Comics Worth Reading » Manga Reviews http://comicsworthreading.com Independent Opinions on Comics of All Kinds Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:16:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 *What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 6 — Recommendedhttp://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/15/what-did-you-eat-yesterday-book-6-recommended/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/15/what-did-you-eat-yesterday-book-6-recommended/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 14:33:56 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37554 It’s so entertaining reading more about Kenji and Shiro’s relationship as it continues, with key moments involving food. Meals are such important family moments, and I love the emphasis on preparation and sharing of home cooking as a carrier of deep feeling, as well as the conversations the two men have over dinner.

My favorite scene of the entire series so far occurs in this volume, as the two spend time with another gay couple at a pickup baseball game. Shiro doesn’t have other gay friends, since his career as a lawyer (and his restrained personality) has kept him mostly closeted. He’s beginning to get to know this other couple, and to be more comfortable with being himself in public, although one of the friends is terribly rude when it comes to his bento choices.

The other, overly emotional man thinks “gay bentos have to look good!” so he’s made a cute, decorative lunch. Although Shiro’s bento is all brown, it’s much tastier — with fewer unusable leftovers and less work, demonstrating his cooking philosophy.

But first, Shiro and Kenji have an important showdown. Some readers have asked for more emphasis on the relationship, and they’ll love this chapter, as Kenji blatantly presents his jealousy of Shiro spending time alone with another guy. The two work it out, good to see, but more importantly, this scene allows Fumi Yoshinaga to demonstrate how beautifully she draws emotional reactions.

That isn’t the only compromise the couple makes, as we get to see Shiro celebrate his birthday in a way that will also make Kenji happy. Shiro also spends time with his housewife friend, who makes a key observation about how the two men handle money. It’s practical and yet touching, which sums up the series.

The food in the next-to-last chapter will give US readers an interesting perspective, as Shiro is gifted some amazing-looking steaks, but he says he’s “never cooked any” before, so he has to look up how to handle it. What he comes up with, with side dishes of potatoes, string beans, pickled vegetables, and cabbage-bacon soup, is a fascinating Japanese twist on a classic American meal.

I continue to recommend that Vertical get a knowledgeable cook to polish the translation when it comes to the recipes, since it’s laughable to read about “balls of pepper” (which I assume means peppercorns) and “a laurel leaf”, which we call a bay leaf. It is very cute, though, when Shiro, thinking through instructions to himself, punctuates several of them with “yum”. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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*Monster: The Perfect Edition Books 1 and 2 — Recommendedhttp://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/03/monster-the-perfect-edition-books-1-and-2-recommended/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/03/monster-the-perfect-edition-books-1-and-2-recommended/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 03:19:15 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37459 Monster originally ran from 1994-2001 in Japan, and Viz serialized it in English from 2006-2008. Those volumes, out of print, have been in demand for two reasons. First, author Naoki Urasawa is now better known in the US, winning a couple of Eisner Awards for 20th Century Boys and gathering a great deal of critical praise for Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka. Plus, Monster may become an HBO TV series.

So Viz has done the smart thing. They’re reprinting Monster in an upscale edition. The books are larger, matching the size of his other works in English; they have remastered pages and a new translation; and the volumes include color pages. Each contains the equivalent of two of the previous books, making for bigger reading chunks. They’re lovely.

The story is as involving as ever. Dr. Tenma is a promising young surgeon in Germany with a career on the rise. He’s also engaged to the daughter of the hospital director, who encourages him to think of his soon-to-improve position, because she likes the status. As part of playing the game, he’s asked to give up his research, work that might save lives, so he can ghost-write papers to make the director look better.

An early scene sums up the couple’s relationship, as Tenma tries to rationalize away his guilt at participating, unknowingly, in hospital politics, leading to the death of a poor man so a famous one could be saved, by saying, “I was following the director’s orders”. His fiancee responds, bluntly, “Some lives are worth more than others,” a chilling statement that haunts him.

That’s one reason, when ordered to leave a challenging operation on a young boy to save the life of a mayor whose funding is important to the hospital, he refuses — which ends up ruining his life. His promotion is rescinded, and his fiancee leaves him because his career has ended. However, nine years later, things have turned around for him, after the unexpected death of the director who blocked him.

He soon finds out why. The boy he saved turns out to be a serial killer. Tenma’s choice, while appearing morally preferable, has resulted in a number of other deaths. He gives up his work to search for this anonymous killer, trying to prevent more murders. He travels across Germany, looking for the now-young man and his twin sister. He wants to stop him to make up for saving the monster years ago.

Urasawa’s work is cinematic in its pacing, with excellent linework establishing the strong characters. His expressions of his characters are particularly revealing. Monster isn’t my favorite of his work — that would be Pluto, which is more tightly developed and with themes that resonate more with me. Monster is more of a thriller, and it spins out long for my taste, with some exaggerated plot developments. It’s not as thoughtful, but it’s more adrenaline-paced. Still, it’s worth a read.

I also have qualms with the base premise. Tenma does the right thing, and his life is ruined for it. I suppose the message is that no one can predict who’s going to turn out to be a psychopath, but it’s a bit random for my taste, attesting to an uncaring universe. Going back to the fiancee’s statement, the reader can’t help but think that Tenma’s life, with his ability to save others, IS worth more than that of Johan’s, since all he’s done is murder the undeserved. I don’t think we’re supposed to agree with her, though, since that privileged attitude is also what allows murderers to kill others.

Then again, the entire premise of a high-level doctor is that he can save lives, playing God by holding other’s fates in his hands. It’s certainly thought-provoking. Let’s see how I feel once I re-read the remaining reprints.

By book 2, Tenma is on the run. His asking questions about the various murders has tagged him as a suspect, and his Japanese identity in Germany makes him stand out. Johan is toying with him while Tenma tries to piece together what happened and where he was going, including investigating his childhood in an East German orphanage.

It’s fascinating to see how quickly everything Tenma valued, everything that made up his self-identity, can be replaced when he becomes a lone vigilante. He wanders, meeting a child whose most desired wish is simply a soccer ball and a country doctor trying to do what he can for the village patients. He’s not the only one after Johan; a white-supremacist organization is also looking for him to be the next Hitler.

Meanwhile, a police inspector who has sacrificed everything else in his life to solving murderers is on his trail, egged on by Tenma’s now-dissolute ex-fiancee. It’s rather like a 70s action show, with the big premise — Tenma hunts a murderer — allowing for smaller stories within the larger plot. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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*Prophecy Book 1 — Recommendedhttp://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/03/prophecy-book-1/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/03/prophecy-book-1/#comments Sat, 03 Jan 2015 19:59:59 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37455 Sometimes reviews work! I hadn’t taken notice of Prophecy until I saw Ash Brown’s review, which made it clear I would find the topic fascinating.

The figure on the cover of Prophecy is “Paperboy”, a vigilante who covers his head in newspaper when he goes online to promise revenge through underground video postings from internet cafes. All his victims were previously brought to public attention online, whether a company that caused a number of food poisoning cases or a guy who stupidly blamed a rape victim for being “easy”. Although the internet punished them with boycotts or personal attacks, Paperboy takes payback into the real world. Some of his revenge schemes are clever or ironic; others simply violent.

He’s being chased by a Tokyo police unit formed to specialize in internet crime. As the book opens, they’re arresting a junior high kid who’s been accused of uploading pirated video games. He thinks of himself as some kind of fighter for freedoms, but he’s quickly shown how misguided his self-justification is, as those who took advantage of his offerings quickly turn on him once he gets in trouble, laughing at his rationalizations. The attention and affection of an online group are fickle things.

The leader of this cyber investigation unit is a young, pretty detective who’s most noted for being hard as nails and remarkably outspoken. I’m not sure she’s going to be able to achieve her aim, that of preventing Paperboy’s online fans from continuing to grow. She’s concerned they’re going to get out of control — and unspokenly, challenge the social order by supporting individual violence outside the established structure to bring justice, no matter how damaging.

Tetsuya Tsutsui tackles remarkably modern themes within this structure, including social network information sharing, online mobs, mass peer pressure, how online anonymity affects behavior, the desire to have one’s non-mainstream voice heard, and the underemployment of a technologically educated age group. For a story based on computers, he also makes it visually interesting. Similar to a procedural TV show, there are lots of close-ups of emotional people making dramatic statements. Everyone’s attitude is exaggerated, although they’re all also based in authentic beliefs and motivations.

I found it particularly affecting how one character’s background, as a temp programmer who was made promises about permanent employment his boss never intends to keep, reflects so many of the problems in today’s economy. Although one wouldn’t go to Paperboy’s extremes, the motivation is understandable.

Prophecy is only three volumes, as you can see from these Japanese covers at the Vertical Tumblr. I kind of like the all-yellow version of the original cover to volume 1.

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The Garden of Wordshttp://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/01/the-garden-of-words/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/01/the-garden-of-words/#comments Fri, 02 Jan 2015 04:20:40 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37434 A boy in his first year of high school takes shelter on days when it rains in a park gazebo. He sketches shoes and dreams of being a designer of ladies’ footwear. His family is moving apart without him, with his mother spending her time with a younger boyfriend and his big brother moving in with his girlfriend.

On those mornings when he goes to the park, he has company — an older woman playing hooky from work who drinks beer and eats chocolate in the shelter. They strike up a conversation, and he finds himself able to share things with her no one else in his life wants to hear. She seems intrigued by someone who’s still got future choices ahead of him, as a way of escaping her own worries.

Either that description intrigues you, or you’re thinking, “and? what do they DO?” If the latter better fits you, I don’t think this is the story for you, because I found the appeal of The Garden of Words to be in its creation of mood. It’s a comfortable thing to read curled up indoors, safe from the weather.

The events it portrays are necessarily transitory, with its pages capturing life-changing moments bound to end. The two, mismatched as they are, find inspiration in each other temporarily. I found myself thinking about people I’d barely known who still had an influence on my life, about being open to interactions with other people, about how memories become connected to places and moments and elements like the weather.

The one thing that occasionally marred my entering into the poetic dream was the lettering. It’s computerized, and there are times when the words don’t fit the original balloons, bumping up against the edges or parsed into breaks that don’t match English phrasing. It doesn’t aim for elegance the same way the other elements of the book do.

Also typical of Vertical manga, there are no translation notes, so I had to look up what a tanka (similar to a haiku) was. One of these classical poems plays a substantial role in the underlying theme and provides a hint as to why she’s not going to work. Her past dovetails surprisingly with his motivations.

The Garden of Words is a lovely stand-alone story that I suspect one can come to at different times in one’s life and find different sympathies and resonances.

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Drug & Drop Book 1http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/01/drug-drop-book-1/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/01/drug-drop-book-1/#comments Fri, 02 Jan 2015 02:19:57 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37431 Following up on their re-release of Legal Drug, Dark Horse next week puts out the CLAMP sequel Drug & Drop.

It’s just like the first series (although promised to continue, unlike the aborted first run), with the addition of “many crossover references to the CLAMP universe.” That’s what drove me away from their work previously — I got enough of that when I read superhero comics — but I admit, it’s fun to see Watanuki from xxxHOLiC requesting the boys for their latest mission.

Our heroes are Kazahaya, who’s got an ability to have visions when grasping objects and prophetic dreams, and the bulkier Rikuo, his roommate. They work at a drugstore, but their boss tends to send them on errands that involve spirit investigations. They spat and bicker, but Rikuo protects Kazahaya when it’s important.

All the things I expect from CLAMP are here: Hints of boys’ love, as the two guys are thrown physically together and drawn face-to-face. Elliptical stories with supernatural overtones. Dramatic panels showing spirit figures in distinctive black-and-white designs. Prefiguring hints of doom to come — in this case, lots of blood-soaked images — that may or may not turn into something down the road. Self-sacrifice to save a friend.

I most enjoyed a couple of everyday scenes with the characters, such as the one where the two guys and their boss work together to prevent some giggling schoolgirls from taking and posting pictures of the guys to keep their presence a secret. But those types of interactions aren’t the focus of the series, so I’m looking for it to be something it’s not. CLAMP fans, on the other hand, will welcome a new continuing series to ponder over. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Barakamon Book 1http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/01/barakamon-book-1/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2015/01/01/barakamon-book-1/#comments Thu, 01 Jan 2015 19:54:58 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37428 I had the wrong impression of Barakamon. I’d heard it compared once too often to Yotsuba&!, which I adore, but I suspect that’s just because there’s a smart-alec kid co-starring. The tone is very different. In my opinion, a better comparison to Barakamon would be Green Acres: high-powered city guy moves to the country and learns the virtue of relationships with a variety of rural character types.

Handa is a talented calligrapher who’s been overcome by the stress of competitions in the city, so he’s moved to a small island village to recover his spirit in solitude. His work has been dull and conformist, and when told so, he attacked the messenger, a respected director of the company, so he has a lot to process. And atone for.

Naru is quite the, as the first chapter title has it, “energetic child”. She’s irrepressible, curious, and outspoken. She’s been hanging out in the formerly empty house Handa rents, so the two are thrown together. He keeps throwing her out (literally), but she keeps coming back. Like a sickness, she’s impossible to get rid of, but she provides naive wisdom and inspiration.

The series is billed as a comedy, but the humor is hit or miss. I didn’t find any of it very funny, personally, but that’s because Naru wore on me quickly. The most appealing part, to me, were the images of the natural setting and island life. That was refreshing to the spirit.

As Handa moves in, he quickly learns about the willingness of neighbors to help strangers. He meets more kids at the village school and gets roped into babysitting. He makes a friend, the no-good son of the woman who makes food for him, whom he inspires into working harder through his own dedication.

The last chapter ends on a high note, with the village coming together for “mochi-picking”, a kind of dedication ceremony that involves throwing wrapped rice cakes at everyone in town. It’s an event that brings everyone together and reminds Handa that one doesn’t have to be the best to enjoy participating. Recovering that love of activity for its own sake, regardless of whether one “wins”, is an important life lesson to him and the reader. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Viz Chibis: Meteor Prince, Happy Marriage?! 9, My Love Story!! 3http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/31/viz-chibis-meteor-prince-happy-marriage-9-my-love-story-3/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/31/viz-chibis-meteor-prince-happy-marriage-9-my-love-story-3/#comments Thu, 01 Jan 2015 02:52:18 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37424 (Note: Chibi means “small person” and is used to describe the cute, super-deformed figures used to humorous purpose in manga. I use it to mean short, capsule reviews.)

My Love Story!! Book 3

story by Kazune Kawahara; art by Aruko; adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane
Previously recommended Book 2

I continue to adore this cute and happy series. Even when events become exaggerated — as here, where the young couple go picnicking and end up trapped in the wilderness after falling off a cliff — the love between gorilla-ish Takeo and fairy-ish Yamato is inspiring and heart-warming. Their innocence is adorable. Yamato’s friends assume that the two have lied to their parents so they can spend the night together, but the sincere young couple is more concerned with each making sure the other is happy. They’re so encouraging and optimistic, like a paired version of Yotsuba. Instead of being fearful at their stay outdoors overnight, they appreciate how much better they can see the stars away from the city, and Takeo enjoys reassuring Yamato he’ll protect her.

The second chapter takes on the classic manga trope of the beach trip. Everyone’s obsessing over what to wear — the boys want to see the girls in their swimsuits, and Yamato wants to look cute for Takeo. The problem is that Yamato and Takeo hilariously freak out when they see each other in swimsuits. Then the couple tackle jealousy, when an old friend of Takeo turns up, and plan for a college future together. That’s also the chapter where Takeo’s parents meet Yamato and go overboard showing how happy they are.

It’s the small touches that entertain me, whether it’s a panel of Takeo looming over Yamato, waving his arms around to keep her from being bitten by mosquitos, or the scene cuts to Takeo’s parents, totally unconcerned that their son is still out because “he’ll be home eventually.” My Love Story!! isn’t like any other manga I read, and I like it all the more for that.

Happy Marriage?! Book 9

by Maki Enjoji; adapted by Nancy Thistlethwaite
Previously reviewed Book 7

Chiwa has been attacked recently by someone unknown. It could be someone from her husband’s family company who wants to get rid of him and take control. It could be his ex-girlfriend, president of a rival company. Either way, it provides some important drama to give this story, which has been spinning wheels for a while, a jump start. It also shows how Chiwa is different from his previous entanglements — Hokuto cares about what happens to her. He’s not able to let her go and focus on his work.

The next chapter is a charming holiday story, with the couple temporarily saddled with taking care of a little boy on a Christmas cruise. It provides an entertaining potential look into the future by seeing how they’d interact as a family, complete with selfish kid who inadvertently resembles Hokuto. The following chapter tackles family in the opposite direction, as Hokuto gets news that his father has taken a turn for the worse in the hospital.

Unfortunately, that inserts yet another secret between the couple, as the question of who killed Hokuto’s mother once again comes to the forefront. That gives Chiwa plenty of excuse for worried monologues wondering what she should do to protect him. “Talk to him” never seems to come to the top of the list, unfortunately. The volume ends on a cliffhanger that should drive more conversation in the next book, since another life is threatened.

Whenever I finish a volume, I wonder to myself why I keep reading. The answer is that there’s a comfort in formula. I know Chiwa and Hokuto’s relationship is immature, and I want to see them grow closer together. Plus, the next book is the last, so maybe the questions and mysteries will finally be answered.

Meteor Prince Book 1

by Meca Tanaka

It’s silly comedy, but nothing wrong with that. Hako is the Queen of Bad Luck, known for having things fall on her. Today, a naked guy falls out of the sky and says he’s an interstellar prince and she should be his queen. They’re made to mate with each other, soul mates according to his culture. She refuses, saying humans need to be in love first, so Io hangs around to learn what that means. I get the feel of a modern-day Lum: Urusei Yatsura, with a wacky alien who loses his clothes and engages in romantic hijinks.

Although a typically cheerful shojo heroine, Hako has a quiet sorrow, since when she was younger, she was called cursed and teased by other kids. She’s afraid of those she gets close too winding up hurt. Having a guy interested in her despite her “curse” fulfills dreams she didn’t even realize she had. He has enhanced healing, can grow wings after kissing birds, shape-shifts, and has other superpowers capable of protecting them both. It’s hard to disagree with his planet’s idea that the two are meant for each other.

He does exaggerated things just to see her smile and addresses her fears without her having to speak about them. It’s a charming, childlike view of love that is nevertheless comforting. Although the series tackles the expected stereotypical events — a beach trip, watching fireworks in a yukata — Io’s naive ignorance gives them all a fresh feel.

I think this is only a two-volume series, and I’ll definitely check out the next to see how this star-crossed couple manages to work things out.

(The publisher provided review copies.)

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*A Bride’s Story Book 6 — Recommendedhttp://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/31/a-brides-story-book-6-recommended/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/31/a-brides-story-book-6-recommended/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 19:40:19 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37421 It’s an anniversary for Amir and Karluk, the couple married in the first volume of A Bride’s Story. He’s only 12 years old, and he’s proud to still be growing taller. That leads to the need for new clothes, which drives the couple to a family council, as they struggle with how much he wants to be treated like a man and how much he still needs to be taken care of. The couple’s feelings clash, but at the root, they care deeply for each other.

That’s just a prologue to the main tale here, which involves preparations for war. The life of a nomad is difficult, and in an early chapter, author Kaoru Mori illustrates how so by showing us a gorgeous young man watching over a herd of horses as he struggles to find them enough grazing land. It’s a mood piece, as he rescues a foal and discusses the situation with relatives, but it provides important context for the upcoming events.

Those events turn on Amir, as her relatives (and tribe leaders) want to retrieve her from her current marriage and give her to a different band, one more advantageous to her tribe. To them, she’s only a pawn, an object to trade. But since she refused to come with them previously, instead throwing her lot in with her new family, they now plan to take her by force … and wipe out the village to take their land.

Mori’s amazingly beautiful, detailed drawings are the immediate appeal of the series, since they are noticeable as soon as a reader opens the covers. (Particularly when it comes to the embroidered costumes and textiles that demonstrate wealth in a nomadic culture.) However, that attention to detail extends to the storytelling, as Mori shows the small elements of the migratory society they’re part of and paces her accounts in a more leisurely fashion suitable to the more seasonal, long-lasting way of life she portrays. She’s particularly skilled with facial expressions, which tell the story as much as her text.

There’s an intriguing subtext to contemplate in the battle, as one of the three tribes has acquired a stock of weapons, including rifles and cannons. Their reliance on technology that anyone can operate is subtly contrasted with practiced skill of the more traditional warriors. Brute force only takes one so far, particularly when one relies on it too much. It’s also marred by its use by a leader with no ethics or scruples. The smarter, old-fashioned fighters pay more attention to the small signs around them and as a result are able to outwit the more modern bullies. Plus, from an author’s point of view, it’s more exciting to feature classic, individual heroes.

Unfortunately, this is the last book for a while, since we’ve now caught up with what’s been published in Japan. However, since they have previously been released yearly, there’s hope for a new volume in 2015. Mori provides a short comic at the end about making the story, where she bemoans drawing so many horses in the battle and talks about plans to show more of Smith (a favorite character) in the next book. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Case Closed Book 52http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/31/case-closed-book-52/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/31/case-closed-book-52/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 16:16:45 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37417 It’s been a long time — five years and nearly 20 volumes — since I last checked in with Case Closed. It launched in the US in 2004, and it’s quite impressive to see how it’s still going strong. Although this is the latest book out here, there are 85 volumes in Japan so far, where it began in 1994.

Book 52 was a great choice to try again, since all the mysteries are self-contained, starting and ending in this book, and since they’re relatively short, the four included here provide a good range of emotion. Plus, pop culture fans will particularly enjoy the first case, set at the premiere of the latest “Star Blade” movie. Unlike the real-life version, this fictional franchise includes a “dark sword master”, a “swordsman of the light”, AND a “warrior woman of the flame”. (I cheered to see a woman included in the three major characters. It’s also neat to see how Jimmy’s crush Rachel is capable of defending herself.)

Jimmy Kudo is a skilled detective who’s been turned into a six-year-old. Why and how isn’t important, since it’s now very clear that that plot device won’t be significantly addressed until the end of the series, which is likely many years in the future. His youthful appearance was more of a plot device in earlier books, where he had to figure out ways to get the cops to listen to him. Here, as events move quickly, the situations are different. Either Jimmy prevents a crime before it happens or confronts a villain himself or simply asks leading questions in front of the police officials, who are often smart enough to pick up on the clues he indicates.

Also present in half of these stories is Kudo’s posse, a group of real kids he hangs out with. They’re cute, particularly when excited by the new movie they’re eager to see. That’s where they meet a super-fan, standing in line with them, but they soon notice a few discrepancies in his behavior. Luckily, they’re able to bring about a reconciliation before anything drastic takes place. The third story also involves a collector, as a novelist who’s been employing a ghostwriter tries to get rid of the person who could reveal his secret. When the kids, playing baseball, happen to break the collector’s window, they find a body and bring the whole scheme down.

The second case has detectives impersonating a couple getting married, since they’ve been threatened by a murderous thief. Although there’s plenty of danger, comedy comes a close second, particularly if one knows the supporting cast. The final case is more poetic, as spoiled teenager Serena has become infatuated with a soap opera called “Winter Maple Leaf”. It features a key romantic scene with a red handkerchief left in a maple tree. They travel to the grove where the show was filmed, only to discover many other fans have had similar ideas, leading to a grove full of handkerchiefs. When the original guide is murdered, the tokens take on new meaning.

The mysteries move quickly and are tricky to figure out, or almost impossible for American readers, particularly when a clue turns on a character writing his name in katakana instead of kanji. I enjoy just following the investigation and the adventures. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Honey Blood Books 1-2, Tale Zerohttp://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/23/honey-blood-books-1-2-tale-zero/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/23/honey-blood-books-1-2-tale-zero/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 02:42:55 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37399 Honey Blood is a strange choice to translate. It’s only two volumes (with a bonus book of short stories), because it got cancelled in Japan, and its plot is both very familiar and sadly unresolved in its short length. The author, Miko Mitsuki, isn’t well-known here — I couldn’t find any mention of anything else she’s done that’s been translated — so the question arises: why this series?

The answer seems to be “vampires” (as you might guess from the title and cover art). Vampires in moody, languid poses, and supernatural romance.

Young women are being attacked and losing blood. The rumor going around school is that it’s a vampire. Hinata doesn’t believe it, but then she meets her next-door neighbor, Junya, author of a very popular vampire romance novel series.

She finds the whole idea of his work silly, but he annoys and fascinates her by such remarks as “How could a mere child possibly understand?” and “You’re a virgin, aren’t you?” She tries reading his book, which tells her that kisses are contracts for vampires. A kiss means that the vampire will die when his love does, removing his immortality. This is twisted, linking love with death, but the kind of overblown drama that fires teen imaginations.

Hinata keeps wondering if he’s a vampire, while he (supposedly twenty-something but dressing and acting as if from another era) keeps making plays for her. It’s very stereotypical in how she blushes and pulls away but keeps winding up in his embrace, as though a shy schoolgirl was so irresistible. (A bit creepy if you stop to think about it, too, but catnip for the teen girl audience.)

The romance is not particularly believable, since it comes out of nowhere, and the mysticism surrounding the idea of kissing is juvenile. The series is rated for Teens, and I can imagine them enjoying the atmosphere and the highly dramatic vows of love. Most other readers will find it overdone. The end of book one has a bonus short about the author’s conflicts with her editor, spelling out how the series will end quickly (and hinting at why).

In book two, the couple is officially dating, which includes picking out a more modern wardrobe for Junya, as his editor (and former lover) slaps Hinata and worries Junya will be thought of as a pervert. She’s my favorite. I’d like this manga more if it were about her, since she has a more reasonable, less cliched attitude. (But then it might be too close to Midnight Secretary.)

Instead, we get Hinata and Junya bathing together with her cringing the entire time. This volume also introduces a rival who wants to use Hinata to get back at Junya and goes into more detail about Junya’s previous love (whom Hinata happens to look just like). I found it all tiresome to get through, all the more so knowing that all the jealousy and plots couldn’t go much of anywhere in the short space available.

I cheered Hinata whenever she decided that the best thing to do was to talk to Junya about her concerns (she has found out about the appearance resemblance), but too quickly, thanks to someone else’s meddling, she goes back to simply worrying on her own. Or she misinterprets a gesture and jumps to conclusion, all typical elements of the “I need to fill space and spin out events regardless of how stupid the plot becomes” school of story structure.

There’s not much of a conclusion; the final chapter simply restates the questions raised throughout the series. We also get a bonus short with the rival.

Tale Zero, due out next February, reprints the original one-shot manga that served as a kind of pilot for the series. In it, Hinata is a fan of the writer next door, instead of someone who questions the premise of his work at first. She pursues him, although she’s still written off as naive and too young, and the order of events differs from the later series.

Two more Honey Blood one-shots follow, then two stand-alone stories by the artist. In the first story with Hinata and Junya, she wants to do date things during summer vacation, not paying attention to his limitations. His sacrifice to give her what she wants almost damages him, leading her to make a sacrifice of her own, reinforcing their dependence on each other.

In the other, the two watch the filming of a movie based on Junya’s novel. He’s jealous of her crush on the leading man, and the two’s meddling leads to increasingly ridiculous decisions, as they consider casting Junya instead. Still, I enjoyed these two stories more than the main series, since they were more playful when it came to the concept.

The other two stories are school romances. One features a guy who’s a talented makeup artist and a tomboy who learns to be “cuter and more ladylike” through his help. The other has two kids who grew up next door to each other realizing their more adult feelings for each other when a bus accident happens. None are particularly memorable or will stay with me much beyond reading. (The publisher provided review copies.)

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Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma Book 3http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/22/food-wars-shokugeki-no-soma-book-3/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/22/food-wars-shokugeki-no-soma-book-3/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 04:08:03 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37379 The cooking competition manga Food Wars kicks into high gear with all the students heading out to a luxury resort hotel for a training camp and a new challenge.

The “Friendship and Team-Building Cooking Camp” in Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma Book 3 has big consequences for the aspiring culinary students — if they don’t pass the assignments, they will immediately be sent back to school to be expelled.

The challenges are set and judged by school alumni, making for another set of bizarre personalities with huge egos making snap judgments about who stays and who goes. This is classic shonen, with an annoying but talented hero, a motley collection of friends and competitors, a few girls to show off their bodies, and a nice, shy girl for the hero to eventually get involved with. Here, that’s Megumi, whose “lovely, rustic beauty” captivates two of the elite chefs immediately. Her challenge is to gain confidence in her skills.

For what it is, it’s well-done and surprisingly involving. As with many American superhero comics, it’s easiest to read if you can tolerate the fan service, but it’s minimal this time around, with only a few panels of visual depictions of the food experience. For some reason, tasting good food makes the women who do it incredibly busty. However, in this book, there’s also a naked, heavily muscled man, for some kind of balance.

The challenge our hero Soma first participates in is a simple but surprising one — to make a Japanese dish using only what they can find on the grounds (which includes a river and woods) in two hours. Most everyone goes for grilled fish, the obvious choice, but that bores the judge. An Italian hotshot who holds a grudge against Soma manages to prepare an outstanding duck dish, but Soma thinks more creatively and surprises everyone.

Like Soma, the half-Italian kid gained much of his experience working in the family restaurant, demonstrating the virtue of hands-on work over classroom learning. And he’s able to translate his home cuisine into a Japanese version. Soma realizes that having a good challenger is a valuable learning experience, while the other boy has too much ego involved to gain the necessary wisdom from the pairing.

The sequences of the cooking are impressively illustrated, with plenty of action flair. The recipes for the focus dishes are also included, although with the emphasis on native Japanese flavors, finding the ingredients in the US might be a struggle.

Megumi gets more attention here, too, with her country background having an unexpected benefit, as shown on the cover. She works well paired with Soma, with his brashness balanced by her quiet knowledge, but in a solo challenge, she’s set up to fail by a sadistic chef. In a no-win situation, she has a clever solution, but it offends the judge’s ego. The resolution will be revealed in the next book.

Also included in Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma Book 3 is artist Shun Saeki’s debut work, a one-shot called “Your and My Romance Counseling” that takes up a quarter of the book. A boy has a crush on a fellow student, but she’s also an amateur model, so he’s convinced she’ll never notice him. It’s rather predictable but a bit sweet, too. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Mail, From the Artist of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Servicehttp://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/21/mail-from-the-artist-of-the-kurosagi-corpse-delivery-service/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/21/mail-from-the-artist-of-the-kurosagi-corpse-delivery-service/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 01:47:01 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37366 Although it’s horror, I really enjoy The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, because it’s attractively drawn, and the twists in the stories give me something to focus on beyond the occasional gory or scary element. While I wait for it to return, I decided to check out the earlier Mail. It’s a three-book series written and drawn by Housui Yamazaki, the artist of Kurosagi, and it’s got a similar “ghost investigator” premise.

The books, originally released 2006-2007, are out of print, but Dark Horse Digital has made them available at $5.99 each or $12.99 for the bundle of all three. That’s the avenue I suggest, since if you enjoy one, you’ll likely enjoy them all.

They reminded me of the classic suspense anthology comics from the 70s. Each story is stand-alone, tied together only by detective Akiba. He shoots ghosts with a special gun, Kagutsuchi, named after a fire god. The weapon dispatches the departed, affecting only the dead, which are sucked into his spelled bullets.

Most times, Akiba introduces himself and then the story, much like the horror comic hosts did back in the day. He often knows more about the situation than the haunted, whether from sources or research or mystical powers of his own isn’t specified. He’s the reassuring presence that keeps the stories from being too scary or haunting, since he can make things right and send the spirits away. Sometimes, he’s also an action hero, as when he needs to rescue a woman trapped in a haunted car or he rides a jet ski to rescue girls at a beach haunted by war dead.

The ghosts, when shot, sometimes expand before drawing in on themselves, reminding me of a ganglion or the aliens from Parasyte. The series is for mature readers, mostly due to nudity with a little violence. The series opens with a nude photo shoot at a river, where they find a headless body. A later story in book three features a woman who gets cell phone calls from a ghost, and since she’s first talking on the phone in the bath, she spends the whole story naked.

That first chapter feels like Yamazaki finding his way, as Akiba is more playful than in later installments, where more time is spent with the haunted. Sometimes, in later chapters, he’s little more than a plot device to rescue the living. A few chapters — the end of book one and the beginning of book three — give us insight into how Akiba came into this role, as he was once blind. (That second story is illustrated, since Akiba is blind, with spooky white lines on black pages, a powerful effect.)

The title comes from the idea that spooky happenings are “mail from the afterworld”, that the strange stuff is a way for the dead to communicate. Later on, Akiba ruminates more on how ghosts have a very long time to hold grudges, as the stories turn more towards people who deserve to be haunted, as with the driver who runs down a girl and speeds away. The child’s doll, saying, “It hurts”, starts following him around.

Some of the ghosts are just childishly selfish, as when a deceased twin wants her sister to join her, or a girl is playing hide-and-seek with unwilling apartment building residents, or lonely women killed in a disaster want another friend. Sometimes the ghosts possess people, as when a vengeful woman attacks the baby of her crush and his wife.

There’s no real ending, just a last exorcism, or Akiba’s guest appearance in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 4.

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Say I Love You Book 4http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/20/say-i-love-you-book-4/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/20/say-i-love-you-book-4/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 14:31:39 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37351 Following on from the previous book, Yamato is modeling, and quite successful at it, which makes Mei worry. She’s jealous, not of another girl, but of his time, that he’s spending less of it with her, since he’s got photo shoots

She makes the mistake of not answering honestly when he asks her opinion about the work. She doesn’t want to control him, so she wants to allow him to make her own decisions, but if she doesn’t tell him the truth, he can’t know what she’s thinking. Unlike other manga, though, this series doesn’t feel like she’s doing it just so the author can play with the plot longer. It feels emotionally honest, as though she doesn’t want to be the bad guy by denying Yamato something she thinks he enjoys.

Of course, that’s more a reflection of her desires. She’s never been popular or praised, so she thinks an activity that brings lots of fan mail would be a good thing. Yamato doesn’t seem to be as involved in it, though. He’s a lot more easy-going, and I suspect he doesn’t want to put up with Megumi’s pouting if he didn’t go along.

Megumi is the aspiring model who dragged him into posing with her. She wants him, and she complicates events by being devious about it, as when she asks him over for dinner just because she “totally messed up and made enough curry for ten.” Yamato, as a nice guy, thinks little of the invitation. He’s not very self-reflective, so it takes friends to point out to him how this might appear.

Over this volume, the confusion plays out, with Mei struggling with feelings she hasn’t had before. I love it when she says, finally talking with Yamato, “I don’t like feeling anxious, either. To be honest, these emotions I’m feeling are such a pain in the neck.” That blunt authenticity is what makes her someone I want to keep reading about.

There’s also a new character introduced, a boy who was previously bullied and wants revenge, which allows author Kanae Haruki to contrast his attitude with Mei’s. Haruki also provides an afterword about her own experience with bullying.

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*What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 5 — Recommendedhttp://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/20/what-did-you-eat-yesterday-book-5-recommended/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/20/what-did-you-eat-yesterday-book-5-recommended/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:50:41 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37348 This blend of cooking advice, home meals, and everyday personal interactions continues to impress and entertain. The first chapter illustrates this mix, as Shiro and his housewife friend have shared a deal on cabbage. She’s comfortable with him, since they have bargain-hunting in common, but her husband sees him first as a gay man, then as a person, as can be seen by his clueless attempt to pair Shiro off with another friend just because they’re both gay. Along the way, they make coleslaw (as one does when one has too much cabbage).

The little observations tickle me. For instance, early on, Shiro says to his friend, “It impresses me that you have such a big pot. You really are a homemaker.” It seems weird to mention, but it’s precisely those kinds of items that we possess, or don’t, that helps define our roles. Characters are made by what tools they use.

When I’m not waxing philosophic over the cookware, I’m laughing, as when Kenji has an incredibly polite showdown with a grocery store clerk over sale items. Or when he meets a friend’s boyfriend, who isn’t at all how he was described. Or they debate how Shiro’s tastes aren’t typically gay. Similarly, the relationship items aren’t always presented front and center, instead demonstrated with subtlety, making them more realistic.

Seeing the two, Shiro and Kenji, dining together reinforces their relationship. I’m touched when Kenji off-handedly notes that a particular side is “the one I said I liked before.” One imagines Shiro noting that away to make his partner happy. It’s over their meals that we also find out the important things in their lives, as when Kenji brings up his absent father and the effect it had on him and his mother.

Another touching moment occurs when Shiro goes home for the holidays. (Timely!) His parents struggle with him, not because they object, but because he doesn’t fit into their original dreams of what their life would be like as grandparents. It’s difficult to balance the tricky conflict — they’re not telling him to be someone else, but they do have a right to need time to adjust. Of course, Shiro and his mother bond over cooking and sharing recipes. It’s a touching note that I found just right for the series.

I’m also impressed by Shiro’s technique. I’ve learned, in this book, to filet a fish for tataki (which I had to look up, since the series continues to avoid endnotes — it means a way of serving the food chopped), and I am reminded how important it is to have tasty and balanced side dishes. I haven’t found a recipe yet I’m ready to try — mostly due to lack of ingredients found easily here — but I do love dreaming about how they would taste. I’ve come closest with the banana pound cake Shiro makes in this book as a host gift, if only I liked banana.

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Manga Dogs Book 2http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/19/manga-dogs-book-2/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/19/manga-dogs-book-2/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 00:22:25 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37344 At the end of the previous volume, manga artist Kanna had been kidnapped by a wannabe. More than her life, her work was in danger as her pages were taken hostage, preventing her from making her deadline. Of course, she’s rescued — the advantage of a series made up of short (ten-page) chapters is that things move very quickly.

The teacher of the manga class (made up of Kanna, the three aspiring guys, and the new character) is herself an aspiring manga artist, but one that’s portrayed pathetically, due to her age and lack of accomplishment after all that time. The teacher decides to take the class to Comiket, the world’s largest comic book event, so she can sell her dojinshi. The new setting allows for a whole new set of complications, including cosplay and Kanna trying to protect the naive boys from being exposed to yaoi.

The characters are static in this series, the better to allow the plot twists to vary for sitcom-like comedy. The high points of a manga career are moved through quickly, as Kanna gets her first collected volume in this book as well as appearing at her first signing, all of which cause more tension and humorous desperation. The guys show some value here, coming up with a ridiculous plot that somehow works out, because everyone is oblivious to anything but their immediate wants.

When Kanna gets a love letter, we’re told by the author Ema Toyama that “manga artists are a life form that metabolize the bad events in their lives and excrete them as manga story points.” That makes the whole book seem a bit self-referential — as Kanna struggles with deadlines and ridiculous page counts demanded, once envisions Toyama feeling similarly. Fans and the reader response card rankings are continuing themes, with this book’s cliffhanger involving the ever-present threat of cancellation.

The book ends with the first chapter of “Teach Me (heart) Buddha!”, Kanna’s series about a young girl trying not to fall in love with buddhist gods reincarnated as cute young men, so we can see how many areas she needs to improve. The premise is silly, the characters weirdly exaggerated, and the plots artificial. That’s the point. Good manga is hard, even if it is making fun of itself.

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*Ooku: The Inner Chambers Book 10 — Recommendedhttp://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/15/ooku-the-inner-chambers-book-10-recommended/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/15/ooku-the-inner-chambers-book-10-recommended/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:44:47 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37320 Ooku: The Inner Chambers Book 10 feels like a final volume. The cover, a group shot with a white background, differs from the stark single-figure-against-black theme of the previous books in the series, and there’s an incredibly valuable extra included that wraps together many of the previous events. It’s a family tree showing all the shoguns and their key retainers that makes me want to reread the series, now that I better understand the relationships. I wish we’d seen this much earlier, to use as a reference, but I’m sure it was thought to reveal too much about upcoming twists.

I think Ooku: The Inner Chambers is still ongoing in Japan, so maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but this book catches up with what’s been released there so far. Regardless, it’s wonderful that Viz has been so loyal to this series. It’s always been a difficult sale to English readers, since it’s an alternate-history fantasy steeped in Japanese knowledge. Americans in particular don’t have a good understanding of what it’s like to be part of a country with so many centuries of history behind it. (We only have two, and not even 50 leaders.) I’m sure the series reads differently to those who already had some idea of the various rulers being rewritten as secret women. For me, I know nothing about what will happen, keeping the leadership maneuvers fresh and surprising.

Ooku postulates a terribly vicious Redface Pox that kills only men. The result is a country where women take over, although they take male names, and the men are rare properties to be sheltered and protected. The ruling shogun has her own harem, kept in the Inner Chambers. The book tackles three main types of story: 1) the political machinations determining who will rule and what they will do; 2) the life of the men in the Ooku, with plots among them as they struggle for their own rankings; and 3) later in the series, the struggle to investigate and fight the illness.

That last plotline, which takes center stage in this book with important discoveries (another reason this volume has an air of finality), centers on Gennai, a talented investigator and creative thinker who travels the country disguised as a man so he can better find out more about how to treat this malady. His work contributes to the formation of a vaccination program, leading to the first real hope the country has had in fighting the pox.

I haven’t discussed the art, because anyone who knows the work of Fumi Yoshinaga knows how skilled she is. Her characters are beautifully delineated, with an elegance that comes through regardless of the many and varied emotions they demonstrate. Her storytelling, winding together all these various threads, from large-scale country-wide events to individual passions, is masterful.

Others have complained about the tone used for the translation, with the language given an aura of age with “thou”s and formal phrasing. I like it. It gives the reader a reminder of the historical nature of the events that fits with the formal costumes and imperial nature of the setting. It also suits the Shakespearean feel of some of the plots, as when family members love the same woman, leading to frustration from social rules, lovers kept apart, and eventually suicide.

Jealousy also drives a key event for Gennai, set upon and attacked a way that ruins the rest of his life. No one in these stories is ever truly happy. Restrictions and demands prevent most couples from staying together, and political plots lead to poisonings. Yet the country continues. Ooku: The Inner Chambers is an amazing series like nothing else out there, strongest in its insights into the universality of love and desire. I’m very glad to have read it.

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Yukarism Book 1http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/11/yukarism-book-1/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/11/yukarism-book-1/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 14:28:10 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37283 Chika Shiomi’s previous manga in English, Rasetsu and Yurara, provide a hint of what you’ll get here. They’re both supernaturally tinged romances involving well-meaning young women involved in forces beyond their control.

Yukarism starts with an explanation of Yukari’s unique situation. He “was born without forgetting his previous life”, so he’s become quite popular for writing novels about the Edo Period that feel incredibly realistic. He’s able to do so without research because he previously lived then, in the Pleasure District, and he remembers bits of his life there, including his death.

When he encounters Mahoro, a fan of his writing, he feels as though he instantly knows her. That’s because she’s the reincarnation of his best friend and assistant back then. Her presence leads him to recognize more about his memories, at which point we see incidents from the past (often portrayed humorously, as Yukari doesn’t have all the knowledge he needs to fully become who he was back then). And I liked her statement of why she’s such a huge fan of his work:

His writing style and characters are so elegant! I don’t know why, but they warm me deep inside. He creates this world that feels so nostalgic and irresistible.

That could be seen as a statement about the intent of this shojo manga. The series has lovely-looking people, a languorous pace, and moody hints of revelations to come. They may not be particularly surprising — soon, it seems, everyone Yukari knows will turn out to have been hanging out together back in history — but they’re enjoyable. The pacing, focused on the moment, is a nice change from comic series over-stuffed with revelations. I’m curious to see where Shiomi takes events, since her cast are now living two stories (present-day and past) and her historical images are attractive portraits of a far-away time.

As a side note, Shiomi puts in occasional short strips about creating the series. I thought the one where she reveals she doesn’t know much about history because she “always drew manga in class!” particularly cute. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Spell of Desire Book 2http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/09/spell-of-desire-book-2/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/09/spell-of-desire-book-2/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 04:10:12 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37268 What felt sympathetic and accomplished to me in Spell of Desire Book 1 here reeked too strongly of cliche and stereotype. Perhaps it’s that I wanted the story to move along more quickly, and this felt too much like treading water to pad page count. Perhaps it’s that I recently read a much better done romance. Perhaps it’s just that the supernatural genre isn’t my cup of tea. Regardless, I found my patience strained.

The book is driven by an incredibly thinly disguised metaphor. Kaoruko has unexpected magical power within her that drives men crazy to the point of sexually attacking her. They can’t control themselves because she’s “too appealing”. She is treated as an object, someone for whom decisions are made by others around her. Her mother deserted her for her own good, supposedly; her grandmother lied by omission to her for her entire life; and her legacy means she must do what the witches tell her.

Her “knight” Kaname can control her by kissing her, which subdues her at the same time it awakens her previously unexpected passions. She acts out so he’ll discipline her and restrain her power. She doesn’t ever ask for what she wants, instead manipulating him into fulfilling her needs, while he gets jealous whenever she’s around another man — under the guise of needing to protect her.

The two are clearly made for each other at the same time we see them — by every typical fictional sign — falling in love. Yet they won’t say or do anything about it because they think the other is there only because they have to be. This is a dumb convention that leads to me mentally yelling at them to just talk to each other. Also annoying is how he is overprotective of her — but leaves her alone for the sole purpose of twisting the plot. That gives her plenty of space to engage in increasingly tiresome monologues while staring meaningfully at nothing.

I also had little patience for the increasing space dedicated to the witches’ coven and the various political maneuverings among them. I’m not sure it’s fair for me to be so hard on this book for being formulaic, though. For those who enjoy teeth-gnashingly tortured romance with an air of the supernatural, this might be immensely satisfying.

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*My Love Story!! Book 2 — Recommendedhttp://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/09/my-love-story-book-2-recommended/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/12/09/my-love-story-book-2-recommended/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:00:01 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37265 Now that the massively masculine Takeo and the delightfully delicate Yamato have realized they like each other, as we saw in Book 1, we settle down to the confusion of dating.

The writer, Kazune Kawahara, has good ideas for short moments that convey how the characters are perceived by others. For instance, when they come across a woman struggling with a baby stroller on a flight of steps, Takeo immediately grabs the stroller and easily heads to the other end of the stairs. From the woman’s perspective, though, an overly large guy has loomed over her (and Aruko does a great job with the looming from a worm’s eye perspective and shading to increase Takeo’s monster look) and seized her child. Thankfully, the attractive Sunakawa is there to put her at ease and explain Takeo’s intentions.

It’s this conflict between appearance — Takeo looks like a gangster tough guy from an old movie in his suit — and intention that make up the light-hearted comedy that is so appealing in this series. After one of his (frequent) good deeds, sometimes people end up thanking Sunakawa, confusing beauty for good action. People can be shallow, in other words, and it’s that reminder that keeps the series from being sticky-sweet.

Takeo also tends to act without explanation or delay. Thankfully, he’s always doing the right thing, even if he does get misunderstood. That’s seen in one of the chapters here, as Yamato’s friends and Takeo’s friends have a social mixer. Yamato has been talking about how great her boyfriend is, but the other girls are shocked that Takeo is so much outside the norm. Sunakawa, jaded by how superficially others treat him, tells the truth: “Just because she’s nice doesn’t mean her friends are too. They might be friends because she’s so nice.” When a disaster threatens, though (with some dynamic action cartooning), Takeo saves the day, showing Yamato’s friends just how cool he can be. It’s an exaggerated series of events, but with emotional authenticity behind them.

In other chapters, Takeo and Yamato have to deal with temporary separation as Takeo helps out the judo team for a tournament and Takeo struggles to give Yamato a perfect birthday. That’s complicated by his desire to be there for his friend Sunakawa during a difficult time. Sunakawa has a valuable role in the couple’s relationship — he states explicitly what each is thinking to the other, nicely shortcutting the stereotypical kinds of misunderstandings that fuel a lot of other shojo manga.

Takeo and Yamato’s relationship can be laughable in its good-hearted simplicity, but the authors bring through an honesty of feeling that makes me want to cherish their naiveté instead of snarking or snickering at it. Everything is new to them because they’re in love. This kind of pure emotion is why I read romance comics, because in the real world, it would quickly be shot down and trampled. Here, though, I can enjoy how it felt to be that young. They’re adorable!

I don’t recall if these were a feature of the first volume, but between story chapters are recipes for the treats Yamato makes. They seem delicious, even if they’d need some tweaking to be workable for US ingredients.

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Manga Dogs Book 1http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/11/30/manga-dogs-book-1/ http://comicsworthreading.com/2014/11/30/manga-dogs-book-1/#comments Sun, 30 Nov 2014 16:09:23 +0000 http://comicsworthreading.com/?p=37197 A light gag manga is just what I need during busy times, and Manga Dogs fits the bill, with a slight overlay of information on making comics for the Japanese industry.

Kanna Tezuka is thrilled that her high school has established a manga degree program, since she’s already a published author. She writes and draws “Teach Me (Heart) Buddha”, a shojo manga. She’s excited that she can work on her story during school, although she hopes to keep quiet the fact that she’s a pro.

Unfortunately, her manga class consists of her and three pretty-boy wannabes. The program doesn’t have a teacher, yet, and the school doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. The three guys quickly figure out that Kanna knows what she’s doing, so they pester her to teach them. Their encounters are shown in a series of short (10-page) chapters, each of which touches on a factor of making manga. For instance, Kanna has to get her reader-response numbers up, since if her series stays at the bottom of the rankings, she’ll get cancelled. Or she struggles with meeting deadlines while she’s sick, or with inserting more “moe” into her work at her editor’s direction.

Two other Ema Toyama works have been published by Kodansha: I Am Here! and Missions of Love. The latter started strong but continued long after I wanted to stick with it, and the former I thought relied too much on cliché. This series seems designed to play off the strengths of the other series — teenage characters with understandable desires in humorous situations — without wandering into more flawed areas. It’s also short, only three volumes, which should keep it punchy without wearing on the reader’s patience.

Toyama’s art style is incredibly typical of shojo — mostly head shots with lots of spiky hair. Kanna has the long straight hair and heavy bangs of the comedy heroine, where her eyes are rarely seen, so she’s more a plot object than a character. She’s contemptuous of the other “normal” kids around her because she’s got a purpose (much like the heroine of Missions of Love, who writes cellphone novels). Thus, while I can sympathize with how annoying it would be to deal with her three wannabes, it’s also fun to see her get frustrated.

The way the boys think so superficially about the field made me realize that there are similarities between aspiring manga creators and wannabe American comic makers. None of them realize how much effort goes into making art, and their motivations are shallow. For instance, one of the boys wants to make manga because “you get to buy manga and read it for work!” Another wants to win the top prizes in the field without realizing what it would take to get there. The third just wants to have his work made into movies.

They give up too easily, waste time debating how to spend contest prize money (without bothering to enter) and picking the perfect pen name, and rebel at learning technique in favor of digital shortcuts. Having run into this type in real life, I found the book funny, and I imagine anyone who’s thought about making manga will feel the same.

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