Papillon 3 by Miwa Ueda: B-

papillon125Ageha grew up in the shadow of her beautiful twin sister, Hana, but lately, with the help of her school counselor, Ichijiku-sensei, she’s been gaining confidence. As volume three begins, Ichijiku and Ageha have begun dating, but it doesn’t last long, as devious Hana dupes Ichijiku into believing she’s Ageha and behaves obnoxiously on a date, causing him to call off the relationship. He eventually figures things out, but getting dumped (even mistakenly) is fuel for Ageha’s insecurities, and more drama ensues. Hana, meanwhile, continues to impersonate her sister, using that guise to test her boyfriend’s fidelity.

Papillon has some pretty significant problems. In this volume, for example, it’s completely ridiculous that Ichijiku does not recognize Hana for who she is. She dresses differently, addresses him informally, doesn’t respond to the nickname he’s given Ageha, and behaves like a selfish wench. Ageha and Hana’s boyfriend also fall victim to her tricks without hesitation. With everyone being so incredibly easy to manipulate, I find myself actually rooting for Hana!

The main problem, though, is that I just can’t cheer on the budding relationship between Ageha and Ichijiku because he is a school counselor and she is a student. When Hana’s ruse prompts him to suddenly become a stickler for the rules and declare that a relationship between them is impossible, I think he’s actually making the right call.

Despite these complaints, though, Papillon still somehow manages to be an entertaining read. Part of it is the art, which is quite attractive, and part of it is Hana. I simply must see what deceitful plan she’ll come up with next.

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

Fairy Tail 6 by Hiro Mashima: B

From the back cover:
Hotshot Natsu and his cool rival Gray are fighting to stop a calamity demon from being revived by Gray’s fellow disciple Lyon and Zalty, a master of lost magic. But while they try to defeat the bad guys, the magical ice binding the demon keeps melting. Then a grudge between Fairy Tail and a rival guild turns to all-out war!

In the Author’s Note at the end of the volume, Mashima says that he doesn’t do much planning ahead with his story. I think that shows with the way the Deliora arc plays out. There are a couple of switcheroos that, while they very well may have been intended from the beginning, make me suspect a last-minute easy out. Also, Lucy’s sudden escalation in importance at the end of the volume comes out of nowhere.

That’s not to say the result isn’t entertaining, though. The battles between Gray and Natsu and their opponents are pretty fun, with some new ice techniques from Gray and a new kind of magic—the ability to control time as it relates to objects—for Natsu’s opponent. Shounen staples like having faith in one’s companions, preventing one’s rival/ally from completing a noble self-sacrifice, forgiving the enemies’ sins due to mitigating angst, and delayed-reaction spurting wounds abound.

Though it’s disappointing that our heroes face virtually no punishment whatsoever (aside from some very creepy spanking the Master administers to Lucy) for undertaking an S-class quest (played up as an offense worthy of expulsion), the story picks up a bit once they return home to find that Fairy Tail headquarters has been virtually destroyed by a rival guild called Phantom Lord. Throughout the volume, less prominent members of Fairy Tail had been introduced on the chapter splash pages, and just as I’d been thinking I’d like to see some of these folks get to do something cool they’re given an opportunity to do so in a rather awesome brawl when Fairy Tail pays the rival guild a retaliatory visit.

Even though Lucy’s capture at the end of the volume is not the most original shounen plot device, some of the Phantom Lord opponents look interesting, so I’m looking forward to what’s to come.

xxxHOLiC 13 by CLAMP: A-

From the back cover:
The medium Kohane-chan has been punched and bruised on national TV, but still her controlling mother is forcing her to go on the air. Now Kimihiro steps between the rebellious young psychic and her raging mother, only to take the beating himself. See the dramatic conclusion of Kohane-chan’s story!

What a perfect manga to read on a rainy day!

The majority of the plot revolves around Kohane-chan, whom I’ve never been very interested in. After a series of television apperances in which she seems to be inaccurate because lesser psychics can not see all that she can, public opinion turns against her. After being pressured by her mother to be “right,” even if it means lying, Kohane instead basically destroys her own career so that it’ll all be over.

I was kind of wondering why this story was occupying center stage, but then the words of Kohane’s mother hit home. Though her mother had been wishing for something day in and day out, it had never come true. This is a direct parallel to Watanuki’s current situation. Last volume, he learned that his entire existence may be a dream, but if he wishes hard enough, it might become reality. Now he’s confronted with proof that—if one has the wrong kind of wish, a hurtful wish—that’s not so easy to achieve.

Still, he’s determined to try and to not take for granted the people with whom he comes in contact, which results in him being much nicer to Doumeki than before. I particularly love the scene where Doumeki is chastising Watanuki for allowing Kohane’s mother to hit him while at the same time Watanuki is inquiring about how many rice balls Doumeki would like and what he’d like inside them. It seems like a small thing, but Watanuki has never so graciouly offered to fulfill Doumeki’s culinary requests in this manner.

I’m still pretty confused about what exactly Watanuki’s situation is. Is he living in a dream, peopled by dream characters? Or is he dreaming that he is part of reality, and only certain people can see him? He was concerned, for instance, that the receptionists at the television studio where Kohane’s appearance was being broadcast would not be able to see him. It’s possible he’s right, as a member of the production team later says, “Get Kohane and her mother off screen” when Watanuki is there, too. Perhaps they saw him merely as superfluous, but perhaps they didn’t see him at all.

Like the previous volume, quite a lot of intriguing information is revealed in the final few pages. Yuuko also remarks that, “Very soon, that time will finally come.” Could it be that an end is in sight?

Papillon 2 by Miwa Ueda: B-

Shy Ageha has long dwelled in the shadow of her beautiful and popular twin sister, Hana. With help from her school’s new guidance counselor, however, she’s begun to transform herself. In this volume, she reconciles with her mother after years of feeling that her parents preferred Hana and even moves on romantically when she realizes that her feelings for Ryûsei might not actually be love.

Papillon is a pretty fun series, and I definitely enjoy seeing family issues get some attention in a manga. The reconciliation between Ageha and her mother is a bit too easily achieved, but when’s the last time you saw a shojo manga heroine enjoy a nice warm hug with her mother? Not often, I’d wager.

On the negative side, I can’t help but feel that the actions of Ichijiku-san, the counselor, are incredibly inappropriate. He has groped Ageha a couple of times (apparently accidentally) and playfully made pretend advances upon her that would get him fired about a hundred times over in the real world. It takes me out of the story that he’s doing these things and is seemingly unconcerned about the occupational repercussions.

What I liked best about volume one—the relationship between Hana and her scheming sister—takes a backseat in this volume, but the way Hana lurks about looking furious as Ageha reconnects with her parents suggests there’ll be more sisterly strife in the future, which is all the reason I need to read on.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Fairy Tail 5 by Hiro Mashima: B

From the back cover:
Gray’s old training companion Reitei Lyon is trying to revive a calamity demon, but doing so will make their former master’s sacrifice meaningless! What’s the secret of Gray’s past, and why does he keep taking off his clothing? Gray is revealed (metaphorically speaking) in this pivotal volume!

You know, there are things one sees in Fairy Tail that one is simply not going to see in any other manga. I’m talking about stuff like a gigantic flying rat carrying a bucket of poisonous jelly and a cow-man squaring off against a malicious tree. Sometimes, things are so cracktastic that one just has to admire them.

I actually liked this volume more than the last one, perhaps because I’ve moved past the foolishness of their embarking upon a quest that could get them expelled from the guild and become invested instead in their successful completion of the task at hand. The variety of magical abilities continues to be one of the most enjoyable parts for me, and I’m particularly glad to see Lucy’s skills increase in this volume. She’s by no means a match for Natsu or Gray magically, but both of them would have their butts handed to them by Erza, so there isn’t any annoying gender inequality going on.

Well, not in the realm of combat, anyway. There’s certainly a lot of fanservice in this volume, mostly on the chapter splash pages. In one of them, Lucy is wearing a sleeveless t-shirt that is held up by ginormous boobs and a prayer. The most egregious example, however, is an image of Erza wielding a sword while dressed in a négligée. Lucy’s garb is at least in character. Erza’s definitely is not.

We also learn more about Gray’s backstory, and I’m impressed with how deftly the flashbacks are woven in with the fighting in the present moment. It manages to be seamless but yet not confusing. I think partly this was achieved through pacing, as a little bit of information would be revealed at a time and when it seemed like the right time to switch back to the present, it would. The backstory itself isn’t much to get excited over, but the mechanics of it are really well done.

Papillon 1 by Miwa Ueda: B+

When I was in the sixth grade, a particular series of books was very popular. It focused on a pair of blonde twin sisters, the older of whom was kind and thoughtful while the younger was selfish and scheming. Most of the time, the good twin allowed her conniving sibling to have her way, but when it came to a certain boy, she drew the line. Their names were Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield and the series was named after the school they attended, Sweet Valley High.

I mention this because the initial setup for Papillon is pretty similar. Ageha, a shy and bespectacled nobody, and her younger sister Hana, the most popular girl in school, are blonde twins who were raised by different relatives. The only person Ageha feels understands her is a boy named Ryûsei, and when Hana sees them growing closer she moves in to snag Ryûsei for herself. With some encouragement from a decidedly unorthodox guidance counselor, Ageha makes an effort to shed her meek persona and win Ryûsei back. (Her name means “butterfly.” Get it?)

While the concept may not be new, Hana and Ageha’s relationship is still fascinating. Somehow, the masterfully manipulative way in which Hana competes against her sister is more credible for occurring between siblings and hints at all kinds of intriguing psychological baggage. The relationship gives the character depth, as it seems she must have some deeper motivation for her actions than your garden variety Mean Girl. Similarly, Ageha’s powerlessness in the face of her sister’s devious ways also rings true. In the back of the book, Ueda-sensei thanks some relationship therapists for their input and advice; I’d say it definitely paid off.

Unfortunately, Ryûsei is not as well developed. He’s a typical adolescent boy: good-hearted in general but vulnerable when a pretty girl turns on the charm. Arguably, though, he was never meant to be more than a bone of contention between the girls and a catalyst for Ageha’s metamorphosis. The most vivid supporting character is actually Kanda, Ageha’s chubby pal, who betrays her friend when she sees an opportunity to gain attention from the more popular students, a classic maneuver among status-conscious high school girls.

While the term “soap opera” would certainly apply to Papillon, it also offers an insightful look at the relationships between girls. For that alone, this title is one that I will be following with interest.

Papillon is published by Del Rey. Five volumes have been released in Japan so far while the second English release is due in late January 2009.

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

Ghost Hunt 9 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: B

From the back cover:
The ghost hunters’ new case has turned deadly. Naru, the leader of Shibuya Psychic Research, is under a dark spell. When Naru awakens, he foolishly decides to take on an evil spirit alone. Now he faces a life-or-death struggle!

Thankfully, this volume was an improvement over the last one, and has convinced me that I can buy the volumes I’m missing without feeling cheated somehow.

The volume opened with Naru still possessed and kept asleep by one of Lin’s spells, lest the spirit within gain access to Naru’s mysterious powers and kill everyone. With their leader sidelined, everyone else had to work together to figure out what was going on, which I liked, even though most of the explanation was boring stuff about traveling monks and burial mounds. Also of note: Ayako, the “self-proclaimed miko” who had consistently failed at every exorcism she had attempted, finally showed that she does have some power, but only in the presence of living trees.

Ayako’s efforts freed Naru from his possession and, of course, he promptly gave the same explanation that it took the others quite a bit of effort and research to discover. Although there was an easier way to stop the deaths, he decided to eliminate the cause of the curse, even though it was something that the others had no hope of vanquishing. This led to him finally revealing his own psychic powers and ending up hospitalized as a result. Puzzling decision aside, I still appreciate finally getting some meaningful progress on this subplot.

The quality of the art in this volume was all over the place, with some characters’ facial proportions changing every time they appeared. I’m not sure how it works when a series is published direct-to-tankoubon instead of first appearing in a magazine, but I have to wonder whether there is less editorial oversight. The volumes that match up to the period where Ghost Hunt was serialized in Nakayoshi are the best of the lot, with not only the most consistent art but also the best character moments.

I liked the conclusion of this volume and it gives me hope that future volumes will, even if beyond hope in the art department, return focus to the two leads and not backslide further.

Lastly, I’ve written a Definitive Guide to volumes 1-9 of Ghost Hunt for Manga Recon. You can find that here.

A Definitive Guide to Ghost Hunt

When Mai Takiyama breaks an expensive camera belonging to ghost hunter Kazuya Shibuya, he tells her she can work off the debt by acting as his assistant. Thus, Mai is introduced to a world of spirits, curses, and exorcisms as well as Kazuya’s arsenal of gadgetry used to scientifically measure paranormal activity.

To start with, most of the spirit activity the Shibuya Psychic Research team investigates takes place on high school campuses, but the series eventually does branch out into things like mansions, churches, and secluded restaurants. In addition to Mai and Kazuya (dubbed Naru for his narcissistic tendencies), SPR employs Lin-san, Naru’s quiet yet capable assistant, and a variety of mediums and exorcists. Together, they fight crime spirits.

As the series continues, the cases gradually become gorier, though this does not necessarily result in heightened creepiness. The first volume is actually probably the best for maintaining spooky tension throughout; there’s just something about watching spectral phenomena on a video monitor that adds to the atmosphere. My favorite case is actually not gory at all, nor is it one of the longer ones. Instead, it’s the side story “Silent Christmas” (included in volume four), about the spirit of a boy who used to be an expert at hide-and-seek.

The characters are kind of a mixed bag. I like Mai, who is spunky and generally level-headed. It’s especially noteworthy that, although she has feelings for Naru, she never lets them get in the way of her work and whole volumes will pass without her dwelling on him at all. Naru’s also pretty interesting, even though he does have the unfortunate habit of being rude and insulting on occasion. Alas, few of the supporting characters are developed in any meaningful way and one is often left to ponder what purpose they serve. The sum total of information on one particular character is that he’s a young-looking priest from Australia. This guy has appeared in nine volumes so far!

The series’ two long-running story arcs focus individually on Naru and Mai, with varying degrees of success. The gradual development of Mai’s intuitive ability is well-integrated into early volumes, and even after her powers are confirmed several volumes later, they continue to develop. By contrast, tiny nuggets of information on Naru’s mysterious origins and possible powers are doled out sparingly and left to hang without resolution. It’s only in volume nine that we actually get some concrete evidence of his own psychic abilities.

After volume five, there’s a noticeable slide in quality. I attribute this to the end of Ghost Hunt’s serialization in Nakayoshi and the beginning of direct-to-tankouban releases. The art becomes inconsistent after this point, reminding me of American comics with the way certain characters’ facial proportions change in every panel in which they appear. The characterization also suffers and many cases have moments where explanations don’t make much sense.

The ninth volume is an improvement over the few preceding it, and reveals some answers about Naru’s mysterious “capabilities.” At the very least, it gives me hope that the series might once again produce something really good. For now, I can really only recommend the first five volumes.



Summary: After accidentally breaking an expensive camera, Mai is drafted to help with the investigation into alleged spirit activity in an old building on her high school campus. Despite her expectations, she enjoys the experience and, at the end of the volume, accepts a job working in Naru’s office.

Creepiness Factor: Low. There are plenty of mysterious sounds and accidents in the old building, but the only truly creepy thing is a chair that appears to move on its own.



Summary: The Shibuya Psyshic Research team investigates a residence with a deadly history: every pre-teen child who has ever lived there has died. The case hinges on a creepy doll owned by the 8-year-old girl currently residing there.

Creepiness Factor: Low. And this is coming from someone with childhood trauma concerning a creepy doll.



Summary: Many strange incidents and ghost sightings have been reported at a high school that has recently been abuzz with the discovery that one of the students has psychokinetic abilities. Mai’s powers of intuition lead Naru to test her for psychic ability.

Creepiness Factor: Zero. A very cute scene between Naru and Mai makes up for that, though.



Summary: Yet more strange incidents at a high school, making three such cases in four volumes. This time, events seem to focus on the spirit of a student who had a grudge against the school. This volume also features a great side story about the spirit of a boy, expert at hide-and-seek, who wants to be found.

Creepiness Factor: Low. There isn’t much in the main story itself, but the resolution of the side story is pretty creepy.



Summary: The case that began in the fourth volume is concluded here. Although the story isn’t anything particularly special, the solution is more of a group effort than previously, and there are some great scenes of conflict between the two leads.

Creepiness Factor: Low. There’s one spooky scene in a nurse’s office, especially after the spirit menacing Mai suddenly disappears. Somehow, that’s always worse than a sudden appearance.



Summary: Plot trumps characterization in this installment, when the SPR is hired by the Prime Minister to research a series of unexplained disappearances at a mansion.

Creepiness Factor: Medium. Prior volumes haven’t featured much blood, but this time Mai’s precognitive dreams include plenty of it.



Summary: The Case of the Creepy Mansion (not actual title) concludes. Art and characterization continue to be not as good as in the first five volumes of the series.

Creepiness Factor: Medium. The best part was when messages from murdered spirits appeared all over the walls.



Summary: A secluded restaurant is cursed—whenever ownership changes hands, the transfer is accompanied by many deaths. In the course of the investigation, Naru is possessed by one of the spirits.

Creepiness Factor: Low. There are a couple of panels of a possessed child grinning eerily. That’s about it.



Summary: The team works together to determine the cause of the curse, freeing Naru in the process. When he awakes, he finally reveals his powers and confronts a wrathful chunk of driftwood. I snark, but it’s actually fairly cool, and meaningful progress on the “Mystery of Naru” plot line is always welcome.

Creepiness Factor: Low. A bunch of frog-like spirits crawling on windows and one possessed middle-aged guy lurking menacingly amongst some shrubbery.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Ghost Hunt 8 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: B-

From the back cover:
Inside a beautiful restaurant overlooking a serene cove lurks a deadly secret that makes people go crazy… literally! Mysterious deaths are not uncommon in this evil eatery. The ghost hunters from Shibuya Psychic Research decide to tackle the case, even though past mediums have never survived their own investigations. To make matters worse, Naru becomes possessed during an exorcism, leaving the remaining SPR members not only to save the day, but to rescue Naru himself!

This volume was rather boring, largely because the case at the restaurant did not make a lot of sense. People were possessed by ghosts that made them do violent things, then Naru got possessed, then Mai had a bunch of confusing dreams, and then there was lots of talk about driftwood.

Naru’s possession was, of course, the most interesting thing, and it was revealed that he has some dangerous “capabilities,” so if the spirit were able to access them, they’d all be in trouble. It also seems possible that the Naru who has been appearing in Mai’s dreams may actually be the real Naru serving as a guide. It’s hard to tell about that, though, and who knows if we’ll ever get any kind of confirmation.

Even here, in volume 8, some of the supporting characters were little more than familiar faces. Of the exorcist consultants that SPR regularly hires, only Monk-san has received any kind of development. John Brown, the Catholic priest from Australia, has particularly been neglected.

I’m reading volumes 8 and 9 from the library, since I only own through 7, and had originally been thinking I would buy copies for myself at some point. Now, I am not so sure. I’ll still continue with the series, but with the slide in quality, I think I might be surly if I had to pay for it.

Ghost Hunt 7 by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada: B

From the back cover:
After a series of disappearances in an old mansion, the intrepid ghost hunters of Shibuya Psychic Research try to unearth the gruesome secret of this scary maze of rooms and passageways. The discovery that the house has a history of murders leaves the team fearing for their safety. What mystery is this dark manor hiding? And will SPR crack the case in time to save one of their own from a terrible fate?

Just like the previous volume, the art was not very consistent in this volume. I worry that this series is going to experience Gravitation syndrome, where the quality gradually drops off and one is left with characters that look completely different and a story that makes no sense. If that happens, it’ll be a real shame, since this series started off with such potential.

Anyway, the creepy mansion plot concluded in this volume. The actual solution was less interesting that some scenes along the way, like when messages from murdered ghosts appeared all over the walls of the mansion or when breaking down an interior wall led the team into a dark area containing a freaky-looking incinerator. I also enjoyed seeing Lin demonstrate some of his abilities.

A few more hints were dropped about what exactly is up with Lin and Naru, with the former mentioning how he was sent to “observe” the latter. This was mildly interesting, but was spoiled by some dialogue around it that didn’t make a lot of sense to me (“Did you forget you said you were one of 17 children?”). Too, the sudden open dislike between Masako and Mai continued. I find this abrupt change in the status of their relationship to be really bothersome; if things will shift this quickly and randomly, how can we ever expect any satisfying payoff for Naru’s various secrets?

I think at this point that what the series needs is another really awesome Naru-Mai scene so we can reconnect with the main characters. Hell, at this point I might even welcome a high school case again just to recapture the feel of what the story used to be like.