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.

Shojo FIGHT!, Vols. 1-2

By Yoko Nihonbashi | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Neri Oishi was a great volleyball player in elementary school, when she was captain of a team that took second place in the national championship. At her prestigious middle school, however, she’s a benchwarmer, often tasked with picking up balls and doing laundry. One of her teammates, Chiyo, is vocally frustrated by the situation, since she played against Neri’s team and knows how good she is. After injuring Chiyo during an argument, Neri must play in her stead in a practice game. Try as she might to suppress them, her aggressive tendencies flare, and she ends up injuring a teammate. Disaster is further assured when her childhood friend/osteopath Shigeru chooses the boys’ bathroom as a treatment venue. Upon discovery (and subsequent misunderstanding), Neri is forced to resign from the volleyball club.

It’s a neat setup, introducing Neri in this environment where she’s not flourishing. By the end of the second volume, readers have learned about the childhood trauma that led to Neri becoming obsessed with volleyball as a means to forget, and the consequences that single-minded focus had on her relationship with her elementary teammates, all of whom bailed on their plans to attend middle school together. She also enrolls in Kokuyodani Private High School, where her sister attended and whose volleyball team is now coached by her sister’s former teammate.

Neri is ashamed of the selfish way she sometimes plays, and wants to change. She’s also absolutely certain that anyone trying to be friends with her is going to end up regretting it. To this end, she initially keeps her #1 fan, Manabu Odagiri, at a distance. Neri saved Manabu from bullies when they were kids, and Manabu has never forgotten it. It soon becomes clear that Manabu is now in the one in the position to help, urging Neri to try to talk to people instead of simply interpreting things in the worst way possible.

Manabu also ends up joining the volleyball team, despite being a total newbie, leading to the most enjoyable part of the series so far: a three-on-three game between the new first years. All of the firsties on the Kokuyodani team have distinct personalities (and, actually, the upperclassmen are seriously fun and awesome, too) and their different training styles are fascinating to watch, especially as Neri manages to drill Manabu in the basics while tasked with spending the first three days only on cleaning duty. Seeing Manabu succeed is gratifying, and I loved that, after Neri’s “mad dog” persona emerges during the game, none of her new teammates harbors a grudge about it.

I am very impressed with how vivid these characters are so far, and 100% addicted already. I also want to note that although the art style is a bit unconventional, it doesn’t take long to get used to it and after a while I stopped noticing it entirely. Although I will always love shounen sports manga, after Shojo FIGHT! and Giant Killing, seinen sports manga might be my new fave.

Shojo FIGHT! is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to fourteen volumes.

Review copies provided by the publisher

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Vols. 1-2

By Canno | Published by Yen Press

I haven’t read a ton of yuri manga, but even I have encountered the “all-girls school with multiple couples” setup before. Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl is another example of the same.

We begin with Ayaka Shiramine and Yurine Kurosawa. Shiramine has always been the perfect student, but she works hard for her grades. Enter Kurosawa, the lazy genius, who shows up and immediately takes the number one spot. Squabbling ensues, with Kurosawa going all sparkly when a furious Shiramine calls her “just a regular person.” It seems she’s been waiting for someone who might beat her. My problem with this couple is that Shiramine is not very likable, even if I sympathize with her frustration. Plus, I ended up comparing her “there’s no way anyone could love me when I’m not perfect” angst with that of Nanami Touko in Bloom into You, where the idea is executed with more depth and originality.

Thankfully, these characters soon rotate into the background as focus shifts onto Shiramine’s cousin, track star Mizuki. Kurosawa also happens to be great at running, and Mizuki is upset when the team manager, Moe, avidly attempts to recruit her. Moe is supposed to watch Mizuki the most, after all. It all turns out to be for a cute reason, and I like the M&M pairing much more.

Volume two introduces still more characters. Ai Uehara doesn’t endear herself to me by whining about the availability of third-year Maya Hoshino—“Mock exams are more important to you than I am!”—and the chapter where she tries to make her friend stay in town rather than going to the university of her dreams and then realizes that this makes her friend sad and then promptly trips and starts blubbering just about had steam coming out of my ears.

But, again, thankfully, we move away from the annoying character to someone more mature. Chiharu Kusakabe is Hoshino’s roommate and is in love with her. Hoshino seems to be aware of this, particularly after a clichéd “locked in the storeroom” incident, but doesn’t return her feelings. While Chiharu is busy pining for a sempai, she encounters a younger girl who begins pining for her. And, again, some cuteness ensues.

I’m definitely on board for volume three, but I wonder… will each volume introduce someone I profoundly dislike in the first half and then give me a couple to really like in the second half? I suppose I can deal with that, and I also want to see more of Mizuki and Chiharu.

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl is ongoing in Japan, where six volumes have been released so far. The first two volumes are currently available in English; the third will be released in August.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 1

By Gengoroh Tagame | Published by Pantheon Books

Yaichi is a single dad who works from home managing the rental property his parents left to him and his brother, Ryoji, after being killed in a car accident when the boys were teenagers. He considers his real job to be providing the best home he can to his daughter, Kana. On the day the story begins, Yaichi is expecting a guest—Mike Flanagan, the burly Canadian whom Ryoji married after leaving Japan ten years ago. Ryoji passed away the previous month and Mike has come to Japan to try to connect with Ryoji’s past and see for himself the many things he’d heard stories about from his husband.

Initially, Yaichi is reserved and wary around Mike. It’s not to his credit that the first thing he thinks when effusive Mike moves in for a hug is “Let go, you homo!”, though he at least mostly keeps a lid on his feelings. Mike is never anything but lovely, and Kana quickly comes to adore him. It’s through her openness and innocence, untainted by prejudice, that Yaichi comes to rethink some of his actions concerning Mike. Why did he hesitate to invite Mike to stay with them, when he’d recently insisted a visiting cousin do the same, for example? Kana is able to ask Mike things that Yaichi feels unable to, and he benefits from Mike’s super-patient explanations, eventually realizing how wrong he’d been about various aspects of the gay experience.

Not only wrong, in fact, but willfully ignorant. When Ryoji came out to him as a teenager, Yaichi didn’t object but never talked about it with him, either. He never considered how difficult that conversation was for his brother, or what other kind of turmoil he might’ve been experiencing. Too late, he’s realizing that he missed the opportunity to truly know his brother. I did appreciate that Yaichi is willing and able to recognize his own failings, and that he vows to protect Kana from others’ negative opinions about Mike and from being as closed-off as he was. True, he’s still not able to introduce Mike to an acquaintance without downgrading his relationship to Ryoji, so he’s got a ways to go. But at least he is headed in the right direction.

“Heartbreaking yet hopeful” is how Anderson Cooper describes My Brother’s Husband in his endorsement blurb, and he is definitely right. Melinda also wrote movingly about the series in our latest Off the Shelf column.

My Brother’s Husband is complete in four volumes. Pantheon Books is releasing the series in two-in-one volumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Giant Killing, Vol. 1

By Masaya Tsunamoto and Tsujitomo | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Although I genuinely, deeply love shounen sports manga, I can’t deny that most follow similar story beats. I knew going in that Giant Killing is actually seinen, but wasn’t prepared for what a breath of fresh air it would be.

Instead of some first-year joining his high-school team, the protagonist of Giant Killing is Takeshi Tatsumi, a 35-year-old former pro soccer player turned coach. The series opens with Yuri Nagata and Kosei Gotou, the PR rep and general manager of East Tokyo United (a struggling Japanese team) finally locating Tatsumi at his job in England, where has led a team of amateurs to a top-32 finish in the Football Association Cup. They have even managed to crush professional teams.

It turns out that Tatsumi specializes in leading underdog teams to victory against highly favored opponents. He sees it as a David-and-Goliath scenario, hence the title of the series. Initially, the English club president doesn’t want to let Tatsumi out of his contract, but when he learns that Tatsumi used to play for ETU and that there are desperate fans in his hometown waiting to be helped, he relents and lets him go.

Tatsumi doesn’t seem to particularly care either way and it’s this neutrality that makes him an interesting character and effective coach. For instance, at his first practice session with the ETU team, he makes them run sprints for 45 minutes. Those with the most stamina turn out to be the younger guys, but they’re also merely the alternates on the team. With his guidance, they manage to defeat the older starters in a scrimmage. The stalwart veteran of the team, Murakoshi, gets his pride wounded by this, but rather than suggest that he’s no longer useful, Tatsumi instead points out that what he needs is to find his own secret weapon to overcome these odds. Tatsumi is adept at seeing a team or an individual’s shortcomings and offering strategies to overcome them, and that’s the kind of reliable leadership that Murakoshi has done without all these years.

On the one hand, Tatsumi exemplifies the gifted protagonist that this genre is full of, but his gift is not in his own athletic prowess (or not merely that) but rather his ability to furnish others with the tools they need to succeed, to reinvigorate failing franchises, and to rekindle fan enthusiasm. And, of course, the clubs don’t mind the boost in revenue that inevitably results. Giant Killing is every bit as addictive as a shounen series, but with grown-up stakes and nuance. I can’t wait to read more!

Giant Killing is ongoing in Japan, where the 43 volumes have been released so far.

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.

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.

Complex Age, Vol. 1

By Yui Sakuma | Published by Kodansha Comics

complex1

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.

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.