Yotsuba&! 2-8 by Kiyohiko Azuma: A

The theme of this month’s Manga Moveable Feast is a Kids’ Table featuring discussion of Yotsuba&! and other kid-friendly manga. Here is my take on the former; be sure to check out this week’s Off the Shelf where Melinda and I will talk about the latter!

My opinions on these seven delightful volumes of Yotsuba&! can be summed up as: “Yep, still awesome!” I really don’t have much to add to what I said in my review of volume one. Yotsuba is still wide-eyed and exuberant, there are still many laugh-out-loud scenes and lines of dialogue, and I still teeter on the edge between wanting Yotsuba to stay as she is forever and wanting to see her grow up. Instead of a straightforward review, then, I thought I’d share my favorite moments in each of these volumes.

Volume two:
Yotsuba encounters frogs, pools, and cake in this volume, but my favorite chapter is entitled “Yotsuba & Vengeance.” Inspired by a movie her dad and Jumbo are watching, Yotsuba whips out a water gun and “kills” them both, then changes characters and swears to avenge them. She promptly goes next door and squirts her neighbor, Mrs. Ayase.

Mrs. Ayase: Aaaah, I’ve been murdered!
Yotsuba: Yep.
Yotsuba: Ah, where’s Ena?
Mrs. Ayase: Huh? Aren’t I supposed to be dead?
Yotsuba: …
Yotsuba: You’re half alive.

Hee! After providing the requested information, Mrs. Ayase is squirted again and told, “Now you’re full dead.”

Volume three:
One thing you really begin to notice with volume three is continuity between chapters that renders them not entirely episodic. At the end of volume two, Yotsuba’s neighbor, Asagi Ayase, returns from her a trip to Okinawa with souvenirs for her family and some goodies to share with Yotsuba. This makes Yotsuba want to give Asagi a souvenir, too, but you have to go somewhere first to do that. So she goes to the park and looks around and finally finds a four-leaf clover, which she proudly presents to Asagi. When Asagi and her friend proceed to drive off, Yotsuba waits impatiently for their return, certain she will be brought another souvenir at that time. My favorite moment of this volume occurs when Asagi returns, seemingly empty-handed. It’s a really great example of nonverbal storytelling and I especially love what Yotsuba does with her hands.

Volume four:
For some reason, volume four feels especially slice-of-lifey to me. Yotsuba has a plethora of amusing reactions to the things she encounters, as per usual, but my favorite chapter involves a simple trip to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make a “regular delicious” meal. I love, too, how Yotsuba takes the lesson that the smaller cart is “for kids” and applies the same reasoning to things like quail eggs and (presumably) cherry tomatoes. Plus, that hamburg steak that they’re having for dinner sounds super tasty! (I’m much more dubious about the konnyaku.)

Volume five:
Although volume five is home to the classic chapter “Yotsuba & Danbo,” in which Yotsuba interacts with a cardboard robot without knowing her neighbor’s classmate is inside, my favorite chapter is actually “Yotsuba & Rain.” Maybe I’m just partial to episodes in which Yotsuba and her dad run errands together, but this has the two of them venturing out into the rain to return a DVD. After Yotsuba fails at the art of umbrella, assures the clerk that the dolphins jumping “like boing” were awesome, and sings a little song to the amusement of another patron (“We are all living! And living is pain!”), she wraps up her afternoon by accosting random strangers and asking if they’ve tried taiyaki. The whole chapter sums up her character, and her relationship with her father, very well. The one sour note in this volume is the introduction of Yanda, a coworker of Yotsuba’s father, who essentially gets his kicks out of antagonizing a five-year-old child.

Volume six:
The most significant thing to happen to Yotsuba in volume six is that she gets a bike. This leads to a variety of cute scenes, but the best chapter is “Yotsuba & Delivering,” in which Yotsuba attempts to catch up with a school-bound Fuuka on her bike—which she is not supposed to be riding without an adult present—in order to share some delicious milk with her. I love the duo of panels in which we see first a corner with simply the “gara gara” (rattle) sound effect of the bike, and then the same corner after Yotsuba has finally made it around. In general, Yotsuba seems a little more restive and mischievous in this volume, disrupting Ena when she’s doing homework, eating her father’s eclair when she knows she shouldn’t and then going next door in search of a replacement, et cetera. Azuma really captures kid behavior so well. Even a child as charming as Yotsuba has impulse control issues and then resorts to sneaky means to cover up afterwards!

Volume seven:
One of the things I enjoy most about Yotsuba&! is seeing how she thinks, especially when she’s trying to solve problems. In the chapter “Yotsuba & Errands,” rather than ask another customer at a convenience store to help her get down a Cup Noodle she can’t reach, she asks for something long. The customer finds a fluorescent bulb that suffices and watches, stunned, as Yotsuba uses it to bat the noodles down from the shelf. There’s also a lot of great nonverbal storytelling in this volume, particularly in a chapter in which Yotsuba, Fuuka, and Fuuka’s school friend attempt to make a cake, whimsically taking periodic breaks to express their cake-making feelings through interpretive dance.

Volume eight:
Although I adore Yotsuba’s reactions to the various things she encounters at the cultural festival being held at Fuuka’s school as well as her stint riding atop Jumbo’s shoulders, my favorite chapter is “Yotsuba & the Typhoon.” From its opening page, on which an awestruck Yotsuba is seen through a rain-splashed window, you know this one is something special. The goodness continues when Yotsuba insists on going next door and dashes out to frolic jubilantly in the downpour. Her father is aghast at first and then surrenders to the moment himself. I’m happy that he’s the one who tries to see things the way Yotsuba does, especially since the neighbors don’t want to join on the fun. The chapter is capped off by a perfect page of nonverbal storytelling as Yotsuba tests the hypothesis that if she were to go outside and open an umbrella, she’d fly away.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Yotsuba&! binge. What’s more, this series has tremendous reread potential—more, perhaps, than any other series I can think of—so I’m sure I’ll enjoy returning to it in future.

What are some of your favorite Yotsuba&! moments?

Review copies for volumes 2-6 provided by the publisher.

For more of the Kids’ Table MMF, check out the archive at Good Comics for Kids.

Sugarholic 1-5 by Gong GooGoo: B

Jae-Gyu Sin is a lazy and listless twenty-year-old living with her mother and grandmother. When a mudslide destroys their house, her grandmother ships Jae-Gyu off to Seoul with very little money and instructions to stay with her brother, a university student, for a while. On her way there, she manages to tear the shirt being worn by a random hottie then spots her childhood bullying victim Hee-Do on TV, where he is performing as part of a popular boy band. (Incidentally, I wonder just how many manhwa feature a spunky girl who gets into a relationship with an impossibly beautiful boy due to the accidental destruction of his property. It happens in There’s Something About Sunyool, it happens (sort of) in the K-drama Coffee Prince…)

After some setup, in which Jae-Gyu reconnects with her former classmate Hyun-Ah, accidentally pantses the hottie (Whie-Hwan), runs into Hee-Do, and ends up accompanying some of Hyun-Ah’s coworkers to a sort of prostitution gig, Whie-Hwan makes a proposition. His grandfather, head of a crime family, keeps hassling him about his ex-girlfriend, so he wants Jae-Gyu to live with him and pose as his new love interest for a month. When she sees the amount of money he’s offering, Jae-Gyu agrees.

Whie-Hwan, not surprisingly, has the angst. He was weak as a kid growing up in Thailand, so his grandfather had him study Muay Thai, not realizing that Whie-Hwan would grow incredibly attached to his teacher, Athit. Grandpa eventually forced Whie-Hwan to quit, under threat of physical injury to Athit, and Whie-Hwan has been miserable ever since. This begins to change as he spends more time around Jae-Gyu. Though she’s kind of obnoxious and aggressively immature, she is quite lively, and her presence helps Whie-Hwan wake up to the world around him.

In time, and after a few timely rescues of Jae-Gyu from a sleazy rich guy who’s taken a liking to her, Whie-Hwan realizes that he’s begun to have genuine feelings for her. Jae-Gyu, too, is experiencing the same thing, and it’s here where we begin to understand that her off-putting behavior is really just a defense mechanism. When she was a child, her father abandoned his wife and children, and in order to avoid attracting anyone’s pity or sympathy, young Jae-Gyu acted as bratty and rambunctious as possible. This attitude persists even now, with Jae-Gyu denying her feelings expression because “I know well enough that if I show any weakness, I lose.” I found Jae-Gyu grating in the first two volumes, but after this insight in volume three, I began to like her (and the series as a whole) much more.

Here begins the truly charming phase of the series, in which Whie-Hwan and Jae-Gyu decide to become a real couple and attempt to do couple-ish things, although neither has been in a real relationship before. Whie-Hwan’s idea of an ideal first date is to whisk Jae-Gyu off to Thailand so that she can get to know him better by experiencing the Muay Thai he loves and so he can also show her off to Athit. Over-the-top Evil Grandpa doesn’t take well to this, however, preventing the long-awaited reunion with Athit and and shipping Whie-Hwan off to the US for a few months.

When he returns, free of his grandfather at last, Whie-Hwan is much more clear-eyed and open about what he wants: a future in which both Muay Thai and Jae-Gyu figure prominently. I really enjoyed seeing the two of them finally begin to lower some of their barriers and communicate in earnest, though it will take until near the end of volume five for Jae-Gyu to be able to plainly say, “I like you” without expecting Whie-Hwan to read her mind and discover what she really means versus what she’s actually saying. I also liked that Jae-Gyu has to deal with some jealous pangs arising from the knowledge that no matter how much Whie-Hwan cares about her, Muay Thai and Athit will be as important to him, if not more so. She eventually realizes that, if she really loves him, she will encourage him to pursue what makes him happy while seeking to find something similar for herself. In a way, this outcome reminds me of Paradise Kiss, though the ultimate conclusion is much more happy and conventional here.

I’ve been able to write this entire review so far without making more than passing references to Hee-Do, which is a good indication of how entirely unnecessary I found him to be. Petulant and self-pitying, the smitten Hee-Do continually attempts to get through to Jae-Gyu how he feels about her. He thinks it’s a failure to understand on her part, but in reality, she’s aware of his feelings but doesn’t know how to deal with them. Rather than hurt him, since she eventually comes to value his friendship, she feigns obliviousness. Hee-Do is really the clueless one here, unable to see that his advances are making Jae-Gyu uncomfortable. I found his vacillation between glomping and moping annoying.

The art in Sugarholic also has its problems. It’s appropriate for Jae-Gyu to look plain and coltish, and I’m used to the pouty male leads in manhwa looking like they’re wearing mascara, but practically everyone has this random little scribble on their lower lip that makes them look like they either got punched or are in desperate need of some healing lip balm action. It’s very distracting. Some of the dark-haired female characters look similar, too. I did like that the panels are large and not laden with dialogue, though; I’m sometimes a slow reader, but devouring this series was a breeze.

If you’re considering picking up Sugarholic, be prepared to endure two volumes that aren’t so great before things pick up in volume three. I liked it a good bit in the end, so I’m glad I continued with it, but I might not have done so if I hadn’t had all five volumes at hand already.

Sugarholic is published in English by Yen Press. All five volumes have now been released.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Darker Than Black by BONES, et al.: C+

I reviewed the omnibus edition of this shoujo manga based on the Darker Than Black anime for Comics Should Be Good. Basically, all of the elements borrowed from the anime are pretty intriguing, but the manga’s storyline just doesn’t hang together very well.

You can find that review here.

Darker Than Black is published in English by Yen Press in a 384-page omnibus edition that contains both volumes of the series.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Time and Again 1-3 by JiUn Yun: A-

It’s China during the Tang Dynasty. Exorcist Baek-On Ju travels with his bodyguard, Ho-Yeon Won, dealing with ghosts, crafting talismans for his customers, and advising on various mysterious phenomena. The series is primarily episodic but is nonetheless affecting, owing to the quality of the stories and the painful memories that unite Baek-On and Ho-Yeon in self-incriminating suffering.

Many of the stories are based on folk tales, and Yun’s useful end notes are careful to note their origins, if applicable. Most are dark and full of surprising, sinister twists that make them exciting to read, even if the protagonists of the series are largely absent. Sometimes, too, we are able to care about these guest characters a great deal in even a short amount of time—the best example is the final chapter in volume one, in which a guard valiantly defends the concubine he has come to love, sight unseen, against an invading horde.

I initially wondered whether Baek-On, who is seen consulting with a governor’s minion on ways to “get rid” of concubines, was somehow responsible for the outcome of that story, but in later volumes, his obsession with karma and his conviction that he will have to pay for certain of his actions in his next life leads me to believe that he would never want to add to his karmic burden in this way. Karma plays a large role in this series, not just for Baek-On, but for his customers, who are urged to consider how their present actions will affect them in their next life or who are doomed to repeat a tragic cycle of events because they are not willing to listen to his advice.

Baek-On’s refusal to forget tragic events for which he feels responsible is the reason Ho-Yeon, a skilled warrior weary of killing people, feels comfortable with him. At this point, it’s unclear exactly what happened, but it appears that Ho-Yeon left his younger sister unprotected and that, while he was away, she was killed. He wanted to die too, that day, but forces himself to keep living, never forgiving himself for what happened. No longer willing to fight the living, he instead fights spiritual foes at Baek-On’s side.

Both characters are complex—Baek-On enjoys playing the lighthearted fool, though his moments of desperate emotion expose the lie, and Ho-Yeon seems to be the quiet, thoughtful one but has endured more dark times than one would suppose—and their relationship is quite fascinating. Even though Ho-Yeon would seem to be in an employee’s role, it’s clear that Baek-On likes and needs him a great deal. The real depth of their friendship is not apparent in volume one, but by the third volume it’s been fleshed out quite nicely.

There are a few things that bug me about the series. It seems that Yun was still fine-tuning some ideas after the first few chapters were written, which causes some inconsistencies down the line. In volume three, for example, Baek-On will not allow a ghost to have her revenge. This is a little odd because, in the very first chapter, that’s exactly what he does, and takes his client’s money for arranging the situation, to boot. Does abetting a ghostly murder not damage one’s karma? Too, many of the female characters in the book look incredibly similar, and the position of Ho-Yeon’s neck and face in a color illustration in volume two seems anatomically impossible.

Sometimes with an episodic series, I continue to read it because I like the characters. I certainly do like these characters and want to read more about them, but Time and Again is a welcome rarity in which the stories themselves are also a major draw. I’m sad that I have to wait until November for volume four!

Time and Again is published in English by Yen Press; three volumes have been released so far. The series is complete in Korea with a total of six volumes.

Review copies for volumes one and three provided by the publisher.

Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning 1-3 by Kyo Shirodaira and Eita Mizuno: B

I’ve been curious about Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning for a long time, and after really enjoying The Record of a Fallen Vampire by the same author, I decided to choose it for one of my Shounen Sunday picks.

It’s been two years since Kiyotaka Narumi, a brilliant young detective, disappeared after announcing he was pursuing the mystery of the “Blade Children.” Now, his wife Madoka and younger brother Ayumu are left to wonder what’s become of him. Madoka, a lieutenant on the police force, continues to investigate, while Ayumu is presently slumming it through high school, haunted by the amazing abilities of a brother to whom he feels he will never measure up.

When murder is committed on campus and Ayumu is accused, he must clear his name. Unexpected assistance arrives in the form of Hiyono Yuizaki, the president of the school newspaper who has a mysterious knack for gathering information. Together, they identify the real culprit, who ends up having connections to the Blade Children. Two further deaths require Ayumu’s sleuthing skills and each provides one more morsel of information about the central mystery.

In the second volume, the tone shifts as members of the Blade Children arrive and begin testing Ayumu with a variety of life-or-death challenges. These tests are apparently being administered at Kiyotaka’s orders, possibly as a means to jolt his brother from his torpor and awaken his true abilities so that he might become the Blade Children’s savior. Ayumu performs well, but the Blade Children utilize his lack of faith in himself to manipulate him. At moments like these, it’s Hiyono who steps up to display her utter confidence in her friend.

There’s no doubt that Spiral is an interesting and well-written manga. Author Kyo Shirodaira does an admirable job, achieving perfect pacing with the mystery but also taking the time to develop his lead character. Ayumu is quite the atypical shounen hero. He’s not at all confident in his abilities, and possesses a huge inferiority complex about his brother. Many people whom he meets identify him by his relationship to Kiyotaka, and he worries that his own personal tastes have become shaped by his brother, too. This even affects his ability to play the piano, an instrument he loves but gave up because “Even when I try to play from my heart, it always becomes like my brother’s style.”

Hiyono’s also an intriguing character, providing indispensible assistance time and time again and bolstering Ayumu’s spirits with her convictions when his own are lacking. I love how much he comes to rely on her help and is impressed by her (and tells her so). She even gets to save the day a time or two. It’s great that she’s given the opportunity to prove her usefulness, unlike some female sidekicks in shounen manga.

Unfortunately, the Blade Children are almost unbearably dull. They like to sit around and angst about whether Ayumu really can save them, whether they oughtn’t just kill him instead, whether their as-yet-undefined cruel fate can be avoided, whether it’s worth it to even hope, et cetera. Their gimmick of challenging Ayumu to high-stakes gambles gets repetitive, too. (Bomb, card trick, bomb again, poisoned beverage dilemma.) Even Shirodaira admits it becomes not so much a mystery manga as a “showdown manga.”

Shirodaira is paired with artist Eita Mizuno this time, who is a more consistent and traditional artist than Yuri Kimura, with whom Shirodaira worked on The Record of a Fallen Vampire. I like some of Mizuno’s character designs (Ayumu looks cool with his improbable hair and crazy sideburns) but not others (one of the Blade Children, Eyes Rutherford, looks like a petulant tween goth). I had been thinking that Hiyono looks she stepped from the pages of Ribon, with her big eyes and poofy braids, until the diminutive character of Rio was introduced. Rio, with her even bigger eyes and propensity to trip every five feet, just screams moe, which makes me worry that perhaps Hiyono is supposed to be moe, too. In the end, I think she’s too competent to qualify, but it’s worrisome nonetheless.

While I may find the reality of the Blade Children somewhat lacking, the mystery behind their creation is still intriguing, though ultimately not as compelling as the question of what Kiyotaka is really up to. It’ll also be interesting to see whether these tests do really result in Ayumu achieving his full potential. In fact, Ayumu and Spiral have a lot in common that way—the series has a lot of good points, but hasn’t yet managed to fire on all cylinders.

Black Butler 2 by Yana Toboso: B-

This volume begins with Sebastian, butler extraordinaire, whipping together impressive preparations for a charity function with very little notice while simultaneously dealing with disasters caused by the other (incompetent) members of the household staff. From there, Ciel’s investigatory skills are called upon by Queen Victoria and the action relocates to London, where Jack the Ripper is causing quite a stir. Ciel ends up getting captured by a skeevy viscount, Sebastian rescues him, and then the two of them discover the killer’s real identity.

If you’re thinking, “Gee, that sounds just like volume one,” you would be correct! Thankfully, though the overall outline is very similar, the details offer enough variety to forestall boredom. I enjoyed the London setting, for example, as well as learning more about Ciel’s family, Sebastian’s love of cats (pets exist in his world but “leave much to be desired”), and how the contract between them works.

Ultimately, though there are still things about Black Butler that I’m not too keen on, I still find it to be an entertaining read. It took my mind off my troubles for a while, and that’s good enough for me.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Raiders 2 by JinJun Park: C+

From the back cover:
Now that the terror of their first meeting has subsided, Irel begins to wonder if his fear of Lamia is unfounded. Despite her troubling diet, she doesn’t seem to relish the experience of gnawing Irel’s flesh any more than he does. Both share a common goal: to uncover the mysteries surrounding the blood of Christ. If they work together, they might be able to find the answers they seek. But traveling as a pair might only serve to make them a bigger target for even greater terrors…

Review:
Oh, Raiders. What am I going to do with you?

Volume two picks up where volume one left off, namely with the gathering of a bunch of people whose names, thanks to the regrettable lack of a Story So Far, I had completely forgotten. Part of what follows is cool, since it takes place on London streets and involves a double decker bus chase, but part is extremely confusing, since Park’s action scenes border on the incomprehensible. I had to stare at one particular two-page spread for several minutes before I could even hazard a guess as to what was taking place.

The end result of all this action is that Irel, our hero, decides to stay with Lamia, a zombie who’s looking for a cure (Christ’s blood is the prevailing theory). They’re joined by Clarion, a young zombie girl and former enemy, whose master doesn’t take kindly to this betrayal. A new direction for the story seems to be shaping up here, as the trio sets off together in search of more of the precious blood; meanwhile, a couple of other characters seem to be teaming up, too, as British security agents begin nosing around.

What’s frustrating about Raiders is its execution. Glimpses of a fun action story are definitely there to be discovered, but the artwork and occasionally slapdash narrative reduce the amount of enjoyment one should be able to experience. It’s intriguing enough that I’ll continue reading, but probably never without the sense that it could’ve been so much better.

Lastly, I leave you with this quote from Irel, citing his reasons for joining up with Lamia:

I want to understand what is truly inside a cannibal demon.

Other demons, one presumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books 3 by Svetlana Chmakova: B+

Nightschool’s first two volumes introduced us to two groups of characters, the first being teen witch Alex Treveney and the denizens of the night school in which she enrolled to search for her missing sister, Sarah, and the second being a team of young “hunters” who are looking for Alex after she unwittingly injured several of their number. In volume three, the way in which these two groups will combine starts to take shape.

With the help of one of the few people at school who still remembers Sarah—and a nifty, nicely depicted scrying spell—Alex catches a glimpse of her sister’s fate. More significant, however, is a partial explanation for Alex’s occasional bursts of magical violence. The origin of this power ties in with a member of the hunter crew, and suddenly things start to make a lot more sense. I’ll always be happy to get answers to mysteries, but even better is just enough of an answer to feel like satisfying progress has been made while opening up even more potential directions for the story to travel. Chmakova handles this adeptly, and I find I’m even more excited to find out what happens now that I actually have a grip on what’s currently happening.

The one drawback to this series is that, for those following the story in the collected volumes, as opposed to its monthly serialization in Yen Plus, there’s a six-month wait until the next installment. Ideally, one would stockpile all of the volumes until the finale then gobble them up all at once, but when something is this good it’s hard to summon that kind of patience.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Sarasah 2-3 by Ryu Ryang: B-

Sarasah, which starts off as the story of Ji-Hae and the romantic obsession for an aloof and decidedly disinterested classmate that compels her to travel back in time to put right a misstep from their past lives (while disguised as a boy, naturally), widens its scope in these two volumes to include hidden motivations and political agendas.

The incorporation of these elements into the story is a vast improvement, as it gives Ja-Yun (the past life equivalent of Ji-Hae’s modern love) more of a personality, fleshes out the character of Bub-Min (a nobleman who knows Ji-Hae’s true gender), and gives Ji-Hae something to think about besides boys. Both Ja-Yun and Bub-Min are using her for their own purposes, and therefore take some of the focus away from Ji-Hae, whom I still can’t like, despite some improvement in her behavior.

Ryu Ryang’s art continues to be attractive, and the introduction of Misa-Heul, leader of the hwa-rang group to which Ja-Yun belongs, adds another bishounen to the cast. And even though spindly boys with bee-stung lips are not my personal preference, I can’t deny that the cover of this volume, which features Ja-Yun in all his aqua-haired glory, beguiles me with its prettiness.

After reading the first volume, I didn’t have much interest in continuing with this series. Now, though, I am at least marginally intrigued about where this story could be headed.

Review copy for volume three provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Black Butler 1 by Yana Toboso: B-

Twelve-year-old Ciel Phantomhive is, through as-yet-unexplained circumstances, the head of his aristocratic family. He lives in a beautiful manor house near London with his servants, led by the impressively capable Sebastian, and runs a company that manufactures confections and toys. In the first chapter, we witness Sebastian’s skill as he whips up dinner for a guest (hindered by the ineptitude of the other servants), and in the second, Ciel’s shrill and petulant fiancée arrives to dress everyone in cute outfits and break Ciel’s signet ring. Then she cries when he’s mad at her for it. Charming. This inauspicious beginning is tempered somewhat by the likable and enigmatic Sebastian and his relationship with Ciel, who is by turns acerbic and vulernable.

The story picks up the pace in the third chapter, when Ciel is revealed to have been given some sort of policing responsibility by Queen Victoria that makes him a target for an Italian fellow looking to sell drugs in England. When he learns his master has been kidnapped, Sebastian springs into action, easily defeating all of the thugs standing in his way (earning extra badass points for doing so with silverware!) and ultimately revealing more details on the nature of his service agreement with Ciel. This results in a second half that is much better than the first.

Black Butler has a lot of fans, and I can certainly see why. Although I gave this first volume a B-, I did enjoy it overall and feel that the series has a lot of promise.

The first, and most important, step the series can take towards achieving greatness is to jettison the completely unfunny household staff. I’m not even sure why they’re there. Am I actually supposed to find their painfully stupid antics amusing? At one point, I thought one of them might get killed by a sniper and I thought, “Oh, so that’s why they’re there!”, but alas, it was not to be. You know you’ve created some annoying characters when three chapters in I’m rooting for them to die.

I’d also like to see the series develop a plot worthy of its central character. Sebastian is both urbane and lethal, a fellow whose appearance and manner—“You’re nothing more than a romeo swanning around in a swallowtail coat”—bely his true intentions, and he deserves better than whiny fiancées and two-bit drug dealers.

I found Toboso’s art to be kind of generic, but attractive. The action scenes are easy to follow, even when Sebastian’s doing impossible things like throwing bullets into his opponent’s foreheads and slicing their guns in half with a serving tray. Yen’s packaging is also nice, with a couple of color pages and some substantial translation notes.

On the whole, while Black Butler falters some in this first volume, there are enough appealing elements to ensure I’ll be back for the second. I’ll be especially glad if the “comic relief” meets an untimely end in the interim.

Black Butler is published in English by Yen Press. They’ve released one volume so far. The series is up to eight volumes in Japan, where it is still ongoing.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.