Tag Archives: shoujo

Shinobi Life Volumes 5 and 6

I think we’re slowly catching up to the Japanese release of this series since six volumes are out here now and there are nine Japanese volumes so far. This is still one of my favorite current shoujo series. Shinobi Life started out ok with the first couple volumes then really got much better with volume three and has continued to provide readers with a compelling romance story about time traveling ninjas.

Beni and Kagetora have decided to take it on the run and flee the toxic influence of her family. Beni is convinced that as long as they stay in the present they’ll be hounded by her father so she decides that she has to travel to the past with her personal ninja. Unfortunately as the couple fall into the time portal they get separated and end up in different eras. Beni sees Kagetora when she wakes up, but it is a younger 14 year old ninja in training instead of the adult ninja that she fell in love with. Kagetora keeps returning to the present and traveling to the past over and over again in an attempt to find Beni. Since the time portal to the past is located in a pocket of space that can only be reached by flinging yourself off a tall building, this takes a considerable amount of courage. Beni’s rejected fiance Rihito is beginning to figure out the mechanics of time travel, and suspects that the predictions of Beni’s mother came from time traveling to the future. Rihito is dealing with his own issues as he copes with pressure from his father.

I appreciated Conami’s attention to character design when the younger version of Kagetora appeared. His eyes are bigger, face rounder, and his body is less developed but he’s still recognizable as the younger version of the ninja that dropped out of the sky and into Beni’s life. While it is nice that Beni can see a different side of her favorite ninja, I spent most of these volumes very anxious about what might be happening to future Kagetora as he searches for Beni.

Beni’s journey to the past allows her to meet a younger version of Kagetora’s enemy Hitaki. The more innocent combative child is nothing like the ninja who has vowed to destroy Kagetora in the future. While Beni stays with Kagetora and his master in a training house, the rivalry between ninja clans might threaten the young ninjas in training as well as their guest from the future. Being confronted with a younger version of her boyfriend frustrates Beni, since she can’t reveal their future relationship to the young ninja. But Kagetora begins to drop his formal manners around Beni and starts to enjoy spending time with her. A big section of the volume focuses on Hitaki, showing details from his past and explaining why he’s so fiercely motivated to be the best. Out of all the main characters in Shinobi Life, so far each one is getting and individual backstory and motivations for their actions. Only the fathers of Beni and Rihito seem evil for the sake of being evil so far, and I’m guessing that Conami will explore their pasts and relationship with Beni’s mother as well. One of the reasons why I enjoy this series so much is that even though there’s plenty of fighting, time traveling, and ninja antics the larger focus is just on telling the individual stories of the cast that Conami has assembled. That’s why Shinobi Life doesn’t really seem stuck in a genre rut even though it relies on time travel to bring the different characters together.

Review copy of Volume 6 provided by the publisher.

Kaze Hikaru 1-4, 6 and 8

Kaze Hikaru by Taeko Watanabe

This is a series that doesn’t knock you over the head with awesomeness but it gradually wins you over with its quiet charm. I remember liking the first few chapters of Kaze Hikaru when it started in Shojo Beat but I didn’t feel compelled to rush out and buy the books as they came out. Later I checked out a few volumes from the library and enjoyed them very much. After assembling a short run of early volumes and rereading them, I’m really getting into this series.

Tominaga Sei is left on her own when her father and brother are murdered. Determined to get revenge, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the group that will eventually become the police force known as the Shinsengumi. While she might not be the most skilled fighter, in her male guise of Kamiya Seizaburo she impresses the leaders of the group with her determination. She’s taken under the wing of Okita Soji, one of the Shinsengumi’s deadliest fighters. He hides his skill to some degree by often acting childish, but he’s often tapped for the most challenging and dangerous missions. Soji quickly figures out Kamiya’s secret, but agrees to help her in her mission to avenge the deaths of her family.

As Kamiya adjusts to her new surroundings, she realizes that the group that she’s joined isn’t filled with men who share her idealistic view of the Bushido code. While some members of the group are great fighters, other are corrupt and dissolute men. The leaders haven’t won full support yet from the government, so everyone is poor and occasionally some of the members resort to extorting money from townspeople. As the series progresses the leaders gradually jettison some of the dead weight (occasionally by violent means) and start enforcing a system of rules that will turn the ragtag bunch into the disciplined Shinsengumi.

Kamiya struggles with training and her growing attraction to Soji. She’s aided in her disguise by the geisha Akesato, a former girlfriend of her brother. Kamiya decides to stay with the Shinsengumi because she wants to protect Soji. He’s so often used to do the dangerous jobs that no one wants, and nobody is around to watch his back. While this ambition might seem a little hard to reach based on the differences in their skill levels, Kamiya gets a chance to prove herself during the Ikedaya Incident where the Shinsengumi prevent the burning of Kyoto. Kamiya saves Soji’s life and her actions prompt him to slowly develop a new awareness of the pupil that he’s been determinedly treating like a kid brother.

Watanabe’s character designs are generally fairly simple, with hairstyles and sight variations in facial shape serving to help the reader distinguish between the many members of the Shinsengumi. Simplicity can be a very good thing, as the fight scenes are also clear and She does a good job portraying Soji’s mercurial personality. He’s so light and carefree most of the time, but when he has work to do he turns into a deadly fighter. Many of the earlier volumes show Kamiya challenging her initial assumptions about the Shinsengumi. While she’s closest to Soji, she also befriends Hajime, who used to know her brother. Hajime also resembles her brother in mannerisms and appearance, and he may suspect that Kamiya isn’t a young boy after all.

Watanabe has obviously done a ton of historical research to create Kaze Hikaru. The costumes, houses, and settings all look detailed and accurate. Occasionally it feels like there’s a little bit of forced exposition as she fills in some of the historical details, but I’d much rather read a thoroughly researched series that occasionally feels a little slow than a series with less detail. At 28+ volumes, this is a very long shoujo series. I’m not sure if I’ll run out and fill all the gaps in my collection, but this manga is one I’ll be on the lookout for if I find some good sales. The combination of romance developing at a snail-like pace, cross-dressing, historical details, and fighting Shinsengumi adds up to a very compelling manga. I’m surprised that more people aren’t talking about this series online.

Gakuen Alice Volumes 1, 12, and 13

I remember pointedly avoiding Gakuen Alice when it first came out, mostly because it seemed like it was being marketed as the next Fruit Basket. I was quite happy with Fruits Basket and thought that I didn’t need any substitute Fruits Basket-like series, thank you very much. Then I read the first couple volumes of Higuchi’s earlier series Portrait of M&N, which displays some genuine quirkiness amidst some execution issues. I’d swapped for the first volume of Gakuen Alice and then was sent review copies of the twelfth and thirteenth volumes, so I’m bound to be a little spastic talking about three volumes with such a large gap of story between them. But this series is sadly absent from my public library, so I’m going to do what I can with the volumes I have.

The energetic Mikan is best friends with the ice princess Hotaru. Mikan freaks when she finds out when she discovers that her companion is going to a special school for “Alices,” children with extraordinary talents. Mikan decides to run away to join her friend at Alice Academy and meets a teacher outside the gates who seems to have a strange charisma that Mikan is immune to. He tells her that she has a special gift just like her friend, and she can join the school if she passes a test. With an unknown Alice, Mikan is in for a rough time as she meets her super powered classmates. She meets a sullen boy named Natsume who has the power to control fire. He’s accompanied by Luca, who has the power to control animals. As Mikan is tested she learns that she has the power of Alice nullification.

One of the things that I found amusing is that the special powers of many of the students match up with second-string X-men. Hotaru is the elementary school equivalent of Forge, with the power of invention. Natsume is like Pyro. Mikan is like Leech. The super-powered students and the boarding school setting made me think of Gakuen Alice as an extra-cute elementary school version of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Higuchi’s art has gotten a little more slick and commercial since Portrait of M & N, but it still contains some visually arresting panels. Natsume makes his appearance standing on a wall wearing a cat mask that nullifies his powers. Hotaru’s inventions resemble oversized animated nursery room equipment. Luca’s encounter with a giant fluffy chick in the woods near the school ends up looking like a scene from a fractured fairy tale.

Several volumes into the series, I can see why the comparisons of Gakuen Alice to Fruits Basket are justified. Both series feature an aggressively cheerful and sometimes not very smart heroine who manages to save people due to her emotional intelligence. Both series seem to start off in a somewhat frivolous fashion, but darker psychological issues are explored in later volumes. In the twelfth volume of Gakuen Alice, it is clear that the forces that run the school are not entirely benign. Natsume’s bad attitude which manifested itself as random pranks and angry outbursts in the first volume is shown to be the product of tragedy in his past due to the destructive nature of his power and the imprisonment of his sister at the school. There are sinister people at the academy and Mikan is willing to sacrifice herself to protect her friends. She and her friends end up overcoming their troubles for now, and the thirteenth volume heads into more fun super-powered slice of life school tales.

As the thirteenth volume opens, Mikan’s class is going to learn to make Alice stones. People with Alice abilities can manifest their powers in the form of a stone that allows others to use their unique ability. Mikan thinks back to a promise she made with Luca to exchange Alice stones with him, before she knew about the school story about romantic couples trading stones as a sign of affection. The Mikan-Luca-Natsume love triangle is still in the early stages, as both boys vow to protect Mikan while she experiences strange feelings when she thinks of her two male friends. Romance is on the students’ minds even more when Valentine’s Day prompts the girls to make chocolate with unique and sometimes horrible side effects. The boys spend most of the day trying to hide from anyone who would give them tainted chocolate. Mikan ends up using her friendly nature and a little bit of strategic planning to pull the class together for a musical performance for their friends who are graduating. After the high drama of the previous volume, this book soothed the reader with plenty of stories about the power of friendship.

While Gakuen Alice doesn’t really approach Fruits Basket’s level of psychological depth, it does add an additional layer of complexity to its super-powered boarding school setting by having an element of darkness be present as a counterpart to the stories about Mikan’s sunny personality enriching the lives of her friends. The academy functions as an odd sort of prison, taking students away from their families until their powers run out, or until they reach the age of 20. The students tend to cling together more because they face an uncertain future. What exactly is the motivation of the government in setting up the Alice Academy? While it might be good to train students with unique talents, I can see how a pint-sized army of super-powered students would be just a resource to be exploited by an unscrupulous administration. I ended up liking Gakuen Alice more than I expected. I probably won’t be rushing out to grab all of the eleven volumes that I’ve missed but I’ll be on the lookout to check out the other volumes of this series if I can find them at a library nearby.

Review copies of volumes 12 and 13 provided by the publisher.

Flower in a Storm Volume 1

Flower in a Storm Volume 1 by Shigeyoshi Takagi

Flower in a Storm has plenty of ridiculous action and romance, making it an ideal summer read. Riko is the heroine who (say it together with me!) just wants a normal high-school life. Unfortunately she is gifted with physical abilities way beyond a normal high school girl and she always seems to stand out. Previously a boy rejected her declaration of affection after he saw her competing with the boys on school sports day, so Riko tries to downplay her abilities. Unfortunately her days of anonymity are over when the heir to a mega corporation Ran Tachibana bursts into her classroom and proposes marriage. Several weeks ago Riko avoided an accident with Ran’s vehicle by leaping several feet up in the air and landing on the hood of his car. Ran was instantly smitten. He announces to Riko that she’ll have to be his if he manages to capture her by 5 o’clock and the chase begins.

The art in Flower in a Storm is dynamic and stylish. Several panels look like frames from an action movie. Ran appears dressed up in a suit, flanked by bodyguards holding guns. He frequently visits Riko’s school via helicoptor. I appreciated Takagi’s attention to detail with her character designs. Ran seems to change his expensive glasses for every story. Ran and Riko’s progress in romance is derailed by Ran’s arrogant personality and the fact that he’s also a target for corporate assassins. Even though Riko’s longing for normalcy is a very famliar manga heroine character trait, it was fun to see a shoujo heroine being so physically dynamic. She jumps out of three story high windows, kicks a gun out of an assassin’s hands, and jumps out of a moving car. Ran’s persistence and genuine caring for Riko causes her to gradually develop feelings for him. At two volumes, it looks like this series will be short and sweet. I’m interested in reading more of Takagi’s work if it is licensed here.

Tokyopop Quick Takes – Portrait of M & N 2, Happy Cafe 3, and Maid Sama 5

Portrait of M & N Volume 2 by Higuchi Tachibana

There are few shoujo manga out there that are really weird. Portrat of M & N is about the developing relationship between masochist Mitsuru and narcissist Natsuhiko. The second volume places the somewhat unusual protagonists in stock high school manga situations – mean girls bullying, visiting parents, and going to summer camp and getting lost in the “haunted” woods. Mirrors abound to trigger Natsuhiko going into a reverie about his own reflection and Mitsuru always seems to be on the verge of being horribly injured. Mitsuru has a crush on Natsuhiko and over the course of the second volume it seems like he’s come out of his self-obsession enough to realize that he has feelings for her too.

I think I’d like this series more if it would just commit to being weird. There are hints that the growing relationship between the two main characters will lead them away from their intrinsic quirkiness. Mitsuru’s concern for Natsuhiko during a particularly violent vollyball game causes her to ignore being injured. The art is honestly not the strong point of this series. There’s a certain static gothy aesthetic about the way the characters are drawn that is appealing, but this is offset by some very odd body proportions. Towards the end of the volume it seems like the layouts have gotten a little more expansive, with more variation and close-ups of the characters’ emotional reactions. Even if this series is a little more conventional than I want it to be, it still is odd enough to stand out from the more typical shoujo fare. I think this was Tachibana’s first series, and I am more curious now about reading the longer running and more successful series Gakuen Alice.

Happy Cafe Volume 3 Kou Matsuzuki

Happy Cafe continues to be very light and unoffensive. Being too light and unoffensive, it risks being a little bland and boring. After reading the third volume I was overwhelmed by cuteness and moments of character-based humor. I’ve started liking this series more than I expected to. Everything goes on as usual at Cafe Bonheur, with a few incidents that only serve to deepen the bonds of friendship between the cafe workers. Uru takes her older male co-workers home to meet her parents. Uru’s classmates notice how cute Shindo and Ichiro are and lay siege to the cafe, ordering water and lingering at all hours in order to scope out the guys. Uru spills the most foul smelling juice (a combo of Natto and Durian) on the rival sweets shop worker Abekawa The Younger and goes home with him in order to wash his shirt. Narcoleptic Ichiro gets a bit of back story as Uru learns what his childhood was like.

None of these stories are particularly demanding of the reader, but there’s a general feeling of warmth that I got as I read episode after episode that centered around the cafe workers making each other and their customers happy. Happy Cafe is very undemanding of its readers, and I enjoyed but didn’t feel overly enthusiastic about the first two volumes. Since the third volume has plenty of supporting characters that were previously introduced, I felt like Matsuzuki was able to settle down a bit and focus on funny moments of character interaction, like when Shindo reveals that he’s become an expert in beating people up with his feet because he wanted to save his precious hands for pastry-making. I think the art has gradually become a little more expressive, and it is hard to feel cynical when confronted with Uru’s beaming face as she delights in her co-workers.

Maid Sama Volume 5 by Hiro Fujiwara

I enjoy reading Maid Sama, but with the fifth volume the recycled plotlines are getting to be a little bit annoying. If things don’t get shaken up soon, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to maintain my interest for 5+ more volumes. As always, Sakura gets involved in sticky situations involving her secret job at a maid cafe and her ever helpful not-boyfriend Usui shows up to help her right on time. The major plot line in this volume involves the evil student body president at a rival school engineering a hostile corporate takeover of Maid Latte so a butler cafe can be opened in its place. Sakura decides that she must disguise as a boy and take part in a footman competition to prove that the employees of Maid Latte are just as capable as any wanna-be butlers.
Usui and Sakura grow closer at a glacial pace. He supports her in her butler battle and is injured, and she attempts to nurse him back to health. I was hoping a little bit that by the fifth volume there’s be a little bit more to their relationship, but since Maid Sama is more of a comedy series than a romance it puts character development to the side in favor of battles using tiered tea trays. The art is still attractive and I do like seeing Sakura slowly learn to trust Usui, but I put down this volume with a general feeling of impatience and wishing more had happened.

Review copies 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.

Library Wars: Love and War Volume 1 – review and giveaway

I will start out by saying that I am an unabashed fan of the Library War franchise. What is there not to love about stories where librarians fight censorship with machine guns? In Japan there are the original Library War novels, the shoujo and seinen manga versions of the story, the anime, and random tchotkes. Shoujo Beat is bringing out the shoujo version of Library War and I hope it does well enough that we get some of the other types of merchandise released in the US.

In Japan the government has passed laws that have created rival military organizations. The Media Betterment Committee is tasked with control and censorship over all forms of media. The Library Defense Force fights for freedom of expression. Instead of battling censorship in the courtroom, fights over books involve plenty of guns. Going to library school is like going to boot camp. The heroine of Library Wars: Love and War is Iku Kasahara, a freakishly tall athletic girl who had a fateful encounter with a LDF officer when she was a child. He defended her right to read when a book she wanted was about to be confiscated and as a result she’s determined to join the defense force to become just like her ideal “prince”.

One of the things I like about Iku is that she has some of the traits traditionally assigned to male manga heroes. She’s a dumb jock who cares deeply about her job and tries to make up for her shortcomings by trying hard. Her companion in school is her roommate Asako Shibazaki who is enrolled in the more cerebral librarian track while Iku tries to master the physical capabilities necessary to become the first female member of the LDF. The only problem Iku has with her training is her drill instructor Atsushi Dojo. He seems to have singled her out for harsher treatment, or does he just have high expectations for her? He tends to get a strange expression on his face when Iku mentions her long-lost Prince and sometimes he seems strangely familiar to Iku. Iku is determined to antagonize Dojo whenever possible, as she drop kicks him in martial arts class only to find herself trapped in a sadistic headlock.

Iku struggles to attain her goal, foiling people who attempt to deface library property, mastering classification systems, and rappelling down a building. Her strength is her willpower. She loves reading and she’s passionate about defending books. As Iku is singled out to join the LDF she’s joined by another new recruit. Hikaru Tezuka is academically perfect and doesn’t understand why the other new rookie is an emotional mess whose main skills are height and being able to run really fast.

The art in Library Wars is serviceable generic shoujo. I don’t think I’d recognize the artist’s style if I were to read another one of her works, but I’m really reading Library Wars for the story and not the art. This manga gives me the warm fuzzies. Librarianship isn’t a very glamorous profession, and the media portrayals of librarianship don’t often extend beyond the image of a tired old spinster going “shush.” So seeing librarians dressed in uniforms and performing training exercises to become action heroes was enormously entertaining. Iku’s a somewhat familiar character type, but her tendency to never give up is admirable and inspires sympathy in the reader. Seeing her unconventional friendship develop with Dojo was fun. He clearly knows more about her than he’s letting on, and she’s gradually discovering that her merciless drill sergeant might have a soft side. This manga is a must read for anyone that loves books or libraries.

And because I love this manga so much I used some of my amazon referral money to buy an extra copy, and I’m going to give it away to share the Library Wars love. To enter, just leave a comment on this post mentioning what weapon you would use to fight censorship if you were a member of the Library Defense Force. I’ll randomly select a winner on June 10th. I think I would reclaim the metal rods inside library card catalogs and use them to poke the enemies of intellectual freedom full of holes.

Swan Volumes 12 and 13

One of the series that I’ll miss the most with the passing of CMX is not being able to read the end of Swan. I remember being at ALA shortly after CMX launched and they were giving out copies of Swan and From Eroica With Love. I remember reading and liking both first volumes in a lukewarm sort of way, but I didn’t really get into these series until several years later, when I read some of the subsequent volumes. I think both series really hit their stride in their second volumes. Swan’s relentless girlishness might take a bit of getting used to, but the struggles of a novice ballerina who refuses to give up has more in common with the traditional shonen sports story than you might think. I always find Ariyoshi’s layouts and art inspiring.

Swan Volume 12

Masumi has her final dance of the Tokyo Ballet Competition and she’s entered into a fugue-like state. Utterly unaware of what she’s doing, she gives a performance of a lifetime, but she loses the gold medal to her Russian rival Lilliana.

Leon wins the gold for the men, and the Japanese dances are disheartened that they ranked second in the first international ballet competition held in Tokyo. The end of this competition signals a time of transition. Masumi is invited to dance in New York with Leon or go to Russia to train with Lilliana’s father. Although he loves her, Aoi knows that Leon is the best partner for Masumi now and he leaves to go to Morocco. Leon corners Masumi to talk about their future together. While he’s infuriating, Masumi’s also drawn towards him and she knows that her dancing reaches another level when he partners her. Here’s Leon engaging in one of his favorite hobbies: armchair psychoanalysis of Masumi:

Ariyoshi is fond of using collage with different perspectives in her work. Leon and Masumi are seated across from each other at a table but all the details disappear in order to show Leon seated against the reaction shots of the couple’s faces. Leon looks mischevious and slightly smug, and Masumi is reacting in disbelief that he’s actually talking to her in this manner. I like how Leon’s hair sort of looks like what would happen if a Ken doll wore a wig made out of cotton candy. That’s how you can tell he’s Masumi’s ideal man, even if she doesn’t know it yet. Masumi is torn about the idea of going to New York and leaving her beloved teacher Sergeiev behind. She asks her sensei to dance Swan Lake with her one last time.

Swan Volume 13

Masumi travels to New York with Leon and finds a set of new challenges. She can’t adjust to the style of modern ballet. Everywhere she goes she seems to be the subject of gossip. She dances with Leon in the classical style and her new instructor is underwhelmed:

She finds out that Leon refused to dance in New York unless she was asked to accompany him. Masumi’s always had problems with self-confidence, but even though she’s shaken by this revelation she tries to understand why she feels disconnected from modern ballet. Masumi meets a number of Leon’s friends, and one who is most supportive of her is the self-destructive male soloist Luci. Luci’s dismayed that Leon is letting Masumi struggle on her own to grasp the essence of modern ballet but he has his own problems as he barely completes a performance before collapsing due to the effects of dancing with a hangover. One of the more admirable aspects of Masumi’s character is that she refuses to give up, even if the situation she’s in is impossible. Her new instructor may replace her as Leon’s partner, but she still practices as much as ever.

Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 3

Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 3 by Quinrose and Hoshino Soumei

Three volumes into this series and I’m ready to completely give up on my initial hesitation about liking a reverse harem dating sim manga adaptation set in the world of Wonderland. The authors keep things interesting by dropping hints of mystery along with the occasional disturbing burst of ultra-violence to keep readers on edge. Alice is comfortable with her role in helping Julius the clockmaker in his duties recycling Wonderland side characters. She’s still intrigued by the Mad Hatter, Blood Dupre. She saw him talking intimately with the Queen of Hearts even though they are supposed to be mortal enemies. When she goes over to his house to borrow some books, she gets harassment with a disturbing undertone instead. Her relationship with Peter White takes a turn when he realizes that she has a soft spot for cute things. If he appears to her in his rabbit form she’ll immediately be forced to snuggle him. She knows that he’s a deranged stalker, but she can’t resist his pleading bunny eyes. The pacing of Alice is excellent. Tiny hints about characters will be dropped and expanded on in later volumes. Alice’s lower resistance to cute bunnies was foreshadowed when she was snorgling Eliot’s (the March Hare) ears in the previous volume.

Alice spends more time with Peter White and learns about the origin of the Queen of Hearts. It seems like Julius and Blood will soon confront each other over Alice. Meanwhile Ace the Knight who has the bloodiest duties in Wonderland is starting to look weary. Alice mentions to Peter that she’s getting homesick and misses her older sister. Peter starts to tell her something about her sister and then cuts himself off. So I wonder what’s going on there. If Blood is an analogue to Alice’s ex-boyfriend, perhaps the Queen of Hearts matches up with Alice’s sister? And is Alice taking refuge in an insane Wonderland because her unconscious mind is working through some relationship-centric issues? Or maybe Alice’s sister played the game in Wonderland before Alice.

One of the things I like about this manga is that it can be enjoyed on so many levels. The detail in the characters’ costumes and the Wonderland backgrounds is intricate. All the men are handsome, but with the tendency for characters like the twins Dee and Dum to claim they like Alice and then drag her back to their room to show of their collection of sharp shiny knives, there’s an edge to the manga that readers wouldn’t expect from a typical reverse harem scenario. Alice continues to be a spunky and self-aware heroine, and I hope she figures out the game she’s being forced to play in Wonderland. This series is doing an admirable job of sustaining my attention.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Honey Hunt Volume 4

Honey Hunt Volume 4 by Miki Aihara

Honey Hunt continues to deliver plenty of soap opera goodness. Yura is a rising teen idol, throwing herself into show business as a way of rebelling against her toxic actress mother and absent musician father. She’s achieved a small level of success, but has no idea how to feel about her relationship with the equally cute teen idol brothers Q-ta and Haruka. As I was reading the earlier volumes I thought that it wouldn’t be a Aihara manga unless the heroine was juggling the attentions of at least three men and now it is only too obvious that Yura’s manager has a crush on her too.

The best scene in this manga was when Yura’s manager Keiichi informs her that she has to give up on the idea of romance for a year so she can focus on her career. Poor Yura trusts Keiichi entirely and she confesses that Q-ta has kissed her as they’re driving back from a job. Keiichi leans in close as if to kiss her too, and when she freaks out he informs her that she has to learn how to handle men hitting on her if she’s going to be a real celebrity. Throughout this whole scene, the driver of the car is looking at this train wreck in the rear view mirror with a hilarious expression of disbelief on her face. After several Haruka-centric volumes Q-ta is back and he shows himself to be charismatic but incredibly selfish. He tends to pop up and pull Yura away from her other commitments, but then he spends most of his time with her talking about his obsession with her father’s talent. Yura actually does stand up for herself and tells him not to take her out if her father is all he’s going to talk about.

Yura runs off with Q-ta on the evening her drama airs on TV, abandoning her housemate’s planned party for her. It is pretty clear that Q-ta is not the best influence for her. Haruka at least seems to care about her more than her show business pedigree. I’m firmly on team Haruka but knowing Aihara’s tendency to pair up her heroines with the most disappointing romantic partner possible, I’m predicting that she will end up with Q-ta and I will seethe inwardly when I put down the final volume of this series. But along the way I’m enjoying all the romantic complications and Aihara’s slick art that seems to get better and better at portraying teenage mortification and the agony of first love.