Tag Archives: Yen press

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 13

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

Back cover blurb

Tagging along on Handa-sensei’s visit home, Naru finally arrives in Tokyo! Trains, tall buildings, the zoo-the big city’s full of amazing first experiences! But what will Handa decide when his dad asks him to come back to Tokyo? Volume 13 promises growth, courage, and farewells!

The Review

The tables are turned when Naru joins Handa on a trip to Tokyo. Now he’s the regional expert, and she can barely comprehend her hectic surroundings. But while she makes an atypical guest in the Handa household, this arc is less about her and more about the interactions Handa has with the adults of Tokyo.

For starters, Yoshino-sensei introduces Ojou, a college student working part time for the Kawafuji business. She’s also the girl Handa was asked to consider as a marriage prospect. After Handa turned the proposal down, I didn’t think she’d be mentioned again, let alone make an appearance. However, she is quite unlike her photo and, despite certain shortcomings, can hold her own in the art business world. Except for Kawafuji, Handa hasn’t had much opportunity to hang out with people his age, and as he and Ojou interact, we get a pretty good idea why he doesn’t have a girlfriend.

Then on the professional end of things, Handa meets the representatives for the major hotel project his father is working on as well as a young calligrapher just starting his career. Because Handa has been producing commissioned works and participating in contests (and is the son of a master calligrapher), I assumed he knew what a career as a calligrapher would entail. This trip to Tokyo shows just how much he doesn’t know about the art business. While Naru does have the opportunity to cause her particular brand of mayhem away from home, these chapters are less about her city experience and more about Handa’s reflections on the trajectory of his life.

However, the village isn’t completely left out of this volume. Kanzaki runs away to the village, supposedly to get away from “society’s strictures,” and Handa gives the kid permission to stay at his house while he’s in Tokyo. Thus the island gets another city boy in Handa’s absence. Kanzaki though is less of a clueless urbanite than he is an annoying, whiny one, and poor Hiroshi gets saddled with the brunt of Kanzaki’s damage.

Extras include two bonus manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

Handa finally gets his chance to show one of the villagers around his home turf. However, this arc winds up less about city versus county life and more about the direction of Handa’s life. Naru displays some of her usual kiddie antics, but for the most part this arc is an intriguing glimpse into the demands on a professional artist and the relationship possibilities for Handa’s personal life.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 5

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

Back cover blurb

The class trip has begun, but now it’s not just his own classmates Handa needs to worry about. When a rival school ends up going along for the ride, isn’t it a given that Handa-kun’s going to run afoul of a whole new set of kids? The Handa Army have met their nemesee…nemenisee…neemessss–their rivals! There is no way they will allow their beloved Handa to be diminished by the white shirts! Meanwhile, poor Handa-kun is trying REALLY hard just to fit in…

The Review

Volume 5 covers the class trip that Handa’s been anticipating as an opportunity to make friends. Although it does include the usual misunderstandings and failed attempts at bonding with classmates, most of the plot is dominated by students from another school. Nicknamed the “White Shirts,” they get along with the students of Handa’s school like cats and dogs. And this rival school has its own charismatic leader and minions to match Handa and his army.

By “match,” I do mean match. Ichimiya’s bodyguards are comprised of a burly delinquent, a bespectacled nerd, a pretty fashionista, and a no-name ordinary guy. The most entertaining of them is Sousuke Kojika, who goes to interesting lengths for the sake of beauty and has a unique connection to the delinquent of the Handa Army.

As with Handa and his Army, Ichimiya’s Bodyguards operate largely independent of the leader they idolize. So while Handa and Ichimiya are touring Kyoto’s sights, the Army and Bodyguards are waging war, which alternates between group efforts and individuals facing off against his equivalent. Much of this fighting is just a hyped version of the usual Handa Army antics, but the big surprise is the clash between the average guys. Kondou has been a levelheaded observer for most of this series, but it turns out he’s not completely dispassionate when it comes to Handa either.

A major challenge Western readers will have with the arc is the Kyoto backdrop. In keeping with the tourist spots they visit, characters dress up as Japanese icons and make historical references in jokes and insults. If you’ve studied Japanese history or watched one of the many anime or Japanese dramas about the Shinsengumi/Ryouma Sakamoto/Bakumatsu, you have a decent chance of enjoying these chapters. If not, the translation notes in the back of the book provide a lot of information, but it will require much flipping back and forth.

Extras include the title illustration in color, bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s delusion insanity squared when the Handa Army clashes with students from a rival school during their class trip. While the Kyoto setting allows for fun props and samurai cosplay, these chapters are heavy on historical references, which will go over the heads of most Western readers. And although most of the Handa Army’s hijinks are predictable, the trip brings out a surprising side of Kondou, who isn’t as immune to HND Syndrome as previously thought.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #3

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 3 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back cover blurb

Liselotte, daughter of a feudal lord, has been exiled to the lands east of the east of the east, now living with her servants Anna and Alto, the mysterious Engetsu, and the impertinent familiar Yomi at the edge of the witch’s forest. Despite Alto’s objections, Lise’s new family somehow continues to grow. But her troublesome past has caught up to them and Engetsu is seriously injured. Can Lise save him and also continue to live as optimistically as her heart desires?

The Review

Engetsu is in dire straits at the end of Volume 2, thanks to the fight with Liz’s would-be assassin, and with help from Yomi, Liz seeks supernatural help from the massive tree that grows though their house. Eiche trees, like witches, are magical, but their power appears innate rather than something learned. And even though witches are the ones with a bad reputation, the spirit of the Eiche tree makes them look positively benevolent in comparison.(It’s not the witches you have to beware of–it’s the trees!)

Far from being swayed by Liz’s bold demands for help, the Eiche cuts her down with a vicious verbal, then physical assault. In the midst of this encounter, we discover what En endured to return from the dead and the limitations of his current existence. Everything about the episode serves to demonstrate En’s extraordinary devotion to Liz, which underscores the true cost of his restoration when the pair returns to the real world.

With the mystery of Engetsu/Enrich connection revealed, a different mystery arises: Enrich’s origins. After the Eiche encounter, En’s behavior changes so drastically it’s as if he’s a completely different person. Faced with this new,  roguish En, Liz makes the surprisingly astute observation that if they think En’s changed that just means they didn’t know him well enough to begin with. Indeed, even though Enrich knew so much about Liz before, she knew very little about him, and that unknown history before he became her servant looks like it will be central to the next phase of the story.

The angst and despair of the first half of the volume is emotionally draining, thus for the second half, Takaya-sensei reverts back to bird-brained humor. Hilde and Myrte return and wind up incorporated into Liz’s household, which, as Alto describes it, is turning into “a supernatural menagerie.” This of course provides the framework for situational humor between grumpy Alto, prickly Yomi, and their high-strung new housemates. While Liz and En’s interactions retain an element of melancholy, the silly squabbling that surrounds them helps to keep the mood light.

Extras include story thus far, character profiles, embedded author’s notes, six bonus illustrations in color, translation notes, and a sneak peek of Volume 4.

In Summary

En has been the one rescuing Liz all this time, but everything changes after Liz begs the Eiche spirit to return En to her. Now she must strive against the impossible to restore the bond they once shared. In the meantime, a witches’ spat puts Hilde and Myrte onto Liz’s doorstep. Between Liz’s love tragedy and everyone’s new living arrangements, it’s a rollercoaster of ups and down in the land east of the east of the east.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 005

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 5 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

It’s time for the ‘real’ SAO–the third floor! Kirito and Asuna are hardly out the door when they stumble upon the start of the Elf War quest. When they decide to side with the elite dark elf Kizmel, they’re set on a path that will push them harder than ever before. But together, nothing can stop them…right?

The Review

A brand new arc begins as Kirito and Asuna step onto the third floor. To start, we have a sweeping change in cast. Except for Kirito and Asuna, everyone we’ve met thus far–Agil, The Rat, the Legend Braves–exits the stage, and new characters enter the story. However, these aren’t fellow players trapped in Kayaba’s death game. They’re NPCs.

NPCs of the Elf War quest to be exact. Unlike the rock smashing quest of the previous volume, this campaign lasts several floors and requires players to choose a side. Thus, our heroes align themselves with the dark elves and their female knight Kizmel. Our resident “beater” Kirito continues to guide newbie Asuna by explaining the quest’s general framework, but like so many other things in SAO, this quest has changed since the beta. For one, the NPCs’ AI has improved so drastically that their interactions are near indistinguishable from those of real people. For another, the script isn’t nearly as rigid as the beta’s. As such, Asuna regards Kizmel like an actual person and plunges them down a quest route that Kirito didn’t think possible.

Given that this is the “Elf War quest,” there are plenty of battle scenes. Along with elves, giant falcons and wolves dive into the fray, which makes for interesting action. However, this conflict has nothing to do with humans (i.e. the trapped SAO players). All the passion driving this drama belongs to the NPCs, and the creators dedicate an entire chapter to the dark elves’ backstory (which the players never actually witness). While Kizmel’s tale of loss is gripping, this history–as Kirito reminds Asuna’–isn’t real past events but a mere construct of the game.

This brings Progressive to an interesting point. Before, the players’ life and death struggle dominated the plot; now the story centers on characters who were never alive to begin with. While it does demonstrate how elaborate the SAO world is, having Kirito and Asuna get sucked into the NPCs’ story makes it feel as if the creators have run out of ideas for our hapless trapped humans and are falling back on pure fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, Kizmel is, as Asuna aptly puts it, “most definitely a male-created fantasy.” Between her, her late sister Tinel, and Asuna, the creators have plenty of material for fanservice. The bathing tent scene in particular lays it on thick. While it does also include comedy at Kirito’s expense and unexpected relationship advice from Kizmel, it’s really just an excuse to show Asuna and Kizmel naked in a tub together.

Extras include the title page and table of contents in color and bonus illustrations.

In Summary

The human co-stars leave the stage and a lineup of NPCs take their place. In treating the NPC Kizmel as a real person, Kirito and Asuna get swept into her narrative of revenge. While it is an engaging tale, it also takes the attention away from the human players’ life-or-death dilemma, which leaves me, like Asuna, wondering how emotionally invested I should get with these elves.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #2

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 2 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back cover blurb

Liselotte, the daughter of a feudal lord, has been exiled to the land’s easternmost reaches by order of her older brother. Despite the bitter past that put her in these straits, Lise enjoys her new life with her twin attendants, Alto and Anna, the familiar Yomi, and Engetsu, a young man who not only harbors a secret, but also bears a striking resemblance to an old acquaintance, Enrich. However, Lise’s quaint idyll is shattered when none other than a witch comes calling!

The Review

Takaya-sensei mentions in her notes that “Volume 1 unfolded at a relatively leisurely pace.” Well, she makes up for it with Volume 2. She starts with flashbacks and a conversation with the local villagers that shed light on Liselotte’s circumstances and brings context to En and Liselotte’s mutual attachment. His reappearance in Liz’s life is no accident. And random though Yomi’s entrance seemed, he also has a reason for hanging around Liz and En.

Then the witch from Volume 1 reappears, this time by Liz’s house. Overall, the illustrations do an excellent job of creating an air of tension and mystery. Unfortunately for one forest scene, sound effects are key to that terrifying atmosphere, and I spent several confused seconds hunting down Yen Press’ tiny sound effects translations (which are almost buried by the original Japanese sound effects) before I could figure out what was happening. To offset the creepiness of the witches, Takaya-sensei inserts silliness in the form of Liz’s blithe decision to embrace the witches as neighbors. Thus continues the somewhat hackneyed joke of Liz’s inedible food.

Her ditzy attitude seems inappropriate for approaching a powerful enemy, but it turns out to be entirely fitting. In one fell swoop, Liz exposes the witch and her familiar to be just as silly as Liz herself. That discovery is a letdown, especially after all that hair-raising anticipation, but Hilde the inept, crybaby witch does make a suitable companion for Liz and company.

Takaya-sensei, however, quickly replaces the witches with another enemy, one whom Liz definitely won’t offer a slice of cake. Magic takes a backseat to swordplay when an assassin explodes on the scene. Apparently, humans are more dangerous than witches, and we get to witness En’s heroics in a duel interspersed with glimpses of a past fight. Some of En’s dagger skills are a bit difficult to follow, but overall, the battle brings Volume 2 to a thrilling and emotional close.

Extras include embedded author’s notes, the title page in color, and translation notes.

In Summary

Volume 2 fills the blanks of Volume 1 to make what felt like a random assemblage of characters without clear direction into the tale of tragic lovers grasping at a second chance. Takaya-sensei had done a marvelous job of painting the witches as a malevolent threat to Liz, so when she reveals their true nature, it’s a disappointment. However, they’re quickly replaced with another adversary, one that sheds light on the past and leaves us with a heart-pounding cliffhanger.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 4

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

Back cover blurb

The trials of high school life continue to vex poor Handa-kun. This time he’s drawn the attention of the school’s wannabe manga creators and a passive aggressive library rep, but the true horror high school has in store for him waits just around the corner…

The Review

Of the Handa Army, Yukio is the only one who isn’t delusional. He’s also the one member who doesn’t actually want to be part of the group. But the others won’t let him go, and it’s only a matter of time before Yukio’s reputation is affected. Thus, we have Chapter 16: Handa-kun and the Mundane, in which Yukio experiences a classic high school manga scenario, the letter in the shoe locker. But instead of romance, it turns into a parody, thanks to his association with the Handa Army. While the Handa Army’s commentary on the subject is predictably off the wall, Yoshino-sensei does a good job of setting up Yukio’s expectations and then pulling the rug out from under him.

Then the story moves on to introduce new characters. In Chapter 17, we meet the Beautie-Girls Art Club, an otaku mangaka club. Although they make Handa the subject of their next bulletin in hopes of boosting sales, this chapter mainly pokes fun at extreme geek culture and mannerisms, which, for some reason, include an inordinate amount of puking. To add to the club members’ already unstylish appearances, Yoshino-sensei doesn’t seem to put much effort into drawing them. And despite devoting a 38-page chapter to the club’s creative efforts, we don’t actually see any of the Handa-centric manga they make.

Chapter 18 follows with yet another new character. Kasumi Hirayama is a more typical personality in that she is a Handa fan who admires him from afar. And as library representative, she does most of her admiring amid the bookshelves. However, just as Chapter 16 was more about Yukio’s interaction with the Handa Army than Handa himself, Chapter 18 winds up more about the Handa Army’s impact on the introverted student librarian than her interactions with Handa.

Then as if to showcase all those who’ve fallen under Handa’s spell, Chapter 19 offers a massive convergence of HND-sufferers stalking–I mean, lovingly watching over him as he walks home. The funniest is the most recent evolution of Miyoko Kinjou, whose nickname Eraser is surprisingly fitting. For the most part, Handa avoids direct interaction with his classmates but under such an onslaught, the chapter culminates in a rare moment where he directly addresses the fanatics (but gets completely misunderstood as usual).

Extras include bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

A little Handa goes a long way. Although his actions are minimal in the first three chapters, they’re still enough to save a club and revitalize the school’s neglected library. We do experience a bit of Handa’s thoughts when fanatics descend en masse after school, but even then, the focus in more on the victims of HND syndrome than the angsty teen himself.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 12

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

Back cover blurb

Santa, huh…? Guess each household tends to have its own customs…. Jingle jingle jingle jingle….Christmas has come to the island!Handsome young calligrapher Seishuu Handa tries his hand at the Santa business for the first time! But could it be that Handa Claus isn’t the only one who’s come to visit all the nice little children…? The love of every dad warms the world in Volume 12 of this hot ‘n’ hearty island comedy!

The Review

Volume 12 opens with two filler chapters, both highlighting the immaturity of our cast, no matter what their actual age. Act 88 has the first graders’ lesson in personal pronouns turning into a three-way challenge between Hina, Naru, and Handa. Act 89 focuses on the middle school kids with Shin Yoshida correcting Miwa and Tama’s misconceptions about Higashino (I thought he was Dash, too, girls!) and farmer Higashino winding up with a worse replacement nickname.

The story then dives into a three-chapter Christmastime arc that addresses one of the long-standing mysteries of the series: what happened to Naru’s parents. As it turns out, the truth isn’t tragic or dramatic at all. It’s so disappointingly mundane that it’s a wonder the islanders, with their supposed penchant for local gossip, haven’t mentioned Naru’s dad Yuuichiro. Despite his infrequent visits home, he’s still considered part of the community, so much so that he can’t take ten steps through the village without someone stopping him to chat.

But even though the reasons that keep him away from Naru are hardly titillating, Yuuichiro does make an exciting entrance when he first appears. His return is preceded by an intense Christmas Eve debate among the children regarding the existence of Santa Claus. Of course, Handa gets dragged into it, and as midnight approaches, readers get to see how Christmas in Japan is like and unlike western celebrations.

With the villagers treating Yuuichiro’s return as no big deal, Handa’s finally able to broach subjects he’d previously assumed were taboo. In fact, Yuuichiro is the one to invite Handa to chat with him. The conversation that follows is an interesting one. Although Yuuichiro does not communicate with his daughter and is mostly absent from the village, he calls Handa, who has been watching over Naru, “an outsider.” This gets Handa thinking about who the insiders and outsiders are in his life, once more causing him to reflect upon the connections he’s made in the village.

Extras include two bonus manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

Christmas comes to the island! With small children eagerly anticipating gifts, Handa takes on the role of Santa Claus only to get upstaged by Naru’s dad. If you’ve been wondering where Naru’s parents are or if they even exist, this is the volume to get.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Are You Alice? Vol. 12

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired all sorts of spinoff works, from visual art to movies to manga. However, Ai Ninomiya may have conjured up the most unusual Alice yet.  Are You Alice?, which originally began as a CD series, features a gun-toting male as its Alice! Yen Press has released the final volume, and you can read on for the review. (If you’re interested in my reviews for previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

With the game to kill the White Rabbit abandoned, the remaining denizens of Wonderland set out to escort the White Rabbit to the final page of the story. But this is easier said than done because it’s no longer only Lewis Carroll’s interference with which they have to contend.

As “Probably” Alice and his ragtag group of allies undertake their first and last mission, they vow to uphold the sole rule of this new game-no matter who is sacrificed, there is no looking back…

The Review

Katagiri-sensei has consistently crafted beautifully illustrated scenes that brim with emotion, and this final volume delivers no less. The desperation of the remaining Wonderland residents resounds off the pages as does the Cheshire Cat’s complicated feelings toward the Alices we’ve encountered. Somewhat more convoluted, however, is the ultimate resolution to this Wonderland journey.

What started off as the game to kill the White Rabbit turned into a story about the correct way to kill Alice that somehow erupted into a battle of wills between a deranged writer and his characters. With reality invading the world of story and multiple forces manipulating the plot, this final volume feels like a race from scene to scene to wrap loose threads. Granted, Katagiri-sensei’s comical interchanges are funny as ever, but between all the fake Alices, Alice Liddell, and the elusive Alice in Wonderland, it’s difficult to keep track of what everyone is striving toward. However, the final showdown between Carroll and those trying to force him to complete his work is quite dramatic with a conclusion both surprising and violent.

The last few pages present an epilogue that shows where the survivors wind up. Those characters brought to Wonderland by the White Rabbit return to the real world, and its interesting to see the disparate places they came from. Our final glimpse of Carroll is somewhat troubling, but the future of the 89th Alice/Little Brother/Explosive Device is hopeful. As the Cheshire Cat says, his story “has yet to begin.”

In Summary

Not surprisingly, the Wonderland game ends with a gunshot and blood. To be honest, though, it’s a bit of a relief. On top of Wonderland’s inherent weirdness, the series has had so many different layers of violence, deceit, and insanity, it was difficult to keep track of it all. At any rate, readers who envision Lewis Carroll to be as crazy as his Hatter can consider Are You Alice? an uber-violent origin story for Alice in Wonderland.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 8

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

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet 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 released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet 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 has entered the new VRMMO Gun Gale Online in order to investigate the Death Gun incidents, only to discover his avatar is not exactly how he remembers it! He barely knows up from down in this new world, and he needs an ally. He may have found one in the mysterious female sniper Sinon, but she’s got an agenda of her own…

The Review

Volume 2 opens with an entire chapter devoted to Sinon’s real life, and unlike her online persona, Shino Asada can’t stand guns. In fact, a person mimicking a shooting motion is enough to give her a panic attack. Thus, one of GGO’s gutsiest players is ironically the target of bullies. As in the anime, the manga lays out her background and the incident that traumatized her. Yamada-sensei’s illustrations do an excellent job of conveying Shino’s panic attack and depicting the robbery that scarred her. By the end of the chapter, you can’t blame her for her phobia. In addition, the manga includes details not mentioned in the anime that add additional depth to her personal struggle (for instance, the fact that her mother had a damaged psyche even before the shooting incident).

Then the setting moves from real life to the world of GGO, where Kirito and Sinon cross paths for the first time. Although Volume 2 includes an explanation for why Kirito looks the way he does, it only makes his girly avatar that much more peculiar to me. In addition, Kirito chooses a sword as his primary GGO weapon, which strikes me as both improbable (this is the world of guns after all) and disappointing. Previous SAO titles have already established Kirito as a master swordsman; I really wanted to see him forced to handle a completely different skillset. At any rate, his avatar allows him to befriend Sinon (who doesn’t realize he is a guy), and the existence of a photon sword allows him to fight toe to toe with GGO’s best with minimal adjustment.

Kirito’s looks and sword aside, the story is a gripping one as the Bullet of Bullets competition begins. The manga reveals more internal thoughts than the anime, which helps make Kirito’s first brush with Death Gun more chilling. The narrative also draws intriguing parallels between Sinon’s and Kirito’s experiences and their efforts to deal with them in the virtual and real world.

The strength of the plot is matched by the strength of the artwork. Yamada-sensei’s depictions of gun battles and emotional turmoil deliver quite a punch although the bullet predictive lines take some getting used to. I should also mention that Phantom Bullet, like the other SAO manga series, lays on the fan service. Sinon/Shino isn’t nearly as busty as other SAO females, but Yamada-sensei uses every chance he can to get a panty shot in.

Extras include the title page printed in color, embedded notes about GGO, and a comment/illustration from series creator Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

Thanks to Kirito’s androgynous avatar, Sinon lends him a helping hand in getting acquainted with GGO. He quickly gets up to speed, perhaps too quickly for a game so unlike the previous ones he’s experienced. However, once the Bullet of Bullets begins, both he and Sinon must contend against past demons in an internal struggle that lays out all the vulnerabilities of two unparalleled fighters.

First published at the Fandom Post.