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Oreimo Volume 1 - (English Version)
Writer: Tsukasa Fushimi
Artist: Sakura Ikeda
Dark Horse Comics
Posted 10/8/12 6:40PM EST

Courtesy Dark Horse Comics

Oreimo for those unfamiliar, as I was beyond name recognition before reading volume one of the manga, with the light novels or anime series is a Seinen genre story about a brother and sister that can best be described as estranged-under-one-roof is a comedy. The manga is slow to get to the funny. It takes it's time building and setting up the backstory told from Kyousuke's point of view concerning his "average male high school student" life and his almost non-existent and frequently stand offish relationship with his younger sister, the too cool, mature in looks and personality beyond her years 14 year old sister Kirino. Then one day, after bumping into each other in the genken of the family home Kirino's secret life as an otaku is revealed. This is where the funny comes in folks. From there this sitcom disguised as a slice of life high school drama loses the false front and keeps the humor rolling! Most of the funniest moment are between Kyousuke and Kirino learning about, coping with, and accepting her secret otaku obsessions... kid's fantasy lil sister fetish anime and ero video games of the same genre.
The humor, while surely not everyone's cup of tea, never crosses the hentai line; eechi to be sure especially with the amount of fan service in awkwardly funny scenes as the siblings first begin to speak again. Again, the hentai line is never crossed, even with the fan service being of a 14 year old middle school girl. Definitely Seinen and not Shōjo, this one isn't for the younger set but it is damn funny to the appropriate age set! The artwork is at the same time crisp and sharp but fluid and lively, some of the best linework this reviewer has seen in 2012 in fact on newly US released manga. The story picks up the pace very well after Kyousuke and Kirino come to an understanding and begin to form a true bond of friendship... rocky and full of slapstick, but a friendship nonetheless. In that friendship not rekindled since early childhood, as one of Kyousuke's monologues points to, we find the heart behind the comedy in Oreimo. As stated the pace sets a nice stride from chapter 2 onward to the cliffhanger ending to be continued in volume two.
The funniest scene is near the end of chapter seven where Kyousuke interjects into an argument over different anime genres with "whoa whoa - you two just calm down! It's just anime!", as an anime fan with few people that like let alone understand anime in my circle of friends this scene is hilarious as this reviewer is sure many of you reaading this review will understand when a non-fan can't fathom otaku devotion and the daggers Kirino and Kuroneko throw him for the blasphemy against their beloved series.
Oreimo Volume One gets a solid 4 out of 5.
For more on Oreimo the manga check out

- Michael Meade

Gate 7 Vol. 3 - (English Version)
Dark Horse Comics
Posted 9/24/12 11:05PM EST

Courtesy Dark Horse Comics

CLAMP's Gate 7 is still just as solid in volume 3, containing chapters 8-12, combining the rich and fascinationg history and mythology of Japan. That said, if you want to enjoy this series fully look into the history of the Warring States (Sengoku) Period of Japanese history if you're unfamiliar with the history of that era; the final conflicts to be exact in the late 1600s. The knowledge of the actual history enriches the manga's story as it draws very heavily on the historical figures that were key at the close of that era of Japanese history. Focus is still centered around Chikahito Takamoto and his being further pulled into the world of the supernatural by his new housemates Hana, Tachibana, and Sakura; the warriors of the Ura-shichiken.
These chapters bring to light more details of the oni and the roles they play in the present, and some of the reasons why they are blood contracted to their masters, as well as further origins of the oni blood contracts dating back to the Sengoku Period. Pacing through these five chapters is fast and action packed for all that is revealed and brought further into the light of the reader's and character's field of knowledge. In fact most of this volume is dedicated to a visually stunning battle between the reincarnation/last descendent of Masamune Date (introduced in the last volume of Gate 7) and a mysterious newcomer with ties to the Tokugawa Clan. As is his purpose, from the readers viewpoint, Chikahito is our connection and vantage point to this world, and he is quickly finding his footing even when thrown further curveballs to his already adapting and evolving sensibilities. Hints abound as to his greater purpose in being able to see and experience what happens within the mystical "envelopments" created to shield supernatural battles from "normal" people.
This reviewer has an idea of what Chikahito's role will eventually be in the story, but I will not share lest I spoil that which you should read and enjoy for yourself...

Artwork is lush, particularly during battles, but also tight and controlled in the design at the same time. Which is to be expected of CLAMP, even though character design is highly stylized and gangly in limb and body proportions at times, it is always beautifully designed and laid down to paper. Inking and shading do much to bring definitions of color and light to a black and white medium, this too makes CLAMP standout for me personally. Some manga artisits make their designs too flat on actual pages over colored in covers and posters, but I've yet to see a CLAMP title suffer this flaw in the art. Storytelling, as stated above, is exceptional and always feels balanced between exposition and action. Even with the aforementioned level of action and battle in these chapters, it always feels perfectly balanced like a masterfully crafted blade in CLAMP works and the third volume of Gate 7 is no exception to this rule.

Gate 7 Volume 3 gets a 4.5 out of 5, leaving this reviewer eagerly anticipating volume 4!

For more info and purchasing information check out

- Michael Meade

Blood Blockade Battlefront Volume 2 - (English Version)
Yasuhiro Nightow
Dark Horse Comics
Posted 8/23/12 7:10PM EST

Courtesy Dark Horse Comics

Blood Blockade Battlefront Volume 2 is a fast, violent romp through Jerusalem's Lot, which for those that haven't read volume 1 or 2 yet is the city that has risen in place of New York City after its destruction and rebuilding as Jersusalem's Lot in one night. The city stands caught between two realms, the human world we all know and the world beyond where extradimensional creatures, demons, werewolves, and more all co-habitate with us; and all that stands between the rest of the world being thrown into chaos is the organization known only as Libra.
There's the catch up for anyone that missed volume 1, characters we'll get into later since this manga is more action driven than character driven at this point.

Gritty, violent, drug dealers, mafia, supernatural creatures and abilities, and it's by Yasuhiro Nightow (the creator of Trigun)... this manga should be my new favorite title, but it'll take some time to get there. As both a fan and a reviewer, stories that are character driven work better for me, as stated above Blood Blockade Battlefront is all about the action and the larger picture of keeping the rift between mundane reality and The Beyond contained to Jerusalem's Lot are the major focal points. Klaus, the leader of Libra, is the only character that we get to see the personality of, and that is mostly through the exposition of others in his absense. The other characters feel flat at this juncture, even the main character Leo, who also functions as the readers bridge to the new world as he copes with it and learns the order of life therein, falls flatter in the personality department than this reviewer is used to seeing from Nightow.

Negatives out of the way, Nightow's artwork is as always perfect for the setting he is creating and immerses you into it as though the setting itself is the star. Plus the concept he has created in Blood Blockade Battlefront is packed with possibility for some truly inspired storytelling. The creatures and abilities of the protagonists alone open doorways to chapters that could be incredible, Nightow has made unique designs out even tried and true manga archetypes and put a spin on martial arts mixed with telekinesis that has been seen; using a character's blood to create weapons through telekinetic abilities isn't new granted but the execution of the weaponized blood through the psychic phenomenon is wickedly cool when the martial arts aspect is thrown in. Think what the classic Kamehameha Wave from Dragonball would be like if it was ki and blood.

It's still early in the English translated version of the series, so for now let's overlook the shortcomings of Blood Blockade Battlefront and let the story evolve in both depth and character development. I want to feel for these characters, but they need to seem more alive first.

Blood Blockade Battlefront Volume 2 gets a hopeful 3.5 out of 5.

For more on Blood Blockade Battlefront check out

- Michael Meade

Gate 7 - Volume 1 (English Version)
Dark Horse Manga
Posted 11/22/11 1:15AM EST

Courtesy Dark Horse Manga

Gate 7 begins like a slice of of life manga, but quickly slaps the reader with the mystical side of it's world as you follow protagonist Takamoto Chikahito. His dream of visiting Kyoto soon turns from dream vacation to surreal trip into the spiritual side of life and the mythical battles ordinary people are unaware of! Showing Chikahito the wild side are a trio of warriors with amazing elemental powers; Hana, the seemingly aloof (but noodle obsessed) child-like warrior Chikahito-kun finds himself smitten with; Sakura, the light hearted master of Shadow; and Tachibana, the dower, somber, and sometimes scary wielder of Light.
Chikahito finds himself falling deeper and deeper into their world that lies just beyond the scope of "normal" perception as he learns he may have more in common with his new friends than he ever thought possible.
The ladies in CLAMP score another winner in their string of critical hits, the story is intriguing, the art is beautifully solid yet ethereal in the same pen stroke. Both pull you in as deep as Hana's eyes pull Chikahito. Also, the story near the end of this volume very nicely blends Japanese history from the Sengoku period and the country's intricate mythology, all against the backdrop of Kyoto.
Kyoto, the anagram lover's Tokyo*, is ancient and modern in the same city block with one of the richest regional histories in Japan. The location alone is a draw to this manga!
Definitely a title to check out, don't let the set up (or the slight drag time at points, which is the only downside this reviewer can find) keep you from diving right into Gate 7. This is one gate you want to walk through.
Gate 7 gets a solid 4 out of 5!
For more on Gate 7 check out
- Michael Meade

* Sorry, this joke has been stuck in my head for years with no opportunity to use it until now.

Black Butler Vol. 1 (English Version)
Yana Toboso
Yen Press
Posted 5/1/11 11:00PM EST

Courtesy Yen Press

Having seen the first five episodes of the anime before reading the manga there were some key differences that struck this reviewer, but in a good way. The story has more time to evolve and takes it's time to do so for a fuller feeling in terms of the world and characters Toboso created. The mystery is only hinted at until "Chapter Four: Midnight - The Butler, Most Evil",where it is revealed how Sebastian Michaelis, the seemingly all knowing and supernaturally skilled butler, comes to serve young Ciel Phantomhive, last surviving Phantomhive and the head of the most powerful toy and confectionary company in the British Empire... as well as the Queen's "Watchdog".
The end of this first volume leaves you wondering whether Sebastian's motives are even more sinister than is already revealed as he errily looks back over his shoulder at the reader in the last panel with his trademark smirk. The question is then silently posed to the reader of who will benefit most from the contract between young Phantomhive and his ever present butler...
Artwork and story composition are superb, elements of mystery, the supernatural, outright horror, a few stunning action scenes, and comedic antics from supporting cast keep the reader engaged throughout the four chapters of volume one. Sebastian is magnetic in his presence, benevolent and sinister; almost like Ann Rice's vampire Lestat, but infinitely more likable.
Black Butler Volume 1 (English Version) gets a solid 5 out of 5!

- Michael Meade