Harukana Receive v1 (Seven Seas)

HarukanaVol.1

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 4/5 – “Service, but Not Necessarily Fanservice”
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we dig into this review: Harukana Receive is about women’s beach volleyball, so readers can expect to see the predominantly female cast clad bikinis in most of the panels. The hot Okinawa summer sun doesn’t allow for petticoats or sweaters, after all, and if you’ve ever watched a match, beach volleyball doesn’t, either. Call it “necessary fanservice” if you want, and manga-ka Nyoijizai doesn’t shy away from it. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but if that’s all this series had going for it, there’d be little reason to recommend it.

And recommend it I do. The beauty of manga is that it can give just about anything – in this case beach volleyball – a dramatic gravitas that other storytelling genres simply can’t. The book goes through manga’s usual pains to deliver the informational goods, explaining how the game differs from indoor volleyball, the unexpected factors that can make each game unique, and how there’s no room for “aces” or hotshots, as each duo must function as a team to be truly effective.

It’s that last part that’s the real focus of the story. High school student Haruka moves to Okinawa to live with her aunt in their beachside home. It doesn’t take long for her to fall in love with the beach, and only a little longer to run into some beach volleyball players who are more than happy to show her the sport. Haruka’s cousin, Kanata, (Haru-Kana Receive…get it?) used to play, but some controversy caused her to give the sport up. The book becomes as much about the two cousins learning about each other and working together – building friendships along the way – as it is about the sport of volleyball. As they come up against different opponents, each with their own style of play and their own type of camaraderie, themes of family and friendship run alongside the spikes and serves.

The real trick, of course, will be to willfully not see Harukana Receive for everything it can’t help but appear to be. It’s easy – really easy – to dismiss this book off as cheesecake-y eye-candy; if you simply flip through the book in the store, you could be forgiven for doing so. Thing is, there’s a plot and character development to go along with all that fanservice, so anyone willing to look beyond all the skin and scantiness will find a surprisingly fun read.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Soul Liquid Chambers Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

SoulLiquid

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 4/5 – “Little Girls are Made of Gore and Rust and Feral Bloodlust”
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

This is the latest stateside release from Dance in the Vampire Bund creator Nozomu Tamaki. That’s all most of you need to read to know whether or not it’ll be worth picking up. The rest of you can be forgiven if the cover image comes as a bit off-putting, but it, too, should give you a rough idea of what to expect. If you want your Lolitas a bit more on the dangerous side, aren’t afraid of a little of the ol’ ultra-violence, and think the world can get a whole lot worse than it is right now, here’s your book.

Your guide through the 23rd-century wasteland known as “Dead Man’s Playground” is Emil, a literal “Guide” who can get you through the dangerous spots en route from one last bastion of civilization to the next. His current charge is Lotte Enderle, a beautiful, well-mannered young girl with a questionable dress sense, a foul-mouthed teddy bear compatriot, and a dark secret that must be seen to be believed (although admittedly it’s hinted at on the cover).

Tamaki, as with Vampire Bund, delivers amazing artwork on all fronts. The zombies and mutants of the Dead Man’s Playground are scary enough you’ll be thankful they aren’t real. Lottie is waifishly cute and pushes the envelope as far as fanservice goes. Emil is a compelling character who has a backstory I’m hoping we’ll get to in future volumes (in this one he has more of a react-to-everything role). The post-apocalyptic world of Soul Liquid Chambers is horrifyingly fantastical yet believable as well. Much like other stories of this ilk, the real monsters are the ones who didn’t become grotesque mutants or mindless zombies…they’re the ones who survived it. If you like your future dystopias dark and grim and twisted, you’re in the right place.

Cliché to say it, and it’s not the first (nor will it be the last) time I’ve used the phrase, but this book Won’t. Be. For. Everyone. That said, if you’re a fan of this kind of story, you’re going to enjoy the heck out of it. Even the tiny details (did you notice the Watchmen and Captain America buttons on the cover?) are fun when they show up.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Laid Back Camp Vol. 1 (Yen Press)

LaidBack

CREDIT: Yen Press

Rating: 5/5 – Grab Your Tent and Get Some Kindling
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

I’ve written reviews before that advise skipping the manga and heading straight to the anime. I’ve also written reviews urging you to experience the manga and not bother with its animated counterpart. I’m not sure I’ve ever written one with an eye toward doing both. Until now, that is.

Laid Back Camp chronicles the exploits of the Outdoor Exploration Club: Four girls (well, three and one lone wolf who occasionally pairs up with them) who share an enthusiasm for camping. Rin enjoys hopping on her bike (later Minibike) and exploring the various campsites around Mt. Fuji by herself. Emphasis on the “by herself” part. Through a chance encounter with overly-enthusiastic (but not quite as studied) Nadeshiko, she slowly finds herself drawn into developing friendships.

I cannot recommend the anime of Laid Back Camp highly enough. It’s herbal tea for the anime lover. Watch it before you go to bed and you’ll sleep soundly through the night. The blend of beautiful artwork, characters you’ll immediately love, and a soundtrack you’ll seek out from the first few chords make it an absolute must, even if you’re not a camping enthusiast (Fair warning, you might become one before you’re done with it). And at only 12 episodes to the first season it’s a minimal investment.

Still, this is a comic book website, so why blather on about the anime? Why should I pick up the manga after watching it? As mentioned, the anime currently clocks in at a scant 12 episodes, and if it clicks with you, you’re going to be hungry for more. Even if the book is most a re-tread of the anime, manga-ka Afro throws in enough extras to help embellish what you just watched to make the manga more of a “director’s cut” than anything else.

Laid Back Camp has managed to engender a devoted following. How devoted? Fans are now seeking out the sites shown in the anime and book in real life.  The Japanese tourism industry recently noted an increase in the number of “winter campers” (the main focus of the book) and that’s being traced back to enthusiasm for the series. It’s a fandom well-deserved. One of the beautiful things about manga is that it can – almost fearlessly – be about any topic. I’m not a huge camper, but this series gave me pause to wonder what I might be missing out on.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Monster Tamer Girls Vol. 1 (Yen Press)

MonsterTamer01

CREDIT: Yen Press

Rating: 3.5/5 – The Kaiju Are Coming, But We Have Schoolgirls to Keep Them in Line
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

The Tatara Girls’ Academy houses a very special committee within its hallowed halls. Not a music or newspaper club, or even a group dedicated to sports. Clubs of that nature would, and do, have a home in countless manga, but the title of this book should clue you in that it’s offering something a bit different – keeping all the roaming monsters in line.

At some point in the past, giant monsters began showing up and wreaking havoc (as giant monsters will do), but it was soon discovered that certain girls have a gift for, if not controlling, at the very least domesticating them to be a bit less destructive. These “Tamers” work to allow modern society to co-exist with these “savage beasts” by singing to them. Ion Hidaka is a first-year Tamer who has much to learn from her peers and a ton of uncertainty about how to go about learning it. Here the book falls into the formula of those other “club” books I mentioned above…albeit with kaiju running around in the background.

Monster Tamer Girls allows the words “cute” and “monster” to exist simultaneously when describing a book. Mujirushi Shimazaki does a great job creating cute (and yes, cute, not oversexed) schoolgirls alongside giant monsters that still manage to be adorable in their own way. It’s a fun book that falls in line with a lot of other series I enjoy like Non Non Biyori or Laid Back Camp. While there’s a definite monstrous presence – it’s not lost on these girls that some parts of the city have been destroyed by their charges – it has a very relaxed approach to how to deal with it. Their work is serious, but the tone of the book isn’t nearly as grim as you might believe.

There’s enough here to keep me curious enough to check out volume two. Ion has an interesting stretch of growth in front of her, and the side characters all have compelling enough stories behind them (a former tamer who is losing her ability to sing, for example). The book manages to blend the cuteness of the characters (both monstrous and human) with their somewhat serious task of keeping the city safe. Somehow this book manages to blend something familiar to the manga crowd with something fairly unique, and it’s well worth checking out.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Golosseum Vol. 1 (Kodansha)

GoloVol.1

CREDIT: Kodansha

Rating: 5/5 – Why I Read Manga, Part 423
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Hey politically-minded wrestling comic book satire historical science-fiction fighting buffs! Your book has finally arrived!

It is the year of the “Peacemaker” – a device worn on the wrist which renders the wearer impervious to any weapon, pushes them beyond their physical prime, and occasionally grants heightened powers. As a result, wars are now fought hand-to-hand, martial-arts style, as guns and bombs are now essentially useless against anyone wearing such a device. The victors are often those with access to this technology, which in this first volume is Russian president Vladislav Putinov (who looks like a more muscular version of a certain real life Russian president without so many letters in his last name). What will American leaders like President Billary Quintone (yes, she won the election in this book!) and her allies do against such amazing technology?

Take heart, because Rasputin (yes, THAT Rasputin) has a plan, and somehow the record albums sent up on the Voyager spacecraft are involved. Throw in a beautiful woman with amazing fighting skills (there has to be one, right?) and gifted with the ability to look into the past, the American Axe Bowgun (who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain “Hulk” wrestler you’ll probably figure out before he utters his first “Brother!”), and a host of spitting image versions of prominent historical and political figures and…look, just pick this one up, okay?

Golosseum is a shining example of why I read manga. This is the type of story I just don’t get in Western books, and probably for good reason. The pitch I just gave you would likely get me bounced out of most of the big comics publishers. Even Image. It sounds like the rantings of an 8-year old, and yet creator Yasushi Baba manages to create a fun, action-packed, and downright believable “World of Next Week” for us. If not for the uber-violence it might have found a home in Mad Magazine or some underground publication. As a manga, it’s right at home, delivering perhaps every possible facet of what the medium is known for all in one package, with enough actual history (and “fake news”) thrown in to keep everyone off their guard.

This book has something for just about any reader out there, without actually trying to be all things to all readers. That’s no easy feat to pull off, but as I said in the intro, if you’re a wrestling fan? This is worth your time. If you like political satire? This is worth your time. If you like beautifully rendered women and men, both in various stages of undress? This is worth your time. If you like historical figures being re-imagined? This is worth your time. If you like science fiction? This is worth your time.  Etc.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Himouto! Umaru-Chan Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

Himouto

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 2/5 – Not Everything Works in Comic Book Form
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

My issue with the manga version of the popular Himouto! Umaru-Chan series should be familiar for anyone else who picks it up – many of us saw the anime first. This is nothing new, of course. Often the anime is the gateway drug to the manga (or vice versa) and our experience with one form may taint our experience of the other. Whether we paperback faithful care to admit it to ourselves or not, the animated or live action version of something might actually be *the* way to experience it, even if the manga version came out first. Blasphemy, I know, but hear me out. That’s certainly the case with this series.

Taihei’s sister Umaru is the too-perfect example of the stereotypical anime good girl: beautiful, smart, poised, athletic, gracious, all the boys want to ask her out, and all the girls want to be her friend (or keep their envy at bay). Her public persona is just that…a mask she wears when others are watching. When she comes home, she immediately turns into a horrifying otaku obsessed with games, anime, junk food, and sponging off her older brother as much as possible. She’s a screeching, selfish, annoying pest exemplifying everything outsiders believe, some of it admittedly (uncomfortably) true, about the darker side of geek culture. Her brother puts up with it – she *is* his sister, after all – but even he gets pushed to his limits by her antics from time to time.

The anime is quite funny, and a lot of that is due to the kinetic nature of Umaru-Chan herself lending itself more to anime than to the printed page.  Her hamster-cloaked chibi alter-ego is a trip to watch, but she doesn’t come off nearly as manic in the manga. The voice acting also showcases the differences between “public” Umaru and “private” Umaru. Emotions are expressed to greater effect on a soundtrack than with letters on paper. This could be said of just about any anime/manga comparison, but in Himouto! Umaru-Chan’s case – because of the story it’s trying to tell – the difference holds a bit more weight. In the anime, Umaru comes off as an annoyance, but a lovable one. You’re laughing at her antics, even as you pity poor Taihei. In the manga, her shenanigans are just annoying, period, and you wonder why Taihei hasn’t just left her to fend for herself.

Himouto! Umaru-Chan is definitely a story worth experiencing if you like to laugh. Umaru is a particularly fun character if you have an otaku (no matter what side of the pond you live on) in your life. Also, it’s not my fault if you see a bit of yourself in her. That said, I think you’ll be more entertained by the animated take on the story than the printed version – much as it pains me to say so as a comic book enthusiast.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Silver Spoon Vol. 1 (Yen Press)

silverspoon

CREDIT: Yen Press

Rating: 3/5 – A Good Story Held in Check by a Boring Protagonist
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

A good story usually needs a solid cast of characters to become a great one. Silver Spoon is a good story with a very good cast of characters save for one…the protagonist. Sadly, that one character might be enough to drag a potentially great book down to becoming an utterly forgettable one. We’ve traveled that road before – or at least I have – finishing a title only to wonder what it is you just spent the past hour or so reading. I felt slightly cheated after Silver Spoon Vol. 1. It was well-written, with good artwork, and it was about farming, which this Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons junkie will tell you is his favorite video game genre. Should be a shoe-in for me to love, right? But it wasn’t. And it isn’t. And now I need a scapegoat for that.

I’m going with Yuugo, the main character. He’s a high school student, brilliant, friendly, and utterly unchallenged by life. He enrolls at Ooezo Agricultural High School because for some reason he wants to be away from everyone and he figures it’ll be a string of easy A’s for him. This desire for solitude is never addressed, other than he wants it. It helps for a story to develop at least some amount of sympathy for the protagonist at some point, and usually early on, but this first volume never did. He’s very much out of his element amid all the more practiced agricultural kids who came from family farms to train at the school, and that could make for many fun scenarios…if he were at all likeable. But he wasn’t. And he isn’t. And now I need a scapegoat for that.

Hiromu Arakawa does a great job illustrating (in both words and pictures) the difficulties of farming through the lessons Yuugo learns at the school, and by making friends with his more studied peers who have grown up around this kind of life. The inclusion of Yuugo as a character makes sense. There’s wonder in everything he experiences, but without knowing a lot about how his past influences that sense of wonder, it’s difficult to identify with him very much. And we can’t. So we don’t. And if I have to keep looking for scapegoats, I might as well throw in the towel.

An anime exists of this series, and I may find myself checking it out as opposed to the manga version. I tend to gravitate toward stories that are relaxing, idyllic, and slice-of-life where anime is concerned, and that looks like the type of story Silver Spoon is trying to be. Maybe Yuugo will be portrayed differently than he is in the manga, or at the very least we’ll get to what makes him tick a bit more quickly. There’s an audience out there for this type of story, but I’m not sure the manga version is the best way for that audience to experience it.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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