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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Manga Review: XXXHOLiC GN 18; Full Metal Alchemist GN 26; Bleach GN 37

Review warning: Post contains spoilers for XXXHOLiC, Full Metal Alchemist, and Bleach's latest volumes. Read on with caution!

XXXHOLiC volume 18
Author: CLAMP
Del Rey/Kodansha Books
192 pages

Watanuki’s vow to the witch Yûko, who has disappeared, leaves him in charge of the shop where wishes must be granted to those who meet the price. Enter a deranged customer who is determined to capture the heart of the man she is stalking. Now Watanuki may have no choice but to deliver his friend Shizuka Dômeki into the arms of this unstable woman!

Another day, another set of supernatural dilemmas for Watanuki to handle. In this volume, it's more apparent than ever the transformation Watanuki has taken in filling Yûko's role as shop-keeper and fulfiller of wishes, in both appearance and actions - but not so far gone that you forget that it's Watanuki underneath all of the pipe smoke and elaborately designed robes. Which seems to be the focal point of most of this volume: that Watanuki is the owner of Yûko’s shop but he is still who he was before she left, albeit in a more long-lasting form. Every job he takes on in this penultimate volume highlights what kind of person he is, what kind of person he is: someone who will sacrifice himself for a stranger or a close friend, someone who knows when another person is in danger even at the cost of his own safety.

There wasn’t a lot of action in this volume compared to others once you get past the first of Watanuki’s jobs, even with the so-called ‘unstable woman’ in the book summary, but I would not call it uneventful. We even get a visit from Syaoran and the gang – although said visit won’t make much sense if you haven’t finished the Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles manga yet. Plus, we see a lot of Watanuki, especially in relation to Domeki and Kohane (and my shipper senses are tingling over all of these Domeki/Kohane tones, you can quote me on that one turning quasi-canon at least). I have to wonder where exactly this series is going to go for its last volume, considering the final page of this volume felt like a finale by itself. Will we see Yûko again? Or Himawari, who last heard from was at university? It is certainly time for this series to bow out before it gets too long for its own good.

P.S. Did Watanuki have to tailor any of the witch’s clothes to fit into them or do they have similar body shapes for those kinds of garments? These are the kind of thoughts I have about XXXHOLiC above all, apparently.

Read on after the jump for the other two reviews!

Full Metal Alchemist volume 26
Author: Hiromu Arakawa
Viz Media
193 pages

With all the pieces now in his possession, the homunculus "father" executes his master plan as Edward and the others watch in horror. When the dust settles, the entire world has been reshaped. With the help of Hohenheim, the Elric brothers launch a desperate final attack, but is it all too late...?

Apparently, I'm reading a lot of penultimate books this week. Oh, dear. So many manga series are going to be ending this year!

Anyway, what a powerful, eventful volume. First things first, the artwork is incredible, especially when it comes to the transformation of the homunculus. He is absolutely terrifying in his new form, not to mention the terrible things he inflicts upon his captives. The moment when he gives birth is one of the more horrific scenes in the entire book if not the whole series; the look on Izumi's face is like a reflection of the readers' own reaction. The battle that ensues throughout this book is multi-faceted and involves all the major players of the series, and will certainly thrill the action fans of the series' base shonen roots.

Pretty much everyone is in this book; every character has a part to play in the battle against the homunculus, whether they are alchemists or not. And if you love the Ishbalan alchemist Scar like I do, you will be thrilled at how much page time he gets this round. That is the great thing about this series; the entire cast, secondary and peripheral and all, get so fleshed out during the course of it that when they get significant page time like the main cast does, it’s really exciting! I only hope that Scar (and the rest of ‘em) survives that hell of a cliffhanger.

What will happen in the final volume of Full Metal Alchemist? Who the heck knows? There are so many important mysteries left to address – mainly, the issue of Ed and Al’s own adventures in alchemy, the ones that were meant to bring back their mother and left one of them with metallic limbs and the other in an entirely different body. Whatever happens, I hope it ends with the Elric brothers and the rest of the cast happy; after all the crap they’ve gone through, they certainly deserve a good ending.

Bleach volume 37
Author: Tite Kubo
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
216 pages

Soul Reaper captain Shinji Hirako has uncovered Aizen's betrayal, but it may be too late. As some of the Soul Society's greatest Soul Reapers transform into Hollows, it will be up to Kisuke Urahara to save them. And back in the present time, the grand battle between the Thirteen Court Guard Companies and the remaining Espada finally begins!

Ah, it's the end of the Turn Back The Pendulum arc. Pity; it's one of my favorites in the whole series. I love that Kubo was able to stick in an entire arc based on flashbacks during a crucial moment in the series and not have the entire story crawl to a halt; doubly so when you realize how many major plot points and character back stories get cleared up because of it. If you are big fans of Kisuke Urahara, the Vizards, Kaname, Ichimaru, Aizen, or Yoruichi - or if you've been wondering about the origins of a certain Seireitei device - then you will love the concluding chapters to the Turn Back The Pendulum arc.

And then we cut back to the Fake Karakura Town arc, in which a crap ton of fights get started all at once, including the Ichigo/Ulquiorra battle to end all battles, including some important bouts featuring characters that certainly deserve the attention after the series being the Ichigo And Close Friends show for so many volumes – Ikkaku, Yumichika, Kira, and Hisagi, four tough dudes tasked with protecting the four pillars from Aizen’s lackeys. Personally, out of all four of ‘em, I love watching Kira fight the best. There’s just something elegant yet dangerous about the way he moves and wields his sword (and I suddenly just remembered why I casually ship Kira/Gin, ayup – oh, the physicality of it all!).

And these fights are anything but boring; there seems to be a whole bunch of eccentric weirdoes coming out of the Hueco Mundo woodworks this volume, especially Yumichika’s Charlotte Chuhlhourne, one of the most arrogantly flamboyant villain types to pop up in Bleach lately – with an outfit ridiculous enough to even send the usually demure Yumichika into an apoplectic fit of laughter (and no one can blame him). Of course, don’t forget about Abirama Redder and his ridiculous eye make-up; is it a fracciónes rule that everyone has to have hideous David Bowie knock-off wardrobe malfunctions? Still, fashion snark aside, it’s yet another solid volume of Bleach this time around. Y’know, until the Ichigo and Ulquiorra fight to the finish dominates the narrative yet again.