Short Reviews #6: Mega Manga Wednesday (5 titles)

NATSUME’S BOOK OF FRIENDS, vol. 6 by Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Media, 2011, 200 pages, 978-1-4215-3248-6, Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga

Volume six of Natsume’s Book of Friends features an extra long story that brings back Taki from volume five and continues the developing relationship between Natsume and Natori. Finally, it seems as though Natori understands and respects Natsume’s point of view regarding the yokai. More than that, Natsume himself is beginning to understand just how much he cares about them. This story ends in a series of unfortunate miscommunications. The result is sad, but I hold out hope that this particular yokai will return so that the situation can be properly resolved (I am, I will admit, a sucker for happy endings). This volume also marks the beginning of a new arc, if I’m not mistaken. Soon we will be introduced to Matoba who, until now, has only been mentioned by other characters. No doubt he will prove an interesting problem for Natsume.

The end of this volume contains two bonus stories and a special story unrelated to the series. The first features the young fox from volume four, who I still find so adorable it hurts. His dependency on Natsume as his only friend is heartbreaking. It’s yet another lesson on loneliness from this manga series, but it also suggests the potential for happiness and growth. The second special shows us how Hinoe met Reiko and, for the most part, it’s quite amusing. Both of these characters are feisty and manipulative, which makes their interaction quite entertaining.

The final special, entitled “The Corner of the Schoolhouse,” involves the one-sided romance of a student for her teacher. The tone of this story is melancholy (as is everything I’ve read of Midorikawa’s, it would seem), but I found it interesting. Noda’s resolve to stand by Mr. Suga, even though he can’t presently see her as anything but a student, is sweet in a way. I enjoyed it more than I usually do similar romantic short pieces, largely because the characters were somewhat reserved and the obstacles that stood between them were believable.

BLACK BUTLER, vol. 5 by Yana Toboso
Yen Press, 2011, 178 pages, 978-0-316-08429-1, Paperback, $11.99

Genre: Manga

This volume of Black Butler concludes the curry contest arc and begins the vast, vast diversion from the anime. From what I understand, there will be almost no similarity to the show from here on out as we begin the circus arc featuring characters we’ve never seen before.

Once again, this story demonstrates just how much Ciel enjoys testing and tormenting Sebastian. At one point, he even says to Lau that it would be much more fun to watch his butler fail rather than succeed. Lau, in reply, notes that Ciel is something of a bully. But he’s not the only one–Sebastian has no problem intimidating others into eating an army’s worth of curry against their better judgment in order to win the royal warrant for the Funtom Company. Additionally, we learn an interesting thing or two about Lau, and we meet the rather lively (and quite hilarious) Queen Victoria.

This volume is packed with humor, that’s for sure. From Prince Soma’s antics, to Ciel and Sebastian’s understated bickering, to Agni attempting to turn himself in for criminal acts, there’s plenty that you’ll find yourself laughing at. But there are notes of seriousness tucked into it as well, particularly for Prince Soma, who must realize that he’s not everyone’s center of the universe.

OTOMEN, vol. 10 by Aya Kanno
Shojo Beat, 2011, 208 pages, 978-1-4215-3830-3, Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga/Shoujo

The quest to turn the students of Ginyuri Academy High School into ideal men and women continues. In this volume we’re able to get a better look at what makes some of the main characters who they are, and how the power of their own confidence rubs off onto some of their scheming teachers.

The chemistry instructor, however, does succeed in changing the students’ personalities for a short period of time. I have to say, it was bizarre watching Ryo act like a girly-girly–she was positively vapid. I’m now twice as glad that her character isn’t remotely like that on a regular basis. Although, watching Juta try to draw a battle manga instead of shoujo was, I’ll admit, really quite funny.

Tonomine continues to be one of my favorite characters for reasons that can only be chalked up to “he’s my type.” As they face the history teacher’s plan to turn the men into proper samurai, I’m faced with the fact that he does, indeed, look fantastic in Edo era garb. His relationship with Asuka continues to be one of rivalry (at least on Tonomine’s end), but even he can’t refuse to acknowledge Asuka’s domestic skills when faced with homemade rice balls versus hunger.

This is another great volume of Otomen. It should be interesting to find out whether or not Asuka can mend his relationship with his resentful cousin or if, in the end, they will continue to remain at odds.

HIKARU NO GO, vol. 23 by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata
Shonen Jump, 2011, 200 pages, 978-1-4215-2828-1, Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga/Shounen

And finally, finally, after seven years of following this story in both anime and manga form, I’m able to read the last official volume of Hikaru no Go. I’ve been waiting a long time, and my verdict is . . .

. . . it’s not what I expected. Not at all.

The story begins and ends with Japan playing against Korea at the Hokuto Cup tournament. The tension for everyone is high and remains so until the games are over. Unexpected appearances are made by some players’ family members, but, strangely, I wasn’t nearly as emotionally involved with this last volume as I was with the one before.

I won’t spoil it for you. This book just came out, so I’m not going to tell you who wins and who loses. Suffice it to say that there are good things about it despite my own mild disappointment. The players prove themselves to one another, Japan proves that its Go legacy might not be fading after all, and good connections are made all around. I suppose I was just expecting more somehow. More of something that I can’t even name. But one thing is for certain–the series ends with the clear message that it’s not over for any of these characters. They’re going to go on and find whatever it is they’re looking for.

As a bonus, we’re given a few extras at the end of the story. First, a few special head shots of the characters given to Yumi Hotta from Takeshi Obata in a personal sketchbook. Hotta’s commentary about them is quite amusing. My favorite? Impish Sai. But there are also two short side stories–one of a game between young Hikaru and Akira from Sai’s point of view, and the other a sort of continuing saga story in which we’re introduced to two insei who come to idolize their Go seniors and resolve to become pros themselves one day. It’s yet another way in which the series suggests the continuation of Go through the involvement of new young players.

BLUE EXORCIST, vol. 1 by Kazue Kato
Viz Media, 2011, 200 pages, 978-1421540320, Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga

And now, for something newer, we have the first volume of Blue Exorcist. I first saw this manga when I was searching the bookstore for the latest copy of Natsume’s Book of Friends, and I thought the cover looked pretty fun, so I gave it a try.

Rin Okumura finds out rather unexpectedly that he’s a half demon. But not just any half demon–he’s the son of Satan. Once his demon side is released, he becomes a problem for the exorcists of the Knights of the True Cross. By all rights, he ought to be killed, but Rin does something unexpected–he asks to join their ranks to work against other demons. Thus he finds himself headed…to exorcist cram school.

So far so good with this series. I found it entertaining, the premise was unexpected, and some of the early emotional drama was interesting as well. Volume one seems like a good set up for what will come next. There are hints that many tough obstacles will find their way to Rin, and the question is whether he’ll be strong enough and mature enough to handle them.

The situation with Rin’s twin brother was a surprise, and their interaction makes me laugh. I’m really looking forward to watching their relationship develop from here on out. Then, of course, there’s the bizarre-looking and equally bizarre-acting Mephisto Pheles. He half looks like a demon himself, but there’s no indication so far that he’s anything but an eccentric human. I suppose time will tell, and volume two will be out in three weeks, so I won’t have long to wait to see what happens in the next few chapters.



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