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Four manga reviews

Four manga reviews published on

I’ve been going through the library catalog requesting volume one of random manga. The easiest way to find manga in the catalog is just to do a keyword search for a manga publisher, so this the CMX batch. Also known as the WTF batch. I will now review them. While sleepy.

These are going to be kind of grumpy reviews, by the way.

Musashi #9, Takahashi Miyuki

There exists a secret organization called “Ultimate Blue,” unfortunately and frequently abbreviated “UB”, whose nine super-elite top operatives vigilantly protect the innocent, punish the guilty, and defuse delicate diplomatic situations that could lead to World War III, by means of the delicate diplomatic application of explosives controlled by big remotes with exactly two buttons.

(I feel safe!)

And of these most elite nine operatives, of this most elite secret organization, the most elite of all… is known only by his codename, Musashi #9. And he’s actually a sixteen-year-old girl!

(Spoiler for the end of chapter one and, like, the back cover. I don’t think it really matters, but I’m being nice and hiding it anyway.)

This is your basic shounen manga that knows the names of approximately seventeen thousand guns, and approximately three foreign countries. Each of the chapters in this volume is a self-contained story, and each is basically the same story – rebellious teenagers get inadvertently involved in ridiculous international political intrigue, get rescued by Musashi, and learn valuable life lessons.

Many of which are kind of covertly about Japan’s very important position within the world community, and how you can help, teenagers. This manga gives me nervous Saburo Ienaga flashbacks. It might be, like, federally approved for human consumption or something.

The story goes thus: The taciturn Musashi, hanging around looking ominous and dressed in drag, will be seen by the teenagers just before the crisis breaks. She will be assumed to be male, and deemed scary-but-hot by both sexes. The teenagers will be encounter the Enemy, think things like, “This can’t be happening!” and be captured. They will then meet someone in a position of authority who will for some reason decide to tell them all about Ultimate Blue, and to specifically mention Musashi #9’s greatness – and then say that there’s no way Musashi would show up here, and that they are definitely doomed.

Musashi, who has been nearby all along, will then walk out from around a corner decked out in $100,000 worth of military technology, and waste everything. This will take several pages, during which she will look so casual that you worry she’ll strain an apathy muscle. Having saved the world, she will give the teenagers some cryptic, significant advice, and send them home imbued with a new appreciation of how good they have it, how important their responsibility to the community is, how awesome Musashi is, and how she is actually a girl – which she always reveals at the very, very end, there. The surviving villains come out of it with a new appreciation of the innate military superiority of the Japanese people. And Musashi herself rides off into the sunset, totally unscathed by character development and looking reasonably bad-ass.

(Except in chapter one, where she’s wearing a really unflattering school uniform.)

The art is good technically, but not interesting. The settings are vague and have no atmosphere – even the night scenes are brightly-lit. There’s never a sense that the kids or Musashi are in any real danger. Musashi is the only character thus far who’s gotten an actual design, the others all being fitted to the same few patterns. She’s very butch, has The Narrowest Eyes and The Shiniest Hair, and is the only female so far who’s not a skinny, high-strung high-school girl. Most of the minor characters tend to have light hair so far, and they all wear light-colored clothes, but Musashi has long black hair and wears dark colors. I’m not sure that this is a conscious artistic decision, but you definitely do know who the protagonist is.

Now, if only she had facial expressions, and didn’t buy her dialog half-price at the Bird Metaphor Factory Outlet, we might care.

Aside from the slight creepiness of the social message, this is actually ridiculous in ways that kind of appeal to me, so I’ll probably try and get hold of volume 2 from the library, but I don’t have high expectations of it. From reading other reviews online, it sounds like the artist imports a doofy love-interest to act as the Sympathetic Foil to Musashi’s Awesome Inscrutability. This does not interest me. To make this manga good, we need 1) Musashi to have a personality and 2) the stuff that’s going on to be either a lot more over-the-top or a lot more believable.

I, personally, would also appreciate 3) sexual tension of some sort, preferably homoerotic. Because despite the setup, and despite the way other girls always have crushes on Musashi at first, this is one of the most weirdly asexual manga I’ve ever read. People don’t touch each other, people don’t look significantly into each other’s eyes, and when Musashi says, “I’m only here to do my job,” she means it. This is a manga about blowing things up and learning about social responsibility thereby. We don’t do relationships here.

(So there’s no way the love interest plot won’t suck, so, yeah.)

Totally Representative Scan: Musashi’s vocabulary = SOPHISTICATED. (has that darn spoiler in it again)

Swan, by Ariyoshi Kyoko

Masumi is a young ballerina who is recruited into the first national ballet school of Japan due to her great natural talent, but is handicapped by being years behind the others in terms of practical experience and by the intense disapproval of her peers who feel that she was admitted due to the favoritism of the Russian dancer Alexei Sergeiev who is so handsome and whose dancing she adores but who is cruel and inconsistent as a teacher and who makes her cry and will she be able to achieve her dreams???

(See, I’ve reviewed these last two in a format intended to evoke their style! I hope that isn’t completely annoying italics.)

This is a 70’s shoujo manga, and therefore over-the-top melodramatic – people burst into tears, break into a panicked sweat, or drop into awed, flowery-screentone silence at least once per page. Despite that, so far it’s not nearly as harrowing and non-stop-angst as most of the other 70’s shoujo I’ve read. While The World Is, in fact, Against Her, the world doesn’t get as much screen time as her friends – she is immediately taken in by a group of senior dancers, none of whom is (yet, anyway) particularly jealous of the others or otherwise dramatic.

Both the guys fall in love with her in fairly laid-back ways (which, of course, she doesn’t realize), and there isn’t much animosity when she competes with her more-experienced female friend Sayoko – they both have the shoujo-heroine inferiority complex, and are convinced that the other is a better dancer. I want them to get married and have a baby and name it Ritsu Sohma.

I’ll probably try and get hold of the rest of this, but the library’s not cooperating right now, and I am cheap. I hope Sayoko doesn’t die tragically. She just seems like the sort of character who’s liable to die tragically.

Totally Representative Scan: You were born to be a statistician, Headband Guy.

Pieces of a Spiral, by Tachibana Kaimu

Three very different young men find that their fates are linked by shared experiences in their past lives, and wait-a-second they’re not having sex.

This is one of those manga that is in the closet about being shounen-ai. The characters are hot guys who keep talking about how beautiful the others are, and who keep swearing vows to protect each other and having sad flashbacks while the others look on worriedly and the like – y’know. But there is no chemistry whatsoever between any of them. It’s like they’re just kind of in the same room a lot.

Part of it is probably the art and page design are kind of crap – there are a lot of places where characters who are supposed to be looking at each other instead seem to be looking at a chair, or where an unimportant panel is given too much space and disrupts the flow of a conversation. The pacing is bad enough that you sometimes can’t even tell where the artist is trying to make a joke.

Also, there are three characters who, for plot reasons, are supposed to look exactly alik – except the artist can’t draw faces consistently. Sometimes one’s head looks a lot thinner than the other’s, and sometimes everyone on the entire page looks the same. She really makes every possible mistake here; she decides in the second chapter to put glasses on one of them, but either keeps either forgetting to draw them or deciding a guy in glasses can’t look sad properly. She does mostly keep one of them in a kimono, one in a suit, and one in a school uniform, but whenever she switches that up it gets confusing again. (Also, sometimes the uniform looks like a suit.)

The plot, such as it is, is that the wise and pretty wizard Bishu and his two disciples, Brash Protagonist Type Sakuya and Serious And Sensitive Type Wakyo, are reincarnated as high school students. Before his death, Bishu gave his magical power to Sakuya and Wakyo. This somehow causes them to be reincarnated looking exactly like him, and having some memory of their previous lives.

(Oh, and their reincarnated names are different, and they switch between them constantly, making the They-Look-Alike thing even harder to keep track of.)

Because of his lack of magic, however, Bishu’s reincarnation is bland-looking and has no memory of his past life. He is also haunted by a demon which he bound in his past life, though he cannot see or hear it – only Wakyo and Sakuya can. This demon is Bishu’s father (who also kind of looks like Bishu, but is hairy and has spooky eyes), and frequently blusters at Wakyo and Sakuya, whom he cannot attack because he is still bound by Bishu’s magic.

Various demons menace them for – oh, for revenge, for world domination, for something to talk about on their blogs – I think they’re trying to free Bishu’s father, but it’s not clear how one leads to the other. At the end of volume 1, Bishu is kidnapped by demons who, uh, drag him into the past? (I don’t know why they did that, either.) Wakyo is able to follow them, but Sakuya’s magical powers are still too weak. He has to piggyback on a cute little girl demon (who I think might actually be a boy), who volunteers to help him for reasons that I’m sure are very devious, but who is probably going to fall in love with him.

What awaits our heroes in the distant past? I don’t know! I’m not reading volume 2!

Totally Representative Scan: Panel four on the second page? That’s supposed to be funny. (Bonus Alternate Subtitle!: “Plot? I tell you, man, plot. All kinds of plot. Plot? Plot.”)

Land of the Blindfolded, Tsukuba Sakura

High school kids with psychic powers have pleasant, boring relationships.

I just read this manga, and I don’t remember anything that happened.

Totally Representative Scan: I, personally, care deeply about Eri and Ezawa’s relationship.