Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fairy Tale Volume 1 by Hiro Mashima

Coming off the success of his semi-modern tale Rave Master, Hiro Mashima brings us Fairy Tale, a more fantasy-esque story about a group of magicians who are gathered into a guild called Fairy Tail. They are the pre-eminent magic guild, and the one guild that Celestial Magician and cute girl Lucy wishes to join.

So when a magician named Igneel shows up in her town, all the women go crazy over him because of his good looks. Lucy is caught, too, for a while, until she is jostled by a young man named Natsu. Natsu is looking for a Mage who is actually a Dragon, and thought that Igneel was that mage, but he turns away, disappointed, and Lucy realizes that the mage is no longer as interesting as she thought he was... until he approaches her and tells her he is a member of Fairy Tail, and that he can get her a trial to enter the guild.

She is thrilled, and agrees to meet Igneel at a party he is throwing on his yacht. At first, she wondered why a wizard as powerful as Igneel needed to use charm spells on his female admirers, but the fact that he's a member of Fairy Tail makes her throw caution to the wind and meet with him.

But as the yacht pulls away from the dock, Igneel reveals that he lied to Lucy. He's a mage, yes, but not a member of Fairy Tail. No, instead, he's a slaver, and he's going to sell all the beautiful women aboard the Yacht into slavery, for which he will make a lot of money. He wanted Lucy to come along because she was also pretty and he wanted her as a slave most of all. Lucy attempts to escape, and is helped by Natsu, and his flying magical cat, Happy. Natsu, a fire mage, eats the magical flames that Igneel is able to throw, and between the two of them, Lucy and Natsu end up capturing Igneel and his men and grounding his boat.

At the end of that story, he asks her why she went with Igneel, and she tells him. But he says to her that he really *is* a member of Fairy Tail, and that he thinks she'd make an asset to the guild. But will Lucy still want to join after she meets the members, some of who are VERY STRANGE?

Fairy Tail is an interesting story, but Hiro Mashima's style really hasn't changed much since Rave Master. This wouldn't be a bad thing, normally, but the two main characters look almost exactly the same as the main characters from Rave Master. And I mean, almost exactly the same. Even the secondary characters bear a strong resemblance to those from the earlier manga!

Now I have a very hard time thinking of this as a good thing, but the story saves the manga from being a retread. Natsu isn't a typical hero: he gets motion sickness, and eats like a pig... very different from Rave Master. But in sidekicks, Happy is much like Plue from the earlier manga, save he's able to talk (and fly, occasionally).

For a first book, this isn't bad. And if I hadn't already read Rave Master, I'd have enjoyed it a good bit. But I do want to see where the story is leading. Though if more character designs from Rave Master show up, I am going to have to wonder at Hiro Mashima's ability to do character designs different from his earlier manga. It would be a terrible shame if his creativity was limited by his drawing ability.

Will Eisner's The Spirit, Volume 2 By Darwin Cooke, J. Bone and Dave Stewart

This is the second graphic novel from the redone and revamped Spirit series created by Will Eisner. Denny Colt has no superpowers as such, except for typical two-fisted action and the will to take down the criminals who menace his home in Central City. On his side he has the Chief of Police, Comissioner Dolan, who knows his secret, Ellen Dolan, the woman he loves and who also loves him, and his driver, Ebony White, a teenager too young to have a license who nonetheless drives a cab and acts as the Spirit's chauffer.

Each of the stories introduces characters from the Spirit's catalogue of former foes or creates new ones, like Starlets Eboni or Kristil Fullerite, Sand Saref, CIA Agent Silken Floss, reporter Ginger Coffee, The Octopus, and Alvaro Mortez, the man who died along with Denny Cole, now returned to life by his mother as a zombie with her voodoo powers, as well as an army of zombies.

But along with the more serious stories, there are also the lighthearted ones, like the one where Denny is chasing a crook who robbed a bank, and along the way, he manages to solve the problems of all the residents in the building, along with those of the Super. Denny may lose the crook, but he gets his reward in a date with a young blonde resident of the apartment house!

Or the story in which someone is killing off all the media pundits, both left and right-wing. But who is the real culprit, and what is the reason for the deaths? With thinly-veiled parodies of the modern talk show hosts, pundits and talking heads, no matter which side of the political divide you're on, you'll find something to chuckle over.

I liked this version of the Spirit a bit more than the original, since Ebony White is no longer a caricatured African, but a real-looking boy, and the females that Denny once saved are now equally as strong and powerful as he is, and just as capable of getting themselves out of trouble as he is.

That being said, some of the characters, like Comissioner Dolan, look just the same as they did in the original Spirit tales, and now, with the other characters being less caricatured and more realistic, the character designs stand out in a bad way, looking strange and almost out of place compared to the newer-looking characters. The stories are much the same, but with the new characters, the characters more based on the original designs stand out more and look like they aren't part of the same story.

Nevertheless, if you enjoyed the original stories of the Spirit, you'll find lots to enjoy here, with all of the same two-fisted action, the beautiful dames, and the ugly and cruel criminals that the Spirit must defeat.

Justice League of America- The Injustice League by Dwayne McDuffie, Ed Benes, Mike McKone and Jon Benitez

Green Arrow and the Black Canary are finally getting married after years of being lovers as well as friends. But against the backdrop of the two parties being held for the participants, the traditional bachelor party runs into some snags. First, Olliver Queen, the Green Arrow, won't have anything to do with the strippers hired for the party. But they still want to get paid, and they don't take checks.

After that is taken care of, but before the other men can arrive, reporters who have found out about the party camp outside the hotel where it was going to be held. So the party must move to the Hall of Justice. Meanwhile, the woman are having their own bachelorette party for Black Canary, Dinah Lance.

But even as they get ready to celebrate the coming wedding of two of their own, The Joker, Lex Luthor and Cheetah meet to determine who gets to join their own little party, the Injustice League. The idea is to charge a protection fee to other supervillains, and in return, if they require assistance against a superhero, the Injustice League will help them- for 30% of the take of their job. To prove the worth of their concept, they take on the Justice League's newest discovery, the New Firestorm, and injure him so badly that they send him to the hospital, where he is in critical condition.

Then, they take on the Justice League a few at a time, kindapping the heroes to set the stage for taking on the greatest Superhero of them all- Superman. But when all the other Justice Leaguers are captured, it will be up to Firestorm to see if he can save the day. Also, they have to deal with a hero from another Universe, the Atom, who has been transported out of his universe and into our own, and the disappearance of Flash. But can they get the man who was transported to the Atom's universe back while sending the Atom back to his rightful place? And what happened to the female cop who disappeared when checking out the Atom, anyway?

The final story tells of Red Arrow's encounter with a homeless bum who used to be a supervillain on Christmas Eve. Why did the man run from him, and does he pose a threat anymore?

I really enjoyed this story which reprised many of the more famous foes of the various superheroes (Dr. Light, Gorilla Grodd, Sinestro (the new female version) and so on). It also has links to the old "Superfriends" series in the design of the Injustice League's Hall of Doom (right down to the name!) and cast of characters.

The story mixes both light-heartedness (Ollie's bachelor party and Dinah's bachelorette party) with the more serious action of Firestorm's near death, and Luthor's threat against the other superheroes to drive Superman into anger, where he will be easier to defeat and capture. The fight sequences are well-done, the threat of the other supervillains feels real and menacing, and the sequence where the freed heroes appear to fight the Injustice League makes you laugh and cheer at the same time.

Extremely well-done, and both funny and menacing by turns. Though I'm not a regular reader of the Justice League, this graphic novel made me see why so many people enjoy it and have been fans for so long. Highly recommended.

The Kindaichi Case Files Volume17: The Undying Butterflies by Yozaburi Kanari and Fumiya Sato

Hajime Kindaichi is the grandson of a famous detective well-known for his skills. Ever since getting involved with the murder of classmates at an old theatre, Kindaichi has been solving the murders he gets drawn into with seemingly increasing frequency.

Kindaichi is asked to investigate a party thrown by a famous butterfly researcher, Shimon Madarame, who had rediscovered a long-thought extinct butterfly 25 years ago. Now, after many years of breeding that same butterfly species and ensuring their survival, he is ready to show them off to the world. But in the picture that accompanies the article stating this is his assistant- Eiji Touno! Eiji was responsible for the murders in a previous case of Kindaichi's set at Lake Hiro.

At the end of that case, he was presumed dead, his body destroyed by fire. But now he seems to have survived, and Kindaichi knows he must investigate, and determine the truth of how and why Eiji Touno survived. He takes Miyuki with him, and the man who alerted him to the article, Itsuki, another survivor of the Lake Hiren murders.

Shimon's palatial estate is guarded by two high walls and airlock doors like those in a submarine, making it impossible for anyone to get in from the outside. Inside the house, they meet Ruri, the professor's youngest daughter, who is playing with her ball. But when the professor hands it to her and tells her to play elsewhere, she waits until he is gone and throws the ball away, claiming she doesn't want it anymore if he touched it. She calls him a bastard. Ruri has an unusual feature, one brown eye and one green eye.

Later, as they are introduced to Shimon's wife, they realize that she has the same feature, one brown eye, and one green. For the party, the professor dresses his wife and daughters in Kimonos that mimic actual butterflies. He also shows his visitors the butterflies he has been protecting and bringing back. The butterflies glow white in the dark, like spirits, delighting the guests as they wing around like points of light.

But Ruri, the youngest daughter, sees something the others don't, a butterfly, pinned to the wall with pins, yet somehow still alive. It is a black and white butterfly that a professor at the local university knows as the Butterfly of Death. Ruri is frightened of it, and is afraid that she, too, will die like the butterfly, even though there seems to be no reason for that fear.

The other guests at the party, including the professor's other two daughters, his eldest daughter's fianceé, the professor and the photographer, along with Eiji, whom the professor introduces as his assistant, Hikage Miyama. He doesn't appear to recognize or know Kindaichi, and Kindaichi and Itsuki can't tell if he is just a lookalike or is very good at faking.

But not long after the party, Ruri turns up dead, dressed in the butterfly Kimono from the party, and pinned to the ground in a similar fashion to a butterfly. She ia near a pile of dead leaves and butterflies known as "the Butterfly Tomb", but no one seems to have seen her being put there. This means that, since someone passed the tomb at 7AM, and the body was discovered at 8AM, that the body must have been placed there sometime during that time frame. The only one who doesn't have an alibi for that time is the man who Kindaichi thinks is really Eiji Touno, Hikage Miyams! But would a man who was so meticulous in his earlier murders really have chosen a time when he alone had no alibi? The police who are summoned think that this makes him the most likely suspect, but Kindaichi isn't so sure.

Kindaichi notices something else awry. While Ruri's mother is very obviously grieving for her daughter, her father, Shimon, doesn't even seem to care that she is dead. Instead, all he seems to care about is that his one daughter with one green eye and one brown is gone. All he seems to care about is that he will never see that feature again! This is very unnatural, and raises Kindaichi's suspicions. But who is the "Undying Butterfly" that claims to be responsible for the killings?

As more people in the house die, more police suspicion falls on Hikage Miyami. But when the middle daughter, Ageha, is nearly killed by extremely poisonous spiders in her bath, it's Hikage who wades in to save her... with bare feet! Would a killer who knew how deadly the funnelweb spider's poison is take such a chance? Kindaichi believes not- it would be foolhardy in the extreme. But can he find out who the killer is and prove it beyond all possible doubt?

Another long story, but one with lots of bite (no pun intended). Red Herrings abound and the largest one is Eiji Touno/Hikage Miyama. Even Miyumi, so often menaced by killers in cases past, is in the background here, reduced to getting Kindaichi the information he needs to solve the murder of Ruri, and thereby the others.

Sometimes the author allows us to have the same information as Kindaichi, and thus lets us compete against him to see if we, the readers, can solve the murders. But here, as in other cases, the information is hidden from us, and we must rely on Kindaichi to reveal it, at the reveal, where he exposes the murderer for who he or she is. But that isn't the only secret revealed, and the ending to the case is sad as an injustice is revealed, and the reason for the murders exposed. But there is also a happier ending for two of the characters, one that absolves the bad feelings of the past.

I really love this series, and this has been the best story yet. It's long but exceptionally good, and with every case, Kindaichi's skill and detecting acumen grows. While occasionally we are able to test our wits against Kindaichi's, here we don't have that chance, we just get to be thrilled by his brilliance. But still, almost a perfect murder case. Highly recommended.

Samurai Champloo by Manglobe and Masaru Gotsubo

Mugen is a foreign-born mercenary with no taste or restraints. Jim is a tightly-controlled Japanese Samurai who is as disciplined as he is reserved. Fuu is a waitress who has been saving her money to go on a trip to look for a Samurai who smells like Sunflowers, but when a hungry Mugen starts a fight in the Inn where she has been working and saving her money, she is simultaneously thankful and annoyed. Thankful that he saved her from the moneyed louts who wanted more from her than to serve them drinks, and annoyed that in the process of doing so, he burned the Inn to the ground!

Jin also has problems. He came to the aid of a poor man who was being unfairly persecuted by an unjust magistrate. The same magistrate sicced his guards on Jin, then found out, to his loss, that Jin was much, much better at swordsmanship than they ever were. But when the louts that Mugen was fighting turn out to have been the friends of the magistrate's son, who was their leader, Jin, Mugen and Fuu need to get out of town, and fast!

But is the man they trust to show them a way out of town really leading them around the checkpoint, or into a trap for the ruler of the area? And even if he is leading them into a trap, does Mugen care as long as he gets more men to fight? And even more, after its over and they finally get out of town, will Mugen and Jin become friendly, or will they resume the fight that destroyed the Inn and nearly precipitated the crisis?

Normally, anime are based on Manga. But just as with the creator's previous work, Cowboy Bebop, this manga is based on the anime. I haven't seen much of the anime (despite loving Cowboy Bebop), so I can't say how closely the manga is based on the anime. But as a manga, it's entertaining and holds together well.

As with Spike Spiegel and Jet Black in Cowboy Bebop, this manga is based on opposites. Jin is cool and reserved, so much so that he almost doesn't believe in anything- not any cause, any person. He has nothing to use his great skills for, because he doesn't care about anything personally. Mugen, on the other hand, is hot and passionate (and incredibly violent). He follows no one style of fighting, and so his style is impossible to get a grip on. He fights Jin to a standstill because despite the great difference in their fighting styles, they are evenly matched. Fuu is the one who brings them together and gets them working together. Though she sometimes appears bubble-headed, she must keep the two in line much like a mother would two squabbling siblings. She's also the one who earns the money to keep them fed and housed... but their penchant for destruction confounds her best hopes.

I don't find it as good as I did Cowboy Bebop, but perhaps that's because I haven't really watched the show. I find it an intriguing idea, and I would like to read more of it, and perhaps watch the show now. Recommended.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Boogiepop Doesn't Laugh by Kouji Ogata and Kouhei Kadono

Takeda Keiji is an ordinary High School student who loves another student in his class named Miyashita Touka. But lately she's been missing his dates, and he doesn't know wny. Could she be getting tired of him and this is her way of telling him she doesn't want to see him any more?

But while he's waiting for her, feeling sick and stunned about the thought that she might not want him any more, he sees a man crying, blood on his face, and freezes. No one else around him says or does anything, when a young man approaches out of the crowd and castigates them for doing nothing to help the man.

Takeda can't help but notice the man's face. Because he looks just like Miyashita Touka, but his hair and clothing are wildly different. And, of course, he's a man. But this is no ordinary boy.

The school that Takeda and Miyashita go to have some legendary ghostly figures associated with them. One of them is someone called Boogiepop. He's a legend among the girls, but they tend to keep him to themselves. The story is that Boogiepop is someone responsible for the disappearances of several girls at the school.

Takeda knows none of this, but he finds out that Boogiepop is keeping watch after school, and while Boogiepop knows about Takeda and Miyashita, Miyashita doesn't know about Boogiepop. And that is the way it will stay. Whenever the school is in trouble, Boogiepop will appear, and when the danger is gone, he will disappear again. Takeda finds himself drawn to the strange figure, and he sits and talks with him as Boogiepop keeps vigil over the school. But when it is time for Boogiepop to go, will Takeda be able to deal with losing someone who has somehow become his friend?

This was a very unusual sort of manga. It's less a story about Boogiepop, than about the strange sort of friendship that develops between Boogiepop and Takeda. But while Takeda feels that maintaining his friendship with Boogiepop is important, he also realizes that hanging out on the roof of the school to be with this strange spirit living inside his girlfriend is isolating him from his schoolmates.

Takeda also debates on Boogiepop's existence with Boogiepop. Is he an alternate personality within Miyashita? Some kind of strange ghost that exists within her somehow? The story and the characters never really come to a conclusion on that, but the confusion and loss that Takeda feels when he realizes that Boogiepop will have to go are real and extremely well done.

This book is a prequel to "Boogiepop Phantom" and based on the strength of this, I will definitely want to seek out the series. Something about this series is strange but beautiful and moving. Very well done and recommended.

Loveless, Volume 1 by Yun Kouga

Ritsuka is still a child, still bears his cat ears and tail, but he's been torn in two by losing part of his memory to amnesia or multiple personalities. He can only remember the last two years of his life, and his mother therefore thinks he is not her son. She wants to get her son back, and she feels Ritsuka isn't him.

Ritsuka, though, had an older brother named Seimei, and one of the memories of him that Ritsuka has is of his older brother telling him his real, secret name: Beloved. He told Ritsuka to remember that name, and Ritsuka did. But now, he finds that Seimei was murdered, and Seimei's beloved shows up to claim Ritsuka as his.

Soubi is a strange person. A robot? An artificially concieved lifeform? He attends college, but he shows up to see Ritsuka after a day at his new school, and Ritsuka, when he realizes that Soubi was Seimei's friend, asks to take a picture with him. He calls it "Making memories", as if he loses his memory again, the pictures will be all he has to remember Soubi by.

But in the park, they are attacked by another pair of boys, and the strangest thing is they attack with words, and Soubi defends himself and Ritsuka, also with just words. But the words have power, and Soubi, through the power of his words, is able to banish the two boys, sending them far away, back to where they came from. During the attack, though, Ritsuka realizes that Seimei and Soubi had the same kind of relationship and fought with words.

This leaves Ritsuka feeling worthless, as Soubi has been claiming to love him, but Ritsuka feels that this love for him was commanded by his brother, and not brought about by something in himself. And the pairing of he and Soubi is called Loveless. What else could make him feel any more lacking in worth?

But Soubi can entrance with words as well as fight, and every time he turns up, Ritsuka ends up in Soubi's arms, being hugged and kissed. How can he fight against someone who is so good with words? But when he realizes that the other pairs of word-fighting people had something to do with Seimei's death, nothing can keep Ritsuke from fighting and learning the truth.

Loveless was very strange to read. People in this world have Cat ears and tails in childhood (in addition to their normal ears) and when they are teens, but lose them and become adults when they first have sex. Apparently, anyway, if I am reading the book correctly. It's only referred to in an indirect way, so I can't be sure.

Neither is what Soubi is discussed. Is he a normal human? Is he an android, or something constructed to have human form? It's impossible to tell from the information given in the book. who and whatever he is, he has incredible powers of language, to entice, attack and defend both himself and Ritsuka. But why he needs to form a fighting pair and what they are fighting over, are big questions that never really get answered.

It's an intriguing opening chapter to a story, enticing us with an interesting story and promising us that our questions might get answered, eventually. I'm of two minds as to whether I would spend any of my own money to find out, because in the end, I didn't really care about the answers to the questions. This raised only an "Eh" rating for me.

Wolverine Origins: Swift & Terrible by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon

Wolverine has discovered that during the war, he fathered a child, a son, on his handler. But the truth was hidden from him by her, and now he wants to track down his son and make up to him Wolverine's total absence from his life. But his son is working for the same shadow society that he once worked for, and he's angry that they have changed his son into a killing machine that actually enjoys taking lives.

His son, though, doesn't feel he needs a father. He thinks Logan is a coward for hiding behind a mask and a costume, and he'll be more than happy to kill Wolverine and take him out of the picture on behalf of those he works for. But just like Wolverine, his son was born with bone "claws" that can extend from his hands, and he has the same mutant healing factor that Wolverine does.

If Wolverine wants to defeat his son, he has to negate his boy's healing factor, and the only thing that can do that is a Carbonadium Synthesizer. And it can negate the healing factor without killing his son. But Wolverine was captured by shield, and who comes to see him but... his son- who immediately tries to disembowel him. But Wolverine has a healing factor, too, and he survives.

Someone sends men in armor to kill him, but Wolverine manages to escape the base and vanish, still looking for his son. As for his son, he is a racist... bigoted against the human race, and he doesn't seem to have many emotions except rage and hatred. He even kills the human woman he's been with by letting her see him with someone else, a man, and then when she returns home to drink and cry, he tells her that he spiked the drink with lots of crushed sleeping pills. He feels nothing for her because he is the inheritor of the human race- because he's better than human.

But Silas Burr, a mutant who calls himself Cyber is gunning for both Logan and his son, Daken. Reduced to something very much like Mental Ectoplasm, he takes over the body of an extremely strong man who is mentally retarded, and uses his body to try and take revenge on Daken, covering his body in Adamantium so that Daken's claws can't affect him.

But Wolverine knows Cyber from long ago, and he has a vengeance to take on the man as well... just as long as he gets the information he wants, first....

It's always interesting how far the apple can fall from the tree, and in Daken's case, he's very different from Logan. Logan wasn't the perfect operative because even though he's got a hair-trigger temper and the fighting instincts of his animal name, at heart he's really a decent guy. Not so for his son, and that's what makes the real difference between them.

But Logan seems smarter than his son, even if he is less ruthless and nasty. Daken seems to react as an animal might, but Logan is more of a man, more able to think, and that is why I feel he'll eventually beat out Daken when it comes to their war. At least I hope so.

I found this book to be very darkly themed, and yet, in the end I enjoyed it. Logan's fights with Sabretooth had all the fury of two animals, but the fights with his son are both more and less, but in all ways better. The stakes have been raised for Logan, and while he might hope he'll be able to turn his son good, I don't think it's possible. Recommended.

Wolverine Origins- Our War by Daniel Way, Steve Dillon and Kaare Andrews

Captain America is dead, and Wolverine decides to remember him in his own way by sneaking into the museum holding the memorial statue and holding a little memorial of his own... along with a bottle of good whiskey.

Even though Wolverine can't get drunk, he wants to remember how he met Captain America so long ago. The two men couldn't be any less alike, and Wolverine was even asked to kill Captain America by his handlers, but their adventures together made Logan actually like the man, and his effect on the people around him, his obvious heroism and leadership skills, affected even a cynical, wry Canuck who had long lost his faith in other men.

But while Wolverine may have made friends with Captain America, his sidekick, Bucky Barnes, loathed Logan with a passion. But why? Well, they were too much alike. While Captain America supported all the best sides of America and its outlook, Bucky was there to serve the interests of Americans with far fewer morals than those of the Captain.

While Cap was fighting with honesty, valor and morals, Bucky was sent to assassinate those who American interests wanted gone, and nothing made this more clear than a mission that sent Cap, Bucky, Logan and Nick Fury against a German named Baron Strucker, who was forming an organization of his own, one that would eventually be known as HYDRA...

I liked this book a lot, although I am far more used to seeing Steve Dillon's art in the series PREACHER than in other books. His art style is distinctive, and I thought I saw Jesse Custer's father in the row of Soldiers with Wolverine. But the story casts Captain America's sidekick Bucky in a much darker light, as well as making him slightly older than the original teenager.

In a sense, this is Captain America through a glass, darkly, although that may just be Wolverine's point of view, which tends to the dark and cynical anyhow. and the ending story, "Return to Madripoor", set up the next graphic novel in the series "Swift & Terrible".

It's a good book, and perhaps might be a little depressing for those who are fans of Captain America, but Wolverine fans will be all over it, enjoying their hero slugging it out alongside, and with, Captain America. Recommended.

X-Men Legacy: Divided He Stands by carey, Eaton, Romita Jr., Tan, Land, Peterson and Deodato

Professor X, or Professor Xavier, has guided and led the X-Men from their first inception, when they were just students at his school. But his legacy and that of his friend and foe. Eric Lensherr, known as Magneto, has shaped the legacy of mutant-kind all over the world.

Magneto's daughter, Magda, the Scarlet Witch, had decreed "No More Mutants" at the end of "House of M", and the world is still adjusting to the fact that most of the world's mutants are gone, returned to being nothing more than plain old humans. But the birth of the first mutant born since the day when the world changed due to the Scarlet Witch's wish caused a storm in the formerly mutant world. Everyone wanted the child, and X-Men took charge of the baby, entrusting the child to Cable. But Bishop was sent to kill the baby, and when Cable teleported away with the baby, the shot intended for it hit Professor X in the head. Moments later, his body disappeared.

He was rescued by another group of mutants, but they have mixed beliefs on whether Xavier's influence on the mutants was for good or ill. Half of them want to let him die, or to kill him, while the other half believe he should be saved. But with the bullet having destroyed half of his cerebellum, does he really have a chance to be saved? And how much of the previous Charles Xavier would survive with so much of his brain destroyed?

As the mutants who want to save him struggle to repair the damage done to his brain, Professor X must also battle from within. Battle to save his mind and memory, but also his outlook on humans and mutants. Can he continue to believe that mutants and humans should strive to co-exist when many humans have never been content to do so? And not all mutants want to co-exist with humans, either! Some of them feel that they are better than humans, and are therefore entitled to rule over those with no mutant powers.

But as Charles struggles with his demons and angels, he must also confront the past, a past which may be very different than what he actually remembers. Could he have been the product of some sort of genetic experiment by his own father?

You'd think that alot of this book would be static, since most of it occurs inside the mind of Charles Xavier. But, there you'd be wrong. In fact, the parts inside Xavier's mind are written with much more dynamisim and action than that which occurs outside, at least while Xavier stuggles to heal himself and pull his mind back together.

We get to see flashbacks showing how Professor X set up his school, and the arguments between him and Magneto, and him and Moira McTaggart, his former lover. But as the X-Men struggle to reach him, Professor X manages to recover and go on a road trip of his own, looking for clues to his past, goaded by the remains of his sister's consciousness that still lies within his body.

It's an interesting, if occasionally confusing book. Since I haven't read the Messiah CompleX books, I had no idea what was going on at first or who the group was that stole/rescued his body. Many of them were unfamilliar to me, as they probably will be if you read this divorced from the earlier book. I wouldn't have paid money for it, but it's a competent book, just not very suited to standing on its own, even with the explanation given at the start of the book.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Princess Ai Volume 1 by Misaho Kujiradou, Courtney Love and D.J. Milky

Ai is the Princess of Ai-Land, by something sent her fleeing the planet or dimension of her birth and landed her on Earth with a case of Amnesia. She wakes in a trash heap, her clothes torn and ragged, and wanders Earth, remembering very little of why she came to Tokyo. All she has is a heart-shaped case with a jewel on the top, and even that is nearly stolen from her shortly after she begins to wander.

But she is helped by a guy named Kent, who tackles the thief and gets her box back for her. He also takes her with him to the college library where he works, shows her where the campus kitty is giving birth in a box, and helps her get into the library, where she spends her time looking at picture books on art and music.

When she gets out, she's hungry, so a salaryman buys her food (sushi) and something to drink. He has intentions of being her Sugar Daddy, but Ai isn't about to trade her body for *anything*. She stops and sings a song with a street musician, Fa'an, who tells her he made more money with her singing with him than he ever did on his own. But Ai is approached by a well-dressed man who offers her a job singing at his club, Club Cupid. She goes inside to meet the boss, but realizes that the place is a hostess club, She's about to refuse, because she won't be a whore, but when the boss hears her sing, he agrees that she won't have to sell herself or her time to work in the club.

With no money and no place to go, Ai prepares to sleep in the woods next to the box with the Campus Cat and her new kittens, but Kent finds her and takes her back to his apartment to sleep. The next day, Ai is upset, thinking she gave her body to Kent, but he reassures her that nothing happened; he slept on the couch and all she did was sleep.

Kent doesn't live alone, but with a gay roommate, Hikaru. Kent allows her to borrow some of his clothes, but she takes Hikaru's by mistake, thinking that she looks better in them than he does. She also eats with them, but Hikaru is very jealous of her... he wants Kent for himself and thinks that Ai is a threat to his ambitions and affections.

Ai again meets Fa'an and he gives her a key that exactly fits in the box she wears. She opens the box and finds a heart-shaped pendant inside the box that looks exactly like the box itself. She goes back to her job at Club Cupid, but her looks and singing abilities have made her an enemy at the club: the woman who was formerly the top singer. But Ai's abilities have kicked her out of the top spot.

But the other singer isn't Ai's only enemy, and they are waiting in the shadows to get her. As Ai slowly recovers her memories from Ai-Land, and connects with the hearts of the people she sings to, will she be able to defeat those who want to kill her and erase her songs and memory? Will Ai ever remember what happened in Ai-Land and why she came to Earth, or will those gunning for her catch up to her first?

For a manga, Princess Ai isn't bad. It has more of an American vibe than a Japanese one, probably due to the influence of Courtney Love and DJ Milky. The artwork is quintesentially manga, but the book has a more American-ish flavor. Although I wonder how much Courtney Love invested in this book, since she's only listed as a creator, not a writer.

The story follows Ai as she wanders the streets of Tokyo, leaving the readers as much in the dark as Ai is about who could be wanting to kill her and who her foes are. We do get to see who is tracking her down to attack her, but we don't much, if any, information about why, only that they want to finish wiping out the royal family.

It's not a bad start to the series, and yes, I would like to see more. But the story wasn't all that gripping or unusual for manga. I had the feeling more than once of "Been there, seen that". It reads very much like a "magical girl"-type manga. It may be able to grow and branch out, but I'm not quite sure it's worth the price of buying it.

Psychic Academy Volume 1 by Katsu Aki

Ai Shiomi has been tapped to go to Psychic Academy. And though all of his friends are proud of him and his parents are thrilled, he is upset by it all. His brother is known as the Savior, the one who saved the world from The Dark Overlord, and is known as "Zero, Vanquisher of the Dark Overlord", but Ai feels that his brother totally outclasses him, and he's just going to be thrown out eventually, because his powers are weak or non-existent.

The only part of going to the school that excites him is the prospect of seeing his friend Orina, a girl he grew up with who now goes to the Academy under the name of Sahra. He's missed her, and he really wants to see her again.

On his way to the Academy, he sees a baby fall from a balcony and rushes to save it. But at the same time, another Psychic Academy girl steps in and saves the baby, confirming to him his uselessness. But the moment he steps onto the Academy grounds, he is adopted by a very strange-looking rabbit named Boo Belka Receptor Arba, who adopts Ai and intends to be his master, teaching him to master his power, also known as his Aura.

But Ai's brother is also part of the school, and he can't seem to help embarrassing Ai at every turn. As Ai slowly gets used to the idea that he does have power, and that it is strong, he finds himself growing attracted to a classmate named Mew, the same girl who helped save the falling baby. But she tells him that he is the one who saved the Baby, not her. And when the class matchmaker sees a 100% compatibility in their auras, will they ever end up together, or is Mew just too prickly and abrasive to ever warm up to Ai?

Ai is the Japanese word for love, and I've never seen it as a man's name before, only a woman (as in "Princess Ai"). Ai has a large problem in confidence. He insists on thinking of himself as normal, and can't see that he deserves to be in the Academy as much as his brother does. But while his down-to-earth and self-effacing nature attracts his old friend Orina, does he have any hope in attracting Mew, even if she is perfect for him?

Ai definitely comes off as a good guy, and much less egotistical and conceited than his brother Zero. But what are his powers, and will he be able to fit in with the other Psychic Academy students, or will they be too much in awe of him as the brother of the "Vanquisher of the Dark Destroyer" to ever be actual friends with him? Zero helped set up the Academy because the nature of the World has changed with the discovery of Psychic Powers.

This is a good setup for a series, but it also has a lot of fanservice. Most of the girls are very full-bosomed and their boobs get grabbed an awful lot for my taste. And the suits worn ny the female Aura users are just exploitative, with points over the breast area that very much resemble nipples, although there are more than just two of them. It made me a little annoyed, but at least there were no panty shots. A mixed bag, but I'd be interested in seeing more.

The Final Evolution: Alive Volume 1 by Tadashi Kawashima and Adachitoka

Taisuke Kanoe is in High School. He's constantly getting into fights, but it's mostly to protect a smaller classmate who is picked on by the bullies in class. Kanoe's sister Yoko also works at the school and tries to protect him, but at home, she makes him do all the work while she lounges around like a Princess. But it is her money that allows them to have a home and eat, so she feels she is entitled.

But as they walk home from school one day, Kano sees a girl commit suicide right in front of him. He is struck by the look on her face as she falls, a look of happy peacefulness, as if she was happy to commit suicide. It's a strange incident, but she wasn't the only one to commit suicide that day. That suicide was just one of thousands on this day, all across Japan, and all across the globe. Even one of the teachers confessed his love for Kano's sister, then killed himself in front of her.

As the days pass, more suicides occur, rising in number. Kano's sister, believing him to be emotionally scarred enough from witnessing the woman who killed herself in front of him, tries to protect him from the news that is happening across the globe, and for which nobody seems to know the reason why.

Then, Kano's friend Yuichi is spirited up to the roof by the bullies who always pick on him for another round of torture. Kano runs up to the roof to save him, but instead finds the roof empty of everyone save Yuichi. The roof is splashed with blood and the fence around it is partly destroyed, and the bodies of his tormentors are completely gone. But what happened up there? Kano can't believe what he sees, and his friend Megumi turns away from Yuichi, horrified by what she sees.

Yuichi is taken away by the police, and Kano wants to go see him. But he is not allowed to by the Police. He stays outside their door for days, barely eating and drinking, waiting with what seems like infinite patience to be let in. But the detective in the case says it isn't the police who aren't allowing Kano to see his friend. Yuichi doesn't want to see him.

As Kano finally heads home, he encounters a seeming madman who calls him brother, incites a crowd into following them, and leads them into an alley where he kills them with bubbles that pop out of the ground. The madman seems to think Kano has the same powers and will use them to kill people. But Kanoe doesn't want to kill anyone. What is really going on, and did Yuichi really kill his fellow students? Can Kano find out, and does he really want to know?

This manga sets up a great story with the mass suicides and what could possibly be causing it. Also, why have some people gotten killing powers from what might be the same source? We don't know, but we are given lots to chew on in this first volume.

Regardless of how interesting the setup was, I found it too dark and Nihilistic to enjoy. I didn't like the world, the characters weren't all that interesting, and the constant death and killing was very depressing for me to read.

I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone. But if dark and depressing situations are something you like, and people dying in grotesque and mysterious ways intrigue rather than sicken you, you might want to check it out. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Aquarian Age Juvenile Orion Volume 2 by Sakuraku Gokurakuin

Mana's return to her hometown brings conflict with her. Unbeknownst to her. Mana has a magical power that makes her a "Mindbreaker". Apparently, it allows her to enhance the magical/mystical powers of those around her, and enables her to get anyone she befriends to defend her from the other factions who want to destroy or capture her.

Three of her friends have sworn to give up supporting their factions, and support her instead. Now, she adds her Highschool science teacher and priest, and his adopted son, Tomonori Nakaura and Tsukasa Amou, to her sworn defenders. But Tsukasa feels that Tomonori will hate him for having wings sprouting from his head in his true "Aquarian" form. But when Mana gives him the courage to share the truth, he finds that Tomonori views him as an angel sent to him by God.

Meanwhile, someone else, a boy named Lafayel, is sent by his own mind-breaker to attack Mana for reasons none of his faction will reveal. Mana is defended and discovers her own power to heal and magnify the powers of others. She doesn't care about fighting for a faction, she only wants to take care of Kaname and her other friends, and to have everyone live and be happy. The others, so used to fighting for their factions, and the goals of their factions (except Kaname and Mana who are ignorant of the whole Aquarian Age battle for the earth) find her goals refreshingly simple and admirable, so they leave their factions to fight for and defend her.

But Kaname's friend Itsuki has a reason of his own for wanting to follow Mana and defend her. Can she help him save his sister, whose magical power is so great it harms her? Or will they be captured by his former faction, E.G.O. or that of the people who sent Lafayel? What do they want with Mana, anyhow?

Second volume, and still next to no explanation of what is going on exactly, which means that this manga must be primarily for those people who are already into the card game, and have some idea what all this is about. I wish I knew, because the manga's story both intrigues and annoys me.

Intrigues because it looks very good, but annoys because hardly anything is ever explained. I had to figure out for myself what a Mind-Breaker was and what one could do. It sounds like some kind of torturer, but it actually appears to be a good thing instead. I think the breaking part refers to how a Mind-breaker can cause people to break ties to their former factions when he or she touches them. I'm not even sure I'm correct in this.

I might give this one more chance, but I'm not sure its worth the money, if every volume is going to be so tight-lipped in its explanations. If you're already a fan of the game, please enlighten me. But if you haven't heard of the game or know what the manga is talking about, you're getting a tough row to hoe in regards to this manga. Explanations are practically non-existent, and while the art is pretty, with plenty of Bishounen, it's more exasperating to read than rewarding.

Aquarian Age Juvenile Orion Volume 1 by Sakuraku Gokurakin

Mana Kirihara used to live in a large city, but seven years ago, she was involved in an incident and had to move away, Now, she is returning to her home town, and to her childhood friend named Kaname Kusakabe. But after all this time, will he even remember her? She hopes so, because she has wanted nothing more than to return to him ever since she moved away.

But Kaname seems to have forgotten all about Mana, although he does remember the incident. But his best friend, Naoya Itsuki, has secrets that Kaname doesn't know about. For instance, Itsuke is part of a war fought between factions over some kind of magical power. There are five main factions, each out of a different magical tradition or group. He fights for E.G.O. or the Evolutional Girl's Organization, so named because women have traditionally had the abilities in this group.

But when Mana returns, the members of all the groups realize that there is a new power in town, something they call a "Mindbreaker". Members of other groups come to fight this new threat, as each seems to feel that "Mindbreakers" are something bad. And when it turns out Mana is the Mindbreaker, she is confused. What do they mean? She has no idea what that is or what she is, or that she even has any kind of magical power.

Kaname doesn't want to see Mana again, but when she is attacked for being a Mindbreaker, something in him snaps, and he grows a pair of black bat-like wings out of his back and helps defend her. This is something he has concealed since he last defended Mana from an attack seven years ago. Seeing his black wings makes him feel ugly and evil and dirty. tainted and corrupt. But he agrees to defend her if she is attacked again, and soon Itsuka feels the same. He transfers his allegiance from E.G.O. to Mana.

But Itsuka and Kaname aren't the only ones in town to realize that a Mindbreaker has come. Tomonori Nakaura, a teacher at Mana's school, and his adopted son Tsukasa Amou are also drawn in to Mana's web. But will they try and kill her for being what she is, or will she be able to befriend them also? Who wants Mana dead, and will they succeed in killing the kids who want to defend her, like Isshin Shiba?

This was an... interesting story. Interesting in that it seems to be based on a game. Not a computer game or tabletop game, but a card game released in Japan (and perhaps America) by Broccoli Games. It's an idea that isn't new (look at Pokémon and Yujioh), but trying to figure out what is going on is hard because the characters who belong to the factions are so busy being mysterious and tight-lipped that most of the time, you can't figure out what is going on.

What is a "Mindbreaker"? It sounds awful, something like a torturer, but by the end of the volume, I had absolutely no clue! Nor was I able to figure out what all the other characters are supposed to be or why the various factions are fighting beyond disagreeing with each other. And it would have been really nice to know, because otherwise it's like viewing the story through nearly opaque glass. People do things, but the reasons for why are very, very murky.

This could be an intriguing and wonderful series... if there was more explanation. As it is, it's something like an almost-understandable DADA-ist play. I can only hope for more explanation in the second book I have, or I'll be permanently wearing a giant question mark on my head with regards to the series.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Samurai Deeper Kyo Volume 1 by Akimine Kamijyo

Yuya Shiina is a beautiful female bounty hunter out for the ultimate bounty: the one on "Demon-Eyes Kyo", which is a bounty of 1 million Ryo. But the man she's pegged as being Kyo, an itinerant medicine peddler named Kyoshiro, is completely friendly and harmless. Shiina soon realizes that Kyoshiro is just too ridiculous to imagine being "Demon Eyes Kyo", so she lets him go.

He accompanies her to the next town, where they are attacked by men. But while Shiina defends them both, Kyo seems to be scared of wielding a weapon, and when attacked, begs his attackers to stop, telling them that he doesn't want "Him" to come back. Shiina is perplexed, but soon finds that the people attacking her were villgers who are under threat from the Bantouji Brothers, a set of bandits who have been attacking the people in the village. They have threatened the village with destruction, unless the village turns over all of its money.

Two of the brothers are the leaders of the band, one very small and fast, called Touji Like Wind, and his huge, strong younger brother, Banji Like Hammer. Shiina is certain she can take them with her gun, which is very rare in Japan. But when the Brothers return, they easily defeat her and start in on Kyoshiro. He begs them to stop because "He" is coming, but they laugh at him and try to kill him. Suddenly, though, Kyoshiro changes and his black eyes flare red. He becomes Demon-Eyes Kyo and easily takes out all the Bantouji brothers, as well as Touji and Banji. But when he turns his killing sight on Shiina, she knows she is outclassed. But can she convince Demon-Eyes Kyo not to kill her as well?

He reveals that he knows what goes on, and knows she is out to kill him for the bounty on his head. But her unwillingness to submit easily to being killed amuses him, and he decides to keep her alive... for now. As time passes, the killer personality returns to its cage, and the peaceful, harmless Kyoshiro returns, and apologizes to her profusely.

She has no chance of besting Demon-Eyes Kyo, even with her gun. But she promised the killer inside that she needs to find the man with the scar on his back. If she doesn't leave him alone and keep seeking the other man, Demon-Eyes Kyo will kill her. As Kyoshiro insists on travelling with her, she decides to seek the man out. But when a female killer sets her sights on Demon-Eyes Kyo and Kyoshiro, will the two of them survive her deadly plot?

I actually did like this series, which had enough action and fighting so that I wasn't obsessing over fanservice. And even then, there isn't much fanservice, or if there is, it isn't quite so blatant. The idea of a killer with two faces, trapped in one body, is interesting. Kyoshiro seems to know that Kyo is in him, but can he do anything about it?

Shiina is quite tough, but of course, she tends to be outclassed by the criminals she is going up against, fighting-wise at least. But she, so far, hasn't been stupid for the sake of the story, so she hasn't turned into the 'strong woman meets a man and then can't do anything right'.

I like this series, and I will look out for more of it in the future. I already want to know what's going to happen. I recommend this book.

Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Volume 1 by Ken Akamatsu

Negi Springfield is a ten year old boy from Wales who has just graduated from Mage School. At the graduation, each graduate recieves a diploma that is not only their diploma, but tells them where they will go next.

Negi's diploma, however, tells him that his next job is to go to Japan and get a job as a teacher. Negi's sister protests, but the Dean is adamant. He cannot change the fate that Negi's diploma has set out for him.

Once Negi gets to Japan, though, he finds out he'll be teaching at all all-girl's school, and a bunch of older girls at that. Easily in middle school as opposed to that of Negi, who would still be in grade school. Most of the girls see him on the subway and assume he's just a kid going to school as they are. But when Negi sneezes, he blows up all the girl's skirts. One of the girls, Asuna, thinks that is weird.

But when Negi enters the same school and she learns that he is their new teacher, she is dumbfounded and also realizes that he is very strange. The eraser they poised to fall on his head floats instead, and several other of their pranks go wrong. But the rest of the class falls for Negi and makes sure they make their affection for him known. And Negi's mentor teacher is also extremely well-endowed and embarrasses him mightily with her penchant for hugging him, which puts his head right between her breasts.

When Asuna finds out that Negi is a mage, his life starts to go *really* out of control as he attempts to help her realize her crush on the previous teacher, Takahata-sensei, by using his magic. But between the girls of his class who love him, and Asuna, Negi's life quickly becomes Hell. But can he get out of it alive?

I saw this series and knew it wasn't going to be one that I would like or want to read. And now that I've had a chance to read it, I know my impression was right. This title is really meant for male readers, with plenty of fanservice in the form of women with big breasts crushing Negi's head in between their bosoms, and panty shots. Plenty of panty shots, showing camel toe. I got sick of the number of times women's panties were on display.

Also the number of panels crammed onto most of the pages meant that it was hard to read all the words and understand what was going on in the panels. The story seemed cramped and not all that interesting. I felt that the story insulted my intelligence and it was a real struggle to read it through to the end.

I wouldn't take this series if they paid me to read it. I'm going to avoid it like the plague in the future. Numerous Panty shots and a Tsundere do not enjoyable reading make, especially for women.

Papillon Volume 2 by Miwa Ueda

Ageha is a twin, but she's always been the brainy twin to her sister Hana's beautiful twin. She deliberately dressed down to not take attention off her sister, but now she's decided that she wants to be beautiful, too. But Hana isn't letting her sister usurp the spotlight without a fight, and she's ready, willing and able to do anything she can to take everything her sister wants away from her.

Starting with Hayato, the boy who has long been Ageha's friend, and who she fell in love with. Ageha started on her road to being attractive to become Hayato's girlfriend, but Hana quickly stepped in to steal him away. Now, Ageha is being coached by her school guidance counselor, Ryusei, into becoming more confident and able to take Hayato for her boyfriend. But when Ageha sees Hayato kissing Hana and he breaks his date to go see her grandmother with her, she is heartbroken.

Ryusei shows up, but Ageha runs from confronting Hayato, and instead goes to the hospital to see her grandmother after all. But Ryusei has plans to help Ageha in her plan to make Hayato her boyfriend. Starting with her poor relationship with her mother. Ageha has always felt second to Hana in her own mother's eyes, especially when her mother raised Hana and Ageha was sent to live with her grandmother in the countryside. But it takes a terrible accident for Ageha and Hana's mother before Ageha can admit her feelings for her mother.

Afterwards, her mother apologizes, and so does Ageha, and the two of them look through the pictures of her as a baby that her father took. Her father soon gets in on the action, and Hana is displeased to see how close Ageha, her mother and father are.

But as Ryusei continues to help Ageha, she is not so certain that she really wants Hayato after all. Because now that Hana has him, she thinks he is stupid to fall for her twin. And Ryusei is the one that makes her heart go pitter-pat. But is a romance even possible between a schoolgirl and her guidance counselor?

I am of two minds about this series, which definitely still reminds me of Miwa Ueda's first series, Peach Girl. Momo and Sae have definite dramatic offspring in Hana and Ageha, but so far their rivalry is less horribly backstabby than Momo and Sae's relationship.

But for all Ryusei's trying to help Ageha, I have to wonder if Ageha really wants to be in a relationship with someone. She's ready to call it quits on Hayato when she finds him with her sister... she doesn't even try to fight for him. And then she decides she is in love with Ryusei instead. Who is more or less unavailable, because he's an adult who is over her in the school.

Regardless, I still find this series extremely uncomfortable to read. I hate the poisonous relationship between the two girls, and it just makes me very sad and upset to read. I certainly wouldn't pay money for this, so I'm glad I can get it from the library. But I'd have to be desperate to read another volume.

XXXHolic, Volume 13 by Clamp

Watanuki still occasionally slips into dreams, but he's trying to be more cheerful about things. His worry about Kohane-chan makes him determined that he must see her and help her out of the difficulty she is in.

Kohane, meanwhile, is rapidly losing her cachet on the television show where she used to make appearances and answer questions, and this is driving her mother absolutely crazy. Her mother is determined that Kohane make more appearances and become even more famous, but her reason is not out of love of Kohane, or even love of the money that Kohane makes for her appearances, she does it to punish her husband, who left her for another woman in his company that he was having an affair with.

She wanted to have the last laugh and prove by making Kohane a success that she got the better of her husband, and to show him that she didn't need him. But the emotions and Kohane's being seen as a false medium have her all twisted up inside, and make her more determined than ever to have Kohane come out on top. She thinks that Watanuki is somehow to blame for what is happening with Kohane.

Watanuki and Domeki go to see Kohane's program at the local TV station, but must sneak their way inside because the general public isn't allowed to view the program. On the program that day is a distraught young woman looking for her husband, who has left her and she is worried and wants to know if he is still alive. The other psychic tells her he is still alive, but Kohane, who is swathed in bandages from the attacks on her, tells the woman that her husband is dead, and that his body is standing upright in a small place. But then, Kohane whispers that the woman knows this, because she is the one who killed him.

The woman goes mad and attacks her, asking her who told her to say such a thing, and she says her mother told her to lie, which is true. Lie so she would be accepted as a real psychic again. But everyone in the studio assumes that she was lying about being a psychic all along, and looks to her mother to explain why.

In the confusion, Watanuki and Domeki come forward to defend Kohane, and after the program (in which Kohane recieves apologies and sympathy from everyone, and a slap from her mother, goes with Watanuki to Yuko's shop. For Kohane has a wish to be granted, and while Watanuki still can't remember much about his life, he might still be able to help Kohane-chan. But what is Kohane's wish, and what payment will Yuko ask for in return?

Weird stuff is happening, both to Watanuki and Kohane, and stuff outside the shop is being affected. Time and space are ripping, and Yuko's shopgirls aren't able to stop it any more. Both Sakura and Syaoran make a return appearance and Watanuki loses his glasses on the dream plane, but apparently doesn't need them any more. He can't remember so much about himself, and we eventually find out why, but not why he had to lose those memories, and apparently the memory of ever making a deal that would cause him to lose them.

Kohane is the main focus of the book, and it looks like Sakura and Syaoran's paths will cross again at some point with Yuko and Watanuki, as one of Sakura's memory feathers appears in the story. The drawdown to the end is near, but it's happening slower than I thought it would.

I have so many questions about this series, and I won't stop reading now. Whatever future comes in this series, I still want to read it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Batman: False Faces by Brian K. Vaughn

A compilation of four Batman stories from Brian K. Vaughn. The stories are "Close Before Striking", "Mimsy Were the Borogroves", "A Piece of You" and "Skullduggery".

"Close Before Striking" has longtime Batman cover identity "Matches Malone" show up shortly after Batman has used the identity to set up The Ventriloquist and bring down one of his operations- smuggling copkiller bullets into Gotham. It turns out that the man who Batman thought dead had accidentally killed a man in one of his arson jobs, and his brother committed suicide. Matches found out when he was trying to dispose of the body, and learning that the cops thought he'd killed his brother, used the burned body to make himself seem dead.

But when he hears someone has been using his identity, he tries to track down the person responsible, but is killed by the Ventriloquist's Dummy. Batman must then track down Matches Malone's real killer. But has Batman gone too far in assuming Malone's identity?

In "Mimsy Were the Borogroves", Kurt Langstrom, Man-Lizard, is kidnapped by the Mad Hatter so that the Hatter can get revenge on his psychiatrist by turning him into a sort of dragon. He's hypnotized both Langstrom and the psychiatrist, but can Batman save both men, defeat the Hatter, and keep the monster the Hatter created from destroying Gotham... all at the same time?

In "A Piece of You", Clayface has learned about Wonder Woman's history, and wants to absorb her, since she was also created out of Clay by the Greek Gods. But his attempt to absorb her completely goes awry, and she fights her way out of him, only to end up looking like Troia/Wondergirl/Donna Troy. Clayface couldn't absorb all of her, but only part of her.

Now, Wonder Woman must team up with her spiritual twin Troia to restore to herself the piece of her and her powers that Clayface has stolen and once again become Wonder Woman. But can she do it when Clayface is immune to the power of her Golden Lasso? And resorting to fisticuffs will simply allow him to absorb her again.

In the last story, Skullduggery, we get to see inside the thoughts of many of Batman's foes: The Joker, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, and a new opponent for Batman: The Skull. The Skull, who is one of Batman's closest associates, has decided to betray him, and can take on anyone's likeness. But in his crimes as the other villains, he has sown the seeds of destruction for Gotham. But will Batman be able to see him coming?

Although all the stories in this volume are supposedly Batman stories, the "A Piece of You" story didn't involve Batman directly. clayface, a Batman villain, was in the story, and Robin and Nightwing make appearances, but this is strictly a Wonder Woman/Troia story, not a Batman story.

All the stories are good and interesting, but Skullduggery is a teaser more than an actual story, as such. The entire story is maybe only 5 or 6 pages, and doesn't end leaving you satisfied in any way. But all stories do fit the "False Faces" theme as characters are transformed or disguise themselves in some way.

As an anthology, it's okay, but pedestrian and uninspired. I only found the first story to be the best, all the rest seemed to be superficial. Save your money on this one.

XXXHolic Volume 12 by Clamp

Kimihiro Watanuki had gone to work for Yuko the Time-Space Witch so that she could take away his ability to see ghosts and spirits around every corner. But as he worked for her, his abrasive personality began wearing away, and he became a much nicer sort of person, one who is close friends even with his classmate Domeki, someone he had previously scorned, though they still argue a lot.

Now it is the beginning of Spring, and Watanuki is celebrating his birthday with Yuko, Domeki and the girl Watanuki loves, Himawari-chan. Life has been growing better now and he is no longer troubled by ghosts and spirits so much. But he has begun to note that he is dreaming much, much more than he used to, and has begun to sleep even in situations where it would be hard to sleep, such as when someone has begun to sling a container of hot tea at him.

Then Princess Sakura starts to appear in Watanuki's dreams, appearing low and distressed. Watanuki attempts to help her, but he does most of his help simply by talking to her. At the same time, the little psychic girl that he befriended, Kohane, appeared on a show and saw the ghosts better than the other, older psychics. Because all the other psychics disagreed with her, people have begun to feel that she is a fake, and turn on her.

Watanuki and Domeki try to help her, and Watanuki helps her realize that while she may not want to try and help herself, she should still try to help others who are her friends. She defends Watanuki to her mother, finally doing something for him. But she's not the only one Watanuki wants to help. He also offers to fulfill a wish for Yuko, his employer, as she spends her time granting others wishes, but who grants hers? She is startled by his offer, and grateful at the same time.

But Watanuki realizes after a dream conversation with Sakura that he can't remember the names of his mother and father. Is he really a human, and alive? Or is he something or someone else dreaming that he is Watanuki? Why can't he remember doing so many things? Yuko tells him he has a connection to both Sakura and Syaoran. All three are born on the same day. But what is this strange connection? Will we ever find out?

Another stunner from Clamp. Here, their long, slender bodied and stretched out style is in full swing, but the art doesn't matter as much of the story, of seeing inner truths that are concealed. Sakura has seen the inside of her companions, and none of them are really what they seem. Kurogane seems like nothing but a raging swordsman, but inside he's a protector, like an older brother. Fai presented a cheerful and uncaring outer demeanor, while inside he lived with pain few others could have lived through.

Watanuki feels that same kind of disconnect in his own life, and his many dreams are causing him to question if he is even really himself any more. Has he been decieved all along in believing he knew who and what he was? Where is the truth in a life you can't even be sure is real or anything but a dream? Yuko tries to reassure him, but he can't even be sure that what she is telling him isn't a dream either, and all he feels is sadness.

This newest volume continues the drawing down of the series, but asks us to question all we thought we knew about Watanuki and his world. This book raises many questions, and we don't have any real answers yet. Watanuki doesn't demand them of Yuko, because he knows she will tell him anyway... when he needs to know them. It's frustrating that he doesn't want answers when the readers do, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see for the answers we're desperate for.

Ghost Hunt, Volume 9 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Still caught up in the case of the Inn with the deadly spirit that kills off members of the family that inherit it, now the Ghost Hunters are in real trouble. Naru, with all his psychic powers and psychic strength, has been possessed by the dark spirit that is haunting the Inn.

Lin tries to keep it under control with his Taoist Sorcery, but all he can do is force Naru's body to sleep. The spirit has also possessed the young children of the family, and to force a reaction out of the others, the spirit makes the young boy run for the huge cliff, to commit suicide by jumping to his death.

Torn, Mai uses the Nine Words, and forces the dark spirit from both children. But her quick and dirty exorcism leaves the children with marks in the shape of the Nine words on their backs. The Monk who taught her the movements tells her that this is why such words are never meant to be used against people. But, exorcisms can't be done by just anyone, and that he's surprised she has the ability.

Then another daughter of the family comes up to them and screams at them for interfering with things that are none of their business. They offer her a paper charm to protect her, but it burns up in her touch. John, the Christian Priest, exorcises the spirit from her, and when it is gone, gives her a cross to wear to keep the spirit from inhabiting her again. She doesn't remember the time during which the spirit inhabited her body.

With Naru deep in charmed sleep, Masako attempts to contact the spirit, but is attacked spiritually. Mai has another psychic dream, where she sees the Hokora beneath the Inn looking warped, as if from something. Evil, perhaps?

In the morning, there is another attack, this time on Naru's body. A member of the family is possessed and hacks at the door with a knife. Is he there to kill Naru or free him? Mai and the Monk have no idea, but their attempt to shield Naru is halted when the possessed man escapes, and sets part of the Inn on fire.

Soon after the fire is put out, Yasuhara returns with his research on the Inn and the family who runs it, and the hunters find out a story that seems to tie into the past of the Inn, something called a Marebito, also known as a "travelling God". Stories tell of a monk, or a group of Monks stopping at the Inn with a great treasure and being killed by the greedy townsfolk for their treasure. The spirits of the killed monks attack the townspeople, who only survive by erecting a shrine to the spirits of the monks.

And the evil spirit attacking the Inn now... does that have anything to do with this long-ago story? There is a shrine located under the Inn, warped and pitted by immersion in the sea, for the sea cave the shrine is located in is underwater at high tide. But if the Marebito and the spirits of enraged monks have something to do with the tragedy happening at the Inn, can the SPR team do anything about it with their leader already possessed? Who can dispel or disperse the angry spirit, and how can they prevent this horrible tragedy from going any further?

This was a wonderful volume, scary and atmospheric, with a spirit that's even more powerful than Naru himself. Each of the SPR Team's powers get a thorough workout in this volume as they deal with spiritual monsters and possessed people who inhabit the haunted Inn. In the end, the problem is that the people in the Inn forgot their history and responsibilities, which led to the tragedy.

Even Ayako, whose Miko abilities the other characters had derided throughout the other volumes and cases in the series, gets to show off her power and show that she actually does have the powers she claims, but they can only be used in limited situations. This saves her from being a joke, and it's nice to see that she wasn't intended to be a jokey one-note character.

As in the other volumes, the scare factor goes up here, ramped up by an entity that means serious harm, kills people, and intends to kill more. The defeat of the entities and the ending of the curse by finding out the history that the family that owned the Inn had forgotten ends the threat of the curse, though should they forget their history again, it might resume at some point. An excellent end to the story, and I do want to see more. New volumes for this series will be out this year, so I am definitely going to be there when they come out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yumekui Kenbun Nightmare Inspector Volume 6 by Shin Mashiba

Hiruko the Baku is back in this newest installment of the series. It contains another eight episodes to tempt the mind and the soul.

In the first story, a young girl dreams of being in a dark corridor, prevented from moving anywhere, forwards or back. a heavy rope is tied around her waist, and she cannot get free. But when Hiruko helps her find what she is tied to, which way will she turn to find an escape from her dilemma and imprisonment?

The next story has a girl who is the only scion of a noble family dreaming of someone stalking her, as seen through the stalker's eyes. When Hiruko descends into her dream, he helps her see who is stalking her, right through to the future. But is her dream what she believes it to be?

Then, when Hifumi destroys Hiruko's case, he, Hiruko and Shima will have to go to Delirium to get a new case. But can they overcome the challenges that lie beyond the walls and halls of Delirium?

In the next story, Hiruko is approached by another member of Hifumi's society that wants to plumb the secrets of both the Teahouse and Delirium. She is having a nightmare about her body being replaced with that of a doll. But something is strange about her nightmare. It is as if someone is manipulating it to make her reaction to it worse. Can Hiruko figure out what or who is doing this?

Next, Hiruko relates his history with someone who came to the teahouse, Tsukihiro. He and Hiruko met shortly after Hiruko became a Baku. But while they connected in the past, their outlooks today are very different. For Tsukihiro is also a Baku, but his method with nightmares is as vastly different from Hiruko as night and day.

And, when Tsukihiro goes into Mizuki's dreams to manipulate her, can Hiruko prevent Tsukihiro from driving her crazy in her nightmare? Will more of Hiruko's secrets be revealed, and to what use will his fellow Baku put what he has learned?

Next, Tsukihiro has left, but Mizuki stays locked in her nightmare, unable to wake. Once again, Hiruko must put his powers to use to free her from her nightmare and find out more about the brother she loved so much, and who she feels Hiruko is, even if his physical form looks nothing like her beloved brother.

Then, when Hiruko falls asleep and is unable to be awakened, Hifumi must take over for Hiruko. but when he accidentally burns and destroys Hiruko's cane, will it ever be the same? And will he ever be forgiven?

At long last, we get to see that not all Baku have humanity's best interests at heart, and Tsukihiro is the one manipulating the dreams of people to make them more horrifying, and thus, more tasty for him. But will Hiruko come to the aid of Tsukihiro's victime? More, does he even want to?

Here again, Hifumi proves to be an irritant and more of a hindrance than a help. He's supposed to be investigating Hiruko, but he's on the make for, and constantly distracted by his landlady Mizuki. Since she appears much younger than he is, he also comes across as a bit of a lecher even though his aim is to marry her rather than debauch her.

An interesting set of stories, and I can almost tell that there will be more conflicts between Hiruko and Tsukihiro in the future, but which one is more emblematic of Baku as a whole? The Nightmare Healer or the one who makes them worse for his own amusement and delectation?

Tsukuyomi Moon Phase Volume 1 by Keitaro Arima

Kouhei Midou is a cameraman with a problem. He'd like to be well-known for his stunning camera work and great picture taking, but whenever he takes pictures, most of them turn out to contain ghosts. Even though he cannot see ghosts, they invariably show up in his photographs. Even though he finds this irritating for his career's sake, he finds himself working with a famous psychic investigator instead.

When he's sent out to take pictures of a haunted castle, Kouhei takes a picture of a beautiful girl perched on the roof of a nearby Castle. But when the pictures are developed, she, too, turns out to be a spirit, despite the fact the Kouhei could see her. Sent back to investigate, Kouhei wants to ask the girl to model for him, but she requests to be allowed to kiss him before she agrees.

Kouhei tells her to go ahead, and not only does she kiss him, but she also bites him and sucks his blood a little. Unbeknownst to Kouhei, Hazuki, the girl in the castle, is a vampire imprisoned there by a spiritual ward. Biting Kouhei and drinking his blood is supposed to make him a willing servant or slave to Hazuki, but Kouhei doesn't seem to be affected by any of her powers.

Why is this so, and can Hazuki find other ways to manipulate the hapless boob she's pinned all her hopes on? First, she must find a way to get him to help her destroy the spiritual ward surrounding the castle so she can leave. Then, she wants him to help her find her mother. For Hazuki isn't the sweet girl that she likes to appear to be, and she has plans for Kouhei, plans he probably isn't going to like very much. Can his employer save him from Hazuki, or is it already too late?

I never would have picked this one up on my own, and as soon as I started reading, I knew why: the whole "manipulative girl" and "Hapless boob guy" theme didn't do a thing for me. Hazuki definitely isn't sweet, and as soon as she's free of the spiritual ward, she shows up to browbeat Kouhei and try to manipulate him and his family into becoming her slaves and doing her bidding.

According to his family and employer, Kouhei is immune to her power to enslave him because of his massive cluelessness. Apparently, he's immune to just about everything, except nagging and browbeating, because that's how Hazumi makes him do what she wants him to do.

I found the whole manga insulting to my intelligence and I was very glad that this one was a library donation and I'm not the one who spent $10 for it. Since it was the only one of the series to be donated, I'm pretty sure that the donator felt the same way. Avoid this one like the plague.

Beautiful People by Mitsukazu Mihara

Beautiful People is a manga short story anthology, each telling tales of beautiful people and the problems they face, or the reactions of others to their beauty.

In Princess White Snow, a young man encounters a beautiful girl on a hot day who claimed to be a Yuki Onna, a Snow Woman. While he can't find it in himself to believe her, he does realize that she is comfortable at a far lower temperature than he is. But when his inability to pay the bills on his apartment results in the Electricity being cut off, will he lose her to her delusion, or is she really telling the truth?

World's End has two beautiful people left alone on Earth. As far as they can tell, they are the only people left alive after a nuclear war destroyed all the people, but left the buildings and vegetation intact. The problem is, both of them are homosexual. Is this the end of the human race?

In Electric Angel, a young man whose favorite book is Angel Cat and Electric Angel meets a young girl online who has the same interests and loves the same book that he does. He's mistreated and misunderstood by his father and mocked by his classmates. Can he find love and acceptance with his online friend, or can their relationship even exist in the way he wants it to?

"Lady Stalker" chronicles the events of two women at a company who are being stalked in the same creepy ways. One woman believes it is her boss who is stalking her. But can she get anyone to believe her, or is it the product of her own mind? And what about the other girl? Will she be believed about her stalker?

The story "Beautiful People" has a girl who moved to Tokyo and paid for surgeries to make herself beautiful meet a woman who is a Frankenstein-type creature created by a mad scientist. As the two become friends, the woman who had the surgeries realizes that she is also a kind of experimental monster. But unlike her friend, she did it to herself instead of having it imposed from without. Is there any hope for either of them?

In Blue Sky, a vampire adopts and protects a beautiful young girl with Sky Blue eyes, first as a meal, but soon he realizes that she can be a link to the sunny days that he misses and has forgotten exists. But as she grows older, will he take her and make her like him, destroying what she is to him, or let her die of old age and lose her forever?

This is a haunting book examining the nature of beauty and cruelty and reality and asks what is really worth having. The stories will stay long in your mind after you turn the final page and close the book. Each story leaves you with a bittersweet pang in your mind. Each story seems to revolve around some kind of loss, even loss of freedom and self.

I liked many of the stories, but my favorite was "Blue Sky", as the ending, while sad, was also the most beautiful and understandable. My second favorite was "Princess White Snow".

I'd definitely recommend this book to other readers. The stories can be read quickly and are easy to get into.

Echoes in the Dark by Robin D. Owens

Jikata ia a pop star riding the wave of success. But she's upset with herself because all her success is singing the songs of others, and not the songs she's written and would love to sing. But as she finishes the final concert on her tour, she is presented with the gift of a bird known as a Lladranan Cockatoo, and her name is Chasonette.

Jikata, smarting over the death of her grandmother while she was on stage (which she felt clearly), is ready to turn down the gift, when the bird's beautiful singing wins her over. But when Chasonette sings in Jikatas's hotel room, she turns a mirror into a portal and leads Jikata into the land of Lladrana.

It is the singer who has summoned Jikata, and Jikata is there for the Singer and her concerns. The singer is an old woman, and she needs someone who could be her student and replacement, and who has a four octave range. Unlike most of the rest of the Lladranans, the Singer speaks perfect English, and she begins training Jikata in the things she will need to know to fulfill her mission against the Dark. Jikata doesn't like how the old woman is abrasive and thinks she is the one who knows best in every situation, but lulls herself by thinking of her time in the Singer's castle as the Lladrana Spa, where she has gone to rest and recover from the stresses of her tour.

Meanwhile, the Seamistress Exotique, Raine, has been busy designing a ship to carry the people of Lladrana to the Volcano-Island where it lives in order to exterminate it entirely from the face of Amee. Raine, the only daughter from a family of shipbuilders, is attracted to Faucon, the nobleman who has been involved with just about every Exotique to come to Amee thus far. But Faucon was deeply burned by his romance with Elizabeth, the Healer who came to Lladrana with her twin, Bri, and left at the Snap to return to Earth to marry the man she loved there.

Because he doesn't want to get hurt again, he deliberately holds himself back from Raine, even though he's even more attracted to her than he was to any of the other Exotiques. Holds himself back so much that she feels that he scorns her. But when she travels to his castle to learn about the types of sea craft available on Amee, they find that they share a love of sailing small craft, and bond together over their mutual love of the sea.

Jikata takes easily to the training by the Singer, but feels increasingly alienated by the older woman's high-handed behavior. Finally, she discovers that the Singer is keeping her within the Singer's Castle and apart from the other Exotiques, and determines to leave and meet the others, but in her own way. As she leaves, she is met by Luthan Vauxveau, the Singer's former liason with the rest of Lladrana and brother to Bastien, the Exotique Marshal Alexa's husband. He finds himself repelled by Exotiques, by the sensation that the song of their souls is too different, too other, to that of Amee and his own. But Jikata doesn't awaken in him that inborn revulsion, and he finds her much closer in looks to the people of Amee, which may explain why he doesn't feel revulsion in her presence.

During their trip to join the other Exotiques, Jikata and Luthan become lovers. Each also shares the gift of prophecy with the Singer, though Luthan's is weak compared to the two women. Nonetheless, he's had visions of the outcome of the mission against the Dark, and what he sees isn't good. But can he and Jikata, working together with the other Exotiques and their men, find a way to increase the odds of any of them surviving the confrontation? And when his revulsion at Exotiques suddenly revives itself in the presence of Jikata, will she be able to take his reaction as anything other than a rejection and betrayal of all they have shared?

Raine, too, must make a choice about her future, for she is on Lladrana only to design and build the ship for the attack on the Island of the Dark. Once it is finished, she has sworn to return home to the bosom of her loving family and do what she really wants to do: design ships that will take the world into a new era when it comes to ships and sailing. But will she be able to give up the love and acceptance she has found with Faucon, and will he lose the woman he loves yet again? Will Raine allow someone else to pilot the ship she has built to the Island and take part in the Final attack on the dark?

This book was a terrific ending to the Lladrana series, although it seems like Robin D. Owens has cut off the possibility of any future Exotiques travelling to Lladrana with the ending to the book. And despite the book setting the reader up to expect the death of some of the Exotiques and their mates with practically every vision shared by Jikata and Luthan, the ending still came as a total surprise to me. Deaths do happen, and some of them will definitely leave you with a feeling of loss.

But as for the romance parts of the book, I could definitely feel that Raine and Faucon, the Jikata-Luthan pairing didn't seem as authentic or realistic to me. I didn't get any feeling that there was a real attraction there, they just seemed to be drawn to each other for story reasons, not so much that the characters actually felt something for each other. Of course, this may have been due to the fact that, once again, two stories were crammed into the same book, Raine's and Jikata's. I would have preferred an extra book in the series rather than have Raine's story shoehorned into (and taking attention away from) both Bri and Elizabeth's story and Jikata's story. I honestly think Jikata's story would have seemed more compelling if it had been given more space and room to grow.

In the end, I simply found Raine's story to more truly affecting and real, and the effect of comparing the two made this book less successful than the others. I found it the weakest of the series, storywise, even though the series does come to an end in this book. The story of the battle and the ending was good, but the rest of it just wasn't up to the astronomical standard set in the first three books. On its own, it would be perfectly good, but in comparison with the rest, well, not so much.

I love Robin D. Owens and her books, and would recommend this one, just not as much or as strongly as the others. Since both books I found somewhat disappointing had split storylines, I'd suggest sticking to one romance per book in the future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Kindaichi Case Files Volume 16 The Magical Express by Yozaburo Kanari and Fumiya Sato

Kindaichi is looking forward to his summer vacation and lots of sleeping late. But he is awakened early by Superintendent Akechi and told he is recieving a commendation from the Police for his help in their cases. Kindaichi needs to return something, so he takes it with him to police HQ for the ceremony.

He is to recieve a plaque, but he accidentally drops the item he needed to return and it turns out to be an adult video, causing himself and Police Commissioner much embarrassment. But on the same day, the Police recieve a package from an unknown sender containing a twisted-up marionette and a threat to cause a death on a train later that month.

Kindaichi, Kenmochi and Akechi, as well as Miyuki, are on the train while it makes the trip. But they aren't the only ones on the train. There is a magic troupe performing on the train, and from the very start, they are very visible on the train, handing out roses, doing card tricks or other sorts of magic, and generally keeping the passengers entertained. But a bomb threat on the train has the train pulling into a cargo train station for the police to search it. There is a bomb, but it merely spews rose petals.

But shortly before the train heads for the final station, the leader of the magic troupe goes missing, and is found amidst a bunch of roses and balloons, dead with a knife sticking out of his temple. Then, smoke floods the compartment as the fire alarm goes off, and everyone flees the room. When the fire alarm is determined to have been a fake, they go back in, but the body is now gone as if it had never been there. But where did it go? It couldn't have been thrown out the window... the window doesn't open that wide, and Kindaichi and the others weren't gone long enough for the body to have been disposed of any other way.

From there, the troupe and the others go to the hotel where the troupe will be performing at the end of the line. But the owner of the hotel remembers them as the troupe belonging to another famous magician Reiko Chikamiya. Five years before, there had been a horrible accident, and she died while rehearsing a magic trick. But was her death really an accident?

As members of the troupe continue to die, Kindaichi must figure out who the murderer is and why he wants the others dead. Can Kindaichi match his intelligence and detective ability against the wiles of a magician who is determined to bring death to the former students and troupe of Reiko Chikamiya?

Many people are fascinated with stage magic, and this story exploits that to the utmost, using the tricks of magic to conceal a killer's schemes. I did figure out what connection the killer had to the old troupe, but I was decieved as to who it was, so I suppose I am getting better at figuring out who the killer is.

This is a long mystery, but there is a great deal of explanation as to how the killer did the various murders, so only 4/5 of the book is mystery, while the rest is explanation as well as an addendum where the killer manages to kill the single remaining member of the troupe who escaped the killer's attention during the murder mystery portion of the book, as manages to make the escaped victim kill himself.

A tightly-plotted mystery with plenty of red herrings and misdirections to throw off the readers from figuring out who really dunnit, this book is an excellent example of the manga murder mystery and well worth reading. Proof that there really are all kinds and sorts of manga, for every reading age and taste.

Hunter's Prayer by Lilith Saintcrow

Jill Kismet is a hunter, a human whose made a pact with an infernal creature to hunt and destroy other creatures that plague humans. The church doesn't like hunters, saying that they are inevitably hellbound, but quietly trains some of them to take care of the things that would plague and even destroy it.

In the last book, Jill met a werecougar named Saul who has since become her lover, and she feels safe in his arms. He wants her to meet his people, which tells her he is serious about her, and she agrees. But business, hunting business, has picked up, and she hasn't had a break in almost six months. Saul can be her backup, but he's only Were and can't be her apprentice, so she's had to soldier on alone.

Lately, someone or something has been hunting in Santa Luz, Jill's hometown, and whatever it is, it's been eating whores, leaving only their extremities, and taking the eyes from their heads. Jill doesn't know why, but the carnage it leaves behind is enough to make even a hardened hunter like her lose her lunch.

In canvassing the street, they find a single man who has seen the last body being dumped, and he's scared. He says that the body was dumped by someone in a van- more than one someone. He saw two of them, a woman with red hair, and a creature that was like a were, and who smelled like a dog vomiting in a whorehouse. A very large, very big creature.

Not long afterwards, they find another body, and it's of another whore who worked for the same pimp as the first girl. Jill visits the pimp and he tells her he doesn't know anything. But the first girl was pregnant and he sent her to an abortionist with an office not far away.

Jill and Saul go visit the Doctor's office, but it is closed. They are soon diverted by a new mission: a possessed divinity student at the Catholic Church. Jill manages to drive out the spirit, but something bothers her about such a spirit being able to manifest in a place where it should be repelled, and she soon discovers that the boy is brother to a woman who is a priestess of a Chaldean cult called the Sorrows. The boy was raised in a Sorrows house, thus already tainted and ripe for possession.

But when his sister visits Jill and tells her that there is a rogue Sorrow running around trying to summon one of the imprisoned Chaldean Elder Gods, Jill discounts it because everything a Sorrow priestess says is a lie. But when it turns out to be true, and the creature is found to be a Wendigo, Jill will have to turn to the unlikeliest of allies to head off a supernatural invasion of Santa Luz and rescue a bunch of child prostitutes headed for being sacrificed in the ceremony. But can Jill do so without herself being sacrificed herself?

As a follow-up to the first Jill Kismet book, I really enjoyed Lilith Saintcrow's new heroine. Jill Kismet isn't as bitchy or abrasive as Dante Valentine and seems to actually live a somewhat more centered life than Dante. But they both have High-stakes jobs with lots of bad things, and both have found some sort of love. And they appear tough and hardened on the outside but both seemed to live in deathly fear of being abandoned by the one they loved.

But here, Jill is facing up to something that is both a fear and a hatred. Jill hates the Sorrows, as one of their number killed her Hunter Mentor. At the same time, she must face the woman who both killed him and got away, along with a monster that nearly chewed her up and spit her out- and the Hellbreed Pericles who she both hates and fears, has tacked himself to her for the ride. But is it because he wants to demand more of her for the power he has gifted her, or is it because he is actually worried about her?

Aside from Jill's sometimes needy attitude, she really is more of a cool action girl, but when combined with her emotional neediness and the way she clings to Saul emotionally, it worries me. It reminds me a little too much of how Bella became so emotionally fragile in the Twilight series when Edward left her. It's not good to be so emotionally dependent on someone, and I have a feeling that she'd fall apart if Saul ever died or left her. It rather sits uncomfortably for me with the rest of her, but I still enjoy the books and am looking forward to the next one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Book of Useless Information by Noel Botham and the Useless Information Society

When I was young, my mom called me "a storehouse of useless information" because I'd pick up weird and interesting facts and throw them out in conversation. For instance, Lake Arrowhead in California was named for a legend of a local indian tribe that when their former home was destroyed, their god sent them to a new land by way of a flaming arrow that floated in the sky both day and night. When they reached the land around the lake, the arrowhead left the sky and burrowed into the ground, where its imprint can still be seen to this day. (Because I visited there when I went to see my cousins in California and read a book about the area.)

But that isn't the end of my nuggets of useless information. I can recite Pi to 13 digits off the top of my head. (3.14159265358). I can still recite the list of noun determiners (aka adverbs) I had to learn back in 7th grade.

But perhaps you'd like to know some useless information of your own. That's where this book comes in. Stuffed to the gills with useless information: you, too, can trot them out whereever and whenever you like to get people of the opposite sex to like and admire you, or look at you strangely and call you "That weirdo who knows all those strange things".

The information won't save your life or allow you to save the lives of others, but it may give you a chuckle or make you go "huh!". However, accuracy isn't guaranteed, as I did notice some things in the book that weren't actually true and were disproven (like the statues of generals seated on horses and the ide you could tell how he died by the number of legs the horse has in the air, or if it is rearing), as well as some of doubtful veracity that may have been included as a joke (the last line being that "Approximately 97% of all statistics are made up", so unleash these at your peril, or at least look them up first.

The facts in the book are split up into distinct chapters that cover, say, business or foods, and then with sub-headings in each chapter. One section on foods may cover sodas and drinks, and another snacks, and so on throughout the book.

And this isn't the only book of useless information. There are at least three others that were published after this: The Ultimate Book of Useless Information, the Best Book of Useless Information Ever and The Amazing Book of Useless Information.

While this book may have information that's not entirely accurate, you'll still enjoy reading the useless information. But like I said earlier, you'll want to make sure a tid-bit is accurate before passing it on, otherwise, you'll just look like a fool.