Category Archives: Manga Review

First Impression: Black Clover (Manga – Volume 1)

Black Clover has the makings of a typical battle shonen manga. Everything it does in the first volume checks off a box in the “how to make a battle shonen” checklist. Cool fantasy world? Check. Super powers and abilities that are fundamental to the fantasy worlds structure**? Check. Underdog main character who aims to become the strongest in the world? Check. Longtime friend who is also the main characters biggest rival? Check. Nearly everything Black Clover brings to the table has been done before, and its been done better. Does that mean Black Clover isn’t a worthwhile read though? That’s for you to decide, but my time with the first volume wasn’t as bad as you might think.

As I said above, Black Clover is a sterotypical battle shonen series that really sticks to the fundamentals laid out by its predecessors. I struggled to find an original idea in it, as it really doesn’t deviate from the norm or try anything new and exciting. If you were looking for a series full of fresh ideas and a unique story, I feel like Black Clover is going to let you down. If you don’t mind a more “by the books” shonen series though, there might just be enough here to warrant some of your time in checking it out.

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Publisher: VIZ Media

Story and Art By: Yuki Tabata

Black Clover is set in a land where magic exists and it has become an integral part of society there. People fight with magic, they use it to do menial chores and labor, it is something that the people there use everyday and interact with. Its not something groundbreaking by any means, but it serves as a cool setting to allow for awesome fights. Kind of like in Naruto or Bleach, everyone has a unique fighting style with their own special moves.

The fact that each character relies on special attacks was not the only aspect of Black Clover that I felt was borrowed from Naruto however. Asta, the main character if Black Clover, is an orphan. Asta is also unable to use magic of any kind, making him seem like he is the underdog of this story. Similarly, Naruto was very poor at using jutsu and controlling his chakra, which also made him seem to be the underdog of the series. The similarities continue as both end up with some sort of ultimate power that makes up for their lack of abilities, both characters have a strong headed personality and both refuse to give up and accept that they can’t make it too the top. Everything about Asta screams Naruto, and other characters such as Yuno all borrow their character traits from Naruto characters as well. When I said I struggled to find an original idea in this first volume, I really meant it.

Aside from its overwhelming use of common shonen tropes, my other gripe with the first volume of Black Clover was its pacing. The story moves at a break neck pace, constantly moving forward trying to get to its next cool fight scene. We really aren’t given much time to learn about the characters, the world they live in or past events that have shaped them to be who they are today.

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We are given very broad and quick looks into the world itself, as the beginning of the manga tells us that humans were almost killed off once by demons until the Wizard King came to save the day. Through character interactions throughout the volume we learn that there are noble and peasant classes in society, where the nobles are seen to have the better magic prowess. Other than that though, we know very little. We are not told of the demons that once threatened humanity and what happened during that time (other than the Wizard King saved everyone). We don’t have a sense of whether there are other countries outside of the kingdom the Wizard King established. Characters talk about wars and battles but never really talk about who they are fighting. There wasn’t enough time spent on building up this worlds lore to really get me invested in any of the conflicts that were happening.

As for the characters, we also don’t get to learn about much about them outside of a few pages of flashbacks showing us a new side of their personality. We know that Asta is hard working and will never give up on his dream of becoming the Wizard King because of the flashback showing him training incredibly hard until he is beat up and bruised (sound familiar to someone?). It’s literally just one page in chapter one though, so we don’t get to see all the hardships that he had to go through while training. Most everything we learn about the characters happens during the fight scenes, since the series seems to desperately put in as many as it could in this first volume.

In the end, Black Clover failed to impress with its first volume. There just isn’t any originality here and everything it does has been done better by other works. If you are out of battle shonen to read, you can do a lot worse than black clover. I liked some of the special moves used in the battles (even if they ended pretty abruptly with Asta just charging in there) and the idea that Asta’s new found power might be more than meets the eye is interesting. In the end it’s at best a luke-warm read, and at its worst outright boring.

 

Recommendation: Skip It
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Review: Uzumaki (Manga)

Since it is October, the month of spooky ghosts and monsters, I thought it would be fun to write a blog on something frightening! Uzumaki might not make you scream or jump out of your seat, but it will certainly make you uncomfortable with its insanely detailed art. Hope you guys enjoy me talking about it!

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Story and Art By: Junji Ito

Published By: Viz Media

For those not in the know, Junji Ito is known somewhat iconically in the manga industry for his amazing work with the horror genre. Most of his work are just one chapter shots, each one telling its own unique (and disturbing) story. I haven’t actually ever gotten around to reading all of his works, even though they are all pretty short yet incredibly interesting reads. One of the few works of his I have read over the years is his most notable work, Uzumaki. In it, Junji Ito takes a fairly mundane and normal construct and twists it into a dark tale of a town gone mad and the supernatural events that occur.

Story

At its core, Uzumaki is the story of the town Kurôzu-cho and all of the crazy, frightening events that transpire there as the town descends into madness. It all starts when Shuichi Saito’s father becomes transfixed with looking at things with spiral patterns. It doesn’t matter what it is, be it snails or works of art with spirals on them, Saito’s father spends hours upon hours looking at them and analyzing them. This becomes a central theme to Uzumaki, which literally translates to spiral in English. The spiral is mesmerizing, causing the viewer to follow the pattern to its center.

Other people in town soon start to exhibit strange or outright frightening behavior as they too become cursed by the spiral. Some people walk in circles, supernatural events involving a birthmark turning into a tunneling spiral through someones head and a lighthouse that turns on every night for no reason all happen one after another. These events keep piling up and escalating to the point where it is clear nothing in this town is normal, and it is clear that the citizens need to leave immediately. The problem is no one really knows about all the happenings going on, and those who do are already cursed or try to explain the events away with logic.

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This brings me to one of my main complaints with the story of the manga, being that it follows the stereotypical horror thread that all the characters don’t believe what is happening. Those who do know whats going on choose to stay in the town for some reason I cannot comprehend, leaving it hard to believe anyone who was not already under the influence of the spiral would actually be still living in the town. The main characters are two such people, who are constantly seeing some of the most horrifying stuff imaginable. Why they just didn’t pack up and leave is beyond me.

Aside from the rather stereotypical plot structure of Uzumaki, I quite enjoyed Ito’s take on a town gone mad as supernatural forces take hold. Most of the events that take place in the town were unique and twisted, showing interesting ways in which a spiral pattern can be used in horror. The overarching plot that starts to take shape in the later half of the manga is also interesting and gives off vibes of lovecraftian horror. As the town spirals more and more into madness (in a very literal sense) we start to see that there is some greater being or power at work here that is warping the entire town of Kurôzu-cho.

Characters

The characters of Uzamaki were not very interesting to me. Most side characters that are introduced outside of a handful were introduced and killed off in the same chapter. It made it hard to really get to know much about these characters outside of the few quirks Ito shows off that usually relates to their eventual demise. As for the main characters, I never really cared for either of them.

Kirie Goshima’s defining trait is her ability to not lose her mind despite the insane supernatural events that happen to her. Everything from zombie attacks, hair that moves on its own and sucks the life from you, and witnessing people turn into giant slug monsters happen before her eyes. For some reason though, no matter how insane these events are the thought of just leaving the town never really crosses her mind. Instead she just shrugs it off as “another weird thing that has happened in town” and continues on as if everything is normal.

Kirie’s boyfriend Shuichi Saito occupies the opposite end of this spectrum, as he is incredibly paranoid about spirals and thinks that the town is cursed. He acts in a way I would think most characters would act in these situations. He refuses to think that the events transpiring in town are weird misunderstandings or his imagination. He tries to get Kirie to leave town with him because he is afraid of the curse. He acts like a reasonable person would under his circumstances. Out of all the characters, I thought Shuichi was the most believable and interesting of the bunch, as his reactions and thoughts on the incidents occurring in town were what I was expecting.

Art

The art of Uzumaki is where the series shines, and this holds true for all of Ito’s works. He is the master of drawing horror, creating amazing panels full of grotesque and disturbing images. His art is greatly detailed, often making excellent use of shading and realism to make sure his art is able to maximize the horror it strikes in readers.

There are many instances of jaw dropping, unsettling images throughout Uzumaki. Some have become somewhat iconic, such as the lady with half of her face missing as a spiral bores through her head. These images stayed with me long after I first read Uzumaki, and still creep up in my thoughts every now and again causing a spine shivering cringe. It’s not that Ito’s art is frightening, its just so unsettling that I often just wish I hadn’t seen it so the images wouldn’t be stuck in my mind.

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The normal panels that don’t have anything horror related are also very well done. Its not the case where his art drops off during less crucial scenes and ramps up as the climax of each scene comes up. The artwork remains excellent throughout, and I would be hard pressed to try and remember any particular scene or panel that stood out as having less than gorgeous artwork. If there was no other reason to give Uzumaki a read, I would still tell people to give it a shot based off of its amazing visuals alone.

Personal Enjoyment

Uzumaki was a crazy ride that kept me hooked from beginning to end. The disturbing imagery used was unsettling to say the least, and Ito’s ability to perfectly layout his panels to maximize its impact really shines in this manga. Ito is the master of suspense when it comes to manga, creating a visual flow in his panels that often keep the reader on the edge of their seat right up until they have to flip the page, only to be greeted with some grotesque monstrosity.

Uzumaki is a unique horror experience you aren’t going to find anywhere else. Though it may be lacking in character development and the story progression takes a back seat for a good chunk of the middle section, this brand of horror isn’t something you get to experience all too often. It takes a relatively mundane thing (a spiral pattern) and twists it into all kinds of crazy stories. Uzumaki is the type of horror that will stay with you for quite a while, lurking in the back of your mind. I may not have had to turn on the lights or watch my back because I was so scared, but every now and again I’ll think of one of the many images Ito constructed in this manga that sends a shiver down my spine. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Recommendation: Read It

If You Liked It, Also Try

Gyo: Another one of Junji Ito's works. More grotesque imagery, and another unique take on horror. Also, check out Junji Ito's one shot's for more of his work (and some of his best).

First Impression: Barakamon (Manga – Volume 1)

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Publisher: Yen Press

Story and Art By: Satsuki Yoshino

Seishuu Handa is a young prodigy in the world of calligraphy, and has honed his skills to be able to take top prize in many different calligraphy contests. Seishuu is also very stubborn and does not know how to take criticism very well, which is evident after he assaults an old art dealer who criticized his work at a calligraphy contest. Needing some time to release his pent up stress and to find his own style as a calligrapher, Seishuu is sent to a rural island by his father to live for a while.

Life on the island is not as simple as Seishuu would like it to be however. Instead of being left alone to practice his calligraphy, Seishuu often finds himself in the company of a little girl named Naru. Not only is she as hyper as any first grader would be, Naru doesn’t really know what boundaries are it seems. Naru will sneak into Seishuu’s house whenever she feels like it in order to see what he is up to, and more often than not, to try and get him to do something with her.

Both Naru and Seishuu are excellent characters to center the manga around, as each brought a fun element to the story. They feel like they were meant to be together, even if Seishuu doesn’t care for Naru’s presence at all. They are supported by a small cast of secondary characters who are introduced throughout the first volume, but not much information is given on each character, other than some basic background information to give us an idea on who they are. I have a feeling that we will be seeing a lot more of these other characters throughout the story, but I doubt they will live up to the dynamic between Seishuu and Naru.

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One thing that was bothering me while reading the first volume was the artwork. It often felt spotty with backgrounds being pretty bland. The backgrounds give off the feeling of ruralness and a sense of being by the coastline, which definitely play to the stories strong points. My problem with them is that they seem pretty basic at times, using very little shading or detail. The quality in detail for the backgrounds varies greatly from panel to panel, throwing off the consistency quite a bit. On one page I would be looking at a panel featuring boats and houses drawn using generic designs and no detail added at all and a few pages from that I could be looking at a nice picture of the sea with a lot of effort clearly put into it. I wish the background art could have stayed at a more consistently good level so I could enjoy each panel for what it adds, but instead found myself just briefly glossing over most panels as the art just wasn’t very nice to look at.

Character proportions seemed a bit out of wack as well, with people hands often appearing just as big, if not bigger, than their heads. In fact, there were many times where I thought a characters head was perhaps just a bit too small compared to the rest of their body, throwing off some panels. There are quite a few panels where the characters just don’t look very nice to look at, which is a shame because I actually liked the designs of them. Handa’s design makes him look modern and a bit edgy, fitting his personality quite well. Though whenever I would look at a panel and see his huge hands or feet, or some other weird issue with the panel, it would throw everything off for me.

I would have to say without a doubt that the biggest issue I had with the first volume was the artwork in some of the panels . There were some genuinely nice looking moments though, such as when Handa would get a flash of inspiration and start working on a big piece of calligraphy or when he first scaled the wall to see the sunset with Naru. Honestly, most of the panels that I found were the worst were in the earlier chapters (chapters 1 and 2) and it seemed to get better as I read on. Especially the work on the backgrounds, as they began to be more detailed and added in shading. It could have been a case of not having any assistants to help with the first few chapters or something, but either way Satsuki Yoshino is able to better the artwork as the volume progressed, much to my reading pleasure.

Aside from some problems with the artwork, I thought the first volume of Barakamon was a great read overall. The setting is fun and unique, showcasing the lifestyle of rural Japan. Barakamon is specifically set in the Gotou Archipelago in Nagasaki Prefecture where Satsuki Yoshino had grown up. You really get a sense of the landscape and scenery of the place through the backgrounds, especially in some of the later chapters of the volume. The characters themselves are all interesting and interact in wonderful ways. It’s truly a fun read through-and-through. Much like my feelings towards Handa, I hope Yoshino is able to keep improving her artwork and find her stride. She could become the next Kiyohiko Azuma, creating some timeless slice of life stories that are endlessly fun to read.

Recommendation: Read It

Review: Deadman Wonderland (Manga)

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Story By: Jinsei Kataoka

Art By: Kazuma Kondou

Published By: Viz Media

In a world where a private prison is allowed to do what it wants with the lives of its inmates, it isn’t too hard too believe that a place like Deadman Wonderland exists. In it, inmates work as entertainers to please onlooking crowds who don’t know about the prisons dark secrets. The blood and gore seen in a death race looks cheesy and fake to the audience, but for the inmates its all too real. For death row inmates your chances of survival are even lower, because if you don’t buy a special candy every 3 days a poison being injected into your bloodstream via your identification collar will end up killing you. Getting money to buy these candies in Deadman Wonderland is also no easy task.

Story

The story starts off with the framing of our main character, Ganta Igarashi, for the murder of his entire class. During a rather normal day at school, a mysterious man caped in red shows up with supernatural powers and absolutely decimates Ganta’s classroom, killing everyone but him. Instead of killing him, this mysterious red man plants a weird crystal into Ganta’s chest, and then leaves without a trace. Ganta is then sent to Deadman Wonderland, the prison I mentioned in the beginning that operates outside the law and does whatever it wants. Even though it was pretty clear that Ganta didn’t kill his classmates, a set up made by his own lawyer (who just so happens to be the director of Deadman Wonderland) leaves Ganta with a death row sentence to the worst place imaginable.

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Once Ganta arrives at Deadman Wonderland, he quickly realizes that this is no ordinary prison. Prisoners are only given the bare necessities to live, and must work or compete to make money in order to survive. Early on during a obstacle course, Ganta is shown the true colors of Deadman Wonderland, as participants are sliced in half, shot, electrocuted and impaled by the obstacles. The prison truly is hell on earth, with little to no regard for human rights.

As the story progresses, Ganta begins to use a strange power much like that of the mysterious red man who killed his classmates. It has massive destructive power and launches from his hands like a bullet, which catches the attention of a few people in Deadman Wonderland, namely the director who set him up. Everything starts to settle down until Ganta is chased down by a security robot and ends up in a hidden ward of the prison. There, he runs into someone else who has the same power as him, and the dark underbelly of Deadman Wonderland is revealed to Ganta. Not only is the prison a crazy death trap for inmates, but it is also a place where human experimentation and gladiator-like death matches take place under the public’s nose.

Characters

Ganta is your typical whiny male character, though when you look at the context of the story, its understandable why he acts this way. The poor kid witnessed the murder of his entire class and was blamed for it and was then sent to hell on earth to pay for a crime he didn’t commit. Even when he starts to get used to using his powers to fight other inmates (called the Deadmen) he often finds himself distressed over his circumstances and crying when something goes wrong. You would think the kid would eventually just get used to the twisted nature of his situation and suck it up, but that is probably easier said than done. He is in fact fighting for his life and witnessing countless deaths and tortures in Deadman Wonderland.

Our female lead for this series is Shiro, a strange girl who wears a white leotard and shows up randomly in Ganta’s cell one day. She has a very childlike personality, and it is revealed early on that she was once childhood friends with Ganta back before the great Tokyo earthquake had taken place. Shiro follows Ganta around for the most part in the beginning, eating snacks and protecting him during the first death race they enter in. Most of her background is hidden early on, but it is quite obvious that there is more to her than meets the eye. She shows up out of no where, doesn’t have a prisoner identification number, and her overall appearance just distinguishes her from all of the other characters. It doesn’t take too long for the story too reveal Shiro’s true character (which I had figured out pretty early on) but her complete backstory isn’t explored until the very end, during the last quarter of the manga. Her backstory is probably the most interesting thing about the manga, as it is shown through a series of flashbacks and journal entries in an old diary. During these chapters, we get to understand how Deadman Wonderland came to be, how the powers that Ganta and the other Deadman have were developed and how Ganta is intertwined in everything. It is a little bit sad and messed up at the same time, but it actually pulls a lot of loose ends together that I thought were just going to be ignored for the most part.

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Aside from Ganta and Shiro, the rest of the cast is made up of other inmates, the director of Deaman Wonderland, the warden, and other Deadmen like Ganta. There are quite a few characters that are shown throughout the story, which includes Senji Kiyomasa (“Crow”), Takami Minatsuki (“Hummingbird”), and Kengamine Nagi (“Owl’). Each character is given varying levels of development and backstory, with characters such as Senji and Kengamine getting flushed out backstories as they appear frequently early on in the story.

Art

If you are not that big of a fan of blood and gore, this is a series to stay away from for sure. People are sliced, diced and dismembered on a regular in Deadman Wonderland, and the art shows this horrible side to the prison with pretty good detail. It really makes the series feel a lot more mature despite how the character designs might come off as pretty Shonen (something that usually stays away from the intense blood and gore in its art). The art in this series can get pretty grotesque at times.

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Personal Enjoyment

Deadman Wonderland overall was a mediocre experience for me. The set-up to the story (with Ganta being framed for the murder of his classmates) was downright idiotic, and the pacing throughout the story was off. Each part felt rushed to get to the next story arc leaving me unsatisfied with each individual arc. I would have loved to see more of what the “regular” side of the prison was like and some of the other crazy activities the prisoners participate in other than the death race. The tournament style battles that occur in G-Ward were cut too short with us only able to see two different battles, meaning we don’t really get to see Ganta’s powers grow nor do we get to see all the other characters in action.

The ending fairly lackluster as well, with the final battle being quite anti-climatic. I as expecting an intense battle between two super powered individuals, but instead was given a short fight that failed to peak my interest at all.

That isn’t to say that I absolutely hated the series, as I did enjoy my time reading it. By the time I had finished the final chapter though, all  could think about was how “medium” I felt about the entire series. It ended up being a series with a cool premise that dissolves into a fairly mediocre affair.

Final Thoughts

Deadman Wonderland was a series that I thought I would enjoy, but sadly I just wasn’t very impressed with how everything turned out. Up until the inmates rioted and planned an escape from the hell that was G-Ward (the secret ward where they were forced to fight) I was really enjoying what was going on. Afterwards, the fights end up being pretty uninteresting. Even the final battle lacked impact.

Its an alright series for those looking for an action series with a bit of gore, but it isn’t something I would recommend to go out and buy. There are other series that you should definitely check out before diving into this one.

Final Score: 5/10

Recommendation: Skip It

If You Liked It, Also Try:

Berserk: If you liked the gory action of Deadman Wonderland, this should be right up your alley. Awesome fights and plenty of gore, and a top-notch story to go with it.

First Impression: Prison School (Manga – Volume 1)

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Published By: Yen Press

Story and Art By: Akira Hiramoto

Prison School is not a manga you should be reading outside the comfort of your own home. One glance over your shoulder from a curious passerby and suddenly you will be known as the creep who reads porn in public. Seriously, Prison School takes ecchi to it’s outer most limits where it almost reaches full on hentai without ever crossing the line. Just so we are clear there is no nudity (at least not in the first volume) but there are plenty of panty-shots, large breasts, bdsm references and sexual situations.

Prison School takes place in Hachimitsu Private Academy, where five horny guys find themselves in a school of 1000 girls. The guys aren’t really that great at interacting with the girls of the academy, so they have to resort to peeping at them in the bathrooms and glancing at their chests and rear-ends as they pass by in order to satisfy their sexual lust. They are seriously creepy, and their designs reflect that for the most part. Andre (Reiji Andou), the big guy with the small face seems to really be into bdsm. Gackt (Takehito Morokuzu), is a small creepy looking guy who fits the stereotype of the big otaku that likes to say things like he is an old English gentleman. Joe (Jouji Nezu) honestly just looks like a drug dealer. He always has his hood up and is spitting blood everywhere because of his mouth ulcers. The only normal looking guys in this school are Kiyoshi (Kiyoshi Fujino) and Shingo (Shingo Wakamoto), and for the most part they act rather normal. Maybe not completely normal, but compared to the other guys they are pretty normal, in both appearance and how they act.

Since there are so many girls in Hachimitsu and just the five guys, it doesn’t tkae them long to get themselves into trouble. After being caught trying to peep at some girls while they were in the change room, a “shadow student counsel” declares that the boys will have to serve a “prison sentence” at the school or risk being expelled. For some reason this school has its own private prison on campus, and the boys are faced to stay there for a month while they work hard labor after classes. The school also seems fine with this, as it is apparently a tradition at the school as a student rehabilitation program. The guys go along with it since they cannot risk their parents finding out that they were expelled for peeping on the girls change room, so their month in hell begins there.

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The guys punishment is set up and dished out by the three members of the shadow student council. The president Mari Kurihara is a bit of a cold hearted witch who really has it out for the guys. Her hatred doesn’t stop at the guys though, as throughout the first volume we get plenty of hints that she really just hates guys in general. She sees them as perverted pigs, which probably stems from the fact that her father, who happens to be the schools chairman. He is a huge pervert himself and is constantly caught looking at porn at work by Mari. Hana Midorikawa is the secretary, and she comes off as a sweet little girl at first. That is until she shows her true face as a ruthless and brutal karate master who doesn’t put up with any bull crap from the guys. A yandere through and through, she doesn’t even come off as overly sexual like some of the other characters, and opts to wear pants while she is kicking the guys butts (something they take offense to). The last member and arguably the poster child for the series is Meiko Shiraki. There is nothing subtle about her appearance, as she is always sporting a skirt that barely covers anything and an un-buttoned blazer that lets her massive cleavage hang out. Almost every panel featuring Meiko gives you a shot of her boobs or her panties.

Prison schools main hook is it raunchy humor and fanservice found throughout. Its a series that will give you a few chuckles here and there as situations get misinterpreted as overly sexual by some characters while peeking your interest with some of its more lewd scenes. It isn’t odd to find Meiko sitting on someones face while she slaps someone else’s behind with her whip, something that sounds more like a scene from a porno than one from a manga.

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Behind it’s dirty exterior lies a story of escape. Even though some of the guys like being abused by the girls every day, Kiyoshi had made plans for his first ever date before their prison sentence started and is determined to make it. Gackt joins in to help Kiyoshi in order for him to get a limited edition figure. The story honestly had me interested in finding out what happened next, even though it started off rather slow. In the beginning the dirty humor and fanservice just wasn’t doing it for me, but once the story started rolling I couldn’t help but keep reading to find out what happened next. Kiyoshi and Gackt end up in some pretty wild situations while planning their escape that kept me coming back for more. I found myself laughing more in these later parts of the story, as the situations they find themselves in can be downright hilarious sometimes. Just be warned that the jokes don’t get any cleaner later on, and in fact might be even worse then the sweat, blood and snot filled scenes found earlier on.

If you have ever seen the anime Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt then you should know what you are getting into with this series. The same crass humor and fanservice is found throughout the entire first volume with no signs of letting up. The first few chapters were rather slow for me and I had a hard time getting through them, especially since I wasn’t finding anything particularly hilarious nor was I into the fanservice. Once the main story started to unravel though, I found myself getting into the story a bit more and the jokes started to hit homes a bit better. I would be lying to say I was completely hooked on the series, but I was interested enough to keep reading through it to see what happened next. Prison School is not a series for everybody, but those who do enjoy it seem to love it, making it an easy recommendation to at least try it. Worst comes to worst you end up discovering your kinky side for wanting busty babes to smack you butt and sit on your face.

Recommendation: Try It

Review: Claymore (Manga)

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Published By: Viz Media

Story and Art By: Norihiro Yagi

Everyone has those few series which they feel like have been with them forever. Some gamers may relate to the Super Mario series or Legend of Zelda in this way, and anime fans can probably relate to this with shows like One Piece or Naruto which are still airing today. For me, Claymore fits into this category of series I have been following for some time, as it was one of my first manga I had heard about when I started getting into the medium back in late 2006 and early 2007. My friend described it to me as being full of action, “hot babes” and swords, so what 13 year old boy wouldn’t be interested in that? I started reading it not long after my friend had told me about it, and have been following it for 8 years now, with it finally coming to a close back in November 2015. As with all long running series, when it finally comes to the point where you have to say goodbye to the world and characters you have practically grown up with, you end up with a mixed bag of feelings. You are happy to see the final destination of the long journey, but you are also sad to see it go away.

Story

The story of starts off with the introduction of Yoma, which are demons that prey on human flesh and guts. A small village has been infiltrated by a Yoma and the bodies are starting to pile up, but since a Yoma can take on the appearance and memories of those it devours, there is no way you can possibly figure out who the Yoma is. Their only hope is to enlist the help of a “Silver Eyed Witch”, also known as “Claymores”, who are half demon and half human. By taking on the flesh of these demons, young girls are turned into monsters with a human form and consciousness, who are able to detect the energy Yoma emit and defeat them. Other than the ability to detect the Yoma, becoming half monsters also increases their speed and strength far beyond a normal humans limits, as well as the ability for their bodies to sustain incredible amounts of damage and  incredible healing abilities. Some Claymores are even able to regenerate body parts they lose in battle, or reattach severed limbs.

As one would expect, the story follows a Claymore named Clare as she goes from town to town taking down Yoma as the organization she works for gives her the jobs. During the first job we are also introduced to a young boy named Raki, who is saved by Clare after his brother turns out to be the Yoma that has been hiding in town. Raki then decides to follow Clare around, whether she wants him there or not, because of his new found fondness for the warrior who saved him.

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As the series goes along we learn a lot about each characters pasts. Clare for instance eventually warms up to Raki, and they become very close. In a series of flashback chapters early on in the series, we learn that Clare was once a young girl who was abused by a Yoma and tortured, until one day a warrior had saved her. In a similar fashion, Clare began following the warrior who had saved her life, and eventually they became quite close. Other important characters that are introduced throughout the series, including Theresa of the Faint Smile (the warrior that saved Clare) and Priscilla (who becomes one of the most powerful beings in the land) are also given flushed out backstories that tell us of their origins and what they were like in the past. Being able to see what made each character who they were was quite interesting, and it led to being able to enjoy the stories in which they were involved with a lot more.

As the story progresses, an overarching plot involving the organization that creates and sends out the warriors to battle Yoma and powerful Yoma unfolds. The story honestly takes several twists and turns, leaving me surprised on more than one occasion and never knowing what to expect next.

Characters

Clare is the protagonist of the series, with dozens of other warriors being introduced throughout the story. Clare is relatively calm in appearance,  and her facial expressions rarely show excitement or fear. It does not take long to learnt though that Clare is merely putting up a front, and cares deeply about those around her and is just bottling her emotions up within. Clare is also the weakest of the warriors in her generation, being ranked 47 of 47. She lacks the speed and strength of the other warriors, but it does not take long for her true strength to come through.

Raki is the second important character introduced in the story. As said above, he is a young boy who follows Clare around after she saved him. He turns out to be pretty uninteresting until much later on in the series, after going through some major character growth.

Theresa is the next character that is focused on in the series, mostly through flashbacks of Clare’s memories. She was ranked number 1 in her generation, and many thought of her as the strongest warrior to ever be developed by the organization. Throughout the flashbacks we get to see Theresa’s personality change over time from a cold-hearted warrior to someone more kind and caring. Thanks to Clare, Theresa is able to find peace and happiness in a world so cruel. She plays a major role in the story as being Clare’s inspiration to joining the organization, as well as setting off a chain of events that will have tremendous repercussions in the future.

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The last character I want to talk about is Priscilla, a powerful warrior born in Theresa’a generation. Without spoiling the story, Priscilla ends up becoming incredibly powerful as time goes on, and proves to be an incredible foe to overcome. It is hard to talk about her without spoiling a bunch of plot points honestly, so I will just leave it at that.

Art

The art of Claymore is incredible throughout the entire series. Action scenes are dynamic and well laid out, making it easy to see what is going on and the movements the characters are making. The full-page panels are incredible as well, and never ceased to amaze.

One thing I enjoyed about the artwork the most was the character designs, as each warrior is easily distinguished from one another thanks to their unique designs. Even though all the warriors wear the same armor and carry the same swords, each character stands on their own and are easily identifiable. Each character is also given a unique symbol to represent them that is displayed on their sword and armor, and these symbols were often easily seen in most shots.

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The only other thing I want to point out about the artwork was the fantastic designs of the Yoma. Even though the normal, run-of-the-mill monsters all kinda looked the same, the more powerful Yoma all had incredibly unique and twisted designs. The amount of detail in some of them was astounding, and I can only imagine the amount of work it would have taken to draw some of them. The hard work in their designs pay off though, as each enemy is memorable in some way from design alone. There are many characters in the series who I have forgotten whose names were, but can still identify as to what they did in the series and where they appeared based off the art alone.

Personal Enjoyment

Claymore is one of those series that to me seems like has been being released since the beginning of time. I started it when I first got into manga almost 10 years ago, and it continued to be published after I had moved away from the medium and when I came back. It’s just always been there. So I guess what I am trying to say is that I do hold a certain bias for it, as it has been such a long ride and I hold a lot of memories in relation to this series.

That said though, the book is not without its flaws that certainly left me scratching my head. The ending isn’t what I was expecting at all, as it kind of falls flat under the immense pressure that the lead up the series has towards it. Its not a bad ending by all means, but the final battle that the characters go to seems rushed and rather anti-climatic. Without spoiling too much,  just want to say that I wish the characters that we had been following for 26 volumes had just a little more to do with the final battle to save the world. Instead, they are sort of left on the back burner, and we don’t get to see an all out final fight with all the characters involved.

Other than the ending, the only other disappointing aspect of the series I ca think of was the overall story and character development . Its not the type of narrative that will get you deeply invested in the characters or world, but instead just get you pumped up for the next fight against the next monster to appear. By the end, I cared little for who lived and died outside of Clare and Raki, which is kind of a bummer. I would have loved to get to know some of the other characters a bit more and learn about their pasts, but we just aren’t given the chance.

Final Thoughts

As I said in my introduction to this review, by the end of Claymore I was left with a mixed bag of feelings towards it. The story overall was well written, with most loose ends tied by the end of it and everything explained. The ending fell short though, and left me wishing it had been just a few chapters longer and got the entire cast involved. The characters were all unique and interesting, but their development is uneven and I wish I could have gotten to know some of the main cast a little better.

Luckily, the art and action didn’t leave me with the same emotions, and only left a positive impact on me with the final volume. Each fight is intense and dynamic, and the designs of the powerful Yoma never ceased to impress me. If I were to recommend this series based on only two aspects alone, these would be it.

Even though the series is far from perfect, it still stands as one of the best shonen series I have read. Packed with action, interesting character dynamics and a strong story to keep you interested, Claymore is a great series for those looking for their next big shonen.

 

Final Score: 8/10

Recommendation: Read It

 

If You Liked It, Also Try:

Berserk: Equally stunning visuals and action sequences. There is also giant swords, monsters, and lots of gore. The series is significantly darker in both story and artwork. If you enjoyed the action of Claymore, Berserk is sure to please.
Attack on Titan: Monsters that only certain individuals of society could hope to take on, and risk their lives to fight. Unique characters and a focus on teamwork to take down their foes, much like what is found in Claymore. Artwork can get a little sketchy at times, but still a good shonen series to look into.

First Impression: Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto (Manga – Volume 1)

 

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Publisher: Seven Seas

Story and Art By: Nami Sano

Sakamoto is a true legend among men. Cool, stylish, and perfect at just about everything, Sakamoto is someone everyone should look up to. Too bad everyone else in this volume are completely one-dimensional and forgettable though, because other than a few gags Sakamoto was the only thing interesting shown so far.

For those that are unaware, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is a gag manga that changes the scene each chapter to set up a new gag. There is little story or character progression to be found, so the manga leans heavily on the gags to keep the reader engaged, as well as showing off all of Sakamoto’s abilities. These abilities range from being able to write with both hands to keep pesky girls from getting to close, to having sword fights with hornets using a protractor set in order to defeat and catch it before it wrecks havoc on the class. Although I will admit to laughing during a few of the scenes, there wasn’t enough there to really keep me hooked and continue reading. Instead I just found myself flicking through the pages when I was bored or needed a break from something else, to see what ridiculous thing Sakamoto might do next.

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That’s the main flaw of Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto in this first volume. At no point did I feel the urge to read one more chapter. I just read it because it was there. If the gags were just a little bit funnier, than maybe I would have been more inclined to keep flipping the pages as I wiped the tears out of my eyes, but as it stands it was more of a cheap laugh as I thought about what I wanted to do once I laid down the manga.

There is a good manga here though, and seeing the crazy antics Sakamoto gets into was enough to keep me entertained. Add in the often idiotic side characters, and you have a manga that at the very least will keep a smile on your face.

The last thing I want to say is that this is a series I have seen before, so the jokes were not totally new to me. Still, I don’t feel like the gags presented were gut busters by any stretch of the imaginations, and usually just left me shaking my head wondering what was going on. If all you want are some cheap chuckles and some funny scenes to show friends, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto will probably be able to fill either of those roles. For those looking for that next meaty series to dig their teeth into, unfortunately you won’t find that here. Who knows though, maybe Sakamoto will be able to write the perfect manga you are looking for? He probably could.

 

Recommendation: Try It