Yotsuba&! Volume 13 Review

Yotsuba&! is a slice of life manga about a somewhat strange little girl. While I highly recommend reading it in order the previous books aren’t a prerequisite.

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Yotsuba’s grandmother comes for a visit. Yep, that’s the volume.

Yotsuba&! has always been about the titular character’s everyday adventures and the humor that arises from them, but I feel like some of the magic is missing from this entry (outside of a wonderfully simple sequence of Yotsuba making her way through her house in the creepy darkness of the night). Her usual whimsy and uniqueness seems toned down just a tad and it isn’t as engaging to watch her interact with her grandmother as it feels like it should be. There’s nothing bad nor out of place for the manga here, but I didn’t find this volume nearly as fun nor captivating as previous ones.

Not much else to say. Unremarkable volume in a fantastic series.

 

“There are some people in the world who are just too evil to exist.”

Thieves and Spies is volume 30 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. I recommend beginning with Vol. 1 of course, but the tales here don’t really depend on long running story lines. There are some returning characters it would help to be familiar with, but the gist of anyone we’ve seen before is well conveyed, so this isn’t a bad place to start overall.

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

This trade opens with a three part story, and follows with four shorter ones.

“The Thief and the Kunoichi” features the return of some familiar faces and has an interseting set of circumstances placing some of them at apparent cross purposes. The length gives everyone a chance to shine a bit, and this is a strong start to the volume. It was great to see my favorite ninja back, although on the other hand a certain reccuring thief is moving more and more away from “charming rogue” and into “selfish to the core and unlikable” territory. I expect there will be consequences on the horizon.

There’s a dark edge to entire volume, and the remaining four stories all have overtones of selfish and cruel people valuing themselves and their desires above the lives of others. It could just a be a coincidence that these stories were told in succession, but more likely I feel that Sakai is building to some larger crossroads point for Usagi. All four stories are conflict heavy, featuring a one-armed swordsman, a samurai escort on an unusual job, a foreign dignitary with ruthless curiosity, and a promised bride under attack by bandits. All are equally intriguing and provide interesting variations on similar themes.

Thieves and Spies is a serious and thought provoking entry in Sakai’s epic, and is another excellent read as per usual for this series.

King City Review

 

“I’m all there is.”

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Tom Wade is a cop driven by doing what’s right. So while he’s not beholden to every rule and law he’s ever met, the corruption in the major crimes unit he’s assigned is too much to overlook. He secretly helps the justice department build a case against the others, and when their successful prosecutions are over and the dust settles, he’s promptly given a “lateral move” by a police chief who felt Tom should have come to him so things could be “handled quietly.”

Tom’s sent into a part of King City so bad it no longer has an official name on the map so it can be more easily forgotten, with only two unwanted rookies for staff (one who is the definition of unexceptional and one who has the “gall” not to be while also being a woman and black) and the thinly veiled insinuation that there will be no backup, no support, and no hope.

The brilliance of Goldberg’s tale in Tom’s approach to the difficulties that arise, and a writing style that provides vivd detail while keeping everything moving at a compelling pace. Tom doesn’t care about opinion nor playing nice, just about doing his job and sees his exile into the area nicknamed Darwin Gardens as a chance to do police work somewhere where it will matter. The procedural, mystery and relationship elements all rise naturally from the story and characters and blend amazingly well. There are some small conveniences of plot here and there, but generally everything is reasonably character driven and organic.

Overall King City is a captivating, excellent police procedural with a fascinating main character and a tremendous supporting cast.

A Good Start With Little Else

When first read Corsair a few years ago, I thought I was reading the first of a short story series called Outer Pendulum. Corsair is a good little tale of a starship captain leading a fleet to protect a valuable freighter from the pirate who killed his wife. It has a lot of detail packed in a short length, and while some events and background could have used more explanation there’s a nice, character driven core plot to latch onto that unfolds well and tells what seems like a complete story. There was room for expansion, but Corsair had a beginning, middle, and end.

Now that I’ve finally gone back to read the other “short stories” in the series, I realize Outer Pendulum was actually supposed to be a “serialized novel,” not a series of short stories, and Corsair was actually its the prologue. Why does this matter to the point of so much explanation from me? Because Parts 2 and 3 are clearly chapters, and feel like it, rather than connected yet stand alone stories that can/should be sold individually. I highly enjoy series of connected stories. Buying a novel chapter by chapter on the other hand is not something I ever intend(ed) to do knowingly.

Part 2 took a different direction, featuring a reveal that took a lot of the impact and intrigue out of what happened in the first book, introducing new concepts and explaining them even less than Corsair did, and drastically reducing the scale of the story and subsequently making things less interesting. And it thoroughly felt like a chapter, with events happening but no complete arc and a huge cliffhanger for an “ending.”

Once I read Letter of Marque and realized its nature, even more warning bells went off about there only being one more part to read. Sure enough, Pirates of Omega Polaris is another chapter, not a finale, and it seems like the author decided to abandon this concept/book, as nothing further has been published going on five years now. I liked Part 3 better than Part 2 in general and a new character with some potential was introduced, but a lot of the developments felt forced and it was largely set up for a big future confrontation, which as mentioned doesn’t exist.

So this “trilogy” is a huge miss overall for me. Corsair was very engaging and had several great directions it could have been spun out into. Unfortunately the chosen direction wasn’t all that interesting and didn’t capatalize on the momentum, and between the odd structure choice and the series apparently being abandoned Parts 2 and 3 were extremely disappointing. I would still recommend checking Corsair out for a strong (if somewhat cliched) sci-fi short story, but stop there and pretend the “sequels” don’t exist.

Witchcraft Works Volume 1 Review

“Today’s Weather: Mostly clear skies with occasional school buildings.”

Honoka Takamiya is constantly just outside the sphere of influence of Ayaka Kagari, the class “Princess.” However after having his world turned upside down by being attacked by a witch at school, the shocks just keep coming as Ayaka reveals herself to be a witch herself… and his protector.

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Total mixed bag from the get go here. There are interesting aspects, but the lack of explanation of the general situation and why Takamiya is important is already getting old. The over the top school worship of Kagari and the general atmosphere around her is amusing, but Takamiya so in over his head and has so little personality outside of being a target he becomes a cipher. The battles are fine, but Kagari is so powerful there’s little tension or drama. And so on. It’s just continuous sparks of potential almost immediately negated by the execution being all over the place.

 

Witchcraft Works has some potential and this initial volume ends with a particularly intriguing hook, but it’s flaws are rather apparent at this point. I’d be willing to try a little more, but I’m in no rush.