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Krozam's Manga Diary

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A relaunch of the topic where I'll occasionally review a manga that I've just read and liked. Usually short ones or ones just getting started, but maybe I'll sometimes review a long one as well. Hopefully someone will find these reviews useful. I won't mind it if someone else posts recommendations, reviews or comments, it's more fun if there's dialogue.

Neji by Yuki Kaori

I just read it through for the third time. Yuki Kaori is one of my favourite mangaka, ever since I read (the first half of) Angel Sanctuary. Neji is a shorter work, only three chapters, and it's pretty much the only tragic story that I've read/watched more than twice in my life. I usually avoid tragedy, and those rare times that I feel like reading/watching something tragic, I usually go with something new, since there's no shortage of great stuff to read/watch. Neji is just such a cool story that I don't mind reading it again every two years or so.

Yuki Kaori's art is beautiful in a messy way. It's confusing and sketchy, yet the male characters are cool, the females beautiful and it perfectly conveys the beauty and tragedy of certain scenes. I'd say that characters are her strong point, especially when they're close to each other. I find exceptional beauty and emotion in every hug, every kiss and every backstab that these characters perform.

In my experience, Yuki Kaori's works are never thematically empty. Quite the contrary, for example Neji manages to reflect upon several more or less deep themes in its short run, starting with how the society fucks up the individual and ending with thoughts on the value that the life of an artificial intelligence may have. Some of them are prominent, some are merely scratches on the surface, but all in all there's LOTS of food for thought in this story.

You can't make a one-volume manga very complex of plot, but at least it's not terribly clich├ęd. Naturally there are elements I've seen many times elsewhere, but there's nothing I've seen too much (with one possible exception). The greatest weak point in the story, I think, is the storytelling, which is a little messy and hasty. The messy art really doesn't help the matter.

In a tragedy, you always need good characters, characters you get attached to. In this particular case, the mangaka doesn't give all that much depth to those who die, choosing to concentrate on those who remain to grieve for them. It works, more or less. I can't say I shed tears reading Neji, but I definitely feel the sorrow of the characters who lose their loved ones. The story is short, so naturally there's no much time to deepen the characters, but the cast stays small and the story is tightly wrapped around their lives.

The final factor I'm going to analyze is the action. There's quite enough of it, and somewhat amusingly, it's both a weak point and a strong point in the story. The words "messy" and "confusing" apply once again, but still... some of the action scenes are just so damn cool. Whatever shortcomings the art has with clarity and fluidity of movement, it makes up with great expressions and occasional really cool panels. The plot and dialogue also contibute to making some the action scenes stand out with epicness and coolness.

All in all, Neji is nearly a masterpiece. Maybe it tries to fit too much material into too few pages, it could've been much better given another volume, but the quality of its themes, characters and crowning moments of awesome is undeniable. It is also noteworthy that the story is scifi - I usually dislike Japanese scifi. Scifi and tragedy, and yet I've read it three times... only a very good story could make me do that.

Oh boy, that ended up being much longer than I intended. Don't expect my every review to be a wall of text. Maybe it's time to finally finish Angel Sanctuary, now that I'm in the right mood. Or maybe I'll start with some unread Yuki Kaori work next...

Edit: Almost forgot...
Music I listened to while reading: Within Temptation (the newest album) and Shinrei Tantei Yakumo OST.

Okay, I just caught up with Nurarihyon no Mago, read the last 11 chapters, and I must say that the last two chapters (161-162) are easily the coolest of them all. So. Fucking. Cool! This manga has always been the epitome of sheer coolness to me, and the last two chapters are, in my opinion, among the very best so far. What most amazing is that they take place during the day, for the most part, so they manage to be so damn cool without even relying on a nightly atmosphere. For the first time, the Day Rikuo is so cool that it's easily on par with his night form. All in all, thoroughly enjoyable. :D

BTW, I always listen to Disciple when reading NuraMago. Especially Southern Hospitality has just the right feeling.

Iris Zero by Pro Shiki and Hotaru Takana

From now on, I think I'll accompany my "diary" entries with an image.

I don't know how I was able to put off reading Iris Zero until now, but I'm glad I did. I followed it from the start until the 7th chapter (I even posted in my old manga diary about it) and then something made me take a break, which come to be a long one. Quite conveniently so, because the 10th chapter begins the first long arc, and I sure am glad I didn't read it until its concluding chapter, the 20th, was out. There are some bad cliffhangers.

For me, Iris Zero is the rare kind of manga where every single page is an enjoyment on its own. The art is excellent (and thankfully the scans are good quality), every line of the dialogue feels important, every panel is worth paying attention to. It lacks all the boring "filler" material, and yet it also lacks any unnecessary sense of urgency. The storytelling is damn near perfect in every way, save a few hard-to-spot plotholes.

Let's start with the art. The picture above is coloured in a special way, so let me give you an example of the b&w art:

Beautiful, isn't it? This manga has a very clear and pleasant art style, where the panels are arranged with skill, where the emotional, dramatic and dark moments are all presented with equal skill. The girls are all really cute, and the guys, while they may seem ordinary at first, they all have some really cool moments. Last, but not least, the expressions are truly fantastic. There is strength in the style's simplicity, I can't help admiring the skill that makes every panel worth paying attention to, without relying on any kind of complex artistry.

The settings are quite simple, based on one conceptual innovation: everyone around the main character has a supernatural power, he alone among the important characters is what we think as "ordinary". Sounds interesting, but only as the settings for a short story, not really much potential for a long series, right? Well, these authors have apparently made it their mission to prove that kind of thinking wrong. Four volumes, and the story just keeps getting more interesting, without really adding any major elements into the settings. High school settings, practically no action, it's all just slice of life and detective stuff with a strong supernatural flavour and a romantic undertone.

It works far better than you'd expect: I've rarely been as excited by a battle manga as I was all the time while reading the arc that spanned from ch 10 to 20. This is a story that allows you to think and enjoy it, while not forcing you to do it, like most of those complex, psychological, dark-toned manga (Death Note, Liar Game etc.) It's not the most intelligent story I've read, there are a few plotholes here and there (the downside of the convenient abilities almost every character possesses is that they tend to open plotholes, especially the one that detects lies), but it's just twisty enough for my taste. It has moments of darkness and psychological depth, without ever getting truly depressing and heavy to read. Excellent balance, just as I like it.

The dialogue deserves a paragraph of its own. It's thorougly brilliant, never rushed yet always meaningful. Together with the art it makes the emotional scenes truly touching and the dramatic scenes truly cool. Every line has a purpose, whether it is plot-related, character-deepening, dramatic, funny or just a plain name or sound in the right place. I love the flow of the dialogue in this manga. Also, I really have to give the translator and editor the recognition they're due for their excellent work on this manga.

While the mysteries are all superficially centered on the "Iris", the supernatural, sight-related abilities that nearly every young person in that world possesses, in truth they're all character-related and heavy on psychology. While the protagonist's friends all have useful Irises, it's his ability that is always on the key role in the solving of the mystery. His ability to think from the POV of other people and make connections. He's the kind of "detective" who gets inside the heads of everyone involved and builds the picture from there. That's what makes him interesting, he's the rare kind of protagonist who's seemingly powerless, but actually very intelligent. There are other dimensions to his character, but to me, the most important thing about him is his intelligence. I'm thoroughly tired of stupid protagonists that get through every problem with hard-headedness.

So, Iris Zero is very character-centered and psychological. Well, it's a good thing that it's also one of the first manga I've ever read where every single major character is interesting. Not one of them is annoying in the slightest, they all have very distinct personalities and their own appeal. The main female character is ridiculously adorable and has the ability that's usually associated with a shounen protagonist: the ability to affect people with her words and deeds, her conviction. Her best friend has a discordant personality despite having a strong sense of justice, and the male lead's best friend has the most interesting, dark-toned Iris and excellent acting abilities. Then there are two more major characters who both have complex, central roles in the long arc which had me figuratively speaking sitting on the edge of my chair. But now I'm simplifying things. Each of those characters is remarkably multi-layered, and I fully expect to see more character development and layers unveiled in the future.

Finally, a word on the romance. So far love has played a prominent part in both dark and light parts in this manga, being a major motivator and driving force for many characters. Thankfully, it seems like there won't be a love triangle involving the male lead, even if the female lead is very popular. It seems like a very clean-cut, sweet romance with the potential to even make me cry. It's possible that the authors will start stalling, get scared of actually making something of it before the end - but since this is a seinen manga and so far it hasn't let me down about anything, I hold my hopes high.

I had forgotten how good this manga is when I posted my top 5 list in the other thread a while back - today I corrected the mistake and put Iris Zero in its rightful place as my fourth-favourite manga. I do hope it gets a good anime adaptation some day, because this gem seriously needs more exposure and acknowledgement. If I were to rate it like I rate my anime, I'd probably give it either 4.5 or full 5 stars, that's how good it is.

Music: Poets of the Fall. Mostly Save Me, but in the darker-toned moments I listen to some others, like Carnival of Rust, Shallow and Dying to Live. In the really romantic, atmospheric moments, Rewind.

Uh... I only wrote this much because I love the manga so much, I swear this won't become a trend! >.<

Hehe... I found something that should prove helpful in getting people to read Negima:
Not that it's bad in the beginning, but these days it's just awesome.

WTF?? The latest Negima chapter is absolutely terrible! A long and epic arc was practically ended is a very abrupt and anticlimatic way. :( My initial reaction:

(click to show/hide)Wait, that was it? They chased away MotB with one swing, and Asuna can return things as they were just like that? WTF? That was so... anticlimatic! This is the first time Negima has let me down so.

Of course, there's still the problem of the magical world dying, and Nagi/MotB, but this part of the story is over, and I'm very disappointed with how abruptly it ended, after all that buildup. :(


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