Sea Princess Azuri

Sea Princess Azuri 

By Erica Reis (TokyoPop)
ISBN 1-59816-401-5

This charming fantasy follows the coming of age adventures of a regal daughter of the Oceans who is reaching maturity and therefore sadly compelled to accept some pretty odious responsibilities – such as marry a foreign prince to end a war.

I’m sure this all sounds like pretty standard storybook fare so far, but when you take into account that Sea Princess Azuri is a mermaid, half girl, half Orca (that would be a Killer Whale to you or me), that her friend and bodyguard harbours secret feelings for her, and that the Prince she must marry (half man, half Eel, by the way) is a sneaky, slave owning creep with a secret agenda of his own, the potential for a real rollicking adventure is pretty high.

Erica Ries draws beautifully and her undersea world is both whimsical and fully fleshed, whilst her modernistic take on the classical fairytale scenario makes for a charming and readily approachable read. I look forward to future volumes, and so, I suspect, will you.

© 2006 Erica Reis and TOKYOPOP Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol 1

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol 1 

By Hiroki Endo (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-487-0

Despite the truly monumental breadth and variety of manga, I suspect that to western eyes Japanese comics are inextricably linked to science fiction in general and cataclysm in particular. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, merely saddled with a few unfair presuppositions. With that stated and in mind any fair reader should sit down to Eden: It’s An Endless World! and be prepared for a treat.

Elijah Ballard is one of a small group of immunes who have survived the global pandemic named the ‘Closure Virus’. Most of humanity has been eradicated, and those infected who have survived their initial exposure are doomed to a slow deterioration that compels them to augment their failing bodies with cybernetics simply to survive. They barely qualify as human by most standards.

Pockets of survivors immune to the plague are dotted about the planet and as the years pass various factions form to take control of the world. Through a series of flashbacks we see the immediate aftermath of the plague before jumping twenty years to follow this young man’s picaresque ramblings through a devastated South America. Accompanied by a robotic bodyguard he is eking out a precarious existence when he is captured – or perhaps adopted – by a rag-tag band of soldiers.

When the world died political society divided into two camps. The fragmented remnants of the United Nations tried to retain some degree of control but found themselves under attack by Propater, a revolutionary paramilitary organisation that had been planning a world coup even before the virus hit. Global war has raged among the survivors ever since.

Now caught up in this conflict Elijah begins to realise that his long missing parents are major players in the new world order and day to day survival is no longer his only concern…

Despite the cyberpunk appurtenances and high octane pace of the narrative, this is in many senses a very English approach to the End of the World. There are echoes of that other Ballard (J. G., an author, not a comic strip scripter), Aldous Huxley, and even Chapman Pincher. The adult themes present here aren’t simply nudity and violence – although they are here in an abundance that will satisfy any action manga fan – but also a lyrical philosophy and moral questioning of political doctrine that underpins the text in the manner of much Cold War era science fiction.

This Titan Books edition is translated into English but printed in Japanese format – that is read from back to front and right-to-left, but don’t let that deter you. You will adjust in minutes at most and the slight effort is really worth it. Subtly engaging, beautifully illustrated and balancing swift action with introspective mystery, this series looks set to appeal to that literate sector that needs their brains tickled as well as their pulse rates raised.

© 2007 Hiroki Endo. All Rights Reserved.

Arcana Volume 1

Arcana Volume 1 

By So-Young Lee (TokyoPop)
ISBN 1-59532-481-X

This traditional Manga fantasy tale is the story of a young orphan girl with the magical ability to speak to and understand animals. With her best friend Zode – a large Collie dog (sort of) — she is summoned to the court of the Emperor as the next hundred year winter is about to fall upon the land. Her improbable mission is to retrieve a guardian dragon to protect the Empire from a predatory demon-race waiting for the long shadows to fall.

Our demure and uncertain heroine is unconvinced that all these noble lords have the right Chosen One, but gamely and dutifully agrees to go a-questing accompanied by the enigmatic, young and eerily good-looking wizard Yulan and a growing assortment of motley companions of all races and species.

This epic of magic and adventure is simple, uncomplicated fare that will delight all fans of imaginative fiction and historical romances.

© 2003 So-Young Lee, DAIMON C.I. Inc. All Rights Reserved.
English text © 2005 TOKYOPOP Inc.

Megatokyo Volume 4

Megatokyo Volume 4 

By Fred Gallagher, with Sarah Gallagher & Dominic Nguyen (CMX/WildStorm)
ISBN 1-84576-476-5

Now, you and me, we’re normal. Sure we like comics, and sci-fi shows and big-explosion movies, toy guns and ninjas and beer, but that’s still regular stuff. Yet don’t we know a couple of guys that take it just a little too seriously? Maybe they’re a tad too… keen?

Piro and Largo are those guys. Piro is a big, Big, BIG fan of all things Japanese and collectable (there’s a word for it and that’s “Otaku” – which probably translates as “obsessive geek”). Largo is a hardcore Gamer – he even thinks and speaks in a game language, “L33T”. One night they get unbelievably drunk in America and sober up in Tokyo – with no money to get home.

And that’s really all the backstory you need to start reading this epic online comic strip (apparently the world’s most popular non-Japanese manga). The two hapless odd-boys must find jobs and earn enough money to get home, but Japan is seductive. Piro finds himself drawn into a web of bemused attraction with three very different girls and Largo becomes the charismatic leader of a group of ‘heroes’ dedicated to destroying a deadly ‘zombie horde’ plaguing the city. It’s all their dreams come true.

This is incredibly dense storytelling when gathered into book form. You need a lot of irons in the fire when you’re publishing daily, and the plots, sub-plots and asides are utterly packed with drama, comedy from satire to slapstick, and a delightful absurdist fantasy that can always be relied on to keep the audience guessing. With a dedicated pick’n’mix attitude to everything that intrigues them, the Gallaghers have re-fried all their favourite elements of popular culture into a seamless surreal blend of goofy unrequitable love, male haplessness, giant monsters, warrior cults, guardian angels, funny animals, fairies, imaginary science and soap opera. This is a fun, fun read. Here’s hoping the (book) publisher re-releases the previous volumes – mean time you could always check out www.megatokyo.com.

© 2007 FredArt Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Oh My Goddess! Volume 2

Oh My Goddess! Volume 2 

By Kosuke Fujishima (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-486-9

Having almost adapted to being inextricably linked to a beautiful goddess, you’d think life would settle down for socially inadequate student Keiichi Morisato, but sadly things just keep getting more and more complicated.

The college society he pledged to – the Nekomi Institute of Technology Motor Club – are a bunch of maniacs, always spending his money and getting him into trouble, his little sister is always nosing around, the campus queen, Sayoko, inexplicably has the hots for him, and to top it all, Belldandy’s sister – an even more powerful goddess – has decided to make him her pet project.

When you’re a lazy slacker who just wants a hassle free life, you should be careful what you wish for. This second collection of Kosuke Fujishima’s classic comedy of errors is a gentle hoot that can’t fail to bring a smile to the jaded comic palate.

© 2007 Kosuke Fujishima. All Rights Reserved.

Oh My Goddess! Volume 1

Oh My Goddess! Volume 1 

By Kosuke Fujishima (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-485-4

Oh My Goddess is a particularly fine example of a peculiarly Japanese genre of storytelling combining fantasy with loss of conformity and embarrassment. In this case nerdy science student Keiichi Morisato dials a wrong number one night and connects to the Goddess Technical Help Line. When the beautiful and powerful Belldandy materialises in his room, offering him one wish, he mockingly asks that she never leave him, effectively trapping her on Earth and unable to move too far from his physical proximity.

In a structured society like Japan there’s plenty of scope for comedy when a powerful female seemingly dotes on an average male, and much frivolity occurs as her inability to part from him increasingly disrupts his life. And of course there’s the whole supernatural powers running amok problem to consider as well. Think of it as a modern take on Bewitched or I Dream of Genie, especially as there’s a romance developing between them that both are incapable of admitting to.

Throw in the usual cast of friends, rivals, insane teachers and interfering entities and there’s plenty of light-hearted fun to be found in this bright and breezy manga classic.

© 2007 Kosuke Fujishima. All Rights Reserved.

Havoc in Heaven

Havoc in Heaven 

By Tang Cheng & various

(Foreign Languages Press)  No ISBN

Although not strictly Graphic Novels, and certainly hard to find in many parts of the country, the picture books portraying Chinese tales and legends are always a rewarding read. If you have a local Chinatown it’s certainly worth a scout around, or perhaps you might try Googling.

This time out is a double oddity, in that Havoc in Heaven, another tale of Monkey, taken from Wu Cheng’en’s classic Journey to the West features full colour stills from an animated film of the same name, embedded with small blocks of English text in the manner of Rupert the Bear, rather than those wonderful black line drawings that drive western artists to tears of jealousy.

The irrepressible and wayward Monkey is the bane of the pious and stiff denizens of Heaven, whom he offends with his carousing and fighting and mischief. In an effort to control him, The Jade Emperor invites Monkey to join the Celestials and even gives him a job in the palace, but Monkey’s wayward nature cannot be tamed and the resultant chaos and combat shakes the heavens and rattles the gods themselves.

Spectacular, bright and irresistibly engaging, this colourful interpretation is an absolute delight, thanks to the beautiful illustrations of Yan Dingxian, Pu Jiaxiang, Lin Wenxiao, Lu Qing, Gao Yang and Fang Pengnian. Although these books are seldom out of print for long, it would be nice if some entrepreneur could pick up a British license for both the books and the film too.

© Foreign Languages Press BEIJING 1979

Mark of the Succubus

Mark of the Succubus 

By Ashly Raiti & Irene Flores

(TokyoPop) ISBN 1-59816-266-7

Coming firmly from Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory, this book introduces us to Maeve, a beautiful if somewhat reluctant trainee succubus, sent from her own demon realm to Earth to hone her seducing and damning skills at Barlow High School. Naturally she feels lost, alone and a little confused at first, but soon sets her sights on the sharp but low-achieving Aiden and tries to live up to expectations. No help at all comes from his peculiar and obnoxious girl-friend who adds extra meaning to the phrase “from Hell”.

As you’d imagine, she quickly realises that the politics, intrigues and machinations of a modern secondary school are far trickier to survive than even the netherworld, but even so, a rival faction at home have a spy dogging her footsteps to make her life even more complicated…

This engaging spin on the school-days genre from two of the finalists in the “Rising Stars of Manga” competition is slick and witty whilst adhering to the expected conventions of a highly successful sub-strait of teen fiction. A word of caution for blokes though, this has a 13+ advisory, so if you’re looking for skin and cheap thrills you’d be better off with Red Sonja or Girls Aloud.

© 2005 Ashly Raiti & Irene Flores and TOKYOPOP Inc. All Rights Reserved

Forbidden Dance

Forbidden Dance

By Hinako Ashihara

(TokyoPop) ISBN 1591823455

This is the charming, if eccentric, tale of Aya, a young girl who has seemingly lost the power to dance after an accident at a ballet contest. Her life finally turns around after she sees the boy Akira dance with the COOL ballet troupe. Revitalised, she makes joining COOL her life’s ambition, and nothing, not even the fact that COOL is an all-male company, is going to stop her.

Aimed at a young teen audience, Forbidden Dance is replete with the school angst and success pressure that dominates this branch of manga fiction, but the energy, power and enthusiasm of Hinako Ashihara’s story-telling elevates the tale above the crush of its peers. As Aya’s story progresses the ending is never a foregone conclusion and even the most jaded reader must wonder “what next?”

In a crowded and conservative market, it’s good to see quality story-telling in varied settings, and most fans would probably benefit from giving this book a chance.

© 2003 Hinako Ashihara. All Rights Reserved.