Category Archives: Manga

All You Need is Kill – Manga Review

Japanese Title: All You Need is Kill

 

Related: Edge of Tomorrow / Live Die Repeat (live action)

 

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 2 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Gritty, brutal art
  • Engaging concept and execution

Negatives:

  • A little limited

Since having heard several years ago that the Hollywood movie Edge of Tomorrow came from a manga, I’ve wanted to read it. After all, manga to film adaptations don’t have a reputation for quality, yet Edge of Tomorrow is great. It turns out we have quite a lot different between the manga All You Need is Kill and the movie, with each being good in their own rights. Both versions understand their mediums.

All You Need is Kill isn’t a spectacular manga. It’s a simple though interesting concept: human soldier finds himself trapped in a loop in the fight against aliens invading Earth. He goes to battle, dies, wakes up in his bunk again, and repeat. With each loop, he trains harder, studies the enemy further, and lives a few minutes longer. Key among the soldiers is a woman, a war hero known as the “Full Metal Bitch”. No one kills aliens better than she does.

The manga characters are on the younger side, him as a new recruit and her age used to contrast her combat prowess. The movie ages up the characters and employs Tom Cruise as the protagonist and Emily Blunt as the woman that trains him. The protagonist isn’t a new recruit either, in the movie, instead coming from a non-combat division and he runs from duty. This gives him more dimension as a reluctant hero. Conversely, manga protagonist goes down the trauma route harder with each death eating away at him.

The most notable difference between the two is the alien design. Movie version has them as this undulating mass of tentacles/cables on four legs tearing across the battlefield. The manga aliens are floating balls of teeth, a.k.a. Langoliers. If you’ve seen the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Langoliers, you know they don’t translate well, something I’m sure the Edge of Tomorrow team was are of. I agree with the change. They’re fine in the manga, as you don’t need to animate them and the art illustrates them in gruesome detail.

The increased realism in the movie also extends to the power suit designs. The manga versions are very “anime” in design, akin to Bubblegum Crisis, whereas the movie employs exoskeletons similar to what the military is developing today. Could anime battle suits work in live action? Sure. Greater risk of cocking it up though.

If I have one notable complaint of the manga, it is the limited scope. I wish the story were at least one volume longer to give it more time to develop the relationship and to explore the aliens further. The two volumes we have are solid and work as they are, but I’m left wanting more. That’s where the movie improves upon the source. The couple get together sooner (keep in mind that she forgets everything each reset) and there is more to the aliens with a concrete end to the story. Movie version is a little more satisfying.

Forced to pick one or the other, I think the movie is better though the manga certainly has its merits. As I said at the beginning, they both succeed in their mediums.

Art – High

There is a nice contrast between the “softness” and youth of the characters paired against the gritty art used in the action. It evokes the trauma of these young people on the battlefield.

Story – High

A soldier relives the same battle repeatedly, progressing further each time. All You Need is Kill’s engaging hook and strict script makes for an easy page-turner.

Recommendation: Read All You Need is Kill and watch Edge of Tomorrow (also referred to as Live Die Repeat in some territories). Both are great.

Sun-ken Rock – Manga Review

Korean Title: Sun-ken Rock

 

Genre: Action Comedy Drama

Length: 25 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Some good comedy.

Negatives:

  • Comedy often undermines serious moments.
  • The further you read, the less engaging it becomes.
  • Sexual content with no purpose.

Ken is a young Japanese guy in love with a Korean girl. When she moves back to Korea to become a policewoman – “Officer” – to become a policewoman-officer, he follows her with designs of becoming a policeman-officer, but through circumstances too ridiculous to comprehend, he finds himself as the leader of a gang.

After reading this hilarious setup, I thought I was in for a great time with Sun-ken Rock. Then it settled into its core, the meat of the story, which is a series of repetitive arcs (with no end in sight) of Ken being an idiot, stumbling across someone – usually a woman – mid-abuse/rape, calling the gang, and getting in a fight. Rape? Sounds serious. Except that the comedy undermines any chance of taking such a subject seriously. And it’s not as though Sun-ken Rock handles this humour with the genius skill of South Park, raising an interesting point through the unusual choice of comedy, which is a shame because the comedy is good when not breaking a serious scene.

If you’re here for main element – action – prepare for disappointment. Sun-ken Rock’s action looks nice (the artist put all his effort in these 2-page spreads), but is repetitive and the characters are too stupid to enjoy.

By the way, the plot about Ken and the Korean girl is superfluous with how little importance the author placed on it. Sun-ken Rock is not a good manhwa. How did it receive 25 volumes…? I should become a detective to find out.

Art – Medium

The action shots look great, while the rest is so-so. Most female characters have the same design.

Story – Low

A boy with a crush on a girl follows her to Korea to join the police, but becomes a gang leader by accident instead. Sun-ken Rock suffers from repetitive story arcs and shallow characters. Even its one selling point – comedy – doesn’t mesh with the serious, particularly in relation to sex.

Recommendation: Skip it. Whether manga or manhwa, the action genre isn’t empty enough to require you dig this deep in the slush pile to find a worthwhile series. Go for The Breaker over Sun-ken Rock any day.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

The Cain Saga – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Hakushaku Cain Series

 

Related: God Child (sequel)

 

Genre: Gothic Historical Mystery

Length: 5 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Unique in style and story to other manga.
  • Glimmers of engagement.

Negatives:

  • Messy storytelling and structure.
  • Messy art.

So messy is the storytelling and structure in The Cain Saga that the conflict comes from finding scene transitions rather than the characters. Imagine you are watching a conversation scene in a film, camera cutting back and forth between close up of two characters, and suddenly it cuts mid-conversation to a funeral. Is this funeral a part of the conversation? Have we started a new scene? Yes…no! Not sure…

It’s a shame The Cain Saga suffers from such a glaring issue, for it could have been great. The Cain Saga is the story of Earl Cain Hargreaves, a wealthy heir exploring his family history of lies, secrets, and treachery told through a series of short stories.

Are these stories any good? Mmmyeah…ish. The ideas are fine, but as said earlier, the structuring makes it a chore to read. The dialogue is similarly disjointed. At times, it feels as though each character is talking for a different scene.

As I am trying to decipher yet another scene transition, I find myself wondering what made me add this manga to my collection many months ago. It must have been the genre. I love Gothic fiction, a rarity in anime and manga, so it was nice to find some. Sadly, it wasn’t what I had hoped. The search continues.

 

Art – Medium

Detailed art – possibly even too detailed. Without colour to highlight details, the art regularly looks like a mess, which is a pity.

Story – Medium

An aristocrat delves into his family’s history filled with secrets and lies. It’s a shame poor structure and muddled scenes make The Cain Saga a chore to read.

Recommendation: Try it. If you can stomach the messy art and storytelling, The Cain Saga has interesting Gothic short stories to tell, different from your typical manga.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

The Breaker – Manga Review

Korean Title: Breaker

 

Related: The Breaker: New Waves (sequel)

 

Genre: Martial Arts Action Comedy Drama

Length: 10 volumes

 

Positives:

  • High quality art.
  • Solid action.
  • Han is hilarious.

Negatives:

  • Slow to get the protagonist’s story going.

The Breaker follows Shi-Woon, a downtrodden student, and his womanising martial arts teacher in hiding, Han. In the story’s opening, Shi-Woon is a victim of severe bullying at the hands of classmates. These one-dimensional bullies found in every Karate Kid-type story made me groan, but when Han tells Shi-Woon he is bullied because he’s a piece of shit, I laughed (see first image below). You don’t expect the master to tell the apprentice he’s trash. My opinion changed thereafter.

Han is the best character here and, in my opinion, the true protagonist since he has the most page time and conflict focus. His combination of goofball during downtime and serious when needed makes every scene with him a joy. He’s a martial arts master in hiding from several high-end gangs he’s peeved off in the past and he sees potential in Shi-Woon to become something great. The sexy Shiho, a master in Ki healing, joins them soon. She and Han play well off each other, particularly in regards to the sexual humour.

Having the underdog learn from a master to win a series of fights is nothing new and I would say oversaturates action manga. However, The Breaker executes it at the top tier, so don’t let past slush get in the way here. For one, there’s more psychology to Shi-Woon than your usual underdog. The author made an effort to explain why he is mentally and physically weak at the start, developing him in a believable way from there.

The Breaker also deviates from the formula with the inclusion of these gangs, which takes the story into a more Ki-powered mafia direction. Having more than a string of fights prevents the story from growing stale. Don’t misunderstand – action is still the focus, but there’s enough around the action to elevate it from the slush pile.

As for the action itself, it has all you expect – trash talk, comebacks, punches that knock the soul out of your gut, blood pouring over one eye, supernatural strength, and despicable villains. I preferred the comedy sections, but wasn’t disappointed either when it switched to action.

Art – High

I love The Breaker’s art style and character designs – Shiho is gorgeous. Panels aren’t cluttered and the action sequences have clarity often lacking in action manga/manhwa.

Story – High

A bullied student learns to pick himself off the ground when his school teacher turns out to be a martial arts master in hiding. Taking the Karate Kid formula as a baseline, The Breaker adds supernatural martial arts, sex appeal, humour, and plenty of opponents to defeat.

Recommendation: A must for action fans. The Breaker’s great characters balanced in comedy and action make this an engaging read to the end. If you only want to read one martial arts series, The Breaker should probably be it.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Tetsuwan Girl – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Tetsuwan Girl

 

Genre: Sports Historical Drama

Length: 9 volumes

 

Positives:

  • (Not sure)

Negatives:

  • Strawman antagonists.
  • One-note protagonist.
  • The confrontational dialogue is painful.
  • The eyes!

I don’t remember how Tetsuwan Girl got onto my manga list. The art doesn’t catch my eye, the premise reeks of strawmen, and nothing about it would make me pause while scrolling down the endless manga database. How did this get here…?

Tetsuwan Girl is about the start of women’s baseball in Japan and its players after WW2. In typical fashion of sports fiction, the team consists of the usual suspects of character types – the tough one, the butch one, the quiet one, etc. However, where good sports fiction will have this trait as the mere surface with depth underneath, Tetsuwan Girl stays at the surface. None of these women strays outside of their one note.

Take the protagonist. The author didn’t allow her to show natural toughness. Instead, her scenes feel like a reality show where the producer tells the “star” to act tough in front of the camera, manufacturing conflict for the dumb audience. They’ll even have some passing stranger pretend that he has a problem with women living to spice it up. I’d be more convinced this was real if Godzilla stomped onto the stadium.

The antagonists are worse. Each is a strawman setup to allow the protagonist to win effortlessly through some horrendous dialogue. The confrontations are so bad that I couldn’t take the struggle seriously. Did people really struggle for women’s baseball after the war? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t believe it after reading this. If it were real, Tetsuwan Girl’s conflict wouldn’t be so fake.

Art – Low

The art looks rough, unfinished, the draft stages of a painting. Every character has this peer-into-your-soul stare. Creepy.

Story – Very Low

A woman joins the first professional women’s baseball team in Japan after WW2. Flat characters, rubbish antagonists, and no direction make Tetsuwan Girl a mind-draining experience.

Recommendation: Avoid it. Tetsuwan Girl feels as fake as Jerry Springer but without the absurdity to make it entertaining.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)