Goblin Slayer Vol. 1 (Yen Press)

GoblinSLayer

CREDIT: Yen Press

Rating: 3/5 – Just Like the Title Implies… Goblins are Slayed!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

One of the great things about manga – as with most forms of entertainment – is also one of the worst things about it: When there’s blood in the water, everyone comes around to get a piece of whatever’s floating. A successful story about monsters will beget the sudden appearance of several other books about monsters. A ripping yarn about witches will bring a number of other witch-based stories to the bookshelf. And if a fantasy tale happens to hit big, you can count on having plenty of fantasy-based options to choose from. Cultural zeitgeist or quick cash-in? You can make your own mind up where that’s concerned.

Case in Point: Goblin Slayer, a dark dungeon romp with plenty of blood, ghoulish – and apparently horny – goblins, and an armored terror determined to slay them all. I mean, that last part’s right there in the title, okay? Don’t worry, though, because if you forget the titular character will remind you, repeatedly. When a young priestess finds her adventuring party wiped out by goblins who were much craftier and more ruthless than previously believed, she’s rescued by the aforementioned armored terror. The obsession Goblin Slayer has with the green-skinned monsters goes beyond mere fanaticism. There’s a drive spurring him onward (if indeed it’s a man inside the armor) that isn’t wholly revealed in the first volume.  And there lies the real question: Is there enough here to make me want to get past the first volume to want to give Goblin Slayer time to reveal the roots of that drive?

Kousuke Kurose’s inkwork is exceptional, particularly during the many action sequences that fill this book. Character designs, particularly for background characters, are given more thought that many books in a similar vein. These aren’t your standard dungeon crawler NPCs. Some side characters who maybe only get a line or two in have enough depth in their creation that you get the sense they have stories all their own to share. How much of that is Kurose’s influence or that of character designer Noboru Kannatuki, I’m not able to say, but it gives the book a bit more gravity.

It comes down to how long they can keep the “I hate Goblins” storyline going, then. Goblin Slayer, as mentioned, is obsessed with them, and finds many ways to destroy them while commenting on elements of their culture and society (to explain it to the priestess (and to us)). It’s entirely possible he or she *is* a goblin under that helmet. Nothing can be ruled out at this early stage of the story.

As hinted at earlier, these Goblins don’t always just kill their prey. It should not be lost on any manga fan worth their salt that a good number of “adventurers” are female as well as archetypes of various dungeon epics. The witchy-looking mage (complete with glasses) for example. Because our priestess, one of the main characters, is a blonde, waifish, cute girl, she’s spared this horror with only future volumes to determine if that’s a stay of execution or not. Perhaps she’s to become Goblin Slayer’s morality center, if nothing else. Whether this is an enticement or a turn-off for you to pick this book up (it does show in no uncertain terms that these Goblins aren’t nice creatures) isn’t for me to judge, but I found it a bit much for my own taste.

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 Girl Spec-Ops: Asuka Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

Asuka

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 4.5/5 – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Magical Girls?
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

This book had me from the moment I looked at the cover. No, not from the titular magical girl wearing the frilly adornment of her craft while brandishing the assault rifle. Okay, that might have had a little to do with it, but up in the left-hand corner, right under the listing for the writer and the artist, is a third entry: Military Advisor. That’s right, this book brought in a military advisor to assist with getting things as correct as possible given the fantastical nature of the book.

I love, love, love the concept behind this book. After a group of magical girls (think Sailor Moon) save the world from impending catastrophe, they find themselves having to integrate back into society, to return to their lives as “normal” girls. Some decide not to abandon their magical nature and find new lives working with the military, others find ways to use their abilities to help society as a whole, but Asuka, the central magical girl of this book, simply wants to go back to the life of a high school student. She soon finds that’s not so easy when you’ve spent a good portion of your youth at war. The impending new threat that may draw her back into the life isn’t helping matters, either.

The book isn’t trying to actively drum up support for veterans, or make light of the post-traumatic stress disorder many soldiers feel as they attempt to rejoin the real world. It’s easy to draw those kind of parallels, but at its heart this is still just a manga story, albeit one that still tries to take its subject matter somewhat seriously. While the magical girls, and the monsters they fight are certainly fantastical, the world itself is only slightly removed from our own. At the center of it is Asuka, a girl who can’t make friends easily thanks to the life she used to lead, and isn’t finding it all that easy to leave that life behind her.  The parallels, as I said, are there. It’ll be up to you to decide how close or far they come to reality.

You can’t do a magical girl story without having solid artwork. Seigo Tokiya manages to blend the lacy bows and flowers typical to the genre with detailed firearm renderings and horrifying explosions to give us a totally unique and – despite the overall tone – fun take on the whole thing. Each girl – we encounter three of the original five-girl squad in this first volume – has their own look and personality that shines through as much if not more in the way Tokiya draws them as the words they’re given to say. Its difficult to say whether Tokiya enjoys drawing the military equipment or the magical girls more. We’ll just have to settle for both of them being really well done.

In the interest of full disclosure, I never served in the military, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of what Naoya Tamura, the “military advisor” from the first paragraph, brings to the table. That they felt it necessary to credit such an individual on the cover says something about the lengths the creators wanted to go with this book. It seems to follow a familiar formula – getting “the band” back together – but I think the real fun of reading this series will be the journey it takes to get that reunion to happen.

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

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To Love Ru Vol 1-2 + Darkness (Seven Seas)

Rating: 3/5 – The Fanservice Favorite Comes to This Side of the Pond
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

To Love Ru has a reputation that precedes it with fans of the genre. I’ve said on here before that if you want to read a harem manga – where a group of young pretty girls fawn and compete over a hapless male protagonist – you should really just pick one and stick with it. That said, when I heard these books were getting translated and hitting this side of the Pacific, I wanted to see if the “legends” were true. They were. Basically there’s enough fanservice packed into a volume of To Love Ru (or its sequel To Love Ru: Darkness) to make any reader more than qualified for a job at Victoria’s Secret. You will come away with such a deep, all-encompassing knowledge of the panty that you could probably write a scholarly thesis about them.

To be sure, there are far more perverted manga (and anime) out there, but To Love Ru has a bit of a following and given that the artwork comes from Kentaro Yabuki, who did the excellent Black Cat series, it’s worth checking out. The story, as mentioned, is likely nothing you haven’t encountered already, albeit with a bit more nudity and underwear. Tenchi with boobs, if you want to think about it that way. Manga of this kind tends to need someone more than capable with the pen and brush, and if you read Black Cat (which you should), Yabuki brings that same level of skill. Yuuki Rito, the male lead in the book, manages to not be completely buried amid the sea of breasts and lingerie, but only just barely.

Where the misstep may occur is in Seven Seas’ decision to release this series and the sequel series at the same time. Fans will likely not care, but if you find yourself interested in the plot, Darkness will either spoil what’s yet to come in the other book or utterly lose you amid all the new characters. That said, Darkness seems to be having a bit more fun than its predecessor, all but breaking the fourth wall as lead character Momo openly admits she’s planning to create a harem for Rito. Indeed, she seems pretty well-versed on all the stereotypes and trappings of this kind of story, which gives the sequel a bit of an edge over the book that spawned it.

If you’ve followed manga/anime culture for any decent length of time, chances are you’ve heard about To Love Ru. You may have even seen the anime or wondered about those strange statues in the back of the Previews catalog. You now have an opportunity to check out the manga that started it all, and with Kentaro Yabuki at the helm on art chores, you could do a lot worse. With the original series coming out in a two-in-one edition and the sequel being released alongside it, you certainly won’t want for material to read. If this is the harem manga you choose to follow – again, you really only need one – it’s certainly not a bad choice as long as you know what to expect going in.

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

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Arakawa Under the Bridge Vol. 1 (Vertical)

Arakawa

CREDIT: Vertical

Rating: 5/5 – A Strong Justification for Why I Like Comics!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

“Why do you read comics?”

Any participant in our happy little hobby confronts this question at least once or twice in their lifetime. It may come from family members, strangers, or sometimes even ourselves as we examine our bank accounts. It’s a fair question, though. Why do we spend our days with these folded and stapled pamphlets? The sedentary lifestyle it demands isn’t good for our overall health. Our eyes will eventually give up on us from all the squinting at 6-point type. And there’s a deep-rooted psychosis involved in cataloguing back issues using archaic algorithms remembered only by the sorcerers, librarians, and comic collectors of the world. Indeed, why do we take up a hobby so obviously bad for us? Why do you read comics?

My answer is simple: Because of books like Arakawa Under the Bridge.

Kou Ichinomiya has it all: Born wealthy, whip-smart and good at everything he’s ever attempted, he’s also the heir to the company that bears his father’s name. The family has succeeded in life due to a strict…very strict…adherence to the motto “Never Owe Anyone”. Debts are paid immediately, and down to the nth detail. Kou put himself through college, for example, paying for it himself as he didn’t want to owe his parents anything. There’s more intense and twisted examples of this family creed, best left for you to find out by reading the book. Suffice it to say that when Kou’s life is saved by a homeless girl living under the bridge spanning the Arakawa river, he finds it necessary to repay the debt at any cost. He offers to buy her a home, but is refused. Desperate to not be in debt to her, he promises to give her anything (the colossal blunder of any protagonist), and is dumbfounded when she asks him to help her fall in love.

Oh, and she claims she’s from Venus… and she very well may be.

Arakawa Under the Bridge is one great big beautiful mess of a book. Hikaru Nakamura’s art style seems to go where it wants to go, as opposed to the usual cookie-cutter manga where the art is what it needs to be (and little more). That’s refreshing, because it at least seems to me like she had a lot of fun creating this book, and that comes through in the artwork. The writing, as well, has a playfulness to it that may frustrate readers accustomed to getting what they expect (nay, demand) from a book. Characters are introduced, then left alone, not fully fleshed out. Sort of like the real world where you don’t get to hear everyone’s origin story the moment you meet them. If you like everything spelled out for you from the get-go, this book may not be for you. If you like your characters to reveal themselves bit by bit as the story progresses, though, you’re going to love it. In short, Arakawa Under the Bridge doesn’t seem to do anything it’s supposed to do. Or to borrow from another popular manga, this book is not perfect, and because it not perfect, it is beautiful.

Why do I read comics? The answer today is as simple as it was for me when I bought my very first comic (Black Panther, don’t ask the issue number) many decades ago. To be transported to a world of fantastic characters, interesting stories, and artwork that captivates my imagination. Most importantly, to close that book feeling some kind of catharsis (if this book doesn’t make you smile, there may be no hope for you) and to anxiously anticipate the opportunity to open the next book or issue and get that same feeling again. Arakawa Under the Bridge delivers…oh my god does it deliver…on all those fronts. Vertical has always been a forerunner when it comes to delivering manga a bit outside the normal fare, and this book is truly a shining star of its current offerings. It is why I read comics.

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

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Infini-T Force v1 (Udon Entertainment)

InfiniT

CREDIT: Udon Entertainment

Rating: 4/5 – A Girl Summons Tatsunoko Super-stars to Save Earth
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Quick, think of four fictional heroes you’d bring together to save the world. Too broad a scope for you? Okay, think of four fictional heroes from one particular company – publisher, movie studio, etc. – who would be up to the task. Still not sure? Okay, let’s narrow it down to four heroes from a particular genre from that company. Still too m…ahh, skip it.

Infini-T Force is a celebration of the 55th anniversary of Tatsunoko Productions, and brings together four of their flagship characters – Ken from Gatchaman, Kishi Tekkaman, Casshan, and Hurricane Polimar – to basically do what heroes do. In this first volume that pretty much amounts to fighting with each other, stopping only long enough to deal with the actual enemy. Hey, it’s good to see that the same rules that apply to American comics – two heroes fighting when they meet for the first time – carries over into the manga realm as well, right?

High-school student Emi Kaido receives a magical pencil that will grant any wish she desires…provided she has time to sketch it out. There’s never any real mention of Emi’s artistic ability, so it’s my guess the pencil taps into her mind and magically assists her in the drawing department. She’s not completely sold on the idea until she becomes the victim of a convenience store holdup, and in a panic wishes for heroes to come and save the day. Enter the four Tatsunoko-branded heroes mentioned above – though not all at the same time – and with them a larger plotline regarding those who want to wield the pencil’s power for themselves.

Kaido exhibits every trope you’d expect to find in a manga heroine written in the past five years. There’s a scene where she has a piece of toast in her mouth, she has a funky looking ribbon in her hair, she lives alone in an apartment where there’s nary an adult to be found, and she’s a bit of an idiot savant when it comes to mechanical devices. Given the nature of Tatsunoko’s more shonen-based stories, she’s perhaps an odd choice for the protagonist of this story. My guess is the creative team felt the story needed a female to counter all the testosterone the four heroes provide…there is certainly enough of it to go around. Still, in spite of the many stereotypes she embodies, she’s a very fun and engaging character, providing a central focus for the heroes to revolve around as they appear in the book. You’ll end up rooting for her before you turn the last page.

Of the four heroes Kaido summons, I’d only experienced Gatchaman – you might know it as G-Force or Battle of the Planets – and Tekkaman. Casshan and Polimar were completely new to me, but it wasn’t difficult to figure out their motivations and abilities as writer Ukyou Kodachi does a great job weaving four complex plotlines together with a deft blend of action, drama, and humor. Each hero is given their moment of soliloquy to relate a brief origin, so in no time any reader, regardless of their knowledge of Tatsunoko’s stable, can be brought up to speed. I’m already intrigued enough by the character of Hurricane Polimar to seek his story out, so in that respect the book did its job.

If the book stumbles anywhere it’s in its lost potential. It goes to some effort to show Emi as an independent, strong-willed and talented young woman who doesn’t always need saving – stereotypes and all – but then promptly turns around and puts her in a few unnecessary fanservice scenes. I’m no prude, but it seemed completely out of place and out of character. While it’s great to see Gatchaman represented – it was my gateway drug into anime (never mind how far back that was!) – it would have been cool to see Jun the Swan instead of Ken show up as the representative of the Science Ninja team, just to have at least one female hero on the squad.  Minor quibbles, to be sure, but missed opportunities and missteps that might have kicked this book up a notch.

Infini-T Force is well worth picking up if you grew up watching any Tatsunoko programs. Even if you didn’t, it’s a handy primer to get your manga/anime history lesson off to a good start. For a book mainly designed as a promotional tool (let’s be honest here), it manages to deliver a fun protagonist, some great characters from the not-so-distant past, and a compelling storyline that left me ready to pick up the next volume.

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

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Generation Witch Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

GenWitch

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 4/5 – Short Stories from a World Where Witches are Integrated into Society.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

In the world of Generation Witch, the magic-wielding mavens are not only commonplace, but a huge part of society. Witchcraft is condoned, supported, and by and large understood even by those who cannot or do not practice it. Imagine a world where the Muggles know all about Hogwarts and really aren’t all that impressed by it. Despite this acceptance, witches still have problems. Some simple, some grandiose, but all playing a part in defining this world in which they live. And, fortunately for any witch lovers out there (like me), all collected here as short stories for our enjoyment.

A young witch must deal with an older sister who’s not just pretty and popular, but most likely in line to become the next High Witch of the realm. A witch with the power of precognition learns the day of her own death. A boy imbued with magical powers denies what he is for as long as he can…until he meets a girl with a pointed hat and high aspirations. A husband and wife must deal with an aspect of magic that puts a real strain on their marriage. To tell you any more would ruin the beauty of these tales, and they are beautiful stories. Heartwarming, bittersweet, sad, and hopeful, the stories cover a broad spectrum of emotion and theme.

Uta Isaki’s artwork it well-suited to this book. The style is cute when it needs to be, but also dark and grim when the story calls for it. As with any short story collection, some tales spoke to me more than others, but the artwork was beautiful throughout, and kept me reading each chapter, even the ones where I didn’t feel as heavy an investment.

Witches have really become popular of late, with more than a few manga titles cropping up featuring them in various portrayals, from the wicked to the winsome. Hopefully they’ll slowly remove the creeping menace of zombies who seem to plague (pun intended) every other comic on the shelf these days. As a longtime fan of witches since the first time Margaret Hamilton had me hiding under my pillows, I’m enjoying this renaissance, and I hope it’ll be around a long time. With titles like this, it’s in good hands.

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

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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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