Tidbits: Three from DMP

Welcome to the first installment of Tidbits, a periodic column featuring short reviews of multiple titles. In this post, I check out the latest volumes of three continuing series in the Digital Manga Publishing catalog. First up is volume two of Alice the 101st, followed by the third volume of the shoujo classic Itazura Na Kiss, and the second volume of Maiden Rose.

Alice the 101st 2 by Chigusa Kawai: B-
It’s contest time at Mondonveille Music Academy, and while the upperclassmen are getting ready to compete, the first years are working on their pieces for a special concert of their own. Aristide “Alice” Lang has the ability to play well when motivated, but his inability to read music prompts his professor to assign the rudimentary “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” as his concert piece. Alice requires a lot of help from his friends and would-be rival, Max, but manages to execute a… unique performance on the big day.

While I continue to like the music school setting as well as some of the supporting characters—including Georges, the pianist introduced in this volume, who was actually the protagonist of Kawai’s La Esperança!—the main issue preventing me from really enjoying this series is Alice himself. He slacks off in both class and practice, mouths off and issues challenges to his classmates (evaded at the last minute courtesy of a development right out of the Wuthering Heights School of Plot Writing, which mandates that anyone who gets wet while outside instantly comes down with a fever), then gets panicky and petulant when his friends are too busy with their own lives to help him.

I have zero sympathy for this spazzy, self-absorbed kid and yet… He is showing a slight tendency to take things more seriously, and when he is able to display his strengths, which include perfect pitch and an incredible memory, I am genuinely happy for him, especially as he seems to be gradually earning the respect of some of his classmates. I can only assume there will be more of this to come and that the personality traits to which I currently object will eventually be replaced by discipline and maturity.

Itazura Na Kiss 3 by Kaoru Tada: A-
Because each English volume of Itazura Na Kiss is equal to two Japanese volumes, and because I am a slow reader, it took me a couple of hours to finish the latest installment in this shoujo classic. It’s so good, though, a comfort food soap opera of the best kind, that I probably could’ve happily gone on reading it for another ten!

Those who have read the first two volumes will find more of the same here: Kotoko pursues Naoki vigilantly, most of the time revealing how hopelessly inept she is (seriously, the chapter in which she manages to get a waitress job at the restaurant where Naoki works is positively painful) but occasionally demonstrating a quality that spurs Naoki to notice her in a new light.

Indeed, though it be subtle, there’s some definite progress in their relationship. Naoki’s words may still wound, but his attitude toward Kotoko has noticeably softened. Early on, he admits that he doesn’t mind living with her and later implies that if it wouldn’t fit in with his meddling mother’s plans so well, he might actually have been interested in taking advantage of a cozy moment between them. More importantly, having realized that he enjoys the struggle and challenge that Kotoko has introduced into his life, Naoki decides to give up his complacent existence in his parents’ house and have a go at supporting himself. It’s unlikely that he ever would’ve taken this step without her. The last few pages of the volume are also fabulous.

Though the comedy is sometimes cringe-inducing—I appreciated ardent Kotoko fan Kin-san at first, but his one-note nature is starting to annoy me—as are some of Kotoko’s attempts to get closer to Naoki, I can’t help sympathizing with her and being pulled into this story. I hope someone licenses the anime someday, because that might be one I would have to watch.

Maiden Rose 2 by Fusanosuke Inariya: B
Taki Reizen is a flower-scented military commander and Claus von Wolfstadt is his foreign lover, a huge man who has a tendency to be rough with Taki but nonetheless will endure major personal sacrifice to do his bidding, a trait that prompts Taki to dub him his knight. In this volume, a train originating from Eurote, ostensible allies of Taki’s country, is about to cross the border without permission. In defiance of headquarters, Taki rallies his troops to prevent the crossing and sends Claus and another soldier into a “no man’s land” that is rumored to contaminate all who enter.

For a boys’ love series, Maiden Rose has a terrific amount of plot. In fact, the sole explicit scene in the volume is markedly brief and the focus instead is on Claus’s willingness to undertake a dangerous mission because it’s important to Taki, Taki’s concern for Claus, and in showing how strong each of these men are. I particularly like that Taki, although he is often on the receiving end of Claus’s unrestrained advances, is still a very competent leader and capable of merciless action when need be. The relationship between the two leads is complicated and conflicting—Claus seems to regard Taki with a certain degree of reverance, but this doesn’t quell his violent sexual desires. Taki, for his part, seems to wish that Claus would be more tender, but always ends up yielding to him anyway.

Unfortunately, although I certainly praise the series for its ambitions and individuality, there are still many holes in the plot. For example, I’m still not sure what Taki’s country is even called. This volume also contains a lot of cryptic hinting about Taki’s floral aroma and how it relates to some unfulfilled promise, which is terribly vague. With no new volumes printed in Japan since 2007, and with the “End” graphic appearing at the conclusion of this volume, one would be forgiven for assuming the series ends here without ever explaining these references, but it appears that half a dozen or so chapters beyond those included here have appeared in (the Japanese BL magazine) Comic Aqua but not been collected into a third volume. Hopefully one day we’ll see them in English; Maiden Rose might not be perfect, but I definitely would like to read more of it!

Review copies provided by the publisher.

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  1. By my count, in current serialization, Maiden Rose volume 3 is about 160 pages, unless the newest volume plans to include the extra chapter that appeared in the December 2007 issue of Aqua (and I hope it does), in which case, it’s 180ish pages, which is right around where volume 2 was pagecount-wise before end-of-volume extras. Hopefully this means we’ll start seeing the solicitations for a volume 3 tankoban (in Japan) before the end of this year.

    • Thanks for the information! Do you know whether there was any substantial break between chapters eleven (the last one in volume two) and twelve? Perhaps the mangaka did intend to end it—despite some loose ends, the conclusion of vol. 2 is fairly satisfying—but resurrected it due to popular demand or something.

      • Let’s see…

        I unfortunately don’t have access to the issues’ contents of each individual Comic Aqua going back that far, but I can try working out some math to see what comes of it…

        The volume 2 tankoban was released in May of 2007. Aqua Comics is serialized bi-monthly, and since the end of the volume 2 chapters (including the “extra” chapter in December of 2007) there have been 9 serialized chapters. Doing the math, if we were to assume that the series did not skip any months, this would be 18 months, putting the title back to the spring of 2008 if we simply counted backwards from the number of chapters available.

        However, this is unlikely (as well as impossible considering that “extra” chapter was at the end of 2007), as many BL titles in bi-monthly magazines often skip up to two issues every year. If we assumed Maiden Rose also skipped up to two out of every six issues, that would be around three chapters since the last serialized chapter from volume 2, or about six months. This would push us back to the fall of 2007, or three months before the volume 2 tankoban’s release. Tankoban typically come out three or so months from the last serialized chapter that make up their content, so if there was some kind of hiatus, it probably wasn’t longer than six months.

        Of course, my math is all speculative (and doesn’t suggest either way whether Inariya planned to continue the series after volume 2), and I have not been following the serialization for very long (only since the release of volume 1 in English), so perhaps nudging someone who has been a long-time fan, or maybe *cringe* one of the scanlators, would be worthwhile to unravel this mystery.

        • Thanks for putting so much thought into it! To me, it matters more that there will likely someday be a third volume than whether there was an intentional stoppage in the story—I’m too lazy to try to acquaint myself with experts and scanlators. 🙂

          • As am I, or I would have gone that far already. Another thing to consider, though, is that Inariya might have taken a break from Maiden Rose now and then and put out some oneshots in its normal Comic Aqua slot instead.

            Though, it does raise questions that the time between the volume 1 and volume 2 releases was about a year and a half, while the potential time between volumes 2 and 3 will be about three and a half years. She’s done (and still seems to be doing) some doujinshi of this series, and I wish we’d see a couple of those in licensed tankoban (at least the one that isn’t dog/cat-eared chibi), but it’s not likely.

            • Yeah, I could’ve done without the dog/cat-eared thing in the end of volume two. 🙂

              • Three of the four doujin’s are basically that style. The storylines are backstory-esque (taking place at the military school before Taki was deported), but with kitty and doggy chibis. I suppose those storylines were too boring by themselves to be rendered normally. The one doujin that is actually rendered in Inariya’s beautiful art is entirely smut, but it shows what happens (later) on their last night at the school together.

                The “extra” story mentioned above is a flashback to the trainride back to Taki’s country, right before Claus becomes his Knight, so it’s sort of their “last night as friends.” Also filled with smut. And I don’t mean this in a pervy way, but I can’t wait to hold volume 3 in my hands. ^_^

                Oh, also, early in volume 2, Berkut is talking to the train captain, who refers to Taki’s people as the “Gelbes.” Dunno if this is slang, or the actual name of the country, as no one says anything close to it again. Claus, incidentally, is a “Saxon” (and speaks German).

                • Ah, I somehow missed the Gelbes reference. I noticed that Taki was speaking German, as well, at one point, but knew this couldn’t be a straight-up World War allegory.

                  • It’s very similar to the War(s), but in some kind of alternate reality where “Japan” is part of mainland Asia.

                    I think German is used conveniently, and in this scene specifically very telling because the train captain and Berkut are outed as being from the same country as Claus, which is an enemy to Eurote.

                    After looking it up, as well, I found that “gelbe” is the German word (probably derogatory) for “oriental.” Now, this could mean he’s being derogatory and referring to Taki’s people as orientals, or that Inariya decided to make their country’s word for Taki’s people the German word for oriental. Either way, DMP chose to leave the word in the language Inariya wrote it in, instead of translating it to English, suggesting it’s important to note the language it is spoken in here, but there is no translation note on the page, suggesting to passing readers that this word is actually the word for Taki’s people, so a little confusing.

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