Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Only Gold (e-book) by Tamara Allen

This book is available in paperback format, but it's definitely not cheap. Still, if you like historical m/m romance and prefer print books, it might just be worth it.

Synopsis:

Jonah lives and breathes his work at the bank. There is no doubt in his mind that he'll be promoted, so he's shocked when he's passed over in favor of Reid, a newcomer who, to Jonah's eyes, seems determined to push innovations onto the bank whether they're needed or not. Determined to protect the bank, Jonah keeps a close eye on Reid and fights him every step of the way. Reid takes this in a stride and even seems somewhat sympathetic towards Jonah, but Jonah refuses to thaw, even as everyone else at the bank falls for Reid's charm and easy way of dealing with people.

Gradually, though, Jonah and Reid become friends and more. After years of smothering his attraction to men, Jonah finds in Reid a person who could become vital to him. Unfortunately for Jonah, Reid still has more secrets left to be uncovered, secrets that could destroy everything Jonah holds dear. (Okay, so this is a bit dramatic, and also a bit misleading, but I'm trying to keep spoilers to a minimum.)

Commentary:

I can't seem to help but judge books by their covers, and The Only Gold's cover did not make a good impression on me. The characters look wooden, and they are in what is probably the most uninteresting (and slightly creepy) pose ever. They're not looking at each other, touching each other, interacting with each other in any way, just staring at the reader (sort of - Reid, the guy on the left, seems to be looking at something just past the reader).

I would have never bought this book just based on the cover image. I bought it because 1) so many people in the comments section of one particular Dear Author post (sorry, can't remember which one) recommended her books that decided I should finally break down and try one and 2) All Romance E-books had a really great "applies to everything" sale going on.

I'm so happy that I listened to those recommendations, because, if I hadn't, I would have missed out on what I think is the first Dreamspinner Press book I've read that I feel is really, truly good. If my family members were interested in reading romance novels, I'd recommend this to them, it's that good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Just in time for Halloween

Remember how I mourned the end of Tokyopop, and then mourned some more? Well, it looks like Tokyopop may be attempting to rise from the dead. Sort of. Rather than publish manga, the plan is to publish a newsletter and possibly work up to publishing manga (or such is my understanding - some of this stuff left me confused). That is, if Tokyopop's Twitter and Facebook accounts haven't been hacked, and all of this is really true.

Some links:
There are other links, but what I saw was either the same thing I had read in other articles and blog entries, or fluffy marketing for the newsletter.

I don't want a newsletter, I want manga. Happily, I also found out today that several series I enjoyed that were left in Tokyopop's dust have been licensed by other companies: Viz picked up Loveless, and Yen Press picked up Alice in the Country of Hearts (with Seven Seas Entertainment licensing Alice in the Country of Clover - yay!).

Skip Beat! (manga, vols. 5-6, 10-15, 17-18, 20-23) by Yoshiki Nakamura

This post took WAY longer to write than I expected. And it's long.... Thankfully, this is the last of my "manga I read during my vacation" posts.

This series was by far my biggest vacation winner: I read more volumes of it (14!) than any other series, I read all the volumes I had at my disposal, and I enjoyed it so much that it was painful not to have more available (and painful to have gaps in what I did have).

I love this series. I watched the anime and tried the first manga volume a while back, but I decided I probably wouldn't ever buy the manga, because I didn't want to commit to something long-running. I think I may have to change my mind about that. I had forgotten how much fun Kyoko is.

Somehow, Nakamura manages to draw things out without driving me completely crazy. There's no sign of how long it's going to take for Kyoko to accomplish her goal of becoming a bigger star than her ex-boyfriend. It may take a while for Kyoko to recognize that she has feelings for Ren. I don't care - I love this series anyway.

Kyoko is awesome, clueless one minute and pulling amazing acting skills out of thin air the next. Even though the formula for characters' awesomeness seems to be pretty much the same each time - the character has some sort of horrible acting block or obstacle, it comes down to crunch time, and the character pulls off a brilliant in-character improv session - I eat it up each and every time. It's so much fun to read!

The romance in the series is good, too, somehow made even better by Nakamura's decision to have it progress achingly slow and even take a backseat to all the acting drama. Ren realizes he loves Kyoko well before Kyoko has the same realization about Ren. Ren backs off a bit because of some dark stuff in his past I haven't read about yet (is it in one of the volumes I had to skip, or a future volume? I guess I'll find out some other time), but he seems to get over that a bit. Even so, he doesn't try to force Kyoko to admit she has feelings for him too. I loved that Yashiro freaked out about this, while Ren seemed barely phased by Kyoko's obliviousness.

Again, I love this series. It's shoujo with a nice sprinkling of shounen. There's romance and relationship drama, but then there's Kyoko, who would not be out of place as the main character in a shounen series, shouting "I want to become stronger" and being underestimated by others right up to the moment where she does something completely fantastic.

As usual, if you're leery of spoilers, you may want to avoid reading the descriptions below and just skip to the read-alikes/watch-alikes section at the very bottom.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Naruto (manga, vols. 32-43) by Masashi Kishimoto

(Edit: I realized I should start this post off with a GIANT SPOILER ALERT, too, since there are spoilers before I even begin the volume descriptions.)

This was one of my two big vacation winners - I finished 12 volumes and would have read more if my vacation had lasted a little longer.

This series is like popcorn. Once I get started with it, it's hard to stop. That said, I've resisted buying it. The series is currently over 50 volumes long and still growing. No matter how you get your volumes, used or new, on sale or not, omnibus or single volumes, the cost of 50+ volumes really adds up. My vacation reading has gotten me within 10 volumes of being completely caught up.

In one of the volumes, I think Kishimoto made a comment to the effect that he just needed to keep the end in sight, and all I could think was "does that mean he really has an ending in mind?" I have no idea what this series is working towards. An eventual future where Naruto has finally become the Hokage? A renewal of Sasuke and Naruto's friendship? Sasuke's death? The removal of the Nine Tails Fox from Naruto's body? I really couldn't say. Even if Kishimoto ever wrote an ending for Naruto, I could easily see him writing a spin-off series based on a future generation of ninjas.

The possible lack on an ending is daunting, but I enjoy reading this series is great big chunks. There's so much character history and drama, the battles are fun, and it's hard not to have a favorite character (or even just a favorite fighting style or jutsu) when there are so many to choose from.

As I was writing notes about the volumes, it occurred to me that it was getting to the point where I could describe certain volumes with a couple simple sentences: "Character A fights Character B. This is the volume in which Character __ dies." There is a lot of death in these 12 volumes. I don't know if Kishimoto decided the cast was getting too large, or if there's some kind of plan for future volumes, but it seems like hardly anyone is safe from being killed off anymore, except maybe Naruto and Sasuke.

All in all, I enjoyed these volumes, but but there were so many battles that things started to blur together. Also, darn it, Sasuke seems to have become little more than an icy mask. Since I always kind of liked him, that makes me sad. At least he still seems to be reluctant to kill people if he doesn't absolutely have to. I'll cross my fingers and hope he thaws in some future volume (and please let that volume not be something in the hundreds). The revelations about Itachi's reasons for killing his clan and saving Sasuke were heart-breaking, but also kind of messed up. He might've intended to protect Sasuke by not telling him everything and inviting his hatred, but the end result was a Sasuke working to destroy what Itachi had wanted to protect. Again, I'll cross my fingers and hope that bit of drama gets dealt with in a satisfactory way that won't make me bawl my eyes out.

Let's see, what else...? Sai, a new character and new member of Team 7, was introduced in these volumes. I'm not yet sure how I feel about him, but I like his ability to make the things he draws real. I also liked all the various tidbits about Naruto, his past, and the Nine Tails Fox. Kishimoto finally flat-out confirms that the Fourth Hokage was Naruto's father (although I don't think many people, including Naruto, know this) and gives Naruto's mother a name - yay! And Naruto can do at least two things that both make him stronger and risk killing or harming him.

One other thing: I tried watching the Naruto Shippuden anime a while back and stopped at the beginning of the events in volume 34 of the manga (before Team 7 finds Sasuke). While reading the manga, it became clearer and clearer how bad the anime is. The original Naruto anime almost killed itself with too much back-to-back filler, but Naruto Shippuden went too far in the other direction, drawing events from the manga out to such an excruciating degree that the energy and drama of the original story was lost. It's really a shame.

Again, GIANT SPOILER ALERT. Don't read the descriptions below if you want to avoid spoilers.

Black Butler (manga, vols. 2-5) by Yana Toboso

I enjoyed the first volume of Black Butler, but when events in the anime and manga overlapped, I tended to like the anime more. The first volume didn't have much in it that I hadn't already seen in the anime. Since my vacation put me near an excellent public library, I decided to read a few more volumes of this series. Based on some of the details in volume 5, I'm guessing that volume 6 is the point where the manga and anime completely part ways. If that's the case, I might start buying this series from volume 6 on, since I'll have the joy of not knowing what's going to happen next.

Black Butler will have to compete with all the other manga trying to snag my attention, and it's at a disadvantage in a few areas. While I like the artwork and love seeing Sebastian in action, I have to admit that I don't actually care about the characters all that much, as compared to the characters in some of the other series I read. I'm interested to see where Toboso will take the series, but Black Butler is missing whatever element makes me need to read what happens next.

I did, however, enjoy the snippets of Madam Red's life in volume 3 - if/when Toboso gets around to showing more about other characters' pasts, I'll probably start to care for them more, the same way I did for Madam Red. Even Madam Red, though, didn't grab hold of my emotions as much as she could have.

Hm, there's not much more I can say. I still love Grelle, although, again, I'd rather watch him in the anime than see him in the manga. Oh, and although I knew that the anime diverged from the manga at a certain point, it was still a shock to actually see the Queen's face in volume 5. It was at that point that I figured I probably wouldn't be able to predict what will happen in future volumes. I think I've seen mild spoilers about the circus on YouTube, so I'm looking forward to seeing what will happen in volume 6.

As usual, don't read the volume summaries below unless you don't mind POTENTIAL SPOILERS. If you do, just skip down to the read-alikes/watch-alikes.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 2) - Ciel learns about a killer called Jack the Ripper, who kills prostitutes and then removes their uteruses. Ciel (dressed as a girl) first goes after the Viscount of Druitt, but a murder occurs during the man's party, so he can't possibly be Jack. That's when Ciel realizes that a human couldn't have committed all the murders - but an non-human being or something with such a being's help could have. He doesn't manage to save Mary Kelly, the final victim, however. Grelle, a Grim Reaper, kills her, according to Madam Red's instructions. Ciel tells Sebastian to hunt them down, even though Madam Red is his aunt. The inside-cover alternate Black Butler stuff that Toboso did in volume one appears to be a regular extra: this volume has Black Doctor.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 3) - Madam Red can't bring herself to kill Ciel, so Grelle kills her, and readers get to see her life up to that point (falling in love with the man her sister later marries, marrying another man and getting pregnant, only to end up losing her unborn baby and her ability to conceive). Ciel orders Sebastian to kill Grelle, but William T. Spears (Grelle's boss?) interferes. Then it's time for Madam Red's funeral. The volume wraps up with a visit from Lizzie's formidable mother, who has come to make sure that Ciel will be a fit future husband for Lizzie. They all go hunting, and Ciel protects Lizzie from a bear (which was really killed by Sebastian, although only Lizzie's mom noticed this). The inside cover alternate Black Butler in this volume is Black Ninja.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 4) - Ciel has unwanted house guests: Prince Soma and his servant Agni. The Prince has come all the way from India looking for Mina, the servant who raised him. Prince Soma is convinced that Mina was taken to England against her will by some man. It turns out that Agni is in league with that man, killing people for him. Agni knew all along where Mina was but didn't tell the Prince for reasons that won't be revealed until the next volume. In order to beat the guy who took Mina, Sebastian will first have to beat Agni in a curry-making contest at the Crystal Palace. The inside cover alternate Black Butler in this volume is Black Racer.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 5) - Sebastian takes part in the curry-making contest and wins with his curry bun, which even children can easily eat. However, Mina doesn't wish to return to India with Prince Soma - unbeknownst to him, she hated him and her life as a servant. Ciel figures he has now wrapped everything up, so he's less that pleased when Agni and the Prince decide to stick around. Ciel sends them both to his town house to get them out of his hair. The volume ends with something about a circus being in town. The inside cover alternate Black Butler in this volume is Black Chef.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Godchild (manga) by Kaori Yuki - It's been ages since I read this, and I never finished it, but I remember it being another dark mystery series with some occult aspects, set in Victorian England.
  • Count Cain (manga) by Kaori Yuki - I know even less about this series than I do about Godchild, but if Godchild interests you, then you might want to start with this series first. I think Godchild may be a continuation of this series.
  • Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - Another series in which a damaged young boy is the master of an older man. Ritsuka hasn't been the same since his brother died. He now no longer has anyone to protect him from his abusive mother, and he doubts he's even the same Ritsuka from before his brother's death. When a mysterious young man named Soubi comes and claims to have been Ritsuka's brother's friend, Ritsuka can't help but want to talk to him. Later, Ritsuka learns that his brother was involved with a strange organization that pits Sacrifice/Fighter pairs against each other. Soubi was Ritsuka's brother's Fighter and now considers himself Ritsuka's Fighter.
  • Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma: A Victorian Romance (anime TV series) - Another series with a flashy Indian prince. This is a historical romance set in England, starring a maid and a member of the gentry. Unlike Black Butler, it dwells more on period details and is more of a slice-of-life story. I've written about the manga and the anime.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

King of Thorn (manga, vols. 5-6) by Yuji Iwahara

As with After School Nightmare, I realized a while back that I had come very close to finishing this series, so I decided I'd finish it during my vacation. I probably would have benefited from a reread of the previous volumes, and, as with After School Nightmare, all I had were the volumes I hadn't yet read.

At least the final volume of After School Nightmare made sense to me, even though I wished I could reread parts of the series after gaining new knowledge about what was really going on. The final two volumes of King of Thorn were just really confusing. Iwahara crammed a lot into six volumes. Although I wasn't quite as lost as a newbie to the series would have been, the events in the final two volumes were still tough to process. I'm assuming it would have been a little easier if I had read the first four volumes more recently - 3 years is a long time.

It's not surprising to me that King of Thorn was turned into a movie. This series has always had the feel of a big budget sci-fi action movie, and these final two volumes are no exception. Iwahara brings out more varieties of monsters and creatures and leaves things open enough at the end for a sequel (not that I've heard anything about there being a sequel in the works).

(Again, GIANT SPOILER ALERT, read the stuff below at your own risk!)

For those who actually read all the volumes in this series one right after the other, the ending is probably mind-blowing and awesome. I mostly just tried to keep my head above the water, and I think I've managed to get straight in my mind what happened to the twins. Iwahara kept up the hints of romance that appeared in the earlier volumes, but then, in my opinion, ruined that tiny romantic subplot by introducing elements of brainwashing to the series. I'm assuming readers were supposed to think that Marco would have come back from the dead to protect Kasumi even if he hadn't been brainwashed, but I couldn't help but doubt the romance anyway. I didn't think there was enough time for Iwahara to truly prove that Marco's actions weren't affected by the brainwashing, so what should have been an "aww, how sweet" moment was soured for me.

Finishing this series didn't give me the same urge to reread all the volumes that finishing After School Nightmare did, but I would like to see the movie one day. Six volumes seems like a lot to fit into two hours, but I think it's doable, and I think this is one of those series that could be even better in animated form. The monsters and action scenes would be a lot of fun to watch, and Marco would make for great eye candy.

Below are summaries (as much as I was able to figure out) for the volumes I read:
  • King of Thorn (manga, vol. 5) - Katherine dies, giving her body over to Medusa - her motherly instinct is born from her body, in the form of a bird creature with breasts. The creature almost dies while protecting Tim, so what's left of the group leaves Tim and the creature in a safe place. Kasumi finds Alice, the creepy little abused girl who was the first person to contract Medusa. Alice reveals to Kasumi that her form is just a hologram (or something similar) and takes Kasumi to her real body, which is in shocking condition. The only reason Alice is still alive is because of Medusa. Meanwhile, Marco is getting the crap beaten out of him by Zeus.
  • King of Thorn (manga, vol. 6) - This volume is chock full of stuff that confused me. Zeus has Marco killed. Zeus reveals that Kasumi's twin, Shizuku, has been around all this time...as a giant monster. He also reveals that everyone has been unconsciously trying to protect Kasumi because of brainwashing he (or possibly Shizuku - my notes aren't too clear on that) did to all of them while they were in cryogenic stasis. Marco drags himself back from death, with the help of the last of Alice's energy, and helps Kasumi get to the real Shizuku, who is somewhere inside the giant monster. In order to save everyone else in the group from being turned into Medusa monsters by Zeus, Kasumi has to get through to Shizuku, and when she does, she learns the truth: the real Kasumi is dead. When Kasumi was chosen to be put in cryogenic stasis, she tried to get Shizuku to commit suicide with her, and Shizuku accidentally killed her while resisting. As far as I can figure, Shizuku was already succumbing to Medusa when she was taken to the cryogenic stasis lab, and she used Medusa to create another Kasumi, sort of like bringing her back to life. Kasumi, of course, is shocked, but Marco seems to have suspected something like this, and he gets her through it. The series ends with everybody deciding to go out into the world and help anyone who hasn't already succumbed to Medusa fight the monsters and learn to control their Medusa powers.
See what I mean? That last volume in particular was super-condensed confusion for me. I felt like begging Iwahara to give me more time to breathe and think.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - If you'd like another series that may blow your mind, you might want to try this, even though it's got less of a "blockbuster movie" feel than King of Thorn and is less action-oriented. I have written about every volume in the series.
  • Avatar (live action and CGI animation movie) - When the newest Medusa monsters started running around, my first thought was "Wow, those guys look kind of like the aliens in Avatar." Plus, there's action, a bit of romance, cool creatures, and people doing stuff in artificially created bodies that they can't do in their own bodies. I've written a little about this movie.
  • Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (manga) by CLAMP; Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (anime TV series) - I haven't yet finished this series, but there are elements to it that I think are similar to King of Thorn. This series has action, romance (to a greater degree than King of Thorn), and some potentially mind-blowing events in the later volumes. I've written about volumes 17 and 18 of the manga.
  • Ceres: Celestial Legend (manga) by Yuu Watase; Ceres: Celestial Legend (anime TV series) - If you'd just like another messed up twin story, you might want to try this, although be warned that the twin drama is sorta kinda incestuous. On their 16th birthday, Aya, the sister, inherits the powers of and ability to transform into Ceres, a vengeful celestial maiden. Aki, her twin brother, has inherited baggage of his own: the personality of the man who Ceres loved and who betrayed her starts to take him over. This series is more romance-focused than King of Thorn, but there's still plenty of action, dark fantasy, and drama. I consider this one of Watase's darkest works, although I think the ending is at least bittersweet, if not completely happy.
  • The Matrix (live action movie) - This movie starts off with the mind-blowing stuff and then gives you action and coolness for the rest of the running time. Those who, like me, found themselves gasping for breath in that last volume of King of Thorn might appreciate a movie that gives your brain a chance to catch up.
  • Blue Gender (anime TV series) - I have to admit, I've never seen this series. I added it to this list because the basic premise sounds very similar to King of Thorn. The main character is diagnosed with a disease and is put in cryogenic stasis. When he wakes up 15 years later, alien bugs called the Blue have taken over Earth and a few select humans have moved to a space station called Second Earth.
  • Resident Evil (live action movie) - Another action-filled story with flesh-eating monsters (zombies!), survival horror, and a main female character who gradually regains her memory of how she came to be stuck in the middle of all of it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 10) by Setona Mizushiro

A while ago, I was adding this series to a list of read-alikes when I realized that I had stopped reading it only one volume before the end. I decided my vacation was the perfect time to finish the series. It probably would have been beneficial to have volumes 1 through 9 available, to remind me of things that had gone on before (and to reread after finishing the last volume, so that I could look at them with new eyes and search for clues pointing to the things revealed in the end). However, I didn't have those volumes. It's possible I would have enjoyed this volume more if I had.

So, first, a quick summary of the volume (and a GIANT SPOILER ALERT, for those who worry about spoilers, because I'm going to give stuff away). Mashiro finally decides to be comfortable as him/herself. In private, Mashiro basically chooses to embrace being a girl (and even has sex with Sou), although he/she still dresses and tries to act like a boy while at school. In the dream class, Sou (whose form is now a dog, which is weirdly cute, considering that form is basically a representation of Sou's desire to be loved and cuddled by Mashiro...although I still wish that Sou had found someone better for himself) and Kureha help Mashiro get the key - this is done via Sou ripping out Kureha's throat, and Kureha letting him. Mashiro can now graduate, and graduation turns out to be birth. Mashiro's dual-gender status was a result of being twins in one body. In the real world (?), Mashiro's mother is pregnant with twins, and the hospital she's staying in is on fire. The male twin dies before being born, but the girl twin lives - only one twin was going to live, and this is the reality of Mashiro's choice. Years later, the girl twin bumps into a stranger who looks a lot like Sou. Will they get to know each other, somehow drawn together by the relationship they had while they were still in their mothers' wombs? Who knows?

I thought this volume was good, but unsatisfying. I cared about the characters enough to want to see what happened to them, and Mizushiro's ending basically said "none of what you read really mattered." There is no evidence that character relationships have any bearing on how those characters interact with each other after being born, so all that intense drama and character growth seems to have been for naught. It makes me wish that the "years later" part had been a bit longer, and that Mizushiro had given the girl twin and the guy who looked like Sou some spark of "do I know you?" when they bumped into each other. Otherwise, what was the point of this series, of the characters' experiences and growth? This is almost as bad as a "and it was all a dream" ending.

I think I enjoyed the buildup to the ending more than the actual ending, although I'd love to reread the whole series again, so I could see graduating and disappearing characters from this new perspective. If I were to encounter another one of Mizushiro's works translated into English, I think I'd jump at the chance to read it. Even if the ending of that series turned out to also be a disappointment to me, I'm sure I'd at least enjoy the journey.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - This is another manga that ends with a bit of a headtrip. It has much the same feel as a blockbuster action movie. I've written about the first four volumes and will have a post for the last two up shortly, since this is another series I chose to finally finish during my vacation.
  • Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - This is another series in which an overarching mystery slowly gets unraveled, although unfortunately the manga may never be finished in the U.S. because it was one of Tokyopop's titles. The anime is short, only covers some of the manga volumes, and doesn't have a true ending, so I'd probably recommend the manga over the anime (although my first experience was with the anime, and that was enough to get me hooked). Like After School Nightmare, this series has some cute moments, but the overall feel of it is kind of dark, and several characters have messed up relationships.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP; Xxxholic (anime TV series) - I haven't finished this series yet, but it had gotten pretty strange at the point I stopped, and I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be another series that ends in a way that makes you rethink everything you thought you knew was going on. At least at first, this is a very episodic series. Generally, Watanuki encounters some kind of spirit, and/or Yuko deals with a client. Unfortunately, I think later events probably won't make as much sense unless you also read Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle at the same time. I have written about the first season of the Xxxholic TV series and volume 12 of the manga.
  • Perfect Blue (anime movie) - This is a dark and twisty psychological thriller about a pop singer-turned-actress who is being stalked. Those who'd like something else in which all is not what it seems might want to try this.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - Like Perfect Blue, this TV series was directed by Satoshi Kon. It's another dark psychological thriller (or would it be better to call it a mystery?). Those who'd like something else dark, twisty, and strange might want to try this. If I remember correctly, unlike Perfect Blue, this series has some darkly humorous moments, so it might be better for those who also liked After School Nightmare's lighter moments.

Eyeshield 21 (manga, vols. 21-24) story by Riichiro Inagaki, art by Yusuke Murata

Depending on how you look at it, Eyeshield 21 was more of a vacation failure for me than Otomen. I think I had a stack of at least 6 more volumes that I decided not to read. Had my vacation been longer, I probably would have gotten around to them, but after 4 volumes I decided my time would be better spent reading something else.

Back when I first started reading this series, the main reasons it appealed to me were its general craziness (machine gun-toting Hiruma, weird training regimens, over-the-top player abilities) and the ease with which I could understand what was going on. I'm not a fan of sports in general, and I find football in particular to be very confusing. Inagaki made the basics of the sport fairly easy to grasp, and my general enjoyment of the series and its characters helped me overlook anything I didn't quite get.

Maybe it's because it's been so long since I last read the earlier volumes, but my understanding of football seemed to be particularly bad while I was reading volumes 21 to 24. When it came time to crack open volume 25, I realized I didn't really have much of an idea what was going on in the game and only vaguely cared about what the Deimon Devil Bats would do to beat the other teams.

One reason I might continue with this series in the future, though, is the possibility that Hiruma might be more humanized in future volumes. I flipped through some of the later volumes that I never got around to reading, and in one of them Hiruma was talking to Mamori - always interesting, because Hiruma seems more willing to reveal his weaknesses around Mamori, or at least he's not as good at hiding his weaknesses from her as he is from his teammates. While I enjoy Hiruma when he's being devilish, I'm intrigued by the idea of a Hiruma with layers. Plus, the romance lover in me can't help but wonder if Inagaki is setting things up for romance-inspired team tension. I can imagine Mamori falling for the more human side of Hiruma that only she gets to see, inspiring Sena to be jealous of Hiruma. Sena would then have to overcome that feeling so that it wouldn't start to affect his performance during games. Okay, so I read a lot of shojo manga, but it could happen, right?

As with my Otomen post, there are potential spoilers in the volume summaries below. If you don't like spoilers, you might want to skip to the read-alikes/watch-alikes list.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 21) - Deimon is still playing against the Shinryuji Nagas and has to do risky, desperate things to survive the game, like over-relying on Sena's legs. Even so, it still doesn't look too good for them by the end of the volume. Yukimitsu wasn't the huge secret weapon I was expecting, just better than other people expected him to be. He's not athletically-inclined, so he instead used his excellent study skills to learn about the players he'd be facing.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 22) - More Deimon Devil Bats vs. Shinryuji Nagas. Deimon has to get at least 21 points, so they try to advance and then stop the clock after every play. In this particular volume, some of the most decisive moments are courtesy of Morita, Deimon's best catcher, because Sena's legs are just about useless. While reading this volume, I worried a lot about whether Sena might be permanently damaging his legs, and, although this concern came up, I don't think the other players (or Deimon's coach) worried nearly enough about it.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 23) - Deimon finally manages to beat Shinryuji. Then, for a brief period, it's the Hakushu Dinosaurs vs. Taiyo Sphinx. Hakushu's Gao has a reputation for putting quarterbacks in the hospital. Taiyo's linemen manage to protect their quarterback, but only at great cost - all of Taiyo's linemen end up hospitalized. Taiyo forfeits the game. After that, another brief game: Seibu Wild Gunmen vs. Misaki Wolves. Seibu wins. Shin of the Ojo White Knights has Seibu's Riku teach him the secret to his Rodeo Drive, turning Shin into an even fiercer opponent. Meanwhile, Deimon's players begin what training they are capable of doing, considering that they all have horrible muscle pain after the game against Shinryuji. They're playing against Ojo next.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 24) - Deimon studies Ojo for a bit, and then the game between Ojo and Deimon begins. Things don't look good for Deimon as Ojo's Sakuraba and Shin switch to playing both offense and defense. My only other note about this volume was that it confused me. I had a hard time grasping what, exactly, it would mean for Sakuraba and Shin to play both offense and defense, but apparently it's a risky move on Ojo's part and, at the same time, a reason for Deimon to worry.
As far as I can tell, manga about American football are few and far between, and none of those other works have been licensed and translated into English.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Hikaru no Go (manga) by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art); Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - This series is about a board game, not a sport, but the overall feel is similar to sports manga. This is another one where, the further the main character (Hikaru) got into the world of his "sport," the less I understood about individual matches, but in Hikaru no Go's case that didn't seem to matter to me. I've seen all of the anime and loved it (I hate what I've heard of the English dub, though), and one of these days I'll read all of the manga. I've written about volume 12 of the manga.
  • Whistle! (manga) by Daisuke Higuchi - Less crazy than Eyeshield 21, but this may still appeal to those who'd like another sports-oriented series. In this case, the sport is soccer. I've written about volume 19 of the manga.
  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - Like Eyeshield 21, this series has some really outlandish characters and moments. In this case, the focus is competitive bread baking. Hashiguchi usually makes the breads the characters create seem at least somewhat possible. Those who'd like another crazy, competition-filled series might want to try this. I've written about volumes 11 and 12 of the manga.
  • Big Windup! (anime TV series) - Like Whistle!, this series grounds its players more in reality than Eyeshield 21 - if you want an outlandish cast, you need to look elsewhere. However, if you'd just like another sports manga starring an underdog team you can root for, you might want to try this. The sport, in this case, is baseball. I've written several posts about this anime.
  • The Prince of Tennis (manga) by Takeshi Konomi; The Prince of Tennis (anime TV series) - A sports series that is outlandish in a slightly different way than Eyeshield 21. These tennis players are intense, and, similar to Deimon's players, I don't think you ever see anyone in class - like Eyeshield 21, the focus is on the sport and how the players interact with each other via that sport. I've written about volumes 25 to 27 of the manga.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Otomen (manga, vols. 2-4) by Aya Kanno

During my last vacation, I tried volume 1 of this series and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for Otomen to fall a little flat for me. I had 6 or 7 volumes of this series available to read during my latest vacation, and I only read 3 of them.

The premise has potential. Asuka appears to be a perfect manly man. Only a couple people know that he secretly likes girlie things, like sewing and cute dolls. One of those two people is Juta, who is secretly the artist/writer behind a hit shojo manga based on Asuka. The other is Ryo, the girl Asuka is in love with. Ryo likes manly things and her behavior isn't that of a stereotypical girl (she's not good at cooking, she's not interested in romance, etc.).

I like Kanno's art, and I was interested to see what sorts of stories she could squeeze out of the premise. I think my problems with this series lie in a few different areas. One, the romance is lackluster. I don't think Ryo likes Asuka as anything more than a friend, and, as a character, she's kind of boring, so I have problems even rooting for her to get over her obliviousness. Two, the stereotypes are so over-the-top that it gets to be a bit much. Asuka is more girlie than any girl I know, but he's also more manly than any guy I know. I know it's supposed to be funny, but it makes it hard to see him as a person, which in turn makes it hard to be interested in his relationships and the things he does. Three, this series has the feeling of something that could go on forever or end in the next volume. If I'm not engaged in the characters or the plot, I really hate that kind of thing.

The most interesting character in the series is Juta, Asuka's friend. I see Juta as the voice of the reader - at least, he tends to voice what I feel. His frustration with the complete lack of new developments in Ryo and Asuka's relationship is my frustration. Juta is probably the main reason I'm not going to completely abandon this manga. It's not going on my "to buy" list, but I may continue to read it via ILL.

Below are the volumes I read over my vacation, along with short summaries (so read at your own risk, there may be spoilers!):
  • Otomen (manga, vol. 2) - This volume has what amounts to 3 stories. In the first, a boy (Yamato) so cute he's mistaken for a girl idolizes Asuka, viewing him as the ideal man. The second story is a Christmas special, in which Asuka and Ryo have a heart-warming Christmas meal during a terrible snowstorm. In the third story, Asuka's mom suddenly comes home. Asuka's father left Asuka's mother after announcing that he wanted to become a woman, so Asuka's mother now freaks out at the slightest sign that her son isn't a stereotypical young man. In order to protect her health and peace of mind, Asuka must act as manly as possible. Unfortunately, this may mean marrying the girl his mother suddenly announces she has picked out for him. The girl happens to be uber-cute and kind of crazy.
  • Otomen (manga, vol. 3) - This volume has what amounts to 4 stories. Ryo gets Asuka to help her take care of some kids at a nursery. One kid hates Asuka at first, but eventually comes to see him as another mother (and Ryo as a father). The second story is deja vu - Asuka and Ryo go on another amusement park date. Their date is interrupted by a crazy guy who tries to kill himself. Asuka finally asks Ryo to go out with him and she says "yes" - which means they're now officially a couple, maybe. In the third story, Juta's girlfriends suspect he has one particular person he's most interested in, so they enlist Asuka's help in finding out who that person is. No one knows that the reason Juta's time is so booked is because he has manga deadlines coming up. In the fourth story, Asuka and Hajime Tenomine, Asuka's kendo rival, run into each other at a Lovely Beauty Fest, where they end up revealing their secret skills - Asuka improves the clothes of a woman getting a makeover, and Hajime does the woman's makeup.
  • Otomen (manga, vol. 4) - This volume has 3 basic stories. In the first one, Ryo's birthday is coming up, and Asuka bakes a cake with Ryo's dad. This is actually kind of a sweet story, but it's not exactly something new in the shojo world. In the second story, Asuka meets a guy named Kitora, who secretly loves flowers. This story has a "protect the garden" scene that reminded me a lot of Fruits Basket. In the third story, Yamato's uncle's beach business needs help, so he recruits Asuka, Kitora, Juta, and, if I remember right, Ryo. Asuka adds a cute, pretty new dessert to the menu, in order to attract more female customers. Hajime shows up and uses his makeup skills to steal those customers away, so Asuka and the others win the customers back by redecorating the shop and dressing Yamato up as a girl.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Ranma 1/2 (manga) by Rumiko Takahashi; Ranma 1/2 (anime TV series) - This comedy stars a guy who becomes a girl when he's splashed with cold water. Like Asuka, Ranma worries about his mother discovering his unmanly secret. This series also includes some romance, and, in my opinion, it's funnier than Otomen.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Like Otomen, this series stars someone who doesn't quite conform to their stereotypical gender role. However, unlike Asuka, Haruhi doesn't really care about that - it makes no difference to her if someone thinks she's a guy. This series also contains comedy and romance that doesn't really go anywhere (at least in what I've seen of the series). I've written about both the manga and the anime.
  • Princess Princess (manga) by Mikiyo Tsuda; Princess Princess (anime TV series) - More comedy and over-the-top feminine stereotypes, but this series at least recognizes that it's all over-the-top. The main characters attend an all boys high school that has something called the Princess system, in which the prettiest boys dress and act as girls in order to improve student moral. I've written about the first volume of the manga.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - This series has a bit of cross-dressing and at least one character who's not comfortable with his gender-ambiguous looks, so it might appeal to those who like the gender-related elements of Otomen. It also contains humor and romance, although the manga, at least, is a good deal darker in spots than Otomen.
  • Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo; Bleach (anime TV series) - It feels a little odd adding this one to the list, but it might appeal to those who like the more action-oriented parts of Otomen. Also, sometimes Asuka seems like a cross between Ichigo and Uryu - when Asuka acts manly, he looks a lot like a gentle Ichigo, but he has Uryu's sewing skills (although it should be noted that Uryu isn't ashamed of his skills). Other than that, though, this series is really different than Otomen, so keep that in mind. I've written about several volumes of the manga.

I'm back! - and I read a lot while I was gone

In between playing with and taking care of my niece, enjoying being with my family, and dealing with a horrible stomach bug, I read a lot. I didn't read much in the way of novels - I finished Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (shockingly, I had never read it before) and started Darlene Marshall's Sea Change (quite good so far). My manga reading, though, was through the roof. I somehow managed to read 40 volumes (all checked out from the public library). Rather than write one big post listing all the volumes I read, I thought I'd break up my post-vacation post by manga title, so you should be seeing several posts about my vacation reading over the next day or two.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I'm going on vacation!

I'm going to go see my parents, my sister, her husband, and my niece tomorrow and probably won't be on a computer much for the next week and a half. I might schedule a post or two, or I might not. We'll see. It depends on how I do with my pre-travel "to do" list today. Even though I had yesterday to get some of it done, the list is still really long.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Adventures of Sally (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Kara Shallenberg

I listened to this book for free via LibriVox. It's also available for download via Project Gutenberg.

There are a few spoilers in this review.

Synopsis:

Sally, a beautiful young American woman, inherits a small fortune. After using some of that fortune to take a trip to France, she meets Ginger and his cousin, Bruce Carmyle. Ginger, the good-hearted black sheep of his too-proper family, falls instantly in love with Sally, but, unfortunately for him, Sally is already engaged.

Sally heads back to New York, where she is much surprised to see Ginger again. Inspired by Sally, Ginger is determined to make a go of his life without his family's help, and Sally decides to help him out by arranging for him to be employed by her brother.

Things start to fall apart. Sally's brother bites off more than he can chew - rather than cautiously building on the success of "The Primrose Way," a play he produced (I think) with the help of Sally's money, he goes off in all kinds of reckless, supposedly money-making directions. Sally's fiance turns out to be a selfish jerk, and Sally finds herself pursued by Bruce Carmyle, who she does not like. Although Ginger can't fix any of Sally's problems, it makes her feel better to talk to him (or even just write to him), but can she recognize the one thing going right in her life before it's too late?

Review:

I expected to love this book. Its setup seemed very similar to another one of Wodehouse's works, Jill the Reckless (see my post for that book). The main female character is engaged to a guy who seems great but turns out not to be. Both books involved theater productions with horribly dysfunctional things going on behind the scenes, both books featured charming, much-loved heroines, and both books included relatives who were less than stellar about not wasting the heroine's money.

I sat back, expecting another fun romantic comedy, but the longer I listened, the more I disliked this book. I didn't like Sally as much as the characters seemed to, I hated that Ginger seemed to find nothing wrong with the way Sally treated him, Sally's brother was completely unappealing, and just about every scene near the end that involved Sally and either Bruce Carmyle or Gerald either made me mad or chilled me when I thought about what Sally had only narrowly avoided. Sally didn't even avoid disaster by her own wits. No, her happy ending just fell into her lap.

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