Tag Archives: shounen

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (manga)

Mangaka: Naoko Takeuchisailor-moon

Translator: William Flanagan

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Usagi Tsukino is an average middle-school girl–cute, cheerful, and prone to oversleeping. She’s also the reincarnation of an ancient Moon Princess–a Sailor Guardian wielding the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal to protect the world she loves. As she awakens to her powers, Usagi discovers other Sailor Guardians, friends from her past life who join her in the battles she faces. And they will definitely face numerous enemies in battle as those drawn to the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal for their own greedy reasons seek to take it from her.

First off, I must recognize that Sailor Moon has a certain appeal that uniquely comes from growing up with it; I have any number of friends who absolutely adore the story–all of whom first watched it on TV back in middle school. So I have to preface my review by saying that I only just read this manga recently, so I’m coming at the story from a different perspective, acknowledging that there are aspects of it that I’m just not going to appreciate in the same way. Please don’t be offended if you are one of those people who love this manga dearly. I can certainly acknowledge that is a classic–one that anyone who enjoys manga should read at least once–and that it has been highly influential not only on readers but on other mangaka over the years. I found Sailor Moon to be quite a unique story. The genre blend is something I’ve never seen before, at least not in this particular mix. While being essentially a shoujo story (with a strong mahou shojou flair, complete with the instantaneous costume changes and frou frou styles), there is a strong shounen vibe to the story as well. I found this particularly notable in the battles, both with the named attacks in the midst of the battles and with the sequence of each defeated enemy being followed by a stronger enemy. Personally, I found the enemies and their motives to be a bit bland and unoriginal. Although the character designs and the specifics changed, they were all essentially interchangeable otherwise, at least for the most part. On the other hand, the characters of the Sailor Guardians were charming, distinct, and interesting. I think the reason I enjoyed the series as much as I did was that I enjoyed the characters. As for the plot . . . the overarching plot of reincarnation, destined love, everlasting friendship, and all that goes into that was actually quite good. I enjoyed the time-travel plot elements that were thrown in as well. But the repeated fights just weren’t that enjoyable for me. Still, I think Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is a solid classic manga that is well worth reading at least once, both for the characters and story themselves and to understand the innumerable references to it that pop up elsewhere.

 

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A Fox’s Family

Author: Brandon Varnella-foxs-family

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 4

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience (14+)

Kevin Swift has finally agreed to be the lovely kitsune Lillian’s mate–to her abundant and obvious delight. Actually, the relationship is suiting Kevin pretty well also, although he’s well aware that being with Lillian is likely to bring plenty of outside conflict (more than it already has) in the form of various yokai who disapprove or are out to get her for one reason or another. Which is why Kevin has begun training with one of the toughest yokai he knows, the inu Kiara. Ouch, for sure, but he’s actually making progress. All seems to be going well . . . until one night when Lillian’s ditzy mom, overly lascivious sister Iris, and their maid (?) Kirihime show up on Kevin’s doorstep. As you can imagine, all kinds of complications arise from that.

I have enjoyed the American Kitsune series so far; it pulls a lot of flavor from Japanese light novels, particularly the more ecchi shounen rom-com ones, while also creating its own style and niche. A Fox’s Family is no different, although it shows definite development and a somewhat darker tone than the previous volumes. Make no mistake, it definitely keeps up the humor and the sexy hijinks–at least as much as previous volumes–but there are also some pretty bad villains involved and some big fights go down. Fights are something I personally have mixed feelings about in, well, any medium actually–not from a moral sense or anything, but just because they can be hard to follow and be interested in. (Basically the only fights I have been able to make myself care about in literature are the ones in Bleach.) Having said that, I do think the author did a good job with the fights in this book; they stay true to genre, but they’re also cohesive and reasonable to follow. I actually even found myself enjoying Kiara’s big fight (because it was epic and the combatants enjoyed it so much) and Kevin’s last big fight scene (because Kevin). Which brings me back to what I really enjoy the most about A Fox’s Family: the characters. While there are many aspects of this book that seem pretty typical shounen, I think the characters–especially Lillian and Kevin–stand out as being both intriguing and likeable, which is something that just makes the entire story in my opinion. I also have to note that this volume is pretty long and contains a larger cast than any of the previous volumes–and the author handles this added complication with aplomb, keeping plotlines and individual characters distinct and easy to follow for the reader. I would say, as with previous volumes, that if you don’t like ecchi stories with lots of otaku references, this probably isn’t for you; however, if that’s at all your style, A Fox’s Family would be a great light novel to try.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

 

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No Game No Life, vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Author: Yuu Kamiya/Translator: Daniel Komenno-game-no-life-1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Urban legends speak of a gamer with an impossible record of zero losses, a player who goes simply by “ ” or Blank. What the legends miss is that Blank is actually two players, a brother and sister pair who are as awful at real life as they are amazing at games. So when the two get sucked into a world where everything is decided by playing games of one sort or another, Sora and Shiro don’t do the expected and try to get home. They set their sights on the throne!

I really enjoyed reading No Game No Life, but I have to admit rather mixed feelings when looking at the light novel objectively. There are some things about it that are really well done and interesting; others, not so much. The concept, for instance, is brilliant–an alternate world with a fantasy flair that’s run entirely on games rather than wars and such is just remarkable. And the characters that Kamiya chose to stick in this setting are just perfect–I seriously think Sora and Shiro as a pair are about the most interesting characters you could possibly choose for this setting both because of the dynamic between them (which is intriguing in itself) and because of their mindset when it comes to games. The overall writing style is pretty average, I’d say typical for a light novel if not stellar. And I’m not even going to complain about the fanservice because 1) No Game No Life is just that kind of story, and if you want to totally avoid the fanservice, you’ll have to avoid this sort of story entirely, and 2) the fanservice in this volume is actually not that bad. What did bother me in that regard is the mild lolicon/incestuous verbal insinuations that were scattered throughout–they never amount to anything, but they’re kind of creepy still. Also, the fact that Sora uses a command that can’t be disobeyed to make a girl love him is kind of wrong, even though the author makes a point to show all sorts of ways the girl could have gotten around the command without directly disobeying. (And I know, I’m making this sound like a totally hentai story. It really isn’t that bad; I just feel the need to point out these parts since they bothered me personally.) The other notable negative is that at points (whether this is the original style or a mistake on the translator’s part, I’m not sure), the text is a series of somewhat disconnected phrases posing as sentences. . . . You can understand what’s going on, but it kind of catches you off guard and looks weird. But in spite of the negatives listed above, I would recommend No Game No Life for anyone looking for a fantasy/gamer light novel (who doesn’t mind some ecchiness); I’m planning to continue reading the series in any case.

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A Fox’s Maid

a fox's maidAuthor: Brandon Varnell

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

Kevin and Lillian have forged something of a workable compromise between the two of them–to the extent that Kevin can actually admit (at least to himself) to enjoying Lillian’s company. She has managed to back off on the extreme advances that make him so very uncomfortable, and he’s finally able to be around her without crazily nose-bleeding or passing out every 5 minutes . . . not that either avoids these things entirely, but it’s a start. Kevin’s still in a conundrum though; he’s very aware of how much Lillian cares for him and wants a long-term committed relationship with him. But seriously, he’s 15! How’s he supposed to know if he feels the same way? Or if he’s even capable of making that sort of commitment at this point? And if that weren’t troubling enough, Lillian’s super-beautiful but super-scary maid Kotohime shows up to push him to decide quickly . . . or else.

I really enjoyed the first two volumes of this series, but I have to say, I feel like the author really came into his own in A Fox’s Maid. It’s consistent with the former books in its combination of crazy fourth-wall-breaking humor, over-the-top ecchi shenanigans, ominously looming plots, and excessive otaku references. But I feel like the balance was better in this volume. All of these things were still there, adding a lot to the story, but also keeping out of the way enough to allow the characters to shine. I think Lillian and Kevin (as well as numerous other characters) were developed a lot in this story as individuals, and that was really enjoyable to see. Also (personally), it was very satisfying to see the romantic development between Lillian and Kevin advance, and in a way that works well for who they are as characters. I think that, for those who have enjoyed the previous volumes of this series, A Fox’s Maid is a follow-up light novel that will exceed expectations.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

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A Fox’s Love

Author: Brandon VarnellA Fox's Love

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Kevin Swift is what most folks would call a good guy–decent grades, athletic, responsible enough to live on his own while his mom’s away on work, but with enough of a geeky (even otaku) side to not be a total square. Poor guy really does have some of the worst luck though, or maybe he just has some unfortunate weaknesses. Like his soft spot for small, furry animals. Or his inability to talk to girls (including his crush/childhood friend Lindsay) without blushing and stammering, insane nosebleeding, and possibly passing out. Unfortunate, and likely to get worse when in an act of kindness Kevin brings home an injured little fox . . . that has two tails and a remarkable healing ability. Because the next day, in place of the adorable little fox he finds a naked, gorgeous young woman by the name of Lillian who proudly declares herself a kitsune–and his mate. Poor Kevin!

Having already read the second volume of this hilarious series, A Fox’s Tail, I was definitely looking forward to enjoying the first volume, which I did. A Fox’s Love is an amusing American take on the Japanese ecchi shounen romcom (think stories like To LOVE-Ru and Rosario + Vampire). It definitely follows in the footsteps of these stories, complete with hapless but relatively normal protagonist, improbably sexy and clingy female, tons of humor, and at least an equal part ecchiness and fanservice. Not to mention lots of fantastic references to anime, manga, games, and other geeky stuff. The flow of the writing fits the story very well, having the easy-to-read light novel sort of feel while still being distinctly American in tone. I also love that, while the story obviously references lots of other stories, sometimes even parodying them, it never loses itself; Kevin and Lillian are always very distinctive characters, however improbably those characters may be. And that very improbability is a lot of what makes the story so very funny. That and the various manga/anime tropes and fourth-wall-breaking that get thrown in. A negative (for me; others might find it a positive) is that this volume is very full of fanservice, some of it kind-of explicit–which is kind of promised on the cover, so no surprises there. Just be aware of that going in. One final note is that Kirsten Moody’s accompanying artwork is fantastic, accentuating the light-novel style of the story beautifully while presenting the characters in a way that is very consistent with how they are shown in the story. On the whole, I think that for those who enjoy stories like To LOVE-Ru and Rosario  + VampireA Fox’s Love is a very amusing and enjoyable venture into this sort of story in an American, slightly parody-like flavor.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

 

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Rust Blaster

Mangaka: Yana TobosoRust Blaster

My rating: 4 of 5

In a world where humans and vampires have forged a working alliance, Millennium Academy is an elite school designed to train vampires (and the odd human–I mean it, he’s odd) to protect the peace. It would seem that Aldred, the headmaster’s son, would be a misfit in a school filled with such skilled vampires who are able to easily control the mystical weapons that are their vampiric heritage. You see, he’s the only vampire in the school who can’t create such a weapon. But Aldred makes up for his lacks with a combination of bluster, determination, leadership, and true friendship that somehow draws others to follow him. And when he encounters Kei, a seemingly emotionless boy who was raised solely to house a legendary mystical weapon, Aldred will find even his extreme optimism challenged as he discovers he is able to wield Kei’s weapon–at the cost of drinking Kei’s blood, which Aldred hates. Not that he has much choice. The world as they know it is ending, and it will take all they can give to stem the tide . . . even if it means changing who they are to protect that which is precious to them.

I’ve been waiting for years, just hoping that Rust Blaster would finally get an English translation–and it’s finally here! As you may recognize, this is the debut manga by Yana Toboso, the creator of the delicious Black Butler. While not as mature as Black Butler (has become), being Toboso’s first manga, Rust Blaster does show a lot of the same trademark qualities that make Toboso’s work extremely popular. The art is gorgeous–lots of bishounen and just generally a very attractive style. You really don’t see the extreme learning curve in the art that you do with a lot of mangaka, which is really nice. And while there are a lot of shounen mores (it would be easy to compare Aldred to, say, Luffy or Naruto it his attitudes at points), the story is actually well-written and interesting. The characters are a bit more stereotypical that I’m used to seeing from Toboso’s writing, but not painfully so–there’s definitely an enjoyable individuality about them that goes beyond the base types that are at their roots. And while this is a vampire fantasy, complete with violence and blood splatters, it’s also a cute/funny school story that has a lot of humor, and the parts with Aldred and Kei almost nudge into a shounen-ai feel at points. Toboso packs a lot of variety into a single 6-chapter manga, but it all works pretty well and is an enjoyable mix. I think I’d recommend Rust Blaster to basically anyone who enjoys manga and doesn’t mind a bit of blood and fantasy violence–but I’d particularly recommend it to fans of Black Butler, since it’s really neat to see the mangaka’s beginnings.

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A Fox’s Tail

Author: Brandon VarnellA Fox's Tail

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kevin Swift’s once-quiet (and relatively normal) life has been thrown into havoc by the intrusion of the kitsune yokai girl Lillian, who has made herself at home in his home and who boldly declares her affection for him at every opportunity. He’d probably be more accepting of her advances if he didn’t already have a crush on his friend Lindsay. . . . And a crippling inability to talk to girls without, oh, stammering, blushing, and passing out from embarrassment. Kevin’s starting to get used to having Lillian around though–probably just from overexposure, but whatever. In any case, he’s got enough coming to keep him busy, what with rivals for Lillian’s affection, suspicious teachers, a big track meet coming up, and a new enemy out for revenge (?). Definitely more than Kevin signed up for, not than anyone really asked him to begin with.

Reading A Fox’s Tail was an interesting experience, especially since I enjoy reading Japanese light novels quite a bit. This story is an American book in the light novel style, with numerous (overwhelmingly so) allusions to Japanese LNs, manga, anime, and games. I would almost say that it’s a parody of the style . . . or rather that on one level there’s a legitimate, enjoyable story that can be read for itself, and on another level there’s this huge, hilarious parody of all sorts of manga tropes. It’s definitely very funny, however you read it. There are distinct ties back to the classic ecchi romantic comedy genre–stories like To LOVE-Ru and Urusei Yatsura, for instance. Kevin is just the sort of guy you would expect to find in such stories (the best sort of guy to find in them)–sweet, innocent, and too kind for his own good. Just the sort of guy to get pulled around by everyone, right? And Lillian is the perfect character to throw at him–sexy, assertive, but ultimately concerned for Kevin’s well-being more than her own satisfaction (if a bit oblivious as to what Kevin actually wants). Plus there’s the added bonus that her extended presence seems to thrown the reality around her a bit (a lot) off the norm, to interesting effect. I give the author kudos for making the story genre-appropriately ecchi (warning for those who don’t like that sort of story!) while keeping it relatively free of inappropriate detail for the most part, considering that the genre is usually shounen (and thus, read by younger teens). On the negative side, there was more swearing than I prefer, more than was necessarily genre-appropriate, although that’s more of a personal preference for me. I think, because of its strong ties to otaku culture, that readers unfamiliar with that culture will largely be lost. However, for people familiar with anime and manga, I think A Fox’s Tail is likely to be seen in one of two ways: either an annoying American intrusion into the genre, or a funny, refreshing parody of the genre. Depends on the reader, but personally I enjoyed this story quite a bit.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

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