Review : Ragnarok.

Ragnarok is the story about a warrior named Chaos in the mythical worlds of Midgard. Basically, the end of the world is coming and the old gods are trying to stop it. They've sent out their Valkyries to find those destined to cause it and remove them. Unfortunately for Chaos, he is in fact the reincarnation of the fallen god, Balder and hes the main target of the Valkyries. Lucky for him, there is a mage named Fenris Fenrir, who has set out to find Baulder's reincarnation before the Valkyries, with whom she needs to change the world.

Ragnarok is a blend of fantasy action and adventure with a dash of comedy on the side. There are multiple characters with differing personalities and a crazy bad guy wearing too much eyeliner. Basicially this first volume just introduces a variety of characters and gives them each a purpose with some good quality action and laughs in between.

This manga is actually what created the famous computer game, Ragnarok Online, a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). Which has been serialised into numerous countries around the world, including Australia. Ragnarok Online 2 has been released in Korea, where it and the manga originated and will hopefully have an english release sometime next year.

The art of ragnarok is acceptable, it's slightly rough at times, but thats alright. Ragnarok, being a manwha, has a korean influenced art style and theme, which is identifiable in the characters armor and weapons. Ragnarok has also been published in the english book format, instead of backwards like traditional manga, so it's a good place to start for first time manga readers.

Ragnarok seems like a great manga for fans of fantasy fiction novels or fantasy computer games, although it's hard to tell where exactly the story is going with only this first volume, it's interesting enough none the less.

Review : Hell Girl.

Hell girl is both a popular written novel, anime and live action series, so why shouldn't it be a manga as well? That is what the marketing people were thinking when they went and asked an artist if they would like some money to draw a manga of it. This happens much like the novels that go along with movie releases and often the novel seems to lose alot in the translation from screen to paper.

Ever had someone you really hate? Someone that killed your pet cat or tries to permanently cripple you for life? Yeah, me neither. But the plot of hell girl is that in each story a different character becomes a victim of some unbelievably evil person who would do such things. Enter Enma Ai, aka, Hell Girl. Just type the name of the dastardly person into the Hell Correspondence website at midnight and Enma Ai will extract revenge on the person for you and then proceed to take them to hell afterwards.

Sounds all fine and dandy right? Well here is where my beef lies with the story and characterization. In payment for sending the person to hell, you also have to goto hell when you die. I'm not much of a religious person, but I don't think I would agree to that just because someone killed my cat or put my cakeshop out of business, no matter how angry I was at the time. It just dosn't seem believable that these victims condemn themselves to an eternity in hell when they die, just to get rid of their tormentors.

The art is drawn in a very shojo-girly, sort of way. The guys teeth all sparkle, hair is drawn in the strand like manner. Girls are all cutesy and flowery. The art is great for it's style and theres practically no flaws. This art style does, however, kind of mess with the manga's dark and urban myth theme.

I think this manga is probably best suited to young teenage girls looking for slightly darker reading. There is hardly any actual violence and it's friendly to all ages, if you overlook the somewhat evil plot. I wouldn't suggest it to many others demographics.

Review : The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.

As soon as you open to the first page, you'll know this isn't a book for children. The opening page depicts a man who has hung himself from a tree, and judging by the decaying flesh and amount of flies, hes been there for quiet a while.

Enter the Kurosagi corpse delivery service! A group of five weirdo's from a local Buddhist university with some equally strange powers to match their equally weird personalities.
Kurosagi are more than happy to find and grant a persons dying wish. Including going along with the horrific consequences and events along the way.

How do they find a dead person? Luckily enough, one of them has the ability of corpse dowsing. How do they find out their dying wish? Well, luckily enough, another one of them can speak to the dead. There is also a mature woman who seems to be the brains of their little organization, a cute teenage girl who is a graduate embalmer and some weird kid with a puppet on his hand that has a mind of its own.

Just like any other manga the book is divided up into chapters. The first volume contains four chapters, each an individual story in it's own right. They are all very unique, as you would expect from such a peculiar novel. It's always nice to read refreshing stories, without overused cliche conflicts and plot devices.

The art is not exactly great, but it's not exactly terrible either. Kurosagi's art differs from your average manga style and a little bit on the rough side at times. Possibly as an attempt to separate it from the younger manga market. The novel depicts dead people, corpses, zombies, blood, guts, gore and some nudity, so it's best to keep this away from any young audiences.

If your an older reader and looking to get a slightly more seriously gruesome manga fix or enjoy urban myths then this is for you.

Review : Cowboy Bebop.

For those of your not familiar with the cowboy bebop, it's a story about a crazy crew of bounty hunters, set in a futuristic setting. Spike, the cool slick smoking main character, with Bruce Lee like moves. Jet the bald ex-cop with a cybernetic arm. Faye Valentine, sly card shark and always in the same skimpy clothes. Ed, some crazy hacker girl with gangly arms and her best friend Ein, a little, but very intelligent dog. Together they cruise around space catching a variety of criminals.

This manga of the same name as the anime, doesn't follow the same story at all. The crew are together from the start and it is more a collection of short stories of 'bounty' adventures. Not that isn't entertaining, but it just seems like an expander to the cowboy bebop anime, which is cool if your a big fan and have seen the anime first, like me, but perhaps not so good if you've never seen or heard of it and have just gone out and bought the manga.

Volume one of the manga contains four stories.

1. It's showtime.
A short and funny skit about the three bounty hunters all ending up in the same restaurant but after different people.

2. We will rock you.
Spike gets himself sent to the slammer in attempt to get the bounty on a criminal that has already been locked up.

3. Cheap trick.
A rich male millionaire challenges female bounty hunters to catch him, Faye pretty much solo's this one without the rest of the teams help.

4. Black diamond.
Faye stumbles upon an illegal chip hidden in a playing card, corrupt police place a bounty on her and Jet steps in to settle an old score with one of his ex-workers.

The art of cowboy bebop is alright, it's not particularly fantastic, but it does its job well enough that you won't stop and pause and think "That's badly drawn", which is the most important thing. The stories are interesting and always contain a bit of action. I can't say how the later volumes will pan out, but it does not really seem like the manga will touch on the main storyline of the anime. It is a pity in a way, but I guess it means you can watch the anime and read the manga and not feel like your doubling up.

News : If it's not violent it's not for adults?

I think it's interesting to see that people in the western world are slowly adapting to graphic novels, as they are to manga. I do however, find it amusing that they believe it's new "cutting edge" stuff, as stated by one of my creative writing lecturers. People seem to think this nice marketing term 'graphic novel' is of somewhat a higher status than your average comic or manga, which is simply not true. It is just a comic or manga in it's book form, rather than in softcover magazines or papery flip books. Of course we never see manga in it's flippy book stage, but that is how they come out in Japan, in flippy magazines containing normally one chapter of several different manga, published monthly or even weekly.

Some will argue that graphic novels are aimed at an older audience and perhaps a majority written by western authors are, but Japan has always had manga aimed at an older audience, including hentai and erotic comics, which I'm not necessarily sure that we want.Alot of these manga actually bear a rating system when published in english, even titles such as Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara, which have no erotic content, drug use, or violence, still bear a rating of Older Teen 16+, which is just a suggestion that the actual content and stories are aimed at a more mature age group. This is entirely unlike the adult graphic novels written by western authors, such as Frank Miller for example, which seem to figure that it is extreme violence, gore, drug and sexual references which make graphic novels worthy of the older audience title, which isn't such a terrible thing, Eastern authors also have titles that fall into that same sort of ideaology, like Akira for example.
But the point I'm trying to make is that the Japanese authors and Japanese reading audience, accept the other kind of graphic novels as also being for an adult demographic, which sadly, a large part of the western audience don't. If you want to sell a 'graphic novel' to westerners it seems you just have to make something with as much violence as kill bill.