After Hours, Vol. 1

By Yuhta Nishio | Published by VIZ Media

In the opening scene of After Hours, Emi Asahina is attempting (unsuccessfully) to meet up with a friend in a loud and crowded nightclub. After a spunky DJ named Kei saves her from a grabby creep, they get to talking. Emi tells her, “I don’t really see what’s fun about places like this.” Much of the rest of the manga is Kei helping her to change her mind about that.

Emi ends up going home with Kei that night, and they appear to have fooled around to some extent, though that’s left to the reader’s imagination. Instead, the focus is on Emi learning more about Kei’s world. The club scene is a new setting for me where manga is concerned, and imparts a unique feel. Emi is 24 and unemployed and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, but after once getting roped in to providing visuals to accompany Kei’s music, she’s enthusiastic to try it a second time. Kei swiftly provides Emi the key to her apartment, and tells her things about her past that she usually doesn’t talk about, gives her records from her prized vinyl collection, etc. For all of her cool chick persona, Kei is open and honest and pretty awesome. And so, I’m kind of afraid she’s going to get her heart broken.

Because although Emi is having fun with Kei, there’s never really a sense that she’s choosing Kei as opposed to just sampling her lifestyle. After they maybe sleep together, there is not a single scene from Emi contemplating what this might mean about her sexuality. And, at the halfway point of the volume, we learn that she is living with the boyfriend she’s only “kind of” broken up with, and Kei has no idea. Is Emi going to make a decision about what she wants from life that will include Kei, or is this just tourism for her? Granted, the manga itself isn’t amping up the potential for drama here, so perhaps it will all play out in the relatively restrained way it has so far.

One thing I really liked about this volume was a scene in which Kei is showing Emi how to operate some DJ equipment. She explains how the inputs from two separate turntables can be adjusted to mix and segue into each other. Later, this metaphor is applied to their relationship. Kei is sharing a lot while Emi is revealing little. “If it’s all coming from my side, it’s not really mixing, is it?” she says. I thought that was a pretty neat idea. Really, my one complaint so far is that the characters look so young. Kei is supposed to be thirty, but looks fourteen. She still comes off as a vibrant and captivating, but I think her cool quotient would increase if she looked more like an adult.

Definitely looking forward to volume two!

After Hours is complete in three volumes. The second is due out in English next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Queen’s Thief, Books 4-5 by Megan Whalen Turner

A new installment of The Queen’s Thief is here! That proved an excellent incentive to reread the first three books (which I deeply love) and finally tackle the fourth book as well as the handful of short stories that’ve appeared as paperback extras.

A Conspiracy of Kings
A Conspiracy of Kings is a coming-of-age story for Sophos, the sweet, scholarly boy we met in The Thief who also happens to be the heir to Sounis. Some of the barons are in revolt, and when the villa in which he’s staying is attacked, Sophos tries to save his mother and sisters but ends up captured himself. Although he’s resourceful enough to escape and hide out amongst enslaved field hands, he nonetheless is bitterly self-critical and sure his father is disappointed in him (as usual). And yet, throughout the course of the novel, he exhibits a great deal of courage, makes some hard choices, and—though still the sweet, scholarly boy underneath—ultimately becomes a worthy king.

A Conspiracy of Kings strikes me as a simpler book than The King of Attolia, probably because Sophos is earnest and idealistic rather than guarded and secretive, though that’s not to say that he’s incapable of carrying out a secret plan or clever strategy. The book does have an unusual narrative style, beginning in the third person with Sophos already in Attolia, switching to first person as he tells Eddis his story up to that point, going back into third while everyone’s together in Attolia, going back into first when he returns after claiming the throne and fills Eddis in again, and then back into third for the ending.

It occurs to me that as The Queen’s Thief series continues, the further we’re getting away from Eugenides. The Thief was first-person from his point of view, The Queen of Attolia was third-person, The King of Attolia viewed Gen and his relationship with the queen through the eyes of a palace guard, and now we have a story about Sophos in which Gen appears occasionally and spends some of that time behaving with icy formality. I appreciate the expanding world the characters inhabit and genuinely enjoy spending time with everyone, but I do love Gen best and hope the focus returns to him someday.

Thick as Thieves
After waiting so long for a new book in the series, learning that it would be about Kamet, the slave of the Mede ambassador Nahuseresh, was somewhat of a disappointment. Now, I feel compelled to apologize to the author because I really should’ve had more faith in her. Kamet is a smart, distrustful protagonist with somewhat of a superiority complex and his evolution throughout the novel is fascinating.

Thick as Thieves is most similar to the first book in the series, since it involves a road trip peppered with storytelling. An Attolian soldier has been dispatched by Eugenides to steal Kamet out of spite, and after initially planning to decline the offer of freedom (thinking of all the power he will one day wield after he is gifted to the next emperor), Kamet is forced to accept after learning that his master has been poisoned and that he must escape quickly or face torture and execution. A Goodreads reviewer describes what follows as “bloodshed, betrayal, and bromance,” and I really cannot improve on that description. Although he initially thinks the Attolian is an idiot and plans on ditching him at the earliest opportunity (rather than return to uncivilized Attolia) he comes to like and respect him very much. I also love how one little piece of information lets readers know exactly who this soldier is, although Kamet does not use his name until near the end.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but that’s the part of the book that really shines. (Alas, the road trip does drag a little in parts.) There are quite a few surprises—including one satisfying “I knew it!” moment—and the conclusion is both sniff-inducing and exciting, as conflict is still brewing between the Empire and the small countries on the peninsula, though the latter (thanks to Eugenides) appear to have acquired some powerful allies. This is such a great series and I hope we’ll see Kamet again in what follows.

The short stories:
“Thief!”, originally printed in Disney Adventures Magazine in 2000, is a prequel short story about Eugenides as a kid. There’s not much to it, but I liked seeing Gen interact with his older brother and favorite sibling, Stenides.

“Eddis” was included in the 2007 paperback edition of The King of Attolia. In it, nine-year-old Helen—wonderfully described as round, solid, sturdy, and not too bothered by the fact that she isn’t pretty—slips away from the palace to go exploring. Her destination is a desolate temple where she is visited in the night by a trio of gods, who refer to her as “the last Eddis.” It’s a neat story that not only fleshes out Helen’s background a little bit and explains why she uses the masculine “Eddis” rather than “Eddia,” but ties in nicely with her motivations in A Conspiracy of Kings.

“Destruction” was included in the 2011 paperback edition of A Conspiracy of Kings. In this brief story, we witness the ceremony to dispose of Hamiathes’s Gift in the fires of the Sacred Mountain in Eddis. Frustrated Sounis is in attendance as is Attolia, who never takes her eyes from Eugenides. Scant though it is, I find I appreciate having a mental image for this occasion, as well as the moment in which Eugenides achieves certainty that the stone is really gone.

“Knife Dance” is included in the new paperback edition of The Queen of Attolia. In it, a juggler named Druic is coerced by his jerk of a brother to perform a certain Eddisian knife dance—”one of the Mysteries of the Thieves”—for the court of Attolia. Both the king and his god have something to say about it. I liked this one, and the ending was very satisfying.

“Wineshop” is included in the new paperback edition of The King of Attolia. It’s extremely short and depicts Eugenides enjoying his final moment of anonymity before coins bearing his likeness enter circulation and how Teleus spoils it all. There’s one part of it that makes me wonder if Eugenides knew that was going to happen. It would not surprise me.

Moteki: Love Strikes!, Vol. 1

By Mitsurou Kubo | Published by Vertical Comics

Although I was originally quite keen to read Moteki, it took me nearly a week to finish this volume. That isn’t due to its length (Vertical is publishing the entire series in two hefty volumes) but to the fact that the protagonist, self-proclaimed loser Yukiyo Fujimoto, is really hard to take in large doses.

The story begins in the summer of Yukiyo’s 29th year, when he experiences a brief flurry of contact from women in his past. Desperate for love and sex, he reconnects with each of them and botches each attempt in one way or another. With Aki Doi, the former coworker who held hands with him at a rock festival until her boyfriend showed up, he’s too passive. With Natsuki, a girl he bombarded with “please fall in love with me” vibes for a year before finally losing his virginity to her older sister, he very nearly scores but can’t perform. It’s with his friend Itsuka, however, that his behavior is the most troubling.

In their first meeting two years ago, their mutual friend Shimada tries to pair them off. Yukiyo is all for this, but Itsuka balks. (We later learn it’s because she was in love with Shimada.) Yukiyo erupts. “Are you one of those girls who acts like a cocktease then plays dumb out of spite, or maybe you act like you’re being generous when you give a guy who just saved you a kiss on the cheek instead of putting out for him?! You are one nasty chick!!” Despite this, they become friends and, in the present day, she invites him on a trip to eat a local delicacy. In their hotel room, they almost have sex before she finds out he’s not a virgin and kicks him out of bed. She promptly falls asleep and his first thought is, “If you don’t resist, that means you want it, right?” Then he realizes that he doesn’t have any condoms. Only after that does it occur to him that she trusts him not to do anything to her. Later, he’s super persistent to the point that Itsuka blocks him from contacting her and calls off the friendship.

Previously, Itsuka had said that she wishes she could find someone to love, and Yukiyo is baffled as to why she wouldn’t consider him. “Could she still not forget about Shimada?” It’s at this point that I desperately wished for some hallucinatory foodstuffs to appear. Like so:

Thankfully, in the second half Yukiyo seemingly begins to change. Despite getting terrible advice from a girl in his hometown, urging even more persistence (and I do worry what kind of message this manga is sending in that respect), when he meets Itsuka again he manages to actually listen to her romantic woes with empathy, realizing they share problems with low self-esteem, and even be just assertive enough to help her get closure regarding her unrequited feelings for now-married Shimada. He’s serious enough to say “I’m interested in you” without going overboard and insincerely declaring his love, and he isn’t pushy about getting in her pants. Just when you think they might finally make things work, however, he ends up hanging around Aki Doi again and getting jealous when a slovenly, struggling manga artist seems interested in her. Make up your mind, dude!

Ultimately, I just don’t know. I’ll read the second (and final) volume, but I worry I’ll end up grumpy and frustrated once again.

Moteki is complete in Japan with 4.5 volumes. Vertical will release the omnibus containing the second half of the series in July.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Vols. 1-8

By Kore Yamazaki | Published by Seven Seas

I’d heard good things about The Ancient Magus’ Bride from my Manga Bookshelf compatriots, but I had also heard about a sad fate befalling some cats, so I steered clear. After reading and really enjoying Kore Yamazaki’s Frau Faust, however, I decided to give AMB a try. I’m glad I did, because it turns out the cat stuff wasn’t a deal breaker (it all happened long ago and present-day kitties emerge unscathed) and the series is excellent.

In the opening chapter, fifteen-year-old Japanese teenager Chise Hatori is on sale at a British auction house. She is apparently “the most wondrous tool an alchemist can hope for—a sleigh beggy,” though she knows not what a sleigh beggy is. She only knows that she’s been attracting weird creatures all her life, that her father left with her younger brother, that her mother committed suicide, that her other relatives wouldn’t take her, and that she just wants a place to call home. She doesn’t care whether she lives or dies, but thought that if she could be useful to someone, that would be okay.

She’s purchased by a mage named Elias Ainsworth, who takes her as his apprentice. Elias is not entirely human and not entirely fae, either. Most of the time he assumes the form of a tall human with a head somewhat like a cow’s skull, but his real form is something far stranger. Despite his scary looks, he’s kind to Chise, insisting that she be neither passive nor servile, and she’s soon comfortable in his home in the countryside west of London. Eventually, he tells her that because of her ability to absorb and generate mass quantities of magic, her lifespan is destined to be brief. Part of the reason he bought her was to try to help overcome this while also learning more about humans. And to be his bride, of course.

Here’s a particularly revealing passage from volume two:

”I bought you because you met my requirements. With nothing of your own, you’d have little reason to leave me. I gave you food and shelter, and said things I expected you wished to hear. I thought that raising you myself might enable me to better understand your kind. I’d planned to tell you these things after I was confident you’d never leave.”

For Chise, someone not wanting her to leave is a novel experience, so she stays. Most of the time, anything romantic happening between them is downplayed. Instead, they take on a variety of tasks like investigating the black dog haunting a churchyard (who ultimately becomes Chise’s very, very lovable familiar), or helping a muse-like fae communicate with the man she’s loved for decades, or helping a girl find the brother her parents have inexplicably forgotten. Meanwhile, Chise learns more about magic (and how it differs from alchemy) and becomes passionate about helping others, often to her detriment. While she’s become more attached to the idea of living, she’s also reckless, culminating in an incident at the end of volume seven where, in an attempt to calm a rampaging dragon, she ends up absorbing so much of its magic that she curses herself. A despairing and desperate Elias attempts something awful to cure her, driving her away in the process (and potentially into an alliance with evil alchemist Josef, though I fail to see how Chise could rationalize doing such a thing).

What I’m getting at here is that this is a series rich in story. The plot is interesting, but the real story is Chise and Elias, what they mean to each other and how they might be incompatible despite all that binds them together. Besides the fact that her life was already going to be brief, now Chise has this dragon’s curse to contend with, and it’s really not looking good for her. Sometimes, too, Chise gets warned about Elias’ interest in her, like when his master Lindel says, “It looks as if he’s trying to tame you… and you are allowing him to do it. But you mustn’t.” Even if she were to return to him after what he did, would that be the healthy choice? I’m not sure this is going to have a happy ending, but it’s certain to have a fascinating one. I can’t wait for volume nine!

The Ancient Magus’ Bride is ongoing in Japan, where the ninth volume has just been released. It’ll come out in English in September.

Again!!, Vol. 1

By Mitsurou Kubo | Published by Kodansha Comics

Having greatly enjoyed Yuri!!! on Ice, written by Mitsurou Kubo, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of some of Kubo’s manga in English. (In addition to Again!! from Kodansha, Vertical Comics has just published the first omnibus of Moteki, which I shall be reviewing within the next week or so.) Happily, Again!! did not disappoint.

This shounen series begins on March 14, 2014, when long-haired, scary-looking outcast Kinichiro Imamura is about to graduate from high school. He’s friendless, and despite going to a good school, he has no college or employment plans. The graduation ceremony reminds him of his entrance ceremony three years ago, during which the lone remaining member of the ouendan club (a girl, at that) tried to recruit new members. This spurs him to go check out the now-deserted ouendan club room and, when chasing after a female classmate who gets the wrong idea, he ends up falling down the stairs and three years into the past.

Now it’s April 6, 2011 and Kinichiro has a chance to do it all over again. Will he manage to navigate school this time without scaring people? He decides to actually talk to the ouendan girl this time, and learns her name is Yoshiki Usami. In a neat twist, the girl he was chasing also fell down the stairs and ends up back in the past with him. Her name is Akira Fujieda, and while Kinichiro begins to make small improvements on his high school experience—dispelling notions that he’s in a gang or that his blond hair signifies anything other than a hair stylist’s whim—Akira’s knowledge of the future alienates her classmates and would’ve-been future boyfriend.

Mostly, though, the focus is on the ouendan club and Kinichiro’s attempts to help Usami out. She’s stubborn, however, and resists efforts to draw male membership by featuring her image on recruitment posters. This makes more sense later on, when it’s revealed that she originally got a lot of media attention that led to fallout within the group—stoked by an online smear campaign—leading everyone but her to quit. Complicating matters is the captain of the cheerleading club, Tamaki Abe, who is resentful of having to cooperate with the ouendan, and determined to sabotage them. Happily, the girl she picks to seduce Kinichiro has scruples (and Kinichiro is also not an idiot), so this first volume ends with our heroes savvy to her scheme.

Again!! is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for time travel with a reasonable scientific explanation, then you should probably look elsewhere, but if you just accept the premise and go with it, then it’s kind of like a sports manga and a coming-of-age story rolled into one. I do worry what’s going to happen after Kinichiro reaches his graduation year again. Will these changes stick, and will he be able to go forward in life with more ambition and fewer regrets? I’m confident, though, that these questions will be answered eventually.

Again!! is complete in twelve volumes. The second volume is due out in English next week.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Lovesick Ellie, Vols. 1-3

By Fujimomo | Published digitally by Kodansha Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Beasts of Abigaile, Vols. 1-2

By Spica Aoki | Published by Seven Seas

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

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

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

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

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

I’m glad I took a chance on this one.

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

Review copy for volume one provided by the publisher.

The Promised Neverland, Vol. 1

Story by Kaiu Shirai, Art by Posuka Demizu | Published by VIZ Media

First off: The Promised Neverland is amazing and you should go buy it. I’d heard good things about it, but hadn’t expected this degree of exhilarating awesomeness. Secondly: I will do my best to avoid major spoilers, but a few are unavoidably required to describe (and compliment) the plot. Take heed!

Emma is an eleven-year-old with a sunny disposition and boundless energy. She lives at Grace Field House, an orphanage, and is one of the oldest of 38 kids. She loves them all. Everything seems normal to them, including the numbers tattooed on their necks as well as the daily test, which is dramatically revealed in a two-page spread. Emma and her fellow eleven-year-olds Norman and Ray always get perfect scores on the test, and I particularly enjoyed that the ensuing story actually shows their intelligence instead of merely telling readers that they’re smart.

Every now and then one of the kids finds a home, but oddly, none of the children who’ve left have ever sent any letters. The place is comfortable, with plenty of food and a forest to play in, but they’re forbidden from going near the main gate or a fence in the forest. One day, when one of the younger girls who wasn’t doing well on the tests is headed off for her new home, she leaves behind a beloved stuffed rabbit. Emma and Norman decide to break the rules and head toward the gate to return it to her, whereupon they learn something shocking (via another very effective two-page spread) and realize they must escape.

It’s riveting watching the kids try to figure out what’s going on, how much their caretaker (whom they call “Mom,” though we learn she’s named Isabella) knows about what they know, how to defeat the trackers Mom makes sure they know exist, etc. Basically, laying out the rules of their confinement that they’re going to have to overcome. Too, although analytical Ray points out that their chances in the outside world would be far better with just the three of them—and also that it’s 2045 and they don’t have any books published after 2015, so who knows what the outside world is like now—idealistic Emma is insistent that they’re not going to leave any of the kids behind, even including the dozen or so who are three and under.

It’s clear that this story has been carefully thought through, and I love how little things are foreshadowed that later prove significant. For example, in the early scenes, the kids are playing outside and Emma is thinking about how they know the forest around Grace Field House inside and out, including which tree has a hole in its trunk. Later, there’s a nonverbal moment where she and Norman choose that as a hiding place for some table cloths they hope to use to get over the wall surrounding the property. It’s subtle, but ultimately reassuring.

Happily, volume two comes out in five days. After that, I’ll be studiously avoiding spoilers, even though I’m sure the wait for new volumes will be agonizing.

The Promised Neverland is ongoing in Japan, where it is up to seven volumes. The second will be released in English on Tuesday.

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.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty, Vol. 1

By Megumi Morino | Published by Kodansha Comics

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

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

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

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

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

Review copy provided by the publisher.