Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Manic About Manga's Best of 2009

Wow! I'm really waiting until the end of the year to get my Best of the Year list done. I didn't do one last year because I like to be contrary and not follow the crowd. But I thought that this year I'd be wild and crazy and compile a list, but my list is just a bit different. How is it different you ask? Most lists contain ten titles but mine has nine (pfft! big deal right?), the way I chose the titles is more along the lines of either "This title was much better than I thought" or "I think I need to read the second volume before I decide" and then found myself sucked in. The final reason this one is different is I haven't ranked them. You'll see that several of the titles are yaoi because that is a large portion of what I read. Where my review is available I'll provide the link and feel free to share any thoughts in the comments section.

Love Machine – Amayo Tsuge, published by Deux Press
Kokuyo is a workaholic. He's constantly in and out of the hospital due to exhaustion. He has no family and only one friend, Seiki. Since Seiki is the one who has to pick Kokuyo up from the hospital he dreams up a grand scheme. You see Seiki works for a company that develops androids and feels that their newest model, ETOWA (Every Time Only With Affection) would be a great improvement for Kokuyo. Kokuyo has always lived alone and thinks only of himself. He's not happy with the idea but he gives in and welcomes Shiro into his home. Shiro is clumsy and adorable but will he be able to warm up Kokuyo?
In the past I was always squeamish with the whole android/human pairing but thanks to Dany&Dany's Anima I was able to set aside some of that uncomfortableness and read it without too many issues. I found myself immediately engrossed in the story and drawn to the interesting interpersonal relationships between not only the humans and androids but also the relationships that develop with the androids. There were even a couple times I found myself bawling my eyes out. Not only is the story interesting but the art is totally adorable and you can't help but falling for Shiro's adorable clumsiness!

Love Full of Scars – Psyche Delico, published by NETCOMICS
Love Full of Scars explores the boundaries of the yaoi genre. Yoko is a heartthrob reputed to have quite the technique in the bedroom. One day Yoko comes to school covered in bandages, and fellow student Yukio vows to protect him. But does he really know what he's getting himself into? In another story, Ishimoto discovers that he and his driver's ed. instructor share the same passion for an old action hero cartoon. It seems, though, that their unexpected common interests might be leading them to an entirely different kind of passion. In a tale of forbidden love, Fumi is quite taken with the handsome man his brother has become while studying abroad, perhaps even a little too taken. In a different type of high school romance, Kanda falls secretly in love with a fellow thug he beats up on a daily basis. Will the two be able to overcome their bad habits to become a couple? And what will happen when Kanda's older brother, who just so happens to be a queen, finds out about their relationship? The stories in Love Full of Scars tell of both the physical and emotional marks tough love can leave on a person. (Description from Akadot Retail)
I normally like to write my own synopses but in the case of Love Full of Scars this synopsis is one of the reasons it is on this list. The second reason it's on the list is because it is one of the best yaoi titles I've read this year. This description describes some other title. Love Full of Scars is HILARIOUS! Each story is unique, charming, and funny. This is not your typical yaoi title in the way it takes the usual yaoi plot devices and turns them on their heads. What I mean is there aren't many pretty boys and the uke/seme stereotype is completely thrown out of the window. I think sensei has a thing for facial hair because each story has a man with facial hair (with the exception of the final story dealing with a drag queen). I get somewhat tired of one shot anthologies but it was so worth picking up this title. You get gay thugs, action figures found in a somewhat questionable position, and a pretty boy who loves hairy men. With the above description this is a title that I had originally passed over but decided that I'd check it out at the NETCOMICS website. I knew after the first chapter that this was a title that I was going to have to purchase. This is not only one of the best titles of the year but has made it onto my favorite titles of all time list.

Oishinbo A la Carte – Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, published by VIZ Signature
To celebrate Tozai News being around for 100 years it has been decided that there would be a column dedicated to the Supreme Menu, food items that are truly represent Japanese cuisine and culture. Placed in charge of this task is Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita. It turns out that Shiro is the estranged son of famous ceramist and gourmet Kaibara Yuzan. The father and son don't get along and their opinions about who should be able to enjoy gourmet food vary wildly. In between the story of Shiro and Kaibara we get a glimpse into Japanese culture through the food.
Like I said in my review, who knew that a manga about food could be an entertaining read. But I was pleasantly surprised to find this manga so enjoyable. You get a personal story because of the relationships between the characters, an introduction to Japanese culture through their food, and it all plays very well together. A worthy read indeed!

Dog x Cat – Yoshimi Amasaki, published by 801 Media
All Atsu ever wanted was a dog but living in an apartment made it impossible, at least until he met Junya. Junya on the other hand has only wanted Atsu. These two are the same age, grew up together, and are very close. When Junya tells Atsu that he loves him in the way that he wants to have sex with him. Atsu has no idea what to do and if he feels the same way. When Atsu realizes that not only is Junya important to him he realizes that he wants Junya the same way.
When this title was announced at AX in 2008 I really couldn't find out much about this title. I figured that this would be your usual PWP yaoi title with little story and lots of sex (PWP meaning Plot? What Plot?). Yes it's what you would expect from 801 Media but I found myself loving this title much more than I thought. It's funny, and I mean really funny. Amasaki-sensei weaves the dog and cat theme throughout especially with Atsu and his catlike personality. The last two chapters are a bit serious and seem a bit out of place but I find that the way it is handled makes it much more important because when you get rape (sorry I gave it away) in yaoi its generally dealt with differently where in this case Atsu was much more empowered. Dog x Cat was definitely a surprise hit for me!

Ze – Yuki Shimizu, Published by 801 Media
Raizou has no where to go now that his grandmother has passed away. Thanks to the help of the mysterious Genma he is sent into the Mitou home. He's given room and board in exchange for taking care of the cooking, cleaning, and general household upkeep. But there's something strange about the Mitou's. It seems that they are Kotodamashi (spell casters) and use Kamisama (living paper dolls who have the ability to heal their Kotodamashi). But there is one Kamisama who seems to be without a Kotodama, and that would be Kon. Kon is Raizou's roommate and was the one originally taking care of the house. Now that Raizou is there what will Kon do?
Ze is a series that is still ongoing in Japan and is one of the titles that I had to read volume two to truly decide that this is actually an amazing series. The first volume is somewhat confusing because we are thrown a whole bunch of characters and a somewhat foreign idea. But there is something about Shimizu-sensei's art that keeps you interested and pushed me to read the second volume. Of course with the continuing of the series we meet more characters including the mysterious Genma and a possible connection between Raizou and Genma and things are explained more. But to me the main thing that kept me is the presence of Asari. He's one of the Mitou family Kamisama and is visually stunning. For anyone who knows me know that I find Shiuko Kano's representation of men the finest out there and Asari rivals many of them. I know that's a dumb reason but if the art is good enough to at least keep me interested then chances are I'll continue, that and my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. In the case of Ze it's definitely worth continuing after you get past the first volume of confusion.

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei – Koji Kumeta, published by Del Rey
Nozomu Itoshiki is a middle school teacher and only has one goal in life… to die. But he seems to be rather unsuccessful at it. He has quite the interesting class and he's not above using interesting teaching methods like telling his students not to worry about aiming high. He's a socialist at heart and seems to have an air of apathy around him but he cares for his students regardless.
I never had any intention of reading this title. Whenever there is something highly praised I usually run the other way from because I generally wind up disappointed (there are a few exceptions). I wound up offering to review it despite my dislike of all things popular and found a funny, biting manga that definitely made me laugh, and laugh hard. As the series has continued I find myself laughing at all of the hijinks that Itoshiki-sensei finds himself in. I've been letting a coworker of mine borrow this series and I've got her hooked as well. Whether it's Kafuka (one of sensei's students and super positive) inviting Admiral Perry into class to celebrate the opening of Japan (where he then insists on opening up everything be it books) to not celebrating Sensei's birthday because he knows he was conceived on Christmas Eve (the majority of the Japanese people aren't Christians and Christmas Eve is spent like Valentine's Day). This is a great series and I'm glad I got over myself to pick it up!

Merry Family Plan – Sumitomo Morozumi, published by NETCOMICS
Merry Family Plan is Morozumi-sensei's first manga. It is a collection of one-shots that feature a story of a high school boy that can't seem to keep his girlfriends because he doesn't seem to fully invest himself into his relationships. Until he meets the new male student in class. A quick tale of a guy who has a mask fetish thanks to his dentist. There's a story about two lovers who can't seem to be able to move their relationship forward. Another tale is one of two lovers who haven’t been able move forward in their relationship because they can't decide who is going to be the bottom and who is going to be the top. The final story is about a pilot who doesn't really want to be a pilot and then becomes possessed by a spirit who has a uniform fetish.
OK, so the above description stinks but it's hard to describe one-shot collections. I knew very little about this title and things I was reading about it was not very popular. Sometimes though titles that aren’t very popular can be rather good (at least in my opinion). I decided to give it a chance and found myself pleasantly surprised. You can tell that this is a first attempt for this mangaka because the art isn’t as polished. Story wise I found it enjoyable and I see a lot of potential. There was one section where one of her characters was in a thought spiral and portrayed this thinking with a visual of a merry-go-round. I caught myself thinking "How clever!" I was very surprised that I enjoyed this manga even though the characters looked rather young. I hope that Morozumi-sensei will continue to hone her (I assume) skills and we will be able to read them in English!

Cut – Toko Kawai, Published by Juné
Chiaki is gorgeous and popular but hides a deep secret. Eiji is quiet and doesn't seem to draw attention to himself. He hides a secret as well. These two young men find themselves drawn to each other. Chiaki is being sexually abused by his stepfather and Eiji's mother was crazy and tried to get rid of him by attacking him, neglecting him, etc. What these two young men find in each other is something that they need and soon begin a relationship. With them both of them hiding physical as well as emotional scars can they continue a healthy relationship?
Mental illness and abuse is always a touchy subject with me, knowing first hand what it's like (the mental illness part at least). You can't go wrong with Toko Kawai, but knowing that this was going to be an emotional read for me I had to proceed with caution. What I found was a truly amazing tale of hope, optimism, and love. I generally don't talk to my mom about yaoi titles I've read but in the case of Cut I had to bring it up because it was so poignant (I just left out the m/m and sex factors when we talked). I was moved beyond words by the way Kawai-sensei presented this story, especially the way she told of Eiji's past. I am so glad that Juné licensed this title because not only has this made my top of 2009 list but is also on my top manga titles of all time!

20th Century Boys – Naoki Urasawa, published by VIZ Signature
Kenji had a big imagination as a kid and had visions of greatness. Now he's the owner of a local convenience store, living with his mom and raising his niece that his sister basically abandoned. You'd think life would be boring but there's something going on and Kenji is going to have to save the day. Who knew that his big imagination and the death of a childhood friend was going to change his life forever. It seems that there is a big threat looming on the horizon and it is all based on a story created by Kenji and his friends one summer in the 60's.
I hadn't really thought much of reading anything by Urasawa-sensei until I asked readers to give me suggestions on non-yaoi authors and titles that I should check out. As it happens Urasawa-sensei was mentioned by a couple people so when the opportunity to get a review copy presented itself I jumped on the chance (sad thing is I haven't gotten it reviewed yet). This is another title that I didn't know if I was going to be continue reading until I read the second volume. I was a bit confused and generally action and sci-fi type stories just aren't my thing but I was hooked by the second volume. It tells a story that spans decades and jumps between Kenji's childhood and Kenji's current life. I can now see why Urasawa-sensei is so popular. He is a very gifted storyteller. I have really enjoyed reading 20th Century Boys and I give thanks to the readers who suggested I give Urasawa-sensei a shot!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oishinbo A la Carte - Japanese Cuisine (vol. 1) by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki review

Oishinbo A la Carte – Japanese Cuisine (vol. 1)

Author/Artist: Tetsu Kariya/Akira Hanasaki

Publisher: VIZ Signature

Rating: T – 13 and above

Genre: Seinen, Drama, Comedy, Slice of Life

Grade: B+

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at Check it out! ***

Food… its something that we all need. Not only do we need it to sustain life but it also is very important to society. We all have dishes that are essential to our culture and one mention of these meals people immediately know where that food comes from. Scotland has Haggis, Russia and borscht goes hand in hand. When you think of Italy pasta comes to mind and where would America be without its apple pie. Even though food is essential you wouldn’t imagine making an entertaining manga out of it. Well it has been done, and done very well.

Oishinbo A la Carte focuses on the Teito Times and their project called the Ultimate Menu. Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita are the two employees in charge. It turns out that Yamaoka is the son of renowned gourmet and famous artist Yuzan Kaibara. Yamaoka and Kaibara have been estranged for many years and the two don’t get along. They have very different views on how gourmet food should be approached. Yuzan feels that only those with culture and discriminating taste should be recognized as gourmets. Yamaoka feels differently. He feels that everyone should be able to enjoy good food and that gourmet meals can be found everywhere, not just in super fancy and expensive restaurants.

Oishinbo A la Carte is presented in a new and interesting way than most manga series. Usually they start a series with the first volume and follow the stories in the order that they were published. In the case of Oishinbo A la Carte it is handled like the title implies, a la carte. The volumes focus on a food type and each story focuses on that particular menu item. They introduce the series with a very apropos food choice, Japanese Cuisine. Each chapter focuses on a menu item. Not only do you have the food but the interpersonal relationships between the characters that make the manga interesting. You find yourself drooling over the manga while reading the descriptions of the dishes. Not only do you get an interesting look into Japanese culture through the dishes that have been passed down through the generations but the folks at VIZ have provided recipes for a dish or two that were featured in the volume (they may have been included in Japanese volumes but I have no knowledge of that).

Some of the artwork in Oishinbo A la Carte does have a somewhat dated look to it and some of the stories take place several years in the past. Oishinbo is a series that was started in 1983 and is still ongoing. According to there are currently 102 volumes out and it’s still plugging along. This is one of the first VIZ Signature titles that I’ve checked out and I have to say that I’m impressed with quality of this release. The books are a little bit bigger than a usual VIZ release (they’re about the same size as a DMP volume). They don’t have dust jackets but have attached flaps that give it a higher scale look. The paper is also a heavier stock and has an heirloom quality to it. The recipe pages are presented in color to make the food look that much better and drool worthy. Because of these features the books are little more expensive but because of the high quality and overall great job in production it is worth the higher price.

For a manga about food I have found myself truly enchanted and I’ve found myself hooked by this series. What better way to learn about a fascinating culture like the Japanese than through their culinary feats!

***Review Copy provided by VIZ Media***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hey, Sensei? by Yaya Sakuragi review

Hey, Sensei?

Author/Artist: Yaya Sakuragi

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Comedy, Drama, Romance

Grade: B

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at Check it out! ***

Written in the corner of a test Tomohiko Isa catches the note "I love you, Sensei" from one of his students. Isa is a stoic high school math teacher. The surprise comes from who left the note, male student Takashi Homura. Homura happens to be the younger brother of his college girlfriend. It was in this relationship that Isa discovered that he was gay and he figured that Homura was using this as a way to get back at him. Bombarded by Homura’s constant sexual attacks he discovers that Homura’s love confession was in fact real and had no idea that Isa was gay.

Isa doesn’t have a lot of experience with matters of love and struggles with the fact he’s falling for his student who is ten years his junior. Homura on the other hand wants to appear to be grown up and be a suitable partner for his lover. Isa reluctantly agrees to start a relationship with Homura. Homura, being the youthful soul that he is, is ready and raring to go whereas Isa, being a responsible adult, wants to take things slowly. Will these two be able to overcome their obstacles and truly love each other?

You may recognize the work of Yaya Sakuragi-sensei. She is the artist behind BLU’s Tea for Two which is a great read all in itself. Because I’ve been enjoying that series I was really looking forward to Hey, Sensei? and I wasn’t disappointed either. It is a very sweet story with humor and romance and dealt with very human emotions. I found it very endearing that these two were both trying very hard to impress each other. Isa was constantly reminding Homura of their age difference and Homura was always trying to act older than he really is. It seemed that as soon as they admitted to themselves that it was ok to be who they really are their relationship really improved.

One thing I really liked about this release was the art. Sakuragi-sensei creates manly looking men. There are no girly looking ukes in this story. I find myself drawn to characters that are drawn lanky, lean and long. That’s exactly what you get from Sakuragi-sensei sexy, tall, manly characters. Another thing I enjoyed was the short personal comic in the Afterword. It has nothing to do with the story at hand but it gives us a little glimpse into her life. In regards to the physical look of the book it’s typical Juné. With Sakuragi-sensei the larger size makes it much easier to enjoy her art. But that’s just me.

I really like this title and can see myself reading this on a regular basis. If you like sweet romance, manly looking characters, and the teacher/student scenario doesn’t bother you I recommend this title. For another view be sure to catch April Kimm’s review.

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Manhattan Love Story by Momoko Tenzen review

Manhattan Love Story

Author/Artist: Momoko Tenzen

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: D

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at Check it out! ***

Manhattan Love Story is a collection of related vignettes tied to a midtown flower shop. Dan "Diamond" Loving is the manager of a flower shop in midtown Manhattan that is owned by his lover Rock Melville. Rock is a powerful CEO and is rather busy so the time that the two of these men is few and far between. They love each other but Dan has a hard time dealing with not being able to see his lover as often as he would like.

We also get stories featuring Dan’s employee Kanan who falls in love with a Japanese high school student who is in town visiting family, Kenji’s (the Japanese high school student) nephew falling for his teacher, and Rock’s secretary Jessie is dating an old college friend of Rock’s. Jessie met Louis at a bookstore he was working at. This is the couple that adorns the front cover.

I had high hopes for Manhattan Love Story because Momoko Tenzen-sensei happens to one of my favorite mangaka. I find her stories calming and interesting and her art, though sparse, has a very classy, high art feel to it. With the cover of this manga you definitely get that impression. But once I cracked open the book I found that this is one of sensei’s weaker titles. The main character Dan honestly looks like a flat chested girl (which really comes across on the back cover). He also acts somewhat girly. And the names Diamond and Rock, how cheesy is that. I realize that you can get some pretty bizarre names here in the states but I think sensei’s pushing it a bit. I did like the stories with Kanan and Kenji (the Japanese student) and Jessie and Louis’s story, although I would have used a different spelling of Jessie (the spelling used seems to be the more feminine spelling, I would have used Jesse which is much more masculine looking.) But the story that sinks this volume is The Angel and the Hydrangea, the teacher and student story. Normally I’m not too against this particular plot device because they are usually dealing with high school students. But in this case we are dealing with a teacher and a thirteen-year-old. Not only is he sleeping with several of his students, but seems to be obsessed with the young boy. Creepy! Many of the titles that I’ve read, sensei uses teacher love on a regular basis but this one just crosses the line. I know when I was thirteen I wasn’t looking to hook up with my teachers (most of them were old anyway). I feel that this story drags down the entire volume.

You can tell that this is one of sensei’s older titles because when you look at her newer works (like La Satanica also published by Juné) the art style has changed. The characters have very sharp chins and extremely long faces. She’s definitely improved over time but her art regardless of when it was drawn has always attracted me. I am so glad that Juné has decided to license many of her works. She is definitely one of my favorites and whenever I get my shipment of review books I always save hers for last because I enjoy her work so much (unless I get a Makoto Tateno book in the shipment then that is the last one I read). Sadly with the case of Manhattan Love Story I can’t praise it like I wish I could. I just found The Angel and the Hydrangea so distasteful that it tainted my opinion of the rest of the book.

It is beautifully published and I love the cover (with the exception of the clashing pink bar on the bottom, but it was published before Juné got its new makeover). But a beautiful book doesn’t make it worthy of your time. I can’t really recommend it because of the shota aspects of the third story. The rest of the book is OK but it’s not stellar. I’m leaving the decision up to you!

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Strange and Mystifying Story vol. 1 by Tsuta Suzuki review

A Strange and Mystifying Story vol. 1

Author/Artist: Tsuta Suzuki

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Comedy, Supernatural

Grade: B-

Aki Yamane’s family seems to be cursed, everyone dies too young. While Aki’s grandfather is on his deathbed he tells Aki that if he ever needs anything the family has a protective spirit and all he needs to do is call upon it. But not long after his grandfather’s death he falls ill as well. He seems to be consumed by an unidentifiable illness and figures he’s not long for this world. Aki isn’t ready to die quite yet. Coming upon a fossilized tooth on the family shrine he summons the family’s protective spirit. Aki is in for quite a shock when the spirit materializes as a hunky wolf-man.

Once the spirit is summoned Aki must give him a name and tell him what he wants. At one time Aki’s grandpa summoned him and named him after his deceased wife Setsuko, so being the creative soul that he is calls him Setsu. Aki’s wish is for Setsu is to get rid of his disease but the way that Setsu goes about ridding Aki’s body is rather sensual and Aki becomes self conscious. Aki changes his mind and no longer wants Setsu around but doesn’t know how to go about it. But since Setsu is around Aki’s life doesn’t seem to be quite so lonely anymore and he does feel a lot better.

When Aki gets to the point of feeling pretty good he’s able to go about his business as usual and goes back to work. He’s a civil servant and works with an old childhood friend and his boss happens to be an old friend of his grandfather’s. But things are not bound to run smoothly when you have a sexy wolf-man living in your home. How is Aki to explain Setsu’s presence to his coworkers?

A Strange and Mystifying Story is just that, strange and mystifying, but is also intriguing, beautifully rendered, and humorous. But I do have a few hang-ups. The story is kind of confusing because we don’t get much back story into why Aki’s family is cursed and why Setsu has been protecting them all this time. It is a series, however, and I figure that answers will come in time. Another problem I found is Aki says one thing then behaves in another. This is a common yaoi plot device that can get somewhat tiring. Aki complains about being with Setsu but Setsu is the one who is healing him and Aki doesn’t really seem to appreciate it but then turns around and wants feel accepted by Setsu. Weird. Finally the secondary characters seem to be more colorful and interesting than the main ones (actually I should just say main character) especially Aki’s boss Minamura. It turns out that he met Setsu in his previous incarnation as Setsuko and was healed by him. He claims that Setsu was his savior and his first love (and seeing Setsu I can totally see it). It also seems that Aki’s childhood friend possibly has a crush on the boss. Interesting office!

Overall though I did find it rather enjoyable and it turned out to be a great escape. I don’t recommend this title to new yaoi readers though. Setsu has the cosplay thing going for him where he has ears and a tail but one of my first experiences with animal/human and human pairings was early on in my yaoi reading and I almost left boys love titles in the dust. He does go in and out of animal form (not much) and does have the ears and tail quite regularly, but can look like a normal human as well. Now if you are a yaoi veteran and can read anything then you’ll probably enjoy it.

Juné did a pretty good job. The translation seemed to flow ok and I don’t recall any spelling or grammatical errors. The dust jacket fits nicely. The only thing that sticks out is that the cover has an orange hue but then there’s the pink Juné branding strip (with their new look the second volume looks much better). It does take away from the cover illustration, but you get over it pretty quickly.

For anyone who likes their yaoi with a touch of fantasy and supernatural you may want to check out A Strange and Mystifying Story. If you are new to yaoi you may want to put it off until you become a little more familiar with the plot devices and conventions used (and I don’t mean conventions like Yaoi-Con) and tackle this title then. But it’s completely up to you, you may really enjoy it, but I’m personally glad I waited to read it when I was a little more familiar with the genre.

***Review Copy purchased through Yaoi Club***