Monday, December 7, 2015

Manga Monday: Is fooling around genetic?

Seki shows that he truly has no shame in My Neighbor Seki Volulme 5.

Note: My Neighbor Seki Volume 5 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 4 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Manga Monday: There's even competition in the school lunch game

Misunderstandings abound, and a few new characters are added to the mix as well in The Devil is a Part-Timer! High School! Volume 2.

Note: The Devil is a Part-Timer! High School! Volume 2 is part of an ongoing series. For the review of Volume 1 click here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Manga Monday: A school club has never been more essential to student life

The school club has long been an important part of the Japanese high school experience, but perhaps it's never been more important than for the girls of Megurigaoka Academy Private High School in School-Live! Volume 1.

The founding principles of the School Living Club are really pretty simple: to best utilize the facilities of the school, it is imperative that the members live their entire lives in the school.

It's not the largest of clubs; in fact, besides the faculty adviser Megumi Sakura, there's only three members right now. But they're the most earnest, devoted members a club could wish for.

Yuri Wakasa is the club president. She is in charge of all of the club activities, and plans the practical aspects of the club's adventures. She's also oftentimes found on the school roof, helping with the gardens that the Agriculture Club have there.

Kurumi Ebisuzawa is the tough girl of the group. She's the one who plows through obstacles, and makes sure that all of Ri-san's plans turn out as expected. She's never too far away from her shovel, so perhaps she likes to help out the Agriculture Club as well.

Which brings us to Yuki Takeya, the heart of the club. No matter what problems the School Living Club faces, from rainy days to possible ghosts, Yuki's smile is what gets her clubmates through the day.

While a club based solely on the school in which it takes place might seem dull, there's always something to do in this remarkably well-provisioned and self-sufficient school. And as the girls grow closer, they've made a pact to graduate together, no matter what.

Highs: Even though the girls and their teacher each fill a very traditional role in a schoolgirl manga, even in this first volume they each have enough personality to draw the reader in immediately.

Lows: It's still odd that a school would allow a group of students to live in a classroom though.

Verdict: A very cute manga that has more depth than it seems at first glance.

Further Reading: My Neighbor Seki, The Devil is a Part-Timer! High School!, Cromartie High School

Monday, November 9, 2015

Manga Monday: A heartfelt farewell to a longtime friend

As the Yamada family prepares to move to France, the question of Chi's original family needs to be addressed in Chi's Sweet Home Volume 12.

Note: Chi's Sweet Home Volume 12 is the final volume of a series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, or the review of Volume 11 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Manga Monday: A new neighbor appears

The Devil's Castle has yet another new inhabitant in The Devil is a Part Timer! (manga) Volume 3.

Note: The Devil is a Part-Timer! (manga) Volume 3 is part of an ongoing series. For Volume 1, click here, and for Volume 2 click here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Manga Monday: Are we finally finding out where everybody stands?

Eren realizes just how deeply humanity's been betrayed, while Mikasa and Armin worry about their next steps in Attack on Titan Volume 11.

Note: Attack on Titan Volume 10 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 10 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Manga Monday: Santa-related shenanigans for Seki

Even the holidays are inspiration for the ever-distracted Seki in My Neighbor Seki Volume 4.

Note: My Neighbor Seki Volume 4 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 3 here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The sympathetic side of murderous Japanese spirits

Bookstore shelves are packed with books drawing from Western folklore. Elves, fairies, sprites, even selkies have found their way into books recently, especially ones targeting the ever-growing young adult market.

Part of writing young adult, it seems, is to not expect too much outside knowledge of the reader going in. It's assumed that readers know about European fantasy creatures, since that's what most of the fairy tales and Disney movies they've grown up on focus on. But once a piece of another culture's folklore hits the public knowledge, it's fair game.

Enter Okiku, and The Girl from the Well. Okiku was introduced to most Western audiences in the 2002 movie 'The Ring,' but there's much more to her than popping out of old VHS tapes. In the intervening years, Okiku has moved on from haunting the well where she was killed. She's made it her passion to exact revenge on those who have hurt children, and she has left a trail of gruesome, unsolved murders in her wake.

But one day, while drifting around looking for a new victim, she comes across Tarquin. Tark is, in many ways, just an ordinary 15 year old boy. He and his father have just moved, and he's having some of the normal problems fitting in to his new school. He's quiet by nature, so it's hard to get him to come out of his shell.

And, well, accidentally summoning a flock of headless birds in the cafeteria might not make him homecoming king either.

The problem started when he was very young. Before his mother married his father, she was a shrine maiden who spent her days putting spirits to rest with her sister back in Japan. Later on, during a visit back to the shrine, and exorcism went terribly wrong and the only way to keep the malicious spirit from destroying the town that the shrine protects was to bind it to her young son.

The trauma and guilt from that night broke Yoko, and after a few instances of trying to kill Tark and the spirit trapped within him, she's been committed to a mental hospital.

Tark's father has been doing his best, trying to balance a demanding job, a mad wife, and a son who understandably has a few issues.

And the binding left Tark with tattoo-like symbols covering his arms, hips, and chest, without a mother, and a history of bizarre, alienating events surrounding him.

It's no wonder Okiku notices him, and takes an interest.

We also get to know Tark's cousin Callie. A teacher's aide at the school he's now attending, they were close when Tark was young, and she feels a bit of a motherly responsibility for her young family member. She knows that he's been having a hard time, especially since they've moved closer to his mother's hospital and there's been a bit more interaction with her, and she wants to do whatever she can to help Tark out.

And perhaps figure out what's going on with the strange spirits that have been following him.

For as he's growing up, and becoming a less 'pure' vessel, the binding symbols his mother used to shut away the evil spirit have begun to fade. The strange occurrences have become more frequent, and if that spirit escapes, it won't end well for anyone involved.

The Girl from the Well doesn't read like a traditional Stephen King horror novel. Like many Japanese novels, it's much more contemplative and slow-building than that. Most of the bad reviews on Goodreads seem to be coming from people who are expecting a different sort of book. This isn't a hack-and-slash, bloody horror novel. Rather, the creepiness builds as the story progresses and the reader becomes invested in the characters. The tone of the novel rather than graphic imagery is what will keep the reader up at night, either to finish the book or wondering what that shadow behind them in the mirror is.

Highs: This is a great starter book for people who aren't too familiar with Japanese folklore, since The Ring was so popular, and can easily spark an interest in other books with Japanese settings.

Lows: Once again the father is clueless - bordering on neglectful - and mostly ignored throughout the book.

Verdict: A wonderfully creepy young adult horror novel with a distinct East Asian flavor.

Further Reading: The Suffering, Another, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Monday, September 21, 2015

Manga Monday: How bad can a public high school really be?

It's not Takashi Kamiyama's fault. It really isn't. He could have gotten into a much better high school if he wanted to. 

In middle school, Ichiro Yamamoto helped him stand up to the bullies who called him 'pencilneck' and stole his lunch money. So when high school exam time came around, and Yamamoto was discouraged, Kamiyama told him that a good student can learn anywhere, and that he would apply for Cromartie High School, the easiest school to get into, with him.

Unfortunately, Yamamoto didn't even get into Cromartie, so now Kamiyama is at a very, very rough school all by himself in Cromartie High School Volume 1.

Cromartie is a rather...unique school. To begin with, it's a school for delinquents. Since no good student in their right mind would ever go to Cromartie, it's assumed that you've built up a hard reputation for yourself in middle school. This works to Yamamoto's advantage, since only a boy with the worst reputation ever could afford to seem as weak as Yamamoto does.

Since delinquency is to be expected at a school like this, it takes some extremely special circumstances for Cromartie to stand out.

Like the 'kid' in Class 3 with a striking resemblance to Freddy Mercury.

Or the gorilla in another classroom.


Cromartie High School is a comedy spoofing the popular 'yankii' (juvenile delinquent) manga genre of the 1970s and 1980s. The randomness abounds, the laughs are constant, and by the end, perhaps your own high school experience won't seem so bad after all.

Highs: Motion sickness is a terrible disorder that does not need to be made light of.

Lows: This isn't a starter manga, as a reader without a good founding in manga tropes would probably be lost.

Verdict: Cromartie High School Volume 1 may not be for everyone, but those with the right sense of humor will enjoy it immensely.

Further Reading: Shiba Inuko-san Volume 1, My Neighbor Seki Volume 1

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Zombie outbreak survivors are just as factionalized as before

A world with superheroes could be a wonderful thing. With great power tends to come great responsibility, and it seems as though people with the ability to protect those in need gravitate towards such hobbies. 

Los Angeles has certainly benefited from its superpowered saviors. Gorgon has a particular vendetta against the street gang calling themselves the Seventeens. Mighty Dragon has been keeping an eye on the streets as well, and Stealth seems to be keeping attacks on women in check.

And then...the virus gets loose.

In Ex-Heroes, Peter Cline combines the very popular superhero and zombie genres to create a very interesting post-apocalyptic world. Taking place one year after the outbreak began, with flashbacks to the superheroes' experiences before the crisis, a band of superheroes has made a 'safe zone' out of the old Paramount Studios lot. They go on raids outside of the walls of the Mount for supplies, but have also converted rooftops on the lot to farming land, and are fairly self-sustaining.

They're not the only humans left in LA, however. Gorgon's old enemy, the Seventeens, also have a stronghold. Unfortunately, they're not nearly as nice to their civilians as the Heroes are.

But beyond that, there's been some strange developments amongst the ex-humans. When the Heroes captured three of the Seventeens, they each attempted to kill themselves in their holding cells. And one of the one who succeeded seemed...intelligent. Instead of launching himself at the nearest warm body, it was able to converse with the Heroes, and tell them what the Seventeens had in store for them.

Peter Cline has created a fascinating world in Ex-Heroes, filled with flawed heroes. No one comes through an apocalypse without at least a bit of baggage, and through the flashbacks Cline shows us exactly where each character is coming from. Even the revelation of how the outbreak started is equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking.

Ex-Heroes leaves a huge world to explore in subsequent books, characters who have an uphill battle before them, and a satisfying conclusion.

Highs: While a bit cookie-cutter to begin with, both female characters hold their own well.

Lows: While death is inevitable in a series like this, I wish a few of the characters we lost had made it through.

Verdict: An excellent genre mash-up that satisfies fans of zombies, superheroes, and both.

Further Reading: Under a Graveyard Sky, World War Z, V Wars

Monday, August 24, 2015

Manga Monday: Devil King for Student Council!

The crowd's all here - from Maou and Emi to Mayumi Kisaki and Lucifer in The Devil is a Part-Timer! High School! Volume 1.

Once again, Maou-sama has to find his place in this strange new world, and now there's even more drama than in the backroom of the fast food joint. He is, arguably, in a better position to take over all of Japan, and then the world now.

Every great leader needs a great education, you see, and what better place to start than in high school?

A high school has plenty of room for our favorite faces. Alicel is working as custodian so that he and Maou get free room and board. Emi and her friend Rika Suzuki transfer in shortly thereafter, and poor Chi-chan was here to begin with. Maou's boss from MgRonalds is now their teacher, and other characters wander in over time.

The story roughly follows that of the light novel and manga, with Maou planning to take over the world using Student Council President as just the first stepping-stone. There's a challenge to sell the most curry puddings, and Emi becomes injured on a class field trip. Even though we've heard the song before, the remix still entertains.

The whole 'high school' versions of popular manga is becoming more and more common. While it's kind-of fun to see favorite characters in a completely different setting, the whole idea is just a bit bizarre. The gaps in ages are scaled down, so that Chi-chan is the same age as Maou and Emi, which changes the dynamic of their relationship a bit. And figuring out how to wedge in side characters stretches the bounds of credibility. Even so, The Devil is a Part-Timer! High School! Volume 1 is a fun alternate story for big fans of the existing series.

Highs: It's cute that even her, Alciel ends up cleaning up after everyone.

Lows: How many students can transfer into the same class in just two days?

Verdict: Only meant for real fans of the original series, The Devil is a Part-Timer! High School! Volume 1 reads like a high school fantasy of a fanfic - in all the best ways.

Further Reading: The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Light Novel) Volume 1, The Devil is a Part-Timer! (manga) Volume 1, Rin-ne

Monday, August 10, 2015

Manga Monday: That's a stylish young man...with a grade school backpack...

It's hard being a high school kid who looks 10...but it's just as hard being an elementary school kid who looks 20 in Recorder and Randsell Volume 1.

Miyagawa Atsumi is a pretty average high school girl. She worries about exams, she has a best friend to hang out with, and she helps to take care of her little brother Atsushi. Atsushi's pretty normal himself too. He's got friends that love to get him in trouble, and a teacher who does her best to watch over him.

Unfortunately, neither of them look as normal as they are. Atsumi is an absolutely tiny 4'5”, while her fifth grade brother is a rather mature-looking 5'10". Atsumi has to shop in the children's department, Atsushi gets hand-me-downs from their 32-year-old neighbor. No one wants to take Atsumi seriously when she's out and about, and everyone mistakes Atsumi hanging out with his normal-looking girl classmate as a weirdo. It just isn't easy being a Miyagawa kid.

Atsumi, at least, is mature enough to use her childish appearance to her advantage, while poor Atsushi hasn't quite gotten it down yet. Volume 1 covers just about a year in their lives, including the popularity problems of Valentine's Day and White day, and the problem of Atsushi being introduced to a new teacher who isn't accustomed to his...appearance. The other folks in town, like the slacker neighbor who keeps giving Atsushi clothes picked out by his ex-girlfriends and the little boys Atsushi hangs out with who think it's super cool to be able to get away with not having an actual adult supervise them, just add to the fun.

Recorder and Randsell Volume 1 is a 4-koma comedy manga that easily captures the silliness of the assumptions that we all make upon seeing someone. It has some absolutely laugh-out-loud scenes, and doesn't rely on just its premise to bring the laughs.

Highs: 'Say something an adult would say!' '...BOOBS!'

Lows: You'd think that the police in the area would eventually recognize Atsushi and stop trying to arret him for being a creep.

Verdict: Recorder and Randsell Volume 1 is in equal parts hilarious and adorable, and a fun change of pace from other more serious manga.

Further Reading: Shiba Inuko-SanCrayon Shin-Chan, Neko Ramen

Monday, August 3, 2015

Manga Monday: How cute can the cute girl in class be?

It might not be polite to point out a classmate's differences, but perhaps some things might need to be cleared up in Shiba Inuko-san Volume 1.

It's actually refreshing to see someone in Japan who is accepted for all of her eccentricities. Students everywhere can be very unforgiving of classmates, and in as cohesive a society as Japan, standing out too much can sometimes be frowned upon.

Chako Ishibashi is just a normal 8th grader at a normal school. She has a few friends in her new class, and a little brother Yuuto who she walks to school with in the morning. She's in a different class this year in school, which is exciting, because it's the same class her friend Naho was in last year, and they seened like suh a close, friendly bunch.

But as Naho is making introductions, Chako meets the most popular girl in class. She's cute, and short, and…


She's Shiba Inuko-san. Everyone agrees that she's short, and adorable, and brown-haired,and has a small tail, and irresistibly cuddly, but for some reason only Chako seems to have put all the pieces together that she's actually a Shiba Inu dog.

But what does that matter, really? Inuko-san is still adorable, and a good friend to her classmates, and participates in whatever they're doing. She might not be the best person to share notes with if you're absent with a cold, but she's sure mastered chopsticks at lunch.

A standard 4-koma manga, Shiba Inuko-san Volume 1 never tries for more plot than it's able to actually pull off. Each story is basically a middle-school slice of life, with some sort of dog-related twist. Surprisingly, it stays fresh much longer than one might expect. The author uzu has somehow hit upon the perfect combination of absurdity and normalcy, and it blends very well.

Highs: Any time Shiba Inuko-san runs up against a problem based on her form, and the rest of the class - minus Chako - takes it in stride, the reader can't help but smile.

Lows: Fans who have become bored with the abundance of slice-of-life manga recently may find some of the tropes repetitive.

Verdict: Shiba Inuko-san Volume 1 is exactly what it sets out to be, and does it well.

Further Reading: Azumanga Daioh, Cromartie High School

Saturday, August 1, 2015

How far can a friendly dragon get in the world?

The nicest dragon in the universe slowly wins people over with his sincerity in Rachel Bach's One Good Dragon Deserves Another.

Note: One Good Dragon Deserves Another is the second book in the Heartstrikers series. For the first book, Nice Dragon Finish Last, click here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sometimes it takes a supervillain to defeat a supervillain

The team goes on two missions, while their leader fights to retain control of her project in New Suicide Squad Volume 1: Pure Insanity.

So the Suicide Squad is doing its crazy thing, but apparently someone's decided that it needs a bit more oversight than it has traditionally had. Enter Victor Sage, a by-the-books kind of guy, designated to lead the Suicide Squad alongside Waller, and keep tabs on their actions.

Understandably, this transition doesn't go so well, but the missions go on.

Initially, the Squad heads into Russia. Sage thinks it's an awesome idea to cause rivalry within the team, in an effort to 'spice things up.' Which goes about as well as can be expected. But they do end up finding out what the Russians have been working running headfirst into it. And we are reminded once again exactly how disposable the Squad members are.

Later, what's left of the team picks up a few replacement members and heads off to China. While the brainwashed ninja man-bats distract the guards at a secured facility, and Reverse Flash sets up enough bombs to blow the place sky-high, Black Manta and Harley check out what exactly is going on there.

Looks like China's working on the supervillain threat as well. With similarly astonishing results.

There's a lot going on in this book. With the ever-revolving team members, who by definition don't play well with authority, there's going to be power struggles. Black Manta can only do so much as an on-site team leader, when it's a crapshoot whether he can get anyone to actually listen to him. Waller understands this, but it's hard to make an outsider understand what allowances have to be made for such an...eclectic team.

I also have to make the standard objection to how they've changed Waller's looks. Not every important female has to be slim and pretty. It was nice to see a woman in power who had better things to worry about than her diet, but alas, that's once again gone to the wayside.

In all, New Suicide Squad Volume 1: Pure Insanity is a pretty decent jumping-off point for new fans to the franchise. Fans who have come to it from the Arrow TV show references have enough touchstones with Deadshot and Deathstroke to not be too lost, while still building towards what will probably be future storylines.

Highs: Both the Russian and Chinese approaches to the supervillain threat are fascinating, and I hope future stories go into these further.

Lows: Between pitting the two female Squad members against each other, and Waller's 'makeover,' this isn't exactly the most feminist-friendly book out there.

Verdict: While not a perfect comic by any means, New Suicide Squad Volume 1: Pure Insanity still has lots going for it.

Further Reading: Arkham Manor, Gotham Academy, Ms. Marvel Volume1: No Normal

Monday, July 27, 2015

Manga Monday: The Devil King and The Hero get a few visitors from home

More visitors from Ente Isla means more trouble for the people of Earth in The Devil is a Part-Timer (manga) Volume 2.

Note: The Devil is a Part-Timer! (manga) Volume 2 is part of an ongoing series. For Volume 1, click here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

One last romp through London - and beyond - with the Hadrians.

“The Gaslight Chronicles” are finally brought to a close in Cindy Spencer Pape's Ether and Elephants.

Note: Dragons & Dirigibles is the seventh story of the Gaslight Chronicles series. While the stories work well as stand-alones, there are inherent spoilers, especially where the romances are involved.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Manga Monday: Yokoi finally starts fighting back!

Yokoi starts really getting involved in Seki' My Neighbor Seki Volume 3.

Note: My Neighbor Seki Volume 3 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, and Volume 2 here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Manga Monday: How deep does this conspiracy go?

More and more of the Survey Corps appears to be hiding a monstrous side in Attack on Titan Volume 10.

Note: Attack on Titan Volume 10 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 9 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Part-time work can be a special kind of hell...

A good worker is a good worker, whether he's leading demon hoards or slinging burgers, in The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Light Novel) Volume 1.

It was a humiliating retreat. The Devil King Maou could not hold ranks, and the only avenue left to him was to open a portal for himself and his top general Alciel to flee through.

But after battling to a standstill against the Hero Emilia Justina, neither had the energy to control the intermensional portal they had created. They fell from the portal into a world unlike any they had ever seen before. Buildings reach up to touch the sky. Lights line the streets, stretching into the distance. 

And there doesn't seem to be the supply of magic that they're accustomed to in Ente Isla.

After a humiliating few days trying to acclimate themselbes to this strange, human-run world, The Devil King Maou and Alciel begin to get their feet under them. Using a bit of their remaining magic, they obtain the background paperwork necessary to obtain housing and employment.

Of a sort.

What folows is a hilarious fantasy/slice of life. The Devil King, now known as Sadao Maou, finds work at the fast food giant MgRonalds, and begins his plans for world domination through climbing the ranks within the MgRonalds corporation. Alciel - Shiro Ashiya - is focusing on his support role for Maou, keeping the household and budget in order, as well as researching any possible sources of magic in this new world.

Maou and Ashiya aren't the only ones frmo Ente Isla to find their way to Earth. The Hero Emilia followed her quarry through the portal, and has also set herself up with a job and a new identity. Being rather more pragmatic than her enemies, she manages to use her ability to comprehend and speak any language she hears to obtain a relatively cushy job at a call center.

The longer our exiled warriors stay on Earth, the more involved tehy get in their new lives. Maou earns the respect of his manager and subordinates alike. Ashiya becomes involved with the same challenges as any househusband, competing to get the best deals at market and bemoaning their lack of funds. Even The Hero Emilia - now Emi Yusa - makes a friend at work.

And strange things have been happening around Sasazuka station. Odd earthquakes that are very tightly centered around a coworker of Maou. Voices warning her of a bigger event happening soon. Even an attack on Maou and Yusa as they argue after Maou's shift at MgRonalds. It soon becomes clear that they are not the only new people in the area.

And whoever it is, they're upping the stakes.

The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Light Novel) Volume 1 gives more depth to the story than either the manga or the anime is able to. Motivations are more clear, and the interactions more detailed. The thoughts and feelings of Yusa, and the straightforward befuddlement of Maou, are both hilarous and telling. Th\is format lets the writing of Satoshi Wagahara shine, and shows why this is such a well-received series.

The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Light Novel) Volume 1 is both a great introduction to the series, as well as a supplement to the collection of media surrounding this story.

Highs: Maou's day out with Chiho was totally a everybody but Maou.

Lows: I'd love more details about some of the side characters back in Ente Isla.

Verdict: This is perhaps the best way to first experience the series, and is both hilarous and endearing in turn.

Further Reading: The Devil is a Part Timer! (manga), My Neighbor Seki, Moribito, Rin-ne

Monday, May 4, 2015

Manga Monday: More shogi?

Seki is still at it, and Yokoi keeps being dragged along, in My Neighbor Seki Volume 2.

Note: My Neighbor Seki Volume 2 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here. Otherwise, read on!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ms. Marvel gets a serious case of the fangirls

As it turns out, a new superhero stretching her legs in Jersey City attracts a bit of attention from other heroes, as Kamala realizes in Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why.

Note: Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why is the second volume in a series. For the review of Volume 1: No Normal, click here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Manga Monday: Did you ever suspect your shift manager was a devil?

It's the eternal battle between good and evil, centered around Ente Isla. Emilia, the Champion of the humans is locked in mortal battle with the Devil King. As Emilia gains the upper hand, the Devil King opens a gate to another world, vowing to return and finish what he's started. As he and his second-in-command Alciel escape, Emilia has no choice but to pursue them, wherever that gate might lead.

And this is where we join our merry cast of characters in the manga The Devil is a Part-Timer (manga) Volume 1. To survive in this magic-bereft world, the Devil King (now called Sadao Maou) and Alciel (Shirou Ashiya) have to adapt to life on Earth. They get their paperwork in order, find a place to live within their nonexistent budget, and while Ashiya is researching magic in this world, Maou-sama gets a job to support them.

At MgRonalds. Taking orders behind the counter. Promoting their new Black Pepper Fries.

Eventually, the Champion Emilia Justina (now Emi Yusa) discovers where the Devil King has been hiding out, and confronts him. She's been marginally more successful at life on Earth, picking out a less strange name for herself, finding a decent apartment, and getting work at a call center. But even as she confronts Maou outside his work, there's something else going on as well. As they walk and bicker, his mighty steed Dullahan (a bicycle) receives a near mortal wound to its front tire. As they stop to inspect it, more gunfire erupts and they run for their lives.

Who else might know that they are more than they seem?

In the meantime, Maou-sama's coworker Chiho Sasaki has taken an interest in him as well. Ever since Maou appeared, she's been having strangely prophetic dreams about the earthquakes that have been plaguing the area, and she asks Maou out to talk about them. But with both Ashiya and Emi spying on them, things get awkward. And then another disaster.

The Devil is a Part Timer! (manga) Volume 1 does a good job keeping the action moving. Fans of the anime series might be annoyed that nearly four full episodes are contained in just the first manga. This shortening, however, keeps the pace quick and make sure the reader is never bored with overlong exposition. Fans who want a more in-depth look at the series may want to hold off and pick up the light novels when they come out later this year. However, for seasoned anime fans, as well as big fans of the anime, the manga is a fun reminder of the anime series and a good refresher before more of the plot is released for its English-speaking fans.

Highs: Emilia's backstory comes through better in manga form than it did in the anime, and really makes the reader start to cheer for the Champion

Lows: Pulled straight from the anime series, there's nothing new to offer storyline-wise

Verdict: The Devil is a Part-Timer! (manga) Volume 1 is a bit of a placeholder until further volumes come out for those who have watched the anime, but is still a hilarious romp for those for whom the story is new.

Further Reading: The Devil is a Part-Timer! Light Novel, Moribito, Rin-ne

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

From a village in Nepal to the streets of Calcutta

"It is a woman's fate to suffer...simply to endure is to triumph."

In Patricia McCormick's Sold, Lakshmi knows how to take pleasure in the simple things in life. Her pet goat, Tali. The way the sun rises over the mountains surrounding the village. The tinkle of gold in her mother's ears. 

Even though her stepfather spends his days at the teahouse gambling rather than working. Even though the old thatch on their roof lets in as much rain as it keeps out.

But after a terrible drought, followed by terrible rains, the family is left with nothing but debts.

Nothing, that is, except Lakshmi.

Lakshmi's best friend Gita left the village to be a maid to a wealthy household in the city. Lakshmi sees the tin roof that her friend's natal house now has. She sees the 'electric sun' hanging from a cord inside. She sees the weariness of her mother, and her tiny baby brother. So when the crops fail and even her mother's earrings are sold, Lakshmi can easily see what a great help it would be for her to go to work. And with a heavy heart, but a hopeful gaze, Lakshmi leaves with the beautiful stranger, and her stepfathers leaves with a handful of money.

As Lakshmi travels to the city, she sees many things she's never seen before. She sees the landscape race by her as she rides the train. She sees men in uniform, and is frightened of them. She sees a girl, in the gutter, with her head freshly shaven and with men throwing cigarette butts at her. She sees what happens to women her age who disobey the men in their lives.

Even after all these sights, Lakshmi still arrives in Calcutta with the hope that she'll be a help to her family. She walks into Happiness House with a straight back, hoping to show her new bosses that she is a hard worker. She sees girls in beautiful dresses, and she starts to wonder if working in this place might not be so bad after all.

Then Mumtaz gives Lakshmi her first 'job,' putting her in a room with a man who had paid for her.

Written in free verse, Patricia McCormick does an amazing job transporting the reader to Central Asia, contrasting the remote, idyllic village in Nepal where Lakshmi was born and raised to the dirty, bustling city of Calcutta. Written in free verse, the chapters flow together with the reader not realizing how quickly the story is passing until the final climactic pages.

Painstakingly researched, Sold is a beautifully written young adult book that keeps its readers in mind regarding content, and is a wonderful introduction for young people to the realities that girls face other parts of the world.

Highs: The wonderful stories of contentment taking place in the village give a sharp contrast to the bleakness of life at the Happiness House.

Lows:  Being a young adult book, it wraps up just a bit too neatly for my adult taste, but that's expected in the genre.

Verdict: A great book for a classroom, or a cross-generational reading group, with beautiful prose and a tactful manner of handling difficult subject matters.

Further Reading: The Good Women of China, Escape from Camp 14, The Boy who Harnessed the Wind

Monday, March 23, 2015

Manga Monday: What in heaven is the monstrosity on the cover?

Our intrepid Survey Corps members encounter what are by the most abnormal Titans yet in Attack on Titan Volume 9.

Note: Attack on Titan Volume 9 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 8 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Redemption, loyalty, and a terrible choice

Doctor Stephen Strange is one of those oddball superheroes that the mainstream moviegoer might not have heard of. Trained as a doctor, and once one of the most skilled surgeons in the world, a car accident stole the steadiness of his hands from him. As he searched for a cure for himself, he met Earth's Sorcerer Supreme and apprenticed under him. Now, a slightly more humble man, he uses his new found skills to aid the Avengers in their mission to protect the Earth.

In Doctor Strange: The Oath, we meet Strange in Night Nurse's waiting room. Someone's shot him, but that's not Strange's biggest worry. His assistant, partner and friend Wong is dying, and even Strange is wondering whether he'll be able to save him.

The story goes backwards and forwards in time, showing the reader his arrogance and disregard for the suffering of those around him, the accident that sent Strange down his new path towards sorcery, and more recent events as he's searched for a cure for Wong.

And Strange is so very close to a cure. The elixir that he traveled to another dimension to find is said to 'erase what troubles the mind of man." But what if this doesn't simply cure Wong's tumor? What if it is the cure for everything?

And what if some people don't want everything cured?

Brian K Vaughan is one of the most popular comic writers in recent years, and with good reason. After wrapping up an amazing run with Y: The Last Man, he started his award-winning series Saga. With The Oath, Vaughan brings his amazing characterization and storytelling to a character who has quite a bit of depth to him. The Oath is a wonderful introduction to a character who is Earth's greatest defender against all that the other dimensions can throw at us.

Highs: Night Nurse deserves her own comic, hands down.

Lows: I'm glad how the story eventually resolved, but I wish Strange would eventually grow out of a bit more of his selfishness.

Verdict: The Oath is a great place for new fans to start, especially those wanting to get a feeling for the character before the movie comes out.

Further Reading: Ms. Marvel, Loki: Agent of Asaguard, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers

Monday, February 2, 2015

Manga Monday: Some kids just can't sit still

Every classroom has one. The student who will do absolutely anything to avoid paying attention in class. Generally that student's repertoire is limited to staring out the window, reading comics, or perhaps playing with his phone. Occasionally, such a student creates a distraction, or annoys the students adjacent to them, but this usually draws enough attention that the teacher puts an end to it.

Unfortunately, not only are Seki's distractions fascinating, but he's a master of stealth in My Neighbor Seki Volume 1.

Poor Yokoi. Poor, poor Yokoi. At this rate, she'll never be able to pay attention in class again. But who could blame her? Seki simply refuses to sit still and do his work. And what he actually is doing is much more interesting than what the teacher's trying to get across.

For example, in 2nd Period, Seki starts a game of Shogi. Sort of. He's turned Shogi into a drama about loyalty and betrayal and possibly a resurrected king?

5th Period doesn't go much better. He's switched over to Go this time...but Yokoi's not sure about the rules of Go. Are...are there teddy bears and bunnies involved? Is that normal?

Wait...a cat? Why is there a cat in 6th Period? Multiple cats? Is this normal?

Ouija boards, robot toys, crocheting...there's a lot going on in the back row here. Unfortunately, there's not much note-taking. Will Yokoi ever be able to concentrate again?

Probably not.

The premise of My Neighbor Seki is fantastic. The chapters are short enough that they don't begin to get tired, and the ideas are so far-out that there's plenty of room for the author to play around. The art's not always amazing, but it's completely serviceable for the type of story that it tells, and it's clear who's who and what's going on .Overall, it's a hilarious manga that's a great way to spend a few minutes here and there.

Highs: To be honest, Seki really did take the disaster drill as seriously as he could

Lows: I wish Seki got called out more than poor Yokoi did, but I suppose that's part of the fun

Verdict: A step up from a simple 4-koma comic, My Neighbor Seki is still best read in small bites, but it's fun and reminiscent of middle school antics that most people either participated in or watched

Further Reading: Crayon Shin-Chan, Yotsuba&!, Neko Ramen

Monday, January 26, 2015

Manga Monday: Does Hina's goodness prevent her from seeing others clearly?

Hina's sweet nature and love of those around her may make her blind to the dangers around her in Suki: A Like Story Volume 2.

Note: Suki: A Like Story Volume 2 is part of a series. For the review of Volume 1 click here. Otherwise, read on.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Manga Monday: A very special kind of cat

There once was a cat who traveled. Her back was black light the night, with spots scattered across it like the Milky Way Galaxy. She had a bit of magic about her, and she touched lives along the way. This is the tale of Sirial's Milkyway Hitchhiking Volume 1.

In 'The Black Cat's Wish,' Milkyway comes across a black cat named Sarah. He was rescued by his owner, and all he wants to do is thank him somehow. So he asks Milkyway to become human, if only for a day, or a few hours. Just long enough to thank the person who saved his life. If a cat was given the abilities of a human, how would he choose to thank his savior?

'Cat-Food Burglar' is the story of a strange little girl. Whenever anyone puts food out for the neighborhood cats, she steals it and eats it herself. Milkyway misses a few meals like that, before she begins to investigate. She's hardly starving, she's got a little bit of a tummy on her, so why in the world would this girl be so selfish?

'Mechanical Cat in the Gray City' leads into 'But There Is Only One.' A robot cat named Sandy has wandered out of its home. As Milkyway and Sandy wander the city, the nature of happiness, and of cathood, are explored. All the while, Sandy's young owner cries for her. Is a robot cat just as important, and irreplaceable, as a flesh and blood one?

Sirial has created a gorgeous and pensive manhua. Each page is rich with watercolor-style artwork and broad vistas. While some pages might not be the most detailed, the sheer beauty of the composition simply blows the reader away. This is far and away the most beautiful art I've seen in a comic in years, on par with the great Kaoru Mori, but completely different as well.

Milkyway Hitchhiking is a wonderful, introspective book that takes the time to explore the world, one story at a time.

Highs: The longer, connected chapters bring a welcome sense of fullness amid the one-shots.

Lows: Occasionally, the layering of art, English text bubbles, and Korean sound effects can be hard to read.

Verdict: Milkyway Hitchhiking is a surprising breath of fresh air in the busy, action-packed world of manga.

Further Reading: A Bride's Story, Kino no Tabi, Chi's Sweet Home