About Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has been writing reviews of books and comics (of various persuasions) at her blog Soliloquy in Blue since 2006. From 2008 to 2010, she wrote for PopCultureShock's Manga Recon, serving as the Senior Manga Editor from 2009 onwards. She has also written for CBR's Comics Should Be Good and participates in The NANA Project series of roundtables (along with Danielle Leigh and Melinda Beasi) that are hosted there. After contributing to Manga Bookshelf for a year, she finally caved to peer pressure and officially joined the team in June 2011. Aside from reading, Michelle's main passion is music (especially popular music produced between '71 and '74), though she also enjoys fountain pens, nail polish, genre television, and attempting to broaden her culinary horizons. She lives in Florida.

A Barrage of Buffy

Because I am a great big geek, one of my personal goals is to read all of the novels inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is the second in a series of posts collecting relatively short reviews of these books. All of the following are set during the show’s third season.

Obsidian Fate by Diana G. Gallagher
obsidian_fateIn 1520, a Spaniard conveying stolen Aztec treasure to a secret hiding place was killed by a mudslide while holding a particular obsidian mirror. Now, his remains have been found in an archaeological dig in Sunnydale. It turns out that the mirror contains the essence of the Aztec god of night, Tezcatlipoca, who quickly makes a graduate student working on the dig his High Priestess and adopts a jaguar form to prowl around and do some chomps. The gang must prevent his brainwashed followers from offering enough human sacrifices to empower Tezcatlipoca to banish the sun forever.

There were definitely things I liked about Obsidian Fate. I liked that Buffy is worrying about her friends leaving for distant universities and colleges and trying to figure out what she herself is going to do. I liked that Angel has begun to think about moving away to let Buffy live her life. I liked that Giles is still grieving Jenny. A lot of the characterization and dialogue was good—especially Oz, which is pretty difficult to do. Surprisingly, Kendra and Faith both get a mention, though the latter is nowhere to be seen (and this is all set before she goes bad). No Wesley at all. It’s also really neat that the Mayor and Mr. Trick are facilitating Tezcatlipoca’s rise!

But oh man, so many descriptions of temples and stones and boulders and pillars. It’s very tedious. Also, one of their fellow students has become temporary host to part of Tezcatlipoca’s essence and plans to sexually assault Willow prior to sacrificing her. Nobody, besides Oz, seems to be quite as pissed off about this as they should be. Lastly, a subplot about how one of Buffy’s prophetic dreams showed Angel’s demise offers zero suspense. Still, their reunion on the final page does produce a genuinely cute moment.

Is this one worth a read? Eh, it could be worse.

Power of Persuasion by Elizabeth Massie
power_persuasionThis was a bit of a clunker, I’m afraid. The awkward teen daughter of a culinarily disinclined restaurant owner grows fed up with catering to her incompetent father’s whims and, by chanting supplications whilst surrounded by random items from the restaurant’s pantry, somehow successfully summons a Greek goddess and her two muse daughters to help her change things. They proceed to compel a lot of female students (including Willow) to join their “womyn power” crusade, which mostly involves campaigning for girls to have the right to try out for the vacancies on boys’ teams that arise when male athletes keep turning up dead.

Many of these Buffy media tie-in novels have similarly mediocre plots, but are usually made more tolerable by the author having the ability to capture how characters speak and interact. Not so much here, unfortunately. I appreciated that with Willow, Giles, and Xander falling under the sway of the villains and Angel out of town, Buffy had to rely on Cordelia and Oz to help her. But, while Cordelia’s scenes were fine, much of Oz’s dialogue and demeanor seemed wrong to me. Also, some weird abilities are ascribed to vampires, like one scene where a struggling vamp leaves scorch marks where her heels have dug into the earth.

I suppose the best praise I can muster is, “It’s pretty lame, but at least it’s short.”

Prime Evil by Diana G. Gallagher
prime_evilSeldom have I read a book so starkly divided between enjoyable parts and excruciating parts!

Set after “Doppelgangland,” the plot of Prime Evil involves a witch attuned to “primal magick” who was first born 19,000 years ago and who keeps being reincarnated and gathering sacrificial followers in an attempt to access “the source.” Her current identity is Crystal Gordon, a new history teacher at Sunnydale High, and her latest crop of doomed devotees is composed entirely of students. Obviously, it’s the Scooby Gang’s job to stop her.

First, the good. Most of the scenes with the main characters are fun, with dialogue that I could easily hear in the actors’ voices. Anya and Joyce have significant roles, and there was notable awkwardness between the latter and Giles. Although this was presumably the result of their dalliance in “Band Candy,” I liked that the explanation wasn’t explicitly stated. I thought it was interesting that Crystal tempts Willow to join her disciples by promising a cure for Oz, and I did have to snicker at a scene in which Angel, for the sake of expedience in getting to safety, has to sling Xander over his shoulder.

The bad, however, cannot be denied. There are many tedious flashbacks to Crystal’s past incarnations and these quickly became literally groan-inducing. In addition, the theoretically climactic magical battle at the end is full of prose like “The great source-river of wild magick coursed in violent abandon through the orbits of comets so ancient and distant they had never been warmed by the sun” and succeeded only in making me profoundly sleepy.

In summation… zzz.

Resurrecting Ravana by Ray Garton
resurrecting_ravanaA rash of cattle mutilations has the Scooby Gang suspecting hellhound activity, but when several people turn up eaten, after each has spontaneously killed their dearest friend, it’s clear something else is up. There’s more of a mystery here than these books generally offer, with a plot that features Hindu gods, an elderly collector of magical artifacts, his lonely granddaughter, and a certain statue that can resurrect a deity who will reward one richly for this service (and whose minions will kill everyone else).

Along the way, a new guidance counselor of Indian descent is introduced (replacing the guy who got killed in “Beauty and the Beasts”). At first, I thought this was going to be another one of those “Willow falls under the sway of a new female staff/faculty member who is secretly evil” storylines, but, refreshingly, that did not turn out to be the case. Willow just talks to her about problems with her relationship with Buffy, which come to a head in a couple of full-on brawls in the library. It takes a really long time for anyone to put together that their situation parallels the murders/devourings happening elsewhere in town, but it does lead to a nice final moment for the book.

Characterization is spotty. Pretty much each character has a moment that feels especially right as well as one that feels especially wrong. Xander and Cordelia’s bickering is even nastier than usual, and it’s never outright said that they’re being affected by the same creatures who manipulated Buffy and Willow. That said, I did enjoy all of Buffy’s interactions with her mother, particularly a late-night trip to Denny’s. All in all, Resurrecting Ravana wasn’t bad!

Return to Chaos by Craig Shaw Gardner
return_chaosReturn to Chaos is a bit different from most of the other Buffy tie-in books I’ve read. Instead of a new big villain coming to town, the plot is mostly about some new allies coming to town. A quartet of Druids, specifically, consisting of an older guy named George and his three nephews, one of whom develops feelings for Buffy. George wants to enlists the Slayer’s help in performing a spell on the Hellmouth that will supposedly prevent bad things from crossing over, but he’s really vague about his plans, and it soon becomes evident that he isn’t in his right mind. The nephews genuinely are allies, though, which is kind of refreshing.

This book was written in 1998, and it seems that the author was not privy to much that was going to happen in season three. A couple of vague references are made to Angel coming back, and about Buffy trying to move on romantically, but Xander and Cordelia are still very much together as a couple. That would put this somewhere between “Beauty and the Beasts” (episode four) and “Lover’s Walk” (episode eight), except that it is very clearly spring and we know that “Amends” (episode ten) is Christmas. Oopsies. There are a couple of other small errors, too, concerning Buffy’s eye color and Giles’ glasses.

This is another book in which there’s more of Oz than I’d been expecting. Some of his scenes and thoughts are okay, and I appreciated that the author wrote a teensy bit about Oz’s family, but at other times he just seems far too verbose. (This, combined with the errors mentioned above, makes me wonder just how familiar the author was with these characters.) Cordelia has a subplot of her own, as well, in which she falls under the thrall of a former rival turned vampire. The Druids recognize that the vampire is using a “mastery” spell, which is likened to the power Drusilla exhibited when she was able to kill Kendra so easily. I thought that was kind of neat.

In the end, despite some flaws, it turned out to be pretty decent.

Revenant by Mel Odom
revenantIn 1853, 35 Chinese laborers were killed in a mine cave-in on a site owned by some of Sunnydale’s forefathers. The incident was covered up and families were unable to provide their loved ones with a proper burial. Now, the unquiet spirits of those men want vengeance on the owners’ descendants and have managed to communicate with the troubled brother of one of Willow’s friends, who enlists her help. Honestly, this plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but there’s a rich importer involved (who’s receiving help from the mayor) and chanting and statues and dragons and warehouses what go boom and demons that turn into goop.

Sometimes, Odom has a bit of trouble with characterization—Oz’s dialogue often doesn’t feel quite right, and sometimes Buffy comes off as vapid, like an early scene where she’s worried about her hair while Willow is running for her life—but other scenes are spot-on. I particularly liked a moment where Giles is forced to hotwire a truck (“I was not always a good boy”) and the final scene wherein Xander attempts to parlay his latest romantic disappointment into Buffy’s half of a Twinkie they’re sharing. Odom also incorporates and elaborates on some of the issues characters are worrying about at this point in the show: Buffy ponders her future with Angel, Xander dreads being left behind after graduation, and Cordelia seeks to avoid trouble at home by helping with research. The action scenes are easy to envision, as well.

Unlike most other books set during this season, the brief Xander/Willow fling and its fallout are acknowledged. Like the others, neither Faith nor Wesley is mentioned, and the former’s absence is particularly glaring, given the evident difficulty of the big battle. Still, Revenant ended up being a pleasant surprise.

A Variety of VIZ

In which I cover several new(er) series and a digital one-shot!

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol. 1 by Mika Yamamori
Fifteen-year-old Suzume Yosano has been going to school with the same kids in her country town for as long as she can remember, but when her dad gets transferred to Bangladesh for work, Suzume ends up transferring to school in Tokyo and living with her uncle. When she faints on the way to his house, one of his customers (he runs a café) helps her find her way. The next day, she learns that her savior is her homeroom teacher, Mr. Shishio.

I don’t generally like student-teacher romances, but Daytime Shooting Star runs in Margaret, a magazine that many of my favorites have come from, so I was willing to give it a chance. And, indeed, I do like it! Suzume is a fun lead character. She’s much more forthright than one normally sees in a shoujo heroine, particularly with how she deals with a mean girl (Yuyuka Nekota), and yet kind of humble at the same time. She’ll state clearly her position and unabashedly apologize when she’s wrong. I like her a lot.

Shishio is fairly likeable, too. Twenty-four years old and handsome, he’s popular with the girls, but rather than coming across as skeevy, so far he seems genuinely interested in helping out kids who might be struggling. It might be a little dodgy that he’s willing to come privately tutor Suzume after she spectacularly fails a quiz, but it’s apparently something he does for all of his students who need extra help.

What makes Daytime Shooting Star acceptable is that, so far, Shishio does not seem to have any romantic interest in Suzume whatsoever. Some promising retrospective narration adds, “At that time, even if I had known he was out of reach like that star, I was still drawn to him.” If this is the story of a girl’s unrequited first love, I am totally here for that. If Shishio starts to reciprocate, it’ll be time to reevaluate.

Daytime Shooting Star is complete in twelve volumes. VIZ will release the second volume in September.

Komi Can’t Communicate, Vol. 1 by Tomohito Oda
Serialized in Shounen Sunday (and possessed of that unique charm that many series from that magazine possess), Komi Can’t Communicate is the story of Shoko Komi, a girl so lovely she’s seen as an unapproachable beauty possessed of cool reserve when actually she has a communication disorder and, though she would love to make friends, can’t manage to talk to anyone. One day, her timid classmate Hitohito Tadano happens to hear her talking to herself and ends up befriending her—over the course of a sprawling chalkboard conversation—and vowing to help her achieve her goal of making 100 friends.

The pacing of the series is very much like a 4-koma manga, but the panel layout is more like standard manga, so even though each page kind of has a punchline, it also feels like a through-composed story. Throughout the course of this first volume Tadano helps Komi make friends with Najimi Osana, his junior high friend of ambiguous gender, and Himiko Agari, a super-nervous girl for whom Komi feels particular affinity. Various hijinks ensue, including Najimi seeming to use Komi as an errand girl by sending her off to fetch a complicated coffee order—though perhaps this really was intended as useful practice for her?—and Tadano and Komi attempting to join in on some classroom games and faring terribly, with Tadano ultimately sacrificing his own reputation in order to spare Komi’s. I only laughed out loud once, but overall, it was pretty cute.

The elite prep school they attend has a reputation for admitting many quirky individuals, so presumably Oda-sensei won’t want for material any time soon. I shouldn’t expect anything deep from this series, or any sort of social renaissance for Tadano, so if I keep that in mind, I foresee this being an enjoyable, easy read for a long time to come.

Komi Can’t Communicate is ongoing in Japan, where the thirteen volume comes out this month. VIZ will release volume two in August.

Snow White with the Red Hair, Vol. 1 by Sorata Akiduki
Shirayuki is renowned in the country of Tanbarun for her apple-red hair. When the infamously foolish Prince Raj decides that she’s going to be his next concubine, Shirayuki cuts her hair and flees. She winds up making the acquaintance of a boy named Zen, who turns out to be the younger prince of the neighboring Clarines kingdom. After they defeat Prince Raj’s henchman, they decide to stick together. Zen returns home to the Clarines capital city where Shirayuki starts studying to become a court herbalist.

I really liked the characters in this one. Shirayuki is smart and has a definite goal that she wants to earn for her own merits and not through Zen’s benevolence. She is never once spazzy. Although her unique beauty (and a developing reputation as a “treasure even a prince failed to nab”) makes her a target, which sometimes requires Zen to come to her rescue, she is suitably defiant and resourceful enough on her own that this does not play out like a typical shoujo trope. For his part, Zen is wonderfully supportive of her goals and, furthermore, demonstrates that he understands her when he dismisses someone’s suggestion that he should just appoint her to be court herbalist.

This is kind of a low-key series so far, but it’s exceedingly charming and I very much look forward to continuing with it.

Snow White with the Red Hair is ongoing in Japan, where 20 volumes have been released so far. Volume two comes out in English tomorrow.

That Blue Sky Feeling, Vols. 1-2 by Okura and Coma Hashii
When friendly and outgoing Dai Noshiro transfers to a new school, he can’t help but notice that one student is always alone. Kou Sanada insists that Noshiro doesn’t have to go out of his way to talk to him, but Noshiro is convinced that Sanada is lonely and keeps trying to befriend the boy, even after hearing rumors that Sanada is gay. He chastises others for treating Sanada differently, but must confront his own reaction when, after Sanada backtracks after admitting the rumor is true and instead claims to have been joking, relief is his primary emotion. To his credit, he realizes the impact of his words and swiftly apologizes.

The bulk of these two volumes concerns these very different boys getting to know each other. Noshiro is big and loud but profoundly innocent in the realm of romance. He had notions of protecting Sanada, but soon realizes, “He’s way more grown-up than me!” (Sanada has had at least one boyfriend, Hide, who is 26. Seeing as how Sanada is in high school, this is a little creepy, but Hide actually proves to be a decent guy who gives Noshiro a lot of helpful advice.) Sanada is reserved and prefers to keep out of the spotlight, which is difficult when someone as boisterous as Noshiro is around.

Sanada is also pretty anxious, and I loved that every time he worried that Noshiro wouldn’t accept him or that he should continue to keep parts of his life separate, Noshiro would surprise him. One good example is when Sanada meets up with a guy he met online and Noshiro spots them walking around town together. Sanada expects the worst. “The more he gets to know me the more Noshiro will be weirded out by me. I just know it.” But the truth is… Noshiro is just upset that other people can make Sanada smile more easily than he can, and this bugs him for some reason.

By the end of volume two, it’s clear that Sanada is starting to have feelings for Noshiro, and that he’s jealous when another boy starts crushing on him, too. It’s unclear whether Noshiro is feeling the same—he’s so clueless romantically that he actually thought Sanada might start dating a female classmate simply because she is his friend—though he does at least realize that what he feels for Sanada is special. I do hope they get together in the end, but a more bittersweet ending would be satisfying, too.

That Blue Sky Feeling is complete in three volumes. The final volume will be released in English in October.

Will I Be Single Forever? by Mari Okazaki
As a big fan of Okazaki’s Suppli, I was delighted when VIZ decided to offer one of her titles in a digital-only format. Based on an essay by Mami Amamiya, Will I Be Single Forever? features the interconnected stories of three unmarried and proudly self-reliant women in their thirties.

Mami is 36 and a successful writer, though her mother pities her for her singlehood. “I’m finally capable,” Mami laments, “but she feels sorry for me.” Reuniting with family for a funeral reminds Mami how others have assumed their places as wives and mothers, but it’s her free-spirited single uncle who really seems to be enjoying life. She wants to be like him.

Yukino has broken up with a guy who she didn’t really like that much, but is upset nevertheless. After a brief attempt at rekindling with an old flame—and realizing with horror that she was so scared of being alone that her memories of why they broke up temporarily vanished—she decides to go on the trip she and her ex had planned to take by herself and has a blast.

Shimizu has a lover she forgets about for weeks at a time and turns down a rendez-vous with him in favor of work, which she finds more fulfilling. She ponders if fixating on random projects is just protecting herself from something, but in the end concludes the work is honestly rewarding. “I want to keep going down this path.” (My one complaint here is that the exact nature of these projects is kept vague, something that also bugged me in Suppli.)

In the final chapter, the women convene after Mami almost gets married. Her fiancé was a jerk from a family of jerks, and she emerges from the experience literally and figuratively battered and bruised. The final scene is marvelous, as the trio creates their own definition of happiness: “Eating good food. Reading your favorite books. Telling yourself “Good job!” at work. Eating a whole bag of potato chips in the middle of the night. And getting those things for yourself with your own strength.”

In the interview at the end of the book, the creators assure readers they bear no ill will towards married ladies and stress that it’s the independence, the having of one’s own life that is most important. I think I would’ve preferred a much longer series fleshing out these characters, but it was a good, affirming read nonetheless!

Will I Be Single Forever? is complete in one volume.

My Hero Academia, Vols. 1-19

By Kohei Horikoshi | Published by VIZ Media

Reviewing nineteen volumes of a manga at once is a pretty daunting task, but here goes!

In a world where 80% of the population possesses superpowers known as “Quirks,” some people turned to villainy while others, officially trained and licensed, embarked upon careers of heroism to thwart them. Izuku Midoriya grew up idolizing heroes, particularly All Might, the Symbol of Peace, who always saved people with a smile. Unfortunately for Izuku, he was one of those unfortunate few without a Quirk and was forced to watch as his classmates and friends manifested abilities while he did not.

When Izuku is fourteen, he meets and impresses All Might when, despite being powerless, he rushes in to help his childhood friend Katsuki Bakugo when he is attacked by a sludge villain. As it turns out, All Might, who possesses a Quirk called One for All that endows him with super strength, was grievously injured several years previously in a battle with his nemesis, All for One. One for All is unique in that it can be passed on to a successor, and All Might has decided that Izuku is worthy of inheriting his power. All along, it’s been Izuku’s dream to attend U.A. High School and, after ten months of intensive training (and after ingesting one of All Might’s hairs), he succeeds in passing the entrance exam for U.A.’s Hero Course, much to Bakugo’s annoyance. (Bakugo believes he has been deceived about Izuku having been Quirkless all this time.)

Like many other shounen manga, part of the plot of My Hero Academia involves Izuku and the other students gradually getting stronger. Izuku goes through various stages of control over his power and eventually injures himself seriously to the point where he must switch to fighting primarily with his legs because his arms are so damaged. By volume nineteen, he can sustain 20% power only briefly, and All Might (who now teaches at U.A.) is training him how to, for the first time, add long-range attacks to his arsenal.

Meanwhile, just as Izuku is the protégé of All Might, All for One had taken a boy under his wing, as well. Tomura Shigaraki is a nihilistic villain with a particular grudge against All Might. He forms the League of Villains and so far has attempted to assassinate All Might at the school, attacked a training camp and kidnapped Bakugo, and ambushed a police caravan in order to steal Quirk-erasing drugs that had been seized from a former ally. While All Might exhausted the remainder of his powers to vanquish All for One, Shigaraki remains an active threat. Because of the power vacuum left by All Might’s retirement, the U.A. first years are able to take their provisional license exams earlier than normal and also go out into the field in work-study capacity.

The TL;DR version is: the plot is very good. Horikoshi-sensei writes with exuberance and mastery. However, the plot is not the reason I love My Hero Academia. I love it for the characters. I was thinking… I have read almost 90 volumes of One Piece by this point. Clearly, I enjoy it a lot and particularly admire the worldbuilding and continuity. However, while I’m fond of a few of the Straw Hats, I wouldn’t say I love any of them. Whereas with My Hero Academia, I love, like, ten of them. Here are some standouts:

• Izuku Midoriya – One of the things I really like about Izuku is that he’s smart. As a Quirkless hero fanboy, he spent a lot of time analyzing how they handled situations, and he’s good at coming up with strategies. Plus, he possesses all the idealistic qualities that a good shounen hero should have. He’s always out to help people, even if they don’t ask for it.

• Katsuki Bakugo – Bakugo has an explosive temper, but gradually reveals he’s a lot more sensitive that he lets on. Because of his volatile performance at the Sports Festival, Shigaraki targeted him, hoping to recruit him for the League of Villains. This ultimately led to All Might’s final confrontation with All for One, and Bakugo feels responsible that the Symbol of Peace (whom he also deeply admires) has been depowered. He’s the only one who knows Izuku’s secret and, after the most moving brawl I’ve ever seen in which he’s able to process some of the feelings he couldn’t express, he’s finally able to talk to Izuku without hostility. The day he actually smiles at Izuku, I will bawl.

• Shoto Todoroki – He became Izuku’s friend after the Sports Festival, in which Izuku encouraged him to finally embrace the half of his powers that came from his odious dad, #2 hero Endeavor. He’s still got a complex about his dad, but he’s working through it. And, for his part, Endeavor is trying to become a better hero, too, though he’s got a long way to go.

• Ochaco Uraraka – She’s a spunky girl who admires Izuku and has other feelings for him that she’s pushing aside for the moment. When she begins the series, she wants to become a hero for financial reasons, hoping to support her parents who’ve worked so hard. After her work study experience requires her to convey a dying hero to the hospital, she realizes in volume eighteen how much she just wants to save people. The monetary side has become less important.

• Eijiro Kirishima – Kirishima is just a supporting character until around volume fifteen, when he suddenly gets more fleshing out than even Ochaco or Ida (another of Izuku’s close friends) has received. He’s got an inferiority complex because his Quirk is purely defensive and castigates himself that he couldn’t help when Bakugo was taken. He presents himself as someone more confident and has a lot of noble ideals about what a hero should be, but I love that underneath that persona he’s a lot more complicated.

• Yuga Aoyama – In most other series, the kid who starts off being puffed up with pride over his own abilities (a naval laser!) would remain comic relief forever. But Horikoshi gives Aoyama several important heroic moments and, recently, he and Izuku have bonded over the fact that both of their Quirks cause them bodily harm, which doesn’t seem to be a problem for the other students. I would really love to see Aoyama star in his own arc.

• Mirio Togata – I was not prepared for the dizzying speed at which I’d come to love Mirio. First introduced in volume fourteen, he’s the one the principal (and All Might’s former sidekick, Sir Nighteye) originally had in mind as the next recipient of One for All. He’s optimistic and works hard and I love that he bears no grudge against Eri, a six-year-old girl that he lost his Quirk protecting. His return to heroism has been foreseen, so that’s something I’m looking forward to. His best friend Tamaki Amajiki is highly lovable, too.

• All Might – He’s not the greatest teacher, but he’s really trying hard. He serves as a father figure to Izuku and says encouraging things to him that make me verklempt, like “You’ve already exceeded my expectations more times than I can count. In my heart of hearts, I believe there’s something special in you and you alone.” He absolutely does not hesitate to give everything he’s got in that final battle with All for One, and has no regrets about the outcome, save that he failed to notice how much pain Bakugo was in about it. “I’m sorry. You too… are only a boy.” Waah.

• Shota Aizawa – I saved the best for last. Aizawa is the homeroom teacher for class 1-A and I love him so, so much. He is a great teacher and puts a lot of thought into how best to encourage development in his students. One of my favorite Aizawa moments occurs at a press conference when he expresses absolute faith that Bakugo will not be tempted to join the League of Villains. “More than anyone, he pursues the title of top hero with all he has.” Later, during a home visit with Bakugo’s parents to discuss the new on-campus dormitories, Bakugo’s mom reveals how much she appreciated this proof that her son has been understood by his educators. “Most everything comes easy to him. His whole life, people’ve made a fuss about him… praising him for every little thing he does.” Aizawa sees Bakugo’s potential but also doesn’t let any of his shortcomings slide. I love, too, how he helps take care of Eri and buys her outfits with kitties on them.

Barring one, the other students in class 1-A are great, too, and I hope they get their own arcs as revelatory as Kirishima’s. And then there’s class 1-B, whom we’ve only glimpsed, as well as Hitoshi Shinso, a boy from the General Studies Course who may have the potential to transfer to the Hero Course.

Alas, there’s one thing and one particular character that I don’t love about My Hero Academia.

• Although the female characters are impressively varied in character design and personality and are always included in various heroic endeavors (and their abilities respected by the male characters), they just don’t get as much of the spotlight as the guys do. True, Ashida and Jiro are more to the fore during the School Festival arc, which is very welcome, but I want to see them out in the field kicking some serious ass.

• Minoru Mineta – Unlike the other students who’ve grown over the course of the series, Mineta starts off as a gross little pervert, remains a gross little pervert, and there’s zero indication that he’ll ever be anything other than a gross little pervert. He doesn’t see girls as people, but as objects, evaluated solely for their attractiveness. In fact, his first words to Eri in volume nineteen—who is, I reiterate, six years old—are, “Look me up in ten years.” I want Shigaraki to use his disintegration Quirk on him. Slowly. And then Shinso can have his spot.

Ultimately, I love this series unabashedly. I love it as much as I love Hikaru no Go, and that’s a lot. And as with Hikaru, I love the anime just as much as the manga and recommend both. It took until volume nineteen to make it to October of Izuku’s first year, so at that pace, we’re looking at around 38 volumes per school year times three years… Sounds good to me! I will plug my ears and go “la la la!” if anyone ever mentions a time jump. This is really too good to rush. Or miss.

My Hero Academia is ongoing in Japan, where volume 24 will be out in August. Volume 20 is due out in English in August. New chapters are also available in English on the Shonen Jump website and app.

Review copies for some volumes provided by the publisher.

Four New Shoujo Series from Kodansha

Note: With the exception of Love in Focus, these are digital-only releases.

Love in Focus, Vol. 1 by Yoko Nogiri
Having really enjoyed Nogiri-sensei’s That Wolf-boy Is Mine!, I was happy to see another of her titles get licensed. Alas, it’s another short series.

Mako Mochizuki is entering her first year of high school and has been invited by her childhood friend, Kei Akahoshi, to attend a school almost four hours away from home by train. Both of them are really into photography, having been taught by Mako’s grandfather before he passed away, and this school has a photography club with a professional for an advisor. Furthermore, they both live in a boarding house occupied almost entirely by club members. The one outlier is another first year, an introverted guy named Mitsuru Amemura who claims to hate photos.

I really enjoyed Mako as a protagonist, and probably will always enjoy a lead character who’s truly passionate about something (and good at it, too). I also liked that it’s the way she sees the world, and her ability to find beauty in the smallest things, that convinces Amemura to open up about his past and consent to be her photographic subject. I could definitely do without Kei and his pissy possessiveness of Mako (even if he did invite her because he understood how lonely she was at home without her beloved grandpa) and hope that we’re not going to be expected to buy into a love triangle scenario.

It’s true there are shades of Shortcake Cake in this story, but it’s distinct enough that I intend to follow both of them. Also, this one has a really cute dog.

Love in Focus is complete in three volumes. Kodansha will release volume two in English in May.

My Sweet Girl, Vol. 1 by Rumi Ichinohe
My Sweet Girl has a fairly generic premise: Tsugumi Koeda (her last name means “twig”) is a short, skinny girl who believes she’s not the kind of person who gets to fall in love. “No guy has ever looked at me as a girl in my whole life,” she narrates, but this changes when she meets popular Masamune Sena, your standard princely shoujo love interest, who inspires her to begin expressing her femininity more overtly.

On the one hand, I liked Tsugumi’s insecurities about her physique and that she thinks things like, “I never, ever want to show my body to Masamune-kun.” Her wariness of being led on and her gradual realization that it’s okay to be more true to herself are good, too. On the other hand, the execution of this storyline at times leaves a lot to be desired. So many times, background characters will pipe up with cruel comments out of the blue and it feels so unrealistic. Like, random passing fifth graders berate Tsugumi for her appearance, and a group of boys who knew her in junior high interrupt her summer festival outing with Masamune just to call her a stick. We get that she faces some adversity, but this is verging on lame. Too, I lost track of how many times Tsugumi falls down, is knocked down, or passes out. It happens A LOT.

There’s enough to like about My Sweet Girl to entice me to return for a second volume, but if she falls down half a dozen more times in that one too, I probably won’t proceed to a third.

My Sweet Girl is ongoing in Japan, where the ninth volume has just come out. Kodansha will digitally release volume two on Tuesday.

Ran the Peerless Beauty, Vol. 1 by Ammitsu
Are you despondent now that Kimi ni Todoke has finished? Are you looking for a series with a similar feel? Look no further, because Ran the Peerless Beauty is here!

Ran Takamine is seemingly perfect. She’s beautiful, rich, extremely smart, and athletic. She’s also been deemed undateable, as boys are too intimidated to talk to her, expecting her standards to be sky-high. In reality, though, she’s a sweet girl who works really hard and is completely inexperienced with boys. When she accidently sprays Akira Saeki with a hose while diligently performing her duties for the Gardening Club, she’s surprised by how cheerful he is about it.

Gradually, they become friends, bonding over their love of flowers. Akira’s father runs a flower shop and his ambition is to get good enough to create bouquets. Ran joined the Gardening Club to help “sensei,” but adds, “I had the feeling that I’d rather be around flowers than people.” Akira can see that, rather than being snooty, she’s just a bit awkward.

What reminds me of Kimi ni Todoke is both Ran’s classic beauty and her attitude. Her male classmates won’t make eye contact with her, but not because they fear being cursed but because she shines too brightly, but she’s really just a normal person with her own weak points. Akira is sunny despite some scary family circumstances—it’s not until late in the volume that Ran learns his mother is in the hospital—and encourages Ran to come out of her shell a bit.

I can see this evolving into quite a lovely story, and I am so here for it. I also hope to learn more about Akira, his circumstances, and how he sees Ran. We do at least know that their growing feelings are mutual, which is nice.

Ran the Peerless Beauty is ongoing in Japan, where the fifth volume has just come out. Kodansha will digitally release volume two later this month.

World’s End and Apricot Jam, Vols. 1-2 by Rila Kirishima
The blurb for the first volume of World’s End and Apricot Jam wasn’t very encouraging. “After breaking into Anzu Shinohara’s apartment and smashing his already broken keyboard, Hina Sakata quickly finds herself in his debt. As she works to pay him back, Hina finds out that Anzu is a vocalist in a band and becomes entranced, wanting to explore more of his unkown world.” It’s all technically correct, but suggested to me something more Sensual Phrase-y than what actually occurs, to my great relief.

Hina lives with her father, who is ostensibly the manager of an apartment building. He spends his days getting drunk, however, so she takes over his duties so that he doesn’t lose his job. One of their tenants is the slovenly guy in #304, who turns out to be a singer in a band. He’s also full of contradictions—and I don’t mean his transformation from “goofy weirdo” to “charismatic vocalist”—as he finds himself repeatedly drawn to Hina only to pull himself back at the last second.

It’s true that Anzu’s indecisiveness plays with Hina’s emotions, but it does truly seem to be unintentional. He’s in his twenties and has done a lot of things that he’s not proud of. (“I’m no good and a liar.”) And here is this girl, so sweet and great, whom he comes to care for in a way he hasn’t cared for anyone in a long time, and yet… is it right to encourage her feelings when she’s an innocent and might be better off without the baggage of his past and his angst?

Ultimately, I liked this series a lot more than I was expecting to. I also like that it’s a fairly short series; these sorts of scenarios can get tiresome when they go on too long.

World’s End and Apricot Jam is complete in six volumes. Kodansha will digitally release volume three on Tuesday.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Falling Behind the Shojo Beat

In which I catch up with several series that have recently debuted under VIZ’s Shojo Beat imprint.

Kenka Bancho Otome: Love’s Battle Royale, Vols. 1-2 by Chie Shimada
Based on the game created by Spike Chunsoft, Kenka Bancho Otome is the frothy tale of Hinako Nakayama, a friendless orphan who is accosted on the way to her first day of high school by her heretofore-unknown twin brother, Hikaru Onigashima, heir to a yakuza family. He’s supposed to be attending Shishiku Academy, famous for its delinquents, but he hates fighting, so he prevails upon Hinako—toughened by her orphan experience—to switch places with him. Once she begins attending Shishiku, she makes friends and has various adventures while becoming the boss of her year and fending off challengers.

I didn’t enjoy this series much, and mostly that is due to how shallow the storytelling is. Now, I realize this manga is based on an otome game, so perhaps I shouldn’t get hung up on the details and just appreciate theoretically hunky guys, but still… a little bit of effort would’ve gone a long way. The most glaring example of missed opportunities is the fact that Hinako never once stops to wonder “Hey, if I had a rich family, including an identical twin, why on earth did I grow up in an orphanage?!” Another drawback was that Hikaru has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and his omnipresent minion is just plain creepy.

Really, the best thing I can say about Kenka Bancho Otome is “at least it’s short.”

Kenka Bancho Otome: Love’s Battle Royale is complete in two volumes.

Takane & Hana, Vols. 1-4 by Yuki Shiwasu
When her older sister flakes on an arranged marriage meeting with her dad’s boss’s 26-year-old grandson, sixteen-year-old Hana agrees to go in her place. Takane Saibara is arrogant and critical and is surprised and intrigued when Hana tells him, “I don’t have even an ounce of interest in you.” From then on, he keeps turning up at her house and school, expecting her to cry for joy at his attention and gifts, but little by little he shows his good qualities. Although he’s a successful businessman, he does have an awkward side, and the ease with which Hana is able to push his buttons makes the age difference between them a lot easier to accept.

Over the course of these four volumes, Hana goes from zero interest in Takane to realizing that he’s a reliable, honest person whom she wants to keep seeing, despite the possibility that his career will be harmed by further association with a high-school girl. She hasn’t quite accepted that she has feelings for him, partly because their relationship is so competitive (and tsundere to the max) that admitting such a thing would be a major defeat. Indeed, the final page of the fourth volume depicts a gleefully gloating Takane who has just learned that, in the interest of keeping things simple, Hana has been telling her classmates he’s her boyfriend.

I really like both Hana and Takane a lot, and Shiwasu-sensei does great things with their facial expressions, particularly how Hana can be all smiles one moment and then blank the next (as she delivers the latest blow to Takane’s ego). Takane in smirk mode is fun, but I love the palpable sense of relief that emanates from him when he’s able to relax and just be himself around Hana. It’ll probably take a very long time for these two to get together, but if the road there is going to be this entertaining, then I’m in for the long haul!

Takane & Hana is ongoing in Japan; volume twelve comes out there later this month. VIZ will release the fifth volume in English tomorrow.

The Young Master’s Revenge, Vols. 1-3 by Meca Tanaka
As a child, Leo Tachibana was encouraged to befriend Tenma Tsuwabuki, the daughter of wealthy department store owners. She was a tomboy and frequently involved him in her escapades, which culminated in an incident where he fell into a turtle pond and was bitten on his butt by a pair of turtles, leaving scars that have become the symbol of his burning hatred for Tenma. Newly returned to Japan after living abroad for ten years, Leo is determined to get his revenge by making Tenma fall for him and then rejecting her. Yes, our hero has spent a decade obsessing over this plan all because some baby turtles chomped his butt checks.

Initially, Leo has a bunch of inner monologues about how he’ll discard Tenma like a used rag or shatter her heart to pieces, but at the same time he’s protecting her and helping her out. The Tsuwabuki store has gone bankrupt, so when the relatives she’s living with pressure her into an arranged marriage, Leo rescues her and provides her a place to stay. When she’s ostracized by her rich classmates, it’s Leo who eats lunch with her every day. Soon, Tenma learns that Leo holds her responsible for his turtle trauma, and she’s willing to let him torment her as a form of atonement. Of course, it’s obvious that he loves her, but it takes him a while to acknowledge the fact. After that point, he’s got to try to undo all the damage he did previously and try to convince Tenma he no longer has any intention of hurting her.

Leo is not especially endearing as a character, but to his credit, I will say that he very much supports and respects Tenma’s goal of becoming a veterinarian. Tenma is much more likable, being positive and dignified and with a clear-eyed goal in mind. I also liked the little subplot wherein the sheltered rich girl develops skills like cleaning house and understanding the value of money.

Ultimately, The Young Master’s Revenge is one of those shoujo series that has some truly ludicrous moments and one-note recurring characters but is somehow captivating enough to make one want to complete the series.

The Young Master’s Revenge is complete in four volumes. The final volume is due in December.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

By Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch | Published by First Second

I’m a newcomer to The Adventure Zone podcast (only 24 episodes in at this point, so no spoilers, please!) but quickly fell deeply in love with it. My timing was good, actually, because it just about coincided with the release of the graphic novel based on the first arc of the podcast’s first season (also known as the Balance campaign). Initially, I thought I’d simply enjoy the graphic novel instead of reviewing it because the podcast is so important to me. It’s been a really tough year and The Adventure Zone made me laugh and gave me something new to feel enthusiastic about, and for that I will be forever grateful. Happily, however, the print adaptation is just so damned good that I find I have to talk about it!

The Adventure Zone started as a special episode of the McElroy brothers’ long-running and much beloved podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me, but proved so popular that it became a series in its own right. Summed up by eldest brother Justin McElroy as “the story of four idiots that played D&D so hard that they made themselves cry,” it’s the story of a human fighter named Magnus (created by Travis), an elf wizard named Taako (created by Justin), and a dwarf cleric named Merle (created by the boys’ father, Clint) who find themselves working for an organization that’s trying to round up and dispose of dangerous magical relics. They’re guided by youngest brother Griffin, who serves as Dungeon Master and portrays a fantastic array of NPCs. The improvisatory results are hilarious, profane, and wonderfully endearing. And, eventually, capable of evoking tears, though I haven’t gotten to that part yet. I love that the family known for a goofy advice podcast started The Adventure Zone as a lark and ended up creating something genuinely moving.

The graphic novel adaptation is not a word-for-word copy of the podcast. Most of the out-of-character moments have been omitted, and what remains almost reads purely as a fantasy story, except that Griffin occasionally pops in to request perception checks or give out inspiration points, which reminds readers that there are unseen players behind the characters on the page. It’s a neat way to focus on the world the McElroys created without completely shutting them out of it. Some of the dialogue is different (though many favorite quips have made the cut) and some of the names are different (licensing issues, one assumes) and a couple of pivotal events play out a bit differently, but the feeling is the same.

Plot-wise, at this point in the story the trio of adventurers is doing a job for Merle’s cousin, Bogard, who has hired them to convey some of his belongings to another town. Along the way, they come upon evidence that Bogard and his bodyguard, Barry Bluejeans, have been abducted by gerblins. Now our heroes must save them! Along the way, they discover a mine renowned for its mystical ore, an evil drow named Magic Brian who is after something particular that our heroes can’t seem to make out, and an orc woman named Killian who is so impressed by their skills that she takes them to meet her employer. Also, Taako gets a cool umbrella staff! (Really, Taako is the best.)

What’s neat is that, given that the McElroys started working on the adaptation after the Balance campaign concluded, they’re able to add some foreshadowing along the way, like a certain character’s cameo appearance or a seemingly very significant pause when Killian’s boss sees the guys for the first time. (I haven’t finished Balance, so I don’t know what this is foreshadowing, but I’m sure it’s something!) Too, Carey Pietsch’s art (so fun and expressive throughout) includes some in-jokes for McElroy fans, the most adorable travel montage ever, and a dramatic reveal that literally gave me goosebumps. I especially appreciated getting to actually see Magnus engage in various foolhardy exploits. This volume ends with a teaser for the adaptation of the next arc—Murder on the Rockport Limited—and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Pietsch depicts Magnus’ more inspired feats from that adventure.

Ultimately, I’d say that the podcast is funnier, whereas the graphic novel presents a more cohesive story. Both are fantastic, and I recommend them heartily. Lastly, I’ll close with this excellent fan film made using audio from the podcast. If you’re not familiar with The Adventure Zone, this will give you an idea of the lovable silliness that awaits.

Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku, Vol. 1

By Fujita | Published by Kodansha Comics

Narumi Momose and Hirotaka Nifuji were childhood friends and reconnect as adults when they discover they work at the same office. Narumi is hiding the fact that she’s a hardcore fujoshi, especially since she’s lost several boyfriends because of it, while Hirotaka isn’t making any attempt to hide his video game fixation. After listening to her complain about her latest heartache and asking, “Why can’t you just find a guy who accepts you as an otaku?,” Hirotaka suggests himself as an alternative and they start dating. Wotakoi, befitting its webcomic origins, is essentially a series of vignettes about their relationship with each other and with their otaku friends (and combative couple) Hanako Koyanagi and Taro Kabakura.

I must say that at this point it’s a little hard to see what exactly Hirotaka sees in Narumi, but he himself is pretty awesome. He can tell when she isn’t feeling well when no one else can (even when it turns out she’s only sad ‘cos a favorite character died), he is willing to executive a kabedon on Kabakura for her enjoyment, and, best of all, he patiently helps with her BL doujinshi when she’s up against a deadline for Comiket. He’s supportive and non-judgmental of her hobbies, and when she worries they’re just settling for each other, he tells her, “We’re together because I love you and I like seeing you doing things that make you happy.” Hirotaka is really great. I wish Narumi would make a similar declaration of love for him. Maybe that’ll come eventually.

Also great are Koyanagi and Kabakura. Normally, characters who spend this much time bickering and calling each other “ugly” and “idiot” would not be my favorites. In fact, I’d find them troubling. In this case, though, there’s enough chemistry and underlying affection between the two that it works. Kabakura is the most normal of the bunch, though he’s not hiding his hobbies, claiming, “I just know how to enjoy things in moderation.” Koyanagi is really into cosplay and, despite her generous bosom (which gets a lot of attention, especially when compared to Narumi’s lack of same), excels at portraying cool bishounen types.

All of the characters are fun and I enjoyed spending time with them, but it’s probably pretty obvious that Hirotaka is my favorite. This two-in-one omnibus ends with the prospect of he and Narumi going on a proper date, which makes me happy. The vignettes are amusing and I enjoy them, but I’d also like to see their relationship progress and for our stoic-seeming hero to have more reasons to smile.

Wotakoi is ongoing in Japan, where five volumes have been released so far. Kodansha will release the second omnibus, containing volumes three and four, next Tuesday.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

After Hours, Vol. 1

By Yuhta Nishio | Published by VIZ Media

In the opening scene of After Hours, Emi Asahina is attempting (unsuccessfully) to meet up with a friend in a loud and crowded nightclub. After a spunky DJ named Kei saves her from a grabby creep, they get to talking. Emi tells her, “I don’t really see what’s fun about places like this.” Much of the rest of the manga is Kei helping her to change her mind about that.

Emi ends up going home with Kei that night, and they appear to have fooled around to some extent, though that’s left to the reader’s imagination. Instead, the focus is on Emi learning more about Kei’s world. The club scene is a new setting for me where manga is concerned, and imparts a unique feel. Emi is 24 and unemployed and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, but after once getting roped in to providing visuals to accompany Kei’s music, she’s enthusiastic to try it a second time. Kei swiftly provides Emi the key to her apartment, and tells her things about her past that she usually doesn’t talk about, gives her records from her prized vinyl collection, etc. For all of her cool chick persona, Kei is open and honest and pretty awesome. And so, I’m kind of afraid she’s going to get her heart broken.

Because although Emi is having fun with Kei, there’s never really a sense that she’s choosing Kei as opposed to just sampling her lifestyle. After they maybe sleep together, there is not a single scene from Emi contemplating what this might mean about her sexuality. And, at the halfway point of the volume, we learn that she is living with the boyfriend she’s only “kind of” broken up with, and Kei has no idea. Is Emi going to make a decision about what she wants from life that will include Kei, or is this just tourism for her? Granted, the manga itself isn’t amping up the potential for drama here, so perhaps it will all play out in the relatively restrained way it has so far.

One thing I really liked about this volume was a scene in which Kei is showing Emi how to operate some DJ equipment. She explains how the inputs from two separate turntables can be adjusted to mix and segue into each other. Later, this metaphor is applied to their relationship. Kei is sharing a lot while Emi is revealing little. “If it’s all coming from my side, it’s not really mixing, is it?” she says. I thought that was a pretty neat idea. Really, my one complaint so far is that the characters look so young. Kei is supposed to be thirty, but looks fourteen. She still comes off as a vibrant and captivating, but I think her cool quotient would increase if she looked more like an adult.

Definitely looking forward to volume two!

After Hours is complete in three volumes. The second is due out in English next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Queen’s Thief, Books 4-5 by Megan Whalen Turner

A new installment of The Queen’s Thief is here! That proved an excellent incentive to reread the first three books (which I deeply love) and finally tackle the fourth book as well as the handful of short stories that’ve appeared as paperback extras.

A Conspiracy of Kings
A Conspiracy of Kings is a coming-of-age story for Sophos, the sweet, scholarly boy we met in The Thief who also happens to be the heir to Sounis. Some of the barons are in revolt, and when the villa in which he’s staying is attacked, Sophos tries to save his mother and sisters but ends up captured himself. Although he’s resourceful enough to escape and hide out amongst enslaved field hands, he nonetheless is bitterly self-critical and sure his father is disappointed in him (as usual). And yet, throughout the course of the novel, he exhibits a great deal of courage, makes some hard choices, and—though still the sweet, scholarly boy underneath—ultimately becomes a worthy king.

A Conspiracy of Kings strikes me as a simpler book than The King of Attolia, probably because Sophos is earnest and idealistic rather than guarded and secretive, though that’s not to say that he’s incapable of carrying out a secret plan or clever strategy. The book does have an unusual narrative style, beginning in the third person with Sophos already in Attolia, switching to first person as he tells Eddis his story up to that point, going back into third while everyone’s together in Attolia, going back into first when he returns after claiming the throne and fills Eddis in again, and then back into third for the ending.

It occurs to me that as The Queen’s Thief series continues, the further we’re getting away from Eugenides. The Thief was first-person from his point of view, The Queen of Attolia was third-person, The King of Attolia viewed Gen and his relationship with the queen through the eyes of a palace guard, and now we have a story about Sophos in which Gen appears occasionally and spends some of that time behaving with icy formality. I appreciate the expanding world the characters inhabit and genuinely enjoy spending time with everyone, but I do love Gen best and hope the focus returns to him someday.

Thick as Thieves
After waiting so long for a new book in the series, learning that it would be about Kamet, the slave of the Mede ambassador Nahuseresh, was somewhat of a disappointment. Now, I feel compelled to apologize to the author because I really should’ve had more faith in her. Kamet is a smart, distrustful protagonist with somewhat of a superiority complex and his evolution throughout the novel is fascinating.

Thick as Thieves is most similar to the first book in the series, since it involves a road trip peppered with storytelling. An Attolian soldier has been dispatched by Eugenides to steal Kamet out of spite, and after initially planning to decline the offer of freedom (thinking of all the power he will one day wield after he is gifted to the next emperor), Kamet is forced to accept after learning that his master has been poisoned and that he must escape quickly or face torture and execution. A Goodreads reviewer describes what follows as “bloodshed, betrayal, and bromance,” and I really cannot improve on that description. Although he initially thinks the Attolian is an idiot and plans on ditching him at the earliest opportunity (rather than return to uncivilized Attolia) he comes to like and respect him very much. I also love how one little piece of information lets readers know exactly who this soldier is, although Kamet does not use his name until near the end.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but that’s the part of the book that really shines. (Alas, the road trip does drag a little in parts.) There are quite a few surprises—including one satisfying “I knew it!” moment—and the conclusion is both sniff-inducing and exciting, as conflict is still brewing between the Empire and the small countries on the peninsula, though the latter (thanks to Eugenides) appear to have acquired some powerful allies. This is such a great series and I hope we’ll see Kamet again in what follows.

The short stories:
“Thief!”, originally printed in Disney Adventures Magazine in 2000, is a prequel short story about Eugenides as a kid. There’s not much to it, but I liked seeing Gen interact with his older brother and favorite sibling, Stenides.

“Eddis” was included in the 2007 paperback edition of The King of Attolia. In it, nine-year-old Helen—wonderfully described as round, solid, sturdy, and not too bothered by the fact that she isn’t pretty—slips away from the palace to go exploring. Her destination is a desolate temple where she is visited in the night by a trio of gods, who refer to her as “the last Eddis.” It’s a neat story that not only fleshes out Helen’s background a little bit and explains why she uses the masculine “Eddis” rather than “Eddia,” but ties in nicely with her motivations in A Conspiracy of Kings.

“Destruction” was included in the 2011 paperback edition of A Conspiracy of Kings. In this brief story, we witness the ceremony to dispose of Hamiathes’s Gift in the fires of the Sacred Mountain in Eddis. Frustrated Sounis is in attendance as is Attolia, who never takes her eyes from Eugenides. Scant though it is, I find I appreciate having a mental image for this occasion, as well as the moment in which Eugenides achieves certainty that the stone is really gone.

“Knife Dance” is included in the new paperback edition of The Queen of Attolia. In it, a juggler named Druic is coerced by his jerk of a brother to perform a certain Eddisian knife dance—”one of the Mysteries of the Thieves”—for the court of Attolia. Both the king and his god have something to say about it. I liked this one, and the ending was very satisfying.

“Wineshop” is included in the new paperback edition of The King of Attolia. It’s extremely short and depicts Eugenides enjoying his final moment of anonymity before coins bearing his likeness enter circulation and how Teleus spoils it all. There’s one part of it that makes me wonder if Eugenides knew that was going to happen. It would not surprise me.

Moteki: Love Strikes!, Vol. 1

By Mitsurou Kubo | Published by Vertical Comics

Although I was originally quite keen to read Moteki, it took me nearly a week to finish this volume. That isn’t due to its length (Vertical is publishing the entire series in two hefty volumes) but to the fact that the protagonist, self-proclaimed loser Yukiyo Fujimoto, is really hard to take in large doses.

The story begins in the summer of Yukiyo’s 29th year, when he experiences a brief flurry of contact from women in his past. Desperate for love and sex, he reconnects with each of them and botches each attempt in one way or another. With Aki Doi, the former coworker who held hands with him at a rock festival until her boyfriend showed up, he’s too passive. With Natsuki, a girl he bombarded with “please fall in love with me” vibes for a year before finally losing his virginity to her older sister, he very nearly scores but can’t perform. It’s with his friend Itsuka, however, that his behavior is the most troubling.

In their first meeting two years ago, their mutual friend Shimada tries to pair them off. Yukiyo is all for this, but Itsuka balks. (We later learn it’s because she was in love with Shimada.) Yukiyo erupts. “Are you one of those girls who acts like a cocktease then plays dumb out of spite, or maybe you act like you’re being generous when you give a guy who just saved you a kiss on the cheek instead of putting out for him?! You are one nasty chick!!” Despite this, they become friends and, in the present day, she invites him on a trip to eat a local delicacy. In their hotel room, they almost have sex before she finds out he’s not a virgin and kicks him out of bed. She promptly falls asleep and his first thought is, “If you don’t resist, that means you want it, right?” Then he realizes that he doesn’t have any condoms. Only after that does it occur to him that she trusts him not to do anything to her. Later, he’s super persistent to the point that Itsuka blocks him from contacting her and calls off the friendship.

Previously, Itsuka had said that she wishes she could find someone to love, and Yukiyo is baffled as to why she wouldn’t consider him. “Could she still not forget about Shimada?” It’s at this point that I desperately wished for some hallucinatory foodstuffs to appear. Like so:

Thankfully, in the second half Yukiyo seemingly begins to change. Despite getting terrible advice from a girl in his hometown, urging even more persistence (and I do worry what kind of message this manga is sending in that respect), when he meets Itsuka again he manages to actually listen to her romantic woes with empathy, realizing they share problems with low self-esteem, and even be just assertive enough to help her get closure regarding her unrequited feelings for now-married Shimada. He’s serious enough to say “I’m interested in you” without going overboard and insincerely declaring his love, and he isn’t pushy about getting in her pants. Just when you think they might finally make things work, however, he ends up hanging around Aki Doi again and getting jealous when a slovenly, struggling manga artist seems interested in her. Make up your mind, dude!

Ultimately, I just don’t know. I’ll read the second (and final) volume, but I worry I’ll end up grumpy and frustrated once again.

Moteki is complete in Japan with 4.5 volumes. Vertical will release the omnibus containing the second half of the series in July.

Review copy provided by the publisher.