My library currently subscribes to the same two manga magazines that most other libraries probably subscribe to: Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat. While both are great magazines and terrifically popular with my teens, I’m always on the lookout for new manga mangazines to add to the collection. When Yen Press announced its intention to begin publishing Yen+ magazine in August, I was thrilled that there would be another offering for my magazine collection. Unfortunately August was too late a publication date for me to begin a library subscription this year, but that gave me time to get copies of the first five issues (with a little help from the kind folks at Yen Press) and look them over to see what I thought. Overall, it’s a mixed bag without a clear genre or focus, but there are some titles that have the potential to really stand out. Other titles, though, may cause problems for schools and libraries because of their content.
Yen+, Volume 1, Issues 1-5
August through December 2008
Subscription rate: $49.95/12 issues
Yen+ is two-sided: the six American and Korean titles read left to right and halfway through the magazine readers flip over and start the five Japanese titles, which read right to left. It is normal magazine size, but rather thicker than the other two manga magazines. There are color pages, Yen Press comic strips, information on other Yen Press titles (including sample pages in some issues), and more, but not as much of the cultural, fashion, gaming, etc. information as in Shojo Beat or Shonen Jump, though they are beginning to add more of that in each issue. Because of the large number of titles in the magazine, I’ve decided to break this review into three parts. Part one reviews the American titles, part two reviews the Korean titles and part three reviews the Japanese titles.
I started with the American/Korean side mainly because there was a title I was interested in on that side, but that turned out to be a lucky decision as that is where the table of contents, editor’s letter, and other details are. This might be confusing to American manga fans who have grown used to reading titles right to left and I wish that Yen Press had decided to put some kind of content information at the beginning of the Japanese section as well. There are two American titles (albeit one with a Korean artist) and four Korean titles and I felt that they were the stronger titles in the magazine, though they do tend to lean heavily toward being girl comics.
The title I was most eager to read in the magazine was Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool. This paranormal series has a variety of types of characters, from vampires, to weirns, which are like witches, to Hunters who stalk vampires and other beings. The plot elements, which revolve around a young weirn whose powers are developing in unusual ways and her older sister who is a teacher at the Nightschool for paranormal beings, are only loosely connected at this point, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I like that Chmakova is slowly building her story and that Yen Press is giving her the time to do so. With a detailed world such as this one, I think that slow development is understandable and expected.
Chmakova is the Canadian creator best known for her trilogy Dramacon (TokyoPop). One thing I really love is her art style, which uses manga terminology and visual language correctly, but which does not seem like it is trying too hard to be manga. Her characters are beautiful–long and graceful–while also being distinct enough from each other to be easily distinguishable. She also has a tendency to insert a lot of humor into her story, especially by use of chibis, which is a nice touch, if occasionally off-putting in a more serious story like Nightschool. The nice part about the oversized format of the magazine is that it really allows the reader to appreciate Chmakova’s art on a larger scale. Nightschool is rated Teen, mostly for the supernatural violence and some language, but nothing is terribly graphic at this point in the anthology.
Another pleasant surprise for me was the comic adaption of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride novel. I did not like the novel and felt that the writing was weak, but I will admit that the premise was intriguing and I did want to know what happens to the characters after book one ended. Korean artist NaRae Lee’s adaptation keeps all of the strength of the plot, but removes much of the awkward dialogue, streamlining the tale into a gripping science fiction/adventure tale that doesn’t lose sight of its heart. I found myself looking forward to this title over all of the others, even though I was reluctant to give it a chance at first.
The plight of Max, a young woman who is the defacto leader of a group of genetically modified children with wings, is fully realized by Lee’s art, which does wonderful things with perspective. She’s also made the characters appropriately diverse, as Patterson had in his original story, but also made them good looking enough to satisfy the fans of the book and even make new fans. What makes this adaptation even more impressive is finding out that NaRae Lee does not speak or read English, so this was all done via translators. I’m sure it was a lot of work, but worth it for the quality of the title. Like Nightschool, Maximum Ride is rated Teen for language and violence.
This review is based on complimentary copies supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Yen Press.