Tag Archives: Yen press

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #4

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 4 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

Liselotte’s house in the east of the east of the east has become even livelier with the additions of the witch Hilde and her familiar, Myrte. But one day, Vergue, a witch who hates all humans, attacks the household to drive Lise and the others away! Why is it so difficult to live a peaceful life?

The Review

Till now, little information has been given about the place in which the characters reside. Now we learn that The Land East of the East of the East is part of Erstes, a country that once achieved military victory with the help of witches. Considering it’s already Volume 4, these basic details about Erstes are late in coming, plus the way they’re presented (in the form of a schoolchildren’s lesson) is rather heavy-handed. However, they do give us a clearer picture of the society from which Liz has been exiled.

This provides a good place to introduce our next new character. Captain Erwin is head of the frontier outpost near the witch’s forest. However, he’s originally from the capital where he served Liz’s brother. He not only monitors Liz’s activities but seems aware of the true circumstances behind her banishment. He also has his own power when it comes to witches. Despite the lazy front he puts up, he is definitely not an ordinary human, and given his complicated background, he’s likely to get into the thick of Liz and Engetsu’s future affairs.

In the meantime, Liz continues to bravely strive forward in her hinterlands life. For fans of Fruits Basket, Liz is definitely a Tohru-type heroine: a cheerful dimwit who remains intensely positive despite the tragedies in her life. She’s also able to connect with social outcasts, as evidenced by the six people now living in her house. Now that Hilde and Myrte are part of the family, it’s almost a given that Liz will find a way to draw Vergue in, despite his violent efforts to drive her away.

As for the romantic arc between Liz and En, there are a couple poignant moments between the two, but overall, the mood is more comic than sweet. En without memories is sarcastic and blunt, which makes him a lot more interesting than when he was so unconditionally agreeable toward Liz. Judging from a brief interaction with Erwin, this new En is closer to his true personality and hints about a past I’m curious to learn more about.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far and character line-up, embedded author’s notes, translation notes, and a nine-page preview of Volume 5.

In Summary

This volume doesn’t so much move forward as it delves backward. Lessons, remembrances, and flashbacks provide a better understanding of the factors separating humans and witches and the circumstances that brought our characters where they are now. So aside from Vergue wrecking Liz’s house, not too much happens in these six chapters, but they fill in a lot of holes in the story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: your name.

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now Yen On brings Shinkai’s your name. novel to English readers for a new perspective on the events of the movie.

Back cover Blurb

Mitsuha, a high school girl living in a rural town deep in the mountains, has a dream that she is a boy living an unfamiliar life in Tokyo. Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo, dreams that he is a girl living in the mountains. As they realize they are changing places, their encounter sets the cogs of fate into motion.

The Review

Confession: As of the writing of this post, I have not seen the your name. movie.

Therefore, I am unable to draw any comparisons between the film and the novel. That doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s work. His name got stamped into my otaku consciousness when Voices of a Distant Star came out, and since then, I’ve associated Shinkai with two things: breathtaking skies and the longing of separated lovers. While novels can’t provide dazzling visuals of the heavens, filmmaker Shinkai displays his mastery with words as he depicts the angst of his lead couple.

For those completely unacquainted with your name. that lead couple is comprised of two modern-day high school students, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana. Mitsuha lives in the rural community of Itomori in her grandmother’s house. As the granddaughter of a Shinto priestess, Mitsuha’s life is steeped in tradition, but she’s dying to leave her tiny town for Tokyo. Taki lives in Tokyo and works part time at a fancy Italian restaurant. The two don’t know each other at all, but for some unknown reason, each starts dreaming about living the other’s life. Then they realize that they are actually switching bodies when they feel the consequences of the other person’s actions.

It’s a complicated set-up. That brings me to the one weakness of the light novel. It’s written in first person, and the viewpoint switches frequently and sometimes mid-scene between Mitsuha and Taki. If you don’t know the story involves body-switching, the first few pages can be really confusing. However, if you can get through that hurdle, the rest of the book is spectacular.

The cover flap touts the novel as “in turns funny, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching.” Sounds like a lot, but Shinkai actually delivers on all fronts. The comedy comes as a natural outgrowth of the circumstances Shinkai has laid out. In addition to the awkwardness of inhabiting a body of the opposite gender, there’s also city-versus-country humor, and I did literally laugh out loud in places. The heartwarming part comes as the two start appreciating the experiences of the other, and then hearts get wrenched when the swaps stop and Taki goes in search of Mitsuha armed with nothing but his hand-drawn sketches of Itomori’s scenery.

So the guy goes, finds the girl, and they live happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Shinkai throws in a couple major twists that turns Taki’s efforts to find the girl into a desperate quest to save the girl. It’s a dramatic shift in tone from the first chapters of the book, yet it works. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Mitsuha’s  shrine maiden duties and Grandma Miyamizu’s explanations of the family’s traditions, readers are easily carried along as the supernatural aspect goes from a comical glitch between two individuals to something much bigger.

But even as forces push Mitsuha and Taki together toward a seemingly cosmic goal, other factors tug them apart. From the onset, the memories of their body switches are hazy. It’s only when they find workarounds to communicate that they are able to get a sense of each other. However, once the swaps stop, the precious knowledge they’ve gained starts to evaporate from their minds. Shinkai does an amazing job with these scenes, making the agony of those disappearing memories worse than the pain of separation.

In addition to the breadth and intensity of emotion, Shinkai skillfully weaves in foreshadowing and symbolism, and he interconnects the details of events and characters in seamless fashion. Some nuances of the story do require knowledge of Japanese culture, but the book does not contain a cultural notes section. However, even if you’re unaware of the significance of the “red thread of fate,” you can still appreciate the role that Mitsuha’s hair cord plays in connecting our main characters.

By the way, even though I haven’t seen the movie, my husband saw it on his last flight to Asia (thank you, All Nippon Airways). Once he got home, he dived into the book. As for me, I’ve really got to see the film…

Extras include an afterword from the author and a short essay from Genki Kawamura, who produced the your name. movie.

In summary

Over a decade ago, Makoto Shinkai wowed me with his filmmaking; now he wows me with his writing. your name. is about lovers brought together by fate, but it’s much more than a romance. The story incorporates goofy humor, reflections on the fragility of human memory, and a heart-pounding, race-against-time to thwart disaster. And the amazing thing is that it all works. Hats off to Shinkai!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 1

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back cover blurb

Accepting the post of Royal Tutor at the court of the king of Grannzreich, Heine Wittgenstein is a little professor with a big job ahead! Each of the kingdom’s four princes has a rather distinct personality. Does their diminutive new instructor have what it takes to lay down some learning? It’s a comedy of educational proportions!

The Review

The Royal Tutor is an interesting take on the reverse harem genre. It includes several standard elements including four handsome princes and a luxurious, palatial setting. However, the protagonist is not a teenage girl through whom readers can live vicariously. Our main character is the princes’ tutor, Heine Wittgenstein.

Summoned to the royal palace by the King of Granzreich himself, Heine is charged with grooming the king’s troublesome younger sons into suitable candidates for the throne. Heine though is not your ordinary academic. Although he is an adult with a certain degree of weakness for female charms, he looks like (and is constantly mistaken for) a little boy. Yet his intellect is second to none, and he is physically capable of chasing down his much larger students. At the same time, his small stature causes all sorts of inconveniences, which affords ample opportunity for visual humor, and he occasionally gets handled like a plushie toy. In fact, Heine at times looks like a cute mascot for this princely lineup.

As such, there are no romantic overtones whatsoever between this teacher and his students. (In fact, the only females in the cast are the princes’ grandmother and three-year old sister.) Even so, Heine, like many reverse harem heroines, is able to win over these difficult bishounen in short order. Despite its late 19th century European setting, these princes have very modern sensibilities and of course extremely distinct personalities. Thus, we have Kai, the taciturn delinquent; Bruno, the rigid intellectual; Leonhard, the prideful athlete; and Licht, the frivolous playboy. These brothers have driven all preceding royal tutors to resignation, yet Heine is able to quickly discern the true natures behind their public facades and earn their acceptance.

Heine himself though is a bit of a mystery. For all his abilities, he has no formal credentials. And although he was summoned to the palace by the king, Heine has his own–and as of yet unknown– personal agenda for accepting the position. While this does make him more intriguing as a character, Volume 1 is for the most part lighthearted comedy stemming from Heine’s unusual appearance and abilities and the princes’ antics.

For those familiar with the anime, the storyline is not an exact match for the TV series, but it is pretty close. The artwork is clean and well-drawn with lots of chandeliers and Rococo style decor and dress. Character designs alternate between shojo-style bishounen and chibi-style for princes and tutor alike (although Heine gets chibified more frequently than anyone else).

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

In Summary

If you’re the type that enjoys princely eye-candy against a luxurious backdrop, you’ll probably like The Royal Tutor. This series is also worth checking out if you like light comedies with characters that don’t fit the mold. The bishounen princes are somewhat standard, but their tutor is in a class of his own in this near reverse harem comedy.

First published at The Fandom Post.

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.