Arata: The Legend Vol. 1, by Yuu Watase 

This Review is Spoiler Free

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Completely disinterested. That’s how I felt about this series at first. I came across  this series a few years ago, took one look at the cover, and decided it wasn’t for me. I figured that was the end, but a few months ago I was forced into a game of Jack in the Box. No matter where I went- online forums, the library, Goodreads recommendations, random book comments- this series would make an appearance. To be honest it started to creep me out, and so (of course) I became interested enough to give it a try! I have never been so happy to be stalked by an inanimate object before 😃

Synopsis: On one side you have Arata. This young adult is the next in line to lead the Hime Clan- long line of females who, every 30 years, have proudly produced a new ruling princess for the kingdom. Only thing is…Arata is a boy.

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On the the other side we have the leading protagonist, Arata Hinohara, a regular high school student with great athletic skills and the grades to go with it, seems to just be starting over from a complicated past. That is, until said past seems to follow him to his new school.

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These two very different worlds clash when Arata (the Hime Clan leader), is falsely charged with the murdering the ruling Princess during a sacred succession ceremony and chased into the human devouring forest.

This is when Hinohara (the regular school student) takes centre stage. As the mysterious forest forces a body swap between these two characters, Hinohara finds himself in a magical kingdom being hunted down by the 12 Sho (12 chosen rulers welding the most powerful Kamui– gods in the form of weapons).    

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Rating: 9/10 Unicorn Horns!

Needless to say this was an unexpectedly non-stop, action packed read. The action and adventure the series begins with only continues to increase as Hinohara finds his place in the new fantasy world, and discovers a power of his own. The characters, setting, dialogue (the humours banter was a real bonus), and touch of romance, are all things that came together to make this one of my favourite series.

A big part of what makes this series great for me is the main character Hinohara. The way he faces and overcomes his own weaknesses, quickly becoming a stronger person who does his best to actively grow and stick to his moral convictions is something that I find was approached/written beautifully (. I recommend this one to any action, adventure, and fantasy lover! 

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There is also a 12-episode anime version if you want to check it out. Though it covers only a very small portion of the manga, it does adapt most of the important parts (with a few changes of course) up until the last few episodes where events start showing up out of chronological order.

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Seiho Boys High School, Vol. 1 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

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I still question my decision to do a review on this 8 volume manga series, and not because I didn’t wholly enjoy it. In fact, my hesitation comes from the fact that I not only enjoyed it, but from time to time found myself suffering from convulsions of laughter. Normally that’s simply a good thing, but I must admit that some of the often vulgar and at best inappropriate humour may have crossed lines here and there.

Synopsis: Seiho Boys High School is more or less exactly what the name implies. Despite being a shojo manga (Japanese comic targeted for young adult girls), the story centers a group of young males at an all male boarding high school in the middle of nowhere. The POV starts with a young 16yr old named Maki, but often switches between the small group of friends as the lament and curse their fate of being stranded without any female in sight. Worrying about forgetting how to talk to girls, past issues, grades, and getting caught with their secret stashes during inspections are just some of the typical things these boys get themselves caught up in as they search for love…or simply to get laid.

Rating: I rate this hilarious contemporary 8/10 Unicorn Horns!

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This ‘crossing of lines’ is something to be expected when a genre challenging series such as this hits the shelves. This shojo challenges it’s typical predecessors in two ways; It’s entirely male centered cast of characters, and it’s incredibly ‘inappropriate for it’s genre’ type of humour. Personally, with the exception of one character’s actions when it came to women, I didn’t see much wrong with the blunt sexual humour, but can easily say that many could find the more…unapologetic and inappropriate scenes/comments offensive. So a big warning to those that would be put off by raunchy humour.

The only negative thing I have to say about this series, other than a couple personally line crossing comments, is that this hilarious contemporary read does loose momentum in later installments as things begin to feel a bit repetitive here and there, or seemed to lack direction (something I believe the author pointed out themselves). Otherwise I loved the characters and the humour even more than I did the overall episodic story of a group of boys struggling to find love and keep it (though that was pretty funny in and of itself). 

I recommend this to anyone looking for some good romantic comedy, with an emphasis on comedy of the inappropriate kind.

The Beauty, Vol. 1 by Jason A. Hurley & Jeremy Haun

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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To be completely honest I had actually completely forgotten I had this book in my collection. I was doing a major bookshelf dusting and was on the shelf holding my graphic novels when BAM! I got to this cover and was unnervingly surprised. I lovingly…and possibly a little creepily…consider all my books “my children”, so to come across one I barely remember receiving as a gift was quite the shock. So of course considering I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately (hence the recent overabundance of manga/comic reviews lol), but am almost always up for a bit of horror I decided to give this neglected volume some much needed love. 

Synopsis: I like to put things in my own words, but the opening first few pages honestly sum things up quite perfectly so I can’t help but just quote it (Pgs 1-2 of The Beauty):

Two years ago , a new sexually transmitted disease took the world by storm. This S.T.D. was unlike any other that had come before. This was a disease that people actually wanted. “Victims” of this epidemic were physically changed by the virus. Fat melted away, thinning hair returned, skin blemishes faded, and their facial features slimmed. It became known as the beauty. The beauty quickly became a fad. Suddenly, perfect skin, flawless features, and a gorgeous body were only one sexual encounter away.

The only downside appeared to be a slight fever, but that didn’t seem to slow many people down. Now, over half the population has the beauty, and the other half of the country hates them for it. Anti-beauty cells have popped up around the nation. The majority teach preservation, reminding everyone that the beauty is still a disease. A few, however, have taken a more aggressive approach to stopping the spread of the beauty…

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Image from Pg 3. of The Beauty

Rating: 9.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

A page after such an intriguing introduction to the modern world setting of The Beauty, we meet detectives Foster and Vaughn of the local city’s Beauty Task Force as they respond to the possible anti-beauty murder of a young woman. Only once they arrive at the scene it’s clear things aren’t as they appear as the young woman, by all appearances, looked instead to have spontaneously combust while traveling on the train. Things are quickly complicated even further when the case is quickly pulled from them by the Center for Disease Control by “Federal mandate”. This leads both detectives Foster and Vaughn (an unwilling carrier of ‘the beauty’) to look into the buried secrets behind the mysterious STD and those seeming to keep this horrific secret from the general public.  

Honestly…I don’t have much negative things to say about the first installment of what looks to be a very promising adult series. The story had a really good flow to it and was riddled with action, thriller, conspiracies, and a great diverse group of characters. One thing I loved was the bits of real life socially controversial thoughts and ideas about beauty woven in here and there. The art was visually appealing, and though I can’t say the main characters were personally among my favorites they were very well created and felt pretty genuine. The only reason it’s not a 10/10 is purely because of personal reasons. I would recommend this to just about every story loving adult, but warn about explicit violence, language, and a couple nude and censored sexually explicit scenes. This was an amazing start to a series with such a unique idea I couldn’t praise it enough!

Romance Read: Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1 by Mizuho Kusanagi

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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This story, wow, I was genuinely surprised at the twists and turns within the first couple chapters. I did NOT at all expect for this story to turn out the way it did. This was intended to be a novel review but… I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and haven’t been able to finish/pick up most of the books I’ve set out to read. So have totally been coping out of doing intended book reviews with tons of manga and graphic novels! It still counts right? Yes? Well let’s pretend it does even if it doesn’t! Hahaha! Anywho, as someone who isn’t a big fan of shojo (manga for young/teen girls) in general I never really thought I would not only pick-up the manga Yona of the Dawn, but begin collecting it. Despite my continuing overall apprehension towards most romance this is now one of my very few shojo favorites. 

Synopsis: Yona of the Dawn is a fantasy set in a kingdom called Kohka. The story centers around main character princess Yona as she prepares for her 16th birthday. Yona, the only child of widow King IL, is a pampered young lady but things quickly change. Very quickly. As most know nothing good happens for royalty on their coming-of-age birthdays. 

Rating: 8.5/10 Unicorn Horns.

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To be honest, I was considering dropping this after the first couple pages as even though I was enjoying the comedy. The whole love struck pampered princess scene really wasn’t doing anything for me. But then came the plot twist and suddenly I’m 4 volumes deep and searching up the next release date. I loved this story and the unexpected action. The fight scenes were really well done and nothing I’ve ever come across in shojo (the art in general was really good). And the characters! I loved even the antagonist as a character, the character dynamics, and the often hilarious bantering and interactions. So far the major players are complex, and each had a side to him/her that was mysterious and at times unpredictable. For some what most caught my attention was the revelation of past or hidden thoughts/motives, for others it was major character development, and for the main protagonist Yona it was both in leaps and bounds.

As the 1st volume mainly dishes out the events that lead to her transformation so you won’t get to see the real results till the second volume. But I can promise watching this fiery spirited princess transition into a determined warrior with open eyes to the reality of her kingdom is every bit worth it. I can’t get too into it without spoiling something, but I loved the deeper fantasy aspect that arises once the mystery behind Yona’s red hair is revealed, as well as love how this questions the idea of right and wrong (Vol. 2-3). Safe to say I’ll be checking out the 24 episode anime adaptation available on both Crunchyroll and Funimation.

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As for the romance…well, there are some tantalizing scenes here and there, but overall I’d say this actually doesn’t have a strong enough overall romantic theme to actually be considered a straight up “Romance Read“. It plays an important role, but Yona’s adventures with new/existing comrades soon take center stage most of the time. Yet…once again- cop out. Since I’m technically only reviewing the first volume, which has a stronger focus on the romantic elements, I’m going to conveniently pretend it still counts! Yay me! 

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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While at work one day about six months back I was desperately searching the Toronto Public Library e-catalogue for a novel to read. Absolutely nothing that I was interested in reading was available at the time which forced me to browse the selection of graphic novels that were on the site. I initially was not interested in reading a digital copy of a graphic novel because I had assumed it would be difficult to decipher the text. It actually was not a horrible reading experience and since then I have read a few other digital comics. 

After their father is killed, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode move to the family estate, Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts with their mother Nina. The Lovecraft family are still on edge after the brutal murder of Rendell, but have dull comfort in the fact that one of his killers, Sam is in prison. Now with miles between the place of such a tragic family disaster they attempt to adjust to life in Lovecraft with the help of Rendell’s younger brother Duncan. The youngest of the Lovecraft siblings, Bode comes across a key that unlocks a Ghost Door which separates the soul of the person who “walks” through from their body. Using the key Bode is able to explore Keyhouse undetected. In the nature of all good fiction the story is not easy sailing from then on and the family soon has much more to worry about than just healing and moving forward.

I had heard good things about these comics around the time of its initial release and I intended to read them, just not at that time because I didn’t want my expectations to be unrealistically high. I am so glad that I made that decision and by the time I did begin the series I had forgotten what it would be about. It is a wise decision to go into reading these graphic novels not knowing much about the premise so that you are able to discover and be captivated by all the going-ons in Keyhouse. The story is incredibly intriguing and entertaining. You are initially sprung into the story with violence and as the story progresses you are able to overcome the initial shock/gore and develop an actual connection to the characters. Too often in a horror story, whether that be a novel or comic, the characters can feel under developed as the author chooses to focus on the scare tactics that they employ to entertain the reader. In Locke & Key the characters are fleshed out and they continue to evolve as the story, and the series as a whole, unfolds. 

In addition to the well executed storyline this graphic novel has exceptional artwork. Gabriel Rodríguez’s illustrations in this series is mind-blowing and his art style lends itself so well to the story. The illustrations themselves add an element of darkness and mystery to the story and facilitate the more grim elements of the plot so very well. I absolutely recommend this graphic novel to all comic lovers who are able to enjoy stories that have elements of horror. What Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez have been able top create within the pages of this graphic novel is truly great and has absolutely become one of my favorite “darker” graphic novels. I give Locke and Key a well deserved 7.25 Unicorn Horns out of a possible 10 when I consider that this review is supposed to be only on Volume 1 and not the subsequent books as well. 

Shaman King, Vol.1: A Shaman in Tokyo by Hiroyuki Takei

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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After finishing an epic manga reading binge I was in desperate need for another series to read. While I was at the library where I lived I was struggling to find a series where all the volumes were available to be borrowed and that I would not have to put on hold and have to wait to be able to read. The only series that fit the bill, that was NOT shojo, was the Shaman King series which is a shonen series. I had not really heard much about the manga series prior to borrowing it from the library, but I decided to take a leap of faith because why not…some of my greatest finds have been impulse purchases/borrowing. Also, the covers and spines for each volume are incredibly gorgeous and colorful…which doesn’t hurt the selection process lol!

The series is about a young Shaman named Yoh, who in the first volume is starting at a new school in Tokyo. The first volume mainly focuses on Manta, a fellow student at Shinra Private Junior High. While Manta is taking a shortcut through a local cemetery he happens across Yoh who is wearing his trademark headphones and just chilling in the graveyard. Through a series of events which involve ghosts, supernatural occurrences, and encounters with a “thug” named Ryu, Manta and Yoh become friends. In the series there are various types of Shamans, Yoh is one that is able to connect with ghosts and allow them to possess his body so that they can lend him their powers. In this volume we are introduced to Admidamaru, a 600-year-old samurai ghost and to a fellow Shaman named Ren who has a particularly sinister interest in Yoh and Admidamaru.

I have continued on with the series and can say that this volume is quite slow in comparison to the remainder of the series. So, if you ever do pick this series up don’t quit until you’ve read up to volume 3. That will give you a much better feel for the series as a whole. As I previously mentioned the first volume has a heavy focus on the character Manta, this only lasts for this volume. As you get to the conclusion of this volume the focus shifts to Yoh and continues that way for the rest of the series (…well for as far as I have read a.k.a Vol. 9). The story itself serves as a backdrop to the rest of the series and helps to slowly immerse you into the world of the series. You are able to get a pretty good understanding of how Yoh’s abilities work and  how they are able to be beneficial to both him and the ghosts that he encounters. The reader gets an introduction to the different types of “relationships” that can form between ghosts, shamans, and non-shaman humans (that sounds kinda pervy, but I swear it isn’t lol). The illustrations in the series are not the best I have ever seen, but it’s absolutely far from the worst. The art style is somewhat minimalistic yet is still detailed. The styling of the illustrations makes it incredibly easy to decipher what is happening in faster paced segments of the story, namely battle/fight scenes.

As a whole package (story and art) I enjoyed volume 1 of Shaman King. It serves as a good set-up to the series and gives the reader enough detail to not feel left behind and unprepared for the following volumes. Overall the story was not amazingly entertaining, but that did not bother me at all because the story quickly picks up towards the end and you can easily identify the main focus/purpose of this initial volume in the series. I give Shaman King, Vol. 1: A Shaman in Tokyo a rating of 7 out of 10 Unicorn Horns. Happy Reading! 

Wayward: String Theory, Vol. 1 by Zub, Cummings, Rauch, Bonvillain, & Dillon

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Hey mom…I’ve been seeing invisible glowing lines in the air that lead me to important places or terrifying supernatural shit

I picked this one up by random…okay, no, that’s a lie. I picked this up and decided to review it purely because it has a ton of kitties on the cover accompanied by a chick looking like she’s ready to kick-ass. Other than that I knew nothing about this series going into it. So never expected to find that this story is almost like a Japanese comic (manga) in American comic form. 6.5/10 Unicorn Horns.

Synopsis: This story, largely translated from Japanese, begins with main character Rori Lane moving from her father in Ireland to start over with her mother in Japan. On her way home from giving her new settings in Tokyo a quick tour she gets surrounded by a clan of cats, attacked by kappa (monsters/demons from Japanese Folklore), and saved by a strange cat-like girl. This of course, along with the strange red threads only she can see, leaves her beyond confused. As she obeys her urge to follow these threads before a dark threat descends over the city, she’s lead to dive further into her strange new power, and unveil the “patterns” to the puzzle of ‘what the heck is going on?’. These patterns often lead her to a variety of new people. All with strange powers of their own.

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Overall I enjoyed this story and liked all the characters- Rori, Shirai (Rori’s first friend who has strange powers of his own and must eat living spirits in order to survive), the strange-cat-girl named Ayane, and others we meet later on. Though I have to admit, the dialogue/character interactions felt off here and there. I also can’t say the story always flowed well, as there were some odd transitions and things that didn’t quite add up or felt choppy/rushed. Either way this urban fantasy is set in a different country from what I’m use to (outside of most manga/anime I’ve read/seen), and riddled with Japanese Folklore which makes it very unique in many ways, and stands out from the crowd (there are notes in the back of the book providing snippets of background information). 

The pictures on the other hand were beautiful and I LOVED all the pretty colours. According to the forward at the beginning of this volume the scenes of Tokyo, the high school Rori attends, the city’s people, and the overall feel of Japan were truthful depictions of the country as opposed to an Americanized and glorified view. I’ve never been to Japan so can’t really comment, but will say that it was pretty cool seeing a realistic depiction of Japan in comic format (again outside of some manga/anime). 

Though the execution of the story wasn’t the best the overall idea is very intriguing, and with the way the 1st volume ended I get the feeling things will get better. Much better. I can honestly say I am looking forward to more. This wasn’t a favorite, but I’d still recommend this to most urban fantasy, folklore (especially from Japan), and superpower fans.