Manga: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Volumes 1 & 2

I’ve heard vague recommendations for Puella Magi Madoka Magica, that really it’s good, that it’s something different, but at first I had a hard time believing it. Looking at the cover, these magical girls have the generic cute appearance, and the plot doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary. Madoka Kaname is a normal girl, nothing special about her, blah blah blah, until one day a mysterious girl named Homura shows up in her class, warning her to never wish to be different. Then a cat-like creature named Kyubey shows up, telling Madoka and her friend Sayaka that he can grant them one wish, anything they desire, in exchange for become magical girls and fighting witches.

For the first two thirds of volume 1 I felt like I was reading a cheap, if interesting, version of Cardcaptor Sakura or Sailor Moon. Then the story turns gruesome as Madoka and Sayaka witness a brutal death at the hands of a witch. The story takes even more twists as the price for the wish turns out to be steeper than Kyubey implied, and the wish itself is a monkey’s paw, sometimes bringing even more grief on the magical girl than she meant to even heal.

Throughout both volumes Madoka struggles to come up with her wish, but as time goes on Homura’s warning seems more and more like the wiser choice. Of course, you know that she’ll become a magical girl — Kyubey seems determined to get a wish from Madoka, and it would be disappointing if, in the end, she didn’t become the heroine of the story. At the end of volume 2 it’s still unclear what the deceptively cute critter’s ultimate goal is, but I’ve tossed out all my misgivings. The candy-cute covers hide a dark story, and I’m anxiously awaiting the last volume.

ISBN: 978-0-316-21387-5

ISBN: 978-0-316-21715-6

Review copies were provided by Yen Press.

New Fandom Post Review: Pokemon The Movie Manga

PokemonI’m a little late bringing this up, but my review for the Pokémon The Movie: White: Victini and Zekrom went up on the Fandom Post last week. This was adapted straight from one of the movies, which I think gives a clue as to its overall quality, but it was still an OK read. Check out my review to see exactly what I thought!

Manga: Black Butler Volumes 10 & 11

These two volumes continue and then finish up the murder mystery story that started in volume 9. I had a lot of high hopes for this storyline, but in the end I found myself a little disappointed. Arthur, a character introduced last volume meant to represent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, goes over all the clues to figure out the reason for the murders, only to have all the clues looked at again when a mysterious vicar, playing the part of a hyper-observant Sherlock Holmes, shows up to analyze everything again. This is stretched over the entire tenth volume, resulting in a drag in the story.

At the very end of volume 10 Arthur figures out what we all knew pretty much the entire time — that Sebastian is not really dead. (sorry if I spoiled anything, but did you really think that the supernatural title character would go out because someone whapped him on the head?) The real culprit turns out to be the Queen’s butler, who was exacting his own punishment for Ciel’s final actions at the end of the circus story arc. While this creates an interesting dynamic for later on — will this butler prove an enemy — it feels like a bit of a cheat to this storyline. Also disappointing is that, in the end, Arthur’s character serves as nothing more than a narrator, and as someone to whom Sebastian and Ciel can reveal the real underlying plot for the benefit of the reader.

The most interesting twist comes at the end of volume 11, when it’s revealed that one of the three deaths was not in the plan. The revelation of another killer ties this story arc more firmly with the preceding one, and the decision to keep him as part of the overall plot reminds us that Ciel is not actually a good person, and may even have more darkness in him than his devilish butler.

While I didn’t turn out to love this story arc as much as I hoped, it’s still far from being the most boring part of this manga. It’s a pity that this storyline started to slog, but as usual it picked up again when the supernatural aspect became a more natural part of the plot. These volumes have their far-too-goofy moments, such as how they reveal to the other servants that Sebastian isn’t actually dead (the biggest plot hole I’ve seen yet in this manga) and the expected but still disappointing way that the older butler Tanaka returns to his super-deformed, derpy state after spending so many chapters being clearheaded and formidable. The manga takes a disturbing (and welcomed!) turn at the end of volume 11, and I look forward to seeing what Toboso decides to do with it.

ISBN: 9780316189880 • Released July 24, 2012

ISBN: 9780316225335 • Released October 30, 2012

Review copies provided by Yen Press.

 

Manga: Yotsuba&! Volume 11, Witch & Wizard Volume 2

My manga reading hasn’t been picking up too much speed, but this week I was able to take a look at two more volumes fro Yen Press: one thing that I love, and one that I’m just indifferent to.

First was Yotsuba&!volume 11. When the new volume of Yotsuba&! shows up on my doorstep, I am filled with delight. There is no exciting action or important worldly or emotional problems being dealt with in this series, but I know when I see the cover with the little green-haired girl on it I’m going to read a story of pure fun. Without surprise, Yotsuba is up to the same childish goofiness in this volume. She watches a man make udon, tries pizza for the first time, and worries when a friend (her teddy bear Juralumin) has to undergo surgery after being chewed on by a dog. By far, my favorite episode is when Yotsuba’s nemesis, her father’s friend Yanda, comes to visit and proceeds to taunt Yotsuba as he brings out progressively cooler bubble toys that he says she’s too little to play with.  I don’t know how he’s managed it, but Azuma has taken a single concept — a hyperactive, dopey child having fun discovering simple things — and still manages to keep it strong and interesting through 11 volumes.

ISBN: 978031622597 • MSRP $11.99 • Released September 25, 2012

James Patterson and Svetlana Chmakova’s Witch & Wizard  invokes less delight. I took a look at volume 1 of this adaptation of a YA dystopian novel in my first installment of Comic Conversion on Manga Bookshelf, where I noted the quick, constant action that pulls you pretty easily through the story. But the story is so shallow, with the speed of the story also working against the comic. Important things happen one after the other, with little to no time to dwell on them. Betrayals take a couple of pages, allies are introduced then swept away, and months of capture fly by. What could have been an involved love story between Wisty and another teenager begins and ends so fast I actually forgot about it (as Wisty apparently did) until it was brought up again near the end of the book. The variety of magic is interesting, but it also feels like the creators just make something up whenever they need the characters to escape. And I still don’t understand the villain, “The One Who is the One”, with his motivations and desires changing with the wind. Again, one of the saving graces of this comic is Chmakova’s art, imbuing Whit, Wisty, and all the other characters with more depth and emotion than I think Patterson is capable of.

ISBN: 9780316119917 • MSRP $12.99 • Released June 26, 2012

Review copies were provided by Yen Press.

Manga: Bunny Drop Volume 6

Unfortunately thanks to the a bunch of different circumstances I wasn’t able to work my way through as many manga volumes as I wanted. But of course, nothing could stop me from setting on the newest volume of Yumi Unita’s Bunny Drop the second it showed up at my door.

Bunny Drop Volume 6 by Yumi UnitaAdmittedly most of my excitement for this series is leftover from the first four volumes. There we watched new “dad” Daikichi take on the responsibility for Rin, his recently deceased grandfather’s love child. Volume 5 took a sudden leap forward to Rin’s high school years, which added a bit more drama to the manga while unfortunately also cutting away part of what I felt made Bunny Drop so special: love, and how a non-traditional family can still work just fine.

There are some cute moments as Daikichi laments “If I’d figured stuff like that out (love), I’d be way married by now.” And we see how much Rin has grown to be like her caretaker as her and Daikichi chastise her childhood friend Kouki the same way. Despite those instances, Bunny Drop has turned into a completely different manga; namely, a high school drama that focuses on Rin’s relationships outside the family rather than within. As with the last volume this isn’t all bad. This story arc we’re given here is still interesting as Unita examines Rin and Kouki’s relationship and gives an apparent last look at Daikichi’s chances for a relationship with Kouki’s mother.

The outcome is both uncomfortable and intriguing as we see two sets of couples that obviously want to be together that are beset with uncontrollable circumstances that keep the relationships from ever truly working. If this had been in any other comic I probably would have been fascinated, but knowing what the manga used to be, I can’t help but feel disappointed, and a little ambivalent, that this is what it is. Bunny Drop has taken an unexpected turn with the last couple of volumes, and while it’s nice when a story surprises you, this path just isn’t as engrossing. Bunny Drop still has two volumes left to go, but the chances of it coming back to be one of my favorite fines seem pretty slim right now.

A review copy was provided by Yen Press. Bunny Drop volume 6 will be released August 21, 2012.