Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 9

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 9! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Relationship woes are plaguing Aoba High! After confessing his love to Shimura, Taka must now suffer the waiting game: Will she accept his feelings, or was their “relationship” just another headline for her paper? Also trapped by fear, Kagura begins to worry that she has placed her heart in the hands of the wrong boy. Amidst all this, Kai struggles to read Riko, wishing he could be as affectionate with her as he was with other girls. Will these couples work things out themselves, or will divine intervention be required?

The Review

Now that six out of our eight main characters have been paired, we finally get to the last two: Tarou and Kagura. However, nothing remotely resembling a relationship is sparking between them, mainly because Tarou’s enjoying his playboy life and Kagura’s too proud to admit she has feelings for him.

As far as tropes go, Kagura is a super-tsundere to the point that I wonder if her logic circuits are functioning correctly. Because their interactions are comprised mostly of hissing and snarling from Kagura, the narrative goes back in time to when the two were more innocent. However, Kagura’s tale of unrequited love gets poured out, not to one of her girlfriends, but Kai. The fact that she’d lay bare her heart to a boy–and one to whom she’s expressed open disdain–is so far-fetched as to jar me out of the story. Anyway, the arc concludes within a chapter (because there truly is nothing happening between Tarou and Kagura) and returns to characters who actually are working on a relationship.

Chapter 34 opens with Kai and Taka seemingly at an impasse with their respective love interests. I didn’t think Taka’s waiting game with Ayumi would turn into an issue, but it does. As for Kai, yes, he’s dating Riko, but the romance is at an elementary school level. Just as Riko’s obliviousness hit black hole levels in earlier volumes, her romantic sense is so lacking as to be ridiculous. When she’s not punching Kai due to misunderstandings, she’s sumo wrestling him, which makes me wonder how she envisioned dating Suwa-sensei. Kai’s struggle for lovey-dovey moments is meant to be comic, but with him getting beat up despite being Riko’s boyfriend, I just feel sorry for the guy.

Finally, things liven up with Aoba High’s “World’s Hottest Guy Contest.” In a bid for newspaper material, Ayumi sponsors the contest which has an overnight hot springs getaway going to the winner. Between the resulting hubbub and the varied emotions regarding the prize, the arc is a lot of fun, especially the way Taka teases Ayumi.

Extras include story-thus-far, mini-manga about Fujisawa-sensei and her assistants visiting Germany, and translation notes.

In Summary

Finally an arc on the remaining yet-to-be-paired members of the main cast. Disappointingly, it’s all old history, and Kagura’s feelings for Tarou remain unrequited, although oddly Kai is made privy to those feelings. Then things move back to Kai/Riko and Taka/Ayumi. While watching Taka endear himself to Ayumi is charming, watching Kai get punched by Riko (again) is getting old.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Seven Little Sons of the Dragon

Back Cover Blurb

Ryoko Kui, the master storyteller behind the beloved manga series Delicious in Dungeon, pens seven brand-new tales that will delight fantasy fans and manga devotees equally. Covering a broad range of themes and time periods, no two stories in this collection are alike!

The Review

This is my first time reading Ryoko Kui’s work. As such, I cannot make comparisons to her other works. Judging from this collection though, she’s capable of covering a wide range of themes and time periods.

The title might lead you to believe that these stories are somehow connected or share a dragon theme. That is not the case. The seven stories are completely unrelated, and only half feature dragons. I’m not sure why she titled it Seven Little Sons of the Dragon, but the only thing they hold in common is they all contain an element of fantasy.

The first story, “The Dragon Turret,” does contain dragons (four in fact), but it’s less about the dragons and more about the prejudices of two medieval groups warring nearby. The second, “The Mermaid Refuge,” is also about prejudices, but the groups involved are mermaids and modern Japanese folk. That’s followed by “My God,” a somewhat amusing tale about a displaced fish deity and an elementary school girl stressed out about entrance exams. Next is “Wolves Don’t Lie,” about a young man struggling with a genetic syndrome that causes him to transform into a wolf every month. The fifth story, “Byakuroku the Penniless,” is a comedy set in feudal Japan about an elderly artist’s misadventures with paintings that spring to life. Then the mood darkens with “‘My Child is Precious,’ Cries the Dragon,” a tale of revenge set in ancient China. The volume wraps up on a light note with “The Inutanis,” a murder mystery parody featuring a family with supernatural powers.

Although the settings and tone vary within the collection, each story is thought-provoking in its own way. In “The Dragon Turret,” “The Mermaid Refuge,” and “‘My Child is Precious,’ Cries the Dragon,” people at odds find common ground. Characters in “My God,” “Wolves Don’t Lie,” and “The Inutanis” struggle with identity and their place in the world. As for Byakuroku, he is forced to reevaluate assumptions he’s made in life. While the conclusion of Byakuroku’s story is best described as bittersweet, the remaining six stories have hopeful or funny endings.

Regarding illustrations, Kui-sensei is sparing with screentones, so there’s a lot of black/white contrast. Her character designs are comic or cute as needed, but they don’t have much to distinguish them. (Prince Shun’s guards all look alike.) Her backgrounds are pretty sparse, but her animals, especially those in “Byakuroku the Penniless,” are beautifully drawn.

Extras include translation notes, fold-out color illustration, and bonus comics.

In Summary

Don’t be misled by the title. Only half of this collection involves dragons, and none of the stories are related at all. That said, if you’re looking for a wide range of short fantasy works that are generally positive and appropriate for a young teen, this is worth considering.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 8

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 8! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Taka always thought he’d be the last person thrown off by high school romances. But when his seemingly perfect partner in crime, Shimura, has a sudden request-“Let’s break up!”-he totally loses his balance. Even though this all started as an elaborate scheme to help Kai, now Taka is the one needing Kai’s relationship advice! The tides sure have turned!

The Review

It’s Volume 8, and Kagura’s turn to grace the cover. But the illustration’s somewhat misleading because she doesn’t appear in this volume at all. Rather, the focus goes to two other girls.

First is Ayumi, who asks Taka to end their pretend relationship. Her reasons are twofold. One, Riko and Kai, for whom they started the ruse, are doing just fine now. Two, Ayumi is short on material for the school newspaper and wants to use their breakup as a story.

This is a shojo romance, and predictably, Taka’s thrown into unexpected turmoil at Ayumi’s pragmatic request. But even if it’s predictable, seeing the ever-stoic Taka display an unusual level of emotion draws you in. On the Ayumi front, while she’s clearly fascinated by relationships (the school paper seems more a gossip column than a channel for actual news), we haven’t seen her touched by Cupid’s arrow herself. This arc gives more insight into her views on romance. Whereas Kai’s perspective on love involved parallels with Einstein’s theories and black holes, Ayumi’s involves snails, which isn’t appealing visually, but manages to get the message through.

At any rate, the arc doesn’t come to a complete resolution, but there’s enough heart-thumping illustrations of the pair to keep it satisfying.

Then the spotlight shifts back to Riko and her relationship with Kai. The couple is on solid ground, and there are no rivals ruining their vibe, so Fujisawa-sensei continues the path of ruining the former playboy’s plans for the perfect date. This time, unexpected babysitting duty messes things up.

If you like cute kids, you’ll enjoy Kai’s niece and nephew hijacking their Sunday together. If kids make you uncomfortable, you can commiserate with Riko, who has zero experience with children. In the midst of the usual pants wetting incidents that come with little kids, Fujisawa-sensei interjects Riko’s memories of her dad. It’s a different change of pace than her typical reminisces of Suwa-sensei and provides a new way for Riko and Kai to grow closer.

Extras include story-thus-far, mini-manga about Fujisawa-sensei and her assistants visiting Germany, afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

It’s the fake-relationship-turns-to-actual-feelings trope! However, Taka and Ayumi pull it off in an engaging way, plus we get a glimpse of how Ayumi’s mind and heart tick. Then Kai’s latest attempt at a perfect date gets ruined, this time by his niece and nephew. It’s good for laughs, but I’m not certain where the primary arc is headed without any real challenges in front of our main couple.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. 7

The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review of Volume 7. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

At last, Sariphi is able to carry out her first official job as Acting Queen Consort-giving a royal blessing to the newborn prince of the nation of Sarbul. That same night, Leonhart whisks her away to a place far from prying eyes. Once they’re alone, he tells Sariphi of his tumultuous past, which only deepens their bond. But just when Sariphi believes she and Leo can overcome anything together, a new duty may pull the two apart…

The Review

The Sarbul arc looked pretty much wrapped up with Sari and Leo rescuing the brash Princess Tetra. However, it extends two more chapters. As it turns out, the neglect suffered by Tetra not only allows Sari a path to reach out to the lonely princess, it dredges up painful childhood memories for Leo.

The mystery of Leo’s human form has been a mystery from the start. When I read on the back flap teaser that Leo “tells Sariphi of his tumultuous past,” I eagerly expected to learn the secret behind his parentage.

Unfortunately, that secret remains one. Turns out Leo has no siblings and no memory of his mother. He’s completely ignorant of his human origins, but his father was fully aware of and took pains to hide that aspect of Leo. Thus, we merely get more cold-hearted parenting and awful childhood memories, which is turning into a repeated theme for this series.

We then get a single-chapter interlude of Sari expressing her love and concern for Leo through the timeless medium of food before the story moves on to her next assignment as acting queen. This challenge is twofold. One, she must ratify the new lord of the city of Maasya without Leo’s company. Two, she must select a captain to lead her personal bodyguard.

I thought Anubis had softened somewhat towards Sari, but the manner in which he foists this task onto her indicates otherwise. Despite the supposed importance of the captain selection, Anubis gives Sari virtually no time to make her choice before rushing her out the door to Maasya. At any rate, we get new character Lante added to the cast.

Lante is a hyenafolk, whose tongue perpetually hangs out in a really distracting way. That aside, he draws nearly as much suspicion as Sari. Once more we get a chunk of hitherto unknown history and prejudices within Ozmargo. While it’s fine that Lante is a bit of a double edged sword, Sari’s personality feels inconsistent in her interactions with him. With Tetra, she was a trusting fluff-head who couldn’t interpret Tetra’s vindictive actions as anything but play. With Lante, she’s aware of his sketchy motivations from the get go and makes the conscious decision to trust him in spite of everyone else’s doubts. At any rate, she’s well on her way continuing the pattern of winning beastfolk hearts despite their universal hatred of humans.

Extras include embedded author’s notes about the characters, bonus sketches, and the bonus manga, “The Beast Princess and the Regular Servant.”

In Summary

We get a glimpse of Leo’s childhood but, disappointingly, no revelation on his human roots. Rather, Tomofuji-sensei gives yet another portrayal of a rejected child before continuing with Sari’s next challenge. Although the test ostensibly is to execute royal duties without Leo’s supportive presence, ultimately it boils down to the same formula of her conquering beastpeople’s prejudices about her.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Novel Review: The Guinevere Deception

A lot of retellings recast females in much more active roles than they originally had. Kiersten White does this with the Arthurian legends in The Guinevere Deception. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

The Review

The Guinevere Deception seems written for those looking for a feminist take on the Arthurian legends. Arthur’s queen isn’t your usual pretty trophy wife. She’s clever, she takes initiative, and her mission is to protect the king. But she’s not the only strong female in the cast. Most women boast backbone plus some power or ability, and the two greatest threats to our protagonist are female.

As to the main character, she’s called Guinevere, but the third person narrative initially only refers to her as “the girl,” which makes for a clunky opening chapter. It’s not until the middle of Chapter 2 that it settles on referring to her as Guinevere. That’s because “Guinevere” is a changeling and only recently assumed this particular form and identity (which was taken from a now-deceased princess). This is done at the behest of her father Merlin. Having convinced King Arthur to ban magic from his realm, the great wizard is obliged to stay out of Camelot. But so that Arthur’s not left completely vulnerable against dark magic, he sends his daughter to watch over the king in his stead, and their marriage is a ruse to allow her to keep close to Arthur.

It’s a complicated setup. It’s also complicated because our main character has big gaps in her memory, which makes it difficult to tell what kind of person she was before assuming her Guinevere identity. For instance, Merlin is her father, but she knows nothing about her mother, and it doesn’t strike her as strange until two thirds through the book. At the same time, she’s faking her way as queen without any real guidance on who the real Guinevere was. The only thing that is absolutely clear about her is that she is determined to protect King Arthur no matter what.

Her loyalty is admirable, but it is also baffling, given that she dedicates herself to the task before she’s met Arthur. Moreover, she’s a creature of magic who’s been isolated from people. Prior to becoming Guinevere, she lived in the wilds, and her only interactions were with Merlin. She doesn’t have any real investment or connection with human society, yet she’s ready to put herself on the line to make sure Arthur’s vision for Camelot succeeds.

However, if you can accept that elaborate setup, the plot that follows is interesting. Guinevere must use magic to detect and fight magic, but because it’s against the law, there are close calls and clandestine measures. Guinevere ends up behaving like the superhero who must wield her superpowers judiciously in order not to blow her cover. Arthur, who contrived the arrangement with Merlin, knows her secret, of course, but eventually she let others in on it, mainly because she holds an equally weighty secret of theirs.

Regarding Guinevere’s relationship with Arthur, this novel is YA, so they get around the issue of sex by agreeing that their marriage is just a cover and therefore does not need to be consummated. However, Guinevere, who devoted herself to Arthur even before laying eyes on him, pretty much falls for him once they actually do meet. Although that’s not too surprising because everyone in Camelot is in love with the king. While female characters have a fair amount of complexity, the male characters are flat. That includes Arthur, who’s invariably adored by his people and always does the right thing no matter what. The one exception to the banal male lineup is Arthur’s nephew Mordred, who forms a love triangle with Arthur and Guinevere. His interactions with Guinevere are much more interesting, although they have so many encounters that it’s a wonder it doesn’t trigger any malicious gossip in the court that Guinevere trying to navigate as queen.

The multifaceted aspects of this world are the novel’s strong suit. Guinevere’s acting sentinel against magical forces, so there are battles and investigations involving enchantment. At the same time, she’s queen at a castle, so there’s an element of royal pageantry. And Camelot doesn’t exist in a political void, so Arthur has human enemies in addition to the supernatural ones. Plus, a kingdom has more mundane problems, like poop disposal. This envisioning of Camelot is lively and fascinating, so even if our heroine is sometimes baffling as she sorts through the disconnected bits that comprise her identity, the activity swirling around her form an engaging backdrop.

In Summary

This Guinevere isn’t just a pretty face. She’s a magic-wielding, smart-sleuthing protectress of the kingdom. However, the fact that she doesn’t remember much of who she is while simultaneously impersonating a person she never knew makes her someone difficult to relate to. But if you like mysteries and enigmas with a cast of knights and various magic-wielding entities, give this book a shot.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 02

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 2. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Dwarf rabbit Haru’s odd behavior causes wolf Legoshi to flee. He then learns that the Drama Club recruits new students with inner demons. What does their club president, red deer Louis, wrestle with? Before Legoshi can figure it out, Louis pressures him to face not only his own weaknesses but also his strengths. Legoshi’s character is truly put to the test when his onstage fight choreography with Bengal tiger Bill turns all too real. Has someone broken the school rules? And could the battle between Legoshi and Bill involve…rabbits?

The Review

Volume 1 ends with Legoshi unexpectedly encountering the rabbit he attacked during an errand for the Drama Club. In Volume 2, that scene progresses but not in the way you’d expect. Despite the injury to her arm, Haru doesn’t remember Legoshi’s attack. As such, she treats him like any other male student. As for Legoshi, he’s completely unaware of Haru’s reputation. So when Haru assumes he wants what every boy wants from her, it *ahem* comes as a shock to the innocent young wolf.

Haru’s upfront manner also took me by surprise. I had assumed the rumors about her were unfounded, that she was being unfairly slandered by that jealous harlequin rabbit. Judging from her interaction with Legoshi and a candid conversation between male students, she has slept with a number of herbivore guys and had no hesitation offering herself to a carnivore like Legoshi. I also got thrown off because I thought intimate relationships stayed within species, but I guess not? Anyway, although Haru’s been branded a slut, Legoshi sees her as a nice girl, which complicates his already complicated emotions about her.

Then the focus shifts back to the Drama Club, which is getting ready for its first performance of the year. Amid their frantic preparations, we learn that only beasts that have been deeply traumatized are invited to join that club. It is a strange criteria, and we’ve yet to meet to the advisor who supposedly scouts out these scarred kids. However, the information initiates speculation about what dark secret the seemingly perfect Louis could harbor.

The perspective then actually switches to Louis’ as he takes the stage for the play’s opening performance. We know he’s good at putting up an act on multiple levels. Now we get his unfiltered thoughts on his fellow students and circumstances as his plans go awry.

It’s pretty much a given that Louis’ hidden injury would eventually get out. The surprising twist is that Legoshi gets recruited to take the role vacated by Louis’ understudy Bill. Bill the Tiger is Legoshi’s polar opposite, and their different personalities make for gripping conflict on and off stage. It does get a little over the top when Louis inserts himself between the two clashing carnivores, but other than that, it demonstrates how tenuous the school’s herbivore/carnivore peace is.

Extras include character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Things get awkward between Legoshi and the rabbit he nearly ate–but not the way you’d expect. Similarly, Louis’ injury forces last-minute changes in the school play, but not the way you’d expect. Itagaki-sensei does an excellent job keeping the plot interesting and heightening the tension at Academy with the emotional baggage of the main characters.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #08

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 08 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

The Review

This volume, like Volume 7, kicks off with a glimpse of the divine. However, rather than an interaction with humans, the divine forces discuss among themselves the most effective means to manipulate humanity. These characters are depicted as a rather jarring collection of religious figures. Fortunately, the interlude is brief, and we quickly return to Tanya’s battle against Colonel Sue’s aerial unit.

Unlike the anime, where Tanya kills the Colonel without much trouble, he puts up a serious fight, and Tanya only survives due to luck and Imperial reinforcements (who thankfully are considerate enough to show up with a spare coat for the naked Major). From the Tanya/Sue dogfight, the action zooms out to the positions of the 203rd unit. Then it takes a further step back to a macro level perspective for the Imperial Northern Sea Fleet’s invasion and the tremendous damage they dish out to the Alliance troops. Overall, Tojo-sensei does an excellent job conveying the fight’s progression and the chaos wreaked upon Os.

Having survived the Battle of Osfjord, Anson Sue handily provides a window into two groups within the defeated country: the ordinary citizenry and the politicians. The loss of their homeland is inevitable, so the Colonel arranges for his family to escape the country, and we witness his touching farewell to his wife and daughter Mary. Mary doesn’t do much but smile and look charming, but quite a few pages are devoted to her introduction. Oddly, even though the Entente Alliance is a northern country and it is December, she frolics in a meadow in a spring dress. Even odder, she’s half her mother’s height, which makes her look twelve at most, but she’s drawn with a C-cup bust. That aside, the manga shows the means by which Mary obtains her submachine gun present to her father, a detail that was not included in the anime or novel.

As for Colonel Sue, he’s stuck with carrying out his defeated government’s plans to continue the fight against the Empire. With the enemy closing in, the Entente politicians desperately reach out to the Albion Commonwealth. The two countries scheme to smuggle out a high-level Entente official for the purpose of establishing a government in exile, and Colonel Sue is assigned to accompany that official out. Although it’s somewhat dense, the diagram that explains the Alliance and Commonwealth plan to get around the Imperial naval blockade is super helpful. By the way, this arc was part of the light novel but not the anime, and I look forward to seeing Tojo-sensei’s visual interpretation of it.

Extras include battle log thus far, character introductions and detailed glossary of terms between chapters.

In Summary

Aerial dogfights, battleship salvos, and marine landings, oh my! Military buffs will get their fill of action in the conclusion of the attack on the Osfjord. Then the cloak and dagger types will get their turn as the Alliance schemes with the Commonwealth to smuggle out a high level official to form a government in exile. The focus is less on Tanya and more on the plight of her defeated enemy, but the narrative remains a compelling one.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: The Promised Neverland Vol. #12

The Promised Neverland anime was a surprise favorite of mine for 2019. Its blend of mystery, suspense, and heart grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. For English-speaking fans who can’t wait to see what happens to Emma and their friends, they can read ahead in Viz’s translation of the manga. Read on for my review of Volume 12.

Back Cover Blurb

Life at Grace Field House is good for Emma and her fellow orphans. While the daily studying and exams they have to take are tough, their loving caretaker provides them with delicious food and plenty of playtime. But perhaps not everything is as it seems…

With the demons of Goldy Pond finally defeated, Emma and the other children now focus on their next task—finding the Seven Walls. But it won’t be easy, especially with a dangerous new foe trying to hunt them down. Can Emma and Ray decrypt the ancient clues that will lead the children to true freedom?

The Review

The Goldy Pond arc went out with a literal bang, with bullets flying and the whole place blowing up. Now that the kids plus two adults are safely at the B06-32 shelter, the gears switch away from action to sleuthing and intrigue.

The mystery is twofold. First is the situation between the Minerva group and the Ratri Clan members that shut them down. The kids have extremely limited access to information on the human world, so they’re stuck making conjectures on what the actual situation is. Thing is, the Ratri Clan is also conjecturing about the escapees and their whereabouts. The creators do an excellent job keeping readers on the edge of their seats as Peter Ratri and his terrifying minion Andrew strive to sniff them out.

The second mystery is the Seven Walls, which they must locate if they want to attempt a new promise regarding the humans in the demon world. This starts off a lot like the trail of clues at Grace Field House, but then it takes a great leap in scope. The search involves distances that require months to cover. What this does is force a rapid progression of time; the events of Volume 12 span over a year and a half. As a result, the kids are pushed right up against their deadline to return for Phil and the remaining Grace Field kids by the end of the volume.

Another leap is that the Seven Walls investigation takes on a mystical aspect. Whereas before they obtained clues from those they encountered or gleaned them from books and objects, this time Emma gets overtaken by a vision. I wasn’t expecting the series to take a turn for the supernatural. Then again, elevators supposedly connect human and demon worlds, so why not?

After several chapters of furtive investigations, things get charged up again when Peter Ratri’s thugs invade the B06-32 shelter! It’s a compressed, more intense version of the battle at Goldy Pond. Once more, the kids get pushed to the brink, except this time their pursuers are other humans.

Extras include side scenes and the creators’ notes.

In Summary

Fans of the clue-tracking aspect of this series will enjoy the kids’ search for the Seven Walls. It’s a long investigation–over a year and a half! But the creators do a good job presenting events such that the pacing doesn’t get bogged down. Then it’s back to action and thrills when the Ratri Clan invades the shelter!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 18

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

Back Cover Blurb

It’s been a year since Handa arrived on the island, and a lot has changed for the residents of Nanatsutake Village. Hiroshi’s in Tokyo, Miwa and her friends have graduation on their minds, and Naru and her classmates are going into their second year of elementary school. With everyone looking to the future, the time to say goodbye approaches in the final volume of Barakamon.

The Review

It’s been a year since Handa arrived at the island, and this final installment notes how the characters have moved forward over that time. Some progressions are mundane. The kids advance another grade in school but are otherwise exactly the same. The notable exception is Tama, who achieves a significant milestone when her work gets published as an honorable mention in a manga contest. The subject of that work, however, is a massive detour from her usual genre and turns into a bit of a running joke.

Unlike Tama, who’s been diligently working at her mangaka dream, Miwa has been more a giant goof-off, but in this final volume, Miwa decides to become a brewer. Because she’s the flaky type, I took it as a joke at first, but apparently she’s serious. (Or as serious as Miwa can get.) I found it rather sudden, nearly as sudden as her dad shutting down his store to take a job on Yuuichirou’s ship. Overall, the timing feels odd because there wasn’t foreshadowing for either development, and because the series is ending, we don’t actually get to see Miwa set out on the path of the brewer or how she adjusts to life without her dad at home.

An arc that actually achieves a kind of resolution, however, is the relationship between Naru and her dad. Theirs is definitely not the typical parent-child dynamic, but it starts to shift in that direction with some help from Miwa and Handa. Unfortunately, it is not entirely satisfying because we never get any information on Naru’s mom, nor does Naru show any interest in learning about her.

As for Handa, this final installment has him growing into his calligraphy teacher role although he remains as immature as his students. This is evidenced by the final chapter in which the now second-grade kids designate Handa their substitute first-grader at the school’s first years welcome party. While the villagers have become accustomed to Handa and he’s found a way to support himself, he hasn’t changed that much.

Extras include translation notes.

In Summary

The series concludes! It doesn’t exactly go out with a whimper, but it’s not a strong finish. Some loose ends get wrapped up, like Naru’s relationship with her dad, but Yoshino-sensei oddly chooses to introduce a couple new elements with the story about to close. As for our main character Handa, he merely exhibits his usual immature behavior for the last chapters.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 11

Kaoru Mori is best known for  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 11 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Having reached his destination in Ankara, Smith is not only reunited with his old friend, but also Talas, the woman he briefly stayed with on his journey. An agreement was made, and now Smith must travel back to Amir and Karluk with his new companions and newly acquired camera. However, the roads back are perilous as war approaches…

The Review

Volume 11 opens with Chapter 70, “Song of Midwinter.” Rather than a narrative, this chapter is a gorgeous montage of single and double-page illustrations depicting different winter scenes in town and on the plains. There’s no dialogue, but captions following Amir’s perspective provide almost poetic descriptions.

Then the story returns to the reunited lovers, Mr. Smith and Talas. As it turns out, their meeting in Ankara was not entirely the result of serendipity. The clock winds back to show the highlights of their relationship from Talas’ perspective. For such a quiet character, she’s remarkably determined and passionate. Equally remarkable is the husband her uncle forced her to marry. Not only does he sympathize with her heartache, he helps her journey to Ankara to look for Smith. When they don’t immediately find him there, Talas sells off her jewelry to prolong their stay. It’s a mind-boggling step of faith, especially considering there was zero coordination between Talas and Smith.

But fate has rejoined them, which causes new problems. Smith’s no-nonsense British compatriot Hawkins is quite vocal about the disapproval their marriage would stir in England. Talas, for her part, is oddly diffident in this discussion. The woman has literally given up her whole world to go after Smith, and after all that sacrifice, she says she’s content to be used as a servant? Perhaps that is an accurate characterization of a nineteenth century Central Eurasian woman, but from my Western perspective, her attitude is perplexing.

At any rate, despite the tensions brewing in the region, Smith resolves to travel back through Persia to take photographs. And despite the danger and uncertainty, Talas chooses to accompany him. There is no wedding, but once again, the two exchange promises and a token of their love.

That resolved, Smith and company make preparations, which include a chapter-long lesson in 19th-century photography. The wet collodion process is a lengthy, material-intensive endeavor involving various implements and chemicals. It’s largely the mixing of various compounds, so it’s less visually stimulating than the chapters on sewing or falconry, but if you are curious about early photography, it lays out the steps very clearly. When Smith finally leaves Ankara, he’s gained a couple camels, one fiancée, and the guard Nikolovsky on loan from Hawkins. The additional people bring a new dynamic to Smith’s travels, and considering Talas and Nikolovsky are tough, reliable individuals, spacey Mr. Smith appears to be in better hands than ever.

One more thing. For fun, Mori-sensei throws in a chapter about the watch that was Smith’s original engagement pledge to Talas. The journey carries the tone of a tall tale as the watch acquires a reputation so grand that Smith is gobsmacked when he chances upon it again.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

A renewal of vows, a lesson in 19th-century photography, and then it’s back on the road for Smith. This time, however, Talas accompanies him on his expedition to take pictures of the Persian interior. Not the most romantic start to their life together, but with Smith intending to visit all the towns he’d passed through, it looks like we’ll see the happily-ever-afters of all the brides in this series.

First published at the Fandom Post.