Manga Review: Kiss of the Rose Princess Vol. 2

Magical girls and reverse harems are standard fare in shoujo manga, and you can find both in Aya Shouoto’s Kiss of the Rose Princess. Read on for Volume 2 of the series! (For my review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Fearing her absent father will return and discover her rose choker missing, Anise commands her knights to do a search for the necklace. Before they can set out, new transfer student Haruto Kisugi appears. Anise and he were friends back when she was living in Osaka, but her four knights—especially Kaede—do not trust him.

The Review

The initial volume of Kiss of the Rose Princess wasn’t very serious. Our high school heroine discovers she has guardians with mystical powers, but without a nemesis, she has nothing better to do with them other than search for her missing choker. That changes with the introduction of transfer student Haruto Kisugi.

Volume 2 opens with the same fluffy humor by introducing Haruto as an old friend of Anise and an aspiring standup comedian. However, the mood quickly changes when he reveals himself as the Yellow Rose Knight. Unlike the other knights, he doesn’t draw his power off her blood nor can she control him. Things escalate when Anise discovers that the sealed Demon Lord, who was written off as a non-issue in Volume 1, actually poses an imminent threat and that the Yellow Rose is bent on making sure he gets free.

In explaining the origins of the Yellow Rose’s vengeance, Shouoto-sensei manages to tie together Anise’s father, her choker, and the ultimate destiny of the sovereign of the cards. While this new information does give Anise and company a mission, Anise seems to side against her father a bit too quickly. In addition, her dad is an adversary of the Rose Knights and supposedly the greatest sorcerer in the last thousand years, yet he still couldn’t manage to hide his daughter from the Rose Knights. However, if plot weaknesses don’t faze you and you’re more interested in bishounen putting themselves on the line for the girl they’ve pledged loyalty to,  you’ll probably enjoy the direction Kiss of the Rose Princess is headed.

Extras include the opening splash illustration and table of contents printed in color; a mini-manga about the mangaka and her editor; and bonus illustrations.

In Summary

The lightheartedness of Volume 1 gets replaced by a darker mood of betrayal and vengeance. With the introduction of the Yellow Rose and Anise’s father, Anise and her Knights finally have enemies to contend against. Granted, having her and her father on opposing sides is a rather convoluted turn of events, but at least the plot is actually headed somewhere now.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 2

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 2! (For my review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back cover blurb

His house suddenly a hangout for the local kids, weird rumors about him getting spread all over the island in the span of day…handsome young calligrapher Seishuu Handa, unused to rural life, can’t take it anymore and collapses from the weight of it all! The heartwarming and hilarious tale of a sullen city-boy teacher and his tolerant island neighbors continues! Will Handa finally start to learn that living life at a slow pace isn’t all that bad?

The Review

A month has passed since Handa moved to the island. The constant intrusion of kids into his home was a major cause of strife in Volume 1, but now he’s so used to them he’s even stocking up on candy for when they come over. With the Naru-getting-into-Handa’s-hair element not quite so strong, the focus expands to give other characters more airtime. A visit to the Cat Man’s house brings out an unexpectedly sweet side of Handa, and there’s a fun exchange at the local store with two women whose accents are so thick they misunderstand one another.

The side character that gets the most development in Volume 2 is Tama. She’s an aspiring mangaka, but her work and tastes aren’t what you’d expect from a middle school country girl. Barakamon has an “All Ages” rating, but Tama’s a closet fujoshi, and the text includes definitions for BL and fudanshi for those unfamiliar with yaoi. She witnesses an accident between Handa and Hiroshi, and her misinterpretation of the completely innocent incident turns into a running joke.

Volume 2 also shows more of the island at the expense of Handa’s pride. Thanks to a combination of heatstroke and insomnia, he lands at the local hospital. Of course, the middle and high schools are close by, and his hospital stay turns into an opportunity for the kids to yawp at him about IVs and suppositories. Then there’s the visit to the beach. Reluctant chaperone Handa looks more like a city slicker than usual when the rocky shore knocks him out cold, not once, but three times. In contrast, the kids do a great job of showing how much fun a sand-less beach can be.

Extras include a character lineup, bonus two-page manga, translation notes, and information about the story’s island setting.

In Summary

Although the newness of rural life has worn off, Handa still has a lot of city slicker-meets-the-country moments. The main difference now is that he’s less outsider and more an accepted member of the island community. Naru continues to dominate his attention, but he interacts more with the adults of the village, which provides variety to the kids-are-bothering-Handa-yet-again brand humor.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Anime Review: Non Non Biyori Complete Collection DVD

Let’s face it. Anime is thought of by many in the States as cartoons, and cartoons in the U.S. are synonymous with kids, but most anime really isn’t appropriate for a child audience. However, once in a while, I come across a series that I CAN recommend to younger viewers, and the slice of life comedy Non Non Biyori is one of them.

Back Cover Blurb

When Hotaru Ichijo transfers from a school in bustling Tokyo to a tiny school in a quiet countryside village, she should be experiencing major culture shock. After all, there are only three other girls in the school, and none of them are even in the same grade as her. But adjusting isn’t too hard for Hotaru thanks to first grader Renge and the Koshigaya sisters, Natsumi and Komari, who are in the seventh and eighth grade respectively.

Even though it takes 20 minutes by bicycle to get to the only place that sells comics and the video store is 10 train stations away, there’s something about the laid-back lifestyle that makes her feel right at ease. It’s a big change from the big city, but there are still plenty of new adventures to look forward to as Hotaru learns that home really is where the heart is.

The Review

Many anime titles categorized under “Slice of Life” are a bit of a stretch. Crunchyroll’s Slice of Life listings include Polar Bear Café and Moyashimon, neither of which falls remotely close to my definition of the genre. But even if your Slice of Life universe includes talking bears, I think we can all agree that Non Non Biyori lies safely within that category.

The series, comprised of twelve 25-minute episodes, follows four girls in a countryside village over the course of a year. The story opens with fifth-grader Hotaru Ichijo’s first day at school. She recently moved from Tokyo because of her father’s job, and she’s instantly in for a culture shock. The population’s so small that the entire school body, including her, is a mere five students.

This school definitely doesn’t suffer clique struggles, not with everyone in a different grade, ranging from 1st to 9th. It’s a given that they all have to be friends, and although their temperaments vary widely, they are a close-knit group. At least the girls are. Ninth grader Suguru is the only boy and his lack of spoken lines is a running joke. He’s also brother to the two girls old enough to date so romance doesn’t really factor into this anime. As such, Non Non Biyori focuses mainly on how the girls entertain themselves out in the sticks.

So no superpowers, aliens, espionage, or fate-of-the-world-depends-on-it elements. The anime moves slowly, like My Neighbor Totoro slow. The opening segment for Episode 1 is a couple minutes of the village’s fields, mountains, flowers, and waterways sans dialogue. The depiction of this scenery is gorgeous but not much is happening. If you need explosions or magical transformation sequences to hold your attention, Non Non Biyori will likely put you to sleep. Even so, the anime holds its own charm. Most contemporary anime take place in urban or suburban settings so it offers a different aspect of Japan. Watching characters dry persimmons for eight minutes might be boring for some, but my husband and I, who have a great interest in the lives of ordinary Japanese folk, found it fascinating.

Fortunately for us foreigners (and probably many Japanese urbanites), Hotaru provides a natural way for the characters to highlight things mundane to rural folk but unusual to city dwellers. It also works the other way around. In one scene, Hotaru unintentionally outclasses her seventh grade sempai Komari on the topics of music and fashion.

Although the series starts with Hotaru’s perspective, it shifts such that all girls get a turn. The eccentric first grader Renge gives a sense of what it’s like to grow up without peers when another first grader visits for the summer and abruptly leaves. Rowdy Natsumi and diminutive Komari are sisters, and their episodes center around how members of a large country family annoy one another. The rural setting also has a definite presence as characters respond to the seasons, from partaking in spring planting to getting snowed in overnight at school.

For the most part, it’s goofy kiddie antics at a laid-back pace, which is why I’m surprised at its PG rating. There’s no swearing or violence. The closing credits show the girls in the tub together, but there’s no actual nudity. Animals don’t get carted off to the slaughterhouse like in Silver Spoon. Hotaru does have a kind of crush on Komari, which manifests as a massive Komari-plushy collection, but I’d label it more innocent adoration than yuri.

In Summary

Non Non Biyori is a slice of life comedy that provides a real taste of the country. With an entire half episode devoted to a walk to the candy store and lengthy segments devoted to mountain valley scenery, it certainly moves at a country pace. Watching five kids throw Japan’s most underwhelming cultural festival might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Non Non Biyori does possess its own flavor of simple, innocent fun.

Features:
Japanese 2.0, English subtitles, clean opening and closing animation, and promos for other Sentai Filmworks anime

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #1

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.

Back Cover Blurb

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, the son of a Japanese zoologist and a noble English woman, is an insurance investigator known for his successful and unorthodox methods of investigation. Educated in archaeology and a former member of the SAS, Master Keaton uses his knowledge and combat training to uncover buried secrets, thwart would-be villains, and pursue the truth…

The Review

The actual field of archaeology may be dry and tedious, but pop culture has cast a glamorous glow upon it. Golden artifacts, exotic locations, and Nazi bad guys are a typical day’s work for swashbuckling scholars. And in the vein of Indiana Jones, we have the adventures of archaeologist Taichi Keaton!

Keaton encounters as much treasure and danger as Indy, but he’s a completely different personality. In addition to being a lecturer at a Japanese university, the half-British, half-Japanese archaeologist is a former survival combat expert of the British Special Forces. That means that he doesn’t take on his enemies with whips and guns blazing; rather, he uses whatever is at hand, be it a wooden spoon or a can of epoxy, to extricate himself out of a scrape. And in lieu of a fedora and khakis, Keaton sports a suit and tie, even in a desert dig. After all, he’s an insurance investigator for the prestigious Lloyds of London Insurance Organization.

Keaton’s freelance insurance job is probably the oddest element in the story. However, the narrative claims that “archaeological investigations and insurance go hand in hand,” and the investigation of false claims does actually work as the rationale to get Keaton jumping from country to country. Indiana Jones’ Nazis are long gone, but Cold-War era terrorists, the Mafia, and crazy ex-military keep Keaton on his toes.

For the most part, each chapter is a self-contained arc that features a bit of history and allows Keaton to show off an aspect of his eclectic skill set. While Keaton is in his mid-30s, the combination of his goofy personality and international exploits should appeal to younger shonen readers. But not TOO young. While Keaton is largely an upstanding fellow, his job pits him against the darker elements of humanity, and Volume 1 includes illustrations of graphic violence and a half-naked prostitute snorting drugs.

Due to the manga’s episodic structure, Keaton deals with a different group of troublemakers on each adventure, but there is a recurring supporting cast in the form of his family. His spunky middle-school daughter Yuriko has a sharp tongue that she doesn’t hesitate to use on her father, and Keaton’s dad, a professor of zoology, is a longtime womanizer. Even so, there is affection between the three highly intelligent but very different family members. Keaton’s estranged wife never appears in person in Volume 1, but she’s very much on his mind and in his heart. However, Keaton’s irregular lifestyle and absentmindedness get in the way of his intention to reconcile with her, which paints a pretty clear picture of why she left him.

Extras include the first pages of Chapter 1 and Chapter 6 in color and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

Combine Indiana Jones, MacGyver, and an insurance investigator and you’ve got Taichi Keaton! He’s more of a daydreaming academic than a macho sexpot, but this mild-mannered university lecturer makes for a surprisingly compelling hero. With Cold War era adventures that take him around the globe, Master Keaton makes for fantastic fun.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 001

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 recently released Volume 1 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Yuuki Asuna was a top student who spent her days studying at cram school and preparing for her high school entrance exams–but that was before she borrowed her brother’s virtual reality game system and wound up trapped in Sword Art Online with ten thousand other frightened players. As time passes, Asuna fears what will become of her life outside the fantasy realm–the failure she might be seen as in the eyes of her peers and parents. Unwilling to wait on the sidelines for more experienced gamers to beat the game, Asuna employs her study habits to learn the mechanics of the game–and swordplay. Her swiftness impresses Kirito, a professional gamer who invites Asuna to join the best players on the front line. Is Asuna ready to swap class rankings for player rankings and join Kirito?

The Review

Sword Art Online: Progressive covers the same general territory as the Aincrad manga and the first season of the Sword Art Online anime. Instead of following Kirito’s perspective, however, it follows Asuna’s. While Kirito is enough of a gamer enthusiast to participate in the SAO beta test, SAO is Asuna’s first experience with gaming. As such, her journey is markedly different than Kirito’s even though they’re trapped in the same world.

The manga opens with a 16-page sequence that draws a picture of Asuna’s home life and then proceeds to the early days of Aincrad when the players had yet to clear Level 1. Unfamiliar with even RPG basics, Asuna quickly gets into trouble, and of course it’s Kirito to come to the rescue. Here, the manga deviates from the anime in that the pair meet and interact before Diavel’s call to defeat the Level 1 boss. However, Asuna’s less a weepy damsel in distress and more a determined competitor striving to get to the top of the game. As such, her jump from utter noob to frontline fighter, while remarkable, is believable.

Helping Asuna along is “The Rat,” an informant. She was not part of the anime cast, and, somewhat refreshingly, is a rare female who is not besotted with Kirito. In addition to providing Asuna with resources that unleash her fighting skills, the narrative strongly hints that The Rat, like Kirito, is a beta tester.

While Asuna is as far from a beta tester as can be, beta tester hate is interwoven into Progressive, and The Rat and Kirito show how those players are coping in Aincrad. Sometimes though, that prejudice seems overly forced. Kibaou, the beta tester hater in the Level 1 boss rating party, is even more outspoken than in the anime, and in the heat of the battle, he’s more dismayed about discovering a beta tester in the group than the deadly attack heading everyone’s way.

That aside, the storyline is strong and provides a fresh perspective over familiar territory. Also, of the three SAO manga I’ve read, I find Progressive’s artwork the best. Himura-sensei’s illustrations are clean with an excellent blending of details and tones. Her action sequences are easy to follow with a nice variety of CG and hand-drawn effects to convey impact. I should also mention that while they are not nearly as blatant as Fairy Dance, Himura-sensei does incorporate fan service elements, including a rather lengthy bathtub scene at Kirito’s quarters.

Extras include the first three pages in color and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

The SAO franchise for the most part follows Kirito’s perspective so Progressive will be a treat for Asuna fans. It doesn’t add much in terms of major Aincrad events, but it does fill in Asuna-centric details that weren’t in the anime or Sword Art Online: Aincrad. When you consider that Asuna entered SAO unfamiliar with even the basics of RPG party combat, her rise to the top of the Aincrad lineup is as extraordinary as Kirito’s solo feats, and I look forward to discovering more about her journey.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? Vol. 1

The “Dungeon” referred to in Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? doesn’t refer to a jail cell. Rather it’s the type of place you fight monsters to obtain treasures in RPGs, and this fantasy setting gets combined with harem elements in this light novel released by Yen Press.

Back Cover Blurb

In Orario, fearless adventurers band together in search of fame and fortune within the monstrous underground labyrinth known as Dungeon.

But while riches and renown are incentive enough for most, Bell Cranel, would-be hero extraordinaire, has bigger plans.

He wants to pick up girls.

Is it wrong to face the perils of Dungeon alone, in a single-member guild blessed by a failed goddess? Maybe. Is it wrong to dream of playing hero to hapless maidens in Dungeon? Maybe not. After one misguided adventure, Bell quickly discovers that anything can happen in the labyrinth–even chance encounters with beautiful women. The only problem? He’s the one who winds up the damsel in distress!

The Review

From the light novel’s silly title, I expected a clever romance comedy. Instead, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon? is better described a fantasy adventure. Although meeting girls is what drives Bell Cranel, the story’s hapless hero, to become an adventurer in Orario’s Dungeon, there are zero flirt scenes in the monster-ridden labyrinth. Bell’s delusions of finding dream girls in the Dungeon are quickly destroyed during a Minotaur attack in the prologue, and the humiliation he suffers turns the story into that of underdog newbie striving to transform from weak to strong.

The ironic thing is that even though Bell gives up his fantasy of attaining a harem at the beginning of the book, he attracts a sizable one over the course of the novel. Despite the title, Bell’s too shy and naive to pick up anyone, in the Dungeon or elsewhere. Yet women all over town–from humble waitresses to demi-humans to voluptuous goddesses–are inexplicably attracted to the scrawny, dirt poor, country born, Level I adventurer. Now Bell does have a very rare adventurer skill that puts him into a category all to himself, but only a couple of the goddess characters are aware of it. The rest of them fall for Bell just because. To the women of Orario, he might as well be the only man in town, and actually, except for three bit parts, there aren’t any other male characters besides Bell.

Yen Press touts the light novel as a “hilarious send-up of sword and sorcery tropes.” The fantasy tropes it has in spades, but it falls well short of hilarious. Part of the problem is that the world of Dungeon is modeled after a RPG, complete with progressively difficult Dungeon levels, monsters that leave drop items once they’re killed, and status profiles. Unfortunately, that means the first couple chapters read like game manuals with several paragraphs of world-building/setting descriptions.

Another weakness of Dungeon is that some humor involves physicality that might work in anime or manga but falls flat as pure text. Specifically, a couple female characters have ridiculously oversized breasts that Omori-sensei tries to use to comic effect. Unfortunately, the descriptions of the mayhem caused by pillow-sized bosoms comes off as awkward or vulgar rather than funny.

This light novel includes a color foldout illustration with the four goddesses on one side and Aiz and Eina on the other, seven black-and-white illustrations, profiles on Bell and the Hestia Knife, a short epilogue, and author afterword.

In Summary

Unless you enjoy reading video game manuals for fun, the first chapters of Dungeon are going to be a slog. If you tough it out, your reward is a not particularly original story of a newbie fighter striving to succeed in order to impress his crush. Bell Cranel’s efforts and aspiration might be engaging, but the blatant harem aspect of the story waters down the impact of his adventures.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance 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 recently released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kirito jumps into a new VRMMORPG called ALfheim Online (ALO) in search of Asuna, who still hasn’t regained consciousness. On his quest to find the World Tree and reach Asuna, he meets a sylph girl named Leafa. A veteran player experienced with the sword, Leafa recognizes that Kirito is motivated by serious circumstances and decides to help him. But…Leafa’s identity in the real world is Suguha Kirigaya–Kirito’s sister. And it’s the glimmer of her beloved brother she sees in Kirito that prompts her to lend him a hand. Now, despite the conflicting interests guiding them on, the pair set off on a journey to the World Tree!

The Review

Kirito starts off the journey to ALfheim to rescue Asuna, but along the way, he ends up being hero to Leafa and two entire Elven races. There’s plenty of action to be had with the conclusion of Volume 001′s bridge battle and a skyhigh duel with ALfheim’s strongest player. However, some movements are difficult to follow, and Haduki-sensei occasionally shows two simultaneous angles in the same panel, which can be confusing.

While ALfheim is not Aincrad, echoes of that other world show up in Kirito’s illusion magic monster and his dual-sword skill. Aincrad’s imprint on Kirito also shows up in other ways. During a real-world scene that wasn’t included in the anime, Kirito reflects on how his actual self seems more like a persona while Kirito the swordsman feels like his true self. Also, his real-life priority is finding and freeing Asuna from the grip of her nefarious fiancé, but the Salamander crisis causes him to detour from that goal as if actual lives were at stake.

Meanwhile, Fairy Dance’s harem quality continues full-steam. As the manga progresses, Leafa seems less one of the “Great Five Sylphs” and more a starstruck Kirito fangirl. At the conclusion of the Kirito/Eugene duel, the heads of the Sylphs and Cait Siths (both female) start pressing their bodies against Kirito, and Leafa barges in to break it up. Fortunately, the female cast regains some dignity when Asuna takes the initiative to escape her cage. She may be the damsel in distress, but at least she’s showing the spunk that made her the vice commander of her guild in SAO.

Extras include the title page printed in color, background guide blurbs, a short afterword manga, and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

Kirito shows off the skills that made him Aincrad’s strongest player and quickly establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with in ALO. The manga’s fanservice tone also continues with every female character falling for Kirito. There are some somber moments of reflection and Asuna’s coma to provide character angst, but the ease with which Kirito maneuvers through ALfheim definitely makes Fairy Dance less intense than Aincrad.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 6

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 just released Volume 6 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Valentine’s Day, which is coincidentally Shizuku’s birthday, fast approaches and the girls decide to cook up some truelove chocolates for the boys of their desire. A fun cooking party gets awkward and tense when Oshima-san and Shizuku confront the fact that they’re both making chocolates for Haru! Will Oshima back down as she always does? Given Haru’s obsession with Shizuku, will it even matter?

The Review

Volume 5 had a Natsume-centric chapter, and Sasayan gets a turn in Volume 6. Of the cast, he’s my favorite character, mainly because he’s the most normal. Despite this chance to get inside his head, why he decided to join Haru’s circle remains unclear. Yet he genuinely wants the best for Haru. His bringing Haru along for an afternoon with the guys not only shows how far Haru’s come (and has yet to go) but how considerate Sasayan is toward him. Still, despite his keen perception, Sasayan’s a high school kid, and there’s a particularly funny panel where he and Haru both gripe about girl problems.

The girls have their own problems with the arrival of Valentine’s Day, which is generally the setting for chocolates and confessions. Even though it also happens to be Shizuku’s birthday, the arc begins with a focus on secondary character Oshima. After a rather artistic and revealing chocolate making session at Shizuku’s house, Oshima makes the uncharacteristically bold move of calling Haru out on Valentine’s Day. Their meeting is anything but romantic, yet Haru moves Oshima with his own brand of consideration while Oshima imparts insight that helps Haru a step further to becoming a more aware human being.

The story then shifts to Shizuku’s Valentines/birthday celebration. Interestingly, her thoughts seem equally split between Haru and her ever absent mother. A series of flashbacks reveal more of Shizuku’s childhood, and though you have to wonder what exactly Shizuku’s mom does for a living, Robico-sensei paints a poignant picture of the restraint Shizuku exercises whenever her mother’s concerned. As such, she’s especially vulnerable when Haru surprises her, and thanks to recent lessons learned through Sasayan and Oshima, Haru manages to make it a sweetly memorable Valentines night for them both.

Extras include bonus four-panel comics, two short bonus manga, an afterword from the mangaka, and translation notes.

In Summary

Haru is slowly expanding his horizons. Volume 6 is mainly Haru-induced wackiness and embarrassment as his friends guide him on how to function within society. Fortunately, some of their lessons actually get through and pay off in a major way in an unexpectedly tender Valentine’s Day moment.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 5

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 just released Volume 5 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Shizuku is now more determined than ever to make Haru aware of her love for him, but Haru is too preoccupied with fending off Yamaken to notice! Shizuku thinks Haru has nothing to worry about, but competitive above all, Yamaken has some plans of his own. Meanwhile, blossoming feelings turn the popular but romance-hating Natsume into a maiden in love?

The Review

Winter break is over, and the new year starts off with a chapter on Natsume. She may not be interested in dating high school boys, but an older man, specifically Mitchan, is something else entirely. The opening chapter spends a lot of time in Natsume’s head and includes flashbacks of the incidents that got her ostracized by her female classmates. While Natsume fans will enjoy this arc, it doesn’t include any huge revelations, and the most interesting part is how oblivious Mitchan is about her feelings.

The focus then shifts to Haru’s past with the death anniversary of his aunt, Mitchan’s mom. She features prominently in an extended flashback, but it though she made a huge impact on Haru, exactly how she did it remains a mystery. What is glaringly obvious though is the dysfunction within the Yoshida family, and even on such a solemn occasion, Yuzan doesn’t fail to provoke his younger brother.

Then Yamaken and company return to liven up the last half of the book. As mentioned in a previous review, I’m surprised they didn’t disappear after the first volume, but they are now firmly in the cast lineup. Shizuku spends more time alone with Yamaken than Haru in this volume (not that Yamaken takes advantage of it), and the spoiled Kaimei Academy brats make possible an otherwise impossible outing for cash-strapped Shizuku: the group ski trip. After the angst and repressed emotions of the first half, having nearly the entire cast play in the snow is a welcome change. But amid the beginner snowboarding flailing, bear encounters, and Shizuku pining for her textbooks, Haru and Shizuku do get an unusually quiet moment of understanding.

Extras include bonus four-panel comics after each chapter, two short bonus manga, an afterword from the mangaka, and translation notes. In addition, printing on one page was particularly muddy, and typos continue to pop up in the text.

In Summary

The story goes all over the place with Natsume acting out on her feelings for Mitchan and more background on the Yoshida family. These detours seem to be Robico-sensei’s compensating for the slow progress in Haru and Shizuku’s relationship. Even after five volumes, their vibe hasn’t changed much, and meek Oshima and snobby Yamaken aren’t creating much love triangle tension. Still, the volume ends with unexpected progress for our lead pair amid a jolly ski trip.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Spear Among Spindles Now Available in Twice Upon A Time!

Spear Among Spindles was my very first published work, and it’s now available once more in The Bearded Scribe Press fairy tale retelling anthology, Twice Upon a Time!

Blurb:

Fairytales don’t always happen once upon a time. Fables don’t always have a happy ending. Sometimes the stories we love are too dark for nightmares. What if waking Sleeping Beauty was the worse thing the Prince could have done? What if Rapunzel wasn’t in that tower for her own protection—but for everyone else’s?

Assembled by The Bearded Scribe Press, Twice Upon A Time combines classics and modern lore in peculiar and spectacular ways. From Rapunzel to Rumpelstiltskin, this unique collection showcases childhood favorites unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

This collection features 43 short stories from the following cast of talented writers:

Bo Balder, AJ Bauers, Carina Bissett, Rose Blackthorn, S.M. Blooding, Rick Chiantaretto, Richard Chizmar, Liz DeJesus, Court Ellyn, S.Q. Eries, Steven Anthony George, Dale W. Glaser, Jax Goss, K.R. Green, Kelly Hale, Tonia Marie Harris, Brian T. Hodges, Tarran Jones, Jason Kimble, Shari L. Klase, Alethea Kontis, Hannah Lesniak, Wayne Ligon, RS McCoy, Joshua Allen Mercier, Robert D. Moores, Diana Murdock, Nick Nafpliotis, Elizabeth J. Norton, Bobbie Palmer, William Petersen, Rebekah Phillips, Asa Powers, Joe Powers, Brian Rathbone, Julianne Snow, Tracy Arthur Soldan, C.L. Stegall, Brian W. Taylor, Kenechi Udogu, Onser von Fullon, Deborah Walker, Angela Wallace, and Cynthia Ward.

Edited by Joshua Allen Mercier. Cover art by Luke Spooner.


Excerpt from Fire & Ash by Joshua Allen Mercier, a dark fantasy retelling of Little Red Riding Hood:

THE cold, autumn gusts ripped across Salem’s port, stirring the angry waters, stirring the angry spectators gathered before the gallows—gallows which had not, until this day, been used since the Trials several years back. Men, women, children—all bore hateful eyes and twisted faces. All bore a deep-seeded fear of the woman before them; they watched and seethed, anger building like fire fed by the winds, waiting for answers, for closure, for justice—for the devil’s death.

Constance Archer stared at the sea of faces; she despised all of them, save two—two faces that weren’t supposed to be there. Her daughters, Rhiannon and Rowan, hid in the small grove of trees, but she could still see their watery, green eyes piercing through the shadows, their stares stabbing their fear and pain and confusion into her. They weren’t supposed to see her like this. With the gag still tightly secured about her mouth, however, her muffled pleas for them to leave went unheard.

Where was their grandmother?

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