My Week in Manga: June 16-June 22, 2014

My News and Reviews

Well, it wasn’t entirely intentional, but both of my in-depth manga reviews from last week featured manga released by Kodansha Comics. I managed to get my hands on an early copy of Hikaru Suruga’s Attack on Titan: No Regrets, Volume 1, the first installment in a short shoujo series focusing on Erwin and Levi and their pasts. It’s a welcome addition to the Attack on Titan canon and I enjoyed it a great deal. The second review was of Hinoki Kino’s No. 6, Volume 7 which may very well be the best volume yet in the series; it’s intense. I’d still love to read the original novels, but I’m glad that the manga adaptation is being released. I also had a bonus post last week—Random Musings: Cherry Bomb, Cinderseed, and Skyglass. Cherry Bomb is the mature imprint of Chromatic Press. Cinderseed was released through Cherry Bomb and is the prologue to the illustrated novel Skyglass which debuted earlier this month. I’m absolutely loving what I’ve seen of Skyglass so far.

And speaking of great stuff from Chromatic Press, I encourage everyone to check out its Kickstarter to release Gauntlent in print. As for other interesting things found online: The fifth part of Revealing and Concealing Identities: Cross-Dressing in Anime and Manga was posted at The Lobster Dance and focuses on Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son. Sean has a roundup of the recent license announcements from Seven Seas at A Case Suitable for Treatment. The UK-based comics publisher Breakdown Press is launching a series of classic and avant garde manga in translation, starting with Seiichi Hayashi’s Flowering Harbour in July. And last but not least, I discovered manga brog a newish site which already has some extremely interesting content, like a translation of a conversation between Taiyo Matsumoto, Inio Asano, and Keigo Shinzo.

Quick Takes

Click, Volume 5Click, Volumes 5-8 by Youngran Lee. The relationship dynamics in Click are exceptionally complicated, made more complicated by the fact that Joonha’s sex and gender are in flux. After spending sixteen years of his life physically and mentally as male, the fact that he now has a female body has presented some problems. Initially he tried to separate himself from those closest to him, but now they’re back in his life. For better and for worse, Joonha still hasn’t fully explained the situation or his peculiar genetic condition. Some people treat him as the boy he once was, others treat him as the girl he seems to be now. Surprisingly enough, Joonha seems to care less and less about gender, more or less ignoring it in order to focus on other aspects of life. (Which really is how it should be.) Click is extremely melodramatic, emotions run high, and the plot can occasionally take some absurd turns. Despite being somewhat of a jerk, most everyone seems to be in love with Joonha and those feelings are returned. As a result, the manhwa forms an extraordinary mess of romantic entanglements.

Crimson Spell, Volume 4Crimson Spell, Volumes 3-4 by Ayano Yamane. The first two volumes of Crimson Spell were originally released in English by Media Blasters. I was thrilled when SuBLime rescued the license; Crimson Spell is my favorite Yamane series, and there are relatively few boys’ love manga set in a sword and sorcery fantasy world. On rereading the series, I realized that I had forgotten just how funny it can be, too. Granted, the third volume takes a fairly serious turn when Halvir is captured and Vald must go to his rescue. The plot is getting more involved, more and more characters are introduced, and Vald’s curse and the bond between him and his demon self are growing stronger. Halvir and Vald desperately need to sort out their feelings for one another, a particular thorny issue since Vald has now discovered that Halvir has been taking great pleasure in satisfying the carnal needs of the demon without Vald’s knowledge (or consent). Understandably, Vald isn’t particularly happy to learn this. With all of the drama, magic, and sword fights, and all of the smut to go along with it, I’m still loving Crimson Spell.

Eyeshield 21, Volume 35Eyeshield 21, Volumes 35-37 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. These last three volumes of Eyeshield 21 feel like an afterthought to the series more than anything else. The Christmas Bowl is over, but with the Youth World Cup about to begin Japan needs to pull together its all-star team. Basically this final arc amounts to an excuse to bring all of the favorite characters from the various Japanese teams together one last time. Despite it being a world championship, Eyeshield 21 seems to have lost the sense of urgency and emotional investment that was present during the battles in the Christmas Bowl. In part this is probably due to the fact that most of the members of the other national teams are new to the series, so any established rivalries or histories are missing. As expected, the championship game in the Youth World Cup comes down to Japan versus America. It’s a good game, but I found it to be rather anticlimactic in the end. Still, Eyeshield 21 is a lot of fun and as always Murata’s artwork is fantastic. I mean, the image of Ceasar riding a dinosaur? That’s some great stuff there.

My Little Monster, Volume 2My Little Monster, Volume 2 by Robico. I’m quite enjoying My Little Monster. I particularly appreciate the series’ quirky, offbeat characters—a group of misfits with varying degrees of social awkwardness, ineptitude, and obliviousness. Shizuku is currently struggling to find the balance between her accidental friendships, her feelings towards Haru, and her studying, which had been the only thing in her life that had been constant. As for Haru, he’s starting to become more comfortable at school and around other people. But, though he means well, his more violent tendencies still cause some problems. Haru’s older brother is introduced in this volume and some of Haru’s troubled family life is revealed as well, adding some mystery and ominous undertones to what is generally a fairly lighthearted series. I like Robico’s dry sense of humor in My Little Monster. So far, the series has achieved a nice blend of more serious and more comedic elements. There are certainly some uncomfortable moments, but at this point the series has avoided becoming too heavy. I’m looking forward to reading more of My Little Monster.

JJBATV1JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure directed by Kenichi Suzuki and Naokatsu Tsuda. The first season of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure television anime series covers the first two parts of Hirohiko Araki’s inter-generational action manga epic. Phantom Blood is adapted in a mere nine episodes but still manages to hit most of the major plot points and remains coherent despite its quick pace. The remaining seventeen episodes are devoted to the second story arc, Battle Tendency. While they both obviously belong to the same anime series, the individual parts have their own stylistic quirks in the music and animation that give each its own feel. Phantom Blood has a classically oriented soundtrack and palette while Battle Tendency introduces dubstep and bright, fluorescent colors. Some shortcuts were taken with the animation in order to keep to a budget, some of which are more effective than others. However, the story remains entertaining and engaging, a mix of horror, revenge, and intense battles and action with strong psychological elements. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure can be, well, bizarre and over-the-top, but I’ll gladly admit that I get a huge kick out of it.

My Week in Manga: April 21-April 27, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was another week with two reviews here at Experiments in Manga. The first review was of Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1, one of the manga I was most looking forward to being released this year. I really enjoyed the debut of the series and look forward to reading more. The second review posted last week was of Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat, Volume 2. The third volume in the series will be released soon, so I decided to revisit the previous volume in preparation. Off*Beat is a comic that simply makes me happy and I think I enjoy it more with each rereading.

And now for some interesting found online: Jason Stroman wraps up his manga advice series at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses with 20 Things I Learned from the Manga Advice Series. Joe McCulloch takes a close look at some of the pre-Tezuka manga available in English at The Comics Journal. No Flying No Tights has updated its list of must have manga for teens. A recent poll of Japanese parents asked “Which manga do you want your kids to read?” RocketNews24 lists the top ten, eight of which are currently available in English either digitally or in print.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volume 12Attack on Titan, Volume 12 by Hajime Isayama. The English-language release of Attack on Titan has now more or less caught up with the Japanese release of the series, which means the time between volumes has increased. Granted, those who are impatient have option of reading the most recent chapters on Crunchyroll, but I’ve personally been waiting since January to see what happens next. I am still impressed by just how many twists and turns Isayama is able to incorporate into the plot of Attack on Titan. Even though the twelfth volume is more about the action than it is about the story, there are still some surprises in store. Granted, each revelation in Attack on Titan only seems to raise more questions. In this volume the Survey Corp is tasked with rescuing Eren, who is in bad shape and being held captive along with Ymir by Reiner and Bertolt. Facing off against Titans is one thing, but having to attack those who at one point seemed to be allies is another thing entirely. Attack on Titan has always been intense and the twelfth volume is no different.

Border, Volume 1Border, Volumes 1-3 by Kazuma Kodaka. Although Border is an ongoing series at five volumes and counting, only three of those volumes have so far been released in English. I’m not sure if Digital Manga plans on licensing more at this point or not. Border is the most recent of Kodaka’s boys’ love manga to be translated. Though calling it boys’ love might be a bit misleading. The manga’s lead, Yamato, is gay and all of the characters seem to be in love with him to one extent or another, but so far the series seems to be more about detective agency he runs with his two foster brothers and his cousin than it is about romance. The first volume, which focuses on ex-soldier Yamato and his tragic past, is the most boys’ love-like (including explicit sex scenes), but subsequent volumes turn to the other characters—his brothers Kippei, a computer genius, and Tamaki, a hair designer whose skills are handy when disguises are needed. Their backstories are likewise tragic. I like this narrative structure of Border. And if the pattern continues, the next volume in the series should focus on Yamato’s cousin Sogo, which I would be very interested in reading.

Eyeshield 21, Volume 32Eyeshield 21, Volumes 32-34 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. Often I find that reading sports manga makes me at least temporarily more interested in the games which they’re about, but for whatever reason that hasn’t been the case for Eyeshield 21. I probably have developed more of an appreciation for American football, but it still isn’t a sport I care very much about. Eyeshield 21 on the other hand, I’ve come to love. The artwork is phenomenal and the characters are engaging and distinctive. At this point, much of the humor and many of the running gags from the start of the series have faded into the background; Eyeshield 21 has become much more serious and dramatic, but it’s still a tremendous amount of fun. The series has been building up to the Christmas Bowl where the Deimon Devil Bats are playing against the Teikoku Alexanders, an all-star team which has never lost the tournament. The games in Eyeshield 21 have always been exciting but the Christmas Bowl match is fantastic. I fully anticipated Eyeshield 21 to end with the Christmas Bowl, but no, there are still three more volumes to go!

xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 1xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 1 by CLAMP. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of the original xxxHolic manga, and I never did finish reading the series before it went out of print (happily, Kodansha will be re-releasing the series in an omnibus edition), but I was still happy to see Rei licensed. As indicated in the translation notes, rei in this instance means return, “signaling a return to the series and to its roots.” It’s not really clear yet exactly how, or if, Rei will tie into the main series. I do have a few ideas how it might, though. Those who have read at least some of xxxHolic will be at a slight advantage over those who haven’t since the characters aren’t thoroughly introduced, but even new readers should be able to make sense of most of Rei. I love Clamp’s artwork in this series. The high-contrast and relatively simple illustration style is very evocative and elegant, and creepy and disconcerting when required. The supernatural elements in the manga tend to be dark in tone, but at the same time the main characters and their interactions tend towards the more comedic. It’s an interesting mix that somehow works; even the humorous scenes have something menacing lurking underneath.

My Week in Manga: January 13-January 19, 2013

My News and Reviews

There were three posts at Experiments in Manga last week, only two of which were mine. First up was my review of Negi Banno’s S.S. Astro, Volume 1, a yonkoma manga about a group of young, twenty-something high school teachers. Sadly, the series was canceled before a second volume could be released. The review is the second manga for my Year of Yuri review project. My other post last week is a part of my continuing efforts to track down manga podcasts. Discovering Manga: Podcasts, Part 3 takes a look a three ongoing podcasts that started in 2013. Also last week, I was happy to welcome Jocilyn Wagner as a guest to Experiments in Manga with her review of Hiroki Ugawa’s Shrine of the Morning Mist, Volume 1.

On to interesting things found online! Alexander Hoffman posted a Lessons from the Crater Project over at Manga Widget, which is a great summary of the events surrounding the Kickstarter project for Osamu Tezuka’s The Crater. The Daily Dot has an excellent overview of the debate over Zoë Hange gender in Attack on Titan, which has apparently become rather heated in some circles. Opening Ceremony took time to talk to the wonderful folks behind Massive—New-to-OC Brand MASSIVE on Husky Gay Asian Erotica. I also particularly enjoyed reading Tony Yao’s post The Beautiful Negativity of Seinen over at Manga Therapy.

One last thing: Usamaru Furuya’s birthday is on January 25. In honor of that, I’m declaring this week Usamaru Furuya Week at Experiments in Manga. Basically, it’s an excuse for me to get around to reviewing the rest of his manga, which I’ve been meaning to do ever since I hosted the Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast a couple of years ago. So, I’ll be posting a whopping five reviews this week! I hope you enjoy.

Quick Takes

Arisa, Volume 12Arisa, Volume 12 by Natsumi Ando. Since its beginning Arisa has gone through so many disconcerting twists and turns, how is it possible that the twins look so utterly happy on the cover of the final volume? For the most part, I was satisfied with the ending of Arisa. Things aren’t resolved as happily as the cover might imply, which I find appropriate considering the darker aspects of the story. And I wouldn’t want everything to be tied up neatly. Once again though, some of the plot twists are a little ridiculous and over-the-top. I’m all for heightened drama, but I also like it to at least make some logical sense. Admittedly, Arisa can be a bit of a mess. Even so, I really enjoyed reading the series. Also included in this volume is a rather silly side story that takes place before the events of the main series. In this case it’s Arisa posing as her sister instead of the other way around. The results are amusing though not particularly believable. Granted, at this point I’m not expecting Arisa to be particularly believable anyway.

Eyeshield 21, Volume 28Eyeshield 21, Volumes 28-31 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. I’ve discovered that, for some reason, I really like sports manga, even when that sport is something that I’m not particularly interested in in real life. For example, American football. Yet here I am thoroughly enjoying Eyeshield 21, completely caught up in the Deimon Devil Bats’ fight to reach the Christmas Bowl. And a fight it is. These volumes focus on the game between the Devil Bats and the Hakushu Dinosaurs with an emphasis placed on football as a combat sport. (I’ve actually never really thought of football that way before, so that was an interesting take on the sport for me.) The Dinosaurs have a habit of intentionally sending their opponents to the hospital, so it’s a fairly rough game. The face-off between the two teams also shows just how far Sena has come as a player since the beginning of the series. Once a weakling pushover, he’s now become much more confident in his abilities and in himself. I’m very excited to read more of Eyeshield 21.

Hetalia: Axis Powers, Volume 4Hetalia: Axis Powers, Volumes 4-5 by Hidekaz Himaruya. I know just as many people who absolutely hate the Hetalia franchise as I do people who absolutely love it. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a rabid fan, but it is a series I follow. I do, however, generally prefer the anime adaptation over the original manga. For some reason, even though the anime and the manga both make the same jokes, I find the anime to be funnier. There are times that I just can’t seem to figure out what the punchline is supposed to be in the manga. The manga still can make me laugh, though, and I even occasionally learn a bit of history in the process, which I appreciate. The number of countries involved in Hetalia continues to grow with these volumes, including more female personifications which is nice to see. The Netherlands in particular seems to get a fair amount of page time this time, too. Hetalia does rely heavily on stereotypes for its humor, but I don’t get the feeling that they’re being used maliciously or to be deliberately offensive.

White BrandWhite Brand by Youka Nitta. Although I didn’t realize it until reading the afterword, apparently White Brand was Nitta’s first collection of boys’ love short stories. I’ve now read several of Nitta’s manga, but it seems that they tend to be fairly hit-or-miss for me. Despite Embracing Love actually being one of my favorite yaoi series, none of Nitta’s other works have really grabbed me. That hasn’t especially changed with White Brand, though I did like it more than The Prime Minister’s Secret Diplomacy. White Brand collects five short boys’ love manga. I’m not sure if it was an intentional or not, but a recurring theme throughout most of the stories is opposites. “White Brand” is about cousins with different color skin tones. “Teal End” is about two men from different countries. “Exhibition Painting” features men from very different classes and walks of life. “One Size Fits All” is somewhat frivolous story about a tall model and a much shorter man. “Hasta la Vista, Baby” is the only story that this play on opposites isn’t immediately obvious.

MushishiMushishi: Sun-Eating Shade directed by Hiroshi Nagahama. I won’t lie—I love both the Mushishi manga and the anime. I was very excited when the special episode was announced and thrilled when Crunchyroll picked it up so that I could actually watch it. Although about twice as long as the individual episodes of the anime series, Sun-Eating Shade matches the tone, atmosphere, and ambiance perfectly. I was very happy to see that the same animation style was kept for the special episode. The backgrounds are still gorgeous, the music is still haunting, the pacing is still relaxed and unhurried. Mushishi has always been a rather episodic series, but I liked how Sun-Eating Shade made references to and loosely tied together several stories adapted in the first season of the anime. If someone didn’t enjoy the original anime series, there is nothing in Sun-Eating Shade that will change their mind. But established Mushishi fans (like me) probably won’t be disappointed with the special episode. I’m looking forward to the second season of Mushishi a great deal.

My Week in Manga: October 14-October 20, 2013

My News and Reviews

It was another two-review week last week. My Blade of the Immortal review project continues with Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 26: Blizzard. The volume includes the conclusion to the battle between Manji and Shira and it does not disappoint. The second review posted last week was for Tomoyuki Hoshino’s novel Lonely Hearts Killer. It’s not easy reading, and I didn’t like it quite as well as Hoshino’s collection of short fiction We, the Children of Cats, but I found it to be an intriguing work.

Last week I also had the opportunity to attend a fascinating lecture on queer theory, Japanese literature, and translation. I decided to share some of my random musings on the topics. So far the post seems to have been well received, which makes me pretty happy.

There were a couple of particularly interesting posts by Erica Friedman over at Yuricon last week. Her New York Comic Con report includes more information about One Peace Books’ licensing of Takashi Ikeda’s yuri manga Whispered Words. (I’m looking forward to the release of Whispered Words a great deal.) Also interesting was her post A Very Important Thing About Licensing Manga Fans Don’t Really Understand which explains a few of the complexities involved in licensing manga for English-reading audiences.

Quick Takes

Children of the Sea, Volume 5Children of the Sea, Volume 5 by Daisuke Igarashi. In Japan, the fifth and final volume of Children of the Sea was released three years after the fourth volume was published. The English-language edition of the series likewise followed suit. But the end is finally here! I was actually surprised that the fifth volume was the conclusion of the series. To me it felt as though Igarashi had much more in store for Children of the Sea. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the series’ end, but I am a little sad that he wasn’t able to develop it further. However, almost everything is tied up satisfactorily plot-wise and the series’ sense of mystery and awe remains intact. Children of the Sea is like modern myth. There is relatively little dialogue and narration in the fifth volume; Igarashi’s artwork really carries the manga at this point. And that artwork is absolutely beautiful. The attention given to the realistic details of the water and sea-life is stunning.

Devil's InfirmaryDevil’s Infirmary by Aco Oumi. Asakura is a physician at an all boys’ school who is not above accepting sexual advances from the students. Things get a little more complicated when Higurashi walks in on Asakura getting a blow job, but Asakura has a few compromising photographs with which to blackmail Higurashi into keeping quiet about it. Supposedly Asakura is in love with Higurashi, but I’m really not convinced. Their relationship is a very inappropriate one and Asakura, though he has a few redeeming qualities, is actually kind of creepy. (But Higurashi’s pretty cute.) At the same time, there are some legitimately funny and occasionally even hilarious moments in Devil’s Infirmary, too. One of Higurashi’s closest friends has a “sparkle problem” that unfortunately brings him unwanted attention from a few of the other students. It’s rather entertaining to see Higurashi try to pose as his boyfriend to deflect some of that interest. And then there’s Asakura’s mother who bribes her gay son into buying her yaoi manga.

Eyeshield 21, Volume 24Eyeshield 21, Volumes 24-27 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. By this point I am no longer surprised that I enjoy Eyeshield 21. I still don’t have a particular interest in American football (and I doubt I ever will even considering the number of years I spent in marching band), but the characters, comedy, and art in the series are great. These four volumes are devoted to the Kanto Tournament game between the Deimon Devil Bats and the Ojo White Knights, both teams fighting to advance one step closer to the Christmas Bowl. The Devil Bats are considered to have one of the best offenses in the tournament but the White Knights are considered to have the best defense. The White Knights also have Seijuro Shin—as perfect a player as there can be. The game ends up being very close, and therefore very exciting; Inagaki keeps the readers guessing right up to the very last second. Murata’s dynamic artwork continues to be one of the highlights of the series. His creative imagery is a little more restrained in these volumes, focusing more on the action of the game and slightly less on its psychological impact, but it’s definitely still there.

Fairy Tail, Volume 30Fairy Tail, Volume 30 by Hiro Mashima. With these volumes, Fairy Tail launches into a new story arc. The technique that Mashima uses—a time skip—isn’t all that unusual for a lengthy shounen manga series. What makes it different, and something that I personally haven’t encountered before, is that only part of the cast jumps ahead while most of the main characters are stuck in time. It makes it a little more interesting when returning after seven years that they have to come to terms with the fact that so many of their friends (and enemies) have changed and grown more powerful. The time skip also serves the purpose of “resetting” the story—Fairy Tail is once again one of the weakest guilds and has to fight its way back to the top. But instead of facing off with evil wizards and guilds, this time they’ll be competing in the Grand Magic Games. Honestly, I’m not quite as interested in this particular turn of events, but at least there should be some entertaining trials and competitions as a result.

The Spectral EngineThe Spectral Engine by Ray Fawkes. I am not especially familiar with Ray Fawkes—an award-winning and frequently award-nominated Canadian creator—and so I was unaware of the upcoming release of The Spectral Engine. Happily, a review copy unexpectedly showed up in the mail. Otherwise, I would probably have completely missed it and that would have been a shame. The Spectral Engine is a great graphic novel and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it. The artwork in particular is excellent, using dark, dripping lines and ink spatter reminiscent of the smoke and grime of the titular engine to effectively create an unnerving atmosphere appropriate for the ghost stories being told. The Spectral Engine weaves together thirteen tragic historic events from many different time periods and locations across Canada. These retellings are paired with their related modern-day hauntings and reports of unexplained phenomena. In many cases the names and lives of the dead have been forgotten, but their stories and legends live on.

AkagiAkagi, Episodes 14-26 directed by Yuzo Sato. While the first half of Akagi had several different mahjong matches, the second half focuses on one: Akagi Shigeru versus Washizu Iwao. It also features a very special and slightly terrifying version of mahjong in which three-quarters of the tiles are transparent (which are beautifully animated). This reveals more of the players’ hands and greatly changing the dynamics of the game. (Though initially a fictional game, Washizu Mahjong sets now really do exist.) The game with Washizu also provides Akagi with something that he’s been looking for—a literal death match. Instead of money, he’s gambling with his blood and therefore his life. Akagi is a fearless and fearsome player and the game is ridiculously intense as a result. There’s skill, and there’s luck, but even more important are the psychological attacks used to provoke and manipulate the other players. Even when most of the tiles can been seen there’s still plenty of room for bluffing . I love mahjong and unsurprisingly I loved Akagi, too.

My Week in Manga: May 27-June 2, 2013

My News and Reviews

In addition to the usual My Week in Manga feature, last week there were three posts here at Experiments in Manga. First off was the opening of the most recent manga giveaway. There’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first omnibus of Umineko: When They Cry. All you have to do is tell me about a manga based on a video game, visual novel, or dating sim. Next up was my review of Leslie Helm’s family memoir Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan. It’s a fascinating and engaging book. And, like all of Chin Music Press’ publications, it’s beautifully designed as well. Finally, for those of you who are interested in my manga-buying habits, the Bookshelf Overload for May was also posted.

Quick Takes

Eyeshield 21, Volumes 20-23 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. All of the first round games in the Kanto Tournament are covered at least briefly in these volumes, but the game between the Shinryuji Nagas and the Deimon Devil Bats is the one that receives the most attention. This makes sense, since the Devil Bats are the “home” team in Eyeshield 21, but some of the other games are so abbreviated I’m not sure it was necessary to include them at all. Honestly, I would have liked to have seen them played out in more detail and I’m not even a huge football fan. Even so, I’m still enjoying Eyeshield 21. The characters are great and the artwork is fantastic. Overall, it’s simply a fun series.

Fairy Tail, Volume 26 by Hiro Mashima. Although I am vaguely familiar with Fairy Tail, the twenty-sixth volume is the first volume that I’ve actually had the opportunity to read. Even though I haven’t read the previous volumes, I can tell that this particular volume plays a pivotal role in the story with at least one huge plot twist and several possible deaths. (I say possible, because the characters seem to be extraordinarily resilient.) In this volume two guilds of magic users face off, Grimoire Heart and Fairy Tail, so there are plenty of battles to be had and over-the-top magic to be seen. Some of the individual fights have their moments but I wasn’t really wowed by any of them. Others seem to have been skipped over entirely, which was a little disappointing and anticlimactic in a few cases.

Love Share by Aoi Kujyou. Love Share is a collection of short boy’s love manga which all feature the same protagonists—the level-headed Kazushi and his more free-spirited friend and lover Izumi. There is no overarching plot to the volume; each story is a small (and sometimes confusing) glimpse into the two men’s lives at different points in their relationship. What appealed to me most about Love Share was the fluidity of Izumi and Kazuishi’s sexualities. Neither one of them is consigned to being the top or the bottom. Instead, they allow themselves to be caught up in the moment and let things proceed as they will. Both of them are completely capable of taking charge and they do. 

Saiyuki, Volumes 6-9 by Kazuya Minekura. There may be plenty of parallels to The Journey to the West, the Chinese classic on which Saiyuki is very loosely based, but the original story is often nearly unrecognizable. The characters, too, tend to be quite different from their counterparts. I’ll admit though, I get a kick out of Saiyuki. I do find some of the intentional anachronisms that Minekura includes to be rather odd; they don’t always blend very well with the religious and magical aspects of the series. But then again, I seem to have no problem with Sanzo’s revolver or the fact that Jeep turns into, well, a jeep. Although the ninth volume concludes a major story-arc, Saiyuki doesn’t end here—after changing magazines (and demographics), the story continues in Saiyuki Reload.