Tidbits: Four from Yen Press

It’s time again for Tidbits, and the focus this time is on some recent and/or upcoming releases from Yen Press! First up is the second volume of Higurashi When They Cry: Beyond Midnight Arc, followed by the ninth and final volume of Moon Boy, the fourth installment of Time and Again, and the ninth volume of Yotsuba&!. Enjoy!

Higurashi When They Cry: Beyond Midnight Arc 2 by Ryukishi07 and Mimori: B-
I was so impressed by the spooky atmosphere in the first volume of the Beyond Midnight Arc that I went back and purchased the first two volumes of the Higurashi series, thinking that perhaps I had initially judged it unfairly. Unfortunately, while the second and concluding volume of the arc (volume ten in series numbering) doesn’t leave me questioning that decision, it is still not as good as the first.

The premise is that a group of five people has gathered in a “ghost village” called Hinamizawa. At the end of the first volume, someone’s cell phone mysteriously ends up broken, one of the five is found dead, and the name of another appears on a list of victims of the disaster that left Hinamizawa deserted in the first place. The first two mysteries are solved very early in the second volume, which seems rather abrupt, and then a bunch of yakuza arrive and completely derail the story for several chapters.

There’s also much unburdening of secrets, and character backstories full of debt, dissipation, and domestic violence monopolize a lot of pages. Perhaps I’m hard-hearted, but I found these tales—and the subsequent decisions to live life to the fullest and always try one’s hardest—pretty far from compelling. I’m here for the creepy, not the weepy!

In the end, the final mystery is resolved in a fairly satisfying manner and the survivors note that the pelting rain has finally ceased. While I nitpick the structure of this second volume, on the whole I did enjoy the arc—especially how the revelations sent me back to reread portions of the first volume in a new light—and still plan to go back to the beginning one of these days.

Moon Boy 9 by Lee YoungYou: C
It’s over!

As with all volumes of Moon Boy prior to this final one, it’s practically impossible to describe exactly what happens. Various people are after Yu-Da, the “Black Rabbit,” whose liver has the powers to free the fox queen, Hang-Ah, from thousands of years of torment. Various other people are determined not to let Yu-Da be sacrificed, and many battles ensue.

It had never really occurred to me before how much of the confusion I experience when reading this series is due to the art. LeeYoungYou’s work is fine for facial closeups, and many such panels—particularly when characters are emotionally distraught—are worthy of praise. Action scenes, though, prove an insurmountable challenge. At one point we get a two-page spread of a bunch of characters standing around when suddenly something goes “Kapow!” What was it? I have absolutely no idea. Then a fight breaks out, accompanied by innumerable speed lines and still more sound effects, but for the life of me I could not tell you what weapon (if any) anybody is wielding.

There are some good emotional moments sprinkled throughout. I am especially fond of an encounter between Jin-Soo, one of the foxes formerly assigned to guard Yu-Da, and the villain who now inhabits the body of the boy she loves. When told that said boy’s soul is long gone, she replies, “Then I will take back his body if his body is all I can have.” It’s too bad none of these characters was really developed over the course of the series, but it’s still a cool scene anyway.

It’s moments like those that kept me reading Moon Boy, despite its many problems, and while I am honestly relieved that it’s over I still think there’s a good story in there somewhere.

Time and Again 4 by JiUn Yun: A
The most compelling aspect of Time and Again is the bond between its main characters. Part of what connects Baek-On and Ho-Yeon—an exorcist and his bodyguard, respectively—is that each is attempting to atone for something in his past. After several volumes of hints, volume four is almost wholly devoted to revealing the tragic details of Ho-Yeon’s background. Rather than present the story in a linear fashion, however, manhwa-ga JiUn Yun introduces a client, a reputedly kind and honest man who is nonetheless capable of being motivated by greed, and uses his case to segue into Ho-Yeon’s flashback.

Before his execution for false charges, Ho-Yeon’s father tasked him with looking out for his mother and sister. Because of his father’s disgrace, however, Ho-Yeon is unable to get a government post and can only bring in a meager living through transcription work. Eventually, he rides out with a military unit, discovers a “cruel talent” for killing, and is offered a promotion. “I am not doing this because I want to make a fortune and have authority over other people,” he thinks. “I just want enough money to provide for my mother and little sister. Who could ever say that’s too much to ask?”

Alas, while his return home is delayed, his mother and sister are killed and Ho-Yeon feels that he, through his greed, was responsible. It’s a classic case of our tortured hero being too hard on himself—he had to find a way to support them somehow, but he knew it was wrong to use his ability to kill as a means to obtain wealth, and did it anyway. While he’s at his lowest point, he meets Baek-On, and so we finally see exactly how they meet.

It’s a sad, affecting tale and one that offers a lot of insight as to why Ho-Yeon is willing to fight to protect Baek-On, who has saved him in more ways than one. I must admit, though, that I’m even more interested in Baek-On’s backstory, and hope for evidence that Ho-Yeon has saved him, too.

Yotsuba&! 9 by Kiyohiko Azuma: A
A new volume of Yotsuba&! can always be counted on to provide a smile, and the ninth installment offers plenty as Yotsuba gets her first teddy bear, proves unable to successfully carry a cup of coffee next door, enjoys some yakiniku, and joins in on a group trip to see some hot air balloons. As usual, Yotsuba greets everything with enthusiasm and even weathers tumbles with a laugh.

One of the things I enjoy most about this series is catching a glimpse of the unique and creative way Yotsuba thinks. Here, she cleverly invents jobs for a bunch of scattered acorns and evaluates teddy bears for their “ease of hugging.” At the same time, Azuma is careful not to idealize her too much. She can be selfish, like any child her age, and has to be reminded to say “thank you” when given a gift as well as scolded for fibbing to her dad. She hasn’t yet realized that the world doesn’t revolve around her, as demonstrated by a particularly awesome moment during the trip to see the hot air balloons. A section of the field is roped off with “keep out” tape and Yotsuba, fully prepared to go right on in, is stunned to learn, “Even I can’t go in there?”

I also continue to absolutely, positively love Azuma’s skill in nonverbal storytelling. There are many panels in which Yotsuba’s thoughts or state of mind is completely clear from just the art. Additionally, backgrounds are wonderfully detailed and I especially liked the beautiful depiction of the expanding vista as the balloon in which Yotsuba and her companions are riding gradually ascends above the field.

In both craft and subject matter, Yotsuba&! simply excels.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

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Trackbacks

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