Saturday, December 22, 2012

Adventure Time Volume 1

Adventure Time Volume 1 Created by Pendleton Ward; Written by Ryan North; Illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb

If you're not a fan of the Adventure Time cartoon (but seriously, why aren't you?), this graphic novel may not make a lot of sense to you (though Adventure Time doesn't really... make sense ever all the time). This graphic novel is a great expansion of the Adventure Time stories in a different format.
Total randomness and sporadic storytelling make Adventure Time fun, and this graphic novel totally emulates the same nature of the cartoon. This is a trade paperback collecting the story where the Lich King threatens to suck up the world in his bag and put it in the sun. All of the regular characters are featured-- Finn, Jake, Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess, BMO, the Ice King, and Marceline. When everyone gets sucked up into the Lich King's bag they have to figure out how to escape and defeat the Lich King. Using typical Adventure Time fun they loads of crazy ideas. Jake Jet to carry them in space, pendants that protect you from mind control, making thousands of ice and sand Finn and Jakes to overwhelm the Lich King, you know, the usual. The Desert Princess (she can make anything out of sand!) helps save the day too when the earth comes out of the bag looking a little misshapen!

This comic includes a lot of nods to the original Adventure Time short and fan favorites, even if they don't make a lot of sense if you're not in the know. It really helps to read the dialogue with the characters' voices, but you'd have to have watched the show to know their mannerisms and speech quirks.

The only problem I had with this graphic novel was that the footnotes includes (which weren't vital to the story, but added a nice something) were printed in a bright, light green that does not show up well on white, making them extremely difficult to read!

If you're a fan of the series you'll love the Adventure Time comic! If you aren't familiar with Adventure Time it could be a great introduction! If you don't like Adventure Time... Why would you want to read this?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako is an amazing manga series.The story is about Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki, a boy and a girl, respectively, who attend the same school. Nitori-kun is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Takatsuki-san is a girl who wants to be a boy. This is a realistic depiction of transgender and sexual identity issues in a coming-of-age story.

Nitori-kun is often bullied by the other boys so most of his friends are girls. Takatsuki-san and Chiba-san both know his secret, and both treat him differently for it. Takatsuki-san understands because she too wishes she were the opposite gender. She sympathizes for him because as a girl she can easily have a male hair style and wear boy's clothes without drawing attention, but Nitori-kun cannot wear girl's clothes so easily. Her mother buys her dresses, so she gives them to Nitori-kun. Chiba-san also tries to give Nitori-kun clothes, but he refuses them because Chiba-san knows, but she doesn't understand and treats his identity and cross-dressing as a game because she thinks it's interesting. As the characters grow the encounter complexities in their relationships and identity.

Takatsuki-san sees another girl dressed in boy's clothes and wants to be like her. She begins to wear boy's clothes and has her hair cut short (like Nitori-kun's). When her period begins she struggles against her biologically female self and her actual identity. She often comes to Nitori-kun's rescue and is often tougher than he is.

The characters all have an amazing depth to them. The story explores the issues that a transgendered individual may go through personally, with friendships, and with family. It is highly insightful and sensitive to the characters' emotions and personalities. The perspectives of different people are shared as well-- Nitori-kun's sister, Maho; Chiba-san and Chiba-san's mother; and two adult friends the protagonists share.

While the story is focused on transgender topics, I think that this is a wonderfully moving coming-of-age story and captures the complexities of sexual identity, friendships, and family that teens face. The simple art style captures details beautifully-- the shine of one's eyes when they're about to cry, the significant gesture of changing clothes from boy's to girl's clothes for Nitori-kun (for instance, him entering the restroom or a dress hanging on the closet), and the shared room of Maho and Shuichi and how they interact in the space.

There are only 3 volumes published in the US right now, but I look forward to reading more of this story.

I have used the male and female pronouns for Nitori-kun and Takatsuki-san respectively because the honorifics and translation follow this as well. According to Japanese law, one can request a gender change on identifying documents after the age of 20 (and various other conditions), so since both characters are minors they cannot yet legally change their gender. Additionally, throughout the volumes I have read they are discovering this identity, it is not yet clear if they identify exclusively male or female yet. Matt Thorn, the translator, shares information in volumes 1 and 2 about being transgendered in Japan and views regarding LGBT people in Japan that is highly insightful. From what I know, when a transgendered person refers to his or herself as male or female then others should do the same. I have several friends who are transgendered, so this is a topic close to me. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blue Exorcist by Kazue Katō

I realized that I haven't reviewed any shonen manga on my blog yet! Shonen manga are geared towards boys and feature more action and adventure with a strong focus on friends and rivals. Some popular shonen series are Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto

Blue Exorcist by Kazue Katō is an exciting series that is fairly new. We began to see it in the US with the release of the anime in Japan, but the manga began in 2009 in Japan.

Two twin brothers are raised by Father Shiro Fujimoto. Rin Okumura is the protagonist-- he is reckless and always in trouble. Father Fujimoto ends up dying trying to protect him, which is when Rin discovers that he is the son of Satan. In trying to exact revenge he draws the Kurikara sword, which unleashes his demonic powers. When he meets Mephisto Pheles at Father Fujimoto's funeral he declares that he wants to become an exorcist like Father Fujimoto was, and Mephisto Pheles happens to be the headmaster at the True Cross Academy where young exorcists go to train.

Upon arriving at True Cross Academy Rin learns that his brother Yukio is not only already at True Cross Academy, but he is an instructor at the academy! Rin must conceal his nature and learn to control his powers. He wants to fit in and make friends, but he's also living in his brother's shadow. 

Throughout the series we see Rin grow as a person, as well as discover the story behind Father Fujimoto, True Cross Academy, and the history of exorcists. Blue Exorcist is a shonen manga, so it focuses on action-- training, fighting-- and it's fast-paced. Although Rin is the main character each character is interesting-- there are very few that lack a background and purposeful role. 

As far as shonen manga goes this has a stronger plot. The cast of characters is smaller and I think that allows deeper reflection on the characters and their goals and relationships than other series tend to do. Even the "bad guys" are complex and well-written instead of random enemy #5497 that you forget about in a few volumes. Right now the series in the US is at volume 8, but only up to volume 9 in Japan! 

I recommend checking out Blue Exorcist now before it's a million volumes long (shonen manga series tend to be very lengthy... Bleach is at volume 56 right now, and that's not one of the longest).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dengeki Daisy by Kyousuke Motomi

Dengeki Daisy by Kyousuke Motomi is one of my absolute favorite shoujo manga. Honestly, it's probably the series that brought me back to reading shoujo manga. Dengeki translates to "electric shock," which likely refers to the fact that the series is fairly tech involved.

When Teru Kurebayashi's brother died she was left with a cell phone with the text-address of someone using the handle DAISY. She talks to DAISY every day via texting and relies on his kindness to help her through her struggles-- from school and mourning her brother. She is bullied often at school and one day when she breaks a window on accident she finds herself in the servitude of the irritable school janitor-- Kurosaki. Throughout the series Teru develops friendships with classmates, the janitor, and others and begins to unfurl the mysteries that surround her late brother and the secret identity of DAISY.

Teru is an extremely likable character. She is an ordinary girl, though a bit of a space-case (let's be honest-- who isn't). She is independent and positive. Unlike some shoujo manga protagonists her focus isn't finding love or school drama. After her brother's death she is sought by hackers to find some piece of data he may have had. They are convinced that she has it, and DAISY always comes to her rescue. Teru learns to become strong because she wants to make her brother-- and DAISY-- proud, and her friends and allies help her along the way, letting her discover more about her brother than she had ever known before.

Dengeki Daisy is full of action and interesting characters. Each volume is enjoyable and new-- never predictable or filler. For girls reading graphic novels about girls that isn't just about romance is sometimes a struggle, but Dengeki Daisy manages to have action and a quality plot AND still include aspects of romance and friendships to make it a shoujo manga.

This is an ongoing series with 10 volumes released in the US right now.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Otomen by Aya Kanno

Otomen by Aya Kanno was a previous TAB pick, which is why I decided to check out the series. Asuka Masamune is a guy that likes to do crafty things like sewing and knitting, he likes cute things, and he loves shoujo manga. Asuka’s father was also into cute and girly things, and his mother made him ashamed to like girly things like his father did. However, when a girl named Ryo Miyakozuka transfers into the school Asuka finds it more and more difficult to hide his interests.

The more he thinks about her, the more he wants to do crafts, bake, and buy cute things. Ryo is the daughter of a dojo master, and she only has brothers; she isn't very good at girly things and aspires to be tough. Most of the students in the school think Asuka is tough because he's on the kendo team and he does judo, but he has to work hard to hide his girly interests. When he meets Ryo and Juta he is able to let down his guard and share his real interests by bringing them homemade meals for lunch and by teaching Ryo how to bake a cake.

Why is Juta so interested in Asuka and Ryo? Why does the story of Love Chick seem so familiar? Can Asuka convince Ryo's father that he is worthy of her? 

Otomen is a play on words: "otome" meaning young lady and the English word "men." This word is used in the manga to describe a man that likes girly things, like Asuka. I like a graphic novel that breaks gender stereotypes, though this is still very much a shoujo manga and would be more appealing to girls or guys that like love stories. The characters are all interesting, and relatable to any teen that has ever struggled to fit in. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

In which Ashley reads books about strange creatures...

Several friends mentioned their fondness for Tove Jansson's Moomin series, and I decided to finally read the series. Tove is a Swedish-speaking Finnish artist who published these beloved stories, but the stories have been translated into English throughout the years and I found the almost-complete series in my library. (Mysteriously the first book is difficult to find, but due for reprinting this fall).

The Moomin series revolves around the Moomin family-- Moomintroll, Moominmamma, and Moominpappa. Another creature called Sniff lives with them, and throughout the series more creatures come to live with them in the Moominhouse (which is blue and round with rope ladders from the windows because stairs take too long).

Comet in Moominland is technically the second book, but the editions by Squarefish are referring to it as the first. They came to Moominvalley because the flood washed their house here-- which is referenced throughout the book, but little background exists in this story since we theoretically already read The Moomins and the Great Flood. Regardless of that strangeness there are no holes in this book that would take away from it.

The book begins with Moomintroll and Sniff discovering pearls and a cave. Eventually Muskrat came to the house and predicted a ____ and unnecessary disaster. Strange things started to happen-- the pearls arranged themselves into a star with a tail pattern, as did gulls, jam jars, and pears. When Muskrat tells them it's a comet, they decide to journey to the Observatory to find out what and when it was going to happen.

The language and humor in the books are sophisticated and highly accessible for most readers-- there may be unfamiliar phrases or uncommon expressions to some readers. The characters have unique personalities that complement each other and further the plot.

These are stories about adventure and friendship that are perfect for elementary-aged children, and perhaps middle grade children, but any reader would find the tales enjoyable.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mameshiba: We Could Be Heroes!

Did you know? ...

Mameshiba: We Could be Heroes! is a fun, colorful graphic novel that includes three short stories about the mameshibas, or bean dogs.There are also single-page comics about a Mameshiba named Tiger Bean.

The graphic novel is actually based on a Japanese merchandise franchise, which led to television shorts, short comics, and these graphic novels. The mameshibas spout random facts when encountered, always beginning by saying, "Did you know?"

The stories included are Chili Bean in Love, Sweet Tiger Bean, A Whole Lot of Cocoa, Science! With Tiger Bean, Once Upon a Time..., and Good Night, Tiger Bean. The Tiger Bean stories are all single page stories about a little bean named Tiger Bean who isn't very bright (but rather cute).

In Chili Bean in Love, Chili Bean must win a sports competition to win his love's heart, but who is he in love with anyway?

A Whole Lot of Cocoa is about a magic show that doesn't go so well. This story introduces the ultra-cool Mameshibot and some of my favorite moments in this graphic novel.

Once Upon a Time... shares a story about scary monsters and how the mameshibas save the day in a fantasy land.

If you like randomness, cute characters, and are looking for something new, check out Mameshiba: We Could Be Heroes! 

The Mameshiba stories are great for any audience. Boys and girls will both enjoy this graphic novel, and although it would be recommended for elementary-age children, middle school students would enjoy the stories as well.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Library Wars: Love and War

Based on the description of Library Wars: Love and War, I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy it. I'm a librarian, so I felt that I should like it, but I have been reading a lot of shoujo manga lately that I haven't enjoyed. 

It's the future and the government has created a committee to rid society of books that are "unsuitable." In retaliation, libraries create their own military group called the Library Defense Force to protect their collections! 

Iku Kasahara has left home telling her family she was going to be a librarian, but secretly she has joined the Library Defense Force as a soldier. Why did she choose this dangerous life? Because of her prince that rescued her favorite book from confiscation by the government when she was younger. She wants to be just like him.

This is not the typical shoujo manga you may be familiar with, but when it comes down to the relationships Iku has with other characters and their personalities maybe it is. Her drill instructor is out to get her, and her new partner has little respect for her and thinks she's useless. Her best friend is a librarian and totally attractive and gets all the boys. Iku? She's clumsy, barely studies, and always runs into trouble. The story and character development has significantly more substance than many shoujo manga, and therefore appeals to fans of graphic novels and readers who are new to the format. 

If you're looking for a new shoujo manga that is thought-provoking and exciting, but still full of complicated romance, check out Library Wars.

The manga is based on Toshokan Sensō, a light novel (a book for teens, like what we call YA Lit) in Japan. The plot is based on the Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries in Japan in 1954. Below is the opening page of the manga, which is based on actual articles from the real Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries.

(Teens at the Arlington Library, the teen library blog of my library system, has shared this post on their blog as well)