Midweek Manga Reviews: From Bloody chicks to Classic Tezuka

Blood + vol.1
Story & Art: Asuka Katsura
Publisher: Dark Horse

Saya is a regular girl except for the fact that she can’t remember what her life was like before a year ago. Hmmm…, what Omar would give to have this “blessing”! It’s an actual curse for her though. She desperately wants to bond with her adopted family and have a sense of identity and belonging, especially with her “brother” Kai. I don’t know yet if it’s a family love or a romantic love going on between the two, but he won’t give up on their relationship, even though Saya finds out she’s a vampire killing machine! Dum dum duuuummmm! I look forward to see where the story goes.

The author and artist, Katsura, is a woman, which I find to be highly inspiring! Morbid stories can pour forth from the minds and hands of females too! I love the different angles she uses to attack the scene. They aren’t randomly thrown in for something different than a straight on point of view; instead they create a mood suitable for the story. The angles switch drastically during the fights though, which makes it hard to follow where a character jumps or how Saya is attacking with a sword. But she looks so remarkable when she turns into the vampire hunter extraordinaire! I love her eyes and the use of shading. B

Dororo vol. 1
Story & Art: Osamu Tezuka
Translation: Dawn T. Laabs
Publisher: Vertical

You can’t think of manga without thinking of Osamu Tezuka, hell you can’t think of comics without thinking of Tezuka. Even though he passed away in 1989 we (U.S.) are still releasing so much of his massive works in comics. This recent book by Vertical is Dororo originally published in the late 60s is a story about Japan during the Sengoku (Warring States) period. During this time the 48 demons rule the land and they sense the birth of a powerful human who will grow to destroy all of demon kind. Daigo Kagemitsu promises to offer body parts of his unborn child for domination of the country and to become unbeatable in warfare. When the baby is born his parents put him in the river, but he manages to survive and now goes by the name; Hyakkimaru (One-hundred Ogre Boy). He is found by a doctor who takes him in as his own son and builds him an artificial body. He also develops telepathic powers to make up for his lack of senses and body parts. When he reaches adulthood he sets on a journey to vanquish the 48 demons and reclaim his body parts. This is when he encounters a young street urchin named Dororo. Together they form a pact to get rid of all the demons so that one day Hyakkimaru can be complete again. Although this is not Astroboy, Kimba, or Black Jack, this is still Tezuka at the top of his game. But has he really made a manga that wasn’t enjoyable to read? Each one of his works is unique, but they all deal with the same basic human existence theme. There is a reason why he is the master at his craft and why he is one of the pioneers in the form of sequential art. One look at his artwork in the book and you can see his understanding of visuals and dramatic effects certain frames and blocks take on figures. He wasn’t only an artist, but a phenomenal story teller, director, and editor. I can’t say enough about this man and if you’ve never read anything by him, do yourself a favor and let this book introduce you to the world that he created. You can’t have a manga collection without this book in your library. A+

HeavenShield vol.1
Story & Art: Ryu Blackman
Lettering: Lucas Rivera
Cover Design: Jose Macasocol Jr.
Publisher: Tokyopop

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the cover to this book. The artwork reminded me of Fred Perry’s Gold Digger and I also noticed it was an OEL graphic novel. I’m not sure what the prerequisite for publishing OEL manga by Tokyopop is, but from my experience it seems the artist have to have a Japanese influenced art style. Anyway the premise of this story takes place in the future. In the post-meteor age, humans and human-like reptile descendents have struck a delicate peace accord based on a dark new religion called Sacrosanct. However around this time a psychotic general escapes from prison and plots a military coup. That is when the government hires saucy racer girl Sepulveda Ramos and her dysfunctional crew of mercenaries to do everything it takes to prevent global scale carnage. However, Sepulveda is not your ordinary mercenary, she’s more of a mental nutcase with a fetish for killing. I really don’t know where to begin with this book. The story is everywhere with the plot jumping all over the place, the characters are one dimensional, the art is very flat and bland, and the dialogue is horrendous. Seriously with dialogue like this: “ Gonna rape you good”, “ my paw told me reptilian cooch is worth dying for”, and “give me them bones sucka” the creator is really not trying to win any Eisner Awards. Even if he wasn’t, the dialogue is atrocious and it doesn’t help some characters have thick dialects and are hard to understand at times. As most of you know I have a colorful use of the English language, but sometimes these words are completely unnecessary. The art really doesn’t help that much, most of the characters look the same and the action sequences just seem boring. I do dig the character designs on some of the characters and his angles keep the pace fast. But the book just has too many flaws to be overlooked. I have high hopes for Blackman and hopes he grows not only as an artist, but a stronger storyteller. This however, is a poor beginning. D

Shaman Warrior vols. 4-6
Story & Art: Park Joong Ki
Translation: Taesoon Kang
Adaptation: Derek Kirk Kim
Publisher: Dark Horse

This book reminds me that not enough people read manga/manhwa. Instead of talking about how horrible the latest issue of Wolverine Origins is; people should be talking about how much of a badass Batu is or how great the latest volume of Shaman Warrior is. I really don’t see the difference between Western and Eastern comics. Most of the time if you strip everything down it is a basic story of good vs. evil. Unfortunately, some people can’t tell a basic story like that, but that is not the case with SW.

The storyline in SW is simple; When his master is mortally injured, Batu must leave Yarong’s side to protect his master’s child. Batu seeks refuge in different places to keep Yaki out of harm’s way. But trouble always seems to find them, not only in form of bloodthirsty assassins, but Death Lords as well. As of right now Yaki’s powers have yet to reveal themselves, but this doesn’t stop Batu from leaving her with Genji to avenge his master. He returns to Kugai to kill Yuda, the man responsible for the death of Yaki’s father. Eventually Genji leaves Yaki in the hands of brutal warriors in a desert training camp. Years pass and now teamed up with another Shaman Warrior Horakaan, Batu reunites with Yaki and begins to set the pieces for what is to be the final battle against the rulers of Kugai. There is a nice flashback that reveals the story of how Batu and Yaki’s father met when Batu was nothing more than a butcher.

The covers always seem to grab my attention. Each one is lavishly illustrated and just focuses on one character from the series with no background. The cover to volume 6 just goes to show how much time has passed since Batu was given Yaki in volume 1. The art inside the book is absolutely amazing to say the least. The art is beautiful to behold, and of such a unique style. It’s more than worth reading, even if just to sample something quite different from the books you are used to reading. It is not only gorgeous for the marvelous and easy to follow fights, but the facial expressions show so many characteristics that it literally makes these characters come alive. When characters are in pain, it really looks like it hurts. There is so much emotion behind those detailed eyes that makes you feel for the struggling protagonists. The action sequences are gritty and dark and moves the story at a fast pace. SW has a mature look that will draw in the many readers searching out the few truly adult oriented graphic novels they crave. If you like samurai stories such as Blade of the Immortal, Vagabond, or Lone Wolf and Cub, you will love this series. If you just like a great story featuring fantastic and realistic heroes put up against gritty and memorable villains you will love this series! A

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