Akumetsu by Tabata Yoshiaki/Yugo Yuuki
This manga is violent, and this is from someone who reads Beserk. Okay, it's not as gory as Beserk and not as many people get raped/mutilated/beheaded/disembowled per episode by any means, in fact the number of casualties is quite tame by that standard. But it's a different kind of violence, a believable close-up involving violence, and it comes packaged in a moral dilemna of the kind I've not faced since reading V for Vendetta 15 odd years ago. A lot of people compare this manga to Death Note, and it does have similarities (it was written a year before), with the protagonist deciding to kill 'Evil People' as a means of saving his society. But it's waaaaay heavier on the socio-politics, and its central tenet which is a quasi justification for targetted terrorism is definitely more in harmony with V for Vendetta than Death Note. In addition, instead of a fantasy McGuffin shaped like a Shinigami, there's a much more brain-tingling SF McGuffin with tons of interesting implications, which I wish the authors had developped more. If you can stand the line-heavy art and the axe-in-the-brains violence, as well as lengthy discourses on the state of the Japanese economy (which unfortunately rings several bells in all our societies...) then you're in for a treat.
Conclusion: Either way, it's fascinating, scary, hilariously morbidly funny, morally reprehensible story and it's a pity that North American post-9/11 publishing houses won't touch this one with a ten foot pole because I would buy all 18 volumes in a heart beat.
Angel Desentsu by Yagi Norihiro, manga
Let's be blunt: the art in this 1992 manga is hard on the eyes, and it doesn't improve all that much by its conclusion. But since the protagonist is a guy who puts the UGH in ugly - in a seriously frightful way - I suppose that's not as big a negative as if it were about a Handsome Prince or some other rubbish. The story concerns a high schooler who, due to looking like some coke-addled eyebrowless file-toothed homocidal maniac, is treated as such by everyone in his new school, even though inside he's a pacifist and as gentle as a lamb. Because of his looks and a series of stupidly outrageous concidences, everybody is quickly convinced that this is a deliquent on a scale no-one has seen before. The first half of the series is completely a comedy because of those stupid coincidences. You are not meant to take any of this seriously, you just wait with baited breath to find out how poor Kitano is going to get out of THIS fight against 20 deliquents without 1- actually hitting anyone and 2- losing his accidental reputation as the greatest badass around. It's light enough to read for the chuckles at first.
Slowly, though, the coincidences lessen as Kitano picks up friends who are willing to do the hitting for him (without poor, gentle Kitano actually being aware of this). Halfway through, I realized that I was not only hooked on this manga, staying up Way Too Late to finish it, but that I was also touched and somewhat troubled at how easily I could believe all these people - including adults who you would hope would know better - could be taken in by appearances. There's also a subtext about violence and our acceptance of such that is interesting...Well, I don't want to make it sound too deep, it still reads mainly for laughs as misunderstandings pile up around our poor, angelic devil-faced protagonist. But if the end doesn't make you crack a wee, feel-good smile on behalf of the poor bugger, then you're made of sterner stuff than I am.
Conclusion: Despite the eye-watering art, damned if this manga didn't worm its way into my heart.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Fantasy novel
I'm torn down the middle by this one. On the one hand, the society in this book, the history/religion, the branches of magic (and the powers and limitations of same, which explain why mages don't rule the world) are great. The story is fantastic, and I really want to know more about the Chandrian and their thousand year old plot. The downside, however, is the Gary Stu qualities of the main characters. Let me qualify that. I don't mind that he's outrageously brilliant, because that's presented as part of the story in the outset (if he wasn't that bright, he wouldn't have had all the opportunities and adventures he's had). If the author had toned it down a bit, it'd have been even better, but to make up for it, the character does do some pretty boneheaded things from time to time that are both funny and human. As far as that goes, the author balanced things out well, so his uber-brilliant character is palatable. But then he breaks that delicate balance with too many coincidental incidents happening to his character that jolt my suspension of disbelief. People he just happens to run into, enemies he just happens to make virtually the first time he runs into them, events he just happens to hear about...there's just too much happening to this one guy! If the author had linked all these occurences to the character's outstanding abilities or personality, so that the incidents piling up where a natural result of the character's existence, then I would have been okay with it. But too many times, these happen only because the character happened to be at a certain place and a certain time, and opened his mouth when it seems his 'education' up to date should have made him more cautious...I think a lot of readers would not mind these things, especially since the writing and pace and the characters are all brilliant (well, except for the requisite Mysterious and Beautiful Woman *sigh*) But since I'm particularly sensitive to coincidences like that, I found it a struggle to finish the book. I did finish it, though, and that's saying something...
Conclusion: So-so from Mal's POV, but I would still recommend this book as its positive points far outweigh its negatives. The story is really good and its not about some bloody quest to go and retrieve some bloody McGuffin from some bloody temple and destroy it in a bloody volcano. What else can you ask for...
The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold, Fantasy novel
If I listed all the reasons I liked this book, I'd spoil it massively. Let's just say, it avoided all the pitfalls that my cinysism usually associates with fantasy novels, and it has a nearly-middle-aged and overly tired hero who was right up my alley. Bujold also respects the strictures imposed on women by her world, which means her heroines are not Sues, but they're all the more admirable for being effective within the constraints of their society. Also, thumbs up for an author who finally recognized that someone who gets knocked on the head does not get up two hours later as if nothing happened. Damn, you see what I mean by spoilers? The only downside to the book is that the end ties up a little too tidily, but I'm a hypocrite in saying this: if it'd finished in any other way, I'd have been massively put out, as I'd become genuinely attached to the characters.
Conclusion: Mal really liked. Thanks for all who recced it!
Gokusen, by Kozueko Morimoto, manga
I'd been recced this before, but I'd been turned off by the art, and the fact that it's a knock-off of GTO. I don't really like GTO all that much; I read it, because it's kinda fun in a very dumb way, but I don't rate it that high.
On the second or third rec, I did try Gokusen, though. And discovered, to my joy, that it seems to capture all the things I did like about GTO, while getting rid of the gross-out humour, panty shots, ludicrous extremes and other annoying baggage. Sure, the art isn't as pretty, though I did get rather attached to its simple lines in the end. The story is also pretty simple, but it's got some lovely moments, as well as laugh-out-loud funny ones. It's also more realistic than GTO, with less of the extremes. In GTO, the kids are all diabolically clever classroom terrorists. In Gokusen, they're simply the dregs of society, dumb as posts for the most part, and the only victory our heroine is ever going to obtain is to get them to stop reading porn mags in class and actually graduate to go flip burgers at McDonalds. In GTO, every teacher without large tits is part of The Establishment and against our brave hero. In Gokusen, the other teachers are somewhat hapless at times, but reveal their own strengths, and have their own trust and belief in their students. Even the putative 'Bad guys' can show their good side in the end, or are given a chance to grow. And - since this is above all a comedy - I find that the humor is a little finer in Gokusen, though I grant you, GTO also makes me laugh a lot when I read it. If GTO is a loud shonen manga, Gokusen is its josei counterpart, and this actually makes it the better book IMO (a highly personal opinion I doubt many people will share, particularly fans of GTO...)
If nothing else, Gokusen rocks because it's got a strong female lead who's definitely not your cookie-cutter canon beauty, but who can kick ass and take names in the best of styles. The male lead is, refreshingly, smarter than she is, apt at thinking them both out of trouble, yet nowhere near as strong. He only saves her life twice over the entire series, versus the twenty-odd times she saves his chewed-up butt :P Gotta love that! I also liked the fact that the Yakusa side of our heroine is not just an excuse for giving her super-strength and an attitude. It's not only her roots, its her day to day living, and half the manga is spent in the Kumi. Of course, her Family are the more noble version of Yakuza - no drug dealers or pimps here - but in the background, you still see that they're pretty brutal and none too bright (criminals usually aren't). Hence their need for a bright lawyer. Nowadays lawyers are a part of the landscape for any criminal organisation, yet this is all too often ignored. Though pretty simple, Gokusen hides these little gems of humor and realism and sentiment which I really enjoyed.
Yes, there is romance. But it didn't particularly bother me. The Final Confession and the Reaction To Same were pretty much what I expected from those characters by now, and made me laugh. What else can you ask for?
Conclusion: Judging from the long-ass ramble, Mal sure did like this. Thanks for the recs!!! I am hoping this will eventually be picked up by a North American distributor, as I would love to have this in my library.
'Noblesse', Son Jae Ho/Lee Gwang Su, Manhwa webcomic
If I told you this is a manhwa about a gorgeous vampire who wakes up after 800 years of sleep and enrolls in an elite school, you won't read it. Hell, I won't read it. Yet I did, I cannot remember why. I think because of a little warning at the end of this umpromising synopsis regarding the odd format and how readers had to be careful to read the whole page - a very valid warning as it turns out.
So out of curiosity, I read it. And it is good. It is gorgeous. It is also comedy gold.
Despite the hero being an utterly impossibly beautiful ageless vampire who does not, for some reason, drink blood or hurt people (noooo, he does not sparkle), this story is definitely not a teenage shoujo brooding vampire crapola-fest à la Twilight. Mostly, it's shonen, with bloody fights, manly friendships in the face of death itself, the requisite '
Conclusion: Read the first twenty chapters on manga fox (it won't take you that long, they're pretty short chapters). If your brain is as warped as mine, you'll probably read the rest, be it for the strange humor, the action or the eye candy, or a happy combination of all three (yum!). I'm currently trying to find out where I can 'buy' this webcomic online from, in order to support the author, as this is in no way, shape or form publishable in this format and thus will never wind up in my local manga bookstore...
'Psyren', Iwashiro Toshiaki, Manga
Manga is just as hard as regular books to recommend, because even something that's got all the required bits in the right order might just be missing that je-ne-sais-quoi that's necessary to push my buttons. And that je-ne-sais-quoi is different for everybody. That's why I always say to people who start reading One Piece "well, I loved it, so I hope you like it. You might not. But give it a try."
Psyren is yet another of the adventure/action shonen clan along the lines of Bleach, though it borrows some effects from Gantz and Battle Royale. It didn't look promising at the start, but I know from experience that these kind of manga take five to ten chapters to actually reveal their personality and get going into their eventual direction, so I witheld judgement until then. At the point where I give up a lot of shonen series, Psyren had already subtly shifted my expectations, and by chapter 30, I was hooked. You can read summaries of the story online, so I'll just tell you the bits that kept me actually interested. Contains mild spoilers.
. It's a coherent, evolving story, not a series of video-game like layers of pure fighting. I believe this story is actually going to have an end, and as it currently stands at chapter 130, I expect it will wrap up before it hits 200. This relative brevity is due to the fact that each fight doesn't take up a volume and each overall battle doesn't take up entire arc onto itself (so, not so much like Naruto and Bleach, then...)
. Psyren involves frequent time travel back and forth from present to future. This gives the battles two arenas: the present, driven by info from the future; and the future, shaped by actions taken in the present. It does NOT go too heavy in that department, this is still a fight manga above all, but the way this device is utilized does keep the storyline fresh and sometimes fairly surprising. Cameo characters from the past become major players in the future, major players from the present disappear or reappear in different roles in the future due to some small shift in the continuity. The fact that the hero can see serious long term results from his decisions gives the struggle he's involved in a bit of heft.
. The hero and heroine are not quite as one-dimensional as I expected, or at least, they and their sidekicks cannot be entirely summarized by a single defining role, motto or wangst. Think Kekkaishi rather than another Bleach clone. The heroine actually does her share of the fighting once the first few chapters are over, and rarely, if ever, requires saving after that. She's also quite pleasingly flat-chested and completely uncaring about her appearance until beyond chapter #90 or so. She has her Angst thing going, but gets over it in two chapters rather than requiring an entire arc of moping around while buddy-boy fights the thirteen horsemen of the Apocalypse to save her whiny ass. In short, she's not Rukia. I kinda like her for that.
Conclusion: Fairly classic shonen action manga but with a little something that made it fresh and appealing to me. As said previously: I loved it, so I hope you like it. You might not. But give it a try.
Love in the Mask Manga
Yeahhh...So, the lead of the story is this girl dressed as a boy who's been trained to be a professional bodyguard since she was eight. She can beat up half a dozen punks without getting a scratch or showing an expression. Then she meets the guy who is going to be the male lead, who is just a rich, intelligent, juvenile deliquent (huh-uh) without any formal training whatsoever other than something like kendo. They fight, because of course they would. Naturally, professionalism and a life of training gives her the edge and she takes him apart like an overcooked chicken. Oh, no, wait. Sorry. Sorry, sorry, wishful thinking. They fight, because of course they would. And he beats her, for no reason that I can decipher. Then he shows her his sensitive side. And after that, every time she gets near him, she doesn't understand why but her heart starts to beat real hard and her combat instincts and her mission-above-all training starts to crumble.
Conclusion: Mal no like. Go figure.
David Brin's 'The Practice Effect', Science Fiction
Not every book has to blow my mind, change my universe or convert me to soy milk. Sometimes, a pleasant afternoon read is enough. I got this book out of the $2 bin at my bookstore, and I definitely got my money's worth. Though it stays very light, Brin does his usual number on SF clichés. The villain is not a mwhahahaha moustache-twirling lunatic, he's simply a ruthless, imaginative, ambitious man the likes of which history is quite replete. The hero is a top scientist in his field, which means he's extremely bright but physically weak and morally neutral (going so far as to knuckle under to the villain for awhile since he judges, quite reasonably, that the guy is no worse than a lot of warlords in earth's history, and indeed better than quite a few). The heroine...is a bit of a walking stereotype, but not painfully so. The book trots along at good speed, darting around overused tropes for the most part, while still delivering what you expect from this kind of light fare. My only gripe is that in several instances, it belabors the fact that it's avoiding clichés ('If I was an SF&F hero, I would do something heroic at this point', thinks the hero, 'but since I'm not I'm just going to run away') which got tiresome on the second or third repetition. But since this was written in 1984, the author might have been justified in thinking his readers needed a helping hand with a book that was not purely pulp.
Thank you all for the recs! I am currently working my way through a few, as they come up in my library and/or bookstore.