Monday, February 20, 2012

Manga Monday: We finally meet the man who trained Genma and Soun...

Welcome to the Anything Goes Martial Arts dojo, and meet Ranma's grandmaster Happosai in Ranma 1/2 Volume 6.

Note: Ranma 1/2 Volume 6 is, of course, the sequel to Ranma 1/2 Volume 5. The review for Ranma 1/2 Volume 1 is here, and the review for Ranman1/2 Volume 5 is here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Manga Monday: Instead of fighting spirits, this boy gives them peace

It's bad enough to be orphaned at a young age.  It's worse to be shuttled from distant relative to distant relative, always a burden that no one wants to deal with.  But to see yokai wherever you turn and to be thought of as crazy because of it?  That's just plain unfair.

That's the life that Natsume Takashi has been given in Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 1.  Poor Natsume's a pretty good kid, considering everything that he's going through.  True, he's a little tired and spaced-out at school, but you would be too if your second job was to deal with the apparent infestation of yokai that Japan is plagued with.

In the first chapter, a lot of Natsume's life starts to make more sense.  His grandmother Reiko, who he bears a striking resemblance to, and who was also a loner, saw yokai as well.  Because she was always alone, she started interacting with the yokai more.  Eventually, she started tricking them into writing their names in her book, and as long as she had their names, she had power over them.

The years went by, Reiko passed away as humans tend to do, and her book was packed away and forgotten.  But the yokai she deceived longed for their lost names.  And when a new person comes to town who looks so much like Reiko, the yokai make their presence known like never before.

One yokai in particular, named Madara but called by Natsume 'Nyanko-sensei,' has taken a particular interest in Natsume.  Originally intending to steal the book - and thepower to control the other yokai - from Natsume, he eventually falls into a sort of teacher-protector-pet role.  He helps Natsume learn more about his abilities, and how to release the yokai from the binding.

Because the series started as one-shots, each story is much more self-contained than other manga.    Along with releasing spirits that have been bound by his grandmother, we see other spirits in the area, many of which are simply going about their business.  Some of the stories are truly touching, especially when Natsume takes care of the spirits that just gather in a town.  The episodic nature, and higher page counts than typical manga chapters, makes them very nice to read one story at a time.

The artwork is fitting of a shojo book, but still better than most.  While many of the yokai are wispy and undefined, it simply adds to their ethereal quality.  Character designs are well done, and characters are easy to distinguish from one another, which is sometimes all you can hope for.  And it's nice to see a kid like Natsume every once in awhile, who tries his best to fix his little part of the world, when he's done nothing to deserve the job.  Natsume's Book of Friends is quickly becoming a title that I'll be anticipating on its drop dates.

Highs:  The author Yuki Midorikawa gives us plenty of sidebars and endnotes that make the title even more endearing

Lows:  Because this title was not a regular title in its manga, the reintroduction to Natsume each chapter gets frustrating.

Verdict:  A shojo series with blessedly little romance makes this a great read.

Further Reading:  A Story of SaiunkokuDororo

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When healers can't heal, the world rebels

What if healers, with their ability to heal themselves four times faster than normal humans, could take on the injuries and diseases of others, healing in a matter of minutes or hours what would otherwise kill them?  They'd be loved by the population.  They'd have a University of their own to train youngsters with the talent how to use it.  And along with their talent, they'd learn to heal with traditional healing methods such as herbs and cleanliness.

But what if their magic fails?  What if a plague hits that's so devastating that it kills the healer every time?  When the healers refuse to take on plague victims, and people watch their loved ones die terrible deaths while the healers stand idly by, there's an uprising.  As the population of the kingdoms is decimated, a bounty is placed on the heads of those healers who have survived, and they go into hiding.

This is the world Maria V Snyder presents us with in A Touch of Power.  Avry has been running for three years.  Truly wanting to help people who are suffering, she usually blows her cover healing a sickly child or some other innocent, and then has to go on the run again.  We join her as she heals a child from a wasting disease, and even with her ability to recover, she is left incapacitated long enough to be caught by the village officials, and is set for execution the next morning.

That night, though, a band of mercenaries breaks into the jail and busts her out, as long as she agrees to heal one more person for them.

Unfortunately, that one person is a prince of the realm, who after catching the plague was put into a magical stasis while his followers searched for a healer.  And, like most rulers, he has a few detractors.  Including Avry.  Even if healing him from the plague wouldn't be a death sentence to her, she still prefers him dead.  But a jailbreak is a jailbreak, and she ends up going with the mercenaries, since no one can actually force her to use her healing powers, and she'd be facing death in the morning anyways.

As she travels with the men, still avoiding those who would turn Avry in for the bounty, and straddling the domains of two crazy warlords filling the power vacuum left when Prince Ryne was put out of commission, she gets to know more more about the men that she's traveling with.  As she becomes close to them, and as she gets to know their leader Kerrick better, she starts to ponder her staunch refusal to heal Prince Ryne.  And as she learns more and more about the other candidates to take of The 15 Realms, there's really no other option available t her.  But now that she's made her decision, will Kerrick and the boys be able to keep her alive long enough to fulfill their plans?

At its roots, it's a fairly standard travel adventure fantasy, and with the addition of some royal intrigue and a bit of a love story to round things out, this is escapist fantasy perfect as a palate cleanser between more serious books.

Highs:  The reunion between Avry and her sister doesn't go exactly as planned...

Lows:  It feels like the author wrote herself into a corner a few times and some of the weakest plot moments are her writing herself out again

Verdict:  Some interesting ideas to ponder are brought up in this book, and as long as you are able to let the weak points go, it's a fun book to relax with.

Further Reading:  SoullessElantris

Monday, February 6, 2012

Manga Monday: Does Doctor Black Jack perhaps have a soft spot for children?

The more human side of Black Jack comes out, whether dealing with lonely widows or treating young children in Black Jack Volume 3.

Note:  Black Jack Volume 3 is, of course, the sequel to Black Jack Volume 2.  The Vertical edition is published not in chronological order, but in the preferred order of Osamu Tezuka, so spoilers are not generally a problem.  The review for Black Jack Volume 1 is here, and the review for Black Jack Volume 2 is here.  Otherwise, read on!