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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Unmagical Girl Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

unmagical

Rating: 2/5 – There’s Little Magic to this Magical Tale
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

A common complaint among fans of any popular story, character, or genre is that the creators aren’t creating the stories these “fans” want to read. A flurry of blogs, social media posts, and tweets decry how the creators need to do this, that, or the other to appease their readers and guarantee their continued success. The creators, in turn, rightfully tell these fans to piss off and either get in the ring with their own work or stop trying to tell them how to create what they’re creating. As someone who makes his own funnybooks, I’m 100% on the creator side of the discussion. But as someone who critiques books, I’m not immune to the sentiment behind the fan side of the argument.

Such was the case with Unmagical Girl, a book I was really interested in reading based on the basic plotline: A magical girl pulled out of her magical girl television show and forced to live in the “real world” (aka our world). That was enough to hook me. I figured there’d be a lot of humor involving a hapless, hopeless, but perky and overbearingly enthusiastic girl pitting her sunny outlook against meeting the rent, holding down a job, and basically realizing nothing is easily solved with a wave of the magic wand. While those concepts occasionally show up, they’re handled by the stereotypical helpless mundy who summoned the magical girl, and not the magical girl herself. Not necessarily false advertising, but a bit of a let-down, because this other girl is completely uninteresting (and not even in a “that’s the point” sort of uninteresting…she’s just a drip.)

Unmagical Girl has missed potential. An opportunity not to follow the same paths everyone else treads with stories of this nature, and while the book has its moments of charm – references to things being off-script or character’s art styles changing dramatically when the situation calls for it – it’s not enough to warrant a second look. And therein lies the true nature of that aforementioned fan vs. creator argument – If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Buy It. And in this book’s case, I won’t, nor could I recommend it to you. There’s very little magical about this “un”magical girl.

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

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Magical Director Mako-chan’s Magical Guidance Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

mamamavol1

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 3.5/5 – Bibbity Bobbity Boobs!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

I stole the headline from the back cover of the book. I couldn’t really come up with anything better, and I want to give credit where credit is due. This book was written by Okayado, the creator and artist of Monster Musume. For most of you, that’s all you needed to read. You know what to expect, and you’ve either already picked up this book or you’re ready to skip to the next review or article on the site. I get it. I won’t be offended either way.

For the rest of you, though, here’s what to expect: Boobs. Okayado even says it in the afterword to volume 1: “Readers, I love breasts!” he writes, going on to explain and illustrate each character’s cup size in more detail than most people might be comfortable reading. I picked this book up – despite knowing all that – for one simple reason: I love the hell out of Monster Musume. It’s lewd, perverse, and it adds all new definitions to the word “fanservice” but it’s also funny, well-written and drawn, and chock full of characters (both monstrous and otherwise) that have a depth to them you wouldn’t quite expect from an ecchi book.

Magical Director Mako-chan’s Magical Guidance (hereafter to be referred to as MaMaMa (even the author of the book does it!)) follows that same formula. To graduate from her magical academy, witch-in-training Mako must perform the “soul pact” with an innocent soul – the more innocent the better – which will bind that person to her. Unfortunately, Mako didn’t count on her target, a pure-souled saint of a man, having a twin brother who is his polar opposite. Junji  – the “evil twin” in question – almost serves as a stand-in for the stereotypical reader of this kind of book, a pervy youth who has next to no redeeming qualities about him (I said “stereotypical”. Of course I wasn’t talking about you, right? (Wink, wink!)). It isn’t hard to see where this is going, and which boy Mako ends up kissing.

As with Monster Musume, this book relies on humor, characterization, and yes…copious amounts of fanservice…to drive the story. That it delivers so well on all three counts makes it worth considering, even if that last element might not quite be to your taste. Okayado has this amazing ability to take something which sounds…and let’s be honest, is…lewd and perverse, and turn it into a book you actually find yourself caring about.

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

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Dragon’s Crown Vol. 1 (Udon)

DragonCrown

CREDIT: Udon

Rating: 4/5 – A Video Game Manga Gets It Right By Not Denying What It Is
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Manga…heck, anything…based off a video game property can be hit or miss. If you’re not faithful enough to the source material, you isolate the original fanbase. If you’re too faithful, one wonders why you even bothered in the first place. It’s such a lose-lose proposition that sometimes I wonder why anyone would even bother trying. Then Dragon’s Crown comes along and reminds me that every now and then, someone gets it right.

The game itself has a pretty devoted following. Fans of Atlus and Vanillaware already know what readers of this book are about to find out: it’s all about the fun.   EVERYthing in this book is pushed to ridiculous extremes, and we can start with the obvious – the women. While each character – the Fighter, the Wizard, the Amazon, the Sorceress, the Elf, and the Dwarf (no real names are ever used) – follow the various archetypical designs for their class (the elf has pointed ears, the dwarf has a huge beard, etc.), the female characters put the “extreme” in extreme. The Amazon, for example, balances beauty and grace with a muscular body that even a female bodybuilder would say pushes it beyond believability. And the Sorceress…oh god, the Sorceress…impossibly manages to stand upright despite the obvious pull gravity must have upon her. All this, of course, is nothing you won’t see in the video game, but artist/writer Yuztan captures it brilliantly and brings it to the printed page with a skill you really need to experience for yourself, pushing it all to the limit with high contrast inks and expert use of graytone. Yes, it’s extreme. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, it’s extremely ridiculous…but at the same time, I haven’t seen artwork this good in a long time. There’s a reason Udon was a good fit as a publisher for this series – they produce a number of very nice artbooks focusing on video game art.

Plotwise, the book reads as if you were playing the video game. Though there are six characters, only four of them go out exploring in each chapter, leaving the other two “back at the Dragon’s Haven Inn” for a comical endcap… usually bemoaning the fact they were left behind or breaking the fourth wall. The Sorceress, for example, whines that she was left out of the first expedition despite being “the obvious sex appeal character.” The humor blends well with the action, as these characters don’t quite grasp they’re in a video game yet know something is up. It’s that occasional wink to the reader that gives a book that might otherwise have been “just one more video game adaptation” an edge.

If you hadn’t figured it out, this book is obviously not for kids. I’m not even sure it’s appropriate for some adults I know, but if you like your breasts huge, your muscles sinewy and over-defined, and your humor going hand-in-hand with the action, this book is well worth a look. I will put some fair warning  that it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so if you get into it, be prepared to pick up volume two when it hits. That said, if you read the book all the way through to that ending, you’ll likely be so hooked you’ll have no problem picking up the next one. Dragons Crown was great for all the wrong reasons but it got me to buy the video game!

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

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Nisekoi: False Love Vol. 25 Review (Viz)

Nisekoi25

CREDIT: Viz

Rating: 4.5/5 – All’s Well That Ends Well as we Wrap a 25 Volume Run
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Manga can be a serious investment. Once you get hooked on a good series, it’s not uncommon to find yourself plopping down your $10-15 every few months for a new volume of a run well into its 20s, 50s, 80s, and beyond. To a fan, that’s money well spent, provided the story manages to remain engaging and keeps them interested enough to keep buying new volumes. I’m happy to jump in for the long haul on a good series, but I’m equally happy to see that final volume show up if a book shows signs of losing me before the run completes. Nisekoi: False Love clocks in at a “paltry” 25 volumes and I felt since I kept with it right to the end, it’s worth reviewing and taking a look back at the series as a whole.

High school student (and son and heir to a mafia empire) Raku Ichigo has a hate/hate relationship with Chitoge Kirisaki, also a high school student (and daughter and heir to a rival mafia empire). When the respective leaders of these two underworld clans attempt to broker peace by forcing the two to date, or at least put on the appearance of dating, it’s a nice comedic setup, as well as a potential romantic one.

It’s a harem-manga without the unnecessary ecchi elements thrown in. It’s a high school manga that actually throws elements of high school into the mix. It’s a comedy. It’s a romance. It’s honestly a little of everything. That may be a huge reason I kept returning to it every few months when a new volume hit the stands. Naoshi Komi’s art style combined with excellent writing created characters with a depth and uniqueness to them moving just a hair beyond the standard cookie-cutter roles all too common in genre manga like this. They’re fun to read, from central characters like Raku and Chitoge right down to side-characters like Shun and Haru. Good characters make for good stories, even when tried and true manga tropes are brought out – like the almost mandatory high school festival or the annual field trip. Because these characters became so interesting to read, so too did their exploits as they moved through the short window of life we get to watch them through.

Okay great. It’s a fun story with engaging characters, but did it end well? I can’t say much about the actual results without spoiling something in case you decide to read these books yourself. I will say this – no threads are left unexamined, and that’s a rare thing in any book or series, manga or otherwise. Every character gets their “Where are they now?” moment at the end, leaving just enough for readers to decide for themselves where they’ll go from there. And that’s really the fun of Niseoki…you get a sense that these characters’ lives will go on beyond that last page. It’s an ending, sure, but only for us, the reader. Those are the types of books that really stick with you…possibly because you spent 25 volumes reading them, of course, but also because you genuinely believe in the world and its populace.

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

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Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon – The Complete Missions Review (Seven Seas)

AMA35th

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 4/5 – Good Enough to Make Me Want More
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

It can be fun to see the evolution of a good property.  Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon began as a light novel series which was then adapted into a series of manga (the collected version of which I’m reviewing here) and following that an anime currently available for viewing if you have a Crunchyroll account (more on that in a minute). This is a pretty common path for a lot of manga to take, spawning out of either a novel or an anime, and a good test of a successful adaptation is whether or not it entices you to seek out the other versions of the story. On that front, the manga version of Anti-Magic Academy succeeds.

In a world where magic is abused constantly by witches, magicians, and underworld lowlifes, the Anti-Magic Academy’s job is to put out graduates – a.k.a. Inquisitors – to bring these criminals to justice by any means necessary. The story centers around the 35th Test Platoon – known around the academy as the “Small Fry” Platoon – who try very hard, and fail even harder, to overcome their shortcomings and work as a coherent unit. Their commander adheres to the archaic use of swords in combat. Their sniper has a problem with directions and often shoots into the wrong buildings. Their weaponsmith is the queen of overclocking devices, rendering them all but useless on the battlefield. When a beautiful, deadly, but recently demoted Inquisitor is added to their number, it seems like a design for disaster. The quartet must learn to work together before graduation – or death – claims them.

Right off the bat let me say I’m planning on buying any book with Youhei Yasumura’s artwork attached to it from this day forward. I’m not sure I’ve read a manga in some time where the artwork completely floored me, but this one did the job. I almost find it difficult to believe Yasumura is one person as no single entity could be this good at drawing…well…everything! Machinery, characters, action sequences, even the moments of fanservice (the aforementioned sharpshooter has a very short skirt) are rendered with an expert hand. I often say I follow stories, not artists or writers, but Yasumura is one of those people who now puts that statement to the test.

Sadly, once I got hooked, one volume was simply not enough. As the light novels haven’t undergone localization, it only made sense to jump over to my Crunchyroll account and check the anime out. Thus far, it’s followed the storyline contained in the book, with a bit…only a bit…less of the aforementioned fanservice from the manga. As the book is subtitled “The Complete Missions” and has no volume 1 to hint at a volume 2 forthcoming, it seems the anime may be the way to go. Nothing wrong with that, but after seeing Yasumura’s artwork, I was left hungry for more from this series. Perhaps that’s the point.

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

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