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Ongoing Investigations: Case #159

March 2, 2012

I remember hearing about Friends with Boys when I was listening to Manga Out Loud podcast and thinking it sounded interesting but I forgot to look into the title further. But when I remembered I could read the comic online as web comic as mentioned again on the 3 Chicks Review Comics podcast I set aside some time to read Friends with Boys. The first thing that stuck me was the art reminded me of the art of Chynna Clugston. Both women have a style that is clearly manga aware but is equally informed by a wide variety of comic traditions. Faith Erin Hicks will discuss Tezuka as quickly as Bone when she is commenting on a page of her comic. She has an expressive style that lends itself equally well to web comics as well as traditional print comics. The story itself has two main layers. The first is the story of how Maggie McKay has to deal with going to a public high school after being home schooled all her life. At the same time there is a supernatural element of Maggie being able to see ghosts. The highest praise I can give the story is that if you removed all of the supernatural parts I would have found the story equally enjoyable. Maggie learning to make friends outside of her brothers with the punk Lucy and her brother Alistair was perfectly wonderful. While the ghost story tied the mundane drama together it was never forced to pick up the slack on the story. If anything it felt slightly thrown it just to make the story stand out as more than a mundane tale of friendship and self discovery. It did not detract from the story but it was an unusual addition. I will mention that not every plot element is wrapped up. If you want answers to every question the story poses you will be disappointed. The main story arc is resolved satisfactorily but certain side elements are left to your imagination. I don’t think the story is purposefully written to be a ongoing series. A sequel could be written but nothing in the book demands it. I would read more about the life of Maggie McKay and her friends and family but do not feel cheated if I never got more. The story itself is only up as a web comic for a few more days if you want to sample it but you can buy the physical book right now as well. As a side note what has Chynna Clugston been up to recently?

Avatar the Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures is a collection of short comics with mini-stories that happened during each of the seasons of the TV series. The book is divided into sections based on the books in which each story takes place. It is a little disconcerting if only because you are somewhat forced to remember what was happening at that particular moment, but you get on board fairly quickly. There are lots of different artists and writers so some are more stand out than others. I particularly liked the stylization by Brian Ralph for Momo’s adventure and the youthfulness of Gurihiru’s art. The greatest and most hilarious moments include the return of Wang Fire. It is a fun collection of mostly humorous anecdotes but nothing that screams buy this!

With Mass Effect 3 coming out next week I decided to read some of my roommate’s Mass Effect comics to tide me over until then. So I flipped through Mass Effect: Redemption and Mass Effect: Evolution. Since on of the main selling points of the series is the fact that the main character  is totally customizable by the player the comics have to focus on the static side characters for stories in the Mass Effect universe. Redemption focuses on Liara and her trying to get her hands on Commander Shepherd’s corpse in between Mass Effect One and Two. Evolution is the origin story of the Illusive Man. I thought Redemption was the stronger of the two stories. It basically built itself around the already established story that Liara told you in Mass Effect 2. It takes the broad strokes of that story and fill in the little details. Evolution on the other hand has a bit of the old “Boba Fett effect” in play. Giving an origin story to a character that mostly works on being mysterious can be detrimental. While Evolution hardly ruins the character of the Illusive Man I think he works better as an enigma. Also the story has a bit of “Who knew all these people knew each other before hand” going on as well. They are both interesting little stories but hardly necessary. But such is the way with most tie in material. At least none of it was Deception level bad.

Just as I was told, and seemingly like everyone else on the internet, I have started watch Downton Abbey. I was quickly sold during the first episode as a fan of period drama and calculating internal politics. The Crawley family loses its heir at the beginning of the first episode which starts a lot of things in motion. Because Lord Crawley has only daughters, the estate will pass to an unknown cousin. But Lord Crawley’s wife and mother (played by the splendid Maggie Smith) have plans of their own. The three daughters are a mixed bag but we don’t learn too much about anyone besides Mary in the first three episodes. Meanwhile below house the servants have their own concerns about the heir as well as conflicts of their own. This is where the series really shines with new valet Bates who has a bum leg; to not too bright kitchen maid Daisy; the inner workings of this large house hold are compelling. The time of the series is actually an interesting one of transition where non-nobles are beginning to leave service to strike out on their own, including women, but there is still a very traditional atmosphere to contend with like ideas of being ungrateful or getting above yourself. The series perfectly moves between stories of the servants and stories of the lords and ladies of the house and captures the inevitable interactions between them. I can’t wait to watch more and catch up with everyone else!

Not too long ago Miki Yoshikawa finished up Yankee-kun and Megane-chan. Apparently the ending is the series is rather controversial but I will cross that bridge when I get to it. What I am interested in is her newest series Yamada and the Seven Witches since I do not bear the author any ill will. It is another high school romantic comedy but now there seems to be a bit of a supernatural twist. The main character, Ryu Yamada reminds me of Shinagawa Daichi as they are both abrasive and some what dopy punks who are honorable beneath it all. Urara Shiraishi is far more intelligent and aloof than Hana. The first chapter is a body swap story that is resolved by the end of the chapter. It is mostly there to introduce a supernatural element and get the main characters to interact with each other romantically. But so far none of seven witches have made a formal appearance. So far the story has been cute and reminded me of the best strengths of Yankee-kun and Megane-chan. It is clearly a story for guys but with many of the strengths of a well told shojo story as well. I am curious to see where Miki Yoshikawa is going to take this story.

In the latest volume of Twin Spica (vol. 11) we are still reeling from the events of the previous volume. The entire cast is in a bit of haze which permeates their actions, but the book does swing into melodrama from time to time rather that its normal quiet introspection. I was rather surprised to not see Asumi’s dad at all in this, too. Still the stakes have become so intense and the end is so near you can’t help but be desperate to get the next and final volume.

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