Book Talk: Balsa is a fighter and a body guard, but even she isn't prepared for the mess she finds herself in after rescuing the second prince from dr...moreBook Talk: Balsa is a fighter and a body guard, but even she isn't prepared for the mess she finds herself in after rescuing the second prince from drowning one day. Balsa has no love of royalty, but before she knows it she's risking her life and fighting foes natural and supernatural to protect the boy. She soon realizes that much more is at stake than just one boy's life, but how can she defeat a foe that she can't see and knows nothing about?
Rocks my Socks: A great, fast-paced fantasy adventure novel. The author is Japanese (it's translated into English), which really makes it stand out among all the western fantasy stories in the market. The novel is fantasy and not historical fiction, but just as English and American fantasy novels often take place in worlds based on Europe in the Middle Ages, the world of this book is rooted in Japanese culture in the same period. I also love the exploration of gender in this book. The strongest magician and the strongest warrior are both female while the male lead is a healer. The land of the novel is populated by a foreign cultural group who took over the land of the natives and the themes explored involving the interplay between the two are also fascinating. There is a romantic subplot, but it's minor and well-handled and doesn't detract from the action sequences. There are great two-page illustrations at the beginning of each part.
Rocks in my Socks: There were a fair amount of moments, especially in the beginning, where I felt that basic aspects of the world were a bit awkwardly explained and shoe horned in without really matching the flow of the novel. This usually involved aspects that weren't unique to the fantasy world but were drawn from history so that most Japanese readers wouldn't need the explanations. This lead me to think that they might have been added in by the translator to help western audiences follow the plot. It was particularly frustrating to me because I've studied Japanese history a bit and I've taken two years of the language at university, so it felt a bit obvious to me. I can see why these explanations were needed though, especially for a young adult audience, but I do think they could have been handled better so it didn't disturb the flow of the novel as much.
Every Book its Reader: I'd recommend this to fans of fantasy adventure novels in general and especially to those with an interest in Japanese culture. The book isn't terribly violent for an adventure novel; I'd say that it would be best appreciated by 6th grade and up but it could be read by strong readers of a younger age. Adults who are looking for a Japanese fantasy novel or a good quick read would enjoy it as well.
This novel is unlike any other detective novel I have ever read. In many ways the 12-year-old detective mentioned above is a more typical fictional de...moreThis novel is unlike any other detective novel I have ever read. In many ways the 12-year-old detective mentioned above is a more typical fictional detective than Inspector Imanishi. I'm used to detectives with a permanent swagger in their walk who throw themselves headlong into danger in their pursuit of justice. While Inspector Imanishi gets his information through polite requests and quiet determination. The case occasionally goes cold and he works on other things for a while. He shows concern over the amount of the police station's resources he is consuming in his trips to track down his leads. But the subdued nature of his investigations did not make it any less gripping. Instead of unnecessary and unrealistic action sequences there are added details about the lives of the people involved in the case and the fascinating artistic set that they belong to. The details of life in Japan at that time are also interesting. This was a great vacation read in that it leads you on the kind of trip you'd actually enjoy: exploring another country and observing its culture at a leisurely pace. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in 1960s Japanese culture or a different take on police procedurals. Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto.
This quiet, short novel is unlike anything I've read before. The story centers around a housekeeper who gets hired to work for a math professor who's...moreThis quiet, short novel is unlike anything I've read before. The story centers around a housekeeper who gets hired to work for a math professor who's been in an accident causing him to have a memory that stops in 1975 and doesn't remember anything short-term for longer than eighty minutes. This means that every morning the housekeeper introduces herself it is like he is meeting her for the first time. There isn't much of a plot to speak of and there is a fair amount of time spent in discussing various mathematical principles and eventually baseball (neither of which are my favorite subjects) and yet I found myself gulping the novel down quickly. I grew attached to the characters so quickly and they seemed so real that even though there weren't any major events happening to them I cared deeply about the everyday things that did occur as if I was hearing an update about a dear friend. This is a great read for a summer afternoon, especially for teachers on break like myself.
I can see why this comic is so popular. Naruto has a lot of action and humor and a rich setting. Watching Naruto's antics, the fight scenes, and immer...moreI can see why this comic is so popular. Naruto has a lot of action and humor and a rich setting. Watching Naruto's antics, the fight scenes, and immersing yourself in the mythology and ways of the world it's set it is a lot of fun. Plus, it's about ninjas. The story has a lot of heart as well though. Naruto has the spirit of a demon that tormented the town trapped inside him and as a result the villagers have never really accepted him. He acts out to get them to notice him and has big goals to prove them wrong--that he does have what it takes to lead the town and be a force of good. As he learns the ways of ninjitsu he also learns about teamwork and discipline. He refuses to sink to the level of his bullies and defends the town even when it's tempting to do otherwise. There's a lot of good lessons for the real world to be learned in this manga. Due to the ample and bloody fight scenes and Naruto's famous Ninja centerfold move I'd save this for teenage manga fans.
This manga is about a girl who can see fairies who ends up on a quest to find a lost artifact in the service of a handsome man with a mysterious and d...moreThis manga is about a girl who can see fairies who ends up on a quest to find a lost artifact in the service of a handsome man with a mysterious and dangerous past. She has to solve riddles and uncover clues while unraveling layers of deception and deciding who to trust. Did I mention she has a talking cat who isn't really a cat but a fairy? What more could I ask for? Gorgeous costumes stemming from a setting in 19th Century England? Wait, it has that too. It's certainly not the most thought-provoking thing I've ever read but darn is it diverting! I'm looking forward to breezing through the rest of the volumes in this series.
I enjoyed this manga about two middle school kids who team up to make manga together. It has a nice quiet plot, but it takes time to develop the chara...moreI enjoyed this manga about two middle school kids who team up to make manga together. It has a nice quiet plot, but it takes time to develop the characters so that I really wanted them to succeed in their plans. I think their struggle of whether they should do what is expected of them or follow their dreams is one that many middle school students will be able to relate to. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the world of how manga gets made as well. I have mixed feelings on the romantic subplot though. On the one hand I like that the main character is a romantic and wants to exchange e-mails with the girl he has a crush on instead of seeing her in person. On the other hand I am not okay with the way gender roles are portrayed. One of the male main characters describes the female lead by saying "Azuki naturally knows that a girl should be graceful and polite...and because she is a girl, she should be earnest about things and get average grades. She knows by instinct that a girl won't look cute if she's overly smart." While they are serious about their goal of making manga "'the reason she's thinking about becoming a voice actress is she naturally chose a dream that many girls have nowadays, and she's just trying to fully enjoy her life as a girl. She doesn't feel any pressure like we do about our future and whatnot.' 'Because she's a girl?' 'That's right. She knows what it means to be a girl she knows by instinct that the best thing for a girl is to get married and become somebody's wife...and until then--no, even after she's married, she'll remain graceful and polite.'" Excuse me! I'm really hoping that this is just an example of how the characters are clueless about girls and that in later issues they learn how wrong they are because I enjoyed this comic otherwise. If they don't join the rest of us in the 21st century though I'd be hesitant to recommend it.
When Emily's family moved to a decrepit house in the middle of nowhere she knew her old life was over. But she never expected that a new life full of...moreWhen Emily's family moved to a decrepit house in the middle of nowhere she knew her old life was over. But she never expected that a new life full of danger and excitement was about to begin. While exploring the house, she discovers a mysterious amulet. It gives her more power than she ever dreamt of having, but it comes at a cost. Now she's stuck in a strange new world where she's expected to use that power to prevent the evil elf king from taking over. The fate of her family and both her worlds is in her hands. But is she strong enough to wield the amulet without falling prey to it herself?
My students have been raving about this series for years and I can see why. Kibuishi's world-building is intricate and engrossing but it's slowly revealed so that it doesn't bog the reader down with exposition at the beginning. Like with Copper, his artwork is beautiful and his use of color helps create the perfect atmosphere for each scene. His imaginative landscapes are populated by a diverse cast of characters that are thoughtfully portrayed and nuanced. There's humans, elves, sentient robots, talking trees, and humans that have caught a disease that makes them look like animals (one of my favorites is a bounty hunter fox that reminds me of the Disney Robin Hood.) The protagonists are good but not perfect and the villains are frightening but not entirely evil. The question of who is good and who is evil is constantly being examined as characters betray and save each other and their motivations are revealed. The main character is a girl who is incredibly powerful and an excellent role model as she struggles to wield that power for good and not let it overtake her. Her younger brother finds his own way to shine instead of the tired sibling rivalry dynamic. Even more rare: Kibuishi does not fall into the Useless Adult Syndrome trap so common in juvenile fiction and instead comes up with believable reasons why these children are drawn into the fight and creates adult characters that attempt to help and defend them, including their mother. The series only gets better as it progresses and the world and character building continues allowing it to explore deeper questions.
I hardly need to recommend this to my students as I can barely keep it on the shelves. I absolutely love this series and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone of any age, but fans of fantasy comics, strong female characters, narratives with meat to them, and layered characterization will be particularly likely to enjoy this series. Third grade and up.
One island, two kingdoms engaged in a long and bloody war. Princess Nakaba is from Senan in the North while Prince Caesar is from Belquat in the Sout...more One island, two kingdoms engaged in a long and bloody war. Princess Nakaba is from Senan in the North while Prince Caesar is from Belquat in the South. Their marriage finally brings peace to the land, but Princess Nakaba knows better than to think it will last. Now she's a hostage in enemy territory with only her faithful Ajin servant beside her. She expects to wake up with a dagger at her throat every day, and she is prepared to fight to save herself and her kingdom. But she isn't prepared for the kindness Caesar shows her, and the feelings she starts to develop. Or for the mystical powers she develops that she cannot control. Now her heart is being torn in two. How can she do what is right when everything is so wrong? Will she remain true to herself--even if it means betraying others?
There's a lot of great themes in this series that take it beyond the usual shojo fare. Princess Nakaba is a fierce and unique protagonist. She shows her regal authority as she takes control of difficult situations, even as others try to disempower her. She isn't afraid to risk herself and head into a fight to stand up for her friends and what she believes in. There's an overarching theme of discrimination and prejudice with a race called the Ajin: part human and part animal that are treated as servants and feared and hated by many. Princess Nakaba herself is hidden away by her family for her red hair because black hair is a mark of royalty in the land. Her two closest friends are both Ajin and she tries to aid their cause. One of these, Loki, is also a main love interest in the story, and his loyalty to her is impressive as is his revolutionary zeal as her comforts her by saying "The trouble, princess lies not with you. It's the world that's not right. That's why I'm going to change it." The prince, while problematic at times also has great moments where he recognizes Nakaba for the strong woman she is and loves her for it, defending her from an assassination accusation by saying "My wife would never plot to murder me...and if she did she wouldn't waste her time with venom and vipers. She would face me head on with a sword in her hands. That's the sort of woman she is." The world-building grows more complex and interesting with each installment and the political intrigue and overarching themes keep the plot moving just as much as the romance and even eclipse it at times. The drawing is exquisite with wonderfully expressive faces and gorgeous costumes.
While Caesar and Ajin both have great moments, they have troubling aspects as well. Nakaba's romance with Caesar is a classic Beauty and the Beast scenario and while I enjoy seeing the tough exterior thawed by a caring and intelligent woman, it also sets some troubling precedents. In real life jerks mostly stay jerks and far too many women think they can change them after being raised on stories like these. He has a creepy Jareth moment where he says "When I'm king, I will make you happy. I ask only one thing in return. Surrender yourself to me." I wanted Nakaba to scream "You have no power over me!" Far too many of their kissing scenes start as fights where he eventually forces himself on her. Still, when she does tell him to stop he respects that, so I have to give him credit for that. The facts that Loki was a father figure to her and is currently her servant both make me a bit uneasy about that romance. As for Princess Nakaba, while she is feisty she still faints regularly and blood sets off her powers so that the men try to hide it from her and mostly when she tries to help in a fight she only ends up hindering. Even when she does defend herself, it's only a temporary measure until one of her love interests comes along to save her. Still there's enough that the comic gets right, especially considering the conventions of the shojo genre, that I was still able to enjoy the series immensely. I do hope that Princess Nakaba will grow stronger as the series progress though.
I'd give this to anyone looking for a fantasy comic that is character and relationship driven. The romances have yet to heat up that much, so I'd say it's fine for 5th grade and up.
This is the most depressing comic I have ever read, and I recently reviewed one about the Lebanese Civil War. At least that comic had some hope and hu...moreThis is the most depressing comic I have ever read, and I recently reviewed one about the Lebanese Civil War. At least that comic had some hope and humor in it. This one is relentlessly depressing from the first page, which begins with police finding the corpse of a man and a dog in an abandoned car. Don't be fooled by the adorable dog in a field of sunflowers on the cover. When the back cover says that this man and his dog stay together until the end, what they mean is until they both die early and pointless deaths after being completely rejected by society. The name of the dog that watches maggots eat his former master until he himself is beaten to death? Happy. I kid you not. After they die a social worker is assigned to their case to try and find their family for a proper burial. He is inspired to go to great lengths because he's depressed from his dog dying (another sad story they don't miss the chance to describe.) Still, he cannot find them and they are ultimately buried in an unmarked grave without their family knowing their fate. The end! Seriously. This was on a list of good comics for kids and received great reviews (the starred Publishers Weekly one on the back says that it is not "too sweet or sappy" in the understatement of the year.) But I would never recommend this to a child, or a teen, or adult for that matter. It's apparently a best-seller in Japan and is being made into a film, but something has clearly been lost in translation.
Misaki has just moved to Tokyo, but she's already involved in the craze that's sweeping the city: Angelic Layer. Advanced robots born from eggs, these...moreMisaki has just moved to Tokyo, but she's already involved in the craze that's sweeping the city: Angelic Layer. Advanced robots born from eggs, these are far more than toys to those in the know. A headset transmits its controller's will to the robot, which determines how it fights in the ring. Misaki is new, but with the help of a mysterious scientist and her natural battle instincts she takes the world of Angelic Layer by storm. But who is her strange benefactor, and how long will her natural talent and luck last? In the layer, anything is possible.
There's so many things to love about this series! The premise itself is engaging and as someone who always has a soft spot for robot characters (I'm looking at you Data!) I appreciate the way Misaki cares for her robot and is concerned for her well-being. Both Misaki and her robot, Hikaru, are great fighters and there's a wonderfully strong female presence throughout. The male characters are great too and the romance between Misaki and her friend is sweet, although I appreciate that it's just a sub-plot to the main action. Icchan the scientist had me cracking up with the way he constantly strived to make weird entrances and his intense orders to his assistant. The creators clearly had a lot of fun with him and even throw in jokes about how much time it takes for him to come up with such elaborate and increasingly ridiculous entrances. While Misaki and Hikaru both kick some serious butt they also are realistically portrayed as having doubts and weaknesses. The importance of teamwork is emphasized despite the seemingly individual nature of the game. Plus, who doesn't love robot fight scenes with elaborate costumes?
I'd give this to fans of science fiction and battle tournaments 5th grade and up.