Story by Neil Gaiman/Art by Michael Zulli/Lettering & Adaptation by Todd Klein
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: Mature Audience/Partial Nudity
Our narrator invites to listen to his tale of a most unusual evening, one he might not have believed himself had he not experienced it himself. A couple of his friends convinced him to come along and help them entertain an out-of-town guest who shall, for purposes of his story, be called Miss Finch–a strange woman to be sure, a biogeologist with an awkward personality and a great desire to see extinct creatures like Smilodon alive in their natural habitat. As fate would have it, the party winds up in a bizarre underground circus of questionable taste, but fate takes a strange turn when they arrive at an exhibit in which one individual is to have their greatest wish granted . . . and Miss Finch is the one chosen individual.
I first read “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” in Gaiman’s Fragile Things as a short story, which I found quite outstanding and memorable. This graphic novel adaptation is also quite intriguing, staying close to the spirit of the original short story. It’s this strange blend of magical realism and an almost macabre oddness that gets under the skin somehow. Typical Gaiman, that, I suppose–his stories have a way of being unsettling but brilliant in ways I didn’t even know stories could be. Zulli’s art is just perfect for the story, bringing together that darkness and unsettledness and all the totally out there aspects of the circus in a way that fits and ties everything together. I love the departure from a typical comic-book style; it’s more neutral tones and semi-realistic styles that work really well for this story (and are much more what I prefer in general). I would definitely read more of this artist’s works (and am pleased to see that he appears to have illustrated a few other Gaiman graphic novels!). I think for those who enjoy Gaiman’s work or who are looking for a different but quality graphic novel, The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch would be a great choice.
Mangaka: Yana Toboso
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.
Mangaka: Kei Ichikawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Tomoki and Shousuke have been friends ever since they met in school. Tomoki–constantly bubbling over with energy and emotion–falls for every girl who shows an interest in him . . . and comes crying to Shou-chan when the relationship inevitably falls apart. Honestly, the one relationship he’s consistent in is his friendship with Shou-chan. To complicate matters, Shousuke likes Tomoki as more than a friend, which makes seeing him cycle through an endless stream of girls even harder. But still, determined to at least maintain their friendship, Shousuke stubbornly refuses to acknowledge his own feelings until one night when they’ve drank a little too much (to soothe Tomoki after being dumped again, naturally), things are said and done that will change their relationship forever. The question is, is Shousuke brave enough to deal with the consequences?
For a single-volume manga, I though Colorful Line was really cute. It’s shounen ai (you’ve been warned), but it’s more about the beginnings of their relationship, the awkward transition between friendship and love. The art is really nice, a style bridging somewhere between shoujo and josei but emphasizing the attractiveness (and individuality) of the guys. The facial expressions, in particular, are great! That’s largely due to the fact that the two main characters are really interesting. Tomoki’s emotions are seriously all over the place, but he’s remarkably straightforward and true to himself in the midst of all of it–even when he’s being totally blonde. Though the really blonde one is Shou-chan who, despite seeming like the serious, logical one, is astonishingly naive at times. They’re both cute in different ways, and it’s fun to see how their relationship develops over the course of the story. I think the one consistent complaint that I share with other readers is that, because it’s so short, the story can seem a bit rushed, maybe under-developed. It reminds me a bit of Touko Kawai’s manga in that regard–but like Kawai-san’s writing, Colorful Line works well in spite of its brevity. For lovers of cute shounen ai, this is definitely recommended.
Note: Sadly, to my knowledge, there is no official translation of this manga available; however, there are some good fan translations available until some publisher gets around to publishing this in English.
It is said that the falling snowflakes are the tears of the snow maidens. But ask a snow maiden, and you might get a different story altogether. In fact, she might tell you stories similar to the ones a young traveler heard when he spoke to a pale, beautiful woman out in the snowy wilderness . . . you might even hear stories to make you weep yourself.
I love the way in which Shirahime-Syo is both very unique for CLAMP and is yet quintessentially theirs. This is a single volume of manga containing three short stories that almost resemble folk tales. This feeling is enhanced by the art style which is, again, both extremely CLAMP and yet different from their norm, evoking a more traditional Japanese painting style. It’s very beautiful, haunting almost. The style fits the stories perfectly. All three tales are of old Japan (or somewhere that looks similar), out in the wilds during the deep snows, and in each story, there is an initial impression of a man-versus-nature sort of story. Yet somehow in the midst of that, the stories get turned back upon man, showing that we are our own worst problem. The stories are poignant and beautiful, tragically lovely. I’m sure not everyone would enjoy them, but I truly think all readers would benefit from reading Shirahime-Syo at least once; it’s a moving experience.