Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #03

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 03 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

At last, the long-awaited days of tranquility are here! Tanya begins attending war college, where she spends her time feasting in leisure. But who would’ve thought that a conversation with General von Zettour would lead to another turn of events! Will her days of delicious bread and clean bed sheets come to an end?

The Review

After the frontline chaos of the first two volumes, Volume 3 delivers relatively tranquil chapters with Tanya attending college in comfort (mostly). Safely away from the raging battlefield, Tanya enjoys clean sheets, hot food, and the luxury of not being shot at. However, because she is attending war college with other officer candidates, the Empire’s two-front war is never far from mind. Thus, the narrative switches from the life-and-death intensity of Tanya’s individual sorties to a broad and almost scholarly view of global events as the top brass ponder their current situation and where it is headed.

But just because Tanya’s not in the trenches doesn’t mean she’s completely carefree. Elite salaryman that she once was, she’s out to seize every opportunity toward a cushy career path in the rear. And so we get tension of a different sort as she tries to impress Brigadier General Von Zettour of the Service Corps and later convinces a rival to drop out of the promotion track at the war college. As usual, her results are mixed, and Tojo-sensei does a fine job inserting comedy into scenes by contrasting Tanya’s intentions with the thoughts of those she’s trying to manipulate.

The final chapter in this volume is a glimpse forty years into the future. Although this arc wasn’t included in the amine, it was part of the original novel, and according to the mangaka interview included in Volume 3, Tojo-sensei was keen on incorporating that content into the manga. The events of Tanya’s world have closely followed the history of our world, and Chapter 9 confirms that the Empire will lose as Germany did. However, that chapter is less about the outcome of the war and more about the mysterious imprint Tanya left on history. As such, the flash forward does serve as an enticement to continue reading.

Extras include a detailed glossary of terms after each chapter and a lengthy interview with mangaka Chika Tojo.

In Summary

No aerial battles, trench warfare, or divine encounters in this installment. For anyone who’s wanted Tanya to enjoy civilian life, this is about as ordinary as it gets for our reincarnated salaryman. Tojo-sensei uses this relatively quiet volume to zoom out from individual skirmishes and convey the overall situation of the war instead. It’s a lot of geopolitics and strategy, but Tojo-sensei does a wonderful job—even better than the original novel—of presenting this information in a clear and interesting way.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

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Manga Review: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku Vol. 1

A few years back I reviewed My Girlfriend’s a Geek, which was about a normie guy dating a fujoshi. But how about romance between two otaku types? Wotakoi explores that kind of relationship, and you can read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

GAMES OVER ROMANCE Narumi Momose has had it rough: Every boyfriend she’s had dumped her once they found out she was an otaku, so she’s gone to great lengths to hide it. When a chance meeting at her new job with childhood friend, fellow otaku, and now coworker Hirotaka Nifuji almost gets her secret outed at work, she comes up with a plan to make sure he never speaks up. But he comes up with a counter-proposal: Why doesn’t she just date him instead? In love, there are no save points.

The Review

If you are a manga newbie who knows nothing about Japanese pop culture, Wotakoi is not a good choice for a first series.

However, if you are an enthusiast familiar with otaku subcultures and especially if you identify as an adult otaku yourself, I highly recommend this story about four coworkers who maintain a respectable normie facade at the office but indulge in otaku hobbies on their own time.

Narumi Momose is a cute 26-year-old OL (office lady/female office worker) who has had several boyfriends. Unfortunately, every one of them dumped her once he discovered she was an otaku. So she makes a fresh start with a new job, determined to keep her otaku identity under wraps this time. But after Hirotaka Nifuji, an old childhood friend and fellow otaku, nearly blows her secret at work, he make a suggestion: why not date him instead?

The title and the premise implies that this is a romance, and indeed Narumi and Hirotaka’s relationship is central to the story. As it turns out, Hirotaka has been crushing on Narumi since they were little kids, so her becoming his girlfriend is the fulfillment of a dream. But while there are a couple tender moments, their romance isn’t exactly steaming up the pages. That’s partly because they’re in their mid-20s and Narumi’s already had a bunch of boyfriends, and partly because Hirotaka has the emotive capacity of a rock. As such, the series focuses mainly on how their otaku interests shape their dating interactions. Or to put it another way, it’s a sitcom about work-life (im)balance for those utterly devoted to their hobbies.

To add breadth to this picture of otaku courtship and lifestyle, we have the supporting cast: Taro Kabakura and Hanako Koyanagi, who are Hirotaka’s and Narumi’s senpai (seniors) at work respectively. Taro and Hanako are also otaku who are dating. However, they’ve been together for years, and their relationship is a tempestuous one. In addition, although all four characters identify as otaku, they have different primary interests. Hirotaka is a hard core gamer; Narumi is a yaoi doujinshi artist; Hanako is a crossplayer who loves BL; and Taro’s a well-rounded otaku. Put them together, and you have scenarios where the women are trying to force their boyfriends into BL poses and conversations with nonstop anime and video game analogies. If you are a member of the otaku tribe, you’ll find a lot to relate to and laugh at.

Fujita’s characters are also easy on the eyes, an aspect of the manga that I really appreciated. In addition to being employed, self-supporting adults, these otaku are not stereotypical unhealthy geeks. Hirotaka is tall and handsome (even though he’s a chain smoker) while Narumi is cute enough to have attracted all her normie ex-boyfriends. As for Taro and Hanako, they are athletic types (both were captains of their high school volleyball teams). And because they’re able to look and function like well-adjusted members of Japanese society, the contrast when they dive deep into their otakuness (i.e., Narumi frantically finishing her doujinshi for Comiket) is that much funnier.

For those familiar with the anime, the anime content is more extensive than the manga. However, if you love these characters, the manga is worth getting. For one, you can actually read the detailed character profiles that you only get a glimpse of in the anime. Secondly, the translators take great pains to explain the myriad manga, anime, video game, and Japanese cultural references made throughout the story. Lastly, Kodansha chose to include both Volumes 1 and 2 of the Japanese edition into Volume 1 of the English-language edition. Meaning you will get 269 pages of Wotakoi for the $17.99 MSRP.

Extras include a ton of translation/cultural notes, character profiles, cute commentary on the bottom of the pages, author’s afterword, and 18 pages printed in full color.

In Summary

Wotakoi doesn’t have a strong plot arc. Instead, it throws four otaku friends into various comedic situations at work and at home. If you yourself are an otaku and you’d like to watch grown, working adults interpret love and life through the filter of anime, manga, doujinshi, cosplay, and video games, this fun, quirky, and well-drawn manga is likely to please.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Tokyo Tarareba Girls Vol. #01

The midlife crisis isn’t just a popular trope in American entertainment; it’s the subject of manga also, and Akiko Higashimura, creator of Princess Jellyfish, delves into the woes of 30-something singles with her series Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back cover Blurb

“I spent all my time wondering ‘what if,’ then one day I woke up and I was 33.” She’s not that bad-looking, but before she knew it, Rinko was thirty-something and single. She wants to be married by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in six years, but…that might be easier said than done! The new series by Akiko Higashimura erupts with sharp opinions on girls and tons of laughs!

The Review

For those familiar with Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish, Tokyo Tarareba Girls has a lot of similarities. The character designs are very much alike, the females in the main cast get out of control when they rail about their problems, and the heroine has imaginary conversations with cutesy anthropomorphized objects (in Tarareba’s case, it’s a piece of codfish milt and liver). However, unlike Princess Jellyfish, where the socially inept cast was so zany that readers can dismiss the story as wacky fun, the circumstances in Tarareba strike close to home for many 30-something singles.

The main character is Rinko Kamata. Having devoted her 20s to her career, she’s now an established Tokyo scriptwriter with neither husband nor boyfriend. So when an old acquaintance approaches her, she gets her hopes up—only to have them crushed when she finds out her 19-year-old assistant is the one he’s interested in dating. To console herself, she vents with her two best (and also single) friends at their favorite pub. But even that gets ruined when a blunt young man, irritated by their noisy ranting, deals major damage by calling them old maids.

This is a common scenario in both Japanese and Western entertainment. Women on the brink of middle age panic about their single status and are suddenly desperate to find a man. They’re forced to lower expectations as they make self-comparisons to younger, more attractive females in the dating pool. Although this material isn’t original by any stretch, Higashimura-sensei makes it entertaining with her characters’ unrestrained drunken tirades.

However, there are tropes I wish Higashimura-sensei had not included. In Volume 1, the only two young female characters are dating much older men. One girl is an established airhead; the other is sleeping with the boss. I’m not a fan of the dating scene depicted as a battle between desperate older women and gorgeous young bimbos for the precious supply of eligible bachelors, and it would have been nice if the cast included a young female character with brains. Speaking of brains, Rinko is established in her industry so she’s obviously intelligent, but when the blunt kid from the pub shows up on a web series project, she’s so determined to humiliate him that she miscalculates and loses her screenwriter position instead. The loss of the job makes for good drama, but I hate that Rinko devolves into an “irrational woman” to make it happen.

Since this is a story of a woman trying to find a man, there has to be one for her to find, and this is where the plot deviates from the tropes. The smart-mouthed kid from the pub turns out to be a popular model named Key. Like many romances, it’s hate at first sight between Rinko and Key. However, instead of a multivolume journey to mutual attraction, the older woman and younger man end up sleeping together by the end of Volume 1. Love doesn’t factor into it at all, and it’s that kind of complicated give and take that propels the plot forward.

Extras include embedded cultural footnotes, 5-page afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

This is definitely not shojo manga. Tokyo Tarareba Girls features a 30-something cast with 30-something problems. The opening scenario relies heavily on the stereotype of the aging career woman desperate to find a man before its too late, but the calculating and outspoken Key makes for an interesting male lead. Love is not the reason for Rinko and Key hooking up, and the complexities of that kind of adult relationship is what this series offers.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. #02

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 2. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When an array of rival princesses descends upon the palace, Sariphi gains an unlikely ally in the princess of the reptile clan. A hopeless romantic, Princess Amit is determined to push her erstwhile sacrifice friend into the king’s arms! But even with Amit cheering her on, will Sariphi be able to carry out the absurd set of tasks Chancellor Anubis concocts to prove she is worthy of being queen?

The Review

One of the embedded author’s notes in this volume confirms my guess that Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts was originally a short story, and its awkward world building continues as it struggles to create the background for the challenges Sariphi encounters. The introduction of warring beast clans and court intrigue demonstrate that Leonhart’s position as King of Beasts is not as absolute as it appeared in Chapter 1, but the details behind the military and political powers remain vague as does the overall geography of this fantasy world.

However, the thing that Tomofuji-sensei does lavish detail and attention on is new characters. Thus, we have the reptilians, Princess Amit and her crush Captain Jormungand. Amit is a comic blend of scary face (she’s got a big crocodile mouth and teeth) combined with a shy, girlie personality. In the lineup of haughty princesses vying to be Leo’s consort, she’s the awkward misfit. So of course, Amit and the sacrificial princess hit it off. Ultimately, the princess candidate arc winds up feeling like a high school squabble between nasty prisses and spunky outcasts, complete with a literal catfight.

With Amit added to the cast, Sariphi has a peer to interact with and to worry over her when her next obstacle appears: a set of tasks to prove her worth as queen. The narrative does not enumerate the list in its entirety. Rather, it appears that each individual task will be revealed at the time Sariphi approaches it, which means these tests are likely to occupy her for the next few volumes.

As mentioned in my previous review, Leo and Sariphi’s devotion is already established; even when other princesses are literally throwing themselves at Leo, none of them have a real chance of becoming Sariphi’s rival. So the plot is focusing instead on having Sariphi fight for the right to be by Leo’s side. Because Sariphi is an ordinary girl in a land of magical animals, the tests are reminiscent of hero trials in myths and fairy tales. As such, even though Sariphi’s affection for Leo is a key component of the story, the plot seems headed away from romance and more in the direction of fantasy adventure.

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

In Summary

Even though Leo and Sariphi are devoted to one another, the purity of their relationship and the fact that Leo is generally in the form of a big tusked animal preclude the physical chemistry and sizzling scenes that characterize most romances. As such, once the princess candidate arc concludes, the narrative shifts away from Leo and Sariphi’s love to a set of tests concocted by opponents to a human queen. The specifics of who wields power within the Ozmargo court and the overall geopolitical landscape of the beast lands remains vague, but if you’re not concerned about such details, you can simply enjoy Sariphi undertaking a series of fairytale-like trials.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 2

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 2. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Riko is the last person on earth Kai ever thought he would fall for, but he can’t deny it-he’s in love with her. Being the ever-popular Kai, he’s sure there’s no girl who wouldn’t be ecstatic to date him…so when the school trip doesn’t go his way, Kai’s at a loss about what to do. Time for his friends to swoop in for the rescue! A well-planned group date to the amusement park gives Kai a chance to spend more time with Riko. But what exactly does true love mean?

The Review

As mentioned in my review of Volume 1, Kai’s abrupt attraction to a girl he’s disliked for years is a bit of a leap, but if you’ve made that jump, the events of Volume 2 are pretty entertaining. The main difference between Volume 1 and 2 is that several more characters get involved to liven up the story. I’d viewed Kai’s three friends as a group before, but when they discover the identity of Kai’s crush, their efforts to meddle help their friend allow their individual personalities to show through.

Their plan to get Kai and Riko together involves a group date, which necessitates the introduction of three female students to balance the numbers. Thus we get the man-hater shrine maiden Kagura, the zealous school reporter Ayumi, and the overly self-conscious about her tallness Kiyo. Although the girls aren’t super popular like the four boys, they’re cute enough. Mainly, they serve to voice generally held opinions about the boys and also to highlight the boys’ unique characteristics. As it so happens, each boy has something in common with one of the girls, and it’s hilarious to see how Fujisawa-sensei plays out those four commonalities as comic variations of the same haunted house scene.

Fujisawa-sensei also brews up situational comedy in the form of a teacher house call. It’s a bit of a stretch how Kai’s three guy friends, Suwa-sensei, and Riko all end up at Kai’s house at the same time, but once that perfect storm gathers, the resulting emotional chaos is a riot. The best part is Tarou and Miki’s text commentary as Kai gets obliterated by Suwa-sensei’s innocently uttered remarks.

However, it’s not all Kai receiving damage from his clueless rival. Riko (and readers!) get a look at Kai’s home life, and the visit leaves her with an overall positive impression, even as Kai tries and fails yet again to confess his feelings. At this point, the poor guy’s suffered so much I can’t help but root for him, so I look forward to seeing how his next attempt will play out.

Extras include embedded author’s notes, 3-page afterword manga, and translation notes.

In Summary

A carelessly assembled group date and a teacher home visit where all the wrong information gets out give readers a lot to laugh at. This volume seems intent on putting our lovelorn former playboy through the wringer and adds a number of fun new characters to assist in the task. There are a couple more serious moments when the subject of Riko’s unrequited love pops up, but for the most part, humor at Kai’s expense dominates this volume.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Silver Spoon Vol. 4

Before she became the mangaka of the hit fantasy series Fullmetal Alchemist, Hiromu Arakawa was a dairy farm girl. Now she brings those country experiences into her series Silver Spoon. Read on for the review of Volume 4. (Reviews of other volumes are available here.)

Back Cover Blurb

To take a life. Hachiken will learn how important these words are when raising and living alongside farm animals. As the seasons change and summer becomes fall, he will see what the weight of a life is.

The Review

The Pork Bowl arc finally comes to a conclusion—and it’s not a Charlotte’s Web ending. Personally, I prefer it this way. Perhaps Hachiken does agonize overmuch about how farm animals are born just to be slaughtered, but I enjoy his blunt honesty in admitting he can’t go vegetarian became meat is too tasty. Plus, city-slickers like me get to learn and appreciate how much work goes into processing meat as Hachiken turns 50 kilos of Pork Bowl into bacon with his own hands. And just as the pizza party drew the attention (and appetites) of Hachiken’s schoolmates, the smoking of Pork Bowl also brings a crowd. If you enjoy scenes of people feasting, you’re in for a treat. The fun thing is that the impact of Pork Bowl’s bacon goes beyond one day, and the myriad outcomes of having meat at an ag school are a riot.

Having laid Pork Bowl to rest, Silver Spoon wraps up the summer with a two-chapter comedy adventure. It’s a parody mashup of UFO, jailbreak, and war film tropes, but Nishikawa and the other farm boys take their “mission” so seriously that it actually works. It’s a bit strange that they’re so insistent that Hachiken come along, but the mystery of what’s in “Area 51” will keep readers engaged.

Next, autumn gets going in earnest, with third years retiring from clubs, regional baseball playoffs, and preparations for the Ezo Ag Festival. A new season wouldn’t be complete without a new thing for our protagonist to stress over, and Arakawa-sensei delivers it in the form of the vice-presidency of the Equestrian Club and a strange, secretive vibe between Mikage and Komaba. As such, Hachiken has an external challenge to live up to (similar to the pizza party) while his brain goes into overdrive about whether Mikage means more than a friend to him. The latter element might be a common one in high school series, but Arakawa-sensei does a wonderful job putting an ag school comic spin on it.

By the way, for those familiar with the anime, the manga covers the same general territory with minor variations. For this volume, the most prominent difference is the timing of the Area 51 adventure. (In the anime, it took place before summer break).

Extras include story thus far, character profiles, bonus manga, a preview for the next issue, and translation notes.

In Summary

Overall, this is a fun, well-balanced volume. Vegans probably won’t appreciate Pork Bowl getting turned into bacon, but others will find the popularity Hachiken attains as the owner of 50 kilos of meat hilarious. Then after a UFO sighting/jailbreak parody interlude where Hachiken gets dragged to Ezo’s Area 51, he’s confronted with new club responsibilities and growing feelings for Mikage, all of which lay the groundwork for fresh drama in our next season of high school.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 8

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 8. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kai makes a friend at school and invites him over to the palace for tea. He asks his brothers for help in making conversation, but is that really such a good idea…? Then it’s a battle of wits when Heine joins the princes (and princess!) for a game in the courtyard. After all the time they’ve now spent under his tutelage, can the students finally overcome the master?

The Review

Volume 8 begins with three standalone chapters. The first focuses on Leonhard, and unlike most Leonhard-centric stories, it shows him doing something he’s good at. Instead of the usual class setting, he’s sparring with the palace guards (and winning). Yet even in this situation, the recurring theme of his stupidity still returns, but because Akai-sensei has changed the scenario from the typical Leonhard-struggling-with-math-at-his desk, this variant comes off as fresh and entertaining.

The next chapter centers on Kai, the only prince currently attending school, and on what happens when he invites a classmate to the palace for tea. This is partly a continuation of Kai’s journey to interact with others, but it is also an unprecedented occasion for the family and palace staff (apparently, the princes have never had friends over before). As such, in addition to Kai’s usual challenges to be understood, we have the royal household going comically overboard to welcome his guest.

The third chapter features Adele, and like most chapters involving the little princess, all four brothers and Heine wind up engaged in a charming group activity. In this story, they play a variant of tag with a cute wolf hat. Things get a bit competitive between the tutor and his students, but overall, it’s lighthearted fun.

The latter part of the book is an introduction to an extended Licht-centric arc which starts as carefree as the earlier chapters but gradually darkens to a more serious tone. Having received the King’s permission to continue working at the cafe, Licht is determined to do the best he can—but without his brothers finding out about his job. So, of course, one of them unexpectedly pops in as a customer. However, Akai-sensei’s choice of brother took me completely by surprise and leads to a rather intriguing sibling interaction. At any rate, Licht is forced to do some deep thinking what the rivalry for the throne means to him and how he wants to live his life.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover; three-page bonus about the anime and stage adaption; and the first page printed in color.

In Summary

This volume begins with three fluffy filler chapters that revisit the usual themes of Leonhard’s stupidity, Kai’s struggle to communicate, and the brothers’ affection for their sister. However, Akai-sensei changes things up by highlighting Leonhard’s idiocy in an athletic setting, introducing a new character from Kai’s school, and injecting student-teacher competition into a children’s game. After that, the narrative begins a longer arc that initially doesn’t look serious but then throws a couple of twists that forces the cast’s resident playboy to ponder his future. This arc was not included in the anime, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Light Novel Review: Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf Vol. 2

The Spice and Wolf light novel series has reached its conclusion, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, creator Hasekura has a spinoff series: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 2.

Back Cover Blurb

The young man Col and the daughter of the Wisewolf, Myuri, survived the scripture riots in the port town of Atiph. Col spends intense days being pined for after Myuri tells him about her love.

Meanwhile, Heir Hyland commissions them for another next job. In the coming war with the Church’s forces, control over the strait between the Kingdom of Winfiel and the mainland will play a crucial role. While Myuri is excited for a new adventure, Col cannot hide his unease after hearing about potential heresy among certain pirates for their faith in the “Black-Mother”!

The Review

Volume 2 continues where Volume 1 left off, with tensions high between the Kingdom of Winfiel and the Church. And because the cause of righteousness is Winfiel’s call to arms, they have to be careful about who they ally themselves with in the coming war. Thus, Heir Hyland sends Col to the northern islands, whose inhabitants carry jet images of the Holy Mother, to determine whether the islanders’ faith is true or heresy.

Although Heir Hyland gives Col his mission in the context of the brewing conflict, this story winds up being more about the mystery behind the Black-Mother figures and the plight of region’s impoverished populace, who are frequently forced to sell their own children. The plot actually closely matches the pattern of Hasekura’s Spice and Wolf novels. Our characters go to explore a new place that also has a problem, their investigation unearths an astounding discovery, and that information plus the characters’ know-how allow them to craft a solution to the area’s problem. The resemblance is all the stronger because the region’s problems are economic, and the solution involves conjuring a “miracle” to manipulate the Church, a tactic used more than once in the Spice and Wolf series.

This makes for an interesting external conflict, especially when the truth about the monk Autumn and the Black-Mother figures come to light, but the resolution of Col’s internal journey is problematic. After all, Col is an idealistic, aspiring priest, not a cunning merchant. He’s pitting himself against the corruption of the Church and therefore conducts himself in strict accordance to God’s teachings. When his naive belief collides with the stark misery of the islanders, it makes for a gripping crisis of faith. Ultimately, he chooses to save the islanders by resorting to a method that he previously would have condemned. However, this moral compromise doesn’t seem to cause him any guilt or ambivalence about the faith he represents. And in the end, he remains determined to devote his life to God even though he doesn’t know if that God exists.

Another somewhat problematic element is the dynamic between Myuri and Col. Like Holo in Spice and Wolf, Myuri always seems to have the last word. However, Holo is a centuries-old wisewolf while Myuri’s a reckless tomboy half Col’s age. Although her puppy-like enthusiasm and her crush on Col seem fitting (lots of kids do crush on adults, after all), it seems weird that she constantly gets the better of Col.

This light novel includes the first eight pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Winfiel and the Church may be on the brink of a religious war, but this sojourn to examine the faith of the northern islands winds up being a tale of economics. Despite Col’s devotion to God’s teachings, he relies on the abilities of nonhumans and deception in order to rectify an impoverished community’s financial woes. The way his actions run counter to his dearest beliefs make him less believable as a character, but the larger narrative of the northern islands adventure should hold a lot of appeal for Spice and Wolf fans.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Shortcake Cake Vol. 01

suu Morishita is a manga creator duo, and their slice of life series Shortcake Cake is being released by Viz Media. Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Ten Serizawa has a two-hour commute through the mountains to high school every day, so she can’t spend much time hanging out with her friends in the afternoon. She decides to move into the local boardinghouse, where one of her friends and three other boys are living. Ten’s friends consider her to be as oblivious as a rock when it comes to noticing boys and falling in love, but will she be able to keep her calm and steady heart in her new living situation?

The Review

Because I’m a shojo manga fan, Viz’s Shojo Beat titles generally have at least some amount of appeal for me, and I’ve enjoyed several series with “ordinary girl” protagonists. As such, I was surprised to find Shortcake Cake such a disappointment.

To start, the plot is hardly a page turner. Our main character Ten is a freshman from Ryunohara, which is a two-hour bus ride from the nearest high school. Her schoolmate Ageha is also from Ryunohara, but she stays at a local boarding house to avoid the commute. After spending the night with Ageha at the boarding house and meeting its residents, Ten decides to move in there, too.

This opening scenario could have delivered conflict and drama to engage the reader, but it doesn’t. Moving out might be unusual for most teenagers, but in Ten’s rural community, it’s no big deal, everyone does it. Her parents have no problem with her moving away, and paying for her room and board isn’t a financial burden. Yes, there are boys living at the boarding house, but the girls are not overwhelmingly outnumbered (once Ten moves in, the house boards three boys and three girls). Plus there is a live-in house mother to enforce the rules. As such, the opening chapter ends up being a long-winded introduction to Ten’s housemates.

Without any major (or minor) external conflicts, it’s up to character relationships to carry the story forward. Unfortunately, they’re not all that interesting. Ten’s female friends are all bland friendly types. As for her male housemates, we have a stereotypical bespectacled nerd, a flirty Casanova, and a gorgeous intellectual. It eventually becomes clear that the plot will center around these boys’ interest in the main character. The problem is Ten’s not outstanding at all. Her looks are on par with the other female boarders; she has no goal she’s trying to accomplish or challenge she needs to overcome; and while she is not antisocial, her personality is pretty dull. As a result, I have trouble warming up to her as a main character. So when Riku, the resident playboy, instantly falls for her, it feels completely forced.

In addition to the lackluster narrative, the artwork is also unimpressive. The only difference between the two resident lookers Riku and Chiaki is a minor variation in their bangs, so in group scenes, I had trouble telling which boy was which. Also, the illustrator frequently uses mini-eyes and mini-faces in dialogue bubbles to indicate the speaker, but except for Yuto the singular glasses character, they are all so similar that I’m still left guessing as to who is talking.

Extras include an afterword, bonus mini-manga, and title page collection at the end of the book. Oddly, there are no footnotes or translation notes despite a number of cultural references.

In Summary

I usually enjoy Shojo Beat titles, so I was unexpectedly underwhelmed by this one. The heroine Ten is neither engaging nor inspiring, and without any real conflict or believable chemistry between the characters, the plot is boring. I can’t recommend the illustrations on this one either. Shortcake Cake doesn’t have offensive or inappropriate content, but without real substance, it doesn’t have much to like either.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: Massachusetts’ Archives and History Museums Part 5

The last stop in my Massachusetts research tour was Springfield, MA. About half my WIP takes place in this town so I had to come to take a look and, of course, drop by the city archives.

Springfield History Library and Archives

Location: Basement of the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA 01103

Resource Type: Archives

Website: https://springfieldmuseums.org/about/museum-of-springfield-history/springfield-history-library-archives/

Personal Goals:

Finding and making photograph copies of the following:

  • maps and photographs (interior and exterior) of 1860s-1870s Springfield
  • information regarding everyday working class life, holidays, and traditions during the 1860s-1870s
  • information regarding the 19th century inventor featured in my manuscript

Unexpected Find: Springfield Directory and Business Advertiser for 1867-1868 and 1868-1869 (FYI,  this publication is a forerunner of the 19th century version of the 20th century white and yellow page directories

What to expect

Unlike Boston, which has a dizzying number of historical repositories scattered about, Springfield has just a handful. With the notable exception of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield’s Museums are clustered around a quad on 21 Edwards Street, and the archives is located in the basement of the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. You must pay a fee to access the archives (see their website for details), and if you are a Dr. Seuss fan, you may want to opt to buy the all-museums ticket and allot extra time to see the Seuss Museum. Parking in the museum lot is free, however.

The people of Springfield have been quite good at preserving their history. Their archives contains an impressive collection of documents, photos, maps, ephemera, and books, and this place seems to be a popular stop for Civil War era researchers. However, unlike the Boston museums, their collection is not searchable online. As such, you will need to submit requests to archivists Cliff McCarthy and Margaret Humberston. Basically, you give them the topic or era you are interested in, and they will retrieve the pertinent material for you. It is not necessary to email requests in advance (the day I visited, the archives received two drop-in researchers), but I’d recommend it to maximize your time there.

By the way, Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Humberston were fantastic. I’d exchanged emails with Mr. McCarthy prior to my visit, and they had a heap of materials ready when I arrived. It included a DVD documentary of the inventor I was researching, and Mr. McCarthy was kind enough to let me use his desktop computer to watch it.

As you might guess, the atmosphere at the Springfield Archives is much more relaxed than the MHS. There are no lockers, and my husband and I were free to look through materials together. As we worked, we chatted with Ms. Humberston, and based off our conversation, she came up for additional suggestions for me, which included this location’s unexpected find: their collection of Springfield Directory and Business Advertisers. For a writer of historical fiction, these books are a gold mine. They’ve got everything from the names of all the city officials to omnibus schedules.

All in all, it was a pleasant and productive day of research in Springfield. Many thanks to Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Humberston!

And that concludes the recap of my Massachusetts archives and museum tour. Hopefully you’ve found it informative!