Short Reviews #4: Manga Old and New (4 titles)

OOKU, vol. 5 by Fumi Yoshinaga
Viz Media, 2010, 220 pages, 978-1-4215-3669-9, Paperback, $12.99

Genre: Manga/Alternate History/Historical Fiction

With the fifth volume of Ooku, we get closer to the time frame of volume one. By the end, Yoshimune is introduced as a young girl–a third daughter of Tokugawa Mitsusada with no immediate prospects. That is, until she impresses the Shogun. But this is not the focus of volume five. Instead it is a combination of power struggles among the men of the bedchamber and the emotional struggles of Tsunayoshi, especially after the death of her daughter.

It was the latter that I found most intriguing and most heartbreaking. Each of the Shoguns, so far, has struggled with her position, particularly when her only purpose has seemed to be the production of a healthy heir. A common expectation for women of the era, certainly, but in such a high political position that same expectation comes with even more pressure than before. It is easy to empathize with the frustration and grief that her position thrusts upon her, but it’s also difficult to imagine oneself in her place, dealing with those same issues while maintaining a calm public face.

Additionally, we discover the source of some other laws that prevent men from holding positions that had previously been their sole responsibility. Despite her emotional turmoil and her tendency to allow the councilors to run the government, Tsunayoshi is capable of being quite fierce in her decisions and declarations as Shogun. Thus, when the samurai of the Ako domain ravage the home of a province lord and kill its leader, Kira Yoshihisa, in revenge for a slight to their master, Tsunayoshi determines that men are thereafter to be banned as vassals to the Tokugawa.

This was another excellent volume, and I look forward to the sixth. If the cover art is any indication, it may feature Emonnosuke a bit more, which I would find quite enjoyable. By the time we get back to the “present” with Yoshimune, I’ll be very interested in her take on the country’s history since the beginning of the plague.

NATSUME’S BOOK OF FRIENDS, vol. 5 by Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Media, 2011, 200 pages, 978-1-4215-3247-3247-9, Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga

Of the five volumes I’ve read of this manga so far, this is possibly my least favorite. But wait! There may be an explanation for that.

The three main stories in this installment were all recreated in the anime version, which I was able to watch last year. Because I saw them in animated form before reading this manga, I feel as though the print version is a summary of what I’ve already seen. So while the stories were still enjoyable, they felt short to me. The animations draw a little more deeply on the emotions of the characters and on the events of the stories. Plus it lengthens them a bit, if that wasn’t already obvious.

Thus, others reading it shouldn’t dismiss this volume simply because I was a teensy bit bored. In fact, I’d consider these stories to be important to the series. We’re able to see a little more of Natsume’s family (his adoptive father, in this case) and how they feel toward him. Likewise, we’re able to see how important they’ve become to Natsume and how much he wants to protect them. We also discover that his grandmother, Reiko, had been in their house previously (I won’t say why).

This volume also introduces Taki, a new girl at school who has been cursed by a yokai. If the anime is any indication of things to come, Taki will be returning to the story later. In the meantime, she becomes someone Natsume can view as a friend because of her ability to see yokai when they walk through her magic circles.

Overall a good volume, particularly in terms of Natsume’s relationships with others (in addition to his adoptive father and Taki, we also see glimpses of his relationship with Madara and Tanuma). If like me, however, you’ve already seen the anime, then you might find it a little repetitious.

AQUARIAN AGE JUVENILE ORION, vol. 1 by Sakurako Gokurakuin
Broccoli Books, 2003, 208 pages, 1-932480-09-9, Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga

And now I begin reviewing a series of older manga volumes that have been hanging around on my shelves for years without attention. They’ll likely show up alongside the newer manga that I’m reading (as above), but occasionally I’ll have posts of nothing but older manga short reviews (or maybe even full reviews, depending on how many volumes I’ve accumulated in one series).

The premise of this story is, as I know others have also noticed, undeniably similar to that of CLAMP’s X/1999. But if a distant and brooding brunette with immense powers, a sweet young girl who pines over him, an assembly of unlikely fellows (also with magical powers), and a fight for dominance against a strong opposing force is all that it takes to make that similarity, well…then I’m certain there are more out there than just Juvenile Orion.

There are a lot of varied opinions about this manga, but it’s ultimately up to the reader to determine whether or not it’s for her (or him). Personally, I wasn’t all that captivated by what was happening in volume one, as I found the characters a bit vacuous. The artwork, in my opinion, looks unrefined, and the opening of the story moves too quickly without much background and without enough time for the reader to catch up to what’s going on before wings start sprouting from peoples’ backs.

There wasn’t much here to convince me to search out the other four volumes. The only exception was Tsukasa Amou. We only see this character for a short time, and that’s assuming you can differentiate him from Itsuki. There’s one portion of the story where Itsuki and Amou are seen back to back on the page–they’re in different locations, but they look so similar that I thought it was the same scenario. Needless to say, I had to read it more than once. For a while I thought Itsuki had a second personality…. But regardless, Amou’s character is the one with history I’d actually like to learn about. I can take a stab at the others and probably get it right just based on years of manga reading, but the boy with amnesia who has wings that sprout from his head? I’m curious, I admit. I know what my guess would be, but I’d like to know whether or not I’m right.

Overall? If I came across the other four volumes and could borrow them or get them for a relatively inexpensive price, I wouldn’t mind reading the rest of the series just because I’m a completionist. But I won’t be going out of my way to locate them, especially considering they’re all out of print at this point.

SISTER RED, vol. 1 by Shizuru Hayashiya
ComicsOne, 2004, 200 pages, 1-58899-405-8, Paperback, $9,95

Genre: Manga

A long time ago, a man made a deal with the devil in order to keep his daughter young and beautiful forever. The people of his village realized that the girl did not age and, believing her evil and unnatural, burned her. As a result, her ashes caused the people of the village to become immortal as well, creating a small race of people who could not die and could not produce offspring. Out of loneliness, they created their children from the bodies of the dead by providing their blood and, thus, resurrecting them. One man placed the heart of the burned girl into his creation, Alice.

Fast forward many, many years, and Alice has escaped the clutches of her brother Yuri, who wants the heart she possesses in order to make himself immortal. To safeguard against this, Alice places half of the heart into the body of a girl dying from a car accident. And we go from there….

I’d be very interested in tracking down the remaining volumes of this manga if possible. The characters were lively and distinctly different, and I found the concept of Medians (the Undead) intriguing. At the end, Mahito’s determination to continue her existence surprised me. Her assertion that she’ll do anything to keep living combined with her moral standpoint (finding it wrong to kill people) should prove to have interesting consequences.



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