This week's batch of books run the gamut from slightly creepy shojo stories to a fish-out-of-water story about an English teacher in Japan, a heartwarming sports manga series, a historical biography and a Japan travel book that skips the shrines and gets to the good stuff: where to buy cool toys in Tokyo.
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Author / Artist: Mitsuru Adachi
Japanese Title: Cross Game
Publisher: Shonen Sunday / VIZ Media
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VIZ Media opted to release the first volume of Cross Game as a 3-volumes-in-1 omnibus. Smart move, because this sports manga story takes a bit to kick into gear.The first two volumes are mostly about character intros, as we meet Ko Kitamura, a not-very-ambitious young baseball player and the four Tsukishima sisters who play a huge role in his life.
It takes a while to get used to Adachi's slice-of-life storytelling style, because it's more subtle than most shonen manga. But Adachi's a master at grabbing readers by the heartstrings. Cross Game starts slow, but by last page you're hooked.
Author/Artist: Toru Fujieda
Japanese Title: Dragon Girl
Publisher: Yen Press
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Rinna Aizen is a confident girl who wants to follow in her father's footsteps: she wants to lead the cheering squad at his alma mater. Never mind that her classmates are mostly guys at this once all-boys academy, and that the cheering squad already has a macho leader trying to keep the now-faltering tradition alive. Rinna is determined to generate school spirit despite these odds and the haughty school president who wants to stop her.
Dragon Girl's charming art and likeable characters kept me reading, but like Cross Game, its slightly slow pace benefits from the 3-volumes-in-1 intro. Fun but a bit forgettable.
Author / Artist: Natsumi Ando
Japanese Title: Arisa
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
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Tsubasa and Arisa are twin sisters who have been separated for three years due to their parents' divorce. The girls go to different schools and seem to have wildly different lives and personalities: Tsubasa's a bit of a hot-tempered roughneck while Arisa is pretty and popular. But things aren't as simple as they seem. After Arisa attempts suicide, Tsubasa goes to school in her place to try to understand why, and discovers a dark side to Arisa's 'perfect' school life.
Arisa is by the same artist as Kitchen Princess, but it's a much darker tale, with lots of genuinely strange and suspenseful twists. Utterly compelling.
Author: Kiyoshi Konno
Artist: Chie Shimano
Publisher: Penguin Books
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As the prologue of this book rightly points out, more people know what Che Guevara looks like than know what his life and ideals were all about. Che Guevara: A Manga Biography aims to address that oversight through comics.
The art is so-so, and it's a little disorienting to see Che looking more like salaryman Kosaku Shima or Crying Freeman than the defiant-looking guy in a beret on tshirts. It's not definitive book on this iconic Cuban revolutionary, but Che Guevara does a decent job of telling his life story as a "explorer, outsider, guerilla, revolutionary and legend" in easy-to-digest chunks.
Tonoharu is about a guy from the U.S. who gets sent to a rural town in Japan to "teach" English. Soon enough, he discovers how terribly unglamorous his job is, and how lonely it can be when he barely knows the language much less the culture of his new (temporary) home.
The artwork in Tonoharu is meticulously drawn. Martinson resists the urge to use a "manga" style to tell his tale; in fact, he leaves much of the Japanese dialogue untranslated to underscore Dan's confusion and isolation. A slightly melancholy, slightly funny slice-of-life look at an expat's experiences in Japan.
Authors: Brian Flynn & Joshua Bernard
Publisher: Last Gasp
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Finally! A Japan travel book that skips the shrines and tourist traps and gets to the good stuff: where and how to find cool toys, clothing, manga and collectibles.
Your guides? The guys from cult toy shop Super7, who are definitely kaiju (Japanese TV/movie monster) connoisseurs bar none. Flynn and Bernard take readers on a tour to toy collector hotspots that you'd normally only find via word-of-mouth, and wrap it all up in a nicely designed book packed with cool photos and sensible travel tips for newbies and hardcore Japanophiles alike.
Highly recommended. I know I'll take Tokyo Underground 2 with me the next time I go to Japan.
Author/Artist: Kaori Yuki
Japanese Title: Ningyou Kyuutei Gakudan
Publisher: Shojo Beat / VIZ Media
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If you've ever thought to yourself, "I like shojo manga and all, but it would be so much better if it had more zombies," your wishes have come true in the pages of Grand Guignol Orchestra... well, kinda.
Shojo manga's mistress of Goth horror gives her fans the kind of baroque frills and gender-bending twists that they love. However, this convoluted tale of a troupe of traveling entertainers/zombie killers is a messy melange of dysfunctional drama, creepy creeps and flowing hair that sorely lacks a compelling, cohesive plot to hold it all together.