From Chisaki Kanai and Yen Press comes My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress. In an unfolding conflict between humans and vampires, one captive vampire woman will prove to be the weapon that shapes all their futures.
The story begins with Isuzu, who is a member of an elite government military squad tasked with taking down vampires who threaten the safety of Japan. After a battle with a particularly ferocious enemy, Isuzu and a coworker discuss rumors they have heard of a vampire named Baroque, a beautiful vampire known for expertly killing other vampires. Seeking to protect his country and his comrades, Isuzu decides to learn for himself whether Baroque exists. Only, the moment he finds her locked in a secure government facility is not the end of his fight—it is the beginning.
In breaking Baroque out of prison, Isuzu and his new companion end up battling the vampire who escaped Isuzu the previous day, and Baroque displays her ability to cast curses, dark magic many did not believe to exist. When they are captured, Isuzu is stripped of his military career, but top officials have realized that there is a connection between their former soldier and the vampire they have been unable to force to cooperate in all the years they have held her captive. They order Isuzu to become Baroque’s handler, and with their new weapon secured, they will bring the fight to their vampire enemies.
The only problem is, there are plenty of vampires with their own reasons for hunting Baroque. As for Isuzu and Baroque—they each have their own reasons for cooperating, but agreeing to work for the military, as well as work together, may have more consequences than either of them realizes.
The premise of My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is not an entirely surprising one for manga, but it does set up an engaging dynamic nonetheless. With paranormal action and a tentative partnership/romance at the center, there are lots of engaging storytelling dynamics to be had here, and Volume 1 only barely scratches the surface of what is sure to follow.
While the overarching story is fun to read and sets up some exciting future adventures, the story does feel a bit rushed in its development and sometimes choppy in its execution—particularly in the hurry to introduce Baroque and kick off the main plot. The consequence is that character decisions and plot points do not always feel fully realized as the story charges ahead to its next scene.
In similar fashion, the art offers some excellent moments, both for characterization and action sequences. However, there are other points Where the rush of movement or combat somewhat obscures what is happening in a given moment. Beyond that, the mixture of stylization and realism fit the story well, and the manga is largely a dynamic visual experience that serves largely as an extended prologue setting up what is still to come.
Isuzu presents a familiar enough style of character within this sort of manga, but with enough personality that he is still entertaining to follow. And while much is made of Baroque’s beauty, and she often acts with the quiet timidity characteristic of female characters, the story gives her enough agency as well as combat ability and competence that she rises above simply being a token presence in need of guidance.
Yen Press does not offer an age rating, but My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress is solidly suitable for teen readers and older. There is regular violence along with some mildly suggestive content and language, but nothing that will be surprising to established manga readers. As far as collecting the series is concerned, this is not the strongest paranormal action manga on the shelves. If you’re light on budget, there are probably better options available. But if this is the sort of thing your readers can’t get enough of, there are enough promising elements in volume 1 that it’s at the very least a series worth keeping an eye on as the story continues to unfold.
My Dear, Curse-Casting Vampiress Vol. 01 By Chisaki Kanai Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975364908
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Japanese, Character Representation: Japanese,
When two high school students, one who believes in spirits and one who believes in aliens, challenge each other’s beliefs, it sets off a series of paranormal encounters that quickly spiral out of control in dramatic and absurd fashion.
One day, Momo Ayase intervenes to protect a boy at her school from being bullied, accidentally sparking a tense rapport with the loner she nicknames Okarun. This interaction leads to a challenge. Momo does not believe in aliens. Okarun does not believe in spirits. Because of this, Momo will go to a spot known for alien activity while Okarun will go to an area rumored to be haunted. The pair will then report back on whether they have become believers based on what they find. Neither of them is prepared for the consequences of this simple dare.
In a secluded tunnel, Okarun encounters the spirit known as Turbo Granny who tries to possess him while also stealing… shall we say, a specific part of his anatomy? Meanwhile, Momo runs across the Serpoians, a group of aliens searching for a way to reproduce other than cloning themselves. The encounters leave Momo and Okarun changed—through a mix of psychic abilities and spiritual possession—while also drawing the ire of Turbo Granny and an entire alien race. From this point on, life will never be the same. The pair is launched into an adventure of giant supernatural crabs and randy aliens as they try to make Okarun whole once again while also dealing with the increasingly eccentric cast of characters, human and otherwise, who are drawn into their orbit. Okarun and Momo have become believers—now they just need to survive the beings they never knew existed while also sorting out how they feel about each other. What could go wrong?
Dandadan is created by Yukinobu Tatsu and published by Viz Media. The story begins simply enough, but quickly gains a momentum that rarely lets up as Momo and Okarun are thrust from one situation into the next. Alongside alien encounters and supernatural attacks, Tatsu manages to deliver two characters the reader has no trouble rooting for, even with their personal complications. Moments of sincere emotion intersperse increasingly absurd battles against the paranormal enemies our heroes keep encountering. From early on, this series promise a wild ride, and Tatsu keeps delivering on a premise that has no issue being silly, horny, and wildly dramatic at every turn without overshadowing the characters and relationships that keep it grounded.
The art is fun to look at, too, often richly detailed and capturing the characters and settings in all their complexity. The action sequences play out in familiar enough manga style, but the visuals are bold and easy to follow as the super-powered action keeps raising the stakes. Tatsu also does a great job capturing the visual humor of the series, balancing absurdity and threat to create an epic adventure that never takes itself more seriously than it should. In the end, Dandadan is distinct, wildly fun, and over the top enough to be exactly the sort of story it sets out to be.
Viz gives the series a mature rating with a warning of explicit content. The violence is never overly strong and the tone remains mostly comedic, but there are scattered moments of serious character death and other thematic issues aimed at more mature readers. The larger reason for the rating is simply the constant thread of sexual humor and innuendo that runs through the adventure. The visuals are limited to characters in their underwear and occasional non-graphic nudity, but the suggestive tones of the story—from recovering Okarun’s stolen “family jewels” to the Serpoians’ quest to reproduce—is clearly aimed at an adult audience. There is also occasional sexual threat and other thematic content that, despite the consistently humorous tone of the story, may not be for all readers.
The final verdict is that Dandadan is a madcap paranormal adventure that keeps raising the bar for how weird it’s willing to go. The series is a lot of fun as it introduces an increasing number of complications and fascinating side characters alongside Momo, Okarun, and their uncertain relationship to each other and the very strange world around them. The series is clearly aimed at mature readers, but it is absolutely worth picking up—both for those who are established manga readers and those who haven’t encountered the form before but are open to the sort of chaotic adventure and humor presented here. The first three volumes of Tatsu’s series are a fascinating ride, and I’m curious to see where it goes next.
The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend is a semi-autobiographical manga about self-loathing, self-discovery, and ultimately, thankfully, a story of self-acceptance and love. Mieri introduces herself to us as a Japanese office worker living in the U.S., setting up the narration she will provide to catch us up to the present. In middle school she found herself attracted to anime women, but didn’t realize until she was in college that she was gay. She takes us through her journey from repressed tomboy to self-actualized adult, but that journey is anything but easy. The line that summarizes the experience of this book best happens late in part two: “Little did I know that Ash would become my first girlfriend and that we would break up after a month of dating and that I would spend 4 years in hell trying to get over her.”
Mieri is a sophomore in college when she has her first relationship and while it is very short lived it winds up dominating the next four years of her life. It’s immediately apparently that Mieri has very little self-confidence. In the early chapters she is repeatedly putting people on pedestals. This is as equally unfair to herself as it is to these people in her life. She feels she hasn’t earned the love and consideration she’s shown. This causes an imbalance between them which, in her mind, seems impossible to overcome. The trend for most of this book is Mieri experiencing so many firsts in life and trying to reconcile what they might mean, while not loving herself enough to take care of herself. She tries to work hard enough to earn the love of others or to keep a relationship working even when it’s not.
The central character to Mieri’s journey of discovery is her first girlfriend Ash, who she meets on summer vacation when she visits her grandparents in Japan. After the early, tentative days of dating, they say they love one another and promise to stay together even after Mieri has to fly back to the U.S. for school. Things fall apart when Ash learns that Mieri isn’t graduating as soon as she thought she was. It’s basically a semester later, but Ash has had several long distance relationships with boyfriends that didn’t work out and she won’t wait a year for anyone again. Mieri is initially heartbroken, but decides she will get an internship in Japan so she can try to win Ash back. What she thinks is a grand romantic gesture ultimately falls flat when she learns Ash is seeing someone new. From here she spirals into depression and loneliness as she has no friends in Japan. She could have wallowed forever, but she slowly comes to embrace the life she actually has. She becomes a better friend, gets back to drawing manga, and carving out an identity for herself. There isn’t a clean resolution at the end of this book, but only in service of setting up the next installment.
The redeeming part of this book is that Mieri never gives up on herself and even when things are dark, she doesn’t engage in self-destructive behavior. The style of this book and it’s incredibly frank honesty reminded me at times of Nagata Kabi’s work in books like My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and My Alcoholic Escape from Reality. The difference between these is that Mieri does not spiral into such dark places. She’s depressed, she’s sad, she’s lonely, but she’s never actively self-harming. I think that’s important because it makes this story accessible to more people, especially teen readers. There is one kiss in the entire book and you only see the back of someone’s head, so it’s not prurient in any way. Viz has this rated Teen and I agree with the assessment for placement in a library collection. As someone who has had a first infatuation, a first love, and first heartbreak, I was able to identify and empathize with this story. It left me wanting to tell her to hold on and keep trying. I felt parental in that moment. For readers who haven’t lived these things I imagine it only makes you read faster to see how she resolves these feelings and if she will find a happy ending. I enjoyed this book and have already purchased it for our library. Autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical in this case) manga and graphic novels have a huge reach and wide audience appeal, this book is no exception.
The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend By Mieri Hiranishi VIZ, 2023 ISBN: 9781974736591
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Lesbian Character Representation: Lesbian
Shuna’s Journey is inspired by an ancient Tibetan folk tale about a young prince on a quest for barley in time of famine that fascinated creator Hayao Miyazaki. In Miyazaki’s hands the tale grew wings to tell the story of Shuna who, after hearing about the coveted golden grain seeds confined by the god-men in a land to the west where the moon resides, journesy to that land.
The original reworking was published in 1983 and was adapted into an hour-long radio drama broadcast in Japan in 1987. This is the first English translation. While the pages read right-to-left manga style, the layout largely resembles an illustrated picture book with limited dialogue and the text in non-bordered narration boxes abundantly sprinkled throughout the delicately rendered and coloured illustrations. Clothing styles, artifacts, and landscapes offer clues to the story’s cultural origins while also illuminating the fantastic. The result is an eerie, magical, and thoughtful tale reminiscent of an orally told tale. It is told simply with short sentences and not excess descriptions. The language is evocative and precise.
Shuna travels with his mount Yakul, an elk-like creature who was the source of inspiration and the namesake of Ashitaka’s mount in Princess Mononoke. Their adventures over the bleak and dangerous landscapes bring them into contact with female cannibals, slavers, and the young slave Thea and her young sister. After rescuing the two girls, Shuna reaches the western edge of the land. He leaves Yakul with them and crosses the wide water to the land of the god-men. There he witnesses the role of the moon in the creation of the giants and the planting and miraculous growth of the barley. He manages to take some of the golden grain, causing a great deal of pain to himself. He escapes and returns to the land to the east, but at intense cost.
In the short afterward, Miyazaki discusses his fascination with the folktale, “The Prince Who Turned into a Dog”. In the much longer following essay, translator Alex Dudok de Wit discusses his journey with the adaptations, Miyazaki to his origin tale, and its publication history beginning in 1983. De Wit explains that this format is a emonogatari—illustrated with exquisite and detailed watercolours—rather than a manga. De Wit also contrasts this novel to Miyazaki’s later animated works considering this work as a prototype for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. Like these later works, this story addresses questions of morality and greed, especially relevant today. The story also delineates the transition into maturity for the main characters.
Shuna’s Journey is both a fascinating look at the creator’s earliest work and a dramatic but quietly reflective narrative that I highly recommend for readers, especially for those over the age of 12. The adventures are often blood curdling but, at the same time, understated. The main characters look rather young throughout the book, but are definitely mature enough to weather the hardships and challenges continuously thrown at them.
Shuna’s Journey By Hayao Miyazaki Macmillan First Second, 2022 ISBN: 9781250846525
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Tibetan
Reimagining a classic manga and anime series that introduces a fresh storyline yet paying homage and preserving the spirit of the original can be a daunting feat, yet Jérôme Alquié successfully achieves this vision in Space Pirate Captain Harlock. He adapts basic source material from Leiji Matsumoto’s rendition of the iconically eye patched, skull and bones emblazoned cape donning pirate, sailing across space with a ragtag crew of misfits en route to save the earth from an unidentified global threat.
The story is set in 2977, paralleling the original series. A wave of unexplained snowstorms ravage the earth, throwing the climate off balance. Teams of scientists launch research expeditions to uncover the mystery behind these phenomenally violent blizzards. Clues lead to the discovery of a mausoleum buried beneath the icy depths of the arctic regions. As the mystery deepens, a trio of mutant sisters appear, somehow collectively connected to unique elemental forces of nature like fire and ice. They have engineered a masterplan to undermine the stronghold of the Mazon—an ancient race of female aliens hibernating upon the earth for millennia.
This version of the Captain Harlock mythos presents a faithful rendering of the original both in character and set design along with core characters such as the impulsive driven Tadashi, loyal lieutenant Kei, reticent, observant alien Mimay, model building hobbyist and expert shipwright Yattaran, and on planet earth, little Mayu, daughter of a deceased friend whom Harlock has sworn to protect. Narrated in part as an epistolary series of journal entries from Harlock to the spirit of his battleship Arcadia, the plot unfolds through episodic chapters. The crew ventures through space in search of answers to combat the imminent invasion descending upon the earth. Rendered in noir style within the reaches of a deep blue outer space, Alquié also integrates brightly lit landscapes of a snow-covered earth. Intermittent expositional summaries fill in the backstory for new readers through intricately composed montages, highlighting key events and characters strategically arranged in a collage-like style.
Exquisitely illustrated panels packed with crisp, colorful character and set designs hearkening back to the original series will appeal to past and present otaku fans alike. A bonus gallery of variant covers and character sketches and descriptions occupy the back matter. This brilliantly crafted story takes place alongside the setting of the original and introduces a new alien threat, this time stemming from the earth. Space Pirate Captain Harlock offers a fresh, deftly reimagined take on a classic manga series that will attract younger as well as familiar fans in the science fiction canon of Japanese animation.
Space Pirate Captain Harlock Vol. By Jérôme Alquié, Leiji Matsumoto, , Ablaze, 2022 ISBN: 9781950912544
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: Japanese,
Rooster Fighter is one of those rare books that delivers exactly what you would expect from the title. I had every hope this book would not simply be about a rooster who fights other roosters, but instead one who fights people. Shu Sakuratani does one better as this rooster is out there fighting demons. Gigantic, building wrecking demons that are suddenly spawning all over the place. In the vein of something like Kaiju No. 8 or One-Punch Man, someone has to stop the demons from destroying towns and the lone wandering hero of this tale happens to be a rooster.
Told like an epic samurai saga, it opens with the line “This is the story of how one rooster saved humanity.” With that level of investment, we see a tale unfold of a wandering rooster who is righting wrongs where he finds them and hunting demons. It is not until very late in the story we learn his name is Keiji, which means “the Rooster’s Will” in Japanese. His brother was killed by a demon, thus his quest for vengeance drives him on, searching for the demon with a spiral mark behind its ear. Demons are people whose hearts are infected and they mutate into gigantic monsters fixated on what vexed them in their human lives. We do not learn why this happens, but late in the story, we see it happen. There is still plenty to be explored by the author in future volumes on how or why this all began, but in this first volume, we get a sense of how big this problem is.
Along the way Keiji makes some animal friends who provide aid and lessons. There are victories that increase his fame and losses that affect communities. Throughout it all you can feel the influence of books like Usagi Yojimbo and Lone Wolf and Cub, but in a modern setting. There are panels that look like they are from epic sweeping samurai films, but again, with a rooster as the hero standing in front of a blazing sun. There are running themes, like a new food discovery in almost every chapter like stink bugs, Brazilian grasshoppers and sea urchin. He doesn’t like children, human or animal, but he protects everyone equally. He has a strict moral code, like any good samurai, and he lives on his terms.
Obviously, this is a very silly conceit, but it manages to pull it off by taking itself seriously enough and drawing from such recognizable sources. The art is fantastic and while some of the demons are not quite as clean and crisp as other characters, they are certainly impressive in scale and work for the story. This isn’t going to win any awards for dialogue, but the fun isn’t in how well-constructed each exchange is, it’s in lines like “My comb is burning with rage!” The scope of battles and design of the fights makes me think of a book I’ve already mentioned in One-Punch Man, and much like that book this one has signature moves with their names emblazoned across multiple panels.
This is published by Viz Media who rates it Teen+, for older teens. There is no bad language in this book and the violence is a rooster fighting demons, so it is hard to say that it is inappropriate for anyone in particular because it can’t be replicated in real life. The only awkward moment reading this for me was on page 8 Keiji was mating with a hen (for a single panel) because he was “in heat.” While I get what the author was going for as a story device several pages later, it did make me think this might rule it out for younger readers who would have had no other problems with this book. This is a quick, funny, light read that is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes off-beat manga. It feels very familiar while also being unlike anything I have read recently. I think it is a good investment for libraries looking to diversify the types of manga they offer with something that I think spans a good age range of readers.
Rooster Fighter Vol. 01 By Shu Sakuratani VIZ Signature, 2022 ISBN: 9781974729845
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum and his buddy Pikachu are back! This time they are joined by a friend called Goh and his Pokémon partners for adventures that have them traveling all over the Pokémon world.
At the start of this series, Ash and Goh meet and are invited to become “research fellows” by Professor Cerise, who runs a lab studying Pokémon. They accept the position, and Cerise Laboratory becomes their home base in between trips that are theoretically about research but also involve lots of Pokémon battles. While most Pokémon manga are set in a particular “region” of the world—that is, the setting of one of the Pokémon video games—this series sees its protagonists traveling between several regions, sometimes in the same volume. In particular, they spend a lot of time in the Galar region, the setting of the games Pokémon: Sword and Pokémon: Shield.
Each volume of the Pokémon Journeys manga is essentially a collection of short stories. While theoretically these stories are sequential, many of them can easily stand alone. The stakes vary from “save the realm from an unstable, overpowered Pokémon with the aid of legendary heroes” to “we found a mischievous little Pokémon, does it belong to someone?” A couple of plotlines come up repeatedly: Ash is competing in a battle tournament called the World Coronation Series, and the goofy Team Rocket villains Jesse, James, and Meowth periodically show up to try and steal Pikachu or otherwise meddle. Neither of these is likely to leave readers confused if they start reading in the middle of the series.
Like most Pokémon manga, this series features optimistic, good-hearted young heroes and lots of creatures with different personalities and powers. There are frequent Pokémon battles, some friendly (like when Ash and Goh’s Pokémon train against each other), some competitive (like the ones to move up the ranks in the World Coronation Series), and some serious (like to defeat villains or control a rampaging Pokémon). There is also silly humor and some character development, as when Goh learns that he has to pay attention to what his Scorbunny wants in order for them to battle effectively as a team.
The visual style will be familiar to readers of other Pokémon manga series. The art is black and white, the book reads from right to left, and there is tons of action—much of it the over-the-top superpowered action of Pokémon battles, which can involve things like lightning, fire, and significant damage to buildings.
There is not much explanation here of how things work in the world of Pokémon. Battles, Pokéballs, and Pokémon evolution, for instance, may confuse readers who are brand-new to the franchise. For those who know the basics, however, this is an accessible entry point to the Pokémon manga universe, not requiring readers to know the events of many other volumes to understand what is happening. The “journeys” aspect may particularly appeal to fans of the games, who will recognize the different regions but may not be used to seeing characters travel between them.
Some manga take themselves incredibly seriously, whether they have earned it or not. Others infuse a few moments of humor into the story to keep it lighter and faster paced. Then there are books like Mashle, which immediately leans into its main conceit, knows exactly the joke it’s making and never looks back. It manages to be funny, clever, dumb and familiar all at the same time.
Mash Burnedead lives in a world where people use magic as a part of everyday life. If you were born without a “mark” to show your magical prowess, you are expelled from society for the greater good. Mash was born without a mark and was abandoned as a baby. His adoptive father Regro Burnedead was born with very little magical talent himself, but when he finds Mash he decides to save him and raise him away from society. He encourages Mash to exercise and develop his physical strength since it is one of the only things he can do to help himself in their world. In doing this, Mash develops a near superhuman physique. After sneaking in to town one day against his father’s advice, Mash is discovered by a local detective with the magical police, Brad Coleman. The police raid the Burnedead house, but when they see what Mash is capable of with his strength, Brad offers them a choice. He explains that every year a single exceptional student from the Easton Magic Academy is revered as one of the gods chosen and they become a Divine Visionary. If Mash were to become a Divine Visionary it would legitimize him in the eyes of society and they wouldn’t have to live in fear. Brad would simply take whatever prize money and fame comes with that status for Mash.
I have read people describe this world as being like that of Harry Potter and that is an understatement. This is the world of Harry Potter, down to all the Professors looking like they were lifted directly from the movie adaptations of the books. The students are sorted into houses, the headmaster looks exactly like Richard Harris’s Dumbledore, they play a Quidditch-esque game on brooms called Duelo and there are plenty of character archetypes you’ll recognize from that world in the students around Mash. Instead of House Points, the students at Easton are all trying to earn coins on an individual basis. This is how they will work their way up the ladder to become a Divine Visionary, but there are unwritten rules about how you can take coins from others. This will lead to the main conflict in Mashle, the struggle for magical dominance over other students and taking coins from those weaker than you.
Hajime Komoto does a great job in this book creating a recognizable world for those in the know. Anyone who hasn’t read the Harry Potter series or seen the movies starts at a slight disadvantage for some of the jokes, but that isn’t the entirety of this book. It also has a lot of heart and Mash is a good person at his core. He tries to be a good friend to those around him, but he’s also a bull in a china shop and since he never knows his own strength, a fair amount of chaos follows him. This leads to more visual gags and some exaggerated takes from other characters. Watching Mash bluff his way around not using magic by being strong and fast doesn’t get old.
This is an ongoing series, so a library adding this to their collection should be aware that they are in for at least 5 more volumes (at the time of this review) and likely more to be translated yet. The violence in these books is “magical” in nature and mostly cartoonish in execution. There is no reference to anything sexual and there is no profanity. VIZ Media rated it T for teens and that is absolutely a fair assessment. It does a good job of balancing some of the over the top gags with moments of humanity and compassion. It is as silly as it is mysterious and this volume should hook readers who want to know more about the wilder world of magic outside of just the Academy. The tone is reminiscent of One-Punch Man and The Way of the Househusband for readers trying to find read-alikes.
Mashle: Magic and Muscles, Vol 1 Vol. 01 By Hajime Komoto VIZ, 2021 ISBN: 9781974728718
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
The idea behind Deadpool: Samurai feels like a corporation trying to generate a profitable book based on a premise: “Teens like manga, right? Teens like Deadpool as a character, right? A Deadpool manga should be something teens would love, right…?” I think they would have been right too, but this particular book makes a very odd choice: it takes an incredibly simple story that would be a great entry point for newer/younger readers and then adds just enough violent gore to make this book inaccessible to that age group. For all the tropes one might expect from a Deadpool book and a Shonen manga, this should be a great marriage of humor and action, but it can’t figure out who it wants to be for and ultimately unravels into nothing.
Early in the story, Iron Man shows up and asks Deadpool to join The Avengers, except it is a side-team offer. Japan is getting a team of its own called Samurai Squad and this is where the book immediately gives up any aspirations it had of being interesting or unique. We meet Sakura Spider, filling in for Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, who is the first new member of this team. She wants to hold Deadpool to a hero standard, but is mostly the straight man for Deadpool’s joke cracking. Captain America makes a cameo, encouraging them to recruit someone like teen idol Neiro. Neiro is not only a pop star, but she also has a Symbiote attached to her called Kage (or “Shadow” in Japanese.) So, now we have a Venom/Spider-Man/Deadpool book without the copyright issues of the original characters being here. Loki is the bad guy in this book, but it could have been literally any Marvel Universe villain. There is no motivation and the MacGuffin he is searching for in Japan isn’t even identified until the last few pages of this volume.
So much of what makes Deadpool a fun and funny character felt clunky and out of place in this book. Deadpool breaking the fourth wall and the snarky asides to the reader work best when used sparingly and with intention. Precision is key to the decision making and execution with a Deadpool story and everything in this book feels too loose and unmotivated. Again, if they hadn’t illustrated blood and been less over-the-top with the violence, there is a huge audience of younger teen readers who would have loved this. Conversely, had they written a tighter plot with a more motivated villain, this could have appealed to the age group the publisher recommends it for.
Viz Media has this book rated T+ for older teens, which I agree with to a point. For a library looking to add manga along these lines, I would recommend instead something like Kaiju No. 8 or One-Punch Man. If you’re looking for a Deadpool book that is closer to the age recommendation here, the books written by Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan, starting with Deadpool, Volume 1: Dead Presidents, are a great starting place.
Deadpool: Samurai, Vol. 1 By Sanshiro Kasama Art by Hikaru Uesugi VIZ, 2022 ISBN: 9781974725311
Deserter, an anthology from Junji Ito, is a collection of some of his earliest works. As a horror fan, I’ve read many offerings from Ito; Deserter stands out as showing some of the first iterations of ideas Ito draws on continuously in his career. Unfortunately, it also showcases most of the weakest.
That’s not to say this is a bad collection, but Ito has such wonderfully scary other pieces that many in this volume fell flat for me. Ito is to manga what Stephen King is to novels, and both have their fair share of duds.
There are a few stand-outs in the collection like “Where the Sandman Lives”’ a story about a man’s inner shadow self literally turning him inside out. This one had a slow burn before the descent into madness vibe, a trademark of Ito’s horror. The title story “Deserter” and “The Long Hair in the Attic” had unexplainable manifestations of evil that made me want just a few more answers.
But then there’s ones like “The Reanimator’s Sword” which seems interesting at first, but then it devolves into an immortal chosen one style of story. Or “Scripted Love” about a jilted lover who murders her ex after she receives a tape of pre-recorded messages from him. It’s not that these stories are bad, they are just missing out on some of the cosmic or grotesque horror I tend to read Ito for.
Ito’s artwork is always bouncing from the ethereal beauty of ghosts and nature to the disgusting body horror and gore of an R-rated film. The art in Deserter is no exception, with “Sandman” winning my vote for the awfully bloody ending Ito gives the two main characters. “Village of the Siren” highlights Ito’s forest and mountain motif which he uses frequently to isolate the characters from the rest of the world.
As both author and artist, Ito has a wealth of material for libraries to pick from. Just here on the site, I’d recommend Lovesickness or Shiver over this title. That being said, if you already have a wealth of Ito fans in your library this should be an instant buy. As it is an anthology, you can purchase or leave this one without it affecting your other titles. The publisher recommends this for older teens and adults who love a good scare. However, this one is mostly for the completionists.
Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection By Junji Ito VIZ Signature, 2021 ISBN: 9781974719860
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)