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.

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.

Uzumaki, Vols. 1-3

By Junji Ito | Published by VIZ Media

As with Ito’s two-volume work, Gyo, the best word to describe Uzumaki—despite a back cover blurb promising “terror in the tradition of The Ring”—is “weird.”

High school student Kirie Goshima lives in Kurôzu-Cho, a small coastal town nestled between the sea and a line of hills. She narrates each chapter in an effort to share the strange things that happened there. It all begins when, on the way to meet her boyfriend Shuichi Saito at the train station, she spots his father crouching in an alley, staring intently at a snail. Shuichi confirms that his dad has indeed been acting odd lately, and suggests that the entire town is “contaminated with spirals.”

Mr. Saito’s fixation with spirals grows to the point where he dies in an attempt to achieve a spiral shape, which drives his wife insane with spiral phobia. She too eventually passes away, leaving Shuichi alone to become a recluse who is able to resist the spiral menace while being more perceptive to it than most. Other episodic incidents fill out the first two volumes, including unfortunate events involving Kirie’s classmates (boys who turn into snails, a bizarre rivalry over spiralling hair, etc.), her father’s decision to use clay from the local pond in his ceramics, a mosquito epidemic that leads to icky goings-on at a hospital, and an abandoned lighthouse that suddenly begins producing a mesmerizing glow. Things come to a head in volume three when six successive hurricanes are drawn to Kurôzu-Cho, leaving it in ruins. Rescue workers and volunteers flock to the area, but find themselves unable to leave. Dun dun dun!

Creepy occurrences mandate creepy visuals, but I wouldn’t say that anything depicted herein is actually scary. Oh, there are loads of indelible images that made me go “ew” or “gross,” but was I frightened by them? No. The real horrors of Uzumaki are more subtle: the suggestions that there are ancient and mysterious forces against which humans are utterly powerless and that the spiral’s victims will live in eternal torment. Many tales of horror involve bloodthirsty monsters, but a menace that forces you to live and endure something horrific is much more capable of giving me the jibblies. It’s the ideas behind Uzumaki, therefore, and not the surfeit of disturbing images, that evoke dread.

Uzumaki has a much larger cast than Gyo, which prompted me to notice that Ito actually draws some really cute and realistic-looking female characters. Kirie is a prime example, but her classmates and TV reporter Chie Maruyama also fit the bill. I was pretty distracted by Ito’s rendering of a girl named Azami, though, because she reminded me so much of Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White in Clue. Observe:

Flames... FLAMES on the side of my face!

Uzumaki definitely delivers an unforgettable story with memorable art, but I would’ve liked to get to know the characters more. Kirie is a reasonably accessible lead and is smart, strong, and kind, but I felt at times that she was too strong. If anything gross is going on in town, Kirie is the one who’s going to discover it, and though she reacts in the moment, there wasn’t much emphasis on the cumulative effect of having witnessed all this madness. She keeps going and being shocked by things right until the very end, but a more normal person would’ve broken down long before. And why weren’t more people fleeing, I wonder? True, once the storms hit, nobody could leave, but for a while there plenty of crazy stuff is happening and folks are just sticking around.

I also would’ve liked to spend more time with Shuichi. He’s a pretty interesting guy, who wants to get out of town from the very start but remains because of Kirie. He seems to have inherited equal parts fascination with and fear of the spiral from his parents, which keeps him alive if not entirely sane, and is able to function at times when others are mesmerized, allowing him to come to Kirie’s aid on several occasions. Through these actions we see how much he cares for her, but I actually had no idea they were supposed to be a couple until he was specifically referred to as her boyfriend a couple of chapters in. Okay, yes, this isn’t a romance manga and I shouldn’t expect a lot of focus on their relationship, but even just a little bit of physical affection would’ve gone a long way.

Uzumaki is grim, gruesome, and a whole host of synonyms besides. This isn’t jump-out-of-your-skin horror, but a psychological tale with a decidedly grisly bent. I’m not sure I’d universally recommend it—I think I know several people who definitely shouldn’t read it, actually—but if it sounds intriguing to you, give it a whirl.

Uzumaki was published in English by VIZ Media. It is complete in three volumes.

For more entries in this month’s horror-themed MMF, check out the archive at Manga Xanadu.

Ekiben Hitoritabi, Vol. 1

By Jun Hayase | Published by Futabasha | Available in English at JManga

Even if JManga didn’t offer anything else to interest me, I think I would still love them forever for introducing me to Ekiben Hitoritabi. (The ekiben in the title refers to the boxed meals sold at train stations throughout Japan, while hitoritabi means “a trip undertaken alone.”)

Ekiben Hitoritabi is a slice-of-life story about an ordinary 35-year-old train enthusiast named Daisuke Nakahara whose wife gives him a ticket to Kyushu by special express sleeper train for their tenth anniversary. Once he gets to Kyushu, Daisuke begins making his way north by taking a variety of local and little-used rail lines. He’s accompanied throughout most of the first volume by a journalist named Nana, whom he educates on railroad history and exposes to the wide variety of tasty ekiben to be found at the stations they visit. When they’re not rhapsodizing over the contents of these ekiben, they’re admiring the scenery or the trains themselves.

I don’t think this is a manga for everyone. The biggest source of tension, for example, is worrying whether Daisuke and Nana are going to miss their train when it’s taking longer than expected to procure ekiben. Daisuke likes everything he tastes—and, indeed, his love of ekiben has inspired him to open a bento shop of his own in Tokyo—and is in perpetually good spirits. There’s always a page turn before the contents of the bento are revealed, so that each always appears on the upper right-hand side, with each component identified. Someone is bound to make a remark about the taste permeating his/her mouth, too.

But it’s just so charming. (One learns a lot about Japanese geography, too.) Daisuke is content with his life and with taking his leisurely time, and he makes it look so awesome that I am frankly envious. Now I want to travel Japan by local rail and sample a bunch of ekiben! I must admit, though, that I’d be reluctant to try some of them. And the one that looked the best to me was the only one Daisuke had anything even slightly negative to say about. Here it is, the Shaomai Bento:

(Click to enlarge.)

Shaomai is the Kyushu term for shumai, and after noticing that many of the ekiben contain kinshi eggs, I had to look them up and I WANT SOME ON RICE RIGHT NOW. That, of course, is the danger with Ekiben Hitoritabi: reading it while hungry is sheer torture.

What’s not torture is the translation, which is better than I expected. I did get the sense that the work was spread between several people, however, because treatment of sound effects was inconsistent and some errors (like “bento’s” instead of “bentos”) cropped up only intermittently. I never had any issues with comprehension, though, and JManga welcomes feedback, so I did leave them a few notes about the minor problems I noticed. Splitting a word between two lines seemed to be an issue, for example:

On the whole, however, I am utterly delighted that I got to read Ekiben Hitoritabi. I doubt it would’ve sold too well in print format, so if digital is the only way I can get it, then I am just grateful to have the chance. Grateful and yet impatient, because I am going to need volume two pretty soon. And some kinshi eggs.

Ekiben Hitoritabi is up to volume thirteen in Japan and is still ongoing.

Kobato., Vols. 1-3

By CLAMP | Published by Yen Press

The plot of Kobato. sounds like a typical shoujo magical girl story. A dim-witted and clumsy heroine, who also happens to be guileless and compassionate, is tasked with filling a magic bottle with wounded hearts so that her dearest wish can be granted. But Kobato. isn’t shoujo.

If anything, it’s seinen, as it ran for seven chapters in Sunday GX before going on hiatus and reemerging in Newtype magazine. I’m guessing that the target audience, presumed to be young men with an appreciation for moe, is the reason why Kobato commences flailing, chibified panic mode on page two and falls down approximately fifteen times per chapter. (I may be exaggerating there, but honestly not by much.) The latter gag is run into the ground so relentlessly that I refuse to consider that anyone finds it funny, so CLAMP must be trying to inspire feelings of “Aww, she’s so cute and/or hopeless.”

The first volume of Kobato. is not very good. Kobato’s incompetency grates as does the constant browbeating she receives from Ioryogi, some sort of supernatural being currently dwelling in the form of a stuffed dog, who is testing her ability to “act according to the common-sense rules of this place.” If she passes, she earns the magic bottle. These tests—mainly centered around holidays—include taking out the trash, making nabe, and spending New Year’s day playing traditional games with an elderly woman.

Things improve somewhat in the second volume. Kobato’s got her bottle now and is ready to heal some wounded hearts. After moving into the same apartment building seen in Chobits, she starts work as a helper at Yomogi Kindergarten. The head of the school, Sayako-sensei, seems to have a heart in need of some healing, as does her hard-working part-time employee, Fujimoto. With Ioryogi’s assistance, Kobato tries to discover how best to help them, and gradually learns that Sayako is working to pay off a debt her father was tricked into incurring, that Sayako’s soon-to-be-ex husband is threatening harm to the school unless she pays up, and that Fujimoto is working himself to the point of exhaustion to earn money to contribute. They seem suspicious of Kobato at first, but her genuine sincerity eventually wins over even grumpy Fujimoto.

This is definitely an improvement over the first volume, but the kindergarten-in-peril storyline still seems to be occupying a great deal of space in what looks to be only a six-volume series. (Kobato. just recently came to an end.) There is a lot of room left in Kobato’s bottle, so I wonder how she will end up filling it after spending so much time working on these two hearts in particular.

Now that I’ve finished my litany of complaints, there are some intriguing questions about Kobato. that leave me inclined to stick with the series until the end. Where is Kobato from, exactly? What is her wish? How did she and Ioryogi meet? What is Ioryogi? (We’ve learned already that if he helps Kobato grant her wish, he may be able to get his original body back.) And, most peculiarly of all, why is it that Kobato is not allowed to take off her hat?

Kindergarten peril I can do without, but I really do want to know what’s up with the hat thing.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Maison Ikkoku 10-15 by Rumiko Takahashi

Maison Ikkoku is a series I’ve been meaning to read for a decade now. I watched a lot of the anime, and got up to volume nine in the manga a few years ago, but it took an MMF dedicated to Rumiko Takahashi to finally concentrate my determination sufficiently to conquer the final six volumes. Since I am writing specifically about the end of the series, and the methods Takahashi employs to bring it about, please beware of spoilers.

For those who are unaware, Maison Ikkoku is the story of the occupants of the titular boarding house, specifically bumbling but good-hearted Yusaku Godai and Kyoko Otonashi, the beautiful young widow who manages the property. Godai is in love with Kyoko and would like to propose, but wants to prove himself reliable first by finding work. Meanwhile, Kyoko is trying to decide whether she even wants to remarry and, if she does, should she wait for Godai to get his act together or accept the proposal that handsome, rich tennis coach Shun Mitaka has made.

Volume ten finds Godai job-hunting. He has recently concluded a spell as a student teacher at the same all-girls’ high school Kyoko once attended, where he caught the eye of Ibuki Yagami, who pursues him relentlessly. It so happens, however, that Yagami’s dad is the hiring manager for a major company, but Godai has botched the chance for an interview due to a medical emergency with a random pregnant lady. Honestly, this whole arc is frustrating, because Yagami is so wrapped up in the romance of supporting her impoverished man that she regularly makes a fool of herself, and Godai keeps getting dragged into situations that torpedo his chance for success. Even here, though he finally gets a job, he just can’t win, for the firm immediately goes bankrupt.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this marks a turning point in the series. Originally conceiving of it as a stop-gap measure until he finds other work, Godai begins working at a preschool and discovers a real aptitude for it. This is the first time we’ve actually seen Godai be really good at something and, not only that, the first time he begins to think of a possible career rather than just a job. Alas, he’s laid off in volume twelve, but is determined to get his teaching certification and continues to study while operating a nursery for the employees of a risqué cabaret in the evenings.

So, while on one hand we have the beginnings of maturation for Godai, on the other we have the beginnings of thawing in Kyoko. Although she thinks of Godai more as a little brother than a potential husband in some ways, she’s still obviously fond of him, enough that she can’t quite accept Mitaka’s proposals, even though he would seem to be the better match. “Please. Come home soon,” she thinks at one point. “Please tell me not to marry him.” This maturation+thawing trend until the end of the series, with many advances and setbacks, but it really starts here.

Various hijinks ensue while Godai and Kyoko are gradually growing closer, involving myriad misunderstandings and an arranged marriage for Mitaka, who hasn’t given up on Kyoko and is working on conquering his fear of dogs in order to woo her without her friendly mutt causing any problems. The next big step in the main couple’s relationship occurs in volume thirteen, when one of the employees at the cabaret leaves her children in Godai’s care while she runs off with a customer.

Godai is primarily concerned with the happiness of the children, and brings them home to Maison Ikkoku to look after. This creates a homey feeling, and causes Kyoko to notice how Godai is able to shoulder additional burdens with equanimity. Gone is the Godai who thinks selfishly—he simply wants to do the best for these kids, and later we’ll see him express concern for Mitaka’s fiancé’s happiness where a younger Godai might have exulted that Mitaka was soon to be out of the running for Kyoko’s affections. I applaud how smoothly Takahashi is able to make this transition, because it seems natural that Godai has become this kind of man, though it’s impossible to say precisely when.

Before Godai and Kyoko can really be together, however, their secondary significant others must be dealt with, so a lot of time is devoted to resolving the Mitaka situation, with Kyoko finally saying she can’t marry him, and, later, to getting Kozue (Godai’s long-time platonic girlfriend) sorted out. I really love how Takahashi accomplishes this, because she basically twists the same sort of comic misunderstanding plots that have populated the series this entire time so that they actually have lasting repercussions that wrap things up for these love rivals in satisfying ways. No threads are left hanging!

By the final volume, Godai has become a reliable prospect. He dedicates himself to studying for his exam and passes on his first attempt. Again, it is simply great watching him be good at something, and though this stability will help him win Kyoko, it’s also something that he wanted for himself. While Godai waits for the right moment to propose to an expectant Kyoko, the pair works through some trust issues, and when he finally pops the question, it’s completely awesome. Also in the category of awesome is the amazing scene in which Godai, no longer threatened by Kyoko’s past, visits the grave of her first husband, Soichiro. I got majorly sniffly when he said, “You’ve been a part of her since the first day I met her and I still fell in love with her. So… I’m taking you into my life too. As part of her.” In fact, I got verklempt again just writing that.

I won’t spoil the exact details of the ending, except to say that it couldn’t possibly be more satisfying. Although Maison Ikkoku was at times a frustrating read, it was also an affecting and amusing one. Takahashi has created a cast of characters who, even if frequently wishy-washy, are immensely appealing. In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the role Takahashi’s artwork plays in making the series successful, for though she absolutely excels at depicting adorable children and dogs (especially Mitaka’s delightful McEnroe), she’s also nails the emotional moments. I’m especially fond of some scenes in later volumes in which characters shed their shells to various degrees, with Mitaka losing his ever-present smiling glint and Kyoko opening up emotionally.

I’ve written over a thousand words now, and could probably write a thousand more about this fantastic series. Rather than do that, however, I think I’ll merely conclude with a heartfelt recommendation: you simply must read Maison Ikkoku.