Even with the holiday and Anime Boston, we’ve managed to rustle up three mini reviews for you today! Melinda starts things off with a look at Awaken Forest from DMP; Michelle reviews the latest volume in TOKYOPOP’s Gakuen Alice series; and Connie enjoys the first volume of Pure Heart (DMP).
By Yuna Aoi
Digital Manga Publishing, 200 pp.
Rating: M (18+)
Awaken Forest is a collection of three boys’ love stories, each featuring men who use lying and manipulation to get what they want. The title story is a tale of two brothers—an author who was injured as a child and his older brother who is bound to serve him for life in order to atone for injuring him. When he realizes that his brother has fallen for a young editor from his publishing house, the author (who has been faking his ongoing injury for quite some time) decides to release him from service, but even then he uses cruelty and manipulation to do so, going so far as to order his brother to molest the editor in front of him.
The most blatantly manipulative character, however, is in the collection’s second story, “Loose Bonds,” which features a man named Ren who hires a former school bully to steal his best friend’s girlfriend, leaving the friend with nowhere else to turn but to him. This story is easily the darkest of the three, as it is the only one in which the victim remains unknowing to the end. “If you don’t want him to go outside, then make him never want to,” Ren says as he pricks his pet bird with a sharp pin to keep it from leaving its cage, providing a deeper glimpse into his true pathology.
This manga provides the beginnings of what could be an interesting exploration of the darker sides of human nature, but its stories’ scenarios are too neatly contrived to be believed, making it impossible for any of them to rise above pure romantic fantasy. Most of the boys’ love staples are present—rape, incest, pretty straight men lured into a web of “forbidden” love—and though the author manages to pull off these fantasies more delicately than some, there is no sense of anything richer lurking below the surface. The art, too, is very typical of the genre, featuring generically pretty, interchangeable men over dull, sparse backgrounds.
Though its stories’ themes suggest the potential for something deeper, in the end, Awaken Forest is just another disposable yaoi title to be consumed and quickly forgotten.
Awaken Forest is available now.
–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi
By Tachibana Higuchi
TOKYOPOP, 192 pp.
For the most part, Gakuen Alice is a fairly episodic series about the adventures of spunky ten-year-old Mikan as she acclimates to attending a mysterious school whose students all have special powers known as Alices. Beginning in volume six, however, its first multi-volume arc, involving an organization that’s opposed to the Alice Academy and is responsible for infecting Mikan’s best friend, Hotaru, with a virus, gets underway. In volume seven, Mikan and friends are pursuing the organization responsible through a forest beset with dangerous traps.
The strong point of Gakuen Alice is the way it mixes darker revelations about the nature of the Academy and the uses to which it puts certain students with warmer scenes of Mikan and her friends. In this volume, this balance is somewhat thrust aside due to the “we’re journeying along a spooky trail, watch out for that laser beam” action that’s going on, but occasional nice moments shine through, mostly involving the sweet romantic triangle going on between Mikan, gentle animal-loving Luca, and Luca’s best friend Natsume. Natsume’s one of those tortured, self-denying characters who, rather than seek his own happiness, instead nudges Luca and Mikan together, because Luca being happy “is enough.” In other words, just the kind to win a shojo fan’s heart.
While all of the journeying gets a little tiresome, the cliffhanger ending suggests that we might soon get some facts about Mikan’s mysterious origins, which would certainly be nice after all of the cryptic hinting that’s been going on. I’m looking forward to it.
Volume seven of Gakuen Alice is available now.
- Reviewed by Michelle Smith
By Hyouta Fujiyama
Digital Manga Publishing, 180 pp.
Rating: Mature (18+)
Tozaki, a freelance writer primarily employed by DB Navigator, is shocked one day when an artist he meets with turns out to be Kurata, his first love and unrequited crush from high school. Tozaki plays it cool, but incredibly, Kurata remembers him. Even more incredibly, Kurata remembers being watched by Tozaki. And, in one last fantastic stroke, Kurata invites Tozaki to a love hotel and has sex with him. Tozaki isn’t sure what to think of this, and the situation between the two quickly becomes very awkward as each man tries to figure out his role in… well, whatever is going on between them.
It was Kurata that made this book a good read. Though I liked him by the end, it was hard for me to warm up to him at first, since he’s pretty gruff and leaves both Tozaki and the reader guessing about his real feelings. He sort of pushes Tozaki into doing things with him, and at first it seems that the two have a strictly sexual relationship, which isn’t at all what Tozaki wants. Kurata shows his feelings in random outbursts and subtle ways, such as phone calls that make it apparent that he misses Tozaki and violent fits of unfounded jealousy, but these events become more frequent and meaningful as the story unfolds. By the end of the book, the two still don’t talk very much, but it’s clear they both care about one another, and I liked the strange buildup of their relationship. In addition to the development of Kurata and Tozaki’s relationship in the present, there are occasional short flashback chapters about their limited interaction in high school, and there are also one or two romantic rivals vying for Tozaki (who is actually gay, and expresses doubt over the fact that Kurata could find him sexually attractive initially).
I’m happy to see that it’s the first volume in a series, and the story does leave off in a strange place, so I’ll be looking forward to the follow-up volume.
Volume one of Pure Heart is available now.
–Reviewed by Connie C.