Zombie-Loan, volumes 8-13

50-coverAfter an exciting first seven volumes, the second half of the Zombie-Loan manga series does not disappoint. Our reluctant heroine, Michiru, is still hunting illegal zombies along with her Z-loan colleagues, the legal zombies Chika and Shito. Meanwhile, surprises keep cropping up and secrets are revealed. Michiru and pals learn about Shito’s origin and his connections to a group of Chinese mobsters, uncover the backgrounds of the legal zombies who work for competing company A-Loan, and finally discover the motives of the mysterious Ferrymen who operate both Z-Loan and A-Loan.

In volumes eight through thirteen, we get a lot of background: characters’ origin stories and information about how their world works. Most of it centers on the Akashic Record, a kind of semi-magical supercomputer-like entity that maintains order in the universe. The Ferrymen are supposed to preserve the integrity of this record, which begins to break down due to paradox — inconsistencies between what’s written in the record and what actually happens. One common inconsistency, it seems, is the existence of illegal zombies. Thus the creation of Z-Loan and A-Loan to make things nice and neat by keeping the dead folks dead. But Michiru also has a connection to the Akashic Record, one she won’t understand until the truth of her past is finally explained.

The art, as one might expect, is a lot like the art in the first seven volumes. The characters are willowy and well-accessorized, the way manga characters are wont to be, and there are a couple of cute little chibi characters hanging around. (Apparently, if someone takes your “core,” a mystical energy center, you lose a lot of your power and, as a side effect, become tiny and adorable.) There is some nudity, but not in a sexual context, and no genitals or nipples are ever visible. The story is action-packed, with a lot of fighting but not an excessive amount of gore.

There is less profanity in the second half of the series, and we seem to have said goodbye to the cringe-inducing rape comments that pop up once or twice early in the story. The characters often find themselves in dire straits, but now that they’ve come to care about each other and are better able to work together, there’s less infighting. (Well, there’s still infighting, but now it’s mostly played for laughs.)

There is a brief mention of Biblical verses early in the manga, and the theme crops up again toward the end of the series, though in heavily-adapted ways. Certain characters are found to be “children of Elizabeth” — results of a medical experiment which wreaked havoc with the Akashic Record. These children are repeatedly likened to children of the Elizabeth who bore John the Baptist, and some explicit parallels are made between certain characters and Biblical figures. This comes across more as flavor than an attempt to fit the series into a Biblical frame or give it Christian significance.

I won’t give away the ending, of course, but it’s clever and interesting. Teens who like complex stories, a little mythology, and a lot of action will devour Zombie-Loan.

Zombie-Loan, volumes 8-13
by Peach-Pit
Vol. 8 ISBN: 9780759530973
Vol. 9 ISBN: 9780759530980
Vol. 10 ISBN: 9780759530997
Vol. 11 ISBN: 9780316177979
Vol. 12 ISBN: 9780316178006
Vol. 13 ISBN: 9780316204682
Yen Press, 2010-2012
Publisher Age Rating: OT (Older Teen)

Zombie-Loan, volumes 1-7

49-coverMichiru is a shy teenager with little self-worth, no confidence, and a rather unusual power of which she’s only dimly aware. When she removes her oversized glasses, Michiru can see things no one else can: gray rings around the necks of people who are fated to die soon. Rings that darken as the unfortunate event grows closer. When she realizes two mysterious boys at her school have completely black rings around their necks, Michiru tries to warn them, only to discover it’s too late. Chika and Shito have died already. They just didn’t let that stop them.

Chika and Shito have taken out a loan with Zombie-Loan, also known as Z-Loan. Operated by the enigmantic Ferryman, Z-Loan allows certain people to hang around as “legal zombies” – zombies that appear to be regular humans and retain their human minds – in return for exorbitant amounts of cash paid in installments. If a legal zombie pays off his loan, he gets to become a regular, living human again.

In the meantime, being a zombie has some advantages. Chika and Shito can solidify the ectoplasm that keeps them “alive” into weapons – weapons they need because they’re paying back their loan payments by working as bounty hunters and destroying dangerous illegal zombies. And after a near-death encounter binds her fate to theirs, Michiru finds herself helping them hunt down undead nasties.

There’s a lot to like about this manga. Set in Japan, it includes lots of fun cultural details, jokes, and more, which are explained in a series of notes at the back of each volume. From wordplay that’s derived from Japanese terms to the presence of shinigami and the use of Buddhist prayers to fight zombies, the cultural background is strong.

The art is action-packed, often cute, and sometimes provocative. (There are a lot of bathing scenes, for example, with nipples and bits just underwater or strategically covered. Michiru’s friend Koyomi is also a walking, talking piece of busty fanservice – or at least comes off that way at first, before her character deepens a bit and becomes more interesting.) There is some sexual content, most of it verbal (more on that in a moment), but when Koyomi is periodically possessed by the demon Yomi who lives inside her, she gets extremely handsy with Michiru. (It’s worth noting, though, that while Yomi takes longer than she should to get the message, she does stop groping Michiru when she realizes it’s upsetting her.) Surprisingly, I find the violence of the series to be mostly pretty mild. There are some grotesque creatures and a fair bit of splattered blood, but if you come to the series thinking “zombie hunters,” you’re unlikely to be shocked.

Indeed, if you’re shocked by anything in this series, it will likely be what’s inside the speech bubbles. Chika has an extremely nasty mouth, especially early in the series. And we aren’t just talking about your typical swear words, though he certainly knows his way around all of those. I nominate for “line most likely to make you rethink recommending this series to teens” his declaration that girls who are into boys’ love (yaoi, etc.), “should be raped and drowned in the Tokyo Bay.” One of the Ferryman’s colleagues, the founder of A-Loan, is a dedicated gropester who also makes a few sketchy sexual comments, but at least he’s a bad guy. Chika seems to mellow a little after a few volumes, making me wonder whether the authors might have gotten negative feedback from readers. Still, the rape comment alone, coming from a character portrayed as at least partially sympathetic, almost put me off the entire series.

This review covers only the first seven of the series’ thirteen volumes. Many characters and plotlines are clearly still developing. Michiru’s relationships with Yomi, Chika, and Shito are going in particularly intriguing directions. Our protagonists also have to contend with the competing organization A Loan and its group of legal zombies, Chika’s now-evil ex-best-friend, and the Ferryman’s mysterious “higher-ups.” The fast pace and increasingly complex and interesting characters make prospects bright for the enjoyability of the second half of the series.

Zombie-Loan, volumes 1-7
by Peach-Pit
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780759523531
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780759528369
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780759528376
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9780759528383
Vol. 5 ISBN: 9780759528390
Vol. 6 ISBN: 9780759528406
Vol. 7 ISBN: 9780759530959
Yen Press, 2007-2009
Publisher Age Rating: OT (Older Teen)

Sakura Hime: the Legend of Princess Sakura, vol. 1-4

sakuraHer entire life, Princess Sakura has been forbidden to look at the full moon. One night, after being told she is going to meet Prince Oura — to whom she has been betrothed to since her birth, but has never actually met — Sakura becomes upset and gazes at the full moon. To her surprise, she is immediately attacked by a man-eating demon who claims to have been searching for her! She discovers that she is the granddaughter of the moon princess and the only one with the capability of destroying these terrible demons, called youko. Now, youko from all over are searching for her to try and possess her body. Not to mention that whole fiance thing. Sakura has a lot on her mind.

Sakura is clumsy, sweet, and lonely, making her an excellent heroine. She is completely guileless, opposite to everyone else in the story. Her family are all dead and everyone around her is keeping secrets from her. No one is who they say they are. I couldn’t help feeling bad for Sakura, who tries to take care of everyone, despite never being sure of who is on her side. At least she has Asagiri, a miniature girl whom she confides in. Asagiri is really cute and really feisty. She is incredibly loyal to Sakura and her back story finally comes out in a bonus chapter in volume 4.

Prince Oura is similarly sympathetic. He is torn between his attraction to Sakura and his distrust of her abilities. She could be his kingdom’s greatest asset or its destruction. He is strong, yet adorably nervous around Sakura from their first introduction. Their interactions are very fun to read, because they are both so awkward and unsure of themselves.

On the whole, the characters are all well-written. Each is hashed out in different chapters, strengthening the overall storyline, which feels weak in a number of places. Similar in a lot of ways to CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura Hime is not quite up to the comparison. It is not quite as complex as Cardcaptor Sakura, but is not as well-organized. Many plot points seem to happen as if they randomly occurred to the author, rather than being planned for. While I appreciate a plot I cannot predict, this one is all over the map. Just when I started to think I understood where the story was going, something would happen to change the entire dynamic of the story – usually in a way that didn’t fit well with what had been happening. A few times I thought I must have misunderstood something and had to go back and re-read. I enjoyed the characters enough to continue following the series, but the story needs to be much tighter from here on out to be really effective.

What Sakura Hime loses in plot, it makes up for in artwork. Nearly every panel is stunning, again similar to CLAMP’s style. Sakura’s hair is particularly gorgeous, as it flows and curls with the wind and usually some falling cherry blossom (sakura) petals. The period costuming, such as Sakura’s kimonos, is beautifully detailed. Each page was clearly planned out and carefully executed. There is so much detail in the backgrounds and I found myself poring over many of the pages to take it all in.

The youkos are very nicely depicted. Each one is creepier than the last. They are all pretty gross, with drool or blood dripping from their mouths, creepy limbs, and disproportionate eyes or fangs. Tanemura says in her author notes at the beginning of each chapter that she wishes she could make each one scarier, but I can’t imagine how she would go about doing that.

Also, Tanemura’s author notes are very fun to read. She tells funny stories or makes interesting comments before each chapter. The only problem with this is that she usually hints at what is going to happen in the chapter and pretty much gives it away. I learned quickly to go back and read the author notes after finishing the chapter.

Sakura Hime is a very fun manga to read. The love story is sweet and contains a lot of obstacles for Sakura to overcome. I am interested to see how things develop, especially since the introduction of some crazy new characters in the last volume. My only hope is that these odd plot threads come together neatly at the end to help clear up my confusion.

Sakura Hime: the Legend of Princess Sakura, vol. 1-4
by Arina Tanemura
Vol. 1 ISBN: 978-1421538822
Vol. 2 ISBN: 978-1421538839
Vol. 3 ISBN: 978-1421538846
Vol. 4 ISBN: 978-1421538853
Viz Media, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: 13+

Laon, vol. 1-6

17-CoverLaon is a gumiho – a mischievous nine-tailed fox spirit of extremely ambiguous gender. (If, like me, you’re more familiar with Japanese than Korean mythology, think kitsune.) After Laon loses a bet to powerful Queen Mago, the gumiho is stripped of … her? his? … tails and ears, and cast down to Earth. Specifically, to Seoul, South Korea. Laon is desperate to regain – you know what? I’m just going to say “her,” since that’s what they use most in the books – her tails, but darker forces are also looking for them – and for Laon.

What’s a gumiho to do? Well, Laon finds unlikely assistance from the staff of Rumor and Truth Monthly, a tabloid magazine. Jaded reporter Tae-ha is still bitter over the disappearance of his girlfriend, Young-yoo, four years earlier – and his own inability to remember what happened the night she vanished. He’s eager to make a deal with Laon: Tae-ha will help her recover her tails, and she will then use her power to help him find the missing Young-yoo. Meanwhile, the rest of the tabloid’s staff – including Young-yoo’s brother – have their own motives in dealing with Laon.

Of course, finding the tails won’t be easy. The city is swarming with demonic creatures that Laon calls “hwan,” capable of possessing or killing humans. Queen Mago isn’t above sending an assassin after Laon. Strange forces are drawing together under the auspices of a new religious cult. And if that doesn’t make things tough enough, the tails have taken on human hosts and made plans of their own.

This series is the first manhwa I’d read, and the Korean cultural references were fascinating. The books contain everything from political jokes to popular hangover remedies, all helpfully explained in the endnotes.

Of course, these volumes contain a lot more than that: gore, nudity (pretty much female only, but lots of it), incest, sexual violence, prostitution, suggestions of pedophilia, and general squickiness. (If a little girl is molested by a demon that’s taken on the form of the girl’s mother after brutally murdering said mother, what category does that go into?) Oh, and panty shots. You will not believe the number of panty shots.

Laon herself (himself? itself?) is an interesting character. She is quick-tempered and petulant, with the appearance of a schoolchild, but is actually a being nearly one thousand years old and in possession of formidable powers, even sans tails. Her strangeness is well-presented: Laon doesn’t have human values, isn’t familiar with human culture, and has a distinctly un-schoolchild-like tendency to devour her enemies. She makes for a convincingly otherworldly character, as do the agents of Queen Mago who are sent to find her. The gumiho’s oddness also makes for a humorous juxtaposition with the all-too-human issues that plague the staff of Rumor and Truth Monthly: unrequited love, an awkward office romance, and the magazine’s precarious profit margin.

The art is lavish and detailed, from the characters to the cityscapes to the food. The action sequences are easy to follow, which is saying something given how weird some of them are (e.g. Laon jumping in and out of the pictures on billboards). The creepy and gross bits are creepier and grosser thanks to the skillful artwork.

The plot can be disjointed at times. This complete six-volume series never makes clear the reasons for Queen Mago’s actions, and there are some other loose ends as well. Still, the story is coherent enough to easily follow what’s happening from one moment to the next. There are some intriguing mystery elements, too, as Laon searches for her tails and various other characters try to help her or trip her up.

The biggest appeal factors I see for Laon are the Korean cultural references (not a dominant part of the series, but quite present) and the action, served with a side of humor and sex. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but could be a fun series for those who are neither.

Laon, vol. 1-6
by YoungBin Kim
Art by Hyun You
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780759530539
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780759530522
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780759530546
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9780759530553
Vol. 5 ISBN: 9780316131957
Vol. 6 ISBN: 9780316132114
Yen Press, 2010-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen

Peach Girl: the complete series

peachgirlMomo Adachi is really tan and really blonde for a Japanese girl. She’s actually just a member of the swim team and is out in the sun a lot, but there are lots of rumors about her that she’s “easy.” She is desperate to have whiter skin to stop the rumors and to attract Toji, the guy she likes. He might just like Momo, too, if her friend Sae’s jealousy and playboy Kari’s crush on her don’t ruin everything.

I really liked the beginning of this story. Kari is hilariously over-the-top with his crush on Momo and their interactions are really funny. Momo’s “best” friend Sae is the perfect villain. She is manipulative and completely conscience-free, making her a great character that I loved to hate. Toji and Momo are really cute together, despite him being a bit boring. Momo is a really kind and thoughtful friend to the people she cares about and looks after Sae even though Sae betrays her repeatedly. It’s hard not to like her, even if she is a little dumb.

With this excellent cast of characters, I would have thought this anime would be more successful. Unfortunately, the drama was out of control, to the point that it made no sense. The first few episodes captured high school life perfectly, with its drama and rumor mill, but after that things began to get ridiculous. Every character seemed to believe every rumor they heard. Toji, for example, falls for Sae’s tricks nearly every episode and gets angry with Momo. It was melodramatic and made little sense most of the time.

That said, I flew through the story. I watched nearly every episode in a matter of a few days. I needed to know what happened and who Momo ended up with. I found myself yelling at the television a couple of times because I was so mad at one of the characters for being stupid. It was very soap opera-ish and similar to The O.C. – not a great show, but very compelling.

The voice actors worked well for each character. Toji’s voice was deep and stoic, while Kari’s was loud and almost obnoxious at times. Sae was the best part of the show. Every time she showed up, silly, foreshadowing music played and when she was plotting something, the screen showed a chibi cat version of her flexing her claws.

The artwork is very similar to that of the manga, except in color. It is a shojo style with sharper angles and giant eyes. Kari is constantly surrounded by flowers and glitter, since he was the prince of the school. It was more interesting to see in color, since you could actually see the difference in Momo’s skin tone and hair, as opposed to the manga, where she is just shaded a little. Later in the series, however, she quits the swim team, but stays extremely tan, which was strange. The artwork did nothing new or interesting, but worked with the storyline.

I really liked the basic plot and loved the characters, but the story just got over-the-top dramatic and silly. The dialogue made little sense or was very cliche. One character actually says that he thinks parenting would be “like the ultimate video game” and another said his love was like a mountain. It started to feel like I was watching Days of Our Lives and Momo was going to need an exorcism. Overall, it is fun series, but not deep or intellectual in any way.

Peach Girl: the complete series
Funimation, 2011
directed by Hiroshi Ishiodori
600 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, Season set
Company Age Rating: 13
Related to: Peach Girl by Miwa Ueda

Kurozakuro, vol. 1-7

kurozakuro1Despite being the target of every bully in his high school Sakurai Mikito refuses to stand up for himself. Not because he’s a wimp, but because he’s a pacifist through-and-through and holds a passionate, almost extreme aversion to hurting anyone else. But Mikito’s life turns upside down when one strange day a mysterious orb finds its way into Mikito’s bag and, after Mikito falls asleep, manages to work itself into his mouth and deep into his body. Mikito then has an odd dream about a small boy named Zukuro who keeps asking him, “What is your desire?” and promises Mikito anything if only he will help with some strange tasks.

Mikito awakens the next morning, finding he no longer needs his eye glasses to see. He makes his way to school and, like any other day, the bullies come calling. Mikito prepares for yet another beating but this time he feels his body fill up with an unquenchable rage. Shocking both himself and everyone around him he strikes back with super-human strength and speed, quickly beating his one-time antagonists down to a bloody pulp.

At first overjoyed by his new abilities, Mikito learns that his new powers come at a steep price. His temper has shortened and he develops an almost unbearable craving for human flesh. Zakuro doesn’t help matters, either. The small boy plagues Mikito’s dreams and waking subconscious, continually pushing and tricking him into situations where he’ll be forced to use his powers.

Mikito soon comes to the attention of a pair of Hunters, a group of highly trained teens who use magic and enchanted weapons to fight monsters that prey upon mankind. The Hunters tell Mikito that he has become an Ogre and that each time he uses his powers he will get stronger but will also lose a little bit of his humanity. At first the Hunters want to kill Mikito before he gets too powerful but after helping them in a fight Mikito convinces them to use him to learn more about Ogres —what they are, where they come from, and possibly even a way to cure infected humans. Their investigations quickly uncover dark secrets involving a race of ancient, mystical beings that use Ogres to feed off of mankind.

As the creator of titles like Batman: Death Mask and Togari, Natsume is known more for dark, twisted tales for adults than for teen-oriented series. But this title shifts his mode, transforming his moody art into the familiar thin lines and cartoony faces of a teen-friendly, shonen-style book. Despite the change in art style Natsume still holds a real gift of visual storytelling. The scene where Ogre orb first infects Mikito, for example, is made all the more powerful by Natsume delivering it almost entirely without narration. Fight scenes and other moments of physical action play out equally well. He also shows strong understanding of layout, making use of different shaped panels to really carry the eyes and help create an even faster read.

But the most impressive aspect of the title is Mikito himself. His pacifism makes him vastly different from the typical shonen hero; while everyone around him just wants to kill the bad guys Mikito works extra hard to only hurt someone else when he absolutely needs to. Natsume seems to be using Mikito to explore some varying philosophies of violence, pacifism and sacrifice that, while not wholly successful, are quite original and very interesting.

Unfortunately, by the third volume Mikito falls into the background while the Hunters seek out ways to fight against the powerful beings. While this carries things into some fun fights and clever world-building, it also makes it more typical Shonen material with heroes fighting through layers upon layers of bad guys. The diversion might have worked for a longer story but at only seven volumes it really cheapens a tale that had the promise of taking readers someplace a little different.

The final volume, though, brings both Mikito and Zakuro back to the forefront, carrying the story into a finale that’s action-packed and would not have worked if not for Mikito’s pacifist tendencies. While certainly not a must-have title, Kurozakuro is a fast read and will satisfy shonen fans looking for something slightly different. But more perhaps more importantly the book shows a creator playing within the genre in some clever ways, really pointing out Natsume as a creator to watch in the years to come.

Kurozakuro, vol. 1-7
by Yoshinori Natsume
Vol. 1 ISBN: 978-1421536590
Vol. 2 ISBN: 978-1421536606
Vol. 3 ISBN: 978-1421536613
Vol. 4 ISBN: 978-1421536620
Vol. 5 ISBN: 978-1421536637
Vol. 6 ISBN: 978-1421536644
Vol. 7 ISBN: 978-1421536651
Viz Media, 2010-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus for older teens

I Am Here!, vol. 1

I was scared of I Am Here!, vol. 1. Looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, it looked like I was sentenced to the most banal shojo standards had to offer me. Even the description didn’t bolster confidence. I Am Here! is the story of middle schooler Hikage Sumino, so painfully shy her only outlet is a blog she keeps. She experiences life from afar, watching the popular boys like Hinata and Teru live an open life just like she wants to. As a boisterous person, I find quiet characters more annoying than relatable, so I wasn’t looking forward to this shojo trek.

It may have been helped by my low expectations, but I was very charmed by I Am Here!, vol. 1. The entire story is encompassed in two volumes, short and sweet. This first volume is about 400 pages, and gets through a lot of story. From the beginning Sumino knows that her shyness is a problem. It is one thing to be a quiet personality, but she has allowed herself to get lost in her own anonymity. She resolves, in a very quiet manner, that she will do more to put her best foot forward and connect with people in the real world.

Backing her play are her two closest friends, Mega Pig and Black Rabbit. Never having met them in person, the only ‘people’ Sumino talks to are individuals identified by their online handles. Despite being physically absent, Mega Pig and Black Rabbit are great supporters for Sumino, and bolster her confidence with every development.

It’s interesting how very little happens in this comic, but it still manages to hold your attention. A great hurdle for Sumino is asking a student to move from Sumino’s assigned seat. This is an event so small, that it shouldn’t register an emotional impact. It does, though. The author took the time and set the stage well for Sumino, you can feel her panic when bracing to talk to another student.

Since I Am Here! is a shojo manga, there is a boy that turns Sumino’s head. While he is a big part of the story, he is not a big part of Sumino’s struggle. Sumino resolves to be open on her own, and while Hinata encourages her, she never relies on him to fight her battles or to lead conversations with other students. She wants to improve because of him, a distinction I value because that is not always the case in shojo manga. Since this was the story of a shy person, I expected the lead to run sobbing into her boyfriends arms, or hide behind him, but Sumino is tougher than that.

If there was such a thing as shojo house style, that is what Ema Toyama uses here. The art is cute and serviceable in every way we’ve come to expect from a shojo. Sumino has the appropriate big and cute eyes, and there is enough floral screen tone to fill a flower shop. Another cue I was impressed by was the visual use of a sunflower. Its life and growth were directly linked to Sumino’s. Though that isn’t a great literary revelation, it was an added consideration of the authors that I appreciated.

Ironically, the story of Sumino’s inability to communicate is highly relatable. Though most of us probably haven’t been ignored quite as severely, the feeling of loneliness or the challenge of making new friends is something we’ve all felt. Sumino tries to figure out ways of changing her circumstances that if not educational, are entertaining for the reader.

I Am Here!, vol. 1
by Ema Toyama
ISBN: 978-034552243
Del Rey, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: T Ages 13

Ai Ore! Love Me, vol. 1

aioreBoyish, confident Mizuki is the female “prince” of her all-girls school. She’s also the lead guitarist in her school’s popular all girl rock band, Blaue Rosen. When Kaoru, Blaue Rosen’s lead singer and Mizuki’s best friend, suddenly announces that she’s moving overseas, the band decides that their only choice is to break up. Or is it?

Feminine-looking Akira is the male “princess” of his all-boys school and one of Blaue Rosen’s (and Mizuki’s) biggest fans. He also happens to have a beautiful voice! Will man-hating Mizuki allow him to join the band? Even if Mizuki allows Akira to join the band, how will he practice and perform with them, given his true gender? And will Akira’s fans from his all-boys school allow him to follow this path?

The gender-bending qualities of this title are what attracted me to it, but sadly, I was disappointed by the content. The artwork and dialogue are of standard quality, but the plot itself was not to my personal taste. After reading the series description, I was looking forward to reading about a sassy, cross-dressing heroine and a gentle hero. Or, even better, a series that featured a sassy hero AND heroine!

Instead, the secret is (spoilers ahead) that despite Mizuki’s confident and cold demeanor, aside from flirting with the other female students at her school, the first year student is deathly afraid of any kind of even semi-intimate relationship, regardless of gender.

The opposite is true of Akira. Despite his innocent and fragile looks, he is experienced, manipulative, and uses whatever advantage he has to get what he wants. At one point, he uses his androgynous sexuality to convince one of his male classmates to rape one of Mizuki’s upperclassmates. Although Akira was using that tactic to avenge the near rape of Mizuki by that same female upperclassman, I found that whole plotline rather… disturbing.

All of the characters are good-looking and the pacing is steady, but, overall, I found that the cute and satisfying aspects of the manga did not outweigh my disappointment in the plot. Instead of a sassy heroine, Mizuki is a weak protagonist who literally must call out to be saved, and instead of a hero, Akira is a manipulative pervert.

The two characters’ “love” for each other is believable, but I found both of them too annoying to really care about where their relationship is going. I guess what disappointed me the most was that I was expecting an unconventional relationship – along the lines of Otomen – but instead found a pretty boring and gender-typical story.

I’m sure that this type of relationship and this series will appeal to some teen readers, but in this time of shrinking collection development budgets, I would advise skipping this series in lieu of titles that have stronger plotlines and characterizations, as well as wider teen appeal.

Ai Ore! Love Me, vol. 1
by Mayu Shinjo
ISBN: 9781421538389
Viz Media, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: OT(16+)

Blue Exorcist, vol. 1

6 - CoverFifteen-year-old Rin Okumura means well, but he can’t seem to do anything right. While his twin brother Yukio has earned a scholarship to the prestigious True Cross high school, Rin gets into fights. Father Fujimoto, who raised the brothers, pushes him to get a job, but who is he to talk? The man exorcises demons for a living, and everyone knows demons aren’t real!

That’s before Rin finds out he is one.

In fact, Rin is the son of the biggest, baddest demon of all: Satan. (Yeah, it’s a little more Judeo-Christian than I expected, too.) His brother Yukio is human; as the firstborn and physically stronger twin, Rin was the only one to absorb the demonic power in the womb. He didn’t know anything about that until now, when one of the bullies he recently fought comes looking for a rematch – and turns out to be possessed by a demon. Suddenly fighting for his life, Rin is as surprised as anyone when his own power manifests in the form of blue flames. The shocks keep on coming as Father Fujimoto shows up to exorcise the demon and save Rin – followed by Satan, who appears to claim his son.

Rin manages to send his demonic dad packing, but not before Satan kills Father Fujimoto. At a loss, Rin turns to the last thing the exorcist gave him: a cell phone programmed with one number. That number, when called, summons the flamboyant Mephisto Pheles, a demon who runs a league of exorcists. Rather than help, though, Mephisto tells Rin apologetically that the son of Satan is too big a threat to live. Rin counters by asking to join the exorcists. Amused by the idea, Mephisto agrees, but says that Rin must start by attending school: specifically, True Cross, where Yukio is about to start. Rin is glad that at least his twin – always the sensitive, bullied one who needed his brother’s protection – hasn’t been pulled into all this. Then he enrolls at True Cross’ secret school for exorcists and finds himself in a class taught by none other than Yukio, who has been secretly training as an exorcist for years.

This is a seriously fun shonen title. The scene of Father Fujimoto’s death is a little bloody and disturbing; it’s establishing just how nasty Satan is and setting up Rin’s desire to avenge his adoptive father. Outside of that, the action is exciting – none more than the excellent, and surprisingly character-revealing, scene in which Rin and Yukio fight demons together while arguing over Rin’s decision to become an exorcist. The loosely Judeo-Christian elements – Satan, crosses, and the prayer Father Fujimoto uses to exorcise a demon – are combined with goblins, plant demons, and a distinctly Japan-flavored setting. The resulting story doesn’t seem to criticize or affirm any specific religion; this is just the way the wacky world of Blue Exorcist operates.

Rin and Yukio’s relationship is a blend of mutual protectiveness and teasing. When they’re not working together to take out minor demons around the school, Rin is swiping Yukio’s manga. Other standout characters include Mephisto – the whimsical, dandyish demon was making me laugh even before turning himself into a cravat-wearing terrier – and a girl exorcist named Shiemi.

The bonus material at the back of this volume is especially neat, including concept drawings and profiles of demon species and of each of the major characters. Fans can find Rin’s height and weight, Yukio’s taste in manga, Shiemi’s favorite food, and Mephisto’s – well, the doodles Mephisto provides rather than answer the trickier questions. Good stuff.

Blue Exorcist, vol. 1
by Kazue Kato
ISBN: 9781421540320
VIZ Media, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: T+/Older Teens

Zombie-Loan, vol. 1

Michiru sometimes sees lines no one else can see on the necks of people around her. These lines range from light grey to dark black and the darker they are, the closer that person is to death. But when she sees that same ring on two classmates who miraculously survived a horrible accident, she is caught up in a mysterious world where every decision she makes could change her life…or mean her death.

Peach-Pit, the manga duo behind such titles as Shugo Chara and Rozen Maiden, takes a turn into darker territory with this bloody tale of zombies and the boys who hunt them. Their girls still have their trademark gigantic eyes and small features, which plays nicely off of their angularly good-looking leading men. The humorous touches they are also known for are still here as well, but this story is more introspective then their other works. Michiru has good reason to wonder if she is better off alive or dead and by forcing her to make that decision also forces the reader to think about their own life.

Thoughtful meditations on the value of life don’t get in the way of the action, though. Movement lines abound and the last chapter, in particular, ups the violence to a level not usually seen in their work, earning the series its older teen rating. Many other details of story and plot are skimmed over or not addressed, but there are plenty of hints that these plot threads will be woven back in in future volumes. Whether you’re a long-time Peach-Pit fan looking for something new from your beloved creators or a reader looking for a good action story that happens to have cute boys, Zombie-Loan will capture your attention and leave you ready for the next volume.

Zombie-Loan, vol. 1
ISBN: 978-0-7595-2353-1
Yen Press, 2007