Tokyopop Chibis: Qwaser of Stigmata, Witch of Artemis, Alice in the Country of Hearts, more

Reviews by Ed Sizemore

The Qwaser of Stigmata Book 1

The Qwaser of Stigmata Book 1 cover
The Qwaser of Stigmata Book 1
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story by Hiroyuki Yoshino, art by Kenetsu Sato, adapted by Paul Morrissey, $12.99 US

There is a battle for the Theotokos of Tsaritsyn, an icon of the Russian Orthodox church rumored to reveal the secret of Christ’s power. Qwasers are people with the gift to control a specific element. A group of qwasers have turned heretical and seek the icon for personal gain. Saint Mihailov Private Academy is believed to hide the icon and thus has become the battleground for its control.

I didn’t think it was possible to make Dan Brown look like a meticulous historian. Writer Hiroyuki Yoshino has shown he knows less about the Russian Orthodox church and Christianity in general than Brown does about the ‘hidden’ history of Catholicism. An attempt to correct the errors in The Qwaser of Stigmata would result in a book several times the length of the manga. It would also miss the point of the manga.

Yoshino isn’t interested in facts. He tells us in the author’s endnotes that he wanted to create a series that revealed in excess. He has succeeded beyond measure. The book is a playground for prurient instincts. The plot and setting are simply excuses for the fanservice.

Kenetsu Sato is a talented artist who reminds me of Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Bakuman, Hikaru no Go). I’m impressed by the battle scenes. They are very dynamic and clear. So often manga artists get lost in trying to convey the kinetic energy of battle that you can’t tell what is going on. Sato avoids this pitfall admirably. It’s a shame his talent is wasted on such tasteless material.

The Qwaser of Stigmata is vile. It has set a new low in manga. With all the good quality series waiting to be brought over, it’s a shame to see money and shelf space wasted on rubbish like this.

The Witch of Artemis Book 1

by Yui Hara, adapted by Karen Ahlstrom, $10.99 US

The Witch of Artemis Book 1 cover
The Witch of Artemis Book 1
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There are two worlds. One is Earth, the planet we all are currently on. The other is Artemis, a world of humans with magical powers. There are legends of Artemis, but next to no one believes it actually exists. Kazuki not only believes, but through a wild set of circumstances, finds himself now living on Artemis. He is staying with Marie, the immortal Grand Witch, learning about his new home and assisting Marie as she helps others.

There isn’t much you can say about The Witch of Artemis, since this first volume is mostly setup. We are introduced to the main characters and the world they live in. There are also a couple of mysteries hinted at, but we aren’t given any more than teasers at this point.

One thing you’ll notice about this manga is Hara’s use of large panels. This helps explain how there is so little story in book. There are fewer panels per page for narrative development. The art is competent. The character designs, clothing, and backgrounds are all a bit generic. The artwork is spare, too. There is just enough detail given to keep the reader informed as to where the events take place and which characters are involved, but no more than that.

The Witch of Artemis is one of those books with lots of potential. It could develop into an interesting series or just spin its wheels. I’d need to see the second volume before I could make any definitive judgment. This volume is like cotton candy, a pleasant but substanceless treat.

Red Hot Chili Samurai Book 2

by Yohitsugu Katagiri, adapted by Bryce P. Coleman, $10.99 US

Red Hot Chili Samurai Book 2 cover
Red Hot Chili Samurai Book 2
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Kokaku and his group continue to fight injustice in their unique style. They are constantly coming into conflict with Shikki, who has a more traditional and severe understanding of justice.

As I stated in my review of volume 1, Red Hot Chili Samurai is a good escapist read. There really isn’t much to think about in this series. You know the good guys will win, and each case is a little lesson for Kokaku about being a better man and leader.

This volume attempts to add some depth to the series by examining Kokaku’s ‘no killing’ policy. Kokaku also has to come to grips with the fact that he doesn’t have the freedom he thinks he does. His father is always carefully selecting which cases he gets assigned and watching over his activities. You can predict the outcomes of these chapters.

If you’re looking for a nice distraction, then Red Hot Chili Samurai is a good choice. If you’re looking a substantive read, then you will have to look elsewhere.

Alice in the Country of Hearts Books 3 and 4

story by Quinrose, art by Soumei Hoshino, adapted by Lianne Sentar, $10.99 US

Alice in the Country of Hearts Book 3 cover
Alice in the Country of Hearts
Book 3
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Alice’s adventure in the bishonen (beautiful boy) Wonderland continue. Her presence is causing conflict among the men. Some find themselves desiring her more, and others are annoyed at the turmoil her presence is causing. For example, Peter discovers that his attempts to woe Alice go better when he is in his rabbit form. She finds his soft, cuddly version irresistible.

I have to admit I love the opening pages of volume three. Alice’s discussion with Julius about how she sees his work is marvelous. It brought a new level of depth to Alice. It made me want to get to know her better and made the series much more engaging for me.

Of course, the people of Wonderland continue to have psychotic personalities. Not even Alice can let her guard down around them. This continues to be my least favorite aspect of the series.

Alice in the Country of Hearts Book 4 cover
Alice in the Country of Hearts
Book 4
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One question hit me as I was finishing the fourth volume of the series. What happened to the vial Alice was given in the first volume? We were told that when the vial was completely filled, she would have the ability to return to her own world. It appears that plot point was completely forgotten.

The only thing to recommend about Alice in the Country of Hearts is the central character, Alice. She is the only sane and sensible person in the series. Julius is beginning to grow on me, too. Overall, it’s another good escapist read. It’s perfect for reading on the bus/train or to take a break from more serious works.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Books 1 and 2

by Sakae Esuno, adapted by Bryce P. Coleman, $10.99 US

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Book 1 cover
Hanako and the Terror of Allegory
Book 1
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Daisuke Aso is an allegory detective. That is to say, he is someone that can help people who have become haunted/possessed by urban legends (called allegories in the series). Kanae Hiranuma is haunted by the Axe Man Under the Bed (a form of the monster under the bed). Aso is able to solve her case, but Kanae is unable to pay his fee, so she agrees to work for him to pay off her debt. Aso is himself haunted by two urban legends. One is Hanako of the Bathroom, who assists him with his cases.

I must confess I have a soft spot for urban legends. I have loved hearing about them since I was a kid. So Hanako and the Terror of Allegory already has an unfair advantage. Add to that it’s by the creator of Future Diary, and it’s guaranteed I’m going to like this series.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Book 2 cover
Hanako and the Terror of Allegory
Book 2
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Part of what makes this series delightful is its sense of humor. Both Daisuke and Hanako like reading porn, so the office walls are lined with packed bookshelves of adult books. Kanae would prefer a more wholesome office decor. The way Kanae deals with a wish-granting urban legend in volume two is ingenious and hysterical.

Esuno is a solid artist. He conveys mood and emotions very well in the series. He does a wonderful job with crafting creepy-looking versions of the urban legends. There is some fanservice at the expensive of Kanae, but thankfully it’s kept to a minimum.

If you like light horror with sense of humor, then Hanako and the Terror of Allegory will be right up your alley. People that like their horror grim and bloody will do better reading the works of Junji Ito and Hideshi Hino. The other reason to read this series is to find out what Japanese urban legends are like compared to the ones we have in America. It’s fun to see what each culture finds scary.

All books were provided by Tokyopop for review.

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11 Comments

  1. I’m amazed you didn’t mention the magical breast milk part of Qwaser — hearing that was enough to convince me the title was repugnant.

    I wanted to like Terror of Allegory when I heard the Urban Legend hook, but based on a flip-through, they weren’t urban legends like I thought of them, just scary stories. Maybe if I knew more about Japanese culture I’d understand what they say about people’s and society’s concerns.

    And one last thought: what is it with the long book titles? They’re certainly distinctive!

  2. Johanna, I didn’t want to encourage anyone to check out Qwaser with such descriptions.

  3. Oh, good point. That sounds like quite a writing challenge: how do you make something horrible seem horrible to readers without making it seem worth checking out, as you would a car wreck?

  4. I’m hoping I found that balance. But if there is a spike in sales for Qwaser next week, then I guess not.

  5. I almost said the exact same things in my review of Witch of Artemis! Here’s hoping Vol, 2 will have more substance.

    I also loved the Allegory series. Can’t wait for the next volume!

  6. Go Ed! Unleash that bile on Qwasar! You made me laugh out loud, just because it’s so hard for me to imagine you disliking something *that* much. (I realize this is a particularly unlikable book.) We are comrades in distate, as I reviewed Zettai Shoujo Seiiki Amnesium yesterday which was so hopelessly bad, I expect to see it licensed any day.

  7. I’m disappointed you didn’t get into the theological problems with Qwaser, Ed — that would have been a lot more interesting than the book itself! I have no idea who the intended audience for Qwaser is, aside from religio-horror fans who find vampire-slaying Catholic priests passe.

  8. Kate,

    Well, just a sample of the problems would be: 1) I don’t know of any branch of Christianity that embrace alchemy as part of its practice. Not even the Catholics. 2) Christ the Alchemist? Need I say more. 3) The Orthodox Church rejects the belief in stigmata. They fact that anyone would presume to share in Christ’s suffering is considered an anathema. 4) Icons are windows into heaven. It’s mystical in nature. Icons are never use to covertly portray secret knowledge. 5)Soma is actually an ancient Hindu belief and it there it was never associated with breast milk.

    I think that enough for now.

  9. Kate- the audience is the bottom-feeders of the world. Champion Red manga turns everything it touches into filth.

  10. “I have to admit I love the opening pages of volume three. Alice’s discussion with Julius about how she sees his work is marvelous.”

    Agreed, that was a big turning point for me. The series is worth it for Alice and Julius, I really like their character designs. Alice is a character that could have easily been a terrible self absorbed ditz that would make me throw the book in anger, but she is turning out to be someone memorable for me. Although I do like how crazy everyone else is in comparison to those two, I almost see them as being steadfast in the middle or a tornado of insanity. If Alice and Julius don’t end up together I’m going to be incredibly disappointed. I’m warming up to the Chesire Cat too, but it’s not on the same level as these two.

    “Add to that it’s by the creator of Future Diary”

    That both attracts me to the series and makes me hesitant to pick it up. I’m chugging through Future Diary and I’m at a point where Yuno is JUST so SO crazy that I can’t stand it. I do plan on finishing this series, but I’m getting sick of it being completely focused on her descent into what looks like complete madness. There are things I both love and hate about Future Diary and the things I love are often closely linked to the things I can’t stand so it’s a bit contradictory of me.

  11. its been FOREVER i want the 2nd vol. of Which of Artemis to come out!!!

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