published by Viz; $9.99 US
Rasetsu Book 8
by Chika Shiomi
This installment is just an interstitial chapter, as Rasetsu’s 20th birthday is almost here. (That’s the date on which a demon is going to steal her soul.) Although I hadn’t read any of the series since Book 5, I had no problem picking up the incidents, as Rasetsu declines as the fateful day approaches. (The character descriptions at the front helped, too.)
However, they weren’t particularly satisfying on their own. There’s a romantic misunderstanding (due to a stubborn refusal to believe someone knows their own heart), and a villainous reveal heavily foreshadowed throughout the book, but when I look at the overall arc, this is going to be most enjoyable to those invested in the series and eager for the final showdown over Rasetsu’s fate. A lot of tone work and heavy shading suggests the negative energy all the characters team up to fight, complete with vows to stand by her, while Rasetsu’s plight is frequently restated in an attempt to emphasize its significance. For me, it felt a bit like marking time until everyone got put into their places for the next book’s face-off with the evil force shaping her life.
Butterflies, Flowers Book 6
by Yuki Yoshihara
I think I may have figured out why this series reads so weirdly for me. (I keep coming back to it although I have very mixed feelings about it.) It’s so jumpy in tone and events that this is one of the few manga I would really prefer to read one chapter at a time mixed into an anthology.
If I only got it in little bits in a shojo magazine, mixed between the usual schoolgirl love stories, I’d consider its weird use of abusive events a palate cleanser from the overwhelming emotion of teen romance. But taken as a whole… The opening “where we were” text in this volume tells us that Choko and her servant/boss/lover Masayuki got their “second sex”, which I had forgotten. It’s that kind of “did I miss it?” reaction that sends me back to the previous volume to remind myself of where we left off. (They did, in the last eight pages of Book 5.) Only the soap opera here isn’t really good enough to justify all that rereading, or at least, I don’t enjoy it that much.
I do find younger brother Mikihiko funny as he desperately tries to cling to the behaviors of the upper-class lazeabout he used to be, in spite of having no basis for it any more. We don’t see very much of that, though. Instead, he’s used as a clown in the way he adores Suou but doesn’t realize he’s really a cross-dressing man.
Events change abruptly in this book, as Choko is returned home from living with Masayuki only to go on that manga staple, the hot spring trip. Cliches abound, especially once Masayukis’ ex-girlfriend is introduced and Choko gets jealous. Plus, yet another company official decides he wants Choko. For such a personality-less cipher, she certainly gets a lot of attention.
Artistically, face shots are always the focus, even when other images would better tell the story. Emotion and reaction matter more than plausibility, of course, since this isn’t intended to make sense. And then there are the occasional sex scenes (which legitimately give this series its mature rating), during which Choko doesn’t seem to take pleasure in the act. At least we’re explicitly told it’s no longer painful for her.
Otomen Book 9
by Aya Kanno
School is cracking down. Everyone is trying to look perfect, uniform just so, and signs of individual personality have been minimized — which makes things difficult for those who don’t fit the traditional gender profile, as with boy Asuka making lovely box lunches. It’s an amusingly exaggerated impression of the usual peer pressure to fit in, funny especially when a guy is chased for having too cute of a charm on his cell phone.
Everyone’s very cute and expressive, especially when reassuring each other that they won’t change, even in an atmosphere where kids are encouraged to inform on their classmates, led by a cousin of Asuka’s named Kasuga. Things are complicated when Juta’s identity as (female) manga author Jewel Sachihana risks being revealed, although the “traps” set for him are ludicrous. That’s when this series becomes most funny, when something relatively reasonable — being identified as a best-selling artist of manga aimed at girls would be embarrassing and change how one is seen at school — is exaggerated beyond the typical until it consumes everyone. The schemes to prove his alter ego as well as the counter-plans to hide it continue escalating, including a huge mansion that the characters think “looks like the home of a shojo manga artist”, complete with butler, ha!
The bits involving Juta’s manga work are always some of my favorites, and this sequence of ridiculous events is immensely entertaining, especially once the cross-dressing starts. I couldn’t wait to turn the pages to find out what happened next.
(The publisher provided some of these books as review copies.)