Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Attack on Titan by Hajime Isahaya

Attack on Titan is one of the best manga I've read this year. At first I thought it was kind of weird and a bit violent and didn't want to keep reading. Then my friends would not stop talking about it and how awesome the characters are. So I kept reading and now I'm completely obsessed. 

Humankind has been confined to a walled region because of the appearance of titans some hundred years ago.The military is tasked with keeping the people safe, but only when they make expeditions outside the wall are they really endangered. Eren Jaeger is the protagonist and he wants to join the scouting legion-- the part of the military that goes outside the wall. He and his friends dream of one day escaping from the walls. 

One day a colossal titan appears at the wall outside of Eren's hometown along with an incredibly destructive armored Titan. The titans destroy the town and many of the people living there are killed, including Eren's mother. After this Eren vows to kill all of the titans (interesting note: in the Japanese version he uses the counter for insects instead of the counter for something larger, which really emphasizes his feelings toward the titans). He and his adoptive sister, Mikasa, and their friend Armin decide to join the military and become part of the 104th training corp.

Although there is violence in this manga, it's not just meaningless-- the story is really interesting. The titans appeared 100 years ago and no one knows anything about them or exactly what they are or where they came from. It takes place in a historical European setting, but it's unclear when it occurs. The story is very much so about human nature and motivations, as well as class society, and what is essentially the last stronghold of humanity after the world (presumably) was wiped out by titans.

Throughout the series the more we learn the more questions we have. Each volume will leave you eager to read more. If you liked manga like Death Note you may enjoy Attack on Titan. They're both somewhat dark, but very thought-provoking and engaging. Something to keep in mind-- the art isn't that great sometimes (occasionally Eren has a really long neck, for example), but don't let that deter you from reading the story! I have so many questions and theories I could share, but read the series, then let's talk.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wandering Son Volume 4 by Shimura Takako

Wandering Son Vol. 4 by Shimura Takako

In the latest volume of Wandering Son (Vol. 4) we see a shift a bit of a shift in the story. This volume is less focused on the individual characters, but on those characters and their relationships. It really captures the complexities of teen friendships and love interests, though it is-- I think I'll call it realistic. "Realistic" because just because a character confesses their love, it isn't necessarily met with mutual feelings. Some of this is because of peer pressure-- accusations of being close to someone  makes the two characters push each other away. Other times it's actually because the love interest doesn't share the same feelings. New friendships and confessions cause others to be jealous and feel spiteful towards everyone. Mixed emotions fill the characters as they finish their final year before junior high.

The characters are all so complex and flawed in their own ways and as a result make them easy to relate to. It's a great coming-of-age story and the art and story are so beautiful it would be a shame to not read Wandering Son. I still love this series and I can't wait for the next one.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks

I literally just finished reading this book. It's so good that I'm blogging about it immediately.

Right after his breakup Charlie finds out from his neighbor Nate that his exgirlfriend is ruining everything. The science club had money which the robotics club of which Nate is president planned to use to go to a robotics competition. Unfortunately, someone found out that the money was not earmarked specifically for the science club, so now it's up to the student council to decide what happens to the money. More unfortunately, the cheerleaders think they need the money for new uniforms. To convince the student council to give the robotics club the money, Nate decides to campaign for student council president. The cheerleaders enlist Charlie (against his will). It's an all-out battle... Until they all end up in trouble and no one is getting the money. Now they have to work together (?!!) to enter the Robot Rumble and win so that both the robotics team and the cheerleaders can get the money they need. Nothing can possibly go wrong, right?

This was a fantastic graphic novel about high school rivalry. The characters are all so perfect. I know I just shared my top 5 of the year so far, but I know for a fact this one has to be on my top 10 of the year already.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gate 7 by CLAMP

Gate 7 is the latest series in the west by the mangaka group CLAMP. You may know of CLAMP and recognize this style from one of their many series-- xxxHolic, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, and many others.

The beautiful style of CLAMP that caught my attention years ago has developed to create stunning imagery in the characters, costumes, and scenery. Gate 7 takes place in modern day Kyoto, which is a city in Japan known for its traditional and historical architecture and sites.

The story follows Chikahito Takamoto who is visiting Kyoto on a trip. He accidentally meets Hana, Tachibana, and Sakura while visiting a shrine. He gets caught up in a battle between these three and supernatural creatures. A few months after returning home Chikahito suddenly is transferred to a new school... in Kyoto. His mother is against it, but because of her work overseas it's difficult to argue, so Chikahito ends up moving to Kyoto. While apartment hunting he runs into them again while searching for a restaurant, and then he comes to live with the trio in Kami-Shichiken Hana Michi.

Hana is some kind of supernatural being that fights monsters. Sakura and Tachibana are her guardians-- Sakura controls the dark element (Yin), Tachibana controls the light element (Yang). They both serve different purposes to help Hana battle-- creating barriers or weapons, for example. Chikahito Takamoto for some reason can go inside the barriers... Ordinary people can't do that. However, when they ask Hana which side he is on, she simply says that he is, "not." This is to say that he is neither for or against them.

Throughout the first three volumes of this manga we meet an interesting cast of characters. Masamune Date and Iematsu Tokugawa, two daimyo from the Sengoku period; and Hidetsugu Toyotomi, the retainer to his uncle Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Yep, you heard me, from the the Sengoku period. Hana, Tachibana, and Sakura are members of the Urashichiken Hana Michi, and their leader is Hidetsugu Toyotomi. One of their allies is Masamune Date, and the main antagonist is Iematsu Tokugawa. Their battles go back to the Sengoku period, and right now Iematsu is searching for Nobunaga's body to capture his oni.

Are you confused? It is a bit confusing. The Sengoku period is also known as the Warring States Period lasted from the mid-15th century to the early 17th century in Japan. It was a time of political and social upheaval and military conflict. Most of the characters this manga includes are historical figures from this time period, and yes, their conflicts are still present. Maybe you'll read more about the history after diving into these manga, but if you aren't up to that endeavor, at least read the notes at the end of the manga-- they go into a lot of detail about the historical figures, terminology, and items of note that you may not be familiar with.

Gate 7 is an interesting mix of historical events and supernatural beings in modern day Kyoto. If you're interested in Japanese history and mythology, beautiful art, and a great story, check out Gate 7 by CLAMP. It's full of fun characters, strange situations, and supernatural drama (and did I mention the amazing art?).

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Match Made in Heaven by Trina Robbins

My Boyfriend is a Monster #8: A Match Made in Heaven by Trina Robbins

Wings of love
Love is in the air
Fly me to the moon
Under his wing
Up, up and away
Feather kisses
Winging it
I touched an angel 
I picked up this particular volume because Yuko Ota, illustrator of one of my favorite webcomics, Johnny Wander, is one of the illustrators!  Xian Nu Studio is the primary illustrator. I had heard of the series, but I'm not that interested in paranormal romance stories so I didn't check it out sooner. I wish I had! From what I can tell, each volume is a standalone story, so it's okay to read them out of order. 

This particular story features an aspiring graphic novelist named Morning Glory (Yuko Ota illustrates Morning Glory's graphic novel). She's the daughter of two folk musicians who are responsible for putting together a folk music festival. Her best friend is Julia, who lives in a broken home, and needs her BFF to help her cope. In walks Gabriel, and goodness gracious he is so attractive and charming! He actually is interested in Julia first, but since she's busy at home he ends up spending time with Morning Glory instead, taking her away from her BFF. In walks Luci, Gabriel's cousin, absolutely determined to keep them apart! 

What is up with those cousins? Who are they? Why is Luci so against their relationship? Gabriel wants Morning Glory to push her comic and share it with other novelists and groups, but now she doesn't have time for Julia. For what exactly? A guy who won't even kiss her?
One of the reasons I think so highly of this graphic novel (and hopefully series!) is that it is wonderfully representative of diversity in terms of race, life experiences, and interests of the characters. It's awesome to see in a paranormal romance. Many fiction graphic novel series lack a wide range of diversity amongst their characters, and paranormal romance does not have a significant amount of diversity represented on their covers to make all readers feel compelled to read their stories.

The other reason: I'm a sucker for dramas and graphic novels that easily draw me in.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I recently read the graphic novel adaptation of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. I think the graphic novel definitely stands up to the creepiness of the book. The style of this graphic novel adaptation is much more attuned to classic American comics, instead of the usual graphic novels I read and have reviewed here.

Coraline and her family have moved to a new house and she's bored out of her mind. She's adventurous and curious-- probably a bad combination. She discovers a bricked-up door that is not actually closed off all the time, and she ends up in.... her house? She discovers her Other Mother and Other Father, somewhat "off" versions of her real parents. These Other Parents love her and want her to stay, but something is wrong, and now Coraline has to use her wits to escape the Other Mother's grasp.

This adaptation struck me as being a rougher style than I was expecting, and more reliant on the text to carry the story instead of the images. Coraline looks older than I envisioned her, and didn't give me the same impression as she did in the original. The representations of the Other Mother and Other Father were more horrific and grotesque as well. It's interesting to think about graphic novel adaptations of novels. I have enjoyed some of them and found them very true to the novels, and while I would say that this graphic novel adaptation of Coraline is true to the novel, I think it's a bit more intense! What you could imagine and picture in the story is visually in front of you, and possibly more graphic than you expected. I read Coraline several years ago now, and I have only most recently watched the stop-animation film adaptation, and I don't think any of the three can really be judged by the same criteria. They each offer a different experience for a different audience.

I think that this was a well-adapted graphic novel, in a style well-suited to a Neil Gaiman work. It offers readers a different experience. The art is dynamic, but simple. The quirky, creepy story works well as a graphic novel. The illustrator utilizes warm and cool palettes to represent different spaces and evoke certain feelings, and pays attention to the details and what colors to make them stand out.  The expressions are fairly static, but the text keeps the story flowing nicely.

Fans of Coraline, Neil Gaiman, or P. Craig Russell would likely be interested in reading this adaptation. Readers of horror and fantasy novels and graphic novels are recommended to read this as well. While the comic is not gory, I wouldn't recommend it if you're squeamish about horror elements-- it's one thing to read about it, it's another to see it!

People talk about film adaptations of books quite often, but what do you think about graphic novel adaptations of books? How do you think the adapter develops their version to make it true to the original and a version that can stand on its own?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Bride's Story Vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori

A Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori is a manga that makes me totally geek out over the 19th century Silk Road, pretty much right on par with how obsessed I was with my undergraduate work with art history (focus on Asian art). Where do I even begin? The story is engaging, and though it's not particularly fast-paced, it doesn't lack action. The setting is Central Asia, part of the Silk Road, in the 19th century. There are nomadic herdsmen and tradesmen as well as cities built up at intersections for trade routes. Central Asian horse-people are my absolute favorite cultures, and the history of the Silk Road is one of my favorite topics.

The bride-- Amir-- is a strong woman. She's 20 years old-- 8 years older than her groom-- and from a nomadic tribe in Central Asia. She can hunt (with a bow!), sew, ride, cook, and is quite independent. She surprises her new family all the time with her skills and knowledge, but they also see that she is caring and gentle with her husband and his family.

Karluk is 12 years old, which is a more typical age for marriage (Amir is regarded as a very old bride!), and is the heir to his family's wealth as part of a tradition of ultimogeniture (junior right). Karluk feels compelled to reassure Amir that he does not worry that she is older. He cares for his family and Amir, and often is taken aback by his strong bride (but in a good way!).

The art is absolutely beautiful. I cannot emphasize this enough. Kaoru Mori captured the art and styles of Central Asia wonderfully. I took time to admire the details on the clothing, architecture, and decor. Kaoru Mori made it a point to represent horses that looked like Central Asian horses, and in the notes she specifically refers to the Akhal-teke horse.

Photo by SpiritOfTheDeep on DeviantArt
(Google it, the photo above is a beautiful horse, but alone does not capture how splendid these horses are-- their coats look metallic!!)

She also captures the environment and nature to place even more attention on the setting of the story.

The first volume introduces the characters and poises the story for future events. This really is more of a slice-of-life manga; the chapters are tied together, but they each stand alone as separate stories as well. I finished the first volume, and though I'm eager to read the next, I don't feel like the story left me feeling unsatisfied at all!

A Bride's Story is a great graphic novel for readers who: like an interesting story; appreciate beautiful, detailed art; are interested in a historical fiction set in Central Asia; are Silk Road nerds like me; or are just looking for something new to read that deviates from action-packed or romance manga. I love this manga for its beautiful art, the Silk Road setting, and its awesome female protagonist.

If you're not into 19th century Silk Road, try Emma instead! Emma is set in 19th century Victorian London. It is also by Kaoru Mori, and features an upstairs-downstairs romance. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson

Hilda and her mom live out in the country and enjoy their life away from the town. However, they receive mysterious tiny letters that tell them to leave and that their house will be smashed! Hilda writes back to the hidden people, as they are known by her and her mum, telling them to leave them alone because they are nice people!
A voice in her head visits her, well not really, a hidden person visits her. After signing a stack of tiny papers Hilda is let in on the secret and can suddenly see the hidden people! Their house is surrounded by tiny houses and there are tiny people everywhere. Apparently Hilda and her mother live in the middle of one country, and their valley makes up three countries. They did live peacefully in the valley, but when the new prime minister of the hidden people was elected, he had promised to get rid of Hilda and her mum, so they aggressively began attacking!
All the while, a mysterious giant-- no, not a forest giant-- is seen nearby. It's up to Hilda to try to make friends with the hidden people (if not, Hilda's mom said they have to move to the town!) and figure out what this giant is all about.
I would recommend Hilda and the Midnight Giant to graphic novel fans or newbies. It's great for all ages, and it features a wonderful girl protagonist. The illustrations are full of rich color and excellent expression and character. I particularly like Twig, Hilda's pet (a sort of fox with antlers). It's a good standalone story that will be enjoyable to anyone looking for a quirky tale. It is however, the second Hilda book-- Hildafolk is the first, and this one is followed by Hilda and the Bird Parade. I didn't feel that not reading the first affected my enjoyment or comprehension of the story. This is an album-sized graphic novel (think the size of Tintin or Asterix) so the illustrations (full color, by the way) can be explored in more detail.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Foiled & Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen

Foiled (2010) & Curses! Foiled Again (2013) by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro

I saw these books come across the desk as holds and really liked the style. When I finally was able to get my hands on them it was definitely worth checking out.

Foiled introduces Aliera Carstairs. She's a teenage girl that doesn't fit in with any particular crowd at school. What does she do? She fences. She's been fencing since she was 11 and, as her coach says, she "will go far." To Aliera, that means Nationals, but it might mean something more... Aside from fencing, Aliera spends her Saturdays with her cousin Caroline playing role-play games. Caroline is confined to a wheelchair, so Aliera's visits help her get in touch with the high school world that she's not a part of. When Aliera meets Avery Castle, she can't help but develop a crush on him, even with that weirdness during the frog dissection. When she goes to meet him on their first date, things start to get strange. Aliera is colorblind, which is incredibly rare in girls (both of her parents would have had to pass on the genetic recessive trait), but when she holds her junk sale foil (a weapon used in fencing) she can suddenly see things in color. A dragon, for instance. Now everything has changed.

Something I liked about Foiled, which is quite noticeable to the reader, is that it's completely monochrome until she begins to see magical things in color. She explains that she's colorblind and says that everything just looks grey. When colors are presented they are rich and vibrant, and I imagine that after not seeing color for your entire life that they would look more vivid than if you were used to seeing them. It was an excellent narrative tool in this graphic novel to distinguish Aliera's ordinary world from the magical elements. Colorblindness being represented isn't something that I see often in books for teens, and the fact that the series features two characters that have disabilities is great, especially since the story focuses on them as people, not as their disability.

Each of the chapters is titled with a fencing term, I'm not entirely sure if the particular term is relevant to the chapter though. I thought that was clever and stressed the significance of fencing in Aliera's life.

If you pick up Foiled, pick up it's sequel: Curses! Foiled Again. The first book is a lot of set-up and introduction to the characters. You could pretty much consider a pre-magical biography of Aliera Carstairs. Yes, when you read Foiled you will not be able to wait for its sequel. Despite the fact that it is obviously set-up to be a series, the first book still is excellent. The second book continues the story and is even more brilliant than the first. It's a fast-paced adventure featuring a strong teenage girl, any reader that likes fantasy and graphic novels would enjoy this series.

WWQFD? (What would Queen Furby do?) She'd read Foiled and Curses! Foiled Again.