04 Nov, 2008

Manga Minis, 11/3/08

By: Katherine Dacey, Ken Haley and Michelle Smith

This week’s column features a sneak peak at the next installment of Black Jack (Vertical, Inc.), to be released on November 18th. (Click here to read a chapter at Vertical’s website.) You’ll also find reviews of Croquis Pop (Yen Press), a somewhat confusing title about an artist with unusual powers, and Love for Dessert (Aurora), a collection of steamy stories aimed squarely at the Harlequin Romance crowd.

Black Jack, Vol. 2

By Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, Inc.
No rating

The fourteen stories that comprise volume two of Black Jack run the gamut from straightforward parody to full-blown melodrama, affording Jack plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his surgical chops. Among Jack’s most notable feats in volume two:

  • Operating on a killer whale
  • Operating blind
  • Operating on a man who’s been hit by a bullet train
  • Operating on twelve patients at once… without being sued for medical malpractice.

As one might infer from the list, Jack practices a different kind of medicine than the earnest docs on Grey’s Anatomy or ER, taking cases that push the boundary between science and science fiction. Yet Jack shares something in common with Drs. Meredith Grey and Doug Ross: a keen awareness of medicine’s human cost. Jack may profess to be an amoral, materialistic fellow, but he knows all too well that his treatments cure the physical body, not the heart and mind. The best stories in volume two–”Granny,” “The Ballad of the Killer Whale,” “Where Art Thou, My Friend?”, “Stradivarius,” “The Blind Acupuncturist”–depict patients and doctors as vulnerable, flawed people whose quasi-religious faith in medicine is sorely tested by crisis.

Tezuka’s cartoonish style suits the material, as he conveys volumes about a character’s past or temperament in a few broad strokes: a low-slung jaw, a furrowed brow, a big belly. That visual economy serves the stories well, helping him achieve the right balance between medical shop-talk and kitchen-sink drama without getting bogged down in expository dialogue. The result is a taut, entertaining collection of stories that offer the same mixture of pathos and medical mystery as your average episode of House, minus the snark and commercials.

–Reviewed by Katherine Dacey

Croquis Pop, Vol. 2

Story by KwangHyun Seo, Art by JinHo Ko
Yen Press, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen

This bizarre tale of a super-powered comic artist’s assistant continues as Da-Il finds himself sharing a room with a returning student of his employer. In short order he quickly finds himself trapped in the newcomer’s, Ga-In’s, dream space/Dead Zone, forced to relieve a critical event in his life. While he attempts to puzzle his way out of the situation, the mysterious guardian spirit known as Mu-Huk finds himself locked in combat with another mysterious newcomer.

I’m still not exactly clear on what’s going on with this series. The way the powers function simply eludes me. I’m guessing it’s incredibly simple and I’m just over thinking it, but half the time I’m left feeling a bit lost and forced to wonder why something’s happening. The events seem predicated upon the fact that Da-Il is being tested by someone for some reason, a woman with links to the art museum that he visited in the first volume, but her reasons for doing so and who she is are questions for future volume.

Still, there are some interesting bits in this story. Ga-In’s past leads Da-Il into conflict with a high school art club and there’s some rather passionate arguments about the legitimacy of comics as an art form, this is also mirrored in what little interaction we see between the curator of the art museum and the new woman testing Da-Il. It’s actually a subject near and dear to my own heart, and it comes off as a subject that the creators have a passion and feeling for, but sadly it’s not enough to offset the head scratching moments that the book is loaded with.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley

Love for Dessert

By Hana Aoi
Aurora Publishing, 224 pp.
Rating: Mature (18+)

Published under Aurora’s LuvLuv imprint, Love for Dessert is a compilation of six stories, each of which culminates in a steamy situation. The stories range widely in terms of quality, though nearly all start out decently enough. Some even try to incorporate plot elements other than sex, like parental relationship problems or learning not to change oneself just to suit a guy. The problem usually occurs in the transition to a physical relationship; in some of the stories, it’s just completely out of the blue.

For example, in the story called “Bubblegum Princess,” the heroine has chopped off one of her ponytails after a jealous rival got vengeful with some gum. The hero, himself a stylist, has given her a haircut to even things out. On one page, the heroine is admiring her new ’do, and seven panels later, they’re suddenly going at it! Something similar happens in the title story, too, prompting the protagonist there to actually wonder, “How did this happen?”

More affecting are the stories where the love scenes actually grow out of what has happened between the couple. My favorite story in the volume, “Puppy Chow,” is about a college student who breaks up with her quirky boyfriend because he always asks her what she wants instead of taking the lead. After a brief reunion with a controlling ex, she realizes the good thing she had, and returns to the considerate guy. When they later sleep together, it’s sweet and also meaningful because she’s chosen a healthy relationship.

I’m not one for smut for its own sake, so several of these stories were simply too shallow for me. Several did offer more depth, however, so this collection isn’t wholly without merit.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

8 Responses to "Manga Minis, 11/3/08"

1 | swanjun // soliloquy in blue » Blog Archive » Love for Dessert by Hana Aoi: C+

November 4th, 2008 at 11:00 am

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[...] This lusty anthology is from Aurora’s LuvLuv imprint. I reviewed it for this week’s installment of Manga Minis. Check it out! [...]

2 | Connie

November 4th, 2008 at 11:15 pm

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Michelle, you might try “Make Love and Peace.” It’s a Luvluv book featuring a couple with a very healthy and happy relationship, and the stories focus on the two of them busting criminals together, usually by the girl unwittingly putting herself in danger and the boy (a very busy police officer) getting to the scene just in time. It’s a nice break from hot and heavy romance.

The stories are okay and the couple is very cute, but the one thing about it is that there is a LOT of sex. More than in any of the other Luvluv books, I think. The scenes are not very long or graphic, just surprisingly frequent, especially since the heroine often complains about how she doesn’t get to spend much time with her boyfriend.

3 | Michelle Smith

November 5th, 2008 at 12:27 am

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Hm, that does sound pretty fun, though it probably defeats the purpose of this imprint that I wish they’d just leave out the sex. :)

4 | Sam Kusek

November 5th, 2008 at 1:28 pm

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Originally Posted By Connie
The stories are okay and the couple is very cute, but the one thing about it is that there is a LOT of sex. More than in any of the other Luvluv books, I think. The scenes are not very long or graphic, just surprisingly frequent, especially since the heroine often complains about how she doesn’t get to spend much time with her boyfriend.

Ha, I read “Pretty Poison” from the same company and had the exact same thoughts about it! I hope they can break out of that loop

5 | Katherine Dacey

November 6th, 2008 at 9:07 pm

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I’m with you, Michelle–I read for the plot, not the “action,” which is why I’m not into yaoi. Next week I plan to review “Voices of Love,” another LuvLuv title. We’ll have to compare notes afterwards!

6 | Michelle Smith

November 6th, 2008 at 10:43 pm

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“Voices of Love” looks even worse than this one. We shall see. :)

Lest I come off very prudishly, I should say I don’t mind sex scenes when they have some kind of meaning that grows out of the characters, like NANA or Seduce Me After the Show. In those stories, of course, the point isn’t to titillate the audience with “action,” but to tell a bigger story. That, I think, is the main difference.

7 | The Manga Critic » Blog Archive » Short Takes: Black Jack, Fire Investigator Nanase, and Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

June 19th, 2009 at 2:51 pm

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[...] visual cues and body language to tell us what we need to know about the players; as I noted in my review of volume two: Tezuka’s cartoonish style suits the material, as he conveys volumes about a character’s past [...]

8 | Isaac Hale

June 28th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

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Wicked Black Jack review! Though nothing can supplant my favorite episode where he operates on himself in the Australian outback while being attacked by dingos, this one looks like fun =).

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