After School Nightmare 1 by Setona Mizushiro: A-

From the back cover:
You have just awakened to find your darkest secret revealed to a group of people who would do anything to destroy you: your classmates! That’s what happens to Ichijo Mashiro, whose elite school education turns into the most horrifying experience of his life when he’s enlisted to participate in an after-hours class. The only way for Mashiro to graduate is to enter into a nightmare world where his body and soul will be at the mercy of his worst enemies. Can Mashiro keep the lifelong secret that he is not truly a “he” nor entirely a “she”—or will he finally be “outted” in the most humiliating way possible?

Mashiro Ichijo (also confusingly referred to on the back cover as Ichijo Mashiro) is first-year high school student with a big secret—although the top half of his body is male, his lower half is female. For some reason, despite concrete evidence that Mashiro possesses ovaries, he was raised as a boy and is trying hard to maintain that identity. Mashiro has never discussed his body with anyone, but one day he’s approached by a school nurse he’s never seen before. She not only knows all about his secret, but assigns him to a special after-school class that involves entering a dream with five other classmates. If he succeeds in completing an unknown task, he’ll graduate from the school. It’s all very strange and immediately made me think of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

The identities of the other students in the dream are not immediately known to Mashiro, but he’s able to figure some of them out in the course of this volume. The other students’ appearances change while in the dream, as they take on forms that symbolize their real heart. His cute classmate Kureha, for example, takes the form of her five-year-old self on the day she was sexually assaulted by a strange man. Others are more bizarre—one girl has neither face nor heart, another student is a bundle of arms and hands—but Mashiro himself doesn’t change much, beyond wearing a girl’s uniform, because he thinks that his own body is already the most distorted thing of all.

The students are tasked with finding a key, and often inflict injury upon each other while in search of same. Mashiro decides that he will protect man-hating Kureha and help her graduate, since the dream experience is so traumatic for her that she doesn’t even attempt to play the game. While he’s trying hard to fulfill this manly role, his insecurities still run deep, and he’s convinced that the reason he couldn’t stop the black knight (later revealed to be antagonistic classmate, Sou, who is inexplicably obsessed with Mashiro) from slicing up his uniform and revealing his body is that he’s really a girl. Mashiro equates being a girl with weakness, which makes me wonder if that’s what he’s been placed in this class to overcome.

Although the dream sequences are fascinating, the truly compelling part of this story so far is Mashiro’s desperation to be something he’s not sure he is. He begins a relationship with Kureha, but right before their first kiss, panicked thoughts of “I’m about to kiss another girl!” flit through his mind. Kissing her is something he should do, he convinces himself, but when Sou later inflicts a kiss upon him, Mashiro is torn once more. Mashiro clearly feels something for both of the others—a need to protect Kureha and a grudging interest in cruelly enigmatic Sou—but each option symbolizes a particular gender identity, and Mashiro is presently as incapable of choosing between them as he is of definitively seizing an identity for himself.

This dramatic and captivating first volume serves as an excellent introduction into the series, and I’m eager to read more.

Although I am tardy, this review is part of September’s Manga Moveable Feast. To read what others have to say about After School Nightmare, check out this post at A Case Suitable For Treatment.

A.I. Revolution 5 by Yuu Asami: B-

Sui Makihara’s father makes robots and has brought his two most advanced creations, Vermillion and Kira, home to learn about humanity from his daughter. Inspired by Makihara’s achievements, but far less scrupulous, his former colleague Sakaki has created AT-6, a robot who lacks the programming that makes it taboo for him to kill humans, to eliminate those people who get in his way.

In volume five, Kira is hired as a bodyguard for a journalist who is investigating a series of killings that he recognizes as AT-6’s handiwork. He ends up confronting Sakaki and nearly killing kim—the penalty for which would be disassembly—but is prevented from doing so by the timely arrival of Vermillion. Other chapters involve the (boring) kidnapping of a visiting foreigner’s daughter, a new scientist at Makihara’s company who thinks Kira is his dream girl, and an unrelated bonus story that’s a tweak on “Cinderella.”

A.I. Revolution is an episodic series, not unlike InuYasha in that most of the nefarious doings can be traced back to the same culprit. Some recurring characters have been introduced and their histories revealed, which is all well and good, but the story seems to be drifting farther and farther away from its original focus. When the series started, Sui was clearly the protagonist. Now she’s been overshadowed by the robots to such an extent that we know more about AT-6 than we know about her. No longer does she impart any lessons about humanity to the two robots; instead, they mostly appear in solo adventures foiling terrorists and kidnappers. It’s pretty disappointing, really.

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

A.I. Revolution 4 by Yuu Asami: B

From the back cover:
Another robot has been created, but this one is designed to kill! That’s not the only complication—can Vermillion and his friends stop a programmed assassin, restore a widow’s memory and mend a broken family?

Take a good look at that blurb. They’re not even pretending that Sui is the main character anymore. Seriously, in one chapter, she literally does nothing but eat some cake.

Instead of being strictly episodic, the series now has some recurring characters and, in recent volumes, has been including flashbacks of backstory. This volume introduces AT-6, another robot created by the villainous Sakaki, who lacks the programming that makes it taboo for robots to kill humans. He’s envious of Kira, to whom Sakaki constantly compares him, and seeks to destroy him. Kira ends up removing one part the programming that forces AT-6 to obey Sakaki, but this doesn’t stop the latter from trying to please his creator. We get a glimpse of the possible goodness within him—courtesy of that old manga cliché of saving a child who’s about to get hit by a car—but he’s not redeemed just yet.

The flashback chapter deals with the first test run of Vermillion and the problems that were encountered. Sui’s dad had originally suggested that early on, Vermillion had a habit of coming on to men that necessitated some reprogramming, but this story reveals that it was actually his lack of understanding regarding the difference between living and nonliving creatures that was the real problem. This throws the “kitten rescuing” escapade from volume one into a whole new light. And, by the way, I love that the cat in question has stuck around and shows up, fully-grown, now and then.

Nothing in this volume really excited or amused me, and the less said about the last chapter, wherein someone’s mom (Gasp! A mom!) suffers a head injury and believes she’s eighteen again, the better.

A.I. Revolution 3 by Yuu Asami: B

From the back cover:
A trip to America turns dangerous when the plane is hijacked! Luckily, everyone’s favorite robots are on board to help out, and they make it to their destination unhindered. All is well until Sui decides to vacation in Hawaii… leaving her robot friends behind!

Now that I’ve read three volumes of A.I. Revolution, I’ve begun to notice some patterns. First is a prevalence of sickly teenagers. So far, three chapters have featured such characters, from a girl in need of a heart transplant to a teen genius with five years to live to a boy whose father had genetically experimented upon him. The second trend, more all-encompassing than the first, is a glut of motherless teens. I haven’t counted, but maybe six or seven different teen characters have been introduced so far, and though we’ve seen a smattering of dads accompanying them, no mothers have been seen at all. I’m not sure what to make of that.

The stories in this volume are entertaining enough, though I wouldn’t say I loved any of them. I thought it was weird that Sui, the nominal protagonist, played such an insignificant role, though. She appears a little in the first and last chapters, but only long enough to get her purse stolen (leading Vermillion to fall into the trap of a thief) or suffer from a fever while on vacation (leading Vermillion to go on the fritz and make many zany mistakes), and is completely absent from the middle two. Probably this is because Asami, the mangaka, realizes that the robots are far more interesting and compelling characters than Sui is, but it’s worrisome nonetheless. I’d rather the main character receive some development than read about the backstory of the thief who swiped her purse!

A bonus story, “Make-Believe Reality,” is also included in this volume. In it, an arcade owner, tortured by dreams of his suicidal father’s attempts to kill his family, takes an enthusiastic patron, the son of the man responsible for his father’s business failure, hostage in the belief that by exacting revenge, his nightmares will stop. The story is full of metaphors between video games and real life like, “Once you do something irreversible you can’t ever hit the reset button.” Unsurprisingly, it really isn’t very good.

A.I. Revolution 2 by Yuu Asami: B+

From the back cover:
Explosions, rescues, time machines, mistaken identities and former loves all come together to complicate Sui’s efforts to teach Vermillion—and now Kira—about being human. Not that Sui has much time for the two hot robots, with her bad-tempered friend Aoi wreaking havoc on the city…

There’s something about this series that reminds me a little of Silver Diamond. You’ve got the gentle human, Sui, teaching two newcomers about humanity, and everyone becoming a sort of family. I can’t help but think that if the casts of these two series got together, they’d all get on fabulously.

The episodic nature of the series continues in this volume, with chapters about a teenage genius in astrophysics, a surly adolescent hacker, et cetera. These stories also deal with some deeper issues, though, like the fact that robots, no matter how much like humans they may seem or how much Sui may like them, are designed to do the things humans don’t want to or can’t do. When Sui protests that Kira and Vermillion are sent into a building wired with multiple bombs, her dad answers, “That’s what they’re for.”

Also like Silver Diamond, this series has a certain quirky sense of humor that I adore. In the story the about astrophysics genius, some of Kira’s long hair gets shot off while he’s protecting her from thugs who want the wormhole research she’d been conducting. He sports a shorter style for a couple of chapters until Sui’s dad, who is responsible for Kira’s bishounen looks, concocts a beverage that causes spontaneous hair growth in robots. After it works on Kira, Vermillion has to try it, too, and when he asks Sui how he looks, she shakes her head in mute horror. He and Kira then shuffle off, dragging their new tresses behind them. I don’t often giggle aloud, but even the memory of that panel is making me grin in retrospect.

A.I. Revolution 1 by Yuu Asami: B

I reviewed the first volume of this Go! Comi series—about a girl tasked with teaching a robot prototype all about being human—for Comics Should Be Good. You can find that review here.

A.I. Revolution is a bit of an older series with seventeen volumes total. Five volumes have been released in English so far.

Three in Love 1-2 by Shioko Mizuki: C-

The title and back cover descriptions for this series are misleading, making it seem like the “three-person relationship” is one in which any one person has romantic feelings for the other two. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Instead, two girls—Machiru, a chronic overachiever, and Hanakago, an earnest first year—are both in love with the same spacey boy. Also, each girl has an additional guy who’s in love with her, forming a kind of love phalanx.

Instead of being an intriguing story about an unconventional relationship, Three in Love is really just bland. Volume two in particular is full of stock scenarios like a group trip to the pool and the school cultural festival. Also, it’s hard to like Machiru when she brags about her “unmatched brains” then does inexplicably ridiculous things like agreeing to sleep with the boy who likes her if he scores higher than she does on exams.

As for the art, in Shioko Mizuki’s own words, it “sucks a lot!!” In one of her author talk sections she mentions that it was her first time drawing with a pen and she was using poor quality ink and rusty nibs, which might explain what Erin adeptly described as art that “looks as if it was drawn in ballpoint pen.” Asymmetrical faces also abound while backgrounds are practically nonexistent.

With so many better options to choose from, don’t waste your time on this one.

Three in Love is published by Go! Comi. Two out of a total of five volumes have been released so far.

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

Her Majesty’s Dog 10-11 by Mick Takeuchi: B

Amane has returned to the Kamori family island to take up her position as clan leader and dutifully accept the marriage arranged by her family. After several volumes of build-up, the identity of the traitor who has been hiring a renegade koma-oni (guardian demon) to perform violent acts is finally revealed. Guess when a surprise is not a surprise. When there’s a great big spoiler on the front cover, that’s when!

The traitor interrupts Amane’s succession and takes control of the clan and Hyoue. Muddled plotting, in which character motivations and revelations concerning Amane’s family are rather confusing, follows. Amane briefly returns to Tokyo in defeat, but after encouragement from her friends and some special training to perfect her skills, returns to the island to get Hyoue back.

I’ve found the biggest flaw of this series is its tendency to undercut serious scenes with “comedy.” This has happened so many times in the preceding volumes that one starts to think, “Here’s a pretty cool scene. I wonder how it will be ruined.” Anytime something pivotal occurs, I’m half afraid to turn the page to see what gag awaits me. Thankfully, these incidents are few in the final volumes, and eventually some satisfying stuff between Amane and Hyoue is allowed to happen without interference.

The best part of these final volumes is finally getting to see Amane grow as a person and as a character. She has been attempting to squelch her emotions for a long time, which has hindered her ability to use her powers fully. Finally, she faces up to the ugly side of herself and confidently makes a decision* about what it is she really wants.

On the whole, Her Majesty’s Dog isn’t a bad series, but if, like me, you get annoyed when dramatic moments are sabotaged by cheap gags, then it may not be for you.

* Includes a speech about precious memories.

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

Her Majesty’s Dog 9 by Mick Takeuchi: B-

From the back cover:
New mysteries and conflicts awaken when Amane, Hyoue and Ateko encounter a childlike demon and an old acquaintance of Hayato’s. Friendships are reforged and feelings born anew as the trio enjoys their last days together before Amane’s forced wedding. Amane is torn between her duty and her heart—but just as she and Hyoue seem to be getting closer, Amane makes a shocking decision!

Amane does indeed make a decision, but since she spends the volume mulling it over, it’s not at all shocking.

After the drama with the koma-oni last time, this volume is mostly filler. Presumably, Amane and friends are hanging around in Kyoko (where Takako’s grandma lives) to enjoy a last bit of time together before Amane must return to the village to get married and take over leadership of the clan. Most of the chapters concern a demon kid who turns out to be a tree spirit, though some pages are spent on the onmyoji who’s also investigating the demon’s acts, as he’s conducting a side experiment of his own to see whether the Kamori clan’s koma-oni can be made to serve other families as shikigami.

It’s mostly quite boring, and I’ve pretty much given up trying to understand all the muddled attempts at intrigue concerning threats to the Kamori clan. Also, I continue to be annoyed when “comedy” interrupts tense scenes. It feels like nothing genuine ever gets to happen; any moment, however pivotal it could be, can be sabotaged for a cheap gag at any time. You can certainly mingle drama and funny in the same story successfully (Yes, it always comes back to Buffy), but not when one is always the punching bag of the other.

Her Majesty’s Dog 8 by Mick Takeuchi: B-

From the back cover:
At least one Kamori family enemy has been revealed, but Amane’s and Hyoue’s troubles are far from over. Forces from all sides are closing in on our heroes, determined to drive a wedge of doubt and distrust between them. Is their bond strong enough to keep them together?

It seems we’ve arrived at the promised over-arching story at last, though I’m having trouble making sense of it. Basically, it seems someone from within the Kamori family is trying to make them look bad by arranging with an escaped koma-oni to commit murders and other dastardly deeds. Hyoue is suspected, and while he sticks close to the koma-oni in order to get clues as to who his master might be, Amane begins to have doubts about his trustworthiness.

This volume is actually pretty serious throughout, which I prefer, even though the plot is kind of confusing at times. I don’t understand why this person has it in for the Kamori clan, for example, nor do I get why Hyoue wants to help the murderous koma-oni despite multiple betrayals.

Quality wise, things are looking up until the final pages, which peeve me tremendously. Amane is on the verge of telling Hyoue she wants more than the typical master-servant relationship, but is interrupted by an attack from the renegade koma-oni. After he runs off, Hyoue asks Amane what it was that she was going to say. She says, “I forgot.” Hyoue crouches dejectedly under the words, “Oh, that’s right. That’s the kind of manga this is.”