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Title: Zero
Author: Yamazaki Takako
Number of Volumes: 11
My Rating: 4/5

This manga combines a couple of my favorite things, reincarnation and post-apocalyptic scenarios. The story is set in the year 2017, seventeen years after a nuclear bomb was "accidentally" dropped on Japan. Most of the country is destroyed and the remaining citizens live in a US-controlled base called ZOO. Recently someone has developed a drug that if you take it, you will see visions of the year 2000. For sixteen-year-old Geo and his friends, who weren't alive then, the visions are of what they can only assume are their past lives. When one of their friends is killed and Geo is implicated in the murder, he has to go on the run. From there, things only get more complicated, as it turns out he and his friends are the reincarnations of the only people who can stop Project Zipangu, a massive computer that will allow the current dictator of Japan to take over the world.

In many ways this manga was made for me. I love this sort of story, and really enjoyed it a lot. I read the first few volumes years ago, but it wasn't being published regularly and eventually I lost track of it and had to start again. I'm glad I was able to read it all in one go this time, as it's definitely the sort of thing where you don't want to be forgetting stuff between volumes. There's a huge cast and a bunch of different threads and all sorts of intrigue.

I was afraid the ending might be super disappointing, but I was pretty happy with it. The one thing I really didn't like is the same thing I didn't like in her other series, Ppoi! She loves teasing with slashiness, but is relentlessly heteronormative when it comes down to it. For example, (this is majorly spoilery) the main character and another character are the reincarnations of a boy and a girl who were in love in the year 2000. However, instead of being reincarnated into a boy and a girl again, they were both born hermaphrodites (I use that term deliberately rather than intersex, because this is sci-fi hermaphroditism, not anything realistic) who each have part of the boy and girl's souls mixed in them. The main character became a boy when he was five, but the other character, Julia, remains physically neither male nor female even as an adult, but he identifies as male. However, at the end of the manga, he decides to become physically female so that he and the main character can get together. He basically says "I waited for you to turn female, but you never did, so I will instead". *headdesk* There is one minor good character who's gay (though I think he died in the end; last we saw him he was shot and bleeding, but there was no mention of him after that; many, many people die in this manga, so I wouldn't put it past her to kill him, but maybe I will choose to believe he lived, because I really liked him), but mostly the only time queerness appears is the teasing slashiness of her male characters (she writes almost entirely male casts) or bad guys who grope/rape the good guys. Oh, and another good(ish) character was maybe sorta gay, anyway he had a crush on the main character, but he was also female in his previous life (and had a crush on the guy the main character used to be) and went crazy in this life, so that's not really a positive representation of queerness there. The lack of female characters bugs me, too. And the few who she does have mostly die and get taken captive and stuff like that.

Volume one has been scanlated, but the series appears to have been abandoned (the group that did it is no longer active). I've put it on my list to scanlate (or perhaps just translate) eventually.

I am also selling my set, all 11 volumes for $20 plus shipping (I'll ship anywhere). They are all very good condition. The earlier volumes are a bit yellowed from age, but the more recent volumes look almost new. Please comment if you're interested.
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Title: Ppoi!
Author: Yamazaki Takako
Number of Volumes: 30
My Rating: 3/5

What to say about this manga? The thing is, this was written over the course of twenty years and it shows. When I first discovered it, back in the late nineties (when it hadn't even been running for ten years!), I fell in love with it right away, despite the rather awful art (her art has (unsurprisingly) improved massively over the course of the series, but the first volumes are not that great looking and super dated). It's about a ninth-grade boy named Hei, his best friend Banri, and a bunch of their friends. And the whole thirty volumes that took twenty years to write only cover one school year. *headdesk*

It's not really got a central plot, just growing up and friendship and all that, so over the years she kept adding more and more characters that Hei met and all these side stories and it became rather self-indulgent and wandering. While I have no trouble remembering the main cast, I can't for the life of me remember the million other characters, who of course pop back in from time to time once thier stories are told. :p Obviously it would be different reading it all at once, though I don't know whether that would be better or worse. Better because you wouldn't have as much trouble keeping track of the extended cast, but probably worse in that the self-indulgent rambling nature would be even more apparent than it is read in chunks over a dozen years or more.

It's also relentlessly heteronormative, despite being deliberately slashy as hell (the fanservice in this (both m/m and f/f) is massive) and even having one subplot (that runs nearly the entire series) about a friend of Hei's named Takaoka who has a crush on him. Hei is very small and cute and often mistaken for a girl, so Takaoka originally thinks Hei is a girl and crushes on him and then can't uncrush once he finds out Hei is a guy. But it's always framed as "if onl Hei were a girl" and while that does make sense for a fifteen-year-old boy who's just discovering he's into dudes, it feels like the narrative reinforces that view and agrees that he should get over Hei, not because Hei doesn't like him back, but because Hei isn't a girl. There's also Hei's tomboyish younger sister who's crushed on by younger girls at her all-girls' school and by the end of the series is actively trying (and failing) to be more feminine so the girls won't crush on her anymore, and again, this is reinforced by the narrative as the right thing to do, because same-sex crushes are something you should grow out of.

Still, it was a favorite for years and I did enjoy it. I just wish it hadn't rambled on so long (and that the Takaoka plotline had been dealt with better).

This isn't licensed in English (and I doubt it ever will be) and it was scanlated up through vol. four and then abandoned.


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