Perfect by Sara Shepard

From the front flap:
In a town where gossip thrives like the ivy that clings to its mansions, where mysteries lie behind manicured hedges and skeletons hide in every walk-in closet, four perfect-looking girls aren’t nearly as perfect as they seem.

Spencer, Aria, Emily, Hanna, and the best friend Alison were once the girls at Rosewood Day School. They were the girls everyone loved but secretly hated—especially Alison. So when Alison mysteriously vanished, the girls’ grief was tinged with… relief. And when Alison’s body was later discovered in her own backyard, the girls were forced to unearth some ugly memories of their old friend, too. Could there have been more to Alison’s death than anyone realizes?

Now someone named A, someone who seems to know everything, is pointing the finger at one of them for Alison’s murder. As their secrets get darker and their scandals turn deadly, A is poised to ruin their perfect little lives forever.

Shit just gets so much worse in this installment of the Pretty Little Liars series that all I can do is shake my head. And still, I continue to read and eagerly await the answers promised in the fourth volume (originally intended to be the end of the series), so make of that what you will.

Anyway, some fairly awful things happen to the titular liars in this book, set three weeks after Flawless, the majority of them courtesy of A. Aria is ousted from her home because her mom can’t stand to look at her since Aria has known about her father’s infidelity for three years without ever mentioning it. Emily is outed at a school swim meet, and her parents threaten to send her to live with puritanical relations in Iowa unless she attends de-gaying therapy. Hanna still hasn’t heard from her father and now her best friend Mona is pissed at her too, culminating in a cringeworthy moment at Mona’s big birthday party followed by Hanna getting hit by a car.

You might think this couldn’t be topped for dramatic potential, but Spencer (who spends most of the book angsting about an essay contest) discovers a personal history of blackouts and gradually begins to recall what happened the night Ali disappeared. Meanwhile, A gives out lots of clues and hints about the murder, though their veracity is suspect.

I think I may be running out of things to say about this series, so perhaps it will suffice to say “the whirlwind of cray-cray continues.” It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Aria’s plight—not so much the getting kicked out of her house thing, but what follows—or Spencer’s, because both are very much “you’ve made your bed, now you’ve got to lie in it” types of situations. Emily seems to have fewer chapters devoted to her this time, which makes me wonder whether Shepard realized the endless on-again, off-again relationship with Maya was getting boring.

As in the TV show, Hanna continues to be my favorite. While it’s absolutely awful reading about her utter humiliation at Mona’s party, it does seem to cause her to question what her quest for perfection has really been about. Maybe she’ll learn to embrace her dorky side and will stick with Lucas, the sweet-but-uncool boy who thinks she’s wonderful just the way she is. But then again, with this series, hoping for a happy ending for anyone is probably futile.

Flawless by Sara Shepard

From the front flap:
In the exclusive town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania, where the sweetest smiles hide the darkest secrets, four pretty little liars—Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna—have been very bad girls…

Spencer stole her sister’s boyfriend, Aria is brokenhearted over her English teacher, Emily likes her new friend Maya… as much more than a friend. And Hanna’s obsession with looking flawless is literally making her sick. But the most horrible secret of all is something so scandalous it could destroy their perfect little lives.

And someone named “A” is threatening to do just that. At first they thought A was Alison, their friend who vanished three years ago… but then Alison turned up dead. One thing’s for certain: A’s got the dirt to bury them all alive, and with every crumpled note, wicked IM, and vindictive text message A sends, the girls get a little closer to losing it all.

In this, the second book of the Pretty Little Liars series, bad things continue to happen to the pulchritudinous prevaricators, often of their own making but sometimes not. Spencer risks her family’s wrath (and her academic standing) by sneaking off to see Wren, her sister’s ex-boyfriend. Emily tries very hard to not be gay, and ends up taking as a date to the big charity dance a boy who may have killed Alison. Hanna is desperate to earn her father’s love, but A (and a bitchy soon-to-be step-sister) sees to it that he finds out about her various transgressions. And Aria tries to derail her father’s extramarital affair while growing closer to the guy who dumped Hanna, like, eight days ago.

While I could never claim that this series is a shining achievement in literature, it certainly is entertaining (in the most crackalicious way possible). Each book seems to cover about a week in the lives of these four girls and, seriously, if I had this much crazy crap going on in my life, I think I would end up catatonic. As before, chapters alternate between the four girls as they each deal with their own secrets and various threats from A. This time, they’ve decided that A must be Toby, a neighbor who took the blame when one of Alison’s pranks resulted in dire injury to his sister. By the end of the novel, they’ve convinced themselves that Toby also killed Alison for revenge, though the revelation of the existence of an airtight alibi throws that into question.

I can’t help but come at this series from the perspective of someone who’s been watching the TV show. The differences between the two versions of the story are widening, and it’s interesting to me to see how the producers of the show decided to take the story in new directions. On the show, for example, Aria is still (as of the last episode I saw, anyway) hooking up with her English teacher. Here, she seems to have moved on, and with Hanna’s ex, to boot. Spencer never had sex with Wren on the show, nor was it ever mentioned that she used to be a chronic sleepwalker. In the books, the girls have not resumed their friendship as enthusiastically. Most importantly, though, someone dies in this book who is still very much alive on the show!

This makes me happy, because I accidentally spoiled myself on the identity of A in the books. This robs me of some suspense while reading, unfortunately, but at the same time all these changes suggest that A could very well be someone completely different in the TV version, and that I can’t necessarily expect people who are benevolent in one format to be the same in another. That’s pretty neat.

For me, Pretty Little Liars is the epitome of a guilty pleasure.

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

From the front flap:
Gossip thrives amid the Mercedes-Benzes, mega mansions, and perfectly manicured hedges in the exclusive town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania. Behind their big Gucci sunglasses, beneath their perfectly pressed Polos, everyone has something to hide, especially high school juniors Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna. Spencer covets her sister’s gorgeous new boyfriend. Aria is having an affair with her English teacher. Emily is infatuated with the new girl at school. And Hanna is using some ugly tricks to stay beautiful. Deeper and darker still is a horrible secret the girls have shared since sixth grade—a secret they thought was safe forever.

Confession: I have become addicted to the ABC Family adaptation of Pretty Little Liars. Now that it has started its second season, I figured it was safe to read the first book in the series. As it turns out, said book only covers the first few episodes of the show, so I needn’t have delayed.

The series was originally developed by Alloy Entertainment—who is behind most of the YA novel series that have recently become TV shows—to be a kind of teen version of Desperate Housewives. (I’d say that description is pretty apt, except that I think Pretty Little Liars is the better show, largely because when your protagonists do really stupid things it’s more forgivable when they’re sixteen than when they’re thirty-something.) Even though Sara Shepard receives sole authorship credits, interviews suggest that it’s really a team effort.

The first novel sets up the series and the secrets that each of its four protagonists carries. Back in sixth and seventh grade, Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily clustered around their dazzling queen bee, Alison, who alternately beguiled and belittled them (and many others). She goaded them into a dangerous act of vandalism that left a fellow student blinded—an incident henceforth referred to as “the Jenna thing”—and then disappeared the summer before eighth grade. Aria’s family moved to Iceland shortly thereafter and the remaining girls—grieving but a little relieved to be free of Alison’s influence—drifted apart.

Now, three years later, Aria is back and so, possibly, is Alison, since each of the four girls begins receiving mysterious messages (text, e-mail, and handwritten) from someone calling themselves only “A.” A seems to know everyone’s secrets, and there are many. Bohemian Aria is having a secret fling with her English teacher, and also knows that her dad was cheating on her mom three years ago; obedient Emily is secretly attracted to girls; overachieving Spencer is not-so-secretly attracted to her sister’s boyfriend; and Hanna—impatient, impulsive, newly popular Hanna—secretly feels desperately unloved, and has a couple scrapes with the law while trying to conquer her bulimia. Chapters alternate between the characters, and it’s only at the end, when they discover that they’ve all been A’s victims, that they seem poised to renew their friendship.

It’s hard for me to say how I would feel about the novel had I not seen the show. There are differences, of course—a different timeline of events, characters who do not resemble the actresses ultimately chosen to portray them, some siblings for Emily, more bad behavior than ABC Family evidently was comfortable with—but nothing major plot-wise. I think the TV series is more effective at humanizing the characters—especially Hanna, who unexpectedly became my favorite—and making them likeable, but reading the book helped me understand the characters better, especially Aria and Emily.

So, why should you check out Pretty Little Liars, in either of its forms? For the cracktastic soapy goodness with protagonists whom you can still like even if they do ridiculous things like steal their boyfriend’s car because he won’t put out and crash it into a tree. Sure, I’m a little embarrassed to be reading/watching it at my advanced age, but it entertains me, and sometimes that’s enough.

Arisa 1 by Natsumi Ando

From the back cover:
Tsubasa thinks that her pretty and popular twin sister, Arisa, has the perfect life. Everyone at school loves Arisa—unlike the hot-tempered Tsubasa, whose nickname is “the Demon Princess.” But when Arisa attempts suicide, Tsubasa learns that her seemingly perfect sister has been keeping some dark secrets. Now Tsubasa is going undercover at school—disguised as Arisa—in search of the truth. But will Arisa’s secrets shatter Tsubasa’s life, too?

So, you’ve read After School Nightmare and are casting about for more creepy and suspenseful school-based shoujo to consume. Have I got the manga for you!

Despite their different surnames, Tsubasa Uehara and Arisa Sonoda are twin sisters who, due to split custody arising from their parents’ divorce, have not seen each other in person for three years. They’ve kept in contact via letters, however, and tomboyish Tsubasa has envied her sister’s seemingly perfect life, as conveyed by her letters. When Arisa proposes they meet, Tsubasa is overjoyed, and she also goes along with her sister’s suggestion to pose as Arisa for the following day at school. Everything seems to go so well—Arisa is popular, respected by classmates and teachers, and has a cute boyfriend—until the end of the day when Tsubasa discovers a cryptic card in her sister’s shoe locker. “Arisa Sonoda is a traitor.”

Arisa is surprised to hear that Tsubasa had fun, and after cryptically remarking, “You don’t know their secrets… or mine,” leans backward out of the open apartment window. Trees break her fall enough that she survives, but the accident leaves her in a coma. Tsubasa, determined to find out what’s going on, returns to Arisa’s school and soon discovers a weekly ritual known as “King Time,” during which the students submit a wish to some mysterious person, who grants one per week. On this particular occasion, a pervy gym teacher is made to disappear quite effectively. When a fellow classmate questions his fate, she too receives the “traitor” notice and is thereafter bullied and ostracized. Did Arisa raise similar objections and receive the same treatment?

Mangaka Natsumi Ando handles Tsubasa’s confusion expertly, as students (particularly Arisa’s best friend, Mariko) go from chipper to menacing in the blink of an eye. Whom can she trust? Manabe, the bad boy who attacked her with a 2×4 but who also expressed a desire to destroy “the King”? Midori, Arisa’s mild-mannered and considerate boyfriend? At least she has an ally in her friend Takeru, who does some investigation on her behalf. I like how the initially friendly mood of the class breaks down into genuine creepiness, and am really looking forward to seeing how the mystery progresses from here.

The first volume of Arisa was published in English by Del Rey, but Kodansha Comics took over beginning with the second volume, which was released last Tuesday. (I’m saving that one for Wednesday’s Off the Shelf column.) The series is still ongoing in Japan, where it is currently up to seven volumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe: B-

From the back cover:
‘Her present life appeared like the dream of a distempered imagination, or like one of those frightful fictions, in which the wild genius of the poets sometimes delighted. Reflection brought only regret, and anticipation terror.’

Such is the state of mind of Ann Radcliffe’s orphaned heroine Emily St. Aubert, who finds herself imprisoned in her evil guardian Count Montoni’s gloomy medieval fortress in the remote Apennines. Terror is the order of the day inside the walls of Udolpho, as Emily struggles against Montoni’s rapacious schemes and the threat of her own psychological disintegration.

Wikipedia says it best: “The Mysteries of Udolpho is a quintessential Gothic romance, replete with incidents of physical and psychological terror; remote, crumbling castles; seemingly supernatural events; a brooding, scheming villain; and a persecuted heroine.”

As the novel begins, Emily St. Aubert lives with her parents on a small estate in Gascony in France, where they dwell happily disengaged from the world and enjoy hanging out together amongst nature, thinking virtuous thoughts, and composing insipid poetry. These tranquil days come to an end when Emily’s mother dies of an illness. When her father soon after contracts it himself, they embark on a journey to the seaside where his health might be restored. Ultimately, he too passes away, but not before meeting and approving of Valancourt, a noble young man who develops a fancy for Emily.

After her father’s death, Emily is delivered into the custody of her aunt, Madame Cheron, an odious social climber who derives much enjoyment from the “exercise of petty tyranny” and refuses to consent to an engagement between Valancourt and her niece until she learns he has some wealthy relations. Meanwhile, the flattering advances of an Italian named Montoni secure him Madame Cheron’s hand in marriage, and soon the family is whisked off to Venice, where Emily pines away for Valancourt and composes more shitty poems. Eventually it becomes clear that Montoni hasn’t much money and is connected with some shady people, and the family dashes off once again, this time to the gloomy and isolated castle known as Udolpho.

At Udolpho, Emily is assigned a room to which a secret passageway connects, hears ghostly voices, spies apparitions on the parapet outside her window, and lifts a black veil on the wall in a secluded chamber to reveal a scene of such horror that she faints for the fourth out of what will be a total of eleven times. Montoni pressures Emily to marry a wealthy count, but she refuses to give her consent. After enduring threats and trickery on this point and others, Emily escapes in an anti-climactic fashion and returns to France with the intention of joining a convent. Ultimately, Emily and Valancourt reunite and there is much angst about the life of dissipation he led in Paris. Their storyline ends in a predictable fashion, but a few of the other small, lingering mysteries offer surprises.

While I can by no means claim that The Mysteries of Udolpho is a good book, it’s nonetheless an entertaining one. Though it has many flaws at which one might enjoy snickering, the depiction of Udolpho is a vivid one; I’m sure most readers, like me, find the middle section of the book to be most interesting because of the castle setting. I also appreciate that Valancourt is not depicted as the perfect hero, but is often hot-tempered and impulsive. Still, problems are abundant, and I shan’t shirk from enumerating them.

Firstly, and most significantly, Emily is fairly annoying. She’s sweet, graceful, pretty, skilled in the elegant arts, and keenly aware of propriety. This means she doesn’t actually do very much. She seeks to embody “the placid melancholy of a spirit injured, yet resigned,” which means she’ll suffer the horrible behavior of her aunt and Montoni to a highly frustrating degree, or permit misunderstandings to linger when some very basic explanation would clear up the matter. She occasionally shows some backbone and pride, but is equally likely to demonstrate incredible stupidity, like when she’s unable to tell the difference between the corpse of a strange man and that of her presumed-dead aunt. (If you believe this sight makes her faint, award yourself a cookie.)

Secondly, the writing is annoying. I’ve read classics before and am accustomed to there being more commas present than I would deem necessary today, but The Mysteries of Udolpho is positively inundated with them. Here’s a particularly egregious example:

As she walked round it, she passed a door, that was not quite shut, and, perceiving, that it was not the one, through which she entered, she brought the light forward to discover whither it led.

There is also a great deal of weeping and trembling going on. I consulted an e-book edition and, in a total of 831 pages, the word “tears” is used 199 times. “Trembling” yields 89 results. Assuming that each usage of “tears” is the only one on a page, that means that for nearly 25% of the book, someone is crying!

Lastly, I didn’t find The Mysteries of Udolpho to be at all spooky. “Atmospheric” is about as far as I would go in that direction, though I did enjoy the way Emily’s imprudently chatty maid, Annette, freaks out over various creepy circumstances. More than a horror novel or ghost story, the book reads as a kind of moral lesson, best summed up by Radcliffe herself in the novel’s penultimate paragraph:

O! useful may it be to have shewn, that, though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain; and that innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune!

In the end, I’m glad to have read The Mysteries of Udolpho, particularly because I’ll now be able to understand the references made to it in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. And I admit I had fun counting how many times Emily faints.

Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: B+

Before Yoshihiro Tatsumi penned such seminal works as A Drifting Life, he published this noir thriller about murder, star-crossed love, and a pair of convicts on the lam.

I reviewed Black Blizzard for Comics Should Be Good, and that review can be found here.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Fire Investigator Nanase 4 by Izo Hashimoto and Tomoshige Ichikawa: B+

Nanase Takamine is a fire investigator, a job at which she not only excels but also approaches with a dogged determination to discover the truth. In this volume, she’s on the case of a fatal fire at the home of an elderly, wealthy man with three suspicious children, and later must determine why an experienced arsonist made a beginner’s mistake.

Nanase is, in a way, haunted by a notorious arsonist called Firebug, who seems to turn up at every crime scene, provides clues that point Nanase in the right direction, and is possibly responsible for the fire that killed her parents seven years ago. Their interactions are the highlight of this series, with Firebug increasingly insisting that Nanase turn to administering vigilante justice, either against arsonists or, more recently, against a detective who seems to know Firebug’s true identity.

Usually, the Firebug scenes overshadow Nanase’s investigations, but the first case in this volume proves more interesting than most, managing to sneak in some character development and surprises with a cast that’s only around for four chapters or so. This improvement, coupled with intriguing glimpses of the detective’s suspicions, means that the fourth volume of Fire Investigator Nanase is its best so far.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Fire Investigator Nanase 3 by Izo Hashimoto and Tomoshige Ichikawa: B

From the back cover:
“The Towering Inferno” continues! Nanase and her team are sent into the Astro Tower, a brand new skyscraper that everyone believes to be practically indestructible. But when the anti-fire device system suddenly goes down, there is no advance warning when the boiler blows. Now, Nanase is trapped in the fiery building with all of the terrorists, but the Wolves of Vengeance might not be what they seem. And when people start dying from non–fire-related deaths, there might be a real killer on the loose… but who?!

The third volume of Fire Investigator Nanase finds our titular heroine trapped in a skyscraper that’s allegedly the target of terrorists. As she tries to work out what’s going on—this series still feels a great deal like Case Closed to me—more fires and explosions erupt inside the building, and with various civilians depending on Nanase to see them to safety, she’s forced to come up with some clever solutions (occasionally with some possibly telepathic help from Firebug, a notorious arsonist who has taken an interest in her) on the spot.

I really want to like Nanase more than I do, since it has such a neat premise, but the fact remains that the culprit here is entirely easy to guess and even indulges in some stereotypically evil cackling after his/her deeds have been discovered. At times, it feels more like a shounen series than a seinen one, but then you’ll get a particularly grisly and random death by fire to remind you that this series is intended for older readers.

I like Nanase okay as a character, though I find her most interesting when she’s interacting with Firebug. The highlight of this volume for me is a scene in which he’s goading her to kill the culprit, even showing her how, but she resists. As the volume concludes, she learns a few things that may forever alter their working relationship. Is the series about to get truly good? I hope so.

Lastly, a note on the art, specifically Nanase’s wildly improbable anatomical proportions. I think if one were to take her measurements, they’d be something like 35-16-17, because her bosoms have at least twice the circumference of her tiny waist. The bosoms play no part in the story, thank goodness, but they are there and fairly distracting in some panels. I guess I should consider it just another concession to the demographic.

Deadman Wonderland 1 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou: B+

deadmanwonderland1From the back cover:
The Great Tokyo Earthquake. Ten years ago, it destroyed lives as it tore buildings asunder. Among those who lived through the disaster was Ganta Igarashi, now a middle school student finally getting a footing in his own life… that is, until the day the “Red Man” appears at his school and turns his world upside down again. Ganta’s entire class is brutally murdered, and although innocent of the crime, Ganta is sentenced to death and sent to the bizarre prison known as “Deadman Wonderland.” There, a brutal game of survival begins, where Ganta must discover the truth behind his classmates’ murder.

Can Ganta break out of Deadman Wonderland… or will it break him first?

The year is 2023. Ten years ago, the Great Tokyo Earthquake struck, leaving 70% of that city submerged by water. Ganta Igarashi used to live in Tokyo, but doesn’t remember anything prior to the evacuation. Now he attends middle school in Nagano, loves soccer, and has a couple good friends among his classmates. All of that changes on the day when “the red man”—a wonderfully creepy cyborg-looking fellow—arrives and murders all of Ganta’s classmates. In a rush to judgment, the authorities blame Ganta for the carnage and sentence him to death, at which point he’s shuffled off to Deadman Wonderland, the single privately owned prison in Japan, which doubles as a tourist attraction.

There, Ganta must learn to survive in the irrational environment or die. He’s fitted with a collar that is continually injecting him with poison—his death sentence—and the only way to delay it is to take a candy antidote every three days. To buy the candy, one must earn “cast points,” which are awarded for winning the various challenges put on for the benefit of the visiting public. When Ganta loses his first dose of the candy, he enters a deadly race with the hopes of using the prize money to procure another. Meanwhile, he meets a strange girl named Shiro who claims they knew each other before, gains some new super powers, and befriends his gentle-seeming cell mate who is hiding his true intentions.

There’s an awful lot going on in Deadman Wonderland, a fact made clear from the very start with a series of color pages depicting the moments right before the earthquake, but it all boils down to the fact that Ganta is likely not the normal kid he always thought he was. Sometimes I grow frustrated with stories that advance this many mysteries simultaneously, but it’s handled very well here, and the sense of a sure, guiding hand is palpable. I also really, really like “the red man,” who is not the only villain of the piece but merely the most visible. His character design is magnificent and menacing and you just know some crazy stuff is going to go down when he appears.

Ganta himself is also likable, as he rallies from his confusion and depression to fight for his life. I feel a little like one of the Deadman Wonderland patrons for enjoying watching him cope with some of the awful situations he faces, but he pulls through heroically enough that I can avoid feeling too bad.

This first volume of Deadman Wonderland does an excellent job introducing the reader to Ganta’s world and instilling a desire to read more about how he adjusts to his extreme circumstances. I also look forward to him learning more about some of the things at which the color pages hinted, like the truth of his early childhood and why, exactly, he’s been drawing a certain symbol on his possessions for years.

Deadman Wonderland is published in English by TOKYOPOP. The series is ongoing in Japan; seven collected volumes are currently available there.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wild Adapter 1-6 by Kazuya Minekura: A-

wildadapter1I’ve heard a lot about the works of Kazuya Minekura over the years—mostly in praise of Saiyuki and Saiyuki Reload—but was never particularly tempted to see what all the fuss was about. That changed when Melinda Beasi, who has uniformly good taste, raved about Wild Adapter on her blog back in June, and was immediately greeted with a chorus of agreement from other trustworthy sources. The time had come, it seemed, for me to have a look for myself.

On its surface, Wild Adapter is the story of Makoto Kubota, a former leader of a yakuza youth gang who is looking into a string of gruesome deaths, victims transformed into beasts by overdosing on a drug known as Wild Adapter. He takes in a “stray cat,” Minoru Tokito, with no memory of his past and a bestial right hand that indicates he’s had at least some exposure to the drug. Together, they attempt to unravel the mystery while Tokito strives to regain his memories and rival yakuza groups pursue Kubota for various reasons. Delving deeper, Wild Adapter is about two broken men who care for each other deeply but are so damaged that their affection manifests in unusual ways.

wildadapter2The first volume of the series serves as a prologue, introducing Kubota as he was before he met Tokito. He joins the Izumo syndicate on a whim and spends seven months as a youth gang leader, forming a close relationship with his second-in-command, Komiya. It’s primarily through Komiya’s eyes that we see Kubota, who seems to shirk his duties and is underestimated by many until he single-handedly administers violent payback to a rival organization. This Kubota trusts only himself, and says things like, “It was him or me, and I only choose me.” After Komiya is killed for investigating Wild Adapter, Kubota quits Izumo and takes in his new houseguest.

Beginning with volume two, which picks up a year later, the series features Kubota and Tokito together, following various leads on Wild Adapter and getting into dangerous predicaments. Each volume is self-contained and introduces a new character who gives an outsider’s perspective on the leads and their relationship. This storytelling approach is fascinating, because by never really allowing us into Kubota’s head, he’s able to come across to the reader the same way he does to the characters who encounter him, like “a wildadapter3 mysterious, untouchable man who seemed to float on air.” Tokito is much more openly expressive—as Kubota notes, “he can only tell the truth”—and though his past is unknown, who he is now is not nearly so difficult to ascertain.

Kubota has never cared for anyone before meeting Tokito, and is gradually changed by the relationship. Throughout the series there are quite a few poignant moments where he demonstrates how much he cares for and even needs Tokito and by the end of volume six, he has evolved from someone who only chooses himself into someone who will unhesitatingly risk his own death in order to rescue his kidnapped friend. We probably get the most insight into how Kubota feels about Tokito in volume five, where our point-of-view character is Shouta, an elementary school kid and aspiring manga artist who lives next door. Shouta finds his neighbors cool and exciting and is drawing a manga based on them. He confides to Kubota that he’s having trouble with the character based on him, and in a rare moment of candor, Kubota suggests that the character was searching for something to make him feel alive, but didn’t know what to do once he got it.

wildadapter4We begin to see that Kubota wanted to feel a connection like others do, but the only person he’s ever been able to rely on is himself, so it’s difficult to trust in someone else. “He really cares about Tokito,” the observant Shouta concludes. “He just doesn’t know how to express it.” Interestingly, these insights and the undoubtedly positive influence Kubota and Tokito have on Shouta can lull one into thinking Kubota is a good guy, an impression thoroughly tested by the Kill Bill-esque levels of vengeance on display in volume six.

Tokito, on the other hand, immediately trusts Kubota and gets petulant a couple of times when details of Kubota’s past of which he was not aware come to light. Although he’s by far the more endearing of the two, I find I have less to say about Tokito, perhaps because his origins are still shrouded in mystery and therefore all we have to gauge him by is the present. Readers receive a small tidbit of information about his past in volume six, and he’s had a few flashes of memory, but one can only assume that further development for Tokito will come later.

wildadapter5In addition to possessing fantastic, nuanced characters and a well thought-out approach to storytelling, Wild Adapter also boasts terrific art. In a word, it’s best described as “dark,” with black margins on every page and a gritty and shadowy feel that befits the subject matter. Kubota, in particular, has a knack for appearing distressingly cool while committing heinous acts. Despite the darkness, the art is seldom hard to follow and can also be much brighter, especially when the leads are enjoying some pleasant time together in their apartment, as well as versatile, like when Minekura draws the characters in the style of Shouta’s obviously shounen manga. I’m also impressed by the covers, each of which depicts the characters with a barrier of some kind, be it barbed wire, prison bars, or police tape. The cover on which they are the least obscured is for volume five, which just so happens to be the volume in which their missing first year together is finally revealed. Coincidence? I think not.

wildadapter6About the only complaints I could make is that the Wild Adapter plotline is occasionally sidelined for volumes at a time—volumes four and five, specifically, though these are also my favorites, so make of that what you will—and that there isn’t more! I’m sure Saiyuki fans are thrilled by announcements of new spin-offs, but I’d much rather Minekura work on this series instead!

Wild Adapter balances action, mystery, suspense, and strong character development while being downright addictive and capable of inspiring passionate devotion. In my quest to have more Minekura to read, I might even defect and check out Saiyuki, but in my heart I’ll really be wondering, “How long until volume seven?”