Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 13

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’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 13! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Tagging along on Handa-sensei’s visit home, Naru finally arrives in Tokyo! Trains, tall buildings, the zoo-the big city’s full of amazing first experiences! But what will Handa decide when his dad asks him to come back to Tokyo? Volume 13 promises growth, courage, and farewells!

The Review

The tables are turned when Naru joins Handa on a trip to Tokyo. Now he’s the regional expert, and she can barely comprehend her hectic surroundings. But while she makes an atypical guest in the Handa household, this arc is less about her and more about the interactions Handa has with the adults of Tokyo.

For starters, Yoshino-sensei introduces Ojou, a college student working part time for the Kawafuji business. She’s also the girl Handa was asked to consider as a marriage prospect. After Handa turned the proposal down, I didn’t think she’d be mentioned again, let alone make an appearance. However, she is quite unlike her photo and, despite certain shortcomings, can hold her own in the art business world. Except for Kawafuji, Handa hasn’t had much opportunity to hang out with people his age, and as he and Ojou interact, we get a pretty good idea why he doesn’t have a girlfriend.

Then on the professional end of things, Handa meets the representatives for the major hotel project his father is working on as well as a young calligrapher just starting his career. Because Handa has been producing commissioned works and participating in contests (and is the son of a master calligrapher), I assumed he knew what a career as a calligrapher would entail. This trip to Tokyo shows just how much he doesn’t know about the art business. While Naru does have the opportunity to cause her particular brand of mayhem away from home, these chapters are less about her city experience and more about Handa’s reflections on the trajectory of his life.

However, the village isn’t completely left out of this volume. Kanzaki runs away to the village, supposedly to get away from “society’s strictures,” and Handa gives the kid permission to stay at his house while he’s in Tokyo. Thus the island gets another city boy in Handa’s absence. Kanzaki though is less of a clueless urbanite than he is an annoying, whiny one, and poor Hiroshi gets saddled with the brunt of Kanzaki’s damage.

Extras include two bonus manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

Handa finally gets his chance to show one of the villagers around his home turf. However, this arc winds up less about city versus county life and more about the direction of Handa’s life. Naru displays some of her usual kiddie antics, but for the most part this arc is an intriguing glimpse into the demands on a professional artist and the relationship possibilities for Handa’s personal life.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 5

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 5. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back cover blurb

The class trip has begun, but now it’s not just his own classmates Handa needs to worry about. When a rival school ends up going along for the ride, isn’t it a given that Handa-kun’s going to run afoul of a whole new set of kids? The Handa Army have met their nemesee…nemenisee…neemessss–their rivals! There is no way they will allow their beloved Handa to be diminished by the white shirts! Meanwhile, poor Handa-kun is trying REALLY hard just to fit in…

The Review

Volume 5 covers the class trip that Handa’s been anticipating as an opportunity to make friends. Although it does include the usual misunderstandings and failed attempts at bonding with classmates, most of the plot is dominated by students from another school. Nicknamed the “White Shirts,” they get along with the students of Handa’s school like cats and dogs. And this rival school has its own charismatic leader and minions to match Handa and his army.

By “match,” I do mean match. Ichimiya’s bodyguards are comprised of a burly delinquent, a bespectacled nerd, a pretty fashionista, and a no-name ordinary guy. The most entertaining of them is Sousuke Kojika, who goes to interesting lengths for the sake of beauty and has a unique connection to the delinquent of the Handa Army.

As with Handa and his Army, Ichimiya’s Bodyguards operate largely independent of the leader they idolize. So while Handa and Ichimiya are touring Kyoto’s sights, the Army and Bodyguards are waging war, which alternates between group efforts and individuals facing off against his equivalent. Much of this fighting is just a hyped version of the usual Handa Army antics, but the big surprise is the clash between the average guys. Kondou has been a levelheaded observer for most of this series, but it turns out he’s not completely dispassionate when it comes to Handa either.

A major challenge Western readers will have with the arc is the Kyoto backdrop. In keeping with the tourist spots they visit, characters dress up as Japanese icons and make historical references in jokes and insults. If you’ve studied Japanese history or watched one of the many anime or Japanese dramas about the Shinsengumi/Ryouma Sakamoto/Bakumatsu, you have a decent chance of enjoying these chapters. If not, the translation notes in the back of the book provide a lot of information, but it will require much flipping back and forth.

Extras include the title illustration in color, bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s delusion insanity squared when the Handa Army clashes with students from a rival school during their class trip. While the Kyoto setting allows for fun props and samurai cosplay, these chapters are heavy on historical references, which will go over the heads of most Western readers. And although most of the Handa Army’s hijinks are predictable, the trip brings out a surprising side of Kondou, who isn’t as immune to HND Syndrome as previously thought.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #3

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 3 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back cover blurb

Liselotte, daughter of a feudal lord, has been exiled to the lands east of the east of the east, now living with her servants Anna and Alto, the mysterious Engetsu, and the impertinent familiar Yomi at the edge of the witch’s forest. Despite Alto’s objections, Lise’s new family somehow continues to grow. But her troublesome past has caught up to them and Engetsu is seriously injured. Can Lise save him and also continue to live as optimistically as her heart desires?

The Review

Engetsu is in dire straits at the end of Volume 2, thanks to the fight with Liz’s would-be assassin, and with help from Yomi, Liz seeks supernatural help from the massive tree that grows though their house. Eiche trees, like witches, are magical, but their power appears innate rather than something learned. And even though witches are the ones with a bad reputation, the spirit of the Eiche tree makes them look positively benevolent in comparison.(It’s not the witches you have to beware of–it’s the trees!)

Far from being swayed by Liz’s bold demands for help, the Eiche cuts her down with a vicious verbal, then physical assault. In the midst of this encounter, we discover what En endured to return from the dead and the limitations of his current existence. Everything about the episode serves to demonstrate En’s extraordinary devotion to Liz, which underscores the true cost of his restoration when the pair returns to the real world.

With the mystery of Engetsu/Enrich connection revealed, a different mystery arises: Enrich’s origins. After the Eiche encounter, En’s behavior changes so drastically it’s as if he’s a completely different person. Faced with this new,  roguish En, Liz makes the surprisingly astute observation that if they think En’s changed that just means they didn’t know him well enough to begin with. Indeed, even though Enrich knew so much about Liz before, she knew very little about him, and that unknown history before he became her servant looks like it will be central to the next phase of the story.

The angst and despair of the first half of the volume is emotionally draining, thus for the second half, Takaya-sensei reverts back to bird-brained humor. Hilde and Myrte return and wind up incorporated into Liz’s household, which, as Alto describes it, is turning into “a supernatural menagerie.” This of course provides the framework for situational humor between grumpy Alto, prickly Yomi, and their high-strung new housemates. While Liz and En’s interactions retain an element of melancholy, the silly squabbling that surrounds them helps to keep the mood light.

Extras include story thus far, character profiles, embedded author’s notes, six bonus illustrations in color, translation notes, and a sneak peek of Volume 4.

In Summary

En has been the one rescuing Liz all this time, but everything changes after Liz begs the Eiche spirit to return En to her. Now she must strive against the impossible to restore the bond they once shared. In the meantime, a witches’ spat puts Hilde and Myrte onto Liz’s doorstep. Between Liz’s love tragedy and everyone’s new living arrangements, it’s a rollercoaster of ups and down in the land east of the east of the east.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 4

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 4. (For the reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife, but popular TV newscaster Ryu Nanami would rather die than ever get married. Kamiya has proposed to Asuka, offering her the future she’s always wanted, but Asuka is seeing Ryu. Is a battle between the men brewing?

The Review

The members of our love square have very different careers, but somehow Ryu’s station, PTV, manages to get everyone into the same space. First Ryu and his old lover Yuko get paired up to host a weekly music show. Then Kamiya accepts an offer to appear as an expert on a business show. As such, Yuko is a constant reminder of why Ryu rejects marriage, but Kamiya’s presence pressures Ryu in regard to Asuka. In addition, the television screen serves to highlight the romantic rivalries for everyone involved.

Yuko isn’t particularly active in this volume. We mainly get a more detailed glimpse into her interactions with Ryu seven years ago. Kamiya, on the other hand, is stirring things up, intentionally and unintentionally. While his unwavering belief that Asuka is the woman he should marry is still a bit difficult to swallow, he does a fine job promoting himself and pointing out the flaws in Asuka’s current relationship. He’s also sharp enough to figure out the identity of Asuka’s boyfriend and use it to his advantage once he does.

This brings an overdue element to Asuka and Ryu’s relationship. Before, Asuka was the only one struggling with insecurity. Now Ryu gets a taste when he realizes his competition is handsome, smart, and already offering Asuka the married life she so desperately craves.

In the midst of this, an indiscreet moment on Ryu’s part results in a photo that has the media buzzing about whether the PTV newscaster has a girlfriend. Asuka is forced to keep her distance until the furor dies down, and Kamiya finds a clever way to leverage it in his favor. As a result, things come to a head between Ryu and Kamiya, which makes for a delightful final scene in Volume 4.

Extras include a 5-page mini-manga about Ryu’s workday and the bonus one-shot story Pure Love Masquerade, which actually is more about sex than love.

In Summary

Kamiya rises as a formidable rival! While Asuka insists that Ryu is the only one she wants, Kamiya does a fine job of making Ryu jealous. Asuka may not have made any headway on Ryu’s anti-marriage views on her own, but with her handsome business associate trying to woo her away, Ryu may be forced to reevaluate his priorities.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 005

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 5 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

It’s time for the ‘real’ SAO–the third floor! Kirito and Asuna are hardly out the door when they stumble upon the start of the Elf War quest. When they decide to side with the elite dark elf Kizmel, they’re set on a path that will push them harder than ever before. But together, nothing can stop them…right?

The Review

A brand new arc begins as Kirito and Asuna step onto the third floor. To start, we have a sweeping change in cast. Except for Kirito and Asuna, everyone we’ve met thus far–Agil, The Rat, the Legend Braves–exits the stage, and new characters enter the story. However, these aren’t fellow players trapped in Kayaba’s death game. They’re NPCs.

NPCs of the Elf War quest to be exact. Unlike the rock smashing quest of the previous volume, this campaign lasts several floors and requires players to choose a side. Thus, our heroes align themselves with the dark elves and their female knight Kizmel. Our resident “beater” Kirito continues to guide newbie Asuna by explaining the quest’s general framework, but like so many other things in SAO, this quest has changed since the beta. For one, the NPCs’ AI has improved so drastically that their interactions are near indistinguishable from those of real people. For another, the script isn’t nearly as rigid as the beta’s. As such, Asuna regards Kizmel like an actual person and plunges them down a quest route that Kirito didn’t think possible.

Given that this is the “Elf War quest,” there are plenty of battle scenes. Along with elves, giant falcons and wolves dive into the fray, which makes for interesting action. However, this conflict has nothing to do with humans (i.e. the trapped SAO players). All the passion driving this drama belongs to the NPCs, and the creators dedicate an entire chapter to the dark elves’ backstory (which the players never actually witness). While Kizmel’s tale of loss is gripping, this history–as Kirito reminds Asuna’–isn’t real past events but a mere construct of the game.

This brings Progressive to an interesting point. Before, the players’ life and death struggle dominated the plot; now the story centers on characters who were never alive to begin with. While it does demonstrate how elaborate the SAO world is, having Kirito and Asuna get sucked into the NPCs’ story makes it feel as if the creators have run out of ideas for our hapless trapped humans and are falling back on pure fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, Kizmel is, as Asuna aptly puts it, “most definitely a male-created fantasy.” Between her, her late sister Tinel, and Asuna, the creators have plenty of material for fanservice. The bathing tent scene in particular lays it on thick. While it does also include comedy at Kirito’s expense and unexpected relationship advice from Kizmel, it’s really just an excuse to show Asuna and Kizmel naked in a tub together.

Extras include the title page and table of contents in color and bonus illustrations.

In Summary

The human co-stars leave the stage and a lineup of NPCs take their place. In treating the NPC Kizmel as a real person, Kirito and Asuna get swept into her narrative of revenge. While it is an engaging tale, it also takes the attention away from the human players’ life-or-death dilemma, which leaves me, like Asuna, wondering how emotionally invested I should get with these elves.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 11

Takeo Goda, the male lead for Viz Media’s  My Love Story!!  is quite unusual. Bishonen tend to dominate the cast of shojo manga, but Takeo’s looks are about as far from a stereotypical pretty boy as you can get. Still, he possesses tremendous appeal in this hilarious romantic comedy. Volume 11 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Lately, Yamato has been making Takeo’s heart race more than usual, so Takeo tries to train himself to be more stoic. But when their respective schools take them on a trip to Hokkaido, Takeo and Yamato keep getting thrown into close contact! Looks like Takeo is in for a rough challenge…

The Review

Volume 10 ended with Takeo determined to get his feelings for Yamato under control before the school trip, but of course, he doesn’t, and that’s where comedy comes in. Volume 11 opens with the Hokkaido trip well underway, and Takeo’s hormones raging hot as ever. Takeo’s and Yamato’s schools are at different hotels, and their schedules only coincide for one day. As such, their interactions aren’t a multiday stretch but something closer to an extended date–with Suna dragged along. Apparently, the sight of Suna calms Takeo. Thus, we have several hilarious variations of Yamato purposely getting close to Takeo, and Takeo desperately using Suna to maintain control. Eventually though, Takeo does face Yamato and his emotions head on. Although this brings their relationship to a new level, their physical intimacy remains firmly G-rated. By the way, for a school trip arc, we don’t actually see much of the Hokkaido sights.

Next we have a single chapter arc where Yamato decides to improve herself physically. Takeo is obviously the athletic half of the couple, but when he teaches Yamato the basics of tumbling, it becomes clear how unathletic Yamato is. Having Takeo as Yamato’s instructor brings a new aspect to their relationship though, and it’s cute seeing the two of them in martial arts uniforms.

Then a new character appears! Tanaka’s a transfer student who’s as handsome as Suna, and he takes a special interest in Suna. At the same time, the new guy gives Takeo the cold shoulder. Between Tanaka monopolizing Suna’s time and Suna’s strange behavior when Takeo does see him, Takeo finds himself reevaluating his ”best friend” relationship with Suna all over again.

Extras include story thus far and notes from the creators.

In Summary

Teen hormones don’t push Takeo over the edge, but he gets pretty close in the conclusion to the school trip arc. If you liked how Takeo used Suna for kissing practice, you’ll probably enjoy how Takeo uses the “Suna calming effect” to counter Yamato’s efforts to stir him up. Yamato and Takeo’s relationship remains pure as ever, but the creators continue to find cute and funny ways to keep readers engaged.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #9

I became an instant fan of Naoki Urasawa in 2004 when I saw the Monster anime. Psychological thrillers are definitely NOT my cup of tea, but he had me hooked with his combination of realistic artwork and gripping plot. As such, I was thrilled when Viz Media decided to release a translation of an earlier Urasawa action/adventure: Master Keaton. Read on for the review of Volume 9. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Constantly flying around England, Japan and Europe, Taichi Hiraga Keaton is one busy insurance investigator! With a gentle heart and an abundance of combat and survival skills gained from his days with the SAS, Keaton solves numerous difficult cases even while his love of archaeology calls to him…

The Review

Keaton doesn’t seem to get academic gigs anymore. But though his dream of a university position has turned into a running joke, Volume 9 does give him one chance to help on yet another colleague’s dig. Those who prefer Keaton as archaeologist will enjoy the ancient Celtic setting of “The Forest Where A God Lives.” As with so many digs, Keaton’s friend faces an adversary out to sabotage his excavation. However, the creators do an excellent job weaving the local legend into the excavation mystery, and the end does have a truly unexpected twist.

Aside from that chapter, Keaton doesn’t handle artifacts much. Just as his academic opportunities have dried up, his investigative assignments have less of an archeological angle. Out of the five jobs he gets, two of them (“A Gift from the Dead” and “House of Roses”) read like standard murder-mysteries. A third (“The Heart’s Walls”) is mostly social and political commentary on East Germany. The remaining two, “Tom Bower” and “Knight of the Lions,” have historical components, but they are literary and not archeological. I should mention that “Knight of the Lions,” which is the only two-chapter arc in the volume, had a disappointingly weak plot. The creators do a nice job of setting the stage with shadowy enemies, but the Don Quixote clue used by the kidnapping victim seems too vague for Keaton to draw any kind of conclusion. However, this story is unusual in that Keaton and his allies do not claim complete victory over their adversaries. In addition, those more interested in Keaton’s SAS skills will get to see them at work.

He also leaps into action against gun-toting bad guys in “Twilight of the Migratory Birds,” ”Island of the Coward,” and “Interview Day.” Interestingly, all these stories involve attacks by various Mafia during Keaton’s time off. The tone ranges widely, however. The hostages and wounded detective keep the tension high in “Island of the Coward.” On the other hand, the blithe attitude of Keaton’s womanizing dad in “Interview Day” turns a run-in with the Chinese mafia into a comedy. “Twilight of the Migratory Birds” also has light moments but blends in a healthy amount of introspection.

The remaining two stories in this set seem like filler, quite frankly. “The Legendary Faint Smile” follows a lonely Japanese housewife, and “Man of the Tower” is about a businessman friend of Keaton’s. While the characters suffer personal pain and loss, their tragedies are more mundane than earth-shattering, and they don’t stick around long enough for us to really care about them. On top of that, Keaton’s unique abilities don’t come into play, making those chapters a tiresome read.

Extras include the first four pages in color, twelve pages partly in color, and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

A mixed bag of stories and story quality. Keaton gets portrayed as archeologist, bodyguard, detective, and long-suffering son, but while some plots are rock-solid, others are shaky, and two arcs don’t seem to go anywhere at all. As such, every Master Keaton fan will probably find a chapter to like and another to dislike in this installment.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #2

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 2 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back cover blurb

Liselotte, the daughter of a feudal lord, has been exiled to the land’s easternmost reaches by order of her older brother. Despite the bitter past that put her in these straits, Lise enjoys her new life with her twin attendants, Alto and Anna, the familiar Yomi, and Engetsu, a young man who not only harbors a secret, but also bears a striking resemblance to an old acquaintance, Enrich. However, Lise’s quaint idyll is shattered when none other than a witch comes calling!

The Review

Takaya-sensei mentions in her notes that “Volume 1 unfolded at a relatively leisurely pace.” Well, she makes up for it with Volume 2. She starts with flashbacks and a conversation with the local villagers that shed light on Liselotte’s circumstances and brings context to En and Liselotte’s mutual attachment. His reappearance in Liz’s life is no accident. And random though Yomi’s entrance seemed, he also has a reason for hanging around Liz and En.

Then the witch from Volume 1 reappears, this time by Liz’s house. Overall, the illustrations do an excellent job of creating an air of tension and mystery. Unfortunately for one forest scene, sound effects are key to that terrifying atmosphere, and I spent several confused seconds hunting down Yen Press’ tiny sound effects translations (which are almost buried by the original Japanese sound effects) before I could figure out what was happening. To offset the creepiness of the witches, Takaya-sensei inserts silliness in the form of Liz’s blithe decision to embrace the witches as neighbors. Thus continues the somewhat hackneyed joke of Liz’s inedible food.

Her ditzy attitude seems inappropriate for approaching a powerful enemy, but it turns out to be entirely fitting. In one fell swoop, Liz exposes the witch and her familiar to be just as silly as Liz herself. That discovery is a letdown, especially after all that hair-raising anticipation, but Hilde the inept, crybaby witch does make a suitable companion for Liz and company.

Takaya-sensei, however, quickly replaces the witches with another enemy, one whom Liz definitely won’t offer a slice of cake. Magic takes a backseat to swordplay when an assassin explodes on the scene. Apparently, humans are more dangerous than witches, and we get to witness En’s heroics in a duel interspersed with glimpses of a past fight. Some of En’s dagger skills are a bit difficult to follow, but overall, the battle brings Volume 2 to a thrilling and emotional close.

Extras include embedded author’s notes, the title page in color, and translation notes.

In Summary

Volume 2 fills the blanks of Volume 1 to make what felt like a random assemblage of characters without clear direction into the tale of tragic lovers grasping at a second chance. Takaya-sensei had done a marvelous job of painting the witches as a malevolent threat to Liz, so when she reveals their true nature, it’s a disappointment. However, they’re quickly replaced with another adversary, one that sheds light on the past and leaves us with a heart-pounding cliffhanger.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Behind the Scenes Vol. #3

There are a LOT of anime and manga centered around glamorous idols and movie/TV stars, but what about the humble folk that do the grungy, tedious work behind the camera? The unseen teams charged with creating film sets, costumes, and props are the subject of Bisco Hatori’s Behind the Scenes!! Viz Media has released Volume 3, and you can read on for the review. (Reviews of previous volumes can be found here.)

Back cover blurb

Ryuji Goda, Art Squad president and sterling example of self-confidence, has become anxiety-ridden Ranmaru’s greatest role model. Surely under the guidance of such a genius, Ranmaru will come into his own? But now a film camp at a remote mansion is putting Goda’s assurance to the test. Is Ranmaru up to the challenge of saving his mentor from his greatest fear—a child?

The Review

In anime and manga, the camp setting is generally used for clubs to practice, train, and bond. However, even though the Art Squad says they are going to “Film Camp” in Scene 11, it’s actually a multi-day shoot at a borrowed vacation house. Aside from the fact that they are staying at the shoot location overnight, the Art Squad is just slaving away for student director Riichi Kai again. In other words, it’s the usual unreasonable demands sprinkled with set design techniques. The only truly new element is that this film cast includes Rin Debito, a child actor (and a paid one at that). While the clash between the snooty Rin and child-phobic Goda is entertaining, Hatori-sensei also tries to paint the kid in a sympathetic light, but Rin’s personal dilemma only makes him come off as inconsistent. As such, when Ranmaru gets Rin back on track with a cliche phrase, the resolution seems much too convenient.

Once film camp is over, we get a chapter dedicated to Tomu. Aside from the fact that he’s a ball of energy and his family’s loaning the Squad studio space, we don’t know too much about him. However, Hatori-sensei fills in a lot of blanks when Tomu and Ranmaru lend a hand to the Modernist Cinema Club. For a simple-minded character, Tomu winds up in rather complicated situations, and it’s fun getting into his brain.

The volume closes with the Squad’s summertime fundraising projects. While these arcs feature the usual art design and crafts, they are different in that the Squad isn’t under the thumb of a director. In other words, we get to see them direct themselves–with hilarious results. Whereas they only dealt with one kid at Film Camp, they field a whole bunch when they hold a craft workshop. Then they tackle something more in line with their skills when asked to create a haunted house. While this project definitely showcases Maasa’s talents, mouse-hearted Ranmaru winds up key to their success in a surprising (and amusing) way.

Extras include bonus mini manga, embedded notes from the creator, glossary, and author bio.

In Summary

Although it’s billed as “Film Camp,” the Art Squad’s off-campus getaway is really just the usual student film set chaos, albeit with a child actor in the mix. However, we do get to see the Squad in a different element when they tackle summer fundraising. A healthy amount of art/craft techniques are, of course, incorporated throughout (including detailed instructions on shrinky dinks), and those curious about the Squad members will get some intriguing glimpses into their personal lives.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 4

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 4. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back cover blurb

The trials of high school life continue to vex poor Handa-kun. This time he’s drawn the attention of the school’s wannabe manga creators and a passive aggressive library rep, but the true horror high school has in store for him waits just around the corner…

The Review

Of the Handa Army, Yukio is the only one who isn’t delusional. He’s also the one member who doesn’t actually want to be part of the group. But the others won’t let him go, and it’s only a matter of time before Yukio’s reputation is affected. Thus, we have Chapter 16: Handa-kun and the Mundane, in which Yukio experiences a classic high school manga scenario, the letter in the shoe locker. But instead of romance, it turns into a parody, thanks to his association with the Handa Army. While the Handa Army’s commentary on the subject is predictably off the wall, Yoshino-sensei does a good job of setting up Yukio’s expectations and then pulling the rug out from under him.

Then the story moves on to introduce new characters. In Chapter 17, we meet the Beautie-Girls Art Club, an otaku mangaka club. Although they make Handa the subject of their next bulletin in hopes of boosting sales, this chapter mainly pokes fun at extreme geek culture and mannerisms, which, for some reason, include an inordinate amount of puking. To add to the club members’ already unstylish appearances, Yoshino-sensei doesn’t seem to put much effort into drawing them. And despite devoting a 38-page chapter to the club’s creative efforts, we don’t actually see any of the Handa-centric manga they make.

Chapter 18 follows with yet another new character. Kasumi Hirayama is a more typical personality in that she is a Handa fan who admires him from afar. And as library representative, she does most of her admiring amid the bookshelves. However, just as Chapter 16 was more about Yukio’s interaction with the Handa Army than Handa himself, Chapter 18 winds up more about the Handa Army’s impact on the introverted student librarian than her interactions with Handa.

Then as if to showcase all those who’ve fallen under Handa’s spell, Chapter 19 offers a massive convergence of HND-sufferers stalking–I mean, lovingly watching over him as he walks home. The funniest is the most recent evolution of Miyoko Kinjou, whose nickname Eraser is surprisingly fitting. For the most part, Handa avoids direct interaction with his classmates but under such an onslaught, the chapter culminates in a rare moment where he directly addresses the fanatics (but gets completely misunderstood as usual).

Extras include bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

A little Handa goes a long way. Although his actions are minimal in the first three chapters, they’re still enough to save a club and revitalize the school’s neglected library. We do experience a bit of Handa’s thoughts when fanatics descend en masse after school, but even then, the focus in more on the victims of HND syndrome than the angsty teen himself.

First published at The Fandom Post.