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Review: Yen+ Magazine: First Five Issues–Part THREE

This is the third part of my review of Yen+ magazine, the August through December 2008 volumes. In part one I introduced the magazine and reviewed the two American titles, Nightschool by Svetlana Chmakova and Maximum Ride by James Patterson and NaRae Lee. In part two I reviewed the four Korean comics and here in part three I’ll be discussing the Japanese side of the magazine, where the titles are more similar in plot and more mature in content.

Yen+, Volume 1, Issues 1-5 
August through December 2008
Subscription rate: $49.95/12 issues

My favorite title of the Japanese comics is the title I was most ready to dismiss at first–Higurashi: When They Cry by Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi. In the beginning, it seemed like the simple, rather light, story of Keiichi, a boy who is living in an idyllic small town. He has a group of girls he has become friends with, but he doesn’t realize that they are tied in with a mystery that has been haunting the town for years. As Keiichi’s knowledge of the past grows, as does his sense of terror and impending doom.

This story is told in a series of arcs. The first few volumes of the magazine feature the Abducted by Demons arc, which will be followed by the Cotton Drifting arc and the Curse Killing arc. Telling you much more about this series will spoil the horror, but it is a strong read that seems to be building slowly toward a truly terrifying story. The art is especially helpful in that regard as the super-cuteness of the characters belies the horror that lurks beneath the surface of the town. There are a lot of pretty girls who Keiichi has made friends with, which gives the creators opportunity to have a little fan service and basically make you think everything is a-okay before they begin building the horror. The series is rated older teen for language, violence, and sexuality.

I was also ready to dismiss the silly antics of the characters in Soul Eater by Atsushi Ohkubo, especially in light of the gratuitous amounts of fan service. The rough plot is about soul eaters who fight monsters using living weapons in an effort to become the ultimate weapon of Death. There is a LOT of the boy characters doing stupid stuff that ends up with them landing in the amble bosoms of the female characters, who may or may not be clothed at the time of the incident. The female characters then proceed to smack the snot out of the boys (both of those elements are what gives the series an older teen rating for language, nudity, sexuality, and violence). The boob and panty shots are all over and the plot is only thinly held together, but Soul Eater’s silly and fluffy plot and childlike art should appeal to readers looking for some action with their humor. There are lots of visual jokes and word puns also, which makes the series even sillier and keeps readers looking for more details and engaged in the story.

Three of the Japanese titles revolve around traditional martial arts. Bamboo Blade by Masahiro Totsuka with art by Aguri Igarashi, which focuses on kendo, suffers by comparison with the other titles in the magazine. It just isn’t as funny, as action packed, or as interesting as any of them, though it is less offensive than one. The plot revolves around Kojiro, a poor school teacher who makes a bet with another teacher that he can put together a winning female kendo team. But the girl he most needs, Tamaki Kawakoe, the daughter of a renowned kendo dojo, is completely uninterested in joining. The art is standard for manga—giant eyes, dramatic faces, silly chibis—and the story is forgetful to the point of plodding. Some language and violence give this its older teen rating, but most readers will be bored by this series early on and will probably pass on it.

The most interesting of the martial arts title is the ninja one–Nabari No Ou by Yuhki Kamatani. Unbeknownst to him, Miharu, an apathetic boy, is actually the carrier of the Shinra Banshou, the ultimate hidden ninja art. With the help of his teacher and a school friend, Miharu must learn about himself if he is to survive the continual attacks by rival ninja villages bent on taking the art for their own uses. Kamatani’s story starts off almost too slowly, but as the chapters go on, the pace picks up. The violence picks up at the same time, which is what earns this series its older teen rating. It remains to be seen, though, if American readers will enjoy Nabari No Ou or if they’ll consider it an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Naruto, with whom it shares almost too many similarities despite its more realistic setting. Kamatani’s art has a prettiness to it, though, especially in the fight scenes, that attracts the eye and may hold readers long enough to get past those similarities.

Sumomomo, Momomo by Shinobu Ohtaka is the third story with a martial arts theme and also the story that could potentially cause the most problems for libraries that subscribe to the magazine. Koushi tries hard to ignore his family’s martial arts heritage and focus on his studies, but when Momoko shows up, she throws his plans in disarray. She also comes from a martial arts family and has decided that Koushi must help her preserve their bloodlines by having a child with her. On the surface Sumomomo, Momomo is a comedy. Momoko’s constant holding up of Koushi as an ideal man is funny when you consider that he is a completely chicken and she’s unnaturally strong. Ohtaka’s art has a roughness to it that seems to parody old samurai manga, which is also effective in upping the humor.

Unfortunately Ohtaka draws Momoko as a young girl, a very young girl. In the eyes of Japanese readers, she might not look too young, but to Americans a full-page drawing of a girl who looks about nine or ten years old sitting half naked on a teenage boy and asking him to have sex with her is extremely disturbing. Even in a collection with so many other examples of fan service, that scene bothered me greatly and I that giving it a mature rating, rather that the older teen rating (for language, nudity, sexuality, and violence), would have been more appropriate.

While there are some interesting titles in Yen+, libraries will have to judge for themselves if the prevalence of older teen titles, especially those with over the top fan service such as Soul Eater, Jack Frost, and especially Sumomomo, Momomo, will prevent them from shelving the magazine in their teen sections. Part of me also wonders if the magazine will work for the average manga readers, rather then just for rabid fans. A lot of my teens like having one magazine that is boy comics and one that is girl comics and I wonder if Yen+ will appeal to them. There are some strong titles and some interesting choices in this collection, but libraries might be better served waiting for those to arrive in book form, rather than subscribing to this mixed bag of titles.

This review is based on complimentary copies supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Yen Press.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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