Manhwa Review: Aron’s Absurd Armada Vol. #3

An oft-used archetype in popular literature are pirates. Pirate stories are so numerous nowadays, you can find all sorts of buccaneers, ranging from romantic to sly to sinister, and joining the ranks of Captain Hook and One Piece’s Luffy is the idiot pirate Aron!

Yen Press has just released the final volume of the series, and you can read on for the review. (For those interested in my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

It’s pirates…
It’s treasure…
It’s the raccoon god…
It’s a monster…
It’s the sea king and the turtle…
It’s Bell…
It’s the Cornwalls…
It’s the king…
It’s Luther and Dorothy and Admiral Nelson and Lady Grey and so on and so on…
Anyway, Aron’s adventures are still cruising along…

The Review

Aron’s misfit gang has become fairly sizable, and although they get their hands on new outfits and a new ship, they (thankfully) don’t recruit any new crew members in Volume 3. That’s not to say there aren’t new characters. Leading them into their next adventure is the young boy Bell. Quite simply, he is everything that Aron is not. The crew instantly falls in love with Bell, and when they learn he seeks revenge upon the sea monster that killed his best friend, everyone–minus Aron–insists on sailing along to help him. Although Aron generally gets away with his stupidity, everyone gangs up on him to deliver punishment both swift and brutal whenever Bell is around.

In embarking upon this quest, they cross paths with the Navy, which has also suffered losses from the sea monster. While the pirates and Navy sailors do cooperate against their common enemy, the interaction between Aron and the main Navy characters (i.e. the Nelsons) is minimal. Scenes involving the Navy generally focus on the Navy’s perspective of the sea monster problem, and instead of revisiting Aron’s “friendship” with Luther Nelson, they focus on Luther’s one-sided crush on Dorothy and his tenuous relationship with his father.

Then Bell drops out of the story, and a talking bear in an orange jacket comes alongside Aron’s crew as they seek  the legendary knife that makes its wielder the greatest chef in the world! Aside from jabs at poor Vincent’s inedible food, this arc sheds light on the relationship between Mercedes and Wendy and provides back story on the Phantom Thieves. We don’t, however, get much information about the talking bear. Creator Kim seems to have inserted him into the story just so she can have another cute furry creature to draw.

Nevertheless, the bear does point to the crew toward their next quest: community service at a remote welfare center. The welfare center, like the sea monster, is also the target of a naval mission so we again experience the journey from pirate and Navy viewpoints. In addition, the welfare center leads into the final conflict involving the king and Aron’s mom. The Marchioness’ plot and the events that draw Aron into the midst of it are far-fetched, and while the lengthy string of coincidences does match the tone of the series, the finale fails to build a heightened climax.

Manhwa extras include character profiles (although one set seems to be in the wrong section of the book) and parting remarks and artwork from the creator.

In Summary

Aron’s Absurd Armada sails into its final volume! The crew behaves a bit more like pirates with a battle against a sea monster and two quests–although the impetuses for these adventures are rather moronic. The series wraps up with a plot against the king of Aron’s home country. It’s convoluted how Aron winds up at the palace just at the right time, but it makes as much sense as everything else in this series. At any rate, this manhwa reaches its conclusion, and though it had entertaining moments, I’m not terribly sad to see Aron go.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class Vol. #6

While most manga are written in chapter format, that does not mean the comic strip is unknown to Japanese artists. Known as 4-Koma manga, four-panel comic strips aren’t nearly as widespread as their long-format counterparts, but they are no less entertaining.

One of the few 4-Koma titles translated to English is GA: Geijutsuka Art Design, a lighthearted series centered around five art students. Yen Press has recently released Volume 6 and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

As autumn descends on Kisaragi and her colorful GA friends, the gang goes on a trip…through time! Art history takes center stage as festival season approaches at school, providing the girls with numerous opportunities to display their talents (and madcap antics)! The year might be winding down, but the spirit of the GA class is only just kicking into high gear!

The Review

Two staples of school-centered manga are the sports and cultural festivals, and both events show up in Volume 6. The Sports Festival doesn’t offer too much opportunity for the art students to showcase their artistic skills, but Ayanoi High School does include a Obje’t Competition that ultimately winds up a blend of athleticism and creativity. In addition, the GA gang ends up on the other side of the sketchbook as they model sports poses for a classmate.

Art features more predominantly in the Cultural Festival arc with the focus on the Art Club’s 3-D Art House. Most of the Art Club’s exhibits involve optical illusions so these pages contain a lot of clever visual humor. Then we get a view of the entire school festival as the GA girls go out to the crowds to promote the Art House. These pages are very lively and do an excellent job of conveying the bustle and excitement of the festival.

As for the remainder of the volume, only one arc has the girls tackling a class art project (multicolor printing). The rest are a random mishmash, including separate dream sequences for Namiko and Kisaragi and a glimpse of the school back in the early 1970s. Although the stories are cute and entertaining, it does feel like Kiyuduki-sensei is grasping for ideas, especially when the girls pay a visit to the school stable (!?) so that Kisaragi can practice drawing horses.

This volume includes a few sets of color pages describing the major periods of Western art. They include commentary from the GA characters and lists of landmark works.

In Summary

With the school in festival mode, this volume is less about class assignments and more about our art students interacting in a broader school setting. The Sports Festival Obje’t Competition is a bit of a stretch, but the Cultural Festival is a lot of fun and captures the manic energy that goes into putting on the event. Still, we do get a couple of art history lessons although Kiyuduki-sensei takes a fantastical approach and uses characters’ dreams and a random leap into the school’s past for those arcs.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Are You Alice? Vol. 6

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired all sorts of spinoff works, from visual art to movies to manga. However, Ai Ninomiya may have conjured up the most unusual Alice yet.  Are You Alice?, which originally began as a CD series, features a gun-toting male as its Alice! Yen Press has recently released the sixth volume, and you can read on for the review. (If you’re interested in my reviews for previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After barely surviving the Cheshire Cat’s attack, Alice finds himself face-to-face with the sister from his dreams. He remembers sharing the name Alice with her, but the White Rabbit insists the girl’s name is Mary Ann. And to protect this “Mary Ann,” the White Rabbit is ready to do away with Alice for good! But when an unlikely ally intercedes, the demands made of Alice by his savior shock him most of all…

The Review

Volume 5 ended with confusion and violence, and Volume 6 continues along that vein. Much of the confusion stems from nonlinear flow of the narrative. Some scenes are definitely flashbacks, but with others, it’s unclear what’s real and what’s imagined, especially where the White Rabbit’s “Mary Ann” shows up. However, the jumble of crazed present and hazy past does make one thing clear, and that is the 89th Alice’s connection to the original Alice in Wonderland. Having discovered (or been reminded of) that connection, the 89th Alice reaches an epiphany, and the plot reaches a turning point as he finds a goal for himself.

The story then settles into a much easier to follow linear format when Alice returns to the custody of the Mad Hatter. Both Hatter and Alice have irrevocably changed because of the last few chapters so when they are reunited, their dynamic is very different. They’re certainly not buddies, but the two seem to have reached a deeper understanding of one another.

As if to make up for the excessive angst, blood, and insanity, the story then shifts to a lighter mood with the recuperating Alice in Hatter’s shop. Chapter 33 feels like an extended bonus manga with the two bickering like disagreeable siblings or a grouchy old couple. Their griping doesn’t really move the story forward, but it’s still entertaining and a welcome break from all the intrigue and serious stuff.

And that’s when the March Hare bounces into Hatter’s shop. We’ve seen him before with the White Rabbit, but interestingly, he’s not on Hatter’s hit list. So the comic bickering between Hatter and Alice expands to include the March Hare. However, although the March Hare appears simple-minded, he is working toward his own goals, and the mood grows steadily darker as we discover his designated role in the Wonderland game.

Manga extras include closing remarks from the creators and the title page and table of contents printed in color.

In Summary

The story is set in Wonderland so it stands to reason it would contain some weirdness, but for the first third of this volume, it is very difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not. Despite this, we get a clear picture of the 89th Alice’s relationship to the original Alice, and the 89th Alice finds a goal strive toward. Thus, an intriguing new arc begins with a motivated Alice and the March Hare, who isn’t quite the happy-go-lucky bunny he seems.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manhwa Review: Goong Vol. #16

What if modern Korea was a constitutional monarchy similar to England’s? That’s the backdrop for Goong: the Palace, a manhwa that got turned into a wildly popular drama and musical.

Set in an alternate world where the Korean monarchy still exists, the story follows Chae-Kyung Shin, a strong-willed commoner who attends the same high school as Shin Lee, the crown prince. After accidentally witnessing Shin proposing to his girlfriend Hyo-rin and being rejected, Chae-Kyung unexpectedly learns that she will marry Shin and become crown princess due to a promise between the former king and her grandfather.

Yen Press has just released Volume 16 of the series, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes go here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Struggling with reconciliation, Shin and Chae-Kyung are suddenly stuck in awkwardly close quarters when the king orders that the pair stay put until he can defuse the situation with Yul. But when the king, preempting Yul’s plan, confronts the public with the truth about his brother’s final wishes and allows them to decide who should be crown prince, Chae-Kyung seeks to defy the king’s command and return home to intercede with Yul. But instead of running home, she runs right into a trap…set for Shin!

The Review

Volume 16 is packed with drama, both intimate and public. Bombshells explode so quickly on each other’s heels that these chapters could have come off as ridiculously over-the-top. However, previous volumes have laid the groundwork such that the story sweeps you along rather than drowns you in melodrama.

To start, the opening chapter concludes the romantic moment begun at the close of Volume 15. Given the never-ending obstacles in the Crown Prince and Princess’ relationship, I assumed something would dispel or interrupt the mood. I was wrong. As such, Volume 16 should be a memorable one for Shin/Chae-Kyung fans. There’s a lot of skin, but the tone is more poignant than hot and heavy. Of course creator Park can never let things get too sappy, and bawdy humor returns the next morning with Eunuch Kong and Lady Han barging in to serve breakfast in bed.

Then the drama returns with a surprise announcement from the king. Yul’s been plotting all this time to wrest the throne by painting his uncle as a usurper, but the king outwits him, foiling the prince’s plot. In doing so, the king inadvertently ruins another plotter’s plans, and the trap Yul’s mother laid for Shin gets sprung by Chae-Kyung instead.

It’s not a K-drama without someone getting rushed to the hospital. While everyone (with the possible exception of Yul’s mother) is deeply affected, the two princes are the most distraught. However, Chae-Kyung’s hospitalization provides another opportunity for Shin and Chae-Kyung’s romance to deepen. Meanwhile, Yul gets hit by mind blowing guilt when he learns why Chae-Kyung left her cottage and again when he learns his mother’s part in the accident. As usual, creator Park has to lighten the heavy mood with some laughs, and her rendition of Chae-Kyung’s post-accident face is pretty funny although I could have done without Eunuch Kong’s “Lady Mama” wedding dress.

Included as extras in this volume are Words from the Creator from the Korean Volumes 23 and 24, a four-page manga about creator Park’s trip to France, and another four-page manga about Park and Yul.

In Summary

The emotional roller coaster that is Volume 16 brings Chae-Kyung and Shin closer than they’ve ever been. Yul, on the other hand, is as manipulative as his mother at times but so miserable you can’t help pitying him. He looks as if he’s blown his chances for winning Chae-Kyung’s heart, and things could possibly head toward a happy ending for Chae-Kyung and Shin. However, creator Park’s left a significant loose thread, namely the driver implicated in Chae-Kyung’s auto accident, that should fuel the drama for several more chapters.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #9

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has  a unique bent to it. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has recently released the ninth volume of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

The Review

Eve, whom we only caught a glimpse of in Volume 8, gets introduced in earnest in Volume 9, and she is, if nothing else, complicated. While shepherdess Norah and clergywoman Elsa were both interesting in their own right, their respective occupations weren’t too terribly unusual. Eve, however, is a merchant, which is such an anomaly for her gender that she dresses as a man to conduct business. On top of that, she’s former nobility. She’s no shrinking petunia though. She’s bold enough to literally sink a ship for profit and so successful she’s no shortage of people wanting to partner with her.

A complex personality indeed, and thanks to her, Lawrence gets to speak to the Jean Company regarding the strip mining book that could threaten Holo’s homeland. Of course, it’s not charity on Eve’s part. She’s involved in the Kerube dispute, acting as the Northerners’ “mercenary” in negotiations with the Southern moneylenders. While land and massive amounts of money are involved, this Spice and Wolf conflict is less an economics lesson and more a behind the scenes power struggle. Unfortunately, so many nuanced details are involved that the intrigue is difficult to follow, and I still haven’t figured out what Lawrence means when he laments to Holo that Eve is being used as a “scapegoat.”

However, everything changes when a ship just happens to catch a narwhal in the middle of the negotiations. The timing is extremely convenient, but at least it simplifies the town conflict to “the side that gets the narwhal wins.” As a result of this unexpected development, Eve finds herself needing Lawrence’s assistance and dangles the strip mining book as bait. Unfortunately, siding with her would put him at odds with his guild, a position no sane merchant would dare take. All in all, it’s a tricky situation for Kerube and Lawrence.

Fortunately, the waif Col offers some simplicity amid all the machinations and back room talk. He has yet to discover Holo’s wisewolf secret, and dialogues involving him are refreshingly straightforward. We even get the secret behind the copper coin manifests introduced in Volume 8, and Koume-sensei’s illustrations of Col’s explanation are a hundred times clearer than the all-text version in the light novel.

Extras include a world map, story thus far summary, and creators’ closing remarks.

In Summary

The search for the strip mining text embroils Lawrence in a citywide property financing dispute and a vixenish merchant’s scheme. Eve is an intriguing new addition to the cast, but it is difficult to discern the role she is playing in the Kerube marketplace conflict, which is less about economics and more about machinations driven by greed and power. Holo seems to tease Lawrence excessively regarding his interactions with the female merchant, but that aside, it is interesting to watch the maneuvers of a human woman who appears a match for even Holo’s wits.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Oresama Teacher Vol. #17

Mafuyu is a high school delinquent who wants to turn over a new leaf. So when she transfers schools, she thinks she’ll finally be able to live the life of a normal girl. There’s just one problem: her teacher  Mr. Saeki is a bigger delinquent than she is!

Oresama Teacher is a shojo manga that offers humor of the silly variety. Volume 17 has recently been released, and you can read on for the review. (For those who are interested, you can click here for my reviews of earlier volumes).

Back Cover Blurb

Someone has been blackmailing members of the Public Morals Club into resigning! Mafuyu and Hayasaka have figured out what got Akki and Okegawa to quit, but Yui rejoined the student council and they haven’t seen him for days. Worried about their friend, they break into his room to find him. But Yui’s defection wasn’t coerced—and he’s more determined than ever to protect Miyabi’s interests! Will this be the end to more that just their friendship?

The Review

Yui dominates this volume, and the opening chapter recaps recent events as seen through Yui’s point of view. Interestingly, Mafuyu’s run-in with West High’s Sakurada, which I’d dismissed as a random cameo, turns out to have major significance for this arc. When the action moves forward once more, Yui is dealing with conflicting feelings about the Public Morals Club while Mafuyu and Hayasaka are desperately trying to locate him.

The brawl that ultimately erupts between Mafuyu and Yui has been a long time coming. Yui joined the Public Morals Club as Miyabi’s spy, and although he’s grown close to Mafuyu and Hayasaka, Yui’s loyalty to Miyabi never wavered. The surprising twist to this scenario is the emergence of Yui the Ninja. His obsession with ninjas has been a running joke, and although he is good with a shuriken, his stealth ability is nonexistent–or so we thought. As it turns out, he actually does have ninja powers, but, like Ayabe’s superstrength, they only manifest under certain conditions. That plus the secret behind the blackmail letters to the Public Morals Club creates terrific tension up till the moment Mafuyu confronts him.

The resolution, unfortunately, is a bit too quick and easy. Tsubaki-sensei reveals the reason behind Yui’s connection to Miyabi, but it doesn’t jibe very well with what we’ve seen of his personality over the course of this series. Also, given the depth of his betrayal to the Public Morals Club, Mafuyu and Hayasaka seem extremely quick to forgive and reaccept him. At any rate, the arc concludes with all of Yui’s secrets out, and the Public Morals Club restored. However, that means Student Council Member Momochi is still lurking in the wings, and a scene between her and Miyabi hints that perhaps she’s got a hold on him and not the other way around. In addition, Tsubaki-sensei is building an air of mystery around Hayasaka, and between him and Momochi, there are definitely enough unanswered questions to keep readers interested.

The volume concludes with the story shifting gears away from intrigue with a summer break interlude. East and West High students populate the page once more, and Tsubaki-sensei offers some lighthearted comedy with Mafuyu trying to convince her old friends she’s a popular girl at her new school.

Lots of extras in this volume, including Characters and Story Thus Far, 4-panel comics, and a rather detailed set of character profiles on the Midorigaoka students. Hojo’s height appears to be erroneously listed as 6’6″ though. (That would make her taller than Takaomi!)

In Summary

The mystery behind the blackmail letters is revealed! Tsubaki-sensei creates great tension with Yui’s torn loyalties between the Public Morals Club and Miyabi, but the ultimate resolution seems too quick and convenient. Still, the plot remains engaging with Momochi awaiting her turn to take on the Public Morals Club and new questions concerning Hayasaka. Plus, the bet for Midorigaoka High School looks as if it has an interesting new facet, which is likely to come into play when Momochi makes her move.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Barakamon Vol. 1 Manga Review

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ new series Barakamon!

Back cover blurb

For a certain reason, a handsome, young calligrapher by the name of Seishuu Handa uproots himself and moves to an island on the westernmost edge of Japan. “Sensei,” as he comes to be known, is a city boy through and through, and has never experienced rural life until now. And by the looks of it, he has much to learn! Luckily(?), he has a willing teacher in Naru, the energetic expert islander, to help show him the ropes. But can Sensei keep up with the plucky first-grader, or will he get schooled?! Here unfolds a heartfelt island comedy about a gruff on the outside, soft on the inside urbanite teacher and his new, unfailingly kind island neighbors!

The Review

The story definitely falls into the “fish out of water” category, and the fish of interest is 23-year-old Seishuu Handa. Thanks to an ill-timed outburst, he gets  abruptly shipped out of Tokyo to a remote island in westernmost Japan. There are several anime and manga that play on the theme of city transplants to rural Japan, but Handa is unique in a couple ways. First of all, he’s a master calligrapher (apparently that profession still exists in this digital era). Secondly, unlike many urbanites-plunked-into-the-country, he’s not forced to live (nor does he care to) like the locals. He was a calligrapher in Tokyo and continues to hone his calligraphy on the island. As such, the main sources of conflict and comedy spring from personality clashes with his new neighbors.

Handa’s new home is in the Gotou Archipelago, where the locals speak their own dialect. To communicate this, Yen Press has translated all the islanders’ dialogue into a kind of redneck speech (i.e., “Ah ain’t gonna tease livin’ things no more.”). While it does make obvious the difference between Handa and his new neighbors, having their dialogue in dialect does slow down the pace of reading. Like many far-flung communities with little economic opportunity, most people Handa’s age have moved out of the area. That means most of his interactions are with those much older or younger than him, and the islander who pesters interacts with him the most is first grader Naru Totoishi.

Children Naru’s age are often portrayed as adorable cherubs or sassy mischief makers, and Naru falls firmly in the latter camp. The house Handa rents was formally used by Naru and her friends as a hideout, and Handa immediately throws the kids out. His intention is to isolate himself to perfect his calligraphy. However, Naru takes a liking to him and won’t leave him alone. In addition to being noisy and headstrong, she’s picked up a variety of gutter terms from the older kids, and because she doesn’t know what the words actually mean, she spouts all sorts of inappropriate statements. While some of Volume 1′s humor stems from Handa dealing with his new rural surroundings, the majority is of the prickly-adult-contending-against-obnoxious-and-impossibly-persistent-small-child variety.

Thanks to Naru’s pushy nature, Handa interacts with the populace much more than he intends. He has no desire to settle down in the place, but the locals’ lifestyle and outlook do start to affect him, just as Handa’s drive for excellence rubs off on certain members of the populace. And in the midst of the physical humor and bawdy jokes, there are deeper moments of soul-searching as Handa reflects on the circumstances that drove him out of Tokyo and the trajectory he wants his life to take now.

Extras include a bonus four-page manga, translation notes, and information about the story’s island setting.

In Summary

The back cover blurb makes Handa sound like a needy soul that has wandered into the countryside and Naru his helpful guide into rural life. On the contrary, Naru’s more pest than guide, alternately getting in Handa’s way or blabbing things that get misconstrued in the village gossip network. While there is a bit of city-boy-struggling-to-adjust-in-the-country, the overwhelming dynamic in Volume 1 is that of an overly serious adult dealing with a noisy kid that just won’t go away.

Los Angeles celebrates Hello Kitty’s 40th Anniversary

Hello Kitty aficionados will be swarming upon Los Angeles this weekend. 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of Sanrio’s signature character, and they’re celebrating with the first official Hello Kitty Convention in LA’s Little Tokyo. My husband and I were hoping to attend Kitty Con, but sadly, that’s not going to happen. He has to travel to Asia for work, and even if his schedule suddenly changed, Kitty Con has sold out.

kitty giantsOur one consolation is that the exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum celebrating the event will be on view through April 26, 2015. Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty explores the evolution of Hello Kitty through a display of rare and unique pieces from Sanrio’s archives. We’re planning on being in LA in March, and you can bet that the Japanese American National Museum will be our first stop.

Hello Kitty has gone a long way in her forty years. The two of us are roughly the same age, and I remember when her products are only available in specialty stationery shops. Now she’s on jewelry, electronics, car accessories, home furnishings, food products–she’s even wrangled deals with Major League Baseball! One market that she has yet to take over is male clothing, but my husband holds out hope for a line of Hello Kitty menswear in the United States.

kitty patchBefore you scoff, check out these pictures. The United States is not the only place celebrating Kitty’s 40th. While my husband was in Hong Kong this summer, he stumbled across Giordano, a fashion retailer that was honoring Kitty’s anniversary with a special line of women’s and men’s clothing. Granted, the men’s selection was smaller than the women’s, but it was still there. As far as he’s concerned, it’s just a matter of time before American men are sporting garments featuring Japan’s most famous cat.

kitty tshirtOh wait… she’s not a cat.

An odd consequence of the Hello! exhibit is the shock Kitty fans got last August. When curator Christine Yano was preparing her written texts for the Japanese American National Museum’s exhibit, she described Hello Kitty as a cat, and “was corrected–very firmly.”

According to Sanrio: Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.

Perhaps that was clear to the Japanese, but on our side of the Pacific, all sorts of minds were blown. It did answer one question for me and my husband. We had always wondered about Charmmy Kitty being Hello Kitty’s pet. After all, for a cat to own another cat sounds like a bizarre kind of indentured servitude. But if Hello Kitty is a little girl, then obviously the relationship is okay. Of course, it raises a lot of other questions that have made for some interesting conversations.

But whether she is cat or a mutated human child, her goods remain adorably appealing. Which means we’ll continue to buy them. Since the announcement of Hello Kitty’s official not-a-cat status, my husband has bought three additional Hello Kitty plushies to add to the collection that is starting to take over our bookshelf.

kitty shelf

Happy 40th, Kitty!

 

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 6

Kaoru Mori is best known for her work, Emma, an exquisite romance/slice-of-life set in Victorian England. Her latest work to be released in the United States, A Bride’s Story, is also a historical/slice-of-life but is vastly different than Emma. Set in Central Asia in a rural town near the Caspian Sea during the early 19th century, A Bride’s Tale revolves around a young woman, Amir, who arrives from a distant village across the mountains to marry Karluk, a boy 8 years her junior. Volume 6 has recently been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori’s tale of life on the nineteenth-century Silk Road heads back to Amir and Karluk. In the year since his marriage, Karluk has grown a good deal, but Amir can’t help but feel overprotective of her much younger husband. Karluk wants nothing more than to prove that he can be a strong and competent man–and he may soon have the opportunity to prove just that. Desperate for land to feed their flocks, Amir’s former tribe prepares to attack her village with a fearsome arsenal of cannons and guns provided by their new allies. This time the Halgals are not interested in capturing Amir–no one is safe from their terrible assault!

The Review

After spending the last couple volumes with twin brides Laila and Leily, the story returns to its original bride Amir and her native clan’s as of yet unresolved dilemma. It’s been a while since the story’s touched on this particular arc, and Mori-sensei provides a handy recap of the circumstances that drove the Halgal to try to take Amir from her new family. While the Halgal’s failure to retrieve Amir resulted in a happy ending for her and Karluk, it left the Halgal with no solution for their predicament. Now, with winter approaching, the tribe is desperate, and the one who really shines in the tumult is Amir’s brother Azel.

Recent chapters have spent a lot of time on kids starting to take on the role of adults. Even Volume 6 opens with Karluk arguing with Amir because he wants to wear the clothes of a man, not a boy. However, once Azel returns to the story, everything changes. He is without question a man. Most of this volume is told from his perspective, and these chapters paint him as both a sympathetic and sexy character. Mori-sensei seems to revel in showing off Azel’s masculinity, whether on horseback, hunting game, or on the battlefield. She even finds an excuse to have him go shirtless for several pages, and yes, it is dazzling eye-candy.

The Halgal’s crisis causes a split among generational lines. Unfortunately, seniority trumps all, and Azel and the other young men must obey their elders despite their misgivings. The clan chief’s eagerness to ally himself with the Badan is the weakest part of the plot. The deal’s so obviously fishy that a disgusted Joruk says, “Even I can see that, and I’m an idiot!”

However, if you can ignore the fact that the Halgal elders are wholesale fools, the rest of the book is an excellent read. The subsequent joint attack on the village is thrilling with battle scenes that jump off the pages. Karluk and Amir once more display their bravery and devotion to one another, but Azel is the one who really shines. I have a feeling that his fangirl following will rise sharply after this installment.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

The Halgal plot another attack on Karluk’s village. This time it’s not about seizing a bride but taking everything. Amir’s older brother is the star of this volume, a stunning contrast to his seemingly deranged father. If you’ve wanted to see the strength of a nomadic herdsman exemplified, this volume showcases Azel’s skills both in the solitary wilderness of the mountains and in the heat of battle.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Bravest Warriors Presents: Catbug’s Treasure Book Review

If you’re a fan of the Bravest Warriors animated series, chances are you’re also a fan of the cutest member of its cast, Catbug! Absolutely adorable with his squeaky voice and somewhat ADD personality, he now reveals all his secrets in Bravest Warriors Presents: Catbug’s Treasure Book!

Back Cover Blurb

Four teenage travelers traverse the universe saving those in need…though not always in the way you’d expect…in fact…never! Along the way they meet aliens, phantoms and other interdimensionals—including everyone’s favorite, Catbug. Sometimes…they even meet themselves!

In Catbug’s Treasure Book we see the world from his perspective. A kind of scrapbook, the pages are filled with memories and souvenirs of his adventures with the Bravest Warriors, along with his playtime imaginings. There are also allusions to past episodes (Danny’s eyebrows taped to a page, for example), and hints at secrets not yet revealed.

The Review

If you do not know who Catbug is, can’t identify all four Bravest Warriors, and haven’t the foggiest what an Impossibear is, do yourself a favor, and do NOT buy Catbug’s Treasure Book. At least not until you’ve acquainted yourself with Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors animated series. Prior to my taking this book off the Fandom Post review pile, my only exposure to Bravest Warriors was seeing my 21-year-old cousin in Catbug cosplay at Fanime 2013, and I can personally attest that giving a Bravest Warriors noob Catbug’s Treasure Book will only result in mass confusion. However, if you are a Catbug fan and enjoy his playful hijinks, silly interjections, and wild imagination, you can get plenty more in his treasure book.

The hardcover design of the book is very similar to a child’s storybook but don’t be fooled. If you’re expecting a single cohesive story with beginning, middle, and end, you won’t get it. Catbug’s Treasure Book is actually a kind of journal, the written record that would result if a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence transcribed all of Catbug’s thoughts. And since Catbug has the intelligence and attention span of a 7-year-old boy chugging Mountain Dew, the content of the book goes all over the place. Then again, it’s the sort of randomness that’s typical for Bravest Warriors.

Most of the book is presented as a dialogue between Catbug and the journal, the Futuristic Electromagnetic and Enigmatic Learning Encyclopedia X, (a.k.a. Feelex). Feelex does have a personality though it does take things a little too literally and seriously. As mentioned earlier, there is no plot per se, but over the course of their conversations, we get a few anecdotes about the Courageous Battlers and Bravest Warriors, the origins of Feelex, and a couple ramblings that go absolutely nowhere. The book is illustrated throughout and includes a few two-page spreads.

As you might guess from the title, Catbug is the star of this book. The four Bravest Warriors are relegated to supporting roles. Interestingly, Impossibear features predominantly and not just in the illustrations and Catbug’s stories. On nearly every page of the journal are “handwritten” comments from Impossibear (ostensibly jotted down when Catbug had him fill in the blanks for some Mad Lib style pages), and for me, Impossibear’s snarky remarks are the most entertaining part of the book.

In summary

Catbug’s Treasure Book contains pictures, anecdotes, and other Bravest Warriors-styled flights of fancy you won’t find anywhere else. However, be warned that it does not contain an overarching plot, and the four Bravest Warriors have relatively minor parts. But if you’re a big Catbug (or Impossibear) fan, this will probably be up your alley.

First published in The Fandom Post.