published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Ed and I were talking about how best to cover volumes of long-running series where we might not have enough new to say to justify a full review. He came up with the idea of calling short capsules “chibis” after the Japanese term for small, cute versions of characters. All books were provided by the publisher for review.
Kagetora Book 11
by Akira Segami
I’ve only ever read Book 8 of this series, about a girl and her ninja trainer falling in love, so dropping back in for this final volume is probably the wrong approach.
The book opens with Yuki’s mother sending away Kagetora, the trainer, because his duty is completed. In two panels, she becomes my favorite character in the book. She’s nicely regal in look, and I, for no known reason, suspect she knows more about Yuki and Kagetora than they think. (Isn’t that always true of unbending characters like this?) And I like the way she issues orders and brooks no disagreement.
Being told to leave puts the key challenge of the book front and center. Will Kagetora follow the orders he’s given, as a good ninja should and he’s been trained to do all his life? Or will he choose love? Well, it’s shojo, what do you think?
I needn’t have worried about missing out, since all the characters spend much time talking to themselves or others about how they feel and their history. For long-time readers, I assume this is meant to play up the importance of the coming finale by reasserting the major conflicts, but it also means I didn’t feel too lost. The finale is nicely satisfying, even not knowing the characters. Also included in this book is the original early short story that was an inspiration for the series.
Kitchen Princess Book 8
by Natsumi Ando; story by Miyuki Kobayashi
I read and enjoy every volume of this series, but like watching a funny but forgettable sitcom, I feel no need to return to them afterwards. Especially when they begin repeating plotlines.
Genius chef Najika came to a fancy school in order to find her “Flan Prince”, a boy who saved her life when she was young and showed her the healing power of food. After various competitions and challenges to prove her skill, she thought she’d found him, and began falling in love, only to have him disappear.
So now there’s another boy who looks just like the first, and he might be the Prince, and she finds herself pushed into cook-offs against him in which she champions the need to prepare food for the needs of the audience. That’s the formula — only the obstacles against her change. This time, the evil school director (and father of one of her love interests) is blackmailing her into losing by threatening to shut down the orphanage where she was raised. As you can see, there’s not a lot of subtlety here; putting orphans in danger is pretty much as bad as you can get.
The themes are as expected: fight for what you believe in, don’t give up, honest competition is better for everyone, try your best as your loved ones encourage you. The art is similarly aimed straight at the heartstrings, with plenty of huge sparkling eyes, extreme closeups, and emotional vows. But as I said, enjoyable, especially if you like reading about food. All the chapters in this volume focus on high tea: finger sandwiches, little cakes, scones and shortbread. In addition to the usual extras of recipes, my copy also includes a sheet of full-color stickers of the characters. Bonus points for also including a “story so far” page with character names and faces.
My Heavenly Hockey Club Book 6
by Ai Morinaga
I still don’t know all the characters, but it still doesn’t seem to matter. Especially since the book starts with a new cast member, a self-centered, vaguely effeminate French Japanophile who’s declared himself the team’s new advisor. He introduces himself by knocking a hole through the wall with a giant mallet while surrounded by flower petals, so you know, big cartoony laughs coming. He’s also a big believer in fortune-telling and horoscopes, which provides a wonderful excuse to the author to have him do whatever weird thing and blame it on him feeling compelled or, given the size of his ego, oblivious.
He redecorates the club room, makes the team film him playing (although he doesn’t know what he’s doing), and drags everyone off to crazy ninja training camp. When they play with a Ouija board, Hana gets possessed, which led to my favorite chapter. She’s normally so anti-heroine — she sleeps whenever she’s not eating and generally lazes around — that to see her as a more typical young girl, polite, hard-working, and quiet was quite a shock.
The most hilarious chapter, though, is the last, in which an artist comes to sketch the team playing, but she holds a secret: she is a huge yaoi fangirl but is trying to get over it. Looking at all these attractive males doesn’t help.
I compared Kitchen Princess to a sitcom, but this title is really the epitome of that approach: wacky cast, each defined by a couple of obvious traits, put in various high-concept predicaments each chapter, laughs ensue.