Spice & Wolf

If there’s one type of era that I enjoy, it’s the medieval times. Not because of the disease, restrictions, prejudice, few opportunities, and lack of technology. No, I like that time because of the marketplace. Yes, the hustling and bustling of merchants trying to sell their wares is for some reason entertaining to me. But frankly, I just never owned any manga like that. Until now.

Spice & Wolf (or, as I like to call it, “Wolf & Spice… actually, pronounced with a German accent, which is “Vulf und Schpice”) takes place in such a time. Back when apples were the grandest of delicacies, people make their livelihood from a-workin’, and beautiful ancient wolf spirits would ask merchants to take them to their homeland. It’s an enjoyable tale with little action, but it still keeps me entertained. I don’t know what it is. But it’s not the nudity, if that’s what you’re implying.

Plot: Kraft Lawrence is a young merchant on his way to sell his wares. Surprisingly, a beautiful young woman with wolf ears and tail is in his cart, asking if he has any wine. Then she pleads that she be brought to her homeland, since she’s been stuck in a wheat field for centuries. He agrees, cautiously, but she must agree to help out with sales. The wolf spirit (named Holo) goes along with this, and, with her wisdom, helps him with his job. Not much else occurs, but it’s still fun.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this. The plastic around the volume is always a warning of nudity. But aside from the breast shots and such, I have to concede defeat… this is a pleasant experience. Holo’s wits and Lawrence’s… well, being a normal human beingness, is a good match made in Manga Heaven. They play off of each other well and don’t get into the angsty arguments that so many teenage manga characters have nowadays. I mean, neither of them are teenagers, but that’s also a relief.

It’s a pretty sincere series. There are a few complaints on my end, like “why do these characters expressions fluctuate so often”, but it’s unnecessary nit-picking, generally. The art is fresh, the characters are strong, and the plot, while slim, is great and easy to follow. I’d definitely recommend this series to fans of wolves, breasts, medieval times, and manga.

Favorite Character: Holo. Her ancient knowledge and sayings are interesting to read. Sure, she could be goofy sometimes, and that seems out of character for her. But it’s nice to read about a wise character who isn’t always saying “you must beware of the dangerous shadows that befall you, young hero”. Instead, she justifies devouring apples by saying “while one may lose much because of avarice, nothing was ever accomplished by abstinence”. Now I feel like I can commit all the evil that I want! Thanks, Holo!

Overall Opinion: Vulf und Schpice is a charming series of medieval proportions. Definitely check it out.

Rating: Two Thumbs Up, Four Stars, and a “B+”.

Saber Marionette J

…Wow. That’s all one can say after reading this mess. I heard of this series as a kid, and it intrigued me. But then again, so did plenty of other manga that I never heard or had any prior knowledge of. This, my friends, is SABER MARIONETTE J.

I talked about how “gay” this series is back in my Train*Train review, and really, it is. No, I don’t mean in a disparaging way like “dude, that’s so gay”. No, I mean that it IS gay. First, this series takes place on a world where only men exist. Therefore, marriage is permissible amongst men. They even SAY that. Do guys really want to read about a Hell-on-Earth like that for five volumes? Now, there are big-breasted robot women who keep these poor men company, but honestly… they’re ROBOTS. I don’t care if my robot should look like Lily Tomlin, I still don’t… let me try that again. I don’t care if my robot should look like Mila Kunis* (good save!), I still don’t want to sleep with one.

*Seriously, this took over three minutes to think up. What’s wrong with me?

Plot: Such as it may be. On the aforementioned planet with nothing but men, Otaru Mamiya longs for a marionette of his own. What is a marionette? Why, it’s a female robot servant, of course! He manages to get three (with souls no less), and somehow the plot turns into three robots fighting for this loser kid against the evil forces that be (which includes a villain who tortures his robots, no less. Who programmed them to feel pain?) It’s dreck, plain and simple. Boobs and bots ought to be the slogan.

This… just… WHY. Why would anyone make this monstrosity? Why would guys enjoy this? Does the idea of a planet of lonely (possibly gay) men appeal to any male readers? Does it appeal to you? Does it appeal to your dad? Your brother? Your grandfather? No? Then answer me this:

WHY IS THIS AIMED AT MALE READERS?!

It’s clearly not for women, given that all of the men are ugly and, oh yeah, the planet uses women outright disrespectfully (despite the fact they’re robots). It’s wrong. Oh, I didn’t get to the art. Just look at the cover. It sucks.Everyone has a fat cheek and inhuman proportions. This, mixed with the bad plot and ugly everything else, makes its way to The Manga Connoisseur’s Worst Manga Picks.

The humor is just as dreadful. In the sense that… there isn’t any. It tries, like I try to understand my own brain. I never will, and the same goes for the humor in this train wreck. Actually, a train wreck is interesting to look at. And this is not.

Overall Opinion: If you’re looking for breast and robots, try ANYTHING OTHER THAN SABER MARIONETTE J.

Rating: Two Thumbs Down, Zero Stars, and an “F”. I’d given three thumbs down, negative five stars, and a “Z–“, but I’m saving that for a special occasion. One day.

Bakuman

Let’s talk classic manga: Death Note. No, it’s not “classic” like Astro Boy or Ranma 1/2, but years from now it’ll probably be republished over and over. Tsugami Ohba and Takeshi Obata teamed up to make this stellar series, one appreciated worldwide. Now let me clarify: I never read Death Note straight through, nor do I ever intend to. Why? Well, I find much of it to be boring. The 12th volume is the best ever in my opinion, but I could do without the rest. Regardless, Death Note is a masterpiece.

But good times and money must end, and the creators realized there isn’t much to do after all the movies have been made. So they decided to team up once again to do a “non-fantasy” series. This is Bakuman.

Frankly, I’m not impressed. They should’ve gone with a fantasy again in my opinion (as worthless as it may be). I’ve always had a problem about manga about making manga. Oh, I didn’t give you the plot yet, did I? Yeah, that’s basically it. We’ll extend on it soon. Granted, Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga and some others managed to impress me. But really, “Fall in Love Like a Comic”? “Comic Party”? I find them to be lame. We have enough lame “How To Draw Manga” books here in America, I don’t think we need Japan’s.

Plot: Moritaka Mashiro has a crush on a a girl he likes at school. He draws her during class, but unfortunately he leaves his notebook in school where class genius, Akito Takagi, finds it. In return for the book, Akito asks Moritaka to team up with him to create a famous manga. Hesitant at first, he agrees (after PAGES of saying “no”). The girl he likes finds out, and Moritaka asks her to marry him if he should succeed. She agrees to this inane idea.

But most of this plot is pushed out of my head by two facts: One, this seems to teach readers how the manga process works. A lot. Not that it’s bad, actually. Truth be told, I’ve learned a lot about manga after reading this, and I’m thankful. But in the end, I just see it as the two creators trying to stop its readers from trying to be more successful than they are.

And Two… THIS.

That’s just awful. They plug Death Note more than this one line, actually, as they do for other Jump titles. Osamu Tezuka had more class than to plug Astro Boy into Apollo’s Song. Rumiko Takahashi had more class than to plug Urusei Yatusra into Ranma 1/2. Akira Toriyama had more class than to plug Dr. Slump into Dragon Ball! …Wait, he didn’t stop plugging until Volume 9. Anyway, I don’t like it. Maybe a little joke like a Kira finger-puppet would be more appreciated, but this (and others) is too much. Have more class, guys.

Other than that, this series is pretty decent. Deep philosophies and interesting character development is prominent in this series, and once again it works like a charm. Despite its shortcomings, Bakuman is worth checking out.

Favorite Character: Ladies and gentlemen, Akito Takagi! He’s a typical “idiot genius”. Despite his brilliance, all he wants is to write manga. Plus, he’s the funniest thing about this title. The other characters are quite dull, really. In Death Note, people could choose between an array of characters, like L, Light, Misa, Ryuk, and many more. Here, we in the states only have one volume, and therefore do not know if any more interesting characters appear. I’m sorry for the comparisons to Death Note, but if you want to be so obvious about how successful you want this manga to be, don’t choose your last successful title for readers to say “Ah, I remember Death Note. Hey, I could be reading that instead of this dreck!”

Overall Opinion: “It’s not like it’s a Death Note.” It may not be, but it’s worth checking out all the same.

Rating: One And A Half Thumbs, Four Stars, and half of an A-. I think a ring finger might be a half thumb.

High School Girls

What happens when you take six interesting teenage girls with distinctive personalities and put them together with really creepy teachers to make a charming and hilarious manga title? You get Azumanga Daioh! But let’s say said girls are… well, interesting. You know… a little perverted. Too perverted for a man to handle. And they talk too much of the female body that it kind of makes you sick? Well, this is High School Girls.

Let me clarify: I LOVE High School Girls. The manga, that is. It’s hilarious and actually clever. But there’s one big problem: Exactly who is Ms. Towa Oshiwa serving to? What I mean is, both audiences will be turned off by this. Girls will be shied away by all the fanservice catered towards men (you know, breasts, panties, etc.), while guys will be disgusted with… well… let’s just say that I know more than I want to about that special time for a woman. So who can enjoy this series? Me. Because I read it, and, despite the beautiful descriptions of armpit hairs and bloody nether-regions, it’s worth checking out.

Plot: Eriko Takahashi and her friends enter their new all-girls high school and learn that the students really let themselves go. Eriko, determined to improve the quality life of her new school, vows to clean it up. That plot is dismissed as quickly as it came, so the rest of the series is devoted to the girls hating men, one student going Lady Gaga* on the school, and the others talking about looking good for the men they hate so much.

*Apparently, “manga” isn’t a word according to spell-check, but “Gaga” is. Go figure.

I know I’m sounding critical of this title, but it really is enjoyable. I’m just feeling inclined to criticize since this series could’ve had the potential to be big, but it wasn’t. Instead, DrMaster Publications (great name for Doctor Who fans) took it from ComicsOne after two volumes. Not an improvement. Name a title that you know from DrMaster. See? Nothing (unless you did; which means you’ve read more manga than me). So if I sound critical, it’s only because it wasn’t good enough to be published by someone that could have helped it be more popular.

Anyway, the series as a whole, as I’ve mentioned, is terrific. It captures the essence of a girls’ high school. Or so I assume, since I’ve never even been to a coed school. My school was fairly normal, so I guess a girls’ school could be the same. This, however, was somewhat based on the author’s experiences as a teenage girl. Scary. I could read these volumes over and over. It’s just that good!

Favorite Character: Akari Kouda, the aforementioned Lady Gaga of her school. Her ADD is hilariously hilarious! And, like Sir Lady Gaga herself, she both dresses in bizarre costumes and can’t sing! (Lady Gaga fans, I am one of you. Don’t hurt me.) There’s also Macho Matsuo, the “superman” of the series. He’s even been able to best Eriko and chums on occasion! Gripping!

And now I introduce a new section to you entitled “Mostly Spoiler-Free Ending”. Sorry for any spoilers.

Mostly Spoiler-Free Ending: Eh. I mean, sure, we don’t get to see the girls graduate. But it’s nice to know that even though they may separate one day, they’ll always be friends! I just wish that they would’ve hooked up with guys before it ended. That part always got to me.

Overall Opinion: Ladies, close your eyes during the fanservice. Gentlemen, I’m not forcing you to read anything you don’t want to. Except Train*Train.

Rating: Two Thumbs Up, Four And A Half Stars, and a B+.