By Sumomo Yumeka. Released in Japan as "Natsukashi Machi no Rozione" by Kadokawa Shoten, appearing as one-shots in the magazine Asuka. Released in North America by Yen Press.
This is a very odd manga, and a very odd choice for Yen to license. These sorts of one-shot collections are seen quite a bit in Japan, but tend not to be brought over here to North America unless the author is really huge (such as the recent Songs To Make You Smile from Takaya). And while Yumeka-san is known over here, both for the BL stuff she's done that DMP has released, and Voices of a Different Star which she drew under a different pen name that Tokyopop put out, she's not exactly a big name. I really had no idea what to expect of this going in.
After reading it, I'm still not sure what I expect of it. Three of the four stories read like typical shoujo one-shots, albeit a bit weird (not surprising as they ran in Asuka, the weirdest of the mainstream shoujo magazines). The title story is probably the best-written, despite being rather heavy-handed about its metaphorical moral. Himeyuka has a nerdy look we don't really get from most shoujo heroines, who tend to use glasses as fashion accessories. There's also a weirdly unfinished subplot with her teacher (classmate?) Yamamoto, who gives out candy randomly and seems to be more than he is. Actually, I should get used to that, as there's a feel throughout all of the first three stories of 'pilot for a series that never got picked up'.
I enjoyed The Princess of Kikouya in District 1, but it's the least inventive story in the book, being a standard 'yakuza girl must not reveal her sordid past to the guy she likes' tale. But she's cute, and spunky, and wields a giant umbrella. If you like sweet romance with no originality whatsoever (parts of this are so unoriginal, I felt the other manga in my stack getting more outre just being near it), then it's rather sweet. My Very Own Shalala is sort of a twisted magical girl story, which gets the closest this volume ever does to BL, as the magical girl has to disguise herself as a boy to get close to the guy she needs. It's more of an interesting idea than the prior story, but the execution falls flatter, with the entire story feeling rushed.
And then there's Robot. You'll note I've been saying 'the first three stories' throughout this review. Robot is the fourth, and the longest. And it's one of the most opaque stories I've ever tried to read. And I did my best - the strength of this story is that you keep trying to make sense of it, feeling that it's you rather than the story. If you can just pull the disparate threads together, everything will make sense. Sadly, that just never happens here. I'm not even sure I can provide a summary. It's a post-apocalyptic world, and there are clones, but there are also humans that die and are reborn, and then there's the robot boy, and they all go out for cake, and they're kidnapped, and... whaa? "I can't stand the confusion in my mind!" The post-apocalyptic landscape looks fascinating, and there's a sense of a world attempting to be created, but...
In the afterword, the author apologizes for the poor quality of her work. I've read so many Japanese mangaka saying how horrible they are that I barely notice this these days, it seems to be something that just needs to be said. The author notes Robot was written for another magazine before the rest of these, and they bought the rights to it so they could pad out the collection. She also admits it's a collection of loose ends with no explanations. So I feel better about not getting it at all, although I also agree with the author that it's certainly evocative.
I'm not sure I can recommend this as a purchase, as the quality is highly variable and even the best of these stories is merely good. Still, it may be worth getting from your local library if they're the sort that has so much manga they can afford to put this on the shelf next to Hikaru no Go. I think it succeeds in creating a certain mood; I just wish that the mood wasn't seen entirely through a curtain of gauze.