Library Wars: Love & War, Volume 1 – Manga Review

Review by: Faith McAdams

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Kiiro Yumi
Original Story: Hiro Arikawa
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo Beat Manga)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Now Available

Welcome to the future where you do not want to mess with these librarians.

Having witnessing the banning of books like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” it felt as if the Media Betterment Committee had jumped out of the pages of Hiro Arikawa’s “Toshokan Senso” (Library Wars) and into real life so the series of light novels came at the right time. So imagine my delight to find that VIZ Media has brought us Volume 1 of Library Wars: Love & War.

If you’re not familiar with the books or the story, that’s Ok because mangaka Kiiro Yumi does a great job of introducing readers to the story that tips its hat to author Ray Bradbury. You see, in this future, the federal government has established the Media Betterment Committee (or MBC) to rid society of books deemed unsuitable for the public. They enforce the law by dropping in on bookstores in search of flagged books and authors and takes them away. Thankfully, an armed group protected by the Library Freedom Act has formed the Library Defense Force who can legally challenge the MBC.

The story focuses on one particular Library Defense Force cadet named Iku Kasahara who, when she was in High school, witnessed the Nazi-like forces of the MBC storm into a bookstore and snatch a fairy tale book she had been waiting months to read. From seemingly out of nowhere a young man not only keeps her from falling after being shoved but stands up against the MBC as a Sergeant for the Library Defense Force’s Kanto branch. It is that moment that not only made Iku want to join the Library Defense Force but to also find the mystery man who she saw has her “hero” and “prince.”

Life as a cadet is difficult but the tomboy in her drives Iku towards her goal to become a field agent and one day meet the hero who inspired her so one day she could be fighting against censorship alongside her mystery prince. Oh, but aside from the grueling training there’s Instructor Atsushi Dojo who she thinks is only picking on her and making her life as a trainee very miserable. Sure, he’s handsome but Iku finds the Sergeant-turned-instructor to be something of a short man with an even shorter fuse. During combat training, she is quick to get him angry and pays for it with a painful armlock.

Sergeant Dojo and fellow instructor Komaki see a lot of promise in the girl but she has a long way to go as we could see from one chapter where Iku gets to experience field work in a public library. Spotting a suspicious man head to the men’s room with a book, Iku follows and confronts the suspect only to leave her guard down and get Instructor Dojo hurt. When Dojo slaps her across the face, Iku spends the next days trying not to let the incident get to her but when she runs into Instructor Dojo in the lobby Iku lets her guard down and asks him why he gave her all the credit for catching the suspect in the men’s room. It is there that she finds some comfort in his friendly pat on the head.

History does tend to repeat itself and it does so again when Iku goes on a training assignment with Major Ryusuke Genda when Iku spots a few vans belonging to the MBC. What she encounters is a similar scene that mirrors her own past as Iku goes up against MBC officers searching for questionable books. Watching her take a stand makes the chapter a memorable one.

As her training is quickly coming to an end, we meet a young go-getter named Hikaru Tezuka who seems to despise from the very beginning and snubs our girl every chance he gets. Iku doesn’t warm up to him either, which is refreshingly understandable and she makes no real effort to befriend him like in other shoujo manga where the nice female lead tries to win over the class jerk. Both Iku and Tezuka do get a position in the Defense Force and Iku finds the actual job even more difficult than training.

It is in the library that Iku comes to see a different side of Sergeant Dojo who is a lot more accommodating and – even though he does get frustrated with her – helps her understand the clerical duties that even field officers must tend to when not confronting the MBC.

The series has plenty of lighthearted moments and some funny ones as well as Iku tries to keep up with the training and her job. It’s good to see a strong female lead make it in the predominantly male career track and even more so when she knows she’s not perfect but will do the job the best way she can until she does it right. As far as the romance side is concerned, it’s too early to tell how the Iku-Dojo relationship will go and, even though there are plenty of hints of Dojo liking his tall female subordinate, his frustration in her makes for some intriguing interactions between the two.

What is even more interesting, though, is the clashes between the MBC and the Library Defense Force that will most likely play a much bigger role in future volumes. It’s just too bad we don’t learn more about the MBC and the secondary characters – aside from Tezuka – aren’t given time in the spotlight to flesh them out a bit more.

Volume 1 of Library Wars: Love & War is an intriguing story that is actually even just as entertaining as the light novels and that’s a very good thing indeed. While it’s far from the perfect shoujo manga, there is a lot that shoujo fans will like and by the end of this volume you might even find yourself wanting to stick around for the next few volumes of this series. This one is well worth the read for sure.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A-
Having witnessed a Sergeant of the Library Defense Force stand up against the militant forces of the Media Betterment Committee, a young tomboy named Iku joins the fight to protect books from censorship in hopes of meeting her “hero” who inspired her. What Iku finds out that it isn’t easy being a female agent candidate and even more so with a handsome superior officer that’s always butting heads with her.

ART: B
While it doesn’t standout as anything truly amazing or original, Kiiro Yumi’s art is far from bad despite the characters don’t really stand out as well as they should. Still, there are some decent backgrounds and the action flows well enough.

OVERALL: A-
Shoujo fans will certainly get a kick out of this lighthearted and even entertaining series that doesn’t break any new ground but will keep you happily following the story down to the last page. Volume 1 of Library Wars has the right touch of comedic moments, intriguing futuristic setting and a promising tale worth more than just a peek.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

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Toradora!, Volume 1 Premium Edition – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: NIS America
MSRP: $59.99 US
Running Time: 307 minutes
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Rating: Teen
Release Date: Available Now

A valuable lesson on not judging a book by its cover and recognizing that not all rumors are false.

NIS America is best known for their quality games and they do have an impressive background and lineup of titles so when we first heard that they planned on venturing into anime territory we weren’t really worried. Well, if titles like Toradora! are the quality of series we will be seeing from them, NIS America has a bright and wonderful future ahead of them that involve some very happy anime fans. The Premium Edition of Volume 1 of Toradora! is here and definitely belongs among your collection.

The series’ main protagonist is Ryuji Takasu, a young man who attends Ohashi High School, who just happens to be cursed with his father’s sadistic good-looks that make him look more like a dangerous thug. In reality, Ryuji is the sweetest guy you could ever meet and he would definitely be considered quite a catch seeing as he’s kind, considerate, cooks superbly and keeps his pad clan despite the fact that his sexy mom comes home at late hours working at a host club. Oh, he also happens to be in love with his classmate, Minori Kushieda who is cute, popular and outrageously zany.

While he just can’t bring himself to reveal his true feeling to Minori, fate smiles and curses him as Ryuji literally runs into Taiga Aisaka who is known throughout the school as the “Palm-Top Tiger” because she’s small but ferocious. While all the rumors about Ryuji being a juvenile delinquent are false, all the rumors about Taiga all happen to be true. She does have a short fuse and she does have violent outbursts as Ryuji comes to realize firsthand when the tiny girl knocks him down.

Then an incident in school has Ryuji encountering Taiga in his apartment late at night when the diminutive girl has come to retrieve a love letter she placed in Ryuji’s bag by accident. As it turns out, Taiga is in love with Ryuji’s best friend, Yusako Kitamura, who happens to be Student Council vice president and captain of the boy’s baseball team. So, swearing he would do anything – including becoming her servant – Ryuji teams up with Taiga to help each another be with the one they love. Of course, hanging out with a girl that treats you like her dog isn’t easy but Ryuji is the type of guy who is understanding and accepts the fact that Taiga might not be all bad.

Half the fun of this series is watching the unusual pair become each another’s wingman on their quest to try to win over the objects of their affection. Ryuji loves Minori’s high energy and the fact that she is Taiga’s friend is a plus but it isn’t easy to talk to a girl who seems like she’s running on a high-powered engine. Taiga finds it equally hard to talk to Kitamura because each time they talk she becomes clumsy and unable to carry on a normal conversation with him. It doesn’t take Ryuji too long to find out a most interesting bit of information about something that happened between Taiga and Kitamura a long while back.

While it’s hard to be comfortable with the ones they really love, how is it that Taiga and Ryuji are very comfortable around each another? Since they live near each another the pair are often seen together and their classmates begin to think that the two are dating. The truth is that they both begin to rely on each another with Taiga coming to an understanding that Ryuji is more important to him that anyone else. How can she not appreciate a guy who cooks her delicious meals, sews bosom-enhancing pads to her swimsuit or covers for her in the most crucial moments?

Just when we have these two figured out, though, a new arrival adds more fun to the situation. She is Ami Kawashima, a young model who is Kitamura’s childhood friend. While she comes off as sweet in front of others, her true nature is that of a selfish and mean girl. You better believe that Taiga and Ami become immediate enemies and even more so when she starts showing interest in Ryuji.

The fun rivalry between the two girls is one of the highlights of the later half of the 13-episode first volume and the two girls even compete on campus for Ryuji. What is more interesting, though, is watching Ami change from spoiled brat to a girl who isn’t as perfect as she might seem on the surface. What started as just a mean way of pissing of Taiga by attempting to seduce Ryuji turns into a real crush on the boy.

Another great element in the series is its sense of humor that has a number of laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout and Minori is just so out there that she practically steals the show … especially in the episode where the group gets lost in a cave. Still, it’s the endearing moments in the series that really work such as Taiga’s reaction to Ryuji’s near drowning at the pool or the touching moment where she listens to Ryuji when he tells her to give her father – who has kicked her out of him home a long time ago – a second chance.

The series does rely on familiar anime elements at times as well but instead of doing what everyone else has done Toradora! tries to do things their own way. The series even makes fun of the usual school festival clichés and tries something interesting like the class putting on a wrestling show in stead of going the usual maid/cosplay café route. Premium Edition includes two bonus episodes about cooking and food, which is funny and animated differently than the main series and there’s a Episode Guide book that’s a nice addition.

The Premium Edition of Volume 1 of Toradora deserves to be among your collection and not just for the goodies includes but because the series is touching, intriguing and loads of fun to watching. There’s something meaningful in a series about people who aren’t what they seem and sometimes even a mean girl has a redeeming quality that reveals her true self. It’s also sincerely funny so giving this one a try is definitely recommended.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Nice guy Ryuji has a major crush on his highly energetic tomboyish classmate Minori but the problem is that he’s known throughout school as a juvenile delinquent because of the way he looks and, on top of that, Taiga, the girl with the shortest fuse ever, makes Ryuji his obedient pet. Both Ryuji and Taiga work together to win the heart of the ones they love but when another girl comes into the picture the relationship between the odd pair changes.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The series looks amazing on DVD with a crisp and colorful picture that looks even better seen on an HD setup. The animation is handled wonderfully throughout the series as well.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The original score is nice and upbeat and you have to love the catchy opening and closing theme songs to this series. The voice acting in the series is top notch as well with Junji Majima (Ryuji) and Yui Horie (Minori) being the voice actors that stand out in this series.

EXTRAS: A
The Premium Edition comes in a rather big and colorful box with the two-disc first volume that comes complete with two bonus episodes (Toradora SOS! Hurray for Gourmands) with cute super deformed versions of the main cast of characters. On top of that, though, there’s the hardcover Episode Guide book with interviews, character study and descriptions of each episode.

OVERALL: A-
A genuinely funny and sweet series with a lot of heart, Toradora! might feel like familiar anime fare but there’s just much to love about a series that drives home the feeling that sometimes people can surprise you. This Premium Edition is definitely a nice package well worth buying because, trust me, you will definitely become a fan of this series.

Review copy provided by NIS America

Ninja Girls, Volume 2 – Manga Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Author: Hosana Tanaka
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $10.99 US
Rating: OT (16+)
Release Date: Available Now

This is how Ninja Girls play cupid.

The first volume of Ninja Girls was surprisingly funny and loaded with sexy female ninja action that proved that some harem manga could actually be different from other harem titles out there. As a result, the series is actually fun to read and – thankfully – the same can be said about the Volume 2 of Ninja Girls as the quartet attempt to revive the fallen Katana Clan by having the young Lord Raizo romance a noble. Things are about to get a lot more complicated, that’s for sure.

While Kagari’s plan to build Raizo’s castle was a big failure and Lord Seigan after her Shintaigo technique, the young Lord turns to the other plan brought up by his sharpshooter companion, Kisarabi. Her restoration plan is to restore the Katana Clan by having Raizo marry a noble with wealth and influence. That way the Katana Clan will make its return with financial and military backup. Having shown him a list of potential brides, the three shinobi follow their master to the Oumi Province where the first candidate for a potential bride – Habari-Hime – resides as a Princess for the people.

First, however, the traveling quartet run into a pint-sized kunoichi who – only a few minutes ago – was secretly consorting with Lord Seigan. She is Mizuchi and her love for money has her working for the enemy but when she was told to kill Kagari the young shinobi just cannot do that. You see, what she loves just as much as money is Kagari but seeing her idol reduced to a servant to the dorky Raizo makes the young ninja do the unthinkable … attempted murder. However, the girls quickly figure out Mizuchi’s plan and the younger kunoichi walks away. It’s clear that we will definitely see this young girl again.

In the meantime, the three shinobi hatch their plan to get close to the Princess by having Raizo “save” the Princess from a band of thugs in armor. With the girls in their disguises, the plan goes well and Raizo ends up not only being the hero but also getting offer a job as the Princess’ bodyguard by the Princess herself who turns out to be very beautiful and kind.

Raizo is immediately drawn by Habari-Hime’s kindness and her dedication to her people. She also has a long and demanding schedule but the Princess always has a smile for her people and even her army is touched by her gentle presence when she goes to see the men off. Of course, Raizo comes to the realization that while she might be all smiles at each function, the Princess really is exhausted and this worries the young Lord. So Raizo hatches his own plan to rescue the Princess from her schedule for a day or rest and fun with him. As it turns out, this is exactly what she needed.

Meanwhile, we can see that this courtship between her Lord and the Princess bothers Kagari. She clearly does not like the Princess and, in one chapter, even competes with her during what was suppose to be a friendly game. Watching how badly Kagari takes the news that Raizo might marry is the highlight of the volume and once again the ihai that represents Raizo’s mother lets her presence known throughout in the most comical way.

As it turns out, though, somebody is trying to kill the Princess. A botched attempt has the girls saving ambassadors during one event and, during a dinner with Raizo, somebody tries to poison the beautiful noble. Immediately, Raizo and his three shinobi are blamed and, after an interrogation leads to Raizo telling the truth about how he came to “save” the Princess, they are tossed in a cell by the real culprits. It is in the prison that they meet somebody who knows the real truth about what is going on in the province.

There are short battles in this volume but, more importantly, we learn a little more about Raizo including how deeply the pain of being an outcast (thanks to the horn on his head) has affected the young man. However, the aftermath of the battle and a surprising announcement in the end of the chapter finds Raizo and the girls on the run again but this time one person’s opinion of Raizo isn’t a negative one.

It’s good to see that this series’ sense of humor is still very much intact and, in Volume 2 of Ninja Girls, things get even more comical as Raizo attempts to revive his clan by marrying into nobility. While the plan seems to have worked, many things conspire against him and yes that means even more crazy ninja girl antics that made us love the first volume. Consider this another great volume in this already likeable series.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
Following Kisarabi’s original plan to have Raizo marry a noble whose influence and wealth will help restore the Katana Clan once again. Their target is a Princess from a nearby province and the three female shinobi hatch a plan to make Raizo look like a hero and gain the trust of the Princess. While the plan works, a sinister plot to assassinate the princess makes the four the most likely suspects.

ART: A-
The girls still look amazing in this series and there’s a lot less fan service in this second volume. The sight gags are still hilarious, though, especially when Raizo’s “mother” makes her presence known.

OVERALL: B+
Some action-comedy manga loses its steam and comedic chops by the second volume but that isn’t the case with Volume 2 of Ninja Girls that still remains refreshingly funny and still loads of fun to read. As Raizo follows Kisarabi’s restoration plan that involves marrying into nobility, everything seems to be going good until the truth ruins everything.

Review copy provided by Del Rey Manga

Rin – Daughters of Mnemosyne, The Complete Series – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 270 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

You will never look at piercing the same way again.

After having watched the first episode of Rin – Daughters of Mnemosyne, it becomes clear that this isn’t just another anime series that just relies solely on displaying hot naked women as its main selling point. This story has a meaning and purpose that goes beyond its bloody violence, nudity and sex and, yes, it manages to be a disturbing but entertaining thrill ride. While it lasts only six episodes, The Complete Series Blu-ray set of this unique series shows us enough to keep more mature-minded anime fans glued to their HD screens for various reasons.

Then again, if you hated series like Speed Grapher, this series might not be for you because the series is not for the squeamish and those who have a problem with shameless displays of nudity and lots of sex then you will want to skip out on this one. Unfortunately, doing so will be a shame since there is a good story here with great characters that do stand out and scenes that are edgy without trying too hard.

The story revolves around a sexy young woman named Rin Asougi, a private investigator who looks good in a three-piece suit and glasses and out of said three-piece suit. When we first see her in Episode 1, she is running for a lone, redheaded female assassin who is gunning for her and – with a shotgun – turns Rin into hamburger meat. The next thing we know, Rin wakes up in her bedroom with no sign of injury. You see, Rin is an immortal who has been granted eternal life thanks to Time Fruits that seems to float from the mythical tree called Yggdrasil that only immortal women can see.

Rin works as a private investigator with her young immortal assistant named Mimi whose idea of bringing her boss water is bringing her a bottle of Vodka and feeding it to Rin by way of a kiss. During one job trying to locate a cat, Rin runs into a young man named Kouki Maeno who doesn’t seem to know who he really is and why a group of men in black suits want to take him away. Rin decides to help the young man, leading to a trip to a research lab where the truth about the young man is revealed. Even after being horribly tortured and maimed when the pair are captured, Rin stages a rescue and secures a friendship between her and Kouki.

Several years later, Rin and Mimi are looking into another case while a somewhat older Kouki (who works for Rin) meets a crying girl who is looking for an angel. As it turns out, angels do exist and – in the course of the case – Kouki discovers Rin’s immortal secret as well as another interesting tidbit. You see, only women can become immortal and men become angels but the twist is that immortal women are sexually drawn to angels who want nothing more than to become intimate with immortals and then kill them. Each time an angel appears, immortal women are unable to contain themselves and the angel they are tracking proves what happens when Rin and the angel are near each another.

As the years pass, Rin and Mimi do not age but Kouki does and we find the young man married and with a child as the three take on another case where an assassin is using explosives to take out targets. Rin, meanwhile, realizes that a foe named Apos might be behind the attacks and the new crop of angels that keep appearing. Rin and Kouki’s investigation leads to tragedy, though, and the loss haunts the two immortal women but years later another Maeno becomes involved with the two women as Kouki’s teenage son helps Rin.

However, in a battle against an android, Rin is torn to shreds in an exciting battle on an airplane and Rin is lost to the world until – several years later – Kouki’s granddaughter, Mishio, runs into a woman who bares a striking resemblance to Rin. As it turns out, it is Rin and she has no recollection of who she is until an event wakes her and has Rin fighting against Apos’ ultimate plan with her allies.

There are battles aplenty in this series and watching Rin go up against mindless drones in one episode, slay angels in another and go up against assassins such as the redhead Laura makes for some exciting fights. The action is bloody and Rin’s many deaths are extremely gruesome as is watching her body heal itself. On top of that, the nudity and sex scenes are rather graphic and excessive yet doesn’t fall in the sleazy category. It almost becomes comical at times, especially when Rin or Mimi “sleep” with their female informants, which is every episode.

Still, the series doesn’t sacrifice story and character development. Rin just isn’t a saucy babe who looks good fighting angels and assassins, you can practically feel the pain of her immortal curse and what it means to outlive friends. The series never takes itself too seriously as well and is unapologetic in its display of violence, sex and nudity. It’s like a Paul Verhoeven flick … only the flick is energetic and entertaining. Of course, it’s also a complex story that just gets even stranger at the end of the sixth and final episode. It’s a real kick to see the story move from the 1990s to a more futuristic era.

The Complete Series of Rin – Daughters of Mnemosyne is an occasionally disturbing yet deliciously tantalizing morsel on Blu-ray. Calling it a guilty pleasure would be more accurate if you can stomach the gore, sex and nudity. We’ve seen anime like this before but Rin manages to be entertaining and even exciting enough that you will be pulled in by the story and characters. This is definitely for the mature crowd so if you were looking for a more dark and adult anime.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Rin is a private investigator with a most unusual secret … she’s an immortal who finds herself in a conflict with a force who has dark plans for all immortal women like her. Together with her immortal assistant and a young man whose bloodline will continue aid her, Rin tries to makes sense of the mystery behind immortality as well as the one named Apos who has plan for Angels and Immortals alike.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
It was certainly a great choice to bring this series to Blu-ray since the animation is simply stunning and many of the scenes will not fail to get a reaction out of the viewer. This is certainly a mature title for the strong violence, nudity and sexual situations found in all six episodes.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice acting is top notch whether you like the Japanese cast or the English dub cast so whatever your preference is you are in for a treat. There’s also an amazing score attached to this series and the rocking tunes by GALNERYUS are awesome. Just be prepared for a lot of heavy breathing and moaning in this series.

EXTRAS: A
The Blu-ray release comes with all the extras that the DVD version includes so you’ll find an audio commentary track for Episode 2 with J. Michael Tatum (ADR Director), Colleen Clinkenbeard (Rin), Jamie Marchi (Mimi) and Robert McCollum (Kouki) who offer a hilarious view of the show’s juicy parts and language. There’s also a Japanese cast interview with Mamiko Noto, Rie Kugimiya, Sayaka Ohara and Rie Yamanobe that is worth watching. Aside from that there are clean opening and closing animation plus FUNimation trailers.

OVERALL: B+
A complex yet edge-of-your-seat exciting anime series that walks on the dark and mature side, Rin -Daughters of Mnemosyne is unforgettable and compelling enough to be that different kind of anime you should not ignore. While there are some truly twisted moments in this series, it doesn’t hide the fact that there’s a great story here.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

CLAMP Mokona’s Okimono Kimono – Art Book Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Author: CLAMP Mokona
Genre: Graphic Novel (Nonfiction, Manga, Art Book)
MSRP: $12.99 US
Rating: N/A
Release Date: Available Now

Just about everything you ever wanted to know about kimonos but where afraid to ask.

Born and raised in England, there wasn’t much chance to try on a kimono where I lived but my inner fashion diva has always longed to wear one and wear it right. So you can imagine my delight in finding CLAMP Mokona’s Okimono Kimono, a book with just about everything you can ask for when it comes to advice on wearing a kimono with style. I mean, this is the talented artist that makes xxxHolic’s Yuko look good so how can you go wrong, right?

For those who don’t know them, CLAMP consists of four very amazing artists/manga-ka who – together – have an impressive lineup of manga titles that include Chobits, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHolic and Cardcaptor Sakura just to name a few favorites. Among them, of course, is Mokona who has had a deep fascination with kimonos for a long time. Okimono Kimono is an artistic testament to her love for traditional and non-traditional kimono, yukatas and the accessories that give the fashion ensemble a refreshing look for various occasions.

Make no mistake, this isn’t just a fashion book but rather an affectionate look at beauty that is the Japanese kimono and the artistry that goes into the patterns. More importantly, however, are the various ways you can make your look even better and Mokona covers just about everything. Mokona also includes her own kimono patterns and designs that have even shown up in her work. As we can see from some of her designs – via some beautiful photography with backgrounds drawn by CLAMP’s Nekoi Tsubaki and commentary by Mokona – that were inspired by xxxHolic’s most fashion-savvy character, Yuko Ichihara.

Using attractive models, the book has a chapter with photographs detailing the right type of kimono or yukata selection for the right occasion. She goes into intricate yet playful details of the look best suited for the various occasions that make each kimono feel in tune with the occasion and that includes design, color and accessories. Naturally, you don’t wear a kimono you wore at a wedding to a cherry blossom viewing event and you certainly don’t wear a kimono appropriate to rock concerts to a formal classical music concert.

Accessories also play a big hand in making a kimono look even more chic and Mokona has a chapter on that including pictures of a large variety of accessories that range from different hats to ornaments you would place on the obi (the sort of decorative sash that is tied around the waist). There are even her thoughts on the decorative collars that would go good with different kimono colors and patterns so you have to take that into consideration as well. Finally, there are different footwear such as various clogs and sandals and she even makes an interesting comment about the ways you can decorate the straps to fit your kimono’s look.

There’s also a playful interview with singer Onuki Ami of the popular Puffy AmiYumi who is not only a CLAMP fan but also an admirer of kimonos. Their conversation is actually sweet as the two women talk about their history wearing kimonos as well as what they think about the various styles that have changed over the years. Interestingly enough, Mokona also includes an interview with Yumioka Katsumi, owner of a kimono store called Ichinokura in Harajuko, who offers some extremely insightful tips on selecting the right kimono.

Mokona includes a photo diary as well that recounts various events she participated in from 2005-2006 and the kimonos she wore at them as well. Those who were in Los Angeles’ Anime Expo in 2006 will recall CLAMP’s first visit to L.A. as well as the lovely kimono she was wearing at the panel.

I also liked CLAMP’s Igarashi Satsuki’s essay “Chipmunk’s Paulownia Chest” and a short-yet-cute manga story by Nekoi Tsubaki of a little girl in her red kimono who asks her brother to make Horan for her just like he did for their father. Sure, it’s not a story about kimonos but it’s a beautiful story with some beautiful art.

Unfortunately, despite mentioning the fact that she has her own methods of putting on a kimono, she never shows us via pictures or her cute drawings how to put one on properly. Sure, we can look it up online or via another book but it would have been nice to have includes an in-depth “How-To” that includes how to properly wrap an obi around your waist on your own. This would have made this book a true asset especially to us Western readers who might be interested in buying or putting on a kimono.

CLAMP Mokona’s Okimono Kimono is a valuable book for anyone who is interested in kimonos and an artistic art book that is just what you would expect from such a talented artist. Filled with lovely photographs, enlightening information and plenty of helpful tips, Okimono Kimono is a book you need to own if fashion is your fancy. Sure, a big element was left out but – in the end – there’s more than enough here to make everyone happy.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A-
CLAMP’s Mokona has always had a fascination with kimonos and shares his marvelous gift for accessorizing and selecting the right kimono for right occasion. More importantly, she shares her own artistic designs that show up in her manga work. There’s also interviews with Onuki Ami of the musical duo Puffy AmiYuki as well as the owner of a kimono store. She also kept a picture diary of her wearing different kimonos to different events plus includes a short manga story.

ART: A+
With gorgeous photography and some artistic shots with Mokona’s lovely art as backgrounds, the visuals in this book are just as stylish as the kimonos and yukatas featured throughout. There’s also a short manga story drawn by CLAMP’s other talent, Nekoi Tsubaki.

OVERALL: A-
Just about everything you want to know about accessorizing and wearing the right kimono makes Okimono Kimono a real gem for anyone who has ever wanted to try on a kimono for fun. Sadly, she doesn’t include some How To info for us North American folk but with so much info and lovely examples you will find this book to be a valuable asset and the perfect coffee table book even for non manga readers.

Review copy provided by Dark Horse Manga

Ah, My Buddha, Complete Collection – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: Media Blasters (Anime Works)
MSRP: $49.99 US
Running Time: 650 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Rating: N/A
Release Date: Available Now

Who thought the life of a Buddhist Priest could be this much fun or sexy?

Having been a fan of Love Hina and other harem-styled anime, I just had to review the Complete Collection of Ah, My Buddha. Sure, some series don’t surprise you with anything usually different and there are other series that are just by-the-number harem fare with plenty of fan service scattered throughout but some series do have some redeeming quality that makes it worth the watch. Ah, My Buddha follows the same familiar formula but that doesn’t mean you won’t have loads of fun watching this one.

Having been sent to the Saienji Temple that is looked after by the Chief Priestess, Jyotoku Kawahara (who also happens to be his grandmother), Ikkou Satonaka finds life as a priest-in-training rather arduous and strange. For starters, he has heavy cooking and cleaning duties and he has to learn complex sutras to cleanse the world of the spirits of those unable to move on to the afterlife. On top of that, he lives with six attractive young girls studying to become Buddhist nuns. One of them, a sexy redhead named Chitose Nanbu might even have a crush on him … when she’s not kicking him in the head and accusing him of being a filthy pervert.

While the boy is target of many a misunderstanding that involves him walking into the girls’ bathroom, walking in on them while they’re changing or accidentally yanking down their skimpy robes. Besides that, Ikkou has a most unusual power within him that allows him to cleanse all spirits around him. The problem, however, is that he must be in a state of, um, excitement that involves somebody disrobing or flashing their bosoms. On top of that there’s no controlling Ikkou so the only way to put an end to the pervert within is a swift kick, punch or supernatural flame to return the boy to his usual goofy self.

As Ikkou tries hard to make sense of his ability, he goes on a number of jobs for the temple and we get to know each girl a little better … although the majority of them aren’t given enough background to flesh them out. We know Sakura is the brainy one with glasses and Yuko is the tough tomboy of the group and yes there’s even a very bosomy one named Haruka. The ones we do get some background story on do actually stand out because of it.

In the first season of the series, we follow Ikkou and the girls as they take care of evil spirits and friendly spirits unable to cross over. In one episode they go up against a possessed doll during a Burning Ceremony and in another Ikkou and Chitose cleanse a haunted arcade of a group of boys that just want to spend all of eternity playing video games. We also meet the ghost of a young perverted panty-and-bra-stealing student in their High school who develops a crush for one of the girls named Sumi.

Of course, a series like this also brings out the familiar anime elements such as the sports festival and, yes, even a trip to a hot springs is in order. There isn’t anything we haven’t seen in other anime series featured in Ah, My Buddha but what makes this series fun are the little moments that make up the adolescent High school antics. In one episode we find that the tomboy of the group finds out she has an admirer and doesn’t know what to do about it or the episode dedicated to Chitose’s love for horror flicks.

In the second season, a new girl named Kazuki is added to Ikkou’s harem but this girl makes it clear that she is attracted to Ikkou as well as his power, which makes Chitose jealous. The first season introduced two mysterious monks trying to get Ikkou to unleash his power and this time they play a much bigger role in a conspiracy that involve other temples and a secret behind Ikkou’s power. The second season is also a lot more funnier than the first with Kazuki’s many attempts to seduce Ikkou (and failing) being one of the comedic highlights.

The Complete Collection set also includes the two OVA episodes, one for each season. While the fan service in the regular series isn’t too revealing, the opposite can be said about the bonus episodes so if nudity isn’t your thing then you might want to skip these episodes.

Despite its unoriginal elements and few weak plotlines, the Complete Collection of Ah, My Buddha still manages to be entertaining enough to be a series you should check out either way. The comedy is actually quite good in this series and there’s plenty of worthwhile moments found in both seasons of this set. Depending on your tastes, the fan service might be too much for some but if you’re able to overlook it you will find yourself liking the harem comedy.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
A young priest-in-training named Ikkou joins the Saienji Temple run by his overbearing grandmother only to find lots of chores, strange rituals and a collection of very attractive priestesses living with him. It all sounds good but Ikkou has a power that can only be awakened be seeing female nudity. In the second season, a rival priestess will stop at nothing to seduce Ikkou.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
Media Blasters does the series justice with a crisp and colorful picture that makes the animation stand out nicely. While the character design isn’t unique, you can tell each character apart and – if you don’t mind it – the fan service can get overwhelmingly excessive. Only the OVA episodes display nudity.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original Japanese voices are handled beautifully thanks to a great cast with Mai Nakahara pulling double duty by voicing Chitose wonderfully but also singing the closing theme songs “Happy Days” and “Lonesome Traveler.” The English dub is excellent as well with talent that includes Tara Platt and Stephanie Sheh just to name a few. Even the original score a good, especially in the second series.

EXTRAS: B+
There are clean opening and closing theme songs to look forward to and each disc contains various different trailers as well. The best extras, however, come in two OVA episodes for each of the two seasons in the Complete Collection set.

OVERALL: B
While it might not be original, it is hard to overlook the good qualities and over-the-top hilarity of Ah, My Buddha and if you give this Complete Collection a try you will find yourself liking this quirky fan service-filled series. Still, you can’t help but think that this series could have been a lot better.

Review copy provided by Media Blasters/Anime Works

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 4 – Manga Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Karuho Shiina
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo Beat Manga)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Beware of girls with fake smiles.

There was a time that everyone in her class thought Sawako Kuronuma was a walking curse but, thanks to Kazehaya and his small group of friends, the girl who looked like she stepped out of a Japanese horror flick has learned to open up and trust those around her. All seemed to be going well until she met a popular girl who – in Volume 4 of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You – is forcing our girl to reveal her true feeling for the boy who made her life so much better.

In the final chapter of Volume 3, a pretty girl named Kurumi who happens to not only be popular but also seen as the nicest girl in school “befriends” and asks Sawako to help her win the heart of Kazehaya who this girl had a major crush on since Junior High. While she likes the girl well enough, Sawako refuses to help her and things quickly turn sour as the seemingly sweet Kurumi shows her dark side. While she wants to come off as menacing, Kurumi becomes enraged when Sawako just doesn’t get that she’s angry with the oblivious girl.

So begins a most unusual rivalry with one party trying hard to get her way and the other still believing the other is a good friend. With the sports festival underway, Sawako surprises everyone including Kazehaya during girls soccer game. In a hilarious turn of events, Sawako loses a shoe during the match and as Kurumi is about to explode with anger that Sawako is speaking comfortably wit Kazehaya the shoe drops from the sky and smacks Kurumi over the head.

During her break, Sawako hangs out with Kurumi who has come to watch Kazehaya play baseball and is quick to insult Sawako and tells her to learn her place. Kurumi makes it clear that she feels she is the right person for Kazehaya and asks Sawako what he really means to her. Of course, Sawako isn’t able to give her an answer. What does Kazehaya mean to her? Is it more than just respect and gratitude for all he has done for her? Kurumi uses Sawako’s confusion against her and even more so when a wild pitch nearly hits Sawako but is grabbed by Ryo …. Kazehaya’s friend.

Pushing Sawako to thank Ryo for having saved her, Sawako learns a lot from the silent young man who tells her about feeling as well as a secret about the girl he has always loved. Meanwhile, Kurumi takes advantage of Sawako’s little meeting with Ryo by leading Kazehaya to the spot where the two are talking. Kazehaya had wanted to be the one that saved Sawako from the stray pitch and now she is talking to Ryo. This is too much for the young man as he grabs Sawako by the arm and runs away with her to Kurumi’s horror. There’s a nice little scene between Kazehaya and Sawako that makes it clear that Kazehaya is getting serious in what he wants out of his relationship with Sawako. It’s just too bad that our girl doesn’t get his meaning.

Meanwhile, after Yano confronted Kurumi and asked her about the person who spread rumors about her and Yoshida as well as some ugly rumors about Sawako, Yano and Yoshida begin their own little investigation to find proof that it was Kurumi behind the vicious lies that gave them all such bad reputations. Once again, Yano and Yoshida prove to be not only fascinating characters but also the highlight of this series. You just can’t help loving these two girls.

In the final chapter, the truth behind Kurumi is revealed. It’s certainly no secret at this point that she is a dastardly girl who has manipulated people and situations to obtain her ultimate goal of getting Kazehaya to like her. While she was successful in starting a campaign to keep all other girls away, she fails miserably (and comically) with Sawako who finally realizes something about her feeling towards Kazehaya. At one point, Kurumi’s attempt to get closer to Kazehaya is spoiled by the hilarious teacher the students call Pin who thinks Kurumi has a crush on him.

When Sawako joins Yano and Yoshida who reveals Kurumi’s plot, our girl still isn’t capable of hating the girl even though Kurumi isn’t going to let this go. While she loses this round, it looks like Kurumi will be around as Sawako’s enemy. Oh yeah, this is some great drama.

Volume 4 of Kimi ni Todoke finally injects some drama into this lighthearted story and the fact that it doesn’t lose its great sense of humor in the process makes this an even more endearing manga series. A rival capable of deceit and a hatred for Sawako adds something new to this series that continues to be way too much fun to read.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
Sawako refuses to help the attractive and very popular Kurumi win the heart of Kazehaya who she has been longing for since Junior High. Unfortunately, Kurumi sees Sawako as an obstacle as she sets up a plan to try to get the clueless girl out of her way by any means necessary. Meanwhile, Yoshida and Yano think that Kurumi isn’t as sweet as she seems.

ART: B+
The expressions on Sawako’s face still kill me every time and even more so when she fails to understand what’s going on and watching her rival seething with anger because of it will not fail to put a smile on your face.

OVERALL: B+
Sawako has come a long way in this series and even more so now in Volume 4 as she comes to terms with her feelings for the boy that changed her life. Kimi ni Todoke is just getting very interesting as the girl nobody wanted to talk to stands up for her true feeling against a rival who is actually quite devious in her attempt to get Kazehaya’s attention.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media