Friday, January 30, 2009

Shards of Affection by Duo Brand review

Shards of Affection

Author/Artist: Duo Brand

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Grade: C

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

In a shrine, in a forest, in the middle of the city dwells a priest who is the caretaker of the Goushintou. The Goushintou are swords that house spirits that battle evil. The priest is the one who runs the show for the Goushintou and makes decisions based on their abilities. Each story in Shards of Affection loosely revolve around these blessed swords.

Wholehearted Frozen Moon – Asagi is the son of a powerful priest. He has the ability to see spirits and to wield the powerful tachi Ninomiya (one of the Goshintou), but he has the tendency to be a bit squeamish when it comes to the actual evil spirits that he is supposed to exorcise. But thanks to his second in command, Tachibana, Asagi is able to get through, sort of. These two are not only partners in business but they are partners in the bedroom. But what will happen when Tachibana is approached to take over, unseating Asagi as the lead priest?

Dangerous Hazy Moon – Ei is a priest in a church. He has formed a close friendship with Haruaki. Haruaki spends his lunch hours with Ei and it turns out that Ei has a major crush on Haruaki. Haruaki's boss seems to have a thing for him as well. But Haruaki is a bit thick and scatterbrained and can't seem to absorb the vibe that his boss is putting out. Thanks to Ei's quick thinking he is able to warn Haruaki but will that warning be heeded?

Midday Linchpin – Toranosuke wants to avenge his brother's death (or soon to be death) by using one of the tachi. Shenjing is the monster that Toranosuke must defeat. Thanks to the help from Ei and Haruaki Toranosuke is able to continue chasing after Shenjing. But one day Toranosuke witnesses Shenjing weeping in the park. Toranosuke is conflicted. Can a monster like Shenjing actually be deeper than he originally thought?

Chance Encounter Crescent Moon – This is the main tale about the Goshintou. Ninomiya (the tachi from the first story) is in love with the spirit that inhabits the newest tachi, Nanaki. Ninomiya is the oldest and wisest of the Goushintou. It seems that Nanaki's home is missing. His home is his tachi. If the tachi is gone for too long then the spirit is overtaken by nothingness and will then disappear. Nanaki is determined to find his sword on his own but Ninomiya wants to be there for his lover. Will Nanaki disappear because of his own stubbornness won't allow him to ask for help?

Full Moon Linchpin – Shenjing and Toranosuke's story continues. They're now lovers thanks to the tachi that he's been loaned. Because of its spiritual nature it protects him from the power that Shenjing possesses. Whatever Shenjing touches has the tendency to die. Toranosuke wants to return the blade to the shrine but Shenjing doesn't want that because he doesn't want to lose another lover. Will a compromise be in order?

This is my first experience with a Duo Brand title. In my humble opinion the jury is still out on this manga volume. I've read through the book several times and I can't decide on whether I like this title or not. I very rarely come across this problem. I usually have an opinion right off the bat but I can't seem to come to one with this title. I found the idea of swords that house spirits a unique plot device and creativity is something that we need more of in our yaoi choices. The art is unlike any I've seen before and I can't say if I like it. Indecision yet again!

I have never had such a hard time writing a review in my life. I just can't seem to make up my mind. Did I like the stories contained in this volume? Did I like the art? You know, I just don't know. I can say, however, that this is the first volume that Juné has published without the dust jacket. It is still the larger trim size and the quality is still very high. Just as long as they keep to the higher quality standards that they have set for themselves I won't have a problem with the books being absent their dust jacket.

I know this review hasn't been helpful in the least. If you are a fan of Duo Brand you'll definitely want to pick up this title. If you're curious don't hesitate to pick up this title either. Maybe you can read it and help me out!

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Saturday, January 24, 2009

White Brand by Youka Nitta review

White Brand

Author/Artist: Youka Nitta

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: C-

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

White Brand is a collection of short one-shots written and illustrated by the well-known master of yaoi, Youka Nitta. The longest one-shot is the title story, White Brand. Keshiki Asano and Izuru Fukaya were at one time very close but after Keshiki lost his father in a tragic accident he distanced himself from his cousin (yes, I mean Izuru.) Now they are students at the same high school. Keshiki still keeps his distance and Izuru wants to break down the barrier. It seems that Keshiki has an aversion to dark things because of the death of his father and Izuru has naturally tan skin. These two boys cared for one another once, can they once again?

The other stories consist of an American who went to Japan to study lacquer art only to be snubbed by most of the Japanese people he came into contact with. The only people to him are his teacher and his family. Another story is about three guys that are living together as roommates and two of them are lovers. They are actors in an all-male theatre troupe. One actor is struggling to grasp his character, a woman who can't have children. The next story is about a young man in New York that seems to have some psychic ability. He rescues a handsome young man off the street much to the dismay of those around him. The final tale is about a guy who has a thing for very tall women but things change when he meets one of his neighbors, a really tall male model.

Youka Nitta-sensei is very well known for such steamy manga like Embracing Love (Haru wo Daiteita) and The Prime Minister's Secret Diplomacy but if you are looking for that in White Brand you will be sorely disappointed. This manga was originally published in Japan in 1998 and Nitta-sensei says at the end that this was her fourth manga. Her manga has gotten much hotter as time has passed.

This isn't one of her stronger titles. Out of all of the short tales I only liked two of them. I found White Brand to be somewhat disturbing because Keshiki was only avoiding Izuru because of his skin. But the story that is on top of my most hated list is Hasta La Vista, Baby. That is the story about the three actors. The one who is struggling with his character decides to baby-sit his nephew for a few days to try and understand the emotions of his character. He nearly suffocates the poor child and then leaves, leaving the poor child with his two roommates. I found this story so disturbing I really hated it. I realize that child abuse happens but I don't want to read it as entertainment. You’re an actor for heaven sake; can't you imagine what your character must be feeling?

The only decent stories were the ones about the American in Japan and the psychic dude. The rest was either disturbing or forgettable. The only thing going for this volume is Nitta-sensei's art and even then it has the problem of any time sensei has portrayed women they all look like her men in wigs (sensei improved drawing women in her later volumes of work).

I don't really recommend this title unless you are a die-hard Youka Nitta fan and even then I say don't expect much. If you want to read something by her that is actually really good, then read The Prime Minister's Secret Diplomacy.

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hitohira vol. 2 by Idumi Kirihara review

Hitohira vol. 2

Author/Artist: Idumi Kirihara

Publisher: Aurora Publishing

Rating: T – 13 and up

Genre: Shojo, Drama, Comedy, School Life, Slice of Life

Grade: A

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Over summer break the Theatre Research Group has its annual camp at the beach. Everyone is looking forward to surf, sand, and fun but Nono has planned every minute of every day while they are there and fun is nowhere to be found. She's running them ragged. Since the official Theatre Club and the Theatre Research Group have their survival on the line Nono wrote an original play entitled Hitohira. It is a beautiful play and she cast Mugi as the play's heroine. Nono is positive that Mugi will be an amazing leading lady, but Mugi isn't so sure of that. Because of all of the pressure they've all been under war breaks out. We have catfights, nasty yelling fights, and all sorts of violent outbursts. Mugi feels like she is responsible for all of this and she doesn't have the confidence so she decides to quit the club and leaves immediately. It's the middle of the night at the beach, however, so it's not too smart for Mugi to leave on her own. Nono insists that it's time to go to bed so she does just that. Takashi, Kai, and Risaki go on the hunt to find her. Kai was the lucky guy to locate Mugi and because of their friendship, love may be blooming. After a day or two things work themselves out and Mugi accepts her role.

Things are different when they get back to school. Chitose Kanna, the adorable blonde, is continuing to obsess over Takashi. When she escapes the official Theatre Club to gaze upon Takashi she overhears rehearsal and feels immediately threatened by Mugi. It seems that Mugi has a presence after all. Things may seem to be going smoothly now but because of a lack of funds there seems to be trouble making ends meet. Will the play go off without a hitch or will Mugi choke? Which club will be the one to have to close its doors?

I have really enjoyed Hitohira. It has a lot to do with the fact that I can totally relate to Mugi. There is just something about the theatre that has the ability to help bring someone out of their shell. I wasn't nearly as shy as Mugi, but I did struggle with my own forms of shyness. It wasn't until I became someone else that I was able to find out who I truly am. The story is interesting and fun, but in several places I've read that this is actually a seinen manga (manga aimed at men). Aurora seems to be selling this as a shojo title. If it’s a seinen title I'm now all confused. To me this is a fluffy feel good story and it doesn't have the feel of a seinen title. I guess I'll just have to stick with it (which will happen, no question) and see what happens.

I must say that the art in Hitohira is absolutely amazing. The effects of the ample uses of screentone give it a rich depth that makes is very pleasant to the eye. It has a 3-D effect that you don't find in many manga. Everything is so clear and crisp that you can't help but just stare at the panels in awe.

I have found this to be an enjoyable continuation of an interesting story. In the world of manga school is a common setting for stories. Often times I find myself yearning for something more interesting than boy-meets-girl at school (or boy-meets-boy because I read a lot of yaoi), fall in love, and so on. Hitohira may be set in an arts high school but with the story focused on Mugi and her coming out of her shell through the theatre gives a different vibe. I think that this is definitely a don't miss title.

If interested here is a link to my review of Hitohira vol.1.

***Review Copy provided by Aurora Publishing***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Shall Never Return vol. 5 by Kazuna Uchida review

I Shall Never Return vol. 5

Author/Artist: Kazuna Uchida

Publisher: Deux Press

Rating: M – 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: A-

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

We find out what happens with Ken, Ritsuro, Moeko, and Kazuyoshi in this final volume of I Shall Never Return. I'm going to apologize for divulging any spoilers from here because volume 5 wraps everything up.

Ken is currently taking photographs with his stepfather J in India while Ritsuro is still in Osaka preparing for his college entrance exams. Ken and J were able to walk away from the auto accident with a few bruises and scrapes but nothing too serious. Ken wants to get J to a hospital to get him checked out because he's having dizzy spells but J really wants Ken to see the Himalayas. Kazuyoshi still isn't speaking to Ritsuro because he's still heart broken. But there are some storm clouds blowing in because of Ken and Kazuyoshi's past. Because of this past and the thugs they used to hang out with Ritsuro gets caught up in the middle of it. Thankfully the cops show up but also because of this incident Ritsuro's parents find out about the nature of Ken and Ritsuro's relationship.

Meanwhile in India, Ken's mom hadn't heard from J and Ken so she decides to go look for them. While she's tracing their steps Ken and J are at the base of the Himalayas when J passes out. Once he comes to we find out he's gone blind. Also it turns out that Ken's mom is pregnant so things are all topsy-turvy in Ken's life too. How will things all wrap up?

I Shall Never Return is a series that I was surprised at how good it was. Even though it was written in the mid-90's story wise it still holds up well and you are able to overlook the outdated fashions. The characters all change and grow and become much more interesting. The most compelling character in the book, in my opinion, would be Moeko. Usually when women are portrayed in yaoi they are usually jealous shrews. But Moeko rises above that stereotype and is really the most amazing character in the series. She has a boyfriend but ends up sleeping with her boyfriend's boyfriend (confused yet?), she can't seem to seal the deal with her boyfriend, she gets into an accident and ends up losing her boyfriend to another guy, she still harbors feelings for her ex, her homeroom teacher hits on her, and on and on and on. The girl has moxie. She was able to pick herself up from this experience and grow. Plus she was able to create a lasting friendship with both Ritsuro (the boyfriend) and Ken (the guy who stole her man). She also seemed to be the conscience of the story as well. She is a yaoi heroine we can all admire and appreciate because you don't see amazing female characters like her all that often.

Kazuyoshi is also another interesting character. He softens up to the point that he is able to stand tall and be proud of who he is and what he has become. He's changed from a strung out party kid to a smart guy headed to Tokyo. We have Ritsuro to thank for that.

Obviously the story is centered on Ritsuro and Ken and their relationship. It starts out as one filled with lust and sex but morphs into one of love, respect, and need. Ken's parents are a little more understanding and accepting of their relationship whereas Ritsuro's parents act exactly how you would expect them to act.

I initially had no desire to read this series but I have been put in my place. It is filled to the brim with angst and sex but there is an actual compelling story there. Often times when it comes to the sex in yaoi manga you have one character who is the uke and one who is the seme. But with this series the two characters switch so neither character is the designated uke or seme. The art started out as interesting but Uchida-sensei's style grew on me (it also helped that she's the sister of one of my favorite manga-ka, Shiuko Kano-sama), the art also became more polished, more detailed (if that was even possible), and more beautiful as the series progressed. I have to give my props to Deux Press for taking a huge chance in licensing a title that wouldn't have made it to our shores otherwise.

I recommend this title highly. Of course you want to make sure you read the entire series and I'm pretty sure once you pick up volume one you won't be able to stop until you've read all five, in one sitting!

Here are the links to my reviews of the previous volumes of I Shall Never Return:

Volume One
Volume Two
Volume Three
Volume Four.

***Review Copy provided by Publisher***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kyo Kara MAOH! vol. 2 by Tomo Takabayashi and Temari Matsumoto review

Kyo Kara MAOH! vol. 2

Author/Artist: Tomo Takabayashi/Temari Matsumoto

Publisher: TOKYOPOP

Rating: T – ages 13 and up

Genre: Shojo, Shonen Ai, Comedy, Drama, Action, Fantasy

Grade: A

Yuri has been flushed down the toilet to an alternate reality. He's been sent to Shinmakoku and has been told that he is the king of the Mazoku(aka as the Demons). By mistake he's gotten engaged and won a duel, and they're with the same person. It seems that things are pretty restless in Shinmakoku and a war is in the near future. Yuri, having grown up in Japan, prefers peace and would rather not see harm come to anyone human or demon. Wolfram (his fiancé and Conrad's younger brother) sneaks Yuri out of the castle and takes him out of the castle. There is a quick standoff between Adalbert (see my review of KKM vol. 1) and Wolfram and his small, private, magical army. Adalbert doesn't want Yuri to become the demon king and Wolfram turns him over reluctantly. Adalbert claims that he's doing this to help Yuri but it just solidifies his views and he decides that he is going to become king. Plus, thanks to the Kohhi (the flying skeletons you see throughout the books and anime) Conrad, Gwendal, and Wolfram were able to find him. He helps the human villagers and truly becomes king. But at his coronation ceremony he is pulled through the waterfall at the Tomb of the Great One back to reality, in Japan. It seems that Ken Murata (the dude that Yuri saved from the bullies in the first volume) ran off to get help.

Later, while at the public bath with Murata, he gets sucked back to Shinmakoku but this time he ends up in the bath at Gwendal's castle and he gets mobbed by beautiful men that are also in the bath. Thanks to Gunter (unknowingly of course) Conrad pulled Yuri to safety. The humans are still restless and threat of war is still looming and it seems a quest is in order. Yuri must go find the demon sword Morgif. Only the demon king can handle Morgif so Yuri must accompany Conrad to Vandervia Island. This mission wouldn't seem to be dangerous, but we're still at the beginning of the series so there is lots more action ahead.

This series has quickly become a favorite, what with all the light shonen ai action, humor, and fantasy aspects to hold my attention. I did enjoy the anime series and I hope that TOKYOPOP will continue with the series and also toss around the idea of the light novels (I know they do the novel route because they published the two Gravitation novels). Each character's personality is starting to cement, but mysteries still surround them. Wolfram is the biggest contraction in the story. He seems to be hostile towards Yuri but follows him around constantly interrogating him about the other girls and handsome men he's been in contact with. Gwendal seems to be strict, harsh, and gloomy but he has a soft spot in his heart for cute things. Gunter is the most vocal on his attraction to Yuri, but is it Yuri he loves or the post of king that he reveres. The most mysterious character seems to be Conrad. Handsome and skilled there seems to be much behind those looks and kind expression.

I would have given this manga an A+ if it weren't for the production quality. The first volume had several full color sheets at the beginning of the book and was a high quality release. But the second volume didn't have any colored sheets. Plus on the characters introductions page the only character that was correctly identified was Conrad. I think the editor was sleeping while checking that page. I also found that anytime that Yuri was speaking or thinking whether at home in Japan or in Shinmakoku, the font chosen really distracted me. I could understand having the fancier font but it wasn't necessary all the time. Oh, well! The rest of the manga was well done and I enjoyed it. Temari Matsumoto-sensei is a truly amazing artist and with the story material sensei is really able to shine.

This is a really fun read, and a fun anime as well. I do suggest you read it.

***Review Copy purchased at Borders***