Manga of the Month: May

Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura

There are plenty of manga about ninjas. About robots. About zombies. About pirates. Even space pirates. But there is one division of cool that has gone neglected far too long: Vikings. Enter Makoto Yukimura. I won the first book of Planetes in a contest and I really loved the concept of garbage men in space plus the well written characters. When I found he had another series I rushed to see what it was about. Unfortunately when I first looked there was not much translated. I recently decided to go back and see if any progress had been made. Thankfully they are now up to date!

Vinland Saga opens with an army besieging a Frankish fortress to no avail. A band of Viking mercenaries led by Askeladd note the situation then cautiously offer to assist in the raid with both sides planning to betray the other after the fortress has fallen. A young man named Thorfinn makes a bargain with Askeladd. If he can take the head of the fortress’s commander, Thorfinn will be granted a boon. Then we are treated to an amazing surprise attack from Askeladd troops and Thorfinn’s remarkable one man battle to gain the enemy commander’s head. After the battle Thorfinn asks to duel Askeladd to avenge his father’s death. We we then begin jumping back and forth through history learning how Thorfinn became part of this mercenary band and the ramifications of Thorfinn’s quest for revenge.

Vinland Saga has all the strengths that drew me to Planetes while showing Makoto Yukimura’s range as an author. We have another well researched topic. Who does not want to read a manga where Leif Ericson is an important minor character? Also Vinland Saga has just as strong a cast as  Planetes. Askeladd is a charming and manipulative bastard. Thorfinn is a complex character who we see change from a bright a cheery boy to an obsessed young man. The biggest difference between  Planetes and Vinland Saga is the number of amazing action scenes. Planetes is mostly a dialog filled manga with brief moments of tension and action. Vinland Saga is an action manga that is deftly able to keep the excitement high while still telling a good story.

Short Program by Mitsuru Adachi

Short program is just three volumes long but they are collections of short stories usually one (but sometimes two or three) chapters long. The pieces are looks into different people’s lives through a moment or situation. Each volume of these vignettes takes your through a wide array of emotions from surprise to joy to sadness. Many of the stories have a little lesson in them while others are just there to warm the heart or make you laugh. Unsurprisingly the most common scenario deals with romantic entanglements of varying degrees. Some highlights include: the title work “Short Program,” which deals with a boy and girl who live just across from each other; “Plus I” about a girl and the repair guy that fixes her stereo; and “Memory Off” about a guy who finds a girl with sudden amnesia at his front door. Adachi’s simplistic art style combined with his succinct ability to convey traits and emotion makes Short Program a delightful piece of work. And reminds me how unfortunate it is that Adachi’s manga have not gained much of a fan following state side.

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