Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 001

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has recently released Volume 1 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

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

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

Back Cover Blurb

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

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

He wants to pick up girls.

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance Vol. 002

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

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 6

There’s the type of shojo manga where a girl really can envision herself as the heroine. And then there are those where the characters are constantly going off the deep end. My Little Monster falls into the latter category, and if your taste in high school romance leans toward the improbable and wacky, this title might be up your alley. Kodansha  has just released Volume 6 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 5

There’s the type of shojo manga where a girl really can envision herself as the heroine. And then there are those where the characters are constantly going off the deep end. My Little Monster falls into the latter category, and if your taste in high school romance leans toward the improbable and wacky, this title might be up your alley. Kodansha  has just released Volume 5 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

Spear Among Spindles Now Available in Twice Upon A Time!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was their grandmother?

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Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! Water Bottle

My husband has been traveling to Asia frequently for his new job and has fun bringing me various souvenirs. On his last trip, he dropped by the Nagoya Animate, a manga and anime store, and found this.

haikyu bottle front

Haikyu!! water bottle. Nekoma print to the left also obtained from Animate but not included with the bottle.

It’s a water bottle. ¥378 (approximately $3.50 US) is pretty steep for 350 mL of water, but this beverage container is the most interesting I’ve encountered since I discovered Ramune. He picked it up because we are avid fans of the Haikyu!! anime series, and fellow enthusiasts will recognize it as the uniform of Kenma Kozume from the Karasuno rival Nekoma.

Please note the defined buttock region

Please note the defined buttock region

It’s kind of cool, but at the same time weird. It’s missing arms and legs, but the body is quite defined. Defined meaning it sports a distinct outline of abs and buttocks. It’s weirder given that Kenma didn’t quite seem that ripped in the series.

I’m curious as to who the water bottle’s target audience is. Haikyu!! is a Shonen Jump title, which means its fan base is skewed towards guys, but I can’t imagine a middle school boy paying a premium to drink water out of a Kenma molded bottle.

Novel as it is, I’m at a loss as to what to do with it. Seems too nice to toss into the recycle, but I’m not reusing it (especially since it’d be super weird to be drinking out of a container with abs and buttocks.). I can sort of see it as a collectible, but  my non-otaku friends might be creeped out if they saw it on our mantel. For now, it’s in our bathroom as a reminder of what happens when anime and Japanese packaging technology collide.

Kiss of the Rose Princess Vol. 1 Manga Review

Magical girls and reverse harems are standard fare in shoujo manga, and you can find both in Aya Shouoto’s Kiss of the Rose Princess.

Back cover blurb

Anise Yamamoto has been told that if she ever removes the rose choker given to her by her father, a terrible punishment will befall her. Unfortunately she loses that choker when a bat-like being falls from the sky and hits her. Anise is granted four cards representing four knights whom she can summon with a kiss. But now that she has these gorgeous men at her beck and call, what exactly is her quest?

The Review

Shojo Beat’s lineup is generally pretty solid so I was surprised that Kiss of the Rose Princess fell short on so many levels. For starters, Shouoto-sensei’s artwork is so crowded it interferes with the storytelling. The actual drawings are cute enough, but she crams so many panels on each page and so much into each individual panel there’s no breathing space. With everything so cramped, the action gets obscured, and Shouoto-sensei winds up relying on character commentary (i.e., “Someone is emerging from the card?!”) to convey what is happening.

Then there is the plot. It has several key elements of a reverse harem paranormal. High school girl Anise Yamamoto literally collides with a magical creature and, as a result, winds up the liege of four enchanted knights that also happen to be her classmates. The details of the Contract of the Rose are many and complicated (she summons her Rose Knights by kissing special cards; they draw their power off her blood; and somehow a rose choker from her father fits into all this). On the flipside, she and her knights have no real goal or opponent. Without any threat hanging over Anise’s head (other than her father’s displeasure), the manga turns into a kind of sitcom with the Rose Knights inconveniencing Anise’s everyday life.

Speaking of the Rose Knights, their character designs are attractive enough, and we have a range of bishounen types (the quarrelsome classmate, the super popular school president, the delicate loli-shouta, the dark, moody upperclassman). However, there is no chemistry between Anise and her knights. In fact, with President Tenjo, originally Anise’s one true crush, the romance element turns to parody when she discovers he’s a freak. And though the knights do have powerful abilities, their only opportunities to use them is when jealous classmates to try to embarrass Anise so they come off as less than heroic.

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

In Summary

Kiss of the Rose Princess has got a high school protagonist, four handsome knights, and an element of enchantment and destiny. It’s a standard recipe for a magical shojo title. However, the manga lacks a real antagonist. Without any sort of quest or goal, the characters spend their time thwarting various petty schemes, making for a less than epic story.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Yukarism Vol. 1 Manga Review

Geishas are an icon of Japanese culture that, although their heyday is long post, continues to fascinate Westerners to this day. If you’ve wondered about the lives of these flowers of Japan’s bygone pleasure districts, you may want to consider Chika Shiomi’s historical/time slip manga, Yukarism.

Back cover blurb

Yukari Kobayakawa, an accomplished author at the age of 17, writes with amazingly accurate details about historical Japan. It turns out he has the ability to travel back in time…to his past life as a renowned courtesan in the Edo period! As he goes back and forth between the past and present, he unravels the karmic relationship he has with his beautiful classmate Mahoro Tachibana…

The Review

Yukarism is part time travel story and part historical but doesn’t perfectly fall into either category. The main character is 17-year-old Yukari Kobayakawa who has already earned acclaim with his novels about the Edo period pleasure district. Although the details in his stories are amazingly accurate, he’s never done any research. He hasn’t had to. He suspects he must have lived there in a past life, and his suspicions are confirmed when he meets his classmate Mahoro Tachibana. An avid fan of his novels, she begs to shake his hand, and when he obliges, her touch sends him back into his previous life–as the renowned courtesan Yumurasaki!

Yukari’s forays to the past are like dreams but not quite. His current body doesn’t disappear (he merely seems to pass out), but when he slips into Yumurasaki’s body, he actually interacts with the people of that world as opposed to reliving her exact motions. From that standpoint, this manga should interest history enthusiasts because he experiences the Edo period from a 21st-century POV. Shiomi-sensei’s gorgeous illustrations do an excellent job of evoking that era and focusing on the things most likely to interest a modern person. Shiomi-sensei also uses Yukari’s 21st-century sensibilities for comic effect when he “breaks form” and uses modern mannerisms.

Yukari has no control over these sojourns into his previous life, but despite their suddenness, they don’t trouble him. Rather he is amused by the opportunity to visit the world of two hundred years ago, and even being of a different gender doesn’t bother him. For a main character, he’s not very proactive; things simply happen, and astounding though they are, he’s merely amused. In truth, he is a kind of spectator to the story. Thus far, his actions don’t drive the plot; Yumurasaki’s life and mysterious death do. However, she is already dead, and Yukari is living her next life so that doesn’t create much anxiety on his part.

As if to make up for Yukari’s lack of emotional intensity, Mahoro, Yumurasaki’s reincarnated body guard, worries enough for both of them. She essentially has the role of ordinary schoolgirl obsessed with the rich, talented, out of her league genius (Yukari is all these things). So when Yukari abruptly passes out or hugs near-strangers, she’s the one to put everything in perspective by having a freak out. The story looks like it will have a romantic component to it (Yumurasaki is a courtesan after all), but for now, there is no chemistry to be had between Mahoro and Yukari.

Extras include a bonus one-page manga, translation notes, and author bio.

In Summary

If you enjoyed the film Memoirs of a Geisha, Yukarism might be up your alley. The mangaka’s done her research, and watching Yukari struggle through Yumurasaki’s motions does illustrate the skill required of a courtesan 200 years ago. The plot is a bit weak in that Yukari acts more like a spectator than a main character, but for now, his curiosity about his past life is enough to maintain my interest in the story.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Dogs Vol. 1 Manga Review

From Bakuman to School Rumble, the manga/anime industry has been a popular subject of manga and anime in recent years. Now joining their ranks is Kodansha’s new manga series Manga Dogs!

Back cover blurb

Kanna Tezuka is a serious 15-year-old manga artist, already being published as a pro. So when she finds out her high school is starting a manga drawing course, even she gets excited. But it’s a fiasco! The teacher is useless, and the only other students—three pretty-boy artist wannabes—quickly adopt Kanna as their (unwilling) sensei. But they all have ridiculous delusions about being an artist, and if Kanna can’t bring them back down to Earth, she’ll never get any work done!

The Review

Manga Dogs is meant to be a comedy. Unfortunately for Kondansha, its humor tends to fall flat. This is partly because jokes involve a lot of cultural references–in particular, manga references that go back over half a century. For example, character names are twists on mangaka from the 1950s and 1960s. Then there’s the actual interaction between the characters. The back cover blurb touts Manga Dogs as a “sharp-wicked satire of the manga world.” While it does focus on the travails of manga creation, the story is better labeled snarky than sharp-witted.

Because it is a satire, reality gets flung out the window, and the main character Kanna Tezuka enters Tokiwa High School’s brand-new manga major only to find she has a whopping total of three fellow classmates and zero instructors. Kanna’s already made her manga debut and working hard on her first series so it doesn’t really bother her–until her pretty boy classmates start pestering her for lessons.

Kanna’s not the easiest protagonist to warm up to. She’s neither cute nor sociable. She has no friends. There’s no need to cheer her toward the holy grail of publication because she’s already attained that. Although she’s desperate to keep her series Teach Me Buddha! going, her work is so uninspired and subpar I want it to get canned.

As for the supporting cast, they are meant to be a reverse harem. There is the blonde prince Fumio Akatsuka, the serious glasses type Fujio Fuji, and the loli shouta Shota Ishinomori. However, no romance is blossoming between Kanna and any of these three stooges. The boys are deeply passionate about manga and equally delusional about what’s required to succeed as a mangaka.

Chapters are very short (generally ten pages), and most are self-contained arcs. The majority boil down to the boys fantasizing about the glorious rewards they will reap for the manga they’re too lazy to actually create and Kanna alternately losing her temper and mocking their stupidity. Therein lies Manga Dogs main weakness. Whereas other parodies, such as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, create humor by taking the many stereotypes and tropes of a genre and turning them on their heads, Manga Dogs presents minor variations of Kanna getting mad at the boys unrealistic views, and that gets old fast.

Extras include the opening illustration and table of contents printed in color; translation notes; mangaka afterword; and short bonus manga.

In Summary

Manga Dogs Volume 1 manages to end on a cliffhanger, but I’m not particularly interested in the ultimate fate of Kanna’s manga career. Her unlikeable personality and lackluster work make her a difficult protagonist to root for. Her three handsome classmates give the initial impression this series is a reverse harem, but they mainly serve as a chorus of dumb, dumber, and super dumb. Some of their antics may garner a laugh or two, but on the whole, it’s hardly witty or entertaining.

First published at The Fandom Post.