Manga Review: Sweetness & Lightning Vol. #01

Dads rarely play a large role in shojo manga. In fact, fathers are often completely absent from the cast. However, Kodansha’s food-centric Sweetness & Lightning has a single dad as its lead. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back cover Blurb

Having lost his wife, math teacher Kouhei Inuzuka is doing his best to raise his young daughter Tsumugi as a single father. He’s pretty bad at cooking and doesn’t have a huge appetite to begin with, but chance brings his little family and one of his students, Kotori Iida, together for homemade adventures. With those three cooks in the kitchen, it’s no wonder this dinner table drama is so delicious.

The Review

Food-centric titles definitely form a legitimate manga genre. Many series like Shokugeki no Soma and Yakitate!! Japan use the kitchen as a battleground where cooking techniques resemble ninja skills with exotic tastes and ingredients as the rule. Sweetness and Lighting, however, falls on the other end of the spectrum. All of its foods and recipes are firmly grounded in reality. The characters are fairly ordinary as well, but the circumstances that bring them together are a little farfetched.

High school math teacher Kouhei Inuzuka is a widower struggling to raise his young daughter Tsumugi. Kotori Iida is a student whose restaurateur mother has taken a new media job that keeps her away from home. Neither Kotori nor Inuzuka can cook. However, thanks to a chance meeting in the park, the three begin preparing and sharing meals together in Kotori’s mom’s restaurant.

Generally speaking, storylines that have a high school teacher meeting with a student of the opposite gender outside of the classroom tend to lead to an illicit love affair. However, Sweetness emphasizes and reemphasizes the fact that Inuzuka has no perverted intentions toward Kotori. His supervisor at work knows about their meals, and Kotori’s mom is all for it. As far as everyone’s concerned, Kotori’s just a girl in an empty house who wants company at dinnertime, and lnuzuka’s just a guy desperate to give his daughter a home cooked meal. That innocent dynamic has the potential to change (Sweetness has a Teen rating, after all), but for now, the person that takes up all of lnuzuka’s love, thoughts, and energy is his daughter.

As far as the story goes, each chapter has a featured dish or meal, and the goal is for Inuzuka and Kotori to successfully make Tsumugi something yummy to eat. That’s where Kotori’s mom comes in. She’s too busy to spend time with her daughter yet able to leave ridiculously detailed cooking instructions for Kotori and Inuzuka. In a sense, this is a cooking primer. Each chapter includes a recipe, and the characters demonstrate the necessary techniques to get the job done. And while some of the ingredients and dishes may be foreign to Western readers, they are simple basics of Japanese cooking.

Extras include first three pages in color, author afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Food has a way of bringing different people together, and Sweetness and Lightning uses that premise to create a relationship between a single dad and one of his students. While teacher-student interactions in manga usually lead to a certain kind of drama, this story focuses solely on the efforts of two inept cooks to make a tasty meal for a motherless little girl. And if you’ve ever wanted to learn the basics of Japanese home cooking, this title might not be a bad place to start.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Japanese Pop Culture Special: Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival!

For a long time, the mark of a successful manga was an anime and possibly a spinoff comic, but nowadays popular titles spawn off live-action movies and TV shows, light novels, CD dramas, and even theatrical performances! Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association, which was formed in 2014, stages productions drawn from Japanese manga, anime and video-games, and on November 20, my husband and I got to see their performance of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival!

 The flyer that started it all…

The flyer that started it all…

We first learned about Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! from a flyer slipped into my husband’s Jump Shop purchases during his last business trip to Japan. We looked at the ad, thought it was cool, and filed it in the back of our mind as one of those things we could only dream of. However, the next two weeks brought an unexpected bonus and vacation time that changed our paradigm. By then, four out of the show’s five venues had sold out, but with the help of three Japanese speaking friends plus two international phone calls, a lot of Google translate, and much stubbornness on the part of my husband, we got tickets for the Canal City Theater in Fukuoka!

The Show

Not having been to Fukuoka or a Japan 2.5-Dimensional production, I expected Canal City Theater to be a modest, small-to-mid size theater. After all, how large an audience could an otaku musical possibly attract? I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Canal City Theater is a modern, quality venue that seats 1,184 and hosts Broadway style productions like The Little Mermaid. And yes, it was packed. There was even a line for people hoping to purchase unclaimed tickets (more on that later).

Program and commemorative folders from the Haikyu!! musical

Program and commemorative folders from the Haikyu!! musical

The audience demographic was another surprise. Haikyu!! is a shonen title, but the audience was over 90% female. My husband described the crowd as “young to middle-aged office ladies.” Perhaps musicals don’t appeal to Haikyu!!’s younger male fans? Or maybe they don’t have the disposable income for it? Well, these female fans had money for tickets and then some. An array of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! goods were available for purchase in the lobby, and they were doing a brisk business. We ourselves picked up an official program, some folders, and a DVD of the original Haikyu!! musical, but sadly all the hoodies had sold out. The crowd was definitely enthusiastic, and when the show started, we learned why.

Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is a high level production. The staging includes a special rotating platform, live video, and projected images for backgrounds and special effects. The cast also displays an array of talent, ranging from acting to acrobatics to rap. From what I can tell, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! has an original score that doesn’t draw from the TV series (although parts are reminiscent of the anime’s soundtrack). While I have referred to the show as a musical, it’s not like a Broadway show where characters break into catchy tunes every other minute. Rather, music is primarily used to set the mood, and most of the singing is relegated to one hip hop number in the second half.

Regarding the plot, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! begins with the team’s summer training camp and ends midway through the Interhigh competition. (The initial formation of the team was covered in Japan 2.5-D’s original Haikyu!! musical.) The first half focuses on the practice match against Nekoma. Viewed mainly from Kenma’s perspective, the match is depicted as a video game that the Nekoma setter is trying to beat. Thus, we get to see 64-bit versions of the Karasuno players as he analyzes them. The second half focuses on the Interhigh match against Dateko, which takes the form of an impressive rap- and dance-off. As such, the cast is more or less evenly divided between Karasuno, Nekoma, and Dateko players. But even though it is an all-male production, Karasuno manager Shimizu does play a part in the story.

As you might guess, the whole thing is in Japanese.  Because we weren’t at Japan 2.5-D’s Tokyo venue, we didn’t have access to translation glasses (more on this later). Even so, we had no trouble figuring out who was who (jersey numbers and projected manga images helped a lot), and we got the gist of 70% of the dialogue based off what we remembered from the anime. Not to mention, many scenes were sheer visual spectacle that required no knowledge of Japanese.

A major aspect of the Haikyu!! story is speed and height. Unlike their animated counterparts, the actors can’t hang in midair. So they rely on clever choreography and manipulating props. Lifts comprise a major part of Hinata’s battes at the net. Special lighting and illuminated volleyballs provide the trajectory of a fateful spike in slo-mo. In the match against Dateko’s ”Iron Wall,” pieces of walls are included in the dance number.

While high-tech equipment add a definite punch to the action, the show makes good use of simple effects as well. A pile of quilts facilitates one of the most entertaining transitions, and a stray cat Hinata encounters is merely a hand puppet operated by a stage ninja in a hooded poncho. In addition to moving the props and sets, the hooded stage ninjas also serve as a kind of Greek chorus, voicing the thoughts of the mob or serving as an anonymous extra.

So… my husband and I flew to the western end of Japan just to watch this musical, and you might be wondering, “Was it worth it?”

In answer to that question, I’ll just say that the third Haikyu!! musical Winners and Losers will be touring Japan March and April 2017, and we are talking about getting tickets.

Now perhaps our journey has piqued your interest. If you’re serious about viewing this production yourself, you have two options.

DVD

DVD and insert of the first Haikyu!! musical

DVD and insert of the first Haikyu!! musical

The cheaper option is to purchase a DVD of the show. As of the writing of this post, the DVD of the first Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is available, and preorders are being taken for Karasuno Revival. Those in Japan can purchase it at the Animate store (which also carries DVDs of Japan 2.5-D’s Naruto and Prince of Tennis theater productions) or through Toho Animation, which produced the videos.

For those outside Japan, neither Animate nor Toho Animation ships overseas, but if you do an Internet search for “Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! DVD,” you’ll probably find a source who will. WARNING: the DVD is a REGION 2 DVD (the United States is Region 1) and entirely in Japanese (no subtitles, English or otherwise).

As mentioned earlier, my husband and I purchased the DVD of the first musical at the theater for ¥8000 (roughly $80 US), which is the standard price. For that, you get two discs and a lovely mini program with cast pictures and bios. It’s not an awesome as seeing it live, but Toho Animation does a great job of formatting the footage for the small screen.

Theater Tickets

If you are determined to see Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! or one of Japan 2.5-D’s other musicals (upcoming productions include Prince of Tennis, Wake Up, Girls! and Death Note), there are three ways to go about getting tickets.

1. Though the Japan 2.5-D website. Japan 2.5-D actually does want a global audience for its productions. Thus, its website is in both Japanese and English (click on the ”EN” in the top right hand corner to toggle out of Japanese into English). Also, Subtitle Glasses are available in English and Chinese for showings at the AiiA 2.5 Theater in Tokyo.

When tickets go on sale, find your show on the Japan 2.5-D website and click on the green International Ticket button. This will take you to an English language form that will allow you to purchase Will Call tickets. This is the most expedient way for English-speakers to get tickets.

2. Through the musical’s official website. Each Japan 2.5-D musical has its own official website through which general tickets are sold. This is probably the worst way for internationals to get tickets, but you may resort to it if you’re desperate (like we were). Basically, the tickets reserved for internationals is limited. As such, it is entirely possible for general seats to still be available after Japan 2.5-D’s International Tickets sell out.

However, getting general tickets is difficult. All the instructions are in Japanese, you need a Japanese address to open an account, and you need a credit card associated with that address to make the purchase. Alternately, you can reserve seats online and then complete the order at a Japanese convenience store that has a ticket service. Our tickets were only possible thanks to three very kind friends (One to navigate the website, one to give us her parents’ address in Okinawa so we could open an account, and one to pay/pick up the tickets in Sapporo and mail them to us in California).

3. At the venue. Now the thing about general tickets is that they’re a bit of a moving target. When people reserve seats online, they have a few days to complete the order. When that deadline passes, the seats go back on sale. That means that a show that is sold out today might have availability tomorrow. That also means there usually a few unsold seats on the day of the show. Ergo, the unclaimed ticket line. If there’s more people than unclaimed tickets, they hold a lottery to decide who gets them.

So no guarantees with this last route. However if you just happen to be in a town where a performance is showing, it’s worth a try.

As for me and my husband, we’ll be aiming for those International Tickets when sales start.

Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 3

As mentioned in my previous post, Jenny Benjamin of the Museum of Vision responded to my question about the eyewear options for a post-Civil War working class girl by sending pages from an eyewear catalog.

A page from the 1895 eyewear catalog

A page from the 1895 eyewear catalog

Not surprisingly, the selection isn’t very broad. After all, spectacles were not considered a fashion accessory back then. They are, however, considered a fashion accessory now, and Jenny mentioned she owns a pair of replica glasses. Apparently, If you want old fashioned glasses, you can go to Tom Valenza at www.historiceyewearcompany.com. His most recent claim to fame is outfitting the cast for the musical Hamilton. He also works with Civil War reenactors, and Jenny says his replicas are so good “they can fool the best of us.”

That piqued my interest. I’m old enough to remember opticians offering both glass and plastic lenses. As heavy as my hiqh prescription lenses are now, the glass ones were worse. So I posed this follow up to Jenny:

Quick question since you own a pair of Tom’s historic styled glasses. How comfortable are they? Any particular quirks associated with wearing them? (Even though my lenses are the lightest material, my ears and temples get fatigued from the weight after half a day of wear.)

Her response:

Ah, yes, comfort was not a high priority in the mid-1800s! Lenses were made of glass so they would be heavier than what the average person is used to. Because of that, I believe Tom doesn’t use authentic lenses, but the colors his lenses come in are true to the time period.

There are two key areas for comfort with eyeglasses: the bridge and the temples (ear pieces).

Bridges for eyeglasses in this time period did not have nose-pads. (This is different than pince-nez type specs). The metal of bridges for eyeglasses was thin so they could be bent to keep them tight. Otherwise, they were liable to slip down the nose. They were known to leave red marks on the face and cause headaches if worn too long.

Temple pieces were generally also made of thin metal and bent to keep them tight to the head. For those doing work that required them to hunch over, the riding bow or curved temples were best because they clung to the ears. However, most spectacles had the cheaper straight temples. All of these temples had a tendency to get caught in long hair – not pleasant. It probably wasn’t practical for a girl to take her glasses on and off if her hair was up.

Her reply makes me grateful for all the advances in material science since the 1800s. I am also grateful for all the details Jenny mentioned, like the red face marks and temples getting stuck in hair.

And so this researching effort has successfully concluded. Though if I have more eyewear history questions, I know where to go. Thanks, Jenny!

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 8

Kaoru Mori is best known for her work, Emma, an exquisite romance/slice-of-life set in Victorian England. Her latest work to be released in the United States, A Bride’s Story, is also a historical/slice-of-life but is vastly different than Emma. Set in Central Asia in a rural town near the Caspian Sea during the early 19th century, A Bride’s Story revolves around a young woman, Amir, who arrives from a distant village across the mountains to marry Karluk, a boy 8 years her junior. Volume 8 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

As Anis and Sherine settle into a new life built on love and friendship, tragedy and destruction have thrown the Eihons’ village into turmoil. Conflict with neighboring tribes has taken its toll, leaving Pariya’s family home in ruins. Though no one was hurt, little survived the assault, including the fabrics meant for Pariya’s dowry. Her passionate, frank personality has made things difficult for Pariya in the past, and being forced to delay marriage talks–now that she’s finally found an interested suitor–drives her to despair.

The Review

I’d thought we’d seen the last of avowed sisters Sherine and Anis after Mr. Smith moved on from their town, but Chapter 44 gives one last glimpse of their new life together. As Anis’ husband remarks, “You never know about these things until you’re in the same house,” but Mori-sensei makes clear that Sherine joining as a second wife results in a happily ever after for the whole family. Sherine brings a comic element to the idyllic household, and a frank conversation between the husband and his two wives reveals only mutual respect and devotion among the three. It’s a scenario too good to be true, but Anis has a fairytale life so this ending suits her story.

Then we move from the woman who has everything to the girl whose dowry has been destroyed. When we last saw Amir’s village, they’d just managed to repel a joint attack. Now the battle is over and the recovery effort underway. The town suffered casualties and structural damage, and Mori-sensei makes it personal by focusing on the losses of Pariya’s family. While they are physically unscathed, their house was destroyed and, with it, the embroidered fabrics for Pariya’s dowry.

The difficulty in finding a match for Pariya has been a running joke in the series. Now that she finally has an interested suitor, the wedding’s delayed until she can rebuild her dowry–from scratch. So it’s both sad and hilarious when she rants about how she’ll die unmarried. Fortunately, Pariya’s got friends to help her through the crisis. Amir’s family, which has taken Pariya’s family in, provides the despondent girl with sewing material to restart and guidance to help her over her dislike of embroidery. So against a backdrop of salvaging enemy weapons and hauling bricks for reconstruction, we have a couple chapters focused predominantly on embroidery.

Pariya’s energetic, frank personality is well established, but we know almost nothing about her groom, Umar. However, once he hears news of the attack, he gets a chance to shine. He and his father come to help rebuild, and Pariya–and all the townsfolk–see what he’s capable of. Pariya, who’d been favorably disposed toward him before, grows even more attracted, which results in an increase in awkwardness for the poor girl.

In the midst of Pariya’s efforts to remake her dowry and herself so she can marry Umar before he changes his mind, Mori-sensei also gives a glimpse of what happened to the Halgal. Characters keep hinting at the tensions encompassing the larger region, and although the Russians have yet to show up, it’s probably just a matter of time before they do.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

From the wife who has everything, the story shifts to the girl who despairs of becoming a bride. Between the shock of losing her house and the surprise of an unexpected visit from her intended, Pariya goes through quite an emotional roller coaster. While the concept of embroidering a heap of fabric in order to get married is foreign to Westerners, readers will be able to relate to Pariya’s adolescent turmoil as she strives to become a bride her intended can be proud of.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1, the search for the specifics of mid-19th century eyewear brought me to the Museum of Vision. As to my questions, I first wanted to know where my working class heroine could purchase her first glasses and how much of a dent they would they make in her post-Civil War budget.

This was Jenny’s response:

Regarding who sold eyeglasses, this is a question that has many answers. According to Joseph Bruneni, author of “Looking Back: An Illustrated History of the American Ophthalmic Industry,” everyone in America who was concerned with eyesight was an “oculist” until the 1800s. This is when American medicine became organized (the AMA was founded in 1847) and people grew concerned about the lack of adequate medical training and licensure in the U.S.  Over the next 50 years oculists then moved into two camps- ophthalmologists (trained physicians) and opticians. Amongst opticians, there were two more subcategories: “refracting opticians” and “dispensing opticians.” Refracting opticians were the newer group – they applied the newest methods to test eyesight and prescribe eyeglasses. Dispensing opticians simply had a stock of eyeglasses that the customer tried on until they found a pair that more or less worked.

Ophthalmologists, as physicians, usually opened a practice or clinic from which they could prescribe glasses but also perform surgery. Ethics barred them from advertising and it was generally considered to be a poor reflection if a practice was on the ground floor of a building. Refracting opticians did not have these constraints. They advertised freely and generally set up retail stores off the street. Dispensing opticians could have been anyone, the jewelry store and pharmacy being two popular places to shop for glasses.

The jewelry store and pharmacy! That was a surprise. I’d thought prescription glasses at the drug store was a relatively new development, and glasses are definitely not part of the modern jewelry store’s lineup.

As for the cost, Jenny emailed me this:

Cover of an eyewear catalog from 1895

Cover of an eyewear catalog from 1895

Pretty cool! This catalog was printed 25 years after the period I’m interested in, but Jenny informed me that the styles wouldn’t have changed much.

More in my next post!

Manga Review: Oresama Teacher Vol. #21

Mafuyu is a high school delinquent who wants to turn over a new leaf. So when she transfers schools, she thinks she’ll finally be able to live the life of a normal girl. There’s just one problem: her teacher  Mr. Saeki is a bigger delinquent than she is!

Oresama Teacher is a shojo manga that offers humor of the silly variety. Volume 21 has  been released, and you can read on for the review. (For those who are interested, you can click here for my reviews of earlier volumes).

The Review

The cover for this volume confused me. The girl dominating the design didn’t match any of the Midorigaoka students so I assumed it was a tribute to Hayasaka’s cross-dressing past. It wasn’t until I read the Mafuyu/Takaomi text exchange at the very end of the book that I realized it’s actually someone from Mafuyu’s hometown. The featured cross-dresser is not Hayasaka, but West High bancho Sakurada!

That’s because Mafuyu abruptly returns home for winter break, a scene change I found jarring and irritating. After the anticipation built up during the Christmas party in Volume 20, the tension plummets as readers are forced once more to recall who is who in Mafuyu’s old gang life. This side arc, the tale of a cross-dressing date gone wrong, is actually kind of amusing once you remember the characters, but the timing makes it seem as if Tsubaki-sensei is stalling while she figures what to do about Hayasaka’s Christmas discovery.

So it’s two chapters later that we get his reaction. However, instead of the major shift in the Mafuyu-Hayasaka relationship that I anticipated, we get a new challenge for the Public Morals Club. All suspicions Hayasaka have about Mafuyu being Super Bun fall to the wayside when a Super Bun imposter appears before them! And this rabbit has an agenda. Not only does she creep out the student body, she actively attacks the Student Council where they are most vulnerable. This causes chaos for the council and reflects badly on the Public Morals Club. In addition to the comedy associated with a weird bunny-masked double, she also brings a new mystery for our characters to solve and raises additional questions about her first victim, President Miyabi. Perhaps the Student Council’s efforts didn’t bring down the Public Morals Club, but the fate of Midorigaoka High is by no means secured.

Extras in this volume include Characters and Story Thus Far, 4-panel comics, and a character relationship chart.

In Summary

After an abrupt detour to Mafuyu’s hometown for winter break cross-dressing mayhem with old allies and rivals, the story returns to the Christmas cliffhanger. But instead of forcing Hayasaka to confront Mafuyu about her secret identity, the plot takes an unexpected turn with a mysterious new character. So even though the state of the Hayasaka-Mafayu relationship remains the same, the Super Bun doppelganger brings fresh intrigue into the school.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 1

It’s been a while since I’ve rambled about research. Mainly because my current WIP is a myth retelling that doesn’t require the historical accuracy that Cynisca and the Olive Crown did. However, the WIP’s first draft is completed, and I’m looking ahead to my next project: a historical middle grade set in the U.S. North right after the Civil War.

This is not an era I’m well acquainted or enamored with. Ancient Greece and Japan have been my preferred settings. However, I discovered a historical figure whose life resonated with me, and because she lived in the mid-1800’s, that’s where I’m going. As such, my Goodreads list now includes a bunch of American history non-fiction.

The thing about this time and place is that the historical record is larger and much more complete than my ancient settings. That translates into more details I need to get right, and one of those details is glasses.

My main character wore glasses. A contemporary mentions it in a description of her. It’s a detail that could work as a plot point, but using it requires knowledge of the state of eyewear at the time. However, while I found pages and pages about the clothes of the era, there’s not much about glasses. Finally, in frustration, I did a Google search for “eyeglasses museum.”

And the Museum of Vision popped up.

Yes, folks, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has a museum dedicated to ophthalmologic history. In addition to online resources, it has galleries at the academy’s national headquarters in San Francisco, which is within driving distance of my home. But while it is open to the public, appointments are required. So I called the listed number, which put me in touch with museum director Jenny Benjamin.

As it turns out, I am not the first writer to call Jenny regarding eyeglasses history. Once I explained what I was after, she offered to email me the information I was looking for and spare me a two-hour trip into the city. And she did! Plus she answered a string of follow up questions and was super nice about it!

So if you’re looking for information on old-time glasses, go to museumofvision.org. If you can’t find what you’re after on the website, give them a call. I’m sure they can help you out.

As for the questions I posed to Jenny, I’ll share them and her answers in Part 2.

Manga Review: Spoof on Titan Vol. 1

Kodansha’s Attack on Titan was a massive hit that is now a massive franchise. Several titles have spun off of the original, and joining the collection is the 4-komi comedy Spoof on Titan! Read on for the review of Volume 1!

The Review

It’s not unusual for mangaka to include funny 4-komi or four-panel comic strips in manga volumes as extras. However, Attack on Titan is a franchise with a large enough following that it’s possible to create a title comprised entirely of 4-komi gag strips. That’s exactly what Kodansha’s done in Spoof on Titan. And like many Attack on Titan spinoffs, it is handled by an artist other than creator Hajime Isayama.

Spoof on Titan uses chibi style artwork, and artist Hounori’s versions of the characters are both adorably cute and recognizable. However, some panel illustrations do get a little cramped when they feature three or more characters, and the font for translation overlays on letters, books, etc., are too tiny to read. The volume is comprised of twenty-seven chapters, each four pages long, with a few splash pages in between.

Four chapters are a hodgepodge of gags, but the remaining chapters have a unifying theme or story arc. For instance, Eren suffers his comrades’ attempts to “help” when he gets a cavity in “Dental Health,” and “Boys, Girls, and Written Exams” explores the 104th Training Corp’s test prep methods. As you might guess, the content is geared toward fans already familiar with the characters’ personalities, which also makes the jokes incomprehensible to the uninitiated.

A warning to those who’ve only seen Season 1 of the anime: there are references to revelations that take place later in the saga. In other words, if you’re not aware of the secret Bertolt and Reiner share, a couple gags may prove spoilerific. However, if you don’t care about spoilers, you will certainly get the vast majority of jokes, which center around early established themes such as Sasha’s insatiable appetite and Jean’s crush on Mikasa.

Eren and his fellow 104th cadets dominate the volume, but some relatively obscure characters get a surprising amount of attention. Hannah and Franz, whose romance came to a tragic end in the Battle for Trost, get their own lovey dovey chapter. Mike’s nose also gets its own chapter, and “Oluo’s Demise” centers around the members of Squad Levi. And even though vertical manuevering action dominates the anime and original manga, there’s hardly any of it in Spoof. It has some cannon fire and Titans roaming around, but Hounori-sensei is more interested in the craziness our squad members inflict on each other.

Extras include bonus character sketches and translation notes.

In Summary

With so many personality quirks in the ranks of the Survey Corps, there’s a lot to make fun of, and Spoof on Titan does just that. Its gags aren’t so much about taking down Titans but the mental and sometimes physical damage that squad members deal to each other. A couple jokes may prove spoilerific, but if you are current on the manga and love the cast’s idiosyncracies, these chibi-style antics are likely to provide big laughs.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Souvenirs from Asia: Totoro Clock!

My husband and I generally don’t buy things on impulse. Especially if the price is over $100. Even if one of us is bewitched, the other will be yelling, “What are you thinking?”

However, on his last trip, my husband got blindsided by a level of cute too potent for either of us to resist. During his last morning in Japan, he arrived early in Akihabara for a final shopping trip. Animate didn’t open until 10am, but Edion, a nearby electronics store, was already open so he decided to wander around there until Animate opened. That’s where he saw this:

Anime cuteness in the EDION Clock section

Too cute!!!

He wasn’t expecting to buy anything outside Animate, but that Totoro clock grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go. Totoro is one of anime’s most charming representatives, after all. And the other thing was that we actually needed a clock. We hadn’t intended for it to be a ¥11,200 clock, but then again, we never thought we’d have a Totoro option.

Even the box is kawaii!

Even the box is kawaii!

Being a good husband, he texted me a picture and asked what I thought. I too fell under Totoro’s spell, and three minutes and roughly $110 later, my husband walked out the proud owner of a Totoro clock.

Which just shows how extreme kawaii can separate an otaku couple from their money.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 10

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 10 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Pastry chef Ichinose thinks he is best suited to be with Yamato and tells Takeo to break up with her! Takeo becomes discouraged, but he takes a stand against Ichinose even though Ichinose swears to declare his love to Yamato after he wins a pastry chef competition. Will Takeo and Yamato’s relationship survive the high-stakes baking contest?

The Review

The Ichinose arc concludes in this volume. The three members of this love triangle are so simpleminded that the ultimate outcome is pretty much a given, but it doesn’t make the chapter any less fun. Between Yamato’s and Ichinose’s brands of obliviousness and the physical humor unique to this series, readers will be plenty entertained.

Then the manga moves into territory beyond the anime. First, we have male bonding between Suna and Takeo. Interestingly, their outing is precipitated by Maki, who, at only seven months old, already exhibits a personality as big as the other members of her family.

That’s followed by one of the staples of high school manga: the school festival! The setting is actually Yamato’s school, but Takeo and his guy friends find a way to participate in her class’ Police Cafe. As usual, Takeo makes quite an impression, but unlike other situations where people get freaked out or laugh, the response from the girls’ academy is overwhelmingly positive. So much so that the longstanding “girls don’t want Takeo, they want his good-looking best friend” falls by the wayside. The chapter has a nice mix of comedy, internal turmoil, and romance, and I really hope the anime gets another season because I’d love to see this chapter animated.

The final chapter centers around another high school manga staple: the class trip! The prospect of Takeo’s and Yamato’s schools traveling to the same place is fun in of itself, but the creators throw an extra complication in the loop. Thus far, Takeo, despite his size, has treated Yamato the way an elementary school boy would treat his crush. Now, his hormones are getting revved up. He can’t seem to figure what to do about it, and I look forward to seeing the impact on the school trip and his relationship with Yamato.

Extras include story thus far and notes from the creators.

In Summary

The manga wraps up the Ichinose arc and plows on into Takeo’s love story (!!) beyond the anime. After so much attention on his relationship with Yamato, the plot switches gears to give Takeo’s buddies some air time with a Suna-Takeo sauna outing followed by a rollicking time at Yamato’s school festival with all Takeo’s friends. The series has already reached Volume 10, but its particular style of rom-com remains fresh as ever.

First published at The Fandom Post.