Category Archives: Book Review

How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Graphic Novel)

Story by Neil Gaiman

Adaptation, Art, & Lettering by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fifteen-year-old Enn doesn’t really get girls. He’s at that awkward age where they seem to have flown ahead, all mysterious and unknowable. His best friend Vic keeps telling him to just talk to them, but . . . what exactly are you to say to someone you don’t understand at all? Enn’s troubles come to a head when Vic drags him to a party, waxing eloquent on the girls they will encounter there, only to find halfway through the evening that they’ve crashed the wrong party–and the girls here are an even more bizarre variety of mysterious and strange than any Enn has encountered before.

I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” ever since I first read it in M is for Magic many years ago. It’s classic Neil Gaiman–the magical clash of the mundane and the extraordinary, couched in such a way that it hints at all sorts of wonders unseen without ever stooping to spell everything out, to take away the mystery of it. It’s breathtaking. Moon and Bá’s graphic adaptation is far better than I expected, managing to preserve much of the ethereal strangeness, the predatory otherness, that makes this story so gripping. Likewise, they do well making Enn awkward and ordinary, making the culture clash here painfully, magically apparent. I think that there are a few parts where more is shown than I would like; this is the sort of story where more left to the imagination is better. But then, that’s the challenge of telling this sort of story as a graphic novel at all, and I think the adapters did well in not overdoing the showing on the whole. The art style is lovely, capturing the alien and the ordinary both in an ethereal collision. Highly recommended.

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Mononoke Sharing (Manga)

Mangaka: coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 3 volumes)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience. This is at least a hard T+ with lots of fanservice. Fair warning.

Yata is an average student going to school on scholarship and desperately in need of a cheap place to stay. She finds one, but her five roommates are, well, different. As in, not human. But hey, the rent’s cheap. She’ll make it work, right?

I have so many mixed feelings about Mononoke Sharing. By the same author as Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, this story shares the messy-cute art style and the light-hearted slice-of-life comedy with a supernatural element of that manga. But Mononoke Sharing is a lot less serious–not so much the drama and deep backstories and such, more goofy slapstick and waaaay more sexual content and ecchiness and flat-out fanservice. The fanservice aspect is one reason that I didn’t like this so much; it’s just too much. Plus, I’m not so much into that sort of humor. This story has been described as “oddball,” “over-the-top,” and “raunchy,” and yeah, all of those descriptors fit. But at the same time, I love the concept–a human dumped in a house full of yokai, or mononoke as they’re called here, and just doing life with them. As with Miss Kobayashi, the whole otherworldly-beings-interacting-with-normal-life aspect is intriguing and amusing. And the relationships that are developed between these roommates can be quite sweet at times. I also really loved that, while this story included some more commonly seen beings such as a devil and a kitsune, it also included less common ones such as a kappa, a yuki-onna, and even a stretchy-necked rokurokubi. They’re interesting characters, even if some aspects of their character design are so physics-defying as to be frankly annoying and very weird. So yeah, mixed feelings. . . .

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Kanna’s Daily Life (Manga)

Mangaka: Mitsuhiro Kimura

Spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 3 volumes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kanna originally left her homeworld for the human world to follow after Tohru, her dragon senpai. Finding Tohru happily settled in with the human Kobayashi-san, working as her maid, Kanna moved in with them–the more the merrier, right? Now Kanna is living disguised as an (adorable) human elementary-school student, going to school, making friends (especially Saikawa, who has a huuuuuge crush on her), dealing with bullies, and generally experiencing human life . . . all without revealing her true identity as a dragon herself.

This adorable, fluffy manga is exactly what it sounds like: a spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, focusing on the daily activities of the little dragon girl, Kanna. While knowledge of the original manga is not required to enjoy this spinoff, it is referenced, and characters relationships and such will be easier to understand with at least a bit of prior knowledge of the original story. But this story really does hone in on Kanna specifically. There are a lot of chapters about her friendship with Saikawa (and yes, those have an innocent but distinctly present shoujo-ai flair, much like the interactions between Tomoyo and Sakura in Cardcaptor Sakura), which are really cute and sweet. There are also several family-centric chapters, with Tohru, Kobayashi, and Kanna just enjoying life together. And for those who love the extended cast, yes there are chapters including Fafnir, Ilulu, Shouta, and the lot. The actual stories are very cute slice-of-life episodes, each one focusing on a specific topic, much like in the original manga. An interesting distinction here, however, is that each chapter is divided into single-page 4-koma comics; a nice change-up, especially if you enjoy the 4-koma style (I do, personally). As for the art, it’s similar enough to coolkyosinnjya’s in the character designs and such that it’s hard to tell a difference, although the art here may be just a smidge neater–again, it’s all really cutesy. Recommended for fans of the original manga (although do be aware that it’s by a different author) and for those who just enjoy cute, slice-of-life manga.

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Manga)

Mangaka: coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 6 volumes)

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Although this is technically rated T (actually, I think the first volume may even be rated A) there’s definitely some ecchiness and partial nudity, so . . . fair warning

Kobayashi-san lived a fairly quiet, normal life as an average office worker and closet otaku. . . . That is, until one night in a moment of drunken unthinking, she invited a dragon to live with her. That’s right, a dragon–wings, scales, the works. The next morning, she finds a cute girl wearing a maid outfit and sporting horns and a tail staying in her home. Weird, but hey, Tohru certainly keeps life interesting, and her undying devotion and eagerness to help is kind of appealing. With Tohru’s presence, Kobayashi’s normal life has disappeared, but can she really find it in herself to truly regret it?

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one of those cute, episodic seinen stories that just sort of meanders through life in its own charming way. Honestly, there are elements of it that kind of remind me of Yotsuba&!, even down to the way a lot of the chapters follow the formulaic “Tohru and this or that ordinary thing that she’s just now interacting with.” Because Tohru isn’t accustomed to the human world, you get some unique, quirky perspectives on things that seem everyday to us. There’s a lot of relationship building and re-evaluation going on throughout this story as well, so it’s kind of more of a dramedy of sorts, because the humorous element is definitely present throughout. I guess there are elements that could almost be shoujo-ai flavored, but it’s in a way that could be totally platonic as well, so take your pick there. Again, fair warning that there are parts that are a bit more ecchi; that just seems to be the mangaka’s default, although it’s not quite as much here as in, say, Mononoke Sharing. The art itself is cute and fits the story, again in a way that seems pretty typical of the mangaka’s usual slightly sloppy/loose sort of style. Recommended for those who like cute seinen slice-of-life stories but who are open to a bit more of a fantasy flair.

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The Grand Tour: of The Purloined Coronation Regalia

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia and Kate, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Following their weddings, cousins Kate and Cecy–along with their husbands Thomas and James and Thomas’s mother Lady Sylvia–embark on a grand tour of the Continent, a honeymoon to be remembered. Or, well, that’s what it was supposed to be. And it certainly is. Memorable, that is. Nearly from the start, the party find themselves confronted with strange happenings–mysterious visitors, falling ceilings, magical illness, secret messages, and strange magical rituals performed in ancient ruins, among others. Certain that something odd is going on, they begin investigating, because really, could these people ever leave something that intriguing alone?

The Grand Tour proved a solid follow-up for Wrede and Stevermer’s first volume, Sorcery & Cecelia, although with some marked differences. If I could compare the first volume to Howl’s Moving Castle, then The Grand Tour could better be compared to one of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody stories, just with magic. The dates are completely off, of course, as is the location, but the whole well-to-do British travelers in foreign parts getting involved in mysteries and intrigue involving some antiquity or the other? Definitely fits here. As for the writing, this volume is told more as journals or memoirs as opposed to letters, so the tone is a bit different–actually quite a bit, really. There’s a touch of dissonance at first, to be honest, like the authors are figuring out who their characters are all over again when seen in this different light. After that first bit, though, you get to see more of the characters’ individualities coming through, you get more facets to them than might have been seen if this were also told as correspondence. And the characters are, well, quite the characters. Without the decorum demanded by Regency-era society, they might be quite shocking, and even while attempting to exercise decorum, they push the bounds at times. But in a very enjoyable sort of way. On the whole, I quite enjoyed The Grand Tour and would recommend it to those who enjoy Regency-era stories, historical fantasy, and intrigue.

 

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Manga)

Mangaka: Aya Shouto

Status: Ongoing (currently 12 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When she turns sixteen, orphan Himari Momochi mysteriously receives a will stating she’s inherited her family’s ancestral home, Momochi House. Not that she thinks to question it much; it’s a true windfall, and she cheerily packs her bags and sets off into the mountains to move in. Only, once she arrives, she finds this mysterious boy Aoi is already living there, claiming to be the house’s guardian, along with a variety of yokai. Because apparently the house is on the border between the human world and the otherworld, a gateway of sorts. Not one to be so easily discouraged, Himari determinedly declares she’s the house’s landlady and tries to get the squatters to leave . . . only to be confronted with the fact that Aoi literally cannot leave the premises since he’s been chosen as the house’s guardian. Well, Himari’s not about to leave either, even if it does mean she has to share her home and deal with whatever weirdness comes through from the otherworld. And believe me, the weirdness is just beginning.

Personally, I find The Demon Prince of Momochi House well worth reading for the gorgeousness of its art alone, especially the color spreads at the beginning of each volume. Absolutely stunning. As for the story itself, well, I’m almost tempted to think of it as xxxHOLiC lite. You’ve got all these encounters with traditional Japanese yokai and suchlike, as well as other traditional folklore, all set in this mysterious house on the border between worlds. Yeah, sound familiar? But instead of this dark josei sort of flavor, you’ve got something much more traditionally shoujo. Bishounen galore–and it’s only Himari’s fixation with Aoi that keeps this from becoming some kind of reverse-harem situation–for one. A tendency for shoujo tropes, gentle romance, and a generally lighter tone in spite of going to some dark places at times. Oh, and Himari is a pretty classic shoujo heroine–innocent, romantic, stubborn, slightly blonde, and a total do-gooder. But she’s pretty likeable for all that. And Aoi’s mysterious dark past (and sometimes present) kind of counterbalances her air-headed sweetness. Shouto-sensei actually does quite a good job at making the characters more nuanced than you’d expect, especially through their facial expressions. I really love Aoi’s variety of expression in particular; well, I love his character in general, so there’s that too. Currently there’s a lot of uncertainty still as far as where the story will go, but it’s shoujo enough that I’m hoping for a sweet, satisfying end. I’m certainly curious where the story will go from here.

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The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins (Graphic Novel)

Story by  Clint McElroy,  Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, & Travis McElroy

Illustrated by Carey Pietsch

The Adventure Zone, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

Join brave adventurers, Magnus, Merle, and Taako on their quest to fight goblins, find lost family members, and hopefully survive level one. Observe their sheer skill in BS-ing their way past obstacles–and their attempts to avoid them when possible, except where there’s treasure or items involved. Marvel as their Dungeon Master steps in to clarify the rules. In short, dive headlong into an engaging game of Dungeons & Dragons as an uninvolved observer.

First off, I have to confess that I have never listened to the podcast that this graphic novel is based on (also titled The Adventure Zone). So I’m just coming at this as a D&D player and a casual reader. With that in mind, this graphic novel is basically brilliant. It does a great job of showing you the story that the DM and the players are weaving, but never really lets you forget that this is, in fact, a roleplaying game that’s going on here. As such, there’s some meta kind of stuff that will be amusing to players but that won’t mean much to those who haven’t played D&D at least a little. Not that it wouldn’t be fun for them; there’s just stuff that will be missed. For gamers, I think this will truly strike a chord because it clearly shows oh-so-many of the struggles and quirks one tends to run into while playing and presents them in a humorous way. And yes, this graphic novel is definitely funny in a quirky, snarky kind of way. I liked the art as well; it suits the story nicely and does a great job of presenting graphically what was originally released as audio only on the podcast. Fair warning that there is a good bit of adult language here, as well as some significant violence (like, whole town destroyed violence) which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but just putting that out there  in case you either don’t game or come from an atypical group that’s always sedate and polite. Not my general experience, gotta say. In any case, Here There Be Gerblins is definitely a GN I would recommend to fellow D&D players, as well as possibly to those interested in/curious about the game. I’m certainly looking forward to the next volume.

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