Manga publishers came out to San Diego Comic Con with lots of goodies to share this year, and this included manga samplers: handy little books with multiple short previews of their series to allow readers a quick test-read. I went around to each booth and picked up a copy where I could, looking forward to the opportunity to check out some new series to potentially add to my to-read list.
Viz Media took the prize for most offered samplers, handing out some samplers from years past to go with their newer additions. In two post-parts, I’ll be sharing my short impressions of the samplers. What did I think of the series’ snippet, and did it do its job and inspire me to go pick up volume one?
In this first part I sat down with several of Viz’s sampler books, and though I’d read a good portion of the stories featured there, I still came across some titles new to me that I’ll definitely be looking into:
Shonen Jump Sampler
Dragonball – I don’t need any sampler to sell me on Dragonball but the nostalgia factor was great. I haven’t read the original Dragonball series in far too long. That said, my sheer joy in rereading even this small portion of the story’s beginning is more than enough to remind me that I still wanted to pick up those Dragonball omnibus collections to compliment my graphic novels and floppies. No time like the present to enjoy a manga classic!
Rosario Vampire – I’m glad this series was in here. It’s one of those seemingly very popular series though with an appeal that no one has been able to really articulate to me yet. Admittedly though, after reading only this small sampler, I am interested in checking out volume one. I liked the art style, which varies slightly character to character to emphasis what’s important (average, cute, scary, etc.). Boy finds himself in school of monsters, no new ground treaded there but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t still be an entertainingly executed series. The sampler has done its job with this one.
Nora – Hmm… found this one a little lackluster compared to the others but I’ll admit the page where the ‘great demon’ is ditched in the human world in a ratty box labeled ‘give to a good home’ amused me to no end. The art style is pretty neat too, though I’m not terribly fond of the lead human character’s look. Enough here to pique my interest but I’m not sold on a volume one purchase quite yet though it has made my list of things to check for at the local library for the time-being.
Slam Dunk – This was surprisingly cute, or at least the lead character was cute. Personality-wise anyway. Who wouldn’t feel for the guy? 50 rejections in three years, ouch. His earnest-nature is endearing, and I think it’d be fun reading about him learning to play basketball. It strikes me as something that could have some great humour too, as evident by this little portion. On top of already hearing good things about series, I’ll definitely be looking out for volume one after reading this sampler.
Gun Blaze West – Now here’s a series I never would’ve given a second glance before this sampler. Westerns never interested me much so reading a manga about them fell pretty low on my to-do list. That said, I really liked what I read here. The lead character Viu Bannes is a real go-getter. For such a young kid he sure has a lot of drive to succeed and I found it made him a really interesting character in those few pages. His sister in contrast annoyed me considerably for such a short period of time, the meek attitude and glasses combination long since spoiled as a bumbling-anime stereotype and she didn’t offer much to the story past her presence. With a slick art style and my curiousity piqued as to how the plot will turn to see Viu leave his little town for his inevitable trip West, I’ll be picking up a copy of Gun Blaze West for sure.
Cowa – This one looks cute; it has lots of that great Akira Toriyama humour. Very simple and I did have a good chuckle reading through it. At first I thought it was supposed to be in full colour, and this version was grayscale, but the dark full fill-in palette may actually be because it’s supposed to take place at night? I think this would be a good library borrow, something that I’d certainly enjoy reading once but doesn’t look it’d be a big investment kind of series.
Shoujo Beat Sampler (Vol. 04)
High School Debut – I’m starting to get the thought that I read more shojo than I thought, or at least just happen to be reading the ones that Viz wants me to. High School Debut joins the other series in this sampler that I’ve already read (to no complaint however). This one wasn’t one of my favorites but there was definitely some charm in the lead characters. I like how uninterested the lead male, Yoh, is in becoming a part of Haruna’s dream to achieve being a girl boys will want to hit on. Presumably because he realizes just how silly her attempts to fake her true self really are. I liked how the series was drawn too. Haruna in particular looked more pleasantly average than many shoujo heroines. Though she does look a little old for her age. Meh, fair stylistic trade-off? Her eyes constantly being wide amuses too (all the time!).
Monkey High! – I’m already reading this one so no big gain from the sampler past a reminder of why I like it. Darn you characters being so endearingly adorable! Good sampler portion of the story though, shows the cool attitude of Haruna and the monkey-ish charm of Macharu. Together they make cute couple-extraordinaire! I hope the sampler inspires others to pick up volume one; it’s quite worth it.
Mixed Vegetables – Another series I’m already reading but I like being reminded why I started in the first place. The first volume is still my favourite; it had the best balance of humour and plot, plus did a good job introducing the lead characters, both of whom I liked. Yay for a manga that revolves around creating food but doesn’t bog you down in too many facts! Not always a bad thing but it’s nice to focus on their passion for it more than the process of it.
We Were There – Nothing here to distinguish this one from any other shoujo manga. New girl at school hopes to make friends and thus far fails. She is really cute though so it was hard not to root for her. The font work is a little uneven too, looks really different from other series and thus distracted me at first. With no defining features, I certainly wasn’t sold on giving the series a go, though at the same time there was nothing substantially turning me off of it. Might be something worth flipping through at the store some time, see how things further ahead in a volume before deciding to chance a purchase.
Blank Slate – Another series I’ve already read and even now it still feels like a weird fit for Shojo Beat. I can see why it would be classified as shojo in some respects because of the tone and art style but it still sticks out like a sore thumb. No romance, no real relatable characters and more focus on violence than you’d usually expect. Sitting here against the likes of Monkey High and Mixed Vegetables, it feels all the more out of place. Neat series but definitely not one I’d approach looking for the shojo-aspects that I enjoyed in the aforementioned.
Captive Hearts – I fell in love with Matsuri Hino’s Meri Puri series, and I’ve always been sad that I never found any of her other series half as charming. From such a short preview I’m not sure how Captive Hearts measures up but there was some light-hearted humour that I found enjoyable to read. It’s about a young man who suddenly finds himself the victim of a family curse that forces him to serve members of a family, in this case the last surviving member of which being a young girl around his age. The boy was very entertaining but the girl lacks much in the way of personality. I think I’ll pick up a copy of volume one to see the story taken a little further than what it had time for here, could be fun!
Viz Signature Sampler (2006)
Vagabond – Eh, I tried reading Vagabond before and didn’t really find it appealed to me. The art is really good though, especially for the subject matter. While this brand of rough-and-tumble samurais aren’t my particular cup of tea, fans of samurai epics should definitely pick themselves up a copy. I really liked the short action sequences in this sampler though, quick but full of well rendered movement, weight and intensity. From what I’ve read, it’s a much more real-to-life representation of both the art of sword-styles and the lifestyle of those who wielded them at the time.
The Drifting Classroom – I’d heard of this series but never knew anything else about it until now. Admittedly the stiff faces of the characters is a bit of a turn-off visually but for a series drawn in 1972, it’s easy to chock up to an age thing. The story itself though, short as the sampler is, was still enough to draw me in. An apparent earthquake strikes a school and suddenly the whole building is floating in some kind of turmoiled sea?! I must know more! Volume one, consider yourself purchased.
Naoki Ursawa’s Monster – Another series I only own and have read numerous times with much enjoyment. I hope that this sampler, which is really strong already before even getting to the real bulk of the story’s intrigue, will inspire more to pick it up. It truly is a fantastic psychological thriller that shouldn’t be missed!
Golgo 13 – I didn’t know Golgo 13 was the longest running manga series in Japan. Page one and I’ve already learned something new. The portion of the series they chose for the sampler seems an interesting choice; involving attacks on the United States by terrorists in Iraq. Even prior-president Bill Clinton gets a lengthy cameo. But where’s Golgo…? I’m more than a little disappointed that the portion used feels more like pandering to a particular crowd than it is to actually show-off its lead character. No assassination or an assassin in a sampler for a series about an assassin? Doesn’t leave me very compelled to continue reading about a character I never got to see.
Phoenix – There wasn’t an actual manga sampler in this book but it did offer a write-up about the series including a synopsis of the first two volumes. I didn’t know each volume of Phoenix was standalone which makes me more curious to read more of the series past volume one. It would’ve been nice to see a couple consecutive pages from the series though, give newcomers to Osamu Tezuka’s work an idea of the kind of style and flow the series possesses.