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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Manga Sprites: Of Demons And First Love

Some times, you have time to write a 1,000+ word review of a single book. Some times, you just don't. For those times, we have Book Sprites, our latest semi-regular manga feature, with compact book reviews for the discerning reader with no time to lose. No major spoilers lie here!

Today, I'm tackling Black Butler, Strobe Edge, and Blue Exorcist. It's a Yen Press and Viz bonanza!

Black Butler volume 15 by Yana Toboso: This week on Kuroshitsuji - Ciel in a high-class school uniform and Sebastian in fancy dress and glasses and cravat! If you are already salivating over these images, you are Black Butler's target demographic and this arc is going to be your favorite. This latest mystery involves students disappearing in a posh boarding school and naturally only Ciel can go undercover to figure out what is going on.

Naturally, Ciel stumbles across the strangest boarding school in the country. The younger students fight to be completely subservient to the older students, an eclectic bunch of upperclassmen rule the student body, the head of campus is never seen by average students, and backstabbing and treachery abounds in every hallway. Oh, and they start their school day at six o'clock in the morning. Ugh. Ciel really has to watch his bag lest he blow his cover.

Also, Agni shows up about halfway through the book and it is awesome. I love Agni and everything he does. Too bad Soma didn't come with. Perhaps he would have had a better hand on those elephants... Overall, a very interesting, tense volume with bursts of humor that is setting up the stage for the greater mystery of the missing students.

Strobe Edge volume 1 by Io Sakisaka: Ninako has the worst luck. Her best friend Daiki is clearly in love with her, but she doesn't know what love is. After a chance encounter with the most popular boy in school, Ren, Ninako starts developing feelings for someone who couldn't possibly return them - right? Her friends are convinced that Ninako and Daiki are meant to be in love - but Ninako doesn't exactly agree, not anymore. Ninako is about to learn what love is the hard way...

For the first act of this shojo manga, Strobe Edge's first volume hits all the right notes. Ninako is naive but not stupid, withdrawn but not sullen, and is ultimately very likable. It's easy to see why Daiki and Ren might be attracted to her. Ren is very interesting, someone whose true personality comes out in quiet moments. He reveals himself to Ninako casually and in layers. He's not one of those mysterious boys who populate shojo manga; Ren is just not very open at first, the type of person who reveals himself only to those close to him.

I can't really say I like Daiki right. I feel bad for him, being in love with his best friend, but I haven't seen much of him as a person beyond his relationship with Ninako. I'd like to see more of his sister; she seems fun. At this point, I'm definitely rooting for Ninako and Ren. I'm very interested in this series and how it does a great job of delivering emotional scenes that feel genuine, even something as small as sitting next to someone on the train home. I'll definitely be checking more of this series out in the near future.

Ao No Exorcist/Blue Exorcist volume 6 by Kazue Kato: The hunt for the Eyes of the Impure King continues, as groups clash, Suguro gets angry, and Rin gets his blue flame on. Seriously, Suguro loses it. How has he not developed a blood clot or something yet? After this arc, they should send him to a spa for the weekend, let him relax. And then send Yukio with him cos he has to deal with a wild Rin all the time. They can put that on the Vatican credit card, right?

The heads of the Myodha temple families have gathered to tackle the issue of the Eyes, and naturally once these families meet, tempers start flying. As they squabble, Rin and his classmates have to deal with training, aiding the injured, and their own personal responsibilities. Konokomaru and Shiemi seem like they've been hit the hardest by recent events: Konokomaru can't get over the fact that his friend is the spawn of Satan, while Shiemi is dealing with guilt and feeling like she hasn't been useful lately.

To me, the best character in this volume is Rin. He has officially had enough of all the nonsense. He gets into a fistfight with Suguro and his father just because he's so angry at them and their relationship. He willingly lets his blue flames rip into the air if it means knocking some sense into their family dynamic. Of course Rin is the one to make Suguro and his dad make right - Rin is that one character who knows the most about having major father issues.

This volume ends with a really great and tense cliffhanger. Volume seven is certainly going to be action packed and very plotty. This volume also has several bonus chapters that are character-centric and entertaining; the Kuro one in particular is adorable. Hopefully, the energy in the latter half of volume six rolls into the next one.