The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross 11 by Arina Tanemura: C+

When this series was wrapping up in Japan, I heard rumors about how it ended. Word was fans were peeved because, in the end, the heroine does not make a decision between the twin brothers for whom she has feelings. It turns out that this isn’t true, though author’s notes from Tanemura indicate that her original intention was for Haine to marry both boys and not just one. And yes, this is the kind of shojo that ends with a wedding.

As the conclusion approaches, all kinds of things happen that are probably supposed to be dramatic but just make me laugh. Haine confronts the twins’ grandfather about an archaic family tradition that establishes one as the heir and the other as mere stand-in, demonstrating her anger by ripping up a chair cushion. She then proceeds to talk down a gun-wielding friend by diagnosing his angst within three pages, gets shot anyway, narrates insipid dialogue like “Even if I’m mistaken… if what I make my mind up to do will lead to happiness then I can do it,” convinces gramps to acknowledge both twins, relays the good news to the boys, and then promptly collapses from her wound.

It’s all extremely silly, but there’s at least some enjoyment to be derived from watching all the clichés at play. Also, it seems that the art—though extravagantly toned as per usual—is a bit prettier in this volume. Perhaps Tanemura stepped it up a notch for the big finale.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross 10 by Arina Tanemura: C

gentlemen's10After resolving some convoluted-sounding subplots involving Haine’s family—featuring maternal amnesia, uncertain paternity, and mansions afire—The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross moves into the home stretch as Haine is pressed to finally choose between the identical twins with whom she is in love. Alas, just when she finally grasps the idea that the nice twin (Takanari) is probably a better choice than the scheming git (Shizumasa), he’s captured by his brother’s minions and imprisoned. Like any self-respecting shojo heroine, Haine vows to rescue him.

Being the penultimate volume of the series, volume ten offers a variety of dramatic moments and revelations, including arranged marriages, envelopes with surprising contents, and a tale of childhood betrayal that explains the current animosity between the twins. My favorite, though, is the surprise leukemia.

The end product of all these dire events tumbling one atop the other can be described as little else than a mess, and I was much more compelled to snicker at the ridiculous developments than sympathize with anyone involved. Still, I was pretty impressed by how easy it was to jump in and follow the story at this point and ended up liking Takanari, too, though I must question his taste in girls.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Time Stranger Kyoko 3 by Arina Tanemura: C

From the back cover:
Kyoko Suomi is the princess of Earth in the 30th century. She lives among the commoners, unwilling to reveal her true identity and ascend the throne. The king will allow Kyoko to live as she pleases if she can revive her twin sister Ui, who has been trapped in time since birth.

Kyoko has found all but one telepath and is near awakening her sister. However, Hizuki can no longer hide his feelings for Kyoko and kisses her—a crime punishable by death. Now the only way to save his life is for Kyoko to accept him as her betrothed!

I only read this final volume for the sake of completeness, since the second volume got a C-, a rating equivalent to “Blech!” on my grading scale. Volume three is a little bit better, owing to some plot twists, but not much.

So, as she tells it in her sidebar columns, Arina Tanemura couldn’t decide where this story was actually supposed to go, so she asked her editors to be allowed to end it. And so, whereas it took the first two volumes to gather four Strangers, all of a sudden six of the remaining ones (bringing the total to eleven, counting Kyoko) are introduced on a single page, and then promptly neglected. There are actually a few translation errors on this page, as the Bird, Wind, and Snow Stranger guys are all mixed up.

The plot with Hizuki and his feelings for Kyoko is pretty stupid. First, he tricks her into saving his life by agreeing to marry him. Then he confesses to Sakataki that he was responsible for the destruction of their village and tries to get Sakataki to kill him. And then a few pages later everything’s fine and he’s all, “By the way, I’m the last Stranger.” And nobody is pissed about any of it.

The gathered Strangers then proceed to awaken Ui and plot twists occur. The secret of Kyoko’s identity is revealed, and I was kind of interested in the possibility that this manga would have a sad ending. But no, of course not. Mushy love must triumph. A completely stupid and kind of gross side story featuring the King’s pet cat android follows. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

One problem I have with this series is that every time there’s a revelation, someone goes, “I always knew.” For example, Kyoko evidently knew all along that she wasn’t really Ui’s sister, Sakataki knew all along that Hizuki was responsible for the village’s destruction, and the King knew all along what the consequences of awakening Ui would be. It’s really annoying that no one’s ever, like, shocked by these developments!

Anyway, it’s over now. Hooray. Reading this series has made me kind of worried that I won’t like the manga of Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, which I own but have yet to read. I liked the anime, but maybe I just didn’t know any better at the time.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Time Stranger Kyoko 2 by Arina Tanemura: C-

This volume finds Princess Kyoko and her bodyguards on the search for more of the god stones required to awaken Princess Ui from her sixteen-year sleep. After the first two stones are found in the possession of the leaders of the dragon and flower tribes, the hunt is on for the rest of the tribe leaders in the hope that each of them will have one of the powerful jewels, too.

Each new psychic or “Stranger” that Kyoko encounters has some silly obstacle to overcome before they can join up with her, like nearly being sold at auction or being tricked into relinquishing their god stone to a member of the demon tribe. These stories are painfully boring and have absolutely zero depth, especially the one in which the leader of the fish tribe tells her sibling, “It doesn’t matter if we are brother and sister… I love you!” Arina Tanemura, you’re no Kaori Yuki. Just don’t even try.

Kyoko’s also preoccupied by the fact that someone kissed her while she slept in the last volume, so there’s much tedious speculation over who it could’ve been. This combined with everything else results in a muddle so mind-numbingly bad that I very nearly awarded this volume a D. A sudden twist in the final chapters provides the bare minimum of interest to avoid that fate, but I still can’t recommend slogging through the rest of it to get there.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Time Stranger Kyoko 1 by Arina Tanemura: B-

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been invited to contribute reviews to the Manga Recon section of PopCultureShock. This is my first review for them, and it was originally published here. Carlos Santos from ANN has also written a review of this title, and brings up some points left out of mine, so you may want to check his out, as well.

It’s the 30th century and all of the nations of Earth have united to form a single kingdom. The treasure of the people is their princess, Kyoko, but she’d rather attend school like a normal girl than fulfill any of her royal obligations. Her sixteenth birthday is approaching, however, and along with it the celebration at which Kyoko must finally appear before her subjects, putting an end to her incognito scholastic career.

Kyoko resigns herself to her fate, but her father offers her an alternative—if she can awaken her younger twin sister, who has been asleep since birth, and turn princess duties over to her, Kyoko can have her freedom. To do this, she must locate twelve godstones scattered around the planet and the twelve telepaths who can use them. When gathered, they can set into motion the giant clock upon which Princess Ui sleeps and use its power to awaken her.

I was pretty put off initially by the notion that Ui was to be awoken for the sole purpose of foisting princess duties upon her. Even though Kyoko intends to give her sister a choice in the matter, it’s still a thoroughly selfish aim. Quickly, though, Kyoko ends up revealing her identity anyway (to thwart a band of thieves who’re menacing her schoolmates) and her goal becomes simply meeting her sister.

Adventure ensues, with Kyoko gradually acquiring more powers and, eventually, locating the first of the telepaths. She’s often tempted to use her powers for selfish reasons, but usually ends up helping others in the end. Other hobbies include requiring rescue by her bodyguards and behaving irrationally.

There are some comedic elements to the story, though not all of them are a success. I giggled at the instructions for the issuance of a royal greeting (step 5: gesture flamboyantly!) and I like that Kyoko’s magic cane has a personality and dialogue, but I can’t stand the character of Chocola. She’s the King’s cat android pet, and I reckon I’m supposed to find her unbearably cute, but instead she just creeps me out.

As usual, Tanemura’s artwork features big eyes, lots of screentone, and a plethora of flowers. I was a little disappointed that she didn’t avail herself of the opportunity to draw the kirito—humans whose DNA has been combined with that of plants or animals—in a new and different style. Mostly, they just get things like pink hair or gold eyes. Kyoko herself has pointy ears, but no one has commented on them thus far, so I’m not sure if she’s supposed to a hybrid or not.

While I didn’t love this volume, I didn’t absolutely hate it, either. It’s true that neither the story nor the characters particularly engage me, but because the series is only three volumes long, it’s really not that much of a commitment to see it through to the end. I expect that I will do so.

As a final thought, I leave you with a topic: Arina Tanemura is the manga equivalent of Meg Cabot. Discuss.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

I.O.N by Arina Tanemura: B-

From the back cover:
Ion Tsuburagi chants the letters of her first name as a charm to bring good luck when she needs it. Then she meets Mikado Hourai, the president of the Psychic Powers Research Society at school, and touches a mysterious substance he’s been developing. Now chanting ‘I-O-N’ gives her telekinetic powers!

I don’t normally comment on covers, but I.O.N has one of the prettiest I’ve seen. It’s all shades of green, blue, and purple, making Ion’s ginormous Ribon-issue brown eyes stand out. Her hair is blue on the cover, which prompts me to consider that I haven’t really encountered too many manga characters with oddly-colored hair (by which I mean impossible for a human and not merely improbable for a Japanese person). Maybe that’s more of an anime thing. In this case, I’m not sure whether Ion’s hair is truly supposed to be blue or if Tanemura is just having fun with the cover art. Either way, it’s purty.

Alas, it turns out the cover is really the best thing about this one-shot. Some of its problems are due to its length. Exposition gets crammed into dialogue where it doesn’t really belong, resulting in awkward sentences like, “I was wondering who that was, but what do you know, it’s Mikado Hourai, the President of the Psychic Power Research Society.” Emotional developments are also rushed, like when Ion declares that she might be falling for Hourai a mere 7 pages after meeting him.

The rest of the problems are due to the story itself, which just isn’t very cohesive. The nature of the plot is episodic, with Ion using her new-found powers to perform astonishing feats such as extinguishing fires, saving drowning kids from being struck by malicious logs, and protecting her romantic rival from a falling tree. Tanemura’s sidebars mention that her editors kept her in suspense regarding the ultimate length of the series, and it shows. She doesn’t really try to do anything substantive until the end, but even so, that mostly consists of Hourai being uncertain whether he likes Ion for herself or because she’s got psychic powers.

The artwork is typical of Tanemura’s style—lots of screentone, lots of flowers and stars—but as this is her first published manga volume, the result is a little less polished than in her later works. When seen from straight on, noses are just vertical lines and after I conceived of the notion that they looked like coin slots, I kept seeing them in the fashion. Pages do get a little overcrowded at times, but I didn’t have any problems following the story visually. I particularly like the character design for Tagosaku, who’s drawn in a different style from everyone else. The loyal henchman of the President of the Student Council, he’s essentially just a weird little dude who is used for comic relief throughout. I like him.

I.O.N is a decent read. It’s largely lacking in substance and purpose, but if one goes into it just expecting a magical girl fantasy, it’s not that bad. It might be better to procure it from a library, though, if one can.

Full Moon o Sagashite 7 by Arina Tanemura: A

From the back cover:
Mitsuki is trapped by the Lord of the Underworld and is imprisoned within his barrier. She pleads for Izumi to come help her, but the Shinigami is immobilized by his fear of releasing his last memory—the moment before his death—and will not rescue her. Is there anyone who can protect Mitsuki from the Death Master’s scythe?

These final few chapters bring about a very satisfying conclusion to the series. Plot threads, aside from one that wasn’t resolved as clearly as I would’ve liked, are thoroughly wrapped up, a testament to the careful planning of the tale. I particularly liked the last few pages of the final chapter; they’re totally like the ending credits of an anime.

There were plenty of differences from the anime, so I was able to enjoy being surprised by a few more twists in the story, and got sniffly as a result more than once. We also learn the true meaning of the title at last.

I can definitely see myself rereading this title, especially in light of information learned in the final chapters. If, like me, you’re tired of stories that drag on without a hint of real development in sight (Hana-Kimi, I’m talking to you), then I recommend this series without reservation.

Full Moon o Sagashite 6 by Arina Tanemura: A-

From the back cover:
Mitsuki has previously refused the operation that would save her life—at the expense of her voice. However, as Mitsuki gets closer to her first concert appearance, Ms. Oshige decides that she will put Mitsuki in the hospital after the event, no matter how Mitsuki feels about it. Even so, it may be too late to save Mitsuki’s life, unless Takuto and Meroko are successful in changing her fate.

Both Meroko and Mitsuki take some important steps forward in this volume, and I particularly liked chapters 25 and 26. The introduction of Hikari in chapter 25 might’ve seemed like a random obstacle gimmick in any other manga, but it works here because of the story line and really forces Mitsuki to confront some things. I especially love the bit with the pendant.

The last chapter advances the plot along nicely, though it left me a little confused on a couple of points. A side story, okay but predictable, with Madoka and Nachi completes the volume.

Full Moon o Sagashite 5 by Arina Tanemura: B+

From the back cover:
Mitsuki’s popularity as Fullmoon has skyrocketed, but Mitsuki learns that fame carries a harsh price. Hidden among the birthday presents sent to Fullmoon is a mail bomb that explodes in Ms. Oshige’s face! Will the crazed fan be captured, or will Mitsuki have to quit music to save her friends… and herself?

I am very meh about this crazed fan story, even though I quite liked the revelation in the final pages of the volume. It’s possible this story could yield more interesting results later on, but for now, it wasn’t very exciting. Somehow, however, this ended up prompting Mitsuki to decide that she wants to live after all, and to grow determined to be stronger, so I guess it accomplished something besides providing a career obstacle.

In addition to a less than thrilling arc, character motivations or plot flow were not as clear as in previous volumes, and there were several times I had to go back and reread several pages when certain elements seemed to just pop up out of the blue.

I did like the backstory for Izumi, though not as much as Meroko’s. It reminds me strongly of Sohma Yuki from Fruits Basket, and there are parallels to be made between Mitsuki and Tohru, too.

Full Moon o Sagashite 4 by Arina Tanemura: A

From the back cover:
Mitsuki’s love for Eichi has helped keep her alive because she promised that one day she would become a famous singer and meet him again. But lately even thoughts of Eichi haven’t been enough to keep her spirits up. Will Takuto’s confessed love for Mitsuki be enough to convince her to live?

Mitsuki’s cheery shell finally cracks in this volume, and her resultant actions would be extremely annoying if perpetrated by, say, Miaka. However, Tanemura-Sensei has a knack for prompting her characters to dramatic choices in a way that’s IC and engenders understanding and sympathy. Good characters may do bad things, but the reader always understands why this is happening. (With the possible exception of Takuto, who irked me a few times.)

My favorite part of the volume was the last few chapters, where Meroko’s backstory is revealed. I don’t remember this being in the anime at all, and it was nice to be surprised. With the possibility for Izumi revelations on the horizon, I am eager to tackle the next volume.