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Between the Panels: Fantasy Manga Round Up
By Lance Victor Eaton (August 2008)

Since starting its manga line of graphic novels, Del Rey has been releasing an interesting mix of manga one-shots and series that have gotten noticeable attention. Del Rey has published a variety of genre and style that is quickly making them one of the more impressive American publishers of manga, particular properties and authors having contributed to this growth.

Dark Wraith of ShannaraWell-known fantasy writer Terry Brooks (acclaimed for his Shannara series) has made the leap to graphic literature. In Dark Wraith of Shannara, he sends his protagonist Jair Ohmsford (from Wishsong of Shannara) to save his friends Kimber and Cogline. The Mwellrets have kidnapped the two with the intention of using them to open a portal to Paranor, an ancient castle of powerful magic. Like most fantasy writers, Brooks deliver complicated and richly deep stories, which is where this adaptation is lacking. It's brief for manga at a mere 160 pages. While it's clear this isn't meant to be the equivalent of a full-length book - more like a short story - its brevity and inability to actualize nuance gives it an overall shallow feeling. Though enjoyable the story feels lacking as a Brooks fantasy.

Yet it is accessible. Readers who have never heard of Shannara can enjoy this graphic novel, since the prologue provides the background needed to appreciate the story. The art (particularly for action scenes) is attractive and innovative. Edwin David manages to create an environment within every panel that fits the story and Brooks' overall style, and in fact compensates to some degree for the lack of synchronization of the narration. Thirty pages of extra material include information about authors Brooks and Robert Place Napton and artist David, a making-of short essay, an artist's sketchbook, and an excerpt from The Wishsong of Shannara. While Dark Wraith of Shannara doesn't claim to be manga, it seems marketed towards the manga demographic.

The ReformedThe Reformed toys with the idea of a reformed vampire, or at least one who aspires to be reformed. On the brink of taking a young streetwalker named Jenny, Giancarlo is overwhelmed with emotion and inspired by the young and caring woman. However, his attempts to reform remain questionable as more and more women show up dead with puncture wounds in their necks and not an ounce of blood left in them. Detective Frost, a rogue officer, believes that Giancarlo is the criminal and is certain that he is also a vampire, but his boss blocks Frost's attempts to investigate.

The storyline is by Christopher Hart, a familiar name in comicdom - author of comics as well as numerous how to books with regards to comics. His initial build up - especially Giancarlo's reform - feels a bit rushed; however in the thick of the story, his pacing improves. The art bleeds tension and energy as readers race to the internal and external battles that Giancarlo must face at the end. Interestingly, Del Rey (or maybe Hart) chose to format the book reading left to right and front to back. Authentic Japanese manga is laid out so readers follow right to left and from what European derived cultures would consider is back to front.

Fairy TailFairy Tail Volume 1 assigns to young and aspiring wizard Lucy a quest to find the magician's association known as the Fairy Tail Guild - the most famous or infamous guild in the world. In her travels, she succumbs to a mischievous wizard who attempts to take advantage of her. However, at the last minute she is saved by Natsu, an unconventional hero and current Fairy Tail member. Together, they head to the guild hall where Lucy will meet other members. From there, the two follow on a series of adventures and mishaps that are both amusing and enjoyable. Hiro Mashima keeps a good pace and engages readers with curious plot elements. He continually provides explanations, but in a manner that slowly introduces readers to his world, avoiding inundating them with useless information. He has designed an eclectic bunch of characters who are all appealing and interesting to follow.

Haridama: Magic Cram School plays off the Harry Potter popularity, but in its own interesting way. Kokuyu and Harika have been close friends through childhood and both have been identified as Obsidian magic users. This means that their power is limited and incomplete, making them reliant on relics (typically swords) to help perform tasks with magic. However, as they follow through with their studies and apprenticeship in preparation for Level 3 tests, they discover that their combined power can be overwhelming. Atsushi Suzumi executes interesting ideas in this first book. Utilizing the magic school motif, he avoids the cliché of a large cast of characters and rather focuses predominantly on Kokuyo and Harika. His explanation of magic, integrated with concepts of Yin and Yang as a means of focus and release, proves particularly interesting.

Toto!Toto!: The Wonderful Adventure looks to be the start of an exciting and charming series by Yuko Osada. Seeking adventure and escape from the slow country life of the island where he lives, Kakashi believes his ship has finally come in when an airship makes a temporary pit stop there. Hiding in the storage room, he stumbles upon a puppy that he takes on as a traveling companion. But before the two get comfortable, the airship is taken over by the Man Chicken Family, a ruthless gang looking to cash in on the zeppelin's lucrative travelers. But Kakashi refuses to give up his chance of escaping his home. Sheer determination and unexpected help from his puppy keep him on the ship just long enough for it to be shot out of the sky by the military. Surviving the crash, he meets a young girl named Dorothy (on her way to Emerald) who takes it upon herself to name the puppy Toto. To be sure, the mixing of Oz lore with this wanderlust plot is intriguing and it will be interesting to see where Osada takes it from here. Overall, the story has a lighthearted ambiance that readers will enjoy. Osada mixes humor and sincerity well, while also moving the plot along at a steady pace.

The fun thing about fantasy is that one's imagination is the limit and given the ever-growing number of manga published every month, it does indeed seem limitless. If Del Rey can maintain this level of quality, their offerings will undoubtedly grow even more popular in years to come.
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