Short & Sweet, All-Manga Edition: Barakamon, My Hero Academia, and More!

My Hero Academia

Barakamon, Volume #5Barakamon vol 5 by Satsuki Yoshino, Yen Press 2015

Satsuki Yoshino (mangaka); Krista Shipley & Karie Shipley (translation); Lys Blakeslee (lettering)
Yen Press, June 2015
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by Yen Press.

Volume 5 of Barakamon is just as full of childhood hijinks and warm feelings as earlier volumes. City calligrapher Seishuu Handa has by now more-or-less fully adapted to rural life on a small southern island (except for the insects), but he’s still searching for inspiration. Too many flying bugs, not enough creative bugs—that pretty much sums up Handa-sensei’s life right now. Fortunately, he has his young friends to keep him busy and distracted, whether that’s by getting lost in the forest behind his house, making mud pies, bickering with kids from the neighboring township, or attending a local summer festival. As Handa discovers, creativity strikes when it’s least expected, and the best way to find it is to just keep exploring.

As far as I’m concerned, the best scene is one in which Handa learns to cook! (I am partial to the food from Barakamon, as you can see if you click on over here to this post.) Well, tries to learn. Handsome Hiroshi teaches Handa to make a miso cucumber dish, but although our sensei may be good with ink and paper, but he just doesn’t seem to get food. Alas for Handa. I, on the other hand, may have to make miso cucumbers for dinner.

This volume is a bit shy on character development and plot movement, which leaves me hungering for the next volume. Given the hints at the end, it seems that volume 5 exemplifies the end-of-summer lull before the busy autumn of volume 6. We’ll see! While we’re waiting for some more action, though, I’m content to relax with Handa as he enjoys the simple things about life on the island.

—Amanda Vail

Are You Alice?, Volume #8Are You Alice? volume 8 by Ai Ninomiya and Ikumi Katagiri, Yen Press March 2015

Ai Ninomiya (original story); Ikumi Katagiri (mangaka); Alexis Eckerman (translation & lettering)
Yen Press, March 2015
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by Yen Press.

Oh, Lewis Carroll. Did you know what a cascade of strange, sideways stories would follow your creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass? Probably not, but there can be no doubt that Carroll’s literary nonsense novels have spawned many, many reinterpretations and adaptations. Are You Alice? is probably not even the most bizarre, although it is strange. Quite strange, and quite violent. Huh, not so different from the source material, really. (Okay, I’m kidding. Lewis Carroll would probably spit up his tea if he knew the white rabbit and Cheshire cat have been reimagined as sexy, sexy humans with animal ears.)

Wonderland, as depicted by Ai Ninomiya and Ikumi Katagiri, is a very pretty if very dangerous place full of guns and shed blood. Alice, by the way, is as much a title as it is a name. The current Alice, a young man, is only one in a long line of Alices. What happened to the others? Oh, they died. And now they’re called Regrets, and they try to kill the current Alice and steal the name back. In order for the current Alice, our Alice, to survive, he must kill the white rabbit. (He doesn’t get to wear a Viking helmet while doing so, alas.)

The current volume finds Alice in the land “Through the Looking-Glass.” It’s not so different from Wonderland proper, though. It’s still a deadly game that Alice is playing, and he still doesn’t know who his real friends and allies are, or even who he is. Even Hatter, his trusty guard, is behaving mysteriously. Alice’s past is a tangle that is slowly unravelling, but not fast enough to get him out of danger. And the twists keep coming! We even get to learn more about a Regret who looks suspiciously like Carroll’s original Alice. Hmm.

Here’s the thing: I like this manga, almost in spite of myself. The plot is rather strange and hard to follow, and full of twists that come completely out of left field and that may or may not lead anywhere. I don’t know what the point is, honestly. Why do I keep reading this? But Are You Alice? is pure candy. The art is sharp and pretty, full of deep tones and broken panels. The characters are delightfully self-aware; they know they’re trapped in a game and they’re seeking a way out just as much as Alice. So it’s fun. If you like crazy Alice in Wonderland stories, this will be right up your alley.

—Amanda Vail

My Hero Academia, Volume #1My Hero Academia

Kohei Horikoshi (mangaka); Caleb Cook (translation); John Hunt (touch-up and lettering)
VIZ, June 2015
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by VIZ.

Horikoshi’s ongoing manga—published weekly in Shonen Jump—follows Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, an ordinary student who lives in a world where most of the population possesses superpowers called Quirks. Deku is, of course, Quirkless, but still aspires to become a Hero like his icon All Might. After a serendipitous encounter with All Might and a show of true heroism in the face of a Villain, Deku becomes his hero’s successor and inherits All Might’s Quirk, One for All, which warrants great power that increases every time it’s passed down to a new user. Cue the training montage and entrance exam, and Deku finds himself attending a prestigious high school for future Heroes.

My Hero Academia boasts a first volume that charms with its cowardly lion protagonist, bombastic art style, and playful attitude towards the traditional superhero narrative. It does cover the standard shounen series tropes, such as the likable loser becoming The Chosen One, the childhood-friend-turned-rival (who will probably be turned friend again by series’ end), the oddball mentor, etc. Even so, the characters already feel like a team with goofy antics and adventures ahead. The comedic timing is almost always successful. Horikoshi’s art style plays with angles and exaggerates in ways that gives the manga vibrancy; any given panel has an amazing amount of personality and—forgive me—quirkiness that sets it apart from its Jump peers. Deku’s tears would make Studio Ghibli proud, and the greatest of all Heroes, All Might, is always drawn in classic American comic style, commented on repeatedly by other characters in-series.

Celebrating its first year of serialization in July, My Hero Academia is off to a strong start. It’s accessible for first-time manga readers and superhero comic fans as well, so if you’re looking into manga and feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of titles (which is expanding every day), this is a solid pick to get you started.

—Paige Sammartino

Amanda Vail

Amanda Vail

Amanda is a staff writer for WWAC. She is also a developmental editor and copywriter in less-than-sunny Seattle. She likes to poke her nose into things, mainly manga, graphic novels, sci-fi & fantasy books, and art galleries. Then she writes about them. She also drinks a lot of coffee. Tweet her @amandamvail.