First Look: Yen Plus, A yen for your thoughts.

Back at New York Comic Con 2008, Yen Press announced that they would start releasing an anthology manga magazine to compete with Shonen Jump U.S.A. I was excited to see how this venture would turn out. They have the solid backing of Square Enix comics but they had no mega U.S. hits like Naruto, Bleach, or Yu-Gi-Oh in their line up. Essentially I feel this is an experiment in whether or not a anthology of B-list titles with a good amount of diversity can work as opposed to anthology of A-list shonen with some non A-list shonen to pad the anthology.

Any increase in manga distribution, especially of anthology work, is always welcomed but not always profitable. I think titles in here have an easy in with manga fans, things like Soul Eater and Nabari no Ou. I know they were giving out early copies of this at San Diego and I was so jealous! This is certainly something to keep your eyes on.

Yen Plus premiered with five Japanese titles from Square Enix’s Gangan line. The manga titles are Nabari No Ou, Sumomomo-Momomo, Bamboo Blade, Higurashi When They Cry, and Soul Eater. They also have four manhwa including Jack Frost, One Fine Day, Sarasah, and Pig Bride. Finally, to round it out there are two OEL titles, Maximum Ride and Nightschool. The book is divided into two sections. The front reads left to right and has the American comics and then the manhwa. The back reads right to left and has the manga.

Yen Plus’s look is leaps and bounds better looking (designed better) than something like Shonen Jump. It has an uncluttered feel and makes it about what it should be, the art and stories. Though some of the ads are easy to confuse as being the beginning of a chapter. There are only color pages for Maximum Ride, not sure if this is going to rotate every month or not. All the other series with color pages that were reproduced in grayscale were almost indecipherable, very poorly printed which is a shame. There isn’t much content outside of the stories, but they do have a nice feature of what is coming out this month and also a staff pick. The staff pick for the month certainly seemed to get Hisui interested.

Yen Plus did sell me on S.S. Astro. It seems like it could be very funny. Sounds like if Yukari and Nyamo were the focus of Azumanga Daioh. I know Narutaki is not a big fan of 4 panel comics but I have been know to enjoy them. Onto the actual titles in the anthology, the translation notes for the manga are a welcome change. I am curious why the manhwa didn’t get translation notes. I would have liked learning about Korean references just as much as Japanese ones. I also enjoyed the translated sound effects next to the original sound effects. I know that annoys some people but I find it the best solution. Yen Press was fairly good at making the translations for the sound effects readable but unobtrusive.

Maximum Ride

Maximum Ride continues to prove itself to be incredibly average no matter what format it is in. Average characters, meet average villains, with average plot. However the art is pretty good and I’m sure it will garner a decent audience considering James Patterson’s popularity. It was a good choice for Yen Press to adapt such a series, though I will never understand its following. However, I have always wondered how many young people actually read the Maximum Ride series, which is a best-selling line of books, and how much of its success was just Patterson’s adult audience.

Parents tend to buy their children a majority of their books, so I am sure you are correct in assuming that a bunch of parents bought Maximum Ride because they like his adult fiction. Maximum Ride is the story of children who have bird wings and other mysterious abilities and they seem to be hiding from a shadowy group called the “Erasers.” I can’t say I disliked Maximum Ride as much as Narutaki did but I can’t say it really hooked me either. Max is supposedly a strong female character and good fighter but they have her easily get her bum handed to her before the end of the first chapter. Unless the story changes, I can’t see me rushing out to buy the graphic novels but I would not skip reading the chapters. This would be a definite treat for fans of the original book series. And if nothing else, I also found the artwork very nice. Having never read the books I can’t say how well the character are adapted. I am hoping that it acts as a bridge for people to check out manga and manwha. Come for the Maximum Ride stay for the rest of the magazine.

Nightschool

I liked DramaCon so I was looking forward to Svetlana Chmakova’s newest work and I don’t feel I was disappointed. Nightschool is the story of the mysterious secret of PS 13W. At night there is a secret class of magical students. Sara Treveney is a new teacher and guardian for it. She seems to have her work cut out for her because there is a local group of hunters in the area as well. There is an amusing mixture of comedy and supernatural elements. I assume there will be action in the form of hunters and a horrible prophesy later on. I am also curious how well she can do fight scenes because she hasn’t done them in her previous work. It mostly seems like a set up chapter so I can’t say if I love it but I think it has potential. I am curious who are the students. They seem to keep the students deliberately obscured for mystery but as a reviewer and a reader I what to know NOW.

Nightschool combines humor with a dark atmosphere and it so far is succeeding. There is a little bit of confusion about who the exact main character will be of this series. My bets are on the girl, Alex, but Hisu is hoping for Sara, the teacher. I found the relationship between Sara and Alex hilarious and also believably familial. Alex’s weird looking familiar was super cool, too! I was also super curious about the students since I tend to latch onto fun and minor characters. Though I wouldn’t say the overall premise is my cup of tea it has potential and could certainly change my opinion of OEL titles.

Pig Bride

Si-Joon is the son of a wealthy politician who, as a child, was wandering through the wilderness and ends up engaged to girl who must always wear a pig mask. Thinking the whole incident was a dream he writes off the encounter despite having nightmares about the incident. Years later on his birthday she shows up again in her pig mask and wants to consummate their marriage. Did I mention the pig bride has a kunoichi (female ninja)? Because kunoichi are always a selling point. I thought it was a silly story that has potential to be very funny. Si-Joon seems like a jerk but a likable jerk. The rival love interest, Doe-Doe, seems neutral but I hope they don’t make her into a one dimensional villain. In my opinion, how much the manga will work is how much I will like Si-Joon and the pig bride’s interactions.

Pig Bride is a funny romance and has some of the typical trappings of the genre. Si-Joon is hysterically inept in the beginning and seems to be a pretty clueless high schooler. My enjoyment of this will stem from how much Mu-hwa, the ninja, appears in this series. Her connection with the pig bride is mysterious and I want to know more about their relationship. She will probably end up being a third love rival. I will also enjoy the series more if Doe-Doe is actually the leader of a gang. All great manhwa have gang members in them, this is like a rule.

Sarasah

This is a romantic comedy that goes horribly, horribly wrong. It started out typically and the girl was a little weird but I felt we were supposed to accept her eccentricity as a comedy element and nothing to really dwell on. I was wrong. I honestly am not sure where this story is going, it really hinges on the next chapter. From the opening quotations I assume Ji-Hae will continue to be our heroine but other than that I’m not sure what the actual plot is going to be. I’m not even sure if this is supposed to be a comedy after all. Our romantic lead hasn’t turned out to be a very likable character either. The only person I really liked was Ji-Hae’s friend but as I said, I have give this one more to really understand it. And I have no idea yet what Sarasah means.

Ji-Hae is in love Seung-Hyu but he wants nothing to do with her. Even after Ji-Hae constantly tries to win his affections with gifts and romantic gestures he keeps ingonring her. On Seung-Hyu’s birthday she makes a grand event of her confession which embarrasses him enough for him to brutally tell her off and then accidentally push her down the stairs. The chapter ends with her bleeding from a potentially fatal wound in the stairway. I don’t think they are going to kill off our heroine in the first chapter so she obviously gets some sort of second chance. Obviously how that second chance plays out will determine how much I like this series. Ji-Hae is rather cute in her affections and you want her to be happy but I have no idea what the heck she sees in Seung-Hyu. They better introduce a more sympathetic love interest or make me like Seung-Hyu because right now he just comes off as a horrible human being.

One Fine Day

One Fine Day is the story of a man who owns a cat, a dog, and a mouse and their cute adventures. Oh, they also anthropomorphise his pets as cute little kids. They make cookies and try to take care of their master when he gets sick. I just could not get into this manga. I know you are supposed to be amused by their antics but I just found it plain and boring. You don’t come to One Fine Day for the plot. You come to see cute animals do cute things. I did find the art quirky and amusing especially the owner’s funky hair style. But some unconventional artwork does not an entertaining manga make.

I loved this title and found it absolutely endearing. The stories are very quick without attention to any overlying plot. The idea is to read it as a break from everything else going on. The combination of her purposefully simplistic art style with her timing for the cute and funny made me smile and wish to hang pieces of it on my wall. I have to agree that they artwork is a selling point and would be happy to pick up the collected volumes as well as any artbook.

Jack Frost: The Amityville

Jack Frost is just plain weird. Noh-A Joo transfers to Amityville High School where she meets a creepy classroom of zombie-like students. A fight breaks out and Noh-A is decapitated as one of her classmates with swords in his arms fights a gun wielding maniac. Her classmate defeats him but not after they look at the panties on her corpse like five times. Hilarious. If you are an ero guro fan I suppose. It is like some bizarre take on Hellsing with the perversion turned up to 11. Oh and you set it in a high school so you could get more under 18 fan service. It is all done in tongue in cheek manner but what the heck. I was more disturbed than amused.

What in the world? First off, who the heck thought this was a great name for a series? In any case it then goes from weird to disturbing in under ten seconds. Jack Frost has a creepy smile and earns his nickname of the same title, he seems like an inconsiderate jerk. While I totally appreciated the bad-ass fight scenes (and the buckets of blood), the dialogue was lame and I couldn’t have seen more shots of this girl’s bottom half if they tried. And since this girl is obviously not dead, she will probably end up following this jerk (albeit an awesome fighter) around for no good reason.

Soul Eater

We reviewed Soul Eater for our Spring Falls Out article. Soul is a living weapon that can transform between being a boy and a scythe. Maka and Soul are shinigami assigned with the task of killing 99 evil humans and one witch. If they do they can transform Soul into the ultimate shinigami weapon, Death Scythe. The manga has not warmed me any to the whole Soul Eater franchise. Maka is still bland on all levels (heck the Wii game for this series has the subtitle Monotone Princess. That might not be about Maka but I would like to think it is). Titty witch is still annoying and it looks like she is not going anywhere. If anything the fights were a little shorter and less intense then they were in the anime.

I didn’t think it possible for me to dislike the manga more than the anime, but indeed I do. The art is worse, while I found the anime’s simplicity well done and graphic, the manga just looks poorly drawn most of the time. It doesn’t seem to be done with any purpose in mind as it swings between detailed (Titty witch) and not (Maka). I also found Maka’s outcry to be forced melodrama, premature to us really understanding the character relationships. Funnily enough, I liked Soul a little better in the manga and didn’t find him nearly as jerky. But nothing about this shonen formula hooked me before and I am still not interested.

Nabari no Ou

The unwilling and uninterested protagonist is becoming fairly popular, this version of him seems slightly average here at the beginning. I loved the teacher and his stealthy appearances, I hope he is in it more. There are some quick fights mixed with some mysterious powers and a surprising end to the chapter. The ninja action wasn’t turned up all the way and that will be a major selling point as the series continues. I would be willing to see where this series leads.

The Nabari no Oh anime was also reviewed in our Spring Falls Out article. Rokujo Miharu is a detached young man who is asked to join the ninja club at his school by one of his fellow students and the club adviser. It turns out they want him to join so they can protect him from rival ninja that wish to gain the secret techniques hidden in his body. If you liked the anime of Nabari no Oh you will like the manga just as much. The art is just as detailed as it was in the anime and all of the humor and action was faithfully translated.

Sumomomo-Momomo

Sumomomo-momomo is a odd duck. I found some of the comedy and characters amusing but the fact that Momoko looks like she is ten and gets quite a few panty shots is sort of disturbing. In fact, all of the sexual talk from Momoko is creepy. Koshi Inuzuka is such a repellent dirtbag pretending to be an upstanding human being that I found it amusing. Almost as if they made Light from Death Note a romantic comedy lead. I not sure how long that will stay funny or if it will quickly wear out its welcome. Momoko seems fun with her over the top martial arts action but I can’t get over the fact that she radiates this loli vibe.

Damn you Sumomomo! You are so hilarious yet so full of loli service that I just can’t abide you. The dads, hilarious. Koshi’s desperate need to fight bad guys by reciting laws, twice as hilarious. Momoko’s martial arts, triple hilarious. But I was just as disturbed as Hisu about Momoko talking loudly about how to impregnate her. It is so disappointing and just not fair.

Bamboo Blade

I watched a few episodes of Bamboo Blade when it started airing earlier in the year. I thought it was fun and funny but I wasn’t totally taken in by it. I love the captain and her hyper love of the Kendo club as well as her often volatile relationship with their teacher sponsor who’s desire for the club’s success is motivated by a bet. As they try to recruit new members the fun begins and there are some great moments including the mysterious launching of a baseball, a tennis ball, a rugby ball, and the vice principal at Tamaki who then extricates them with her mad Kendo skills. The Kendo fights are also well done.

Bamboo Blade was surprisingly slapstick. I thought it was all moe girls doing moe things with some kendo in the background. So far it has focused more on the teacher than any of the students. Toraji Ishida is an amusing, dirt poor, teacher and Kendo instructor who lives paycheck to paycheck. After making a bet with a former sempai from his old kendo club he vows to take the girls team at his school into champions to win a year’s worth of sushi dinners. I liked the interaction between the teacher and the Kendo club captain the most. The introduction of the first student they are trying to recruit, Tamaki Kawazoe, might be their segue into a more serious story line. I hope they can keep up this same level of comedy while still telling a compelling sports story the way that Princess Nine was able to.

Higurashi: When They Cry

Higurashi: When They Cry was the one manga I was most looking forward to but not without reservations. I picked Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni as my anime of the month in the past. The problem is that manga based on a video game and/or anime has a tendency to be rather horrible. Keiichi has just moved to the isolated village of Hinamizawa. He has quickly made friends with several of the girls in his class and life seems perfect. But he soon learns that there were a horrific series of murders involving the local dam project. All of his friends refuse to comment on the murders but Keiichi is determined to discover what happen all those years ago. I just don’t feel the same sense of tension and dread as I did watching the anime but that could be because I know the entire story and manga doesn’t have the added use of motion and sound. I also don’t remember such an emphasis on Mion’s breasts but that might have to do with the overall ecchi feel of the Gangan anthologies. So far it has been a decent adaptation and I think I will keep reading the graphic novels.

So I had heard about this series, obviously heard Hisu talk about it too. I knew it was based on a dating game, but I guess I expected more of an emphasis on plot than on the supreme harem aspects of it. So far that is not the case. I mean he is like the only dude in the school as far as I can tell. I also found the use of his internal monologue kind of strange. Especially since I feel like I can tell when you had to pick what you wanted to do in the game (I will help her or I won’t) from this. I have a strong interest in mysteries (I know you are all surprised) but I won’t overlook moe harem for it so if the emphasis switches I may be interested.

Yen Plus is a nice addition to the sea of manga, you get a good look at a lot at once and it easily has a variety of titles. The format is good, the price is right and hopefully it will stick around to see the titles evolve and change. It certainly has a shonen lean, but that is just inevitable since girls tend to read both shonen and shojo. I appreciate Yen Press’s quality of work and am glad to see them growing in an already crowded market.

Top 5 Gangan titles I would like to see in Yen Plus
1. Violinist of Hameln (and/or Violinist of Hameln Shchelkunchik)
2. Guardian of the Spirit
3. The Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok
4. Umineko no Naku Koro ni
5. Haré+Guu

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