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Between the Panels: Manga Round-Up
By Lance Victor Eaton (June 2007)

It's fascinating that manga (the widely used term for Japanese or Japanese-influenced comics) are the most prolific of graphic novels. Many of the big manga publishers in the United States pop out new volumes in a series quite rapidly. Go into any mainstream bookstore and manga will consume twice as much space as native North American series. New series pop up, others come to an end, while yet others go on and on to their fiftieth or sixtieth volume. Their plot lines also seem quite diverse compared to the superhero-centric, action-packed US material that sells in high numbers. From the mundane to the miraculous, from high adventure to high school drama, manga unhesitatingly explores many facets of human life, both fanciful and realistic.

Puri PuriPuri Puri Volume 1 (by Chiaki Taro) is both humorous and filled with a modicum of realism. When Masato Kamioda finds himself the only male at a formerly all-women's religious school, his hopes of becoming a priest are threatened. When his libido isn't leading him astray, mischievous students are setting him up to fall. The stories abound with amusing circumstances and compromising situations that continue to threaten Kamioda. He's getting more of an education than he ever imagined. If he can make it to the end of the semester without being expelled for fraternizing with the girls (or at least being caught doing so), he may just turn out to be a decent priest.

Stray Little Devil Volume 4 (by Kotaro Mori) finds our hero Pam lamenting homesickness and her mysterious connection to Linfa, an angel who resembles her close friend from Earth. Trapped in a world of real demons and angels, Pam wants to become a true devil in hopes that doing so will provide her a way to get home. In this volume, dark forces are coming together and a larger war may threaten the fragile peace between devils and angels. Pam has a part to play, but why is her fate so inexorably tied to Linfa's? Mori manages a good balance of action and exposition. Pam, like the reader, is new to this world, so as she learns, so does the reader.

Vampirism is the name of the game in Kairi Fujiyama's Dragon Eye Volume 1. The Dracule virus has ravaged the world and only the elite fighting force of the VIUS can protect humanity from falling prey to further attacks. Those infected with the virus become mad rampaging killers, thirsting for human blood. Dragon Eye follows the adventures of Leika Mikami, a young recruit whose parents were butchered by Dracules and who seeks vengeance. She has been accepted into Squad Zero, the misfit squad of the VIUS, whose leader is both detested and envied by his peers. Action dominates this series, though readers still get some depth on the characters. Additionally, the extra features in this book really flesh out the world.

KuroganeKurogane Volume 5 (by Kei Toume) features Jintetsu of Steel, a wandering rogue, turned into a tin man and given a powerful sword that can talk in lieu of the silent youth. He aimlessly roams from village to village picking up jobs, usually to do with vengeance or protection. But in this final book, readers witness the showdown between Jintetsu and the talented Makoto, who believes him responsible for her mother's death. Without voice, actions and body language define Jintetsu. Though the talking sword also conveys personality for the silent hero, Tomne's subtleties in presenting Jintetsu makes this a very interesting series.

Usually priced under ten dollars and running about two hundred pages, manga is often, page for page, the best investment for readers. Additionally, these smaller sized graphic books are akin to mass market paperback editions in being durable and easy to carry about. As manga continues to dominate sales, it will be interesting to see if its versatility and stories can keep up with demand.
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