Short Reviews #5: Manga Extravaganza (6 titles)

Lately I’ve been reading quite a bit of manga between taking care of the various review requests that I’ve accepted over the last two months. Rather than reviewing them, however, I’ve been using them as a form of mental rest. There are two reasons for this. First, if I were to fully review every manga series I’ve been reading, I’d hit burnout in no time, and then I wouldn’t get my ARCs finished. Second, I’ve really enjoyed all of the series I’ve read so far, and because of that I find it more difficult to review them without random bouts of fangirl flailing.

On the other hand, I feel compelled to share something of my thoughts. After all, if I liked them, shouldn’t I at least mention them? Of course I should.

Thus I give you this series of short reviews.

FRUITS BASKET by Natsuki Takaya
Tokyopop, 23-volume series

Genre: Manga/Shoujo

This is easily one of my favorite manga series. The opening premise of the story seems perfectly ridiculous–certain members of the Souma family are cursed by the spirits of the Chinese zodiac. When they’re hugged by members of the opposite gender, they turn into animals. Yet there’s more to this story than straight comedy. All of the characters have experienced some form of trauma, and throughout the series we learn more and more about the twisted lives that the zodiac members have been forced to lead. Witness to all of this is Tohru Honda, an impossibly optimistic yet likeable heroine who accepts all of the zodiac members without question and helps them come to accept themselves as well.

I love so much about this series–the characters, the plot, the comedy, and the emotional turmoil. I went through the majority of the manga thinking there were some characters I could never understand, such as Akito, but I was wrong. Takaya wraps up everything, and I couldn’t have been happier with the ending. I think I cried straight through the last three volumes, but it was well worth it.

The only thing I wanted to see but didn’t was Momiji reunited with his younger sister, so I suppose that will have to be left to my imagination. I was also shocked to find out just how twisted Shigure actually was, but he was still likeable in his own strange sort of way.

HELLSING by Kohta Hirano
Dark Horse, 10-volume series

Genre: Manga

I would like to think that Hellsing is a fairly well-known series. I know many readers (my age) who have heard of it despite being only somewhat familiar with manga and anime. Alucard and Integra Hellsing are two incredibly memorable characters if only for their mercilessness and (insane) charisma, and the series itself is quite compelling.

Seras Victoria, who I found tedious in early volumes, became a great character by the end. Likewise, Walter remains a character I find quite fun to read about (even more so now with the release of the Hellsing “prequel,” though we don’t have that one in English just yet). There’s something about a deadly butler that really gets me going, as evidenced by another series I’ll discuss in just a moment.

Hellsing is certainly the most violent series I’ve ever read. There were one or two volumes that seemed to contain nothing but the dead or dying amongst blood splatter and gunfire. But I can’t say I’m surprised. With a story full of vampires, zombies, and former Nazis, I can’t imagine it could be anything else.

OTOMEN, vol. 1-9 by Aya Kanno
Viz Media, ongoing series

Genre: Manga/Shoujo

I began reading this series at the behest of a friend, and I’m incredibly glad to have given it a shot. It’s quite funny and contains a great cast of characters. I admit to empathizing with the female lead, as she’s not very domestic and neither am I (sadly, however, I am not a martial arts expert to make up for it).

The concept of the “otomen” (men who like “feminine” pastimes such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, crafts, etc) is entertaining to me, at least, because I’m enamored of guys who are able to do those things (even though, frankly, I find the delineation between male and female pursuits insulting…but that’s the world we live in). The main character’s struggle to be accepted in society is probably more realistic than I’d like to believe despite it being couched in humor and pastels.

And now to reveal a little known fact about me. I’m a huge fan of the “glasses type” character in most manga. Thus it will come as no surprise to learn that my favorite character is Tonomine, a high school kendo captain and secret makeup enthusiast. That he’s extremely blunt and a bit bossy only makes me like him more. Lucky for me, he’s the (kendo) rival of the main character, so he shows up in the series fairly often.

OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB, vol. 1-15 by Bisco Hatori
Viz Media, ongoing series

Genre: Manga/Shoujo

This is yet another series that I tried at the suggestion of a friend. Even before that, however, I had intended to watch the anime at the very least. I go to too many conventions where there are Ouran cosplayers for me not to know what the series is about. For a while, however, I feared that I wouldn’t like it. I thought that it might be too shoujo for me, or that I might have grown out of my interest in the genre. But, as it turns out, I haven’t grown out of shoujo at all. Quite the opposite–it makes for blissfully easy, entertaining reading.

What I like most about this series is the humor. The characters get themselves into all sorts of silly situations. But more than that, the series isn’t afraid to make fun of the very tropes that it employs. In fact, I’d say that’s the entire point of this manga, aside from entertaining the reader. I also like that the characters have distinct personalities. Since there are about seven “main” characters, I suspect that the story would have failed had they been too similar. Luckily there’s no danger of mixing them up. Even the Hitatchiin twins eventually become recognizable as individuals.

And now, based on what I said about my penchant for the “glasses type,” can you guess who my favorite character is? That’s right. Kyoya Ohtori. He’s proof that the more shrewd and calculating a character is (without being overtly evil, though that isn’t necessarily a deal breaker), the more I’ll like him. Kyoya is probably the exemplar of this concept. A second place runner might be Oshitari from Prince of Tennis, but I’m not familiar enough with his role in the series to be sure.

BAKUMAN, vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Viz Media, ongoing series

Genre: Manga

This manga I read by sheer chance. I received an iPad the day before Viz offered the first volume for free, so I downloaded it simply because I could and because the cover art looked interesting. As it turns out, I flipped to the title page and saw the names Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. I knew they were familiar–Takeshi Obata in particular, since I know that artist to be responsible for Hikaru no Go. And that’s when I realized…it was the Death Note team!

Imagine my surprise, especially while reading chapter one and realizing that there wasn’t one shred of a supernatural storyline. Instead, the plot revolves around two ordinary young men who team up to become manga creators.

You might be skeptical about whether or not this sort of “real life” situation might be entertaining as a story, but I find it to be a lot of fun. There’s a surprising amount of suspense in this story. In fact, I found it continually difficult to stop at the end of a chapter. The question of whether or not the two young men will succeed is one that I want answered.

This also marks the first manga that I’ve willingly read electronically. Before now I’ve always rolled my eyes at the idea of reading manga on an iPad. It couldn’t possibly be a good experience, I thought. But it turns out that I had no problem with it whatsoever. The quality of the digital copy was great, and the iPad is big enough that there’s no problem seeing any part of the page. It may just be that I’ll make Bakuman my first-ever fully digital manga series purchase. Nice work, Viz!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m giving up hard-copy manga. No way. But in some cases (as with this one) I think I’ll be just as happy with the digital version as with the paper one. I know it’ll save space on my shelves, that’s for sure.

BLACK BUTLER, vol. 1-4 by Yana Toboso
Yen Press, ongoing series

Genre: Manga

So, remember that I mentioned deadly butlers and how I find them entrancing? Well here’s the perfect example. Sebastian Michaelis. He is awesome.

I’d been seeing Black Butler around for some time, and I suppose I finally gave in because I liked the character designs. It looked like the sort of thing I might enjoy, and I couldn’t have been more right. I love the characters–Sebastian and Ciel being my favorites, though I’m partial to William T. Spears (glasses alert!), Madam Red, and Lau–and I find the story intriguing as well. There’s enough humor to keep it from being too grim (and I find all the comedic moments very funny), but it’s a fairly dark series otherwise.

There are some ways in which I could make comparisons to Kaori Yuki’s Count Cain series, but that would be due, mostly, to the setting and the ages of the main characters. Beyond that it would be doing Black Butler a disservice to say they were alike when they aren’t really (though if you like the one, you may well like the other since they both have a gothic, Victorian flavor).

The best parts of this series are the odd relationship between Sebastian and Ciel (for a young boy, Ciel’s personality is really quite ruthless, but then so is Sebastian’s) and the gradual revelations about the death of Ciel’s parents. And, of course, watching Sebastian take care of all sorts of impossible tasks is fantastic. Having a demon for a butler has its perks, to be sure.

That butler, fabulous.



2 responses to “Short Reviews #5: Manga Extravaganza (6 titles)

  1. The only one I haven’t read out of these is Hellsing. Fruits Basket will always be a huge favourite of mine, it’s quite a rollercoaster. In regard to Black Butler, I love how the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian is wonderfully twisted. Their interactions are my favourite bits because they are both so dark in their own ways.I only started reading Bakuman recently, but I’ve enjoyed seeing the Death Note pair do something different and I like the insight it gives into how manga is produced. I love turning to Ouran High School Host Club when I need a smile and Otomen is so cute and sweet, I love them both a lot.

    Sorry for commenting on an old post! I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    • Not at all! Comment on any post you like–I love to hear others’ opinions, even on my older entries.

      I’d definitely take a look at Hellsing if you’re so inclined. Even though it’s a slightly darker series obviously meant for an older age group, I think the humor is great on top of the characters being quite good.

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