PURI PURI VOL 1

PURI PURI VOL. 1
Written and Drawn by Chiaki Taro
Translated by Daniel Sullivan and Asako Otomo and Adapted by Ailen Lujo and Matthew Scrivner
Published by DrMaster

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

The headmaster of an all-girl divinity school has had his fill; the girls are undisciplined, unmannered, and live like slobs. So when one of the nuns ascribes these problems to the girls not needing to impress the opposite sex and letting themselves go, he makes his decision: he will gender-integrate the school. However, it won’t be easy for the first male student, Masato Kamioda; all he wants is to be a priest, but all his classmates want is him expelled. Immediately. And with rules in place against fraternization, they’re willing to use every dirty trick in the book to make him look like a bad guy so they can have their school back.

PURI PURI is, for lack of a better way of putting it, a very traditional fanservice manga. One young boy, a ton of young female flesh… the equation is something you can find all over the manga shelves at your local bookstore. And certainly, Taro-san proves himself adept at hitting the traditional beats. There is, of course, one girl, Ayano, who gives Kamioda a fair shake, and she suffers the most from her classmates’ attempts to screw him over. There’s a shower scene, a “wake up with clothes askew” scene… Taro has mastered the art of the American teen-sex comedy put to paper. But there’s no denying that he executes it quite well. He also starts to open up his story possibilities as the book moves forward and gets past the genre tropes; there’s a supernatural bit late in the book, as well as a sweet sequence where Kamioda risks expulsion because an act of kindness from Ayano threatens to go to waste.

The most unique element in PURI PURI is Kamioda’s chosen desire to become a priest. Unlike most fanservice mangas, the main male character isn’t looking to get laid or grope a boobie or anything else of the sort. He truly wants to become a man of the cloth, even if he does eventually develop a crush on a girl. He had been adopted by a priest himself, and sees following in his path as a way to thank his father. It’ll be interesting to see how the series balances this very serious character trait with its more lurid side as the series progresses. Should make for intriguing reading.

Marc Mason

CHINESE HERO VOL 1

CHINESE HERO: TALES OF THE BLOOD SWORD VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Wing Shing Ma
Translated and Adapted by Yun Zhao and Matthew Scrivner
Published by DrMaster

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

His parents murdered, Hero has gone on the run and taken the family heirloom with him: the Blood Sword. It looks like an ordinary crappy piece of metal, but when blood hits it… bam! It becomes quite powerful indeed. Aided by his mastering of multiple forms of martial arts, he now works to protect himself, the sword, and those he cares about… which isn’t always an easy task, even for one of the greatest warriors alive.

First things first: wow, is this a pretty book. Wing Shing Ma is a tremendous talent, able to meld action, character moments, and color schemes to create luscious pages. I was visually entranced by CHINESE HERO, as it provides more of a feast than most mangas do, because this is a rare one printed in color and at traditional Western comic size. That certainly goes a long way into making the book more accessible to an audience that may still be skeptical about manga.

Unfortunately, the story is almost completely impenetrable. First, it creates some immediate confusion; this is volume one, yet there’s a 23-page prologue catching you up on the story to date! Yet there’s no indication of where that story was originally told or if it actually was. And the design of the prologue is so scattered as to almost make it impossible to follow. By the time I got to the manga proper, I was hopelessly lost. I stuck with it as best I could, but I really had issues in following it and the characters at that point.

So ultimately, as nifty as this book looks, the design failure at its core prevents me from recommending it. DrMaster produces plenty of other terrific manga titles, so I’d recommend you try one of those instead.

Marc Mason

PURI PURI VOL 5,6,7

PURI PURI VOL. 5-7
Written and Drawn by Chiaki Taro
Published by
DrMaster

The adventures of young Kamioda traveling the road to the priesthood continue in these three volumes, each one offering up new tests of his willpower and commitment. Whether it’s putting together the school’s Halloween festival, helping a young girl overcome her fear of all things male, or dealing with a girl determined to break him and expose him on a sexual level, each day the boy faces is certainly never a dull one.

PURI PURI began as a somewhat serious take on Kamioda’s journey, with the occasional dollop of fanservice thrown in to keep the otaku satisfied. But as the book has evolved, it has taken a turn away from that path; while it still keeps its focus on Kamioda’s path, Taro-san has wayyyyyyy kicked up the level of fanservice, to the point where it’s almost the co-star of the entire series. And while it would be easy to chalk that up as a primary complaint and write the book off, I can’t quite do so.

Why? Because the author has also done the unheard of and allowed the story itself to evolve. Kamioda completes his first round of tasks at the girls’ school and is moved to a church nearby to apprentice to a priest. Also, he and Ayano actually get around to admitting having feelings for one another, moving their own plot point forward. Anyone with any familiarity with manga knows that your average manga-ka has the ability to draw out such things for years on end, so seeing Taro opt for progress is pretty sweet and it gives the book a kick in the pants to keep moving forward.

He has also become a more accomplished artist as the book has progressed. The storytelling has gotten a bit easier to follow, his layouts are stronger and more interesting to look at, and he seems to have a better grasp of anatomy (and not just the stuff he shows off in the fanservice bits). You can’t quite shake the feeling that, in a certain respect, he’s making it up as he goes along, but it has such a light-hearted spirit that it’s hard to hold it against him. PURI PURI is still worth the time and money.

Marc Mason

 

MAMORU THE SHADOW PROTECTOR VOL 1, 2

MAMORU THE SHADOW PROTECTOR VOL 1-2
Written and Drawn by Sai Madara
Adapted by Ailen Lujo
Published by
DrMaster

Mamoru is a typical high school student; he’s nerdy, socially inept, and generally unable to express his feelings. But that’s just a disguise. Beneath that veneer, he’s a ninja, and a very powerful one. His family has spent 400 years protecting the Konnyaku family, and the task of protecting their oldest daughter falls squarely on Mamoru’s shoulders. But it isn’t easy; Yuna Konnyaku is a major-league klutz who can find trouble without looking. In fact, she manages to stumble into a drug deal going down in the neighborhood that has made her the target of a local crimelord. Can Mamoru protect her, keep her safe, and keep his secret? After all, she has no clue that the boy next door has a secret identity.

MAMORU almost defines the type of manga that’s generally a harmless lark. There’s no real sense of danger, the romance plotlines don’t really threaten to go anywhere, and there’s no graphic violence to turn off part of the readership. In short, it’s about as pleasant as you could hope for.

That isn’t a bad thing. The characters are genial, Madara has a good sense of humor, and his timing as a storyteller is strong. Sometimes, you simply enjoy a book that’s solidly mainstream and has broad appeal just to be reminded it can be skillfully done. I was never blown away by any part of these first two volumes, but when I sat them down, I felt like this was a book that I could see a new one of every few months and kick back and enjoy it every time. I’d call that a win for MAMORU. Wouldn’t you?

Marc Mason

JUNK VOL 5,6,7

JUNK VOL 5-7
Written and Drawn by Kia Asamiya
Published by
DrMaster

Hiro rescued the girl he has quietly loved from her captor and has now begun to wonder about his use of the Junk suit. And as he does, he gets a counselor from the company to help him begin to truly understand its power. In the meantime, as he puts aside the suit, a third Junk enters the fray and the man in the suit has extremely poor intentions. He murders without conscience, even taking on paid assassinations. But as Hiro re-assimilates to a normal life, he finds that his troubles are nowhere near over. He begins sleeping with the counselor, affecting his efforts to get a new girlfriend, and the company releases an even newer Junk suit, one that outclasses everything that has come before, and they want Hiro’s prototype back. But what if the final suit’s users are even worse than the assassin?

Kia Asamiya’s JUNK series concludes in interesting fashion, these three volumes comprising a surprising shift in the series’ tone and plot movement. For two and a half volumes, Hiro doesn’t even put on the suit. Instead, we see him working on becoming a person for the first time. Part of what made the book so intriguing from the start was that he was such an unrepentant asshole about his use of the Junk suit, and also in sleeping with his girlfriend’s mother. No way you could like him, but he was interesting to read about. And Asamiya doesn’t overdo it, either- Hiro does’t go through these volumes and suddenly become a good person, but he does begin to learn something and gain some values. It’s not a traditional hero’s journey, but it is a journey whereupon he does become something of a hero. There’s some real bravery in how Asamiya-san handles it.

JUNK isn’t for everyone, but for those who want a complex action story, at a reasonable price and size (only seven volumes), they might enjoy this book. Ultimately, I appreciated it for what it was and what the author as trying to accomplish.

Marc Mason

MAGIC LOVERS TOWER VOL 1-2

MAGIC LOVER’S TOWER VOL 1-2
Written and Drawn by Kao Yung and Kuan Liang
Translated and Adapted by Lobella Cheng and Ailen Lujo
Published by
DrMaster

Roxanne is your classic nerdette, somewhat lacking in grace, social skill, and worldly attitude. Making matters worse, her taste in men couldn’t be much worse: Logan, the class bad boy, is the one who sets her heart a-flutter. Unfortunately, he couldn’t care less; in fact, he revels in calling her a hag and joining his friends in treating her like garbage. Lacking self-esteem, there isn’t much she can do but pine away, until one day she inadvertently frees Baphalen, a mystical being, from a scroll. He brings good news: she can enter the realm of fantasy while looking like someone else, and if she successfully gets the fantasy version of Logan to kiss her and tell her he loves her, he’ll fall for her in real life. This does not go… well.

MAGIC LOVER’S TOWER, which is complete in these two volumes, sort of reads like a fantasy romance novel in comics form, even more so than most shojo manga. Certainly, it does absolutely zero to advance anything resembling feminism; Roxanne spends a lot of time in the book focused on making Logan hers rather than considering learning to love and respect herself (which is where she really needed to start). Yet, I cannot cast too many aspersions- this is precisely what the genre calls for, and the book rolls out the plot points regular as clockwork. It comes very, very close to succeeding on its own merits.

Sadly, it falls down within its final forty pages and doesn’t make the finish line. The contrivances the creative team drop on the reader in the climax are absolutely unworkable and sucks away the momentum that the books had built up. The art here is fantastic, and special notice must be given to Ailen Lujo who delivers an absolutely amazing adaptation, but in the end… the end just craps out.

Marc Mason

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS VOL 9

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS VOL 9
Written and Drawn by Towa Ohshima
Translated by Michiko Nakayama
Adapted by Ailen Lujo
Published by
DrMaster

Origins are learned, a teacher gets his turn in the spotlight, the girls throw a killer party for their tour guides, a sister makes a play to cause jealousy, and more occurs as the school trip draws its way to close… as well as the series itself. However, as you’d expect, HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS goes out putting its best foot forward, as this closer has the stuff- it’s funny, twisted, and full of the great character moments that have marked the series to date.

One of the hallmarks of HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS has been its consistency in combining riotously funny situations with a broad spectrum of personalities amongst its characters. While its easy to say that when the series began, each one fulfilled a particular “type,” they all grew beyond it while maintaining what made them fun to read about to begin with. Ohshima could have easily made the book a one-note gag, but she seemed to grasp early on that, in order to maintain her audience’s interest, she was going to have to take the series to interesting new levels at each turn. She would have to delve into the real troubles and curiosities that teenage girls face, and she’d have to figure out how her characters would live in those circumstances. Ohshima did it damned well, too.

The one thing that really bothers me is how unceremoniously this sort of snuck up on me. There was no PR that I could find in my inbox or on the DrMaster website noting that the series was drawing to a close ahead of time. Either way, it’ll be missed. In the beginning, I expected nothing from HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS, but it wound up giving me more entertainment than I could have ever asked for. Check out these nine volumes for yourself and see what I mean.

Marc Mason

METRO SURVIVE 1

METRO SURVIVE VOL 1
Written and Drawn by Yuki Fujisawa
Translated by Stephen Paul and Adapted by Ailen Lujo
Published by
DrMaster

Mishima is spineless wimp. His boss runs roughshod over him, regularly emasculating him. His wife is on his ass about working too much overtime because of the shithead boss. But he swears that today will be different- he will make it home in time to celebrate his son’s birthday. That plan quickly goes by the wayside, though, when he gets stuck working late again… and then a mega-earthquake hits Tokyo, stranding Mishima and a cast of scumbags, liars, and opportunists 60 meters underground in a subway station with no way out and no way of alerting the upper world that they’re down there. Now he has to find some courage, grow some stones, and become the man his wife wishes he was, in order to survive the dangerous conditions… and the dangerous people he’s stuck with below the surface.

Plot and art-wise, METRO SURVIVE is a decent little thriller, putting a group of people in an apocalyptic position and seeing how they manage to sort it out and attempt to survive. The conceit is clever, and by making Mishima a professional maintenance man, it gives him a role to play that would not have worked to put him in the lead. Fujisawa’s art is attractive, simple, and tells the story well, missing character with devastation nicely.

The weakness of the book, though, is the cast. With perhaps one exception, every single one of the people here is venal, self-absorbed, scummy, or pathetic. The one magnificently good character doesn’t make it through the volume. You don’t feel sympathy or empathy for anyone- frankly, you start hoping they’ll die, and damned quick. That’s not exactly what you’re hoping for when you crack open a book.

So that’s one hill for the creator to climb. Still, I’m not so turned off that I’m uninterested. I’ll be curious to see how she gets her cast out of the situation they’re left in at the end of this volume. I just hope she can also make me care.

Marc Mason