published by Viz
Reviews by Ed Sizemore
Kaze Hikaru Book 13
by Taeko Watanabe; adapted by Mai Ihara
Viz, $8.99 US
Kaze Hikaru is a historical drama taking place in the 1860s. The central character is Kamiya Seizaburo (birth name Tominaga Sei), a girl disguised as a boy and a member of the Shinsengumi. She’s chosen this life to be closer to the man she loves, Okita Soji. Okita is focused on being a great warrior and has no time for a woman who doesn’t share his passion for the samurai lifestyle. The Shinsengumi is a band of warriors dedicated to protecting the Shogun. They’re moving their headquarters from the Mibu Village to the Roukujo area of Kyoto. This volume focuses on the group getting their new headquarters set up and the need to recruit new members.
I haven’t read the previous 12 volumes of this manga. This volume turned out to be a good place in the story for a newcomer to sample the series. The Shinsengumi’s move to a new location meant that the local places and people were as new to the characters as to the reader. Also, with the group settling into to a new building, you got a sense of the internal organization of the Shinsengumi and some of the relationships between members.
As expected in shojo, there is a lot of focus on interpersonal relationships within the Shinsengumi. There is, of course, the central romance, but there are also some alluded-to couplings among the men. The leader of the Shinsengumi is the older brother of a troop leader, and their soured relationship is a major portion of this volume.
The art is well done, but it looks more typical of the style found in shonen instead of shojo. The page layouts are more traditional. There is the occasional panel that has the shojo flare of showing the character’s emotional state, but they are pretty rare. Since the Shinsengumi is committed to the samurai code of Bushido, typical shojo art would be out of place in this series. Watanabe has chosen to make the art more realistic to keep in tone with the historical realism of the storytelling.
Kaze Hikaru is well-written with interesting characters and a steadily moving plot. Fans of historical dramas will find this a good series to pick up. Bookstores don’t always carry earlier volumes of long-running series, so this is a perfect recent volume to pick up to give you a flavor of the series. The back cover makes a comparison to Rurouni Kenshin, and fans of that series might want to see if they like this one as well.
Detroit Metal City Book 3
by Kiminori Wakasugi; adapted by Annus Itchii (Anne Ishii)
Viz Signature, $12.99 US
Negishi continues his dual life. His true desire is to record upbeat alternative acoustic pop. However, he is currently in Detroit Metal City (DMC), a heavy metal band notorious in Japan for its hardcore metal stage show. The band is quickly gaining buzz among heavy metal fans outside Japan. Jack Ill Dark’s daughter, Kenny, has put together the premier world heavy metal festival. She wants to determine who the true global kings of heavy metal are, now that her father has been defeated by DMC. Naturally, Negishi doesn’t want to be part of the festival, but DMC really can’t say no.
Detroit Metal City is a series where you can figure out if you’re a fan within one or two chapters. Either you find the crude humor and Negishi’s identity struggle funny or not. I can’t imagine anyone reading the previous two volumes of this series and still being on the fence. That said, if you’re a fan of the series, volume three delivers more of the same. If you’re not a fan of the series, then volume three has nothing to change your mind.
My only worry with this series is how quickly it’s escalating. In three volumes, we gone from DMC having to prove they’re true metal, to proving they are the most metal band in Japan, to proving they can take down a heavy metal legend, to now having to prove they are the most metal band in the world. If DMC wins Kenny’s festival, where does the series go from there? Do space aliens come challenge DMC for the title of most metal band in the galaxy?
Most interesting in this volume is watching the changes in Negishi’s personal life. You get a sense that Negishi isn’t a very good acoustic pop musician anymore. He may have made waves in college among his friends, but most current fans of the genre don’t like his stuff. Also, the Lord Krauser II part of Negishi’s personality is becoming more dominant. Will Negishi simply become Krauser permanently, or will he find a balance?
The artwork is as consistent as the storytelling. The heavy metal festival gives Wakasugi an opportunity to come up with more great designs for heavy metal bands. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know which bands are being parodied in this series. The art works perfectly with the series.
Detroit Metal City continues to be a guilty pleasure of mine. If you can go along with the absurd premise and crude humor, it’s a rewarding read. I think volumes four and five will determine the long-term sustainability of the series. I look forward to the conclusion of the festival story arc and what comes next.
St. Dragon Girl Book 4
by Natsumi Matsumoto; adapted by Heidi Vivolo
Viz, $8.99 US
Momoka Sendou and Ryuga Kou continue their adventures as demon fighters. The major challenge this volume is Yutengenyo, a disciple of the black dragon. She hopes to waken the black dragon and merge with it, like Momoka has merged with a dragon. But awaking the black dragon will literally destroy the town that Momoka and Ryuga live in. It will also upset the yin-yang balance in the world and more destruction will follow.
St. Dragon Girl continues to be a refreshing, wholesome read for me. As I mentioned previously, the modesty of the character’s dress make for a nice change of pace from the fan service rampant in so much manga published here in the US.
Of course, I still find Ryuga a frustrating character. He still refuses to admit to himself or Momoka how much he cares for and actually loves her. Of course, he can play it so cool because Momoka wears her affection for him on her sleeve. I do find it a bit twisted how he strings along such a wonderful girl. Someone needs to smack that smug attitude right out of him. I hope it happens soon.
The artwork is excellent, as usual. Matsumoto has a real gift for drawing elf-like characters. I was struck by how beautiful and ethereal her magical beings look. The art has a “feel good” quality with lots of energy. I do wish that Viz would print the color pages in color for this series.
St. Dragon Girl continues to be a delight to read. I look forward to future volumes.
Dogs: Bullets & Carnage Book 1
by Shirow Miwa; adapted by Alexis Kirsch
Viz Signature, $12.99 US
Badou and Heine are detectives/bounty hunters. The book opens with them rescuing a group of young mutant children from been sold as fetish toys. Heine finds that he is being targeted by someone who keeps sending underground thugs after him. Next, we are introduced to Ms. Naoto, who has come to the bad part of town looking for someone, a person who welds a katana identical to her own.
Dogs is an action series set in a dystopic near future. Ecological, economic, technological, and political disasters have made a mess of the world. Surprisingly, even though the book is filled with a lot of fight scenes, there is a very understated tone to the series. There is none of the bombast and bravado seen in Hollywood action films. Badou, Heine, and Ms. Naoto don’t taunt their opponents before, after, or during the fight scenes. All three are highly proficient fighters and killers, but they don’t derive pleasure from the death of their enemies.
We don’t get to know any of the main characters very well in this book. Instead, we are given hints and clues to their backgrounds. There is just enough information conveyed to whet the appetite and make the reader hungry for the second volume. Despite this lack of knowledge, Miwa is able to create intriguing and likable characters. Perhaps it’s the classic appeal of the mysterious stranger who does good, while radiating a dark past, that draws us in.
The character designs are excellent. The action sequences move quickly and are bursting with energy. However, there isn’t a lot of tone work. Usually, tones are reserved for clothing. Shadows tend to be done in solid black. Characters are often shown against monotone backgrounds. There is a sparse feel to the art that adds to the overall understated tone of the book.
Dogs caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting such sophistication from an action series. I should have known better, since this part of the Viz Signature imprint instead of the Shonen Jump label. With only a couple of exceptions, I have found the Viz Signature books to be great titles aimed at mature readers. They don’t pander to the lowest common denominator. It’s action for people who aren’t wowed simply by big explosions and cheesy, tough guy one-liners. I certainly will be picking up volume two.