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

Sep 8, 2010

It's Moving Time----

Since staring this site a little over a year ago, I've quickly outgrown it. I'm excited about the new look and location of my new site, and look forward to many more conversations there in the future.

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Aug 8, 2010

Manga of the Month: Stepping on Roses Vol. 1&2 - Rinko Ueda

♡ Fans of classic romance, this is the crossover manga for you!

Synopsis: Sumi Kitamura is a young girl of marriageable age, living in poverty during the Meji era. She runs a household of orphaned children brought home by her gambling brother, always promising he's going to make it big and needs the kids to run his future business. When her brother runs off to escape a loan shark and the landlady threatens to evict Sumi and the kids, she becomes desperate. She ventures to the red light district and offers herself for enough money to cover her brother's debt. There she is rescued by Soichiro Ashida, who promises she'll have all the money she needs if she will marry him. The catch - they are never to love one another. She quickly agrees, and finds herself thrown into a new world of refinement and a culture evolving towards western customs. Upper-class society demands she learn to read and write as well as practice the social graces of a lady. She is no longer allowed contact with the kids or her brother. When Soichiro introduces Sumi to a personal friend, Nozoma Ijuin, she discovers her secret prince who's generosity saved one of the children's lives when she was desperate for money. Sumi's affections for Ijuin are obvious, and Soichiro decides to play upon emotions to put himself at a corporate advantage. As Ijuin makes advances and Sumi learns more about Soichiro, she finds herself in an awkward position and her emotions become confused. Which man should she care for, and which one needs her the most?

Review: This series has all the trappings of a traditional historical romance. A pauper maiden rescued by a rich noble, marrying only for inheritance, but wait, we can't fall in love! The introduction of a love triangle is another cliché plot element. It's stereotypical romance roles, and the plot is somewhat predictable. Although, if I've come to the correct deduction, things are going to get mighty interesting when all character backgrounds are revealed.

Sumi Kitamura is portrayed as a very loving and self-sacrificing girl. She takes care of all those children and even decides to sell herself to keep the family together. However, once she is in the presence of Soichiro, Ueda turns her into a helpless maiden. By taking her out of her usual environment she's forced to rely on Soichiro, and Sumi acts more scared than determined. She falls for Ijuin, and lets Soichiro push her around. I guess it has to do with the time period, but I wish Sumi had more backbone and was a little saucier.

As for Soichiro Ashida, now there's an interesting guy. He buys a girl off the street and marries her so that he can gain his inheritance. He tries to match his wife with his childhood friend in order to ruin his reputation so that he has a corporate advantage. He harasses Sumi so that she won't like him, but then realizes that there are things he finds attractive in her. He's had a difficult childhood, and some trauma in his past. Ueda does a fine job making him desirable to the audience, even though he acts like a jerk. I find myself wanting to know a lot more about this young man and why he makes the choices he does. That would be the hook that Ueda uses to take hold of her readers - as well as the good looks. :)

The characters are drawn attractively, and Ueda has a vein for fashion design. Period clothing looks dashing! There is typical shojo toning with roses and sparkles used every few panels. I found an inconsistency with the cover art between volume 1 and 2. On Volume 1, Sumi has brown eyes, and on volume 2, she has blue eyes. Oops! I think I know why that happened. The colored art does look really nice, especially the hair. I'd like to see more of Ueda's colored pieces.
Panels flow well, and at a good pace. The English translation seems well done, but I did find an editing mistake in volume 1.

Overall, I highly recommend this series for shojo fans who like cliché romance, or historical pieces. The plot thickens after volume 2, and the series really is easy on the eyes. If you liked Black Bird, then you will most likely enjoy Stepping on Roses, too.

Romance Rating: Steamy - Soichiro does try to ravish Sumi in one scene, but only suggested nudity.

Media Status: Stepping on Roses is currently running in Margaret magazine in Japan. There are 2 volumes available in English from Viz media.

Aug 2, 2010

Dengeki Daisy Vol. 1 - Kyousuke Motomi

Synopsis: A young high school girl loses her brother, her only living family member. She is given a cel-phone before his death and told that if she ever needs anything DAISY will be there for her. Now two years later, Teru Kurebayashi daringly faces up to high school bullies and ends up breaking school property. A poor scholarship student, Teru must work chores after school for the school janitor, Tasuku Kurosaki, in order to repay the debt. As Teru spends more time with the deliquent janitor, she begins to question DAISY's identity, and his uncanny ability to come to her rescue. Meanwhile, Kurosaki struggles to hold back his emotions as he strives to protect and harass Teru.

Review: The author states in a side bar that she almost named the book "Magical Daisy". Frustrated I demanded, "So then what is Dengeki?!!" After a quick stint on Google, I found the answer, and I realized it's the perfect title for this series. Dengeki means having to do with electricity, or being electric. So the translated title would be "Electric Daisy". That makes a lot of sense, seeing as the persona of DAISY comes from a cel phone.

There is a lot I could write about, but I'm not big on spoilers. I really loved the set up and development of the characters in this series. The mangaka plays on emotions really well. The interactions of Teru, Kurosaki, and DAISY really flesh out the roles of the characters and what may lie ahead. I'm most interested to see what becomes of Teru and DAISY.

I found the relationship that Teru has with DAISY very intriguing. She's never met that person, but trusts him or her. Although she's being harassed at school, she only asks DAISY for help when it's a friend that is in trouble. At one point her cel phone is stolen, and although she is delirious with fever, she is desperate to recover her only connection to DAISY. DAISY has been there to help her through her loneliness, and she relies on that connection.

Kurosaki, the janitor, is a charming character. He acts like a drinking, smoking, delinquent, but has another side that he tries to hide from Teru. When Teru gets in trouble, Kurosaki comes to her rescue armed for bear. He can't reveal his alternate identity, which puts him in some tight spots. He harasses Teru in hopes of irritating her, to keep his own feelings at bay.

The art has a nice mix of styles to fit the right mood. There are the scenes where Teru and Kurosaki are working after school and the characters are more cartoonish. Then it may come to a scene where there is strong emotion, and Motomi draws the characters more detailed and feathery. The paneling and layout flow smoothly, and the drawings are very attractive. It's really enjoyable to read.

If you prefer shojo, then you won't want to miss this new series from Viz. It won't disappoint. Great characters, interesting storyline, and attractive art. Best of all - it's a shojo that isn't cliché.

Romance Rating: Cuddly

Media Status: Dengeki Daisy vol. 1 is available in the states from Viz media. Volume 2 will be released October 5, 2010. The series is currently running in Betsucomi magazine in Japan.

Jul 26, 2010

Panic X Panic VS. Fairy Navigator Runa

Magical Kiddos Unite! Looking for a new magical girl series, but not sure where to start? Del Rey has put out two new series that fall into this category and I've picked up both to see which one grants more wishes.

Panic X Panic

The Gist: A boy of western faith and a girl of eastern faith - rivals in their high school class, they seem to have a combined destiny to fight off evil demons that have been released through a broken gate in order to save the world.

Romance?: It looks like rivals who despise will become crushes in time. Fighting together will bring them closer. Each seems to need the other one's power.

Reminds me of: Cardcaptor Sakura - a boy and girl with their own powers overcoming evil together and falling for each other along the way.

The Art: I actually looked up the publication date, because the art in this series has a more retro look of earlier manga with small faces and big hair. Still, there are many action sequences that flow smoothly and typical busy shojo toning.

Intended audience - Rating says Teen 13+, and I'd imagine teens that are looking for action and romance would really enjoy this series. Gags and romance are aimed at actual teenagers.

Fairy Navigator Runa

The Gist: A young fourth grade girl discovers she's a hidden fairy princess that is destined to save her world.

Romance?: Already a love triangle in the works, one fairy boy tries to protect her, another mystery boy catches her love interest at first sight.

Reminds me of: Shugo Chara! - A girl discovering who she is and what power she holds, destined to save others.

The Art: This one wins hands down. Cleaner line art and toning. More attractive character designs. Judging by the cover art, Michiyo Kikuta has a softer style of cel shading than Mika Kawamura.

Intended audience - Rating says Teen 13+, but with the age of the protagonist, I think it would be appropriate for tweens too. Upper elementary girls would eat it up.

The Verdict

After reading both I do have a preference, and it's based on my feelings about characters. I think I'd rather read a story where the boy and girl are equals fighting together, than a girl trying to make up her mind which boy she loves, as she discovers her powers. It probably is influenced also by the age of the characters. But that's my personal bias.

Right now I think both series look promising, and if you enjoy this sub genre of mahō shōjo then by all means check them both out. However, if you happen to be on a tight budget and must choose just one then I hope some of the comparison above will help to make a decision.

In the meantime, our magical heroes must continue to save the world! ✩

Jul 19, 2010

Manhwa of the Month: Pig Bride Vol. 5 - KookHwa Huh / SuJin Kim

Synopsis: Mu-Yeon returns after enrolling at Si-Joon's private high school. Although Si-Joon and Mu-Yeon accept their feelings and are ready for wedded bliss, now Mu-Yeon must pass approval of Si-Joon's grandfather. Mu-Yeon enters the Miss Beauty Pageant to the chagrin of Doe-Doe. Ji-Oh gets highly embarrased, and Doe-Doe's "mom" has finally gone too far. The ending of this five volume series is anything but predictable.

Review: You can tell the author of this series really enjoyed writing the characters, because she didn't want to stop. She told the story right up to the final pages and even ran out of room to do an epilogue. If I had been the editor, I would have told the author to condense the first three-quarters of the book into a smaller storyline, and then encouraged more post marital and epilogue storyline. I don't really think the audience needed Si-Joon's grandfather's approval or the entire process of the Miss Beauty Pageant. The only major plot resolution with the beauty pageant arch was the revelation of what was to become of Doe-Doe. However, I'm sure the artist was dying to draw the cute fashion designs that were needed for the beauty pageant scenes. One of my favorite scenes in this volume was the actual wedding. The traditional Korean garb of the bride and groom is drawn in detail, and the characters play their parts quite well.

Speaking of the artwork, this volume has some of the best color work I've seen from the series. The cover art of the two main characters looks really nice, even with Si-Joon's pink eyes and hair. I guess it's because Mu-Yeon looks so cute now without her mask! There's also a color insert of the four main characters, which kind of stunned me when I opened the book.

I really like this piece. Maybe it's because I'm partial to butterflies, but I think the close-ups in the four split frames that bleed into each other is some of the best portraiture I've seen by SuJin Kim. It really envelopes the personality of the characters.

Then there is this concluding image of the characters on the back of the book in chibi-form that is very endearing. A happy, sparkly wedding day image of the characters that hits on the fun side of their personalities.

Overall, this series was a fun read, and I'm so glad Yen Press chose to share it with us. It would be fun to see these characters have another adventure together. I think the author felt the same way too, and that's why she couldn't stop writing. In the back she writes a quick epilogue telling what happens 25 years from now. Also, there is a telling of how Mu-Yeon ended up with the mask of a pig. A fun piece of trivia for readers. If you like fantasy and romance with humor to boot, then there's no doubt you'll enjoy the story of Pig Bride.

Romance Rating: Cuddly - Even with all the threats of consummation, the author doesn't go there even after the wedding. Cute and sweet kisses during the wedding is all we get.

Media Status: - Pig Bride is available in English in five volumes from Yen Press.

Jun 24, 2010

Shinobi Life Vol. 5 - Shoko Conami

Instead of a review per se, I wanted to do some creative writing. I can't recommend this series enough. It's great character chemistry, beautiful art, and a well developed story. I've re-read it three times already, and we're only at volume 5. Remembering important plot details requires that when there's so much time between releases, and it's such a confusing plot line. But don't let that dissuade you from enjoying the eye candy. Conami's Kagetora is one of my top 5 bishies at the moment. Fans of the series, enjoy. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?

Dear Beni-Sama,
How could you even ask Kagetora to go back to the past again? The poor guy knows he'll be a fugitive the rest of his life, yet he considers jumping into the portal anyway. Then you go and fall through and he gets left behind! Girl, you so need to think about the repercussions of your actions! Lucky you, you actually end up seeing Kagetora as a hormonal teen. Most of us would rather not share those years of our life with our lovers. But damn, if he isn't cute as hell. You make him fall in love with you all over again, poor guy. He doesn't stand a chance in the future. It's no wonder he hankered after Beni-Hime. Then poor 18 year old Kagetora is jumping through portals like a mad man, trying to find you. He looks like he's about to bite it. Stupid Iwatsuru even takes a dive to find your butt, and the whole time you're making googly eyes at little Kagetora. Woman, go find your real man, and get the heck out of there before you get killed!
-Elle Sensei

Dear Kagetora-kun,
Blessings upon you for being so diligent about your woman. I think Beni-sama is a lucky girl. You've had a hard life. No wonder you took a shine to the foreign lady who gazed upon you, an insignificant orphan, with tenderness and longing. She got you good, and is she ever making your life hell now. How many jumps have you made, man? You can't seem to find her no matter which time you jump to. Must have been a shock to see Beni-chan as an innocent child. Too bad her daddy wouldn't listen when you wanted to save her mama. Now you have to deal with wimpy Iwatsuru jumping through portals too. I hope you and Beni-sama don't break some time dimensional rule, and both vaporize. Maybe if you wait in the future, she'll come back on her own? Nah, that's too simple of a plot resolution. We're all hoping you get back to Beni soon!
-Elle Sensei

P.S. - If you want to give up on Beni-sama, then you can be my ninja bodyguard.

Jun 22, 2010

Manga of the Month: Library Wars Vol. 1 - Kiiro Yumi

Library Wars was originally a light novel by Hiro Arikawa and has been turned into a couple of different manga. This series is based on the first light novel subtitled "Love and War", and ran in the publication LaLa in Japan.

Synopsis: Main heroine Iku Kasahara is a rookie trying out for the Library Defense Forces. In her timeline, there is an establishment called the Media Betterment Act enforced by the Media Betterment Committee (MBC), that gives the federal government the right to censor any Japanese media deemed harmful to its citizens. Local govenments opposed to this loss of free media, established library defense forces (LDF) that protect the MBC from raiding local libraries for censorship. Basically, the LDF is a military force to protect Japanese libraries. Iku was inspired to become an officer in high school, when a book she has long awaited is rescued by an LDF officer on her behalf. As the story opens we see her current attempts to make a name for herself in order to join the LDF. This opening volume shares the trials and tribulations that bring Kasahara into the LDF and the relationships that develop as she learns the ropes.

Review: I'm a total bibliophile, so I love the idea behind this series - a military to protect books. However, it is the characters that grab your attention, and they don't let go. Iku Kasahara is a strong heroine from the beginning. Her physical abilities make her stand out to her instructors, but it is her passion and stubborness that wins the hearts of the readers (and the male lead!). Then there's Atsushi Dojo, Iku's drill instructor. His condescending attitude annoys the heck out of Iku, but that makes her push herself harder. The chemistry between the characters is right on. Watching the emotional reactions of Iku and Dojo when Iku talks about her perseverance to join the LDF is priceless. And Iku is so clueless! I laughed out loud several times along with Dojo's team. Fellow recruit Corporal Tezuka's anger and hostility towards Iku causes frustration among the characters now, but it looks like a set up for a love triangle later on. Iku's roommate Asako Shibazaki is a well placed contrast to Iku's tomboyish nature. Her feminitity and flirtiness balance out the overabundance of masculinity, and her friendship is an asset for Iku.

Besides great character chemistry, the art in this series is highly enjoyable. I'd love to see some of the chapter headers in color. There are good action sequences, some superb emotional moments, and even comedic scenes that are all well laid out. The character designs are attractive, and Kiiro Yumi has a talent for conveying facial emotions with a few strokes in the right directions. I felt that the toning was done very well, with emphasis in the right places, and no distracting patterns. The English translation was so smooth, you'd think it was originally written that way. Even the sound effects were translated. Overall it was a pleasure to look at.

This is a manga that will definitely be in this year's best new series come December. If you like action and romance, or have a military fettish, you'll love these characters. It reminds me a bit of Full Metal Panic, with a cute, naive military guy and a strong, stubborn heroine. I can''t wait for the next volume. Highly recommend!

Romance Rating: Cuddly - I wonder if it will be "Mulder X Sculley" chemistry throughout the series?

Media Status: This story is based on four original light novels by Hiro Arikawa. Currently there are five tankobans of "Library Wars: Love and War" released in Japan. There was also an anime made that has 12 episodes.

May 20, 2010

Happily... Never Ever?

With CMX pulling the plug, there are several shojo series that we here in the states may never see come to a conclusion. I have just really gotten into some of these titles in the past year, and am so disappointed we will never get the final volumes.

I am most disappointed by the loss of Apothecarius Argentum - There was only one more volume!!! I just wanted to read the ending due out in July!

Venus Cappriccio - This one was just getting really good with volume 3. We'll get volume 4 but then no more. Ughh!

n - A shame to lose such a classic shojo. This series still had six more volumes until the final.

Stolen Hearts - a new favorite of mine for 2010, and now there will only be 2 volumes.

Here's a link to the current line of CMX titles, some of which will never see the light of day here in the states.
*5/25 Update: DC already trashed the CMX site. So I re-linked ANN for a list of titles.

It's really disheartening that a major company like DC couldn't have done more for CMX. They published some really fantastic shojo titles - Emma, Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, From Eroica With Love, and Land of the Blindfolded to name a few.

That's why it's important to buy the books, fellow shojo manga lovers. That's all I'll say.

May 9, 2010

First Impressions: Knockout Makers 1, Pig Bride 4, Stolen Hearts 1

Knockout Makers

If you are an avid feminist, then this title is not for you. This is a shallow series about how making a girl look her best will win the heart of the boy she loves. Not what I would want any teen girl to read, by far.

Stolen Hearts

A chemistry between two unlikely classmates develops from wearing kimonos. It's hard not to like the protagonists in this series, and watching their affection grow over a few chapters has that shojo "awww" factor. Definitely one of the best new shojo titles so far this year.

Pig Bride 4

The spell is broken, but the story is not over yet. Now it's Si-Joon's turn to seek out Mu Yeon, since he's come to terms with his feelings. I'm looking forward to the concluding volume in July.

Apr 13, 2010

First Impressions: Pink Innocent 1, ION, Rasetsu 4

Not wanting to be verbose about it, I decided to come up with a way to give quick reviews that provide mostly first impressions. I hope to write more in depth reviews later. Here goes!

Pink Innocent 1

Rich girl falls for techy boy. They experience the joy and pain of dating. Cute and funny, may cause one to face palm.


Arina Tanemura's first manga volume - one shot. Girl falls for geeky boy. She discovers her psychic powers and thinks this may be the reason boy likes her. A rival? Oh, no! No powers? Oh, no! Will he ever like her? Typical Tanemura style - interesting to see where she started. Recommended for fans of the mangaka or sci-fi buffs.

Rasetsu 4

The deadline gets closer. Kuryu realizes Rasetsu's feelings towards Yako and makes his move. Yow! Some risky action on Kuryu's part. Cliffhanger! What comes next? Shiomi does supernatural sizzle at its best!

So how is the short format? Hit a feedback button folks!

Mar 24, 2010

Venus Capriccio Vol.1&2 - Mai Nishikata

Venus Capriccio was serialized in Hana to Yume magazine from 2006-2008. This is Mai Nishikata's first serialized work.

Synopsis: Takami Habara was raised in a family with four older brothers. So it's no surprise that along with her tall, attractive physique, she has a bluntly honest and outgoing personality. This is far from her ideal girly personality of a beautiful and demure princess. Her long time childhood friend, Akira Sasaki, has served that role in her mind; a talented pianist whose blond hair and blue eyes project a delicate beauty rivaled by any princess - except that Akira is a boy. Now teens, Akira decides to enlighten Takami about his own masculinity and sets out to prove which of them is really the "princess".

Review: While Venus Capriccio is Nishikata's first serialized story, I find many aspects of this piece nostalgic. I can easily refer Takami and Akira's story to other characters and events from popular shojo titles I've previously read. Strangely, this doesn't diminish the story. I find that Nishikata stuck with what appeals to a shojo audience and used it to her advantage. Unsure if her work would be serialized or not, Venus Capriccio starts out episodic in nature. This seems to be what works best since the two protagonists only have the piano school as a common setting. As the series continues though, there are longer story arcs as the couple spends more time together outside of piano school.

I find the gender reversal in this series entertaining. Takami, the female protagonist, plays the oblivious teen in this series, which is usually the role of the male. She is clueless to her own femininity and desirability. With four older brothers, she's used to being "one of the guys" and thinks of her relationship with Akira as having a cute younger brother. Akira, on the other hand, plays the more feminine role. He is declared the more beautiful of the pair. Even though he is the guy, he is the one frustrated by attempts to get his feelings of love across to clueless Takami. He gets jealous of other guys, tries to protect her, shows her she can be beautiful and attractive, and still Takami avoids the obvious presentations of his feelings. It's classic role reversal, and the personalities of Nishikata's characters pull it off fantastically.

The art in this series is very simplistic. I would say Nishikata uses conservative toning and coloring, when compared to other shojo works. The paneling and layouts tell the story well. I find the main characters attractive, drawn with expressive faces. My only complaint would be cover art layout and lettering, which would be the design of the publisher. The title lettering doesn't fit the series, especially when you see the original Japanese fonts.

Overall, Venus Capriccio is a fun and enjoyable read. I highly recommend it, especially if you like classical music or gender role reversal. I'll have more on volume 3 coming soon!

Romance Rating: Cuddly.

Media Status: Venus Capriccio is published here in the states by CMX. Volumes 1-3 are currently available.

Mar 17, 2010

Cactus's Secret Vol. 1 - Nana Haruta

Synopsis: First year Miku Yamada has harbored a crush on classmate Kyohei Fujioka since middle school. After working hard for two years to remake her plain image, she scrounges enough courage to confess her feelings to the boy. Kyohei happens to be the oblivious type, and Miku's attempts to confess are misinterpretted by Kyohei time and again. Frustrated, Miku despairs if she'll ever get through to Kyohei. Although Kyohei eventually gets the message, he doesn't know how he really feels. In the meantime, it looks as if another classmate has his eye on Miku.

Review: I don't remember where I read the premise for this story, but I had it in my head that I was going to be seeing some magical, fantasy elements in this story. I thought that it was "Cactus's Secret" because the girl accidentally turned into a cactus a la "Fruits Basket" style. Don't ask where I got that idea, because that's obviously not the premise of this manga after reading it. It's called "Cactus's Secret" because the main protagonist Miku has a prickly personality and is harboring a secret love for her classmate Kyohei. Despite my misconceptions, I found Haruta's story to be entertaining, especially for a younger crowd.

There's nothing that makes this series stand out from other shojo mangas, and that makes it somewhat formulaic and clichéd. Girl likes boy, boy is oblivious, the two characters clash emotions, and to add more conflict, another love interest is introduced. The character designs seem cookie-cutter style cute girl and boy. No personality developments set them apart from other shojo protagonists.

That being said, I can see tween and teen girls really loving this series. The frustrations of the main protagonist Miku can easily be related to. Kyohei is a typical oblivious teen boy, and watching Miku try to get her message across to him shows her courage and determination. She never gives up, even when so many things are misunderstood, and she eventually gets an answer when Kyohei tells her he's not sure how he feels. The first volume ends with the introduction of a rival for Kyohei and a new love interest for Miku.

The art is decent with nice line drawings and toning. I found the paneling to be confusing in places when I couldn't tell if Miku was having a flashback or if it was actually happening in the present. Other readers may not have a problem. Overall the designs are attractive and fitting for the story.

I can recommend this series for a younger crowd, but I myself found it to be a forgettable read. Enjoy it for the moment and let it entertain you, but don't expect anything deep. It will make a great escape when you just want fluff.

Romance Rating: Cuddly.

Media Status: Cactus's Secret volume 1 is available from Viz Media. Volume 2 will be released in June 2010.

Mar 7, 2010

Manga of the Month: High School Debut 13 - Kazune Kawahara

Synopsis: Yoh's graduation means it's time for this quirky couple to make commitments or part ways. Haruna struggles with her selfish desire for Yoh to stay local, or supporting him in his future studies that take him to Tokyo. Yoh realizes what it will mean to leave Haruna behind when she becomes the target of another boy's interest, and waffles with this important decision as well. In the meantime, Haruna meets Yoh's mom and leaves a lasting impression. Haruna's special graduation gift to Yoh is also very memorable, and Yoh feels strongly enough to respond. The volume concludes on a bittersweet moment, then comes full circle with a scene that will have readers in stitches.

Review: High School Debut has been a joyful ride, and volume 13 does not disappoint as the series comes to a close. Haruna's boisterous, outgoing personality continues to compliment Yoh's quiet, reserved one. The couple's strong emotions for one another surface when they realize that their school days together will shortly come to an end. At first, Haruna begs Yoh not to leave, knowing the separation will be sad and painful. When Yoh decides he'd rather stay with Haruna than leave her behind, she quickly realizes her error and encourages him to pursue his dreams for the future. Her strong resolve to support Yoh in his decision to attend college in Tokyo is difficult, but her enthusiasm and determination, so characteristic of Haruna, eventually put the couple's difficult decisions to rest.

Yoh shows some stronger emotions in this final volume when his feelings for Haruna are tested. Not wanting to leave Haruna behind, Yoh worries what may happen to her once he leaves. He gets a reality check when Haruna gets hit on while the gang is attending a skiing trip. We finally get some actual jealousy from him, and see his uncertainty of his hold over Haruna once he is gone. His emotional response to Haruna's graduation gift is very touching. Although mostly reserved, in this volume Yoh shows some passionate responses to Haruna's love for him that are tell-tale signs that he returns her feelings just as strongly.

Though there are many memorable scenes in this volume, my favorite has got to be the concluding one. I don't want to provide spoilers, so you'll have to check it out yourself. Kawahara does a fine job of bringing the plot full circle and providing a comical moment for what could have been a bittersweet ending. The artwork in this volume is as nicely paneled as always. Moving between a realistic style or more abstract forms, the main characters' actions play out in the right tone of comedy or seriousness. The toning is over the top in places, but not distracting and still fitting into what is typical for a shojo manga.

Of all the shojo manga I've read in the past couple of years, High School Debut is one of my favorite series to date. The series is full of comical as well as sentimental moments, and Haruna and Yoh's relationship is based on friendship and mutual respect. Volume 13 is a well thought out ending to the series and leaves readers satisfied that Haruna and Yoh will still be together far into the future. If you haven't delved into this series yet, I highly recommend you pick up volume 1.

Romance Rating: Cuddly - passionate kisses leave this series very teen appropriate.

Media Status: High School Debut Volumes 1-13 are available from Viz Media.

Mar 1, 2010

Yack Your Stack - March 2010

With fewer reviews as of late, my TBR pile has not gotten any smaller. It seems I just keep adding more to the pile. Literally, I have a 2 foot stack of books on my bedside table, and another one on my dresser.

With my personal life interfering, I have not spent much time writing about books lately. I planned on participating in the Movable Manga Feast, and got through three-fourths of Sexy Voice and Robo. But with the stack of books I have, my interest got pulled in another direction. After seeing The Lightning Thief movie, I had to go back and read volume one of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series because the plot of the movie was so different than I remembered from the book. Despite getting side-tracked, I was able to finish Shinobi Life 4, Happy Cafe and the rest of the High School Debut series. Seeing as I picked volume 13 for Manga of the Month, that review will be forthcoming. I'm still withholding judgment on Happy Cafe until I see more.

So, the stack, or stacks as it is. There's a mix of genres at this time. I have next to pick up King of RPGs and am highly looking forward to that one. Also in the shonen category is Pandora Hearts. I've got to catch up with ongoing series like Vampire Knight 9, Kimi ni Todoke 3, We Were There 9, Rasetsu 4, and Skip Beat 20. I have a few newer series to explore like Basara, V.B. Rose 1-2, Cactus's Secret, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei 1-5, Land of Silver Rain, With the Light 1-3, Hollow Fields Omnibus, and Natsume's Book of Friends. Then there are the series that I've started and just need to finish up to what's released like Ouran High School Host Club 10-13, Red River 25-28, D N Angel 3-13, Venus Capriccio 2-3, and LoveCom 10-15. And no, I still haven't tackled all of Suzuka.

As you can see I have plenty on my plate. I hope I can get some writing done soon. If there's something you'd like me to review, let me know. I may have already read it and just haven't done a write up. Plus, I'd like to know what books others are interested in reading. Just post in the comments. Arigato!

Feb 2, 2010

Black Bird Vol. 3 - Kanoko Sakurakoji

Synopsis: In this third installment of the series, Misao Harada discovers that there will be consequences for becoming the bride of Kyo, head of the tengu clan. As a gift, Kyo gives Misao one of his primary feathers. This allows her freedom from the minor demons that usually plague her. However, it does not keep the other clan heads away, and kitsune heir Shuhei Kazunoha reappears along with the heirs to the shirohebi clan, Kensuke and Kiyo Dojoji. Kyo has his hands full dealing with the sly and scheming bunch, who tempt him with an offer to see the "Senka Roku"- a book documenting a successful bride taking by the kitsune clan. Misao's fears and doubts of leaving behind her family and friends make her hesitant to become the official bride, while Kyo patronizes himself over having to hurt Misao to make her his bride when he is suppose to be the one protecting her. The information in the Senka Roku would be quite valuable for both Misao and Kyo. Although, having read it, Kazunoha tells Kyo that if he really does love Misao he might not be able to follow through in the end.

Review: Birds, foxes, and snakes, oh my! Volume three of Sakurakoji's Black Bird brings the Japanese folklore to the forefront, with the tengu, kitsune, and shirohebi clans all fighting over Misao. Kyo's character has finally settled into the role of heroic protector with a blatant perverted side. I thought I might get through the volume without any corny sex jokes, but alas, half way through Misao overhears Kyo discussing the "nuka roku", a feat of sexual stamina, with one of his vassals. Sigh.

It was refreshing to see Misao get to act like a regular high school girl for a short span, once she receives Kyo's gift. Her position as demon bait has left her more or less dependent on Kyo's presence. At this point in he story, Misao has accepted Kyo as her protector and realizes that means becoming his wife. Her fears of being "swept away" from her family and friends are well grounded, as Kyo admits that he does not want to hurt Misao when he makes her his bride. The existence of the senka roku confirms that there is indeed some process that Misao must endure to become the tengu's wife.

The pace of this volume was smoother than the last. The action scenes moved the plot along quickly while the romantic encounters were fewer and more meaningful. Paneling and lettering make the story flow evenly enough, but the tonal patterns still look tacky in places. Surprisingly, while reading I came across one grammatical error that must have gotten past an editor. Most readers likely won't notice it when they're so involved in the story. It's easy enough to overlook all the faults when there are so many bishies (ie. hot demons!) staring you in the face.

Volume three ends on a rather climatic note, and leaves the audience speculating what the outcome may be. A rather amorous encounter could create more problems for the protagonists. While I may not be in love with this series at the moment, it still makes for an entertaining read. For now, Sakurakoji's recipe of violent action and spicy passion is the best substitute for a naughty romance novel in manga form.

Romance Rating: Steamy - he's gotten to second base.

Media Status: Black Bird 3 is currently available in English from Viz media. Volume 4 is slated to be released on May 4, 2010.

Jan 30, 2010

Manga of the Month: We Were There Vol. 8 - Yuki Obata

Synopsis: With one year of high school left, Yano and Nana are making decisions that will greatly impact the future. Yano's mother has decided to get a divorce and move to Tokyo. Torn between going to Tokyo to care for his mother, or staying in Hokkaido to finish high school with Nana, Yano knows either decision will leave him with regrets. College choices only emphasize the uncertainty of the couple's future. Despite that, Nana and Yano's emotions still flow strongly. When Yano comes to a final decision, it only deepens Nana's devotion.

Review: Opening this volume, I began watching scenes from my high school days unfold before my very eyes. I've always wanted to write a story using the experiences I had with my first love. In We Were There volume 8, Yuki Obata has done it for me, and exceptionally well. She portrays the couple's indecisive agony of pending separation. The special secluded trip to spend those last precious moments together. Then there's the farewell scene on the train platform, where the boy leaves the girl full of hopeful devotion and grief at the same time. Obata has got the emotional naivety of young love nailed.

Excluding my own personal connections, this volume has some memorable moments of characterization. Motoharu Yano's growth in maturity shines as he struggles with difficult decisions. Should he leave for his last year of high school? He is forced to choose between his fragile mother, who needs caring for herself, or Nana, whom he loves and cares for deeply and fears losing. It's a no win situation, and either choice will leave him unhappy. How does he cope with the outcomes? In later scenes it becomes apparent how much he really does love Nana.

Masafumi Takeuchi, Yano's best friend who also pines for Nana, plays the responsible friend in this volume. Supporting both Yano and Nana at times, he's there to be the confidant and adviser. Going so far as to point out to Yano that it will be he, not Yano, that will be helping Nana study, and taking her for coffee, if he leaves. He even encourages Nana to tell Yano how she really feels; that she doesn't want him to leave. Of the two boys, it appears Takeuchi will be the one that remains stable in Nana's day to day life.

Nana Takahashi's reactions to events characterize the typical emotions of a 17 year old girl. Her indecisiveness about her feelings on Yano's decision to leave or not, along with her selfless devotion to Yano exemplifies young love. Her naivety on how events will come to pass, and her belief that their love will endure, perfectly personifies the heart of a teen girl in love. Even in the flash forward scene, where Nana is shown at age 21 in college, we see how such emotions linger through the passage of time. A fact that rings true for anyone who has ever parted while in love. The conclusion of the volume left me speculating what has happened in the time that passed. Even now, I'm still trying to imagine how volume 9 will unfold.

Artistically, We Were There volume 8 is a pleasure to read. Smooth pacing, balanced layouts, and stylized characters only add to the overall impact of the story. While the more serious moments are drawn in a more realistic style for effect, the day to day or lighter moments are drawn more abstract, or cartoonish. The English translation does not interfere with the story telling, and there are a few editor's notes included in the back for more obscure references.

We Were There is a slice of life shojo that treads the path of a more realistic look at relationships. Even with some typical cliches, the story feels fresh because Obata isn't afraid to address the awkward and even unhappier aspects of loving someone no matter his or her flaws. Though volumes 1-7 were deeply engaging, volume 8 left a deeper impression upon me since it paralleled some of my own personal experiences. It is because of this mangaka's ability to connect her characters with the audience, that this story has resonated with so many. I highly recommend this series.

Romance Rating: Steamy.

Media Status: We Were There is available in English from Viz media. Volume 9 will be released March 2, 2010. A 26 episode television anime was aired in Japan in 2006. The series known as Bokura ga Ita in Japanese, is currently serialized in Betsucomi magazine.

Jan 22, 2010

New York Times Best Seller Ending 1/16

Read vampires much, America? Looks like Hino's series has found more new readers. Vampire Knight 1 has resurfaced on the bestseller list two years after its debut.
Vampire Knight 8
Vampire Knight 1

Jan 4, 2010

Black Bird Vol. 2 - Kanoko Sakurakoji

The other day while flipping through channels I came across a marine program that showed the mating process of octopi. I don't usually watch animal planet or anything like that, but I was so intrigued by the idea that I couldn't help but stop and watch as the narrator explained what was happening. When the commercial break occurred, it dawned on me what I just watched, and though now enlightened on the mating process of octopi, I was just as confused as why in the world I actually watched it.

That's kind of like my fascination with this new series by Sakurakoji. Although the characters in Black Bird 2 continue to push the envelope with sexual innuendos aplenty that make me cringe, I just can't help but be drawn in by the fantasy story elements. Volume 2 introduces a new cast of characters that includes the eight daitengu or tengu clan retainers, known fondly by Misao as the "Tengu Host Club" for their looks. With the new cast we get a new perception of Kyo, shown as more of a heroic and gentle leader, than the previous overbearing pervert. A new adversary arises when the daitengu arrive. Amongst the retainers is Shojo, Kyo's older brother and previous heir to the clan leadership. Once Misao learns about Shojo's interference with her past, she finally makes up her mind about her feelings for Kyo.

When it's obvious that the artist tries to make every other scene somewhat erotic, it does begin to get old quickly. There are some scenes and dialogue that I just had to roll my eyes at. What I realized as the plot reached a more serious point, was that the perverseness of the male protagonist is supposed to be a corny character trait. I guess in a josei manga I would not have blinked an eye. A guy in his twenties would say some of those perverted things flirtatiously, but his counterpart would usually be in her twenties also - not a teen in high school. That's what made those comments seem out of place to me. At least Misao responds by smacking him every time. As for the storyline, I found one transition a bit sudden in the plot line, when Misao goes missing. There is not much set up for that event. And although I complimented the artwork last time, I do have a gripe about the toning in this volume. The patterns chosen for the clothing are distasteful. In some scenes there were too many conflicting patterns in one layout.

Despite the more thorough analysis this time, the only reason I can fathom I'm still reading this series is that, at the heart of the storyline, it's about a boy who waited ten years to return to the girl he cares for. There's so many questions I have still unanswered. I'm hoping the cheesy sexual innuendos will calm down once the tension between the two protagonists is eased. Who knows how many volumes that may take. It could be at some point it will no longer intrigue me, and I'll move on and change the channel. In the meantime, I'm declaring this title only for hard core romance fans. Other casual readers beware.

Jan 2, 2010

New York Times Best Seller Ending 12/26

Looks like Vampire Knight was on many Christmas lists this year. Volume 8 jumps back up a spot from last week and volume 7 returns for an encore.

Vampire Knight 8
Vampire Knight 7

Jan 1, 2010

Best New Shojo of 2009

One more "best of" list that focuses only on the shojo genre of 2009.

1. Kimi
ni Todoke - Adorable and heartwarming, Kimi ni Todoke is a high school slice of life love story between Sawako, a shy, socially inept girl and Kazehaya, a kind, popular boy. Art style and paneling combine to accent the poignant moments in this story.

2. Black Bird - Spicy and naughty, Black Bird is the newest shojo guilty pleasure. The target of demons due to the power she holds, Misao can only accept the protection of her perverted childhood friend, Kyo, leader of a tengu clan and a demon himself. Does Kyo only want Misao for the power he can gain, or is there more behind his desire to possess her?

3. Rasetsu - Supernatural romance with beautiful artwork, Rasetsu continues the story of Yako Hoshino from Yurara. Cursed to find love before her 20th birthday or be taken away by a demon, Rasetsu works as an exorcist while looking for the right guy. Yako Hoshino with spiritual powers of his own, works as part of Rasetsu's team while pining for his lost love. Will he become the one who saves Rasetsu from her horrible fate?

4. Honey Hunt - Another girl becoming a celebrity title, Honey Hunt provides a love triangle between brothers. Yura's parents are both famous celebrities. When her parents divorce, Yura finds her first love with her mother. Furious, she decides to destroy her mother's image by becoming an actress. With the support of two brothers, she determines to make her way as a success.

5. Otomen - Otomen is the teen girl's fantasy male character that could be your best friend. Captain of the kendo team with excellent judo and karate skills, Asuka Masamune is considered the manliest guy on campus. He has worked hard to preserve his darkest secret. He loves cooking, sewing, the color pink, shojo manga, and plushies. However, once he meets outgoing Ryō Miyakozuka who has just transferred to Ginyuri Academy, his hobbies become more difficult to hide.

6. V
enus Capriccio - Playing with the idea of role reversal, Venus Capriccio tells the story of tall and athletic Takami Habara who has a bluntly honest and outgoing personality. This is far from her ideal girly personality of a beautiful and demure princess. Her long time childhood friend, Akira Sasaki, has served that role in her mind; a talented pianist whose blond hair and blue eyes project a delicate beauty rivaled by any princess - except that Akira is a boy. Now teens, Akira decides to enlighten Takami about his own masculinity and sets out to prove which of them is really the "princess".

7. Name of the Flower - Serious and sentimental, Name of the Flower tells the story of a young girl Chouko, taken in by a distant relative when her parents suddenly pass away. The relative Kei, a young novelist, relates to the girl's grief and watches her as she begins to live again. In his latest novel "Hana", his deepest feelings are expressed. Will Chouko reach Kei and help him find happiness?

8. Maid-Sama! - A fun romp, Maid-Sama! centers around Misaki Ayuzaka, president of the student council at her recently all boys turned co-ed high school. Working hard to keep the school in high reputation to increase the girl population, she is considered a tyrant by the boys. Since her father left her family Misaki must work part time after school at a maid cafe. When one boy finds out her secret she expects to be belittled at school. Instead he keeps the secret. What could his motive be?


The following titles I would have included except the first book was released in November 2008.

Shinobi Life - A time-traveling romance, Shinobi Life brings together an orphaned ninja from history and a modern day rich girl. Kagetora believes himself to be protecting his princess Beni-Hime, and modern day Beni, who has already been the subject of numerous kidnappings, thinks he's a bodyguard hired by her rich father. When both realize the time difference, 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.

We Were There - Serious and depressing, We Were There focuses on a boy's grief and angst at his first love who dies in an accident, and the girl who tries to love him. Yano cares for Takahashi Nanami but has numerous issues with jealousy and trust. Takahashi loves Yano, but until he can heal himself, there is only so much she can give him to provide happiness. A realistic look at a relationship and how emotions linger in one's heart.
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