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Manga Review: ACT-AGE Vol. 1

Show business is generally the purview of shojo manga, but ACT-AGE puts a shonen spin on this subject. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Is there a method to Kei Yonagi’s madness when it comes to acting? The young actor has a family of siblings to feed, but she finds herself struggling with her psychological demons when playing a role. Her desperate acting catches the eye of a famous director, Sumiji Kuroyama, who’s looking for raw talent to mold. Can he help Yonagi navigate the cutthroat world of acting without losing her sanity?

The Review

ACT-AGE is a Weekly Shonen Jump title, which came as a bit of a surprise. First, the main character, Kei Yonaga, is a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl. Second, the world of acting and show business forms the backdrop. A girl aspiring to be an actor sounds more like shojo fare, but the tale gets presented as a shonen title by telling it as the journey of an undiscovered genius scrapping her way to the top.

And Kei’s got a long way to get to the top. Her mom’s dead, her dad walked out long ago, and she’s responsible for supporting her two elementary school siblings. In short, she’s got no time or money for acting classes or drama club. Even so, she’s so adept at portraying emotions she immediately catches the attention of director Sumiji Kuroyama. He’s been searching for a talent like her, and she’s going to be his star actor–even if he has to drag her kicking and screaming.

A key premise of this series is that Kei was born with superhuman acting abilities. Even as an untrained amateur, her performance at a new-talent audition is so intimidating it causes one of the audition finalists to give up on acting. However, the plot wouldn’t be interesting if Kei simply waltzed to the top. Rather than snatching up this undiscovered gem, the agency CEO rejects her on the basis that acting will eventually cause Kei to have an emotional breakdown.

So instead of getting properly trained by an agency or theater company, Kei gets approached by a sketchy looking guy who turns out to be an award-winning director. But Kuroyama’s brash and eccentric, and his lessons consist of throwing Kei first onto a commercial set and next onto a period drama set with no preparation.

This is where the disconnect comes for me. Kei supposedly wants to be an actor. As her family’s sole breadwinner, she’s got more motivation than most to succeed. But somehow, she’s incapable of following basic directions or even grasping what an actor’s job is. In the period drama arc, she immediately breaks out of character to kick down the lead actor. Her behavior is just as unbelievable as the drama director’s decision to keep her on set even when she ruins the first AND second takes. Her becoming an actor is less about learning the craft and more Kuroyama showing her how to tap into her latent powers (which puts it very much along Jump storylines).

The volume wraps up with her entering an open audition for a movie. Five hundred actors are competing for twelve roles, and they are divided into groups of four for live auditions. Thus, we have Kei in a battle for one of those spots with her four-person cell, which definitely sounds like the stuff of shonen manga.

Extras include creators’ notes and bonus comics.

In Summary

The main character of ACT-AGE feels a bit all over the place. She’s a natural genius at acting yet at the same time she’s a clueless idiot who doesn’t realize actors must follow a script. Oh, and she’s also gorgeous and responsible for supporting two younger siblings. This is shaping up to be the tale of how an undiscovered talent makes it big, but Kei’s mentor is such a weirdo and Kei herself is so difficult to relate to that I’m not particularly interested in following her journey.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 5

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 5. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Dwarf rabbit Haru has been abducted by Shishi-gumi, a gang of rogue lions infamous for torturing, murdering and devouring herbivores. The mayor offers to help, but can he be trusted when he himself is a lion? Meanwhile, Legoshi tracks Haru’s scent, determined to rescue her at any cost, while Haru both defies her captors and tries to accept her fate. Elsewhere, red deer Louis is faced with a terrible temptation…

The Review

Things were looking bad for Haru at the end of Volume 4, and now we find out just how bad. Her behavior has made her a target at school, but this time, her behavior has nothing to do with her predicament. Pure and simple, she’s an herbivore, and a scofflaw carnivore thinks that she’ll make a delicious meal for him.

The previous volume demonstrated that there are carnivores devouring nameless herbivores out of the public eye. This volume introduces the Shishi-gumi, gangster lions brazen enough to abduct victims from the general populace. Unfortunately for Haru, the boss has a taste for herbivores with pure white fur. The series earns its T+ rating with the violence that breaks out at the Shishi-gumi headquarters, but it pushes toward an M rating the way the Shishi-gumi boss terrorizes Haru. He says he just wants to eat her, but the way he forces her to strip makes it seem more like rape.

Her disappearance, of course, has both Legoshi and Louis frantic. However, in their efforts to find her, each has a game changing encounter. For Louis, the prospective beastar, it’s with the town’s lion mayor. For Legoshi, who is so frenzied he charges ahead without a plan, it’s with the black market’s psychologist panda. Thus the path to Haru’s rescue takes multiple twists and turns and culminates in an unexpected outcome.

In the midst of all the brawling on Haru’s behalf, we get a deep dive into her thoughts. I’d wondered at the motivations behind her relationship choices, and this volume lays bare her views about herself and those around her. While she certainly has a complex about her size, I don’t find the rationale behind her promiscuity particularly convincing, especially when there are a lot of herbivores even smaller than she is.

As for Legoshi, we’ve been aware of his internal conflict regarding Haru for some time. In the chaos of storming the Shishi-gumi headquarters, he finally comes to a resolution, and I look forward to seeing what it does to their interactions.

Extras include story thus far, cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Haru gets kidnapped! As a result, Legoshi and the psychologist panda take on a vicious lion gang to rescue her. There’s a lot of violence–some of which is disturbing–but amid the fistfights and bullets are also epiphanies that make for a dramatic and riveting read.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 4

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 4. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

As gray wolf Legoshi continues to grapple with his feelings for dwarf rabbit Haru, he discovers another member of the Drama Club is friendly with her too. But just how friendly…? Meanwhile, someone is developing feelings for Legoshi. And Bengal tiger Bill is threatening to reveal some disturbing truths about someone’s past…

The Review

This series began with a murder on campus, and such herbivore killings are on the rise throughout town. However, even though they’re fueling distrust and tension among the Academy students, these ominous incidents hover mostly in the background while the narrative focuses mainly on the individuals involved in interspecies relationships.

This installment begins with Haru, who once more throws me for a loop. At first, she seemed like the victim of an undeserved reputation. Then she seemed the type so casual about sex that she has no emotional attachment to anyone she sleeps with. Now we discover that she does have a special someone. Her relationship with Louis is surprising in two respects. One, that she has genuine feelings for him, unlike the other guys. Two, that Louis–for whom image is everything– risks sneaking to Haru’s shed when so many others are sneaking over there for a quick fling. While there is more to the relationship than sex, it is also clear that both are intent on keeping it under wraps to preserve Louis’ reputation. Thus, we have both Legoshi and Louis drawn to Haru, whom neither can have, and things get really fraught when Legoshi discovers Louis and Haru’s relationship AND Juno discovers Legoshi’s crush on Haru.

Juno, by the way, undergoes an extreme personality makeover in this volume. Before, she was so wimpy as to be bullied. Now she’s got aspirations of becoming the next Beastar and holding her own against Louis. According to the character design notes, the creator decided she didn’t like Juno’s original personality so she changed it. While Juno is more interesting this way (and I rather like the way that she challenges Louis), the shift is jarring, and the only aspect of her that remains unchanged is her puppy like affection for Legoshi.

Unlike Juno, Louis has been established as having a complicated personality. The pressure of his vaunted lineage factors into it, but the primary reason goes much deeper. I’d thought that our glimpse of the black market in the last volume was as bad as it got, but apparently the city harbors worse, and Louis originated out of those depths.

It is unclear where the plot is going, but with all these suppressed desires and increasing tension between carnivores and herbivores, I get the sense the Academy is heading toward a boiling point.

Extras include story thus far, cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Louis may put on a front of perfection, but he’s got a lot to hide, and this volume swings wide the door on his secrets. We also get a glimpse of Juno’s aspirations, which surprisingly go beyond capturing Legoshi’s heart. While it’s unclear where the story is headed, the internal struggles of these tormented characters are definitely keeping things interesting.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Love Me, Love Me Not Vol. 1

Complicated romantic drama forms the basis of many shojo titles, and Io Sakisaka’s Love Me, Love Me Not falls into this category. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Four friends share the springtime of their youth together.

Fast friends Yuna and Akari are complete opposites—Yuna is an idealist, while Akari is a realist. When lady-killer Rio and the oblivious Kazuomi join their ranks, love and friendship become quite complicated!

The Review

According to the Greetings page, the story has two main characters, Yuna and Akari. However, while we do get scenes in Akari’s perspective, the story feels like it belongs to Yuna, which is too bad because she is much less engaging than her costar.

Yuna’s the stereotypical nice, shy high school girl. Unfortunately, she’s so timid she doesn’t make an impression on other people nor does she make an impression as a lead character. Akari is confident and friendly, and she’s had to move often because of family circumstances. The two meet when Yuna helps Akari at a train station, and they become friends when they realize Akari has just moved into Yuna’s apartment building. Like most high school girls, they talk about boys and quickly discover they have different views on romance.

The story has a very slow start. Unfortunately, even once the girls’ relationship gets established, Yuna’s so passive and mopey I’m not inclined to root for her as a character. The plot primarily focuses on Yuna’s and Akari’s differing views on romance and how their love lives play out in real life. Yuna’s knowledge of romance comes primarily from shojo manga, she has an idealistic (fairytale) view of love, and she finds it near impossible to talk to boys. Akari has no trouble talking to boys, has dating experience, and is currently in a long-distance relationship. As such, Akari views Yuna as naïve while Yuna thinks Akari’s feelings of love are shallow. Even so, the girls care for one another and try to help each other when the focus of attraction comes into the picture.

The boys that trigger that are Rio and Kazuomi. Rio is Akari’s stepbrother and Kazuomi is Akari’s longtime neighbor and friend. Predictably, Yuna falls for Rio, and Akari falls for Kazuomi. Watching Akari navigate life is somewhat interesting. She’s very active, going so far as to take a part-time job to fund visits to her faraway boyfriend, and has an awkward blended family situation. Yuna, on the other hand, is so passive and unremarkable she’s boring. She doesn’t have the guts to confess to Rio; instead she just witnesses other girls confessing to Rio over and over. On top of that, Yuna is called a “nice” girl, but all it takes is one unfounded rumor for Yuna to essentially brand Akari a slut. While Yuna does redeem herself, it’s not enough for me to sympathize with her as a character, and I’m not especially interested in what happens to her next.

Extras include Greetings and Afterword.

In Summary

Two girls with different views on love befriend each other just before they enter high school. While the ups and downs of teen romance can fuel scintillating drama, Love Me, Love Me Not is flat as a can of stale soda due to the lack of initiative of its overly quiet and self-conscious main character Yuna. And even though the mangaka appears to be setting up the two heroines for a love square with the two boys closest to them, the story thus far hasn’t sufficiently endeared the characters that I care who ends up with whom.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Way of the House Husband Vol. #2

As a manga trope, yakuza tend to be terrifying thugs or comical characters. Tatsu of The Way of the Husband definitely falls in the funny category. Read on for my review of Volume 2. (For other reviews of this series, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The legendary yakuza “the Immortal Dragon” has washed his hands of the gangster life for something far more dangerous—becoming a househusband! Cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking… These days he’s doing everything he can to succeed as man of the house, if it doesn’t kill him first! The cozy yakuza comedy continues!

The Review

The yakuza gag manga continues with nine more vignettes of the Immortal Dragon’s house husband life. As with Volume 1, each chapter is its own standalone comedy routine. No extended arcs are introduced, but the young thug Masa, Tatsu’s Women’s Association friends, and the two cops from Chapter 1 return as supporting cast. There’s still no information about Tatsu’s house husband origin story, and the focus remains on Tatsu’s double entendre and the humorous contrast between his facial and verbal expressions against his domestic settings.

To double down on this gangster in suburbia dynamic, Oono-sensei adds a couple more yakuza gone domestic. Most thugs that Tatsu’s encountered so far are representatives of the Underworld he left. However, Chapter 15 introduces Torajiro, a former rival who now flips crepes, and in Chapter 16, Tatsu’s housewife volleyball team plays against the Bears, which is led by a tough whose sunglasses and animal-themed warm-ups are a good match for Tatsu’s get up.

As for the backstory of Tatsu’s marriage, what brought the couple together remains a mystery. However, in Chapter 18, we do get a glimpse of them through the eyes of Miku’s father. As you might guess, Tatsu and his housewife mother-in-law are like peas in a pod. However, there’s a ton of one-sided awkwardness between him and his father-in-law, and the comedy stems from Miku’s dad trying to find common ground with his utterly unconventional son-in-law.

Extras include three bonus manga and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

If you liked the episodic nature of Volume 1, you’ll enjoy more of the same in Volume 2 as Tatsu battles laundry stains and joins housewife fitness activities. He continues to have brushes with the Underworld, but surprisingly, certain yakuza have embraced aspects of Tatsu’s new world, which turns a mundane visit to the crêpe stand into an over-the-top battle for Instagram likes.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Promised Neverland Vol. #13

The Promised Neverland anime was a surprise favorite of mine for 2019. Its blend of mystery, suspense, and heart grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. For English-speaking fans who can’t wait to see what happens to Emma and their friends, they can read ahead in Viz’s translation of the manga. Read on for my review of Volume 13. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Emma, Ray and their large new family find themselves up against a new enemy, fellow humans. Armed intruders have ambushed the shelter and driven the children back out into the dangerous wilderness. Yugo and Lucas have stepped up to fight, but will it be enough?

The Review

The previous volume had a few events happening over a long period of time. This volume has a ton of stuff happening over just a few days. It begins with the conclusion of the shelter invasion. It’s edge of your seat action as Yugo and Lucas launch their counterattack, and interspersed amid the gunfire are glimpses of their Glory Bell childhood. Then when the battle reaches its explosive conclusion, we get a lengthy flashback and Yugo’s reflections on his life. Especially when Yugo was first introduced, he was a difficult character to figure out, but Chapter 109 lays bare his candid thoughts. Is it heartrending? Yes. Did I cry? Oh yes.

The narrative then shifts to the kids who have gone into hiding. Bereft of the adults’ protection and stripped of their home, their predicament seems overwhelming until Oliver reveals the message that came through the shelter phone right before the attack. Astoundingly it’s from William Minerva – or at least someone claiming to be him. The message gives them new hope and a new destination to journey toward.

Unfortunately, they haven’t even a chance to act on this new information when Andrew, the head of the raid, pounces on them. Considering he got hit by a blast underground, his survival challenges the limits of plausibility. At any rate, the scene serves the purpose of forcing the kids through yet another nightmarish struggle (and Andrew does look ghoulish) before they escape the area for good.

The story then introduces several new characters. As it turns out, the Minerva faction is alive and active. In fact, they’ve been extremely active during the months Emma and company were scouting out the Seven Walls. Whereas before it seemed the escapees were striving for a new promise on their own, now it looks like they’re part of a larger movement. The fact that two of the new characters bear tattoos of the facility Norman got moved to makes me hopeful that he’ll be reunited with Ray and Emma soon.

Extras include side scenes and the creators’ notes.

In Summary

Whereas Volume 12 was slower paced, Volume 13 is never a dull moment. In addition to an emotional roller coaster that goes from heart-stopping to heart-wrenching and back again, the plot thickens with a new message from William Minerva. The kids aren’t the only ones out to change the world, and I look forward to seeing the repercussions of the Minerva faction’s drastic actions.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 3

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 3. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

It’s time for the Meteor Festival, which honors the world’s dinosaur ancestors. While helping to decorate the town, gray wolf Legoshi runs into dwarf rabbit Haru and finds he is still inexorably drawn to her. Is it a crush or bloodlust? Is it her or any small animal? Relationships are complicated for carnivores—their bird classmates lay the eggs they eat, and some desperate herbivores even sell their body parts on the black market. Then, when Bengal tiger Bill is tempted to buy a piece of forbidden meat, he tries to convince Legoshi to join him…

The Review

Legoshi’s first time on stage turns into a bloodied brawl with Bill the Tiger, but Louis manages to put a positive spin on the unscripted carnivore fight. His smooth talking defuses what could’ve been a PR nightmare for the Drama Club, but Legoshi’s left to ponder why he snapped in the first place. Haru is at the center of his confounding emotions, so he seeks her out.

Unlike their previous encounters, this one is simply hilarious. First because it’s timed as Haru’s fending off a mean girl attack. There’s something immensely satisfying about a victim telling off her bullies while they’re unable to retaliate. Second is the contrast between Haru’s and Legoshi’s outward behavior at the cafeteria and the frantic thoughts bubbling in their brains. It’s similar to shy teens struggling to manage a conversation with the opposite sex but with an additional level of agitation due to their herbivore/carnivore differences.

The story then breaks from the main arc for a single-chapter interlude about a hen student. An approved source of protein for carnivore students is eggs, and Legom shows us how the system works. I’d wondered how birds felt about providing eggs for consumption, and Legom gives her personal perspective about her part-time job.

Then it’s back to Legoshi as he chances upon some first-year herbivores picking on the young female wolf Juno. Turns out he’s not the only gray wolf struggling at Cherrystone. After Legoshi drives the bullies off, the two wolves commiserate on how difficult the school social order is. By the end of the chapter, Juno clearly has a crush on Legoshi.

A romance between the two wolves would be adorable, but love quickly gets shoved aside in favor of bloodlust. Legoshi goes with several carnivore club members to take care of an errand in town, and the students unwittingly stumble upon the black market.

This is our first glimpse of the world beyond the school grounds. The creator modeled it after Ginza, Shibuya, and New York, and it very much looks like a bustling modern city. On the surface, adult herbivores and carnivores live in harmony, but the back alleys tell an uglier story. Bean burgers don’t cut it for all carnivores, and according to Bill, the goods of the black market are what keeps carnivore urges at bay.

We’ve seen Bill with his rabbit blood before, so the existence of the market isn’t a shock. What is a shock is the appearance of the “Guardian of the Black Market” and his immediate presumption that Legoshi MUST have killed herbivores. His questionable actions give him a sketchy aura, so when he claims to be a doctor, a psychotherapist, I’m skeptical, especially when he claims to use small-animal porn to evaluate patients. At any rate, it’s clear that this society is a lot more broken than it appears on the surface, and Legoshi is by no means the only one struggling with the instincts in his blood.

Extras include story thus far, cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Legoshi and Haru meet again, and this time they manage to start something resembling a relationship. It’s a lot like teenagers trying to interact with the opposite sex for the first time with the added complication of the whole carnivore/herbivore dynamic. Then that dynamic intensifies for Legoshi when he encounters the goods of the black market. It is an unsettling portrait of what happens when carnivores go bad, and makes you wonder how things between Legoshi and Haru will end up.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 02

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 2. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Dwarf rabbit Haru’s odd behavior causes wolf Legoshi to flee. He then learns that the Drama Club recruits new students with inner demons. What does their club president, red deer Louis, wrestle with? Before Legoshi can figure it out, Louis pressures him to face not only his own weaknesses but also his strengths. Legoshi’s character is truly put to the test when his onstage fight choreography with Bengal tiger Bill turns all too real. Has someone broken the school rules? And could the battle between Legoshi and Bill involve…rabbits?

The Review

Volume 1 ends with Legoshi unexpectedly encountering the rabbit he attacked during an errand for the Drama Club. In Volume 2, that scene progresses but not in the way you’d expect. Despite the injury to her arm, Haru doesn’t remember Legoshi’s attack. As such, she treats him like any other male student. As for Legoshi, he’s completely unaware of Haru’s reputation. So when Haru assumes he wants what every boy wants from her, it *ahem* comes as a shock to the innocent young wolf.

Haru’s upfront manner also took me by surprise. I had assumed the rumors about her were unfounded, that she was being unfairly slandered by that jealous harlequin rabbit. Judging from her interaction with Legoshi and a candid conversation between male students, she has slept with a number of herbivore guys and had no hesitation offering herself to a carnivore like Legoshi. I also got thrown off because I thought intimate relationships stayed within species, but I guess not? Anyway, although Haru’s been branded a slut, Legoshi sees her as a nice girl, which complicates his already complicated emotions about her.

Then the focus shifts back to the Drama Club, which is getting ready for its first performance of the year. Amid their frantic preparations, we learn that only beasts that have been deeply traumatized are invited to join that club. It is a strange criteria, and we’ve yet to meet to the advisor who supposedly scouts out these scarred kids. However, the information initiates speculation about what dark secret the seemingly perfect Louis could harbor.

The perspective then actually switches to Louis’ as he takes the stage for the play’s opening performance. We know he’s good at putting up an act on multiple levels. Now we get his unfiltered thoughts on his fellow students and circumstances as his plans go awry.

It’s pretty much a given that Louis’ hidden injury would eventually get out. The surprising twist is that Legoshi gets recruited to take the role vacated by Louis’ understudy Bill. Bill the Tiger is Legoshi’s polar opposite, and their different personalities make for gripping conflict on and off stage. It does get a little over the top when Louis inserts himself between the two clashing carnivores, but other than that, it demonstrates how tenuous the school’s herbivore/carnivore peace is.

Extras include character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Things get awkward between Legoshi and the rabbit he nearly ate–but not the way you’d expect. Similarly, Louis’ injury forces last-minute changes in the school play, but not the way you’d expect. Itagaki-sensei does an excellent job keeping the plot interesting and heightening the tension at Academy with the emotional baggage of the main characters.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Promised Neverland Vol. #12

The Promised Neverland anime was a surprise favorite of mine for 2019. Its blend of mystery, suspense, and heart grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. For English-speaking fans who can’t wait to see what happens to Emma and their friends, they can read ahead in Viz’s translation of the manga. Read on for my review of Volume 12.

Back Cover Blurb

Life at Grace Field House is good for Emma and her fellow orphans. While the daily studying and exams they have to take are tough, their loving caretaker provides them with delicious food and plenty of playtime. But perhaps not everything is as it seems…

With the demons of Goldy Pond finally defeated, Emma and the other children now focus on their next task—finding the Seven Walls. But it won’t be easy, especially with a dangerous new foe trying to hunt them down. Can Emma and Ray decrypt the ancient clues that will lead the children to true freedom?

The Review

The Goldy Pond arc went out with a literal bang, with bullets flying and the whole place blowing up. Now that the kids plus two adults are safely at the B06-32 shelter, the gears switch away from action to sleuthing and intrigue.

The mystery is twofold. First is the situation between the Minerva group and the Ratri Clan members that shut them down. The kids have extremely limited access to information on the human world, so they’re stuck making conjectures on what the actual situation is. Thing is, the Ratri Clan is also conjecturing about the escapees and their whereabouts. The creators do an excellent job keeping readers on the edge of their seats as Peter Ratri and his terrifying minion Andrew strive to sniff them out.

The second mystery is the Seven Walls, which they must locate if they want to attempt a new promise regarding the humans in the demon world. This starts off a lot like the trail of clues at Grace Field House, but then it takes a great leap in scope. The search involves distances that require months to cover. What this does is force a rapid progression of time; the events of Volume 12 span over a year and a half. As a result, the kids are pushed right up against their deadline to return for Phil and the remaining Grace Field kids by the end of the volume.

Another leap is that the Seven Walls investigation takes on a mystical aspect. Whereas before they obtained clues from those they encountered or gleaned them from books and objects, this time Emma gets overtaken by a vision. I wasn’t expecting the series to take a turn for the supernatural. Then again, elevators supposedly connect human and demon worlds, so why not?

After several chapters of furtive investigations, things get charged up again when Peter Ratri’s thugs invade the B06-32 shelter! It’s a compressed, more intense version of the battle at Goldy Pond. Once more, the kids get pushed to the brink, except this time their pursuers are other humans.

Extras include side scenes and the creators’ notes.

In Summary

Fans of the clue-tracking aspect of this series will enjoy the kids’ search for the Seven Walls. It’s a long investigation–over a year and a half! But the creators do a good job presenting events such that the pacing doesn’t get bogged down. Then it’s back to action and thrills when the Ratri Clan invades the shelter!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Cats of the Louvre Vol. #1

Cats and cat-people are often used to bring an element of cuteness or fun to a manga. In Cats of the Louvre, Taiyo Matsumoto features felines with a rather different vibe. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

The world-renowned Louvre museum in Paris contains more than just the most famous works of art in history. At night, within its darkened galleries, an unseen and surreal world comes alive—a world witnessed only by the small family of cats that lives in the attic. Until now…

The Review

From the title, I thought this would be a collection of stories taken from the perspective of different Parisian cats. Turns out it’s just one story focused on one cat, but while the setting involves the actual building and artwork of the Louvre Museum, the tone is decidedly fantastical.

Old Marcel is a long time watchman at the Louvre. Having walked its halls for decades, he knows everything about it, including the secret community of cats in the museum attic. Most of them are ordinary animals who know to hide from the crowds below. However, little Snowbebe is so drawn by the artwork he can’t help from venturing downstairs.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be artsy. Partly because it’s set in the Louvre, and the mangaka has gone through tremendous effort to incorporate numerous aspects of the museum into the story. Partly because the plot centers on those who can hear “the voice of the paintings” and escape into the artwork.

And by escaping, I mean literally that. The souls with that talent have delicate temperaments. Unable to thrive and connect in the real world, they step through the picture frame into the scenes depicted within… and that’s about it.

Because the ones going into the paintings have no greater purpose than to enjoy the worlds they enter, the main tension stems from the trouble their behavior causes those around them. Oh, and the ability isn’t limited to humans. Thus we have Snowbebe’s trips to the museum’s display areas causing problems and arguments within the attic cat community. Unfortunately, Snowbebe’s spacey, self-absorbed personality makes it difficult to sympathize with him.

On the human side, we have Marcel trying to locate a sister who disappeared decades ago. However, he’s kind of gloomy and weird (who harbors eight cats in an unventilated attic?!) and Cecile, the tour guide who lends him assistance, is depressing too. The story’s not dark, but the cast’s personalities aren’t the most uplifting.

Speaking of cast, much of the cast are cats. When they interact with humans, they meow and look like cats. When they are alone, they take on anthropomorphic forms and exchange dialogue. Their behavior, however, is decidedly catlike. They spout random things, and when a spider that Snowbebe knows dies, Snowbebe mourns, then he eats the spider.

Regarding illustrations, they have a rough, cartoonish feel. Character designs are neither cute nor elegant. Expressions often have a level of distortion. The anthropomorphized animals especially have a psychedelic quality. Rather than using screentones, the mangaka uses hatching, and lines are squiggly and uneven. Overall, the artwork has the look of a draft, not a final product.

Extras include eight pages printed in color.

In Summary

The Louvre provides a grand setting for characters who transcend into artwork. However, it’s less of an exciting adventure into other dimensions and more of a gloomy investigation by the ordinary folk left behind. The art style is also lacking, and despite the fact that the story features famous art and architecture, the overall visual effect is underwhelming.

First published at The Fandom Post.