A Variety of VIZ

In which I cover several new(er) series and a digital one-shot!

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol. 1 by Mika Yamamori
Fifteen-year-old Suzume Yosano has been going to school with the same kids in her country town for as long as she can remember, but when her dad gets transferred to Bangladesh for work, Suzume ends up transferring to school in Tokyo and living with her uncle. When she faints on the way to his house, one of his customers (he runs a café) helps her find her way. The next day, she learns that her savior is her homeroom teacher, Mr. Shishio.

I don’t generally like student-teacher romances, but Daytime Shooting Star runs in Margaret, a magazine that many of my favorites have come from, so I was willing to give it a chance. And, indeed, I do like it! Suzume is a fun lead character. She’s much more forthright than one normally sees in a shoujo heroine, particularly with how she deals with a mean girl (Yuyuka Nekota), and yet kind of humble at the same time. She’ll state clearly her position and unabashedly apologize when she’s wrong. I like her a lot.

Shishio is fairly likeable, too. Twenty-four years old and handsome, he’s popular with the girls, but rather than coming across as skeevy, so far he seems genuinely interested in helping out kids who might be struggling. It might be a little dodgy that he’s willing to come privately tutor Suzume after she spectacularly fails a quiz, but it’s apparently something he does for all of his students who need extra help.

What makes Daytime Shooting Star acceptable is that, so far, Shishio does not seem to have any romantic interest in Suzume whatsoever. Some promising retrospective narration adds, “At that time, even if I had known he was out of reach like that star, I was still drawn to him.” If this is the story of a girl’s unrequited first love, I am totally here for that. If Shishio starts to reciprocate, it’ll be time to reevaluate.

Daytime Shooting Star is complete in twelve volumes. VIZ will release the second volume in September.

Komi Can’t Communicate, Vol. 1 by Tomohito Oda
Serialized in Shounen Sunday (and possessed of that unique charm that many series from that magazine possess), Komi Can’t Communicate is the story of Shoko Komi, a girl so lovely she’s seen as an unapproachable beauty possessed of cool reserve when actually she has a communication disorder and, though she would love to make friends, can’t manage to talk to anyone. One day, her timid classmate Hitohito Tadano happens to hear her talking to herself and ends up befriending her—over the course of a sprawling chalkboard conversation—and vowing to help her achieve her goal of making 100 friends.

The pacing of the series is very much like a 4-koma manga, but the panel layout is more like standard manga, so even though each page kind of has a punchline, it also feels like a through-composed story. Throughout the course of this first volume Tadano helps Komi make friends with Najimi Osana, his junior high friend of ambiguous gender, and Himiko Agari, a super-nervous girl for whom Komi feels particular affinity. Various hijinks ensue, including Najimi seeming to use Komi as an errand girl by sending her off to fetch a complicated coffee order—though perhaps this really was intended as useful practice for her?—and Tadano and Komi attempting to join in on some classroom games and faring terribly, with Tadano ultimately sacrificing his own reputation in order to spare Komi’s. I only laughed out loud once, but overall, it was pretty cute.

The elite prep school they attend has a reputation for admitting many quirky individuals, so presumably Oda-sensei won’t want for material any time soon. I shouldn’t expect anything deep from this series, or any sort of social renaissance for Tadano, so if I keep that in mind, I foresee this being an enjoyable, easy read for a long time to come.

Komi Can’t Communicate is ongoing in Japan, where the thirteen volume comes out this month. VIZ will release volume two in August.

Snow White with the Red Hair, Vol. 1 by Sorata Akiduki
Shirayuki is renowned in the country of Tanbarun for her apple-red hair. When the infamously foolish Prince Raj decides that she’s going to be his next concubine, Shirayuki cuts her hair and flees. She winds up making the acquaintance of a boy named Zen, who turns out to be the younger prince of the neighboring Clarines kingdom. After they defeat Prince Raj’s henchman, they decide to stick together. Zen returns home to the Clarines capital city where Shirayuki starts studying to become a court herbalist.

I really liked the characters in this one. Shirayuki is smart and has a definite goal that she wants to earn for her own merits and not through Zen’s benevolence. She is never once spazzy. Although her unique beauty (and a developing reputation as a “treasure even a prince failed to nab”) makes her a target, which sometimes requires Zen to come to her rescue, she is suitably defiant and resourceful enough on her own that this does not play out like a typical shoujo trope. For his part, Zen is wonderfully supportive of her goals and, furthermore, demonstrates that he understands her when he dismisses someone’s suggestion that he should just appoint her to be court herbalist.

This is kind of a low-key series so far, but it’s exceedingly charming and I very much look forward to continuing with it.

Snow White with the Red Hair is ongoing in Japan, where 20 volumes have been released so far. Volume two comes out in English tomorrow.

That Blue Sky Feeling, Vols. 1-2 by Okura and Coma Hashii
When friendly and outgoing Dai Noshiro transfers to a new school, he can’t help but notice that one student is always alone. Kou Sanada insists that Noshiro doesn’t have to go out of his way to talk to him, but Noshiro is convinced that Sanada is lonely and keeps trying to befriend the boy, even after hearing rumors that Sanada is gay. He chastises others for treating Sanada differently, but must confront his own reaction when, after Sanada backtracks after admitting the rumor is true and instead claims to have been joking, relief is his primary emotion. To his credit, he realizes the impact of his words and swiftly apologizes.

The bulk of these two volumes concerns these very different boys getting to know each other. Noshiro is big and loud but profoundly innocent in the realm of romance. He had notions of protecting Sanada, but soon realizes, “He’s way more grown-up than me!” (Sanada has had at least one boyfriend, Hide, who is 26. Seeing as how Sanada is in high school, this is a little creepy, but Hide actually proves to be a decent guy who gives Noshiro a lot of helpful advice.) Sanada is reserved and prefers to keep out of the spotlight, which is difficult when someone as boisterous as Noshiro is around.

Sanada is also pretty anxious, and I loved that every time he worried that Noshiro wouldn’t accept him or that he should continue to keep parts of his life separate, Noshiro would surprise him. One good example is when Sanada meets up with a guy he met online and Noshiro spots them walking around town together. Sanada expects the worst. “The more he gets to know me the more Noshiro will be weirded out by me. I just know it.” But the truth is… Noshiro is just upset that other people can make Sanada smile more easily than he can, and this bugs him for some reason.

By the end of volume two, it’s clear that Sanada is starting to have feelings for Noshiro, and that he’s jealous when another boy starts crushing on him, too. It’s unclear whether Noshiro is feeling the same—he’s so clueless romantically that he actually thought Sanada might start dating a female classmate simply because she is his friend—though he does at least realize that what he feels for Sanada is special. I do hope they get together in the end, but a more bittersweet ending would be satisfying, too.

That Blue Sky Feeling is complete in three volumes. The final volume will be released in English in October.

Will I Be Single Forever? by Mari Okazaki
As a big fan of Okazaki’s Suppli, I was delighted when VIZ decided to offer one of her titles in a digital-only format. Based on an essay by Mami Amamiya, Will I Be Single Forever? features the interconnected stories of three unmarried and proudly self-reliant women in their thirties.

Mami is 36 and a successful writer, though her mother pities her for her singlehood. “I’m finally capable,” Mami laments, “but she feels sorry for me.” Reuniting with family for a funeral reminds Mami how others have assumed their places as wives and mothers, but it’s her free-spirited single uncle who really seems to be enjoying life. She wants to be like him.

Yukino has broken up with a guy who she didn’t really like that much, but is upset nevertheless. After a brief attempt at rekindling with an old flame—and realizing with horror that she was so scared of being alone that her memories of why they broke up temporarily vanished—she decides to go on the trip she and her ex had planned to take by herself and has a blast.

Shimizu has a lover she forgets about for weeks at a time and turns down a rendez-vous with him in favor of work, which she finds more fulfilling. She ponders if fixating on random projects is just protecting herself from something, but in the end concludes the work is honestly rewarding. “I want to keep going down this path.” (My one complaint here is that the exact nature of these projects is kept vague, something that also bugged me in Suppli.)

In the final chapter, the women convene after Mami almost gets married. Her fiancé was a jerk from a family of jerks, and she emerges from the experience literally and figuratively battered and bruised. The final scene is marvelous, as the trio creates their own definition of happiness: “Eating good food. Reading your favorite books. Telling yourself “Good job!” at work. Eating a whole bag of potato chips in the middle of the night. And getting those things for yourself with your own strength.”

In the interview at the end of the book, the creators assure readers they bear no ill will towards married ladies and stress that it’s the independence, the having of one’s own life that is most important. I think I would’ve preferred a much longer series fleshing out these characters, but it was a good, affirming read nonetheless!

Will I Be Single Forever? is complete in one volume.

Four New Shoujo Series from Kodansha

Note: With the exception of Love in Focus, these are digital-only releases.

Love in Focus, Vol. 1 by Yoko Nogiri
Having really enjoyed Nogiri-sensei’s That Wolf-boy Is Mine!, I was happy to see another of her titles get licensed. Alas, it’s another short series.

Mako Mochizuki is entering her first year of high school and has been invited by her childhood friend, Kei Akahoshi, to attend a school almost four hours away from home by train. Both of them are really into photography, having been taught by Mako’s grandfather before he passed away, and this school has a photography club with a professional for an advisor. Furthermore, they both live in a boarding house occupied almost entirely by club members. The one outlier is another first year, an introverted guy named Mitsuru Amemura who claims to hate photos.

I really enjoyed Mako as a protagonist, and probably will always enjoy a lead character who’s truly passionate about something (and good at it, too). I also liked that it’s the way she sees the world, and her ability to find beauty in the smallest things, that convinces Amemura to open up about his past and consent to be her photographic subject. I could definitely do without Kei and his pissy possessiveness of Mako (even if he did invite her because he understood how lonely she was at home without her beloved grandpa) and hope that we’re not going to be expected to buy into a love triangle scenario.

It’s true there are shades of Shortcake Cake in this story, but it’s distinct enough that I intend to follow both of them. Also, this one has a really cute dog.

Love in Focus is complete in three volumes. Kodansha will release volume two in English in May.

My Sweet Girl, Vol. 1 by Rumi Ichinohe
My Sweet Girl has a fairly generic premise: Tsugumi Koeda (her last name means “twig”) is a short, skinny girl who believes she’s not the kind of person who gets to fall in love. “No guy has ever looked at me as a girl in my whole life,” she narrates, but this changes when she meets popular Masamune Sena, your standard princely shoujo love interest, who inspires her to begin expressing her femininity more overtly.

On the one hand, I liked Tsugumi’s insecurities about her physique and that she thinks things like, “I never, ever want to show my body to Masamune-kun.” Her wariness of being led on and her gradual realization that it’s okay to be more true to herself are good, too. On the other hand, the execution of this storyline at times leaves a lot to be desired. So many times, background characters will pipe up with cruel comments out of the blue and it feels so unrealistic. Like, random passing fifth graders berate Tsugumi for her appearance, and a group of boys who knew her in junior high interrupt her summer festival outing with Masamune just to call her a stick. We get that she faces some adversity, but this is verging on lame. Too, I lost track of how many times Tsugumi falls down, is knocked down, or passes out. It happens A LOT.

There’s enough to like about My Sweet Girl to entice me to return for a second volume, but if she falls down half a dozen more times in that one too, I probably won’t proceed to a third.

My Sweet Girl is ongoing in Japan, where the ninth volume has just come out. Kodansha will digitally release volume two on Tuesday.

Ran the Peerless Beauty, Vol. 1 by Ammitsu
Are you despondent now that Kimi ni Todoke has finished? Are you looking for a series with a similar feel? Look no further, because Ran the Peerless Beauty is here!

Ran Takamine is seemingly perfect. She’s beautiful, rich, extremely smart, and athletic. She’s also been deemed undateable, as boys are too intimidated to talk to her, expecting her standards to be sky-high. In reality, though, she’s a sweet girl who works really hard and is completely inexperienced with boys. When she accidently sprays Akira Saeki with a hose while diligently performing her duties for the Gardening Club, she’s surprised by how cheerful he is about it.

Gradually, they become friends, bonding over their love of flowers. Akira’s father runs a flower shop and his ambition is to get good enough to create bouquets. Ran joined the Gardening Club to help “sensei,” but adds, “I had the feeling that I’d rather be around flowers than people.” Akira can see that, rather than being snooty, she’s just a bit awkward.

What reminds me of Kimi ni Todoke is both Ran’s classic beauty and her attitude. Her male classmates won’t make eye contact with her, but not because they fear being cursed but because she shines too brightly, but she’s really just a normal person with her own weak points. Akira is sunny despite some scary family circumstances—it’s not until late in the volume that Ran learns his mother is in the hospital—and encourages Ran to come out of her shell a bit.

I can see this evolving into quite a lovely story, and I am so here for it. I also hope to learn more about Akira, his circumstances, and how he sees Ran. We do at least know that their growing feelings are mutual, which is nice.

Ran the Peerless Beauty is ongoing in Japan, where the fifth volume has just come out. Kodansha will digitally release volume two later this month.

World’s End and Apricot Jam, Vols. 1-2 by Rila Kirishima
The blurb for the first volume of World’s End and Apricot Jam wasn’t very encouraging. “After breaking into Anzu Shinohara’s apartment and smashing his already broken keyboard, Hina Sakata quickly finds herself in his debt. As she works to pay him back, Hina finds out that Anzu is a vocalist in a band and becomes entranced, wanting to explore more of his unkown world.” It’s all technically correct, but suggested to me something more Sensual Phrase-y than what actually occurs, to my great relief.

Hina lives with her father, who is ostensibly the manager of an apartment building. He spends his days getting drunk, however, so she takes over his duties so that he doesn’t lose his job. One of their tenants is the slovenly guy in #304, who turns out to be a singer in a band. He’s also full of contradictions—and I don’t mean his transformation from “goofy weirdo” to “charismatic vocalist”—as he finds himself repeatedly drawn to Hina only to pull himself back at the last second.

It’s true that Anzu’s indecisiveness plays with Hina’s emotions, but it does truly seem to be unintentional. He’s in his twenties and has done a lot of things that he’s not proud of. (“I’m no good and a liar.”) And here is this girl, so sweet and great, whom he comes to care for in a way he hasn’t cared for anyone in a long time, and yet… is it right to encourage her feelings when she’s an innocent and might be better off without the baggage of his past and his angst?

Ultimately, I liked this series a lot more than I was expecting to. I also like that it’s a fairly short series; these sorts of scenarios can get tiresome when they go on too long.

World’s End and Apricot Jam is complete in six volumes. Kodansha will digitally release volume three on Tuesday.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Falling Behind the Shojo Beat

In which I catch up with several series that have recently debuted under VIZ’s Shojo Beat imprint.

Kenka Bancho Otome: Love’s Battle Royale, Vols. 1-2 by Chie Shimada
Based on the game created by Spike Chunsoft, Kenka Bancho Otome is the frothy tale of Hinako Nakayama, a friendless orphan who is accosted on the way to her first day of high school by her heretofore-unknown twin brother, Hikaru Onigashima, heir to a yakuza family. He’s supposed to be attending Shishiku Academy, famous for its delinquents, but he hates fighting, so he prevails upon Hinako—toughened by her orphan experience—to switch places with him. Once she begins attending Shishiku, she makes friends and has various adventures while becoming the boss of her year and fending off challengers.

I didn’t enjoy this series much, and mostly that is due to how shallow the storytelling is. Now, I realize this manga is based on an otome game, so perhaps I shouldn’t get hung up on the details and just appreciate theoretically hunky guys, but still… a little bit of effort would’ve gone a long way. The most glaring example of missed opportunities is the fact that Hinako never once stops to wonder “Hey, if I had a rich family, including an identical twin, why on earth did I grow up in an orphanage?!” Another drawback was that Hikaru has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and his omnipresent minion is just plain creepy.

Really, the best thing I can say about Kenka Bancho Otome is “at least it’s short.”

Kenka Bancho Otome: Love’s Battle Royale is complete in two volumes.

Takane & Hana, Vols. 1-4 by Yuki Shiwasu
When her older sister flakes on an arranged marriage meeting with her dad’s boss’s 26-year-old grandson, sixteen-year-old Hana agrees to go in her place. Takane Saibara is arrogant and critical and is surprised and intrigued when Hana tells him, “I don’t have even an ounce of interest in you.” From then on, he keeps turning up at her house and school, expecting her to cry for joy at his attention and gifts, but little by little he shows his good qualities. Although he’s a successful businessman, he does have an awkward side, and the ease with which Hana is able to push his buttons makes the age difference between them a lot easier to accept.

Over the course of these four volumes, Hana goes from zero interest in Takane to realizing that he’s a reliable, honest person whom she wants to keep seeing, despite the possibility that his career will be harmed by further association with a high-school girl. She hasn’t quite accepted that she has feelings for him, partly because their relationship is so competitive (and tsundere to the max) that admitting such a thing would be a major defeat. Indeed, the final page of the fourth volume depicts a gleefully gloating Takane who has just learned that, in the interest of keeping things simple, Hana has been telling her classmates he’s her boyfriend.

I really like both Hana and Takane a lot, and Shiwasu-sensei does great things with their facial expressions, particularly how Hana can be all smiles one moment and then blank the next (as she delivers the latest blow to Takane’s ego). Takane in smirk mode is fun, but I love the palpable sense of relief that emanates from him when he’s able to relax and just be himself around Hana. It’ll probably take a very long time for these two to get together, but if the road there is going to be this entertaining, then I’m in for the long haul!

Takane & Hana is ongoing in Japan; volume twelve comes out there later this month. VIZ will release the fifth volume in English tomorrow.

The Young Master’s Revenge, Vols. 1-3 by Meca Tanaka
As a child, Leo Tachibana was encouraged to befriend Tenma Tsuwabuki, the daughter of wealthy department store owners. She was a tomboy and frequently involved him in her escapades, which culminated in an incident where he fell into a turtle pond and was bitten on his butt by a pair of turtles, leaving scars that have become the symbol of his burning hatred for Tenma. Newly returned to Japan after living abroad for ten years, Leo is determined to get his revenge by making Tenma fall for him and then rejecting her. Yes, our hero has spent a decade obsessing over this plan all because some baby turtles chomped his butt checks.

Initially, Leo has a bunch of inner monologues about how he’ll discard Tenma like a used rag or shatter her heart to pieces, but at the same time he’s protecting her and helping her out. The Tsuwabuki store has gone bankrupt, so when the relatives she’s living with pressure her into an arranged marriage, Leo rescues her and provides her a place to stay. When she’s ostracized by her rich classmates, it’s Leo who eats lunch with her every day. Soon, Tenma learns that Leo holds her responsible for his turtle trauma, and she’s willing to let him torment her as a form of atonement. Of course, it’s obvious that he loves her, but it takes him a while to acknowledge the fact. After that point, he’s got to try to undo all the damage he did previously and try to convince Tenma he no longer has any intention of hurting her.

Leo is not especially endearing as a character, but to his credit, I will say that he very much supports and respects Tenma’s goal of becoming a veterinarian. Tenma is much more likable, being positive and dignified and with a clear-eyed goal in mind. I also liked the little subplot wherein the sheltered rich girl develops skills like cleaning house and understanding the value of money.

Ultimately, The Young Master’s Revenge is one of those shoujo series that has some truly ludicrous moments and one-note recurring characters but is somehow captivating enough to make one want to complete the series.

The Young Master’s Revenge is complete in four volumes. The final volume is due in December.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Lovesick Ellie, Vols. 1-3

By Fujimomo | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

I admit that I was initially attracted to Lovesick Ellie because of the covers, which are adorable. My favorite is the third, because it perfectly captures Ohmi-kun’s personality.

So, imagine you’re an awkward boy who doesn’t express himself well, only you’ve been born exceedingly handsome. You’re placed on a pedestal, and instead of getting to play a tree in the school play, the role of the prince is thrust upon you. At kindergarten graduation you’re completely confused when the girls ambush you for souvenirs and end up in tears. In middle school, you end up alienating your best friend who grows envious of your good fortune and disappointing people when you let your true personality show. That’s the plight facing Akira Ohmi, and when he gets to high school he decides to adopt a princely facade to go along with his looks so that he can keep his distance and avoid hurting anyone else.

Eriko Ichimura is a plain girl whom nobody notices. (Yes, this is one of those Dessert manga where the friendless girl attracts the notice of the most popular boy in school.) In lieu of real relationships, Eriko entertains herself by writing fantasies about Ohmi-kun on an anonymous Twitter account under the name Lovesick Ellie. One day, she accidentally catches a glimpse of the real Ohmi-kun. Shocked, she leaves her cellphone behind, enabling Ohmi to read her tweets about him. Rather than be mad, he thinks they’re hilarious. In exchange for her keeping his secret, he offers to fulfill her fantasies, then laughs when she’s, like, “Okay!” In the end, he decides to trust her.

After this encounter, they gradually come to know each other. Ohmi is derisive toward the other girls who’ve fallen for the false persona he’s created, but Eriko is different. Not only is she not disappointed by his true personality, she continues to lust after him openly. Ultimately, this is a story about really being seen and loved for your true self. Nobody noticed Eriko until Ohmi did, and while everyone noticed him, they never saw the real him.

As they navigate their new relationship, there are various firsts, and a lot of blushing, and some misunderstandings, and some mean girls who disapprove of Ohmi dating someone (though they mistakenly think he’s dating Sara, the friend Eriko eventually acquires). None of this is new shoujo manga territory, but the characters are refreshing. Ohmi is seriously endearing, especially once his bratty attitude subsides and he allows himself to be sweet and vulnerable. He’s apologetic for the things he gets wrong, and encourages Eriko not to give up on him. For her part, Eriko is kind of a spaz, but shoujo heroines are not typically this horny, so that’s a unique aspect, for sure. It certainly makes for some snerkworthy declarations, like when she proclaims, “I like you sexually!”

So far, I really like this series a lot, and I look forward to continuing it.

Lovesick Ellie is ongoing in Japan. Its sixth volume comes out there on March 13th, which is the same day the fourth will be available in English.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Beasts of Abigaile, Vols. 1-2

By Spica Aoki | Published by Seven Seas

After having been bullied in school back home in Japan, Tsukishiro Nina comes to live with her uncle in the tiny principality of Ruberia, famous for its roses. Outwardly, it’s an affluent place, but Nina soon learns—after being bitten by a luga and taking on some of their characteristics—that wolf-like people known as luga serve as slave labor for the humans in Ruberia, and that young luga are all rounded up and sent to an island prison/school called Abigaile, where they learn how to serve humans. Nina is sent there after her transformation and must try to blend in, because if the other luga find out she’s human, they’ll turn on her.

I wasn’t sure I would like this at first because Nina’s character blurb contains the phrase “sometimes lets her emotions drive her to dangerous behavior,” which is definitely not my favorite personality type. And, it’s true, she does require a bit of rescuing due to her impulsive actions, usually by handsome luga named Gilles (who’s on the student council and seemingly devoted to its mysterious president) and Dario (the effeminate alpha who dreams of becoming a fashion designer). However, I like that, because she comes from a place where teenagers are able to pursue their aspirations, she becomes determined that the luga should have the same right, and thus wants to unite them and get them out of there.

That said, Nina is actually the least interesting character to me. I probably shouldn’t like Roy, the luga who bit her and who is the alpha of the most dangerous “home” (basically a pack) in Abigaile. He enjoys tormenting Nina but he’s definitely the most fascinating character so far, especially when we learn at the end of volume two that he himself had hoped to unite the luga but couldn’t. Nina and Roy actually remind me of Clarke and Bellamy in The 100—two teens who emerged as leaders from among a disenfranchised group of youth who disagree with each other’s methods, but if they could trust each other and become a team, then they might really have a chance. (Granted, I haven’t seen more than a handful of episodes at this point.) I like that dynamic between them and look forward to Roy eventually coming to trust Nina.

Meanwhile, Roy’s “beta,” Eva, is possessive of him in the extreme and jealous of Nina, so contrives to attack and/or expose her at every turn. She’s a great antagonist because her motives are so strong, and by the end of volume two she’s convinced Poe, a lowly “omega” whom Nina has been trying hard to protect, to turn on Nina and deliver unto her the rose perfume that disguises Nina’s human scent. Dun dun dun!

In addition to hoping Roy and Nina team up and successfully escape Abigaile, there are some other plot points I hope get fleshed out. What’s the deal with the student council president? Why is the chief instructor such a bishounen? Surely the mangaka wouldn’t waste such a character design on someone who wasn’t going to be significant down the road. And, perhaps most importantly, why did being bit by Roy cause Nina to take on luga characteristics, when that never happened to any of the other humans he’s bitten?

I’m glad I took a chance on this one.

Beasts of Abigaile is ongoing in Japan, where three volumes have been released so far. The third comes out in English on Tuesday.

Review copy for volume one provided by the publisher.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty, Vol. 1

By Megumi Morino | Published by Kodansha Comics

Tetsu Misato makes up for what he lacks in height with his energy and determination. Due to a mysterious promise he made to his hospitalized mother, Tetsu is driven to earn money. So much so that he plains to join the work force after graduation and already is working several part-time jobs while in high school, abandoning the soccer team as a result. To prove to his father that he is ready to hold down a job, he begins working through his father’s housekeeping agency at the Karasawa mansion. There have long been rumors that the place is haunted, but Tetsu soon learns that the “frail, sickly daughter” who allegedly lives in a separate building is a real and friendly girl, no apparition at all.

In fact, Shizu doesn’t seem ill at all, but some of the things she says are strange, like “I’d like you to come see me… to see Shizu Karasawa again.” And when Tetsu confesses his love (thankfully without prolonged angst) Shizu is troubled and invites him to visit again on his next work day before she gives him a straight answer. When he complies, he finds a completely different Shizu, who refers to the personality Tetsu interacted with as “Haru” and only vaguely remembers Tetsu. She doesn’t seem to know who she herself really is.

Most of this first volume is Tetsu figuring out the mystery of what exactly Shizu’s deal is, which I don’t want to spoil, but I will say I definitely enjoyed the read. Early on, there are some gag reaction panels that aren’t particularly amusing, but which make the darker, creepier moments later on land with more impact. Tetsu is quite the scaredy cat, and while he initially visits Shizu because he cares about her (well, the Haru version, at least) and doesn’t want her to be lonely, by the end of the volume, Shizu’s mother has made him an offer he can’t refuse, and though he’s now scared of Shizu because of what he’s learned, he’s compelled to stay near her to protect someone he cares about—and this time, I think that’s referring to his mother or his family and ties in to the unknown reason that he needs to earn all that money. It’s a nice shift in his motivations, especially as it occurs after the real Shizu has shown that she cares about Tetsu, a first for her.

The tables have turned in their relationship, and I very much look forward to see how the story progresses from here.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty is complete in six volumes. Volume two will be out in English next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Waiting for Spring, Vols. 1-3

By Anashin | Published by Kodansha Comics

Mitsuki Haruno is a first-year in high school who has always had trouble making friends. Her luck begins to change when she befriends the most popular quartet of boys in school. If someone read those sentences to me and asked me to guess in which magazine this manga was serialized, I’d say Dessert, based on past offerings we’ve seen from them (like Say I Love You.). And I would be right.

The fact that it’s a familiar premise doesn’t preclude Waiting for Spring from being enjoyable, however. Although the four boys can be almost instantly categorized into standard roles based on their appearance—the playful one, the intellectual one, the hotheaded one, the princely one—I appreciated that, like typical teenage boys, they are still occasionally jerks. Oh, sure, they’re idealized and do things like try to cheer up little kids through the power of basketball, but at least they’re not saints.

I also quite liked Mitsuki as a character. I could foresee a version of this story in which her failures to initiate social interaction with others might be frustrating, but that’s not the case here at all. The key seems to be Mitsuki’s honesty about the past experiences that are holding her back in the present, and by the end of the third volume she has made two female friends. Reina is, awesomely, a major fujoshi and envisions the four boys (all of whom are on the basketball team) in romantic pairings. I love the little background gags of her taking surreptitious pictures of them. Maki is a member of the girls basketball team who, unbeknownst to Mitsuki, also has a thing for princely Asakura.

We also meet Aya, the childhood friend whom Mitsuki thought was a girl. Turns out (no real surprise) that he is a boy and is determined to win Mitsuki’s affections. He’s insistent to a troubling degree, but again, I appreciate that Mitsuki is firm in her refusals, even managing to defuse conflict between Aya and Asakura by proposing that she’ll go on the date Aya wants after the inter-high tournament, but that Asakura will come too and it’ll be a fun group thing. I get that we’re supposed to appreciate how much Aya’s friendship meant to Mitsuki when she was young, given that she had no other friends, but I wonder… are readers really supposed to like this guy? At least his presence spurs Asakura (generally sleepy and/or oblivious) to realize what his feelings for Mitsuki are.

But will he act on those feelings? The boys on the basketball team are not allowed to date. I did find it strange that although these boys talk about how much basketball means to them, because this is shoujo manga, we see sadly little of it. In volume three, the inter-high preliminaries have begun and in the space of 1.5 pages, the boys have won five games. I know this isn’t a sports manga, but c’mon… I’d like to see more than that! Another thing to appreciate about Mitsuki is that, while many of the team’s other female fans are just there to look at the cute boys, she understands how important the game is to Asakura and overcomes her shyness and orchestrate a cheering section when they fall behind during a practice game. Too, I greatly appreciate that she hasn’t had to deal with any mean girls warning her away from the boys. (Reina’s occasional “grr” reactions at girls hanging around them are enough.)

So, yes, this is a low-key series that isn’t breaking any new ground. That said, I still like it. The sweet moments between Mitsuki and Asakura take me back to adolescence when the first time you hold hands with someone is a tremendously big deal and the art style is attractive. The conclusion seems pretty obvious already, but I expect I’ll enjoy getting there all the same.

Waiting for Spring is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to eight volumes. Three volumes are currently out in English, with the fourth scheduled for release next week.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Love’s Reach, Vol. 1

By Rin Mikimoto | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

I am an enormous fan of Kodansha’s digital offerings, so it pains me to admit that I can’t find anything to recommend about Love’s Reach.

Sixteen-year-old Yuni Kururugi, a “genius ice queen,” excels in every subject except for English, which is taught by her 24-year-old, supposed-to-be temporary homeroom teacher, Haruka Sakurai. He’s flirty and unprofessional with his students, and though Kururugi likes the way he looks, she finds everything else about him unpleasant. When he calls her to his office after school one day, he creepily backs her against a wall and says, “Have you been getting answers wrong on purpose? Maybe you’re really just trying to get my attention.” The briefly gratifying fact that Kururugi smacks him and says, “Let me be perfectly clear. I hate you” is undercut by her reflections upon how cute he looks in that moment. Sakurai ends up requiring Kururugi to attend daily tutoring sessions and, inevitably, they fall in love.

This is one of those cases where, even setting aside the problematic student-teacher relationship aspect, I just don’t see why these characters like each other. Sakurai flip-flops between manipulative mind games and minimal acts of kindness (oh boy, he left her some patches for her sore ankle!), and allows other teenage girls to hang all over him. What’s to like about that jerk? For her part, although we are told several times that Kururugi is a genius, she sure doesn’t act like one. Some of her behavior might be excused as romantic inexperience, but not the fact that after insisting on a date with Sakurai, it never occurs to her that someone might see them out together until someone does. Eyeroll.

None of the relationship drama is interesting and by the halfway point, I was thinking, “When can this be over?” and that was before the predatory lesbian teacher showed up to blackmail the happy couple! Too, the art style is really weird. The space between a character’s eyebrows and the top of their head occupies as much space as their entire face!

So, to sum up. Weird art. Unlikeable characters. Inexplicable and icky romance. I won’t be continuing this series.

Love’s Reach is complete in ten volumes. One volume is available in English now and the second comes out next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol. 1

By CLAMP | Published by Kodansha Comics

It’s been a long time since I read anything by CLAMP. After failing to love Kobato. and Gate 7, I just sort of drifted away from paying attention to what they were doing. When a beloved favorite got a new arc, however, my interest was piqued. And when Kodansha Comics not only licensed it, but released the first volume digitally months ahead of the print release, I might’ve squeed.

We rejoin Sakura Kinomoto as she begins her first year as a middle-school student. To her surprise and delight, Syaoran Li meets her on her way to school and announces that he’s back from Hong Kong and will henceforth be a permanent resident of Tomoeda. Everything seems to be coming up roses, except Syaoran looks troubled…

Soon, Sakura has a dream in which the cards she’s captured turn transparent and wakes to find it’s true. Her texts (yes, we’ve entered the modern age) seeking advice from Eriol in England go unanswered, and the next night, she dreams she receives the key to a new staff, which also comes to pass in reality. A couple of supernatural attacks follow, and Sakura is able to “Release!” the new key into the Staff of Dreams, with which she acquires two new cards. Kero and Yue are as clueless as Sakura is about what’s going on, but by the end of the volume, it’s clear that Syaoran and Eriol know more than they’re letting on and are probably colluding to keep Sakura in the dark about something.

It’s a cute start—not very different from what we’ve seen before, but it sure is nice to spend time with these characters again. What surprised me most, actually, was how much I loved seeing Kero-chan again. I seriously adore him, especially when he’s being sweet and supportive. Plus, the art is so lovely and familiar. I grew fond of the art style in xxxHOLiC, but this is the kind of art I associate more with CLAMP. I am a little worried this will turn out to be a disappointing sequel, but for now I’m keen to see how it develops.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is ongoing in Japan, where two volumes have been released so far. Kodansha has made the first English edition available now in digital format, but it won’t see a print release until November.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dreamin’ Sun, Vol. 1

By Ichigo Takano | Published by Seven Seas

Even without knowing much about Dreamin’ Sun, I was sold by the fact that it’s an earlier series from Ichigo Takano, creator of orange, which I loved dearly. Dreamin’ Sun is more of a straightforward and comedic shoujo story in which characters do not contend with letters from their future selves or how to save a suicidal friend, but it still has a few poignant moments.

Shimana Kameko’s mother died in a car accident three years ago. Now, her father has remarried and with her new step-mom and baby brother, Shimana only feels visible when she’s being criticized. “I feel like this isn’t even my home anymore,” she thinks, as she decides to run away. Promptly, she encounters a weird kimono-wearing guy in the park named Taiga Fujiwara who offers her a cheap place to stay. Luckily for her, he isn’t a creep, and after assigning her the task of finding a spare key for his place (since he’s locked out), he also gets her to admit the real reason she left home: accepting the new arrangement felt like betraying her mother.

Thus, Shimana moves in with Taiga and two of her male classmates, Zen Nakajou and Asahi Tatsugae. Zen is the hyper, panda-loving one and Asahi the considerate, studious, princely one. Soon Shimana is developing feelings for Asahi, but he’s in love with his childhood friend who is, herself, in love with someone. In fact, there’s a lot of unrequited love going around. Zen seems to have unacknowledged feelings for Shimana, one of Taiga’s coworkers fancies him, but knows she’s not the one he really wants, etc.

These wistful feelings elevate Dreamin’ Sun beyond the “plain girl lives with several hot guys” trope. In addition, I really loved how much Taiga cares for the kids in his charge. He’s the one who’s able to convince Shimana’s parents to let her remain at his house and concocts a few situations to help her maybe get something going with Asahi. He also encourages each of them to have a dream, and claims his dream is “for all of you to grow up.” Could he be atoning for something? Too, at the end of the volume, we learn that he’s actually a prosecutor and that his father helped out Shimana’s family three years ago. Will some accident-related secret be forthcoming?

Even if no mystery arises, Dreamin’ Sun is still an appealing series, and I definitely plan to continue it.

Dreamin’ Sun is complete in ten volumes. Seven Seas will release volume two in July.