Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 1

By Akiko Higashimura | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

I spent all my time wondering “what if,” then one day I woke up and I was 33.

Thirty-something Rinko Kamata and her two best friends from high school, Kaori and Koyuki, are still single. They’ve happily spent the last decade getting together regularly for girls’ nights out, during which they get sloshed and speculate on what might’ve happened with past romances or how they might meet Mr. Right in the future. When it’s announced that Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics in 2020 and it dawns on the trio that they might still be single amidst all the celebrating, they abruptly realize that they might have missed their chance to snag husbands.

Ten years ago, Rinko had a chance with Mr. Hayasaka, a dull but sweet coworker, but rejected him. Their work—she’s a scriptwriter and he’s a producer for a television production company—still brings them together, however, and when she seemingly has a second chance, she considers accepting this time, wondering if women must choose being loved over being in love once they’re over thirty. Of course, she’s drunk at the time, so her thoughts are whimsically presented in the form of conversation with her snacks! Specifically, tara (milt) and reba (liver), whose names combine to mean “what if” and thus supply the pun of the series title. They’re cute little creatures, and tara especially gives me some Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU flashbacks (in the best way).

Of course, we wouldn’t have a series if things worked out with Mr. Hayasaka, and losing out to younger women in romance, work, and at a courtship party, where the “tarareba girls” discover that even schlubby guys their age have pretty young things competing for them (because the younger guys are all under- or unemployed), sends her somewhat off the rails, hopping in a taxi to capture some blackmail evidence and winding up at a hot springs resort, drinking alone and feeling unwanted until Key, a snarky male model who’s observed the rowdy trio at their favorite pub and was critical of Rinko’s writing—essentially unrealistic wish-fulfillment fare for daydreaming middle-aged women—shows up to forestall disaster and ends up proving himself to be the ultimate “what if” scenario that Rinko hadn’t even considered. Plus, he encourages her to see her recent failures as a chance instead of a setback, and I hope this means we’ll see her write what she claims she really wants to write and achieve success after all.

This is quite a madcap volume, what with the talking food, and there are also several quick cuts to Rinko guzzling alcohol that make me think this would be extremely amusing in either animated or live-action format. I also really like the way we her conversations with friends via text are depicted. Ordinarily, I might be bothered that these ladies are so fixated on husbands, but Higashimura-sensei has some author’s notes at the back wherein she makes it absolutely clear that she does not think that marriage is the key to happiness or that it’s a requirement for women. It’s just that she had some friends who were beginning to experience some of these things, and she decided to write about them.

Before Kodansha’s announcement, this series hadn’t even been on my radar, so in addition to being grateful for more josei in any format, I’m especially glad to be introduced to this fun story. I’m looking forward to volume two!

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is ongoing in Japan where it is up to seven volumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Chihayafuru, Vol. 1

By Yuki Suetsugi | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Chihayafuru is a long-running josei sports manga series about a girl who discovers a passion for the Japanese card game, karuta. The very factors that made me sure I’d love the series also made it an unlikely licensing prospect. Happily, Kodansha Comics has started releasing it digitally! I still can’t quite believe that it’s really happened.

In the opening pages, we get a glimpse of a teenage Chihaya Amase during an intense match, then promptly travel six years into the past. At twelve, Chihaya had no dream other than seeing her older pageant-entering sister, Chitose, become “number one in Japan.” When she befriends transfer student Arata Wataya, who’s been shunned by classmates for his poverty and regional dialect, he tells her that her dreams should be about herself. Fired up by Wataya’s speed and intensity at karuta, Chihaya can’t help but attempt to score at least one card off of him, and the delight on Wataya’s face as he finally makes a friend who shares his passion is poignant.

As Chihaya (and the audience) learns more about karuta, Wataya eventually gains the respect of his classmates for his skill, prompting Taichi Mashima, the ringleader of the bullies, to cheat against him in a school tournament. I quite liked that we see Mashima’s motivations—his horrid mother flat out tells him that if you don’t think you can win at something, you shouldn’t even try—and that, afterwards, he makes his own decisions about what is right and what is important to him. The three kids become friends and, after joining a karuta club in their neighborhood, conclude the first volume by entering an elementary tournament as a team.

In several ways, Chihayafuru reminds me of Hikaru no Go. You’ve got the sixth-grade protagonist discovering enthusiasm for a traditional game. She makes a small group of friends who share a deep love of the game, and they compete together as a team. And yet, there is the inescapable fact that they won’t be able to stay together forever. Mashima’s path will take him to a prestigious middle school while the ill health of Wataya’s grandfather compels him to return to his hometown. Will Chihaya continue on her own? Presumably, like Hikaru, she will make new friends at each stage of her journey, and potentially face Wataya again as a rival in future.

As usual, what I really loved most was Chihaya finding the place she belonged, and the outlet in which her specific skills—quick reaction time, acute vision, and an extremely keen sense of hearing—are recognized and appreciated. Her sister becomes positively odious as she realizes Chihaya now has something in her life to work towards besides Chitose’s fame—“All Chihaya needs to do is look at me and tell me how amazing I am”—and I wonder how far she’ll go to sabotage her little sister’s ambitions, but the opening pages show us a Chihaya still deeply dedicated to the game, so I’m sure she’ll remain undeterred.

I really, really loved this debut volume and eagerly look forward to more!

Chihayafuru is ongoing in Japan, where the 34th volume will be published next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wave, Listen to Me!, Vols. 1-2

By Hiroaki Samura | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

In the opening scene of Wave, Listen to Me! we meet Minare Koda, an attractive twenty-something drinking too much and pouring her heart out to a guy she just met forty minutes prior. She’s ranting about her ex, Mitsuo, and after a certain point, she has no recollection of events. To her surprise, when she’s at work the next day (as a waitress in a curry shop), she hears her own voice being played over the radio. Turns out, the guy she met was Kanetsugu Mato, who works for a radio station and recorded their conversation. (One of the things she’d forgotten was drunkenly giving her consent.) Minare is temperamental and feisty, so when she marches down to the station to give him a piece of her mind, she ends up going live on the air and impressing Mato with her facility for impromptu eloquence.

Bored with doling out radio spots to local idols and placating sponsors, Mato decides that he’s going to mentor Minare and turn her into a radio personality. Of course, the only shift on offer is in the wee hours of the morning once a week, so she can’t quit her waitressing job yet. (She’s always on the verge of being fired as it is.) Still, she begins to truly contemplate her future for the first time. Coworker Nakahara is interested in her, but more in the “one day I’ll have my own shop and I want you there beside me” kind of way. But after she witnesses him offering a new (female) hire a place to stay, her gaze turns ever more resolutely to her new gig.

Volume two is where things really get great. Mato has inventive ideas for Minare’s show, and I think I will let readers discover those for themselves. What I really loved, though, was the continued exploration of Minare’s personality. For example, when she has the jitters and receives reassurance, she cries, “I can feel it rushing back! My usual baseless, overflowing confidence!” She might have come off as an unsympathetic and abrasive character, but that line shows that she’s fully aware of her flaws. Later, after a brief (and awesome) reunion with Mitsuo, she displays a knack for more self-analysis, reflecting that while she usually doesn’t take shit from anyone, she has a certain weakness for pathetic guys who need someone to dote over them. I expect that this capacity for reflection will allow her to make the most of the opportunity she’s been given.

Her path toward achieving success and truly making a name for herself doesn’t proceed in a straight trajectory, especially with financial realities keeping her tethered to the restaurant, but it’s very satisfying to see a formerly unambitious character discover a goal to strive for. The second volume ends in the middle of a show designed to put thoughts of Mitsuo firmly behind her. I am very much looking forward to seeing what lies ahead!

Wave, Listen to Me! is ongoing in Japan, where it is currently up to three volumes.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Sweetness & Lightning, Vols. 1-3

By Gido Amagakure | Published by Kodansha Comics

sweetness1Widowed math teacher Kohei Inuzuka wants to do his best when it comes to raising his daughter, Tsumugi. It’s been six months since his wife passed away, and because he has never had much of an appetite and hasn’t fared well with cooking in the past, he mostly relies on store-bought fare for Tsumugi. However, after they run into one of his students, Kotori Iida, while looking at cherry blossoms, he can’t help but notice how fascinated Tsumugi is by the home-cooked lunch Kotori’s been eating. To make his daughter happy, he ends up taking her to Kotori’s family restaurant, which leads to regular dinner parties where they experiment with making different things together.

Sweetness & Lightning is not the only food manga currently being released in English, but it does offer something a bit different. Whereas Food Wars! features students enrolled at an elite culinary academy and What Did You Eat Yesterday? focuses on an accomplished home cook, Sweetness & Lightning is about neophytes. Almost everything is new to Inuzuka, and though Kotori is an enthusiastic fan of food with a chef for a mother, her own fear of knives has prevented her from doing much beyond making rice. With her busy mother helping with recipes and easy-to-follow instructions, the trio learns how to make things like Salisbury steak, sweetness2chawanmushi, and some seriously drool-inducing gyoza. Recipes are included, and for the first time, I feel like they’re actually something I might attempt.

The secondary focus of the story is on Inuzuka’s life as a single parent. Between having to leave work to pick a sick Tsumugi up from preschool, or losing sight of her at a crowded festival, or reacting to her leaving the apartment while he’s sick, he does his best to parent her in a loving and rational way. After being reunited at the festival, for example, I love the way he shows her that he’s been scared and upset, and yet recognizes that she feels bad about running off and is not a bad kid at heart. Tsumugi is a girl with a great deal of enthusiasm for life, and Inuzuka wants to preserve that as much as possible. Their bond is very sweet.

Of course, the questionable propriety of afterhours teacher-student socializing isn’t lost on Inuzuka, who consults with a colleague (and Kotori’s mother) prior to agreeing to the arrangement. sweetness3He and Kotori maintain their distance at school, and he frequently worries about inconveniencing her mother. And yet, the gatherings make Tsumugi so happy—and even lift her spirits when she begins to truly comprehend the permanence of her mother’s absence—that he gratefully accepts the Iidas’ hospitality. He behaves professionally at all times. Kotori, however, seems to be developing feelings for him, though it’s all mixed up as she sees him as both a guy and as a father figure. I wouldn’t be surprised if the manga ends with them getting married, but I hope nothing romantic ensues for a very long time.

Ultimately, this is a sweet, occasionally poignant, slice-of-life story about a father learning to prepare food for his daughter. It’s adorable in a non-treacly sort of way and I very much look forward to continuing.

Sweetness & Lightning is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to eight volumes. Kodansha will release volume four in English later this month.

One-Punch Man, Vols. 1-11

By ONE and Yusuke Murata | Published by VIZ Media

opm1My name is Saitama. I am a hero. My hobby is heroic exploits. I got too strong. And that makes me sad. I can defeat any enemy with one blow. I lost my hair. And I lost all feeling. I want to feel the rush of battle. I would like to meet an incredibly strong enemy. And I would like to defeat it with one blow. That’s because I am One-Punch Man.

One-Punch Man is much loved on Manga Bookshelf, and now I can finally be included in the group singing its praises!

Three years ago, depressed after botching a job interview, Saitama encountered a crab monster. Defeating it was much more enjoyable than looking for a job, so he decided to become a hero for fun. Since then, he’s been vanquishing the monsters that plague his city but not getting any credit for it. (Who is receiving the credit is a later plot point.) Overwhelming strength has become boring, but when he meets Genos, a cyborg driven by revenge, he gains a disciple and also learns about the Hero Association, which employs heroes of various classes and dispatches them as needed to counter various monstrous threats, which have been on the rise.

opm6The balancing act ONE and Murata achieve here is impressive. On the one hand, One-Punch Man is gloriously silly. Heroes and foes alike are apt to be ludicrous, and some of the former have terrific names like Tank Top Vegetarian or Spring Mustachio (although I actually think he’s pretty cool). On the other hand, there is a lot of excellent shounen manga storytelling going on. The way Saitama lives his life without criticism for others makes me think he’d get along well with One Piece‘s Luffy, and the devotion his pupil Genos shows for him means they can always rely on each other. Too, after Saitama joins the Hero Association, we get regular updates on how his rank is improving, and this puts him in contact with even more heroes, some of whom are inept, some of whom are capable, and one of whom might actually be an enemy. He doesn’t seek glory, so many are unaware of his true strength, but I assume that eventually he will attain the rank he deserves (currently, due to poor performance on the written test, he’s far below Genos).

Although I don’t ordinarily comment much on art, Murata employs quite a few innovative tricks that make reading One-Punch Man different than the average manga. For one thing, Saitama is almost always drawn with a simple, bland expression, making the few times he looks determined or actually heroic a nice treat. Plus, I love how we get back-to-back two-page spreads from time to time. Some of these depict combatants exchanging blows, first with one landing a punch and then the other, but he also uses them to zoom in from, say, an attack that is heading Saitama’s way down to his fist that is about to get serious. It’s a fun way of depicting the action while continuing to incorporate humor. (Oh, incidentally, Saitama’s special attack, almost never required, is awesomely called “Consecutive Normal Punches.” We’ve only seen the finishing move—Serious Punch!!!—once so far.)

As of volume eleven, there are several plotlines in play. Monsters are appearing everywhere, and appear to be organizing. Is this tied in with the prediction of an extinction-level event within the next six months? What about that hint of a possible traitor that was dropped a few volumes back? While a rogue martial artist named Garo is hunting heroes, Saitama is off at a martial arts tournament to learn more how to defeat Garo (not knowing that he totally already did) and seems destined to face off against another strong fighter who is desperate for a challenge. I admire how this story has widened in scope in a natural way, without compromising the balance of narrative and humor. It could conceivably go on for a very long time, and I deeply hope it does.

One-Punch Man is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to twelve volumes. Currently, VIZ has released ten volumes in print and eleven digitally.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Scum’s Wish, Vol. 1

By Mengo Yokoyari | Published by Yen Press

I admit that I initially judged this book by its cover, assuming that it was on the smutty side and aimed at a decidedly male audience. While it is true that Scum’s Wish is seinen, the mangaka (Mengo Yokoyari) is female, and the end result (for me, at least) feels more like dark shoujo.

Hanabi Yasuraoka has been in love with Narumi Kanai, a family friend, since she was little. He was around when her mother couldn’t be (Hanabi’s dad is out of the picture), and promised to always be there for her when she’s lonely. Now, Hanabi is in her second year of high school and Kanai has just started his first teaching job… as her homeroom teacher. Pretty quickly, he becomes smitten with another young teacher, pretty Akane Minagawa, and Yokoyari-sensei masterfully conveys through facial expressions just what Hanabi thinks about that. Soon, she meets Mugi Awaya, a boy who is in love with Minagawa (she used to be his tutor) and they strike up an odd sort of friendship as they hang out together, pining for their unrequited loves.

Eventually, through boredom, loneliness, and hormones, Hanabi and Mugi end up making out, each envisioning that the other is actually the one that they love. While there are a couple of bosom closeups during this part of the story, there are such complex emotions being felt in the scene that it doesn’t feel at all salacious. Ultimately, they decide to publicly become a couple so that they can fulfill each other’s physical desires as needed, though one of the rules they establish is that they won’t be having sex, so I’m assuming this arrangement leads to a great deal of frustration.

The concept of a young couple in a purely physical relationship reminded me of A Girl on the Shore, but happily there’s no disturbing power imbalance between Hanabi and Mugi. No one is merely accepting what they can get from someone who belittles them. They have a lot in common and there’s an inkling, too, that something more might develop (even though they made a rule forbidding that, too), with Hanabi thinking that Mugi has never let her down, unlike Kanai, and feeling possessive of him.

As the scope of the story widens, we meet other characters who are in love with the leads. In addition to a boy who hasn’t received a name yet, Hanabi’s admirers include a girl named Sanae Ebato, who appears for the duration of one chapter and has yet to be mentioned again. Mugi’s overly enthusiastic admirer is Noriko Kamomebata, who has worked very hard to become a princess worthy of him, and gives the impression of a newly hatched chick who imprinted on him.

The introduction of Noriko—who prefers the name Moka, for “most kawaii”—does lead to my one complaint about this volume. Although I’ve presented the story of Hanabi and Mugi in a linear fashion, it’s actually largely told through flashbacks. I followed all of these fine until Noriko is introduced, at which point she refers to herself and Mugi as both being first years. In the first chapter, though, Mugi and Hanabi are both confirmed to be seventeen years old, they discuss their scores on a test, and Hanabi clearly mentions being in the second year of high school. So, is Mugi a second year like her or is he a first year? The timing of when Noriko arrives and objects to their relationship, therefore, is fuzzy and confusing.

All in all, though, Scum’s Wish was far better than I had originally assumed. I have no idea where the story will go from here, so I am very curious to see how it develops.

Scum’s Wish is ongoing in Japan and seven volumes are available so far. Yen Press will release volume two in English later this month.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window, Vols. 1-3

By Tomoko Yamashita | Published digitally by SuBLime

tricornered1Until Olivia mentioned it over in the comments on Manga Bookshelf, I had no idea this series existed, let alone that it was being released in English! Having loved Yamashita’s Dining Bar Akira and Black-Winged Love, I immediately purchased all extant volumes.

Kosuke Mikado has been able to see spirits since he was a child, but any time he tried to talk to his friends about it, they thought he was weird, so he has been keeping his distance from other people and has begun to doubt his own sanity. When the manager of the bookshop where Mikado works hires Rihito Hiyakawa to deal with a pesky spirit—and after Hikayawa recognizes Mikado’s powers and uses them to boost his own—Mikado finally finds someone who lives in the same world he does. Although he begins the series frightened and clinging to skepticism, through Hiyakawa’s assurances, Mikado gradually accepts the things he sees as reality and begins to combat them independently.

tricornered2I love series like this, where the leads have episodic disturbances that they investigate (via the partnership they strike up as a sort of supernatural cleaning crew and frequently assisting a non-believing cop named Hanzawa) plus an ongoing mystery (involving curses cast by someone named Erika Hiura) and yet the most important and fascinating aspect is the relationship between the leads themselves. There are the fun, suggestive moments where the guys are combining their powers for one reason or another and end up using dialogue like, “Do you want me to touch it?” or “Take me all the way in.” But where Yamashita-sensei really excels is at teasing out threads of darkness.

We first get an inkling that something is amiss when the guys visit a potentially fradulent fortune-teller. Mikado is the one who physically sits for the session while Hiyakawa, bodily still in the waiting room, casually inhabits Mikado’s body to see for himself. The fortune-teller warns Mikado that the way Hiyakawa reaches into him so easily is dangerous, a warning neither Mikado nor I take seriously. And yet, after an encounter with Erika Hiura shows Mikado’s vulnerability to being accessed in this way, Hiyakawa makes Mikado enter into a contract he doesn’t remember, and we get this awesomely creepy full-page panel.

After this point, more and more potentially disturbing things about Hiyakawa are revealed. “I don’t have parents or friends,” he says at one point. Later, he seems baffled by the concepts of beauty and evil. As troubling indications mount, Mikado knows that he should be thinking seriously about what is happening between them. Other characters certainly question it, but Mikado is strangely reluctant. Is it because Hiyakawa is somehow keeping him quiescent, or is Mikado willfully maintaining his ignorance because he does not want to go back to being alone?

tricornered3It’s only at the end of volume three, wherein Hiyakawa nonchalantly suggests that it’d be good if they could work the other side of the business, too, that Mikado realizes he has no idea what kind of person he’s working with. As a reader, I too was lulled into believing that of course the protagonist of a series about fighting the supernatural is a good guy. Turns out, he’s more of an empty-inside opportunist. At this point, even I just want to say, “Run away, Mikado! Run away and don’t look back!” Is there any hope that he can help heal and humanize Hiyakawa, or will he only end up destroyed? How soon until volume four comes out?!

Lest my focus on the relationship suggest otherwise, the plot of The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window is also excellent. In fact, I sincerely owe Olivia a debt of gratitude. And SuBLime, too, in fact. I hope print editions are available at some point in the future, because this is a series I need to have on my shelves.

The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window is available on Kindle and at sublimemanga.com. The series is ongoing in Japan, where the fourth volume has just been released.

Cells at Work!, Vol. 1

By Akane Shimizu | Published by Kodansha Comics

cells1

Cells at Work! has a quirky premise, one that’s fun to describe to people in one’s life whom one may wish to bewilder.

Essentially, the setting is the interior of the human body and the characters are anthropomorphized versions of blood cells, lymphocytes, and other types of cells that work together to keep things running smoothly. None of the characters has an actual name—the pair of protagonists refers to each other as Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell—and there’s not much of a plot.

Instead, the first volume is composed of episodic chapters showing how the body defends itself against various threats, including bacteria, viruses, and allergens. Along the way, information is relayed to the reader and almost immediately one starts learning things. For example, before I read this I didn’t even know the terms neutrophil and macrophage, but now I could easily talk about their functions, and that’s because I’ve got a vivid visual reminder. Also, Shimizu comes up with some clever ways to depict bodily functions. I was particularly fond of the concept of a sneeze as a missile onto which pesky germs are loaded for expulsion.

Cells at Work! runs in a shounen magazine, and I imagine its intent is to amuse and educate young readers. That said, it did take me a bit of time to accept that there weren’t going to be any story or character developments. That might change, but for now it just doesn’t seem to be that sort of manga, and that’s okay, too. It’s fun enough that I’ll keep reading!

Cells at Work! is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to four volumes. Kodansha Comics will release the second volume in English next week.

That Wolf-boy Is Mine!, Vols. 1-2

By Yoko Nogiri | Published by Kodansha Comics

wolfboy1After making a social blunder at school that results in being shunned by her female classmates, Komugi Kusunoki is glad of the chance to start over in Hokkaido when the demands of her mother’s job mean Komugi will need to live with her father instead. At Maruyama High School, she quickly befriends a couple of nice girls (Kana and Keiko) and learns about the small clique of hotties over whom many girls swoon but who keep to themselves. One day, she surprises one of the boys (Yu Ogami) while he is napping and he turns into a wolf who promptly boops her on the nose.

Adorable as that was, he was actually trying to erase her memory of the incident. When repeated attempts to hypnotize her fail, she promises to keep their secret and thus becomes the first person to surmount the wall the boys have erected around themselves. It turns out they’re animal ayakashi who have learned to transform and who live in the human world for its entertainment. In addition to Ogami, the next most prominent character is Rin Fushimi the fox, though there’s also a troublemaking tanuki boy and an aloof cat boy.

wolfboy2As Komugi gets to know them better, she learns that Ogami is half human and was abandoned in the woods by his human mother. Although he doesn’t hate humans as Fushimi claims to do, and is in fact kind and sweet, he’s still determined that he is going to be the last of his line and that he won’t fall in love with anyone, which is a problem because it doesn’t take long for Komugi to fall for him. Meanwhile, Fushimi witnesses this happening and tries to spare her hurt, and when she’s later trying to acclimate to just being friends with Ogami, he’s the one who’s there for her to talk to, sparking some jealous feelings on Ogami’s part.

Whenever something claims to be “perfect for fans of _______,” I am dubious. Just because a book features a petite blonde who fights demons doesn’t mean that it resembles Buffy the Vampire Slayer in any truly meaningful way. So, when a back cover blurb claimed that That Wolf-boy Is Mine! is perfect for fans of Fruits Basket, I uncharitably thought that they must mean it’s because hot guys transform into animals.

Now, it’s certainly true that hot guys do transform into animals, but the real emphasis here is on someone finding out a secret, proving themselves trustworthy, and helping damaged boys presumably learn to accept themselves. Nogiri-sensei has also done a great job in developing the three lead characters—I especially like level-headed Komugi and wary Fushimi—and it’s been a very long time since I’ve found a love triangle as compelling as this one. Any doubts I had about this series have been firmly dispelled, and I’m not only eagerly looking forward to volume three, I’m also bummed that the series is only four volumes long.

That Wolf-Boy Is Mine! is complete in four volumes. Two volumes have been released in English so far.

The Prince in His Dark Days, Vol. 1

By Hico Yamanaka | Published by Kodansha Comics

princedark1Seventeen-year-old Atsuko is desperate for cash. Her father is an ungrateful drunk, they’re so poor that she’s mocked by classmates for her lack of personal hygiene, and she has resorted to fleecing perverted old men just so she can eat. Shortly after a chance meeting in which she runs into her male doppelganger, Itaru, she is kidnapped by his rich friend, Ryo Sekiuchi, and hired to impersonate Itaru (who has gone missing) for one million yen. Atsuko agrees and tutoring commences. She meets some nice people who are concerned for her welfare and appreciative of her effort, which is something she hasn’t experienced before, and learns that happiness isn’t automatic, even if you live in a huge, beautiful mansion.

I’m on the fence with how I feel about this volume. It’s not nearly as insightful as it could be, and so far the focus is more on Atsuko’s circumstances (first crappy, then unfamiliar) than on Atsuko herself. Her insta-love—after opening the manga by declaring that the greatest misfortune in the world is to fall in love— for Itaru’s friend Nobunari is also completely sudden and unconvincing. A more nuanced interpretation would suggest that Atsuko is so starved for affection that she’ll latch on to any form of kindness, but I have doubts that the mangaka is thinking that deeply about it at all.

That said, there were some things I liked about it. Ryo’s backstory, for example, and his reasons for wanting to protect Itaru from future repercussions from his controlling family. I also like that Itaru may have run off because he is gender nonconforming and that Nobunari seems to be in love with him. It’s probably not good to be more interested in the person who’s off-screen than the actual protagonist, but at least that’s something. Another point in the series’ favor is that it is short. I reckon I like it well enough to see it through to the end.

The Prince in His Dark Days is complete in four volumes. Kodansha will release volume two later this month.