August 17, 2015
After the not-bad manga exclusive to the collector’s edition release of the game, we’re now getting the official manga spinoff to “Final Fantasy Type-0.” While people who have played the game will know that the title of “Ice Reaper” refers to Kurasame, the instructor to Class Zero, those who don’t probably won’t find enough connection to invest themselves in the story being told here. For those who do, this “Side Story” offers up a decent bit of comfort food that fleshes out the backstory of one of “Type-0’s” more interesting supporting characters. We get to see Kurasame as a student, a very serious one at that, at Akademia striving to become worthy of being an Agito and experiencing a good amount of tragedy and heartbreak in the process. From humble beginnings is born one who will become one of the Four Champions of Rubrum.
Of course, the story tells us that so there’s not a whole lot of drama there. The narrative of this volume is fairly predictable, so don’t expect any real surprises here either. What this volume does have going for it is (in comparison to the game) a drastically reduced cast of characters. This allows mangaka Takatoshi Shiozawa to develop the core group a bit more even if he doesn’t get as many moments as he did in the original manga to showcase the game’s flashier mechanics. He does get to use the game’s one great plot device -- how the crystals remove the memories of those who have died from the living -- here to good effect. It’s not the kind of great effect that would get me to recommend this title to those who haven’t played the game, but those who have will get a decent amount of enjoyment out of what’s here.
(Now let’s hope this series doesn’t degenerate into near-incoherent nonsense like “Type-0” did at its end. Good god, no game in the “Final Fantasy XIII” series even managed that particular feat.)
August 16, 2015
In a realization that makes me feel old more than anything else, it’s been ten years since “Avengers Disassembled” was published. This was the story that saw Bendis take over writing the “Avengers” and turned them into Marvel’s new best-selling team, bringing them a relevance they hadn’t seen in decades. Whatever your feelings about that particular story, and the writer’s tenure on the various “Avengers” books he wrote, the fact is that “Disassembled” has a certain kind of cachet when used as the title for a story. If you’re harkening back to that story which signaled a sea change in Marvel’s publishing focus, then it should involve some significant events at the very least. What “Guardians Disassembled” offers is another example of Bendis plowing through another familiar superhero story -- the one where all the members of a team are attacked and taken out -- without finding anything new to do with it. This was fun at first, but now it’s starting to get kind of old.
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August 15, 2015
To be honest, there was a lot that fell under the title of this review. Some of it I still might get to at some point. For now, I’ve just got a random grab-bag of series I’ve been reading (Thor: God of Thunder vol. 4, Loki: Agent of Asgard vol. 2, Captain America vol. 5) something I decided to pick up on a whim (X-O Manowar vol. 1) and another featuring the work of a creator before she became really famous (Cairo). For anyone keeping track at home -- two of the Marvel comics mentioned here were found in hardcover format. Anyways...
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August 14, 2015
While “Senso” marked Stan Sakai’s return to his signature creation, this latest volume of “Usagi Yojimbo” finally catches the series up to where it stopped before going on hiatus. It’s also one of the better volumes in recent memory. Not just another great example of the consistent quality of the title, but featuring some excellent stories even by “Usagi’s” high standards. The opening one, “The Artist,” is solid enough but “Murder at the Inn” is a very well-crafted whodunit. Featuring the long-absent and missed Inspector Ishida, a paper merchant is murdered at an inn along with the criminal Ishida and Usagi were transporting to town. The story is very well-paced with an interesting cast of characters/suspects that all have their motives, which makes the reasoning employed by Ishida that much more fun to see as he ferrets out the real killer. Particularly when you realize that one of the clues is a visual one planted by Sakai with consistency to the time the murder is committed.
The story, “Two Hundred Jizo” may come off as somewhat familiar to longtime readers as it’s another story where Usagi has to free a town from bandits. At least the action is quite solid and the use of the jizo in the climax was well-orchestrated. Then you have the final two stories, “The Ice Runners” and “Shoyu” which show us once again why Sakai will never run out of material for this series. Both take a particular part of feudal Japan’s culture -- the running of ice from the mountains for tribute, how soy sauce is made -- and spin entertaining tales out of them. “Ice Runners” gets some dramatic urgency from the race against the clock inherent in that job, while “Shoyu” offers an involving visual look at the making of soy sauce while spinning a tale about rival businessmen. I was surprised to be as engaged with this story as I was since I’m honestly not that big a fan of soy sauce itself.
This volume also offers up some bonuses from the Dark Horse Website and Sakai’s “Usagi Yojimbo Sketchbooks.” We get two amusing comics featuring Sakai’s attempts to interview Usagi, both involving violent and fatal consequences. More interesting is the story “Sukanku” as it offers a window into the creator’s process as he shows it to us from conception -- a conversation with Sergio Aragones -- to plotting, roughs, and eventually pencils. It’s the kind of bonus material that I like to see and a fitting end to this great volume.
August 12, 2015
Originally I was going to discuss this in a separate post about some collections I picked up for half-off their cover price at Comic-Con (maybe expect that sometime this weekend). Yet the more that I thought about it, the more I came to realize that this volume deserved a takedown of its own. The idea of an unhinged Tony Stark with his arrogance and smugness turned up to toxic levels may have been an irresistible one to Marvel editorial, as is discussed in the supplemental material at the back of the book. What we get here, however, fails to realize any of that promise and stands as a real failure of imagination with regards to that idea. Captain America will still be black and Thor will still be a woman post-”Secret Wars,” and after reading this I can see why Iron Man won’t be “Superior” along with them.
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August 10, 2015
I know I’ve said this before, but when you’ve got a series whose storytelling is more episodic than serialized the wait between volumes doesn’t sting as much. Granted, I’d love for this series to be more popular so we could get caught up to the Japanese release (and get the spinoffs as well). This isn’t going to be the volume to do that as it tells three stories involving our favorite unemployable Buddhist college graduates who make their living fulfilling the tasks of the dead. The first and third stories involve the crew taking on two very different styles of government corruption -- some good ol’ misappropriation of funds and a lucrative but dubiously-backed construction project. Nothing special in terms of the basic stories, but they do involve Kurosagi’s evil doppleganger, web-based urban legends, a phone that can see the thoughts of the dead, old-and-new-school execution devices, and a form of distributed computing that’s ahead *rimshot* of other examples of its type. They’re still well-constructed and host to Carl Horn’s always entertaining localization. I guess my main issue here is that they’re just not on par with the title’s best efforts -- take it as a sign that run-of-the-mill “Kurosagi” is still plenty entertaining.
Then there’s the matter of the story in the middle which is a dramatic stylistic and narrative departure for the title. Essentially it’s “Kurosagi” re-imagined as an animated American-style police procedural. Artist Housui Yamazaki changes up his style to one that borrows affectionately and effectively from the likes of Bruce Timm while writer Eiji Otsuka shows us what the cast would be like if they hailed from the States instead of the Land of the Rising Sun. Pete Tanaka (Karatsu), Jose Donoso (Numata), and Linus Brautigan/Mr. Blanket (Yata/Kerellis) are all pizza deliverymen who are recruited through decidedly unconventional means by one Yoyogi Cohen (Sasaki) and her associate Diana (Makino) to help the FBI with identifying unidentifiable corpses. Their introductory job: Find out who has been stealing skin from random corpses in L.A.
In the footnotes to this volume, Horn states that he’s of the opinion that this story represents Otsuka’s thoughts on what an Americanized version of “Kurosagi” would be like. Given that Dark Horse has been developing this series for film (veeeeeeeerrrrrrryyyyyyy slooooooowlyyyyyyy) I’m undecided as to whether they should take this as a compliment or not. On one hand, the basic structure of the series is intact and the story itself wasn’t bad -- liked the reference to “MPD Psycho” that was worked in there. The execution does feel a bit simple and forced in a way the regular series usually isn’t. As a pilot for a series, I can see this winding up on the likes of TNT or Syfy rather than a major network. It’s an interesting stylistic diversion, memorable mainly for how different it is than its actual quality. Longtime readers will be glad this volume exists, and as for anyone else who thinks that any of this sounds remotely intriguing you’re encouraged to pick up the omnibus edition of the first three volumes which will be out in another week or two (plug over).
August 9, 2015
Could be said to follow on from this. My thoughts on "Wytches" vol. 1, "Rumble" vol. 1, "Invincible" vol. 21, "The Wicked + The Divine" vol. 2, and "The Autumnlands" vol. 1 -- listed and discussed in ascending order of quality.
August 7, 2015
This series came to my attention at that manga publisher roundtable I attended at Comic-Con. A series about a practitioner of Japanese calligraphy who moves out to a rural island is selling better than the publisher expected? I have to see how such odd subject matter is connecting with fans! As these things go, the answer turned out to be far more simple than I was expecting. The practitioner in question, one Seishuu Honda, has hit a wall in his profession after he’s called out by his former instructor for having a style that’s “just plain dull.” Not knowing what to do next, Honda takes his dad’s advice to go to a remote island in the Gotou Archipelago to cool off and find himself. The village he winds up in is as rural as you can get for Japan, filled with avuncular old farmers who drive their tractors down the road, run-down houses in desperate need of kid-proofing, lots of friendly neighbors, and local festivals as well. It’s also home to one incredibly energetic kid named Naru whose boundless energy can’t help but bring Honda out of his shell a little.
That’s right, “Barakamon” is the Japanese equivalent of the “straight-laced city slicker goes to live out in a rural town and is charmed by their unique ways” story/trope that we have in America. All the stories here are as formulaic as you’d expect, though the localization does a good job of preserving the Japanese-ness of the setting to help it stand out. This is the kind of manga you read in order to experience a part of Japan that you don’t often see featured in most series, and a lot of its appeal derives from that aspect of it. Of course, most of the stories play at Honda’s uptight nature in a way that makes him seem kind of dumb. At least mangaka Satsuki Yoshino develops a good rapport between the calligrapher and Naru as the latter slowly endears/wears down the former with her act first and think later mindset. Naru is adorable and exasperating in equal measure, just like you’d expect from an actual eight-year-old. I’m not sure if she’ll grow more or less entertaining in future volumes, but I’d much rather see Yoshino shake things up a bit and give us some stories that aren’t quite as predictable and formulaic as what we get here.
August 6, 2015
It’s actually been a while since I’ve followed a Vertigo series that was cut down before it could finish its run. Yet here we are with the third and final volume of “Hinterkind,” a title about the creatures of myth reclaiming the world from humans after an apocalyptic plague known as the Blight. We get to learn about the origins of the plague and get a glimpse at what life was like before and during the time humans were being wiped out in the title story. For a two-part tale, it’s quite well put together by writer Ian Edginton and artist Francisco Trifogli, covering a fairly large cast and timeframe without feeling too rushed. Not only does it flesh out existing cast members like rogue Jon Hobb and Asa the doctor, but it also sets up how America became “America” in the first arc. It’s good stuff that reads like it was planned before the axe came down.
I mention that because the rest of the volume is almost pure “We gotta wrap this up now!” storytelling. It all centers around a battle that brews and flares between the Sidhe and the Skinlings that at least introduces a memorable antagonist, Psamira, for what it’s worth. Though the jumping between the cast works as well as it usually does, everything gets considerably more rushed until the very end when a dragon settles the conflict in his own way. The final three pages take us through what feel like Edginton’s grand plans for the series. Even if there’s no way that the way they’re presented could truly feel satisfying, I’m at least glad he offered them up for reasons of closure if nothing else.
Even if his dialogue never really crackled, Edginton did bring us some likeable and interesting characters in this series and developed a fascinating world in the space he had. Trifogli wasn’t big on flash, but it was easy to appreciate the detail in his work as he made the difficult task of illustrating a ruined world populated by lots of different creatures (and humans) look easy. He’d be a great fit for a project in the Mignolaverse over at Dark Horse, though I’m sure the artist will do well wherever he winds up. I wish we had more, but even with its abbreviated end I’m glad with the “Hinterkind” that we got.
August 5, 2015
...it'll just be coming up later than usual due to some technical and logistics issues. Expect another review tomorrow.