Rooster Fighter

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 Journeys, vols. 1-3

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.

Pokémon Journeys, vols. 1-3
By Machito Gomi
VIZ, 2021
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974725748
vol 2 ISBN: 978197472652
vol 3 ISBN: 9781974730094

Publisher Age Rating: All Ages

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese

Mashle: Magic and Muscles, Vol 1

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)

Deadpool: Samurai, Vol. 1

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

Publisher Age Rating: 16-18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)

Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection

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)

Alice in Borderland

Welcome to Borderland. You’ll be dying to stick around.

In volume 1 of Haro Aso’s Alice in Borderland, life is simple, if a bit of a letdown, for eighteen-year-old Arisu and his friend Chota. Obsessed with girls and unconcerned with school, the boys spend their time skipping class and hanging out with older dropout Karube at his bar. Weighed down with family and social pressure as well as dwindling hope for the future, the trio have accepted their lot in life. All that changes with a visit to a fireworks show and a flash of blinding light.

They wake up in their own town—now rundown and absent of any people. Unsure whether they’ve been transported to the future or some alternate dimension, the three embrace their new adventure until they meet a woman named Shibuki—a woman who calls this strange landscape Borderland and reveals that it is not the grand opportunity they first believed. Borderland is an arena. Every night features games where the stakes are life and death—and the only way to stay alive is to keep playing. With no idea who controls Borderland, the four survivors must work together to face the challenges and uncover any way to get home. There are many players in Borderland, but not all of them are friendly. And many will not be going home alive.

Written and drawn by Haro Aso, the story takes its time establishing the characters before charging headlong into the tension of their new predicament. The manga is weakest at its opening, in part because neither Arisu or Chota is particularly likeable when we first encounter them. As the story continues, Aso weaves in flashbacks alongside the main action, giving the reader insight into the struggles each faces and deepening our investment in their survival. It is these secret motivations, in part, that helped bring them to Borderland for this twisted version of a chance to change their fates. Each of the four central characters brings a key strength to the group’s survival, and with each new player introduced, Aso lays the groundwork for future plotlines. Volume 1 is an exciting read on its own, and its promise of future stories makes it a strong introduction to the series.

The art has comfortably familiar manga stylings. There are some strange flourishes—particularly in characters’ expressions—but Aso largely captures the events and emotions of both quiet moments and action sequences in clear detail. In particular, the visuals shine during some of the most sinister moments of the second game, keeping the unfolding action clear while also building tension and drawing the reader into the nail-biting efforts of the characters just to see another sunrise.

The publisher rates Alice in Borderland Mature for depictions of violence and death. Along with some language and suggestive content, it’s certainly a manga aimed at more mature readers. While the themes and violence are intense at times, the content is not so extreme as to be unsuitable for older teens. With a mix of teenage and adult characters, mature teens and adults alike will certainly find something to appreciate here—especially for fans of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games as well as the more recent Squid Game on Netflix. A strong first volume with lots of thematic and action promise for future chapters, Alice in Borderland is a worthy addition to any collection with older manga readers. And with the 2020 live-action adaptation of this manga available on Netflix as well, having this series on the shelf carries the added benefit of drawing in any reader curious about the source material.

Mystery, action, and high-stakes survival—Alice in Borderland, Volume 1 is bold enough to pull you in and has enough layers to keep you thinking about it even after the last body has hit the floor.

Alice in Borderland Vol. 1
By Haro Aso
VIZ, 2022
ISBN: 9781974728374

Publisher Age Rating: M
Related media:  Comic to Movie

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Japanese,  Character Representation: Japanese,

Kaiju No. 8, Vol 1

Kaiju No. 8 is the most surprising, refreshing, and entertaining book I’ve read in some time and is my new favorite “You should read this” book recommendation. Japan is constantly under attack by kaiju and they have had to develop their own special task for to deal with the menace, the Japan Defense Force. The setup all feels pretty standard for a Shonen manga, but the twist is our main hero isn’t on the Defense Force, he’s on the clean-up crew. He has the unenviable job of cleaning up the corpses of kaiju after they are taken down so that people can try to resume daily life and it’s anything but glamorous.

Kafka Hibino once had aspirations of joining the Force with his childhood best friend Mina Ashiro. They watched their homes and school get destroyed and vowed to wipe out kaiju together. She went on to glory as Captain of the famed Third Division, a hero to the people. Kafka failed the exam and went into a different type of public service, a much grosser type of service, but someone has to clean up the intestines, right? Now, at 32 he’s too old to enlist, so he’s resigned to a life of “what-if’s” until a new guy joins the cleaning company and shakes his world up. Reno Ichikawa is 18 years old and wants to join the Defense Force. He holds a mirror up to Kafka’s life and while Kafka resents him initially, they form a quick bond when they have to fight off a kaiju who isn’t quite dead yet. Mina winds up saving them both and later in the hospital they pledge to enlist together after Reno tells him the age limit has been moved up to 33. Then, out of nowhere, a tiny flying kaiju appears, says “I found you.” to Kafka and flies directly into his mouth. Now, suddenly endowed with the power of a kaiju, Kafka is on the run because while he may still be himself, he looks like the enemy.

Kafka can now stand toe-to-toe with kaiju and fight them himself, without the fancy equipment that makes the Third Division so deadly. Reno offers to help keep his secret, but he will not hesitate to put him down if Kafka cannot control his power or becomes a threat to the people. They head off to take the entrance exam and we start to meet some of the other candidates. There is stiff competition to get into the Defense Force, but they are determined to do their best and Mina being there spurs Kafka forward when his resolve flags.

Aside from being a little unconventional in initial setup, a plot synopsis wildly undersells this book. This has the right amount humor to keep it from being dry or stale, without being over the top cartoony. It is self-aware enough to be able to play against expectations and set up the humor. It is genuinely fun to read and is paced wonderfully between both the action and the interpersonal relationships. The art work is both huge in scope when showing cities and monsters, yet detailed enough for smaller, personal panels to still feel full of life and energy. “Balance” is probably the best word to sum this book up: it manages action, heart, humor and personality perfectly.

If you have a manga section for teens or adults, this is a great addition to either collection. If you are considering starting to add manga to your library, this is a fantastic book to begin with. It has no foul language, no sexual content, no gore, just a lot of kaiju getting blown up. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids, Kafka smokes early in the book and the themes are just mature enough in nature to require some life experience. Personally I have ordered this for our library and pre-ordered Vol. 2 as everyone I have recommended it to also enjoyed it. Really looking forward to seeing where this series goes as there isn’t a lot out there like it!

Kaiju No. 8, Vol. 1
By Naoya Matsumoto
VIZ, 2021
ISBN: 97819747259

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Japanese,