Monday, December 31, 2012

Jiu Jiu: Volume 2

by Touya Tobina, 191 pages

Takamichi, Snow, and Night make some odd new acquaintances as Takamichi creeps further and further out of her protective, isolating shell.  (Although not as much as the risque cover would jokingly lead you to believe....)

For more details on this surprisingly substantial fantasy / action / dramedy about a wounded demon hunter and her devoted wolf boys, please see my full review of the first two volumes at!

Jiu Jiu: Volume 1

by Touya Tobina, 191 pages

Young demon hunter Takamichi loses her will to participate in life after her brother's death, but her father's having none of it and, instead of letting her wallow, makes her responsible for the care of two abandoned half-demon wolf pups.  Can two eager, loyal, puppy-eyed shapeshifters save her from her self-imposed loneliness?

Ha!  Snow and Night, Takamichi's wolf boys, provide both humor and effective warm fuzzies, especially when they come up against her short-tempered, no-nonsense facade and wriggle their way under it.

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 13

by Yuki Midorikawa, 184 pages

Deliciously creepy Matoba, a mysterious, unscrupulous exorcist with his eye on Natsume (and his enigmatic tubby yokai kitty), writes the boy and then shows up in front of his house to ask for help rooting out a yokai that's been preying on powerful exorcists.  Natsume's not too keen on doing anything for Matoba, but his concern for what might happen if he doesn't outweighs his revulsion at cooperating.

Ooh, that Matoba is so bad!  What was in that letter?!  We don't even know what he's really up to, but it doesn't matter.  Whatever it is, it isn't good.  I love how Midorikawa just lets him think his sneaky, self-serving thoughts and scheme to his cold heart's content without letting us know much more than Natsume--which isn't much, as Matoba keeps pretty mum about such things and just smiles and watches and waits.  It's when he acts that we get nervous--and excited!  The joy of seeing him look angry or surprised by Natsume's (or his allies') disruption of his carefully laid plans is worth the wait, even if we just get one little panel of him taken aback and glaring before he gets himself under control.  Sweet.  He'll be back, the clever villain.  And so will this reader!

This volume also has two shorter chapters relating how quiet Natsume came to be friends with schoolmates Nishimura and Kitamoto.  Yay for warm, fuzzy backstory!

Banana Fish: Volume 4

by Akimi Yoshida, 188 pages

The gang heads first to Ash's hometown, where they encounter painful reunions and even more painful goodbyes, and then to L.A. on the trail of the mysterious "Banana Fish."  But what they find there, and what they don't, may just complicate things even more.

Ouch.  Ash has had a life of one tragic hardship after another and it just keeps getting worse.  Despite knowing it's "for the best," I think he needs to not push his friends away for their own good.  Besides, if they're Eiji, I've a feeling they'll find a way to turn up again, anyway (either because they don't follow directions well or because the bad guys know good bait when they see it).  Besides, those party shirts have got to have a positive effect on him psychologically. They just brighten up the room!  Hee hee hee.  Also, there's a snake in the grass, but he seems just as trapped by his circumstances as those whose hands he's forcing.  I do enjoy sympathetic bad guys....

Kimi ni Todoke: Volume 15

by Shiina Karuho, 179 pages

Chizu doesn't know how to act around Ryu since he told her how he feels, Sawako doesn't know how to act around Kazehaya since the school trip to Okinawa, and Ayane doesn't know how to act around Kento since he comforted her after her breakup.

Ryu and Kento both make declarations (one loud and to the point, one quiet and subtle) that leave their companions wide-eyed and speechless (and the reader woo-hooing!).  Meanwhile, Sawako's getting gentle advice from Kento and will hopefully do her best to buck-up, be honest, and clear up any misunderstanding between her and the one she loves.  Karuho once again does an excellent job of giving equal time to her equally deserving supporting cast.

The Wallflower: Volume 29

by Tomoyo Hayakawa, 154

First, Sunako is forced to go on a no-chocolate diet, with predictably unpredictable and disastrous results.  Next, Kyohei throws the world off-balance when he lets a little responsibility go to his head.  Then frugal Sunako refuses to turn on the air conditioner at the height of summer--and gets a houseful of unrepentant nudists in retaliation.  And lastly, Sunako has a little Twilight Zone-ish experience with what appears to be Kyohei when he was just a little boy.

*pffft*  This volume is sadly shorter than normal, but the stupid humor is returning to its usual caliber of snorts and guffaws.  And Hayakawa even manages to stick in a semi-serious warm-fuzzy chapter, a feat which she seems as surprised and amused by as the reader.  :P

State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett, 353 pages

When a strangely dispassionate letter arrives announcing that her colleague at her pharmaceutical company has died in the Brazilian jungle, Marina is sent in his footsteps to discover what really happened...and finish the job he couldn't.

This a beautifully written, heart-wrenching example of literary fiction that leaves the reader with a lot to think about (and talk about, if you do as I did and read it for a book club).  Patchett's characters are sympathetic, deeply flawed, and tragically and / or triumphantly human.  She brings up complicated, messy, no-win cultural, social, and personal issues and doesn't try to force a pat answer for any of them, though you can't help but get caught up in the debate and lean this way and that depending on your own compass.  Without doing the work for you, she gives you tools and materials that let you imagine possibilities beyond the last page.  I wanted to hit some characters very hard at the end and wrap others up in protective hugs while my brain dug backwards trying to see at what point or points this path could have been altered.  Not everything here will work for every reader, and not everyone will imagine the same future, but that just makes discussing it with friends that much more rewarding.

Nabari no Ou: Volume 12

by Yuhki Kamatani, 209 pages

Raikou overhears a disturbing conversation in the office of the Grey Wolves that undermines everyone's faith in Kotarou's motives all this time.  He, Raimei, and Gau also discover that the Grey Wolves have on their side a familiar deadly skill in the person of a being who seems to share the longevity of the Hakutaku.   A short time later, just as Kumohira and the others set out to reveal the past sensei has kept hidden in preparation for ridding Miharu of the Shinra Banshou once and for all, immortal Kouchi and Shijima's wish for death comes head-to-head with Raiko and Raimei's vow to stop anyone who tries to use the Shinra Banshou.

I think I'm just going to be on (or over) the verge of tears till the end of the series.  Everyone's so conflicted!  They care about each other, but they believe whole-heartedly in the rightness of their own puroses.  But I fear they will have to destroy one another to achieve them, and then how can any of them truly say they've prevailed?  Miharu's caught in the middle and doesn't yet know just how messy it's all gotten.  What will he do once he does?  Will it change his decision?  Do we even know what decision he's made that may be changed?  Waghhhh!

Nabari no Ou: Volume 11

by Yuhki Kamatani, 192 pages

Things have quieted down since Miharu gave in and used the Shinra Banshou, but it feels like the storm can't be too far off.  Yukimi tries to help the boy regain his anchor in the real world--and keep him from being desperate enough to use his power again--by making him his assistant, since taking photos for his articles is harder to do now that he only has one arm.  Meanwhile, Kumohira works with the others to find a way to free Miharu from his power before he's tempted to use it to either undo his first wish or help his two immortality-cursed acquaintances find their own closure.

Everyone's trying to put together their own pieces, but not all of their completely understandable desires are compatible and I don't know what I'm going to do when it comes down to having to take sides.  Well, except for the Grey Wolves guy and his stand-ins.  They're pretty much evil, even if they think they're in the right.  Also, watching Yukimi and Miharu navigate the pain of their shared loss, seeing the links they sense but don't recognize, just hurts; but it's all part of the grieving process and I can only hope they come out on the other side as at peace with what they have left as they can be.

Banana Fish: Volume 3

by Akimi Yoshida, 189 pages

As his friends try to find a way to legally get him released from prison, Ash is coming up with his own plans to break out, get information, and get his revenge.

Sheesh.  This is why friends need to talk to each other before they do risky things.  But Ash is nothing if not stubborn and independent, so the result probably would have been the same, regardless.  Besides, they all end up on the same page, anyway.  I enjoy seeing the gang interact as a group and hope they're able to stick with each other when things get noisy again.

Saga: Volume 1

by Brian K. Vaughan (story) and Fiona Staples (art), 161 pages

A generations-long war between the winged race of the planet Landfall and the horned race of the moon Wreath has spread well beyond the limits of the latter's orbit around the former.  Then one day fate brings an unruly winged soldier named Alana face-to-face with a tired horned prisoner of war named Marko on a muddy little planet called Cleave.  The two argue, bond over a trashy romance novel, come to realize they have the same view of this endless war, and run away together.  Only their respective home-worlds won't let them off so easily.  With bounty hunters and zealous soldiers perpetually on their heels, it's a wonder they have enough time to bring a daughter into the universe, but they do just that before setting off across the stars in hopes of giving her a future free of the death and destruction that is all they've ever known.

Ooh, this is quite lovely and different and unafraid to be either.  It's also violent and unsettlingly graphic, but the unpleasantness is sadly part of everyday existence for these people.  Happily, so is snark.  I love that this series isn't just about the romance or the adventure--it's about family and hard work and life and death and all those ongoing things that are the reality usually ignored by "happily ever after."  Alana and Marko's daughter, Hazel, provides intermittent commentary from some unknown point in the future as we watch her parents struggle to keep her and each other alive through labor and firefights and "haunted" forests and unexpected visits from her grandparents.  Just like in the real world, the politics are crazy (there are winged-race-aligned royals with computer monitors for heads who, like royalty anywhere, don't seem to have much control of their own lives).  And the bounty hunters and other pursuers are scary but complicated, themselves.  I've been looking forward to reading this for many months and am excitedly awaiting the next trade paper installment.

Sailor Twain: or The Mermaid in the Hudson

by Mark Siegel, 400 pages

Over a year ago, the steamboat Lorelei's well-liked owner disappeared without a trace, leaving his careless, erratic brother Dieudonné in charge, much to the worry and frustration of her conscientious captain, Twain, whose humble, capable hands seem to be the only thing keeping the company above the waterline.  But when he finds a beautiful injured mermaid clinging to the empty, fog-enshrouded deck, Captain Twain's orderly, familiar world begins to slip deeper and deeper into the murky depths of the Hudson River.

This is a lovely, creepy, haunting mystery that wraps the reader in its hazy, otherworldly atmosphere from first page to last and beyond.  The characters are exaggerated and cartoonish figures visually, but their intense, complicated personalities and motives bring a sense of realism that pairs unsettlingly well with what would normally be goofy features to further blur the line between fantasy and reality for the reader as much as the inexplicable events of the story do for the characters.

Banana Fish: Volume 2

by Akimi Yoshida, 189 pages

It's out of the frying pan and into the fire for Ash, as he goes from the hospital to prison thanks to string-pulling by his enemies.  If he was in danger out on the street, he's doubly so on the inside.  Luckily (?), he's got an unexpected connection of his own on the wrong side of the bars--if he doesn't kill the guy first.

Ha ha!  Poor Eiji.  I guess that's one way to secretly pass on a message--though the lengths hardened Ash is willing to go to set such a plan in motion are pretty extreme.  The fact that he doesn't seem to think anything of it if it saves his life in the end just makes him that much more pitiable.  But then there are more party shirts!  Shunichi's the worst offender, but even hip young Eiji must have been unduly influenced by his senior's questionable fashion sense.  I don't think Ash would be caught dead in a giant pineapple print, though.  *snicker*

Blue Exorcist: Volume 8

by Kazue Kato, 183 pages

As Yukio faces off against a silver-tongued demon, his brother Rin battles to find the heart of an amorphous plague while simultaneously protecting his friend Suguro, who's desperately trying to keep the poisonous clouds from spreading.

Yukio!  So much for being the "normal" twin.  I'm happy to see him finally show a little of his birthright, but I hope he's self-aware enough to avoid the emotional pitfalls that threaten to carry him over to the dark side.  He'd better start by having a real heart-to-heart talk with his brother so neither of them loses his footing.  Once the whole deathly plague thing is taken care of, of course.  And Kuro had better be ok, too.  Kitty!

Kekkaishi: Volume 27

by Yellow Tanabe, 185 pages

Karasumori is under attack, but by whom, exactly?  Masamori has an intense conversation with a prominent council member as Yoshimori fights for his home town, his friends, and his life and tries to focus on what's most important in the chaos erupting around him.

With enemies on two fronts and innocents caught in the middle, Yoshimori's going to have a lot on his plate for the foreseeable future.  I like that others on his team are chiming in to keep him grounded, with even struggling yet resolute Soji unconsciously earning confused support from a previously vocal detractor.

Kekkaishi: Volume 26

by Yellow Tanabe, 187 pages

Tensions are running high in the Shadow Council following the assassinations of a couple of members, and the resulting finger-pointing puts the pressure on Masamori to track down the truth and prevent disaster before the blame falls at his and his family's feet.  Back at Karasumori, Tokine has an uncomfortable cup of tea with an unpredictable and deadly enemy while Yoshimori must decide what to do with the assassin living under his roof.

Tanabe keeps adding substance and personality to her characters, with Yoshimori making a decision the reader doesn't see coming but that fits him so perfectly she can't imagine him doing anything else.

Kekkaishi: Volume 25

by Yellow Tanabe, 187 pages

As Yoshimori attempts to master the art of clearing his mind at will, he also tries to introduce enigmatic Shoji to things that might nurture emotion and human bonds not based on a master-and-tool relationship.  Meanwhile, Masamori prepares to finish the job he started against a powerful foe while other mysterious conspirators make their own preparations.

Oh, Shoji, the poor thing.  I love how Yoshimori's little influences register in the other boy's emotionless but observant eyes.  He may not know what to do with all this new information, but he's holding onto it and trying his best.  We just hope Yoshimori's example ultimately turns out to be more powerful than Shoji's master's cold conditioning.  Tanabe's inching toward making both Yoshimori and the reader care as much about Shoji's welfare as that of the lost friend he resembles.