Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
I’m falling a bit behind on my manga reading again, mostly because I’ve had three unread volumes of Dawn of the Arcana sitting on my shelf judging me when I bring home new series instead. It’s a strange sensation, feeling like you’re cheating on a book… But I conquered the unread volumes, revisited a favorite author, and found a new property that confirms an old rule: mention the Battle of Sekigahara in your manga, and I will read it. I will read it so hard.
Dawn of the Arcana vols. 4-6 by Rei Toma
“Princess Nakaba of Senan and Prince Caesar of Belquat only married each other for the sake of peace between their two warring countries, so no one expected there to be love between the unlikely couple. But just as feelings start growing between them, Nakaba’s power, the Arcana of Time, shows her a vision of a young woman’s murder. Has the time come for Nakaba to harness her power to change fate?” ~ blurb on the back of volume four.
Ah, why did I hold off from reading these three volumes for so long? I think it’s because they’re the perfect sort of popcorn entertainment. Light and fluffy most of the time, with occasional bouts of seriousness. I was able to blow through all three in a single sitting and still wish for more, but Dawn of the Arcana isn’t the sort of manga that’s a must read the second it’s released. That doesn’t make it a bad series, just a different creature from a lot of the other manga I’ve recommended on this blog. These three volumes cover a lot of territory when it comes to the plot; it never sits on its laurels, even when it’s focusing on romance or relationships. I genuinely like all of the characters, and I sympathize with practically everyone’s plight. I do wish we’d get a bit more background on Nakaba’s power and what exactly it’s limitations are (it’s seems to be a bit of a deus ex machina right now, doing whatever needs to be done for the story to progress), but that’s a minor complaint.
Toma’s art is still a little on the sparse side – backgrounds in particular vanish in a lot of panels. But, instead, she infuses so much personality and beauty into the characters themselves that they’re the complete focus of every page. There are splash pages in these volumes that I would frame on my wall, given the chance. Furthermore, Toma herself seems to have a cheerful personality: her author’s notes are always a delight to read, and she has a recurring gag of having her assistants draw Dawn of the Arcana’s characters from memory. Little asides like this are another enjoyable aspect of the reading experience, and another thing that sets this series apart from more serious fare like the next two mangas listed below.
Drifters vol. 1 by Kohta Hirano
“AD 1600. The final battle to control Japan’s future is being waged. Shimazu Toyohisa sets his sights on the opposing general’s head in an all-out assault on enemy forces. On the edge of death, a door to another world opens and swallows Shimazu. He awakens in a place that is not here, in a time that is not now, where the strongest samurai from the period of warring provinces in Japan are brought to a new world of war where elves, dragons, goblins, and other warrior ‘Drifters’ snatched from Earth’s history are used as chess pieces in an endless game of blood, destruction, and madness.” ~ blurb on the back of volume one.
Blood, guts, and the most brazen misappropriation of historical figures I’ve seen in manga in a long time – Drifters is a wickedly fun ride that never stops for air (or to make sure it’s still making sense, for that matter). From page one to the final panel, the story is a bizarre mishmash of rapid-paced fights, decapitated heads, and people casually discussing war crimes. This is Hetalia on crack, or Afterschool Charisma with teeth. As a result, readers won’t do a lot of thinking in this volume, just a bunch of open-mouthed gaping as historical figure after historical figure is brought forward and allowed to wreak bloody vengeance upon the battlefield. If you wanted to see Nobunaga Oda, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hannibal (of Carthage, not Lecter), Joan of Arc, Princess Anastasia of Russia, and WW2 fighter pilot Naoshi Kanno duke it out across battlefields strewn with elves, orcs, and dragons… well, you’ve found your manga. But the lack of a coherent plot doesn’t hold Drifters back the way it might another series – this volume has enough going for it in sheer insanity to keep all but the most pressing questions at bay.
The art is obviously reminiscent of Hellsing, Hirano’s other blood-soaked masterpiece, and Drifters protagonist Shimazu Toyohisa is prone to the same cool poses and outrageous acts of violence favored by Alucard. (Both even share the tendency to become one-eyed silhouettes when worked into a frenzy, but then again, so do all of Hirano’s characters.) In only one or two places did I lose track of what was going on in the middle of a fight – instances caused by too much detail and too many speed/motion lines rather than too few. If the problem you have with your artwork is that it’s too detailed, then that’s a good problem to have.
In the end, I feel like I was almost tricked into reading somebody else’s fever dream, but considering that’s how I usually feel coming away from a Hirano property, we’ll call that mission accomplished.
Durarara!! vols. 3-4 by Ryohgo Narita, Suzuhito Yasuda, and Akiyo Satorigi
“After twenty years of searching, Celty, the headless black rider, has at last found her missing head – bobbing through the streets of Ikebukuro on someone else’s neck! Though Celty pursues, the girls escapes on the arm of Mikado Ryuugamine, taking refuge in his apartment. But with both the legendary rider and Yagiri Pharmaceuticals bearing down on Mikado in their pursuit of the scarred girl, how can he hope to save his own neck?” ~ blurb on the back of volume three.
I’m officially having a love affair with Ryohgo Narita’s storytelling – all of the interconnected characters, the mythology and the weirdness that’s all taken at face value, the depths of each character that just keep getting more and more illuminated as the manga carries on. I wish very much that I had access to and could read the Durarara!! novels in their original Japanese, because if there’s any complaint I can level against the manga adaptation, it’s that there’s just not enough room to go into detail and truly capture the essence of the original work. That having been said, these two volumes (the last of the first “arc” of the story) are tight, fast-paced reads with the same utilitarian but surprisingly expressive (and humorous) artwork from previous installments. Satorigi’s drawings of human figures are fantastic, particularly from the neck down. I remember thinking that the faces were often a little too plastic-y or young looking compared to much of the rest of the artwork, but I don’t know how much of that is due to Satorigi’s skill, Yasuda’s character designs, or my own personal taste.
The end of volume three has one of the best dramatic reveals in manga I’ve read so far, and the fourth volume starts tying a lot of loose ends up while still leaving the overall story open for later events. If you’ve waited this long to jump into the manga adaptations, I recommend picking up all four at once for a quick marathon. You’ll catch interconnected details you’d otherwise miss, and there’s no experience quite like seeing a story come together on every level.
I’m looking forward to seeing Durarara!! Saika stateside, and there appears to be a March 2013 release date for the first volume. That’s a long time to wait for my next Durarara!! fix, but maybe I’ll just have to watch the anime in the meantime. (Ooh, and re-watch Baccano! while I’m at it!)
What manga are you guys reading right now? What books? What videogames are you playing? Let me know in the comments!
Those of you who have been around since the beginning of this blog know that November marks the real National Novel Writing Month, and you may also remember that I fell off the face of the earth this time last year. That won’t happen, this time! But it does mean the return of Armchair Madcap Lite! Since a few more of the Fall 2012 season shows have gotten picked up for legal North American simulcast, I’ll probably take the chance to look at and review them. I look forward to seeing you all in November!