We’re approaching winter, but in the meantime, we’ve got Middle-Fall Manga Minis to help brave the weather. (Yes, it’s a mouthful, we know.) This time around, we have two great manga selections for you as well as a book review of the recently released thriller The Mantis! Check out our reviews below.
A Man & His Cat Volume 9 (Square Enix Manga)
Every time I read a volume of A Man & His Cat, I don’t know how the story will advance. And like clockwork, the manga always surprises me with how it explores emotional issues with care. It also introduces characters organically as the cast continues to expand, though never loses sight of Fukumaru and Kanda.
The main theme of this volume is overcoming one’s past traumas. We have three characters in focus here: Kanda’s son Hoshinari, rival pianst Hibino, and Teruaki Kuju. Following the previous volume, we continue to see how Hoshnari Kanda reacts as he slowly connects with his father. There’s a bit of character development between him and Yoshiharu Moriyama as the two become bandmates.
Meanwhile, Kanade Hibino struggles to let go of his insecurities as he tries to get a gift for Kanda. He’s still hung up on letting appearances faze him (reliving his past experiences with his mother). Will he let his pride come against him and finding the perfect present? Finally, we’re introduced to a new character, Teruaki Kuju, a poor but ambitious pianist. He has some conflict with Hoshinari, acting as a fake childhood friend to get Kanda to teach him. All three plot threads open up a world of new possibilities for the story. Another character in this already dynamic cast will make this much more interesting.
Finally, the best part of this volume is Fukumaru’s visit to the vet. While he feels like Kanda is doing this to him out of malice, Fukumaru meets Mugiro, an elderly golden retriever. Mugiro advises Fukumaru that sometimes we do things that may seem difficult for others. It’s a basic narrative that got me tearing up, especially with how Mugiro is drawn. Elderly animals are ones that I always feel emotional about, and exploring the golden age of animals as well as humans is one way to my heart.
All in all, this volume of A Man & His Cat manages to cram in a ton of new information, building on the relationships of the main cast, and even adding some new ones. It’s a solid bundle of chapters that will have you cheering for what’s next!
Rating: 5 out of 5 UwUs
Batman: Justice Buster Volume 1 (Kodansha)
I’m not going to lie, Batman: Justice Buster surprised me. Out of the three released DC/Kodansha manga here in the west, this was the one I wanted to read least. This manga is a reimagining of the Batman story, but looking back, I was intrigued by how accessible it was. It has the staple elements of a basic Batman tale as well as a great new spin with action-packed art.
In the seedy underbelly of Gotham, there is one vigilante that’s saving the day: Batman (also known as Bruce Wayne). However, not everything is as it seems, as this Batman has an AI called Robin which detects nearby threats. The characters question whether having an artificial intelligence would be a good partner for the Caped Crusader. This rings especially true later in the volume when it begins malfunctioning.
Speaking of partners, Batman would rather be a lone wolf in his quest to defend the city. He’s solicited by Superman to join the Justice League and is paired with a fellow vigilante known as Joker. (Y’know, just in case you got confused by his previous appearance.) Commissioner Gordon also asks for assistance whenever the city is in danger. In the woodworks is the talented Dick Grayson, who might be the key to finding Batman’s newest villain.
Batman: Justice Buster is made for new Japanese audiences in mind. This feels like Batman Ninja, except the story feels more standalone to the source material. Batman’s rogues’ gallery members appear and usually get apprehended within their introductory chapters. However, it does set up Deathstroke (who may be the arc villain for this story, which works). This does admittedly sacrifice story depth, as those who are unfamiliar with Killer Croc or Penguin won’t get answers here. If anything, this is a great gateway series for manga readers who want to get into American comics. The art is superb, and reads like a shonen manga with its action sequences. I also liked the characterization here, which even portrays Superman’s personality more accurately than his own manga series.
Batman: Justice Buster is a perfect manga introduction for the Caped Crusader, and one that appeals to manga and American comic readers alike!
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
The Mantis (Abrams Books)
Wrapping up our Middle-Fall Manga Minis is not a manga at all, but rather a novel! I was introduced to Kotaro Isaka back when the Bullet Train movie came out last year. (I actually skipped straight to his follow-up, Three Assassins.) He has a slow-burning writing style that explores the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, with characters that are killing machines. While Three Assassins had a civilian protagonist that was up against three ruthless foes, The Mantis instead spotlights a man wanting to balance work and family.
Kabuto is your everyday family man that is a bit henpecked but loves his wife and son. He works an average career by day… Except of course it’s a cover, for he’s a proficient assassin with a very large killstreak. He gets his jobs by the mysterious Doctor, and unfortunately is too far deep to get out now. While he wants to leave his life of crime, he knows that he is bound to kill another day.
While the story follows him around his daily life, it also delves into some of his killer past, as well as referencing events from Bullet Train and Three Assassins. After all, they are a loose trilogy connected by the assassination game. They’re not required reading to enjoy The Mantis, but some characters pop up in conversation. It’s a nice little reward for those keeping up with Isaka’s past works.
While The Mantis is in third-person for most of the novel, around the three-quarter mark it shifts to first-person perspectives alternating between him and his son, Katsumi. It’s a narrative shift that disrupts the flow of the overall conflict, as it acts to let readers know Kabuto’s life is starting to blur together. What will happen when Kabuto’s professional life gets in the way of his family life, and will he leave the assassin game for good?
The Mantis feels at times like a disconnected slice-of-life mixed with action elements. In a way, that works for the book’s favor, as it describes just how disjointed and stressful Kabuto’s world is. I enjoyed how the author was able to make mundane things like exterminating hornets so enthralling. However, the pacing does become very uneven near the end due to what happens there. It doesn’t help that Kabuto’s son is less interesting than Kabuto himself (though this is intentional).
All in all, The Mantis is a great book if you like a mix of family life and killer antics. Think of it like a grittier version of Spy x Family, but only if the main character had a secret identity.
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
And there you have it! Our Middle-Fall Manga Minis is here to help you embrace the coming cold. Stay tuned for more manga reviews here on Miso!