A Place in the Sun by Lala Takemiya: B+

I reviewed this collection of quirky, bittersweet tales for this week’s BL Bookrack and enjoyed it quite a bit. One story even involves a hapless guy’s romance with a garbageman!

You can find that review here.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Object of My Affection by Nanao Okuda: B+

I judged this book by its cover and was not disappointed! Wakamiya has managed to join the college basketball team his idol plays for, only to learn said idol is injured and cannot play. A very nice love story ensues, though it would have been even nicer if all the stories in the volume had been about these two.

You can find my full review at Manga Bookshelf.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Kizuna Deluxe Edition 1 by Kazuma Kodaka: B-

Book description:
Beautiful Ranmaru and sweet, serene Kei fell in love at first sight when they were just boys, and now that they’re finally old enough, they’re moving in together! College should be all about new experiences and freedom… but what will the couple do when their home-sweet-home is invaded by the brash and spoiled Kai, Kei’s half-brother? Is their relationship strong enough to weather a sudden storm of sibling rivalry?

Even though I’ve never read the Kizuna manga before, I’ve still got a nostalgic feeling towards it. I vividly remember venturing into the adult section of the dealers’ room at my very first convention and coming away with a DVD of the OVA. It didn’t rock my socks or anything, but still, I never forgot about it. Now that the series is in print again, thanks to DMP, I figured I’d give it a look.

Kei Enjouji and Ranmaru Samejima first met in middle school, when they shared a chaste kiss. They then apparently go three years without speaking and reunite in high school where a real relationship develops between them. Upon the death of his mother, Kei learns that his father is the head of a yakuza group, and pretty quickly someone is out to kill him. Ranmaru, a promising kendo champion, pushes Kei out of the way of the car barreling towards him and gets hit himself. The doctors say he’ll never use his right arm and leg again.

Ranmaru is devastated, but once Kei takes it as a given that he’ll love Ranmaru no matter what, Ranmaru marshals the determination to work hard at his rehabilitation and eventually regains the ability to walk. The two live together happily, attending the same college, until Kai, Kei’s younger brother and the legitimate son of the yakuza boss, enters their lives. He’s a real pest who has set his sights on his kendo hero, Ranmaru.

That all might sound pretty decent, but the problem is the material in this volume does not present the story chronologically at all. I’m sure this is mostly to do with the fact that Kizuna evidently began as a doujin. The first chapter depicts a romantic encounter between Kei and Ranmaru as high schoolers, at which point Ranmaru is still tops in the kendo world. The college chapters with the irritating Kai come next (this is the story line I’m familiar with from the OVA), followed by another college-age chapter, then one in which Kai is in second grade, then the story of Kei and Ranmaru’s first meeting… You get the idea.

It’s not that the story is impossible to follow in this fashion—flashbacks are a pretty common narrative device, after all, particularly when the lead characters have been together for a long time—but these chapters feel disconnected from each other. The difference in art style only adds to the choppy reading experience. I found myself thinking, “Just settle down already! Pick the story you want to tell and the way that you want to draw, and just get on with it!”

Despite my complaints about the flow of the chapters, within each chapter Kodaka crafts some compelling stories. I liked the story of Ranmaru’s injury and rehabilitation the best, but there’s also an enjoyably smutty tale where he is given an aphrodisiac by a creepy professor and Kai’s the only one around to relieve his… tensions. My dislike of Kai must be evident by now, but I do like Kei and Ranmaru, especially the fact that the latter, the uke in the relationship, is prized for his strength. Kei can be crass at times, but the depth of his love for Ranmaru is abundantly obvious.

I definitely plan to keep reading Kizuna. It may be a vain hope, but now that the background has been established, I’d like to see the next volume pick up with the guys in college and go forward from there. Stay tuned to see whether my wish comes true!

Kizuna Deluxe Edition is released in English by Digital Manga Publishing. The series was previously licensed by the now-defunct CPM, but was never completed. DMP is releasing the series in five omnibus editions.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Stay Close to Me by Yaya Sakuragi: B

Wow, a BL comedy I actually liked! I reviewed Stay Close to Me for this month’s BL Bookrack and thought it achieved a nice balance of silliness and genuine emotion. Now I need to find the time to read Yaya Sakuragi’s Hey, Sensei? and Tea for Two!

You can find that review here.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Endless Comfort by Sakuya Sakura: B-

I reviewed this one-volume boys’ love title for the latest BL Bookrack column at Manga Bookshelf. It’s essentially the story of how the love of a good man helps a good-natured dog trainer get over his past trauma. Unfortunately, it’s pretty dull, but I did like the ending.

You can find that review here.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

In the Walnut 1-2 by Toko Kawai: B+

More mystery than romance, this BL series features some unremarkable “cases” but a pair of interesting leads who are already an established couple when the story begins! Shocking!

You can find my review for Manga Bookshelf here.

In the Walnut is published in English by Digital Manga Publishing. The series is still ongoing in Japan; the third volume was just released there on October 9th.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Café Latte Rhapsody by Toko Kawai: A-

I reviewed this cute yet complicated love story for this month’s BL Bookrack column at Manga Bookshelf. I really, really enjoyed the romance between a somewhat relationship-scarred bookstore employee and his huge younger lover, and it made me realize I haven’t read anything by Toko Kawai that I didn’t like!

You can find that review here.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Garden Sky by Yuko Kuwabara: C+

I reviewed this quasi-BL collection for this week’s BL Bookrack column at Manga Bookshelf. The book is divided into two sets of stories that are boring while underway, feature extremely similar characters, and go nowhere in the end. This makes for quite a dull read.

You can find that review here.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Tidbits: Three from DMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Silver Diamond 5-7 by Shiho Sugiura: B+

My darling Silver Diamond! How I have missed you! There was almost a year between the releases of volumes four and five, but TOKYOPOP is on the road to recovery (yay!) and the series is now on a quicker release schedule.

In volume four, Rakan traveled to the other world in the company of Chigusa, Narushige (and Koh!), and Tohji. Pretty quickly they encountered a group of cast-off “numbered children,” banished from the capital and assigned the unnecessary task of guarding the frontier. As volume five begins, Rakan demonstrates his sanome ability and pretty quickly wins over all the men with his warmth, acceptance, humility, and absolute sincerity in his desire to make their lives better. In fact, he appoints them his personal guards, and they’re all happy to have something purposeful to do.

Before things can get too cozy—but not before Tohji and Kazuhi, leader of the guards, realize they’re brothers—an illusion of the evil prince appears and predicts many calamities will befall the land, including an earthquake, which promptly occurs. Kazuhi and his men are trapped below ground, though alive, and as they work on finding their way out, a furious Rakan—more determined than ever now to defeat the prince and bring life back to the world—and his companions begin to make their way to the capital. In volume seven, an assassin briefly delays their journey, but Chigusa—and an entirely unexpected, entirely shaggy ally—prove to be more than a match for him.

At first, when Rakan began making his journey to confront the prince I initially thought, “What? They’re doing this now? How is this series up to volume 21 in Japan already, then?” But then I remembered… Silver Diamond is a very, very slow-paced series, and I suppose it may be frustrating to some for that reason. Honestly, though, I would not have it any other way.

I love the small episodes of world-building scattered throughout, like when the scarcity of wood necessitates different methods of cooking and printing. I love the moments when characters grow closer, and I appreciate that Sugiura takes time to show these relationships evolving. Particularly moving is how Rakan unconsciously brings so much hope to those around him, from the formerly dispirited numbered children to Chigusa, who has never had anyone cry for his sake or wish to protect him before in his life. There’s a lovely passage in volume seven, for example, in which Chigusa—who can heal his wounds when he’s near Rakan—thinks, “The holes in me are filling up,” a sentiment that is both literally and figuratively true at that moment.

There’s also a lot of comedy in the series, though most of it hinges on Narushige and Tohji attempting to put a stop to Chigusa’s tendency to touch Rakan whenever possible. I continue to adore Koh, the talking snake, and was unabashedly delighted when a new animal companion joins the group at the end of volume seven. I swear that I am not normally so easily swayed by talking critters; it’s just that Sugiura does them so well!

The pace may be slow and the plot a little skimpy, but if you’re looking for a story with loads of loveable characters building warm, strong friendships and a generous helping of non-human cuteness, then this just might be the series for you!