Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. 8

The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review of Volume 8. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Alone for the first time since she met the beast king, Leo, Sariphi has had nothing but trouble on her journey to the dessert city of Maasya. Matters get worse upon arrival as her new captain, Lanteveldt, is arrested on suspicion of attacking the local lord. But Sariphi’s belief in him is unshaken, gaining her a true knight in shining armor. Now that Sariphi has a trusted guard by her side and the confidence to stand on her own, does Leo still have a place in her heart?

The Review

The Maasya arc continues with the new captain of the Queen’s Guard getting blamed for the attack on Lord Braun. Predictably, everyone assumes Lante is the perpetrator, and he has no witnesses to account for his whereabouts at the time of the incident. Equally unsurprising is Sari’s conviction of Lante’s innocence. Sari is then saddled with the task of catching the actual culprit while Lante gets tossed into a cell.

I thought the main focus would go towards Sari’s investigation, which is under a time crunch, but we hardly see any of it. Rather, the narrative shifts to a lengthy flashback about Lante’s wretched past. While it does explain why he behaves as he does, it is yet another tale of a horrible childhood. It seems like the entire cast grew up under terrible parents or traumatic circumstances, and it is getting a little old.

At any rate, Sari (once again) succeeds in her endeavors and wins Lante’s loyalty and trust. The speedy capture of the actual attacker is a bit too convenient, but the one interesting part of the investigation is a reference to Sari’s ability to see colors that beastfolk can’t. That mention of beast colorblindness is a nice change of pace from the usual prattle about humankind’s inferiority to beastkind.

Sari then returns to the palace in time to receive a guest. I hadn’t expected Tetra to return to the story so quickly, but the tsundere princess is back–this time to meddle in Sari’s relationship with Leo. Given that Amit and Sari are so shy around their respective love interests, it’s jarring to have the child catgirl exhorting Sari to be bolder in approaching Leo in the bedchamber. While Tetra doesn’t change the Sari/Leo dynamic much, she does allow glimpses of plot developments to come.

The volume concludes with a two-chapter arc about Ilya. I hadn’t expected him to return to the story at all. He remains in the human realm, but his encounters with beastkind continue as he journeys as a vagabond beast hunter. While Ilya’s personality is prickly as ever, Sari’s influence has affected the way he views beastkind, and a chance meeting with a very small, very trusting beast demonstrates those changes.

Extras include embedded author’s notes and the bonus manga, “The Beast Lad and the Regular Boy.”

In Summary

Lante was marked for trouble from the start, and of course Sari gets him out of it. Unfortunately, the process by which she saves him isn’t that engaging, and mostly we get Lante’s tale of childhood woe while he is stuck in prison. While this arc is in keeping with overarching story of Sari steadily changing beastkind opinions about her, the plot is extremely predictable, and Lante’s wretched past is merely another addition to a cast full of terrible childhoods.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Reprise of the Spear Hero Vol. #01

Originally published as a web novel,  The Rising of the Shield Hero has spawned a light novel, anime, and manga. And a sure sign of its continuing success is the fact that it’s generated a spin off manga: The Reprise of the Spear Hero! Read on for my review of Volume 1. (For related titles, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Summoned to another world to serve as the Spear Hero, Motoyasu Kitamura is a pitiful young man who eventually finds himself only able to love filolials. But after being fatally injured in battle, Motoyasu wakes up yet again in the exact circumstances of when he was first summoned. It turns out that his spear possesses an ability known as Time Reversal! With his stats unaffected by the reset, Motoyasu decides to fight once more. His motivation: to once again see the smile of Filo, the filolial that he loves more than any other! Could this be considered the start of a new game in god mode?! The long-awaited otherworldly redemption fantasy begins!

The Review

The Reprise of the Spear Hero is a spin off of the The Rising of the Shield Hero. If you are not familiar with The Rising of the Shield Hero light novel, anime, or manga, you should stop here and check out Shield Hero first. However, as long as you’ve been exposed to one version of the Shield Hero and don’t mind possible spoilers, The Rising of the Shield Hero can be a humorous take on the biggest idiot of the cast.

As the title suggests, the spinoff’s main character is the Spear Hero Motoyasu Kitamura, and it begins with Motoyasu dying in the story’s original arc. There aren’t details on what killed him, but that’s okay because they’re not important. What is important is that upon dying, he finds himself in the magic circle that first summoned the Four Heroes to Melromarc. In other words, his life has been restarted. However, while the other three heroes are as they were when they initially arrived, Motoyasu retains the stats he attained prior to dying as well as certain memories of his previous life. Those memories include the truth about the scheme to frame Naofumi, and he seizes the restart as the chance to correct the mistakes of his previous life.

Thus, Reprise winds up as an alternate version of The Rising of the Shield Hero. While Naofumi figures largely in the story, Motoyasu is the main character. In addition, whereas Motoyasu originally played the role of easily manipulated fool and womanizer, he is a reformed man, eager to prevent the injustices once inflicted upon Naofumi. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his obsession for Naofumi’s filolial companion Filo. If anything, it has gotten worse. Due to the reset, Filo hasn’t been born yet, but Motoyasu is ever purchasing filolial eggs in hopes of becoming her new master.

As for Naofumi, because Motoyasu immediately thwarts the plot to frame him for rape, he’s a much kinder person than the original Shield Hero. He is initially put off by Motoyasu’s aggressive familiarity toward him (Motoyasu calls him “Father”), but Motoyasu’s actions quickly win Naofumi’s trust. Unfortunately, even though the king’s initial ploy to defame the Shield Hero gets thwarted, he retaliates with more aggressive plots to eliminate both Motoyasu and Naofumi. Thus, the focus of this series is less on the waves attacking the world and more on Motoyasu determining the best means of protecting Naofumi while he’s at a vulnerable Level 1 state.

Due to Motoyasu’s modified actions, Naofumi doesn’t get to encounter the slave trader who sold him Filo and Raphtalia, and Motoyasu outright rejects the party members the king selected for him. However, the two heroes don’t journey alone. An unexpected detour through the castle dungeon brings the knight Éclair Seaetto into their company. The noble-minded swordswoman brings additional offensive power to their party along with some badly needed common sense to offset Motoyasu’s excessive enthusiasm.

For those familiar with the light novel, the manga version contains fewer details, but it is much easier to follow. The drawings of the Minute Hand of the Dragon and the trap that sends Motoyasu to the dungeon are much easier to understand than the corresponding novel scenes. The manga also makes clear what it means for Motoyasu to see women as pigs.

In between the volume’s four chapters are summaries of events and character relationships from the original series as well as character profiles, and at the end is a short story from the perspective of one of Motoyasu’s angel filolials. It appears that these pages were originally designed in color, but because they were printed in black and white, some of the text is difficult to read. In addition, there is an inconsistency regarding Malty’s name of shame. On some pages, it is “Witch,” but on others it is “Bitch.”

In Summary

Motoyasu gets a game reset as the Spear Hero. Rather than pursuing glory and girls, he’s out to atone for his past transgressions by protecting Naofumi while exuding his love for all things filolial. If you’re in the mood for a comic spinoff of The Rising of the Shield Hero and don’t mind Motoyasu as the star, give The Reprise of the Spear Hero a try.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Children’s Book Review: Real Pigeons Fight Crime Vol. 1

It used to be that comics and children’s books had distinctly different styles. Nowadays though, many children’s books have a comic book flavor, and Real Pigeons Fight Crime is one of them. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

What do REAL PIGEONS do? They fight crime, of course! Wait, what? You didn’t know your town is protected by a secret squad of crime-fighting feathered friends? Well, you are about to get schooled. REAL PIGEONS solve mysteries! REAL PIGEONS fight bad guys! And REAL PIGEONS won’t stop until your neighborhood is safe and the questions are all answered: Like, why have all the breadcrumbs disappeared? And which food truck smells the best?

The Review

This book is kind of an advanced picture book. It’s divided into chapters but contains more illustrations than a chapter book and relies heavily on those illustrations to tell the story. Also, the stories are actually short. The book is 200 pages, but it’s actually a collection of three separate stories, each of which is comprised of four short chapters. Essentially, it’s three books within one cover.

As to the plot, it’s about a flock of crime-fighting pigeons. Rock is a farm pigeon who loves dressing up as different animals and plants. His disguises are so good that he catches the attention of Grandpouter, an old pigeon putting together a squad to investigate the strange happenings at a city park. Thus Rock joins him and the pigeons Homey, Frillback, and Tumbler to investigate the great breadcrumb mystery.

This is a good series for reluctant readers. In addition to being illustration-heavy, the book incorporates a range of humor, from silly visuals to one-liners to the quirky personalities of the characters. It also has a goofy art style. The drawings, which are printed in grayscale, have a pencil sketch look, and backgrounds often look like chicken scratches. But even though the illustrations aren’t the most refined, they contain lots of comic details that convey and enhance the narrative. Also, a broad swath of diversity is represented by the humans in the background. As for the narrative, it’s a humorous kid version of a cop/crime-fighting mystery series. Every pigeon contributes a special talent to the squad, and each story concerns a different case they must solve. Every episode also closes with a clever teaser about the squad’s next mystery.

A crime squad needs bad guys to chase, and the villains (a greedy crow and narcissistic bat) stir things up in a way that causes trouble for our heroes but leaves the door open for plenty of jokes. (The worst thing they do is plant a stink bomb at a food truck fair). With a story like this, there are instances where you have to suspend belief, and certain places more than most. (Rock’s rear passing as a baby’s face was a real stretch.) However, the point of this series is fun entertainment, and the book does it in an engaging, age-appropriate way.

In summary

If you’ve got a reluctant reader or a kid transitioning out of picture books, take a look at Real Pigeons Fight Crime. It has appeal for boys and girls, the intrigue of a detective series, and a lively, motley cast. The artwork is on the rough side, but it pairs well with the text to deliver a broad spectrum of humor.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Novel Review: American Royals

Despite the fact that the United States began by rebelling against a monarchy, many Americans retain a romantic view of royalty. That’s the target audience of  American Royals. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

What if America had a royal family? If you can’t get enough of Harry and Meghan or Kate and William, meet American princesses Beatrice and Samantha. Crazy Rich Asians meets The Crown. Perfect for fans of Red, White, and Royal Blue and The Royal We!

The Review

The premise of American Royals immediately brought to mind the Korean manhwa and drama Goong (Princess Hours). Both reimagine modern democratic countries as modern monarchies to form the backdrop of romances involving young royals. Unfortunately, while Goong was captivating, American Royals came across as implausible and tiresome.

The implausibility sprang from the novel’s problematic world building. Whereas Korea has a legacy of kings and nobility for Goong to draw from, America doesn’t have one. The origin story provided is that George Washington was asked to become king when America won the Revolutionary War, and after he accepted the crown, he awarded titles and dukedoms to those who’d aided the Revolution. That tradition of ennobling worthy citizens persists to the novel’s present-day, and the nobility includes individuals from formerly oppressed groups (i.e., Native Americans and blacks–the monarchy supposedly abolished slavery two generations after the Revolution).

However, when a royal falls for a commoner, it triggers an uproar about impropriety that doesn’t make much sense when nobility is only a royal decree away. Not to mention, the nobility doesn’t serve any special function other than attending fancy state events. They’re not charged with military obligations to the country, and they can go bankrupt like anyone else. (Supposedly, one of the original noble families is on the brink of losing all their assets.)

Another thing that doesn’t ring true is how content and peaceful American society is. Everyone adores the royal family and is perfectly happy to remain under their rule, no matter their background. Yet toward the end of the book, the two Latina characters make references to the fact that people hate them because they’re Latina. This indicates the existence of racial prejudice, but nowhere else does this portrayal of America show any racial tension. Similarly, the narrative mentions at least three openly gay couples in the nobility that hobnob with the royal family, but toward the end, a character complains how she was discriminated against because she’s gay. The novel wants to present the monarchy as high-minded and egalitarian and at the same time show minorities fighting the injustices of the system, and it doesn’t work.

 Unfortunately, this novel winds up with the books to attempting for the diverse voices stamp of approval and falling short. Despite the fact that one black and two Native American men made the shortlist for the Crown Princess’s hand, all the main and secondary male characters are white. The Washingtons have supposedly intermarried with foreign royals, but all the ones we are aware of came from European countries. Himari Mariko, the one Asian character, is literally in a coma the entire story, and her surname isn’t even a real Japanese surname. (Mariko is a Japanese given name for females.)

Nina is the one token Latinx in the main cast, and I’ve got issues with her for different reasons. The narrative describes her parents as “one of Washington’s power couples:” one heads the Treasury, the other founded a successful e-commerce business. If that doesn’t scream privilege, the fact that she’s hung out at the palace and vacationed with the royal kids since the age of six ought to. Yet despite the fact that she’s attended state events with the princesses and prince and her parents have wealth and power, she’s portrayed as the down to earth commoner, who is at a loss at formal events. She even has a college scholarship tied to an on-campus job, which in this world are generally granted to students with financial hardship. If a so-called Washington power couple can’t swing college tuition for their kid, the rest of the country must be in really bad financial shape.

As for the tiresome aspect of the novel, it stems from the fact that all four of the main female characters are varying degrees of vacuous. Nina is supposedly smart, but she makes out with Prince Jefferson while he is still officially in a relationship with another girl, and afterward, he doesn’t call, text, or otherwise contact Nina for six months. But despite that dismal display of character, Nina decides he’s good boyfriend material. Princess Beatrice has supposedly known from infancy that she is expected to take on the responsibilities of the Crown, and monarchies, as a rule, deem continuing the bloodline a major part of it. However, when her parents bring up the subject shortly after she graduates from college, she acts like it’s never even occurred to her she might have to marry a guy she doesn’t love for the good of the country. Her sister Samantha is worse. She’s presented as the family free spirit, but her behavior comes off as self-absorbed and reckless. She’s supposedly extremely well versed in history, but despite the dozens of examples of political and arranged royal marriages, it never crosses her mind that politics might play even a tiny factor in Beatrice’s selection of consort. As for Daphne, she’s a stereotypical conniving gold-digger, albeit one from the nobility.

The narrative jumps from one woman’s perspective to the next, and the overall result is four uninspired romances woven together. The premise of an American monarchy has a lot of potential, but the novel focuses so much on the women’s fraught love lives that we never really see how this government affected the trajectory of American society and history. We never get a male perspective (it would’ve been nice to get Prince Jefferson’s view on events), and we never get any specifics on the concerns and challenges of the country. The narrative tells us over and over that the king and Beatrice work ceaselessly for the good of the country, but we don’t know if they’re dealing with an oil shortage, the threat of war, trade imbalances, environmental issues, or if they’re preoccupied with keeping the upper crust happy so they can retain their status.

By the way, this book is categorized in the YA section at my local library, but it’s probably more of a New Adult title. With the exception of Daphne, all the characters are out of high school, and Beatrice and her love interest are in their twenties. There’s lots of drinking, and a couple of characters have sex although those scenes aren’t overly graphic.

In Summary

A romance that reimagines a modern democratic nation as a modern monarchy isn’t a new idea, and unfortunately for American Royals, the story it weaves into that setting is also uninspired. The romantic moments between the main characters and their love interests are contrived (especially Beatrice’s getting snowed in at a cabin), and I can’t get myself to care about their love lives. It would’ve been nice to see how a monarchy might have redirected the development of the country, but in the story, it’s simply a device so that Americans can have their own prince and princesses to swoon over.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Novel Review: The Miracles of the Namiya General Store

It’s rare to find an adult title that’s beautifully written and carries a message of hope, but The Miracles of the Namiya General Store has got both qualities. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

When three delinquents hole up in an abandoned general store after their most recent robbery, to their great surprise, a letter drops through the mail slot in the store’s shutter. This seemingly simple request for advice sets the trio on a journey of discovery as, over the course of a single night, they step into the role of the kindhearted former shopkeeper who devoted his waning years to offering thoughtful counsel to his correspondents. Through the lens of time, they share insight with those seeking guidance, and by morning, none of their lives will ever be the same.

The Review

This novel is a gem. I’m not generally a fan of stories where time and space get twisted by unknown entities, but The Miracles of the Namiya General Store grabbed my heart much the way your name did. However, Namiya General Store has a drastically different plot structure than your name. In your name, the year and setting bounces all over the place, but ultimately the plot follows the progression of the main couple’s relationship. Namiya General Store has no overarching plot. It’s comprised of five lengthy chapters, each focused on a different set of characters. Yet as the chapters progress, they reveal critical connections which bind the characters, although the characters themselves are often oblivious to it.

The one connection that definitively ties all the characters is the Namiya General Store. In the late 1970s, the aged shopkeeper offered advice to anyone who wanted it. Simply drop your question, no matter how silly or serious, in the shop’s mailslot after hours, and old Mr. Namiya would have a response waiting in the milk crate at the rear of the shop the next morning. Fast forward to 2012, thirty-three years after Mr. Namiya’s passing, three young burglars duck into the now abandoned store after a midnight robbery. As they’re waiting for the coast to clear, letters from the past drop through the slot.

Chapter 1 actually begins with the three thieves and their decision to respond to the letters on the store’s behalf. Chapter 2 shifts back in time to one of the advice-seekers whose correspondence reaches the three thieves. Chapter 3 goes even further back to show Mr. Namiya in his advice-giving heyday as seen through his son’s eyes. In Chapter 4, the perspective shifts to Mr. Namiya’s first serious correspondent. Finally, Chapter 5 wraps up with the three thieves and the final advice-seeker they advise. It’s a lot of jumping around, but it actually works because there’s always an element from the ending chapter that allows it to flow into the next.

The thing that initially grabs your attention is the problems of the advice-seekers. (There’s a reason why advice columns attract readers.) However, the focus gradually shifts to those struggling to write a response. While we eventually become privy to the particulars of everyone involved, the characters are shut behind veils of anonymity. Anonymity is often used as a shield for nastiness, and a couple times, the thieves do make potshots in their responses. For the most part, however, the three do their utmost to help the advice-seekers, and the way their anonymity bring out the best in them is a beautiful twist.

The store’s supernatural routing system lends the novel an air of mystery, and the story also contains some exciting bits, including a deadly fire and a family’s fly-by-night. For the most part, though, this is a tale of characters at crossroads. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but all are portrayed in a sympathetic light as they agonize over the right thing to do.

In Summary

Thoughtful, well-intentioned advice doesn’t always lead to a happy result, but at the Namiya General Store, it’s more the rule than the exception. Characters come from all walks of life and grapple with a range of decisions, but Higashino-sensei beautifully intertwines their struggles to create a beautiful story of hope.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 3

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 3. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

It’s time for the Meteor Festival, which honors the world’s dinosaur ancestors. While helping to decorate the town, gray wolf Legoshi runs into dwarf rabbit Haru and finds he is still inexorably drawn to her. Is it a crush or bloodlust? Is it her or any small animal? Relationships are complicated for carnivores—their bird classmates lay the eggs they eat, and some desperate herbivores even sell their body parts on the black market. Then, when Bengal tiger Bill is tempted to buy a piece of forbidden meat, he tries to convince Legoshi to join him…

The Review

Legoshi’s first time on stage turns into a bloodied brawl with Bill the Tiger, but Louis manages to put a positive spin on the unscripted carnivore fight. His smooth talking defuses what could’ve been a PR nightmare for the Drama Club, but Legoshi’s left to ponder why he snapped in the first place. Haru is at the center of his confounding emotions, so he seeks her out.

Unlike their previous encounters, this one is simply hilarious. First because it’s timed as Haru’s fending off a mean girl attack. There’s something immensely satisfying about a victim telling off her bullies while they’re unable to retaliate. Second is the contrast between Haru’s and Legoshi’s outward behavior at the cafeteria and the frantic thoughts bubbling in their brains. It’s similar to shy teens struggling to manage a conversation with the opposite sex but with an additional level of agitation due to their herbivore/carnivore differences.

The story then breaks from the main arc for a single-chapter interlude about a hen student. An approved source of protein for carnivore students is eggs, and Legom shows us how the system works. I’d wondered how birds felt about providing eggs for consumption, and Legom gives her personal perspective about her part-time job.

Then it’s back to Legoshi as he chances upon some first-year herbivores picking on the young female wolf Juno. Turns out he’s not the only gray wolf struggling at Cherrystone. After Legoshi drives the bullies off, the two wolves commiserate on how difficult the school social order is. By the end of the chapter, Juno clearly has a crush on Legoshi.

A romance between the two wolves would be adorable, but love quickly gets shoved aside in favor of bloodlust. Legoshi goes with several carnivore club members to take care of an errand in town, and the students unwittingly stumble upon the black market.

This is our first glimpse of the world beyond the school grounds. The creator modeled it after Ginza, Shibuya, and New York, and it very much looks like a bustling modern city. On the surface, adult herbivores and carnivores live in harmony, but the back alleys tell an uglier story. Bean burgers don’t cut it for all carnivores, and according to Bill, the goods of the black market are what keeps carnivore urges at bay.

We’ve seen Bill with his rabbit blood before, so the existence of the market isn’t a shock. What is a shock is the appearance of the “Guardian of the Black Market” and his immediate presumption that Legoshi MUST have killed herbivores. His questionable actions give him a sketchy aura, so when he claims to be a doctor, a psychotherapist, I’m skeptical, especially when he claims to use small-animal porn to evaluate patients. At any rate, it’s clear that this society is a lot more broken than it appears on the surface, and Legoshi is by no means the only one struggling with the instincts in his blood.

Extras include story thus far, cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Legoshi and Haru meet again, and this time they manage to start something resembling a relationship. It’s a lot like teenagers trying to interact with the opposite sex for the first time with the added complication of the whole carnivore/herbivore dynamic. Then that dynamic intensifies for Legoshi when he encounters the goods of the black market. It is an unsettling portrait of what happens when carnivores go bad, and makes you wonder how things between Legoshi and Haru will end up.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 9

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 9! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Relationship woes are plaguing Aoba High! After confessing his love to Shimura, Taka must now suffer the waiting game: Will she accept his feelings, or was their “relationship” just another headline for her paper? Also trapped by fear, Kagura begins to worry that she has placed her heart in the hands of the wrong boy. Amidst all this, Kai struggles to read Riko, wishing he could be as affectionate with her as he was with other girls. Will these couples work things out themselves, or will divine intervention be required?

The Review

Now that six out of our eight main characters have been paired, we finally get to the last two: Tarou and Kagura. However, nothing remotely resembling a relationship is sparking between them, mainly because Tarou’s enjoying his playboy life and Kagura’s too proud to admit she has feelings for him.

As far as tropes go, Kagura is a super-tsundere to the point that I wonder if her logic circuits are functioning correctly. Because their interactions are comprised mostly of hissing and snarling from Kagura, the narrative goes back in time to when the two were more innocent. However, Kagura’s tale of unrequited love gets poured out, not to one of her girlfriends, but Kai. The fact that she’d lay bare her heart to a boy–and one to whom she’s expressed open disdain–is so far-fetched as to jar me out of the story. Anyway, the arc concludes within a chapter (because there truly is nothing happening between Tarou and Kagura) and returns to characters who actually are working on a relationship.

Chapter 34 opens with Kai and Taka seemingly at an impasse with their respective love interests. I didn’t think Taka’s waiting game with Ayumi would turn into an issue, but it does. As for Kai, yes, he’s dating Riko, but the romance is at an elementary school level. Just as Riko’s obliviousness hit black hole levels in earlier volumes, her romantic sense is so lacking as to be ridiculous. When she’s not punching Kai due to misunderstandings, she’s sumo wrestling him, which makes me wonder how she envisioned dating Suwa-sensei. Kai’s struggle for lovey-dovey moments is meant to be comic, but with him getting beat up despite being Riko’s boyfriend, I just feel sorry for the guy.

Finally, things liven up with Aoba High’s “World’s Hottest Guy Contest.” In a bid for newspaper material, Ayumi sponsors the contest which has an overnight hot springs getaway going to the winner. Between the resulting hubbub and the varied emotions regarding the prize, the arc is a lot of fun, especially the way Taka teases Ayumi.

Extras include story-thus-far, mini-manga about Fujisawa-sensei and her assistants visiting Germany, and translation notes.

In Summary

Finally an arc on the remaining yet-to-be-paired members of the main cast. Disappointingly, it’s all old history, and Kagura’s feelings for Tarou remain unrequited, although oddly Kai is made privy to those feelings. Then things move back to Kai/Riko and Taka/Ayumi. While watching Taka endear himself to Ayumi is charming, watching Kai get punched by Riko (again) is getting old.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Seven Little Sons of the Dragon

Back Cover Blurb

Ryoko Kui, the master storyteller behind the beloved manga series Delicious in Dungeon, pens seven brand-new tales that will delight fantasy fans and manga devotees equally. Covering a broad range of themes and time periods, no two stories in this collection are alike!

The Review

This is my first time reading Ryoko Kui’s work. As such, I cannot make comparisons to her other works. Judging from this collection though, she’s capable of covering a wide range of themes and time periods.

The title might lead you to believe that these stories are somehow connected or share a dragon theme. That is not the case. The seven stories are completely unrelated, and only half feature dragons. I’m not sure why she titled it Seven Little Sons of the Dragon, but the only thing they hold in common is they all contain an element of fantasy.

The first story, “The Dragon Turret,” does contain dragons (four in fact), but it’s less about the dragons and more about the prejudices of two medieval groups warring nearby. The second, “The Mermaid Refuge,” is also about prejudices, but the groups involved are mermaids and modern Japanese folk. That’s followed by “My God,” a somewhat amusing tale about a displaced fish deity and an elementary school girl stressed out about entrance exams. Next is “Wolves Don’t Lie,” about a young man struggling with a genetic syndrome that causes him to transform into a wolf every month. The fifth story, “Byakuroku the Penniless,” is a comedy set in feudal Japan about an elderly artist’s misadventures with paintings that spring to life. Then the mood darkens with “‘My Child is Precious,’ Cries the Dragon,” a tale of revenge set in ancient China. The volume wraps up on a light note with “The Inutanis,” a murder mystery parody featuring a family with supernatural powers.

Although the settings and tone vary within the collection, each story is thought-provoking in its own way. In “The Dragon Turret,” “The Mermaid Refuge,” and “‘My Child is Precious,’ Cries the Dragon,” people at odds find common ground. Characters in “My God,” “Wolves Don’t Lie,” and “The Inutanis” struggle with identity and their place in the world. As for Byakuroku, he is forced to reevaluate assumptions he’s made in life. While the conclusion of Byakuroku’s story is best described as bittersweet, the remaining six stories have hopeful or funny endings.

Regarding illustrations, Kui-sensei is sparing with screentones, so there’s a lot of black/white contrast. Her character designs are comic or cute as needed, but they don’t have much to distinguish them. (Prince Shun’s guards all look alike.) Her backgrounds are pretty sparse, but her animals, especially those in “Byakuroku the Penniless,” are beautifully drawn.

Extras include translation notes, fold-out color illustration, and bonus comics.

In Summary

Don’t be misled by the title. Only half of this collection involves dragons, and none of the stories are related at all. That said, if you’re looking for a wide range of short fantasy works that are generally positive and appropriate for a young teen, this is worth considering.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 8

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 8! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Taka always thought he’d be the last person thrown off by high school romances. But when his seemingly perfect partner in crime, Shimura, has a sudden request-“Let’s break up!”-he totally loses his balance. Even though this all started as an elaborate scheme to help Kai, now Taka is the one needing Kai’s relationship advice! The tides sure have turned!

The Review

It’s Volume 8, and Kagura’s turn to grace the cover. But the illustration’s somewhat misleading because she doesn’t appear in this volume at all. Rather, the focus goes to two other girls.

First is Ayumi, who asks Taka to end their pretend relationship. Her reasons are twofold. One, Riko and Kai, for whom they started the ruse, are doing just fine now. Two, Ayumi is short on material for the school newspaper and wants to use their breakup as a story.

This is a shojo romance, and predictably, Taka’s thrown into unexpected turmoil at Ayumi’s pragmatic request. But even if it’s predictable, seeing the ever-stoic Taka display an unusual level of emotion draws you in. On the Ayumi front, while she’s clearly fascinated by relationships (the school paper seems more a gossip column than a channel for actual news), we haven’t seen her touched by Cupid’s arrow herself. This arc gives more insight into her views on romance. Whereas Kai’s perspective on love involved parallels with Einstein’s theories and black holes, Ayumi’s involves snails, which isn’t appealing visually, but manages to get the message through.

At any rate, the arc doesn’t come to a complete resolution, but there’s enough heart-thumping illustrations of the pair to keep it satisfying.

Then the spotlight shifts back to Riko and her relationship with Kai. The couple is on solid ground, and there are no rivals ruining their vibe, so Fujisawa-sensei continues the path of ruining the former playboy’s plans for the perfect date. This time, unexpected babysitting duty messes things up.

If you like cute kids, you’ll enjoy Kai’s niece and nephew hijacking their Sunday together. If kids make you uncomfortable, you can commiserate with Riko, who has zero experience with children. In the midst of the usual pants wetting incidents that come with little kids, Fujisawa-sensei interjects Riko’s memories of her dad. It’s a different change of pace than her typical reminisces of Suwa-sensei and provides a new way for Riko and Kai to grow closer.

Extras include story-thus-far, mini-manga about Fujisawa-sensei and her assistants visiting Germany, afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

It’s the fake-relationship-turns-to-actual-feelings trope! However, Taka and Ayumi pull it off in an engaging way, plus we get a glimpse of how Ayumi’s mind and heart tick. Then Kai’s latest attempt at a perfect date gets ruined, this time by his niece and nephew. It’s good for laughs, but I’m not certain where the primary arc is headed without any real challenges in front of our main couple.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. 7

The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review of Volume 7. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

At last, Sariphi is able to carry out her first official job as Acting Queen Consort-giving a royal blessing to the newborn prince of the nation of Sarbul. That same night, Leonhart whisks her away to a place far from prying eyes. Once they’re alone, he tells Sariphi of his tumultuous past, which only deepens their bond. But just when Sariphi believes she and Leo can overcome anything together, a new duty may pull the two apart…

The Review

The Sarbul arc looked pretty much wrapped up with Sari and Leo rescuing the brash Princess Tetra. However, it extends two more chapters. As it turns out, the neglect suffered by Tetra not only allows Sari a path to reach out to the lonely princess, it dredges up painful childhood memories for Leo.

The mystery of Leo’s human form has been a mystery from the start. When I read on the back flap teaser that Leo “tells Sariphi of his tumultuous past,” I eagerly expected to learn the secret behind his parentage.

Unfortunately, that secret remains one. Turns out Leo has no siblings and no memory of his mother. He’s completely ignorant of his human origins, but his father was fully aware of and took pains to hide that aspect of Leo. Thus, we merely get more cold-hearted parenting and awful childhood memories, which is turning into a repeated theme for this series.

We then get a single-chapter interlude of Sari expressing her love and concern for Leo through the timeless medium of food before the story moves on to her next assignment as acting queen. This challenge is twofold. One, she must ratify the new lord of the city of Maasya without Leo’s company. Two, she must select a captain to lead her personal bodyguard.

I thought Anubis had softened somewhat towards Sari, but the manner in which he foists this task onto her indicates otherwise. Despite the supposed importance of the captain selection, Anubis gives Sari virtually no time to make her choice before rushing her out the door to Maasya. At any rate, we get new character Lante added to the cast.

Lante is a hyenafolk, whose tongue perpetually hangs out in a really distracting way. That aside, he draws nearly as much suspicion as Sari. Once more we get a chunk of hitherto unknown history and prejudices within Ozmargo. While it’s fine that Lante is a bit of a double edged sword, Sari’s personality feels inconsistent in her interactions with him. With Tetra, she was a trusting fluff-head who couldn’t interpret Tetra’s vindictive actions as anything but play. With Lante, she’s aware of his sketchy motivations from the get go and makes the conscious decision to trust him in spite of everyone else’s doubts. At any rate, she’s well on her way continuing the pattern of winning beastfolk hearts despite their universal hatred of humans.

Extras include embedded author’s notes about the characters, bonus sketches, and the bonus manga, “The Beast Princess and the Regular Servant.”

In Summary

We get a glimpse of Leo’s childhood but, disappointingly, no revelation on his human roots. Rather, Tomofuji-sensei gives yet another portrayal of a rejected child before continuing with Sari’s next challenge. Although the test ostensibly is to execute royal duties without Leo’s supportive presence, ultimately it boils down to the same formula of her conquering beastpeople’s prejudices about her.

First published at the Fandom Post.