Tidbits: Now We Are Six

Originally, this post was supposed to go up several months ago, when the sixth volumes of these series were newly released, but time conspired against me. And so, belatedly, I present reviews of volumes five and six of Kamisama Kiss and Oresama Teacher. Also included is perennial favorite Skip Beat!, which is on a similar trajectory, just twenty volumes ahead.

Kamisama Kiss, Vols. 5-6
It’s hard to believe now that I ever had my doubts about Kamisama Kiss, because I’m enjoying it more and more with each volume.

Volume five finds Nanami determined to correct public opinion that her shrine is a creepy, dangerous ruin, especially since her shinshi, Tomoe, works so hard to maintain it. And so, she decides to hold a festival, spending two weeks preparing for a special performance while soliciting amusingly misguided advice from her supernatural acquaintances. It’s a success in the end. In volume six, Nanami is called upon to compete against another human girl for a spot at a prestigious kami conference.

In these two volumes, mangaka Julietta Suzuki nicely balances the expansion of the supernatural world (including the introduction of several new characters) and Nanami’s abilities with further development in her relationship with Tomoe. It seems to me that Tomoe is finding himself somewhat in awe of his kami these days—particularly when purification powers on par with his first master’s manifest themselves—and also more prone to emotions like fondness and jealousy. One of the best things about their relationship is how he is able to encourage and reassure her before the festival without being condescending about it. “I acknowledged you as my master,” he says. “Don’t be afraid. Prove yourself to everyone… like you did to me.”

I think the main appeal for me is that Kamisama Kiss is shaping up to be the story of Nanami’s growth. She may be in love with Tomoe, but winning his affections is not her sole ambition, or even her focus. Instead, she wants to develop as a kami and become someone that her parishioners can depend upon and respect. Because progress has come slowly, watching her actually achieve some truly remarkable things in these volumes actually leaves me a little verklempt. This has become less a story about a human girl thrust into the wacky world of yokai and more about someone embracing their destiny and striving to reach their full potential. I eagerly look forward to the next volume.

Oresama Teacher, Vols. 5-6
I was worried there for a minute. It seemed to me that volume five was showing signs of Tsubaki-sensei running out of ideas, what with a chapter about Takaomi and Mafuyu helping a wealthy girl find love with her self-denying servant, a chapter about the school’s bancho being stalked by a flower fairy, and a chapter about the Student Council’s resident ninja gathering intel on the Public Morals Club.

Although it’s not the neatest bow—I still don’t fully grasp why the Student Council is so opposed to Takaomi’s plans to attract more non-delinquent students to Midorigaoka, but at least I have an inkling now—Tsubaki does manage to tie things together by the end of volume six. Okay, not the flower fairy bit, but the significance of Takaomi going out of his way to help Marika (the rich girl) ties in with the backstory of why he’s become a teacher and why he’s made a bet with the school’s director. It brings new depth to his character and even relates to some things he said back in volume one.

I also really enjoyed the chapter in which the members of the Public Morals Club—now including Shinobu the ninja, who has decided to obtain information on his enemies from within their midst—explore the school, finding oodles of empty classrooms and realizing that it was once a thriving place with high-caliber students. Also significant is that, when Mafuyu is frustrated by Takaomi refusal to reveal his true motivations, she complains that all she’d wanted was to be a regular high school girl, but then got forcibly recruited to his agenda. Hayasaka overhears and, thinking he has kept Mafuyu from the life she’d wished for, avoids her. Mafuyu attempts to hang out with some girls, but in the end realizes she prefers being with Hayasaka. It’s really sweet.

This description might make it sound as if the series has suddenly gone in a plot-heavy direction, but that’s not really the case. There’s definitely something happening, but there are still plenty of amusing moments. My favorite is when Hayasaka and Super Bun are reunited and we get a panel of her carrying him in her arms while he thinks, “You’re so dreamy!”

Skip Beat!, Vols. 25-26
It’s a rare series that still genuinely delights me this far into its run, but Skip Beat! consistently manages to do so. I think the key here is that Nakamura has developed a cast of characters whose personality quirks enable her to take the plot in unexpected directions.

For example, volume 25 is all about the aftermath of Valentine’s Day. Sho has learned that Kyoko gave chocolates to Reino, and so shows up on the set of Dark Moon with an ostentatious bouquet in hand. He’s not out to win Kyoko’s love—so her explanation of the true nature of the chocolates (hatred) makes no difference—he just wants all her thoughts to be focused on him once more, and he temporarily ensures this by stealing her first kiss. Kyoko freaks out, according to plan, and is briefly talked down by Ren, but when she gives Ren his own special valentine, he can’t resist driving thoughts of Sho out of her head by administering a smooch of his own. This one’s on the cheek and he plays it off as a foreigner’s expression of gratitude, but it definitely leaves a trace in her heart.

Backing away from all of this progress, Nakamura eases us into the next arc by having Kyoko and Kanae return to the Love-Me Section, where they are joined by new member Chiori Amamiya, a former child actress whom Kyoko recently inspired to regain her love for acting. Each girl receives a personalized assignment from Lory, and Kyoko’s involves picking up Cain Heel, a dangerous-looking guy who is the president’s guest. Turns out, this is Ren going undercover and Kyoko’s new assignment is to stay by his side as his doting and scantily clad goth sister, Setsuka. And they have to live together in a hotel room. Ordinarily, a twist like this would be completely out of left field, but because this is Lory and because this is Skip Beat! I can just roll with it and eagerly anticipate the complications that will ensue.

If you’ve never read Skip Beat! before, now is a great time to start, as an omnibus edition of the first three volumes has recently been released!

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Dawn of the Arcana, Vols. 1-2

By Rei Toma | Published by VIZ Media

In premise, Dawn of Arcana sounds like fairly generic shoujo fantasy. Princess Nakaba of Senan is married to Prince Caesar of Belquat in an arrangement ostensibly meant to ensure peace between their warring kingdoms, but which nobody expects to do so for long. Nakaba is resigned to her fate, but not without backbone, while Caesar is arrogant and entitled and makes remarks like, “Make no mistake. You are my property.” It’s pretty obvious they will fall for each other soon.

Accompanying Nakaba is her demi-human attendant, Loki, who belongs to an enslaved race possessed of heightened strength and senses. He’s been by Nakaba’s side ever since the village in which she lived was attacked by Belquat soldiers—evidently, her mother (also a princess) eloped with a member of a race possessed of precognitive powers, which Belquat was attempting to wipe out and of which Nakaba is now the only survivor—and so she feels much love and gratitude for him.

The first volume mainly focuses on Nakaba’s attempts to fit in around the enemy castle. In Senan and Belquat, only royalty have black hair, so the fact that hers is red has always prompted sneers, curiosity, and contempt, so the reaction would be the same no matter where she resided. Gradually, she gets to know Caesar a little better, and we see that his main problems are youth and actually buying into the “it’s your right” lectures that his mother has been subjecting him to since childhood. Here’s a great sample exchange between them:

Caesar: (After planting a smooch on Nakaba.) I’m a prince, and this is my kingdom. If I want something, I take it.

Nakaba: You may be a prince, but there are some things you’ll never have. Allow me to be the first.

Nakaba actually trusts him to keep his word when he promises to help Loki get out of trouble at one point, and expresses faith in his abilities to succeed in the very endeavors which his mother discouraged him from even trying. In return, he somewhat awkwardly tries to make her happy by bestowing lavish gifts upon her, and learns that a simple thing like caring for a wounded bird does the job better than fancy dresses. It’s certainly nothing new for a surly hero to be thus tamed by a spunky heroine, but I like the development all the same.

And speaking of development, volume two is a lot more interesting than the first. While someone plots to poison Caesar—and attempts to frame Nakaba for the deed—tension is brewing between Nakaba’s husband and her attendant. Loki intervenes to save Caesar from the would-be assassin, but admits that this is only to earn his trust. “I do want him dead… Have you forgotten? They are the enemy.” For too long, Loki’s people have been kept down, and he is now plotting rebellion. “You must not let him into your heart,” he warns, knowing that Caesar must eventually be his target, but though Nakaba attempts to comply, out of loyalty to Loki, she’s ultimately unable to do so.

Despite the fact that Nakaba falling for Caesar is predictable, I still like them together—how she improves him, and how he manages to make her feel safe yet simultaneously guilty—and I really like that she’s torn between these two guys, but not exactly in a romantic sense. Even while her feelings for Caesar are growing, she’s aware of the possibility that she’ll end up betraying him for Loki’s sake. Personally, I’m betting on Caesar becoming aware of the atrocities committed by his father and joining Loki’s cause—there have been some hints in this direction already—but the angst will be fun in the meantime.

Ultimately, this is a solidly good series. It’s not great yet, but it’s also far from bad.

Dawn of the Arcana is published in English by VIZ Media. Volume one is out now and volume two will officially be released on February 7, 2012. The series is ongoing in Japan, where the ninth volume has just come out.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 1

By Miyoshi Tomori | Published by VIZ Media

The back cover blurb of A Devil and Her Love Song contains the following lines: “Meet Maria Kawai—she’s gorgeous and whip-smart, a girl who seems to have it all. But when she unleashes her sharp tongue, it’s no wonder some consider her to be the very devil!”

And in my mind, this built up the expectation for a comedy, but that’s not what A Devil and Her Love Song is at all. It’s much more serious and sad than I had anticipated, but if I had done my research beforehand and realized that it originally ran in Margaret, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Beautiful Maria Kawai has been expelled from her prestigious Catholic school, St. Katria’s, and must now enroll in a new school. She carries a lot of mental baggage from her experiences at St. Katria’s, most notably the fact that someone she regarded as her best friend told her “You taint everyone around you.” And, as if to lend credence to these words, Maria stirs up hostilities amongst her classmates almost immediately. The problem is that she’s so perceptive, and so blunt in her delivery, that she points out personality attributes that her classmates would rather not acknowledge, like the fact that they’ve been gossiping about her prior to her arrival, or that one boy is pushing himself to be liked by all even though he is not naturally a people person. Over the first week of school, matters escalate to the point where Maria is shoved down a flight of stairs and a truly odious teacher is telling her she’s “rotten to the core.”

And yet, there are certain lessons from her St. Katria’s days that serve Maria well in tough moments, like “those who believe will be saved,” which provides her encouragement to get through bullying encounters with a group of Mean Girls in her class. But she’s not taking solace from a religious implication of these words; instead, she seems to feel that if she believes in people’s good intentions, has faith that one day they will accept her, that this will actually come to pass. And so, even though she knows the girls have it in for her, she puts herself in the path of their harassment in the hopes that one day, she’ll win them over. As I said, it’s really rather sad and makes her far more sympathetic than I ever expected a sharp-tongued heroine to be.

I regret to admit I made another snap judgment of the series based on the chapter one title page, which depicts Maria and a couple of boys, one a cheerful blond and the other a surly-looking brunette. I assumed these would be her stereotypical shoujo love interests, but though both boys are definitely interested in her, they are far more complicated individuals than I had assumed they would be. The brunette, Shin, is grumpy, rebellious, and not really friendly with the rest of the class, but has a kind heart. It unsettles him that Maria can so clearly see through him, and he’s terrified of what would happen if she could discern what he’s feeling about her, but he still comes through with her when no one else will. There’s one especially nice scene where she’s so happy and scared by his kindness that she can’t even find the words to explain, so she sings instead.

On the other hand, you have Yusuke, who is trying so hard to be everyone’s friend that he’s actually no one’s real friend at all. His philosophy is the “lovely spin,” which is a survival mechanism he tries to impart upon Maria with little success. Turn everything into something palatable and nice, even if you’re being untrue to yourself, is the basic gist. It’s probably good for her to master this subterfuge, to avoid further confrontations and to effect the personal change she seeks, but why is he doing it? Just as he helps her master the art of diplomacy, one wonders whether she will help him drop the charade.

I mean no slight to shoujo comedies when I say that A Devil and Her Love Song is much better, richer and more deep, than I anticipated. To say that I am looking forward to reading the rest of this story would be a gross understatement.

A Devil and Her Love Song is published in English by VIZ Media. The first volume will officially be released on February 7, 2012. The series is complete in Japan with thirteen volumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Yurara, Vols. 1-5

By Chika Shiomi | Published by VIZ Media

Yurara Tsukinowa can see spirits and sense their painful emotions, but she can’t actually do anything to help them. Or so she thinks. When a new school year finds her in the same class as Mei Tendo and Yako Hoshino, two hunky boys who use their spiritual powers to ward off vengeful spirits, she ends up helping them out, but not entirely alone. You see, Yurara has a guardian spirit—also named Yurara—and it’s this spirit who manifests when spiritual nasties are afoot, causing regular Yurara to adopt the spirit’s good looks and feisty personality until the threat is dealt with. “That was awesome!” Mei proclaims after spirit!Yurara’s first appearance. “She’s beautiful and strong!”

At first, the series is pretty episodic. Before Yurara came along it seems the boys simply drove off the spirits—Mei possesses offensive powers of fire while Yako’s water-based abilities lean toward the defensive end—but now that she’s around to actually communicate with the ghosts the encounters typically end with the spirit being able to pass on peacefully. The exception is the case of Mei’s mother, a ghost who claims to be hanging around so that her husband and sons can’t bring chicks over, but who is really worried about protecting her son from an evil spirit.

As time goes on, Yurara begins to learn more about the boys and is especially intrigued by cheerful, glompy Mei, whose skirt-chasing demeanor is really a way to hide his sorrow over the spirit-induced death of his first love. When Yako asks whether there’s someone Mei loves, Mei replies, “You should know. There is… but she’s not here.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it now, the plight of loving someone who is gone and will never return actually comes full circle, alighting upon Yako by the end of the series. Because the more he’s around Yurara, the more Mei falls in love with her. She returns his feelings in her normal guise, but when under the influence of spirit!Yurara, she’s drawn to Yako instead. This makes for much confusion, as you might imagine.

The latter half of the series is primarily focused on this romantic triangle/square, and I ate up all of the attendant angst with a spoon. I sighed a bit when a contingent of mean girls harrasses Yurara for hogging the boys’ attention, but was pleased when she actually ended up befriending one of them. Really, this shoujotastic twist on a supernatural tale was exactly what I was craving when I began Yurara, and so I found it very satisfying. My one quibble is that early on, Yako seems to acknowledge the fact that he’s in love with “a phantom of a person no longer of this world,” but later seems surprised to realize that it’s the guardian spirit who loves him and not Yurara herself. Perhaps that’s not so much a flaw, though, as it is something to ponder over.

I shan’t spoil the ending except to say that I liked it and that it paves the way for Rasetsu (now released in its nine-volume entirety by VIZ), in which a slightly older Yako meets a girl who reminds him very much of spirit!Yurara.

Ultimately, Yurara is not a masterpiece, but it was exactly what I wanted it to be and I enjoyed it very much. Now on to Rasetsu!

Yurara was published in English by VIZ. All five volumes were released.

Oresama Teacher 1-2 by Izumi Tsubaki

Sometimes, one just wants to read a silly, goodhearted comedy. And on that front, Oresama Teacher delivers admirably.

Mafuyu Kurosaki used to be the bancho of her school (though she didn’t realize it at the time) until she got nabbed by the cops and expelled. Her mother finds a school in the country that will accept Mafuyu, and ships her off for a fresh start. Although Mafuyu is a skilled and savvy fighter, the allure of life as a normal girl is appealing, and she embraces the opportunity to start over, full of self-assurance developed from her days as a gang leader.

Alas, she soon encounters her childhood first love (Tamaoki Saeki), who was responsible for steering her toward the path of delinquency in the first place. Worse, he’s now her homeroom teacher, and embroils Mafuyu and her lone-wolf classmate Hayasaka (another brawler) in his wager with the principal that he can boost the school’s enrollment by quelling the disciplinary issues arising from the lax admittance policy. Mafuyu and Hayasaka are the muscle to keep the other delinquents in line, essentially. Mafuyu is not very keen on this, especially because she’s enjoying how Hayasaka treats her like an ordinary girl, so masquerades as a couple of other people (a boy called Natsuo and Super Bun, a rabbit-mask-wearing girl whom Hayasaka idolizes) when administering the necessary smackdowns.

I almost wrote “hilarity ensues” at the end of the prior paragraph, because that’s just what one does after detailing a suitably wacky premise like this one, but the thing is… Oresama Teacher really is funny, and that’s got everything to do with the characters. I don’t care much for Saeki—mangaka Izumi Tsubaki resists the temptation to endow him with redeeming qualities—but he works as the instigator of over-the-top situations, and some of his interactions with Mafuyu are very amusing (like the scene in which they discover that neither of them can cook).

More to my liking is the relationship between Mafuyu and Hayasaka, which persists despite both of them frequently misunderstanding the other’s motivations. When she tries to find out more information about Saeki (in order to confirm he really is the same boy who used to live next door), for example, Hayasaka assumes she’s looking for material with which to blackmail him. At first, Hayasaka resists the idea that they are friends, but his prickly attitude gradually starts to dissipate. He’s incredibly dense and easy to fool with lame disguises, but Mafuyu, used to being looked up to by her followers/friends, likes the way he treats her as an equal. At one point, he begins to suspect that she is his idol, Super Bun, forcing Mafuyu to dissuade him of the notion just so he’ll stop looking at her all dreamy-like. It’s lonely being revered.

I never did read Tsubaki’s other Shojo Beat series, The Magic Touch, as general consensus seemed to be that it wasn’t that great, but I’m exceedingly glad I didn’t let that stop me from checking out Oresama Teacher, which is a genuinely entertaining read. Tsubaki herself doesn’t seem all that keen on the story—she makes several references in her author’s notes to the fact that various elements of the series were dictated by her editors—but you can’t tell while reading it. And anything that makes me snicker as much as these two volumes did is definitely a keeper.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Kamisama Kiss 2 by Julietta Suzuki

From the back cover:
Nanami Momozono is alone and homeless after her dad skips town to evade his gambling debts and the debt collectors kick her out of her apartment. So when a man she’s just saved from a dog offers her his home, she jumps at the opportunity. But it turns out that his place is a shrine, and Nanami has unwittingly taken over his job as a local deity!

Nanami doesn’t want to miss out on the fun when a hot teen idol joins the student body. Tomoe reluctantly agrees to let her go, as long as she conceals her divine mark. After all, what could possibly go wrong at high school…?

Review:
Nanami has been out of school for three months, living in the shrine that is her new home, but the appalling lack of worshippers means her days are very dull indeed. When she sees a TV news story about a famous pop idol transferring to her high school, her school spirit is suddenly reinvigorated and she decides to return, even though Tomoe (her fox-eared familiar) insists she wear a stupid-looking headscarf to cover the mark that identifies her as a tochigami (deity of a specific area of land), lest yokai detect her presence and attack.

The pop idol, Kurama, turns out to be a jerk, but he’s intrigued by Nanami’s ability to resist his charms. The other students aren’t too friendly, either, and tease Nanami about her poverty. Enter Tomoe to save the day, clearing her name when she is accused of theft, delivering a delicious lunch when she’s too poor to afford something from the cafeteria, and generally making it appear as if she’s now under the care of a wealthy family. When Tomoe later finds himself in need, having been shrunk by another deity who has taken over the shrine, Nanami is grateful to be able to give back to him, watching over him as his child’s body struggles to contain his powers. In the end, when the other deity is ousted, Tomoe chooses to reenter into a contract with Nanami.

I’m still unsure exactly what to make of Kamisama Kiss. I definitely like its sense of humor—it’s pleasantly absurd, like when Kurama (who predictably turns out to be a yokai) is chased through the halls of the school by one of Tomoe’s fireballs while in the form of an ostrich—and the supporting cast (like the two onibi-warashi who occupy the shrine along with Nanami and Tomoe), but the main characters have yet to really intrigue me. It’s nice that Tomoe and Nanami are building a more friendly relationship, and that both clearly care about each other, but there’s nothing to really distinguish this development from all the other stories in which two argumentative sorts wind up falling for each other.

I think part of the problem is that I am still mentally comparing it to Suzuki’s other series released in English, the very charming Karakuri Odette. I shouldn’t, because they’re very different types of stories, but every now and then Nanami gets an expression on her face that reminds me so much of Odette that I can’t help myself.

Because Karakuri Odette turned out to be so good, I am reasonably confident that Kamisama Kiss will eventually win me over, but in the meantime I’m left a little bit disappointed.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

NANA Project #9

Melinda Beasi, Danielle Leigh, and I have completed our penultimate (for now!) edition of the NANA Project over at Comics Should Be Good. You can find that post here.

Volumes seventeen and eighteen are full of drama, most notably when a tabloid prints a story about Nana’s long-lost mother and when Shin, lost after the end of his relationship with Reira, makes a real mess of things and derails Blast’s first big tour. Nana accepts the agency’s suggestion to go solo, pledging to bring in even more fans so that Blast won’t go bust, but even as she embarks on this path, buoyed by dreams, it’s becoming clear that whatever happens to send her running away to England will be happening very soon.

And yet, I didn’t find these volumes as depressing as I have others in the series. I suspect this is because Hachi is by Nana’s side. She attempts to prevent the publication of the story about Nana’s mother, and when she fails, rushes to Nana’s place and stays with her over the New Year’s holiday. The relatively new character of Miu, Yasu’s new girlfriend, also grew on me in these volumes with her ability to see the truth about people. She instantly, for example, realizes that it’s Hachi who’s really the strong one.

In the future (or present) timeline, Hachi receives a mysterious package with clues to Nana’s whereabouts. It seems Hachi’s faith in her is the only thing keeping Nana alive, and that she needs to be found, pronto. The series goes on hiatus after volume 21, so I’m hoping that happens within the next three volumes!

Review copy for volume seventeen provided by the publisher.

The Story of Saiunkoku 2 by Kairi Yura and Sai Yukino: B+

From the back cover:
Shurei Hong, destitute but of noble birth, has always dreamed of working as a civil servant in the imperial court of Saiunkoku, but women are barred from holding office. The emperor Ryuki, however, refuses to take command, leaving everything to his advisors. Shurei is asked to become a consort to the emperor to persuade the ne’er-do-well ruler to govern.

After realizing Ryuki has been faking his ignorance, an enraged Shurei demands to be sent home immediately. Ryuki then locks Shurei in her room, unaware he has now put his consort in great danger…

Review:
With this volume, The Story of Saiunkoku proves that is more than just a romance. Even though the developing relationship between Shurei, a poor yet noble lady brought in to the imperial palace to serve as consort and tutor, and Ryuki, her vacuous-seeming charge, remains the driving force for much of what happens, more space is devoted here to exploring the political rivalries and ambitions of others and how their schemes impact the main characters.

Essentially, in order to motivate Ryuki to give up his charade of stupidity and become a worthy emperor, one of his advisors puts Shurei’s life in peril. Ryuki rises to the challenge admirably, shedding his foolish façade and employing badass sword skills and cleverness to come to the rescue. Along the way, he admits why he was acting so dumb in the first place as well as why he has been avoiding relationships with women, even though he actually does fancy them as much as men. Both explanations make a surprising amount of sense.

If volume one served to introduce us to Shurei and her awesomeness, volume two does the same for Ryuki. He’s not only capable of great competence, but he’s also an honest guy and genuinely loves Shurei. She, however, sees her position at court as only temporary and when it becomes obvious that Ryuki doesn’t need a tutor after all, she heads home.

Other nice things about this volume are the brotherly reunion scenes between Ryuki and Seien, who was technically banished thirteen years ago but whose current identity has been obvious; a thoroughly surprising revelation about the Black Wolf, an assassin who did the bidding of the previous emperor; a plethora of attractive bishounen; and the bonus chapter about Ryuki’s love of Shurei’s steamed buns, which he has unknowingly been consuming since childhood (his tutor was Shurei’s father). Thanks to this last, I now have a serious craving.

I’m really enjoying The Story of Saiunkoku a great deal, especially now that it’s gotten beyond the few episodes I saw of the anime. I’m hopeful that the balance between romance and politics will continue, since both leads are at their best when required to exercise their intellect.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Tidbits: Catching Up with Shojo Beat

New and recent Shojo Beat releases are piling up, which means it’s time for another Tidbits column! In this installment, you’ll find reviews of three newer series—volume three of Dengeki Daisy, plus volumes five and six of Honey Hunt and Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You—while two old favorites, Ouran High School Host Club and Skip Beat!, bring up the rear!

Dengeki Daisy 3 by Kyousuke Motomi: B
In one of her author’s notes, Kyousuke Motomi writes that Dengeki Daisy was originally intended to be only three chapters long. This was pretty obvious in the second volume, where the sudden introduction of a lot of plot felt pretty awkward, but things have evened out by this third volume.

Though the threat that someone is after the software that Teru Kurebayashi’s brother, Soichiro, was working on before his death persists, the focus here is mostly on Teru’s relationship with Tasuku Kurosaki, the surly custodian at her school who secretly doubles as DAISY, the anonymous contact Soichiro recommended Teru seek out in times of trouble.

Teru’s been living at Kurosaki’s place after her own was burglarized, but feels as if she’s imposing. She’s unable to tell whether he cares that she’s moving out, and he’s unable (or unwilling) to admit that he’ll miss her, so she goes through with the move, only to realize her new roommate has rented the place next door. I would find this terribly cheesy in any other series, but somehow I’m okay with it here.

Similarly, a couple who obviously has feelings for one another and yet stubbornly refuses to confess would normally annoy me, but there’s something about these two that I find sympathetic. Kurosaki’s been giving Teru mixed signals, so she can’t tell exactly what she means to him. Kurosaki has the advantage of knowing Teru’s feelings—she’s confided in DAISY—but feels unworthy because of something he did in his past that he’s unsure he’ll be forgiven for. Their relationship progresses at just the right speed, and though I might wish they’d spend less time saying mean things to one another they don’t mean, it’s nice getting both characters’ perspective on their strong feelings, rather than solely the female’s point of view.

I was a little unsure about Dengeki Daisy after the disappointing second volume, but this one has assured me that it’s a keeper.

Honey Hunt 5-6 by Miki Aihara: B-
When Honey Hunt is at its dramatastic best, it can be a fun read, but sometimes it’s so immensely frustrating I contemplate hurling it across the room.

Yura Onozuka is the daughter of celebrity parents, and after they divorce in spectacular fashion, she vows to best her mother in show business. Even though her success as an actress comes quite easily, this is still the most interesting aspect of the story, since she seems to have found something she truly enjoys and is surprisingly good at. Unfortunately, lately Yura has begun to lose focus on her career goals, instead spending most of her time mooning over her pop-star boyfriend, Q-ta.

Probably I am supposed to find the efforts of Yura’s manager, Keiichi, to break up the lovebirds sneaky and wrong, but I honestly applaud him. I find Q-ta creepy—he says things like “I wish she’d give up acting so she could be all mine”—and want to shake Yura violently by the shoulders every time she ignores someone telling her she should forget about him and concentrate on her work. As much as Q-ta wants her to give up everything to be with him, the minute he gets the chance to work with his idol, he bails on a special date without a moment’s hesitation. His career is important but hers isn’t.

What makes it worse is that when Q-ta asks Yura to accompany him to New York—even though things are starting to go quite well for her professionally—she drops everything and goes! She says at one point that she’ll at least fulfill her current obligations and graduate high school, but we never see her actually do these things. To her, it’s more important to be needed by some dude than to do something for herself. Ugh.

Honey Hunt went on hiatus after these chapters, so at present, the story remains in limbo. As much as it gets on my nerves, if the series should ever relaunch (as Aihara claims it will), I will undoubtedly continue reading in the hopes that Yura gets a clue at last.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You 5-6 by Karuho Shiina: A-
Unintentionally scary-looking Sawako Kuronuma began to come out of her shell when befriended by her well-liked classmate, Shota Kazehaya, and she has recently come to realize that what she feels for him is not only admiration but love. This discovery is spurred in part by the machinations of Kurumi, another girl who loves Kazehaya.

I love how mangaka Karuho Shiina deals with Kurumi, because the girls actually end up bonding over their feelings for Kazehaya. They both like the same qualities in him—his ability to see the best in people, his honesty—and come to understand each other through their shared appreciation of the same person. If not for their rivalry, they might even have become friends, but, as Sawako wonders, would they have understood each other so well without it?

Never entirely setting aside progress between Sawako and Kazehaya, the romantic woes of Sawako’s friend, Chizu, soon take center stage. It’s pretty common for a shoujo manga to focus on the heroine’s pals once the main couple has reached a kind of stasis, but here it feels organic and not like filler (I’m talking to you, Love*Com). Sawako, having awoken to the possibilities of romance, wants for her friends to be happy, too. She believes the guy for Chizu is Ryu, a childhood friend who adores her, but Chizu’s heart belongs to Toru, Ryu’s older, newly engaged brother.

Chizu is a really fabulous character—she experiences any and all emotions with gusto, and somehow appears tough and girly simultaneously—and easily carries the story about her unrequited love. Like Sawako, I think Ryu’s the guy for her, and I would totally read a spin-off manga about the two of them. Chizu’s starring turn gives me hope for a similarly illuminating focus on Ayane, who seems to have no difficulty acquiring boyfriends but hasn’t yet managed to find love.

Ouran High School Host Club 15 by Bisco Hatori: B
The president of the Host Club, Tamaki Suoh, has been uncharacteristically serious lately, so the other members organize a Curry Creation Orienteering Tournament to cheer him up, with the secondary purpose of teaching a new student how to express her own opinions. Lesson learned, she promptly disappears, but not before Tamaki admits to her (and himself) that he’s in love with Haruhi and “probably [has] been for a long time.”

Later, Hunny and Mori, the two third-years in the club, announce that they’re about to graduate and that they’ll be pursuing different majors at Ouran’s affiliated university. The fact that mangaka Bisco Hatori has finally acknowledged the passage of time is a sign that the series is winding down, and I am amused by some of the characters’ baffled reactions. “For some reason I feel as though we’ve spent several long years together already,” muses Haruhi.

For the most part, this is all hijinks as usual, but Ouran can usually be counted upon for at least a few pages of genuine romantic progress between good-hearted but excitable Tamaki and pragmatic Haruhi. On a couple of occasions throughout in the volume, Haruhi tentatively reaches out to comfort Tamaki, who’s always spazzing about one thing or another, only to withdraw at the last moment. Finally, in a very sweet scene, she discovers him dozing in the club room and pats his hair while he sleeps. That might not seem like much, but for someone as undemonstrative as Haruhi, it’s truly a significant step! Moments like that are what keep me reading this series.

Skip Beat! 21-22 by Yoshiki Nakamura: B+
Skip Beat! is one of those series that doubles as a panacea for me; I highly recommend it for raising one’s spirits when one has been sidelined with a stomach bug.

Kyoko Mogami has achieved a small measure of success as an actress, most notably as Mio, a villainous role in a drama. She’s been tapped to essentially recreate that character for a new drama, but it just doesn’t feel right. These two volumes deal with Kyoko’s efforts to get into her new role, Natsu, and differentiate her from Mio. Meanwhile, the director is demanding, her co-stars are snooty, and one in particular seems bent on getting Kyoko fired.

The process of Kyoko learning to understand and then wholly inhabit a role always makes for a great read. For help, she turns to the more experienced Ren Tsuruga—a successful actor who loves Kyoko but keeps mum because of their age difference—and with only a little bit of scolding and advice ends up discovering the essential qualities that make Natsu tick.

I love how Nakamura draws Kyoko in character, too—she’s clearly identifiable as the same person, but her expressions and body language change completely. Maybe the awed reactions from the director and co-stars are a little much once she returns with her new take on the part, but I can’t be bothered to care. Skip Beat! is a story about a talented girl who works very hard to achieve her goals—who doesn’t want to see her succeed in spectacular fashion?

Review copies for Honey Hunt 6 and Skip Beat! 22 provided by the publisher.

Tidbits: Sports Manga for the Win!

Welcome to another installment of Tidbits! This time I turn my attention to sports manga, a genre for which I nurture an inexplicable adoration. First up is Crimson Hero, a shoujo tale that attempts to balance volleyball and romance, followed by six early volumes of Eyeshield 21 and four later ones from The Prince of Tennis, in which the Seishun Academy tennis team finally makes it to the semifinals of Nationals.

Crimson Hero 14 by Mitsuba Takanashi: B
I’m not entirely sure it’s accurate to classify Crimson Hero as sports manga. Ostensibly, it’s about Nobara Sumiyoshi and the rest of the girls on the volleyball team at Crimson High as they pursue their goal of winning the Spring Tournament. In reality, there are only a dozen pages of volleyball in this volume, and only half of those feature the girls.

When last we left off, Haibuki, one of the aces on the guys’ team, had run off because he learned that Nobara was secretly going out with his teammate, Yushin. Also, some other guy named Kaz was spreading rumors about Nobara that caused her to break up with Yushin. It was really a mess, which I ranted about in more detail here.

Thankfully, Takanashi almost immediately addresses all of the things I found so annoying! Kaz abruptly apologizes and disappears. It was totally random, but whatever; I’m glad he’s gone. Yushin and Nobara discover where Haibuki is and both implore him to return. When Yushin goes to great lengths to win Haibuki back from another school that’s been attempting to recruit him, Haibuki realizes that Yushin kept his relationship with Nobara a secret only because he thought it would be best for the team and finally stops being a petulant brat. Hooray!

Though I mock some of the emotional moments in this volume, the truth is that when done well, it’s honestly very entertaining. It’s not the most original story in the world—earnest but academically challenged girl is sought after by two boys with contrasting personalities—but I like it. I still wish they would just play some volleyball already, though.

Eyeshield 21 4-9 by Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata: B
In addition to his fearsome talent for gathering information and blackmailing others to get his way, Hiruma, the demonic captain of the Deimon Devil Bats football team, also excels at motivation and promotion. It’s through his efforts that a crowd of Deimon students turns out to watch the Devil Bats defeat the Zokugaku Chameleons, which in turn leads to a record turnout at the next recruitment meeting.

A handful of new players joins the team, including the absolutely adorable Komusubi, who looks like a muppet and idolizes Kurita, and the Devil Bats proceed to a tie game against their next opponent, which earns them a spot in a televised face-off against a visiting American team. A summer training trip to America soon follows, with the all-important fall tournament season only a few weeks away.

At this point, Eyeshield 21 is following the sports manga formula pretty closely: the team gets better, important positions are filled, and everyone tries hard to get stronger as they face increasingly more formidable opponents. Just because it’s formulaic, though, doesn’t make it any less good. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction to be derived from watching someone earnestly work hard to achieve their goals, and even if much of what happens in this series is completely over-the-top, it’s still a fun read.

My favorite aspect of the story, though, is how those with less inate talent are not forgotten. This is best exemplified by what’s going on with “The Hah?! Brothers.” These three thugs were originally blackmailed into playing by Hiruma, but have gradually become genuinely invested in the team’s goals. Jumonji, their leader, was particularly upset to see his friends’ contributions belittled in an article, and works hard to help them improve themselves. I’m not sure why, but I find the idea of a former delinquent finally finding something to care about and strive for really moving. A scene in which the crowd cheers them for the first time actually made me teary-eyed!

Now if only there were fewer poop jokes…

The Prince of Tennis 36-39 by Takeshi Konomi: C+
When one is a long-time fan of The Prince of Tennis, as I am, one becomes accustomed to and can forgive a lot of the ridiculousness that goes on in the series. For example, it’s a given now that characters will be introduced who are supposed to be in junior high, even though they look thirty, and who have at their disposal an arsenal of highly improbable shots with silly names like “Super Ultra Delicious Swinging Mountain Storm.” Sets will also almost always end at 7-6, after a grueling tie-break, and characters frequently are one point away from defeat when they suddenly “evolve” and rally valiantly. It’s repetitive, but hey, how much variation can one really expect?

For the National Tournament, mangaka Takeshi Konomi kicks things up a notch with the introduction of a technique so eyeroll-inducing that even I can’t refrain from snerking. It’s called “the selfless state,” and manifests as a glowing aura that spectactors can detect instantly. “There it is!!” cries the peanut gallery, “The selfess state!!” It enables the player to instinctively recreate any opponent’s move that he’s ever seen, which results in even more shouting from the sidelines as familiar shots are recognized by the crowd. Our hero Ryoma Echizen can do it, naturally, but he’s been doing so for ten volumes or so now so it’s time to tweak it still further.

Volumes 36 through 39 of the series focus on Seishun’s semifinal match-up against a school from Osaka called Shitenhoji. After Fuji loses the first singles match, Seishun retaliates with a doubles victory followed by a singles win via forfeit. If they win the next doubles match, they’re going to the finals. Enter Seishun’s captain, Kunimitsu Tezuka, who not only can achieve the selfless state, but a special variation thereof called “the pinnacle of mastery.” Not to be outdone, Shitenhoji puts up Senri Chitose, whose ability to access “the pinnacle of brilliance” makes him go all sparkly.

Stoic Tezuka is my favorite character, so I don’t begrudge him the opportunity to be a badass, particularly since he missed most of the Kanto Tournament due to injury, but there’s only so much ridiculousness I can take. I mean, there’s one two-page spread where these guys just stand there and glow at one another! Tezuka ultimately wins, of course. After a brief interlude provided by a yakiniku eating contest, the finals begin, but Ryoma is nowhere to be found and Tezuka seems poised to reinjure himself in pursuit of victory.

These volumes make me sigh heavily. And yet… for all my complaining, I will eagerly buy the last three volumes of the series and be bummed out if the sequel isn’t licensed soon.

Review copy for volume 39 of The Prince of Tennis provided by the publisher.