Not Yuri Manga: Yen Plus (English)

August 24th, 2008

It’s obvious that I primarily focus on Yuri here at Okazu, not because I don’t read and/or watch anything else, but because there’s still very few people who blog on Yuri at all and pretty much no one who brings my particular perspective to the table. In fact, I do watch and read any number of series without Yuri (no, really, I do!) but I don’t tend to talk about them here. However…

Yen Press was kind enough to send me a copy of Yen Plus, their new manga anthology magazine (thanks Yen!). As a business model, I find it both encouraging and interesting. If I understand correctly, the intention is to run five chapters of a story in the magazine – one collected volume’s worth – then when it goes to tankoubon, move it out of the magazine and replace it with a new story. The idea being that by then, you’ll know if you want to follow the series or not. It’s not quite the same impetus as a new chapter every month eternally in a magazine followed by collected volumes, but it’s a step in that direction. Also interesting is that Yen Press chose to put the Japanese manga stories in the book reading right to left, and Korean and English stories left to right – something that I considered doing for Yuri Monogatari 5 as well, but chose not to. (The decision for not doing so was based primarily on my outreach to non-manga fans, especially lesbian comics fans. They are not used to right-to-left reading and with so many other learning curves for them to deal with when reading ALC anthologies, like honorifics, I felt that it would simply be asking too much of a non-manga-reading audience. In case you wondered why we flip the Japanese stories…)

Now, normally, I wouldn’t bother reviewing this volume because there is no Yuri (except in one advertisement for what sounds to be a brutally unfunny series with a great title, Alice on Deadlines) and because every other reviewer in the manga-verse has already reviewed it. But, I couldn’t help but notice that as I read it, I pretty much *disagreed* with every other reviewer in the manga-verse about the stories. In fact, the stories I liked, no one else seems to, and the stories everyone else raves about, (notably “Pig Bride,”) I didn’t like at all. So I decided to review this, just to put out a completely different point of view on things.

Starting with the left-to-right side:

“Maximum Drive” does not seem to have garnered much enthusiasm from reviewers. I’m not a big James Patterson fan, and yay the heroine seems to be a “cute lil’ urchin” so you can guess that I really don’t care what happens next. But. In and of itself, it didn’t seem that bad. The art’s aesthetically pleasing and easy to follow. Whether the story ends up being interesting, we’ll have to wait and see.

Unlike most reviewers, I quite liked “Nightschool” and didn’t really see the problems that most people felt it had. Too much setup, too many characters at once…neither of these bothered me. It’s true that Japanese manga tend to parse out the character introductions a few at a time, rather than dumping them all on us at once, but I found it refreshing to see a pile of players, rather than thinking we had teams established, but oh, wait, there’s a new bad guy/good guy/MOTD. This was one of the few stories I might care to follow.

Okay, I just do not know what everyone sees in “Pig Bride.” I found it cloying, predictable and utterly tedious. (Not to mention insulting to women who are not model-types.) The fact that the hero is a grade-A asshole neither surprised me nor pleased me. I’m just not seeing the charm.

The same goes for “Sarasah” – it read like a typical josei-style romance in which the horrible girl likes a horrible guy and horrible things happen. It instilled in me the same feelings of murderous frustration I felt upon reading Peach Girl. Dear straight women – what the hell is entertaining about reading/watching women being complete idiots and being abused by men?????? I just do not get you or your desire to watch women being treated like crap. UGH.

“One Fine Day” is an adorable little cartoon about the adorable little animals that live with some guy and the adorable little things they do in their adorable little girl avatar forms. I hate it, but it wasn’t the comic’s fault. I just hate kids and cats. And cute things. If you like kids, cats and cute things, it will be a very enjoyable story.

Everyone has already talked about “Jack Frost” and mentioned how violent it is, etc, etc. I didn’t mind the violence, but the disembodied head reagrding her own upraised rear end was a tad gratuitous, I felt. Violence does not put me off usually, but the story wasn’t compelling. I prefer my homicidal maniacs to be women.

Over to the Japanese side:

“Soul Eater” was dreadful. I want that time back.

I was all ready to dislike “Nabari no Ou” but amazingly, didn’t. Sean said that he felt that the lead was okay, but the premise was meh. I liked the premise, but thought the lead was meh. lol I like Aizawa and the Nindo club advisor – and I kind of liked the thought that, as stupid as they seem, they are actually right on top of things. Ninja stories are okay by me, too, as long as we stick to basics. No Naruto-esque techniques need apply. Above all, I really liked the end of the chapter and would very much like to know what happened.

“Sumomo Momomo” was also dreadful. I want that time back and the piece of my soul it took away as I flipped the pages.

I ran into a bit of a bind with “Bamboo Blade.” I *know* it becomes a totally awesome story later on, but for the first few chapters, we’re forced to watch the idiot teacher being an idiot. If I did not already know that BamBlade turned awesome, I’d probably never read another chapter after these two. (And it seemed obvious to me that chapter two was included so we could bask in the wonderfulness that is Tama-chan. I bet that they realized that if they only ran chapter one, everyone would not give a damn about the series.) But I do know it becomes awesome, so I’ll probably stick it out and start reading the collected volumes from Volume 2 on.

“Higurashi: When They Cry” was not a series I enjoyed in Japanese. I was not at all surprised that I did not enjoy it in English. I know I’m in the minority with this opinion, but there’s something very unpleasant about this series from the very first page/panel/seconds of anime, that makes me cringe. It wasn’t the violence – it was the lack of caring about the violence. There’s no meaning in it. It’s just a means to a very heavy-handed set of messages. So, I’ll pass.

Technically, I think Yen did a very excellent job. Everyone else thinks so too, so no surprise there. And everyone else has commented on the kind of “random audience” issue that one runs into with stories of such variety, so I won’t belabor that.

The outcome is that there are two stories of the eleven total that I genuinely enjoyed and one that if it was going to run long enough in the magazine, that I know I would enjoy. There were three that I’d be willing to give a little more time to and the rest I found utterly without merit. In general, that’s enough of a “okay” percentage for me to get a magazine. So, I’ll try another issue or two and see how it goes. However – and this is key – I, like most other reviewers am not sure if this magazine something that I would bother subscribing to. And there, more than anything, is the big hurdle Yen will have to confront in 5 months. Is the variety of the stories going to bring more people in, or put more people off. Tune in at the beginning of 2009 to see! In the meantime, I recommend to Yen the technique Japanese manga magazines have of finding out which series people like and do not – insert postcards with marketing questions (age, location, etc,) and which series you like best and least. These get sent in for the possibility of prizes, so the company gets a running commentary on which series are the most and least popular. This might be moot if they are planning on moving stories out of the magazine after five issue, but also might serve to help them decide what *kinds* of stories are doing the best.

Thanks again to Yen Press for the copy of Yen Plus – and by all means, do NOT make your decisions based on my opinions. Get your own copy and tell me in the comments field what you think!

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8 Responses

  1. I’m happy to see you liked Nabari no Ou, as it is currently one of the series I enjoy the most. You will be happy to know that, although the lead seems ‘meh’ now, he grows a lot as a character as the story progresses. Although the story does not have Yuri, or even any Yuri hints at all, I recommend that you keep reading it, as it is quite good =)

  2. Eric P. says:

    The Maximum Ride novels, I think, are really overrated. When you read it, it feels like James Patterson tries way too hard to make the child-hero characters sound cool and hip, when in the end they just sound over-the-top and annoying. But seeing it in manga format, I think I might be able to like it more.

    Me being the Higurashi fan that I am, and am very much anticipating Funimation’s re-release of the first anime series, it’s only natural that I’d start liking the manga version. As for ‘meaning’ behind the violence–it’s supposed to be a shock-value kind of story, of course, but there’s a whole lot going behind the scenes that initiate it, involving conspiracies and paranoia. None of that is ever fully revealed until the sequel series.

    I’m also waiting for Bamboo Blade to get better, after hearing good things about it.

    All in all, whether or not I buy the tankuboun of most of these titles, it’s great to just get a taste of them and any future titles in this magazine. Hopefully it’ll last at least longer than PiQ

  3. DezoPenguin says:

    Hmm…I’d always wondered why you flipped the Japanese stories in YM5, so this was an informative post even before you got to the review.

    And as for Alice on Deadlines, the best thing I can say about it is that it was so utterly awful that I didn’t blow any money on vol. 2 in the hope that the series might get better or develop something interesting, so at least the waste of time and money wasn’t as bad as with some mediocre series.

    But, my God it’s awful. It makes Eternal Alice Rondo look like fine art by comparison (and that’s another book I couldn’t touch after vol. 1, which puts things in perspective).

    As for Yen Plus…hm, I have no idea at all how much of that looks interesting. But I will say that 3/11 is not enough of a ratio to get me to buy the magazine, so I’d have to say that the scattershot approach to subjects and genres would turn me off rather than attract me. Anthologies are guaranteed to be YMMV anyway, but one which doesn’t even differentiate among genre just makes it worse.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Here’s what I think:

    Maximum Ride is okay. The characters’ introductions sounded a little bit stilted, and the personalities are pretty much zilch right now. So I don’t really care, even if it did leave at a cliffhanger. Same as you, I guess.

    Nightschool for me was also okay. The characters come off better here, but because of so threads and links, I was really bewildered. With a whole volume of manga, I can let go of the first confusion and go on and pick it up as I go along. But with one chapter, I was left like that. Furthermore, the setup meant I wasn’t able to find anything that caused me to want to read more, other than the good artwork and my desire to clear up my confusion.

    Sarasah was really stupid. The angularness and puffy mouth leaves me not impressed. The woman was a stalker and the man behaved horribly with her, though I do think he was really just fed up and not mean. That being said, I am looking forward to the supposed twist in issue 2 (haven’t seen that yet) and the Korean folklore. I want to see that kicked into play, but I really do wish I had a better heroine. That “I will never give up” stalker attitude got me sick.

    Pig Bride was interesting because it was based on folklore as well. I don’t think the guy is a jerk, rather grumpy and spoiled maybe. The fact that he had a crush really made me like him a lot more, or I would’ve put him in the “Usual jerk shoujo bishounen”. The art is welldone if standard manhwa shoujo, but one problem that has always been in shoujo is that everyone looks good. What has my interest is the fact that though it does look rather sugary sweet, there’s a certain… creepiness in this story. I do think it should not inject random humor to spoil this mood, but the bright art and the somewhat creepiness of the pig bride works.

    I pretty much ignored the japanese side, but I’m reserving judgement on Nabari no Ou to see if it will turn me off. The rest are a bit too violent and fanservice-y for my taste.

    Frankly, I think it does a pretty good job. I’ll stick around for the next few issues, and then decide on subscribing. If not, the price is too steep and I’ll drop it. But for magazines like this, I do think that as long as there are 1 or 2 diehards love of yours, 1 or 2 enjoyable, and a few more that you will tolerate, it is worth it.

  5. Reteku says:

    I haven’t read the manga, but I really like the Higurashi anime and I can’t wait for the third season. When the characters commit violent acts…well, let’s just say we find out they weren’t exactly sane, then, and that there’s a really complex plotline behind that.

    And I’m glad you like Nabari no Ou. I do, too. Only work of fiction involving ninjas that isn’t too ridiculous to stomach.

  6. to all the Higurashi supporters – I know the whys and still reject it as being heavy-handed and unentertaining.

    I know other people like it, too, Feel free to just say you enjoy it, and don’t bother explaining why I should, too. lol

  7. grace says:

    thanks for the review of Yen Plus, i had been curious to know your thoughts. glad to know you liked Nabari No Ou enough to want to know what’s next. it truly gets better as one reads on the next volumes, i ordered my copies through Kinokuniya just to keep up!

  8. ggymeta says:

    As a straight woman who also does not get into ‘treat me like shit please’ sort of romances– I don’t get it either. :/ I don’t seem to mind it as much in BL, but I despise seeing it on TV, in film, and in comics.

    It’s like that old tradition the Oscars has – the only way a woman can win an Oscar is by way of playing a whore, a victim, or a woman with a truly shitty life. I’m discovering all too soon that most of Lady’s manga is in that vein. >_<

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