By Deb Aoki
This week, I'm moving the date of my weekly mini-manga reviews to Mondays, so there's even more of them than usual this time around. There was quite a mix of stuff in my mailbox and in my stack this week, from cute and funny stories for kids to violent and/or sexy stories geared strictly for grown-ups. The 17 books (and 1 magazine) I reviewed include a few new series and one-shots, as well as some second looks at titles that I've reviewed in the past.
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Author / Artist: Ryuji x Gotsubo
Japanese Title: Sasameke
Publisher: Yen Press
Compare prices for Sasameke Vol. 1
When he was a boy, Rakuichi Nagahama was the best soccer player in town. When his family moved to Italy, everyone assumed that he'd be headed for the big leagues. Several years later, he's back in his hometown with a sour attitude toward the game he once loved. Can his classmates convince him to join his school's struggling team?
Sasameke starts off as a soccer manga, but its story goes completely off the rails by the last chapter. It has a promising premise and it could work as a parody of sports manga clichés, but Sasameke gets so ridiculous, it seems like work of a talented, but easily distracted creator.
Author / Artist: Ema Toyama
Japanese Title: Koko ni Iru yo
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Compare prices for I Am Here! Vol. 1
Painfully shy and soft-spoken Hikage has spent most of her school years as an invisible girl. Excluded from the class cliques, she starts a blog and meets two online friends who help her find the courage to change. Hikage catches the eye of the most popular boy in class, which makes her happy but also makes her the target of a jealous classmate.
Its 'shy girl meets popular guy' premise will remind readers of Kimi ni Todoke, but I Am Here! opts to focus less on humor and more on Hikage's emotional evolution. A sincere, engaging story that will delight teens and encourage shy girls to face their fears.
Author / Artist: Karuho Shiina
Japanese Title: Kimi ni Todoke
Publisher: Shojo Beat / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Kimi ni Todoke Vol.6
Speaking of Kimi ni Todoke, the latest volume of Karuho Shiina's romantic comedy briefly shifts its focus away from shy girl Sawako and her outgoing and kind sweetheart Kazehaya to a love triangle between spunky Chizuru, stoic Ryu and Ryu's older brother Toru.
Kimi ni Todoke continues to be worth reading because Shiina has taken the time to create multi-dimensional characters and relationships worth caring about. She deftly mixes humor and high school drama in a way that doesn't seem forced or too formulaic, and lets events unfold naturally. A sweet, fun, and rewarding read.
Author / Artist: Yuuki Fujimoto
Japanese Title: Kirameki Gingacho Shotengai
Compare prices for the Stellar Six of Gingacho Vol. 1
Kuro, Iba, Mike, Q, Sato and Mamoru grew up together on the shopping street where their parents own stores. But since entering middle school, these childhood buddies are beginning to grow apart. Can a crisis threatening the neighborhood bar bring them together again?
While the title makes it sound like a sci-fi superhero team story, The Stellar Six of Gingacho is actually a down-to-earth, slice-of-life, coming-of-age comedy about a group of working class kids who have strong ties to their friends, families and neighborhood. A bit simple, but heart-warming and charming.
Author / Artist: Various
Publisher: F*X*T Magazine
Order or subscribe to F*X*T Magazine
At at time when few mainstream publishers are willing to take a chance on new comics creators inspired by manga, and the industry is headed to a digital future, graphic designer Fawn Lau decided to take matters into her own hands. Lau (with a little help from her friends) launched F*X*T Magazine, an over-sized, glossy anthology featuring comics and full-color illustrations from up-and-coming creators.
F*X*T Issue 1 delivers on much of the promise of Lau's ambitious concept. It's beautifully designed, gorgeously executed and full of eclectic, exciting (albeit slightly uneven) offerings. It's well worth supporting to see where it'll go next.
Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Artist: Takeshi Obata
Japanese Title: Bakuman。
Publisher: Shonen Jump / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Bakuman Vol. 2
Now that Moritaka and Akito have completed their manga, they're taking their first steps toward becoming published pros by visiting the offices of Shonen Jump magazine. They receive some promising feedback, but they're up against teen prodigy Eiji Nizuma, an eccentric but talented manga-ka who can seem to do no wrong.
After charges of sexism in Volume 1, Bakuman Volume 2 introduces a (literally) butt-kicking female character. However, manliness is still the main theme, as Ohba and Obata show readers that reaching manga superstardom is an incredibly grueling process that ain't for wimps.
Author / Artist: Sango Morimoto
Japanese Title: Pit Buru-Taro Mahou no Empitsu no Maki
Publisher: VIZ Kids / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Taro and the Magic Pencil
Taro loves to draw and create stories about an imaginary world he calls "Doodledom." One day, a wizard pops out of the pages of his sketchbook, gives him a magic pencil, turns him into a dog and sends him on a mission to save Doodledom from being "erased".
While it's not exactly Bakuman for the elementary school set, Taro and the Magic Pencil is a fun fantasy story with a bit of interactive puzzle fun that introduces young readers to the joys of comics. It has its share of "poop" jokes, but hey, it's for kids. Lighten up.
Author: Sho Makura
Artist: Haruhi Kato
Japanese Title: Boyo-yon Pandaru-Man
Publisher: VIZ Kids / VIZ Media
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Panda Man is the 'Greatest Martial Artist in the World,' or at least he thinks so. In reality, his powers are clumsiness, an immense appetite and the ability to "cut the cheese with grace and ease." The cows of New Milk Village come begging for his help, but can Panda Man's stinky feet be stinky enough to chase away the bad guys?
With its kid-friendly gross-out jokes, Panda Man is trying hard to join the ranks of inept and scatalogical superheroes for kids, ala Captain Underpants. It's simple and silly, but so are knock-knock jokes, and kids looove that kind of thing.
Author / Artist: Nobuaki Tadano
Japanese Title: 70 Oku no Hari
Compare prices for 7 Billion Needles Vol. 2
Hikaru's first battle with the monstrous alien Maelstrom comes to a dramatic end, but that doesn't mean that she's out of danger. Hikaru returns to the island where she grew up, and confronts some painful memories from her past, including the circumstances surrounding the death of her father.
With the return to Hikaru's hometown, Tadano takes readers deeper into his protagonist's past and reveals the reasons behind her initial tendency to withdraw from the world. As in the first, this second volume delivers a seinen sci-fi page-turner that will keep you reading non-stop from beginning to end.
Author: Venio Tachibana
Artist: Rihito Takarai
Japanese Title: Seven Days: Monday → Thursday
Publisher: Juné Manga / Digital Manga Publishing
Compare prices for Seven Days: Monday → Thursday
From almost from the first day that he entered high school, Touji Seryou got the rep as the class hottie. Rumour has it that Touji will go out with any girl who asks him on Monday, but if he doesn't fall in love by Friday, he breaks it off. But when Touji's (male) classmate Yuzuru asks him out, mostly as a joke, things don't quite go as usual.
Seven Days captures the first four days of Touji and Yuzuru's week-long "relationship," so readers get lots of simmer but not much sizzle. Will things heat up in the next volume? We'll see.