Yen Plus Online Magazine, Where’s the manga?

hisuiconIn July of 2008 Yen Press put out their inaugural of a brand new manga anthology called Yen Plus. It was a unique combination of manga from Square Enix, Korean manhwa, and American comics. It was an interesting experiment that had some killer titles with distinct name power from all over the globe but as of July 2010 the magazine will no longer be in distributed in a paper format and instead it will be avaliable online. This week we will be looking at the change from a print to digital distribution. What is lost, what is gained, and do we feel that the new online Yen Plus is worth the subscription fee.

As we have all heard time and again digital distribution is the future of, well, just about everything. Print media has survived, and continues to thrive in a physical format better than most, but things like periodicals and magazines are feeling the squeeze. So it was with a heavy-heart the community took the inevitable news that Yen Plus just could not keep up. Bringing the magazine, format and all, to the online market is an intriguing move and adding a subscription fee, though small, is even more of a curiosity.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Interview with Kurt Hassler of Yen Press

Yen Press opened their doors just three years ago. Despite being the fairly new kid on the block in manga publishing, their connection to Hachette Book Group insured they weren’t going in blind to book publishing. They have recently stepped into the lime light with their connection to Square-Enix in Japan as well as their license of the Haruhi manga and co-license of the novels. Yen Press has taken on many titles and genres not widely known or represented in the U.S. market and they continue to make strides.

Kurt Hassler was a well-known name even before he became together with former DC VP Rich Johnson and the Hachette Book Group to form Yen Press. He really made a name for himself in the manga community while being the graphic novel buyer at Borders bookstores. He was good enough at his jobs that ICV2 named him The Most Powerful Person in Manga. He has also been a long time aficionado of both American and Japanese comics so he has a great perspective on the manga industry and publishing in general. So who better to ask about Yen Press than one of the most connected men in company and perhaps even the industry?

Reverse Thieves: You are the Publishing Director so what exactly does that mean? And what is your job like on a daily basis?

Kurt Hassler: As the Publishing Director of Yen Press, I’m basically responsible for the direction of our imprint. I make the decisions about what titles to publish and the best strategies to release them into the market. I also directly oversee Yen’s editorial staff, have a hand in the marketing and publicity related to our titles, and work directly in acquisitions and maintaining relationships with our various publishing partners. So I kind of get to have my hands in a bit of everything, which is fun!

RT: What manga that Yen Press is publishing is your personal favorite?

KH: Hmmmm, that’s a tough call. There are so many titles we’re working on now that I have trouble choosing! I would have to say that the one I most look forward to reading when it crosses my desk for an editorial pass is Soul Eater but then of course I feel guilty about all the other titles that I didn’t pick. . . . It’s like choosing your favorite child!

RT: You originally did a lot of work for American comics, do you still read them? If so, what are you reading now?

KH: I was very much involved with American comics during my stint at Borders and have been a fan ever since I was a kid. Obviously it was something I was introduced to much earlier than manga as so little was available when I first got into comics. I definitely still make my weekly trek to the comics shop. . .which I’m always so happy is right across the street from our offices (*shout out to Midtown Comics on Lex and 45th in Manhattan*). Walking Dead from Image has to be at the top of my list these days in terms of what I’m reading from American comics publishers. I’m also very fond of Kirkman’s Invincible.

RT: How is selling and marketing manga different from comics?

There are a lot of similarities in terms of fan mentality, but the key differences are mainly demographics and destination. American comics have been a fixture in the market for decades, and what is commonly referred to as the “direct market” (comic shops) really evolved to cater to the fans of American comics, which for the most part are directed toward a very specific male demographic. Manga, however, tends to be more broad reaching in terms of its demographic appeal because it is so widely accepted and a part of the mainstream in Japan. The bookstore market was really the first sort of mainstream adopter of manga—although there were obviously many, many independent comics shops who were there from the beginning and do a great job with manga (The Beguiling comes to mind)—and because mainstream bookstores tend to have a more diverse clientele than the average comic shop, it was easier to find consumers for the more shojo sort of properties.

So a lot of the selling of manga is directed at the bookstore market. A lot of the marketing of manga is done through the bookstore channel and outreach tends to be directed to the “manga” community and where they congregate. Currently, there still tends to be very little overlap between the American comics and manga readers. . . which is really a shame because both have so many great properties to offer.

RT: The U.S. manga industry has really grown in the past few years, what does Yen Press bring to the manga market? What makes you guys unique?

KH: Yen Press brings to the table both expertise in the category and passion for the material. We consider ourselves “fan advocates” in a lot of ways because we know what fans are looking for, and we’ve always been committed to living up to fan expectations of how the material is presented. And because everyone at Yen is a fan, we really strive to put forward material of the highest quality when it comes to translation, reproduction and respect for the original material.

Add to that our association with Hachette Book Group, one of the largest and most respected publishers—not just in the country but the world—and we’re very well positioned to be a major force in this market. I think that our track record with respect to some of the properties we’ve already acquired speaks to that.

RT: Was Yen Press always planning to enter the light novel market or was it only after the acquisition of the Haruhi novels became a possibility?

KH: Light novels are always something we’ve been keenly aware of, and we did have plans to test the waters before the acquisition of Haruhi. Actually, Haruhi wasn’t the first light novel we acquired. The first was the source material for the manga property that we published last year, KIELI. The first Kieli novel will publish this June, and it is absolutely a great, great read. It isn’t something you have to be a Japanophile to enjoy, and we really hope that it finds its audience.

RT: How does licensing manhwa differ from licensing manga?

KH: For the most part, the process is quite similar. You’re really just dealing with different markets, but the actual licensing process is much the same.

RT: What is a title that isn’t getting a lot of notice but you feel is particularly strong?

KH: Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro has gotten a lot of nods critically, but that’s one I would love to see reach a wider audience. It is a unique and utterly endearing title, and I can not recommend it more highly.

RT: How has licensing mature titles worked out so far? What, if any, are the major concerns when deciding on these titles?

KH: We really don’t set out with the intention of “okay, we’re going to license mature titles today. . .” Every title is acquired based on its own merits. Now certainly our book Sundome has found a voracious fan-base, and that’s very gratifying. But the book wasn’t licensed because of the “edgy” material. The story of the relationship between the key characters there is the compelling part of the book, and I think that’s what makes it so appealing.

Speaking more generally, there’s always some degree of concern when you license mature titles, but just to reiterate what I said earlier, we strongly felt there were audiences for the few mature titles we’ve released under our imprint so far, and we felt that the material justified having an advocate in this market.

RT: Do you feel there are any untapped manga markets in the U.S.? Are there any niches you feel are gaining momentum?

KH: I think the biggest issue facing manga publishers now is not in finding the untapped niches within the Japanese market that can find a small fan base in the U.S. but rather building a wider reading audience for manga in general in this market. While the growth of the category has been unprecedented, there are still a host of new readers who have yet to be introduced to the great material that is currently available, not just from Yen but from other publishers out there as well.

One area where the market is seeing significant growth is in adaptations of known licenses in the market here into comics or manga form. I am personally of the opinion that this is going to ultimately serve as one of the best possible bridges for opening readers to manga in general.

RT: What determined the way Yen Press translated sound effects since it varies from company to company.

KH: This was something that was discussed at great length before we began publishing our first titles. The idea of completely eliminating sound effects simply wasn’t an option for us. Too often, sound effects represent an integral portion of the art on a page, and that wasn’t something we were comfortable offering. At the same time, sound effects in Japan and Korea tend to be far more diverse that what you find in American comics, and we really felt that all too often the translations of sound effects were lacking. Too much of the original “tone” of the sound effects was lost in translation. Simply leaving the “untranslated” sound effects didn’t seem like an idea solution either, though, as often it would be confusing as to what sound was actually trying to be evoked and what that represented on the page. Ultimately, we made the decision to both transcribe and translate the sound effects to help give readers the richest experience with the material.

RT: We aren’t aware of any editing of titles, would Yen Press license a title that required editing?

KH: If you’re referring to censoring material, this is something that Yen has never done to date, and so long as it is a decision that is within our control, we have no plans to. We completely understand readers’ desire to experience the material as it was originally presented, and it is a sentiment we share. We are far more comfortable rating material appropriately than censoring the creators’ vision and voice.

RT: What strategies have worked best marketing/advertising wise?

KH: Honestly, that’s always a debatable topic. It’s very difficult to directly tie any marketing or advertising strategy to actual sales. However, in terms of feedback, Yen’s anthology magazine has unquestionably garnered the most attention, and we’re of the opinion that it has significantly raised the profile of the titles that have appeared there.

RT: Is there any reason Yen Press seems to be tapping the 4-panel comic market more than other companies?

KH: Tapping the yon koma market wasn’t a particular initiative or strategy for us. We simply fell in love with a lot of that material and felt that it was something readers here would appreciate as well.

RT: Have there been any decisions that were ill received by fans?

KH: There’s always something you do that someone doesn’t like. It’s absolutely unavoidable. It’s impossible to make everyone happy all the time. Ultimately, though, you make what you feel are the best decisions for your business—some of them may be decisions that the publisher doesn’t even WANT to make but are necessary for the health of the business, and you move on. The hope is that whatever decisions you make are informed by the desires of the fans, the necessities of the market, and the needs of your business. Sometimes the act of balancing those factors can be incredibly tricky. . . but at the end of the day we always hope that the fans know we are working in what we feel are in both their and our long-term best interests.

RT: In the earlier days of the industry, people would hire translators and then give their translation over to re-writers. Do you hire translators that are also re-writers now or do you still use two separate people?

KH: This is really a case-by-case decision. For the most part, we use translators who are re-writers, and our editorial staff tweaks where it is deemed appropriate and necessary. However, we do use some re-writers for certain projects.

RT: It has been about 6 months since the first issue of Yen Plus, has it lived up to the companies expectations?

KH: Yen Plus is always going to be an evolving concept where we strive not only exceed our expectations but to increase those expectations. As we’ve said often before, this is really a marketing tool—the goal of which is to raise the awareness of our licenses in a very crowded market. Has the magazine accomplished that? Absolutely! It has also raised our profile as a publisher far more than we ever anticipated. We’re never going to be content, though, to just say, “Oh, this is working great. Now lets bury our heads in the sand and not give it any more thought.” The goal is to constantly ask ourselves how can we make this better? How can we do more to expand our reach? How can we do more to raise awareness of the great titles in our catalog? We’re always looking for newer, better, more innovative strategies in everything we do, and Yen Plus is definitely at the forefront of those initiatives.

RT: What is the most popular title/least popular title in Yen Plus as far as you can tell?

KH: It would be difficult to generalize too much, but certainly Maximum Ride and Soul Eater seem to consistently top the charts. We’re constantly shocked by the feedback we receive when people are selecting their favorite titles. “Ah, they like Jack Frost and. . . One Fine Day. . . . Those two are quite different, actually. . .” Of course, that was the premise of the magazine in the first place. We didn’t want to assume that just because someone enjoys one shonen title that that’s ALL that interests them. The intent was to provide diversity and the opportunity to explore new things. Given that broad range of responses we get when people are checking off their favorites, I think it speaks a lot to just how well that strategy is working.

RT: What determines the release schedule for graphic novel versions of titles in Yen Plus? Some of the dates are very far off making it hard to catch up to a series in Yen Plus if you haven’t been reading from the beginning.

KH: Very good question. A number of factors go into the release schedules for the books. How long are the chapters? How long can we serialize while maintaining a consistent release schedule for the tankobon before the two begin to collide? (That one’s a major concern…)

For anyone who hasn’t been reading from the beginning, there are always short summaries of the story that’s come before to bring you up to speed quickly. If you’re absolutely DYING to read the previous chapters, I highly recommend going to your local comic shop which should very easily be able to order back issues through Diamond Comic Distribution for as long as stock is available. And of course the tankobon is the final, best solution to add the material permanently to your library!

RT: Has Yen Plus shown any signs of making manhwa more viable?

KH: Absolutely. I can’t think of a better vehicle we could have used to raise the awareness of our manhwa properties than to include them as peers alongside the manga. I know we’ve received a TON of feedback from fans who’ve said they never knew that there was so much high quality manhwa out there in the market—and there is!

RT: Yen Plus will be rotating series as it continues on, any upcoming titles you can talk about?

KH: Well, of course, we’ve already announced the newest title—Hero Tales—the first chapter of which debuts in the February issue which should be hitting newsstands in a couple of weeks. Any fans of Fullmetal Alchemist should be thrilled to get a peek at that one. Can’t say that I can talk about any new properties at just this moment. . . but we are discussing some licenses that will make a lot of people very happy, I think. . . .

RT: Would you considering putting some of your other already being released titles in Yen Plus? What about adding light novel chapters to the magazine?

KH: We’ve already done a couple of previews of existing series like Black God, and starting last month we decided we’d begin to feature chapters from Goong in the magazine for a bit just to shine a spotlight on that license because it is attention well deserved. Light novel chapters certainly have not been ruled out as a possibility at this point.

RT: How much does Square Enix suggest/have pull over the titles appearing in Yen Plus?

KH: Obviously we work very closely with Square Enix, and we take their suggestions very seriously as to what they would like to see featured in the anthology. We share a very productive dialogue. They’re always very candid about any concerns they have or issues they may face with respect to properties we may be interested in. They are a great company to work with, and we really value their input and support.

RT: One Fine Day is a rather unique work, how did you come to know about it?

KH: One Fine Day is funny and cute and ADOWABLE! It’s a title that Daiwon was kind enough to bring to our attention, and we felt that it would make for a great addition to Yen Plus in terms of diversity. One Fine Day is exactly the kind of book that we love to bring to people’s attention.

RT: Between Yen Press and Little Brown who was the head decision making body for the Haruhi novels? What was each of your roles in it’s production?

KH: Haruhi has very much been a joint venture between Yen and Little Brown every step of the way. I think that trying to differentiate the roles of each would be something like trying to separate conjoined twins, so I won’t even make the attempt!

RT: Nightschool is 100% original for the magazine, what are the challenges you’ve faced with this?

KH: Challenges? Try delights! (Are you reading this, Svet?) Seriously, though, Nightschool has been a pleasure from day one. It’s one of the first projects that Yen ever signed and was certainly the first original book that we acquired. Watching it make its debut in the anthology was a pleasure and an accomplishment on so many levels. . . *getting teary here*

You’d be far better asking Svet or her editor about the challenges on this one. They’re the ones pouring blood, sweat and tears into the project. I just get the pleasure of reading it before anybody else!

RT: Has publishing Maximum Ride produced the crossover appeal you were hoping for?

KH: Maximum Ride is an AMAZING property on so many levels, and we’ve been really gratified to see how many Max fans who were not previously manga readers have really embraced this vision of the work. We only just received our first look at the finished tankobon, and everyone has been absolutely stunned at how beautifully it came out. (Even our printer commented that of all the manga they have worked on that this one really raised the bar.) I think that in terms of crossover appeal, Maximum Ride is setting a new standard.

RT: Due to the recent economic crisis and its subsequent impact on the publishing industry, how has Yen Press adapted? And how has it affected future plans for the company?

KH: Obviously the overall economic situation is of great concern to everyone. In terms of how Yen Press is adapting, we’re definitely being more selective in terms of what titles we are adding to our list going forward, trying to make sure we are publishing the absolute best of the best and those titles that we feel of are particular interest to fans. We’re also taking a very hard look at what we feel should be our “ideal” number of releases per month so as not to put an undue burden on consumers in terms of their spending dollar.

*Interview conducted through e-mail

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

//