published by Yen Press; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Yen Press has put out a monthly anthology magazine, Yen+. The first two issues serialize eleven storylines. The magazine has a nice international flavor with two OEL manga, four Korean manhwa, and five manga.
I like the book design. The English and Korean stories are read left to right, just like the two languages are. You flip the book over and read the manga stories right to left just like the Japanese language. It’s a clever gimmick. The only awkwardness from this arrangement is the page numbering. Each half of the book has its own separate numbers. So if you want to talk about page 43, you need to specify if that is the English/Korean page number or the Japanese. But that’s a minor inconvenience.
Since these are only the first chapters of each series, I’ll just give some general impressions for each storyline.
Maximum Ride has good art and the characters here seem likable enough. This opening chapters are pretty cliched, so I hope once the story hits its stride the plot will be more innovative.
Nightschool is simply gorgeous to look at. I love just flipping through the pages and admiring the character designs and tone work. It’s a solid beginning to what promises to be another good read from Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon). I’m also a big fan of her bonus page in each issue. There’s a short interview with Chmakova in the second issue.
Pig Bride has ties to Korean folktales. The artwork is nice and reminds a little of CLAMP. For now, it has me interested in learning more.
Sarasah is a little creepy. I don’t like the way that mouths are drawn. There is a tendency to make the lips hyper-realistic which makes everyone look like they’re suffering some allergic reaction that swells the lips. The characters aren’t remotely likable either. The lead female is a stalker, and the lead male comes across as heartless. The second chapter was very frustrating. There really needed to be a cultural notes section to explain the mythology in the story. Also, the lead female is never taken to task for being a stalker.
One Fine Day is a cute, light series that serves as a needed break. It’s a little odd but grows on you quickly. The characters are adorable. It has a lot of charm.
Jack Frost isn’t hard to explain: it’s illustrated excess. Fan service? Here are some panties and boobs for you. You want blood? No problem, the tanker truck is parked out back and we will hose the place down anytime you want. Fetish? We got Goth wear and boot licking so intense he’s going to burn a hole in the leather. All this pandering and artwork derivative of Hellsing for no extra charge. Ironically, Jack Frost crosses that magic line of ‘so bad it’s good’. I’m actually waiting for the next installment so I can see what new awfulness will be added.
The second issue has a bonus preview of the manhwa Moon Boy. The artwork is well done. The story didn’t really grab me. The big twist at the end didn’t even hook me in.
Soul Eater is hyperkinetic story. The artwork is good with plenty of energy and fun. I was a little unsure of this manga at the beginning, but by the end of the chapter, I was won over.
Nabari No Ou is a “ninja in modern times” story. The art is decent. The story didn’t do much for me. It’s perfect for an anthology book, just entertaining enough that I’ll read each new installment, but not gripping enough to make me follow it.
With Sumomomo, Momomo, the name alone should have been a warning to me. The art is passable, except the lead female, who seems to be under-drawn compared to everyone else. She comes across as flat and cartoony. She’s also very annoying. The male lead is not better personality-wise. It’s meant to be a romantic action comedy, but the humor is wanting at best.
Bamboo Blade is about kendo. It has good art and the fight scenes are dynamic. The setup is cliched. I’m interested enough in kendo to keep reading for now.
Higurashi, When They Cry has an intriguing storyline. It’s the standard “small town with a dark secret” tale, but it’s well done. The characters are likable, and the author does a good job of conveying the familiarity found among people in a small rural community. The artwork is solid, if not impressive. I’m hooked enough to want to learn what nobody is willing to talk about.
It’s interesting to note that all the manga stories have translation notes at the end, but none of the manhwa do. Given that Korean translators face the same linguistic and cultural challenges as Japanese translators, why are there no translation notes for the manhwa? Pig Bride and Sarasah, in particular, seems to warrant notes that would help an American reader better understand the folktales and cultural content the stories reference.
I enjoyed these first issues, but I do have a couple of minor quibbles. First, I think the $8.99 cover price is a little high for an anthology magazine. I highly recommend getting a yearly subscription for only $49.95. (Right now, available only through the 1-800 phone number.) This drops the cover price to $4.16 an issue, a price point that I think is more reasonable. This is meant to be a throwaway item, so $9 seems a bit steep. (Please recycle your old issues or donate them to your local library.)
Second, since this is rated for older teens, the age rating logo should be more prominent and should be on the spine of the book. I would hate for some uptight parent to find their ten-year-old son flipping through the pages of Jack Frost. Yen Press, please, help out parents, librarians, and bookstore employees by making the age rating much larger and visually distinct. Since this magazine technically has two front covers, the age rating should be displayed on both.
I have to admit I probably have pretty low standards for an anthology magazine. As long as there are one or two stories I really want to read and three or four stories I’m willing to read, I consider that a success. Also, I like a magazine that cuts a wide swath across genres, since I enjoy an eclectic mix of books. In the second issue, editor JuYoun Lee talks about the diverse genre range found in the magazine. I like her arguments. As proof I found the magazine worthwhile, I’ve already paid for a one-year subscription.
In the anthology spirit, I offer here links to what others have had to say about Yen+. I notice that we all have a different favorite series and find different things to like and dislike about the magazine. To me, that’s a good sign that you’re reaching the widest possible audience and that Ms. Lee might be on to something.