Tag Archives: digital manga publishing

Amber by Night

Amber by Night by Sharon Sala and Mayu Takayama

I’m always on the lookout for fictional portrayals of librarians so there was no way I wasn’t going to read Amber by Night after reading this summary:
Amelia is a typical bookworm librarian. But she has a secret. At night, she works as a provocatively dressed waitress named Amber. One night as she’s working as usual, she spots Tyler, the town’s most sexy man, and the guy Amelia has been admiring for some time. As soon as he sees her, he approaches her, not realizing that she is, in fact, Amelia…!

I live tweeted reading this manga under the hashtag #annavsamber (inspired by Ken’s suggestion and my pal Chris’ heroic suffering with chrisvstwilight). Chris also created this excellent alternative cover for Amber by Night. If Amber by Night was a librarian disguised as a sexy waitress who was also disguised as a werewolf by night, that would be awesome.

Like most harlequin titles the story is a mass of cliches, but I was amused enough by all the stereotypical librarian imagery in this title that I didn’t regret the fifteen minutes I spent reading it. Poor Amelia is a spinster librarian who was raised by her spinster aunts. There are many spinsters here! She lives in a small town and wants to save up enough money to buy a new car, so naturally she gets a job with an alternate identity as a sexy waitress named Amber. On the way to her secret sexy job, she runs into the uber-hot farmer Tyler Dean Savage, who is dazzled by Amber’s long legs. Amelia has had a crush on Tyler for a long time, but of course he never noticed her in her usual bespectacled high-necked, pointy-bunned librarian outfits. Tyler asks Amber out, and she says yes thinking that for just once, she’ll live in the moment. They go out and Amelia decides that she won’t see him again, because if he’s attracted to Amber there’s no way he’d like Amelia the Spinster Librarian.

When you think about it, Spinster Librarians are a little bit like Superman. They have their Clark Kentlike nerdy exterior, but if they take off their glasses and shake loose their hair, they develop powers of super sexiness that they can then use to entrap equally sexy local farmers like Tyler Dean Savage. Takayama does a decent job with the art adaptation of the original harlequin novel. I particularly liked the way she made Amelia’s bun come to a point on top of her head, for that extra touch of spinsterness. There’s plenty of contrast between Amelia’s two personas in their attire and body language. Tyler’s a typical tall dark and handsome hero type who always seems to be around when Amelia is about to topple over. After saving her from tripping at the grocery store, he sees her without her glasses on and just like that he is able to penetrate Amelia’s clever disguise. Tyler is more clever than Lois Lane.

Amelia decides to quit her extra job and turns Tyler down when he asks for a second date. So he starts dating her as Amelia, despite the horrific obstacle of her spinster aunts. Will the secretly sexy librarian and well-muscled farmer find lasting happiness together? Their fate is never in doubt, this is a harlequin manga after all. I did enjoy reading this more than the other romance novel featuring a librarian that I’ve read, Dewey Decimal System of Love. I think perhaps I find librarian stereotypes more amusing and less annoying if they are rendered manga style.

Access to electronic copy provided by the publisher.

Alice the 101st

Alice the 101st Volume 1 by Chigusa Kawai

Strong art enlivens a somewhat typical music school storyline in the manga Alice the 101st. At an exclusive music academy the students are buzzing about the admission of a 101st student. Who is the special case who secured an extra spot at the school? Aristide Lang is a violinist with unconventional training who announces to his roommate Theo that his nickname is “Aristo.” Everyone ends up calling him “Alice” instead. Alice initially seems to be utterly lacking in technique, appearing amazingly unproficient when he’s asked to play a piece when reading music. Alice struggles to fit in with the school, dealing with teachers who have no patience to teach the fundamentals when most of the students arrive at the school after training intensely for years. But when Alice plays a memorized piece by his long-lost father he blows the listeners away by the power of his music.

An older viola student Victor sets Alice up as a rival for the school prodigy Maximilian. Maximilian is a brilliant technician, but the music he produces is cold and empty. If Alice can master the fundamentals and get over his block about playing while reading music, he might end up being able to challenge the best student at the school. Alice quickly bonds with his roommate, and they have a few encounters with a quiet girl who seems to have no awareness of the size of her cello because she hits everyone with her cello case wherever she goes.

I found the art in Alice the 101st really appealing. Alice is shown with his emotions all over the place, ranging from mischievous to overwhelmed and depressed as he struggles with his new environment at school. Kawai’s character designs are expressive, and she’s able to portray the intensity and focus of the music students as they master new skills. I think out of all the classical music related manga I’ve read so far (La Corda d’Oro, Versus, etc) Alice the 101st is my favorite.

Access to electronic copy provided by the publisher.

The Sheikh’s Reluctant Bride, The Shiekh’s Contract Bride, and Sale or Return Bride

I’ve been curious to check out the manga adaptations of Harlequin romance titles, and the folks at emanga were kind enough to load up my reading list with a sampling of titles, so expect to see a few reviews of these titles over the next few weeks. I find them absolutely hilarious summer reading. For all I might make fun of the romantic cliches contained in these titles, I tend to think of Harlequin as a really progressive and savvy publisher. They started an early ebook initiative. They have imprints that you might not instantly recognize as Harlequin, like Mira and Luna (for sci-fi and fantasy books). They also have a Young Adult line. So I was honestly not surprised to see that they’d licensed their books in Japan with Ohzora Publishing to provide stories for manga adaptations since 1998. I decided to start with a sampling of books that had the word “Bride” in the title.

The Sheikh’s Reluctant Bride by Ayumu Aso and Teresa Southwick

A girl named Jessica travels to an Arabian kingdom to look for her long-lost relatives. She’s met at the airport by a handsome man in a suit who turns out to be the prince of the country, Kardahl. He is known more for his womanizing ways than his performance of his princely duties. Jessica is shocked when he announces that she’s going to be his wife. Unfortunately Jessica has a bad habit of not paying close attention to documents that she signs that she’s unable to read in a foreign language, and sure enough she has signed a marriage contract with the prince! Of course they agree to act as if they’re married, and Jessica fins out that Kardahl is not a womanizer but a man haunted by his past and only she can heal his emotional wounds. I found the art in this title not very well executed, but sort of charmingly over the top. Both main characters have bee-stung lips that would make Angelina Jolie jealous. Kardahl has a terminal case of the pointy chin, as his face often looks like a triangle with a nose. There are so many sparkles on every page, it should be called the “The Sheikh’s Reluctant but Inadvertently Twinkling Bride”.

The Sheikh’s Contract Bride by Teresa Southwick and Keiko Okamoto

Funnily enough, Sheikhs seem to have a habit of importing foreign women to marry. In The Shiekh’s Contract Bride there are some twin identity switching shenanigans as a bonus. This book serves a sort of sequel to the Shiekh’s Reluctant bride, since the Sheikh in question is the brother of Kardahl.

The production quality for these manga, particularly the lettering isn’t great. There were many spots where there were empty word balloons or awkward placement of the English lettering. I tend to be more forgiving of these glitches in electronic only editions, but it did make for a more awkward reading experience. Adina and Alina are identical twins, and the eldest twin Adina has been promised to a Shiekh and trained to be a queen since birth while Alina was ignored by their ambitious father. Adina falls in love before she was supposed to meet her fiance, so the sisters switch places. Alina introduces herself to Malik as Beth, and they begin an unconventional courtship. Beth starts quizzing Malik about his views on arranged marriage and he finds his future wife interesting since she’s not the modest and submissive woman he was expecting. The art on this title still as a bit of a rushed quality, as I would expect that these volumes are production line type adaptations. But the character designs were a lot more attractive than the ones in The Shiekh’s Reluctant Bride.

Sale or Return Bride by Kazuko Fujita and Sarah Morgan

I really liked the title of this manga because it made me think of someone picking out a bride at Filene’s Basement, not liking her even at bargain prices, and then returning her for a different model. I thought that this was the most entertaining title of the three I sampled, because while being forced to marry desert princes with topaz eyes the color of the sand is fine, evil scheming grandfathers make for a more entertaining story. I knew I was going to be reading something good when the second page proclaimed “A blond beauty spoiled by a wealthy Greek family. This was the bride’s profile. But behind this mask lay a cruel plot of vengeance.” I’m all about cruel vengeful plots in romance novels!

Alesia is stunned when her grandfather tells her that she’s going to marry Sebastian Fiorukis. Their families have been locked in a hate-filled business rivalry for decades. Furthermore, the Fiorukus yacht was the site of a horrible accident that killed Alesia’s brother, injured her mother, and left Alesia barren. Alesia’s grandfather decides that he’ll complete his revenge on the Fiorukis family by ensuring that their family line will not continue to the next generation due to Alesia’s inability to have children. Alesia is willing to go along with the charade because she’ll be able to get money from her new husband to pay for her mother’s much needed surgery. She’s embarrassed at the clothes that her grandfather insists she wear before she meets her new husband but her grandfather snaps “Be quiet! It’s just right for catching that man’s attention! Remember you are my air-headed, luxury loving grand-daughter!”

The art in Sale or Return Bride was the best of the three. It felt to me like the artist had more time to plan out and execute the illustrations for the manga adaptation. Alesia and Sebastian are both blessed with long curly hair, and the artist does a good job showing Alesia’s embaressment and repressed rage as she attempts to portray the idiot heiress she’s supposed to be. Of course her true nature shows through and while Sebastian and Alesia originally approach the marriage as though they are enemies their growing attraction to each other turns the marriage into a real one.

These were all quick reads – I felt like I breezed through these titles in around half the time it would take to read a more serious or artful manga. But as the manga equivalent of summer beach reads, these titles worked very well if you find romance novel and shoujo art cliches amusing. I’m going to check out more of these Harlequin manga in the future, they’re perfect to read when you want to be diverted by something light and silly.

Access to electronic copies of titles provided by the publisher.

Millenium Prime Minister Volume 1

Millennium Prime Minister Volume One by EIKI EIKI

I have a weakness for certain shoujo plot devices. I am very fond of the crazy way to begin a series where an ordinary high school girl will suddenly find herself transported to a new environment. She might suddenly be forced to be a live-in maid to a family of three hot brothers that she attends high school with. Or maybe she’ll suddenly get a job writing erotic rock lyrics for the hottest band in the world. Or perhaps she’ll be abruptly kidnapped by a group of art school students. My favorite series with this type of plot will always be Marmalade Boy, where the heroine’s parents abruptly announce that they are swapping partners and introduce her to her hot new stepbrother.

In Millenium Prime Minister the ordinary high school girl is 16 year old Minori. She challenges a random guy at a video game and beats him. He grabs her, feels her hair and announces that she can be his wife. Kanata Okazaki is about to be sworn in as the youngest Prime Minister of Japan. Kanata decides to kidnap Minori from school and take her home so he can ask permission to marry his teenage bride. Her parents promptly agree to the engagement, thrilled with the idea of their daughter becoming the first lady of Japan. Naturally Minori moves into the Prime Minister’s compound, where she is surrounded by a horde of handsome male aids. One of the aids named Sai seems to have more intense feelings towards the Prime Minister than you might expect from an employee.

Millennium Prime Minister is not particularly artistic or profound. It is lightweight, disposable shoujo and it fits in that category very well. Eiki Eiki’s art is competent but not very distinctive. I enjoyed the touches of humor throughout the series, like Kanata’s weird obsession with fixing the hair of everyone around him. I wonder if he’ll retire from politics to become a hairdresser. This seems like a good series to read during the summer when you don’t want to be engaging your brain too much. I’ll likely sample the next volumes of the series if I feel the need for another fluffy shoujo fix.

Access to electronic copy provided by the publisher.

Itazura Na Kiss Volume 2

Itazura Na Kiss Volume 2 by Kaoru Tada

Ah, poor Kotoko! Will her pursuit of her idol Naoki ever get any encouragement?! One of things I was surprised by in this volume was how quickly the protagonists moved from high school to college. Most of the current shoujo manga that I’ve read uses high school graduation as a stopping point, but the senior year for Naoki and Kotoko passes quickly. There are plenty of problems along the way. Naoki’s mother sees Valentine’s Day as an excuse to engineer a tender moment between the teenagers. Kotoko falls ill and Naoki stays by her during her sickness, giving up the opportunity to take an exam for a competitive university. They head off to college together.

As Kotoko enters college with Naoki, she sees that it is almost identical to high school. The Japanese literature course that she’s chosen is known to be the gathering place for the “Class F” of college. Naoki is studying science and engineering with a group of dedicated students that includes Yuko Matsumoto, a smart and beautiful girl that clearly has set her sights on him. Kotoko decides to join the tennis club, but soon finds out that her plan to get close to Naoki will not work as quickly as she had hoped.

Tada manages a delicate balancing act with her characterization that makes this manga much more rewarding and interesting to read than you might expect from a story based on the stereotypical dumb but cute girl/smart guy pairing. While book smarts don’t come easy to Kotoko, what she has instead is the satisfaction that comes from striving to improve himself. Her emotional intelligence and relationships with people are much better than Naoki’s. He’s listless and uninvested in life simply because everything comes so easily to him. While Naoki delights in teasing Kotoko there are a few scattered moments where it seems he might care about her, leading the reader to be strung along and hope for romance just like the hapless heroine. He does display signs of jealousy when it appears that Kotoko might be receiving attention from another man.

Where this manga continues to excel is in its supporting cast. Naoki’s mother’s determination to secure Kotoko as a daughter-in-law results in her skulking around the college in an ineffective disguise. Kinnosuke’s single minded pursuit of Kotoko causes him to get a job at the college cafeteria while he’s still working at her father’s restaurant. The switch to the college setting allows for more characters to be introduced, like the otaku club that latches on to Kotoko as their new mascot and the tennis club provides yet another place for Kotoko to struggle to improve her skills. If the focus was solely on the main couple, I think their relationship dynamic would start to bother me. But fortunately they interact with so many other characters and are placed in a variety of situations so my interest in the manga was maintained. As a bonus, Kotoko is frequently hilarious and the way she throws herself into new activities is fun to watch. Overall, this was a strong second volume. I wonder how long the college setting will last, and if the reader will see the characters graduate college as well.

As a side note, I read this online at eManga.com. This was my first time reading a whole volume of manga online, and I thought that the site’s online reader was easy to use. I took a few breaks here and there while I was reading it, and I thought it was nice the reader just paused and remembered my place when I went back to it.

Access to electronic copy provided by the publisher.