Viz Media UK Manga Reviews
Viz Media have begun to dip their toes into the UK manga market, with their first batch of releases having hit shelves back on March 3rd. Here's a brief look at their initial titles from Bryan Morton, Dani Moure and Christopher Homer.
The Gentleman's Alliance Vols #1 & #2
3 March 2008, £5.99 each
I knew nothing about this book going into it, so colour me pleasantly surprised. Coming from Full Moon creator Arina Tanemura, The Gentleman's Alliance focuses on Haine Otomiya, a student at the Imperial Academy - a school where money buys status, and status is everything. Haine has had a crush on Shizumasa Togu, the school's "Emperor" (head of the student council and highest ranking student), but she struggles to get close to him because she is a "bronze", the lowest rank in the school.
Over the course of the first volume, her fortunes change as she ends up being accepted as a member of the student council herself, and this allows her to find out far more about Shizumasa-sama, including his friends, his male "lover", and his association with the school rebels. The second volume focuses more on the role Haine acquires at the end of the first volume, and expands her history and relationship not just with the Emperor, but also some of the supporting cast including the incredibly fun Mao-chan.
Having thought this series might end up being heavily cliche-ridden and quite boring, even after the first chapter filled with character introductions, it turned out to be an extremely fun read and left me wanting more by the end of it. The characters all have their certain charms and are very different. Haine is a sweet girl with an interesting background, there's a certain darkness around Shizumasa and Ushio, Maguri provides a lot of laughs, Mao-chan is fun, and all the other characters we meet, even briefly, have something about them that makes them stand out.
The story of The Gentleman's Alliance might not start off as anything new, but as Tanemura begins to settle as we get further in, it starts to branch off with some interesting ideas and some good developments between the characters to keep us hooked between volumes. The art style is quite clean and refined, with some pretty standard, but nevertheless quite pretty, character designs. This is definitely a series I want to read more of.
Buso Renkin Vols #1, #2 & #3
3 March 2008, £5.99 each
Kazuki Muto's latest strange dream - of a fight against a monstrous creature, where he'd saved a girl from attack - turns out to not have been a dream after all. Or so the girl who was in his "dream" tells him when she turns up at his school the next day. She's in town to fight against homunculi, demons who can take human form but who live by devouring humans - and it's not long before Kazuki has to face one again, as they don't like to leave witnesses to their actions. This time, Kazuki is killed - but the girl, Tokiko Tsumura, uses the power of alchemy to restore him to life - and grant him the power to kill homunculi himself.
Buso Renkin is a shounen fighting story, but on the basis of these three volumes it's got a little more going for it than more typical examples of the genre. For a start, Kazuki's not completely obsessed with simply "becoming stronger" or beating the baddies - he has internal doubts to deal with, and the feeling that by fighting to protect people he's being something of a hypocrite. He also has a lot of learning to do, as despite having some natural talent for being an alcehmic warrior, there's not much use having all that power with no control. Fights are also quite short, which leaves plenty of room for the side of the story that I find more interesting - the human side, which is where his relationship with kick-ass girl Tokiko comes in.
In between the action scenes, there's a wonderful line of scenes showing Tokiko and Kazuki are slowly getting closer to each other through their experiences together. It's mostly portrayed through looks and glances - the only people who ever say anything about the possibility of a relationship there are Kazuki's friends - but it's definitely there, fired on by Kazuki's eagerness to protect Tokiko. She's a powerful girl and really doesn't need the protection, but she appreciates what Kazuki's able to do for her. Makes a change from most anime & manga leqad girls, who either just don't see it when others are being caring towards them, or reward it with ultra-violence. In short, the more I see of Tokiko and Kazuki, the more I want to see them becoming a couple being written into the story.
Series creator Nobuhiro Watsuki (also well-known for Rurouni Kenshin seems to have figured out that there's a time & place for detailed artwork in manga, and save it for when it's needed, leaving most of his artwork nice & clean and making it easy to see what's going on. As with most US manga these days, the original right-to-left format is retained, and with this book sound effects are translated in-panel. Text is a decent size and easy to read - something that can't be said for all of Viz's titles - meaning that on paper as well as in story the series is a decent production.
The more I read of Buso Renkin, the more I grow to like it, and after these three volumes I have to say it's well worth a look.
Nana Vols #1 & #2
3 March 2008, £5.99 each
Last up for March is Nana, which looks at the lives and loves of two very different girls who will eventually grow to become friends. At the start of the series, though, they haven't met, and with the first volume taking a look at their separate lives it takes a while to reach the point where they come together.
Let's start with a look at the two Nana's: Nana Komatsu, the first one we meet, is a bit of an airhead who's always been unlucky in love - although her choice in men probably doesn't help. She has a tendency to fall in love at first sight and damn the consequences, with her last "boyfriend", a secretive married man, being probably the low point. Latest boyfriend Shoji's slightly different as she at least tried to have him as a friend first, and their relationship developed from there, but she's still on autopilot where he's concerned and her need to be with him seems to override her common sense. In short, she's needy and whimsical, and may find better luck in life if she ever stopped to think about what she was doing.
Nana Osaki, on the other hand, is as different as you could get. Abandoned by her parents, raised by an uncaring grandmother, and with her teenage years being a litany of misadventure (it seems prostitution may have featured, but we don't get a lot of detail about that), she's far more grounded in the world and has a far more sensible head on her shoulders. Her introduction to the story also comes from relationship problems, though, as her long-time boyfriend ups sticks and heads to Tokyo without her. That's the one thing that the two Nana's have in trouble: a desire to go to Tokyo, home to the people they love, and make a new life for themselves, and the opening volume ends with both girls ready to make the move.
On their own, the girls are both quite annoying in their own ways, but bring them together and there's almost an audible "click!" as their separate identities quickly come together to make a pair that really work well together. The way they get on with each other is almost a constant string of amusement, as they try to deal with each other's quirks and their very different circles of friends - but it's those differences that make the story as enjoyable as it is.
Artwork for the books has a typically shoujo feel to it - it's detailed, plenty of fine brushwork, and with girls that are impossibly thin. It looks good on the page, but the sheer amount of dialogue in the story means that there's a lot of text running over the top of it. That may have worked better in the original Japanese, but the English translation has the fairly major problem of simply having too much text for too little page space - a lot of the text is shrunk down to size where I found it difficult to read, even with glasses on, and having to stop, refocus and reread text panels every few pages wasn't just a distraction, it was a real problem.
The book also tries to be painfully hip & trendy - the girls don't talk about their parents, they talk about their 'rents, along with other happenin' phrases that jarred with me. I suspect that's part of Viz's localisations, but as it's American hip & trendy it may not resonate with readers quite so well in the UK. Or perhaps I'm too old to appreciate 'hip' anymore - who knows. For all that, though, there's plenty here to enjoy, and again the series comes well recommended.
Viz are three-for-three with their first batch of titles - all three series make for very enjoyable reading, and cover different genres and tastes quite well. Coming months have a few more titles in store for us - if they can keep up this sort of quality, we're in for some good reading.
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