The Tokyo 5 – Vol. 1

TT5_Part1_Cover

Rating: 3.5/5 – Not All Manga is From Japan…
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

If I’ve learned one thing after more than a decade of reviewing manga, it’s that manga fans can be very snobbish. Don’t deny it. Don’t say “Hey, that’s not me!” I’m right there with you. If it didn’t come out of Japan, my knee-jerk is the same as yours. Who cares, right? Someone obviously read those books at Michaels on how to draw Japanese-style and now they’re making funnybooks with it. And then we roll our eyes and move on to the next thing.

(Al’s Note: If I’m not describing you at all, congratulations. Seriously, the world needs more readers like you.)

Thing is, when we do that…when we focus more on the source than the content, we deny ourselves some great reading. I recently helped crowdfund (and loved) a manga by a creator originally from the exotic land of Tulsa, Oklahoma called Fallen. Spinnerette, another popular book regularly appearing in my Kickstarter feed, has definite Japanese stylings to it, despite the fact that the artists who work on it don’t necessarily come from Japan. Heck, Adam Warren has taken this concept and made his style synonymous with it.  More and more, creators around the globe are letting this genre that influenced them shine through in their own work.

Now we have The Tokyo 5, from Australian writer Andrew Archer and Filipino artist NICE, helping to blur the lines between manga and manga-influenced even further. At first, I thought the duo might be treading familiar ground: a five-female group of super-powered teens brought up in a school with corrupt ulterior motives (nothing less than world domination). It falls too easily into the “been there, read that” camp. Well…been there, read that if you’ve read manga for any decent length of time. But Archer did a really nice job of taking the expected and pushing it just far enough to keep me engaged. We don’t know everything there is to know about these five women, and I have a feeling we’re not going to for some time. That’s refreshing, in a genre that tries to get readers’ buy-in early by throwing at least a few nuggets of an origin story up early. After the four chapters in Volume 1, I don’t know everything…I honestly don’t know much of anything…about these girls. But I want to know more, and that’s the real trick.

The artwork does exactly what I expect a manga to do. NICE has a good command of line and tone that gives these pages a dynamic look most manga readers will appreciate and enjoy.  The action sequences are particularly nice, but around chapter four things begin to get a bit disjointed, whether on purpose or through poor plotting or poor interpretation. I won’t lay the blame at the feel of NICE or Archer here, but it did provide a bit of a hiccup in an otherwise smoothly flowing read.

The Tokyo 5 has a bit of an uphill battle ahead of it. It’s got to win over manga snobs who don’t care about it if it didn’t come from Japan, and it’s got to be at least as good as what *is* coming out of Japan already. Fortunately, it seems to be doing well on both counts. Here’s to seeing where the story leads them…and us…in future chapters.  You can find it on Comixology and IndyPlanet (where you can also get a print copy).  Or check out the Tokyo5 web-site, which also has the links.

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

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Don’t Meddle With My Daughter Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

DontMeddle

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 3.5/5 –  Mature Humor; Not for Kids or the Overly Sensitive
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

My name is Al Sparrow and I love super-heroines. There, I’ve said it. I feel like there should be a twelve-step recovery program – call it Heroine Addicts if you must, but I’m sure someone’s already made that joke – for people like me, but I’ve stopped apologizing for it years ago. Let’s be honest, there’s something really cool about a supermodel-level beauty kicking ass on the bad guys in an outfit that defies several laws of physics. I grew up reading my older sisters’ copies of Supergirl, Batgirl, and other female heroes so I’ve been born into the reality that women can be (and are) powerhouses in their own right. As I moved into puberty, of course, I was reading many of their adventures for wholly different reasons (I blame the pencilwork of George Perez for most of my teenage daydreams). As an adult, I still enjoy reading stories about women kicking bad guys’ collective butts, even if their outfits tend to be a bit more realistic these days (I leave it to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing), and we’re getting heroines who don’t necessarily need to adhere to a particular body type.

So when I heard about Don’t Meddle With My Daughter, I was in before I had to see a single panel. It’s a manga about super-heroines, and that’s all I had to hear. Twenty years after she disappeared, the super-heroine Eighth Wonder has re-emerged on the scene, looking pretty much exactly how she looked when she vanished. That’s because the person in the costume is the daughter of the original Eighth Wonder. She has the same powers, same basic look, and same desire to do good. What she lacks is experience. Clara, the aforementioned daughter, is a well intentioned but naïve girl, so it’s up to Athena, the aforementioned mother, to work behind the scenes to keep her child safe from harm without revealing who she really is. Clara, for her part, seems to be a bit clueless to the obvious. Her friends and schoolmates have all pretty much figured out who her mother is, or was, but to Clara, her mom is just an annoying parent stifling her burgeoning superhero career.

Sounds like a cool story, right? And it is. Great artwork, like you’d expect from Dance in the Vampire Bund creator Nozomu Tamaki, and the story itself does a decent job balancing humor with drama. However, there’s also a “mature” label on the back of the book, and given the subject matter and the fact that this is a manga, I think you know what to expect: Bring on the Tentacles. And yes…there are tentacles.  Heck, there’s a villain named “Mr. Tentacle”, and while this book doesn’t go into full-on hentai mode, there’s enough nudity, fanservice, ecchi (softcore porn), and oppai (boob humor) to go around.

Some examples: The real “wonder” of the Eighth Wonder is how Clara keeps that outfit on – just take a gander at that cover! And it’s even worse for her mother, who has added about twenty pounds of matronly weight to her frame. There’s number of jokes involving her trying to fit into the outfit she wore in a more petite body some twenty years prior. One of Athena’s jobs, in addition to secretly protecting her daughter, is destroying the cameras of paparazzi trying to get unsavory pictures or videos of her for the obvious money it’d bring in. The clandestine hero-based organization the Eighth Wonder works for is named N.U.D.E. (Next Ultimate Defense Experts) while the clandestine villain-based organization is called BLOWJOB (no acronym), so if you had any thoughts about the book trying to be subtle, let’s just quash those right now. The villains, whether female or male, also seem bent on undressing or potentially defiling the heroines in any number of ways, and it’s the underlying threat of where that “defilement” might go – one villain threatens to “contaminate” both of them – that makes this title skirt dangerously close to an area many readers might be – justifiably – uncomfortable reading.

Look, you get the general idea. Is your child really enjoying the Supergirl show on the CW? Would they like to read about other super-heroines? Don’t pick this book up for them. Did you enjoy Bomb Queen? Do you want a darker, less satirical version of Empowered? Here’s your book.

Will this tone be off-putting for other super-heroine fans? Perhaps. Perhaps not. To its credit, it doesn’t make any apologies about what it’s trying to be. In the afterword, Tamaki talks about this book being an exploration of the super-heroine fetish with “the belief that there are other comrades out there who share my interests.” As an avowed fan of super-heroines, I’m probably in that camp, but I’m also relieved to find out this series is only three volumes in length, as I think that’s about as far as a story like this can be taken. There’s a definite audience for this book, but it threatens to go places even that audience many not be prepared to follow.

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

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Siuil, A Run: The Girl from the Other Side v1 (Seven Seas)

SiuilARun

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 4/5 – A Grownup Fairy Tale with a Dark Social Commentary
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

It’s no accident that one of the advertisements I saw for this series mentioned it would be perfect for fans of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, another series published by Seven Seas. The parallels are fairly self-evident: a creepy monstrous being living with and protecting a cute, younger girl, in a realm populated with magic and danger. While the girl in this book is far too young to be considered a marriage candidate, and there’s a bit more menace to the monsters (one touch will make a normal human take on their form via a disease called The Curse), there’s certainly a similar feeling to both books. It’s a dark fantasy – or as the book calls itself “a quiet (tranquil) fairytale” – dealing with those who live Inside and those who live Outside. Those capital letters are intentional, if you were wondering.

Shiva, a young girl from the land Inside (where all normal looking humans live) finds herself paired with a monster from the land Outside (the home of all people inflicted with The Curse). Awaiting her aunt’s return to collect her, she fearlessly learns how to live with this scary but polite beast she calls “Teacher”. While he does his best to protect her as any parent would a child, Teacher harbors a dark secret. He knows the truth about Shiva’s aunt and why it’s unlikely she will ever return to take her back home.

As with the Ancient Magus’ Bride, this book transports you to a world you almost wish were real, but at the same time can be glad it isn’t. Events both fantastical and horrific occur within its pages, and you feel and fear for the characters these events happen to. It isn’t difficult to fall in love with the waifish Precious Moments figure that is Shiva, as well as empathize with Teacher’s struggle to care for a child he dare not touch, for fear of making her a monster like him.

I particularly enjoy Nagabe’s artistic style, as I’m a fan of artists who do the majority of their work with simple black ink on white paper. While there’s the occasional splash of gray tone, the bulk of this book is filled with a near-hypnotic sketchy style that can leave you staring at some panels for several minutes, drawn into this binary Inside/Outside world paralleled in the Black/White contrast of the artwork. I like to imagine that’s done on purpose, but I probably read too many books on theme and symbolism in college for my own good.

When we hear the world “manga” particular images tend to come to mind. But “manga” is simply a Japanese word for “comics”. If this book had come in a Fantagraphics or Top Shelf wrapper, it would have had the same kind of impact and feel to it. Pick it up for your friend who likes to profess they don’t like manga because they think it’s nothing but giant robots and doe-eyed schoolgirls. If the book does its job as well as it should, they’ll take care of picking up the rest on their own.

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

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Aho-Girl: A Clueless Girl Vol. 1 (Kodansha)

AHoGil

CREDIT: Kodansha

Rating: 5/5 – A Deceptively Smart “Anti-Harem” Manga.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

I’ve talked about harem manga before in my reviews for ComicSpectrum. By all means, read one, but one is all you’re going to need, as the story and characters are almost always the same no matter who the creator may be. Of late, Japan seems out to challenge my broad brushstroke commentary, and Aho-Girl (translation: Idiot Girl) may be the best throwing down of the gauntlet to date. It’s almost an anti-harem manga, with a protagonist who literally has no interest in any of the women throwing themselves at his feet, and as these women introduce themselves to us in the story, it’s easy to see why.

Akkun is a studious male looking to get high marks in school to get into a good college. Idle time is studying time, and thus there is no time for playing around or goofing off. Unfortunately, he’s been friends since childhood with Yoshiko Hanabatake, the titular Aho Girl on the cover. She consistently gets zeroes on her exams, wishes every day could be Sunday so there’d be nothing but playtime all week, has a serious banana fetish (use your imagination), and is quite simply Akkun’s polar opposite. Convinced that one day Akkun will fall in love with her and marry her (so she can continue to do nothing but play), Yoshiko lives in a delusional world without consequences, and impossibly manages to pull it off. How she’s managed to survive this long and stay in school is a suspension of disbelief you’ll have to bring along should you decide to pick up this title. And you should pick up this title. It’s deceptively fun.

The series is told in the traditional yonkoma (4-panel) gag format, and as mentioned, creates a harem manga setting without relying on the actual trappings of the genre. Akkun isn’t some hapless dope pining over the girls fawning over him. Even the ultra-cute (and fairly normal) Sayaka is kept squarely in the friend zone as he focuses solely on his schoolwork. His side-job – keeping Yoshiko alive and trying to get her to study – keeps him busy, but it’s again more of a friend helping a friend than anything else. Not once did I get the idea that over time Akkun is going to “come to his senses” and fall for one of these girls. He’s playing the role of the only sane person in the room. Throw in an overly obsessive school monitor, a mother desperate to marry off her idiot daughter so she doesn’t have to deal with her in her old age, and a little sister living in fear of becoming the next Aho Girl, and you have a cast of characters that give this series a solid foundation to build on for future volumes.

The humor translates well to English, but it’s nice to have the index at the end of the book explaining some of the more culturally-specific gags. I found myself laughing out loud at some of them, as the humor jumps from the physical to the mental at a very brisk pace. It would be easy to dismiss this book as nothing more than lowbrow comedy, but it’s just at those moments when it’ll throw an obscure reference for the intellectual crowd to keep you off your toes. When was the last time a comedy manga mentioned the literary concept of sturm und drang or the tigers running around the tree from Little Black Sambo? Write this series off at your peril…there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

I’m holding fast to my idea that you really only need to keep one harem manga in your collection. That said, I’m likely to keep reading Aho-Girl because it flies in the face of a lot of what conventional harem manga provides. A cast of characters that manage to avoid falling into stereotype while at the same time playing stereotypical roles, humor that runs the gamut from slapstick to highbrow, and solid artwork that blends kinetic insanity with great character design…all this adds up to a book well worth checking out, even if you’ve already found that harem manga you want to follow. Go ahead…pick up a second one. I won’t tell.

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

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Clockwork Planet v1 (Kodansha)

ClockworkVol01

CREDIT: Kodansha

Rating: 4/5 – Don’t Call It Steampunk
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

My wife and I picked up a grandfather clock at a yard sale a few months ago. No real rhyme or reason to it, it just kind of spoke to us as something we wanted in our home. They’re a real curiosity in our modern electronic world. You don’t plug them in. You have to maintain them weekly or they’ll stop working. There are no apps or programs to control them. They’re all built around an intricate and actually quite beautiful system of gears and pulleys that function as a sort of universe within itself. I got the first volume of Clockwork Planet around the same time and the comparison between the two wasn’t lost on me.

While the story of this series is nothing new to manga veterans – prodigy/pariah student comes across amazing technological girl/robot who somehow attaches to him and adventures ensue – the setting itself caught my eye. About 1000 years prior to the book’s current timeline, Earth faced utter doom when a legendary master technician created a series of massive gears, springs, and cogs that essentially covered the planet. These constantly rotating machines keep the planet and its cities alive and intact, and should one ever stop, it could spell imminent disaster. Thus we have our title for the book, and a fairly unique world for it to inhabit.

Unique? Isn’t this just steampunk? That’s what I thought when I picked this book up. I’m not an expert by any means on the genre, but I know enough to know what it is and isn’t. Clockwork Planet definitely falls under the “isn’t” category. This isn’t a throwback Victorian society of steam-based technological wonders. People wear modern shades, not monacles. There are no massive factories or dirigibles or other trappings of the Steampunk realm to be found here, or at least none in this first volume.  In fact, modern tech seems to exist side-by-side with the old-school gear-based machinery, creating a blend of the old with the new that somehow manages to work.

Normally, the “boy and his robot” storyline isn’t enough to grab me for the long haul. As mentioned before…been there, read that. Repeatedly. Clockwork Planet has a few things going for it that buck the general trends of that kind of story. For one, not-so-hapless mecha otaku Naoto is a pretty fun protagonist, not your usual everyman who kind of exists in the background waiting to come out and save the day at the end of the series. It also helps that the story doesn’t just focus on him and his relationship with Ryuzu, the obligatory cute robot girl who assigns herself to him when he awakens her. She’s a bit of a fun character as well, but the story only partially focuses on their initial meeting before moving on to an equally interesting plotline; several families work as guards, overseers, and repairpersons for the gearworks, complete with rivalries, backstabbings, and enough court intrigue to give this story a depth beyond many of its ilk.

Readers who see the gear-oriented artwork and read only the pitch of this series can be forgiven if they picked it up hoping for a manga-meets-steampunk romp. It’s likely they may find themselves taken in by the archaic meets modern technological aspects, compelling storylines, and solid artwork and character designs (I think cosplayers will have a lot of fun re-creating Ryuzu’s costume). Ultimately, Clockwork Planet may not be anything at all what people expect, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In this case, it has enough going for it to bring me back for Volume two.

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

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Please Tell Me! Galko-Chan Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

GalkoChan

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 4.5/5 – Everything You NEVER Wanted to Know
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Are girls always dreaming of the day they become adults? Is it true that if you drink caffeine in the morning, it’ll have a huge effect on your outlook? Is it true that you can’t help moaning when you get a massage? Do High School Girls Really Carry Rubbers?

The answer to these and other – even more disturbing – questions can be found in the pages of Please Tell Me! Galko-chan, a manga that gets high points for originality, fearlessness, and its ability to get you to chuckle at things you probably shouldn’t be chuckling about. Join Galko and her two cohorts, Otako and Ojou, as they do their best to answer a gamut of questions from the perfectly innocent to the perversely crass. High school life gets a thorough examination in this humorous slice-of-bizarro-life book that’s like few others – strike that, like no other – on the shelves right now.

The questions get even more crude, lewd, and rude as the book progresses (or digresses if you want to look at it that way).  Be prepared to deal with questions about periods, hair on nipples, and other decidedly un-sexy topics that make this book much more than what it appears to be at first glance. Still, it’s the book’s reckless abandon in tackling these topics that gives it an edge over so many other titles out there right now. I found myself cracking up over topics that honestly should not be as funny as this book makes them. That said, anyone who picks it up after taking one look at Galko’s curvy oversexed figure on the cover is in for a bit of a rude awakening. Consider yourself warned.

It’s rare to find a manga printed in full-color from cover to cover, but the artistic style Kenya Suzuki uses almost demands it. It’d almost be cheating to switch from a few color pages into black and white, as most manga tankobon tend to do. The colored pencil/pen style blended with (I’m guessing) a few computer-enhancements gives the book a truly unique look. I haven’t seen a manga done in quite this fashion. Sure, the jokes and humor would work just as well in black and white, but they work better in full color, particularly in chapters with questions prone to make the characters blush, show anger, or panic (which to be honest is pretty much most of them). The beauty of the artwork belies the crudeness of the tribulations the characters experience, and that’s a huge part of what makes it such an entertaining read.

I knew a girl like Galko-chan growing up. Overly friendly, drop dead gorgeous, and as comfortable hanging out with the geeks as they were the more popular girls in their clique. I don’t think I’d ever go so far as to ask her some of the questions in this book, mind you, but Please Tell Me! Galko-chan did provide an interesting bit of nostalgia. You’ll definitely want to check it out and make sure you’re the right audience for this book before you actually put your money down for it, but if you are the right audience for this book, you’re in for a real treat. Proceed with caution, but by all means, proceed.

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

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Delicious in Dungeon Vol. 1 (Yen Press)

DeliciousinDungeon

Rating: 4/5 – How to Serve Monsters…Deliciously
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Depending on how psychotically sadistic the person running your role-playing game campaign chooses to behave, assaulting a dungeon can be a very costly endeavor. Not only are there weapons and armor to keep in good repair, there’s the little matter of food. Provisions must be bought, protected, and meted out carefully depending on how deeply your party chooses to pierce the curtain of evil the dungeon hides. Only the best equipped parties with the most well-stocked larders can hope to survive…a poor band of destitute, starving explorers haven’t got a prayer.

Unless, of course, they get creative…

After a nasty encounter with a red dragon that may or may not have cost his sister her life, stalwart fighter Laios and his party of adventurers find themselves back at the beginning of the dungeon, victims of errant (or perhaps well-timed) teleportation spell. While they’re grateful to be alive, they have little money and even less food. All appears hopeless until Laios reveals a cunning plan and a hidden passion…the party could eat through the dungeon, consuming the monsters they defeat along the way!

It’s such an outlandish idea that manages to still make so much sense I’m surprised nobody’s tried it in an actual game. Why buy food when there’s so much fresh meat, vegetation, and other consumables just waiting to be eaten? It helps that halfling thief Chilchuck seems to be on board with the idea, and barely a chapter in the party comes across a dwarf, Senshi, with actual experience in monster-based cooking techniques, and a desire to eat a Red Dragon.

Marcille, the resident female elf mage, however, is having none of it, and it’s her presence that makes this first volume of the series as much fun as it is. She’s essentially us, the voice of reason, the big pain in the posterior pointing out why this isn’t a good idea, the only person so un-gung-ho that half the time I kept expecting her to leave the group. Hunger wins out, though, and she soon finds herself a somewhat unwilling participant in the ongoing quest to rescue Laios’ sister…and grab a meal or two along the way.

I have a soft spot for elves in fantasy, and Marcille starts out as such an endearingly pathetic character I couldn’t help but fall for her. It’s clear creator Ryoko Kui likes her as well, as some of the best faces of shock, revulsion, and out and out fear belong to her. Thankfully, she doesn’t develop into a one-joke pony…she’s hiding a rather dark secret, and when it’s revealed it makes for two of the most laugh-out-loud panels I’ve read in a comic in a long time. I have a feeling where she’s concerned it’s only going to get worse…and I’m looking forward to that. The only real problem Delicious in Dungeon has ahead of it is how long can the gag remain fresh? The novelty of a party going through a dungeon killing monsters and eating them (with recipe descriptions that would make Julia Child jealous) certainly doesn’t seem like one that can last very long.

If you’re an old-school RPG player like me, you’ll kick yourself wondering why you didn’t cut up and grill that Basilisk after you dispatched it to the outer planes. You’ll wonder just what a green slime actually tastes like if you cook it and harden it enough to make a gummy candy out of it. Simply put, this book is a lot of fun, with great artwork (as mentioned, some of the comedic expressions are priceless), and a host of characters with varied dimension to them. The strength of the characters and the sudden unexpected moments of humor kept me wanting more  Whether it can keep the main joke of the series appealing or not remains to be seen, but for at least this first volume, Delicious in Dungeon really delivers.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
(al@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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