Bamboo Blade Complete Collection
Christmas time can be a good chance to catch up on shows you may have missed the first time they were released. Among the many complete collections released recently, I would highly recommend Bamboo Blade. A fun show with likable characters centering around a girls' kendo team. The kendo is just a backdrop, it could be any sports team. While they might seem to be the usual run of cliched stereotypes, with the ditzy leader, the small but powerful girl, the klutz, and the secret psychopath along with a coach who could use someone to run his life, the girls are more than just the products of some anime cookie cutter. Though it would seem that they all have little in common, by the end the team does form a strong bond and you can't help but be rooting for them. Filled with offbeat humor and competitive fire, Bamboo Blade is a real treat, now available all in one package.
With the sixth volume due out in the last week of December, now is that time, if you have not already, to pick up ARIA. If life has you stressed out, with its unceasing deadlines and constant demand for your immediate attention, then the thing you most need is relaxation. And that is what this manga does. Immerse yourself into the serene pages of Kozue Amano's masterpiece and feel the stress and aggravation melt away. It is true that nothing earth-shaking happens in ARIA. The world is not saved (nor is it in mortal peril). Great battles and super powers are nowhere to be seen (except for one weird giant cat). But sometimes, what you need is just a relaxing gondola ride with Akari Mizunashi, the lead character whose friendliness could tame any savage heart.
Honorable Mentions: Eden of the East, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Taisho Baseball Girls, Last Exile, SuperGALS, Kaleido Star, Girls Bravo
Code:Breaker (DelRey) (manga)
Akimine Kamijyo energizes the often used mysterious transfer student scenario with an amoral yet surprisingly sympathetic antihero, well-matched by a feisty, fellow student determined to stop his vigilante ways. Once the antagonistic relationship between blue flame-thrower Rei Ogami (Code 06) and Sakura Sakurakouji (who just may have a few secrets herself) is established, Kamijyo begins the introduction of a supporting cast whose special talents are even more powerful and much odder than Rei's.
Kamijyo's half-lidded, sloe-eyed bishounen with their cocky and confident demeanor will appeal to the fan girls, but don't be misled. This is a shounen title that promises action, an attractive and varied cast, and a story that will challenge and surprise. There are only two volumes released in English of this ongoing series, but with at least thirteen available in Japan, look for Kamijyo to present the kind of complex tale he delivered in Samurai Deeper Kyo.
Wicked City: The Other Side (Tor/Seven Seas) (novel)
Take a break from the Zombie Apocalypse - with a demon one!
This second volume in Hideyuki Kikuchi's Wicked City series is a side quest, in a fashion, for Taki and Makie, the human and demon Black Guard whose destiny is to provide the last hope in uniting the demon and human worlds. In The Other Side, Taki and Makie discover a demonic presence taking possession of Tokyo housewives. This possession, which invades the dreams of these women, delivers sexual experience beyond human ken and, well, once one's had a demon...It's up to Taki to convince broken-down former Dream Guard, Saga Miyuki, to take on the incubus that threatens humanity with extinction.
Imaginatively erotic and graphically violent, Wicked City: The Other Side can be fully appreciated without having read Wicked City: The Black Guard. Fans of The Black Guard need no recommendation and new readers will find this quite a diversion from the flesh-eating walking dead.
Honorable mention: Bunny Drop (Yen Press), Ristorante Paradiso (Viz Signature), Gente (Viz Signature)
The beautiful, detailed art, fast paced action, and intriguing characters of Jormungand caught my attention with the first volume, which appeared late last year. It was a look into the troubled lives of child soldiers and arms dealers, and it managed to do just about everything right. As further volumes have appeared over the course of this year, the breakneck pace of series has managed to not only keep up; the series has fleshed out significantly. A number of fun and varied villains have appeared, the pasts of the various characters have begun to appear, and the various aspects of the weapons trade business have been explored even further. If you like action packed thrill rides with plenty of dark twists (and a decent bit of humor on the side), then you should already be reading this. If you aren’t, be sure to give it a look, as it’s a top class series that absolutely deserves your attention.
A heartfelt and touching look into the hopes and dreams of a young girl, Twin Spica is an absolute treat to read. Asumi’s character is open and a little naïve, yet truly relatable. As she struggles against the hurdles placed in front of her to reach her dream of being an astronaut, you can’t help but keep rooting for her. The series also makes a serious attempt to flesh out the hardships presented by astronaut training, which helps to make Asumi’s struggles all the more real. Add in a fleshed out and intriguing cast of characters, including the tragic and mysterious Mr. Lion, and the ever present shadow cast by the failure of Japan’s first space mission, and you have a series that is really something special. Fans of all ages and demographics should be sure to check this series out, as a series this good simply shouldn’t be missed.
Honorable Mentions: All my Darling Daughters, Ratman, March Story, One Piece, Bokurano: Ours
Of the titles I've reviewed this year, my pick for newbies who require a gentle introduction to manga would be Ristorante Paradiso, a beautifully produced title from Viz's Signature line. No giant robots, magical girls, or bishounen samurai throwing dramatic poses here. There aren't even Japanese cultural references to worry about. Set in Rome, it's all about complex family relationships and romantic love with a healthy dose of gourmet Italian food. Another bonus is that it's a standalone manga so readers will get the full story in a single volume. However, for those wanting more, they have the option of following up with Paradiso's companion manga, Gente.
For the avid reader, my pick would be Bakuman, created by the team that brought us Death Note. No creepy death gods lurking here; this story is strongly rooted in the ordinary world though the dreams of its main characters are anything but. Obata's artwork is beautiful as ever, and Ohba's story is at once engaging and informative as it follows two teens on their journey to achieve love and glory -- through manga!
Blue skies, blues seas, and high adventure. I dare you to read or watch One Piece and not smile. One Piece can be daunting for new fans to jump into.
This year was a cornucopia for One Piece releases, with the manga release speed up at the beginning of the year and Funimation’s continuing DVD box set releases. Now that the holidays are here, it’s the time to snag a deal!
Early volumes of the manga are available in omnibus 3-in-1 volumes, while the first and second seasons of the anime can be found for low prices in online sales. For beginners looking to get a taste of the anime in full swing, Season 2, 3rd Voyage features a season appropriate story arc about a certain little reindeer. It’s a great set of episodes which show off the humor, drama, and awesome moments which make the series so popular.
Natsume's Book of Friends
A little melancholic, and maybe a bit overlooked, Natsume tells the story of a lonely boy who's ability to see youkai, and other spirits, made him withdraw from interactions with other people. Once he finds his grandmother's "book of friends" he can't keep the vengeful and curious creatures away from him! With the help, and hinderance, of a youkai named Madara (or Nyanko-sensei), Natsume chooses to return the names listed in the book to their owners. The sweet and often sad stories are a nice contrast for those looking for a less rough and tumble supernatural tale, and it’s a perfect read for quiet winter nights.
Honorable Mentions: Pandora Hearts, Rasetsu, House of the Five Leaves, Spice & Wolf, and Kieli.
A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
This love letter from Fantagraphics and translator Matt Thorn to shoujo manga pioneer Moto Hagio is essential for all shoujo and classic manga fans. A Drunken Dream and other stories contains 10 short works from across Moto Hagio's career, with an interview and background information that provide an intimate introduction to the artist, her work, and her favorite themes. It works perfectly as a gift because of its top notch production: It's bound in a hardcover decorated with golden foil, one of the stories is reproduced in watercolor, and it's nearly 300 pages long. Her stories focus on loss, the failure of reality to meet up with our dreams, and the way we use art to deal with and reshape trauma. It's not a light or easy read, but it's an extremely rewarding experience. For those who order through Fantagraphics' own website, bookplates signed by Moto Hagio are still being included with orders of A Drunken Dream, but quantities are limited.
Hayate x Blade Omnibus 1
Regular readers of this site know this title is a staff favorite, but it's still woefully underrated: It should be a bestselling smash hit here and in Japan. Well intentioned but hopelessly clueless Hayate Kurogane heads off to Tenchi Academy to substitute for her ailing sister, but soon finds herself participating in sword duels to raise money for her orphanage. Effortlessly combines the competition and action of shounen manga and the relationships and melodrama of shoujo manga with wacky gags and girl on girl innuendo. It's one of the best examples of pure, silly fun available in English. This omnibus, featuring the first three volumes at half the price, is the perfect way to introduce your friends to Hayate, Ayana, Isuzu, Shizuku, Hitsugi, and all of the girls at Tenchi Academy.
Honorable Mentions: Butterflies, Flowers, Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus, Cross Game, Dirty Pair TV series, ToraDora!
Kaleido Star (first season box set)
Few series manage to charm me with its story and characters from beginning to end, but Kaleido Star did just that with its simple yet captivating story. Sora is a young woman pursuing her dream to be a performer, and her dedication and determination inspires those around her. It takes a great cast of characters and builds them into a close-knit family of performers you have to cheer for. And the ending, no matter how often I watch it, leaves me on the edge of my seat. This is the perfect series to stuff in someone's stocking.
Lupin The 3rd Episode 0: The First Contact
Looking for a fun action film this holiday season? Episode 0 is the perfect film to pick up, especially if you enjoyed Castle of Cagliostro. Its story provides plenty of thrills and humor, making the ideal gift for lovers of a good popcorn flick.
Dance in the Vampire Bund
Heavy is the head that wears the crown and even the centuries old Mina Tepees, ruler of the vampires, feels its burden. She decides that it is time to change the vampires role in the world and create a sanctuary for them in the regular world. The human world is less than enthusiastic to find that the legends are real and will be living among them but the real threat may come from both challengers to the throne who disapprove of her plan and challengers for her hand in marriage. Mina will rely on her faithful guard Akira as the two try to face the threats that come at them and coping with a relationship that is barred to them by status. Gorgeous art work that capture the eroticism of vampires and the deadly horror and a take no prisoners brutal approach to storytelling makes this a gift easy to recommend for a resting place under the tree for the older teen + crowd.
A tale of loves lost and found and the happiness and pain that can accompany the journey. The story sets up Taiga and Ryuji trying to help each other with their prospective loves but love is never a simple thing and the heart of another maybe out of reach. The tale will twist and turn as the young adults and their friends navigate the turbulent waters of trying to achieve their goals without hurting others they care about on the way. Throw in the heavy cardboard box and the hardcover artbook and Toradora is a great series for those dreaming of love or the days when every look from the one they were enamored with could either send them to heaven or hell.
Honorable Mention: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya hardcover, Negima!, Fist of the North Star, Clannad, Hayate the Combat Butler, Hayate x Blade.
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood Parts One and Two
A remake of the popular Full Metal Alchemist anime, this time following more closely with the manga, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood fixes the clunky writing of the first series and delivers a fast-paced, roaring series filled with action, drama, and intrigue. The characters are better defined and there is a real sense of danger and tragedy that follows the Elric Brothers that is lacking in the latter stages of Full Metal Alchemist. Only the first twenty-six episodes are currently available on DVD and BluRay, but the first two parts deliver a fantastic primer for when the rest of the series drops in 2011.
Hayao Miyazaki’s most recent masterpiece, Ponyo returns to the grand tradition first laid out by Miyazaki with My Neighbor Totoro: a magical story about self-discovery filled with childish wonder. Ponyo is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, and follows Sosuke’s adventures with Ponyo, the daughter of the Sea Goddess of Mercy. Officially, Ponyo is marketed to children, but like Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, Miyazaki’s magic touch makes is a complete joy for anybody to watch. I’d recommend this to anybody. In fact, while you are at it, just go ahead and watch Totoro and Kiki as well.
Honorable Mention: Full Metal Panic!, Black Lagoon, Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne
The Entire Vertical Inc. Catalog
In my not-so humble opinion, Vertical Inc. is probably the best manga publisher in business right now. While some of my personal favorites aren’t published by them, Vertical has shown that their releases are consistently of extremely high quality both in the presentation and the content. Vertical’s new releases for 2010 have been even more so! Twin Spica, Chi’s Sweet Home, Peepo Choo, 7 Billion Needles, and Ayako all saw release this year and they are all must-haves! For the super manga fan in the house all these releases are basically required, but for the more selective fan (and even the non-manga fan) each release presents something different that, based on one’s personal tastes, will be a sure-fire win! For the slice-of-life real drama fan, Twin Spica; for the cat-lover, pet-lover, all around cuteness fan look no further than Chi’s Sweet Home; for the American comics nut who may or may not be a manga fan, one who loves the grittiness of graphic novels, Peepo Choo; for the sci-fi fan in the house that likes some action mixed in, 7 Billion Needles is amazing!; and for the scholar, the classic lover, the one who knows high-quality when they see it: of course, nothing beats Osamu Tezuka, and Ayako is just one of his perennial classics that Vertical has released.
Honorable Mentions: Cross Game, Kingyo Used Books, 20th Century Boys, Toriko, One Piece, AX Vol. 1, Drunken Dreams and Other Stories
Fist of the North Star TV Series
While there have been many great anime releases this year to satiate the hunger for new anime, sometimes it is the classics that we really need. Not for some stuffy reason like: “you have to know your history” or “can’t call yourself an anime fan unless you’ve seen…” but for the basic reason that it is a good show! Fist of the North Star is one of those classic anime titles that has never really gotten its fair shake in America, from the failed Manga dub to the cancelled manga releases by Gutsoon, until now! Discotek has graced us with the presence of the most badass, interesting anime title that came out nearly 30 years ago! FotNS is quality entertainment that is fun, exciting and did I mention badass!? The first set released in July is pretty good (great video quality with sufficient enough subtitles) that is necessary for an introduction to the series despite being kind of repetitive and awkward. The 2nd set released this past November is where the money hits home! The storyline begins to develop, the drama and tension heighten and the action gets even fiercer! FotNS is a Japanese favorite for all the right reasons, it is time America stepped up and discovered the pure majesty of Fist of the North Star!
Honorable Mentions: Eden of the East, Golgo 13 TV, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Birdy the Mighty: Decode, Dirty Pair TV, One Piece, Soul Eater