“Prime Time” – A, A’ (manga) – 8/10

Mangaka: Moto Hagio

Genre: Sci-Fi/Romance/Psychological/Gender-Bender

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this is unlicensed in the US.

Art: Very 80′s shoujo, with big galaxy-sparkle eyes and pretty guys. This still retains the nice, detailed backgrounds that modern shoujo lack.

Summary: A volume of short sci-fi shoujo stories all featuring a new race of humans called Unicorns. The major theme in all of the stories are about human emotions. As the characters in the story try to interact and relate to these Unicorns who lack a lot of the natural emotions humans normally feel. (MAL.net)

Review: In addition to the summary above, I would also like to posit that the stories that these three tales tell is also centered on identity, explored in three different ways: individually, emotionally, and sexually.

The first story pre-empts the Western world’s obsession with cloning and its effects by about 30 years. A Unicorn wakes up to discover that she’s a clone grown from the cells of a scientist who died on a distant planet. Because the original’s work was so necessary, they send her off to replace her. The problem is that all the members there remember her as she grew and changed, forgetting that the clone was a turn back in the clock to when she first came. Relationships – especially the romantic one that grew between her and another scientist – are all reset, much to their dismay. The clone must come to terms with the idea that she’s not the original, that these people aren’t crazy or trying to irritate her… that they’re merely trying to connect with her as they knew her. Where does the original end and the clone begin?

The second story really has no relation to the first, but does serve as a prequel story to the last in the trilogy. A young psychic makes a connection to a Unicorn that’s been raised in glass walls, expected to behave a certain way and live a certain way. It turns out not all is as it appears. Other’s expectations blinded them to her potential, and when she awakens there is no turning back. How can these two keep their bonds with each other? How can she find freedom?

The last explores the idea of sexual identity. A Unicorn is born with the ability to change gender at will, but currently has settled on the male form as dominant. But a chance encounter with the psychic from the previous story unsettles everyone as they try to deal with ‘his’ attraction to the man. What effect does it have on their love, and can their relationship survive?

All three have interesting insights into what it means to love and what it means to find oneself. It’s endlessly fascinating, and while I don’t feel that the themes are always explored to their fullest, I do think they’re explored well.

Overall, it’s pretty good, but with some issues exploring these ideas in depth due to these being one-shots, I can’t really give it a perfect ’10′. Even so, the ideas explored are fascinating, and the emotional parts just gut-wrenching.

Recommended: 14+. The ideas of sexuality and identity are definitely for the older crowd. This also has a few (non-graphic) character deaths.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

To Terra… (manga or tv anime)

Please Save My Earth (manga)

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“Lying Eyes” – Lying Mii-kun And Broken Maa-chan: Precious Lies (manga) – 10/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Hitoma Iruma (Story), Satou Atsuki (Art)

Genre: Mystery/Psychological/Romance

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga is unlicensed in the U.S.

Art: This is very much a modern manga, with clean lines, good shading, and solid detail when needed on the characters and background.

Summary: The setting is a rural city in which a kidnapping and a series of murders are happening simultaneously, where there was also a kidnapping 8 years ago. The victims, the compulsive liar “Mii-kun” (the narrator), and “Maa-chan” (Misono Mayu) reunite and start living together, despite of the fact that the kidnapped children were in Mayu’s apartment… (MAL.net)

Review: If you can’t tell by the title, this is all about lies. The lies we tell others, the lies we tell ourselves, all the lies that we can fill our lives with. This is told via an unreliable narrator, so not only do the characters lie (and lie, and lie some more), but each chapter reveals how we assume things about how stories work and shows us how wrong we can be about what’s happening. It’s a brilliantly executed idea, letting the story reveal in bits and pieces what’s really happening and never letting on about it from the beginning.

The characters are as engaging as the method of storytelling. This revolves around two missing children. Who took them? Why? It turns out that there’s a whole lot of trauma and terror behind the events. The names of the characters should also be major hints of what’s happening – Maa-chan is broken by a horrific past. It’s no secret that the police have their eyes on her because of it. Mii-kun ends up her accomplice, lying to protect her and himself. Lies are a powerful force in this story and often drive their motives and actions. The lies they tell also end up revealing a lot about them (doubly surprising since lies are usually meant to hide things) and what is going on between these two.

This is a story I would happily pay someone to translate the light novels for. This manages a compelling story about two characters that are broken, twisted human beings, driven to actions by forces that were beyond their control and in some ways are still unable to stop. Top that off with managing to upset the normal form for storytelling in a clever – nay, ingenious – way that connects with the title, and I’ve found a winner!

Overall, this is a manga that I can’t help but recommend!

Recommended: 16+. This deals with some very, very harsh themes. Child abuse and murder are the order of the day. There’s nothing particularly gruesome shown, but the implication is more than enough. There’s also a good deal of blood shown even if the outright violence is avoided as much as possible.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Liar Game (manga)

Kimi no Knife (manga)

“Quoth The Raven” – Black Bird (manga) – 4/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kanoko Sakurakoji

Genre: Romance/Drama/Supernatural/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/19 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Shoujo Beat.

Art: It’s standard. I liked the judicious use of toner, backgrounds, and really thought the tengu designs were interesting. But the art really doesn’t stand out in any way.

Summary: There is a world of myth and magic that intersects ours, and only a special few can see it. Misao Harada is one such person, and she wants nothing to do with magical realms. She just wants to have a normal high school life and maybe get a boyfriend. All that changes one day when Misao is attacked by a demon. Her childhood friend Kyo suddenly returns to save her and tend her cuts – with his tongue! It turns out Misao is the bride of prophecy, whose blood gives power to the demon clan who claims her. But most demons want to keep her power for themselves – by eating her! Now Misao is just trying to stay alive…and decide if she likes it when Kyo licks her wounds. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This is one of the Shojo Beat titles I hear thrown around a bit, so when the opportunity to check it out from the library came up, I took it with few expectations about what it was. I figured it might be a slightly smuttier version of Kieli, one of my favorite supernatural romances. I was a little off; Sure, this girl might be able to see spirits, but that’s about it!

Misao is just an average teen girl who happens to see spirits, and when she’s attacked one day, she’s rescued by a super-handsome guy that is deeply in love with her and wants to get into her pants.

Still with me?

So far, these four volumes have centered around how she’s the DESTINED ONE and sex. Not necessarily in that order, though, and not necessarily separately. The big deal is that if she has sex, then the clan of whomever manages to have bedded her will prosper. This is a big draw for Kyo (though apparently there’s some childhood friendship there that’s blossomed into love as well, but there’s a big mystery surrounding this). It’s also a big draw for a few other clans, so they’re completely willing to fight over her. Honestly, how it’s carried out is a major teen girl fantasy, and not unlike…I hate to say this… Twilight. It’s so full of near-sex and sexual tension it’s hard to believe they managed to squeeze anything else in.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t that much else here. Misao and Kyo are as standard and uninteresting as possible, and while I’m intrigued by some of the side characters (the brothers seem like awesome people and I’d love to have more of them!) we’re only treated to brief glimpses of their personalities, making them one-note characters. The story also assumes that knowing absolutely nothing about them, we’re supposed to adore them and understand they’re Misao’s New Best Friends. Even the bad guys are completely boring! This is as average as average can be, and definitely uses it to its full advantage.

Overall,  it’s a teenage girl’s ultimate romance story, mixed the angst of having sex for the first time with being the sexual fantasy of a really hot guy and adding some supernatural drama. I got over this stuff long ago. There’s so much sexual angst that it’s hard to see the character development. I can’t even mention the plot development because it’s all about the sex.

Recommended: 18+. It’s not hentai, but it comes darned close quite a few times. There are a number of highly sexualized scenes, where they are kissing half-naked and whatnot, but I suspect that when it gets to it the actual scene will be mostly stylized editing. I’d probably label it ‘softcore porn’.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (manga)

Bride of the Water God (manhwa)

Love Monster (manga)

“Devil On My Shoulder” – Stray Little Devil (manga) – 5/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kotaro Mori

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Action/Supernatural/Shoujo-ai

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by DrMaster Publications.

Art: It’s modern, it’s simple and unremarkable. But the characters do look pretty unique, and the clothes look pretty cool.

Summary: Meet Pam Akumachi, an energetic 13-year-old junior high student who has just turned into…a little devil! One day, when Pam and her friends try to summon the “benign devil”, the magic circle goes out of control and Pam is transported to a strange parallel world where angels and devils reside in an uneasy coexistence. Now Pan’s only means of returning home is to become a full-fledged devil. This is no easy task. The rules and precepts are so hard to follow, especially since Pan can’t read Devil Scripts. But first, Pam needs to claim a “familiar.” No devil worth her wings can go without one. (Back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This managed to grab me from the beginning with a solid, intriguing premise: that a magic circle goes wrong and a girl is drawn into a magical world, where the only way for her to stay safe is to be transformed into a devil, and then for her to be enrolled into a school to make a surefire devil out of her. But there’s a few catches: the mysterious stranger who greets her upon entry has no intention of telling her why, and humans are beings out of fairy tails…so how is she going to get home?

This decides to slam right into the Shoujo-ai right at that moment, with Pam confused about an Angel that looks just like her friend back home – a friend that we see for all of two panels, mind you – and desperately wants Linfa to acknowledge and recognize her, and never really gets it out of her head that she’s some sort of alternate spiritual whatever of her friend and that if she tries hard enough, she’ll get Linfa to remember her. This really forces the romance aspect, especially since we have NO idea how deeply she was in love with her friend (if she was in love with her), and it never seems to cross into the realm of realistic romance.

Thankfully, I wasn’t reading it for the romance, it was more for the friendship that Pam develops in the school for Devils. Most of this really revolves around school and that friendship is really well-developed. I adore how mixed reactions are to her – Raim instantly thinks she’s an utter ditz and will hold her back, while Vine is willing to help her out. They have such a dynamic relationship! None of it feels forced or awkward.

Unfortunately, these characters were really forced into a plot that is too ambitious for its length. It decides to hide the true plot for over three volumes, which leaves one and a half for a slammed-in story about how the spirit world is falling apart and how ~true love~ can save it. With minimal explanation for what’s happening and why it needs to happen, plus the forced romance, it really makes this feel silly and melodramatic.

Overall, these characters deserved a better story.

Recommended: 16+. There’s the shoujo-ai, and some fairly brutal injuries that are only briefly lingered on but are clearly gory.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

I really don’t have anything for you here. Sorry!

“Simply Touching” – The Magic Touch (manga) – 6/10

Mangaka: Izumi Tsubaki

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Shoujo/School

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed by Shoujo Beat Manga.

Art: Typical shoujo art. It could be a template for other shoujo.

Summary: The star of her high school’s Massage Research Society club, Chiaki Togu is otherwise a normal, quiet girl until she falls in love at first sight with a gorgeous back – a back that happens to belong to Yosuke, the hottest guy at her school! Unfortunately, Chiaki’s attraction to Yosuke is thwarted by her own insecurity and the scheming of other girls – especially her twin sister Sayaka! Although Yosuke seems to be out of Chiaki’s league, she would do anything to give him a massage. The two eventually strike up a deal in which she will be allowed to touch his back…if she can make him fall in love with her! (back cover of 1st volume).

Review: This manga has by far and large the most unique premise I’ve come across in manga; A romance that happens because of  massage. And I don’t mean any massage parlor, either – it’s a school club dedicated to the art, and a girl who’s obsessed with it because it’s the only skill she has. Chiaki wants nothing more than to be a great masseuse, so that attracts her to the most irritated, painful back she’s ever seen.

It’s amazing how such a unique and interesting plot can fall so hard into all the tropes of shoujo ever. Chiaki is very much a typical heroine, torn over her feelings towards Yosuke and determined to do her best no matter what. The issue is that she’s torn over her feelings – she clearly was attracted to the prospect of massaging him from the beginning, and we the readers are explicitly shown that. So why all the drama about whether she had actually fallen in love with the person it belonged to first? It simply didn’t happen. Yosuke is a little different from the typical love interest by being angry and irritable. He’s not into other girls. Or, heck, other people. The issue comes in when he’s attracted to Chiaki for her charm…which is cheesy to begin with.

A lot more could have been done with that if they hadn’t decided to ignore the family dynamics and relationships of these two. The first volume introduces Chiaki’s twin sister who’s been busy making Chiaki’s life miserable, ruining her good name, and it’s resolved with barely any issue in that same volume. That same volume also brings up an interesting relationship dynamic between Yosuke and his brother, and that brother with Chiaki’s sister. All the mistaken identity issues just wrapped up for the sake of introducing club activities! Bah.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. I thought the club activities and trickery were pretty funny – I’ve never seen so much involvement from a club president in a manga before, and he’s crazy enough to make me forgive a lot in this series. The only goal is to learn massage and if that means entering an underground massage tournament, then so be it! Summer parties? Massage! Sleepovers? Massage! There is no rest for these kids. (wat) I’m also rather fond of the opponents introduced here. It provides an interesting mash-up of quirks and personalities, and I really enjoyed how it worked with that.

Overall, it’s cute, but a fairly typical shoujo romance. If you have a particular interest in massage then it might be a little more entertaining, but other than that nothing special.

Recommended: 12+. There is some innuendo in some later volumes, especially after Chiaki mistakes a comment about her being ‘small’ as about her breasts. This is discussed.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Kitchen Princess (manga)

“Crime And Genius Detectives” – Young Miss Holmes (manga) – 8/10 Desks

Mangaka: Kaoru Shintani

Genre: Mystery/Historical/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (2 Volumes/7 volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this series is licensed in the US.

Art: The character designs look like a throwback to the 90’s, but with less detail in the backgrounds and simpler line art. I’m fond of how the girls look, but the men? They just look strange and emaciated. It has a strange effect on the overall appearance. Overall I’m okay with it, but it could be better.

Summary: Christie Holmes is a prodigy. At ten years old, she’s as familiar with the sciences and classics as any older student at Cambridge or Oxford. And her fascility with logic is reminiscent of her uncle., the eminent Sherlock Holmes himself. So, what’s a brilliant yhoung girl to do when her parents are away in India, leaving her behind in the care of maids and servants? Why, solve mysteries, of course. Along with her giant hound Nelson, Christie’s implacable curiosity leads her from one dangerous adventure to another, often joining forces with her Uncle Sherlock and Doctor Watson on their famed investigations. Christie may look pint-sized, bet her clever mind is never to be underestimated! (back cover of first volume)

Review: Young Miss Holmes is a very interesting title. It’s one of the critic’s darlings, a new manga that is just as much fanfiction as it is a geniune story in it’s own right. Why fanfiction? Well, this takes a character that never existed (several, really, when accounting for the fact that to make Christie the niece of Sherlock, the give Sherlock a younger sister) and inserts her into a well-established story, including inserting her into a few of Holmes’ actual cases! This might tick off original fans of the Holmes series, but if you can handle a little bit of creative license then this is a decently entertaining series.

I really don’t think the series hit its stride until the third case she was on. The first had virtually no detective work on Christie’s part; She was really only in the story for the ride as her uncle spouted off what happened and how they were going to recover the jewel. One of my peeves about manga is that I much prefer the show-don’t-tell approach for stories since this is a visual medium. If I want to read a book, I’ll read a book. It’s also the least exciting or interesting mystery of them all, with Christie merely sitting in a chair to fool the criminal. It just wasn’t a good start at all.

The second case was better than that – putting her into the infamous Redheaded League case – and the third was even better than that! Not only did we start getting a solid look into Christie’s life, but the case is far more interesting and better set-up. It felt far more like aHolmes story, with an actual investigation and look at the facts and scene of the crime. And the revelation is very similar to how the Homes stories are! I was very impressed with the ingeniuty the mangaka showed with it. Not only that, but it really started to showcase Christie as her own character and not just a side commentator. or a brat shoehorned in just for the heck of it. She’s looking for approval from an uncle that she admires more than anyone else in the world, and is dealing with a case of absentee parentism, which wasn’t that unusual back in the day (wow, an actual historical reason to get the parents out of the picture instead of just having them gone! So great!). In their place is a bevy of servants that need to reign in a precocious girl that could outsmart them all in a heartbeat. One woman who’s sent in as her tutor has to find ingenius ways of teaching her social niceties while her charge dives headfirst into soling mysteries. I also love the two maidservants that are Christie’s main… well, lackeys, for lack fo a better word. One is a down-home girl that can weild a whip but is less than refined, while the other is a fairly religious and proper maidservant… that isn’t afriad to whip out a gun if Christie is in any danger. They provide a fairly standard but amusing duo and comedic relief to the series.

As fun as the story got in the third case, the standards fell just a little more in the 4th. Unfortunately, this was a crossover with the manga Dance in the Vampire Bund, which means that this mystery had a geniunely supernatural element to it which I wasn’t ecstatic about. I thought the mystery and characters involved were just fascinating – seeing Christie inadvertantly make a friend was so adorable! – but since this is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes, I could have done without this extra element to attract those of the other series. Knowing the content of the other series, I also don’t feel compelled to read it, either. Whatever my feelings on this are, though, it was still a far sight better than the initial two chapters, so I feel that this will continue to be a good read in later volumes.

Overall, it seems to be off to a rocky start, but since it’s getting better and better as the story goes on I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Recommended: 10+. If you think your kid can handle Muder, She Wrote, then they can handle the content in here. There are two scenes of dead bodies: you don’t get close-ups on them or the wounds. you just see enough blood to show that they’re dead.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Sherlock Hound (anime)

“Innocence Lost” – Lament of the Lamb (manga) – 9/10 Desks

If you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve never been to a family reunion.  ~Ashleigh Brilliant

Mangaka: Kei Toume

Genre: Drama/Horror/Psychological/Supernatural/School/Romance

Review Status: Complete (7 Volumes/7 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was formerly licensed in the US by Tokyopop.

Art: This starts out with a few color pages in the beginning of each volume. These are lovey, looking like oil pastel pictures. The pages themselves have a vaguely charcoal sketch look to them, which works because there’s a strong art theme through the series.

Summary: The members of the Takashiro family share a terrible curse — they have a thirst that only human blood can slake. Sent away after the death of this mother, Kuzuna Takashiro has long been blissfully unaware of his ‘condition.’ When Kazuna’s teenage hormones begin to rage, his uncontrollable bloodlust suddenly rears its head … (Source: Tokyopop)

Review: This manga treads a fine line between Slice-of-Life and Horror, and that is a line that very few manga manage to tread successfully. Actually, this is the first manga I’ve encountered that does it well. This weaves together a story of twisted love, familial ties, and isolation to create a very compelling story of a tragically ‘cursed’ family.

Kazuna, our main protagonist, is also the object of affection for a girl in art club. She’s a bit of a loner, but sweet, and he’s vaguely attracted to her… at least, until he discovers that he’s got as much of a craving for her blood as he does for her. He’s horrified and has no idea why he has this craving and proceeds to reject everyone from his life. That is, until he goes on a search for his past and discovers a long-lost sister who reveals that his condition isn’t unnatural; it’s a disease that’s been hidden in the family and passed down through the generations. Not only did the aunt and uncl who were taising him know about the possibility of him having it (though since it rarely appeared later in life they had reason to believe he’d never come down with it), but there is also no cure.

Thus begins his exploration of what it means to be a monster. He isolated himself and is determined to live out his life as someone who has no reason to do anything or be anyone. He sees it as his only option. From the outside, his family and friends try depserately to tell him that he’s not alone. Even though they don’t know what exactly is wrong with him, they still want to be his friends. His family might also know what’s happening, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love him nonetheless.

Enter his sister. She’s dark, enigmatic, and knows exactly what her fate will be. She knows how horrific their past is, even within the tragedy that haunts their immediate family. A father, driven mad by the loss of his wife, made his daughter the number one woman in his life. A mother, drvien mad by the curse that haunted the family. The idea that the illness might be merely the warped desires of warped consiences. The inability to love those outside the family. Kuzuma may be the main character, but his sister is truly the driving force of the story. She’s at the crux of his desires to leave, and unable to offer any hope for the future. The only thing opposing her is a man who she’s unable to bring herself to care for as more than a friend and the art student who’s vying for Kazuna’s heart.

There are very few ways for a story like this to end, and the slow march to it becomes clear at the halfway point. That hardly ruined my enjoyment of the story, since this is really more of a character study than anything else. These really are some broken characters that I felt for. At the same time it’s fascinating to see how societal pressure also explains a lot of why Kazuna and his sister feel about their sickness, not just the familial alone, though the traditions of centuries also weigh on how they deal with certain issues. That combined with the character’s psychology – and this really made sure to let you into their minds to see how they thought and felt about issues – really just made this story what it is.

Overall, this is very mild on the horror and is heavy on the tragic. It’s not Dracula, but it’s certainly a good take on the vampire theme!

Recommended: 16+. There’s an implication of incest between their father and Chizuna, and possibly between the two mains. There’s a few panels where you see the dead body of the mother, where she attempts to kill her daughter and where she’s lying under a tree. The most you see is some blood.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Monster (anime and manga)

Koi Kaze (anime and manga)

World Embryo (manga)

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