Category: May's Reviews
Review: Battle Royale Ultimate Edition
Battle Royale. Ultimate Edition. Volume 1 by Koushun Takami.
May's Review: If you are fan of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, chances are you have already heard of Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, a dystopian-themed book that was originally published in 1999 and also deals with teenaged kids killing each other in a government-sponsored, gladiator-style competition. While a number of people have commented on the similarities between the two books, my review will focus solely on the manga adaption of Takami's book.
First of all, if you are even a bit squeamish about explicit violent acts and/or graphic depictions of sex, then this is not the manga for you. There is a reason why this series comes with a "parents advisory" warning label and let's just say, this story is not for the faint of heart. Within the first 100 pages in the first volume, there were already 3 deaths/murders along with a very unsettling panel depicting a rape scene. The story just comes at you like a sledgehammer with one violent encounter after another that you barely have time to process what is happening, let alone who to root for (note: there is at least 5-6 main characters in the story which gets kinda confusing sometimes because of the similarities in some of the kids' names).
Rather than be disgusted by what I was seeing and reading on the pages, I found myself drawn further into the story as the author and the illustrator carefully inserts mini-stories that examines some of these minor characters' lives before and during the competition. You cannot help but feel intrigued. One thing I noticed is that almost nobody in the story seems to have a happy life with loving parents or other family members. All the kids seem to be "running wild" and engaging in all sorts of criminal activities that was it any wonder that this class of students was picked to participate in Battle Royale?
This book is simply a gory and disturbing blood fest that is hard to put down. You simply want to read more just to learn what would turn your stomach and force you to put this book down. So far, I have finished volume 3 and it looks like I have a very strong stomach for these type of stories.
Here are the rest of the books in the ultimate series (combines the manga volumes in larger sets):
- Battle Royale. Ultimate Edition. Volume 2
- Battle Royale. Ultimate Edition. Volume 3
- Battle Royale. Ultimate Edition. Volume 4
- Battle Royale. Ultimate Edition. Volume 5
Noteworthy Manga Series
May's Commentary: I apologize for my absence these past several weeks but I have been reading some terrific manga series that are worth tracking down and reading. Here is my brief list:
Monster by Naoki Urasawa: Dr. Kenzō Tenma is a young Japanese doctor working in Düsseldorf during the 1980s when he ignores the order of his hospital director and saves the life of Johan Liebert, a young gunshot victim. About to be fired, Tenma's career is saved when all of his supervisors mysteriously die. Fast forward nine years and Tenma is still a successful surgeon until he encounters a criminal who is being controlled by Johan. Realizing the enormity of his error for the saving the life of an evil "monster", Tenma embarks on an one-made crusade to right this wrong and investigate Johan's past by uncovering dark secrets from East Germany's past. Suspenseful, dramatic and full of neat twists and turns, this manga series is bound to delight those who love reading mystery thrillers.
Oishinbo by Tetsu Kariya: A playful combination of the Japanese word for "delicious" and "one who loves to eat", this food and cooking series will appeal to anyone who loves watching the Food Network, and especially the original Iron Chef TV series. The series features culinary journalist Shirō Yamaoka and his partner Yūko Kurita who must come up with the "ultimate" menu. Complicating matters is Shirō's father who has been employed by a rival newspaper to come up with the "supreme" menu. Comprehensive knowledge about the production and processing of food as well as varying cooking techniques makes this series a must read for all foodies.
Review: Scourge of the Gods
Scourge of the Gods, Volume 1 by Valerie Mangin
Scourge of the Gods: The Fall. Volume 2 by Valerie Mangin
May's Review: Both volumes are basically the graphic retelling of Attilla the Hun's military campaign against the Roman empire and its general, Flavius Aetius, set in alternate universe involving spaceships, planets and divine intervention. In volume 1, readers are introduced to the two main characters, Attila who is the brutal warlord who defies his peace-loving father by waging war against the Roman Galactic Empire, and Flavia Aetia, a young Roman girl who is supposedly the reincarnation of Kerka, the Hun Goddess of Chaos. Manipulated by Attila, Flavia innocently reveals the secret location of Rome and is forced to watch as her family and her home planet are destroyed by the rampaging Huns. Rather than wallow in pity and despair, Flavia fights back and sets off an internal power struggle between her faction and the Emperor's forces just as the Huns appear on their doorsteps.
Intelligent and complex, volume 1 is a terrific mix of mythology, history and politics wrapped up in a very engrossing and mesmerizing package. The central theme in the book is clearly the struggle between chaos and order but the underlying theme is the struggle between fate and destiny. In other words, either Rome has fallen before and will fall again or the future of Rome still uncertain even though there is good possibility that it could fall? Yes, I know that it's a very complex philosophical argument but the author does a terrific job of exploring it.
The fate vs destiny theme becomes even more crucial to the storyline in volume 2. Without giving too much of the story away, Flavia's and Attila's struggle against one another is pushed aside as the two of them are forced to join forces when a much larger enemy appears, namely the gods. As it turns out, what they deem as gods are really advanced humans who have manipulated science and technology to give themselves the ability to stop aging, create force fields, etc. As Flavia and Attila fight against Saturn and his fellow gods, the conflict now threatens to destroy the entire universe. The question then becomes, not who will ins but will there be any survivors left in this galactic conflict?
An excellent read for those who like their stories with plenty of action (some of it gory) mixed with lots of political backstabbing that features highly complex characters pondering weighty philosophical issues. Enjoy!
Dororo, Volume 1 by Osamu Tezuka
Dororo, Volume 2 by Osamu Tezuka
Dororo, Volume 3 by Osamu Tezuka
May's Review: Sigh. I love Osamu Tezuka. He is simply one of my favorite writers. I am seldom disappointed by his stories and I have to say that Dororo ranks as one of my favorite mangas of all time.
The story centers on Hyakkimaru who must battle demons to regain his 48 body parts that were taken from him at birth. Each time he defeats a demon, he retrieves one of his missing parts. The hero is accompanied by a young thief named Dororo, and together they travel the countryside in search of monsters.
As a whole, all three volumes offered plenty of action, terrific artwork and very likeable characters, especially Dororo. Volume 2 was one of my personal favorites because it featured a poignant story about a village caught up in an ongoing military conflict and whose citizens were kept divided by a dilapidated wall. What stood out for me was how Tezuka skillfully weaves Hyakkimaru's past into the conflict by having our hero confront the enemy--his own father who had sold his son's body parts at birth in order to gain military dominance. Talk about tension!
Thankfully, Dororo is not left out of the story and plays several key roles especially in Volume 3 where his past as a thief finally catches up with him. I am not going to spoil this volume for you but there is a twist that I have to admit, I was not really expecting but should have guessed much earlier on about Dororo's true identity.
This is not only a must read for Tezuka fans, but also a must for any manga fan.
Review: FVZA: Federal Vampire Zombie Agency
FVZA: Federal Vampire Zombie Agency by David Hine
May's Review: First, let's clear up any misconceptions you might have about me. Yes, I have read Meyer's Twilight as well as watched the movie in a theatre and read the graphic novel. Yes, I do read the occasional paranormal romance involving vampires. And yes, I enjoyed watching Buffy on TV. But no, I don't think Robert Pattinson is cute. Nor do I spend all of my downtime fawning over how cute vampires are, how misunderstood they are, etc. As far as I'm concerned, vampires are meant to be vicious bloodthirsty creatures of the night meant to horrify not arouse you.
With this sentiment in mind, Hine portrays his vampires in FVZA as cruel ferocious killers with little to no regard for humanity. Unlike what you see on TV, Hine's vampires are deliberately ugly. My favorite line in this book was when the head vampire points out once a vampire is turned, he or she loses his/her physical beauty--meaning that the hair falls out, the skin turns ashen, the head starts to shrivel, etc. Gross!
Aside from the scary portrayal of vampires which is aided immensely by the terrific artwork, this graphic novel is also strengthen by a well-thought out storyline. The book opens with a FVZA (Federal Vampire Zombie Agency) agent named Landra Pecos ready to shoot her grandfather who has just been turned. In a series of flashbacks, we see her upbringing, her training and subsequent entry into the field, and the tragic deaths of both her brother and her lover which have brought her to this point. Intermingled with these scenes is the return of the vampires who were nearly wiped out by the FVZA in the 60s. This new wave of vampires is now plotting to utilize a zombie plague to bring society's to its knees by unleashing the virus into a small town. Ah, nothing like a little mayhem and chaos thrown in to amp up the adrenaline.
The story is obviously well-paced with a number of terrific plot twists at the very end. I won't reveal what happens with Landra and her grandfather but suffice it to say, you will be surprised. This was an enjoyable read from start to finish. Since there doesn't appear to be a sequel, if you enjoy FVZA, you might also want to check out Scott Snyder's American Vampire and Steve Niles' 30 Days of Night for the mere fact that their vampires are equally scary, vicious and just a tad bit crazy as well. Enjoy!
Review: Kill Shakespeare: A Sea of Troubles
Kill Shakespeare: A Sea of Troubles by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
May's Review: The premise of this graphic novel is simple. Hamlet is banished from Denmark and while traveling to England, he ends up shipwrecked. He is promptly rescued and recruited by Richard III to kill the evil wizard, Shakespeare. But nothing is what it seems. Richard III is actually intent on building his own empire and with the aid of the lovely but dangerous Lady MacBeth and the traitor Iago, he is determined to win at all costs. Hamlet, on the other hand, is at a loss at who to trust especially when he is forced to join the "rebels", namely Juliet, Falstaff and Othello.
This novel is certainly a dark tale with some witty dialogue thrown in. The artwork was solid although I had to re-read some of the panels a few times because the direction changed from a one page to a two page spread that was a bit unexpected in some places. If I have one complaint, it is that I think the characterizations need to be a bit more developed especially with Juliet and Othello who seem somewhat dull in comparison to the villains.
Although I liked this graphic novel, I was not totally in love with it. Still, I will recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Willingham's Fables series and want to try something in the same vein.
Review: Out of the Deep Woods
Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire
May's Review: Yes I know. Based on the cover, you can definitely tell that I found and read a graphic novel that did not include zombies or vampires. Like most post-apocalyptic graphic novels, this story begins with the aftermath of an unexplained pandemic that nearly destroyed the whole planet. Pockets of humanity still exists but instead of hideous mutinous creatures roaming the countryside gradually picking off these survivors, you find half-human/animal creatures. One of these hybrids is Gus, a sweet naive child who is left to fend for himself after the death of his father. After Gus nearly gets himself killed and he is rescued by a drifter named Jepperd, he abandons his home to search for "The Preserve", is a refuge for hybrids. Luckily for him, he is accompanied by Jepperd as they embark on a journey that explores this devastated new world.
I personally liked this graphic novel and I can't wait to read the next volume in the Sweet Tooth series. It's a good action-packed story with a very likable lead character. A recommended read for anyone who enjoys the Walking Dead or Y: The Last Man series.
Review: The Night Bookmobile
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
May's Review: I suppose that I really should like this graphic novel given its premise. A young woman encounters a mysterious bookmobile filled with every book she has ever read. Seeing her personal history reflected on the shelves stirs something within her. As the years go by, she becomes obsessed with locating the bookmobile again. To help pass the time, she reads more books and eventually becomes a librarian. However, her reunion with the bookmobile and her personal collection of memories is bittersweet.
I would love to say that it was the bittersweet ending that ruined the book for me. I won't spoil it for the rest of you but let's just say, it's not a "happy ever after" kind of ending. Also, I wasn't too impressed by how the story was laid out and how it was illustrated. It just seemed "clunky" for a lack of a better description. It's an okay read but I think the author could have spent more time developing a better and certainly a more uplifting story. At least then I wouldn't be left with a slightly bitter taste in the month after reading this graphic novel.
Review: The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel
The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon
May's Review: So the growing trend these days is to take a highly popular work of literature and adapt to the graphic novel/manga format. We have already seen a number of this year with Sherrilyn Kenyon's urban fantasy/romance novels, Patterson's Maximum Ride books, and Meyer's Twilight series. I suppose these graphic novels/manga are done to appeal mainly to the author's fans because in some cases, I don't necessarily find the new adaptions to be as interesting as the original.
Mind you, I have to have read the original which brings up the whole Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Romance blog readers will know that I am largely a historical romance reader while some of my close friends, like JC, also know that I also happen to like my romances set in Scotland. But for some unexplainable reason, I have never managed to read Outlander, the first book in Gabaldon's hugely popular romance series. The book which won the 1991 RITA award for Best Romance novel, centers on a nurse, Claire Randall, who is vacationing with her husband in Scotland sometime in 1940s. While exploring, Claire inadvertently is transported back in time to 18th century Scotland where she meets our red-headed hero, Jamie Fraser, a fugitive with a complicated past. The rest of the story basically involves Claire trying to get back to her own time while trying to fight her immense physical attraction to Jamie.
The graphic novel picks up this complicated storyline by telling it from Jamie's prospective. I suppose that this was a new way to retell the familiar story but I admit that I wished it had told it from Claire's point of view instead. I felt Jamie's characterization wasn't quite as well developed and had difficulty following the rather convoluted plot at times. I assume that Claire develops very strong feelings for Jamie prior to being forced to marry him in the book because in the graphic novel, she just grudgingly seems to "go along" with everything and as a result, I don't find her all that compelling at times. It probably doesn't help that the illustrator likes to focus on Claire's buxom figure especially in the later half the of the novel making Claire more of a 1950s pin-up model rather than the intelligent and highly-compassionate heroine she is suppose to be portraying.
Fans of the series will likely flock to this graphic novel and fall in love with the series again. As for me, I just thought this novelization ranked a "Meh". Kinda mediocre as far as I'm concerned.
Review: Two Generals
Two Generals by Scott Chantler
May's Review: I first heard about this graphic novel when I was checking out the CBC website a couple weeks back and was very eager to read it. Mainly because of the story but also because I enjoyed Chantler's previous graphic novel, The Annotated Northwest Pasage (click here to read my 2007 review of the book).
This graphic novel is tribute to "two generals"--Scott's grandfather, Reginald Law Chantler, and his friend, John Hartwell Chrysler, who both served in Canada’s Highland Light Infantry and fought in WWII. Based on actual diaries, letters and photographs, Scott's story focuses on the friendship between the men as they struggle through basic training in England and then trying to stay alive after landing on the beaches of Normandy. This is not a book about the futility of war but rather, a wonderful and poignant reminder about the sacrifices made by our Canadian veterans. In fact, I dare anyone to read this graphic novel and not come away with a sense of pride of what these men accomplished during the war or shed a tear when you realize that not everyone was coming home safe and sound.
This was easily one of my favorite graphic novels of 2010 and I highly recommend you read it.
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