Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 2

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 2. (For the review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife. After her long-term boyfriend breaks up with her to pursue his own career goals, she encounters popular newscaster Ryu Nanami. Asuka and Ryu get along well, but the last thing he wants is to ever get married. This levelheaded pair who want the opposite things in life should never get involved, except…

The Review

The previous volume dealt mainly with Asuka diving back into the dating pool after getting dumped by her long-time boyfriend. Now she’s made her choice, and Volume 2 explores the difficulties of two busy career people trying to maintain a relationship. Asuka’s no slouch, but Ryu’s duties at the TV station are all-consuming. In the several weeks following their decision to date, Ryu barely has time to call Asuka, let alone see her. When he does manage to get within groping distance, passion generally ends in comedy with the interlude getting interrupted by one thing or another.

As such, Asuka and Ryu enjoy very little quality time, but readers get to see quite a bit of the broadcasting and recording world Ryu lives in. By the way, his workplace is definitely a male-dominated one, and with so many guys in suits, it’s sometimes difficult to tell characters apart. As Ryu interacts with his coworkers, we get their perspectives on PTV’s hot young newscaster as well as more hints and rumors about his past. While the particulars of his career history are interesting, Miyazono-sensei has yet to reveal the details of the circumstances that led to his aversion to marriage.

Despite that aversion and Asuka and Ryu’s extremely limited time together, the topic of marriage does manage to pop up regularly in the chapters. Concerned friend Rio questions Asuka on the wisdom of dating Ryu when he’s so set against marriage. As for Ryu, he’s obligated to cover the marriages of celebrities in his job. However, the volume ends with the introduction of a new female character who’s likely to add a new dimension to the marriage discussion.

Extras include character line up, story thus far, author’s note, and the nine-page bonus story “Nanaryu’s Rude Language.” Also, the romantic moments between Asuka and Ryu in this installment aren’t overly graphic, but they do warrant the manga’s “M” rating.

In Summary

Marriage-minded Asuka seems to be setting herself up for disappointment with her decision to date Ryu. However, this volume depicts her more as the neglected girlfriend fighting for time with her man rather than the one trying to argue him into marriage. There are a couple steamy scenes, but Volume 2 largely focuses on the career life of Ryu the talented, successful (and insanely busy) announcer.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #1

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back cover blurb

Despite being completely hopeless at endeavors like farming and cooking, Liselotte, a young lady of noble birth and guardian to twins Alto and Anna, picks up and moves to a remote land. At the easternmost reaches of her new home lies a forest where it’s said witches roam. When Lise one day finds herself at the receiving end of an attack by one such witch, she’s saved by the sudden appearance of a young man named Engetsu. Though they’re strangers, Engetsu is remarkably similar to someone she already knows…

The Review

If you’re a fan of Natsuki Takaya’s art and particular brand of ditzy and big-hearted heroine, you’re likely to fall in love with this title’s main character, Liselotte. For those familiar with Fruits Basket, Liselotte is pretty much a blonde, blue-eyed version of Tohru, with the same energetic optimism and trusting nature. However, whereas Tohru was a hard-working poor orphan, Liselotte was born to privilege and would probably starve without the help of her two servants. In addition, Liselotte’s setting is not contemporary Japan but an unnamed European-style fantasy land where witches exist.

Takaya-sensei mentions in an author’s note that she aims to “make it a relatively easygoing story,” and the tale starts off that way. The first several pages consist of Liselotte driving her considerably younger but much more capable servant boy Alto crazy with her attempts to do chores in their new home. Then the mood abruptly shifts when Liselotte gets attacked by a witch. This isn’t your chipper moe-style witch, but one who’s dangerous and malicious, and Takaya-sensei does an excellent job conveying the suddenness and creepiness of the assault. Fortunately for Liselotte, a young man named Engetsu rescues her, and despite his spacey behavior and strange clothes, he’s remarkably similar to someone she once knew.

While the magical elements put this series into the fantasy category, it’s difficult to tell what kind of journey Takaya-sensei’s taking us on. There are plenty of comical interactions, including a lot of bad cooking and growly stomach humor, but while the scenes are entertaining and establish character relationships, they don’t set a clear direction for the plot. In addition, the witch’s forest loses some of its ominous aura when the attack on Liselotte gets followed by an invasion from a witch’s familiar who’s about as terrifying and destructive as a puppy dog. However, Takaya-sensei keeps the narrative moving by revealing bits of Liselotte’s past, which, for such a simple-minded character, is surprisingly complicated. Engetsu, on the one hand, remains largely a mystery, but judging from the emotion that overflows from the drawings whenever he and Liselotte are together, romance will brew between the two.

I should mention that the book doesn’t include translation notes, which may prove problematic for manga newbies, especially in one particular scene regarding the honorific “-sama.” However, the book does include embedded author’s notes, two color illustrations, and two full-spread black and white illustrations.

In Summary

Natsuki Takaya spins a new fantasy tale with a girl determined to create a new home for herself beside a witch forest. In addition to our super-positive heroine, we have a grouchy butler, an ever-supportive maid, an adorable fireball of a familiar, and a mysterious young man. It’s unclear where this group is headed, but for now, readers can simply enjoy the lively antics of this noisy and unusual household.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 9

Takeo Goda, the male lead for Viz Media’s  My Love Story!!  is quite unusual. Bishonen tend to dominate the cast of shojo manga, but Takeo’s looks are about as far from a stereotypical pretty boy as you can get. Still, he possesses tremendous appeal in this hilarious romantic comedy. Volume 9 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Yamato starts working at a cake shop, where she meets a handsome pastry chef named Ichinose. Ichinose mistakes Yamato’s kind-hearted actions for signs of affection, and he falls for her! What will Takeo do about this persistent rival?

The Review

Volume 8 concluded with the introduction of the handsome young pastry chef Ichinose, and interestingly, seeing him call Yamato by her first name (an indication of familiarity in Japanese culture) doesn’t make Takeo go ballistic. Rather, he sinks into a funk because he isn’t bold enough to do the same. His insecurities grow as he realizes how much fun Yamato’s having at her part-time job with Ichinose. Of course, Suna gets dragged along to listen to Takeo’s problems and stand witness to the funny effects this emotional blow has on him.

Then things get really heated when Ichinose outright demands Takeo give Yamato to him. It’s a hilarious interchange when Ichinose presses Takeo about his qualifications to be Yamato’s boyfriend and then makes his own pronouncements about the type of woman Takeo should be with. Again, even though Takeo could easily knock Ichinose into next week, he comes away from the encounter like a whipped dog.

Meanwhile, Yamato is completely oblivious to the turmoil she’s causing. She thinks Ichinose’s interest in her is solely professional while Ichinose interprets her unabashed praise of his work as confirmation that their feelings are mutual. Takeo’s pretty dense, but Yamato and Ichinose bring in their own comic brands of cluelessness as well.

For those familiar with the anime, the TV series followed this volume fairly closely but did omit a couple minor scenes, including one where Takeo’s friends come to invite him out. The omitted scenes aren’t critical to the narrative, but the pacing of the manga feels more natural compared to the corresponding anime episode.

Volume 9 is a bit short. It only contains three chapters, but they make up for it with an extra-long bonus story about Takeo and Sunakawa when they were in elementary school. Extras also include story thus far and notes from the creators.

In Summary

Gentle giant Takeo breaks more stereotypes when another guy demands that he break up with Yamamoto. Instead of squashing his rival shonen-style, Takeo gets depressed, wondering if he’s good enough for his girlfriend. Given how cute Yamato is, this arc has been a long time coming, but Takeo’s unexpected insecurities and Ichinose’s overconfidence make it a worthwhile one.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Behind the Scenes Vol. #02

There are a LOT of anime and manga centered around glamorous idols and movie/TV stars, but what about the humble folk that do the grungy, tedious work behind the camera? The unseen teams charged with creating film sets, costumes, and props are the subject of Bisco Hatori’s Behind the Scenes!! Viz Media has released Volume 2, and you can read on for the review. (Reviews of other volumes can be found here.)

Back cover blurb

When the Art Squad is assigned to dress a set, Ranmaru is shocked at how seriously Goda takes the job. Every action figure and empty soda can is placed with utmost care to tell the story of the character who lives there, every sock and towel artfully be-grunged with coffee grounds and fuller’s earth to support the narrative. Ranmaru has always been detail oriented, but isn’t this taking things to the extreme? He’s about to learn that attention to detail can do more than just set the scenes!

The Review

So far, Art Squad projects have been manifestations of various antagonism, but it now appears that Goda treats all requests as challenges, even when they’re not. In the case of their latest Film Studies assignment, one seemingly innocuous word has Goda turning an otaku bedroom set from a low-key job into an intense task that newbie Ranmaru can barely keep up with. Following that, a student actress asks Goda to help her get rid of a clingy boyfriend (by posing as her new boyfriend), and Goda instead drags the Art Squad into Mega-Operation: Filthy Room!!

These two chapters reemphasize what readers already know about Goda: he is completely devoted to his art and his forceful personality somehow sweeps everyone else along. Along the way, readers also get a smattering of set dressing techniques as well as a hint of romantic feelings. At the end of Volume 1, a word of thanks from Ruka put Ranmaru in a fluster, and Volume 2 continues in that vein with Ranmaru’s fluster developing into a crush. However, those looking for a love arc are likely in for a long, drawn out ride. Ranmaru’s too timid to make a move, and while he observes that Ruka might feel something for Goda, she’s not making moves either. As for Goda, he, as Maasa puts it, “loves only art.” So while there is the potential of a love triangle, hardly anything is in motion.

Romance doesn’t seem likely among the other Art Squad members either, judging from Chapters 8 and 10, close-ups on Maasa and Izumi respectively. Maasa desperately wants a boyfriend, but when Ranmaru gets dragged along to a singles meet up, he quickly learns how the Art Squad’s resident gore expert self-sabotages her prospects. As for Izumi, he’s got a gaggle of fangirls but seems neither interested in nor capable of sustaining a deep, intimate relationship. As such, it looks like art will be the sole passion driving the engines of the Art Squad for a while.

Volume 2 also includes a Soh-centric chapter. In Volume 1, Ranmaru’s bossy cousin served mainly to heap disdain on Ranmaru and reinforce his insecurities. Now Hatori-sensei seems as if she’s completely changed her mind about this character. Chapter 9 depicts Soh not as arrogant and self-assured but as depressed as Ranmaru. The 180 in her personality is a lot to swallow, but it does make her interactions with Ranmaru funnier, and along the way, readers get to learn about resin crafts.

Extras include character profiles, embedded notes from the creator, glossary, and author bio.

In Summary

If you thought love entered Ranmaru’s life, think again. He may be harboring a developing crush, but for the most part, he’s just struggling to keep up with Goda’s latest project. In fact, romance seems to be getting nipped in the bud among all his fellow club members, but there’s passion aplenty for their work along with a lot of Art Squad craft techniques.

First published at The Fandom Post.

New on the shelves: the Mysterion anthology!

It’s out! My  sixth short story “Yuki and The Seven Oni” is now available in Enigmatic Mirror Press Mysterion.  The Christian spec fic anthology is comprised of twenty stories that include dragon infestations, aliens, a 17th century automaton, and my own Snow White retelling. You can find Mysterion on Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo.   Please check it out!

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #7

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

Back cover blurb

When the wall that separated the East and West falls, the 20th century comes to an end and brings radical change to the world. During this turbulent time, Taichi Hiraga Keaton has difficulty finding a job in archaeology even though his long line of cases as an insurance investigator doesn’t seem to end. As he navigates through dangerous adventures, Keaton encounters some bittersweet lives…

The Review

The creators serve up twelve single-chapter stories for this installment of Master Keaton, but even though it doesn’t include longer arcs, the volume features more archeology elements than we’ve seen lately. “The Curse of Isis” is essentially a mummy’s curse story, but it does incorporate some eerie facts regarding the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb into the narrative. In “Fortune with Rain,” Keaton enjoys some down time by helping an old classmate excavate Etrurian artifacts in an Italian dig. “The Prayer Tapestry” is the only story that takes place in Japan and incorporates both Japanese and European history into a surprisingly fascinating plot. The final chapter, “The Iron Fortress,” takes place at a medieval fortress in Italy, where Keaton has the misfortune to encounter a local judge pursued by the Camorra. While Keaton definitely shows off his fighting prowess against the mobsters, he also uses his knowledge of medieval architecture to gain the upper hand.

For those more enamored of the political climate of Keaton’s time, never fear. In “In the Shadow of Victory,” he investigates a British lieutenant’s bloody dealings in Ireland and Desert Storm. Of course, Keaton’s SAS experience comes into play in that chapter as well as “The Green Fugue” and “Homecoming,” both of which highlight Eastern Europe’s rocky transition after the fall of communism.

This volume also offers something a little different than the usual thugs and archeology adventures. Animals have appeared every now and then, mostly because of Keaton’s dad, but this volume includes two animal-centric stories. “Whisky Cat Village” tells of a Scottish community where a local whisky distillery has gone out of business while “The Angel’s Wings” is about a young London police dog handler and his dog. “Whisky Cat Village” and “The Angel’s Wings” feature Keaton’s dad and Keaton, respectively, but they play very minor roles. The focus is on the animals, and the cat even acts as narrator in “Whisky Cat Village.”

Another departure from Keaton’s usual insurance jobs and SAS-related escapades is “Blue Friday.” We’ve occasionally caught glimpses of Keaton’s insurance company co-worker Daniel, but we know next to nothing about him. This time Daniel gets his own chapter in a kind of gumshoe romance. At any rate, we see more of him in this volume than of Keaton’s dad and daughter combined.

Extras include the first five pages in color and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

A little something for everyone in these twelve single-chapter stories. In addition to the usual against-the-odds rocks versus guns skirmishes, we have the return of archeological digs and cursed artifacts to the story lineup. A couple of animal stories also change things up a bit, and even though we don’t get much new information on Keaton’s personal life, we get a look into the love life of his coworker Daniel.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Coming soon: Yuki and the Seven Oni!

Now some exciting news on the writing front: my sixth short story “Yuki and The Seven Oni” will published in the Christian spec fic anthology Mysterion! Mysterion is the first publication of Enigmatic Mirror Press and will be available next week on Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo. However, you can find an exceprt of “Yuki and The Seven Oni,” which is a Snow White retelling, here.  Please check it out!

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary Vol. 002

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Asuna joins forces with the Sleeping Knights guild in their quest to defeat a major boss, but inwardly, she struggles with her ongoing attachment to the VRMMO game. When the time for battle arrives, will she be ready? And when Yuuki’s secret is revealed, what will the consequences be?

The Review

Asuna’s mom makes only a brief appearance at the beginning of this volume, as if to remind readers about Asuna’s horrible real life, and then the rest follows Asuna’s interaction with Yuuki’s six-person guild inside New Aincrad. No sooner have the Sleeping Knights explained their goal of having their names inscribed on the Monument of Swordsmen than Asuna is fighting alongside them.

As in Volume 1, the manga follows the anime storyline fairly closely. That means battle scenes make up the majority of these chapters. The fight sequences are occasionally difficult to follow, but one advantage the manga has over the anime is the Background Guide, which provides better understanding on player strategy and interaction within New Aincrad. With action driving the plot so quickly forward, readers don’t really get a chance to know the Sleeping Knights as individuals, with the obvious exception of Yuuki. I had trouble remembering the names of the five non-Yuuki Knights, and the only one who left any sort of impression was Siune, mainly because she pairs up with Asuna to provide backup support.

Collaborating with the Sleeping Knights brings out a different Asuna than we’ve seen in other groups. Within SAO, she was at the vanguard as one of her guild’s top fighters. The skills of the Sleeping Knights, however, far exceed hers so she can’t play the role of elite swordswoman. As such, even though Yuuki recruited Asuna based on her fighting skills, Asuna winds up as group strategist, guiding them past the hazards inside and out of the boss’ chamber, while Yuuki takes the flashy part of ultimate fighter.

Extras include embedded Background Guide notes, the title page in color, a bonus mini-manga about Asuna’s friends preparing food, afterword manga, and sketch from Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

If you like fight scenes and confrontations, you will get your fill as Asuna and the six Sleeping Knights strive to take down the 27th Floor Boss ahead of the other guilds. While Asuna does play a key role, Yuuki is the MVP of the battle. This volume focuses almost entirely on external challenges best faced with a sword, but as it closes, it looks like the struggles ahead are shifting toward the internal type.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 3

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 3. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back cover blurb

With the masses conspiring against him, wasn’t it merely a matter of time before poor Handa-kun came to grievous bodily harm? But maybe a bout of amnesia is just what the doctor ordered. Forgetting himself, won’t Handa-kun escape his greatest enemy of all? Uhhhh…maybe not.

The Review

In the previous volume, Yoshino-sensei introduced a couple new male characters; in this volume, we get new female characters. The first is Sawako Tennouji, the student council president. While it doesn’t look like she will be appearing as regularly as the self-declared “Handa Army” (i.e., Aizawa, Reo, Tsutsui, and Kondou), that doesn’t make her any less wacky. An extreme manhater, she wears a boys uniform and commands the admiration of the student council and all the girls at school. Not surprisingly, she sets her sights on destroying Handa, but she’s interesting in how readily she uses slander to take him down. It’s inevitable that she’ll fall victim to HND syndrome, but things take an unexpected twist when she inadvertently causes Handa to lose his memory.

In most manga, this would result in consternation; in Handa’s case, it’s a chance to see the student he would’ve been if he didn’t think everyone hated him. While he no longer has a persecution complex, Handa’s delusions take another form. Tennouji quickly drops from the foreground to be replaced by the Handa Army, who are unable to cope with the perky new Handa. The funniest part of this chapter is when the entire school rejects Handa because they think he’s another fake.

After the amnesia chapter, we have a chapter with Kawafuji, the one person who sees Handa as he actually is. A trip to the game center starts as an attempt to help Handa recover from the extreme methods used to recover his memories, but it quickly devolves into Kawafuji laughing at his friend’s expense. The Handa of Barakamon is notoriously inept at anything but calligraphy, and this chapter brings some of that physical humor to Handa-kun.

Then another person gets a glimpse of the real Handa. Enter Tsugumi, a schoolmate with a talent for palm-reading. She, like Tennouji, looks like a relatively minor character, and most of the energy from this arc comes from the reactions of the Handa Army. However, her reading of Handa’s future and how she interprets it should be hilarious to Barakamon fans.

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

In Summary

A man-hating student president and a fortune-telling classmate join the cast, but it’s still the wild comments of the Aizawa, Reo, Tsutsui, and Kondou foursome that carry this series. However, a bout of amnesia changes things up by bringing out a completely different side of Handa, and a trip to the game center with Kawafuji provides a refreshing break from the Handa-enthralled masses.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 13

There’s the type of shojo manga where a girl really can envision herself as the heroine. And then there are those where the characters are constantly going off the deep end. My Little Monster falls into the latter category, and if your taste in high school romance leans toward the improbable and wacky, this title might be up your alley. Kodansha  has released Volume 13 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Shizuku and Haru have their happy ending, but what about their friends and family? Everyone is the hero of his or her own story. Sasayan, Natsume, Iyo, Yuzan—they all have their own tales to tell. What paths will they follow? Find out in this final volume of My Little Monster! Includes over 60 pages of extras after the story!

The Review

My Little Monster’s main arc ended in Volume 12, but the story isn’t quite over yet. Robico-sensei follows up with a hefty final volume comprised of four extra chapters and material from the My Little Monster Fan Book. While these extra chapters focus on the supporting cast, Shizuku/Haru fans should still pick this volume up because the setting for Extra Chapter 4 is Haru and Shizuku’s wedding. Given Haru’s family background, it winds up a huge western-style affair, and we get a rare chance to see Shizuku dressed up and out of her trademark pigtails.

Aside from the wedding portion, Extra Chapter 4 is also interesting because it follows the POV of younger brother Takaya, now a high school student. Though he appeared numerous times in the series, he rarely spoke or showed emotion. This story offers a look into his thoughts about his sister but, more importantly, delves into his surprisingly passionate feelings for the woman he’s in love with.

Love is also the theme for Extra Chapters 1 and 2, which focus on Sasayan and Iyo, respectively. Extra Chapter 1 revisits a number of past Natsume/Sasayan moments through Sasayan’s eyes. Extra Chapter 2, which is set shortly after the series end, is about Iyo’s obsession with “the red string of destiny” and an impromptu date with Yuzan.

Extra Chapter 3, which focuses on Yuzan, is a bit more complicated. It’s set just before Haru and Shizuku’s wedding so we get a glimpse of Yuzan’s political career, but much of the narrative has to do with the far past. If you’ve wanted more of the dysfunctional Yoshida family dynamic, this story is for you.

Following the extra chapters is the fan book material. Detailed character profiles for everyone from Shizuku to Sasayan’s baseball teammates make up the majority of this section, but it also includes mini-manga about Natsume’s daily life and the origins of the Kaimei Academy foursome. There are several four-panel comics, a couple games, and an overview of how the manga is produced as well.

In Summary

Past, present, and future are all covered in more than 200 pages of post-series extras. Four extra chapters focus on Sasayan, Iyo, Yuzan, and Takaya, but we get a pretty good idea of the entire cast’s happily ever when everyone convenes for Haru and Shizuku’s wedding. And if you’re interested in character details like Yamaken’s blood type, you’ll find it all in the fan book material at the very end.

First published at the Fandom Post.