Okay, get this.
Jabberwocky is a 19th-century spy thriller about an alcoholic, British spy called Lily who ends up discovering that dinosaurs live in secret among humans. They have evolved to walk upright and look human-like enough to don disguises and walk among us. After teaming up with an American dinosaur-man during a mission, she is invited to a secret society that helps resolve dinosaur-related problems all around the world and keeps the peace between them and humanity.
It’s a bonkers idea for a manga and Jabberwocky runs wild with it. Lily and her partner end up taking on missions like protecting a baby Mao Zedong from a Chinese empress who predicted his rise to power and dispatched a death squad of dinosaurs to kill him as an infant. Or how about a storyline where Galileo is revealed to have been a dinosaur and now his vengeful descendant has stolen plans from Nikola Tesla to wage war on humanity?
It’s historical parody with a surprising amount of depth and action-packed storylines. The “noir” artstyle does take some getting used to, though. Especially the first few chapters are rough and it’s often difficult to make sense of the art, which made me consider dropping it until it started steadily improving about midway through the second volume.
One day, a tiny sprout begins to break through the concrete streets of Tokyo, a city obsessed with television, celebrities, and shallow, everyday drama. Everybody flocks to the rapidly-growing tree, eager to see the latest sensation and maybe show up on TV for a few seconds. But the tree does not stop growing.
Jacaranda is a curious apocalypse story about a rotten society being upended by an unbelievable, natural disaster. The tree’s roots wreak havoc across the Japanese capital and chaos spreads across the population. It’s 300 pages of escalating madness. Gas pipes shatter and cause raging infernos, buildings collapse, people fight each other in a frenzy to escape, it’s horrific.
Kotobuki Shiriagari’s artstyle is a bit out there and some pages towards the end get a bit sketchy, but it had me captivated from start to end. Make sure to read the afterword for some insight into the story and the intentions behind its creation.
Cicero City has become a lawless battleground for two rival gangs to fight over. On the one side stands an Italian mafia family, on the other a Chinese triad. Somewhere in-between these two powerful factions with colorful characters stands the mercenary Nichol D. Heyward. And, sadly, the story has to be about him.
Jackals is directed towards a teenage audience and hopes to wow you with its edgy story and gory violence. Nichol is a resentful, perpetually-angry shirtless bloke with a giant sword to swing around. He murders his through the ranks of both gangs largely unopposed because he is just that good and any time he does face some opposition, a little extra training or a stroke of luck will allow him to return and instantly win anyway. The manga suffers from a lot of power creep and loves to constantly introduce new, legendary characters of supposedly unmatched strength, who usually end up getting cut down in one move.
I feel that the focus of the story was poorly chosen. Nichol is such a boring, directionless character and the plot constantly bends over backward to serve him. Meanwhile, the characters in both gangs are allowed to be sympathetic and are fleshed out with backstories and relationships. I would have much rather seen a Gungrave style story about the politics and war between the two gangs instead.
Hey! Do you all like Disney’s Aladdin?!
Jauhara Genya makes little effort to hide its greatest influence. The story follows a charismatic, freedom-loving thief constantly on the run from the city guard of the bustling desert city where he does business. Our thieving friend is called Ghee and he has a rivalry with the crown prince of the kingdom, who acts as the captain of the city guard until his coronation. During one of their encounters, Ghee and Prince Urupika discover two strange girls who live in an ancient ruin. This marks the beginning of a quest to find a number of crystals and restore a magic armband that Ghee’s ancestors stole from the royal family many years prior.
This manga started off a bit dull and the art isn’t too mind-blowing, but it develops itself well and I like the fantasy middle-eastern setting. The protagonists have nice banter and conflicting personalities, which are backed up by the two little girls that also end up picking sides between the two. It’s both a story about these two cooperating and about them competing, which leads to unexpected developments and strong character arcs, especially for such a short story.
Jigoku Koi Sutefu
This is an adorable, little 4-koma manga about the afterlife of a group of teenagers who are stuck in hell. For unspecific sins committed in life, these kids are now forced to endure punishment until they have suffered enough to enter heaven.
Fortunately, hell turns out to be pretty mild. Juri’s punishment is to constantly fall in love while always being rejected, Hidamari must eat a set amount of carrots every day, and newcomer Mikoto bites her tongue from time to time. The manga is short and doesn’t do much, but it gets a lot of mileage out of these characters and the silly punishments they were assigned. It even very gracefully and comedically handles its own ending, which I can only assume came a lot sooner than the author would have hoped.
If you can, do also read the pilot chapters focusing on Mikoto just after her death. It’s an adorable little short romance that nicely leads into the events of the main story.
Jigokugata – Spinal Fluid Explosion Girl
Man, I have no clue what this manga was on about. It’s a story about a young girl who moved to the city from the countryside and gets herself involved with a shady idol project. It’s good material for a story, but reading Jigokugata is like speedrunning a plot synopsis.
I didn’t even register the girl’s name before she is recruited and then almost immediately her life starts falling apart. The manga gives you no time at all to develop an interest in the character or show us what she’s like before diving headfirst into drama. And topics like prostitution, rape, domestic abuse, and bullying deserve a little more care and attention than the reckless disregard with which Jigokugata tosses it into an increasingly-bizarre storyline.
It tries to have some central theme around this zoo for people who have become societal failures, but it tries to pull like two plot-twists a page here and is too short and rushed to make any of it really work or memorable. I’m glad I took notes, because I already started forgetting about this manga moments after completing it.
Death Star Remina
When a humble astrophysicist discovers a new planet and names it after his daughter, people take a liking to her and the shy, mild-mannered Remina is persuaded to start a career in entertainment. However, this new planet behaves oddly, it moves in erratic ways and stars that come near it seem to just disappear. Then, it turns towards earth.
This is an apocalypse manga by Junji Ito and it’s one of his finest works I have ever gotten to read. It’s cosmic horror in the most literal sense of the word, as the people of Earth come to realize that this unknowable creature is coming for them and panic spreads around the world. In their frenzy, people come to believe that the scientist and his daughter are the ones responsible for summoning the planet Remina and the violence turns against them.
Like with Jacaranda, it’s amazing to see the chaos spread and society collapses under the weight of true fear. Junji Ito’s art is as amazing as always and keeps this 1 volume story intense all the way through. However, it does suffer some of his usual problems, with Remina being a lackluster protagonist and the story relying on a few too many conveniences.
Jinrou Game / Werewolf Game
Survival game stories are no favorite of mine and, while Jinrou Game has its moments, it overall felt like a pretty standard story for the genre. A group of teenagers from the same high school are imprisoned in a building and informed they’ll be playing the “werewolf game” by a mysterious voice coming from the microphone. Refuse or break the rules and the collars around their necks will tear them apart.
The game is a pretty standard adaptation of the board game. Two players are secretly wolves while the others are civilians. Each night, the wolves are allowed to kill a person. The following day, all players vote on who they think the wolf is and that person is executed. On top of that, Jinrou Game plays around with the relations between the players, as all of them are informed of the various ways in which they wronged one another. One character lost his sports career in a hit & run accident, another was romantically rejected due to another girl. It’s a question of who can truly be trusted and if the villagers can band together to uncover the real wolves, in spite of their grudges against each other.
The art is gorey and the story has its appeals, but all the characters are shallow and uninteresting, with plot dumps about their backstory usually being withheld until just seconds before they are killed. The first two victims are so unmemorable that I forgot one was even around and from there it’s just a process of elimination starting with those least relevant to the story. It’s not a gripping mystery and its eventual conclusion, barring the two sequels, was such a plot hole that I would honestly give it a 1/10 score for the story.
Joséphine Impératrice / Bara no Josephine
I have taken a liking to manga that chronicle the lives of historical people that I otherwise might never have looked into. While Kaoru Ohiai doesn’t quite match the high bar set by Mitsuteru Yoyoyama, her shoujo take on the life of French Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais did a fantastic job getting me interested in a bit of history I never cared much for before.
Marie Josephé is a French girl born on the colonies who is married off to a French nobleman in her late teens. Her life takes several turns for the worst, as her unfaithful husband grows accusatory and belligerent. The wonderful life of a Parisian socialite that she saw before her begins to crumble and, oh my, is that the French Revolution looming on the horizon?
Bara no Josephine mixes in some fictional elements, most prominently Marie Josephé’s servant Agathon who is her only supporter throughout the entire story and who ends up playing pivotal roles in the French revolution and Napoleon’s wars. Even so, I found this to be an educational journey and Ohiai’s storytelling hits the right emotional snares to make these historical characters sympathetic and lifelike. The art-style could definitely use some work though.
Unbeknownst to the humans of planet Earth, there is a vast, intergalactic society out there with a police force that patrols the galaxy and captures criminals. When one such Galaxy Patrol agent files a scathing report about Earth and disappears soon after, his colleague Jiya flies down to our home planet and is shocked to find it so very different than described in the report.
Jiya is a short action series wherein an alien cop investigates what earth is like and helps its population fight back against a vampire that has somehow gotten his hands on a species of alien monsters that devour humans. He is aided by the young “lady” Kaeda and her hapless servant Kyuumonji, through which Jiya grows a fondness for humans and their strange world.
The manga has a nice balance of comedy & action, both of which it tackles with confidence and skill. The story was provided by none other than Dragon Ball author Akira Toriyama and the art is provided by Masakazu Katsura, famous for works like DNA2, Video Girl Ai, and Tiger & Bunny. Give it a read if you’re in the mood for some light sci-fi action.
Joshikousei Kagishi Saki
Hailing from a long lineage of master locksmiths, Saki Teshigawara is a young high school girl who can open any lock. Many of the locals depend on her for small problems, but Saki’s work takes a dark turn when a local yakuza enlists her help in unlocking a door, whereupon his goons storm a building and kidnap a number of African immigrants.
“High school girl accidentally unchains a race war” is one hell of a story hook and this manga does a great job at characterizing both the yakuza boss, as well as the leader of the immigrant faction. It’s an intense and deeply interesting storyline, making it a bit of a shame that it only spans a few chapters. Joshikousei Kagishi Saki is actually a collection of various short stories and while each one is pretty darn good in its own right, I felt there was more juice to be tapped in all of them.
The manga is further held down by a reliance on questionable fan-service to fill out its comedy scenes, which limits its potential audience. Many of the female characters are empowering and cool, but you get to see sneak peeks at Saki’s breasts and panties more often than you see her actually pick locks.