Shojo Chibis: Otomen 12, Dawn of the Arcana 2, @Full Moon 2, Arisa 6, Saiunkoku 6

Otomen Book 12

by Aya Kanno, $9.99, Viz

Ah, if Otomen has returned, warmer weather must be on its way, since we saw the previous volume at the end of last summer. That’s appropriate, since this is a lighter book, better read in a balmy frame of mind.

Since Asuka’s mother has been cracking down at school, enforcing rigid gender roles, Asuka and his friends have escaped to a men-only baking class to avoid the pressure placed by living up to old-fashioned stereotypes. The panel where Asuka ponders how good life would be “if we didn’t have to run and hide… if we could tell people who we really are…” will strike a chord with most teens. Everyone has secrets they’re taught to be embarrassed about, and seeing a light-hearted take on how to be happier being yourself is a welcome escape from the worries.

Much of the book deals with Asuka’s discovery of the truth about his father, who’s been gone for much of his life. There’s a kidnapping, to force things even more dramatically, and the combination of pastry and criminals reminded me of Antique Bakery, in a good way. The sparse panels, full of full-face reaction shots, make for a quick page-turner.

Dawn of the Arcana Book 2

by Rei Toma, $9.99, Viz

The royal couple, married for political reasons, find themselves misunderstanding each other frequently. Prince Caesar tries to give his new wife a gift that would please her, but fancy clothes and a shopping trip don’t matter to Nakaba. The small incidents, simply told, are given more significance through the foreboding, “had I but known then”-style narration. We’re told that her happiness was short-lived, and she should have never have forgotten that she was living in an enemy kingdom.

We start getting hints of the melodrama as Nakaba begins having prophetic dreams, although she doesn’t always know how to interpret them. Meanwhile, her companion Loki confides in her his desire to overthrow the kingdom to free his people, even murdering the prince if necessary. So Nakaba, like a typical shojo heroine, founds herself torn between two pretty men — only the consequences are life-threatening in this historical fantasy.

She’s accused by the queen, confused by her roiling emotions for her husband, stupidly loyal to her assistant, struggling to understand her new powers, and finally, finding herself overwhelmed by stolen kisses. Girls should love it.

@Full Moon Book 2

by Sanami Matoh, $10.99, Kodansha Comics

Second and final volume of this series, but it’s a sequel to the two-volume Until the Full Moon series, originally brought to the U.S. by Broccoli Books in 2005 and republished last year by Kodansha.

It’s goofy. Marlo is a half-vampire, half-werewolf guy who becomes a girl under the full moon. She/He has married childhood friend David, who’s a doctor and also a vampire. However, in this book, little witch Mona has cast a spell keeping Marlo female, which frustrates her/him immensely.

The art is full with detail, costume, setting, and characters. There’s plenty to look at, which is good, since I wasn’t always sure I was keeping track properly of the various cast members and their schemes. (That’s my fault, for trying to start with what’s effectively the fourth book in the series, but that’s the one I had.) Still, I can see why this is appealing; the romantic scenes are hot, and the light-hearted tone is a welcome change from traumatized, brooding vamps.

The new element in this volume is stalker Ingrid kidnapping David, so Marlo has to find and get him back. That happens relatively quickly, so this is a good manga for readers who don’t like drawn-out plots. Every few pages, there’s something else happening or a new person introduced. With the misunderstandings and the crushes, it’s kind of like a really twisted Archie comic.

Arisa Book 6

by Natsumi Ando, $10.99, Kodansha Comics

Having missed a couple of books since I last read the series, I was hoping I’d be able to catch up, but apparently more happened there than I realized. However, the mystery doesn’t seem to have progressed any further.

I think there’s a disconnect between what I was hoping for with this series and what the author wants to do. I wanted to follow an actual mystery, with clues and progression on finding out who the King is; Ando seems to want to use the framework to tell stories about teen friendship without advancing our understanding of the underlying setup. Which is her right, of course, but it’s not the series I’m looking to read, because I’ve seen plenty of that already.

This volume tells the story of Shizuka, who has a bunch of the special King cellphones, and she struggles with how to use them. She’s after some kind of revenge, but Tsubasa thinks being friendly can defuse her. A bunch of characters then talk about friendship and whether it’s pretending or not. If you’re looking for a lot of emotional showdowns that don’t accomplish much, this is the series for you. I liked best the two bonus stories. One is a flashback to seeing the younger twins together; the other is a short in which the artist talks about taking a research trip.

The Story of Saiunkoku Book 6

by Sai Yukino and Kairi Yura, $9.99, Viz

These characters are really pretty, all the more so in the color two-page spread that opens the book. I’m glad I had that eye candy to tide me over, since the book opens with the conclusion of a fight I didn’t remember starting in the previous volume. Soon enough, though, that’s settled, and we’re back to Shurei’s quest to become a civil servant in a world that doesn’t believe females should be allowed in that role. With the help of the city’s leading courtesan, who gives her makeup lessons, because she is told to remember she’s still a woman.

However, passing the nation’s service exam is only the beginning. Performing well on a test doesn’t convince the bigots that she belongs in the work, and obstacles keep being placed in her way by those who hold grudges. Of course, she keeps a good attitude throughout, inspiring those who know her, and the Emperor continues to stand behind her and support her. It’s grueling just reading about what she’s put through, but her dedication is inspirational.

(The publishers provided review copies.)

2 Comments

  1. [...] to catch up when it’s been a while since I’ve read the previous book. (I reviewed the previous installment of Saiunkoku, as well as Dawn of the Arcana, in [...]

  2. […] 3, I was disagreeing with the author’s pacing and character choices. I checked back in at the mid-point of the series only to find it formulaic and […]

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