Here you will find honest, intelligent manga reviews for shojo fans of all ages.

May 31, 2009

Land of the Blindfolded - Sakura Tsukuba

Land of the Blindfolded was initially serialized in LaLa DX magazine from 1998-2004. This fantasy shojo manga tells the story of three protagonists, who each have the ability to see a part of time, whether it be the past or the future.

Synopsis: Kanade Otsuka, a cheerful and kind girl, describes her ability to see the future by relating it to wearing a blindfold that slips every once in a while, allowing her to accidentally see what might be. In high school she meets Arou Naitou, a quiet and talented boy who has the ability to see the past. His ability was once like Kanade's, but through an experience he had, he now sees the past of whatever he touches. Masahiro Namiki, who can see the future at will, is the friend and rival of Arou, vying for Kanade's attention even though he knows the two are a couple. Arou experiences distrust and manipulation from classmates that discover his ability. His sadness and depression are only lifted by Kanade, who understands his feelings and supports him. As Arou delves into his past, Kanade and Namiki are there to bring him back to a happy present.

Review: A simple yet creative story that explores the "what ifs" of the past and present, Land of the Blindfolded has very likable characters that experience the burdens of knowing more than others. The story moves at a leisurely pace which, depending on your attention span, may hinder your ability to retain interest. Despite that, the author has a talent for developing her characters through interactions and flashbacks. The relationship between Arou and Kanade is very sweet and devoted. Namiki's feelings for Kanade are what initiate his friendship, but he eventually becomes allies with Arou and finds another love interest. Tsukuba's designs are simple like her story. The toning isn't over the top, and the pictures are still nice to look at. More attention to detail is put into the characters than the background or anything else, which is what is emphasized in her story anyway. If you haven't read this yet, I highly recommend that you do. It's a touching story with a little bit of magic that leaves the reader happy in the end.

Romance Rating: Cuddly - this series is filled with little moments between Arou and Kanade. Since Arou can see the past with just touching, a stroke on the face can become an intimate moment. Innocent kisses and cuddling are all that's needed to communicate the depth of feelings the couple has for one another.

Media Status: Land of the Blindfolded is published in 9 volumes by CMX in the states.

May 30, 2009

New York Times Best Sellers May 17-23

Three shojo titles rounded out the New York Times Manga Best Seller list for last week.

I still think Viz may have hurt their market more than helped it with the demise of Shojo Beat. Otomen was recently featured in the magazine and highly enjoyable. Vampire Knight has been standard fare for Shojo Beat readers and continues to attract more. The consumers have proven that they liked what they were reading. Now it's up to the internet to introduce new titles. It will be interesting to see what makes the list several months from now...if it does.

May 29, 2009

M³ - Memorable Manga Moments: Shinobi Life

This week's is from a title I recently discussed, Shoko Conami's Shinobi Life.

After waking up in the morning, Beni steps outside her door to find Kagetora sleeping there. Even after discovering that Beni is not the princess he thought, he still cannot stop protecting her. He gives up sleeping in the bed that Beni prepares for him, just to be closer to her. This is one of those moments when Kagetora subtley shows his growing feelings for the Beni he has come to know.

May 27, 2009

First Impressions - Shugo Chara!

If I'm remembering correctly, I came across Shugo Chara! in a Peach-Pit article on Anime News Network. I already had a copy of Rozen Maiden volume one, but hadn't really paid attention to the authors. The graphics of Shugo Chara! intrigued me, and when I found out that it won the Kodansha Manga Award, well, of course I had to read it.

Synopsis: An elementary school girl named Amu Hinamori appears to her classmates to be very "cool" and a model student. On the inside, she's actually a shy girl who wants to be more outgoing. After making a wish one night that her "would-be" self would emerge, she awakens the next morning to find three eggs in her bed. These eggs - one red, one blue, and one green - seem to hatch when Amu desperately desires a particular personality trait. The first egg to hatch reveals a mini-guardian named Ran who empowers Amu to cheer with amazing athletic abilities. Miki hatches next, and infuses Amu with the ability to draw, paint, or design anything creatively. The last to hatch is Su, who blesses Amu with the ability to cook like a gourmet chef. With the emergence of Ran, Miki and Su, Amu becomes part of the "Guardians", a student council-like body which protects the children and school campus. Her adventures lead her on the search for "x-eggs", broken dreams of children that are extracted before they can hatch into mini-guardians, and the "embryo", a shining white egg that will grant any wish. Along the way she makes many friends and even a couple of crushes.

Review: The creativity of this writing duo makes for a unique twist on the "magical girl" manga. This is the first shojo piece written by Peach-Pit, and the newness to the genre is refreshing. The art is well drawn and ubercute to appeal to a younger audience. The colored pieces reveal the true talent of the artists. Although this series is aimed at young girls, it is still enjoyable by all ages. What I really like about Shugo Chara! is the underlying message that the mangakas incorporated. In the manga the main characters work hard to use their guardians' powers and protect the unhatched guardians of the other children. This is an encouragement to young children to search out their potential, realize their dreams, and support the dreams of their friends as well. That's some powerful stuff, people.

In my opinion, every library should be getting this series and encouraging reluctant young readers to pick it up. I'm looking forward to seeing the conclusion of this story. It's been a joyful ride so far!

Romance Rating: Cuddly - Aimed at a younger audience, this series keeps it age appropriate. Maybe we'll get a kiss eventually. :)

Media Status: Shugo Chara! is being released by Del Ray here in the states and is currently on volume 6. A 51 episode anime was produced by Satelight under the direction of Kenji Yasuda. You can view it English subbed on ANN's video streaming. A second season called Shugo Chara!!Doki!- also aired in Japan. We'll have to wait and see if we get any English dubs.

May 26, 2009

Absolute Boyfriend - Yuu Watase

Absolute Boyfriend is Yuu Watase's most recent attempt at a comedic, high school life manga. First serialized in Shojo Comic from 2003 to 2005, it ran in English in Viz's Shojo Beat magazine from 2005 to 2008.

Synopsis: The main character Riiko Izawa orders a life-size lover android from a website after being rejected by her most recent crush. The figure, as he's called, is her ideal boyfriend and wants to become her lover. Confused about liking an android and betrayed by her best girl friend, Riiko turns to her childhood friend Soshi for comfort, who then confesses his feelings for her. Torn between her feelings for the figure, Night, and her feelings for Soshi, Riiko must choose which one she truly loves.

Review: If I were interviewing Yuu Watase my first question would be, "What were you thinking when you came up with this one?" I mean, can the premise of the story be any lamer? Don't get me wrong, I like Ceres Celestial Legend and even Fushigi Yugi, but this story is just... STUPID. A high school girl falls in love with an android, and she has to decide if she loves the android or an actual human. Does Riiko even have a brain? Duh! A human vs. an android is an easy decision. Choose the REAL PERSON. The whole plot is ridiculous and a waste of time. Then there's the outcome of the story. I won't ruin it for those who haven't read it, but it's obvious that Watase was just trying to please everyone with the ending. I would have been much happier if Riiko would have faced reality and made the best choice in the first place. The only saving grace of the story, and what kept me from absolutely hating it, is the comedic moments. There are several gags by the author that are laugh out loud funny. But it's obviously a ploy by Watase to make the silly story somewhat more enjoyable.

The drawings are done in Watase's same style. It's apparent when you see Night and realize, "Oh, another Tamahome."* A little variation in character design would be nice. That's not to say that she's not a talented artist. It's just that her designs seem to be rehashed in her newest publication, instead of something fresh and original. Besides that fact, her main boys are still attractive to look at. Which is I guess what keeps fans reading, besides just devotion to the mangaka.

My opinion - skip this one. It's short at six volumes, but not worth the time to flip the pages. It's junk compared to the other mangaka's works. If you want to read Yuu Watase then try Ceres Celestial Legend, Fushigi Yugi, Alice 19th, or even Imadoki. It's time far better spent.

Romace Rating: Lustful - Watase doesn't pull any punches. Riiko and Night make love. There's kissing and some blurred nudity. If you're a parent you'd probably want to know that the teens get drunk at a party towards the end of the story.

Media Status: Absolute Boyfriend is complete at six volumes published by Viz media. There's even a live action adaptation in Japanese.

*For those who aren't familiar, Tamahome is the main love interest in Fushigi Yugi.

May 24, 2009

First Impressions - Shinobi Life

Shinobi Life is a small gem I came across recently on someone's Amazon Listmania List. The story begins at a point in history, when a ninja named Kagetora devotes his life to protecting the princess of his land known as Beni-Hime. During an attack on his beloved princess, Kagetora is thrown into a nearby lake, and ends up falling through water into the sky in another time. As he falls he sees who he thinks is Beni-Hime, being held at knife point. His awesome ninja skills kick in and he is able to save Beni from her kidnapper. Kagetora believes himself to be protecting the princess, and modern day Beni, who has already been the subject of numerous kidnappings, thinks he's a bodyguard hired by her rich father. The Beni of modern times is flattered by the devotion of her new bodyguard. As the story progresses, Beni travels back in time herself, and meets the princess Beni-Hime, her ancestor. Kagetora's feelings get confused, because he realizes he is now developing emotions for the new Beni, and poor Beni just wants Kagetora to love her for herself and not think of her as Beni-Hime.

Though the plot in this series is far-fetched, the relationship between the two protagonists is what makes this story engrossing. Kagetora is like every girl's fantasy hero, so it's no wonder Beni falls in love with him quickly. The chemistry drawn between the two sparks off the page. It has that heart aching awww factor that a shojo fan lives for. As for the artwork, Conami scores high in my book. She uses the right mix of chibi and realism, and some scenes are just beautiful.

I can't wait to see the rest of this one. Hurry up with the releases, Tokyopop! :)

Aww, How Sweet! Blog Awards!

Keri Bo Beary of the fantasy book blog Books with Swords has generously nominated me for a few blogger awards. Blogs that received the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind of bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers.

To-Me-To-You Award

1. Mention the person who nominated you.
Keri Bo Beary

2. List six unimportant things that make you happy.
* Sailing
*Video Games

3. Tag six blogs, state the rules & notify them with a teeny comment on their blog.

I'm happily passing these awards on to some other bloggers that I have searched out and discovered recently. I think their blogs are a great inspiration to a newbie like me.

Shojo Flash
Manga Widget
Manga Xanadu
Slightly Biased Manga
Emily's Random Shoujo Manga Page

May 23, 2009

M³ - Memorable Manga Moments: Ouran High School Host Club

So for funsies I wanted to start a weekly feature about moments that stick in my mind, long after I've put the book back on the shelf. This one is from Bisco Hatori's Ouran High School Host Club.

Self-absorbed and jealous twin Hikaru realizes that Haruhi does have fears and weaknesses, just like any other human. You can see the shock wash over him as he finds her during the storm. You'd think he'd be overcome with guilt and apologize profusely, after abandoning her earlier for talking to another guy during their so-called date. But at least he has the decency to be a gentleman. A touching memorable manga moment.

May 21, 2009

Another one bites the dust....

I just found out after reading another blog that Viz is canceling the magazine Shojo Beat. This is the third magazine subscription I have had go bust in the last year! First was Newtype, which became PiQ, and only lasted 2 editions. Then AnimeInsider by Wizard entertainment was canned without any warning. Now it's Shojo Beat....urrggh!

I originally subscribed to the mag because I was trying to be frugal about my manga addiction. It was cheaper to pay the subscription fee than try to buy all the novels. I read manga so fast that at $8-$10 a pop, just reading one series can cost up to $200. But I guess it's come down to not reading or being super selective about what to read.

This is where the economic crunch tramples a newly budding audience of shojo fans here in America. Public libraries don't have enough to offer because they haven't had the time or budget to catch up with what fans are reading. Then publications like Shojo Beat are canceled and you're only left with the option to buy the books from the publisher. With the price tag on books, it only makes it harder for fans to buy more titles. It also makes it more difficult to expose the readers to new titles. I know that the loss of one publication won't kill the market, but it sure will put a hole in it. We'll miss you Shojo Beat!

First Impressions - 100% Perfect Girl

I've been reading this every night for a couple of weeks now and just wanted to share some thoughts. I have heard great things about Wann, and actually there is another manwha by her that I wanted to read, but this one was more accessible. Let's just say that I did not expect the roller coaster ride that this series has presented so far when I picked up the first book. As far as the story goes, it's ridiculously dramatic. The main heroine, Jay, is a spunky fun-loving girl at the beginning of the story. That's one of the reasons that Jarte, the prince of Ronine, falls for her in the first place. But boy, was she ever unlucky! Half-way through the series I'm now wishing the two had never met, and I feel sorry for Jay. Due to the prince's obsessive love, Jay has been through hell. The long list of atrocities includes kidnapping, framed for treason, severe accident, amnesia, mental trauma, broken heart, depression, and attempted rape. She's even lost the ability to create art, which is her passion. Even after all this she still loves Jarte. It's sickening to watch how this couple's relationship deteriorates due to lack of communication and trust, and how twisted their minds have become due to the events that have transpired. Umm, Jay and Jarte definitely need tons of therapy, and that's an understatement. At this point I can't see how this relationship will even survive.

Wann's drawings are definitely nice to look at and very detailed. It's just that her storytelling is so over the top. She most definitely understands human psychology, and can portray that very well in her characters. I also didn't expect the amount of violence this series contains. With the royal special forces, the bodyguards, the mafia, and arms dealers, you see plenty of people stabbed or riddled with bullets, and there's plenty of blood splashed around too. Isn't this suppose to be a love story?

Anyways, this story's pretty wacked so far, and I don't know if I even want to see the main protagonists get together for happily ever after. There's several more novels left, so we'll see how it goes....

May 19, 2009

Hana-Kimi - Hisaya Nakajo

I have to start this review by saying that it is not unbiased. This happens to be my favorite manga to date. I admit to reading it completely about five times. So if I'm too positive for your tastes, deal with it. Hanazakari no Kimitachi e, known as Hana-Kimi for short, ran in "Hana to Yume" magazine from 1997-2004.

Synopsis: Considered one of the "gender-bender" shojo titles, the main character Mizuki Ashiya transfers to a high school in Japan from America. There she seeks to find Izumi Sano, a high-jump track star, whom she has idolized from watching him on American television. The only problem is that Sano attends an all boys school, and Mizuki is a girl. So she cuts off her hair, binds her chest and pretends to be a boy, hoping no one will find out. For Mizuki, keeping her secret is difficult, but she does have some help. Even with that, much hilarity ensues.

Review: What I find enjoyable about this title is Nakajo's ability to portray the reality of teen awkwardness and hormones. The interactions of Mizuki and the boys she befriends are true to life, and watching the boys' reactions to her, despite not knowing she is a girl, can be funny and endearing. The two boys that are her closest friends, Izumi Sano and dorm mate Shuichi Nakatsu, have very strong feelings towards Mizuki, and Nakajo does an excellent job of developing those relationships. Poor Nakatsu, the soccer star, thinks he's become gay! Then there's Sano who is trying very hard not to notice the femininity of his roommate. All the while Mizuki is trying her darnedest to act like just one of the guys. As the story develops, the chemistry ignites between Sano and Mizuki, and both realize the awkwardness of their dorm room relationship. As situations escalate Mizuki worries how to finish high school without her gender being discovered. Nakajo's conclusion leaves very little unresolved and readers will be satisfied with the outcome.

From an artistic perspective, Nakajo has a talent for composition. Her drawings are well balanced and her characters are finely proportioned. I find the school uniform designs a bit tacky, but casual clothing looks great. Her colored work is beautiful, and you can see more actual pieces in the art book available from Viz. The boys range in looks as the mangaka intended with Sano, Nakatsu, Hokuto Umeda (the school doctor), and Minami Nanba (the dorm director) being the main bishonen.

Romance Rating: Cuddly - kissing is the most you get. There are scenes where a boy and girl sleep in the same bed, but that's all they do is sleep. There is one scene where Mizuki is almost sexually assaulted, but thankfully there's no nudity and it doesn't happen. For all the yaoi fans, there is some action between the school doctor and a famous photographer, but nothing more than kissing. If you're a parent reading this you might want to know that the teens do drink alcohol and there is drunkenness, although it is in the privacy of their dorm room.

Media Status: Hana-Kimi is complete at 23 volumes from Viz media. There are two live action dramas, a Taiwanese version and a Japanese version. There is also a book of Nakajo's colored works for this series called The Art of Hana-Kimi available from Viz.

May 17, 2009

Sensual Phrase - Mayu Shinjo

Sensual Phrase, also known as Kaikan Phrase, ran in "Shojo Comic" from 1997-2000.

Synopsis: The main character, Aine Yukimura, is a lonely high school girl who by accidental circumstance becomes a lyricist for a popular Japanese rock band called Lucifer. The manga series focuses on Aine's relationship with the vocalist of the band, Sakuya Ookochi. Despite the obstacles and enemies the two must face, their desire and love for one another continues to bring these two lonely people together.

Review: On the outside, this is an unrealistic story of how a high school girl hooks up with a celebrity. If you look at it shallowly, it is a very cheesy premise. It has the drama of a soap opera, and of course would be every teen girl's fantasy. Really, what girl hasn't at some point in her life wanted to hook up with a hot, sexy rock star? When you dig a little deeper, you find a story of two people who have had lonely lives, that find understanding and happiness within each other. The rock star, Sakuya, was once not a celebrity. His history explains his hate/love relationship with music, as well as his fear of abandonment and incomprehension of being loved. Aine can understand to a degree how Sakuya feels, because she has been neglected by her feuding parents for quite some time. Though their relationship starts at a physical level, by Sakuya seducing Aine to get her to write naughty lyrics, it quickly develops into more than that. Sakuya suddenly finds himself having more than just desire, and his protective instincts kick in. Aine deals with jealous relatives, abusive fans, and eventually sexual assault. Sakuya blames himself and his musical success. The love they have for one another is what becomes the healing agent for the both of them.

Artistically, I can see the style dating in this series. Shinjo's late 90's big hair and fashion designs stand out like a sore thumb. You often see Sakuya and think, "What? More animal print?!" Thankfully, at least half the time Aine is in a school uniform. It's the band's attire that stands out the most. I also find in Shinjo's drawings that the anatomy looks off at times; heads too small for the bodies, or hands too big for the arms. What she does do well is faces. The characters' expressions are often all that is needed to grasp the emotions of the moment. Sakuya stares off the page with a melting look of desire. Aine's fears and disappointment are projected on her face. I also must give Shinjo credit for drawing some delicious "bishies" - that's short for bishonen (which means beautiful boys, so learn it now). All the guys in this series from the band members to the company executives are pleasing to look at. In this genre, that's what keeps a female audience coming back for more.

Romance Rating: Erotic - There is an explicit content label on this series and for good reason. There are many sexual scenes and nudity. I already mentioned the sexual assault. In fact, the last volume has a scene that I consider pornographic. It's not something I would want my teen son or daughter under 18 to read. So this is definitely for a more mature audience.

On a more personal note, I do highly recommend the anime. The art is dated, but the story is a prequel to the manga, about how the band Lucifer is formed. It provides more back story for the characters, and in my humble opinion, is actually better than the manga since the focus is more on the band and not the sexual relationship between Sakuya and Aine. It's also got a rockin' sound track that you hear over and over, so it does get stuck in your head! The band used to record the songs for the anime became an actual J-pop band named Lucifer and went on to produce future albums after the series ended.

Media Status: Sensual Phrase has been released in English by Viz media in 18 volumes. The anime consists of 44 episodes by Studio Hibari. It has never been dubbed, and subbed copies are almost impossible to find. Do a youtube search if you're interested.

May 15, 2009

Strawberry 100% - Mizuki Kawashita

Serialized in "Weekly Shonen Jump" from 2002 to 2005, this title is not typical of what I would normally pick up. Regardless, after the first chapter with mystery strawberry panties, I was hooked.

Synopsis: The main ch
aracter Junpei Manaka is the luckiest guy, period. Starting in middle school Manaka wishes to become a movie director. His encounter on the school roof with an unknown girl in strawberry panties is inspiring enough to encourage his film making pursuit. The mystery girl is one of several nubile teen girls that surround Manaka in this series, making him the head of this "harem" type story. The fan service abounds, but it's not at the disgusting point, unless you think flashing panties and bras is disgusting. Much of it is used humorously and puts Manaka in embarrassing or hilarious situations. After entering high school and starting a film club, the story focuses on Manaka's many relationships with the four main girls, each which has her own endearing and distinct personality. Of course, most of them can be stereotyped - a quiet and book smart school girl, an outgoing and popular sweetheart, an aggressive and athletic sexy babe, and a kid-sister childhood friend who's now older and cuter. What keeps you reading is Manaka's indecisiveness. He tries to be nice to them all, and by doing so, will never choose just one. The mangaka puts him in situation after daring situation with the different girls, building the suspense for the outcome. Like a broken compass that doesn't know which way is north, Manaka spins in all directions trying to follow his heart. Eventually he must make a choice. Most likely, you'll have a favorite you'll be rooting for him to pick.

Review: The artwork in this series is nicely penned and pleasing to look at. Especially if you are a young g
uy. ;) Mizuki Kawashita writes a coming of age story that may be relatable, but not very realistic, which is what makes it a fun read. So many teenage girls throwing themselves at an average nice guy just doesn't happen. So for guys, this is a fantasy played out to its fullest. This was probably the author's intent in the first place. The character development is Kawashita's strong point. The main character and his harem are very well fleshed out, and watching them change and grow to become young adults is fulfilling for the reader. The character relationships can make you laugh or cry. You may envy Manaka or even sympathize with him at times. You may even feel like strangling him for being so indecisive. It is the author's ability to evoke such emotions that makes the story engaging enough to devour volumes in order to discover which girl Junpei Manaka really loves.

Romance Rating: Lustful - this has its sizzle moments. Several kisses are exchanged. There is implied intimacy between Manaka and one of the girls, and with the fan service this denotes the mature content label.

Media Status: The Strawberry 100% manga consists of 19 volumes, with a total of 167 chapters. Currently there are 8 volumes released in America. It was adapted into a 26-episode anime TV series by Madhouse, directed by Osamu Kebita. We'll have to wait and see if it gets licensed in America.

May 5, 2009

About This Blog

I stumbled upon manga about four years ago when I watched an anime that did not tell the whole story. That was "His and Hers Circumstances" and I searched out "Kare Kano" to find out how the story ended. I've always been an avid reader and preferred books to movies, so I wasn't surprised to find out how much better the manga was compared to the anime. However, I was amazed at the whole new world of reading that opened up when I "discovered" manga. I've never considered them as comics, and the variety of storytelling as well as the beautiful artistry has starved my wallet of cash for the last few years. The fun part was retraining my brain to read from right to left. It didn't take me long, and several bookshelves later, I'd say I'm an addict. The interesting factor is that I'm not part of the typical teen target audience in America for these books. I'm actually over thirty and a mom of one. But that's the beauty of Japanese manga; they're written for a much wider audience than American graphic literature.

So why "Heart of Manga"? Well, I wanted a title that would encompass more than one meaning. My first thought was that the shojo genre would be considered the "heart" genre of manga since it has many stories appealing to a girl's romantic side. From another perspective, a review gets down to the "heart" or vital elements of a story; and an honest review would be from the "heart" of the reader. Thus the title "Heart of Manga" was born.
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