For those unfamilar with the concept – this is sort of like Tom
Pinchuk's Watch & Learn's, except a little more recappy, plus
with a certain degree of stream-of-consicousness to it. As a bit of
background, I have seen the anime TV series and both OVAs – but I
haven't read the manga. So, I will be doing some comparisons between
the manga and the anime as I go through this. This may look a little similar to the plot summary on the wiki for this volume - that's because I stripped most of my analysis and snark from this and used that for the wiki entry. If anyone has any objections to this, let me know.
We begin with Volume 1.
We start off with a one panel intro for each character, presumably in color in the original printing (Viz's edition put them in black and white), and with each character getting a “Starring” credit.
You know this show is cyberpunk because all rain is acid rain. Currently our heroes, AMP (The Abnormal Mystery Police) has already become an organization, and is currently investigating a Lucifer Hawk (the monsters that are the bad-guys of the series). By comparison, in the anime, the show starts with our hero, Katsumi Liqueur coming to Tokyo, knowing nothing of her power and destiny, and stubbornly resisting the Call to Adventure at all costs.
From the sounds of things, the public currently knows that there are monsters, they don't know what they're called, they don't know their goals, and they don't know that the monsters are intelligent. The police know a little more, but not as much as AMP, and they're frustrated because AMP won't share information. This whole scene sets up for a nice mix of the Macabre and the humorous.
Interesting. Katsumi's banishing spell isn't a sure-kill and has to be set up, whereas in the anime the magic circle automatically generates itself, and once you're got you're done. Ultimately, Kiddy's Graviton Gun is what finishes the job – another difference because in the anime, Katsumi's spell is like Blazing Sword from Voltron. The monster doesn't get killed until Blazing Sword is formed, and once it's formed, the monster can't escape.
So, Katsumi goes home and is attacked by another Lucifer Hawk, of the Second Attraction variety (more humanoid, and more intelligent). This Lucifer Hawk looks considerably more humanoid then most of the others of the same type from the anime. It looks like a feudal Japanese noblewoman. She also name-drop's Katsumi's father, Gigelf, starting that plot line in motion right off the bat.
It bears mentioning that the L.H. Overpowers Katsumi fairly easily. In the TV series and the films, by the time Katsumi joined AMP she could handle Lucifier Hawk without too much difficulty. That said, in the TV series she started off with her mothers magic dagger, whereas here she only has her mother's pendant.
Anyway, the rest of AMP gets clued into this by Yuki (who is a esper), and gears up to come to the rescue. By the time they get there, Katsumi has been somehow possessed and her apartment has been destroyed by the LH. Katsumi is quite the butt-monkey this early in the series, as opposed to the rest of the team.
AMP manages to force the creature to reveal its true for, and we see that the LH is actually disguising itself as Katsumi, and has her in some sort of stasis in a sac. Mai uses a spirit shield to drain the creature's energy, letting Kiddy throw Katsumi her pendant, which lets her finally kill something with her spell. After the fight, Robert Device (Katsumi's boyfriend) shows up to make sure that she's okay, and we learn that Gigelf brought the LH to earth, and that the LH don't like that. We end the chapter with the signature Silent Mobius image – a Kabbalaic Star over Tokyo.
We have our first character focused chapter of the series almost right off the bat, focusing not on our protagonist, but on one of the supporting cast – the team's Shrine Maiden. We also start off with some heavy fan-service as Nami goes through a purification ritual. It's not a gigantic amount, but when you spend this much time in a manga showing water drip down Nami's boobs, you've gone beyond “this is a purification ritual” to the territory of “fan-service time now” and, considering the last chapter, it's kind of out of place. Anyway, Nami must complete a ceremony to get a special dagger.
Meanwhile, Katsumi has been staying with Kiddy while she looks for a new place and, well, she snores. Dear God does she snore. She also tosses and turns, and it's enough to drive Action Girl Kiddy right up the wall. Enough of our lead though, Nami's birthday is coming up and we need to plan a party.
Back in the secret underground lair of the Yamagumo clan, Nami's father has released the seals preventing creatures from attacking people coming from the surface to the elevator and vice versa. This is partly to test Nami, and partly because he's totally a dick. Nami compares this to the Wizardry series. How is it the video game equivalent of the Gygaxian dungeon became a significant part of the Otaku Zeitgeist, yet tabletop RPGs never got nearly as big there as they did here? You never see characters in an heavily otaku themed anime like Hayate the Combat Butler or Genshiken sitting down to play D&D or Tunnels & Trolls, but we'll get overt references to video game equivalents of the Tomb of Horrors?
Anyway, Nami completes the test, is able to wield the dagger. Quest Completed! Nami has Leveled Up! Nami has received “Kirin Dagger +2”.
We get a flashback to when Kiddy lost her limbs and had to be cybered, though this isn't explained yet. If you've watched the anime, though, it's pretty obvious. This leads to a rough night and following morning for Katsumi. We also have our first clash of egos between Kiddy and Ralph Bowmers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
Anyway, Wire, the android that crippled Kiddy, is on the rampage again. She declares that she'll be the one to bring him down. AMP appears to have been given part of the manhunt. We then cut to Ralph's police special forces team that got taken down by Wire off camera. Wire goes to finish off Ralph and-interrupting Kiddy! Kiddy leaps from a rooftop like The Major meets The Midnighter. Kiddy's played this fight out in her head for years, and every way it ends with Wire losing!
Except every time it didn't involve Katsumi distracting Kiddy from her spinner, thus causing Kiddy to get thrown off her game. Gee, thanks. The Wire's about to over-power Kiddy and finish what he started earlier – interrupting spinner! Katsumi with the Car-Fu, and banging up the spinner pretty bad in the process. Well, let's take stock. Kiddy's pissed because she didn't get revenge, and Lebia is pissed because the spinner is trashed. Oh, and Wire isn't dead either.
Lebia tells Katsumi not to tell Kiddy, but fails to ask Ralph to do the same. This leads to Kiddy stealing the spinner again. The look on Lebia's face when Yuki tells her that Kiddy is in the process of taking the spinner is absolutely priceless. For that matter, so is Lebia's open weeping at the prospect of the horrible damage that Kiddy is going to do to her spinner.
Anyway, Kiddy and Wire fight again. Meanwhile, Lebia does her research and discovers that Wire is approaching his literal “drop-dead” date, and he's probably only got a few minutes, maybe an hour. Kiddy and Wire fight until Wire's clock runs out, leaving Kiddy still upset because she still didn't win. Afterwords, Ralph and Kiddy have a romantic interlude, and Ralph gets Kiddy flowers.