Seraph of the End (Vol. 1) Review

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Despite what you may think, not every vampire is a sparkly metrosexual who has a thing for stone faced girls. The bloodsuckers featured in Seraph of the End for example are a lot less amorous. Written by author Takaya Kagami, this ongoing manga series is set in a world were Dracula’s kind have unleashed a deadly virus that has eradicated most of the adult population. The surviving kiddies have subsequently been captured by the malevolent Nosferatu and are kept as cattle that are milked for their tasty blood. Using germ warfare to kidnap children in order to satisfy their own desires? I hope catholic priests don’t get wind of this nefarious scheme.

OVERVIEW

Yuichiro Hyakuya is the protagonist of this book and one of the unfortunate youngsters who have been sequestered by the vampires. Sick of being nothing more than a plasma-giving cow, he decides to lead his fellow captive orphans on a mission to escape their subterranean prison. The plan doesn’t go well however resulting in the party suffering heavy losses. In the end only Yuichiro is able to reach the surface and secure his freedom. There he discovers a metropolis populated by surviving humans who are presently waging war against the vampire race. Eager to avenge his fallen comrades, Yuichiro decides to join the ranks of the Moon Demon Company – an army of warriors who battle the un-dead using cursed weapons.

This opening volume in the Seraph of the End series can roughly be split in twain. The first half focuses on showing readers how terrible life is for the kidnapped children. Seriously, their living conditions mirror the inhumane working conditions of a Walmart employee. It’s a dark tale that isn’t averse to showing minors getting slaughtered. Things get goofier however once Yuichiro escapes the vampires’ clutches. He’s determined to eradicate the race that killed the only family he has ever known, but unfortunately for him vampires are physically superior to humans. He’ll be unable to exact his revengeance (Metal Gear claims that’s a real word) unless he can attain one of the army’s mystical demon weapons. What’s goofy about that? Conscription requires that he attend high school to prove to his superiors that he can be a team player.

VERDICT

My rating for Seraph of the End (Volume One) is four stars. From what I have read thus far Takaya Kagami comes across as a solid writer. Likewise, Yamato Yamamoto does a good job with the book’s artwork. The well-illustrated panels make the comic’s action easy to follow. My positive rating can be predominately attributed to the story’s strong opener. I am however concerned by the direction the plot takes in the later pages. The book suddenly shifts from a brooding tale of humanity being oppressed by vampires to whacky capers revolving around moody Yuichiro settling into high school life. The change in setting feels really forced. Why are the majority of animes and manga compelled to make their lead a teenage student?

Fingers crossed that the subsequent volumes won’t stray too far from the tone of the earlier chapters. Using comedy to alleviate some of the book’s darker themes is fine. Silliness smothering the plot’s intriguing premise would however be a shame. I’m also hoping that future releases will flesh out the supporting cast. The spotlight thus far has been squarely on Yuichiro who comes across as your typical angsty hero. I’d like to see more pages dedicated to his classmates Yoichi Saotome (dweeb sidekick with a tragic past) and Shinoa Hiragi (female wind up merchant who is destined to become the love interest.) Yuichiro’s relationship with his commander Guren Ichinose also shows promise. The two are constantly butting heads, which is reminiscent of the entertaining Roy/Al exchanges in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Time will tell whether Seraph of the End will live up to it’s potential or if it will turn out to be nothing more than a generic Blue Exorcist clone. From what I have read thus far I can at least recommend volume one. If perusing manga isn’t your thing you’ll be glad to know that an anime adaptation exists and is available to stream in the UK thanks to Anime Limited. Not sure why I am plugging their site though, because they still haven’t replaced my defective Durarara discs (grumble, grumble.)

Review of Assassination Classroom (Vol. 1)

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Like many former students, there was once a time when I wished I could throttle my annoying teachers who tormented me with excessive homework and less than glowing report cards. Japanese artist Yusei Matsui must have harboured similar desires during his youth, as his smash hit manga series Assassination Classroom revolves around the underachieving students of Class E who spend their lesson time trying to inflict harm upon their eccentric educator. The series has been running in Japan since July 2012 and is now available to buy in the UK courtesy of Viz Media (the publisher of One Piece, not to be confused with the magazine starring Johnny Fartpants and Buster Gonad.)

OVERVIEW

The recent destruction of the moon ominously signals that the end of the world is nigh. Earth is doomed to suffer the same fate, as its cheesy satellite, unless the creature responsible for lambasting the Luna surface is vanquished. Shame then that humanity’s military is powerless against said planetary destroyer – their defence of the globe proving to be as ineffective as the backline of Gibraltar’s national football team. The seemingly invulnerable organism announces that March is the deadline for Earth’s obliteration… until then it shall pass the time by working in Japan as a high school teacher. I fear for the safety of the female teens attending the institution because Koro-sensei (aka unkillable teacher) is an octopi like monster, boasting more tentacles than an episode of animated porn.

Armed with a stockpile of arms, supplied by the army, Koro-sensei’s students do their level best to defeat their mentor before the calendar reaches March. If saving the world isn’t motivation enough, there’s also a ten billion yen reward for anyone who can slay professor octopus. Committing murder is no easy task though because Koro-sensei is a nimble bugger who can reach speeds of Mach 20, in addition to having Wolverine level restorative powers that regenerate damaged body parts. He’s also a surprisingly good instructor! Over the course of this first volume Koro-sensei helps a student improve their baseball pitch and he also aids a chemistry whizz in preparing deadly poisons. That’s probably a bad idea given that the intended consumer of the concoctions is Koro-sensei himself.

VERDICT

It should go without saying that Assassination Classroom’s plot doesn’t withstand any logical scrutiny, but it matters not because the book’s tone is clearly comedic. Once the ludicrous premise is established the story hits the ground running, barely giving the reader a pause in which to ponder how adolescents could succeed were soldiers have failed or why a tentacle creature would want to educate pupils that are fated to perish come what March. The attempts to exterminate Koro-sensei range from elaborate booby traps to shootings during class registration. In a way the action reminds me a little of Trigun, as both mangas feature a target (with a large bounty on their head) who evades harm in the daftest ways imaginable.

My rating for volume one of Assassination Classroom is four stars. The manga gets a thumbs up from me, although I cannot give it full marks because apart from Koro-sensei the book is severely lacking in memorable characters. From the student ranks, Karma Akabane is the only person who has made an impact on the story. Akabane was formerly suspended for assaulting a teacher and is brought back into the fold, by those in charge, in the hopes that history will repeat itself. Aside from Akabane, Nagisa Shiota could become a big player further down the line, as he seems to be jotting down Koro-sensei’s potential weaknesses in a notebook. I’m hoping that the supporting cast get fleshed out more in future volumes because it doesn’t say much for the human race when a beaming mollusc outshines you in the charisma department.

Review of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

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Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is a manga series that is presently being distributed in English speaking countries courtesy of Kodansha Comics USA. The comic is the brainchild of artist Miki Yoshikawa (creator of Flunk Punk Rumble) and has appeared within the pages of Weekly Shonen Magazine since February 2012. The book is recommended for fans of gender bending, which is a surprisingly popular thing. During my brief time in airport security you wouldn’t believe how many blokes the x-ray body scanners detected wearing lacy underwear and bras. After spotting a five hundred pound chap sporting a G-string I promptly handed in my notice.

OVERVIEW

This manga stars two high schoolers named Ryu Yamada and Urara Shiraishi who are polar opposites. The titular Yamada is a delinquent who is teetering on the verge of expulsion whilst Shiraishi is an academic prodigy who effortlessly achieves the highest grades in her class. One day Yamada accidently trips down some stairs causing him to lock lips with the aforementioned bookworm. The unintended kiss causes the pair to swap bodies, which leads to much hilarity and a surprising upturn in fortune for both parties. Using her smarts, Shiraishi aces a bunch of exams saving Yamada from getting expelled whilst Yamada’s fighting prowess makes short work of some bullies who had been targeting Shiraishi.

The bizarre change in personalities doesn’t go unnoticed however. After a few chapters student council vice president Toranosuke Miyamura uncovers that the couple are able to shift bodies via smooching. Keen to investigate the phenomena Miyamura resurrects the defunct Supernatural Studies Club, as an excuse to have a clubroom where Yamada and Shiraishi can privately embrace without revealing their secret to the rest of the school. The plan goes awry though when a paranormal junkie named Miyabi Ito insists on joining the club. What shenanigans will Yamada’s powers cause and how will Ito’s unwanted presence hamper his body swapping routine? Only time will tell.

VERDICT

I have to say that I was very impressed with this inaugural volume in the Yamada-kun franchise. The artwork is decent, albeit a little cartoonier than some other mangas I have recently read, and the book itself is good value for money. The £6.39 paperback (£5.06 kindle edition) gives you almost two hundred pages worth of content to peruse, with each panel having a fair amount of dialogue to digest. I found Miki Yoshikawa’s comedy stylings to be thoroughly amusing and was relieved to see that the book didn’t become fixated with gender reversal gags. A more lowbrow title would have easily fallen into the trap of having all the jokes revolve around Yamada pervert-idly exploiting his situation.

My rating for this first volume of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is four stars. Based on this strong start I am not surprised to learn that the manga has been adapted into both an anime and live action series. I enjoyed seeing how the leads overcome strife by propping up each other’s weaknesses and am keen to see what happens next. Could magic be responsible for the body swapping hijinks? No hints have been offered yet, aside from the cover showcasing Shiraishi in a witch’s garb. I’m also wondering how a potential Yamada/ Shiraishi romance would work. Given their predicament, should they get amorous wouldn’t they just end up kissing their own face? That’s almost as disturbing as spying an obese guy in a thong.

Review of Sankarea (Vol. 1)

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Everyone loves a good bit of necrophilia. Sadly in the entertainment world there aren’t many literary examples of romance tales that feature cadavers. What is one to do if smooching someone that has no pulse makes your own heart race? I propose that you check out Sankarea – a manga created by artist Mitsuru Hattori. This romantic comedy series was originally published within the pages of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine and is available to buy in western markets courtesy of Kodansha Comics USA. The paperback version of volume one, which contains chapters one to four, can be presently purchased from Amazon for around £7.00.

OVERVIEW

Sankarea stars a high school student named Chihiro Furuya whose passion in life is watching horror movies of the zombie variety. I guess he caught the zombie bug after watching the Walking Dead… or ogling High School of the Dead’s rather jiggly cast. Either way, his obsession with all things undead has resulted in Chihiro procuring an ancient manuscript that purportedly details how to whip up a potion that can reanimate the departed. After Chihiro’s dear moggy Babu gets turned into road kill the book’s protagonist decides to test if the scroll’s recipe is authentic. The concoction he subsequently brews up does succeed in resurrecting his kitty… and someone else.

Rea Sanka is the book’s titular character and the second recipient of Chihiro’s restorative tonic. The two met at an abandoned building where Chihiro practices his potion making skills. Rea frequents the area to vent her repressed frustrations by yelling down a nearby well (I find that playing Call of Duty is a good way to unwind, but I guess that screaming down a hole works too.) Despite hailing from a wealthy family and being the most popular girl in school Rea is deeply unhappy. Her repulsive father holds a complete stranglehold over Rea’s social life in addition to having an incestuous fixation on his offspring. Things are so bad that he even hangs a nude portrait of his daughter in his study. Rea perishes when a squabble with daddy dearest results in her plummeting down a cliff. Fortunately Chihiro’s elixir resurrects her as (yes you guessed it) a zombie!

VERDICT

I have to say that I rather enjoyed this first instalment of the Sankarea franchise. Thanks to his zombie fascination Chihiro is a bit more interesting than the usual bland protagonist found in romantic comedy mangas. He’s also far more relatable than the company he keeps, given that his best friends include a spineless dweeb and a horny teen that constantly salivates over women (even though he never gets any action.) Despite Rea’s plight the tone of the book is light hearted, helped by the fact that Ms Sanka is rather chuffed about her new undead status. As she is presumed deceased Rea has managed to escape from the clutches of her father and is now residing at Chihiro’s place where she is having a blast.

My rating for this book is four stars. It accomplishes everything you would want from a first volume – namely setting up the story, introducing you to the characters and leaving the reader wanting more. The artwork is excellent too, although it is clearly pandering to a male audience. There are a number of panels showing off Rea’s cleavage and even nipple shots of Chihrio’s cousin in the tub. Although there is a danger that things could get silly in the later chapters right now I am invested in the series. I’m keen to see how the relationship between the leads develops. Rea clearly has a crush on Chihiro and now that she has transformed into an attractive ghoul will the zombie fanatic be able to resist her advances? Perhaps her odor will put him off, as she appears to be suffering from the early stages of decomposition. Volume two should prove to be interesting and if reading isn’t your thing there’s an anime adaptation to check out, which is due out in the UK soon.

Knights of Sidonia (Vol. 1) Review

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Knights of Sidonia is a science fiction comic created by manga artist Tsutomu Nihei (the chap responsible for Biomega, Abara and NOiSE.) The series takes place in the year 3394, which makes me feel rather old. Anyone remember the days when futuristic tales took place in 2000 A.D? It’s 2015 and I am still awaiting the advent of flying automobiles and teleporters. Anyway, as the title suggests, this manga is set aboard the star ship Sidonia that is venturing through the cosmos seeking out a new home world for the human race. Earth is sadly no longer habitable after mankind had a run in with a hostile alien race known as the Gauna.

OVERVIEW

This opening volume in the Knights of Sidonia saga follows the exploits of a young chap named Nagate Tanikaze. Nagate has spent most of his life loafing about in the recesses of the Sidonia’s sub-decks, where he spends his days learning how to pilot mechs on a virtual reality simulator. His daily routine is forever changed when he decides to venture out of his quarters to grab some rice. The hunt for tasty Uncle Bens goes awry when the Sidonia’s security personnel apprehend Nagate just as he is in the middle of raiding the ship’s larder. Nagate is subsequently whisked off to the ship’s upper levels where most of the crew reside.

As punishment for his thieving ways Nagate is assigned to the Guardian fleet, where he is expected to utilise his robot piloting skills to protect the Sidonia from assaults by the nightmarish Gauna. Despite the setup, the book only has a few pages dedicated to interstellar dogfights between the Sidonia forces and their gigantic extra-terrestrial nemesis. Volume one’s focus is mainly on covering how Nagate adapts from a hermit existence to co-habiting with other people. The transition from loner to crewmate isn’t a smooth one though, especially given the Sidonia’s unique composition. Unlike Nagate, who is a regular human, the Sidonia’s roster is composed of numerous clones, hermaphrodites and an articulate teddy blessed with a cybernetic arm.

VERDICT

My rating for Knight of Sidonia’s inaugural volume is a three out of five. Tsutomu Nihei has succeeded in fabricating a unique universe that has me keen to check out volume two. In particular I am interested to learn more about how the Sidonia’s society functions and the origins of the mysterious Gauna. Aside from the world building I was also impressed by Nihei’s artwork. The design of the characters, mechs, residential quarters and the alien adversaries all caught my eye. The Gauna resemble space faring foetuses complete with deadly tendrils. Anyone who is easily unsettled may want to avoid reading KOS at bedtime, because those creatures are a nightmare waiting to happen.

I can’t give the book a higher score though because none of the characters have made an impression on me. Nagate works well as a vessel that readers can latch onto to learn how the Sidonia operates, but I can’t say that I much cared for his personality. The gag of how he is perpetually hungry, aboard a ship were most of the crew gain nourishment via photosynthesis, gets so tiresome that I rather enjoyed the moments when the protagonist gets battered by unfriendly colleagues. The tone of the book is also a little uneven. There are moments when the narrative is grisly and dark whilst at other times the story gets downright silly with slapstick comedy or fan service scenes displaying nipple shots and girls in their underwear. Well I assume they are girls. With so many genderless clones running about I fear that hooking up aboard the Sidonia is rife with danger, just like flirting in lady boy saturated Thailand.

Review of Witchcraft Works (Vol. 1)

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Witchcraft Works is an ongoing manga series created by artist Ryu Mizunagi, which is being distributed in the West courtesy of publisher Vertical. Mizunagi’s first foray into the world of Japanese comics is one of those properties that give geeky readers the hope that someday they’ll be able to snag an unrealistically attractive girlfriend. Protagonist Honoka Takamiya is a bland husk of a character, as seen in many a harem show, that fans of the book can imprint themselves upon. Despite being a complete nobody Honoka is able to court the hottest girl in school… and I literally mean hottest girl because she happens to be a witch that specialises in combustible magic.

OVERVIEW

The book’s opening chapter introduces us to Honoka, an unassuming teenage student who happens to sit next to the beautiful Ayaka Kagari during class. Ayaka is the most popular girl in school and is constantly followed by a large group of fans (that puts the size of Paris Hilton’s entourage to shame.) One day, after his studies have concluded, Honoka heads home only to have his journey interrupted by the realisation that a portion of the nearby school building is toppling over and is about to squish him. Thankfully for Honoka a flying Ayaka, who is inexplicably dressed like a witch, swoops by and rescues him seconds before the collapsing masonry turns him into a pancake.

Ayaka reveals that her choice of attire stems from the fact that she is a bonafide witch, capable of casting an assortment of devastating flame spells. To be specific, Ayaka belongs to the Workshop group of witches that focus on bettering mankind via magical research. A group of rival spell casters, known as the Tower Witches, also exists and they have set their sights on kidnapping Honoka in order to enact some nefarious plan. What exactly is going on isn’t clear, as Ayaka would rather keep Honoka in the dark – even if disclosing such knowledge would undoubtedly make her job of protecting him much easier. I guess Mizunagi wants to keep his readers in suspense because, for now, all we know is that the Tower Witches seek Honoka’s “white stuff.” Fair enough. Why bother with clarifying the plot when sexual innuendo will do?

VERDICT

My rating for volume one of Witchcraft Works is a three out of five. Overall it was an entertaining read, but I can’t say that I had an irresistible urge to pick up the next book after I was done with the last chapter. I think Witchcraft Works’ biggest fault is that it’s so generic. The setup of a girl with supernatural powers protecting a dweeb makes the manga feel like a less funny Rosario Vampire. Later on in the story Honoka also expresses an interest in training to become Ayaka’s apprentice, so he can use his untapped powers to aid his fiery protector. That sounds a lot like Shakugan no Shana, although Ayaka is nowhere near as interesting as the titular Shana. For the most part Ayaka is your typical silent badass who has a habit of comically misinterpreting what Honoka says.

Although Mizunagi’s writing failed to wow me, I must say that I am impressed by the comic’s artwork. The predominately female cast ensures that there is plenty of eye candy, with the highlight being the Amazonian Ayaka. She towers above the male protagonist and even bridal carries him on occasion! Poor Honoka must feel so emasculated, especially when Ayaka calls him princess. The action scenes are also drawn well, although I can’t say the battles were too exciting as Ayaka is so overpowered. From what I have seen thus far she is able to survive being impaled with no ill effects and later in the book she is able to defeat four Tower Witches, off panel, without breaking a sweat. In the end I can only give this manga starring a fire witch a “lukewarm” recommendation. Perhaps I will enjoy the anime adaptation more as I’ll be able to see the pyro kinetic duels in motion onscreen.

Review of Cardfight Vanguard (Volume One)

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Cardfight Vanguard is a comic book series based on a successful trading card game. Over in Japan the use of anime and manga to promote card games is nothing new. In recent times the medium has been used to popularise titles such as Duel Masters and Selector Infected WIXOSS. This kind of marketing strategy has been around for years, which I can attest to having grown up watching glorified animated commercials such as GI Joe and He-Man. Sometimes these promotional shows can be surprisingly good (Transformers) although you know toy makers are scraping the barrel when they feel a 150 episode saga is required to sell spinning tops (Beyblade.)

OVERVIEW

At the time of writing Amazon are selling several volumes of Cardfight Vanguard for around £5.59. The first book presently retails for a slightly dearer £7.39, presumably due to its lengthier opening chapter. Diehard fans can also pick up a special edition of volume one, containing some complimentary cards, for the sum of £13.14. Crikey that seems rather extortionate to me. For that price I could purchase a twenty-four pack of Kit Kats and I’d have more fun chewing them up rather than reading this Yu-Gi-Oh knock off.

The franchise’s similarities to the above mentioned Egyptian card game should come as no surprise given that it was created in part by Akira Itou, who has previously worked on Yu-Gi-Oh R (sadly not an R rated comic were competitors play strip poker using Konami brand cards.) Both mangas resemble each other not only in their card duelling premise, but also in their art style that sports nearly identical character designs. Itou was assisted by a number of artists when producing this book, but thankfully the panels maintain a consistent (if unspectacular) look.

STORY

Cardfight’s protagonist is Aichi Sendou, a bashful student who is content to simply collect Vanguard cards, rather than use them for competitive play, as he is a complete pussy. The first chapter sees Aichi fall foul of a bully who nabs his prized Blaster Blade card after some unpleasant physical persuasion. Aichi subsequently tracks the fiend down to a local hobby store, where he discovers that the card has been lost to Toshiki Kai (an expert Vanguard player who acts like a pretentious prick just because he is accomplished at beating children at cards.) In order to recover Blaster Blade our dweeby hero will have to pop his Vanguard cherry and challenge Kai to a match.

Volume one’s remaining chapters have Aichi challenging a trio of players that I presume will become recurring characters. First up is Kamui Katsuragi, a boisterous chap with gravity defying hair, who is intent on besting the hobby shop’s finest players. Next is Misaki the store clerk who has memorised the deck of all her patrons. It’s explained that her photographic memory stems from her insistence to remember her parents who perished at a young age (sniff how touching.) The last tale deals with Aichi befriending Morikawa – the bully who pilfered Buster Blade in the inaugural story. Why Aichi would want to become chums with a jerk is beyond me, but I suppose it comes with the territory. Many mangas targeted at youngsters try to preach the wholesome message that friendship is magical (endorsed by bronies everywhere.)

VERDICT

Despite enjoying the Yu-Gi-Oh anime, during my youth, I can’t say that I was too impressed by Cardfight Vanguard. Yu-Gi-Oh was mildly entertaining thanks to its preposterously campy storylines that made every duel feel like a life or death struggle. Vanguard on the other hand feels like loud kids playing a mediocre game of Old Maid. The first chapter gives readers a crash course in Vanguard’s mechanics and to be honest it doesn’t sound too strategic. Every hand seems to eliminate an opponent’s card leaving encounters to be decided by unexplained rules that Aichi exploits at the most opportune time. The uninspired writing and art make me think that the book will only appeal to fans of the game (who will be more interested in scooping up the bundled cards rather than reading it.) My rating is a two out of five. I would have had more fun spending my time playing Solitaire.