Genzou's Puppet Tales
Summary: Due to the tragic death of his fianceť, reknowned puppet-maker Genzou has lost all interest in life, and expresses no emotions. He drifts from town to town, seeking something to ease his insufferable boredom; he finds his cure in the plights of the people he encounters, and uses his skills to create puppets indistinguishable from living beings.
Makoto's Notes: Genzou is a great Japanese hero: silent, skilled, and completely unwilling to display emotion. Though he does have a certain weakness for crying girls, which is quite endearing. Takada-sensei sets up the shounen staple of "One guy and a bunch of girls" to ensure wacky hijinks, but the interaction is really quite deep, in a way that may make you go "... damn, that's messed up."
Takada-sensei has taken care to surround Genzou with people who do more than enough emoting to pick up his slack. The female lead, Kiku-hime, is effusive and over-excitable, and tends to wander off into her own fantasies. She's very capable with a sword, but lacking common sense. Her silly dreams of her future happy home with Genzou add an interesting counterpoint to his own tragic and inescapable past. Otsuru is another "party member", a feral wilderness dweller with a blade for an arm and a sad story behind it. Her Japanese is poor and broken, but she and Genzou have much in common, and she begins to wear his icy demeanor down. Genzou's puppets do most of his talking for him, particularly the little frog. Genzou can go entire scenes without saying a word, but the frog can let loose with a lot of attitude.
The stories are mostly episodic in nature, until the end of volume 2 which fills in all the gaping holes in Genzou's backstory, and fully explores his rather disturbing motivation. Takada-sensei knows how to weave romance, and he does it well. I honestly thought the manga would end at volume two, as the story reached what I thought was a satisfying conclusion, but Sensei wanted to play with these characters for a while longer, and I'm game. I don't find Kiku-hime nearly as annoying as most perky heroines; maybe it's because everyone in the story kind of finds her annoying too.
Afternoon is a magazine for teenagers, and there are only furigana on names and particularly difficult kanji. Much of the language is antiquated, which makes it a little trickier to follow. Sometimes, there are definitions and explanations for certain places and concepts in the margins; I almost always had to look up translations for the definitions, which was frustrating. But you can learn things like the ancient Japanese term for pulmonary tuberculosis! How fun is that.
Warnings and Suggestions: Takada-sensei never misses out on a chance for extreme violence, and there's more of his trademark here. Nudity, some sexual content, and the "extra" story in volume one (a reprint of an older work) is pretty nasty; nudity, graphic violence, pagan sacrifice, attempted rape.
ISBN 4-06-321087-1 (Volume 1)
ISBN 4-06-321107-X (Volume 2)
ISBN 4-06-321143-6 (Volume 3)