published by Viz
Reviews by Ed Sizemore
Jormungand Book 1
by Keitaro Takahashi, adapted by Stan!, Viz Signature, $12.99 US
Koko Hekmatyar is an arms dealer who has assembled a team of highly skilled mercenaries to help her when problems arise with a client. The newest member of the team is a boy of indeterminate age named Jonah, whose sharpshooting skills border on the inhuman.
There is a scene in Jormungand where Koko gets hit with a coffee pot. At first, I couldn’t tell what was going on; it was unclear what Koko was struck with. In none of the prior panels had a coffee pot been shown in the background, but a water carafe was. This scene is a perfect analogy for the entire book. The stories have no set up. We are simply dumped into the middle of events without any explanation or background information. The events move forward, come to a conclusion, and we’re off to the next story.
Takahashi’s storytelling doesn’t allow any time for characterization. Each of the central cast comes off as simply a two-dimensional collection of odd character traits. Takahashi’s focus is more on mood and action sequences. The gritty reality of arms dealing and the situations Koko finds herself in are expected to be the focus of the reader’s attention. The book is all slick, hip surface with no depth.
The artwork is competent but feels a bit incomplete at times. Occasionally, Takahashi leaves out a small detail that makes the panel feel off. For example, in one scene, Takahashi doesn’t draw Koko’s bottom lip, and it makes her look like a poorly constructed rag doll. It’s a shame because there are some truly great panels filled with lots of details and excellent linework. The problem panels occur often enough to be distracting to the overall visual flow of the book.
Jormungand reads like a rough draft of a series. The plot and locales have all been mapped out, but the characters still need work. Usually, Viz Signature books are great reads, which made my disappointment at this book that much greater. Readers would do well to skip this series and pick one of the other books in the imprint.
Vampire Knight Book 9
by Matsuri Hino, adapted by Tomo Kimura, Viz, $9.99 US
The Cross Academy was created in hopes of bringing understanding between vampires and humans. However, an old evil has been resurrected, and a war is breaking out among the vampire students. The events at Cross Academy could determine the fate of the world.
Vampire Knight is a soap operatic work. The pasts of all the main characters are deeply intertwined, and people are concocting plots and counterplots. Alliances seem to always be shifting as new revelations uncover hidden motivations or friends find themselves suddenly on opposite sides. To give a sense of how complicated the series is becoming, there is a summary of the plot, a chart of the connections between characters, and a summary of the major revelations thus far. This was my first exposure to the series and I was lost and unable to catch up. This is not a criticism of the series, but a warning to first-time readers.
The art is acceptable. I found all the male faces were exactly the same. I had to use hairstyles and clothes to tell the male leads apart. Otherwise, the art is a perfect compliment to the writing. Hino is able to convey moody and dark emotions well.
I’m not a fan of goth soap operas. I can understand the appeal of Vampire Knight, but it simply doesn’t work for me. Fans of contemporary vampire fiction, i.e. Twilight, will enjoy this series tremendously. Fans of traditional vampire fiction, i.e. Dracula, will do best to stay away. My teenage niece is the perfect audience for Vampire Knight.
One Piece Books 23-28
by Eiichiro Oda; adapted by Lance Caselman, Viz, $9.99 US each
Luffy is on a quest to be the king of the pirates, gathering an eclectic crew along the way. Together, they are searching for adventure and the legendary treasure One Piece. These volumes focus on the crew’s exploits on the island of Skypiea.
Although Luffy and his crew are called pirates, they are actually your traditional heroes. They embody all the classical virtues: honor, duty, friendship, defending the weak, doing what’s right regardless of the cost, self-sacrifice, etc. The central cast are all good-natured, likable characters. Luffy’s boundless energy and optimism is infectious. You quickly find yourself rooting for Luffy to discover One Piece and become the pirate king.
One Piece is a quick-moving manga with lots of variety to keep the reader interested. Oda knows that readers expect an adventure series to be filled with exciting locations, seemingly impossible challenges, and powerful villains. He doesn’t disappoint his fans. The series has an excellent blend of humor; you have slapstick, character-based jokes, puns, and just outright absurdity. Oda also knows when to allow the series to take on emotional and thematic depth as the plot progresses in each story arc. However, the series never becomes maudlin or self-important.
Oda’s artwork is well-done. The drawings are as kinetic as the characters and the pacing. His art is as versatile as his storytelling; he does humor, action, and drama all equally adept. For the most part, Oda does a wonderful job with the character designs. The one weakness in his art is his female body types. Most women share the same curvaceous figure. They are busty on top with no waist and full hips. They look like Barbie dolls with 36-18-32 measurements. Thankfully, the most egregious fanservice is simply Nami in a bikini.
These volumes were my first exposure to the One Piece series. I found the books very accessible. Volume 23 is actually the end of the Alabasta storyline. It was easy to catch up with what was going on and who the major players on each side were. I’m sure there were some nuances I was missing, but it wasn’t obvious. New readers should feel free to start with volume 24 and pick up older volumes at their leisure.
One Piece is a great escapist read and proof that genre fiction can be original and imaginative. The series is a wonderful addition to the action-adventure genre, fitting in perfectly with works like the Doc Savage books and the Indiana Jones films. Fans of these works should reward themselves by picking up One Piece. It’s easy to see why this series has such a large following not just in Japan, but in every country it’s translated.
(The publisher provided all books as review copies.)