Midnight Secretary Book 7
by Tomu Ohmi
The Midnight Secretary series concludes with Kaya and her boss finally coming to an understanding of how their relationship will proceed. He’s been kicked out of the vampire clan for refusing to give her up.
Both Kaya and the reader are misled into thinking that a very attractive woman he’s making dates with is a source of jealousy — but the plot’s more convoluted than that. Which makes this volume less satisfying than some of the others, which focus more on the pair’s emotions and less on the cultural politics. The core conflict remains the same, whether Kaya can be a perfect secretary for her boss at the same time her feelings are involved with her love for him. Everything is answered with, “yours is the only blood I want.”
Typical of a final volume is how the series concludes with plans for marriage, with meeting Kaya’s mother, working out living arrangements, and love vows along the way. It all moves very quickly, with a final reminder of the virtue of competence. More entertaining to me was a short bonus story, “Midnight Butler”, that flips the genders. Another vampire, Marika, picks up a guy who then refuses to leave. He’s handsome but homeless, and he insinuates himself into her life by cleaning up both himself and her home. I was fondly reminded of the much-missed Tramps Like Us.
Sherlock Bones Book 6
story by Yuma Ando
art by Yuki Sato
Kodansha Comics, $10.99
We’ve fully moved out of the school arena, a process that began in the previous volume. Here, in Sherlock Bones Book 6, Takeru is a rookie police officer completing his first case. Also working on the force with him are former classmate Miki and import showoff Kento. Kento’s convinced that the murder of the anchorman’s wife was a mugging gone wrong, but Takeru knows the truth. The anchorman did it, but how to prove it?
That’s my problem with most of the cases in this series. There’s no deduction involved. Instead, the victim is revealed by being worn down by a series of small glitches observed by Takeru until he finally confesses. Sherdog doesn’t do much of anything but encourage Takeru that he can become a detective on his own.
The second case involves a plastic surgery clinic. A client whose treatment went horribly wrong, due to counterfeit drugs, is killed by the doctor to cover up his shoddy treatment. Between her exaggerated ugly face and his mask-like countenance, the art in this section is horrific on several levels. There is the occasional amusing moment, though, as when the surgeon thinks to himself, in response to Takeru’s focus on detail, “Nitpicky men will never impress women, you know?”
I think this series concludes with the next volume, and it’s about time. The cases aren’t getting any more clever, and while still adorable, Sherdog has become less relevant. It’s a tough challenge for the writer, showing Takeru growing up by becoming more competent, which makes his magical companion less necessary.
Say I Love You Book 3
by Kanae Hazuki
Kodansha Comics, $10.99
Former loner Mei is still getting used to her new relationship with popular boy Yamato. The world is full of rivals who want him, though, from Aiko, former fat girl embarrassed by her stretch marks, to Megumi, teen model who wants a “prince charming” who’ll look good next to her. She ropes Yamato into modeling with her as a pretend volunteer.
Although Mei is open with him about her feelings, she’s still struggling with how to be human and reach out to others. She gets jealous, understandably, and she feels pressured by others’ expectations. Say I Love You Book 3 has the classic “I have to make chocolate for my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day” chapter, adding to the stress.
My favorite part, though, is when Mei meets and consoles Yamato’s younger sister Nagi, a girl hurt by discovering how she’d been used by false friends. That chapter also portrays Mei’s discomfort with physical feelings and uncertainty over how far to go with Yamato. I like this series because there are odd bits of wisdom in it, as when Mei says, “Once you decide you hate everything, that’s it. You’ll never like anything.”
What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 4
by Fumi Yoshinaga
If you look closely at the cover to What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 4, you’ll see a number of European-sounding dishes listed: hamburgers in mushroom sauce, leek consommé, spaghetti neapolitan. And they all appear in the book, as Shiro cooks a variety of meals, but they all have a uniquely Japanese spin to them. The tomato in the spaghetti sauce, for example, comes from ketchup, shudder.
The material in this series continues to get more and more interesting, as we learn more about Shiro and Kenji’s life together. Shiro’s uncomfortable being identified as gay in public, so he and Kenji wind up inviting another gay couple to dine at their home. But Shiro’s concerned that his cooking won’t live up to one of the guest’s gourmet tastes. In another story, Kenji is happy that Shiro is sick because Shiro is so self-sufficient otherwise, and this is the only way Kenji gets to take care of him and cook for him.
Kenji’s rolled omelet recipe, in Japanese-style layers, looks simple enough I may actually end up trying to make it someday. I felt rather proud of myself, when it came to the chapter about how Shiro doesn’t feel comfortable making tempura, since I’ve successfully made it before (although mine wasn’t as complex as his, it’s true).
There’s a tiny lettering technique used here that I loved but have never seen before. Kenji is still waking up when talking to Shiro, and it’s portrayed with a tilde in the middle of words to signify his yawning, like this: “Have a good da~y.” He later uses the same pattern when getting cute about his boyfriend to show how he’s extending his syllables in sing-song fashion.
As for cooking tips, I’ve learned from the recipes herein two keys to successful meals: keep a variety of seasonings and sauces on hand to jazz up dishes quickly, and the same few ingredients can be assembled in a delicious-sounding variety of ways. Shiro’s hamburger-making tips are right on, although I’ve never dared mix raw onions in the meat before. And he serves them in sauce with a side of rice instead of on a bun, of course.
Happy Marriage?! Book 7
by Maki Enjoji
The punctuation in the title Happy Marriage?! is really important, because the series does not focus on good times. Instead, every book, Chiwa and Hokuto face another challenge. Sure, by the end, they’ve usually reinforced their feelings for each other, but it’s important to remember that the premise is that these two people got married without knowing each other. (And I feel silly that I just realized that this series probably reads very different in a culture where some people still experience arranged marriages, where that could be true for them.)
In Happy Marriage?! Book 7, the challenge is time. Hokuto has been working a lot of overtime for an important new work project. Chiwa is already feeling insecure about not knowing a lot about finance or international politics or other topics he works with, and now she’s feeling neglected. However, her own work starts becoming more troublesome as well, keeping her from him at a key moment.
Those sensitive to how this situation would feel if played out in real life will want to skip this volume (and the series, frankly), since there are lots of control issues on display, and his behavior is right on the line of abuse, as he manipulates an injury of hers to make her listen to him. He also has a habit of dragging her into sex when he’s feeling insecure. However, in my opinion, these two characters are so ridiculous (and two-dimensional) that a realistic interpretation just doesn’t work for me, so I have no problem rooting for them — in spite of their exaggerated behavior — to talk to each other and be happy together.
I find the story with Hokuto’s father — who raised him to be coldhearted and self-sufficient — more sympathetic. Now that they’re adults, and the father is in the hospital with no hope of recovery, Hokuto won’t visit him, because he doesn’t care about family. Chiwa is torn between who she thinks her husband ought to be and a honest glimpse at who he really is. This isn’t resolved in this volume, instead changing focus for each of them to worry about the other’s past partners.
(The publishers provided some of the above as review copies.)