Tag Archives: Yen press

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 14

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

Back Cover Blurb

Reality is tough, but…surely, the future must be bright. Handa-sensei has returned from Tokyo with a new declaration–he’s going to start his own calligraphy school! But will he find any students!? But when an unusually cold winter brings rare snow to the island, is Handa prepared to hibernate the time away?

The Review

Handa’s returned to the island! However, he is a (somewhat) changed man with a new dream. Before he was an artist striving to find inspiration and his own unique means of expression. Now Handa’s quitting contests and commissioned work to open his very own calligraphy school!

It’s a well-established fact that Handa has no practical skills to speak of and that the Kawafujis have always handled the business end of his calligraphy. That combined with Handa’s unrealistic expectations regarding his new endeavor now gives readers the beginnings of an extended arc with a lot of potential. But before Handa can attempt to recruit Gotou students for his ¥20,000 per month (approximately $200 per month) lessons, he has two obstacles to contend with: the daikon bet and Kanzaki.

The daikon bet was struck a couple volumes back between Farmer Mush and Handa and further complicated by Kanzaki’s thoughtlessness. With Handa certain that Mush will ask for the rights to his house if the daikon are not up to snuff, Yoshino-sensei packs quite a bit of tension into the daikon picking. However, the ultimate outcome culminates in a hilarious illustration that took me completely by surprise. Chapter 103 mixes up the fallout from the bet with the village children’s tag game, which, though not quite as funny as Chapter 102, still incorporates a lot of entertaining action.

As for Kanzaki, he can’t bear to see the artist he idolized leave the calligraphy world. And unfortunately for Handa, a blizzard snows them in so he’s stuck having to listen to Kanzaki’s protests. While it’s funny watching two hapless city boys trying to cope when the water pipes freeze, Kanzaki’s whining comes off as annoying and shrill rather than comical, so it’s a relief when he finally flies back to Tokyo.

Extras include bonus manga on the inside of the cover flaps, translation notes (which are for some reason placed between Chapters 106 and 107), and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

A new dream for Handa means a new arc for Barakamon! Opening a calligraphy school out in the sticks poses a whole different set of challenges for our displaced Tokyoite, starting with securing his teaching space from Farmer Mush and defending his decision against Kanzaki’s protests. While the daikon showdown is quite a bit more fun than I expected, Kanzaki’s whining gets irritating fast, and it’s a relief when he finally leaves the island at the end of the volume.

First published at The Fandom Post.

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Manga Review: Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight Vol. 1

Cinderella type stories are a staple of shojo manga, and in many modern versions,  ordinary high school girls get romanced by gorgeous celebrities. Rin Mikimoto now adds another title to this list with Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

At school, Hinana is an honors student, respected by all her classmates. She’s totally above things as juvenile as crushes and dating. Secretly, though, she has but one wish: To have a fairy-tale romance. One day, a super-hot celebrity named Kaede shows up at Hinana’s high school to shoot a movie, and it becomes difficult to keep up her act. By pure chance — or y’know, fate! — Kaede reveals his own ridiculous personality to Hinana, and her ordinary life turns breathtakingly romantic! Or just really, really… weird?!

The Review

This is my first time reading Mikimoto-sensei’s work, and I found Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight somewhat reminiscent of the Goong manhwa by So Hee Park. This partly because it is also a romance that incorporates crude humor, and partly because the character designs go from sparkly-eyed shojo-style to goofy caricatures when things get bawdy. And like Goong, it is a Cinderella story. However, instead of an actual prince and a poor girl, the lead couple is a handsome celebrity and a straitlaced honor student.

That honor student being Hinana Hanazawa. Unlike many other Cinderella-type heroines, her family is not in debt, and she doesn’t have to work part-time to make ends meet. If anything, she’s the embodiment of the perfect high school girl with good grades, a seat on the student council, and a serious demeanor. Secretly, however, she fantasizes about having a fairy-tale romance with a hot guy—not that she thinks it could ever happen.

Enter super-star Kaede Ayase. He shows up at Hinana’s school to shoot a film, and Hinana and her classmates can’t even speak to him because he’s so glamorous. But by pure chance, Hinana discovers that Kaede is a “butt alien” (panty freak), and suddenly, the celebrity prince doesn’t seem so unapproachable to her any more.

This title is rated for “Older Teen,” but I’m still troubled by the fact that our heroine falls for such an unabashed pervert. This is shojo, after all, not hentai. It’s one thing for Kaede to catch a glimpse of her panties because she (oopsies!) trips at the wrong time. It’s another thing for him to ogle the whole high school tennis team and to offer to let Hinana feel up the panty flash figurine he wins at an arcade. Plus, he’s 24–an adult, and at least seven years older than Hinana. He takes special interest in Hinana because she doesn’t condemn him for his butt fetish and keeps it a secret. However, his special interest in her doesn’t stop him from ogling other women, girls, and inanimate objects. Kaede is portrayed as a carefree bubblehead so his fetish doesn’t come across as predatory, but I do wish Hinana had higher standards.

If Kaede had a less perverted quirk, this would be an otherwise entertaining romantic comedy. I liked its twist on Cinderella’s shoes, and because Hinana’s not a Cinderella that needs to be rescued from her circumstances, the mood stays fun even as she ponders the chemistry brewing between her and Kaede. As mentioned in the author notes, this story tries to capture the nature of celebrity crushes as well as the fact that celebrities are human, too, and it does a good job of showing the comic awkwardness of a budding relationship complicated by the burdens of stardom.

Extras include the first five pages printed in color, author’s notes and afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight is yet another Cinderella-type manga with an ordinary high school heroine and a gorgeous celebrity. However, unlike most stories that fall into this trope, neither character is in desperate or extreme circumstances so there’s not a lot of high stakes drama. There are, however, quite a lot of panty shots for a shojo title. So if you’re interested in a Cinderella romantic comedy and don’t mind raunchy humor, you can give this title a try.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 7

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 7. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 9

Kaoru Mori is best known for her work, Emma, an exquisite romance/slice-of-life set in Victorian England. Her latest work to be released in the United States, A Bride’s Story, is also a historical/slice-of-life but is vastly different than Emma. Set in Central Asia in a rural town near the Caspian Sea during the early 19th century, A Bride’s Story revolves around a young woman, Amir, who arrives from a distant village across the mountains to marry Karluk, a boy 8 years her junior. Volume 9 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

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

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 3 of the Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 3

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

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at The Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #18

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

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

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 2

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

Back Cover Blurb

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 6

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

Back Cover Blurb

Handa-kun and company have survived the class trip, but now the culture festival is right on top of them! Will Handa get to contribute to the festival preparations, or will the culture festival be his biggest high school frustration yet?

The Review

The previous volume mentioned that this would be the final volume in the series. As it turns out, Volume 6 is the penultimate, not the final volume. The Handa-kun News at the end of the book explains that, due to popular demand, a seventh volume with an extra arc will be released as the last in the series. However, the structure of Volume 6 is very much that of a finale.

A single arc focusing on the school’s annual cultural festival comprises this book. Three chapters are about the festival preparations, two chapters about the event itself, and one about the festival after-party. Because the entire school is involved in preparations and the festival is an open event, it provides the perfect setting to revisit the impact HND-syndrome has had on the cast, even the White Shirts from the rival school. Thus, seemingly everyone, from fortuneteller Tsugumi to the carnivore girls, gets a cameo, like in so many manga and anime finales.

The setting also lends itself to some comical visuals, ranging from various Handa themed games to the fake Handa’s Handa Clone Army. In addition, we get the novelty of seeing Handa’s class in period crossdress for their drama cafe.

Unfortunately, the plot is lackluster. Yoshino-sensei has relied heavily on Handa and his fans misinterpreting one another throughout the series for laughs, and getting more of the same at this point is rather tiresome. The drama cafe play is an inane interpretation of Romeo and Juliet with a badly selected cast, which is a situation that has been done to death in anime/manga. The introduction of the “black suits” makes things interesting for a while, but then it just gets confusing when they reveal why they’ve come to the festival.

As for the conclusion to the arc, Kawafuji’s remorse and efforts to rectify the situation are believable. The final resolution is not. After several volumes of reinforcing Handa’s paranoia of his classmates, the sudden collapse of the “Handa wall” feels like cheating.

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

In Summary

It’s not the final volume of Handa-kun, but it’s definitely written like one. The school festival provides a recap of Handa’s impact on his adorning fans. However, many gags are just variations of jokes we’ve seen before. A seventh volume follows this one, but it already feels like the series has gone on too long.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #5

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

Back Cover Blurb

In her exile to the east of the east of the east, Liselotte’s rambunctious house attempts to coexist with the witch’s forest. Hoping to break down the seal Vergue has cast, Anna ventures out on her own to pay the witch a visit. Despite a being hurt by humans in the past, can Anna convince Vergue to give people another chance, and to live among them again? Meanwhile, Lise is shocked by a familiar looking visitor surveying the nearby village.

The Review

In Takaya-sensei’s previous series Fruits Basket, there were a lot of antics and silly interactions, but once you got to know the characters, you discovered each one carried deep trauma. If you enjoy that sort of story, you can eat your heart out in Volume 5 of Liselotte and Witch’s Forest. The previous couple volumes delved into Liz’s tragic past, and now we shift to the rest of the cast, starting with En.

Given his memory loss, he doesn’t have much past to dwell on. The bits he retains suggest a desperate existence before he entered the Berenk household. However, his current circumstances aren’t particularly ideal either, as an interaction with the Eiche spirit reminds us. This is the first time we really get to delve into En’s thoughts, and there’s dark humor in his blunt assessment of Liz and his utter incomprehension of why he was so devoted to her.

Next up are Anna and Vergue. Liz is determined to befriend Vergue despite his attack on the house and repeated rejections, but interestingly, she’s not the one to crack through Vergue’s shell. On the surface, ever-smiling Anna doesn’t have anything in common with the irritable male witch. However, she recognizes the similarities they bear, and when she tells Vergue about the upbringing she and Alto suffered, it’s a confession, a rebuke, and an invitation for him to strive for something better.

The POV then switches from Anna to Vergue. We don’t get as many details on his wretched past but like the twins and Liz, he suffered undeservedly when he was a human. However, Anna’s words do impact him, and it shows in his actions, even if his speech and manner remain prickly as ever.

The focus then returns to the main character with Liz hearing about Heil Village’s spring festival. While it is strange how Liz’s companions unanimously encourage her to see it, the trip there gives Liz and En a chance to be alone. It also allows Liz to cross paths with Richard, the brother that exiled her. Liz’s guilt at seeing her brother isn’t too surprising, but what is surprising is En’s displeasure over the situation, especially since he’s lost his memories of Richard. If a visit from the regional lord isn’t enough, Woglinde, the true witch of the frontier forest, also returns home. With so many powerful characters in Heil Village, I’m anticipating something big in the works.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far, character line-up, and embedded author’s notes.

In Summary

If you like characters who bear the scars of abuse and rejection, you will have much to enjoy in this volume. If you prefer lovey-dovey moments, you’ll find a beautifully illustrated romantic scene between Liz and En, although En’s behavior is somewhat perplexing given his evaluation of Liz in the volume’s opening pages. There’s not much brawling in these pages, but with the arrival of Liz’s brother and the return of the witch Woglinde, the stage seems to be preparing for something big.

First published at the Fandom Post.