Upcoming 3/5/2008

March 5, 2008

A quick look through today’s arrivals at your local comic shop (or, as the case may be, last week’s arrivals at your local bookstore):

I thought the first volume of Keiko Taekmiya’s Andromeda Stories (Vertical), done in collaboration with science-fiction legend Ryu Mitsuse, wasn’t nearly as strong as Takemiya’s work throughout To Terra…, but subsequent installments have won me over. After the considerable quantity of set-up is in place, drama, paranoia and survival kick in, using Takemiya’s strengths to much better advantage. The cumulative effect is excellent, in spite of the shaky intro, and the third volume shows up in comic shops today.

Del Rey delivers the second volume of Ryotaro Iwanaga’s Pumpkin Scissors. I really liked the first, following a military squad trying to ease suffering after the end of a lengthy and devastating war. They also kick ass from time to time, and one of them beats up tanks. It’s a thoughtful adventure series that’s generous with character-driven comedy.

Many of the Viz books that I name-checked last week actually shop up this week – the first volume of Chica Umino’s excellent josei comedy Honey and Clover, the seventh volume of Kiyoko Arai’s hilarious makeover shôjo Beauty Pop, and the fifth volume of another comedy-adventure I really like, Hiroaki Sorachi’s Gin Tama. (Beloved dragon lady Otose is on the cover, which must explain why there was only an empty space where it should have been at Barnes & Noble. Kids love chain-smoking landladies.) The second volume of Kazune Kawahara’s High School Debut is sitting in the “to read” pile, and early praise from the likes of Kate Dacey leads me to believe that I really need to check out Shouko Akira’s Monkey High!

But let’s talk about the 28th volume of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto for a couple of minutes. As you all undoubtedly know, this is the start of the new arc with slightly older protagonists. While I’ve been interested in the book from the standpoint of its inexorable rise to market dominance, I have to confess that I haven’t read much of the series, just the occasional chapter in Shonen Jump.

So when Viz sent me a complimentary copy of volume 28, I was curious to see how it would work for someone who had limited familiarity with whisker boy. I think it works extremely well. It might be agonizingly expository for people who’ve followed the series through the previous 27 volumes, but I thought the character introductions were effective and engaging. Naruto has come back from some independent training and reacquaints himself with his friends and teachers before getting back in the thick of the ninja action.

Even if I wasn’t entirely clear on precisely what people were doing in various battle sequences, it didn’t feel like it mattered. The basics – fighters manifest their chi-type mojo in ways that are specific to their temperaments, kind of like the X-Men are all mutants but do different stuff – are clear enough that I didn’t need to think too much about the mechanics. And while the battle sequences aren’t completely comprehensible to me, they were exciting enough that little blips didn’t really keep me from enjoying them.

Most notably, the volume leaves me with serious admiration for Sakura, who apparently started out rather blandly as “the girl.” Sakura is just an amazing character to me – resourceful, smart, compassionate, ambitious, and a full partner in the adventures in play, basically everything that people seem to want from “mainstream” super-heroines. She’s not just the nagging big sister or crush object; she’s got skills of her own, whether it’s saving a colleague from poison or, as I’ve mentioned previously, splitting the earth open with her first. If I keep reading the series from this point on, which strikes me as extremely likely, it will largely be because of Sakura.