Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: VIZ Media (Shonen Jump Advanced)
Author: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $7.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Now available

How the West lost its way.

The first volume of Gun Blaze West wasn’t a bad attempt at telling a wild west-themed fantasy tale of a young boy who dreamed of a mythical place where only the best gunfighters were allowed to stay. With the help of a fellow named Marcus Homer, Viu Bannes trained but as fate would have it he lost his friend in a battle against a band of bandits. Now an older Viu continues his quest for Gun Blaze West in the second volume of a series that is a slight step better than the first volume.

When we last left Viu, he managed to head into the St. Louis where he meets a young man named Will Johnson and his sister Carol who get Viu mixed into a dispute between to rival saloons. Unfortunately, the rival saloon called the Bella Donna is owned by a fellow that likes to solve problems by sending his bouncer named “Target” Kevin to rough up their rivals. While the Bella Donna’s owner wants his rival out of the way, it’s Will Johnson he is most interested in hiring for an interesting reason. You see, the Bella Donna is also used as a secret fight club and a battle between Will and Target would certainly please the saloons loyal patrons.

Of course, Will isn’t the kind of guy that wants to get mixed into something like that seeing as – much like Viu – he’s got need to see Gun Blaze West with his own eyes. So what does a sleazy saloon owner do? He sends out his bouncer to smoke Will out of his home. As the Johnson home is set ablaze, it is Viu that heads to the Bella Donna for some payback. He even agrees to go up against “Target” Kevin in a duel to the death. Of course, it isn’t in Viu to kill and when he does win the fight its more with his fists than his gun.

So convincing Will of joining him on his journey, the unlikely pair travel south until the encounter a traveling circus after they pass out from dehydration and exhaustion. While the acts don’t impress them, it is a young Japanese girl named Colice Satoh that does catch Viu’s eye but not for romantic reasons. Colice is an expert at throwing knives – as her act with the giant Ringmaster shows – but Viu notices something about the technique she uses during the act. This technique is something Viu attempts to master with a little help from Colice herself.

It turns out the Ringmaster knows a little something about Gun West Blaze as well and in an attempt to get the information out of him it is Viu who attacks his rescuer. Viu might not have had it in him to kill “Target” Kevin but he tells the Ringmaster that he doesn’t plan to be a saint and would do whatever it took – including becoming a cold-blooded killer – to get to his destination. Watsuki himself, in the volume’s many character profiles, said that he really had very little control over the character design for Viu Bannes. This is why his actions and much of what he says are contradictory.

In fact, Watsuki regrets a lot about Gun Blaze West as a whole. While unsatisfied with the outcome of the series, the final chapters of Volume 2 are unintentionally zany but fun nonetheless. We meet Gualaripa and his two sons (with the unfortunate names of Uno and Dos) who come to town looking for Ringmaster who is connected to the grizzled Gualaripa. Refusing to join them, Ringmaster vows not to fight but instead it is Colice and Viu that go up against the hat-throwing family. I won’t go too much into the fight in order not to spoil the fact that Gualaripa’s attack has something to do with Gun Blaze West and the current year.

Volume 2 of Gun Blaze West certainly packs a lot in there and most of what makes up the volume is not bad but not really great either. If anything, it does slightly beat out the first volume but judging by this second attempt, this is starting to turn out to be the stain in Watsuki’s otherwise impressive body of work.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: C+
The search for Gun Blaze West is on and this time Viu has a little help from a circus troupe that includes a Japanese knife-throwing artist and a ringmaster that is anything but a gentle giant. Viu says he doesn’t care about being just or good but yet his actions say otherwise. It’s becoming hard to like him.

ART: B
Watsuki’s art isn’t bad at all and seems to fit the story nicely. He brings his own style to his projects and much like Rurouni Kenshin or Buso Renkin it just works.

OVERALL: C+
Gun Blaze West started off on the slow side and picks up momentum with this volume. Sadly, the series also fizzles with this entry … showing us that even great manga-ka like Watsuki can fall victim to poor planning and weak storytelling. As he tells us in one of his entries, the third volume is the final one. Let’s hope he goes out with a bang.

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Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 1 – Manga Review

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: VIZ Media (Shojo Beat Manga)
Author: Ayumi Komura
Genre: Shojo (Graphic Novel)
MSRP: $8.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Now Available

Some vegetables weren’t meant to be mixed in together.

There’s a romance manga for everyone whether you’re a volleyball enthusiast, an athlete looking for love or a social misfit that finds romance in the most unusual of places. I love to cook and so a Shojo Beat Manga like Mixed Vegetables comes along and I’m all over it like Elvis and a banana and peanut butter sandwich. Imagine my great disappointment when read through the volume only to find that this one just feels like wasted potential. Ayumi Komura, you just disappointed a manga reader that looked forward to a culinary romance.

You will come to hate Hanayu Ashitaba. She’s a pretty Oikawa High School student who is the daughter of a much-liked pastry chef and not bad when it comes to the culinary arts in general. However, being a pastry chef like her father isn’t what she wants out of life. Ever since her father took her out for sushi one day when she was little, Hanayu has made it her life mission to one day become a sushi chef herself. The way she sees it, the only way to become a master of sushi is to marry into a sushi chef’s family. It so turns out that a fellow classmate – the cute Hayato Hyuga – happens to be the son of a respected sushi restaurant in town. She makes it her mission to have Hayato fall in love with her for the sole purpose of learning his family’s trade.

What’s that you say? Why doesn’t Hanayu simply go to a culinary school that specializes in making sushi? Well, that would have made sense, right? If this were a different time period or if Hanayu’s father would be crushed if she chose to turn away from her own family’s then the premise would make sense. The truth is that Hanayu’s real reason for wanting Hayato to marry her is an old-fashioned statement that just seems so unlikely.

For the sake of this review, let’s say we understand this reasoning and go along with it. The problem is that Hanayu’s selfish quest makes her the most unlikable character in this manga. It’s clear from the way she talks to Hayato that she’s not crazy about him even though he clearly likes her. She often criticizes him and yells at him even though he tries hard to please her and at one point she even laughs at his face when he thinks he offended her by asking for her cucumber jam recipe. Even when Hayato somehow (Komura doesn’t explain when exactly they become a couple) becomes Hanayu’s boyfriend, she only thinks about the types of sushi trade secrets she will steal out of his family.

At one point, though, Hanayu begins to question if what she’s doing is right. It’s clear that Hayato is crazy about her but is it right to want to be close to him just for the sake of marrying into his family’s business. She quickly dismisses any thoughts of guilt because – during a date where they go off picking wild strawberries – she suddenly “feels” something for him. She doesn’t say it’s love even though the day before her thoughts of what exactly is love consumed her so much that she failed one of her final exams.

Ayumi Komura isn’t a bad writer (nor a bad artist, for that matter), but Mixed Vegetables isn’t her best or strongest work. It lacks all the things other shojo manga out there possesses. There’s no real conflict here seeing as Hayato likes Hanayu and this manga would have been different if it turned out that he didn’t like her at all. Secondly, I wasn’t rooting for Hanayu the way I would other shojo manga main characters. In fact, I was hoping Hayato would see right through her desperation and lack of charm that he wouldn’t want anything to do with her. Finally, we learn very little about Japanese cuisine. We’re not looking for cooking lessons here but in a manga about chefs, wouldn’t food be a central part of it?

In the end, Mixed Vegetables is a major disappointment and a weak entry in Komura’s otherwise decent body of work. You’ll find it hard to like a character who comes off selfish and one-dimensional and with very little in terms of humor you will find yourself wishing this manga would be a lot better than it could have been seeing as most of the main ingredients are present. I find it hard to recommend this one to any shojo fans out there so I highly recommend you turn elsewhere for your shojo manga fix.

 

REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: D
Boy likes girl but the girl just wants to be with him to marry into a sushi household. This works … if the time period were Feudal Japan. Here, Hanayu’s quest to become a sushi chef is somewhat plausible but how can somebody this unlikable catch the eye of somebody that cute, sweet and charming? Sorry, Komura, but the romance here is handled weakly.

ART: C+
Komura’s art is a bit by-the-numbers but it’s not entirely bad seeing as the main characters have their own distinct look and the backgrounds are not bad at all. Also, Komura draws the food wonderfully enough.

OVERALL: D
It’s hard to like a manga like Mixed Vegetables when the main protagonist isn’t likeable or the story not compelling or fun enough to follow. Sure, the premise is interesting but with no “real” justification for wanting to be with the cute guy in class other than to be a sushi chef just makes this manga hard to swallow. What little meat there is in this one just leaves a bad after taste.

Rosario + Vampire, Vol. 3 – Manga Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: VIZ Media (Shonen Jump Advanced)
Author: Akihisa Ikeda
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $7.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Now available

Change is definitely a good thing.

You have to hand it to Tsukune … for an average boy he certainly puts up with and deals with things that would have made any other student want to run for the hills. Of course, it helps to be close with the cutest girl on campus who also happens to be a very powerful vampire. Yet after Volume 2 of Rosario + Vampire, it’s clear that Tsukune and his friends in the Newspaper Club will be in for some trouble and some changes. So you better believe that Rosario + Vampire fans are in for some interesting changes in Volume 3.

After having confronted the Enforcement Committee when the Newspaper Club ran its first issue of the Yokai Times that also – incidentally – ran a piece on the evil deeds of the now fired art teacher/medusa, Moka took down the leader of the Committee as she always does at the end of a chapter. However, Kuyo, the leader of said Committee isn’t going to let it slide. To make matters worst, the same art teacher is aiding Kuyo and reveals to him the possibility that Tsukune is actually a human. Armed with this knowledge, Kuyo and his followers confront the Newspaper Club and take Moka and Tsukune with them to face their punishment.

After Kuyo tells the Newspaper Club that Tsukune is accused of being a human living among the monsters in the school, it’s the perky Kurumu who decides that she doesn’t care what Tsukune is because monster or no he is still a friend. It’s no surprise that Kurumu, their new witch friend Yukari and Gin come to Tsukune and Moka’s aid. To their surprise, however, Kuyo turns out to be more than any of them can handle and the fact that he’s a species of monster that is known throughout Japan makes matters worse. In the end, the battle takes a turn for the worst when Tsukune jumps in the way of a blast meant for Moka.

Ok, at this point I would be doing Rosario + Vampire readers a great disservice if I told you what happened at the end of the battle but know that the result of this fight changes Tsukune. His, let’s just call it a temporary transformation, drained him completely to the point that in the following chapter he has no idea of what happened during the battle. Moka, who is behind said temporary transformation, doesn’t want to tell him what exactly happened until Gin tells him. Meanwhile, the star of the school’s wrestling team, a troll of a man named Chopper Rikishi, heard the rumors that Tsukune beat the monster out of Kuyo and wants to challenge him to a match.

Tsukune is resentful towards Moka for what went on but in the end he comes to the conclusion that he could never stay mad at Moka. His feelings for her are still strong despite the events that occurred and even looks forward towards spending his summer break with her. Of course, that is if he could wrap his head around complex equations in math class. The lovely math teacher, Miss Ririko, suddenly shows interest in Tsukune and promises to tutor him after class. Yet Moka senses something not right about the way she’s tutoring Tsukune and her hunch is correct. Man, it seems that the faculty is even more dangerous than the student body in Yokai Academy.

Unfortunately, the problem with the math teacher is resolved the way problems like this popped up in the first and second volume … Tsukune pulls out Moka’s Rosario and her stronger half kicks the hell out of whatever monster that threatens the pair. It seems out of place now that Tsukune and Moka are connected but then again it’s fun watching the stronger Moka take down monsters … especially monsters as diverse and somewhat obscure as Miss Ririko who happens to be a Lamia. Does anyone know what a Lamia is and what it can do? If you don’t you will in Rosario + Vampire.

Change is certainly in the air for the main character and this series in general and it’s certainly making this series better. What was starting to feel repetitive is now fleshing out to be a fun story that continues its appealing humor, fan service (again, for those who care about that sort of stuff) and fun monster mayhem while going for something new. The next volume even has Tsukune and his friends going out of the school setting. If you were a Rosario + Vampire fan from the very first volume then this third one will not fail to please.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A-
Tsukune is going through some changes in this one and I don’t mean hormonal changes either. A returning threat is behind these changes and Tsukune also discovers that his friends – even Gin – are behind him even knowing his secret.

ART: B+
Ikeda’s art remains relatively the same in this volume and that’s good/bad depending on how much you like the art. Personally, his style works well for the story and theme.

OVERALL: A-
Finally, Rosario + Vampire breaks out of the familiar formula for a continuing story that adds something uniquely different from the past two volumes. Volume 2 ended with the promise of a continuing threat and Volume 3 follows up on it nicely and – by the end of its first chapter – changes things dramatically without losing the light humor or fan service. The next volume promises to bring more changes and I can’t hardly wait.

Ergo Proxy SS Complete Series Box Set Released Tommorow!

Complete Series Box Set Released on October 7, 2008!

The domed city of Romdo is an impenetrable would-be utopia where humans and robots coexist, and everything is under complete government control, or so it appears.

While working on a mysterious murder case, Re-l Mayer, a female detective from the Civilian Intelligence Office, receives a foreboding message that something is going to “awaken.” That night, she’s attacked by a deformed super-being…what was this unidentified monster that attacked her, and who was the figure that came in between them? As Re-l attempts to unlock this spiraling mystery, a metaphysical battle cry leads her to the unknown outside world…

Features
• Contains Episodes 1-23
• 16:9 Anamorphic Wide Screen
• 5.1 Audio (English and Japanese)

Runtime: 600 Minutes
• Rating 16UP

Sand Chronicles, Vol. 3 – Manga Review

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

Publisher: VIZ Media (Shojo Beat Manga)
Author: Hinako Ashihara
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $8.99 US
Rating: T+
Release Date: Now available

Drama at its most deliciously complex.

It’s been a long time since a shojo manga actually surprised me enough that I would accidentally drop the volume I was holding, quickly pick it up and flip through the pages again just to make sure what I read wasn’t my imagination. Volume 3 of Sand Chronicles did just that and it wasn’t even towards the end of the volume when most shocking surprises came up in other shojo titles. Hinako Ashihara, you managed to hook me in with your masterful storytelling once again.

Having accepted her father’s offer of living with him and attending school in Tokyo, Ann found herself missing Daigo and somewhat taking comfort that Fuji, a close friend from Shimane, was going to a private school not far from her. Then again, late one evening when Ann was feeling vulnerable, Fuji leans close to Ann and kisses her and walks away without saying a word. This act not only surprises her but leaves her wondering what that kiss meant.

When summer break finally arrives, we find Ann happy to return to Shimane and spend every day with Daigo. When she does arrive, we also find that she is haunted by Fuji’s kiss to the point that she feels a bit awkward being around Daigo. It isn’t until the pair encounter Shika – who begs them both to come over her place – that Daigo comes to suspect something went on in Tokyo and that it might have something to do with Fuji. When Fuji does arrive home to his estate, Daigo’s suspicions become very clear.

As the Obon festivities are drawing near, Daigo and Ann find themselves working for Shika and Fuji’s family like they did when they first met. As family members arrive, it is Fuji and Shika’s Great Grandmother that the two siblings look forward to seeing. In the same evening, Fuji attempts to dig up the past again and tells her Great Grandmother that he saw his real father in Tokyo then encounters Ann who asks him what that kiss back in Tokyo meant. Let’s just say that Daigo catches wind of their conversation and handles things the only way he knows how.

Yet the real surprise comes in the middle of the volume when Great Grandmother – whose vision is not that great – mistakes Shika for Fuji and reveals the truth behind the affair their mother had with a man that worked for the family. I won’t go into what was revealed that night but, to Shika’s horror, she confirms her Great Grandmother’s claim. A child was born from their mother’s affair!

A big part of the reason I love Sand Chronicles is that it is a slice of life that is relatable and thus utterly real. Ann’s insistence that Daigo is the one she loves the most is the most heartfelt moment. In the same evening, Daigo forgives Ann for having been vulnerable enough to accept a kiss from someone else. They make up for it by taking their relationship a big step further and thus changing things between the two. Back in Tokyo, Ann sees that evening with Daigo like a vivid dream.

In the final chapter of the volume, though, a number of other revelations pop up. The same friend of her father’s shows up to the restaurant where Ann works and sees something in Fuji that will come to haunt Ann to the point that she forgives Fuji for the kiss and wants to keep him near. In Shimane, Daigo comes to Shika’s rescue when a pushy boy keeps insisting she go out with him. As Ann and Fuji enjoy a whole day together, Shika and Daigo spend more time together. Things are becoming even more complex now but that’s what we love about Sand Chronicles.

Personally speaking, so far I thought the first volume of Sand Chronicles was one of my favorite but then Volume 3 comes along and changes all of that. The series always felt like looking into somebody’s actual life, following them as life experiences unfold before their very eyes. Meanwhile, a family secret that has been hidden for so long is finally revealed. Oh yeah, this volume is not only bursting at the seams with drama that you can’t help but be swept away by it. If you can’t wait for Volume 4 then you are not the only one.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
Ann’s relationship with Daigo takes a large step forward but Fuji is starting to be difficult to shake from her mind. While things on that front seem to be changing, Fuji grows ever distant. Oh but when a family secret is finally revealed, it is Shika who turns to a close friend for comfort. There’s a lot more going on in this one, believe me.

ART: A
Ashihara’s art remains just as good as it did in the first two volumes but a boat load of kudos should also go to her assistants who worked on some of the backgrounds for Fuji and Shika’s family home. The architectural details are just downright eye-catching.

OVERALL: A+
Sand Chronicles, Vol. 3, drops a big bomb that will leave fans of this series not only shaken but waiting to see how the aftermath unfolds. It just goes to show that when great storytelling, art and a big slice of human drama comes together as well as it does here then you have yourself a riveting title that makes this one of those Cannot Miss shojo manga you definitely do not want to live without.

Monthly Editorial, October 2008

Hi everyone, Faith McAdams here. I’m your friendly neighborhood Managing Editor of Animanga Nation who smells like wild strawberries and sweet sweet gummi bears. My hobbies include reading manga, watching anime and calling up the Weather Channel to report high winds and a 50% chance that weather people don’t know what they’re talking about.

This space is usually reserved for our wonderful Editor-in-Chief but he’s in Oxford University in England as a guest panelist reserved for online Editors-in-Chiefs and entertainment journalists. We’re really really proud of him and his accomplishments. Anyway, this month’s Editorial duties go to me so I’ll take this time to fill this space some hand-picked reader mail and to welcome a new member of our family.

First, allow me to welcome Brenda Gregson to Animanga Nation. You’ve probably already know her from the article we printed here on Shojo writing and since she now lives in our area she thought of adding her love for manga and anime to this site by writing some reviews. Happy to have you on board, Brenda. We now really outnumber the boys in this office.

Now, on to the letters I will personally answer on this space. Thank you so much for writing us. We get an incredible number of letters and we try to reply to all of them. If you don’t hear from us it’s not that we’re ignoring your messages but rather we have way too many to answer. Here’s a few that really stand out.

“Hey, guys! I love High School Debut and read your review for vol. 5. When’s the anime DVD going to come out that they mention in the volume?”  – Kelly H. from New York City, NY

Faith: Hi, Kelly, I’m a loyal follower of High School Debut myself and would love nothing more if they made an anime from the series. I think you’re a little confused, though. What they mention in the volume is a “drama CD” which is like a radio drama with voice actors filling in the role of Haruna, Yoh and the others. I have yet to find it but when I do I will let you all know.

“Gurren Lagann! Gurren Lagann!”  – Luke T. from For Lauderdale, FL

Faith: Um, that’s not really a question but I feel you, Luke. Gurren Lagann is an anime brought to us from the good folks at Manga Entertainment. It’s currently one of our favorite’s on TV (shown every Monday on the SciFi Channel). I highly recommend you all check it out.

“Does Clive Owen look like Clive Owen the actor? If so, can I have his digits?” – Samantha D. from Chicago, IL

Faith: He looks nothing like Clive Owen the actor, believe me. If I had to pick an actor that best resembles him I would say that he looks more like Gerard Butler from the movie 300 than Clive Owen. Still want his digits?

“I really loved the ‘Manga Writer’ articles you guys printed. Is it going to be an ongoing thing on this site? Please say yes!” – Victoria B. from Brisbane, Australia.

Faith: Our two guest columnist aren’t published authors but according to all the e-mail we’re getting it seems to have been appreciate be a large number of you. Brenda Gregson, who now writes for us, is the only one of us who plans to be a manga-ka. If you would like to see a monthly “Manga Writer” column please let us know. If we get enough of you asking for it then we will most definitely consider it.

“Hey, Animanga Nation crew! Love you guys! Question (and I want all of you to answer this): What anime or manga would you guys love to see go live-action on the big screen? Mine is Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad.” Wendy T. from Los Angeles, CA

Faith: We love you too, Wendy. Beck would be awesome to see as a live-action movie. I asked everyone in the office and here’s what I got …

Clive Owen: Definitely FullMetal Alchemist. It strays from the traditional so no mechs or samurais so it would work for North American audiences. Who doesn’t want to see Ed and Al in live-action?

Ai Kano: Cowboy Bebop would work live-action. I haven’t seen a good sci-fi film recently and the characters are just so good.

Sophie Stevens: Naruto would make the most obvious sense. First, it has a massive following. Second, the characters stand out. Third, the story of an outcast who rises above his fellow students is something anybody can relate to without question.

Kiki Van De Kamp: I was going to say Sand Chronicles but they already beat me to it and hopefully we’ll get a chance to see it here. I think One-Pound Gospel would make a wonderful movie. It’s sweet, funny and a very human story.

Edward Zacharias: BLEACH would be my pick. I’m trying to convince a group of student filmmakers to post a fan-made 35-minute live-action version of the first episode of the anime on YouTube but they’re too shy to post it. I thought it was pretty good and I saw the possibilities of what a full-length feature film would look like.

Faith: My right brain say Blood + but my heart and left brain says Trinity Blood. I would love to see Saya on the big screen but there’s just something about Trinity Blood that makes vampires so darn awesome.

Well, that’s it for me. We have more reviews and news and other features in the works and thank you all for your wonderful e-mails and questions and for reading our reviews.

Kisses,

Faith McAdams
Managing Editor