Tag Archives: shoujo

Oh! My Brother Voume 2

Oh! My Brother Volume 2 by Ken Saito

I was a little disappointed with the first volume of this series because it didn’t have the emotional complexity of Saito’s other series The Name of the Flower. Masago’s superstar older brother Shiro sacrificed himself to save her from being killed in a freak accident. He’s unable to move on to the next world and possesses her body. The mournful origins of the split-personality scenario weren’t really touched on a whole lot in the first volume, and I suppose I expected a bit more angst from Saito. The emotional ramifications of Masago’s spirit possession start to be developed a bit more in the second volume, so I can now see myself following this series to the end even if it doesn’t reach the heights that Saito seems to be capable of.

Masago was exhausted from arranging the school cultural festival in her brother’s memory, and Shiro took her exams for her. She got a perfect score and is now being singled out to run for student council. She has to deal with the usual complications including mean girl bullying and her feelings for Shiro’s best friend Kurouma and the watchful presence of Shiro’s rival Kuga. Where things start to get more interesting is the ways the brother and sister start reacting to their predicament. Masago gets angry as Shiro’s meddling and tells him to go away. Shiro initially warns Kurouma about dating his sister, but when he learns that Masago views Kurouma as an idol he relaxes because her view of his friend is that he’s entirely out of her reach. Shiro is upset that he can’t do more for his sister. Her reliance on him starts to look more and more co-dependent. While she is starting to assert herself more at school, she still doesn’t want her brother’s spirit to leave her.

Masago’s body language totally changes when her brother takes over, which is fun to see. While I think I can predict the ending of the manga after reading the second volume I’m more interested in seeing her journey as she hopefully moves towards greater independence. I’m probably judging Oh! My Brother a little too strictly because I like The Name of the Flower so much, but I think the series is starting to get much better. This is usually why I decide to sample the first couple volumes of a manga before deciding to keep buying or drop it.

Key to the Kingdom 4-6

As I was reading the latter half of this series, I thought that six volumes is a really nice length for a manga series. It isn’t so overly long that the author gets caught up in endless monster of the week fights or having the characters engage in circular plot loops. But it is long enough that the author is able to spend plenty of time setting up a complex plot and developing the supporting cast. There are spoilers ahead for the final volumes!

Key to the Kingdom Volume 4 by Kyoko Shitou

I started out being a little annoyed with the young sheltered hero of this manga, Asta. But as he makes his way in the world to Beltos, a country his older brother told him to visit if anything ever happened to him, Asta shows courage and ingenuity as he unravels the mystery behind the Key to the Kingdom. On the other hand, Letty, who initially seemed like a strong and vibrant girl is starting to act like a spoiled brat because her crush on her knight Alex isn’t reciprocated. She’s only 13 and is possessed by a demonic relic, so I suppose she has an excuse for acting like a brat. I still found her whining a bit annoying. I guess she serves as a good contrast to Asta’s journey towards maturity.

The competitors to the throne are scattered around all four points of the compass, seeking out invisible towers that are supposed to be accessible only on the summer solstice. There’s tension between Asta and Badd because the dragon man Gaius foretold Badd’s death on that day as well. Asta is confident that he’ll be able to change fate, and he uses his book smarts to figure out the deadly nature of the quest. The keys to the towers are actually the humans of royal blood, and their deaths will activate a powerful spell. After a couple volumes of character development and set-up, volumes four and five ratchet up the action, with battling dragon men, foiled kidnappings, and noble knights being good and wonderful.

Key to the Kingdom Volume 5 Kyoko Shitou

Badd’s dark prophecy comes true, and Asta is left alone to navigate back to his country. Of the five people who quested for the key, only Asta, Letty, and Fairheart are left after encountering the invisible towers. The dragon men reveal their true nature, and Asta is tempted by the opportunity to grab some power for himself. Asta’s aware of his own weakness but a magical way of gaining strength isn’t going to work out for him. The bond that Asta and Badd have built during their journey remains, but Asta will have to grow up even more without the guidance of his knight.

There’s a little more focus on Lord Fairheart in the last volumes of the seris. Even though he is all that is noble and good he somehow manages to be admirable instead of an annoying Dudley Doright type. When Fairheart learns some harsh truths about his ancestors he’s willing to ally with the abrasive dragon man Ceianus even though they’ve fought in the past.

Key to the Kingdom Volume 6 Kyoko Shitou

The final volume shows Asta being forced to confront what he always avoided, having to lead men into battle. He’s arrived at Fairheart’s lands, but the border lord hasn’t come back from his quest yet. The lords want to use Asta’s name as a rallying point to gather additional troops from neighborhood provinces. Asta reluctantly takes command, but his bookish way of waging war is designed to minimize the loss of life both for his men and the enemy. When his clever traps and strategy don’t prevent death, he wonders what he’s become.

While any sort of epic fantasy story involving dragons isn’t going to be entirely original, Shitou manages to put some unexpected elements in her story. She ties a creation myth and legends to Asta’s current problems and his intellectual approach towards dealing with kingdom building made him a little different from the “man of action” type hero you usually see in this type of story. One of the things I liked was the way the tone of the series shifted towards the elegiac at the end. While the beginning of the manga showed Asta starting out on his quest haunted by the deaths in his family, he and Badd quickly shift into a bantering type of relationship which Badd often provoked by boasting about his womanizing exploits. Badd’s fate and Asta’s reaction to it ensure that the manga ends with a melancholy and reflective moment, which isn’t what you might expect from a swords and sorcery fantasy manga. Key to the Kingdom was a solid, slightly quirky fantasy manga, which is just what I’ve come to expect from CMX.

The Key to the Kingdom 1-3

The Key to the Kingdom Volumes 1-3 by Kyoko Shitou

CMX can always be counted on to license good fantasy titles. The Key to the Kingdom follows a fairly typical fantasy adventure quest, but the characters and background details in the world Shitou created captured my attention. I picked up all six volumes in this series after reading a review from one of the manga bloggers on livejournal. It took a couple attempts for me to get into this series, mainly because the first few pages introduced a main character I didn’t initially care for. Once all the pieces were lined up for the quest to start I was eager to read about the rest of the journey.

Asta is an indifferent prince. He prefers to spend his time reading in the garden, and declines when his best friend Letty offers to teach him how to use a sword. Unfortunately when Asta’s father and older brother die in battle, his responsibilities are going to have to change. Just listening to all the ministers debate about who will be regent makes him sick (Asta is only 13) and he bursts out yelling that he will refuse to take the throne. The older nobility decide to hold a contest. If anyone with the right bloodline manages to find the legendary Key to the Kingdom within 2 years, they will be given the throne. If no one completes the quest, the throne will revert to Asta. Letty is the first to raise her hand to participate in the quest. She’s a lively girl, and her father gives her an entourage of handsome knights to help her in the hope that he’ll also get a son-in-law. Also competing are the older, potentially evil Duke Alan and General Bardus. Asta decides to participate in the contest too, mainly as a way to research a comment his brother said to him before he died about the need to journey to a nearby kingdom. Asta is aided in his quest by his brother’s right-hand man, a womanizing soldier Baddorias, nicknamed Badd.

Shitou’s art seems a little old-fashioned, but I enjoyed all the androgynous characters with their long flowing hair. She does keep things from being too pretty, as Asta and his rivals for the quest encounter strange creatures when they start to research the history of the legendary Key and its ties to dragons and dragon tamers. There’s a half-elf, half plant with dire prophecies that provides an element of the grotesque that is an effective counterpoint to all the shining armor and long eyelashes. Badd takes his responsibilities to the young prince very seriously, and decides to expose him to the world by removing him from the entourage that would pamper him as they start their quest. A mysterious dragon man named Gaius seems to be following Asta and Badd as they begin their journey.

While the first volume sets up the characters and the central quest, the second volume begins to explore the mythology and backstory of Asta’s Kingdom. Who are the dragon men? Are they dragons in human form or something else? How is the power of the key related to the legendary human dragon tamers, who drank the blood of wyrms in order to receive magical power and immortality? While the participants in the quest tend to scatter, sometimes Asta and Letty meet up. Letty has developed an attraction to one of her Knights, and Asta sees that his avoidance of the martial arts might not be such a great decision when he wants to protect the girl he likes. For the record, Letty is perfectly capable of defending herself, so it was nice to see an example of a somewhat headstrong girl in Key to the Kingdom, even though she does seem preoccupied with her first crush. While the dragon man Gaius might be benign, there’s another dragon man out there interfering with the quest. Ceianus has a well honed hatred for humans, and he doesn’t hesitate to use his mystical powers to strike out at them.

In the third volume Asta encounters the mysterious fifth participant in the quest, a border noble named Lord Fairheart. Asta begins to learn the disturbing truth behind his country’s history, as Fairheart shares some family legends with him. Different participants in the quest learn conflicting information and the dragon men seem to visit everyone to tell them about their destinies. While it isn’t an unexpected story arc, I enjoyed seeing Asta grow more mature as he is forced to confront the world beyond his castle walls. Asta and Badd are struggling in their individual ways with the aftermath of the Crown Prince’s death, and they look out for each other. Asta manages to be resourceful when drawing on all the knowledge that he’s amassed due to his reading habits, and Badd will do anything to protect the young prince. While the whole “quest to find the legendary object” plot is pretty shopworn, the combination of attractive art, sympathetic characters, and the mystery of the dragon men added up to an enjoyable first half for this manga series. Now I just need to set aside the time to read the next three books.

Karikuri Odette Volume 3

Karakuri Odette Volume 3 by Julietta Suzuki

In the back of my mind when reading the first couple volumes of Karakuri Odette, an unexpectedly delightful manga about an android girl who wants to learn how to become human, I was wondering when Odette would become more preoccupied with romance. So far while there were hints of potential romantic relationships, Odette has been more focused on building friendships and learning what it is like to be a real girl. The third volume starts putting the manga firmly in shoujo romance territory as Odette struggles with the idea of what it means to “like” someone.

An underclassman named Yukimura confessed his feelings to Odette, but he hasn’t gotten a reply beyond “Thank you for liking me.” Odette observes all the silly rituals her girlfriends take part in when they are nursing a crush on a guy. Yukimura keeps lurking on Odette’s perpheriay, observing her relationships with her “cousin” Chris (another secret android) and the class tough guy Asao. It is telling that while Odette doesn’t mind being around Yukimura, Asao is the first person she runs to when she feels like she’s discovered something new about human behavior and wants to share her insight.

One of the things I like very much about this series is the pacing. It would be way to forced if Odette were to actually start dating anyone, and instead her relationships with her friends are given plenty of space to grow. Odette gets Asao to go on a double date with her despite his feeling sick and exhausted and one of the things that shows her character development is the way she gradually gets over her excitement and starts to notice how he’s feeling. While it feels like there’s more of a focus on romance in this volume, there’s still room for a self-contained story at the beginning, as Odette and Chris search for a young girl’s lost cat and learn that animal rescues can have unexpected consequences.

I have a weird hang-up about ranking books or assigning favorites. For some reason I feel like I’d be hurting the other books’ feelings. So I’m not going to say that this is my favorite current Tokyopop series, but it is easily in my top 3. I hope more of Suzuki’s work gets translated! I know Viz is going to publish one of her series, but I hope we get even more manga from her.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Tokyopop Ongoing Series – Happy Cafe 2 and Maid Sama 4

Happy Cafe Volume 2 by Kou Matsuzuki

I wasn’t super-fond of the first volume of this series because it just seemed inert. I liked the second volume more than the first because some outside characters visit Cafe Bonheur, bringing with them some narrative tension and actual plot developments. Perhaps too, I knew what to expect from this manga and adjusted my expectations accordingly. Two brothers from a rival Japanese traditional pastry shop show up and engage in acts of sabotage which ends up in a pastry battle at a local restaurant showcase festival. Uru trips and when Shindo goes to save her he injures his main hand for cooking. The staff pull together and rise to the challenge nonetheless. Something about this manga still seems a bit thin. I guess the characters seem more like character types than individuals. On the other hand the simplistic feel good message about bringing people happiness through cake makes it difficult for me to hate on this manga. It would be like challenging a not very intelligent puppy to a New York Times crossword puzzle battle and then yelling at it when it loses. This might be the type of series to sneak up on the reader and grow much better over time. I hope this slight upward trajectory continues with the third volume.

Maid Sama Volume 4 by Hiro Fujiwara

Now Maid Sama is one of those series that does get better as it goes along. Even though Misaki keeps running into situations where she’s forced to don a maid outfit outside her secret job at a maid cafe the wacky antics in Maid Sama are still amusing. The fourth volume shows Misaki and her protector Usui run into difficulties when a rogue student with super-hypnosis abilities tries to come between them. Fortunately the couple battle through the difficulties, only to face the stress of preparing the school for prospective student tours. The rest of the volume focuses on the maid gang’s summer vacation, complete with ghost stories and beach volleyball.

One of the things I appreciate about the art is Fujiwara’s ability to portray malicious glee. When Misaki and Usui band together to fight the freshman hypnotist, there’s a scene of them standing together on the stairs backlit by the sun where they look so evil it is hilarious. Another thing I liked about this volume was the slow development of Misaki and Usui’s relationship. He’s always around to help her out of a jam, but her general attitude towards him is dismissive. She finally acknowledges all the help he’s given her and she’s starting to take his crush on her seriously instead of just ignoring it. The manga is beginning to feature more moments of genuine emotion mixed in with all the slapstick comedy and over the top characters. There’s a cute back-up story that retells the story of Momotaro with the Maid Sama cast, and the characters answer reader questions in their own unique way throughout the manga. This manga isn’t profound and it doesn’t approach the comedy levels of something like Your and My Secret or Yotsuba&, but it is a good pick if you are looking for something light and entertaining to read.

Review copies provided by the publisher

High School Debut Volume 13

High School Debut Volume 13 by Kazune Kawahara

I always approach final manga volumes with mixed emotions. It is nice to see a series wrap up, but sometimes concluding volumes just peter out, without giving the reader a satisfactory ending. While some of the recent volumes of High School Debut meandered a bit, the final volume seemed much more focused. Haruna and Yoh are facing the prospect of a long distance relationship when he starts making plans to study in Tokyo for college while she’s wrapping up her final year of high school. At first she begs him not to go, but then she decides to put her selfish feelings aside and encourage him to follow his dream. It wouldn’t be High School Debut without some frantic plans and ultimately benign misunderstandings. Haruna pretends to be happy about Yoh’s departure by pasting a smile on her face that is incredibly strained. Yoh sees right through her. Their friends take the typical senior class trips, and Haruna and Yoh gradually come to terms with the changes in their lives through snowboarding and making their relationship official when Haruna has a fateful encounter with Yoh’s mom.

As a shoujo heroine, Haruna was unique because she was so open with her feelings. Yoh has always provided a counterpoint to her openness with his tendency to express himself through his actions instead of words. We can see how she’s influenced Yoh as he starts showing signs of his own insecurity at the thought of boys hitting on her when she’s gone. He puts aside low-key personality when he runs around to all of Haruna’s friends to ask them to take care of her when he’s far away. I’ll always be fond of Yoh’s character design, because it is so rare to see a male lead with weary lines underneath his eyes. The ending of the manga flashes back to the beginning in pitch-perfect way that made me close the cover with a smile on my face. High School Debut is by far one of the better high school comedy romance manga that I’ve read. Even though it might stretch across thirteen volumes, I was happy for the longish length of the story because Kawahara’s characters are so individualistic and idiosyncratic.

Haru Hana

Haru Hana The Complete Collection By Yuana Kazumi

Hana has just moved to Tokyo from Osaka to live with her sister. Her parents are in Europe for work. Hana has an unfortunate condition, whenever a boy touches her she breaks out in hives and can only be cured by drinking green tea. Hana’s sister announces that Hana has an after school job, she has been sold to the relaxation room downstairs to work as a cleaner. Hana meets her fellow workers the benevolent gay pastry chef Shinnosuke and teenage masseur Haru. Haru is haunted by memory loss, and he and Hana instantly develop an antagonistic relationship when she starts breaking out in hives if he even if he touches her lightly. While Hana starts out as a cleaner, one day she takes out her violin in order to add music to the food/massage/aromatherapy experience. Shinnosuke promptly decides to take advantage of this new development and name the relaxation room “Haru Hana”.

Some of the plot elements in this manga were a little too cliched for my taste. While I can enjoy shoujo cliches very much if the manga-ka combines them with great character development or unexpected plot twists, there just wasn’t enough of a spark to the narrative to make me enjoy the secrets of Haru’s past or the repetitive nature of Hana’s unfortunate condition. I had a hard time remembering who a couple of the supporting cast were just because they were used so seldom in the main storylines. This was balanced a little bit by the central theme of healing that is explored in the book. Haru’s empathy causes him to experience the stress that customers bring to the shop, but he continues to use his magic hands to make everybody feel better. The workers at Haru Hana really do want to change their customers’ lives, and it is cute to see the trio leap into action with their different specialties to add to the relaxation experience. I did like Kazumi’s art, particularly Hana’s character design. She has short blond tendrils of hair launching off in all directions, giving her the look of an extremely hyper dandelion. While I wasn’t fully drawn in by the plot, I kept reading because I wanted to see the expressions on Hana’s face as she reacted to her developing relationship with Haru.

This is a large omnibus, with three books packaged in one phone book-like volume. I do like this format, and I enjoyed being able to sit down and read through an entire series in a couple days. Some of the darker tones in the art appeared a little grainy, so I wished the quality of the reproduction was a little better. While this series wasn’t a total hit with me, I’ll be on the lookout for more of Kazumi’s work if it is translated. I thought the art had promise, and if the plot of Haru Hana had a little more depth or innovation the potential existed for a much more appealing manga.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Stolen Hearts

Stolen Hearts Volume 1 by Miku Sakamoto

I bought this volume purely because of the cover image. A cute girl in a kimono has her mouth open in an “O” of surprise, while a red-haired boy lurks ominously in the background. At school Shinobu spills milk on a bag belonging to Koguma, the intimidating tough guy in her class. He announces that the bag contains a kimono and says that Shinobu has to work off her debt. He drags her to his grandmother’s kimono shop and she’s given the job of dressing up in the shop’s youth line and handing out leaflets. As Shinobu spends time with Koguma she realizes that his fearsome reputation is unearned. He’s actually a big softie, and he goes out of his way to take care of her while they are working.

Many other reviews of the book have mentioned the awesome character of Koguma’s granny. It is fabulous seeing her boss Koguma around, and the intimidating boy at school automatically becomes a compliant little lamb around his grandmother. It seems that she must have quite a past, judging by the way the local mafia is so solicitous of her grandson.

Sakamoto obviously spent a great deal of time researching kimono design. Her facility with facial expressions ensures that Koguma is an interesting male lead with the way he switches from his usual mode of inadvertent intimidation to bashful boyfriend. Shinobu is very direct for a shoujo heroine. She comments to Koguma that he looks handsome in a kimono, causing him to blush. When she realizes that she has feelings for him she just comes out and says that she’s fallen in love, “so I hope it’s ok if I stay by your side.” The couple start dating in the first volume of the manga, which is nice because some shoujo series take several volumes for the couple to get together. Since Koguma and Shinobu are so busy with work, their relationship progresses slowly. The workplace setting adds another layer of enjoyment to this manga. After reading so many series that are just set in high school, the extra plot point of kimono sales turns even stock plot developments like a school festival story fun. Stolen Hearts is yet another fun, under the radar shoujo series from CMX. They really seem to have a knack for finding unexpected gems to license.

Sand Chronicles #7

Sand Chronicles 7 by Hinako Ashihara

As I was reading Sand Chronicles, I was reminded again how refreshing it is when shoujo series extend the time line of the story past high school. So many manga series end with high school graduation, but I like seeing the cast of Sand Chronicles as they move into the workforce. I think We Were There focuses on post high school life too, but for whatever reason I like reading Sand Chronicles when it comes out and then saving We Were There so I can read several volumes of that series in a row. One of the things I like about Sand Chronicles is that there are no easy fixes for the problems the characters have. Ann is in her 20s now. She has a job, and she is living with her father, new stepmother, and half sister. She’s alone. Her relationship with Fuji has ended, and she’s still haunted by the memory of her first love Daigo who she hasn’t seen in years. A chance encounter with an older businessman induces Ann to finally date someone else, but the man she has chosen has personality issues that would make a relationship with him disastrous. Ann, thinking of her mother, decides she has to do whatever she can to seize the chance for happiness.

The opportunity of a school reunion and Fuji’s advice prompts Ann to take the opportunity to see Daigo again. But Ashihara isn’t giving readers a happy ending just yet. Some people might say that the melodrama is drawn out, but I think it reflects an element of realism. Ann is still struggling with the aftermath of her mother’s suicide, and that event has shaped her personality in indelible ways. Reading her story is interesting because it is about the journey of a character who absolutely deserves happiness and peace, but who may be unable to accept changing her frame of mind in order to embrace these emotions. Ann is getting the message that she won’t find happiness unless she looks inside herself and pinning her hopes and dreams on someone else won’t work out. While she might have gotten this message intellectually, I’m not sure if she has the emotional capacity to change. I can sense this series moving in the direction of a concluding story arc, but it seems like there will be a few more volumes before the series ends. I don’t mind this at all, because I think Ashihara’s storytelling has grown since the series started, and I’m looking forward to the latter half of Ann’s journey.

Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 2

Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 2 by QuinRose and Hoshino Soumei

I continue to be weirdly fascinated by this dating sim manga set in the world of Alice in Wonderland. I was hoping that some of the metatextual elements that I saw in the first volume would be expanded on in the second. This didn’t exactly happen, but there was enough world building in the second volume that I want to keep on reading. I think this manga is like vanilla ice cream made excellent by some awesome raspberry melba sauce. The dating sim core of the story isn’t so great, but there is enough plot and character development in place to make me eagerly want to read it despite that shortcoming.

One of the things I liked about the second volume was that there were more elements that reflected the source material. The volume opens with Alice attending a nighttime tea party at the Hatter’s mansion. It seems like she’s a little more relaxed in Wonderland, taking time to tease Eliot (the March Hare) about his insistence that he isn’t a rabbit despite his ears and fondness of carrot cake. Peter White’s relentless pursuit of Alice continues, but I felt like his speech patterns incorporated more rhyming so I enjoyed the reference to the original White Rabbit.

While the first volume set up Alice’s “game” in Wonderland, the second volume makes it clear that there is plenty of danger for Alice to be concerned about. Julius’ work at the clock tower involves serving as a mortuary for the secondary characters that inhabit Wonderland. When they die and turn into shadows or “after images”, they leave only their ticking clock hearts behind. Julius repairs clocks, giving characters new identities and erasing their old personalities as they are reborn. Ace, the easygoing knight with no sense of direction works for Julius and he is extremely overzealous in his duties as a clock collector.

Part of the motivation behind all the characters chasing after Alice is also explained. Since she’s an outsider from beyond Wonderland she represents their only chance at change. If this was a typical dating sim manga all the male characters would be lost in adoration for Alice immediately. However this isn’t exactly the case. Ace and Peter get into a standoff over Alice, and Ace informs Peter that he doesn’t love Alice, but he does find her interesting. Alice comments to Ace that he doesn’t truly care about her, because if he did he wouldn’t be grabbing her to use as a bullet shield. While the first volume was somewhat frenetically paced, the second volume features Alice getting to know all the characters a bit better.

Honestly, the fact that I still enjoyed the second volume says a lot for this manga. I’ve generally been bored by the first volumes of other dating sim manga that I’ve tried to read like La Corda D’Oro or Haruka Beyond the Steam of Time. So while I don’t think Alice in the Country of Hearts approaches the levels of quality of my favorite series, it does stand out as being an excellent example of its sub-genre, with a surprising amount of world building and thematic depth. I’m definitely on board for the third volume to see where this story is going.

Review copy provided by the publisher