Welcome to the Ballroom, Vol. 1

By Tomo Takeuchi | Published by Kodansha Comics

ballroom1In the immortal words of Sir Paul McCartney:

Ballroom dancing made a man of me
One, two, three, four
I just plain adore your
Ballroom dancing, seen it on TV
I got what I got from ballroom dancing
Big B.D.

Feckless Tatara Fujita isn’t especially good at anything, and doesn’t know what he wants to do after middle school. One day, as bullies are hitting him up for cash, he is saved by Kaname Sengoku, who mistakes Fujita’s perusal of a poster advertising a part-time job for interest in an adjacent dance studio ad. Fujita is summarily whisked away to the studio, where he learns that one of his classmates, seemingly studious Shizuku Hanaoka, is not only a student there but one of the top amateurs in the sport.

For, indeed, this is a sports manga. Once Fujita sees a recording of Sengoku in action, he vows to change. To him, dancing is (not yet anyway) about personal expression but about self-improvement. He wants to gain poise and self-confidence, and once he decides that’s what he’s going to do, he works very hard. This isn’t one of those manga where the protagonist has some great talent, for even after weeks of lessons, he’s still not great, but there’s a glimmer of something about him that intrigues Sengoku. When he and Fujita later attent a tournament that Hanaoka is competing in, Sengoku taps Fujita to fill in when her long-time partner mysteriously disappears.

Although I don’t often comment on the art in manga, I found Welcome to the Ballroom to be quite interesting in that department. It almost seems a bit shoujo at times, with the lovely way the dancing is depicted, but then it must remind you that it’s shounen by throwing in a panty shot. I also found it refreshing that the cute love interest doesn’t stay on the sidelines or manage the team—she’s very talented and focused, with dreams of her own. (Lamentably, her ambitious plans to study abroad are later revealed to be for the benefit of her partner.)

I’m excited by the prospect of the world championship qualifying tournament that’s coming soon, though I hope we see it in more detail than the introductory glimpses we’ve had thus far. Alas, there are not thirty-plus volumes of this to look forward to either, since the series is on hiatus after eight volumes in Japan. Nevertheless, I do recommend it and look forward to more!

Welcome to the Ballroom is up to eight volumes in Japan, where it is presently on hiatus. Kodansha will release the second volume later this month.

Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, Vol. 1

By Natsuki Takaya | Published by Yen Press

liselotte1On the one hand, it’s exciting to be reading something new by Natsuki Takaya, creator of my beloved Fruits Basket. On the other, it was kind of weird to embark upon an unfamiliar story whose artistic style was so very familiar to me.

This volume goes by quickly, with its large, pretty panels unencumbered by much in the way of background detail. Liselotte and her two child attendants (twin siblings named Anna and Alto) have recently moved to a remote location, simply referred to as “the east of the east of the east,” and we gradually learn that they are there because Liselotte comes from a noble family and was accused of plotting to overthrow her elder brother. Given the choice between exile or death, she chooses the former and is determined to make the best of it. She’s an interesting blend of optimistic shoujo heroine and someone more mature who has been through some crap. Actually, she reminds me of Anne Shirley a bit!

When Liselotte was younger, she had a friend named Enrich who would tell her stories about “the east of the east of the east,” in particular that witches live there. When she’s attacked by a witch (and is kind of awesomely irritated about it), she is saved by a white-haired guy named Engetsu who seriously reminds her of Enrich, only his eyes are light crimson instead of the blue she remembers. Engetsu decides he’s going to live with Liselotte, and most of the volume involves Alto grumbling about this and ending up sick, whereupon an adorable witch’s familiar named Yomi goes off to fetch him some medicine. (Actually, Alto spends the entire volume grumbling, which is not especially endearing, though he claims he’s frustrated by his beloved master’s situation.)

While this opening installment does feel a trifle insubstantial, it capably introduces the characters and the setting, and puts forth some intriguing ideas. Is Engetsu really Enrich? What happened to him? Did Liselotte actually plot against her brother? Is Engetsu in cahoots with the witches? What else are they planning to do? I’m definitely interested to find out. I just hope we get some answers by volume five, as that’s where the series has stalled because Takaya took an extended hiatus due to illness.

Liselotte & Witch’s Forest is on hiatus in Japan. It currently has five volumes. Yen Press will release volume two next month.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Kuroko’s Basketball, Vols. 1-2

By Tadatoshi Fujimaki | Published by VIZ Media


Tetsuya Kuroko is a plain and unremarkable guy with a talent for going unnoticed. On the basketball court, this means that despite his unimpressive physique and lackluster shooting ability, he is extremely valuable because he can get the ball to the right person without giving the opposing team the chance to react. In middle school, he was part of a legendary team that included the five members of the “Miracle Generation,” stellar players who all happened to be born in the same year. Although each of them has now gone on to different elite schools, Kuroko disliked the sole emphasis on winning and so chose to attend newly established Seirin, where he could experience teamwork with people who simply loved basketball. He forms a partnership with his fellow talented first-year, Taiga Kagami, to defeat the Miracle Generation players and make Kagami the best in Japan.

I’ve been reading a lot of sports manga lately, which is great, but also gives me a variety of titles to compare Kuroko’s Basketball to. The emphasis on someone who’s very skilled at helping others score is reminiscent of Haikyu!! and the character of Kageyama, and in both cases I appreciate a potentially unheralded position/skill getting its due. And, of course, how many sports manga are there that feature a pair of special first years? Quite a few, I’d reckon, though Kuroko and Kagami avoid the rivals-butting-heads trope. And how many launch quickly into inter-high qualifying matches? Quite a few.

Still, there are things each series does differently, and in Kuroko, at least so far, I mostly see what has been omitted. Instead of starting off with some practice sessions to introduce the team and familiarize readers with their personalities and specialties, we dive right into a practice game against a team containing one of the Miracle Generation. It’s not until the second volume that the other players on the team even get names. And then, once the qualifiers begin—from which only three teams of 300 will continue on to represent Tokyo at Nationals—three of Seirin’s first four matches are skipped and merely summarized in a panel or two. It’s kind of disappointing.

We do see some evolution of skills, particularly in how Kuroko and Kagami are able to work together, but when they receive a special training regimen in preparation for the inter-high, we only get a brief glimpse of what Kagami learned and nothing at all about what Kuroko was doing. Perhaps that’ll come into play in a future volume.

What appeals to me most so far is the attitude of the players, particularly Kagami, who loves the sport and loves a good challenge, and isn’t afraid to go up against someone even if he might lose. Too, I love the seed of doubt planted in Kuroko’s mind by an opponent—what happens when Kagami achieves his full potential and realizes how great he really is? Will he drift away from his teammates?

Ultimately, I did enjoy this introduction to the series and look forward to the next volume.

Kuroko’s Basketball is complete in 30 volumes. The next 2-in-1 edition from VIZ contains volumes three and four and will be released on October 4th, with further installments proceeding on a bimonthly release schedule.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Yona of the Dawn, Vols. 1-2

By Mizuho Kusanagi | Published by VIZ Media

yona1In the kingdom of Kohka, kindly King Il adores his only child, Princess Yona, and throws a celebration for her sixteenth birthday. Red-haired Yona is primarily preoccupied with getting her cousin, Su-Won, to see her as a woman. After the festivities, she decides to go tell her father that she simply must be allowed to marry Su-Won, only to walk in on her beloved running her father through with a sword. The palace guards are in on the treachery, and ready to comply with Su-Won’s order to dispatch the witness, but Yona is saved by her trusty personal guard, Hak, and the two of them manage to escape.

I’m really glad I ended up reviewing the first two volumes together, because Yona is too stunned by what she’s witnessed to show much personal determination in the first volume. Hak chooses their destination—the homeland of the wind tribe, of which he is chief—and she trails along in a daze, not eating much. By the second volume, though, she’s realized that Su-Won’s actions are taking a toll on innocent people and is appropriately horrified. He cannot be crowned king without the support of all five tribes, but Hak’s grandfather, the elder chief of the wind tribe, is a holdout. Pressure tactics ensue, and eventually Hak and Yona are on the run again in an attempt to spare the wind tribe further hardship.

At first, the tone of the series worried me. It seemed a little too cutesy, a little too comedic. By the end of the second volume, though, I was fully on board. I will always love a resolutely determined shoujo heroine, and Yona shows real potential in that regard. She manages to save Hak’s life a couple of times, but somehow my favorite visual is when a foe grabs her by her hair and she whirls around, steals his sword, and hacks off her own hair to get free. It’s a very nice way to show that her personal appearance is no longer remotely on her list of concerns.

yona2I’m interested in a couple of the villainous characters, too! Kang Tae-jun of the fire tribe has desired Yona for a long time, so his remorse at her apparent death is genuine, even if he’s an entitled jerk. He reminds me of Skip Beat!’s Sho, a little bit, and I have a strong desire to see him switch sides someday and become a better person. And then there’s Su-Won, who ends the volume believing that Yona’s dead and being crowned king even as he admits that he crushed his dearest friends underfoot to achieve it. That’s much more interesting than him being utterly evil, and I wonder if he was manipulated into believing King Il had murdered his father or if that’s actually true. Unfortunately, both of these guys are more interesting to me right now than Hak is. Hopefully that will change.

I did find that Yona of the Dawn reminded me a lot of other shoujo fantasy epics like Dawn of the Arcana, From Far Away, Basara… That’s not necessarily a criticism, but an observation, and it’s my dearest hope that it will become a series worthy of being mentioned alongside them.

Yona of the Dawn is ongoing in Japan and is up to 21 volumes so far. Volume one is available in English now and the second will be released on October 4th.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Complex Age, Vol. 1

By Yui Sakuma | Published by Kodansha Comics


Twenty-six-year-old Nagisa Kataura is a perfectionist when it comes to cosplay. As a result, she has a tendency to critique the subpar efforts of others, but when she overhears a critical comment at an event that might be directed at her, she is suddenly plunged into self-doubt. Self-conscious of her height and age, she’s further troubled when she meets Aya, a younger and more petite cosplayer who is physically perfect to cosplay Ururu, the magical girl heroine Nagisa is most known for portraying.

Before reading Complex Age, it had never occurred to me that the world of cosplay could be so emotionally fraught. What I like best about it is how Sakuma is using this niche fan culture to explore universal themes like realizing you’re actually not the best at the thing that you love and struggling to accept that though you may not be perfect, you still have something unique and worthwhile to bring to the table. (I also enjoyed learning about things like how to make a custom wig.)

Another important plot thread is that Nagisa is hiding her hobby from most of the people in her life. She doesn’t want anyone’s negativity to defile her world, nor does she feel compelled to ask them to understand her. We glimpse her a few times at her temp job—and I have to wonder, are her work clothes a costume of their own?—where she doesn’t socialize with anyone except a snooty full-timer, only to end on a horrible cliffhanger as said full-timer spies her at a cosplay event.

I was pretty disheartened to find that, instead of the resolution to that encounter, we were getting the original one-shot instead. However, I was in for a pleasant surprise, because rather than an earlier iteration of the same story, the one-shot version of Complex Age is more of a companion piece, exploring similar themes as married thirty-four-year-old Sawako must decide whether it’s time to give up her Gothic Lolita fashions.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Complex Age a lot and look forward to volume two!

Complex Age is complete in six volumes. Kodansha will release volume two next month.

Haikyu!!, Vol. 1

By Haruichi Furudate | Published by VIZ Media


It’s been a good year so far for sports manga! Competitive cycling is represented in Yen’s Yowamushi Pedal, August brings the first two-in-one omnibus edition of Kuroko’s Basketball, and volleyball-centric Haikyu!! is on shelves now. I am just about in heaven! (If someone would just license Mitsuru Adachi’s Rough, that would seal the deal.)

At first glance, Haikyu!! looks a little bit like Slam Dunk. Tobio Kageyama is the dark-haired character with talent and experience, and Shoyo Hinata is the enthusiastic redhead with a lot of potential but who lacks many basic skills. They join their high school’s volleyball team in their first year and clash instantly, fueled by a previous encounter where Kageyama’s team trounced Hinata’s in a middle-school tournament, but must put this aside and learn to function as teammates. What’s different is that Kageyama has more obviously negative qualities than Slam Dunk’s Rukawa had, including a perpetual snarl and dismissive attitude, while Hinata has more positive qualities than Sakuragi possessed, like discipline and team spirit.

I really liked watching their relationship develop, as it eventually becomes apparent (as they practice for then participate in a match against a couple other new members) that each is what the other has been waiting for. Kageyama’s previous team turned their backs on his demanding leadership and wound up losing the aforementioned tournament. None of them could keep up with the pace he was attempting to set. Hinata can, though, and he’s so grateful to finally have teammates and someone to “set” the ball for him, that he is positively eager to get in position to execute the plays that Kageyama’s old team grumbled about.

Their rivalry is far from over, but as the first volume draws to a close, it’s clear they’ve begun to appreciate the other more and are warming to the idea that, if they used to be the greatest enemies, then now they could be the greatest teammates. Inevitably, their journey will take them to Nationals, for that’s the goal of seemingly all sports manga series. I’ll be looking forward to it!

Haikyu!! is ongoing in Japan, where the 22nd volume has just been released. VIZ will be releasing a new volume each month through at least January 2017, which is as far as their Amazon listings presently go.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 1

By Izumi Miyazono | Published by VIZ Media

egm1I’ve grown a bit wary of josei romances. I’d prefer them not to be smutty, or to derive much of their drama from misunderstandings, or to feature a controlling male lead. Happily, Everyone’s Getting Married avoids all of those things!

Twenty-four-year-old Asuka Takanashi enjoys a successful career as a real estate broker, but what she really wants to do is get married, quit her job, and become a full-time homemaker. I struggled to identify with her at first because of this, but Miyazono does a great job showing how serious a person Asuka is. This isn’t some idealistic fantasy she’s concocted. Asuka works hard at her job, and we soon see that she absolutely will work just as hard to provide a warm environment for her family. Too, the more negative reactions Asuka gets, the more it’s clear for the reader that it’s nobody’s business criticizing her choice.

Unfortunately for her connubial dream, right after Asuka catches the bouquet at a friend’s wedding, her long-time boyfriend breaks up with her, saying, “You’d be happy with anyone who puts a ring on your finger.” Asuka tells herself this isn’t true, but immediately begins attending mixers and matchmaking events, looking for a potential husband. Meanwhile, she keeps running into handsome newscaster Ryu Nanami, who flatly declares, “I’d rather die than get married.” She tries to squash the feelings that are developing, but by the end of the volume they’re going out, even though neither has changed their mind about matrimony.

How refreshing it is to read a story about two adults who are plain-spoken about what they want from life! Nobody does anything spazzy and they are both consummate professionals. I don’t know how they’re going to reconcile their differences—probably we’ll get a happy ending, though I admit I’d be happy if Miyazono took the unconventional route and had them break up. My one complaint is that it’s initially hard to tell whether the conflicting opinions Ryu expresses regarding housewifery (at one point calling it an escape and later a respectable career) represent evolution because of Asuka or just inconsistency. (When he reiterates his respect again towards the end of the volume, it seems much more obviously because of her.) Also, there’s a scene where Asuka berates him, calling him a lowlife and a womanizer, and then just a few pages later he’s praising her for not judging others’ choices. Um…

All in all, this was a nice surprise and I look forward to volume two!

Everyone’s Getting Married is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to five volumes. VIZ will publish the second volume in English in September.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Nichijou: My Ordinary Life, Vols. 1-2

By Keiichi Awari | Published by Vertical Comics

nichijou1I wasn’t sure I was going to like Nichijou. Gag manga aren’t really my thing, even when created by mangaka whose other works I enjoy. However, the back cover promised character growth and a take on the school genre that it was “just surreal enough,” so that compelled me to give it a shot.

The manga so far focuses on a handful of students who begin with pretty much a single defining trait. Nano Shinonome is a robot who mistakenly believes she’s kept this fact a secret from her classmates. Yuuko Aioi is described as “cheerful,” and proves to be fond of really bad jokes and prone to forgetting to do her homework. Mio Naganohara is “normal,” but might secretly be a BL fangirl. Mai Minakami is “quiet,” but also seems to enjoy pushing Yuuko’s buttons. There are a few other characters too, like the rich boy and the girl who likes to blow him up, but they don’t factor in as much.

nichijou2While I can’t say that any of the gags in these two volumes made me laugh, they did make me smile quite often. Rather than the jokes themselves, I think what I like the best was how Arawi-sensei depicted them. He’s got great comic timing, and just the way the panels are laid out makes things funnier. There’s one moment, for example, where Yuuko realizes she has left the homework she actually bothered to do at home, so we get her anguished cry of “Damn it!” depicted from three different angels in the same panel. I also loved it when the “camera” panned to the side to show someone else reacting to what’s happening with the main characters, and there’s also a fantastic nonverbal chapter about building a house of cards.

My favorite moments in these two volumes, however, involve animals. The one character whom I actually kind of hate so far is “the professor,” the eight-year-old who created Nano and who refuses to remove the wind-up key that Nano is so desperate to get rid of. But in volume two, they take in Sakamoto-san, a talking cat (thanks to a bandana the professor created) who tries his best to be dignified but who can’t resist giving in to his kitty instincts. I also adore the canine whom I have dubbed “solidarity dog,” a pooch who shows up a couple of times when Yuuko has been exiled to the hallway and places a silent paw of commiseration upon her. There’s a great 4-koma relating to him, too.

All in all, I enjoyed Nichijou, and I look forward to the next volume!

Nichijou is complete in ten volumes. Vertical will release volume three in July 2016.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

The Gods Lie.

By Kaori Ozaki | Published by Vertical, Inc.

gods-lieThe Gods Lie is a seinen one-shot by Kaori Ozaki, who also brought us Immortal Rain, which I liked very much. Even though it was released recently, Ozaki’s clean and clear artwork somehow conveys a more vintage feeling, a bit like a Miyazaki movie.

Natsuru Nanao is in sixth grade and dreams of becoming a soccer star. The girls in his class have ignored him ever since he rejected the princess of the group, so he’s surprised when Rio Suzumura actually acknowledges his presence. After his beloved soccer coach is hospitalized, the negative and demanding replacement causes Nanao to bail on soccer camp and he ends up spending a lot of time over summer vacation with Suzumura and her little brother, Yuuto (and Tofu, the kitten they have rescued). Nanao lives with his mother, since his father died when he was little, but soon discovers that Suzumura and Yuuto are living on their own after their father took off to earn money fishing in Alaska.

Over the course of the volume, Nanao makes some bittersweet discoveries about life. The new coach causes him to doubt his dreams of soccer stardom. He learns that one of his teammates already has a different career path plotted out. He falls in love with Suzumura and stands by her when her dad fails to return by the summer festival like he promised. He discovers her terrible secret. And, lastly, he begins to understand why “the gods lie.”

I think in this case, the gods of the title are taking the form of parents, and how they might appear to a young kid. Suzumura’s dad has lied to his children, but Nanao reflects that his dad had lied to him, too, promising that he’d surely get better if Nanao was a good boy. People who love you can lie to you, sometimes because they don’t want you to be sad, sometimes because they are assholes who are unworthy of your love. That’s life.

What I like best is that Ozaki lets Nanao take in these revelations without destroying his capacity to dream, or ending the book on a thoroughly depressing note. Indeed, the conclusion is downright hopeful. In the end, I enjoyed The Gods Lie very much, and particularly recommend reading it somewhat slowly, to really evoke that leisurely summer vacation feel.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Vagabond, Vols. 1-3

By Takehiko Inoue | Published by VIZ Media (first VIZBIG edition)

One of my goals for this Manga Moveable Feast was to finally read some of Vagabond. I’ve been collecting the VIZBIG editions since they started coming out, which means there were ten of these on my shelf (with their spines forming a group portrait) unread. Now that I finally have read some of Vagabond, I’ve found it so different from the Inoue I’m familiar with—and yet containing some of the same themes—that I’m rather at a loss for words.

Shinmen Takezo is the son of a legendary swordsman, though we don’t really find that out until volume three. Since the age of thirteen, when he killed a man who came to Miyamoto village looking to challenge its strongest occupant, he’s been ostracized by all save a couple of childhood friends and he’s recently been off to battle with one of them, Hon’iden Matahachi. They both survive a bloody battle, but Matahachi takes up with a thieving widow, leaving Takezo to return to Miyamoto with tidings of Matahachi’s survival.

To make a long story very short: Takezo meets with an unfriendly welcome and is manipulated by a clever monk named Takuan into reevaluating his life. Four years later, now going by the name Miyamoto Musashi, he shows up in Kyoto looking to challenge the head of the Yoshioka sword school, and though he defeats many of their members, he learns there are still those stronger than him. A drunken Matahachi accidentally sets the blaze that allows Musashi to escape, and the VIZBIG ends with him realizing that the old friend he left for dead might actually have survived.

Even though I knew this was about swordsmen, I somehow didn’t expect it to be as gory as it is. There are a lot of death blows being dealt here, as Musashi is obsessed with measuring/proving his strength against others and willing to sacrifice his life to this aim. That said, at times the art is absolutely gorgeous, and there are a few color pages that look like bona fide paintings. The scope, layout, and pacing of the story all lend it a cinematic feel that is genuinely impressive. There’s one scene early on, when Musashi turns around to face the one opponent left standing and it’s genuinely terrifying.

But yet, I mostly found it unaffecting. I expect there will be more insight into the main character as time progresses, but for now he’s so closed off, so proud of his strength and being hailed a demon that I can’t grow fond of him or endorse his goals. I have a feeling I’m not supposed to. I did identify with Matahachi a lot, though, especially his inferiority complex in regards to his friend and his inability to follow through with the heroic deeds he imagines himself performing. I like Otsu, the fiancée Matahachi left behind, and I’m intrigued by Takuan, the monk. I’ll keep reading for them, if nothing else.

One thing about Musashi reminds me a lot of Hisanobu Takahashi in Real. As a child, Hisanobu was attempting to master a particular basketball move that his father showed him. He worked very hard on it, but was never able to show his father because the latter abandoned the family. Musashi has also been abandoned by his mother and shunned by his father, and part of his drive to test himself seems due to the desire to show them his strength, show them that he doesn’t need to depend on anyone else. Musashi is a real historical figure, not a character Inoue created, but it seems like he’s drawn to these confident yet wounded types.

Ultimately, I can see why Vagabond is hailed as a masterpiece, and I will certainly keep reading it, but my heart will always belong to Inoue’s sports manga, Slam Dunk in particular. The heart wants what the heart wants!

Vagabond is published in English by VIZ Media. Single volumes up through 33 have been published, as well as ten “VIZBIG” editions comprised of three volumes each. An eleventh VIZBIG edition is scheduled to be released in December. Inoue has recently resumed the series in Japan, so the upcoming release of volume 34 (October) will be the first new Vagabond released in English in two years.