Category Archives: Manga

After School Nightmare – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Houkago Hokenshitsu

 

Genre: High School Supernatural Mystery Drama Romance Horror

Length: 10 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Some horror elements.
  • The concept.

Negatives:

  • The execution.
  • Uninteresting characters, despite their flaws and tragedy.
  • Drama undermines the supernatural conflict.

Who would have thought that After School Nightmare could make a love triangle involving someone with a male top half and female lower half so dull.

Students cannot graduate from this school until they find a key, competing against classmates in a nightmare realm for the mysterious object. Sounds interesting, right? Just like the love triangle, the writer couldn’t have made this more boring. In the nightmare, classmates have to “fight” (read: look menacing), which is undermined by having no impact in the real world, where everyone is chummy despite trying to kill each other yesterday.

As for characters, the melodrama is whiny rubbish. The protagonist likes a girl who likes him as a guy, but another guy likes him as a girl. The conflict goes as such: “I’m not a girl! I’m a boy! Waaaaah.” Three volumes in and it has gone nowhere. The first volume had as much happen as a single chapter of a better manga.

These characters are so shallow that I can’t even remember their individual motivations. People seem to think giving characters a trauma or a flaw makes them deep. In great writing, the use and execution of these flaws create a character’s depth, not the mechanics of the flaw. Take Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. His flaw, pride, doesn’t sound great – it isn’t tragic, he didn’t suffer some great loss, he isn’t a war victim, or anything of the sort. However, the use, the impact of his pride gives him that complexity I find lacking in After School Nightmare’s characters.

I could not wait for this manga to end.

Art – Medium

The art often looks weak. Lopsided, inconsistent faces. The horror elements do look cool, however.

Story – Low

Students must enter nightmares to fight each other if they want to graduate. A unique concept sunk by weak conflict, uninteresting characters, and cheesy drama.

Recommendation: Skip it. There must be a better love triangle of confused sexuality in manga than After School Nightmare.

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

Pluto – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Pluto

 

Related: Astro Boy (tangentially related)

 

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Mystery

Length: 8 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Masterful suspense and mystery.
  • Top quality art in every panel.
  • I can’t stop reading.
  • Complex characters.
  • Engaging commentary on AI.

Negatives:

  • Action overtakes mystery in final volume.

I have made no effort to hide my admiration of Monster, created by Naoki Urasawa, so when mucking through several disappointing manga from my ever-growing backlog, I turned to Urasawa’s work in the hope of restoring quality. It succeeded. Having only the time to read a volume a day was agony, for Pluto kept the pages turning even when I needed sleep.

Pluto is a True Detective meets Ghost in the Shell crime mystery set in a world of AI so advanced it begins to pass as human. Europol robot detective Gesicht investigates a string of robot and human deaths. Each victim has makeshift antlers impaled through the skull and all signs indicate a robot as the culprit, which shouldn’t be possible – it defies the Laws of Robotics.

From the first chapter, Pluto swathes you in mystery and suspense. Each scene makes you want to know more, see where the case will go. Urasawa knows exactly how much to give the audience to keep us hooked, yet not so little that it becomes vague and dissatisfying. The flow and rhythm of the dialogue delivers weight precisely when needed.

The key, as always in fiction, lies with the characters. No character lacks depth in Pluto. All come outfitted with full complexity, making us want to see what they will do next, how they will react to the next conflict. I cannot decide which character I thought best. Was it Gesicht trying to understand the emotional evolution of his AI? Or the music composer offended by a robot trying to understand music? Perhaps the creator of the greatest AI and what it cost to bring to life? Character after character, across the full spectrum of types, added to Pluto’s intricacy in constructing a phenomenal manga.

I cannot recommend Pluto enough. Reading manga of this quality makes it worth sifting through the muck.

Art – Very High

Full detail backgrounds, thoughtful compositions and lighting, emotive expressions, and texturing place Pluto at the top. Seeing this side by side with your average manga makes the latter look cheap.

Story – Very High

A German robot detective investigate a series of murders, seemingly committed by a robot, which goes against programming. Pluto engages from the first page and doesn’t ease until the last.

Recommendation: Must read. If there is one manga yet to be adapted to anime you should read, it’s Pluto.

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

Midnight Secretary – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Midnight Secretary

 

Genre: Vampire Romance

Length: 7 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Sexual energy.
  • Gets better towards the end.

Negatives:

  • Exposition dumps.
  • Lots of telling.
  • No mystery to the supernatural or the romance.
  • Dull art.

Midnight Secretary’s greatest twist was the revelation that this wasn’t the author’s first published manga. With this quality, I expected it to be a first-time author, someone in the early days of the craft still learning the elements of style and plot. Seeing all the marks of a novice writer in an author’s fourth major manga serial came as a surprise.

Midnight Secretary is a romance between a secretary and her boss, the head of a major corporation who also happens to be a vampire. Within the first few pages, as is the case for all novice writing, we find major blunders in the form of exposition dumps. Rather than allow us to get to know these character piece by juicy piece through actions and dialogue, the author has to cram their entire bios down our throats within a few pages. (See the first two images below for yourself.) Not just the bio, but the secretary also has to tell us just how much of a douche he is, something we see a page later. Why tell us when you will show anyway? An editor on her first day of work would eviscerate these amateur mistakes.

Another consequence of this bad writing is the reliance on telling not backed by action. For example, we are told the vampire is an excellent businessman, yet we never see anything to support this claim. I’m not kidding – we never see any actual business take place, despite the company being the central location for the plot.

Midnight Secretary makes no effort in mystery. It presents the boss’s peculiar lifestyle as a mystery, but she sees him biting a woman within the first chapter. It is better to have greater danger and mystery before you lay out all the cards on the table. Have her know of his vampirism, but leave him unaware of this, creating some dangerous conflict, for example. Furthermore, it’s not as though the author is in a rush to show us something exciting, for what follows is repetitive for several volumes. In this lore, vampires can only feed on the opposite sex and the more aroused the partner, the tastier the blood. When the secretary and vampire start dating (even this happens to soon), he still sleeps with other women since she can’t survive daily feeding. So, the main conflict goes: she wants to be his exclusive source of blood, he acts like a douche, they have a momentary tiff, make up, and repeat. Two volumes of redundant material could have gone to building these characters beforehand.

Once past this repetition, the writing improves significantly. I didn’t believe these characters getting together; however, if the story had started with them already together, I could believe they would stay together. Like the writing, the romance works better in later chapters. In fact, one can see the quality improve with each volume, which is why I thought it was a first timer learning as she went. Not the case, as I later learnt.

The sexuality is well done, charged with an edge of Gothic, but I don’t feel it is enough to warrant seven volumes of your time.

Art – Medium

Nice characters in low detail environments. Basic compositions and bland camera work.

Story – Low

A secretary falls in love with her vampire boss. Midnight Secretary has all the marks of vampire romance – handsome vampire, wealth, arrogance, someone she can ‘fix,’ steamy sex – but the poor execution, namely in writing, drains one’s excitement within pages.

Recommendation: Skip it. There must be a better vampire romance than Midnight Secretary out there to read instead. The novice mistakes and repetition made this a difficult manga to finish.

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

Ludwig Revolution – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Ludwig Kakumei

 

Related: Ludwig Fantasia (sequel)

Similar: Count Cain

 

Genre: Parody Gothic Horror Adventure

Length: 4 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Interesting take on fairy tale classics.
  • Doesn’t hold back.
  • Good art.

Negatives:

  • Inconsistent tone.
  • Dichotomous humour.
  • Mouths look terrible when talking, surrounded by otherwise detailed art.

Some stories get adapted repeatedly, and with each new version, writers must find a way to hook the reader beyond the ‘same old story,’ drawing the passing customer’s eye. Few stories have seen more adaptations than the Brothers Grimm fairy tales (most famously by Disney). Ludwig Kakumei takes the inverse approach, turning the females evil – Little Red Riding Hood as an axe murderer, for instance. Flipping a famous character’s alignment always caches my eye, but sadly, this manga is quite rubbish, and yet, not boring.

Prince Ludwig, deemed a lazy disgrace to the kingdom by his father, must find a suitable bride, so he explores nearby kingdoms for the fairest maiden. (Not quite how medieval royal marriages work, but let’s go with it.) The structure is a simple series of short stories, each focusing on one of many famous fairy tale women. The first and most interesting is Snow White, who uses her ‘fairest of them all’ beauty to fornicate her way to power, including with her own father, the king, in her teen years to spite the Evil Queen (Snow’s mother in this version). Rather twisted.

Twisted also describes Ludwig, for he is a necrophiliac and keeps his dead lovers in glass boxes around his room. So far, it sounds interesting. However, after the first story, Ludwig Kakumei is no longer the same manga. Each subsequent fairy tale woman gets less and less interesting and the necrophilia vice is largely irrelevant, which makes me believe the first story was purely for shock value to hook the reader. The tone isn’t consistent either. The seriousness of the sex and brutality doesn’t match at all with the pervy comedy of the prince and his sidekick. Modern colloquialisms were a bad idea as well.

In all, Ludwig Kakumei isn’t a good manga, though the concept and nonsensical execution stave off boredom. Here’s to hoping the next manga brings satisfaction.

Art – High

The art is surprisingly good – nice environments, detailed characters (I like the outfits) – but the expressions at the mouth look awful.

Story – Low

A twisted prince seeks a bride in twisted versions of classic fairy tale princesses. An interesting idea, for sure, but Ludwig Kakumei needed better execution. The inconsistent tone between stories and jarring humour doesn’t help.

Recommendation: Try it. Ludwig Kakumei is not great, not even good, but it’s certainly not boring, so you may find some enjoyment. Not for kids – at all.

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

Dengeki Daisy – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Dengeki Daisy

 

Genre: High School Comedy Romance Drama

Length: 16 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Chemistry between main characters.
  • Snappy humour.
  • Well-suited art.
  • Starts so well…

Negatives:

  • …continues so poorly.
  • Goes far longer than it should.
  • Villains aren’t really villains.
  • Repetitive.

I’m not sure which is worse: the series that tells you it’s terrible from the start or the series that starts great and spirals after it has held you for several volumes. Dengeki Daisy is a case for the latter. It starts so well – hilarious, likeable characters, and more depth than expected. Around volume seven, however, Dengeki Daisy took the populist American sitcom route of overstaying its welcome, as it got renewed volume after volume to milk the cow.

Dengeki Daisy centres on orphan girl Teru and her secret guardian ‘Daisy’, a hacker who watches over her, particularly at high school where she is bullied for being poor, though she holds her own rather well. Her only contact line is through her phone, the last memento from her late brother. Daisy is the school janitor, Kurosaki, her senior by several years and a foil to Teru’s snappy attitude. Daisy’s identity isn’t a spoiler, which isn’t a good thing, actually. Though Teru doesn’t learn Daisy’s identity for a few volumes, we figure it out within a chapter. I don’t know why the author did this, especially when you see how much filler they resort to later on. It would have been more interesting to keep Daisy a mystery for the first arc (at least), replacing (at least) one of several dull villains.

The villains are Dengeki Daisy’s greatest failing. Their blandness is responsible, in large part, for the story feeling so slow and dragged out. They aren’t even villains. Every villain arc goes as follows: villain is interested in Teru for her brother’s legendary hacking software (story maguffin), acts creepy towards her, kidnaps her (or her friend), Teru talks to him a little, villain becomes weak, and really wasn’t such a bad guy all along. Yep, every villain gets an instant redemption story. I didn’t mind the first time, but after three instances, my eyes couldn’t roll any further – after a half-dozen, I wished I didn’t have eyes to roll. The more I read shoujo manga, the more shoujo authors seem to think girls can’t handle real villains in fiction.

As alluded to earlier, Dengeki Daisy promises surprising depth through Kurosaki/Daisy, as his feelings conflict with his role as protector and his past actions. His two identities are vastly different, making for an interesting character. Unfortunately, like everything else in this manga, depth takes a sharp, boring turn after volume six.

Sixteen volumes is far, far too long for a story of this nature. If made into an anime, Dengeki Daisy only has enough material for thirteen episodes without filler, maybe twenty-four. For context, The Rose of Versailles has forty episodes – packed with content – adapted from a mere ten volumes. I loved these protagonists, their chemistry, and their humour, but it wasn’t worth reading beyond the first six volumes. I just wanted it to end!

Art – High

The art style is close to that of a manhwa style, which is well suited to the shoujo genre. Good use of visual humour and not too busy. The artist uses camera angles to keep panels varied.

Story – Medium

Dengeki Daisy starts strong with great chemistry and a lot of humour; however, after six or so volumes, the arcs repeat, you realise the villains are the same weak opponents, and the plot goes nowhere until the final two volumes.

Recommendation: Read until you get bored. Dengeki Daisy’s strength is in its humour and chemistry between protagonists – the overall plot isn’t particularly engaging. You don’t need to keep going once the repetition no longer feels worthy of your time.

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