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.

Frau Faust, Vols. 1-2

By Kore Yamazaki | Published by Kodansha Comics

I had heard good things about Frau Faust and figured I would probably like it too, but I wasn’t prepared for the “OMG, I love this!” feeling that overtook me after the first dozen pages or so. I loved it so much, in fact, that the first seven volumes of Yamazaki’s other published-in-English series, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, are currently on their way to my branch of our awesome local library. If Frau Faust is going to be this original and entertaining, clearly I need to read more of Yamazaki’s work!

But let’s back up a little to the premise. Johanna Faust was always an extremely curious child, her quest for knowledge so intense that it led her to dissect animals and do other things that caused her to be ostracized for being creepy. Even her own mother was afraid of her. Because of this greed, the demon Mephistopheles paid Johanna a visit, promising to bestow all of the knowledge she could ever want upon her. Johanna flatly rejected this deal, however, because she’s only interested in knowledge she attains for herself. Mephisto (for short) proceeds to hang around for a few years, in case she changes her mind. Eventually, to help save her only friend from a slavering wolf creature, Johanna agrees to the contract. When she dies, Mephisto gets her soul, but what she wants while she’s alive is actually him. He’ll be her protector, assistant, et cetera.

Of course, we don’t learn all of that right off the bat. Instead, we encounter Johanna as she’s trying to get into a church to retrieve one of Mephisto’s body parts. A curse prevents her from opening the door, so when she protects a young book thief named Marion from the authorities, he seems to be the perfect candidate to solve her problem. While they wait for the new moon to complete the errand, Johanna offers to tutor Marion, whom it turns out was merely stealing his own books back after they were taken by debt collectors. Poverty has also caused him to give up school, which was the only thing he’s good at.

After the errand is complete, Marion refuses to let his memories of the encounter be wiped, and tags along with Johanna on her journey to gather the rest of Mephisto, whom she refers to as “my adorable, detestable, unfathomable idiot of a dog.” As the trail leads Johanna to a town where the church is protecting Mephisto’s leg, we learn more about why the demon has been quartered and his parts kept under guard—his only charge is performing an immortality curse upon the dead—and what this means for Johanna. Whenever she sustains an injury, she is able to heal herself, but has a finite supply of physical material to work with, thus she ends up looking younger each time.

As cool as it was to have an older protagonist, I really don’t mind that she ends up looking younger, since she is demonstrably still the same person. I appreciate that Johanna is decidedly not evil. She never threatens Marion or anything of the sort. And though she might have made some past decisions Marion has a hard time accepting, she only did so after a lot of thought and because it was the best and only option at the time. I also really like how Marion becomes a stronger character in the second volume, as we learn that his motivations for tagging along with Johanna are more than mere curiosity: she’s his ticket out of a town where he has very few prospects.

I haven’t yet touched on the church characters, primarily an inquisitor named Lorenzo (who’s trying to stop Johanna but yet agrees to work with her to expose a corrupt priest) and his friend and assistant Vito, who gets himself captured along with Marion whilst trying to figure out why vagrants keep going missing around the church. They believe humankind will suffer if Mephisto is allowed to return to normal. (Nico, Johanna’s homunculus “daughter,” doesn’t seem fond of him, either.) The players on each side are sympathetic and the story is complex, just how I like ’em. We still don’t know what sort of “game” Johanna and Mephisto are playing and why she doesn’t just take her immortality and run, rather than risk injury trying to put the demon with dibs on her soul back together. Maybe she’s simply fond of him?

Alas, this series is only five volumes long, but I will look on the bright side—we will hopefully get a really satisfying conclusion that much sooner!

Frau Faust is complete in five volumes. The first two volumes are currently available in English and the third will be released on Tuesday.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Otherworld Barbara, Vols. 1-2

By Moto Hagio | Published by Fantagraphics

otherworldIt’s 2052 and Tokio Watarai, a dream pilot, is coming home to Japan for the first time in three years. Although his ex-wife and son are in Japan, he’s actually returning for a job involving a girl who’s been sleeping for seven years since being found with her parents’ hearts in her stomach. Her name is Aoba, and when Tokio enters her dream it’s all about an island called Barbara in which kids can fly and cannibalism factors in to funeral rites. Soon, he learns that his son, Kiriya, actually invented Barbara. So how is Aoba able to dream about it?

That introductory paragraph actually simplifies the story greatly. There’s also Tokio’s horrid ex-wife Akemi and the creepy priest Johannes whom she loves and who could possibly be Aoba’s grandfather but also head of an American orphanage in which cloned children were created, including one called Paris who comes to Japan and believes Kiriya might be a boy he knew called Taka. There’s Kiriya’s massive angst, his dreams of Mars, his dream conversations with Aoba, the girl Laika who fancies him, a psychiatrist who treated Aoba who is killed by a tornado she created, his identity-swapping and cross-dressing fraternal twin children, anti-aging research (potentially conducted upon the residents of Barbara) including a suit that turns Aoba’s grandma into a young woman who calls herself Marienbad and has a fling with Tokio, Daikoku’s ominous hinting that Kiriya will kill Tokio someday, parental regrets, etc.

By the end of the first volume, so very many plot threads are in the air that I was not at all sure that Hagio-sensei would be able to make everything make sense in the end. To use just one example: If Barbara is just a dream—and, indeed, no such island actually exists—then how is it possible that the blood of its residents is used for anti-aging medicine? And yet we see evidence that such advances are already in the works. And because of all this plot stuff, there’s not a lot of time for building solid relationships. There is angst aplenty, especially courtesy of Kiriya, but the whole Marienbad/Tokio hookup, for example, is just extremely random. The strongest bond, though, is definitely the love Tokio feels for his son and his regret over having been a crappy father.

Happily, the second volume does make with the answers, starting almost immediately. Not everything is answered with absolute certainty—one particular narrative thread takes a completely unexpected and surprisingly poignant turn. Even 90% of the way through, I would’ve said there was no way Otherworld Barbara would be able to make me cry, and yet it did. I won’t reveal how, but I loved the devastating consequences of a desperate act on Tokio’s part, and how it led him to have faith that Aoba’s dream of Barbara really could be shaping a vision of the future. That ending makes everything else worthwhile. Too, I enjoyed the contrast between Hagio’s uncomplicated, light-filled artwork and the dark and weird story she told.

Ultimately, Otherworld Barbara is definitely worth reading. Thank you, Fantagraphics, for releasing it!

Otherworld Barbara is complete in two 2-in-1 editions.

Review copies provided by the publisher

Plum Crazy! Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat, Vol. 1

By Natsumi Hoshino | Published by Seven Seas

It is definitely a good time to be a manga fan, particularly if you (like me) are fond of niche genres like food manga, sports manga, and cat manga. The latest entry into that final category is Plum Crazy! Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat and, predictably, it’s cute.

Plum lives with the Nakarai family, including a woman who teaches traditional Japanese dance and her teenage son, Taku. One day, Plum brings home a kitten in distress, and what follows are her efforts to help take care of the kitten while said kitten (soon named Snowball) is more interested in administering chomps.

With the exception of a few pages of 4-koma comics at the back of the volume, Plum has no internal dialogue, but her actions and expressive face convey her thoughts well. She does typical cat-like things, but she’s far from ordinary. For example, not only does she actually listen to her owner’s directives, but she actually complies. Snowball is more realistically temperamental, only cuddling with Plum when she feels unwell and otherwise tormenting her until another cat shows up, at which point Snowball is jealous of their playtime.

Really, there isn’t a lot of plot here. The only thing that comes close is the Nakarai family learning valuable lessons about keeping a clean litterbox, or the dangers of heatstroke, or the fact that cats don’t like wearing reindeer antlers and posing for pictures. To all of these I give a big “duh!,” and it’s somewhat frustrating to see people so cavalier about these and other topics—they don’t seem to worry about a tiny kitten wandering the neighborhood, for example—but I guess part of the point of the manga was to be educational.

At any rate, this was an enjoyable addition to the roster of cat manga available in English, and I plan to continue with it.

Plum Crazy! is ongoing in Japan, where sixteen volumes have been released. Seven Seas will publish the second volume in English in September.

The Full-Time Wife Escapist, Vols. 1-2

By Tsunami Umino | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Mikuri Moriyama is a 25-year-old licensed clinical psychologist who hasn’t been able to find a job after grad school. She’s been living with her parents and working for a temp agency, and when she’s laid off her father arranges for her to assume housekeeping duties for a guy he used to work with. Hiramasa Tsuzaki is 36 and single. He seems humorless and particular at first, but Mikuri finds that working for a hard-to-please guy makes it easier to know when she’s been successful. She performs her duties well, even managing to nurse Tsuzaki through an illness in such a business-like way that it’s not awkward for him. Things go well for a few months, then Mikuri’s father prepares to retire and move to the countryside. Rather than lose their mutually beneficial arrangement, Mikuri and Tsuzaki decide that she’ll move in with him and, for the sake of propriety, become his common-law wife. They proceed to perpetuate the ruse that they’re actually a real couple.

I am really enjoying The Full-Time Wife Escapist so far! Mikuri is an interesting character. She’s outwardly educated and competent—equally able to engage in conversations about globalization and maintain a meticulous budget—but has these inward flights of fancy that only the reader is privy to. She often imagines herself being interviewed about the state of her life, be it with an unsympathetic talk show host or a man-on-the-street segment about middle-aged virgins (which Tsuzaki appears to be), or performing heartbreaking Les Miserables-style songs about the woes of unemployment. The injection of whimsy is fun and reminds me a little of Tokyo Tarareba Girls, but Mikuri is a lot more practical (and a lot less boozy) than the characters of that series.

As Tsuzaki’s coworkers learn that he’s gotten married, his social calendar suddenly fills up in a way it never did before, while Mikuri notices that her aunt Yuri, with whom she’s very close, has been hesitant to invite her out as much as she used to before Mikuri got married. Spending time with Numata and Kazami is enjoyable for the couple, but it’s also risky, because nosy Numata snoops and learns there’s only a twin bed in the bedroom, and by volume two, Kazami is convinced that they’re faking it. Kazami is perhaps as equally developed as Tsuzaki himself, as we hear a great deal about his reservations about marriage, which all leads up to the big cliffhanger ending of volume two (which I shan’t spoil). Tsuzaki, meanwhile, is attempting in vain to keep from developing feelings for Mikuri. She persists in being business-like, and he 100% believes there’s no chance she’d ever reciprocate, so he often looks emotionless in front of her, only revealing his feelings when he’s alone. I love that neither one of them is spazzy; they’re in a somewhat trope-y arrangement, but they’re handling it like adults.

I really can’t wait for volume three. There’s so many interesting ways the story could go, though I admit I actually do want it to go in the standard “they fall in love and live happily ever after” direction.

The Full-Time Wife Escapist is ongoing in Japan; nine volumes have been released so far.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 1

By Akiko Higashimura | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

I spent all my time wondering “what if,” then one day I woke up and I was 33.

Thirty-something Rinko Kamata and her two best friends from high school, Kaori and Koyuki, are still single. They’ve happily spent the last decade getting together regularly for girls’ nights out, during which they get sloshed and speculate on what might’ve happened with past romances or how they might meet Mr. Right in the future. When it’s announced that Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics in 2020 and it dawns on the trio that they might still be single amidst all the celebrating, they abruptly realize that they might have missed their chance to snag husbands.

Ten years ago, Rinko had a chance with Mr. Hayasaka, a dull but sweet coworker, but rejected him. Their work—she’s a scriptwriter and he’s a producer for a television production company—still brings them together, however, and when she seemingly has a second chance, she considers accepting this time, wondering if women must choose being loved over being in love once they’re over thirty. Of course, she’s drunk at the time, so her thoughts are whimsically presented in the form of conversation with her snacks! Specifically, tara (milt) and reba (liver), whose names combine to mean “what if” and thus supply the pun of the series title. They’re cute little creatures, and tara especially gives me some Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU flashbacks (in the best way).

Of course, we wouldn’t have a series if things worked out with Mr. Hayasaka, and losing out to younger women in romance, work, and at a courtship party, where the “tarareba girls” discover that even schlubby guys their age have pretty young things competing for them (because the younger guys are all under- or unemployed), sends her somewhat off the rails, hopping in a taxi to capture some blackmail evidence and winding up at a hot springs resort, drinking alone and feeling unwanted until Key, a snarky male model who’s observed the rowdy trio at their favorite pub and was critical of Rinko’s writing—essentially unrealistic wish-fulfillment fare for daydreaming middle-aged women—shows up to forestall disaster and ends up proving himself to be the ultimate “what if” scenario that Rinko hadn’t even considered. Plus, he encourages her to see her recent failures as a chance instead of a setback, and I hope this means we’ll see her write what she claims she really wants to write and achieve success after all.

This is quite a madcap volume, what with the talking food, and there are also several quick cuts to Rinko guzzling alcohol that make me think this would be extremely amusing in either animated or live-action format. I also really like the way we her conversations with friends via text are depicted. Ordinarily, I might be bothered that these ladies are so fixated on husbands, but Higashimura-sensei has some author’s notes at the back wherein she makes it absolutely clear that she does not think that marriage is the key to happiness or that it’s a requirement for women. It’s just that she had some friends who were beginning to experience some of these things, and she decided to write about them.

Before Kodansha’s announcement, this series hadn’t even been on my radar, so in addition to being grateful for more josei in any format, I’m especially glad to be introduced to this fun story. I’m looking forward to volume two!

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is ongoing in Japan where it is up to seven volumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Chihayafuru, Vol. 1

By Yuki Suetsugi | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

Chihayafuru is a long-running josei sports manga series about a girl who discovers a passion for the Japanese card game, karuta. The very factors that made me sure I’d love the series also made it an unlikely licensing prospect. Happily, Kodansha Comics has started releasing it digitally! I still can’t quite believe that it’s really happened.

In the opening pages, we get a glimpse of a teenage Chihaya Amase during an intense match, then promptly travel six years into the past. At twelve, Chihaya had no dream other than seeing her older pageant-entering sister, Chitose, become “number one in Japan.” When she befriends transfer student Arata Wataya, who’s been shunned by classmates for his poverty and regional dialect, he tells her that her dreams should be about herself. Fired up by Wataya’s speed and intensity at karuta, Chihaya can’t help but attempt to score at least one card off of him, and the delight on Wataya’s face as he finally makes a friend who shares his passion is poignant.

As Chihaya (and the audience) learns more about karuta, Wataya eventually gains the respect of his classmates for his skill, prompting Taichi Mashima, the ringleader of the bullies, to cheat against him in a school tournament. I quite liked that we see Mashima’s motivations—his horrid mother flat out tells him that if you don’t think you can win at something, you shouldn’t even try—and that, afterwards, he makes his own decisions about what is right and what is important to him. The three kids become friends and, after joining a karuta club in their neighborhood, conclude the first volume by entering an elementary tournament as a team.

In several ways, Chihayafuru reminds me of Hikaru no Go. You’ve got the sixth-grade protagonist discovering enthusiasm for a traditional game. She makes a small group of friends who share a deep love of the game, and they compete together as a team. And yet, there is the inescapable fact that they won’t be able to stay together forever. Mashima’s path will take him to a prestigious middle school while the ill health of Wataya’s grandfather compels him to return to his hometown. Will Chihaya continue on her own? Presumably, like Hikaru, she will make new friends at each stage of her journey, and potentially face Wataya again as a rival in future.

As usual, what I really loved most was Chihaya finding the place she belonged, and the outlet in which her specific skills—quick reaction time, acute vision, and an extremely keen sense of hearing—are recognized and appreciated. Her sister becomes positively odious as she realizes Chihaya now has something in her life to work towards besides Chitose’s fame—“All Chihaya needs to do is look at me and tell me how amazing I am”—and I wonder how far she’ll go to sabotage her little sister’s ambitions, but the opening pages show us a Chihaya still deeply dedicated to the game, so I’m sure she’ll remain undeterred.

I really, really loved this debut volume and eagerly look forward to more!

Chihayafuru is ongoing in Japan, where the 34th volume will be published next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 1

By Izumi Miyazono | Published by VIZ Media

egm1I’ve grown a bit wary of josei romances. I’d prefer them not to be smutty, or to derive much of their drama from misunderstandings, or to feature a controlling male lead. Happily, Everyone’s Getting Married avoids all of those things!

Twenty-four-year-old Asuka Takanashi enjoys a successful career as a real estate broker, but what she really wants to do is get married, quit her job, and become a full-time homemaker. I struggled to identify with her at first because of this, but Miyazono does a great job showing how serious a person Asuka is. This isn’t some idealistic fantasy she’s concocted. Asuka works hard at her job, and we soon see that she absolutely will work just as hard to provide a warm environment for her family. Too, the more negative reactions Asuka gets, the more it’s clear for the reader that it’s nobody’s business criticizing her choice.

Unfortunately for her connubial dream, right after Asuka catches the bouquet at a friend’s wedding, her long-time boyfriend breaks up with her, saying, “You’d be happy with anyone who puts a ring on your finger.” Asuka tells herself this isn’t true, but immediately begins attending mixers and matchmaking events, looking for a potential husband. Meanwhile, she keeps running into handsome newscaster Ryu Nanami, who flatly declares, “I’d rather die than get married.” She tries to squash the feelings that are developing, but by the end of the volume they’re going out, even though neither has changed their mind about matrimony.

How refreshing it is to read a story about two adults who are plain-spoken about what they want from life! Nobody does anything spazzy and they are both consummate professionals. I don’t know how they’re going to reconcile their differences—probably we’ll get a happy ending, though I admit I’d be happy if Miyazono took the unconventional route and had them break up. My one complaint is that it’s initially hard to tell whether the conflicting opinions Ryu expresses regarding housewifery (at one point calling it an escape and later a respectable career) represent evolution because of Asuka or just inconsistency. (When he reiterates his respect again towards the end of the volume, it seems much more obviously because of her.) Also, there’s a scene where Asuka berates him, calling him a lowlife and a womanizer, and then just a few pages later he’s praising her for not judging others’ choices. Um…

All in all, this was a nice surprise and I look forward to volume two!

Everyone’s Getting Married is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to five volumes. VIZ will publish the second volume in English in September.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Haunted House

By Mitsukazu Mihara | Published by TOKYOPOP

I blame my “meh” reaction to Mitsukazu Miharu’s Haunted House—which I honestly wanted to like!—on the back cover, which promises that readers will be “kept guessing—and giggling” by the behavior of Sabato Obiga’s flamboyantly goth parents. I might’ve smiled a time or two, but that’s about it.

The basic premise here is simple and reiterated several times throughout the volume: Sabato would like a steady girlfriend, but they inevitably ask to see his house, which means they will have to meet his bizarre, “death-flavored” family and be scared off by their creepy antics. Sabato’s mother strongly resembles Morticia Addams, his father (despite being a banker) often sports a sort of Victorian dandy look, and his twin sisters have a gothic lolita vibe and spend their free time making voodoo dolls. The Obiga family also likes to decorate their home with skeletons and shrines and threatens to serve the family cat for dinner. Sabato always obtains their promise to behave before inviting a girl over, but this is invariably broken.

Haunted House is pretty repetitive, but I think I wouldn’t have been dissastified with it if the powers that be at TOKYOPOP hadn’t strongly hinted that Sabato’s family has some reason for treating him like they do. Okay, yes, they abruptly promise to support him when it seems that he, after fancying a long string of random ladies, seems to have fallen in love at last, but it’s not like they actually follow through with this in any meaningful way.

Looking kooky is one thing, but they’re frequently just down-right mean. At one point, Sabato is hospitalized with a broken leg and his family comes to visit. Most of what they do is innocuous—bringing him only hospital-themed horror novels to read, for example—but his mother actually feeds him dog food. I just don’t get it. Is that supposed to be funny? Is that supposed to be someone who is merely tormenting their kid, as the back cover implies, in an effort to encourage him to grow up, become an independent person, and stop pursuing meaningless relationships with random girls?

I don’t know, but I am certain that I am thinking too hard about this. And I partly blame the back cover that encouraged me to expect more from a story that is really just a diverting bit of goofiness.

Honey and Clover 9-10 by Chica Umeno: A

These are the final two volumes of Honey and Clover, so there will be spoilers here. Beware.

Be sure to have some mental palate cleanser on hand—fluffy shoujo may work for you but I turned to shoot-’em-up seinen—when you finish Honey and Clover, because, man, is it depressing! It’s not that I’d expected everything to turn out rosy, since much of the plot revolves around two love triangles among friends, and someone must end up disappointed if there is to be any resolution, but I had failed to grasp the bigger sorrow in these characters’ lives: the time has come for them to go their separate ways.

Primarily, this realization affects Takemoto and Hagu, the two characters who are graduating. Hagu has said before that she plans to return home to Nagano to live a simple life and paint as she pleases, but lately it seems like she wants something else, but is reluctant to ask for it. As she articulates her dilemma, we see a more adult Hagu than we’ve ever seen before. This impression deepens when a freak accident leaves Hagu with nerve damage in her painting hand and she goes without painkillers in order to feel the first inkling of pain that might tell her there’s hope for regrowth. (If you had ever had reservations about this series because of Hagu’s child-like appearance, rest assured that she is clearly a strong, fascinating, and respected grown-up by the end.)

This accident is the catalyst for just about everything that follows. Takemoto has a job offer from the temple restoration group he’d encountered on his bicycle journey, but can’t decide whether to leave a recuperating Hagu behind. Ayu decides that Morita ought to know about what has happened to Hagu, and their reunion coincides with a frustrating lack of progress in Hagu’s physical therapy. Morita, who is sick of people loving or being jealous of him because of his talent, is ready to cast all that aside and offers Hagu the chance to do the same and just live as two people in love. She’s tempted, but when a night away from the hospital results in swelling in her hand, she realizes what is most important to her and decides to go back.

Hanamoto-sensei is ready to give everything up and stay by Hagu’s side as she recuperates, but doesn’t want her to know about the sacrifices he’s poised to make lest that knowledge influence her decision of what to do with her life. The night with Morita helps her realize that art is more important to her even than love, and in order to be able to pursue it, she needs Hanamoto by her side, to nourish her with his presence and enable her to relax and grow. It’s this that she was loathe to ask for, but nearly losing her ability to paint clarifies her desires and she ends up requesting the very thing he’s been ready to offer.

You see, though I never would have guessed this, Hanamoto is in love with Hagu, too. Through being with her, he was able to recapture some of the joy in art—and in life—that he had lost. Because of this, though she does not return his feelings in the same way, he’s willing to devote his life to staying near her. I find this inexplicably sad for some reason. Too, because Hagu chooses this path, both Takemoto’s and Morita’s romantic hopes are dashed. It’s just so awful that nobody’s love is returned in the same measure that their own is given. These are kind people, willing to keep on loving no matter what, and I can’t help but want to see that kind of devotion rewarded.

Takemoto and Morita have both been positively affected by their love for Hagu—her vow to always watch over Morita prevents him from giving up after all—but neither gets a happy ending. It seems possible that Ayu might, in time, be able to forget about Mayama and accept Nomiya’s feelings, but that’s still some ways off. The person closest to a happy ending is probably Mayama, who is making slow progress in his relationship with Rika. A lot of things are left up in the air, including the outcome of Hagu’s therapy, but this doesn’t result in the story feeling unfinished.

In the end, Takemoto achieves some measure of peace—he couldn’t have stood losing out to Morita, but to lose to Hanamoto-sensei’s “kindness and consideration” is somehow more tolerable—and takes the restoration job. Oh, how I cried when Hagu turns up at the train station with a bundle of ginormous sandwiches to bid him farewell. Each sandwich contains a four-leaf clover, and Takemoto realizes she must’ve spent ages searching for those, which brings to mind a memory (of the gang searching for clovers for Hanamoto-sensei back in volume two) that sums up the feeling of the series’ end quite well.

As time passes I guess the day will come that all of this is just a memory. But that day you were there and I was there and all of our friends were there. And we all looked for just one thing. In fact, that whole miraculous time in my life is going to keep turning nostalgically, somewhere far away deep in my heart, accompanied by a sweet pain forever.

Thanks for an awesome series, Chica Umino. I hope someone licenses Sangatsu no Lion soon.

Review copy for volume ten provided by the publisher.