Aside from the strong third volume of Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto (Viz), my weekend’s reading ran towards the inoffensively pleasant.
Ballad of a Shinigami (CMX), adapted by Asuka Izumi from stories by K-Ske Hasegawa, falls into the venerable category of stories about agents (human or supernatural) that help the spirits of the deceased cross over to what comes next. Momo, the titular shinigami, doesn’t quite fit in with her peers. She’s sparkly white, and she bends the rules when a human sparks her sympathy or curiosity. Neither of these qualities makes her especially interesting as an entity in her own right, but the stories are amiable, reasonably moving, and don’t wear out their welcome. Izumi’s art is very pretty, which is a bonus.
The most interesting thing about the first volume of Yuki Sato’s Yokai Doctor is the chance to read the same story twice. Half of the book is filled with Sato’s try-out pieces, followed by the launch of the series proper. The series is about Kotoko, the granddaughter of an exorcist who has turned her family legacy into a comedy act for her classmates. She can actually see yokai, troublesome imps of varying sizes and threat levels, but she can’t really do anything to banish them. Mysterious and nerdy classmate Yuko arrives and reveals himself to be a “yokai doctor,” whose ministrations tend to make the imps cease and desist their mischief. The try-outs are fast and frisky, viewing the weirdness from Kotoko’s perspective. The “real” chapters are more Kuro-centric, and the desire to round the characters out pushes things in an unexpectedly maudlin direction. Kotoko hates yokai; Kuro is linked to them in ways beyond his mystical, medical ministrations; can the two ever be true friends? I didn’t end up caring much, to be honest, and I found myself missing the fast-and-shallow approach of the try-out version. There’s probably a metric ton of comics about an average girl and a weird boy dealing with the supernatural, some of it very good indeed, and this one’s just okay. (Comments based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)
I’m always happy to see shôjo titles show up on bestseller lists, but I’m often puzzled by which ones earn that distinction. Both volumes of Aya Kanno’s Otomen (Viz) have shown some impressive initial sales, but I continue to be disappointed with its watery execution of a great idea. It’s about Asuka, an outwardly manly high-school student who keeps his adoration for all things cute deeply in the closet. He’s got a crush on a tomboy named Ryo, and their ever-stalled romance is obsessively observed by Juta, their male classmate who cranks out shôjo manga on the side. I could be wrong, but it feels like there’s a heavy editorial-demographic curfew on the series; it can flirt with interesting, transgressive ideas about gender roles, but it isn’t allowed to actually date them. None of the thematic or plot elements go nearly far enough for my taste; the best bits of the series are when Asuka actually indulges in his secret hobbies – knitting, piping whipped cream, generally turning the world around him into a cuter place. If the series consisted nothing but those moments, I’d love it, but someone stubbornly insisted it have a story.