I don't think Trinity Seven, Vol. 3 is primarily a series about titillation, but this ass-tastic cover does make me wonder. It's written by Kenji Saito, and drawn by Akinari Nao, and takes place at a school for magicians -- and nothing I've seen so far would lead me to the conclusion that the students there are forbidden underwear. (Just in case anyone is wondering.)

Speaking of titillation, I also have Ani-Imo, Vol. 5, the latest in Haruko Kurumatani's series about step-siblings who switched bodies and their mostly sexual tension resulting from that. In this volume, they're back in their own bodies, but the tension is still there -- since the tension, as far as I can tell, is the whole point of the series.

Turning to the classier side of romance, Kaoru Mori has a new book out: A Bride's Story, Vol. 7. I haven't read this series, and I think it's more subtle than most of these volumes I see -- so I hope I don't misrepresent it. But I believe it's primarily a series of loosely linked stories about young women, married or just about to get married, along the Silk Road through central Asia during the 19th century, linked together by a foreign merchant traveling that road and meeting them each in turn. This time out, I believe we're in Persia, with young wife Anis.

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 8 comes from Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo, and continues to be a side-story to Tanigawa's light novels about Haruhi Suzumiya (and all of the other kinds of related stories, across many media). I believe this story is a romance between the hapless hero of the Haruhi stories and a secondary character from that series, taking place in a story-space not dominated by that wacky Haruhi girl.

I read the first three volumes of this series -- we're talking about Cocoa Fujiwara's Inu x Boku SS, Vol. 9, by the way, so do try to keep up -- but haven't gone further with it, so my description here may be out of date. But I think the plot of the first few books -- in which the magical-throwback scions of powerful Japanese families live in a big Tokyo apartment building and engage in minor schemes and teenagerly-strong love affairs -- has gotten mixed up with the plot of the immediate proceeding books, which had a time-jump after a Major Shattering Event. This volume talks about messages from the future, which either implies another time-jump (and MSE) is coming, or that the message is going back to the original set of characters. I'm not sure which, and now my head hurts.

Last from Yen for this week is a light novel with a title that's very hard to search for: DRRR!!, Vol. 2. It''s from Ryohgo Narita. I did review the first volume of the manga based on the light novel series back in 2012, but that was a very loose, sprawling story with a lot of different characters in it who weren't necessarily connected to each other at all. So it's difficult to say what this is about other than: a bunch of people doing very different things in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district.

And actually last for this week is the fantasy novel I promised you: The Geomancer, forth in the Vampire Empire series from Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith. (This one is also subtitled "A Gareth and Adele Novel," and the copyright page crows that it's the first such -- but I thought those are also the main characters of the first three novels. So I'm not clear what the distinction is.) Gareth and Adele have freed their steampunk world from the yoke of the vampire overlords -- well, freed England, at least, and that's all that matters in Steampunk (unless it's Seattle) -- but a new threat has arisen. In best Marvel Comics movie style, it's an evil version of Adele, someone with the exact same powers as her on the side of the vampires, and if Our Heroes can't rush around the world and do their plotty things in time, Everything Will Go Pear-Shaped. This is a trade paperback from Pyr, available on November 3rd.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Don't You Know There Ain't No Devil; That's Just God When He's Drunk

Two and a half years ago, I grumped about my commute, which had gotten extended by the combined force of Hurricane Sandy and the human stupidity that parked most of NJ Transit's rolling stock in exactly the low point their own standards said they weren't supposed to.

Little did I know I had nothing to complain about, then.

(TL; DR version of old post: commute was about 65 minutes, each way, before hurricane, 90 afterwards.)

But these days, this is my life:

Leave home at 6:20 to catch a 6:45 train at Montclair State University (further away, +$3 to park every day)
Walk from Penn Station to my office on the other end, arriving somewhere between 8:10 and 8:20.

Walk out of the office at 6:00 for a 6:41 train that gets me home right at 8:00 if I'm lucky.

That's a two-hour commute, roughly, each way, and a day that runs about fourteen hours. At its very worst, the day in Hoboken saw me leave my house at 6:30 AM and get home at 5:50 PM. I am now very jealous of my prior self.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/17

Life rolls on, and here we are back on Monday again. There are a lot of unpleasant things about Mondays, but I hope "Reviewing the Mail" isn't one of them. (And, if it is, you do know that you can just avoid reading it, don't you?)

As always, this post list books that arrived unexpected at my house over the prior week -- in the time-honored way of book-publishing publicity efforts -- and I try to present those books accurately and/or amusingly, depending on my mood. If I make anything below sound deeply unappealing to you, it's probably because I'm wrong about something. (This is the Internet; we can all be sure that we're all deeply wrong about more things than we can count.)

This week's haul is all words-on-paper, but three of them are light novels, and only one a full-calorie novel. So I'll lead off with the lighter works, as if this were a tasting menu, and end with the full-strength stuff.

So first up is Mamare Touno's Log Horizon, Vol. 3: Game's End, Part 1, which also has illustrations by Kazuhiro Hara. It's a bold step to have two volume numbers in a title, but I've seen this in light novels before: the Japanese are nothing if not bold in their numbering schemes. It's from Yen Press, available now in paperback. Log Horizon is another "trapped in an online game" series, which are proliferating in Japan for whatever cultural reasons you might care to posit, and features dungeon-crawling, angst about getting back to the real world, and the usual interpersonal stuff with a cast of mostly teens.

Accel World, Vol. 5: The Floating Starlight Bridge comes from Reki Kawahara, with illustrations by Hima, and it's also from Yen. This is about an online game that doesn't trap people inside -- which is generally a better business model, if you ask me -- and the nebbishy boy who is superstar in the game and not-so-much at the real world school he attends. (At least, that was the initial set-up; things might have shifted since then.) The back-cover copy is pretty dense, as you'd expect for the fifth book of a series: this is not a jumping-on point.

And then there's A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 5, which takes the bold step (in this company) of not having a subtitle. It's from Kazuma Kamachi and has illustrations by Kiyotaka Haimura, and also published here in the US by Yen. According to the back cover, this is about three people -- Accelerator, Mikoto Misaka, and Touma Kamijou -- on the last day of summer vacation. I have a vague memory that this is a "kids at magical school" story, and that is not disproven here.

Last up is the full-power novel: Gatefather from Orson Scott Card, published by Tor in hardcover on October 20th. It's the third in a portal fantasy series, after The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief, in which Our Hero is the first Portal Mage to survive to adulthood in two thousand years, with the usual vast power and responsibilities bestowed upon the hero of a fantasy series. In this book, that hero has opened a Gate back to Westil, the parallel world of magic whence his people came so long ago -- and "has fallen into the power of that great enemy of both Earth and Westil." Card is sometimes known to be less than subtle in his religious allegories, so I'm not sure how much weight to put on "great enemy," but that's probably just a question of how dark this particular Dark Lord is.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of October 10

This week I'm back to normal, Mama Bear-style: not too many books (like the dozen-plus I've had the last three weeks) and not too few (like the zero books I had for two weeks before that). This week, I have four books that came unexpectedly in the mail and one that I kickstarted but will throw in anyway, just because.

As usual, there are The Disclaimers. The books that arrived unexpectedly were, well, unexpected. I don't necessarily know all that much about them, and I haven't read them yet. But I can tell you the home viewer about them using my secret Internet powers of reading and surmising and typing.

And that's just what I'm about to do.

First up is the new Mistborn novel by Brandon Sanderson, because I know Sanderson's agent and editor and because its the only prose skiffy book this week. This one is Shadows of Self, and it continues in the fantasy steampunky vein of The Alloy of Law -- there was a previous trilogy set in this world, and that one was medievaloid, but for this sequence Sanderson has jumped to a different part of his timeline. Shadows continues the story of Waxillium Ladrian, frontier lawman turned citified nobleman, and is a Tor hardcover available right now.

I also have three manga volumes from Yen, all recently published. And, coincidentally, they're volumes one, two, and three in their respective series, so I have to present them that way, right?

Horimiya, Vol. 1 comes from Hero and Daisuke Haigwara. (Yes, "Hero." Perhaps it doesn't sound quite so pompous in Japanese.) It's another highschool love story, in which the popular girl girls for the quiet loner boy when she sees him outside of school as a tattooed, pierced bad boy. The lesson, I gather, is supposed to be "everyone has secret depths" rather than "highschoolers are incredibly shallow."

Yet another series showing an inexplicable fascination with Lewis Carroll on the part of manga-ka: Alice in Murderland, Vol. 2, from Demon From Afar's Kaori Yuki. In this one, the heir to a particular estate gets eternal life -- but only after murdering all of his or her siblings. (One does faintly wonder how this estate can ever get handed down, if the holder has eternal life, but leave that aside -- there's always assassination to consider.) Our heroine is Claire, who has the detriment of actually loving her
older sister -- but the benefit of having a murderous secondary personality.

And last from Yen is So, I Can't Play H, Vol. 3, a manga by Sho Okagiri from the original light novel by Pan Tachibana (and using character designs by Yoshiaki Katsurai). It's clearly some kind of harem manga -- relatively steamy, too, since my copy is sealed in plastic -- and the girls suddenly living with our hero seem to be, as is also typical, supernatural in one way or another.

I also wanted to mention, rather than throwing it into a "Incoming Books" post all by itself, that the new book of Justin Pierce's webcomic Wonderella has arrived: A Hero For All Seasons. It collects a whole bunch of comics, includes a new thirty-page story, and has no ISBN, so it's probably not going to be available for sale in any of the usual places. (And it's not even for sale on the Wonderella store, I note.) So I'm not trying to brag here, but I have this, and you will have a tough time finding it. Because if you snooze, you lose.

On that cheery, note, this week's installment of "Reviewing the Mail" ends.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of October 3: "Regular" Manga

And so we come to the conclusion of this epic trilogy of "Reviewing the Mail" posts. Today, I've got more manga, in the usual size (paperback, roughly mass-market trim). All are in final book form, so they're all either already published or in the middle of distribution right now -- you should be able to find them all very soon from your favorite purveyor of book-like objects. They come from two different companies, so I'll lead off with the three from Vertical.

First up is a book with more credits that usual: Ninja Slayer, Part 1: Machine of Vengeance is credited to Yuki Yogo (art) and Yoshitaki Tabata (script), but they're working from an original novel by Bradley Bond and Philip Ninj@ Morzez, and the book also credits Yu Honda and Leika Suigi with Manga Adaptation Supervision and Character Design to Warainaku and Yuki Yogo. All this to tell the hyperviolent story of a guy in a red outfit who kills ninjas in a corrupt city full of them. If you like seeing ninjas get killed -- and who doesn't? -- this is for you.

Slightly more straightforward is Tokyo ESP, volume 1, which is by Hajime Segawa and features the blond girl on the cover, who discovers that she has secret superpowers and has to team up with similar good-guy types to save Tokyo from the inevitable evil superpowered folks.

Last from Vertical for this installment is Ryu Mizunagi's Witchcraft Works, Vol. 7, which continues the series insistence on having unreadable covers. (A bold move, I think you'll agree.) This volume seems to be set in the aftermath of the big boss fight -- the boss's name is Weekend, which is an odd choice -- as our heroes head home to "uncover the secrets of their past." That could mean the series is wrapping up, or that it'll run another three dozen volumes -- your guess is as good as mine.

Everything else today is from our friends at Yen Press, presented (as usual) starting with series-starters and moving onto later books.

Strike the Blood, Vol. 1 is yet another series adapted from a light novel -- in fact, I saw the light novel itself last week, also from Yen -- and this time, the novelist is Gakuto Mikumo, the character designer (aka illustrator of the novel) is Manyako, and the artist of this actual manga and visual storyteller is Tate. (Is this Little Man Tate grown up and moved to Japan? Who can say?) It's about a seemingly normal boy who is actually, secretly the most powerful vampire in the world, and the cute girl in a miniskirt sent to kill him by the usual shadowy forces.

Take a deep breath before reading this next title: Final Fantasy Type-0 Side Story, Vol. 2: The Ice Reaper. Luckily, that title explains itself pretty clearly: Type-0 is the new Final Fantasy game, and this is a side story called The Ice Reaper. So if you have ice you don't want to be reaped, make sure to keep it safe. This is by Takatoshi Shiozawa and also credits Tetsuya Nomura with supervision. (Supervising books sounds easier than editing them: I'd like to get into that game.)

Continuing the ever-proliferating series about magical girls, here's Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Homura's Revenge!, Vol. 2. As always, the story is from the Magica Quartet (whoever they are when they shed their robes of office and become ordinary people again) and the art this time is by Masugitsune and Kawazukuu. This one seems to be angst-filled, with back cover copy all about tragic fates and revenge.

And then there's First Love Monster, Vol. 2, from Akira Hiyoshimaru. It seems to be the story of the love between a mousy high schoolgirl and a demanding fifth-grade boy. I am seriously hoping that "fifth-grade" is some kind of translation error -- that they mean "fifth form" or "fifth year" or something like that -- because otherwise this just looks creepy. (Clingy older boyfriends of teen girls are bad enough; clingy younger boyfriends might at least be novel, but that's because it's a bad idea.)

Back to the light novel mines for Kagerou Daze, Vol. 3, adapted and drawn by Mahiro Satou from the novel by Jim (Shizen No Teki-P) and the character designs by Sidu,Wannyapuu- [1]. This one's about a master gamer teen girl, the one other student in her class, and their lackadaisical teacher -- but, somehow, they have to put on a show for the school festival in this volume. (Yet another data point tending to agree with my theory that there's a Big Wheel of School Plots in a manga office somewhere in Japan, and everything is generated by spinning that wheel.)

Light novels rule! Kazuma Kamaxhi's series is adapted by Chuya Kogino (using Kiyotaka Haimura's character designs) into A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 3. I believe this is about a school for superpowered kids, but the back cover just focuses on Mikoto Misaka (perhaps the girl on the cover?) who is a "Level Five esper" whose "DNA has been harvested to create a series of clones." This is, clearly, not entirely a good thing.

If Satan were deposed from his extra-dimensional throne in a massive apocalyptic battle, and reincarnated on Earth along with the hero who defeated him, they both would be teenagers working in a Tokyo fast-food restaurant, right? (It's only natural.) This is the premise of The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Vol. 3 (, which was also adapted from a light novel series (writer: Satoshi Wagahara, character design: 029 (Oniku)) by a manga artist (Akio Hiiragi).

I have no idea what Akame ga KILL!, Vol. 4 is about, but it has a blue-haired girl wearing high boots and hot pants, so it's got to be good, right? The back cover copy goes on about General Esdeath (how very subtle!), an emperor, and something called Night Raid, which seems to be the good guys. It's written by Takahiro and drawn by Tetsuya Tashiro.

And last for this week is Accel World, Vol. 5, which has the three-part credits -- art by Hiroyuki Aigamo, original story by Reki Kawahara, and character design by HIMA -- that you should instantly recognize by this point. (Light Novel alert!) Accel World is about a schlubby fat kid who is actually a superstar of online gaming, and this volume sees him interact with the characters from author Kawahara's other major series, Sword Art Online (about teens trapped in an online game) -- even though the two take place twenty years apart.

[1] Yes, I did type that correctly. No, I have no idea why what I assume is a human being would present a name like that.