published by Tokyopop
Review by Ed Sizemore
Maria Holic Book 1
by Minari Endou; adapted by Clint Brickham; Tokyopop, $10.99 US
Kanako Miyamae is a high school sophomore transferring to Ame No Kisaki, an all-girl missionary school. Kanako is a lesbian, but she isn’t comfortable enough with her sexuality to be tell others her orientation. She transferred with romantic visions of meeting her soulmate. While there is no shortage of attractive girls, Kanako is discovering that a pretty face doesn’t mean a beautiful soul.
Maria Holic is meant to be a farce, a broad stroke comedy that satirizes the tropes found in shojo and yuri manga. However, it reads like a bigot openly mocking people who aren’t ‘normal’. Lesbians, transvestites, tomboys, and such are all targets of ridicule.
Not surprisingly, all the characters in this book are one-dimensional. When you’re mocking someone, there’s no need to understand them or cast them in a sympathetic light. Kanako walks around ogling her classmates and falling in love based on the most superficial reasons. Her classmates don’t figure out she’s a lesbian simply because it’s not convenient to the plot. It’s certainly not from a lack of clues.
The artwork is the only likable part of the book. It’s competent. The character designs are nice. The page layouts are well-done. It does have a feature that I don’t think I’ve seen before in manga: panels of just word balloons. There aren’t many, but it’s still unusual.
Maria Holic is odious. I had to force myself to finish the last quarter of the book. Turning each page seemed to become more of a chore the closer I got to the end. Avoid this book and its condescension. Comedy shouldn’t make the reader feel tainted and disgusted. Comedy is meant to uplift us.
Samurai Harem: Asu No Yoichi Book 2
by Yu Minamoto; adapted by Hope Donovan; Tokyopop, $12.99 US
Yoichi Karasuma spent the first seventeen years of his life in a remote mountain dojo learning swordsmanship from his father. Now he is living with the Ikaruga sisters at their family dojo, where he is learning how to be a member of modern society. The hardest part is behaving properly around women. Two attractive female assassins show up to kill Yoichi. Yet another obstacle as he’s trying to just fit in.
The setup is derivative of Ranma Ã‚Â½ and Love Hina, which is indicative of the general lack of imagination found in Samurai Harem. The series is a harem comedy that focuses on the creepy aspects of the genre without any attempts to include the charming counterbalancing elements.
The best example of the disturbing nature of Samurai Harem is how the fan service specializes in crotch shots. Not panty shots, but in between the legs, focusing on the pubic region of girls and women. Just when you think the book might be showing some character development or emotional warmth, there is a crotch shot with a sound effect coming from the girl’s genitalia. The series is shameless in its tastelessness.
The artwork is very well-done. Minamoto is a master of cheesecake drawings. The loving details given to the female character designs and fashions only make the series that much more lecherous. Such talent should be used to illustrate a good romantic comedy, not banal fan service.
Only fans of unapologetic T&A manga will enjoy this series. The plot is rice paper thin. The characters are one-dimensional. Readers are advised to steer clear of Samurai Harem.
Zone-00 Book 1
by Kiyo Qjo; adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane; Tokyopop, $10.99 US
Ango Shima is an exorcist who has just moved to Tokyo. He is aided by his two assistants: Sharaku, also his butler, and Hanabusa, his maid. It turns out his very odd classmate, Saburo Kujo, is a leader of the Tokyo creatures (demons). Ango has come to destroy all the creatures but discovers he must team up with them to hunt down a common enemy. Someone has created Zone-00, a drug that turns humans into mock creatures.
Zone-00 is a mess, starting with the artwork. The panels are busy and often crowded. Qjo is trying to make the art feel energetic, but instead it’s chaotic. The page layouts suffer the same clutter problems. All the characters have unruly hair that like kudzu appears everywhere. The book is eye-straining to read.
Unfortunately, neither the characters nor plot are any improvement over the art. None of the cast is interesting. Everyone seems to spend a lot of time in inane conversation. They all want to prove how cool and sophisticated they are. However, it all comes across as silly and pretentious.
The plot moves at a glacial pace. They spend more time at bath houses and beaches then actually tracking down the drug dealers and manufacturers. For someone committed to the destruction of all creatures, Ango gets chummy quickly with his sworn enemy.
Zone-00 is victim to its own excesses. The art and storytelling need to be streamlined. Lost in all the muddle appears to be the makings of an interesting story. However, potential for a better story isn’t sufficient reason to recommend this series. Readers should skip Zone-00 in favor of a manga that is more focused.
Momogumi Plus Senki Book 1
by Eri Sakondo; adapted by Rachel Brown; Tokyopop, $10.99 US
Yuuki Momozono is cursed with Disaster Attraction Disorder. This means that calamity haunts everything he does. He has just found out that he is the reincarnation of Momotaro (Peach Boy) from the famous Japanese folktale and inherited a demon curse from his previous life. He must break the curse causing his misfortunes before his eighteenth birthday or he will die. The school he has begun to attend is filled with students who are also reincarnations of various folk figures. There among his schoolmates is the chance to free himself of the curse.
Momogumi Plus Senki is an enjoyable light read. Sakondo has created a likable cast of central characters with Yuuki and his three companions: Sawa, Masahiko, and Yukishiro. Yuuki’s friends are all good-natured and readily accept their past lives without any conflict. Yuuki himself starts out as a depressed person, but the warmth and optimism of his new companions quickly win him over.
Part of the charm of this series is its sense of humor. Sakondo doesn’t allow any of the characters to take themselves too seriously. Sankondo also has fun with the personality of the cast. Masahiko is the reincarnation of Momotaro’s dog. He has the loyalty and affection of a puppy. He can let his canine enthusiasm get the better of him sometimes.
I also like how amenable the other students are to Yuuki’s bad luck. They know when he gets called on to answer questions, baseballs are bound to come soaring through the windows. So all the students sitting next to the windows have umbrellas to protect themselves from flying glass.
The art is well-done in this series. Sankondo does a good job conveying emotion. The action sequences are quick and lively. The humor has a nice subtle quality to it. The art complements the storytelling perfectly.
Momogumi Plus Senki is not a must read by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is a pleasant, upbeat series. It can serve as a break from heavier fare or just a good distraction. The way Sakondo plays with Japanese folktales makes me want to go read the originals. Readers already familiar with the folktales might enjoy seeing Sakondo’s fun twist on them.
(The publisher provided review copies of all books.)