Joy Kim

Librarian. Book Reviewer. Coffee Addict.

January 4, 2010
by Joy
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Fujieda, Toru: Oyayubihime Infinity, vol. 1-6

oyayubihime1.jpgOyayubihime Infinity, vol. 1-6
Story and Art by Toru Fujieda
CMX, 2006-2007
Original Japanese editions: Akita Shoten, 2004-2006
Paperback $9.99
ISBN-13: 978-1401210755 (vol. 1)
ISBN-13: 978-1401210762 (vol. 2)
ISBN-13: 978-1401210779 (vol. 3)
ISBN-13: 978-1401210786 (vol. 4)
ISBN-13: 978-1401213053 (vol. 5)
ISBN-13: 978-1401213077 (vol. 6)

When Kanoko’s classmate Tsubame discovers that they both have butterfly-shaped birthmarks on their thumbs, he decides they’re fated to be together. According to Tsubame, the birthmarks are a sign that he and Kanoko were tragic lovers in a previous life, and their present day reincarnations are a chance to remedy the sorrows of the past. But Kanoko isn’t a romantic like Tsubame, and it’s not going to be easy to convince her that her future should be determined by her past life.

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December 16, 2009
by Joy
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Shiina, Karuho: Kimi ni Todoke, vol. 2

kiminitodoke2.jpgKimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, vol. 2
Story and Art by Karuho Shiina
Translated by JN Productions
Viz, 2009
Original Japanese edition: Shueisha, 2005
Paperback $9.99
978-1421527567

Good news! Volume 2 of Kimi ni Todoke shows that the sweetness and charm of the first volume of the series was not just a flash in the pan; it was, in fact, a precursor of things to come. The story here continues a subplot that began at the very end of volume 1. Someone is spreading nasty gossip about Yano and Yoshida, and rumor says it is Sawako. Could it possibly be true?

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December 15, 2009
by Joy
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Yun, JiUn: Time and Again, vol. 1

timeandagain1.jpgTime and Again is a new historical fantasy manhwa from JiUn Yun (Cynical Orange). Set in Tang Dynasty-era China, it follows a dissipated exorcist, Baek-On, and his sensible bodyguard, Ho-Yeon, as they travel through the countryside completing jobs for hire. Though volume 1 does have a few stumbles, it’s one of the most promising series openers that I’ve seen in a long while. Continue Reading →

December 13, 2009
by Joy
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Arakawa, Hiromu: Fullmetal Alchemist, vol. 20-21

fullmetalalchemist20.jpgFullmetal Alchemist, vol. 20-21
Story and Art by Hiromu Arakawa
Translation by Akira Watanabe
Adaptation by Jake Forbes
Viz, 2009
Original Japanese editions: Square Enix, 2008-2009
Paperback $9.99
978-1421530345 (vol. 20)
978-1421532325 (vol. 21)

Between this blog and Manga Life, this is the fourth full review I’ve written for the Fullmetal Alchemist series. I’ll be honest: it’s hard to find a lot of new things to say the fourth time around without completely spoiling the volumes in the question. But I’ll do my best anyway. In the meantime, the short version of the review hasn’t changed much at all. This continues to be a smartly plotted shōnen adventure with some of the most kickass characters (many of whom are women!) that I’ve had the pleasure to encounter in manga. Of all the current shōnen action franchises–you know, the ones with multiple anime tv and movie adaptations, video games, and merchandise galore–it is by far my personal favorite.

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December 10, 2009
by Joy
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Mashima, Hiro: Fairy Tail, vol. 1-3

fairytail1.jpgFairy Tail, vol. 1-3
Story and Art by Hiro Mashima
Translation and Adaptation by William Flanagan
Del Rey, 2008
Original Japanese editions: Kodansha, 2006-2007
978-0345501332 (vol. 1)
978-0345503305 (vol. 2)
978-0345505569 (vol. 3)

Being generic isn’t always a bad thing. This probably sounds a little strange coming from me, since that’s one of my most frequent complaints as a reviewer, but hear me out. Sometimes a little familiarity is a good thing. At the library where I work, I see children and teen gravitating toward books from the same series over and over again because they know what to expect. There’s a need for some amount of formulaic fiction. It’s the reading equivalent of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich–everyday comfort food.

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December 8, 2009
by Joy
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Doorways to sequential art

Way back in February, I attended a workshop taught by Nancy Pearl on readers’ advisory. For those you not up on library lingo, readers’ advisory is the art of connecting readers with books, whether fiction or nonfiction. It’s not necessarily a recommendation service; it doesn’t matter so much whether you like it as it whether the recipient will like it. It’s about finding a title that matches what that reader is looking for. Every reader his or her book; every book its reader.

In the workshop, Pearl argued that there are four basic doorways through which a reader enters a book: story, character, setting, and language. So two readers may both like the Harry Potter series, but that doesn’t mean they like it for the same reasons. They might be entering the books by different doorways. One might have been caught up in the mystery of what would happen next (the story doorway); the other might have really loved Harry, Hermione, and Ron (the character doorway). When I first read the series in college, what I loved best was the wizarding world that Rowling was describing (the setting doorway).

This is why so many of those “If you like A, you’ll like B” recommendations fail: they are too often based on the assumption that all readers enter a book by the same doorway. Most good books are strong in all of these areas, but often one or two of the doorways will be bigger than the others. And Pearl believes that being aware of a reader’s favorite doorways into books is the key to making good book suggestions.

Last week, I found myself wondering how this model of reading and readers’ advisory might apply to sequential art. First, with sequential art, there’s definitely a fifth doorway: the art itself. You could argue that art falls under one of the other categories (especially setting, because art is so important in establishing that), and it’s true that all these categories overlap in lots of ways. But I think it has to be considered as its own doorway simply because it can also function as a point of appeal all on its own. Never underestimate the power of sheer pretty.

For fun, I did a quick analysis of my doorways into some sequential art series.

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December 7, 2009
by Joy
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Hatori, Bisco: Ouran High School Host Club, vol. 11-12

ouran11.jpgOuran High School Host Club, vol. 11-12
Story and Art by Bisco Hatori
Translation by Masumi Matsumoto
Viz, 2008-2009
Original Japanese edition: Hakusensha, 2007-2008
Paperback $8.99
978-1-4215-2255-5 (vol. 11)
978-1-4215-2672-0 (vol. 12)

Anyone who has read enough high school shōjo knows there are a few plots that are almost guaranteed to show up in any given series. There’s Valentine’s Day and White Day, along with the obligatory school festivals and exams. In volumes 11 and 12 of Ouran High School Host Club, Bisco Hatori puts her own unique spin on two of these plots–the sports festival and the class trip. Lucky for us, she finds plenty of ways to make her tellings stand out from the crowd.

The characters who really shine in these two volumes are Kaoru, Hikaru, and Kyoya. Their characterization here really exemplifies something I talked about in my Manga Life review of volumes 9 and 10: Hatori’s ability to take her characters from one-note jokes to complex individuals. Back in volume 1, Hatori made fun of her own typecasting when she introduced the host club members. Everyone was straight from central casting: Kyoya was the smooth megane, while Kaoru and Hikaru were The Twins. But here in volumes 11 and 12, we get to see Kyoya losing some of his polish, and Kaoru and Hikaru acting very much as individuals. It is excellent.

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December 3, 2009
by Joy
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What I Bought This Year

Earlier today I opened up Gmail and found the latest column from David Pogue at The New York Times waiting in my inbox. The column, entitled “What I Bought This Year,” is just that. Instead of a review of a newly released product, it’s a few paragraphs on the products that Pogue was willing to spend his own money on. He wrote, “People seem to be interested in what the consumer-tech columnist would buy for himself and his own family, so it seemed like a slam-dunk.” I was one of those interested people. And you know what? If I eventually find myself in the market for some of the products listed in that column, I’ll probably give the ones Pogue mentioned a hard look.

So, I thought to myself, “Maybe people are interested in what a manga blogger and librarian would buy for herself.” What I review and what I purchase for the library sometimes has little to do with my own taste or preferences. But I’m a pretty picky consumer in my private life. I very rarely buy a series for my own collection unless I’ve already sampled it (via library copies, copies borrowed from friends, or copies browsed at brick-and-mortar bookstores). And while I admire other people’s enormous collections, that’s just not practical for me. My shelf space is just too limited. And of course, there’s the budget. In short, I have to really, really like a series to start buying and collecting it.

So here’s an overview of what I bought in 2009. I’m listing standalones and series, but not the individual volumes within each series. I’m not including anything I received as a review copy, as a gift, or through a bookswap site; all of the below were acquired at my own expense.
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December 2, 2009
by Joy
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Lee, Eun: Antique Gift Shop, vol. 9

antiquegift9.jpgThe mysterious shop is one of my favorite tropes in manhwa and manga. When done well, it’s a setup that lends itself to interestingly episodic storytelling. I hadn’t read Antique Gift Shop before receiving a review copy of volume 9 in the mail, but once it arrived, I was curious to see what Lee Eun was doing with this familiar premise. Continue Reading →

November 29, 2009
by Joy
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Gift ideas for sequential art fans

Over the last week, many manga bloggers have been writing gift guides in response to the NY Times’s decision to include no manga in their own Graphic Novel Gift Guide. David Welsh has a roundup of the posts thus far over at Precocious Curmudgeon; you can also find links at the Twitter hashtag. So here’s my own tardy contribution.

I should start by admitting that I don’t often give manga, manhwa, or manhua as gifts. My friends who are also sequential art readers tend to know what’s out there and just buy what they want for themselves. So trying to find books that they haven’t already bought or decided they don’t want is tricky; I am chasing after a constantly moving target. This is probably why we lend books to each other a lot, but when we give gifts, they’re often gift certificates.

As for my friends who are not sequential art readers, well, I try not to assume that my liking something makes it a good gift for another person. (I have made that mistake in the past.) And that’s true of anything, not just sequential art, though I have had better luck giving and receiving random music and prose fiction than I have with manga.

So perhaps the best recipients of sequential art gifts are casual fans: people who have read and liked some sequential art but don’t necessarily keep track of what’s on the market. They’re the most likely to be both surprised and delighted by receiving such a present. That said, it seems cruel to hook someone on a long, expensive series if they don’t have the resources to buy the rest or access to a good library system. That’s something to keep in mind when you think of who should get what. And there are some gifts that will even make hardcore fans’ days.

All that said, here are my suggestions and ideas. It starts with the usual book recs, and then goes off on some big tangents.
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November 26, 2009
by Joy
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Revisiting Sandman

sandman1.jpgThis week I’ve been rereading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, a project I plan to continue as soon as I recover from my case of post-Thanksgiving sloth. Right now I’m up to volume 3 (Dream Country).

I first read Sandman in early 2004. It was one of the first works of sequential art that I’d ever read seriously. Like a lot of people who end up becoming librarians, I read voraciously as a child. But even though I read a lot (ha! understatement of the year!), I didn’t read much sequential art. I owned a few books of Garfield strips and occasionally read the Sunday funnies, but generally had no idea of what was out there. That was true when I was a child, when I was in college, and well into my twenties. I don’t suppose anyone in 2004 would have guessed that a few years later I would be buying graphic novels for an entire library system! It just goes to show that strange things can happen when you tumble down fannish rabbit holes.

I only vaguely remember what I felt and thought during that first reading. I know I went through the entire series in about three weeks–I kept sheepishly dropping into Newbury Comics after work, so I could buy the next installment–and I know that I loved it. And I have reread some individual volumes and chapters since then. But I am pretty sure this is the first time I’ve attempted a complete reread from start to finish.

[The rest of this post will include some mild spoilers for the first two volumes.]

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November 17, 2009
by Joy
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Patterson and Lee: Maximum Ride, vol. 2

maxride_2.jpgMaximum Ride is the story of six friends, led by Max Ride, who are the products of some unscrupulous genetic engineering. When they were younger, a sympathetic scientist helped them escape from the school that had made them by knitting together human and avian DNA. Now the school is hunting them down, and Max and the others realize that they won’t be safe until they get some more answers about where they come from and what they were made for. Continue Reading →

November 15, 2009
by Joy
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Shan and Arai: Cirque du Freak, vol. 1

cirque_1.jpgDarren Shan and Steve Leonard are best friends with a shared taste for creepy things. Steve is a fan of horror movies and has an interest in the occult, while Darren’s favorite things in the world are spiders. When a mysterious circus arrives in their town, both boys are wild to see to the spectacles. But their viewing of the show has unexpected consequences that will put their friendship to the test. Continue Reading →

November 3, 2009
by Joy
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Arakawa and Zhou: Hero Tales, vol. 1

herotales1.jpgTaitou Shirei is one of the strongest fighters in his village–so strong, in fact, that he helps drive out soldiers from the Imperial Army when they make trouble for the other villagers. On the day Taitou finally completes his coming-of-age ceremony, his teacher gives him an ancient sword, the Kenkaranbu. But the sword’s not fated to stay in Taitou’s hands for very long: a mysterious thief makes off with it that same night, leaving behind the unwelcome revelation that Taitou’s destiny is tied to the legend of the Big Dipper. Continue Reading →

November 2, 2009
by Joy
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Patterson, James: The Angel Experiment (2005)

angelexperiment.jpgMaximum Ride: The Angel Experiment
By James Patterson
Adventure, Science Fiction, Teen
Time Warner, 2005
Paperback $6.99
978-0446617796

Since I work as a teen librarian, I often check out books of dubious entertainment value because I want to stay stay up-to-date with what’s popular in teen literature. This is not always the best starting point for reading a book: there’s so much great stuff to read and so little time that I slightly resent spending precious reading time on something that is Not My Thing. Still, sometimes I find unexpected gems.

Of course, sometimes I don’t.
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October 30, 2009
by Joy
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Azuma, Kiyohiko: Yotsuba&!, vol. 6

yotsuba6.jpgYotsuba&!, vol. 6
Story and Art by Kiyohiko Azuma
Translated by Amy Forsyth
Yen Press, 2009
Original Japanese edition: Media Works Inc, 2006
Paperback $10.99 US
ISBN-13: 978-0316073240

In Volume 6 of Yotsuba&! we continue to follow our heroine as she learns about and explores her everyday world. This time she’s unraveling the mysteries of recycling, bicycles, sticky notes, and work. This is very much more of the same to anyone who has read the earlier volumes in this series; lucky for us, the same old refrain in Yotsuba&! happens to be a very good one. Few manga series have given me so much joy, and I am happy to report that volume 6 is no exception. It made me laugh and laugh.
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October 22, 2009
by Joy
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Chmakova, Svetlana: Nightschool: The Weirn Books, vol. 2

nightschool_2.jpgAlex Treveney is searching for her missing sister, Sarah, who has disappeared and been forgotten by all who knew her. It doesn’t take Alex long to realize that any answers will be found inside the Nightschool where Sarah worked; however, getting past the school’s defenses proves to be unexpectedly difficult. Meanwhile, the hunters are regrouping after their earlier run-in with Alex left three of their own in critical condition. But they won’t have much time to rest either, as new trouble is heading their way. Continue Reading →

October 13, 2009
by Joy
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Kyogoku, Natsuhiko: The Summer of the Ubume (1994, 2009 tr.)

summeroftheubume.jpgThe Summer of the Ubume
By Natsuhiko Kyogoku
Translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander
Mystery/Horror
Vertical, 2009
Originally published in Japanese as Ubume no natsu by Kodansha, 1994
Paperback $16.95
978-1-934287-25-5

When Sekiguchi, a hack writer, becomes embroiled in a bizarre dead-end mystery, he turns to an old school friend, Akihiko “Kyogokudo” Chuzenji, for assistance. Kyogokudo is a proprietor of a used bookstore, but occasionally moonlights as an exorcist. And the case certainly seems to call for some supernatural insight: Makio Kuonji has vanished from a locked room, and his wife, Kyoko, has been pregnant for the entire twenty months since his disappearance. But Kyogokudo doesn’t actually believe in ghosts; rather, he sees the supernatural as an expression of or metaphor for human emotions and mental states.

Set post-World War II Japan, The Summer of the Ubume is the first in a series of nine award-winning novels by Natsuhiko Kyogoku. Two have been adapted into live-action films; one was made into an anime. In fact, I first heard about the series when the movie and anime versions of the second book in the series, Mouryou no Hakou [Box of Goblins], were released in 2008. I was intrigued, but I mentally filed the books themselves under “those will never be licensed!” Luckily, Vertical came around to prove me wrong.

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October 8, 2009
by Joy
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Kdramas for beginners, part 1

Not all manga fans watch anime, but I think most people in the manga blogosphere acknowledge the synergy between the manga and anime industries. I’ve sometimes wondered, however, if dramas are being overlooked. Dramas may not be as closely tied to manga, manhwa, and manhua as anime, but there’s definitely plenty of overlap in the fan base, especially among younger fans. A lot of dramas are adapted from sequential art properties, and a successful drama can drive sales of a related comic.

So here is a quick primer of Korean dramas (aka kdramas) for beginners. I’m going to focus on Korean dramas as I don’t feel I’ve watched enough dramas from other Asian countries to claim to be knowledgeable about them.
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