Bleach Volume 62 by Tite Kubo

In volume 62, we have the completion of a series-long subarc full of great pathos as the back story of Captain Komamura completes. This is a great volume for those curious what Komamura looks like in human form, free of the wolf (if only temporarily). As well, we get to see a new bankai from him.

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Story: The onslaught of the Quincies continues as captain and vice captains are defeated one by one. Using their stolen bankai against them, the enemies of the seireitei look to be winning the battle. But Urahara may have a solution to the stolen bankai problem. As well, Ichigo, Rukia, and Renji are on the way – but will they get there before the Gotei 13 are ignominiously defeated?

This volume sits squarely in the middle of the first of the Quincy battles. Soi Fon, Hitsugaya, and many others are down and about to be destroyed.  Urahara’s solution could be used – IF Kurotsuji is willing to let him come in and save the day. AND if the Shinigami can survive long enough for help to reach them.

This volume was definitely worth it to complete the story arc of Komamura and his return to the wolf clan. It’s a great moment and one we’ve been waiting for since Komammura was first introduced years ago. He gets a cool new Bankai as well.  Here’s hoping we’ll see more of him in the future.

We all know how Kubo loves to give us ebb and flow in battles. Volume 62 ends just as the Quincies pull back in order to begin a new assault. One far more devastating than the first.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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World Trigger Volume 4 by Daisuke Ashihara

World Trigger gets better and better with each volume. Contrasting the quieter moments of volume 3, this volume 4 is non stop action. author Ashihara makes great use of his cast of characters and brings them into play at interesting moments. There aren’t any throw aways here – 20+ characters and they are all an intrinsic part of a big picture being built here. We haven’t seen the neighbors attack in awhile and the subtle shift of human politics continue to intrigue. Right now, it’s really about expanding on the characters and trion attributes/abilities.

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Story: The battle to save the new recruits begins! The full range of Jin’s black trigger will come into play as he battles to prevent Yuma’s trigger from being stolen. Snipers, gunners, and attacks will all have their moments as Jin enlists the help of a rival division. To save his crew, Jin may have to give up the thing most important to him. But for someone who can see the future, that may be exactly what he wants to do.  Meanwhile, the trio will have to hold their own during official border enlistment day.

Most of the book is non stop action – Jin’s defender group’s tactics used to describe the different type of trigger weapons/ammo. Ashihara creatively brings all the different types into play and makes smart use of the battles to both elucidate and thrill. At the heart, though, is Jin’s rare black trigger and precog ability.

As Jin battles, the trio are getting mentoring from the Border A-class agents.  Yuma and Chika still show hidden talent and Osamu still struggles.  Of course, Osamu’s greatest asset is his leadership skills but he won’t come to recognize that yet. But it is fun watching Yuma take names as he destroys his competition at the enlistment battles.  This volume ends just as the battles begin but clearly the next volume won’t be about surprising abilities so much as players moving around on the big chessboard Ashihara has set up. Every time I think I know where this story will go, it subtly shifts by bringing in a character who changes everything.

Kudos to Viz for picking up this title. After four volumes, it’s still going strong and keeping me completely hooked!  Can’t wait for volume 5!

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World Trigger 3 by Daisuke Ashihara

World Trigger continues to surprise and impress: a great blend of sci fi, battles, interesting characters, and twisty turning politics. The art is solid and I really appreciate all the background info/reminders put into the drawings and dialogue so readers don’t get lost. Honestly, every chapters makes me want to rush right into the next to see what is going to happen next.

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Story: Mikumo, Chika, and Yuma are at an impass but they can’t stand still. Orders are given to Jin to apprehend the black trigger owned by Yuma but he’s playing his own game, thanks to his precog ability. He’ll make an offer to the trio that they can’t refuse – but in doing so, he’ll upset the balance of power in the border agencies. Certain parties have a vested interested in making sure Yuma’s black trigger doesn’t end up at Tamakoma.

We get a lot more information about Yuma, the neighbor, in this volume. I have to say, I’m impressed that it is Jin, not Yuma, who will end up having the mysteries and the secrets. But what stands apart for me is the great cast of characters – with the trio of Chika, Yuma, and Mikumo but also all the people in the different border squads. Instead of a lot of stupidity, the author is willing to give his characters intelligence and logic in their actions. So it isn’t about an idiot kid flying off the handle and getting lucky – like so many titles of this type. It’s really about the team and their diverse talents.

The art is solid and battle scenes are as well rendered as emotive ones. This volume doesn’t have any battles with the neighbors but there is still plenty of action as well as the introspection. And, well, I have to laugh every time I see Yuma’s pursed lips.

This is definitely one of my favorite titles Viz has put out this year and I eagerly await each new volume.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 1 by Aya Shouoto

Kiss of the Rose Princess is a zany reverse harem (a girl with a stable of cute boys) featuring a young girl (the Rose Princess) and the knights that are honor bound to protect her. All of the elements of one of my favorite manga, Pretear, are here (knights, princess, conflict with the bold one, humor), and certainly the strong willed lead heroine is in the vein of Arina Tanemura’s very popular magical girls. Sure, it’s a silly manga, but that’s kind of the point.

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Story: Anise is a normal schoolgirl with a father who travels often. He has one rule for Anise: never remove the rose choker around her neck or she will be ‘punished.’ When the choker mysteriously comes off one day, she finds a supernatural creature, Ninufa, who gives her cards. With a kiss, the cards (blue rose, white rose, red rose, black rose) summon a knight, boys in her school, who will protect her.  But what does she need protecting from, exactly? And the knights aren’t too happy to have spirited but dimwitted Anise as their princess.

The artwork here is lovely, if a bit crowded (it can be hard to understand what’s going on at times). The four harem boys have different characters but yes, rather cliche: warrior, magician, scientist, shadow wielder (outgoing and bold, romantic school president, shy rich boy, dark and mysterious). But they are drawn lovely enough to keep you coming back. Ninufa reminds me a lot of a mascot from a CLAMP manga – cute and fuzzy but can transform into something bigger and scarier.

Most of the first book is Anise discovering the knights and getting to know their personalities. Her father is returning and she is trying to find the choker before he comes back and ‘punishes’ her. There is a dire warning at the end that her father may not be the nice and sweet person of her memories, though….

In all, cute, fun, silly, inane, and just plain fun.  Reviewed from an ARC.

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Black Rose Alice Volume 3 by Setona Mizushiro

Black Rose 3 continues the story of Alice and the vampires but focuses more on the tragedy aspects than the horror or harem of the previous volumes. The writing is just as solid and Mizushiro’s artwork continues to get stronger. There is a definitely arc in volume 3 and hints that Leo has set into place plans that will affect the group in interesting ways in the future.

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Story: Leo has always been the front runner to mate with Alice but she still feels she needs more time to understand her own feelings. Unfortunately for both, what she doesn’t know is that Leo’s lifespan is coming to an end and time is the luxury he doesn’t have.

This is the Leo book – and judging from the end, it looks like the next will be about Reiji with some jealous Kai thrown in for good measure.  It was nice to see Dmitri open up more to Alice and I am hoping the series won’t be Alice going through one guy to the next until she ends up with Dmitri.  I am definitely looking for more development in the Dmitri affair.

I’m still on the fence on this series – it is moody and atmospheric as well as beautifully drawn. Mizushiro does a great job of pulling us into the story but I’m worried it will begin to sag in the middle if the focus stays on the harem aspect.  So for now, definitely 4 stars.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Black Rose Alice 2 by Setona Mizushiro

After the end of Black Rose 1, I had wondered where this would go with the change in time/setting to 2008 Tokyo. Would Azusa/Agnieszka wake up pining after Koya for another four chapters? Oddly enough, by the middle, I was a bit worried it had turned into a reverse harem ‘cute boys working at a cafe’ cliche with very little character development. But then a sweet little twist dropped at the end and all was good in Black Rose Alice land.

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Story: Azusa wakes up from her dreams of Koya  and tries her best in Agnieszka’s body. The bargain has been kept, Dmitri has saved Koya, and Azusa must move on. Renamed Alice, the 26 year old within a 16 year old body learns she is to be a queen of a small nest of vampires – and must eventually choose one with whom she will propagate. Dmitri removes himself from the competition but Alice will find that things are not all they seem in Dmitri’s world as the boys hope to win her favor.

This second volume lacked a lot of the dark edge of the first. Admittedly, I was disappointed to see Azusa pretty much turn into a 16 year old and lose a lot of her maturity in the process. Koya is mentioned in the beginning but then jettisoned quickly in favor of the cute vampire boys.

The book covers the first year of Azusa in Alice’s body. She had to get to know the boys with whom she lives and is taking her time trying to figure out which she favors. Although not necessarily repugnant to have to mate with one of the boys, she still sees the situation from the perspective of keeping her end of the bargain.

There was enough at the end to keep me reading but I am hoping this keeps its gothic horror edge in future volumes and doesn’t get bogged down by the harem aspects. That would be a waste after the promise of book 1.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Julius and the Watchmaker by Tim Hehir

Julius and the Watchmaker is a curious melange: part Dickensian historical, part time travel, part steampunk, part urban fantasy, part Fin De Siecle fiction escapism.  It’s just odd enough to be interesting but if I am to be honest, at times it is oblique enough to be disaffecting and a bit pretentious. It never talks down to the reader but never talks to a reader either.

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Story: Julius Caesar Higgins works in his grandfather’s book shop. A loner and a bit of a loser, bullied at school and with a bad habit of talking to himself quite a bit, Julius’ life is about to change when two different people come to the shop looking for a diary from a famous watchmaker. This starts him on an adventure through London and then through time and space as he works to uncover a nefarious plot that will adversely affect not one but two worlds at the same time.

When reading, I couldn’t help be feel the influence of Edwardian/Arts and Crafts era children’s literature. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Around the World in 80 Days, The Wizard of Oz – this had that feel of fantastical lurking behind a pretty unpleasant reality. And indeed, the author does resort to an unfortunately very tired trope of taking folk characters (Springheel Jack), literary characters (artful dodger), and real characters (Charles Dee, Captain Bligh) and placing them within the story. Because London really isn’t so small that little Julius is going to meet a lot of famous people. And naming an Irish pugilist in the story Danny Flynn (anyone seen the move The Boxer with Daniel Day Lewis?) seems gratuitous.  It’s all a bit much and I couldn’t help but feel I’ve seen all the characters elsewhere (a Professor “fox” who is obsessed with time and travel similar to a certain professor Fogg in Around the World in 80 days anyone?) It didn’t feel clever, it just felt kind of derivative.

The story does move around a bit and seems to get away from the author around the half way point. It’s as if the story was fleshed out from the waif Higgins running errands on dark London streets (several of those in the book) but didn’t grow organically enough from the premise. The plot bounces around in frenzied abandon, never stopping in any one place (or with any one character) long enough to really ground the story.

les forgiving, there is a LOT of info dumping on time travel (I really didn’t need the FOURTH “time is a tablecloth” explanation) and admittedly I just skipped over it.  I wasn’t reading Julius and the Watchmaker to be impressed with how the author decided to tackle the idea of time travel. I was reading the book for a good adventure yarn and all that nonlinear universes, paradoxes, etc., was getting in the way far too often. It got to the point where I didn’t feel the book was clever anymore and that the conceit of time travel and parallel universes were woefully underused.

The steampunk aspect is passed over pretty quickly – definitely not the attraction in the story. Younger kids, especially Americans, will likely have to skip over the street urchin cockney dialogue scenes since I doubt they will understand a word. Nor will they have a history of knowing urban legends such as Springheel Jack and other London tics.  As well, our main character does start out pretty hapless but does try by the end to get a backbone. He can be a very hard character to like.  Especially considering the story goes willy nilly everywhere by the end so that character development does get a bit lost in favor of the mise en scene.

It would be mean to put a 3 star rating on this but it wasn’t quite a 4 star read either.  3.5 sounds a bout right with the caveats described above. Pretentious, yes, but not terrible, either.

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