This all ages manga begins with a mystery—a small, frightened creature hiding, pursued by wolves, and finally captured. Then the story begins with the history of Senzou, the black fox. Powerful, selfish, and evil; he was imprisoned by the Sun Goddess for three hundred years and he’s finally free… but he’s not at all remorseful.
Then he discovers that he’s not free after all; his punishment will continue and he’s been assigned as guardian to Manpachi, a young tanuki and that’s just to start! Manpachi is lonely, bewildered by his parents’ rejection, and uncertain of how to use his new powers. Senzou is revengeful, angry, and hates everyone, especially this annoying little pup. This isn’t going to be easy for anyone, including the annoying dogs and wolves keeping an eye on them, a white fox trying to mother them, and a sly and wicked badger with his own agenda coming back from Senzou’s past.
The art jumps quickly from chibi characters to more serious, artistic washes of ink. Senzou is sometimes his own, terrifying self, with intricate markings, but more often his cartoon transformation, complete with white-tipped tail and cartoonishly big nose. Some characters change from human to their animal or spirit form, but they always keep their own personalities, so readers will giggle to see carefree spirit dog Tachibana racing through the streets in his human form, tongue lolling out, or the wacky transformations the little tanuki inflicts on Senzou as he loses control of his new powers. The chapters are divided by single illustrations of the various creatures, “The Bakemono Field Guide” with delicate drawings illustrating the types of characters and their abilities and weaknesses.
This story combines cute, big-eyed furry characters of the Disney variety with darker and more dramatic mythological creatures and several underlying plots. It’s rare to find truly all-ages manga, but so far as can be seen in the first volume it should be just right for readers who love the manga format and the magical and mystical creatures of Japanese legend but aren’t ready for the more mature relationships and plots of most manga. There are definitely dark and dangerous moments, so this is not for extremely sensitive readers, but if they can handle Pokémon or Studio Ghibli films they should have no problem with this series. The only barrier to adding this to collections serving middle grade readers who enjoy manga is the unreliability of Tokyopop’s publishing schedule and the rapidity with which their publications tend to go out of stock and out of print.
The Fox & Little Tanuki 1 By Mi Tagawa ISBN: 9781427863188 Tokyopop, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: All Ages Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Manga is a medium of storytelling that continues to intrigue me and disappoint me at the same time. A lot of the art is beautiful and I love losing myself in the details. But even then I find it too difficult to ignore the flat, dumbed-down, sometimes cringe-worthy portrayals of women and girls that pervade it. I wouldn’t say that Ocean of Secrets, vol. 1, is an exception to this, but it does offer more positive representation than manga is known for, and a female lead who’s more resourceful than most.
The story, written and illustrated by YouTube sensation Sophie-chan, opens with 17-year old Lia. Her family adopted her when she was 10 years old and she has no memory of where she came from, or who abandoned her. One day, Lia’s little sister, Nina, drags her to the beach and convinces her to go for a ride in one of the docked boats. When they get caught in a storm off the coast of Canada, Lia is thrown overboard and lost at sea. There’s a bizarre moment when Nina hesitates to throw Lia a rope (something she regrets too late), but it’s unclear whether the issues this raises will be explored further, and it feels like a strange thing to introduce so flippantly. In general, the story suffers from trying to cram too many moments like this into a limited page count.
Fortunately for Lia, the unusual brother-sister duo, Moria and Albert, rescue her with their flying ship. She wakes up wearing a strange armband (we later learn that it calculates the wearer’s magic level) and is annoyed that the only clothing available to her is an old-fashioned dress with an oversized collar and a big bow on the front. She befriends the siblings suspiciously fast and learns that they hail from Lyronaz, one of three magical kingdoms in the sky. For the past ten years, the siblings have been on the run and avoiding the Peacemakers, magical bounty hunters, after Albert was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Eventually, the story leads the trio back to Lyronaz where they must uncover truths and face their past.
It’s a familiar story, and one that would have benefited from a slower pace and more complex character development. As it stands, it reads like an action story, glossing over intimate moments and rushing through a plot that deserves more time to unfold. Still, Lia is one of the more interesting female characters I’ve come across in manga. The first few pages introduce her as a moody teenager, somewhat stereotypical in her apathy, but at the same time harboring a desire to find answers and find out who she really is. By story’s end, she sheds her melancholy ways and transforms from rescued to rescuer—albeit in a rushed, slightly nonsensical manner.
Sophie-chan’s art is clean and simple, and a bit underwhelming. There is a lot of white space that leaves panels feeling unfinished, and several scenes feel like they’re missing key transitions. She seems to prefer telling over showing, not the most appropriate approach for a visual story, and we miss the chance to truly sympathize with the characters because of the lack of reactions and emotions we’re allowed to observe. Overall, neither the illustrations nor the story, one that has been told many times and better, bring anything new to the table. I was left wanting a lot more.
Tokyopop gives Ocean of Secrets, vol. 1 an age rating of 13+, though I don’t see why it wouldn’t be appropriate for younger tweens in the 10-12 age range. There’s no swearing and the only “violent” scene consists of when a Peacemaker magically pins Moria to a wall and blood trickles down her hands. Older teens might find the story too simplistic and surface-level, but it’s a good recommendation for tweens and younger teens who enjoy fantasy or adventure manga.
Ocean of Secrets 1 By Sophie-chan ISBN: 9781427857149 Tokyopop, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 13+ Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
And so it was in ancient times (or maybe it was three years ago) that an evil prince of distant lands did threaten the once-peaceful Kingdom of Dikay. But in the darkest hour, when all seemed hopeless, a hero emerged – a bold champion who hunted all things evil and slew them in the name of goodness and decency. With his beautiful companion by his side, he destroyed the evil prince’s cursed artifact, drove back the assembled armies of darkness, and forever banished the dreaded demons back to the hells from which they’d come.
Now, the twice-peaceful Kingdom of Dikay is safe. Apart from an epidemic of amnesia that has clouded the minds of most of the citizens of Dikay as to precisely what happened during this epic battle between good and evil, most of the people are healthy, happy, and content. Yet even now their savior stands ever watchful for signs of evil’s return…mainly because it’s really difficult being a hero in a twice-peaceful kingdom and he’s incredibly bored. Then one day he happens to notice that his next door neighbor – a barmaid whose amnesia is so severe she can’t remember her name or anything of her life three years ago – looks an awful lot like the beautiful companion he lost three years earlier…
So begins the tale of Van Von Hunter – one of the funniest American manga I’ve ever read and one of the best parodies of the fantasy genre I’ve seen in any medium. Imagine Slayers as written by Mel Brooks and you might just be able to grasp the sheer hilarity of Van Von Hunter. There’s a lot of referential humor, with several characters who are obvious parodies of established characters and archetypes from other fantasy manga and Japanese role playing games as well as a lot of gags about the fantasy genre in general.
For instance, The Evil Prince is quite clearly mocking every effeminate ineffectual villain in manga history – think Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII as played by James from Pokemon. There are also numerous jokes about such staples of the fantasy genre as impractically large (but cool-looking) weapons, a group of elves corrupted by dark magic who now use their magical baking powers for evil, and impractical armor like plate-mail bikinis.
Thankfully, the humor isn’t limited to gags that only fans of the fantasy and manga/anime genres will appreciate. The situational humor and characters are amusing enough on their own terms. From the wizened old man who is determined to narrate the action of his surroundings no matter what the facts are or who is listening to the crazed king of Dikay (who laughs at his advisors and seeks advice from his jester), this series is full of memorable characters whose antics will leave you laughing out-loud.
Long out-of-print, all three volumes of this hilarious series are once again available through Tokyopop’s website. It is rated T for teens 13 and up, due to some mild cursing, excessive comedic violence, and sexy sorceresses in scanty armor.
Van Von Hunter, vol. 1-3 by Ron Kaulfersch Art by Mike Schwark Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781595326928 Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781595326935 Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781595326942 Tokyo Pop, 2005-2006 Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)
Pretty Miyu may look like any other teenage girl going to school and hanging out with friends, but behind her sparkling eyes and musical laughter lie centuries of memories, secrets, and sadness. In reality, she is a Guardian, a vampire granted special powers and charged with tracking down rogue beings called Shinma (mixed descendents of gods and demons) and returning them to the demon world from which they’ve escaped. Accompanied by her silent servant Larva and occasionally observed by human spiritualist Himiko, Miyu holds her own thoughts close as she doggedly pursues her targets and fulfills her destined duty.
This two-volume, four-episode OVA series originally released in the late eighties is adapted from a ten-volume manga series by Narumi Kakinouchi with additional input from her husband (and the anime’s director) Toshihiro Hirano. Incomplete and now out of print in English, the manga also spawned two unlicensed sequel manga series and a 26-episode TV anime, with the latter originally released by Tokyopop in 1997 and slated for a reissue from Section23 in March 2013.
While the animation, character design, and often ham-fisted English dub reflect the OVA series’ vintage, the visuals remain largely attractive (though the demon world’s dark, misty landscape of leafless, eyeball-sprouting trees made me laugh after a while) and the original Japanese cast’s efforts sound natural, blending nicely with the show’s subtle, atmospheric storytelling.
In the first volume’s first tale, “Unearthly Kyoto,” viewers are introduced to Himiko as she investigates a case of possession and a series of deaths bearing all the hallmarks of a vampire attack — with all the clues leading to the mysterious Miyu. The second story, “A Banquet of Marionettes,” involves a rash of missing popular students at Miyu’s school, where once again Himiko’s suspicions fall on the enigmatic vampire. Volume two delves a little more into Miyu’s sad, complicated personal history. First up, in “Fragile Armor,” Larva is incapacitated and Miyu asks for wary Himiko’s assistance as an antique suit of armor goes on a rampage. And in the final installment, “Frozen Time,” Himiko follows a hazy childhood memory to a quiet place, stirring revelations of both her own and Miyu’s pasts.
Without the benefit of the source manga to provide context and smooth out the bumps, these four stories can feel a little vague and self-contradictory at times. For instance, in the first episode, Miyu readily grants a grieving youth his wish to forget his pain, yet in the third episode she explicitly states that she hates humans who try to deny their suffering and leaves such a one to his fate. There are also some unaddressed supernatural physics at work regarding the latter episode’s titular suit of armor, which is shown both as realistically human-sized and as big as the houses it’s smashing, even within the same sequence. Barring a few brow-furrowers like these, the vagueness and very limited character development generally work well in combination with revealing details here and there to lend a satisfyingly spooky, uncertain, and open-ended feel to the series overall.
Aside from the optional English dub from the original VHS license, the only extras on this DVD release are a smattering of previews for other older titles and a screen-cap slide show. If you don’t mind the unembellished brevity of this peek into Miyu’s world, this short collection could fit happily on your shelf next to the likes of the Vampire Hunter D features or the sadly-too-short Pet Shop of Horrors series. And with the forthcoming Section23 re-release of the TV series, the OVAs won’t have to be lonely for long.
While thematically dark, Vampire Princess Miyu is more serious-toned than graphic in its expression, so there’s little on-screen violence or sexual content. The eighties aesthetics, subtle narrative style, and lack of humor or much concrete action, however, will probably appeal more to older teens and adults who appreciate the nostalgia and are content to fill in the blanks for themselves.
Vampire Princess Miyu, vols. 1-2 AnimEigo, 2001 directed by Toshihiro Hirano 105 minutes, Number of Discs: 2 Related to: Vampire Princess Miyu by Narumi Kakinouchi, Toshihiro Hirano
When teenaged Alice Liddell sees the white rabbit, she figures it’s a dream. After all, she’s just settled down for a nap while waiting in the garden for her older sister, so she must be asleep. Besides, the rabbit is wearing clothes. And talking to her. And turning into a man with rabbit ears who grabs Alice and jumps with her down a hole that wasn’t there a moment ago.
Alice lands in the country of Hearts, a place where some inhabitants have “duties” that require them to play a mysterious game according to rules Alice doesn’t understand. Every person goes about heavily armed and fights to the death are common, but death may not mean what it does in our world. And every person, in his or her own strange and sometimes dangerous way, seems to fall in love with Alice.
There are three warring factions in Hearts: the castle, with its queen, whimsical knight, and white rabbit; the Mafia run by the Hatter, bunny-eared March, and the deadly twins Dee and Dum; and the amusement park, where Boris the (Cheshire) cat hangs out. All of them have got it bad for our heroine. They might be willing to die for her, and they’re downright eager to kill for her. Then there’s the one neutral party, Julian, and the otherworldly “dream demon” who visits Alice in her sleep and assures her this is all a dream. Alice is sure she will at some point wake up and rejoin her beloved sister, but there is more to this dream than she realizes.
This six-volume series (released in three omnibus editions by Yen Press, after being partially released by now-defunct TokyoPop) is all kinds of fun. It’s unconventional: relationships are in the forefront, but the story is punctuated by frequent shootouts. Thanks to an interesting take on how death works (and the distinction between “those with duties” and the “faceless” extras), Hearts has massacres right and left. Indeed, Peter White (lovesick rabbit extraordinaire) more than once begins shooting extras just because he’s frustrated that Alice isn’t around. (He’s not the only one – the queen starts ordering random executions for the same reason.) There is blood, but it’s mostly of the light spatter/slightly stained clothing variety, nothing gory.
This is a reverse-harem story, though not all of the characters’ interest in Alice is romantic or physical. The twins Dee and Dum, for example, are kids, and they call Alice “big sis” and want to play with her. Peter White alternates between humorously pathetic and poignant in his love for Alice, especially once he discovers that she has more sympathy for his fluffy rabbit form than the animal-eared human one (March and Boris are animal-eared humans, too, and Boris has a cat’s tail). There are a couple of dramatic kiss scenes, a little innuendo, and some half-dressed-accident-leads-to-funny-misunderstanding misadventures, but no other sexual content.
While the story clearly draws on Alice in Wonderland, a lot is different. The unconcern with death feels familiar – remember that the queen orders executions willy-nilly in the original – but the reason for it is new. The romance angle – especially its take on the Hatter, who reminds Alice of an old love from her own world – is definitely not of Carroll’s devising. (The Hatter is actually one of the few things to bother me about this story. He’s a bad boy, so it seems we’re supposed to see his constant lashing out at Alice – he even tries to kill her once! – as “interest.” When she gets mad at him for treating her this way, some other characters see their fighting as a sign that they like each other. Am I the only one who is sick to death of this trope?)
Alice is a likeable character, good-natured and earnest. There’s humor and drama, and the violence is more an element of atmosphere than of the plot: major characters don’t end up suffering permanent effects from it (though they could). The characters are elegantly drawn, the settings engaging. I got all six volumes in three two-volume books, the last of which contains a selection of pretty color pin-ups at the end. I can see some crossover between fans of this and of Pandora Hearts, for sure, and shojo readers who don’t mind some gunfights between flirtations.
Alice in the Country of Hearts, vol. 1-3 by QuinRose Art by Soumei Hoshino Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780316212694 Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780316212724 Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780316212687 Yen Press, 2012 Publisher Age Rating: OT (Older Teen)
Many Americans got their first taste of anime through the television show Sailor Moon. Due to the popularity of the television show, the now defunct U.S. publishing division of Tokyopop released the manga in 1998 to American audiences. Over the past decade, the out-of-print English editions have been harder and harder to come by, due in part to their flimsy bindings. But in 2011, twenty years after creator Naoko Takeuchi debuted her magical girls in RunRun magazine, Kodansha comics have re-released the entire run of Sailor Moon in America, along with the previously unreleased prequel, Codename Sailor V.
Minako “Mina” Aino, is a Japanese schoolgirl who is bestowed with superpowers and fights evil as the masked vigilante Sailor Venus — Sailor V for short. Accompanying Mina on her adventures is her mentor Artemis a talking cat with white fur and a crescent-shaped bald spot on his forehead. Mina struggles with accepting her place as Sailor V, as well as Artemis’ expectations for her, when all she really wants to do is eat and play videogames.
Of course, being a true hero, Mina cannot sit by while people around her are suffering (or being mind-controlled, as is often the case in this version of Tokyo), so the only real threat to Mina is her lack of motivation.
Takeuchi’s panels are some of the most elegant and easy-to-follow I have read. Flowing hair, graceful skirts, and long, lean limbs are trademarks of her style. She emphasizes the intricate, and at times opposing, traits of Mina, by alternating between this flowing, graceful and feminine style with goofy, round chibis.
While Codename Sailor V, volume 1 was super cute and set up some of the major plot lines and themes that make Sailor Moon such as classic, I did long for the group dynamic that helped make the series so popular. Sailor V is not meant to fight on her own.
Codename: Sailor V, volume 1 by Naoko Takeuchi ISBN: 9781935429777 Kodansha, 2011 Publisher Age Rating: T/13+
Not one hour into her first convention and the excitement has already started to wear off for Christie. An aspiring manga writer, Christie hoped a weekend vacation at the local anime and manga convention would prove to be a lot of fun and help to bring her and her artist boyfriend Derek closer as they sell the comic they made together. But running an Artist Alley booth proves to require a lot more work than Christie thought! And she winds up doing most of it as their friends disappear to explore the convention and Derek flirts shamelessly with every girl with big boobs in a cosplay costume.
The one bright side to the first day is Matt – a sensitive cosplayer at the booth next to theirs, who wears sunglasses all the time and proves to be the shoulder to lean on that the shy Christie needs to survive. Can Christie find the confidence to pursue her dreams of Manga stardom? Can she separate herself from the artist/boyfriend she never saw herself apart from? And is it possible to love someone who you might never see again after tomorrow?
The premiere manga of Nightschool creator Svetlana Chmakova, the first volume of Dramacon lends itself well to recommendation on several levels. On the surface, the book is a simple romantic comedy, yet it shifts suddenly and naturally into a more serious romantic story later on. And more than anything else I’ve ever read on the subject, Dramacon perfectly captures the essence of what attending a convention is like. Indeed, I believe the book can serve as something of an educational guide for those who would like to attend an anime and manga convention, but want to know a little more about what it is like first. It also shows the reality of many a professional artist and what their lives at conventions are like.
Despite this educational angle, what truly makes Dramacon stand out is its sympathetic characters. You really feel for Christie as she begins to realize just how much of a jerk her boyfriend is, but also understand her desire to try and put up with his lecherous ways for the sake of the book they created together. Matt too, is an interesting character that male readers may find themselves connecting with as we learn more about his troubled past.
Svetlana Chmakova is a skilled artist, who has a unique, dynamic style that shatters the more static conventions of traditional Japanese manga. Chmakova switches between the standard manga look and chibi style with ease, offering up several moments of humor where miniaturized versions of the main characters scream their thoughts over the conversations held by the more traditionally drawn characters. In the later sections of the book, the art becomes more thoughtful and looks like a more traditional shojo manga as the drama becomes more centralized.
Dramacon is a must have for any library’s young adult graphic novel collection. The series is rated T for Teen and rightly so, as the series contains a good bit of fan-service, a frank explanation as to just what Hentai anime entails, and various other adult situations as dealt with by teenagers.
Dramacon, vol. 1 by Svetlana Chmakova ISBN: 9781598161298 TokyoPop, 2005 Publisher Age Rating: T (13 )
Since it’s almost Halloween, and last Friday’s What Making Us Happy This Week was chock full of costume admiration, I surveyed the team to ask which costumes from comics they love best. Some of these are the ones we love to wear ourselves, and some are those outfits that just perfectly suit the character and attitude that it makes us all wish we could have such talented tailors at our disposal.
My favorite upcoming manga-fied characters to cosplay: Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series. I already have that skirt! Too bad I don’t have a strapping Scottish werewolf to go with it…
Most likely, if I ever did cosplay this, I have a number of friends better suited to playing Alexia, so I’m likely to crossplay and don Lord Akeldama’s perfectly tied cravats. I would adore that too. Here are all the character design sketches from the artist on the manga, Rem, and where I found the above teasers for the manga due out in March of 2012. Normally I’m not terribly excited about adaptations from books to graphic novels, but knowing how much of a manga fan Gail Carriger is and how in synch she and her artist seem to be, I have high hopes.
I’ve always loved the design of Two Face.
Also, Doraemon is who I always want to be for Halloween. It would be such a warm costume. (I just heard my mother’s voice echoing in my head)
Picking one best comics costume is pretty impossible, but I do love the costume Thorn puts on when she gets ready to kick butt in the 6th book of Bone. It’s not super fancy and doesn’t get a glamor shot reveal or anything but it looks good and corresponds to a strong moment for the character. The first time I read that scene I took a moment to stare at the costume and wish that I lived in a world where I could have the sort of adventures that call for one to dress that awesomely.
I love Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit (talk about a costume being integral to a character), and I also like Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix costume. I guess I like red and gold. 🙂
I pretty much love everything that Yuko wears in xxxHolic. Unfortunately I will never be able to cosplay as her, being that I lack the necessary…attributes.
And, as I like to wear gothic lolita at comic cons (and at science fiction cons and at library cons and random Halloween parties and occasionally to the ballet), I have always loved Mitsukazu Mihara’s character designs. It’s really too bad that TokyoPop going out of business took her books off the market.
For superheroes, it’s the black with blue trim Nightwing costume that I think does the most justice to Dick Grayson’s figure. (Not the dorky one with the collar, though. That’s just bad.)
Practically every panel of Girl Genius cries out for costuming, but I would so love to be Mama Gkika…
I’m too torn to pick favorites! So many natty dressers out there….
So how about I go with silly and say Danbo, the money-powered robot (a.k.a. Yotsuba’s friend Miura donning her science project)?
The editorial staff of four Japanese manga magazines have compiled a guide for aspiring shojo (girls’) manga creators. They cover the basics of plot, art, supplies, layout, and submission, while using examples from popular shojo manga creators.
The biggest problem with this nonfiction, non-comic format guide is the title. It is not actually a “how to draw” book, so the title is extremely misleading. Rather the work focuses on how to assemble a manga story with the aim of submitting it to a Japanese manga publisher. The editors assume familiarity with shojo manga stories and art styles, art supplies used in the creation of manga, Japanese manga magazines, and, mostly importantly, how to draw. In other words, this is not a beginner guide.
However, that said, this is still a useful educational work. There are plenty of young artists who have the basics of drawing down, but who need help with plot and page layout and the other elements of comic creation. And for rabid fans who are particularly interested in creating manga in Japan, this can be a wonderful resource. The details on submitting to several different Japanese shojo manga magazines are included and there are notes for English-speaking audiences reminding them that being fluent in Japan might be required to be published in such magazines or even to speak to editors. (There is a note about how to speak to United States publishers at conventions and the like.) As it was originally printed in Japan in 2006, the U.S. editors strongly encourage readers to double check that submission guidelines haven’t changed, though unfortunately the Japanese websites for the magazines are not included, which would have been helpful.
When Tanaka-san wanders into a new ramen restaurant in town, he’s stunned to see that the restaurant is owned and operated by a talking cat. But Taisho’s ramen skills leave something to be desired–namely taste and texture! He’s determined to succeed, though, and Tanaka-san can’t help coming back to the restaurant, just to see what will happen next.
Neko Ramen is a yonkoma or “four cell manga,” like a comic strip in the United States, but told vertically rather than horizontally. As in comic strips, there is a set-up and a humorous ending. Unfortunately, that means that there isn’t much in the way of deep plotting. That’s not a bad thing–after all, Garfield isn’t the most introspective of works, either–but it can make for slightly tedious reading when you’re reading it all at once, rather day-by-day in the newspaper or online. The jokes are often of the “Oh my, Taisho’s a cat, but he doesn’t act like one!” variety and those can quickly get stale. Luckily, there’s enough of a storyline to keep things moving along and, much like Tanaka-san, you find that you want to see what crazy thing will happen next….