DRAWN & QUARTERED
COURTESY TOKYOPOP; TOKYOPOP; ADV MANGA
Short & sweet
One-volume reads for manga fans who need a breather from long series
There are times when manga readers just want to go for a simple, compact series.
Maybe it's for cost purposes -- it's difficult to get into some series because they run for more than 30 volumes, and you don't have enough time and money to invest. Maybe it's because you just finished reading a long series and want something short and sweet as a follow-up. Or maybe it's because you're busy working on other articles and columns to be published later this month about local anime and manga culture (shameless plug).
Whatever your circumstances, we present a roundup of "one-and-dones" -- manga that start and finish in one volume -- that will help fill your short-term manga needs.
"Bus Gamer 1999-2001: The Pilot Edition"
Synopsis: Businesses compete with one another. That's a true statement in any capitalistic setting. But the world of the "Biz Game" takes matters one step further, pitting teams of three against each other. The "home team" protects a disc filled with their corporation's secrets; the "away team" tries to steal it.
Toki, Nobuto and Kazuo are "Team AAA," three students thrown together because they need the money. Things seem simple enough at first: They kick butt and quickly become one of the elite teams in the game.
But as they advance, it becomes clear that while the prize money is nice, losing is simply not an option. There's high-stakes betting going on among the companies, and losers are mysteriously dropping dead ...
Jason's take: This is actually the self-contained prologue to a "Bus Gamer" series yet to be released in America; if this is indicative of what's to come, here's hoping Tokyopop sees fit to order a full season.
Rating (out of four stars):
"Go With Grace"
Synopsis: Young Grace is afflicted with an illness that has kept her bedridden and isolated for the last 10 years, with just her younger sister taking care of her and a chain-smoking father worried only about the cost of Grace's emergency-room visits. Aside from her sister, Grace's only solace is in her writing.
Things change when a boy named Andy appears in her room one day. He's actually a ghost, and he takes Grace on amazing journeys. But each time, the girl ends up in the hospital near death. And there's more to Andy's presence than the spirit is letting on.
Wilma's take: This one is not for the faint-hearted. "Grace" is submerged in gloom, and its few high points barely rise above the surface of that dark pool. The story seems to veer off in several different directions, but it finally solidifies into an ending that is not so much happy as it is vaguely satisfying.
It draws you in all the way to the end, though its despondency makes you glad to reach that last page. And by the time you close the book, you might discover just how deeply it has marked your soul.
Synopsis: Life isn't going well for Jeremy Rosen, an insurance claims investigator. He recently broke up with his girlfriend, and his depression is affecting his work and meager social life. Then comes an urgent jury-duty summons from the Superior Court.
When Jeremy shows up at court, the clerk cryptically informs him that he's Juror 13 -- in a 12-person jury system -- and directs him to his assigned room. When he returns from court, things quickly plunge further downhill in his life: Jeremy is the target of an embezzlement probe at work and finds himself on the run from the police. He makes startling discoveries and finds out how a white-hot moment of passion can alter life forever.
Wilma's take: This action tale of love and betrayal is nothing new, with a slight futuristic bent and several almost predictable twists at the end. But the sci-fi element is a great exploration of human nature and the power of the mind as we witness Jeremy's transformation in the dizzying spiral of events around him.
All this makes "Juror 13" an excellent one-time read but not much after that.
Synopsis: Chiko is just an average high school girl. That alone would make for a really boring story, though, so to spice up this tale, she eventually finds a cell phone ... and a new calling in life. Literally.
As it turns out, a certain person has the phone's number and is more than happy to call it to tell Chiko that someone will die in a few minutes. Oh, and she's the only person who can save the would-be suicide victim, so good luck, ha ha ha, buh-bye. Soon, Chiko, accompanied by her classmate, Bando, are running all over Tokyo trying to save people.
It's a wicked game that this unseen caller is playing, with Chiko and her cohorts, with them clearly as the pawns.
Jason's take: This story is like the first hill of a short roller coaster: It takes a while to build up to the action, but once it hits, events quickly happen one after another. Things happen so quickly, in fact, that the story threatens to derail completely at the end but manages to hang on. Barely.
Synopsis: Private eye Al Foster is in for a whole lot more than he realizes when 13-year-old Rai Spencer hires him to find out who's been trying to kill him. The boy not only is a son of the billionaire Spencer family, he's also a genius who's already graduated from college -- and he has telekinetic powers. Add his strong-willed -- and strong-armed -- sister Rei, and Al's got just about all he can handle.
After the case is resolved, Rai proclaims himself Al's new employee, and the boy -- at least when Al's not sending him out on mundane errands or to help with elderly clients -- faces others with paranormal abilities. Rei, meanwhile, struggles with her feelings for Al as the issue of her marriage looms ever closer.
Wilma's take: This manga crams in a steady stream of danger, intrigue, action, tension and romance in a few short stories. The main characters are given just the right amount of development and focus, with each person having their good and bad sides that make them appealingly real.