Manga Review: Behind the Scenes Vol. #4

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 4, and you can read on for the review. (Reviews of previous volumes can be found here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Ryoji Goda is everything Ranmaru wishes he could be — self-assured, competent and cool. But when the Art Squad works the final film camp of the summer, Ranmaru gets to see a whole new side to his idol — disappointing son! Goda’s dad seems to criticize everything his son does, and they fight constantly. Finally Ranmaru and Goda have something in common! But the pressure of paternal disapproval pushes Goda to do something shocking that might change the Art Squad forever…

The Review

The stories in this series have been dominated by various film- and director-related challenges for the Art Squad. Volume 4 also contains problematic film directors (indeed, the Squad’s yet to encounter one who’s a competent and reasonable human being), but Hatori-sensei takes a slightly different angle by focusing on the Squad members’ family backgrounds. The first is a single chapter arc about Ranmaru’s family—not the aunt and cousins he boards with but his fisherfolk parents and sister. The setup is a bit farfetched: a director bails on his own project to drown his sorrows in Akihabara, and the Squad are the only members of the entire cast and crew who care enough to hunt him down. In the midst of what feels like an Akihabara tour, the topic of Ranmaru’s family pops up randomly. Then, just as randomly, his parents and sister pop up in the flesh. While wacky characters are a mainstay of this series, Ranmaru’s family goes way off the deep end.

Hatori-sensei does much better with the next arc: two chapters about Goda and his Buddhist priest dad. The Squad’s next shoot takes place in the temple run by Goda’s dad, but that proves more of a hindrance than a help. Apparently, father and son are at odds because Goda refuses to be his dad’s successor. To make things worse, the film director is a childhood acquaintance who’s buddy-buddy with Goda’s dad. While Goda’s family background came as a surprise, it actually works well in explaining his personality. Young Goda’s tonsure photo is pretty funny, too. In terms of the filmmaking aspect of the story, it does a good job explaining the role of an assistant director even though Goda’s abrupt switch from Art Squad to assistant director is a stretch.

Finally, we have the school festival arc! This, like the craft workshop, is a fundraising opportunity for the Squad. Unlike the craft workshop, however, Goda doesn’t limit his team to art-related work. As such, the Squad members get hired out for all manner of activities. In the midst of all the festival contests and booths, we get more background on carefree Izumi, thanks to Soh’s growing attraction toward him. As it turns out, Izumi is more complicated than he appears, and the more we learn, the more improbable it seems that Soh’s feelings will be reciprocated. However, Soh’s crush on Izumi and Ranmaru’s crush on Ruka are the things that keep me wanting to read on at the end of the volume.

Extras include (cute) photos of the dango featured in the festival arc, embedded notes from the creator, glossary, and author bio.

 

In Summary

It’s the family installment of Behind the Scenes!! The Squad members are pretty weird, and now we get a look at the families and circumstances that made them so weird. Ranmaru’s backstory is simply odd, but the dynamic between Goda and his equally fiery Buddhist priest dad is fun to watch. We get fewer details on Izumi, but it’s enough to completely reshape your perspective on the Squad’s resident chick magnet.

First published at The Fandom Post.

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Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 7

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 7. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back Cover Blurb

Just when you thought it was all over, the whole crew makes a surprising return for three extra chapters! How will the Handa Army react to the news that their beloved Handa will be the focus of an anime series? By blowing it all ridiculously out of proportion, of course! The final volume of Handa-kun is full of high jinks with the Handa Army, plus some special extras from the author.

The Review

It’s the final volume of the series! But it’s not so much a final arc as it is a collection of illustrations, comics, and mini-stories. It opens with a Special Comic Gallery: nine full color pages of color manga that had previously been only published in the magazine.

Next are three mini-arcs, each with a lengthy note from the Yoshino-sensei about its creation. Although all the stories take place after Handa realizes he’s not actually an outcast, the feel of first two stories don’t differ all that much from the earlier arcs. That is because even though Handa’s eyes have been opened to the truth, that doesn’t mean his classmates are suddenly cured of HND-syndrome. As such, fans of the impassioned hijinks of the Handa Army will get to enjoy one additional chapter of the same in “Handa-kun and the TV Anime.” As you might guess, this mini-arc includes a tie-in to the actual Handa-kun anime as well as the Handa Army’s disastrous attempt to create an anime of their own. As for “Handa-kun and the Person in Front,” it follows the “Handa-kun through a side character’s POV” format. Again, even though Handa realizes he’s not despised, that doesn’t stop his classmates from grossly misinterpreting his words and actions.

The final mini-arc, “Handa-kun and the Handa Army,” is a more standard type of postscript story. Handa’s homeroom class holds a reunion, and we get to see how everyone looks six years later. One of the nice touches of this volume is that the cover illustration is a class photo and the book’s final illustration shows everyone in the same pose as adults. Since Handa has a whole series dedicated to his life after school, Yoshino-sensei instead uses the reunion as a way for the class to gossip about Handa and each other. However, she does manage to connect it to the Barakamon series at the end.

Interspersed amid the mini-arcs are a lot of bonus illustrations, and finally, the volume wraps up with several pages of mini-comics, even more bonus illustrations, and the last installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s the final volume of Handa-kun, but it feels more like a fan book with all the illustrations and bonus material crammed inside. However, Yoshino-sensei does deliver three final mini-arcs. Two are simply more manifestations of HND-syndrome, but the third is a fun glimpse of Handa’s classmates as adults and how they’ve grown up (or not).

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 9

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

Back Cover Blurb

Pariya’s budding romance with Umar is off to a rough start due to her brash personality and lack of confidence. But if she can’t figure out how to say what she wants with words, then perhaps the old adage is true–the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!

The Review

Between Mr. Smith’s travels and the movements of the Halgal, Bride’s Story has covered a wide range of territory, and Volume 9 begins with a kind of recap. “Living Things’ Stories” is a set of 4-panel comics that revisit the people we’ve encountered in the series. In addition to being cute and funny, they update readers on characters’ circumstances.

Then the plot moves on with Pariya and her potential fiancé. It’s unclear what Umar’s father currently does for a living, but apparently, he can spare Umar for an extended period of time. As such, Umar helps with the town’s reconstruction until its completion, and the townsfolk get to know the boy fairly well. However, the one who’s most curious (Pariya) can’t interact freely with him because of social constraints.

Mori-sensei does an excellent job brewing humor and conveying Pariya’s frustration as the girl gleans what information she can about her potential groom. Mori-sensei is equally skillful at conveying Pariya’s resulting insecurities. The townsfolk speak of Umar in glowing terms, and while that makes him more desirable as a husband, it makes Pariya feel less adequate as a bride, especially since her efforts to recreate her dowry are progressing at a snail’s pace. Even her parents marvel that Pariya’s found such a match, and you’ve got to feel bad for her when her own father directly asks Umar’s father why he’d choose a girl with Pariya’s reputation for his son. The reply Umar’s father gives is an interesting and insightful one. While Pariya may not fit conventional standards of femininity, she is uniquely suited for Umar.

She proves it, too, on a mundane errand that turns into a misadventure. While it is surprising that no one objects to them going off unsupervised, the scenario allows them to interact with a minimum of interference. Their trip for cosmetic ingredients is far from romantic, but it allows Pariya to unwittingly show off her good points to Umar. By the time the volume closes, there’s a definite sense that although Pariya can’t get married for some time, she has a happily even after in store for her.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

Pariya’s adolescent turmoil continues! It’s hard for teenagers to communicate with the opposite sex, especially if it’s someone they’re attracted to. It’s even harder in a gender separated society, and Pariya’s bumbling efforts to make her feelings known to her intended are both touching and hilarious. It’s not the most romantic bride’s story in the set, but it goes a long way to show that the girl who saw herself as unmarriageable is well suited for someone after all.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary Vol. 003

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 3 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

After Yuuki and the rest of the Sleeping Knights shared a victory over the Floor Boss with Asuna and left their names on the Monument of Swordsmen, Yuuki mysteriously disappears. When Asuna attempts to message her, she finds that she’s offline. Desperate to see her once more, she turns to Kirito, who happens to know exactly where she is and gives her an address. But she may come to regret indulging her curiosity…

The Review

While the setting switches regularly between the virtual and real world in the final volume of Mother’s Rosary, the challenges confronting our characters are all real life ones. As it turns out, the Sleeping Knights’ motivation for wanting their names inscribed on the Monument of Swordsmen is rooted in the common fate they suffer in the real world. Namely, they are all terminally ill. Three members of their guild have died already. Of those remaining, the one with the least time left is Yuuki.

There’s nothing like an incurable disease to create heartbreak, and the narrative does an effective job at conveying Asuna’s shock and devastation when she tracks Yuuki down in the real world. As if Yuuki’s current situation wasn’t bad enough, the story wrenches the heartstrings further with the pitiful circumstances of Yuuki’s family and Yuuki’s attempt to protect Asuna from grief.

Interwoven into and flowing out of Yuuki’s personal tragedy is the concept of VR technology as a medical device. Until now, the purpose of dives has been entertainment, but when Yuuki’s physician explains the Medicuboid’s current and potential uses, it opens a whole new facet of VR. And when Kirito’s pet project enables Yuuki to “come to school,” it’s an intriguing paradigm shift. Rather than serving as an escape from the real world, Kirito’s interactive probe allows Yuuki a viable way to experience the real world.

With Yuuki living on borrowed time, it, of course, leads to Yuuki and Asuna talking about life and purpose. These conversations bring about the ultimate resolution to the conflict between Asuna and her mother. Given the heartless depiction of Asuna’s mom in the prior volumes, her suddenly having a heart-to-heart moment with Asuna is a bit much to swallow. But while her acceptance of Asuna’s decision is too convenient to be true, Asuna’s discussions with Siune and Yuuki about suffering and meaning feel genuine.

For those familiar with the anime, this volume contains pretty much the same content as the corresponding episodes. However, the pacing differs, most notably with the depiction of Yuuki’s last three months. Whereas the anime glosses over these events in a quick montage, the manga takes more time with them, devoting a short chapter to this time period.

Extras include embedded Background Guide notes, the title page in color, afterword manga, and special comment from Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

The Mother’s Rosary arc reaches its conclusion. Between the revelation of Yuuki’s illness and her final moments, this volume is a real tearjerker. While the portrayal of Yuuki and Asuna’s relationship is strong throughout, the ultimate conclusion to Asuna’s conflict with her mother is less believable. Character arcs aside, this series wraps up with an interesting angle on how the same technology used for Kayaba’s “Death Game” offers hope for those facing death.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 3

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 3. (For my reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Sometimes kind, sometimes strict, Heine is prepared to employ any means necessary to draw forth his princeling students’ potential. But seriously, what’s a royal tutor got to do to enjoy a simple, quiet day off?? With royal engagements, reluctant readers, and secret lives seemingly everywhere he turns, Heine may need to up his game if this kingdom is to have any hope for the future at all!

The Review

For those familiar with the anime, half of Volume 3 is material that was not included in the TV series. If you are a fan of Prince Kai, you will want to pick up this volume for Chapter 13 alone. Up till now, the only females in the bishounen-heavy cast have been the princes’ grandmother and 3-year-old sister. Now we get one more: Beatrix Von Lothringen, a cousin—and Kai’s betrothed.

She’s a bit of a surprise since none of the royals have mentioned anything about engagements, but it does make sense for princes to have arranged marriages. Beatrix, though, is more than just a fiancée. Having been raised with the princes, she treats them like an older sister, and Kai’s sharp glance doesn’t intimidate her at all. Rather, she feels affection for Kai and somewhat inadequate as a woman (did I mention she cross-dresses?). Chapter 13 is her attempt at a romantic picnic with Kai, but her efforts get thwarted one after another in comic fashion. It doesn’t help that fluff-obsessed Kai isn’t exactly the sort to drop sweet nothings into a lady’s ear. However, the chapter does conclude with a swoon-worthy illustration of the two that made my heart skip a beat.

The story then shifts to a chapter about Leonhard’s woeful academics, which to be honest is starting to get old, before returning to the subject of marriage. This time the focus is teensy sister Adele, who’s just had the realization she’s to be sent to a foreign land to be married one day. A pretend engagement with Heine results, and in addition to the brothers’ varied reactions at the thought of their tutor as brother in-law, the mangaka serves up adorable pictures of Adele and Heine. Because even though Heine’s an adult, he still looks like a kid, and visually speaking, Adele matches up with him pretty well. We also get the first mention of the royal brood’s mother in this chapter. However, it remains unclear where Mom is and what happened to her.

The narrative then matches up with the anime once again with Heine chancing upon Licht waiting tables at Cafe Mitter Meyer. While the idea of Licht having a part-time job seems a flimsy excuse for the mangaka to draw bishounen in waiter uniforms (though admittedly, they look quite dashing), it does add depth to our playboy character. More importantly, we get the introduction of “The Count.” Until now, the princes haven’t had enemies other than their own personality quirks, but the addition of an outside adversary should put more backbone to the plot.

Extras include comics printed on the inside of the back cover flap; a two-page bonus manga; first page printed in color; and translation notes.

In Summary

A new character, and a female one at that! Prince Kai’s boyish fiancee joins the cast and provides a bit of random background on the royal family. The betrothal fun continues with a pretend engagement between Heine and Princess Adele before the narrative dives into a longer arc about Licht. While most of the story just seems to be an excuse to have Licht and Viktor in a cafe setting, it does introduce a new sinister element to the plot with the meddling of the Count.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 13

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

Back Cover Blurb

Yamato initially accepts that she has to move to Spain with her family, but her feelings for Takeo are so strong that she runs away from home! Takeo follows her with the intention of bringing her back, but what will he do when he faces a heartbroken Yamato? And just how will Takeo’s love story end?

The Review

Volume 13 is the last volume in the series, and in it, Takeo and Yamato face their greatest challenge yet: the long distance relationship! The previous volume dropped the bombshell announcement that the Yamato family was moving abroad, and I anticipated some convoluted plot twist that would allow our main couple to stay together. Well, the impulse trip to Okinawa concludes with warm and fuzzy moments but no miracle solution. And so… Yamato leaves Takeo for Spain.

Fortunately for Takeo, he gets a lot of moral support in her absence. Many series finales include a kind of curtain call with the entire cast, and in the last three chapters, several characters we haven’t seen in a while pop up to give Takeo encouragement. Some of these encounters are more forced than others, like Yukika’s gift bag to Takeo, but they do get the message across that everyone, even former rivals in love, want Takeo and Yamato to stay together. As usual, the lion’s share of support comes from Suna. Thus, we get a bunch more best friend bonding scenes with the two guys. Two scenes in particular (the overnight stay at the hostel and the ring purchase) had me laughing out loud, and I dearly wish I could see them animated.

The final arc, with Takeo and Yamato’s relationship breaking under the strain of distance, could be seen coming from a mile away. And while it is sweet to see Takeo pondering Yamato’s importance in his life and hilarious to see the Takeo effect in a foreign country, there’s never any real doubt that the two will reunite. However, they certainly patch things up in the flashiest way possible, paving the way for a feel-good ending that neatly wraps up the series.

Extras include story thus far and final notes from the creators.

In Summary

My Love Story!! reaches its happy conclusion! While the unique cast has never failed to earn laughs (especially those awkward Suna/Takeo moments), the story arcs have been starting to lack originality. As such,Volume 13 is a good place for the creators to call it quits, what with our characters graduating and Takeo’s love life seemingly assured for all time.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Just Published: The Boy Who Drew Cats!

“The Boy Who Drew Cats” is featured here!

Halloween is just around the corner, and on that note, Golden Fleece Press published a poem of mine in HalloWEEn Tales magazine! As you might guess, HalloWEEn Tales is a Halloween-themed journal aimed toward grade school kids, and the poem I wrote is “The Boy Who Drew Cats.”

“The Boy Who Drew Cats” is actually a Japanese folktale that I put into verse. While the original tale doesn’t have anything to do with the Western Halloween holiday, it is a spooky story that involves a demonic rat. At any rate, I’m thrilled that it’s in print and hope you’ll venture to the Golden Fleece Press site to check it out!

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #11

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

Back Cover Blurb

After the Cold War draws a curtain over Europe and the economic bubble bursts in Japan during the late twentieth century, ace insurance investigator Taichi Hiraga Keaton brings his skills into full play… No matter how difficult the case, Keaton will not miss a clue!

The Review

The quality of the Master Keaton stories has gone up and down since the early volumes, and in Volume 11, it’s more down than up. The one solid story is the three-part “Made in Japan.” Daughter Yuriko, now 17, reappears as she and her dad meet up for quality time in Scotland—at an archeological tour. The story combines several things: their parent-child relationship, Keaton’s unfulfilled dreams of being an archaeologist, his SAS skills, and Keaton’s dangerous career impacting his family. This last element is a situation we haven’t encountered before, and that makes it more gripping than the usual scenarios where Keaton is a passerby.

Domestic drama figures largely in the other stories, but Keaton isn’t personally involved so it’s a bit like watching episodes of unrelated soap operas. In “The Final Challenge,” an old schoolmate asks Keaton to track the whereabouts of another schoolmate, but the story is really about the tangled family situation the two men created. “Lost Beyond the Wall” is partly a commentary on the former East Germany after reunification, but it’s mostly Keaton driving a man around as he expresses his regret about how he ruined his family. “Love from the Underworld” begins as a mystery but quickly turns into a tale of another broken family, and when Keaton reveals the trick behind the” ghost,” you have to wonder why anyone was fooled. Wacky Mrs. Barnum shows up again in “Return of the Super Sleuth?!” and as in her previous appearance, the murder she investigates with Keaton is just a platform for her to nag about how he doesn’t understand romance and women. Keaton doesn’t have a part at all in “Two Fathers,” which features his dad instead, but that story is really about two brothers and which fathered the child of the woman both men loved.

While the two-part “Pact on Ben Tan Mountain” also contains an extramarital affair, the greed and grudge motivating the murders lend it additional substance. Unfortunately, there is too much coincidence in the chain of events to make it a satisfying read, especially the way Malcolm proposes the murder pact but Jackson is the one to take advantage of it. In addition, there are so many characters crammed into the story that I had trouble keeping all the names and connections straight.

Extras include four pages in color, four pages partly in color, and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

Spunky young Yuriko joins her father for bonding time. While their archaeology tour tuned kidnapping makes for an exciting episode, the same can’t be said for the other stories. They’re not so much about intrigue or Keaton’s unique skills as they are about muddled domestic situations, making this volume feel more like a soap opera than a collection of mysteries.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #18

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released the 18th(!) volume of this novel series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

Back Cover Blurb

The long-awaited continuation of the tale of Holo the Wise Wolf and the merchant Lawrence! Over ten years after Holo and Lawrence open “Bathhouse Spice and Wolf” in Nyohhira, the two climb up the mountain in order to help at the festival in Sverner. But Lawrence has an additional objective: to find more information about a new hot spring town near Nyohhira.

The Review

This eighteenth volume in the Spice and Wolf light novel series might have come as a surprise to you. It was certainly a surprise to me. After all, Hasekura-sensei wrote in Volume 17 that he was moving on to a new series. However, as he explains in the Volume 18 afterword, stuff happened, thus fans get another volume about Holo and Lawrence along with an upcoming spinoff novel about their daughter Myuri and Col. While Spice and Wolf: Spring Log provides a brief glimpse of the youngsters and their relationship in the 16-page story Parchment and Graffiti, the book focuses primarily on Holo and Lawrence.

As indicated by the subtitle “Spring Log,” the book does not relate a single grand adventure, but three separate events that take place in the same spring. Over a decade has passed since Holo and Lawrence met, and they are now residents in the hot springs town of Nyohhira. They also happen to be empty-nesters as their teenage daughter has followed Col to an adventure. While Lawrence is no longer a merchant, running a bathhouse also requires business sense, and The Margins of a Journey introduces his new line of work and the concerns that arise when rumors of the construction of a rival hot springs village reach his ears. The scheme Lawrence cooks up to keep customers seems just a pretext for a misleading opening scene, but the rest of the story does a nice job of bringing readers up to speed with their lives. For those who enjoyed Holo’s baiting and carefree attitude, there’s still plenty of that, but Lawrence has matured over years of marriage and is much better at handling it.

The next story Golden Memories moves us from business concerns to a mini mystery. Lawrence and Holo haven’t left the northlands in years, but travelers from all over visit their town. Thus, they play host to a peculiar guest who has the entire town scratching their heads. But once Lawrence figures out the man’s purpose for coming to Nyohhira, that brings up an entirely different puzzle, and Hasekura-sensei does an excellent job blending the mystery with melancholy and fun.

Melancholy and fun also figure into Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf. The longest work in the collection, it might have you running to The Coin of the Sun volumes for a refresher of the connections between Lesko, Svernel, the Debau Company, and the non-humans Millike and Hilde. Lawrence and Holo leave home to take care of business on behalf of Nyohhira at Svernel’s spring festival. As in their early adventures, Holo knows more about what’s happening, and Lawrence winds up playing the fool as a result. Lawrence’s participation in Svernel’s Festival of the Dead also makes for a boisterously entertaining scene.

Then the tone shifts with the introduction of new characters Selim and Aram. They have a quandary on their hands, but to Holo and Lawrence, they are an unwelcome reminder that Lawrence will die long before Holo does. Indeed, the narrative mentions over and over that Lawrence isn’t as hale as he used to be while Holo remains physically unchanged. Holo isn’t one to wax sentimental, but for those dying to hear Holo express her affections toward Lawrence, this is your chance.

The remainder of Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf has Lawrence figuring out a solution that will solve everyone’s problems. This is the weakest element of the story. I’m still unclear on exactly how Selim and Aram got their paws on their permit, and Holo and Lawrence’s brainstorming drags on while the plan’s execution rushes past. Still, our pair attain a satisfactory happy ending for themselves and others.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, bonus art from Jyuu Ayakura and Keito Koume, and afterword.

In Summary

Lawrence and Holo are back! The four stories in this volume do an excellent job of showing how years of marriage have changed them as well as incorporating the elements of intrigue, fun, and money-making that characterized the series. Plus, we get a glimpse of the future in their daughter Myuri’s antics with Col. Spice and Wolf fans definitely need to pick this one up!

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 2

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 2. (For my reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When the king returns to court, it’s time for the princes to prove their mettle. But not everyone’s been exactly keeping up with Heine’s lessons… (Hint: It’s the prince who only scored a one on his assessment test…and that was for signing his name!) Can Heine really whip these boys into shape well enough to rule a country?

The Review

Volume 1 presented our princely cast and their tutor, and now that the characters have been introduced, lessons can begin in earnest, starting with a field trip into town. That might seem like a strange place to begin, until we learn that only resident playboy Licht has any common sense about how to behave around commoners. Haughty and academically-challenged Leonhard easily lends himself to be made the fool, but all the princes provide something different to laugh at during their outing. In addition to the setting highlighting their foibles, they get to wear something other than their usual uniform-like garb, and readers get a sense of the type of city Weinner is.

Next, we meet the man who literally rules the place. There’s been no mention or sign of a queen (other than the granny Queen Mother), but there’s definitely a king. Given that 17-year old Kai is the second eldest son, I expected the king to be past his prime. Instead, he is a longhaired bishounen who could easily pass for one of his sons. His personality also veers more towards sentimental than kingly. Even so, he’s serious when he must be, and he and Heine share a past that they’re keeping from the princes.

Meanwhile, the princes are surprisingly eager to make their father proud. Given that they’ve driven so many tutors from the palace, I thought they would be more troublesome, but when the king points out areas of improvement, the princes immediately get to work on it. In addition, although the princes are rivals for the throne, they are more than willing to help each other out. So when the king threatens to strip Leonhard of his claim to the throne because of his awful test score, his brothers try to help him learn. When Kai expresses a desire to interact better with people, the other princes offer suggestions and encouragement. Thus, the story includes jokes about Leonhard’s epic stupidity and comic visuals of Kai’s attempts to be approachable, but backstabbing doesn’t play a part. As exemplified in Chapter 12 (the only chapter in this volume with no equivalent in the anime), the princes are brothers first and deeply care for one another’s well-being.

By the way, the quality of the illustrations remains top notch, with the style switching between elegant and chibi as the scene demands.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover flaps; first page printed in color; a note from the creator; and translation notes.

In Summary

Despite the appearance of the king and talk of rivalry and succession, the mood remains light and fun with the princes going to town, then striving to improve themselves as candidates for the throne. Though Leonhard tends to draw the spotlight with his outspoken personality and staggering stupidity, Akai-sensei does a good job of helping us to get to know all the princes. As of yet, there’s no overarching goal other than Heine whipping them into shape, but for the moment, that’s entertaining enough.

First published at The Fandom Post.