Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 5

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 5. (For my reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Prince Licht’s fascination with coffee should come as no surprise given his affinity for his part-time job at the cafe, but when Leonhard suggests the bitter drink should be banned from the kingdom, can Lichie help him develop an appreciation?

The Review

After Bruno’s internal angst regarding his chances for the throne, Akai-sensei opens Volume 5 with lighter fare, a coffee-themed interlude between Heine, Licht, and Leonhard. Leonhard, as usual, plays the part of the immature prince, but this time his childish tastes pose a challenge for Licht, not Heine. Their confrontation has the feel of a comedy duo, and with Heine mostly observing rather than getting directly involved, it’s a nice change of pace from Heine’s usual schooling.

Comedy also comes in the cute variety in the standalone chapter “Adele’s Friend.” The little princess returns to demand a visit to the zoo, and of course, her brothers (plus Heine) accompany her. It has a very similar feel to the group art class of Volume 4, except this time the unique points of the princes’ personalities get highlighted in the context of animals, which range from cute to ferocious to troublesome.

The rest of the volume is devoted to a past incident involving Bruno and Kai with the focus mainly on Kai. While the story has a 19th-century setting, our characters often display modern sensitivities, and the princes’ normal garb look a lot like Japanese school uniforms. In keeping with this bridging of past and present, Akai-sensei delivers a situation at a military academy that looks a lot like modern high school bullying. Because this arc centers on Kai, much is made about the contrast between his scary looks and his actual gentle nature, but on top of that, we get to see the circumstances that actually would push Kai to violence.

Unfortunately, Heine gets turned into a deus ex machina for the arc’s resolution. While the conclusion is a bit too tidy for belief, it does increase the aura of mystery surrounding the diminutive tutor. It also drives Count Rosenberg, the steward of the eldest prince, to confront Heine, and I anticipate an increasing amount of court intrigue to come.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover; six-page bonus story; and first page printed in color.

In Summary

Kai fans will have a lot to enjoy in this installment. Not only do we get a glimpse into his brief stint in a military academy, we also see how Heine’s influence has shaped him and Kai’s particular take on conflict resolution. And though the eldest prince has yet to show his face, his meddling in his brothers’ affairs is becoming increasingly apparent, and I look forward to him finally making an appearance.

First published at The Fandom Post.



Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 4

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 4. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Heine’s efforts to shape the princelings into worthy successors to the throne continue, but it seems that Bruno in particular is struggling with a bit of a crisis of conscience when it comes to his future. Can he live up to Heine’s standards to remain his “apprentice”? More importantly, does he have the courage to carve out his own path?

The Review

As with Volume 3, half the material in Volume 4 was not incorporated into the TV series. Most of the non-animated chapters are at the beginning of the book and comprise, for the most part, humorous fluff that poke fun at the princes’ quirks. The volume opens with a group art lesson in which the princes must paint a portrait of little sister Adele. What results is a cute, light-hearted chapter that displays our cast’s idiosyncrasies on canvas.

The remainder of the book has Heine dealing with the princes in ones and twos as it often does. Chapter 20 “A Troubled Prince!?” is a brief Leonhard-centric arc which, like most chapters about the fourth prince, is a display of his dismal academics. Unfortunately, this iteration doesn’t vary much from previous ones so I found the gags stale. However, the next chapter, which features Licht, is much more intriguing. Cafe fans will get to enjoy the youngest prince in his waiter uniform while he attempts to pry into Heine’s private life.

As we enter the material included in the anime, the narrative takes a more serious tone. Heine’s job is to groom the princes as worthy candidates for the throne, but we’ve never seen the brothers treat each other as rivals. This changes with Chapter 22. Although the set up is somewhat different than the TV series, it similarly introduces Bruno’s hidden insecurities and sets the stage well for the two Bruno-centric chapters that follow. Thus far, Bruno has alternated between a rigid academic and a gushing Heine fanboy. In this arc, we see the circumstances that led to his strict lifestyle as well as a glimpse of his sense of self-worth. Of all the princes, Bruno is the one most firmly grounded in reality, and to watch him agonize over the options for his future goes a long way in fleshing out his character.

Extras include “Character Profiles” printed on the inside of the cover; one page “intermission” manga; first page printed in color; and translation notes.

In Summary

Volume 4 delivers a nice balance of comedy and drama. We first get three fun standalone chapters that feature the brothers’ affection toward their cute sister, Leonhard’s stupidity, and Licht’s acute sense of perception. The focus then shifts to the line of succession, and more specifically, the person Prince Bruno considers his chief rival for the throne. Not only do these chapters shape Bruno into a more well-rounded character, they also heighten the sense that someone is out to sabotage the four brothers’ chances to become king.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Anime Review: Princess Mononoke Anime DVD/BD Review

Most of Hayao Miyazaki’s films are not set in his native Japan, and only Princess Mononoke has a Japanese feudal era setting. While this makes it distinctly different than his other films, it also makes it my favorite of his works. I had the opportunity to review the Blu-Ray/DVD set for the film, and you can read on for the review.

Cover Blurb

Inflicted with a deadly curse, the young warrior Ashitaka heads west in search of a cure. There, he stumbles into a bitter conflict between Lady Eboshi and the proud people of Iron Town, and the enigmatic Princess Mononoke, a young girl raised by wolves, who will stop at nothing to prevent the humans from destroying her home, and the forest spirits and animal gods who live there.

The Review

Don’t let the GKIDS logo on the case fool you. Princess Mononoke is an excellent animated film but not the type of movie you’d let a five-year-old watch alone. Battles take place between animal gods and people as well as between competing human factions, and images of corpses and body parts getting shot off are frequent and extremely graphic.

On top of the gory parts, the narrative is a complex one. Set in the chaotic Muromachi period, it features members of an exiled ethnic group, rival warlords, and minions of a distant emperor in addition to the forest spirits unique to this film. If you’re not familiar with the Japanese feudal era, the subtleties of the social setting and certain character motivations might be lost on even adult audiences. Ergo, the PG-13 rating.

For those mature enough to take in the film’s violent aspects, however, it is a magnificent tale. And even if it’s unclear why certain people are attacking others in the backdrop, the main conflict—that between the forest and the ironworkers—needs no explanation.

The story begins when a demon—a boar god driven mad by an iron lump that’s penetrated its body—attacks a remote Emishi village. The young warrior Ashitaka kills the demon but not before it afflicts him with a deadly curse. Ashitaka then travels west to learn the source of the demon’s malice and discovers Iron Town. An ironworks at the edge of a primeval forest, it is locked in bitter conflict with the forest’s guardian gods and San, a young girl raised by wolves.

As far as heroes go, Ashitaka is very appealing and rather pure. He doesn’t get conscience-stricken over the samurai who die at his cursed hand, but he is selfless enough to sacrifice his well-being for his village. When he encounters the Iron Town/forest conflict, he is very careful not to get caught up in it. Rather, he wants to help both sides, a stance that leaves both the forest dwellers and the ironworkers bewildered and suspicious. However, he’s not all idealistic positivity. When the great god of the forest does not heal him of his curse, he’s clearly crushed.

San is also pure but in a different way. Abandoned by her family, she feels no connection with people. Her loyalty is to the wolf tribe that adopted her and the forest that’s their home. More than any other human on the cast, she understands and mourns what’s being lost in the face of human expansion, thus her actions wind up those of a feudal-era environmental extremist.

Environmental themes have appeared in other Ghibli films, and it would have been easy to cast the inhabitants of Iron Town and their leader Lady Ebisu as the bad guys wantonly destroying their natural heritage. However, Miyazaki makes the situation much more complex. True, Lady Ebisu sees the forest as a resource to be conquered and exploited, but she’s also a person of tremendous compassion. Many ironworkers are lepers and former prostitutes whom Lady Ebisu rescued, and they are eternally grateful for the new lives she gave them in Iron Town. So although the forest is being destroyed on account of the ironworks, that same ironworks benefits the most downtrodden members of society. As such, there is no black and white in the strife swirling around Iron Town; rather there are many factions colored in various shades of gray, which is a much more realistic portrayal of conflict in the world.

In contrast, the thread of romance that runs between San and Ashitaka is simplistic. He falls in love with her at first sight despite the fact that she’s hostile and splattered with blood. Princess Mononoke is an epic action/adventure so it’s not like San and Ashitaka’s relationship is the primary driver for the narrative, but it would’ve been nice for it to have a more substantial foundation than ”You’re beautiful.”

Extras include exclusive booklet, feature-length storyboards (on Blu-Ray disc only), behind the microphone, Princess Mononoke in USA (on Blu-Ray disc only), TV spots, and the original English-, French- and Japanese-language theatrical trailers.

In Summary

A thrilling epic with sweeping landscapes and a compelling hero’s journey. At times, the socio-political forces at work are difficult to understand, and the romance between San and Ashitaka doesn’t seem to be founded on much at all. However, the mystical quality of the primeval forest and its inhabitants is marvelous, and the animation for the battle scenes are still inspire awe and excitement despite being twenty years old.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Anime Review: My Neighbor Totoro Anime DVD/BD Review

Totoro is an icon. Decades after My Neighbor Totoro’s release, Totoro goods are still popular, and he even made an appearance in Toy Story 3 (although I wish he had a speaking role). I had the opportunity to review the Blu-Ray/DVD set for the film, and you can read on for the review.

Cover Blurb

When Satsuki and her sister Mei move with their father to a new home in the countryside, they find country life is not as simple as it seems. They soon discover that the house and nearby woods are full of strange and delightful creatures, including a gigantic but gentle forest spirit called Totoro, who can only be seen by children. Totoro and his friends introduce the girls to a series of adventures, including a ride aboard the extraordinary Cat Bus, in this all-ages animated masterpiece featuring the voices of Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, in one of their earliest roles.

The Review

Last month I had a holiday gathering with some old classmates. Their elementary school age kids came with them and started running riot in my non-childproofed house. In desperation, I grabbed my review copy of My Neighbor Totoro and put it in the DVD player. Within moments the kids settled down, and for the next 90 minutes, we adults were able to converse in peace.

So even after thirty years, My Neighbor Totoro hasn’t lost its ability to enchant children.

Unlike many American animated children’s films, My Neighbor Totoro has no flashy musical numbers, no talking sidekick animals, and no ridiculously goofy characters. The pace is slow, and commonplace rural scenes and activities take up much of the screen time. Yet the film sings with the beauty of nature, and it’s through the awesomeness of Japan’s forests and waters that Director Miyazaki channels the mysterious, magical quality of the totoros.

The main characters are sisters Satsuki (11) and Mei (4). They’ve moved with their father to a rickety old house in the countryside while their mother recuperates in a hospital some distance away. The two girls are thrilled with their new home, but as they explore it and the surrounding woods they soon discover the extraordinary but shy totoros, gentle forest spirits that can only be seen by children.

When a film includes magic or fantastical elements, often those elements overwhelm the narrative (think Sailor Moon or Harry Potter). However, My Neighbor Totoro has no glittery magical girls or flashy spells. The sisters encounter the totoros in the backyard and bus stop—ordinary, familiar places—and though each meeting stirs a sense of awe for their forest surroundings and its mysterious inhabitants, the children don’t become agents of that wonder themselves, nor do the totoros hijack their lives. For the most part, girls are living a normal life, adjusting to a new place where every now and then they brush up against something special.

And the encounters are quite fun. There’s a lot of child squealing/screaming, which kids probably appreciate. The furry totoros look like cute plushies (probably why totoro toys are popular even today), and their expressions are quite engaging. One of my favorite scenes is when Satsuki loans the big totoro an umbrella and he goes from baffled to absolutely thrilled with it.

The movie also has its share of drama with the uncertain health of the girls’ mother. Although it’s not the stuff of epics, any child can understand the fear of losing a parent. And when Mei gets lost trying to visit their mother’s hospital, audiences will definitely relate to Satsuki’s desperation to find her. While the totoros play their part in the drama’s resolution, it’s the human concerns and emotions that give the film its “heart” and make My Neighbor Totoro a compelling story even decades after its release.

Extras include exclusive booklet, feature-length storyboards, behind the microphone, creating My Neighbor Totoro, creating the characters, the “Totoro” experience, Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli, the locations of My Neighbor Totoro, textless credits, and the original theatrical trailers. Several of these extras are subtitled excerpts of Japanese documentaries, and if you are a big Miyazaki or Ghibli Studio fan, you might want to pick up the Blu-ray/DVD set for this bonus material alone.

In Summary

My Neighbor Totoro is widely regarded a classic and rightfully so. Yes, it’s not exactly a fate-of the-world-depends-on-it roller coaster ride, but it has its own unexpected and charming surprises. Plus, the totoros—in addition to being adorably cute—brim with personality even though they can’t really talk.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Novel Review: Nyxia

The success of The Hunger Games has spawned a surge of YA titles where teens get thrown in to fight each other. Now Scott Reintger adds his version Nyxia, where the battle takes place in space.

Back Cover Blurb

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.


Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

The Review

The teaser on the Nyxia dustcover is misleading. It reads: “The ultimate weapon. The ultimate prize. Winner takes all.” Actually, it would be more accurate to say: “The top eight out of ten win.”

As such, the stakes aren’t nearly as dire for Nyxia’s lead character Emmett Atwater as they were for The Hunger Games‘ Katniss. However, a number of the competitive aspects of Nyxia make it feel a whole lot like Hunger Games training sessions in space. As for the prize everyone is after? The right to go to planet Eden on behalf of Babel Communications to mine nyxia, a miracle substance that can be manipulated by thought.

Due to certain circumstances, the Adamites, Eden’s native humanoids, have forbidden adult Earthlings from visiting the planet. Babel works around this rule by handpicking ten teens to retrieve the nyxia for them. Because Babel has more power and resources than most countries, the compensation they offer is staggering, and for Emmett, this is his chance to get his mom the kidney transplant she needs.

There is, however, a catch. En route to Eden, a range of training sessions and competitions take place in their spacecraft. The recruits’ efforts are ranked, and only the top eight get to go to Eden. As such, even though the setting is space, there’s precious little about the space travel experience or the planet they are going to. It’s all about the teenagers’ rivalries and contests which mostly take place in simulation modules. As in The Hunger Games, there is a ridiculous amount of tech so the kids are able to operate massive mining equipment with minimal instruction and their boating training site might as well be an actual river. And of course, there is hand to hand combat with nifty nyxia weapons. So fans of competition narratives where ranks are constantly shifting on the scoreboard potentially have a lot to like.

The cast, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. To ensure their recruits are sufficiently motivated, Babel chose poor kids, several of whom have an additional need that only Babel can provide. However, for some reason, Babel recruited kids not just from one place but all over the Earth. As such, Nyxia has an international cast, able to communicate thanks to nyxia translator masks. Unfortunately, the international quality doesn’t ring true for me. For instance, a Brazilian girl receives a Spanish-language contract (Portuguese is Brazil’s national language). In another scene, the translator masks are unable to convey the slang meaning of “cool” to a Palestinian, but a page later, a character who only speaks Japanese makes a pun that only works in English. Honesty, it feels as if the author began with a white bread cast and later diversified it to add appeal but didn’t bother to account for the nuances of different cultural outlooks and values.

The story might have worked better if the kids were Americans with different ethnic backgrounds, but other shortfalls remain. Emmett is a poor black kid from Detroit, and the book spends a couple pages laying out how no one in his family has ever truly been free. However, in a later scene, Emmett gets psychoanalyzed after accidentally injuring another recruit in their first hand-to-hand matchup. The doctor, a white man, strongly insinuates that Emmett had no empathy for the boy he injured because “it didn’t show on his face.” As far as I’m concerned, that remark should trigger some kind of frustration or indignation over racial bias, especially since Emmett is the only black male in the competition, he had been following instructions when the accident occurred, and he actually does feel bad about hurting to other kid. But there’s nothing, not even in Emmett’s internal thoughts. Perhaps several decades into the future, racial prejudices and social injustice no longer exist, but that portrayal of the world doesn’t work when Detroit is still characterized as a place where urban African-Americans can’t break the cycle of poverty.

In Summary

Ten kids get sent on an expedition to another planet, but rather than learning about how to interact with the planet’s native humanoid population, they spend their time and effort focusing on how to beat other humans. If you like reading about competitions where points get tallied on a scoreboard, Nyxia may have appeal for you. However, the basis of the competition is farfetched, and the international cast is international in name only.

First published at The Fandom Post.


Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 14

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 14! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Reality is tough, but…surely, the future must be bright. Handa-sensei has returned from Tokyo with a new declaration–he’s going to start his own calligraphy school! But will he find any students!? But when an unusually cold winter brings rare snow to the island, is Handa prepared to hibernate the time away?

The Review

Handa’s returned to the island! However, he is a (somewhat) changed man with a new dream. Before he was an artist striving to find inspiration and his own unique means of expression. Now Handa’s quitting contests and commissioned work to open his very own calligraphy school!

It’s a well-established fact that Handa has no practical skills to speak of and that the Kawafujis have always handled the business end of his calligraphy. That combined with Handa’s unrealistic expectations regarding his new endeavor now gives readers the beginnings of an extended arc with a lot of potential. But before Handa can attempt to recruit Gotou students for his ¥20,000 per month (approximately $200 per month) lessons, he has two obstacles to contend with: the daikon bet and Kanzaki.

The daikon bet was struck a couple volumes back between Farmer Mush and Handa and further complicated by Kanzaki’s thoughtlessness. With Handa certain that Mush will ask for the rights to his house if the daikon are not up to snuff, Yoshino-sensei packs quite a bit of tension into the daikon picking. However, the ultimate outcome culminates in a hilarious illustration that took me completely by surprise. Chapter 103 mixes up the fallout from the bet with the village children’s tag game, which, though not quite as funny as Chapter 102, still incorporates a lot of entertaining action.

As for Kanzaki, he can’t bear to see the artist he idolized leave the calligraphy world. And unfortunately for Handa, a blizzard snows them in so he’s stuck having to listen to Kanzaki’s protests. While it’s funny watching two hapless city boys trying to cope when the water pipes freeze, Kanzaki’s whining comes off as annoying and shrill rather than comical, so it’s a relief when he finally flies back to Tokyo.

Extras include bonus manga on the inside of the cover flaps, translation notes (which are for some reason placed between Chapters 106 and 107), and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

A new dream for Handa means a new arc for Barakamon! Opening a calligraphy school out in the sticks poses a whole different set of challenges for our displaced Tokyoite, starting with securing his teaching space from Farmer Mush and defending his decision against Kanzaki’s protests. While the daikon showdown is quite a bit more fun than I expected, Kanzaki’s whining gets irritating fast, and it’s a relief when he finally leaves the island at the end of the volume.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #12

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 12. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

“If you have the willingness to learn, you can learn anywhere.” With this message from his old teacher in his heart, Taichi Hiraga Keaton finally lands in Romania, where ruins of the Danube civilization lie. Yet, what awaits Keaton is a major horrifying event that shocks the entire nation!

The Review

The vast majority of this series has focused on Keaton’s external challenges, and most stories have been brief, unrelated arcs. However, for the finale of Master Keaton, the creators pull out all the stops to present a volume-long arc centered around Keaton’s dream of excavating the Danube.

Keaton has mentioned his theory of a yet-to-be-discovered Danube civilization on occasion, but in Volume 12, he has his theories formally written into a paper and is trying to gain the academic backing necessary to launch an archaeological excavation. His previous attempts at a faculty position were like a long-running joke, but this time there’s real pathos as Keaton struggles to choose between his aspirations and the restrictions of a conservative university department.

His ultimate decision drives all the subsequent action in the volume. Although that action includes everything from tracking down a lost 20-carat ring to defending a Romanian village from mortar fire, his single-minded determination toward his goal not only holds the wide-ranging narrative together, it allows readers to connect with Keaton on a deeper level. He solves mysteries and clashes with Mafia and former Secret Police like usual, but now that Keaton has something truly personal at stake, he and the story are much more engaging than when he was fixing other people’s problems. Indeed, other people band to help Keaton out of his scrapes, including childhood pal Charlie Chapman and retired Detective Hudson.

The arc’s one minor plot flaw is the ease by which the characters communicate. Keaton’s adventures take him to a remote Romanian village, and while his skills set is eclectic enough to include fluency in Romanian, I doubt Chapman and Hudson can claim the same. Otherwise, it’s a seamless wild ride as Keaton’s search for an artifact’s origins gets him tangled in a more sinister hunt for a former dictator’s hidden fortune. While there are several layers to the political intrigue, the creators’ artful storytelling keep the reader well abreast of the complex plot.

For those familiar with Urasawa’s subsequent work Monster, Master Keaton’s final chapters contain several elements also found in Monster—a post-Cold War Eastern European setting, corrupt government officials, underworld bosses, prostitutes, and a boy that latches onto the main character. So if you liked Monster, you’ll probably enjoy this last installment of Master Keaton, and vice versa.

In Summary

It’s the final installment of Master Keaton, and the creators do an excellent job weaving all its myriad aspects into a thrilling volume-long arc. So whether you’ve enjoyed the series for its action, sleuthing, political intrigue, or archeological treasure hunting, you’ll find something to like as Keaton strives to make his archeological dreams a reality.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Waiting for Spring Vol. 1

Reverse harem is a huge subset of the shojo manga genre, and mangaka Anashin’s Waiting for Spring has a bishounen cast made up of basketball players  Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

Mizuki is a shy girl who’s about to enter high school, and vows to open herself up to new friendships. Of course, the four stars of the boys’ basketball team weren’t exactly the friends she had in mind! Yet, when they drop by the café where she works, the five quickly hit it off. Soon she’s been accidentally thrust into the spotlight, targeted by jealous girls. And will she expand her mission to include… love?

The Review

In reverse harem manga, the heroine generally has unique circumstances or character qualities to capture the attention of the male characters. Make her a little too ordinary, and the dynamic doesn’t quite work. Worse, give her a personality quirk that doesn’t make sense, and you’re left wondering why anyone bothers with her.

Unfortunately, that’s the issue with Waiting for Spring. It’s posturing itself as a Boys Over Flowers kind of title with its Elite 4, a basketball-type F-4. These four handsome boys are athletic, popular, and have a gaggle of rabid fangirls following them wherever they go. And the girl that manages to befriend them unlike any other is Mitsuki Haruno, the shyest girl in school. In contrast to the Elite 4, she hasn’t made any friends at school. But it’s not because she’s a victim of bullying or abuse; there’s no indication of that. She’s. Just. That. Shy. However, you can’t categorize her as a shut-in type because she interacts normally with the customers at the cafe where she works part time. Plus, she is friends with her boss and his college-age daughter Nana so she doesn’t have true social anxiety.

These personality inconsistencies make it difficult to relate to Mitsuki. Her shyness comes and disappears whenever it’s convenient for the plot. And because her problems aren’t particularly difficult (i.e. talking to classmates) she doesn’t inspire me to cheer her on. While the set up for her first encounter with the Elite 4 is decent (one of the boys has a crush on Nana), their lingering interest in Mitsuki is a stretch.

Also a stretch is the Elite 4’s fanbase. They have the usual vicious devotees, ready to rip out the throat of any girl who gets too close to their idols. However, when the Elite 4 has their first basketball game together, the fangirls are too busy ogling over the boys’ pretty faces to shout out support, and when Mitsuki suggests that they cheer the team on, they act like they can’t be bothered. Also, basketball is a FIVE player game, but all the illustrations of the game only show the Elite 4 so I feel rather sorry for whoever their invisible fifth man is.

Extras include bonus comics, mini character profiles, author’s notes and afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Waiting for Spring is well-illustrated, and that’s about it. The heroine is wishy-washy, and the cast’s bishounen latch onto her for no good reason. While it has the elements of a reverse harem manga, it can’t quite pull them together for a convincing story.

First published at The Fandom Post.



Manga Review: Descending Stories Vol. 1

Manga often educates non-Japanese readers on lesser known aspects of  Japan’s culture, and Descending Stories does exactly that for the storytelling art of rakugo. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

A hapless young man is released from prison with nothing to his name, but he knows exactly what he wants: to train in the art of rakugo comedic storytelling. After seeing an unforgettable performance from one of Japan’s greatest masters, Yakumo Yurakutei VIII, during his time in jail, he will settle for nothing less than to become apprentice to the best. Yakumo, notorious for taking no students, is persuaded to take him on, and nicknames him Yotaro—the fool. Yotaro has no formal training or elegance, but something about his charisma reminds Yakumo of someone from his past.

The Review

Descending Stories is probably not the best title for newbie manga readers to start with. It’s a period piece, set around 1970s Japan and contains numerous historical references that go back to Edo period. The story centers around the performing art of rakugo so the text includes a lot of rakugo-specific vocabulary in addition to general Japanese cultural terms. Finally, the artwork is not the prettiest. Even though the illustrations get the job done, backgrounds are minimal, and there’s not much nuance to characters’ expressions.

Having said all that, I found Descending Stories to be a beautiful piece of storytelling.

The strength of Descending Stories lies in the personalities of its cast and their varied relationships with rakugo, a traditional form of storytelling in which a seated, solo performer acts out all the characters. Our guide into the rakugo world is a former gangster recently released from prison. The hapless young man has no prospects and no family, but he has a dream: to train under rakugo master Yakumo Yurakutei VIII. And to everyone’s astonishment Yakumo takes him on. After receiving the name Yotaro (Blockhead), our ex-con moves in with Yakumo and his surly ward Konatsu, and as Yotaro struggles to learn his craft, his presence stirs up old ghosts and Konatsu’s long-held grudge against Yakumo.

Despite Yotaro’s aspiration of becoming a rakugo master, he’s a relative newbie to the art. As such, the first chapters are kind of an introduction to its practices and traditions. So even if you’ve never heard of rakugo, you can learn with Yotaro as he starts his apprenticeship. However, most rakugo stories are set in the Edo period so it really helps to have some knowledge of that era to follow along. Yotaro, by the way, is an extremely likeable, straightforward character. He’s an ex-con, true, but he’s just dim, not vicious. Besides, everyone in the theater knows about his gangster past, and because he doesn’t hide it and he’s clearly not returning to the gang, it doesn’t matter.

Yakumo and Konatsu, on the other hand, have lived and breathed rakugo their whole lives. And they have secrets. Secrets that center around Sukeroku, a late rakugo artist who was Konatsu’s father and Yakumo’s closest colleague. And Yotaro’s style and personality are a dead ringer for Sukeroku’s. While the rakugo world provides the setting and the framework for dreams and success, the glimpses of the characters’ resentment and regret are what draw you in.

In a sense, that is the biggest difference between the anime and the manga. The anime does a wonderful job displaying the art by presenting rakugo pieces (often uninterrupted) from beginning to end. Because manga is a still and silent medium, it can’t convey performances in that same way so it delves more into the things that take place off stage and the relationships formed around rakugo. I barely remember the character Mangetsu from the anime, but in the manga, he gets introduced in Chapter 2 almost as a kind of rival for Yotaro. Volume 1 ends about the midway point of the anime’s hour-long Episode 1, and that’s because it meanders to various places the anime did not. If you enjoyed the anime, I’d highly recommend picking up the manga for these extra moments.

Extras include a 3-page bonus chapter that explains yose (rakugo theater) basics, a paragraph about the origins of the Rakugo Kyokai Association, and translation notes.

In Summary

Descending Stories isn’t the type of title that will appeal to a wide audience, but if you’re reasonably well versed in Japanese culture/history or have a special interest in storytelling traditions, Descending Stories is definitely worth a look. While the manga’s artwork quality is a couple steps below that of the anime, it still does an excellent job telling this story about storytellers. The rakugo performances are shown in bits and pieces, but the mangaka still paints an engaging portrait of the art form’s practices and those striving to carry on the tradition.

First published at The Fandom Post.



Manga Review: Frau Faust Vol. 1

Mangaka often base their stories on classic literature. This includes Western tales, and Kore Yamazaki has released a gender bending version of Faust in Frau Faust. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

More than a century after an eccentric scholar made an infamous deal with a devil, the story of Faust has passed into legend. However, the true Faust is not the stuffy, professorial man known in fairy tales, but a charismatic, bespectacled woman named Johanna Faust, who happens to still be alive. Searching for pieces of her long-lost demon, Johanna passes through a provincial town, where she saves a young boy named Marion from a criminal’s fate. In exchange, she asks a simple favor of Marion, but Marion soon finds himself intrigued by the peculiar Doctor Faust and joins her on her journey. Thus begins the strange and wonderful adventures of Frau Faust!

The Review

Of the stories of humans selling their souls to demons, the tale of Faust is among the most famous, and Yamazaki-sensei uses it as the basis for Frau Faust. However, instead of starting with the contract that Faust strikes with the demon Mephistopheles, this manga opens a century after Faust’s demise.

Except Faust isn’t dead. And he’s no longer a man but a youthful woman who goes by the name Johanna. As for Mephisto, he was cut into pieces and sealed away. Inquisitors have scattered the demon’s remains in various locations to prevent him from reviving, but Johanna is on a mission to bring him back.

Clearly, Faust is a complicated character with extraordinary circumstances, but fortunately, readers have the young boy Marion to help navigate through the story. Johanna and Marion literally run into another when Marion’s trying to escape with stolen books, and when she learns he had to drop out of school because of his family’s debt, she takes it upon herself to tutor him. However, her motives aren’t entirely pure. When the time is opportune, she uses the boy to get into a church stronghold, where he witnesses a battle between Johanna and the Inquisitor swordsman Lorenzo and encounters the partially reassembled Mephisto.

Yamazaki-sensei does this throughout Volume 1, showing different aspects of Johanna’s ill-gotten power and countering them with pangs of conscience and acts of compassion. Add to that a sharp wit and glimpses of Faust’s love-hate relationship with Mephisto, and we have an extremely intriguing gray character. Getting involved with her is definitely a risky proposition, but as Marion demonstrates, she’s so fascinating that the temptation to journey with her overrides fear.

The story opens up with mysteries: namely, why is Faust a woman and what is she trying to accomplish by resurrecting Mephisto? But by the end of the volume, we get no answers, only more questions about the relationship between Faust and Mephisto. However, the characters— from the naive Marion to the persistent Lorenzo to the enigmatic Johanna—do an excellent job of drawing readers into their world, and I look forward to continuing their story.

Extras include the 36-page one-shot The Invisible Museum, bonus comics, a 4-page manga style author’s afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Frau Faust incorporates magic with a bit of action and a lot of mystery. Unlike the original Faust tale, in which the demon is simply focused on tempting Faust to a bad end, the relationship between Mephisto and Johanna, like that between Sebastian and Ciel of Black Butler, is more complex. It remains to be seen what motivates Johanna to both care for orphans and reconstruct a dismembered demon, but I’m sufficiently intrigued to continue reading in order to find out.

First published at The Fandom Post.