Benkei in New York
by Jinpachi Mori & Jiro Taniguchi
Benkei is a Japanese ex-pat living in the Big Apple. He's a painter, but uses his skills only for creating forgeries; he expresses his artistry through his second profession, as an assassin. Following a professional code that only makes sense to him, Benkei takes on jobs in both of his professions, sometimes for money, other times for more personal reasons. Each chapter in this volume is its own simple noir story, ably told by Mori and drawn with great detail by Taniguchi. Like all good noir, the action isn't all permeating but nearly always in brief, explosive sequences. Taniguchi excels at these action scenes, with the best being an extended series of chases and hand-to-hand combats in a snowcovered Central Park and The Museum of Natual History. This is smart noir for adults; we need to see more manga like this in translation.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Hikaru-no Go, vol. 1
by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata
The premise for this series, in which a sixth-grade boy is haunted by the spirit of a centuries-old Go master, may seem like the set-up for a standard shonen manga wherein a boy gets extraordinary skills and faces down all comers. However, the execution is definitely a cut above. While Fukiwara-no-Sai, the haunting spirit in question, guides Hikaru in his Go playing, the aim of the plot is more than just a boy living out a fantasy. Hikaru's journey will be to learn the game of Go himself and, in so doing, mature in the other areas of his life as well. I've only played Go a handful of times well over a decade ago, but even though my interest in the game is slight, Hotta & Obata make it an unusally exciting subject for a comic. Obata's art is particularly engaging, very strong in characters, backgrounds and storytelling, while managing somehow to make the playing of a boardgame visually interesting. My only complaint about this volume is that it ends in the middle of a story--something that should be a no-no in a 200 page comic, but that just means that I'm anxious to read the next volume.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)