Joy Kim

Librarian. Book Reviewer. Coffee Addict.

Highlights from Yen Plus (Sept. 09)

yenplussept09.gifIt doesn’t seem entirely fair to do a formal review of a single issue of a magazine, especially a magazine that serializes sequential art. So much is taken out of context that it’s difficult to do make a reasonable evaluation. That said, since Yen Press included a copy of the September 2009 issue of Yen Plus in my latest bundle of review copies, I thought I’d write up my thoughts on some of the series featured within and share some general impressions of the magazine as whole.Time and Again by Jiun Yun
Hands down, this was the big surprise of the magazine for me. I was just sliding the magazine out of its shrink-wrapping when I noticed the tiny picture of one of the Time and Again characters on the cover. “Wait,” I thought, “isn’t he that guy from the manhwa Pahanjip?” But I didn’t recognize the English title Time and Again–this is not entirely my fault, as it’s not a direct translation of the Korean one–so I wasn’t sure this was the manhwa I was thinking about until I actually turned to the chapter in question.

Had I known earlier about this license, I definitely would have cheered for it, because Time and Again was high on my manhwa licensing wish list. (For the benefit of any Powers That Be that may be reading this, that list also includes the quirky They, Too, Love by Seo Moon Da Mi and the remainder of NaBi Kim Yeon-Joo. Please consider bringing them over as well!)

Anyway, Time and Again is set in Tang Dynasty China and follows the adventures of a wandering exorcist, Baek-On, and his sensible bodyguard, Ho-Yeon. The episodes in each chapter are inspired by Chinese and Korean literature and folklore, and their tendency to be something of a morality play reminds me a little of early xxxHOLiC and Pet Shop of Horrors.

The episodic storytelling allows the chapter included in this issue of Yen Plus (“Karma”) to stand alone pretty well. There are some confusing moments, as many of the women characters look very alike and some of the flashbacks are not clearly distinguished from the present day action. But the basic charms of the series still come through: the slightly creepy ghost stories, the historical details in the pretty art, and the intriguing hints that Baek-On and Ho-Yeon are as haunted by their pasts as their customers are by ghosts.

I’ll definitely be looking forward to the release of volume 1 in December, and am glad that I finally found out about it!

Hero Tales by Jin Zhou Huang (story) and Hiromu Arakawa (art)
I am a huge fan of Hiromu Arakawa, thanks to her work on Fullmetal Alchemist, so I was very curious to see her work on a different series. This is the story of Taitou, a young man who discovers he is the latest incarnation of one of the stars of the Big Dipper. In this chapter, he has just spoken with the emperor of his country and is about to learn something about how his fate is tied to those of his enemies.

This is a difficult manga to judge on the basis of such a short sample. The introductory notes don’t provide quite enough information for complete newbies to the story, so I was more than a bit confused as I read. Also, it’s impossible to tell whether Arakawa’s tight plotting, which makes Fullmetal Alchemist such a joy, is present here. (Arakawa may only be listed as the illustrator, but a little web research suggests that “Jin Zhou Huang” may be a pseudonym for a group of creators that also includes her.) That type of plotting is not the sort of thing that is obvious to a first-time reader or that tends to show up very early in a series.

Meanwhile, the familiarity of Arakawa’s character designs is actually occasionally disorienting. I kept expecting Ling Yao, General Armstrong, or other Fullmetal Alchemist characters to pop up in one of the panels beside Taitou, Ryuukou, and Ryuushou.

I’m not sold on this series yet, not by a long shot, but I am intrigued enough at this point to be interested in seeing the proper beginning of it.

Nightschool by Svetlana Chmakova
When I reviewed vol. 1 of Nightschool back in May, I though it was mostly promising but a bit derivative. I wondered then if the series might improve once it got past the business of setting up the story and introducing the cast, and the chapter included in this issue of Yen Plus suggests that it does. We don’t see much of our protagonist, Alex, but we do get some tense action scenes. In action manga, there is often a scene where the teacher/mentor character finally gets to show off some of his or her skill. Think of Kakashi using his Sharingan for the first time in Naruto, or Tezuka showing off his nasty drop shot in The Prince of Tennis. That’s what Chmakova gives us here, and it’s entertaining even for someone like me who is rejoining the story after not having read several of the previous chapters.

Overall thoughts
The September 2009 issue Yen Plus proves to be something of a mixed bag for this reader. The other series included (Maximum Ride; Pig Bride; One Fine Day; Jack Frost; Pandora Hearts; Black Butler; Soul Easter; Sumomomo Momomo) were either not of interest or fairly incomprehensible to someone joining the action mid-story. That’s not a bad showing, though; I don’t expect to like every part in a compilation, nor do I demand that all narratives be friendly to newbie readers. In fact, I think series that try too hard to be comprehensible to readers who don’t start from the beginning tend to do a disservice to those readers who do.

The production values of Yen Plus are fairly nice, on par or better than those of Shonen Jump and the sadly defunct Shojo Beat. (I may miss Shojo Beat‘s series and features, but I don’t miss the colored ink that often undercut the impact of the art.) I especially like how the magazine takes advantage of having both left-to-right and right-to-left reading series by featuring not one but two gorgeous covers.

On the downside, I do wish that the magazine provided a little more information about the series featured. For example, none of the chapters had full credit pages, so there was no mention of the hardworking translators or adapters of the material not originally written in English. The pages introducing each series could also be improved. I was a bit frustrated when I read Hero Tales because much of the action and discussion centered around a character who didn’t appear in the cast of characters and was also not mentioned once in the “What Came Before” article.

I wouldn’t say a subscription of Yen Plus is a must have for manga fans or institutions like libraries, but I’m glad that it’s part of the comics magazine landscape. It’s not a bad way to sample new series, and seeing the art of the featured series at the larger magazine trim size is definitely a treat.


Review copy of the magazine provided by Yen Press.

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