published by Viz; $9.99 US
All books are cover-priced at $9.99 US, and most were provided by the publisher as review copies.
Otomen Book 8
by Aya Kanno
I’ve given up trying to make sense of this series — I just enjoy reading the over-the-top teen drama making fun of restrictive gender roles. Kanno seems to be wandering through whatever conventions she wishes as a way of playing with her characters and providing entertainment to the reader.
This time around, it’s the possibility of Ryo moving away for family reasons. That allows everyone to demonstrate just how much they’ll miss her in over-the-top gestures. Even with the exaggeration, it’s touching to see friends who care so much about each other. Asuka demonstrates that he really does know Ryo best, giving her what she wants instead of what he wants to give her, even though the ridiculous ending is played for comedy, not feeling.
To distract from the absence of one of the main characters, there’s a side character focus story, as Asuka’s rival Hajime uses his “girlish” skills with makeup to make over an internet friend. There’s always a surprise twist in these stories, though (whether or not it’s plausible), to ramp up the emotion. Or sometimes the revelation isn’t so surprising, as when Asuka meets Ryo’s grandfather. Still, I find the series pleasant escapism, with attractive characters and happy images.
As in the last book, this volume ends on a cliffhanger, although this one is more directly involved with the premise of the series: Asuka’s mother, the one with a fetish for really strict traditional gender roles, takes over the school and starts enforcing her demands. That should mean a return to the core of the Otomen premise.
SA Book 17
by Maki Minami
I haven’t checked in on this series since the first book, which I found annoying. I shouldn’t really be talking about it at all, then, but I did want to note that this is the final volume. A series that runs this long, a total of 99 chapters, and completes at the same publisher is something to celebrate these days.
In this book, there’s some argument about various people going to Australia. I don’t know who any of them are, but it’s certainly a dramatic debate, with various people jumping out of windows, family arguments, apologies, and hidden secrets — followed, of course, by emotional revelations. Everything winds up with a school festival and a last set of competitions. (That’s what drove the premise of this series, about a girl who always comes in second.)
It was nice to see that this ending was fully taken up with the main story. I’ve always been a little disappointed in last volumes that have two chapters of the series and then pad things out with other stories by the same creator. That may be the only way here in the U.S. we see those short works, but if I like a series, I want to get as much of it in the last book as possible.
Sand Chronicles Book 9
by Hinako Ashihara
The main story concluded in the last book, so this volume is all background. We start with Ann’s mother as a teenager, a standard tale made deeper by the knowledge of her eventual sad ending. She’s too concerned with what others think and tortured by the explicit, mean rumors that follow her. She can’t avoid them — either she’s seen as too warm (and thus loose) or too cold (stuck-up).
Something about the depth of her desire to be liked makes it easy for others to wound her, and Ashihara’s art captures well that delicacy and vulnerability. The girl values the casual opinions of others over her own feelings, because they can hurt her more than she has strength to withstand. Daigo’s mother is the observer and narrator of this episodic piece, showing key moments in Ann’s mother’s life.
In the second story, Ann’s younger step-sister and her friend Shika go to New York, where they encounter Ann’s ex-fiance, a driven worker who needs to learn what more there is to life. A little kid is a great messenger for that, of course. I would have enjoyed this more if I’d remembered who these characters without looking them up, but the message — that there’s more to life than work, and people there aren’t your family — is a universal one, worth repeating. The more you’re a fan of the series, the more you’ll enjoy these pieces, since they mean more the more you remember about the cast and their relationships.
Library Wars: Love & War Book 3
by Kiiro Yumi
The most interesting elements of the series have been downplayed by this point in favor of generic romantic comedy. Dojo and Iku spat and argue, and her lack of self-control, instead of being charming, makes her seem childish. It’s no wonder their relationship can’t go anywhere; at this point, I wouldn’t want it to until she grows up. That would be acceptable if this was some schoolgirl shojo, but we’re supposed to believe her as a library army operative.
I did like the bit about the two kids, wanting to fight censorship, having their energy redirected in constructive ways in order to fight those who want to keep the work they enjoy from them. I’m a sucker for those kinds of stories. On the other hand, the second half war I found exaggerated and unfriendly to read. The literal battle was unbelievable, and I found myself skimming through it without interest.
Honey Hunt Book 6
by Miki Aihara
Although considered a promising actress-to-be, Yura is also a dishrag, typical of Aihara’s young women. All that matters to her is whether she has the attention of the man she’s crushing on, risking her career (such as it is — she demonstrates no talent, just family connections) for a date. She gets jobs after press coverage based on whom she might be dating.
Much of the art features Yura’s yearning, upturned face, mostly huge eyes seeking validation. She’s full of pity for herself, not believing anyone could like her or find her pretty. The only time she’s happy is in Q-ta’s arms or when she’s heard his voice, leading to ridiculous mood swings. That means she doesn’t notice the danger signs, when he pressures her into sex and then tells her if her career makes it difficult for them to be together, she should quit.
Then there’s the relationship with her manager, called Boss. He secretly (well, to her — it’s obvious to everyone else) wants her for himself, even given the age difference and connections of responsibility that make his interest creepy for this reader. So when she has to get his permission to date someone her own age — well, the implications aren’t particularly savory, especially when he vows to himself to lie to her for her own good.
It’s even weirder later, when the boyfriend bails on their date to go hang out with her father, a respected composer, at the suggestion of the manager. She feels bad, but knows his work comes first, although he doesn’t give her the same courtesy. All these guys, plotting to control the girl’s life, all out of a twisted definition of love. She’s got the same problem, mistaking “being needed” for “being loved”.
The treatment of sex is also based on stereotypical warnings, where she’s made responsible for him not being able to hold back. In other words, the girl is responsible for sex, while the boy is absolved by being unable to resist his instincts. This is the same old crap Aihara gave us in Hot Gimmick, where the “happy ending” is a girl unable to stand up for herself getting paired with a controlling cute guy.
Note also that with this volume, the series went on hiatus. The creator “plans to relaunch the series in the near future”, as she stated last year at this time, but there’s no word yet on when. Readers may want to be aware of that status before getting involved in the story. (This wouldn’t be the first time Aihara ended a series in unsatisfying fashion.)