Lovey Dovey: So sweet, you’ll puke

After a long hiatus, I’ve decided to pick this blog back up and start reviewing again! Graduation, job hunting, packing my life away and moving it 10 hours north all got in the way, but now that I’m settled I realized how much I missed reading and reviewing new titles.

While MangaLife is no more, I am working on projects for and am planning to sign up for Manga Fox’s reader forum so I can get more involved in discussion boards.

Thanks for checking out my blog and feel free to leave a comment, even if you disagree!

20111205-212013.jpg Romance manga that straddles the line between sweet shoujo and smoldering smut aren’t always the easiest to stomach… You’re either gagging at the corniness or cupping your face in embarrassment when things get dirty.

Unfortunately for Lovey Dovey, the manga never finds its balance and ends up dragging on page after page without a sense of purpose. It’s sugary sweet, so much so you’d have to be 12 years old to really enjoy it… until the off beat smut cues in, of course.

The story starts off with Saika, a student at a prestigious high school with a strict no-love policy she upholds as part of the discipline committee. But her composed demeanor is actually a mask worn to impress childhood-friend-turned-love-of-her-life, Keishi, who is also president of the discipline committee.

Saika thinks she’s on her way to confessing when she ends up in the “special section” of school and runs into renown playboy Shin. When he throws himself at her, however, Saika’s true, boisterous self emerges and she smacks him away, threatening to kill him if he ruins her shot with Keishi.

Rejection only turns Shin on more to Saika (surprise, surprise), and he instantly falls for her outspoken nature.

I will admit the beginning chapters were hilarious, a ring of His and Her Circumstances with a touch of MARS. But once Shin suddenly sheds his playboy persona, this manga becomes as dry and cliche as a bottle of $6 Merlot.

Much like a car accident you can’t help but stare at, Lovey Dovey twists on and on through goofy plot lines and maddening dialogue. There are some genuine moments, especially between Keishi and Saika, but the dramatic, “you’re mine” attitude between Saika and Shin had me skipping more pages and chapters than swooning and sighing.

20111205-212436.jpg I mean, when THE bishie everyone is supposed to fall for becomes laughable and cheesy, isn’t it time to end the series with a sweet kiss, ring exchange and a “let’s be together forever” embrace?

And don’t get me started on the other “guy” characters who always seem to fall for Saika–the development is so flat it’s hard to see them as more than cartoon characters. Saika is also the only girl in the manga, minus a few background characters drawn to fill the panels, which quickly becomes boring and surreal. She’s not a heroine and she even seems to lose her outgoing spirit the more caught up she becomes in her relationships.

This isn’t the worst I’ve read, but for a manga with such wonderful art and potential, the sweet taste lingers sour and you’ll end up wishing you’d spent those hours watching mindless TV instead.

If the title doesn’t warn you what you’re in for, I don’t know what else will.

Liz’s rating: ★


The end of an era?

I’m currently working on an article for Comics Bulletin about the US shutdown of mainstream manga publisher TOKYOPOP a few weeks ago. The whole mess has me asking a lot of questions about the future of the industry, especially since I’m supposed to be writing it as an investigative piece about what really happened. From what I found, there are multiple layers that contribute to TOKYOPOP’s decline, but one that really sticks out to me is the scanlation “industry.”

Scanlations are fan-translated computer scans of manga titles–many which haven’t been claimed by a US publisher. However, there are popular series like Nana, Death Note, Naruto, etc. that are still being illegally published online. When one site is forced to take the series down, it quickly pops up on another–a never-ending tug of war between publishers trying to recoup their losses and manga fans who want the series on demand for free.

I interviewed one fan who mercilessly blamed consumers of scanlations for the decline of TOKYOPOP and said he preferred owning paperback copies of his manga rather than read online. It made me reflect back on my love for Shojo Beat magazine, a subscription renewed every Christmas for me by mom for about 3 years. I loved flipping through the 300-page magazine all at once, devouring my favorite stories and anxiously guessing what would happen next with my sister.

When Shojo Beat folded and sent a said letter to me in the mail about my subscription, I read my first scanlation. I didn’t even know scanlations existed until a Facebook friend made a comment about reading Nana, my favorite comic in Shojo Beat, on I immediately went to the site and drooled over all the titles available at the click of a mouse–entirely free. After romance title after title, I explored other genres and discovered my favorite: Death Note. I swear I did nothing that summer but read manga and go to work–I was hooked.

There’s a part of me that will always feel guilty for reading all that manga online for free. It wasn’t helping the mangaka any bit and it was screwing over publishers like TOKYOPOP. But at the same time, my love and interest in other genres wouldn’t have grown if not for OneManga. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who feels like this, but it won’t make it stop. Just as people continue to download music through torrents, scanlation groups will continue to find new host sites to upload their projects.

I don’t think it’s the end of manga, but it’s definitely a threat.

Yen Press App: the future of manga

Source: Yen Press

I have yet to hear back from the Yen Press App developer I emailed with interview questions, but I might as well dabble out my thoughts while it’s still fresh for this post.

The iPad app was released mid-January and allows users to download popular manga titles for $8.99 a pop. I was surprised they cost only $1 cheaper than most paperback copies, but perhaps that will be something they change once more publishers release similar apps.

There’s also not a lot of variety in the number of titles to choose from, but they do have some of their newer titles on hand. The app is free to download and opens up to a pretty simple but interesting design. The top third of the page has three manga covers featured and bottom part consists of a list of titles. You can switch this bottom part between “new releases” and “fun stuff” pages, which list the manga title, cover image, description and  price.

The “fun stuff” consists of free downloads mainly authored by Yen Press staff members about their office adventures. It’s pretty cute and offers an inside view of the staff. All of the “new release” titles can be previewed for free, which is a definite must if your expected to pay $8.99 per download.

You can also view your account information, downloads, and give the developers feedback on a separate page of the app, which is pretty handy if you want to go back and read one of the titles you previously downloaded.

I ended up buying “The Clique v1” (read my review below) and enjoyed the virtual experience. Every page was clear and easy to read, and you can switch between single and double page view by turning the iPad. I could scroll through the pages with ease, but had a hard time at first locating the “touch area” that would take me back to the main menu.

I’ve read manga scanlations on my laptop and iPhone plenty of times before, but the experience and portability of reading on an iPad is unmatchable. It’s fun, clear and an easy way to expand your manga collection without taking up room on your shelves.

Sadly enough, I had to return the iPad I checked out from the J-school last week. If I win the lottery or have a spare $500 in my pocket dreams, I would love to invest in an iPad of my own. I definitely see the Yen Press app as the manga reading experience of the future, and I’m excited to see what the publishers will bring next.

Ways to improve: cheaper manga titles/a monthly subscription fee to access as many titles as you want, more options and a review/comment forum for readers to leave their opinions of what they just read.

Liz’s rating: ★★★

Manga’s bitchiest friends form “The Clique”

I recently checked out an iPad from the journalism library to test out and review the new Yen Press app. I’m working on the review for and am still waiting on the developers to get back to my interview questions, so I thought I’d take this week to review the title I read on the app: The Clique v1.

I was originally intrigued after read Penny Kenny’s review on ML, and after scrolling through the unfortunately small download choices, I decided I might as well give volume 1 a shot. The manga is an adaptation of Lisi Harrison’s popular Young Adult novel that follows new girl Claire in her quest to fit in with Massie and her fab four posse. After a financial downturn, Claire’s dad moves the family from Florida to LA to move in with his old best friend, Massie’s father. The rich Block family welcomes the Lyons with wide arms… well, everyone but Massie. After sizing up Claire’s “dated” wardrobe and personality, Massie decides to sabotage her chance of making friends at their wealthy prep school and make her life a living hell.

Fastforward through scenes of Claire getting red paint smeared on her white pants by Massie’s group, Claire getting revenge, fashion discussions, secret betrayals, etc. etc. And only one cute guy, I mean like, what? Are you serious? OMG. I never went through high school being in that type of crowd, so reading about it makes me ill.

I’m also not a big fan of Amerimanga, especially “Gossip Girl,” totally-too-cool-to-be-true storylines that literally gag me with a spoon. Well, metaphorically. The Clique had moments that made me chuckle, but for the most part, I was groaning at the cheesy dialogue and situations. Claire really should be a sympathetic character, but the LA lifestyle gets to her head quick enough and she’s almost as bad as Massie. I’m guessing the novel is very much for young adults, because the immaturity was almost too much to bear.

Sorry Clique, I like my manga original and Japanese. That’s the way it should be! However, I wouldn’t oppose to seeing a manga version of the Hunger Games, but that’s a whole new story!

Liz’s rating: ★★

Review: Bamboo Blade v5

The last time I read Bamboo Blade I wasn’t completely sold on the series, mostly because of the campy dialogue and painfully long kendo matches. Bamboo Blade v3 tries to target teen women readers, but doesn’t venture out of the stereotypical shonen “fight, talk, fight, talk” storyline. While Bamboo Blade v5 still struggles to deliver an engaging plot early on, the side stories, quirky characters, and shorter kendo scenes make this volume more entertaining and less forced.

The story resumes with Muroe High’s spunky girls’ kendo team prepping for the national tournament. With the team still short a member, Azuma is coaxed into temporarily joining for a practice meet against Seimei High. The matches are lighthearted and Muroe kendo instructor Toraji jokes around with his old friend, Tadaaki, who strictly coaches Seimei’s team of rising stars. Once the girls begin sparring, Tamaki’s amazing talent inspires both teams, and Azuma once again feels at home with her bamboo blade and kendo uniform. The girls move on to nationals and pump themselves up for their first match against a well-known cheater, the captain of Toujou High’s kendo team.

Again, the kendo practice scenes take up one too many panels. There’s an entire four pages of fighting with no dialogue, which might be exciting if it was an epic final battle, not an innocent practice match. I also cringed a bit when Toraji started reminiscing about his own kendo days and speaking about his failures as an instructor. His cheesy revelations were more cliché that inspiring, and I was left shaking my head and skimming a few pages.

While I understand a manga about kendo is going to feature a lot of kendo, I still believe Bamboo Blade could make it more interesting by adding in dramatic dialogue or something along those lines. The part where Azuma gets comically beaten up by her inexperienced sparring partner, for example, made me chuckle, but didn’t last long enough to make the rest of practice more readable.

However, when the focus shifts to Tamaki and Azuma, the practice becomes much more appealing and exciting to the female crowd. When Tamaki takes out a girl in three seconds and Azuma dodges her competitors with lightening speed, you too will feel like you can swing a bamboo shinai with accuracy and stealth… Most likely not, but these girls are very empowering for us athletically challenged readers! Tamaki still lacks personality, a major problem I had with v3, but thankfully her backstory isn’t featured as much in v5, and when we do see her, we get to see what she does best: kicking butt.

My favorite part of this volume? The comedic timing is just right. Most of the side stories featuring sly photographer, Reimi, made me laugh out loud thanks to her creepy (often doomed) plans to photograph Miyako. Kirino, Sayako, and Miyako are also a silly trio—each has a glaring personality flaw (greed, envy, and vanity, respectively) that easily creates awkward situations we all can appreciate. If v5 had more of these moments in the beginning, I probably wouldn’t have minded the practice scenes as much. But after trudging through pages upon pages of kendo sparring, the hilarious scenes serve more as comedic relief than as a seamless part of the storyline.

In the end, Bamboo Blade v5 isn’t the greatest sports manga, but it’s still enjoyable. The girls are tough, eccentric, and know how to wield their shinais, so what more can you ask for? I would still prefer more of a shoujo sports read like Crimson Hero, but if you’re getting tired of the romance genre, test drive Bamboo Blade for the action, a few laughs, and an inside look at the complex world of kendo.

Cat Street is Life… Love… Perfection

Volume 1 of Cat Street

My review writing skills are getting a little rusty with my growing pile of responsibilities for my capstone and journalism classes, but it’s back to the blog thanks to my Radio and TV Internet Applications class. Oh, the joys of mandatory blogging.

Over the break I had a little time for reading and stumbled upon a gem of a manga called Cat Street. I was a little hesitant after reading the description (trust me, you can judge a manga by its cover) on Manga Fox, but it’s popularity rank gave me enough incentive to click through and… it hit me. The storyline, the characters, the dialogue–it sucked me in all at once.

The story opens with 16-year-old Keito Aoyama, a has-been child star who broke under pressure during her broadway debut. After years of withdrawing from society, she is approached by a mysterious man with an elusive offer: Attend a free school for special students and escape her hermit existence. Despite her resistance, an old classmate pops into the picture and encourages her to start a new life. Keito begins a total transformation of the heart when she makes friends for the first time and rediscovers the joys of being a kid.

“Slice-of-life” is one of those genres of manga that can either really resonate with a reader or completely bomb. And when you add an idealistic shoujo romance to the mix, it’s usually a recipe for disaster. However, Cat Street differs from other mangas of this genre by steering away from storybook romance and into the psychology of the teenage brain. I mean, love doesn’t have one definition in real life, and Cat Street understands this by revealing multiple love triangles and interests–from school girl crush to soul mate lovers, Cat Street grabs your heart through the pain (and the bliss) of falling in love.

The best part? Keito doesn’t grow up in 3 volumes. The author, Kamio Youko, takes her time (as she most

I can die happy now.

famously does in Boys Over Flowers) and lets the readers watch Keito complete high school before she realizes where her heart belongs. I can’t tell you how many titles I’ve read where the heroine starts off messed up and is suddenly cured and in love by the end of volume 2. It’s just not realistic!

And you won’t want Cat Street to end when you meet the yummy male love interests! Taiyou, Rei, and Kouichi each embody different personalities of the typical high school boyfriend, but you’ll never be able to guess what happens next thanks to creative plot twists and turns.

Keito isn’t my favorite shoujo heroine, but by the end of the series, I was content with her transformation and new-found appreciation for life. Also, the art could be cleaner in some panels, but I know every mangaka can’t be a Matsui Hino.

Overall, Cat Street is one of those rare titles that will change your outlook on manga forever. I can barely pick up a cheese-filled one shot without craving the drama of Cat Street. Don’t believe me? Read a few chapters and tell me you aren’t obsessed!

Liz’s Rating: ★★★★★

S.P.Y makes swimming sexy

I’ve been vegging out on shoujo manga a lot lately for a few reasons…

1) No more work – I finished my last day at McKinney Today last Thursday so I’ve had some time to catch up on my reading. Only one week until I’m back in Columbia working, so I’m trying to get my fix before senior year hits full force.

2) Asian Film Festival of Dallas – Instead of reviewing graphic novels this week for, I was given assignments to review films for AFFD, which started last Thursday. I think reviewing films is a lot more intense than manga because I have less experience and I’m no “movie junkie” by any means. Either way, it’s exciting to get more experience with review writing.

3) The End of OM – announced last Thursday that they would be shutting down their scanlation powerhouse site at the end of this week. While I understand the publishers have their rights, I will be sad to see OM go–I’ve read so many great titles and experienced new genres thanks to them. I hope the publishers will start similar sites up with subscription fees–I would rather pay $10 a month than $10 a book.

So in my quest to read as much as possible, I discovered S.P.Y, a beautifully drawn manga by Ayane Ukyou (author of Desire Climax, another great read). The story follows 16-year-old Nagi in her quest to reunite with her Olympic swimming gold medalist mother, who abandoned her and her father when she was born. After moving to Tokyo when her father finds a job in a high school dormitory, Nagi watches a handsome boy swim and begs him to coach her.

Aoi hesitantly agrees to help her after their high school swim club, dominated by boys, refuses to let Nagi join unless she can swim 25 meters after three days of lessons. Her sweet persistence and determination inspires those around her, even the cold Yuji, a rising model and swimmer with a secretive past.

Nagi, Aoi, and Yui are all likable and passionate characters, and their love triangle will have you yelling at the pages and sighing with happiness at the same time. The romance isn’t overly cheesy, and I must admit, there’s just something tantalizing about attraction in the water. Just look at the cover for volume 2 on the left side of this page–hormones are racing like crazy in this shoujo, but what amazes me is that there is no sex (or even close encounters) in the entire series (which is only 13 chapters). This is a stark contrast to Ukyou’s Desire Climax, which I’ll leave the title to speak for itself.

But the amazing thing about this shoujo is that it doesn’t need the characters to have sex or do super lovey dovey things that are characteristic of this type of genre. The manga is powerful in its own storytelling ability–even a soft hug or caress between Aoi and Nagi will have your heart pounding. The love is innocent, but not totally naive.

Even further: for once, there’s a shoujo with a heroine that isn’t obsessed with love or finding a boyfriend! I admire Nagi’s focus and longing for the motherly love she never had. The story revisits this theme numerous times through Nagi’s own maternal instinct toward Yuji and the swim team and her mother’s cold behavior in their first encounter. Despite Nagi’s abandonment issues, she presents herself as a character set on keeping promises and reaching her goals, no matter the hell she has to endure to get there.

I would classify S.P.Y as more of a josei (manga targeted toward older woman, see my post on this genre) than a shoujo because of its mature approach to family issues, relationships and real world life. Even though the characters are all high school students, its refreshing to read a title that takes a serious look at issues outside of high school crushes and also promotes self-sufficiency and achieving your dreams. As a short read, S.P.Y will make you take a step back from your own world and wonder if you’re on the right track to success, as well as how to channel Nagi’s positive energy into day to day life.

Liz’s Rating: ★★★★

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