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! 

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One Punch Man by ONE

*THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE*

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One-Punch Man by ONE is a comedic young adult supernatural action series that uses satire to poke fun at a lot of over done themes and tropes in superhero and action fiction. Formerly a popular self-published webtoon, ONE’s comic has been adapted into an on-going manga series as well as adapted into a 12 episode anime. It’s centered around a young adult named Saito who, after failing to become a successful working adult and coming across a villainous crab-man-thing targeting a child for revenge, decides to become a superhero. The humour in this series comes from it’s over-exaggeration of overused tropes and in the main character’s predicament. Saito, despite being a normal average looking human, is much too powerful. Much to his dismay he often defeats all his opponents with a single ‘normal’ punch, and leaves most battles unscathed, unchallenged, strangely unrecognized by the general public, and feeling bored to the point of near apathy. 

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I can’t say too much about it without spoiling anything, but this has been a very enjoyable series so far and is filled with tons of hilarious scenes, interesting characters, great battle scenes and a very well paced story-line that snowballs into a good amount of suspense. At first I figured this isn’t a story filled with anything thought provoking as it’s primarily just a comedic action series, but the lighthearted tone at times took a surprising turn into something a bit darker and more meaningful. That is something that has made this really stand out for me. Comedy like art is subjective, but I think this is one of the better of it’s kind. Speaking of art… Yusuke Murata did, in my subjective opinion, BEAUTIFUL work. The artwork is very clean. I often worry about how well I’ll be able to understand an action packed scene with a lot of fighting going on, but everything was always clear and very detailed. 

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I’ve only read the first volume, but watched the anime adaptation. As far as I can tell it was well done, and follows the general story-line closely only making minor changes in dialect and adding events to details that don’t interfere with the original story. 

Verdict? Story 8/10. Characters 8/10. Art 9.5/10. Overall 8/10 Unicorn Horns.  

I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a good laugh and great action. I will defiantly keep collecting and reading this series, as well as check out his other series Mob Psycho once it’s released in English. I may up-date this review once I’ve read more.

 

Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki

*This review is SPOILER FREE*

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Those who come to the Abyss are all the same. They’re all desperate to get something back. But everyone goes mad partway…

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See, I really, really don’t understand how an author, mangaka, f-ing story writing genius, can immerse readers in something so gloriously messed up, beautiful, emo, crazy, funny, deep, and downright strange like it’s nothing. More than just a few times I laughed out loud and shook my head thinking: psshh, that’s absolutely ridiculous and stupid, then turned the page only to stop just short of curling up into a ball in a dark corner, gently caressing the book and whispering softly to it, while crying myself to sleep. How the heck can a person accomplish not looking like a mad person while reading this series? It’s not that I’m actually just crazy…honest. This is just one of those books where you WILL get people whispering about you and strange, slightly fearful, glances if you read it in public, cause incomprehensible outbursts of emotion are a thing throughout this series.

Okay, now that I’m done with my rant, on with the review:

I honestly never expected to really like this series and wasn’t expecting much from it. I tried to watch the anime adaptation a couple years ago, but couldn’t really get into it (never made it past the first part of the 1st episode). After the first volume I figured I’d enjoy it, but it probably wouldn’t be a favorite. Once I got to the 4th volume I figured I’d really like it, but might not buy it-in my poor defense I’ve got a pretty extensive list of manga to buy so I’m really reluctant to add to it. But past that…I stopped caring about the total price of the series, food, and sleep. The last couple arcs almost killed me with all the FEELS.

Finally I saw… A world so bright I almost wanted to cry… It was then, that my consciousness was engulfed in darkness. 

 

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I actually had to put the book down a few times and walk away in an attempt to take it all in, especially since I was usually still trying to deal with the aftermath of a few events/feels in previous arcs. Wait, my bad, I’m ranting again lol. Okay…

The Story -A well-deserved 9.5/10: So if you don’t already know (it’s a pretty popular series for good reason), Pandora Hearts centers around a young Lord named Oz, his valet named Gil, and the chain (a demon-like creature) named Alice the B-Rabbit from The Abyss (an alternate world). After Oz is sentenced to the Abyss on his coming of age ceremony for the “sin of existing” by a group called the Baskervilles, he meets Alice the B-Rabbit and makes a contract with her in order to return to his world, taking Alice (who wishes to retrieve her lost memories) with him. You’ll have to read it to find out more, but the story has an Alice in Wonderland type thing going on and explores pretty complex themes, primarily identity and existence and how things like the presence/absence of memory, human (or otherwise) bonds/connections, and the past can shape one’s identity and sense of self.

Although I’m weak and full of flaws, I will never stop moving forward. No matter who I am, no one other than myself will create my own existence. No matter what others may think or feel, I will still move forward as myself.

The story is riddled with mysteries that Mochizuki skillfully reveals bits of in each arc like puzzle pieces that don’t become a clear, coherent picture until the last arc. Only after completing the series did I understand that there was actual meaning behind some of the seemingly unimportant details I glanced over volumes ago. This is honestly one of those stories that you could re-read multiple times before being able to take in how carefully put together the story is. I even really enjoyed the side stories at the end of most chapters/volumes that I admittedly tend to skip over the first time I read a manga series.

The Characters (9/10): Most of the main characters are made up of the typical shonen (young male) anime/manga archetypes which made me think of them as shallow at first, but they all have quite a bit of their own depth. Through their ventures they experience past and present grief, love, despair, and even deep emotional/ psychological challenges. Character development is a thing almost all the characters go through, even a lot of minor characters.

…I came to understand how cruel and despicable people can be. But that also allowed me to appreciate true beauty. All you have to do is appreciate things from a different perspective. Once I realized the things we take for granted are really miracles, I came to see everything in it’s precious, ephemeral beauty… I love this world.

The only issue I had was with Alice. Despite being such a central figure I was left feeling like she had much less depth and development, especially when compared to Oz, Gil, and even a few less central characters like Xerxes. Even so, none of the other characters felt like cookie cutter versions straight out of other works (even the minor ones), and I loved, or at least liked, pretty much all of them.

And, though I’m no expert, The Art-8.5/10: It’s clean, easy to follow, and Mochizuki draws the expressions of characters in a way that conveys a wide and complex range of emotions, from emotional agony (she’s pretty good at this one), surprise, downright insanity, joy, anger, and everything in-between. You can tell she put a lot of work and detail into each panel including the backgrounds. I personally really like Mochizuki’s style (the darker, creepy scenes are done and arranged very well) though, at least from what I read so far, it’s a pretty typical one.

Anyone looking for a good fantasy, and/or mystery, should definitely give this one a shot.

Overall: 9/10 Unicorn Horns!

Someone once said it was a dark place that swallowed everything up. Even if that were true, an enveloping darkness like that…in this world that holds every color possible…also contains the light of hope.