New Manga for the Week of February 15: Spotlight on Kekkaishi

After last week's bounty, the pickings are a little thinner this week, and that gives us time to look at an older series that's worth checking out.

Kodansha has vol. 22 of Air Gear and vol. 4 of Gon. It's a good week if you're an Air Gear fan, and if you're not, grab the opportunity to check out Gon. This wordless manga about a feisty little dinosaur who travels the world and gets into all sorts of trouble is a collection of short stories, so the fourth volume is as easy to pick up as the first. Don't be fooled by the cute covers—Gon about nature, so it is filled with action and violence, as well as a bit of humor. Creator Masashi Tanaka is an amazing draftsman, and his muscular, realistic drawings of animals are what makes this series special.

Viz has three new releases this week: vol. 10 of InuYasha, vol. 30 of Kekkaishi, and vol. 9 of Maoh: Juvenile Remix. InuYasha is a classic that is being released in a very nice 3-in-1 omnibus edition, and Maoh: Juvenile Remix is an action story whose hero can make people say what he is thinking. Both are good, but my pick is Kekkaishi, a battle manga that mixes a bit of Romeo and Juliet with some comedy as well as cube-shaped battle action.

The main character, Yoshimori, comes from a family of Kekkaishi, or barrier masters, who use a special type of magic to enclose and sometimes destroy various monsters. Yoshimori is a teenager who has great powers but hasn't really mastered them, and he isn't even sure he wants to be a Kekkaishi—he would rather be a pastry chef, actually. He competes with, and also cares about, Tokine, his neighbor, a girl Kekkaishi who is a bit older and more serious about her craft. Their families are rivals, which complicates their friendship.

While it's not one of the better known manga, Kekkaishi gets a lot of love from critics. Shaenon Garrity included it in her Overlooked Manga Festival, saying, "There's an inventiveness to Kekkaishi that I really like. Creator Yellow Tanabe keeps coming up with ingenious new uses for the kekkai powers, not to mention simple, strong designs for demons and ghosts." Shaenon posts a lot of images, so hit the link if you want to get a sense of the visuals. Kate Dacey praises Tanabe's clean-lined art and interesting character designs, but, she says, "it’s her action sequences that really shine. Kekkaishi is one of the few shonen series where the fight scenes are (a) dynamic (b) thrilling (c) easy to follow (d) essential to the plot and (e) just the right length. " John Jakala said Kekkaishi was a bit like Bleach, "if Ichigo were younger, had powers more like the Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman, and were drawn by Takeshi Obata."

But why take our word for it? You can read the first chapter for free at Viz's website, and the nice thing about an older series like this is that if you like it, the early volumes aren't too hard to find in a library or secondhand—or you can buy them digitally from the Viz site. Viz has also started releasing the series in three-volume omnibuses priced at $11.99 each. The series runs to 35 volumes in total, so it is nearing the end, but this is as good a time as any to jump in and start reading.

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