Friday, December 31, 2010

I Am Here! Volume 1

By Ema Toyama. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Del Rey.

Another omnibus volume from Del Rey, though this one at least looks like it was designed that way deliberately. We're seeing a few of these 5-volume series being released here in Volumes of 3 and 2 - Yen Press is doing this with Dragon Girl and Sasameke - and certainly it makes more financial sense. And, thankfully, we now at least know it won't be abandoned halfway. Kodansha USA is listing the 2nd and final volume for July of 2011.

As for the volume itself, I was sort of reminded as I read it of Fairy Tail. Now, it has absolutely nothing to do with Fairy Tail itself. But much as I imagined Kodansha telling Hiro Mashima to go draw a clone of One Piece that will get the same audience and (hopefully) the same sales numbers, it's very hard to read this volume, and its heroine, without thinking of Sawako from Kimi Ni Todoke. Whereas Sawako had the 'Ringu' effect going for her, Sumino here is merely invisible to others. Not in a Translucent sort of way, just in the normal teenage girl 'I don't stick out or speak very well, so I get ignored or disregarded' sense. Luckily, this being shoujo manga, she has some allies. The hot boy in school turns out to have been watching her - and falling for her - all along, and she also has two commentors on her blog, which is how she has most of her daily interaction. Were this an actual blog in real life, no doubt she would be dealing with 'tits or gtfo' posts. Instead, her two online friends offer sensible (if sometimes differing) advice.

The plot itself is fairly generic, with one premise that I've grown very weary of (all the girls in school hate me, but at least I can lean on my hot guy friends). As with most manga in this genre, the hero is a bit too perfect - I prefer his snarkier friend, whose advice to Sumino tends to be less affirming and more practical. That said, the heroine is certainly likeable, and you do root for her to succeed. I was also interested in the main 'bully girl' character in this volume. She gets her comeuppance towards the end, as her fellow girls abandon her when she gets more and more strident - but the page focuses on her briefly as she runs off, seeing her frustration and self-loathing. That was nice.

The art is both quite good and very bad. The character designs are cookie-cutter, and worst of all tend to vary - the hero in particular can look different from one panel to the next, and the only way we can tell him apart from his best friend is that one is blond. On the other hand, the general layouts are a lot more professional, and the artist clearly has an idea of what makes a striking image. With the focus of the volume being the distance Sumino feels from her classmates, seeing the group of girls in a half-circle as they realize that Hinata is paying attention to her is striking and doom-laden, and makes good use of a two-page spread. We see this again and again throughout the first hal;f of the book, as various girls surround Sumino, giving off a crushing vibe. Then, in the scene where Sumino stands up to the bully, we suddenly see these same girls gathering around Sumino to confront the bully. Suddenly Sumino is WITHIN the half-circle - and it's a warm, life-affirming feeling. I like seeing that sort of thing in a manga. If only the characters themselves didn't look so generic.

In the end, this is a good but not great manga. It's good enough that I'll get Volume 2 to see how it ends, but it's certainly no Kimi ni Todoke. Just a normal story of a shy invisible girl who's gradually learning to come out of her shell and find love.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Manga the week of 1/5

Believe it or not, for a first week of the month, it's pretty quiet. Which is somewhat of a relief after all those Tokyopop releases last week. But Viz has scaled back and postponed some releases, so we don't have quite as much as usual from them.

But first, Bandai comes out with the final Volume of Gundam 00 2nd Season, which is, naturally, totally distinct from Gundam 00F, which I believe may still be ongoing. And Dark Horse comes out with two titles at the complete opposite end of every demographic spectrum: the T&A violence of Gantz (from Shueisha's Weekly Young Jump), and the horror with shonen ai overtones of Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse (which ran in Kadokawa's shoujo magazine, Asuka).

As for Viz, a couple of their titles are also coming to an end, including one of the original Shonen Jump titles, Shaman King, which ends this week at Vol. 32. There's also Prince of Tennis, which has hit Vol. 40 and is still going. Not much longer now, though, it wraps up at Vol. 42, provided Viz don't pick up the sequel which just started. There's also Eyeshield 21, which has 3 more volumes to go after this one. Given One Piece and Gin Tama (and Claymore, whose Vol. 17 is also out this week) are still piling up volumes with no end in sight, Viz must be relieved to see some of the lower-selling but long running series come to an end.

In shoujo news, we get new volumes of Natsume's Book of Friends and Stepping on Roses (I'm hoping for more awesome shogi action in the latter, though I expect I'll merely get more passive heroine mooning over jerk), and the final volume of Sand Chronicles, which ended its main storyline back 2 volumes ago but has added some side stories here rather than interspersed throughout as I'm more used to with shoujo.

Lastly, Viz lists the 2nd volume of Kurozakuro as coming out the week after next, but Midtown has it shipping on 1/5. Well, there had to be something different in this week's comparison of Midtown and Diamond - there always is. Anyway, buy this title, or the character on the cover will leap out and rip your throat out with his razor-sharp teeth. I think.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 5

By Yuki Yoshihara. Released in Japan as "Chou Yo Hana Yo" by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Petit Comic. Released in North America by Viz.

I was rather surprised to find that this was a far more serious volume of the series. Oh sure, there were a few mentions of barge poles and some wackiness involving Choko's brother, but the slapstick violence was almost zero. After Masayuki resolving to try to stop being over the top and less sexually harrassing, it looks like the manga may be trying to do the same thing. (The one exception is a completely ludicrous parody of infomercials in the first chapter, which worked great as it was so out of the blue.)

But we also see a fire tragically destroy Choko's family home and business. After seeing her family lose their fortune and trying to get by as best they can, seeing even that taken away from them is a real kick in the teeth. It also serves to remind us of the sole reason why Masayuki is an up and coming corporate shark, as he immediately offers (with much anger that they didn't ask for help) money to help them rebuild, pointing out that this is pretty much what he has been working towards all this time.

We then get two problems, both of which dovetail nicely with each other. First, to his embarrassment, Masayuki is suffering from a bout of impotence. While he doesn't let that stop him from helping Choko to achieve her own pleasure (in a nice scene that once again reminds you why this manga is rated M), it is clearly frustrating to him. Meanwhile, Choko discovers this and worries that the reason for it is that he sees her more as his princess rather than as an attractive sexual woman.

Unfortunately, her solution doesn't quite work. It SOUNDS good - she wants Masayuki to treat her as an equal, and says they should just be normal ordinary lovers, with none of the master and servant dynamic that has defined them so far - but the trouble is that people are, to a degree, defined by their pasts, and her suggestion seems to indicate that she finds their back history meaningless. If they don't have the master/servant dynamic, then they cease to be Choko and Masayuki. And really, as Makie notes, 'ordinary lover' is not something one should strive for. Especially not with someone as extraordinary as Masayuki.

As readers no doubt will be relieved to hear, Masayuki manages to get over his impotence and have his "second sex" with Choko by the end of the volume. Moreover, he forcefully declares that he will continue to call Choko Milady. One can argue about how healthy this is, but at least it's not denying the past and present they have with each other. Plus, of course, it allows them to keep the humor. And as we still have 3 volumes to go after this, I'm hoping for a lot more wackiness in future volumes.

Oh yes, and Makie's face as Choko suggests Suou would be a good lover for her is adorable. :D

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gente Volume 2

By Natsume Ono. Released in Japan by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America by Viz.

Gente is still pretty much a classic example of a Signature title: something with a very narrow audience that Viz nevertheless hopes will do well based on the name recognition of the author. As such, if you're in that narrow span, you'll likely enjoy it. If you didn't like Ristorante Paradiso, you may want to steer clear, as it's more of the same.

Luckily, I am one of that narrow audience, so I was very pleased with the 2nd volume of Gente. We get some insight into our cast of middle-aged waiters, especially Claudio, the head waiter, and Teo, who rises here to become the main chef. The Claudio chapter was especially appreciated as I had a bit of difficulty connecting with him in Ristorante Paradiso. We get a flashback here to him as an awkward young man, one who is "easy to tease" according to one patron, and still very clumsy. His youth and good looks also get him female attention that he really doesn't want. It dovetailed nicely with Furio, who, like Vito in the volume before, is one of those men who seems to have it all together early in life.

The meat of the volume goes to the chef, Teo, and his tempestuous relationship with the one woman in the group, Vanna, the head chef. Since Gente is a prequel, we knew that Vanna, like Marzio from the first volume, would be leaving somehow, as she wasn't around by the time that Nicoletta arrived in Ristorante Paradiso. Teo is particularly uncommunicative, and seems to lack a certain amount of motivation, so these are also the slowest chapters of the book, and can be a little frustrating. That said, Vanna seems to know how to handle him, and I quite liked the mirroring of Teo's father's response in flashback and Vanna's in the main story.

The remainder of the volume seems to be building up to the point where the restaurant was when Nicoletta arrived - as indeed she does right at the end, giving the volume a cliffhanger that leads immediately into Ristorante Paradiso. We get some discussion of Olga, who, as with prior volumes, is shown to be a woman who seems to have it all. It is hinted that the author is not unaware of her failings as a mother - her friend notes that resolving things with her daughter is the one thing Olga still needs to do - but it's lampshaded that sometimes people's lives don't slot into handy moral lessons. And sometimes the best story to tell is one that's in shadows - after seeing Vito and his future wife meet in the first volume of Gente, his proposal here takes all of three pages.

Someting about this series' relaxed, romanza feeling just works for me. Even if it's a bunch of people sitting around talking, and the plotlines can occasionally be frustratingly obtuse, I still feel that it's very rewarding. The third volume is out in Spring, and it would appear, judging from the ending we get here, that the third will be a sequel to Ristorante Paradiso, coming after the prequel of the first two volumes. Can't wait.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bamboo Blade Volume 7

By Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Young Gangan. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I had been very excited about the introduction of Tamaki's new rival that was promised in Volume 6, and sure enough we do meet her here. Unfortunately, that's really all that happens, as the rest of the book is taken up by lots of introspection, very little kendo, and far, far too much Kojiro.

It starts off pretty well, though. The girls (and Dan-kun) go on a shopping trip, with Tama boggling at everything around her as we get reminded that, new friends or no, she's still mostly a shut-in when it comes to socialization. Unfortunately, at one point a sign comes loose from above, and is about to hit Dan-kun! Along with some hot ramen! And a thief running through the mall! Never let it be said that Bamboo Blade isn't afraid to lampshade its ludicrous situations. Before any of our heroes can do anything, though, all three dangers are erased by the wooden bokken of a passing mystery girl.

The girl is very reminiscent of Tama - deliberately so. They both have 'placid' as their default expression, they're both kendo masters, and most important,y they both are huge sentai otaku. But of course, Ura is meant to be a dark mirror to Tama, like many shonen/seinen rivals are. She's abandoned her kendo (to her father's distress), and is a fan of a different variation of the series than Tama is. (The explanation of the Battle Hero sentai series (all 20 of them), and how Blade Braver and Black Duran (Ura's obsession) place in it is one of the best jokes of the volume, mocking sentai's need for constant reinvention and merchandising.) Sadly, all we see of her plotline is a bit of her father whining about her decision to abandon kendo, and of Kirino finding out who she is.

The rest of the book rests on the shoulders of Kojiro, who is still trying to regain the fighting spirit he feels he lost after high school. He has a long talk with Ishibashi, his sempai, who challenges him to another duel with a 2nd set of girls he's coaching. But for the most part, we get almost 70 pages of Kojiro, which is all fine and dandy, but if I'm reading a series about kendo girls I want to focus on the girls and the kendo. I appreciate the coach's dilemma, but we just don't really care as much.

There are two good side-stories in here, one focusing on Miya-Miya, who is having to deal with her old kohai and feeling angry and frustrated. Kojiro's suggestion that she work out her rage via kendo is cliched, but it does manage to show us an important point - slowly, almost unconsciously, Miya-Miya *is* improving. It no longer seems beyond the bounds of reason that she could win against someone at her basic skill level. The other, shorter chapter deals with Tamaki's mother, who I believe we finally see in full-face here after several volumes of being hidden. She looks like Tamaki with long hair, but her gung-ho personality certainly didn't carry over into her daughter. Still very sweet.

I ended up writing more than I thought I would about the things I enjoyed (I didn't even mention Tamaki's facial expression on page 96, which is worth the price of the book by itself), but I still felt that this volume was moving far too slowly and awkwardly in its attempt to transition to its next set of battles. Here's hoping Vol. 8 will bring us more of the girls, and far more kendo.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Some thoughts on the last year

Today is the one-year anniversary of this blog, and to commemorate it I'd like to avoid doing a best and worst list as we see so often this time of year. I like so much of what I review that thinking of bests is a helpless cause, and I really don't like to talk about bad manga unless it's really, irredeemably bad. Merely mediocre manga doesn't deserve brickbats. (Qwaser of Stigmata was really bad, though. You have my permission to bash it.)

So, what did this year mean to me on the blog?

1) Shilling for lost causes. Nothing made me happier this year than telling people at great length about titles most of them don't read, most of which are poor-selling, and several of which weren't even that good, they just hit the right buttons for me personally to really enjoy them. I am especially happy that some of these reviews *did* inspire people to pick up the manga, and I hope they got as much enjoyment out of it as I did. So, for Excel Saga, Gatcha Gacha, I Hate You More Than Anyone!, Teru Teru x Shonen, and The Magic Touch, I thank 2010.

2) The One Piece speedup. I remember when Viz announced this it was greeted with disbelief and derision. Naruto had the sales to support 4 volumes a month, just. What was Viz thinking bringing a lower-selling title such as One Piece up to speed with 5 volumes a month for 6 months? It will be a disaster! And to be fair, One Piece fans have been used to getting the short end of the stick. But all turned out surprisingly well, as the volumes did sell well, and nowadays One Piece is, though not at Naruto levels, a fairly strong seller. Moreover, reading the series in huge gulps allowed readers to power through arcs both weak and strong, and introduced everyone to the marvel that was Water Seven and Enies Lobby. Most importantly, it allowed other bloggers to join in in the One Piece MMF, which showered love and affection on Japan's favorite rubber pirate manga. Here's looking for more One Piece goodness in 2011.

3) The Shoujo Beat goes on. As I looked over my reviews, it became quite clear that over half of them were shoujo of some sort or another. Clearly it's the genre that appeals to me most, and I thank 2010 for letting me take delight in the adventures of Kyoko and Ren, Asuka and Ryo, Sawako and Kazehaya, Hikari and Kei, Misaki and Usui, and Odette in general. While the right shonen property has been shown to have huge sales impact, I believe that shoujo has been shown to be the more consistent seller across the board, which is likely why we're seeing so much of it. In 2011, I hope to be entertained by more adorably sweet girls who heal the hearts of sullen guys with tragic pasts, or alternately, by strong and stubborn yet dense as lead girls being teased by handsome and flirty guys.

4) That pesky economy. I noted to Deb Aoki the other day how I hadn't regarded the fall of CMX as a 'surprise' of the year, mostly as, given their sales, my reaction was more "Ah, they finally noticed it existed." CMX, after a rough start, carved out a niche of cult shoujo manga that appealed greatly to me, and I still feel the loss of I Hate You More Than Anyone! and Teru Teru x Shonen. Go! Comi likewise quietly died this year (very quietly - as in silently), and their relationship with Akita Shoten gave us some of the more eccentric manga in North America. Both will be dearly missed by manga bloggers, if not necessarily by consumers. (Del Rey also closed this year, though that was for reasons other than economic ones, and they have now come out of their cocoon as Kodansha USA.)

5) Things other than manga. The heading of the blog notes I write about 'mostly manga', which is certainly true. But sometimes I feel a need to discuss other things. I thank everyone for putting up with me going on about how I would stage Shakespeare plays, or analyzing Woody Woodpecker cartoons, or just gushing about Frank Zappa concerts. Hopefully I'll be doing this more in 2011 as well - I need to restart the Woody reviews, and talk about the Zappa 1979 tour (oh, those Inca Roads guitar solos...), and Arden is releasing Merchant of Venice 3rd Edition this February. God knows how I'd talk about how to stage THAT today...

6) You, the reader. You knew this was coming, didn't you? Sappy as it may be, this blog wouldn't happen without the support that I get from those who read it, as well as my fellow bloggers on Twitter. I had initially started this thinking that writing to a schedule where I forced myself to put out a post a day would help me when it came to working on a few of my unfinished anime fanfics that I had lying around. That didn't happen at all (the one-per-day rule has been broken a lot, especially this fall, and I ended up writing only one fic this year, though I'm working on a Zetsubou story, and I have an idea for a Lupin fic). I know that I can be somewhat hard to handle at times. My tastes are eclectic, I tend to like almost everything I review, I geek out in embarrassing fashion about publishers and magazines in Japan, and a lot of my reviews are less critiques than rambles. (Wow, look at that self-deprecation. I could be a manga author...) (Oh yes, and the parenthetical asides. So many parenthetical asides.) But simply put, this year has simply been a hell of a lot of fun. The blog has been great, talking with people on Twitter has been fantastic, I loved meeting everyone at NYAF and MangaNext, and hope to see people at Anime Boston and Anime North in 2011.

Roll on, 2011! What fresh excitement will you bring? Here's hoping I'm still blogging when Christmas 2011 rolls around.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Skip Beat! Volume 22

By Yoshiki Nakamura. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.

In my review of Volume 21, I noted that most of it was setup for the payoff of Kyoko's full-fledged Natsu we'd see here. And what a fantastic transformation it is, as Kyoko manages to do what she knew she had to, and make Natsu a role all her own, completely separate from Mio. Of course, this is not without a little help from Ren, who gives her some instructions on how to walk like a model, so Kyoko can strut more confidently.

One thing I enjoyed is showing that every part of Kyoko's life has helped shape her into the actress that she is. Yes, she has an amazing acting talent, as Ren notes, but it's not just a savant sort of thing. The reason that Ren can teach her these things in one evening is that Kyoko already has most of the model posture down from her years working at the inn - this was brought up in a much earlier arc, where she had the proper posture of an 'ojou-sama', but now we see how it can also create Natsu, a confident and bored princess of an entirely different type.

The remainder of the volume is filled with Kyoko, now immersed in her Natsu role, being thoroughly awesome. From the moment we see her grabbing Rumi-chan's wayward hat, Kyoko is simply in the zone. She also understands what being in a clique is like, as we see her not sell out the other actresses to the director even though she knows they stole part of her costume. Kyoko notes bluntly that she won't let other people solve her friend's problems that are within the group. It's between Natsu and Kaori, the characters.

And then there's Chiaki, who's the real villain behind this arc. Not content with simple pranks like the other actresses (whom Kyoko pretty much wraps around her little finger post-change, even getting them to go out to a roadside ramen stand as it's the sort of thing a bored rich girl would find interesting), Chiaki wants to ruin Kyoko. Unfortunately, her plans backfire spectacularly here, as not only does the director decide he likes this new Natsu, but now it's Chiaki's portrayal of Yumika that doesn't fit - and Chiaki who's on the hotseat. What's more, part of her backstory is finally revealed, and it's not a pretty one. Manga in general is quite fond of 'dark mirrors', evil counterparts to our hero or heroine with similar traits and pasts. So now we see Kyoko dealing with an actress who *has* been trapped by typecasting, and is becoming more and more desperate. Cue the cliffhanger.

It's not all drama, though. There's lots of great humor here, ranging from Ren's attempts to get Kyoko to relax (and tease her at the same time), to the hysterical exchange between Rumi-chan and Chiaki about the 'new' Natsu, to Kyoko's 'Ganbatte!' note to Chiaki that's cute but also taunting. In addition, Nakamura's art and layout is simply stellar here, with many pages I wanted to go back and look at just for the sheer joy of the panel itself. Particularly the revelation of Natsu to her fellow actresses (balanced out with a flashback to Kyoko's 'plain udon' looks of 2 days before), and the final shot of Kyoko on the stairs for the cliffhanger.

To sum up, this volume is all about Ren's quote "Once she's interested in the role, she takes off real fast." I eagerly await the next volume (and particularly how others will react to it), which is all about the other half of Ren's quote: "She's scary once she wakes up."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Manga the week of 12/29

It's the last week of the year, and Tokyopop's here to make sure you spend all the money you have left over from Christmas on manga.

It's not all Tokyopoop - Dark Horse has Vol. 16 of their Oh My Goddess remasters, and Udon has the 2nd and final volume of Street Fighter Gaiden, for those who miss Ken and Ryu. I think it's Ken and Ryu, right?

But it's Tokyopop that has the majority of the titles - 17 in all. First, and most importantly, Gatcha Gacha 8 is finally shipping to comic shops. I hope regular readers of this blog will know by now that they must get this. Alice in the Country of Hearts 5 is another title that's been out in bookstores for a month, but is finally arriving via Diamond now.

And there are debuts! We see Vol. 1 of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko, a LaLa DX series that I hope can fill the hole in my heart left by the absence of Stolen Hearts. Or if you like shonen there is AiON, a supernatural harem manga from the Chibi Vampire author (and it has no relation to the RPG, by the way.) Fans of Chibi Vampire will also be happy that a fanbook is also out this week. It has vampire in the title!

And of course there are so many other series coming as well. A new V.B. Rose! I understand this one will be a big ol' flashback, in the best Banri Hidaka tradition. A new Karakuri Odette! Always fun to see more life lessons for our favorite deadpan robot girl. A new Aria! Remember Aria? That series that always seems to have a very very vocal readership of about 9 people? Buy Aria 6 and make Tokyopop stop crying when it sees the sales charts!

And good lord, a new Hetalia which no doubt will clog the NYT bestseller list for 3 more months and help, perhaps, pay for Aria Vol. 7 to come out by this time next year. And Silver Diamond and NG Life, returning from the depths of hiatusland to entertain us with more hot shoujo guys. Or Happy Cafe, never on hiatus but still having hot shoujo guys. And there's always the Shonen Ace variety of shonen, with Ratman, Future Diary and Hanako and the Terror of Allegory. Heck, there's even Neko Ramen, for the 4-koma lover in you.

And... look, there's just tons of STUFF, OK? Go use those Borders gift cards and go wild. Next week is bound to have something for everyone.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 15

By Bisco Hatori. Released in Japan as "Ouran Koukou Host Club" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

Yes, I can now change the information in the header from 'serialization ongoing' to 'serialized', as Ouran has finally finished in Japan. Admittedly, we have a ways to go - Viz has slowed down the release as it's caught up with Japan, and seems content to release 2 volumes a year, so it may be 2012 before we get the final volume. In any case, last time Haruhi realized her feelings, sort of, and is busy grappling with them. Will Tamaki do the same here?

Yes, he will, and it's easily the best part of the volume. We wrap up the problem of Kanoya-san, Haruhi's doppelganger, with aplomb, as the cast participates in a giant scavenger hunt that depends both on Tamaki being as over the top stupid as he usually is (the curry ingredients in particular are hilarious) and also Tamaki's amazing ability to read people. When he's not being a hyperactive spaz, Tamaki really is the perfect shoujo boyfriend, and his tender understanding of just how long he's been in love with Haruhi is a great emotional capper to this series.

Of course, Ouran is not just a romance - it's also a comedy, and a lot of the comedic elements have been, if not missing lately, at least not as insane. That certainly changes in the middle of the book, as Hatori has apparently decided that now that she's managed to have Haruhi and Tamaki work out their feelings (to themselves, at least), it's time to ramp up the wacky hijinks. How much you appreciate this depends on how much you like Ouran's ability to pile ridiculous situations on top of each other - I enjoy it in small doses, but was starting to feel as aggravated as Haruhi towards the end of things.

The final chapter of this volume deals with Hunny and Mori. They're the two Host Club characters we've dealt with the least, so it makes sense that they're getting a spotlight here as Hatori tries to start wrapping things up. I was very amused at a bit of fourth-wall leaning as Haruhi noted that the announcement Hunny and Mori are graduating soon took her by surprise, as 'it felt like we'd spent several long years together already'. Yes, we're no longer in manga time, and characters are actually allowed to graduate. As for the chapter, it seems to depend on Mori's stoicness and Hunny's supposed cake-eating childishness. Both are facades, of course, but Hunny's seems like the greater one, as he shows a maturity here that's impressive. And as always, it ends on a cliffhanger, so we won't see things resolved till Vol. 16.

18 volumes is long for a shoujo manga, and to a certain extent it does feel as if Ouran is trying to crawl towards the finish line as slowly as possible. But then, in addition to Tamaki and Haruhi's feelings, we have the outstanding plot of Tamaki's family, and that is one that I'm sure will take more than a chapter or two to resolve. Ouran may be wearing out its welcome a bit, but it's still fun, and fans of the series won't mind a bit as they come back next time to see what happens.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yotsuba&! Volume 9

By Kiyohiko Azuma. Released in Japan by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Released in North America by Yen Press.

It's always harder for me to review slice-of-life mangas, as there's less obvious things to draw on for discussion. I can't really talk about the latest plot developments - Yotsuba getting a teddy bear is the closest we get to forward movement. Likewise, the characters are exactly the same as they've been, because that's what the audience wants. No one wants to see the trauma of the Ayases being trapped in a fire, or seeing Yotsuba's dad get shot in a botched armed robbery. Instead, we want yakiniku and balloons.

There are several awesome things about this volume, though, and not just in a 'wow, this is cute' way. Some of the characters have developed, Yanda being among the most obvious. Having been introduced as the jerkass who fights with Yotsuba, he's now allowed to keep those traits while letting them be toned down so that he can interact better with the others. He fits in well with everyone at the yakiniku dinner, and we no longer wonder why on Earth Koiwai and Jumbo let him hang out with them. He's the vaguely annoying friend who's still a good friend - we all have those.

Azuma is also very good at subtleties. Fuuka doesn't get much to do this volume, as she's meant to be studying for midterms. This means that she can't go with everyone else to look at the hot air balloons. However, we don't see her getting upset about it - that would be out of character. Instead, we have a delightfully quiet bit of passive-agressiveness, as she notes blandly that they're only hot-air balloons, and that they just float in the air. This is done in the background while the other characters are getting excited about the trip, and just made me laugh. Poor Fuuka, once again the unloved one of Yotsuba.

The highlights of the volume are definitely the teddy bear buying and the Balloon Fair, though. Yotsuba's search for a teddy bear is adorable, and I loved how the bear she eventually chooses is posed with one arm up - we can immediately see why she picked him out of the other identical bears, he's waving to her! Also, he talks! Though Yotsuba hasn't yet quite worked out how to MAKE him talk... As for the balloon fair, not only do we get to see the teddy bear be even more awesome, but we get two beautiful Asagi moments - Koiwai trying to swing her around like he did Yotsuba, and failing as Asagi is quite a bit bigger; and Koiwai's attempts to impress everyone with the bamboo dragonfly, quickly undermined by Torako being so much better at it. The panel showing an angry, frustrated Koiwai bent over while Asagi towers above him, noting Torako's flies much farther, is not only funny but marvelously laid out - you really get the sense of Asagi's brutal teasing.

In short, there's a lot more to offer here than just Yotsuba being cute, although she certainly is. Come for the adorable, but stay for the sight of a manga author in terrific command of all his artistic powers, showing us what he can do to move and amuse us.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Toriko Volume 3

By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

In re-reading my review of the 2nd volume of Toriko, I seemed to be rather grumpy about it, feeling that it had lost a lot of the qualities I liked in the first one. This 3rd volume seems to correct that balance a bit - Toriko still seems to be a hammy jerk, but we see more of the sharp mind behind it, and his defense of a mother wolf and her newborn shows his kinder side.

One thing I liked a great deal is how this manga deals with Komatsu, its normal character. Like a lot of Jump manga, it sometimes seems like he's there to stand at the side of every battle and shout obvious commentary (see Beauty from Bobobo for the prime example). But this book reminds you that while Komatsu may be a complete weakling when it comes to capturing insanely dangerous food, he's not called a master chef for no reason - put carving knives in his hands, and he's a genius. He, rather than Toriko or Coco, is the one who saves the day and gets them their dish of puffer whale. More to the point, he *is* getting braver, if not stronger - when an entire arena flees from danger, Komatsu is asked why he's not running, and he notes that after traveling with Toriko this just seems normal to him now.

I also like the way the manga handles the animals we see. They're all super-special gene-crossed animal hybrids, but we have yet to find any cute talking rabbits or ferrets here. These are psychotically dangerous beasts, and they know it. And Shimabukuro's art shows us this, as without any need for dialogue he shows us the animals' smug ego, and their terror when meeting a fiercer predator. The shot of the newborn wolf on the 2nd to last page here is heartbreaking, and it's great how well that comes across.

That said, I wasn't especially pleased at seeing a fighting tournament when we've only got to Volume 3. Even if it was just animals fighting each other. It's become such a cliche of Shonen Jump series that I had hoped that the series could have avoided it and gone on another couple of epic quests - especially as we even get one set up here, with the GT Robot's devastation, but it's handled rather obliquely. And, of course, much as I admired Komatsu's development, this is at heart a bunch of muscular guys standing around going 'grah!'. Toriko is about the fights and the insane animals, but lacks a true heart as of yet.

Still, it has intrigued me enough to get me to pick up the next volume. It even introduced a female character! ...who's a total cliche. Sigh. Well, if you license a Jump series, you have to be prepared to get what is basically a Jump series. Toriko will not be breaking any rules or setting new boundaries. But it's pretty fun, especially for young teenage boys. And it's a huge hit in Japan, being one of the two series in 2008 to really take off (Bakuman being the other). It's even getting an anime this April. So definitely see if it's your cup of tea.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

License Request (sort of) Day: Soap Girl Moko, Vols. 1 & 2

By Naruo Kusugawa. Released originally in Japan by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Young Champion. Rights now owned by (and reprint put out by) Enterbrain. Not available in North America.

Content warning: this review will be discussing explicit sex, which appears throughout these two volumes. If you aren't of age to read about it, don't.

It has to be said, there are certain things that are very popular in Japan that, with the odd exception, just haven't sold here, for all sorts of reasons. Sports manga is one of the most obvious, as is the huge amount of series involving 'delinquents' or youth gangs. And then there's sex comedies. No, not the sort you get in typical shonen magazines (though those also don't seem to sell well lately, unless there's a supernatural element. Strange as Ranma, Love Hina, and Oh My Goddess were the big thing in the mid-late 1990s.). No, I'm talking actual comedies, written for adult guys, with lots of actual sex. We've only really seen this attempted here with Tokyopop's aborted attempt to release Futari Ecchi (aka Manga Sutra), which bombed partly due to the economy but more due to the dullness of its leads.

It may come as a surprise to hear that there are a lot of these. They aren't quite as common as they were back in the late 80s-early 90s (the era of the title I will eventually be talking about), But they're still definitely there, in the pages of Big Comic Spirits, or Manga Action, or virtually anything with the word 'Young' in its name. A lot of them are essentially the same shonen harem comedies only written for grownups, with the heroines all now being a lot more successful in their efforts to get into the heroes' pants. I have a certain fondness for seeking out these titles... not for the sex itself, necessarily, but simply as they tend to be very, very STRANGE. Titles like Kobayashi Makoto's Chichonmanchi, with its virgin's hell of flying penises and various grotesqueries. And even current fare like Ecce S, a Spirits title by Taku Kitazaki about a man who has a hypnotic magical tattoo on his ass that makes any woman who sees it want to have sex with him. Titles that make you stare for a bit and then say "Oh, Japan. (sigh)"

Luckily, Soap Girl Moko is far more of a normal, typical sex comedy. For those unaware, a 'soap girl' is a prostitute. Officially, the places where the girls work offer public baths to men who may want to relax after a long day. In reality, the girls offer varieties of sexual acts, though do also give baths, mostly as prostitution is technically illegal in Japan. There's tons of Soapland places, though. Our heroine, Moko, starts the first volume as a neophyte soap girl, still learning on the job. We learn she started after rescuing a man from committing suicide (several times), and leading him to a Soapland, where his morale (among other things) is raised by the head girl there. Moko is inspired by this, and decides to become a soap girl so that she can help people.

No, really, she does. There is no question at all, throughout any of this series, that it is written solely for adult guys as a typical guy fantasy. This isn't reality, nor do you want it to be. The girls are all varying degrees of nice, though most of them have more of a realistic bent than Moko, who's your standard fluffhead with a heart of gold. The owner of the Soapland is your typical frustrated young manager who get aggravated by Moko's clumsiness and slipups. Her regular clients we see more than once tend to all be nice guys. It is, for a manga that usually features an explicit sex scene every 3-4 pages, very clean. But you have to wrap your head around the basic plot of the manga, which is that sex can help solve most of life's problems.

There's a tiny bit of character development as the series goes on. Moko starts off as a complete ditz, and towards the start of the series I actually Tweeted "Worst. Hooker. Ever." She's clumsy, she's awkward, she accidentally bites her clients right where you never want to be bitten... it's sad. Luckily the author knows that this sort of characterization would not be feasible for a long running series, and has Moko learn from experience fairly quickly. Her girl next door looks and sweet personality make her one of the place's more popular girls (in fact, there's a story discussing how her rocket in popularity is completely exhausting her), along with her seemingly genuine desire to get to know most of her clients. She also really comes to like sex, which lends itself very well to using her body to help her clients, her neighbors, her friends, guys who accidentally hit her with her car...

The plots for these sound like they were taken from "Bob's Big Book of 70s Porn", they're so cliched. There's guys dealing with impotence, cheating guys who Moko reunites with their estranged spouse, bitter old vice-presidents who quickly soften (well... really the opposite) after getting to know Moko, kids trying to lose their virginity who fake being 18 so they can get in, clients who get so enamored of the girl they like that they try to propose... you name it, it's in here. That said, it's rather refreshing what isn't in here. Because the plot is about a certain whitewashed form of prostitution, all the sex here is completely consensual. Rape is mostly absent (one attempt leads to Moko successfully fighting the guy off), and the one bit of disturbing sadism (Moko's overenthusiastic client gives her welts on her back from whipping her) has the other soap girls uniting to teach him a bit of his own medicine. No women here are meek little wallflowers - not even Moko.

I've been describing this as explicit, which it is - we see lots of sex, and Moko is nude a great deal of the time. That said, this still ran in a mainstream Japanese magazine from 1990-1994, so there is some self-censorship. There are no bodily fluids on display. Moko has visible nipples, but her nether regions are just suggested. The men's privates are either whited out or shown in sillhouette - even the intersex women, who comes to Moko to help with her self-identity crisis. This, by the way, leads to Moko dressing up in a Western suit and hat with a little mustache, possibly the funniest panel in the entire book (and she still looks really sexy, too.) The art style of the characters themselves is very mid-late 80s, and seems influenced by both Hojo's City Hunter and Takahashi's Ranma. We see giant heads when characters are mad, for example, and sweatdrops are abundant.

The Western World is likely more familiar with this than they think. In 1994, after the manga was winding down, an anime was made of the series, also called Soap Girl Moko. This was then bought by Kitty Media in North America, who put it out on VHS (and later DVD) as My Fair Masseuse. It was a popular adult title for people who avoided adult titles, likely for the same reasons I liked this manga - it was refreshing to see a hentai anime that didn't feature rape and showed sex actually being enjoyable to men and women. That said, don't get this expecting anything other than what it is - sanitized porn for young college guys. It's just well-told, fun sanitized porn for young college guys.

I said this was a license request, more due to habit when discussing a Japanese title not out in English than anything else. (It's not even scanlated! Gasp!) But honestly, in this market? I can't see this selling. As has been mentioned before, women buy while men download, and this is very much a title for men. It's likely too explicit for the mainstream publishers, but at the same time it's not hardcore enough for Icarus, I suspect. So if you're interested, you might want to track down the original Japanese. Enterbrain bought the rights to the series about 2 years ago, and re-released it in 4 'bunkoban' volumes of about 325 pages each, which sell for about 830 yen. Do it for Moko, won't you?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Manga the week of 12/22

'Tis Christmas! And what better way to celebrate than with some worthy Signature manga from Viz! Not to mention a few treats from other publishers.

Dark Horse has the 7th volume of the Evangelion spinoff Shinji Ikari Raising Project. Unlike a lot of other Dark Horse titles, this one has been coming out fairly consistently, so I suspect sales are quite good. The fact that they're picking up several other Evangelion spinoffs also lends credence to that theory.

Tokyopop has a 6th volume of the hardcover, 2-in-1 omnibus edition of Fruits Basket. There's no added content here, but those who want a larger and more durable Furuba might check out out. This has the original Vol. 11 & 12.

Vertical has the final volume of Felipe Smith's Peepo Choo, which wraps up its Japan-meets-America cultural satire with gusto. It's also has more cute cats, with the fourth Chi's Sweet Home.

And Viz has a veritable Christmas Stocking worth of cool titles. Vol. 2 of Gente, by Natsume Ono, featuring more far-too-perfect-for-their-own-good Italian gentlemen. Vol. 4 of Children of the Sea, which will likely once again have absolutely incredible art and force my brain into tying itself in knots. Vol. 5 of Ooku, which possibly may finish its flashback? Pretty please? A new House of Five Leaves, with its wussy yet awesome samurai. For the slacker in your life, there's I'll Give It My All... Tomorrow Vol. 2, which I'm sure will have its hero making many resolutions about his life and not quite following through. And there's a new 20th Century Boys, which finally gets to the halfway mark with this volume.

What interests you?

GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class Volume 3

By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I can't imagine how fierce the competition must be at Houbunsha to find the next new 4-koma hit... given that most 4-koma have to all obey certain rules, at least the ones I've seen. "This group of girls are music students!" "This group of girls are teachers!" "This group of girls are sparkly vampires!" All of which are different, but share a similar mindspace: are they teenage girls? Are they cute? Are they funny? If so, they can be Ninja Pirate Zombie Robots for all we care.

The girls we see in GA happen to be art students at a school devoted to the Arts in general. They're in the Art section, which is division A (B being music, though sadly it does not contain the girls from K-On!). They are a band of five; our naive and clumsy yet sweet heroine; the 'big sister' tsukkomi girl; the hot-head who speaks and acts without thinking; the eccentric weirdo; and the emotionless deadpan genius. This being Manga Time Kirara rather than Asuka, together they do *not* fight crime. Instead, they go about the daily life of art school, learning about layout, lettering, textiles, illustrations for advertisements and the like, and so forth. There's far more color pages in here than in most manga; of necessity, as so much of the talk relies on the colors we can see.

There's a lot of fun humor here, which is what you want in a title like this. Nothing laugh out loud hilarious, but several moments that make you smile. I liked the spontaneous organization of a haunted house in the class, and found it refreshing that it didn't stem out of a culture festival like all other manga. It's also good to see the topic of art is a constant focus; there is the occasional mundane chatter about favorite types of cake, or girls being sick, but mostly it's about their art, and the jokes come out of that, be it trying to please an unpleasable teacher with fashion designs, or visiting a museum to try to 'get' modern art. Even the non-art strips are a bit different than most high school 4-komas; the girls are learning etiquette by getting tea ceremony training (our heroine is the best at it, but also the most clumsy.)

I also appreciated the fact that we see other students being just as strange as our heroes. Frequently in series with eccentric girls at school as the leads, we find the other students around them being depressingly normal and boring, sometimes staring in disbelief at the antics of the wacky group. Here in GA, the 1st years may be our focus, but frequent attention is paid to the third year girls, who have a different group dynamic but can be just as bizarre; in fact, the president of the Fine Arts Club, Awara, may be crazier even than the crazy girls in first year! (I loved when Noda, the flakey one in first-year, is walking around with a bunch of boxes on her head with faces drawn on them. As she staggers blindly through the halls, everyone thinks she's Awara.)

There is not particularly any character development here - the most we get is in the final chapter, when Kisaragi (our sweet heroine) goes to see Professor (the stoic one) to drop off a sketchbook, and Professor reveals she's already engaged to be married to a guy she's never met... and that she's feeling very ambivalent about the whole thing. Not only does the old Japanese tradition of arranged marriage feel out of place in a series about goofy art students (and deliberately so), but Professor is the one girl who's always calm and emotionless amongst the chaos. Seeing her depressed is very odd (Professor even notes that it's not like her), and I wonder if the arranged marriage plot will go anywhere in future installments.

We have now 'caught up' with Japan in this series, as Volume 4 is not out there yet. The series is still running in its magazine, but as with most 4-koma series, it takes a while for new volumes, as the chapters aren't as long as your average manga series. Still I'll wait for the next one, as it's fun spending time with these weird yet fun-loving art students.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Library Wars: Love & War Volume 3

By Kiiro Yumi, based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa. Released in Japan as "Toshokan Sensou: Love & War" by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

How ironic that today is the day that I review the new volume of Library Wars, considering that today is also when Japan passed their Youth Ordinance Bill. It's all very well trying to protect books from being destroyed by the government, but clearly the government knows the key is to ensure that controversial books never get commissioned in the first place, or that those already out don't get a reprint. I wonder if anyone in the government reads Library Wars, and is quietly talking with the editors of LaLa about 'ending it soon', given its anti-censorship stance?

Meanwhile, back in the actual manga itself, we see that Dojo is having a very hard time of it. It's hard enough that the new girl in his troop is turning out to be exactly like he was a few years earlier (something lampshaded constantly), but even worse, he's starting to fall for her. This is rough considering that she goes on about how her prince protected her from the evil government forces when she was younger, and the fact that this was Dojo doesn't really seem to matter as she's not aware of that. So what's a guy to do? Well, he *is* in a manga. That's right, it's time to overcompensate by being a complete jerk to her. And as we know, there's no job worth doing that isn't worth overdoing, so he goes above and beyond the call. To the point where his fellow officers immediately call him on it.

None of this matters to Iku, who merely notes that Dojo is more friustrating than ever, and spends much of the volume having her emotions battered back and forth. It's not helping that an article on the library forces came out with her picture, meaning her parents may see that she's not a quiet little librarian after all. Then the worst news - Dojo assigns her to guard duty rather than having her fight with the rest of the troops to retrieve a bequest of documents left to the library by a museum. He doesn't think she's good enough.

Now, Library Wars, even if it weren't based on an already-extant series of novels, is not the most surprising manga in the world. We know, of course, that Dojo assigns her away from combat in order to protect her, as is immediately noted by both Komaki, who bluntly tells Dojo if he keeps being influenced by his feelings for Iku he should transfer her to another unit, and by Shibasaki, who points out to the hard-of-head Iku why Dojo might be doing this. None of that matters, of course, as the cliffhanger shows that the government had a backup plan, and have kidnapped the director of the library... along with Iku, who was guarding him. Whoops. Nice one, Dojo.

The manga does a good job of balancing light and dark moments. I particularly liked the brief shot of Iku learning how to push the director around in a wheelchair, using poor Shibasaki as a guinea pig. This is contrasted with the director's memories of years ago, where we see government forces shoot his wife dead right in front of him, then shoot him (this led to the loss of his leg). The battle for the bequested materials is likewise very serious, with Dojo running into crossfire to rescue a soldier who'd been shot in the leg. Of course, this is still a shoujo romance - it's noted that had Iku been there, she would have been faster in combat, as well as lighter to pick up should she have been injured.

The contrast between thrilling drama and shoujo comedy can be frustrating at times, particularly when you'd like Dojo and Iku to stop butting heads and get back to protecting books. But there's still a lot of drama here to love, and what with it ending on a cliffhanger the wait for the next volume will be even longer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Kodansha USA: some thoughts

I was quite pleased with yesterday's announcements by Kodansha USA, insofar as they had some. The lag time is actually a bit less than I anticipated (only 6 months, not bad considering the publishing world), and they even announced some new titles. They did not announce anything really different or unique - the Morning manga site was not mentioned, for example, and the one new seinen title they mentioned is a tie-in to a Nintendo DS game - but they do have a full slate of releases at last, rather than just reprints of old Dark Horse editions.

It struck me, as I was looking over the list of new licenses, that this is very much Del Rey's Winter/Spring 2011 catalog, ported over to Kodansha. There is nothing here that doesn't suggest all this would have been announced by Dallas at NYAF for Del Rey had Del Rey remained in the manga business. Which is both reassuring, in that it's good to see business-as-usual from a publisher, and a bit disquieting, in that I sensed the last 1-2 years that Del Rey wasn't sure what to do with any title that wasn't in Shonen Magazine or Nakayoshi.

The old titles getting new volumes this summer seem to consist of DR's heavy hitters - Negima, Fairy Tail - and their more popular mid-range titles, such as Zetsubou-sensei and Air Gear. Air Gear and The Wallflower seem to be back to single volume releases (the Wallflower has caught up with Japan, so that may be by necessity), and they were sure to tell fans that any titles not mentioned are merely not coming out this summer. Nothing is cancelled, and I remind my readers that these days, announcing a title is cancelled due to low sales does few publishers any good and only serves to anger a base. So you'll never hear anything about, say, Nodame Cantabile beyond 'we're still looking into getting that back on the schedule'.

As for the new titles, two of them are popular Shonen Magazine series, still running in Japan (though one has ended and then started a '2nd season'). Bloody Monday and Cage of Eden are both very much in the Code: Breaker vein, i.e. dark psychological thrillers with a lot of mystery and a high body count. Provided you don't mind gore, I think both should do pretty well here. Monster Hunter Orage is from the author of Fairy Tail. Deltora Quest has an anime currently running, and is based on the novels by Emily Rodda. Mardock Scramble also features an anime. Animal Land is from the creator of Zatch Bell, the first title created by him after the lawsuit against Shogakukan that led to Zatch Bell's end. And Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (which ran in Monthly Young Magazine, making it technically the one seinen title) is based on the games, but will feature an actual plot, unlike the previous doujinshi anthologies.

There were a couple of license rescues as well. Gon surprised me, as CMX had released it here only a couple of years ago (this is now its 2nd license rescue). But then Kodansha mentioned they're shopping it for a movie, so it made more sense. More surprising was Until The Full Moon, a shoujo title with yaoi overtones that ran in Magazine Be x Boy back in the 1990s. Broccoli Books put this out over here in 2005, but Kodansha bought the rights from Libre Shuppan and reissued it in Japan in 2009. Seeing Kodansha edge into the yaoi market, even if Until the Full Moon isn't quite yaoi, is intriguing. And the Rave Master ending omnibus, which had been scheduled but then cut when Del Rey folded, is back on the schedule.

Lastly, in an effort to clean up its bestselling title and make it more fluid to readers taking it all in, Negima will get an omnibus release with a new translation/adaptation. Del Rey had made big news in 2004 when they hired Peter David to adapt the series, but his adaptation, while not quite at Keith Giffen levels, still took a lot of liberties with the material that read oddly to fans these days. (Yes, I'm thinking of "Can I have a cookie?"). I'm presuming this new version will be by the Nibley twins, who are doing the current run of Negima books.

So there you have it. Kodansha USA: back in business. And if it looks a lot like Del Rey with the name crossed out, that's likely a very deliberate choice. More to the point, supporting them again encourages sales, which will encourage both the return of things like Nodame Cantabile and Moyashimon, and the licensing of more 'difficult' titles.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Manga the week of 12/15

There's a huge pile of manga in at Midtown, but most of it is the Viz stuff people got this week, so I'll skip that, as I talked about it last week.

Digital Manga Publishing has a huge pile of yaoi out this week, mostly one-shots but with Vol. 2s of the unlucky at licensing series The Tyrant Falls In Love and the shonen fantasy Knights.

Seven Seas has the 9th volume of Dance in the Vampire Bund, a NYT bestseller which has vampires in it. And is possibly also really good and interesting. But which, well, does have vampires in it.

Tokyopop has the 3rd volume of the series Foxy Lady, which looks by the cover to appeal to guys who like harem girls with ears, but also runs in the magazine Comic Zero-Sum, which has a lot of female readership. So I'm giving up on pigeonholing this one.

Udon has the 3rd (and possibly final? information is thin on the ground) volume of Swans in Space, another in their series of manga for young kids. I hadn't gotten any of these series, but I applaud the idea in general.

Viz has the first volume of Itsuwaribito, a new Shonen Sunday title about a liar who lies... on the side of GOOD! It's apparently much creepier than you'd expect. Sunday also gives us the 4th volume of Arata, and the 55th and penultimate volume of Inu Yasha. One more to go! Also, for fans of gut-wrenching metal, there is Detroit Metal City Vol. 7, which runs in Young Animal but has less boobs than the other YA series.

And then there's Yen, ending the year with a huge pile of things people want. First and foremost is the 9th volume of Yotsuba&!, everyone's favorite kids' title that's actually for grownup guys. I am sure it will have much adorable stuff. We also see a one-shot, Not Love But Delicious Foods, from Yoshinaga Fumi, dealing with her love of food. Duh. Higurashi wraps up another arc (we're at Vol. 10 technically), the last of the 2-volume series for now, as we see the Answer Arcs starting in February, which are longer. I'm always up for a new volume of Bamboo Blade, and I also quite like GA Art Design Class in a 4-koma way (despite it continuing not to feature Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro). And Sundome, one of Yen's most surprising acquisitions, wraps up with Vol. 8.

What appeals to you?

Seiho Boys High School! Volume 3

By Kaneyoshi Izumi. Released in Japan as "Men's Kou" by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Comic ("Betsucomi"). Released in North America by Viz.

After the gut-wrenching plotline of Volume 2, I was ready for something a bit lighter, and indeed this is a bit lighter than Volume 2. At the same time, though, it draws heavily on that, with Maki being told my everyone in the world that he has to try to move on, but finding that it's not really as simple as that. Things get even worse when he meets a surfer girl whose name is very familiar...

First, though, we have the comedy. This features Miyaji, the girl we'd met at the end of Volume 2. She's still crushing a bit on the handsome, smart, and athletic Kamiki, and wants him to treat her different than he does everyone else. So when they decide to spice up their school play by adding an actual female (pretending to be a male in drag), hijinks naturally ensue. Honestly, this was the story that read the most like 'typical' shoujo, and you'd expect that in typical shoujo, Miyaji would be the heroine whose life we follow. Here it's the guys, though, and we discover that class jerk Nogami is not the only one who has an unerring ability to ruin relationships by simply opening his mouth.

The other non-Maki chapter features Nogami, who presumably saw Kamiki being tactless in front of the girl who likes him and thought "Hey, that's MY schtick!". So we get another chapter featuring his passive-aggressive (emphasis on the aggressive) relationship with the school nurse. Being a teacher/student romance, naturally she is getting pressured to leave for the sake of the students, despite the fact that no romance has actually occurred. Nogami is having none of this, of course, and refuses to read her 'final letter' to him, most likely as it's saying goodbye. This all culminates in her final address to her students, interrupted by Nogami in an epically awful way. Naturally, this is all part of a plan to make her admit she wants to stay. The ending itself felt a bit rushed, and the author noted it wasn't what she originally planned. On the other hand, the last line was great.

Then there's Maki. I realize that this is far more likely to occur in Japan than in North America, but running into a teenage girl with the exact same name as your dead junior high crush has to be a giant monumental coincidence. It doesn't help that she has a similar grumpy demeanor. (She's also quite busty, something I noted only as it's rather rare in shoujo manga. Counting the school nurse, this now makes two women in the series with that attribute. No wonder the author notes that everyone doubts this is a shoujo manga...) Maki finds himself fascinated by her, but as always is putting up a front of 'nice guy' that girls find off-putting.

Maki, frustrated by his friends heaping abuse on him for his lack of a love life, asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend. She does this, despite having accused him of being gay multiple times (she even calls him an uke, and is rather startled when he manhandles a guy attempting to grab her with ease). She also calls herself a BL fan, and Maki is so desperate for her companionship (it seems) that he starts trying to molest Kamiki to attract her interest. Of course, this culminates in her tearing him apart for pretending to have a girlfriend without bothering to even hold her hand. And it becomes clear that she's just as smitten with him as he is with her.

This was my favorite part of the manga, but it's still very odd. Erika's similarities with Maki's former girlfriend are eerie, and I keep thinking that there's more behind this than there actually is. Her facial expressions, especially when she noted someone would be miserable with him as a boyfriend, read very much like she has a backstory of her own that will hold things up as much as Maki's will. And once more we see Maki, who is outwardly the perfect high school boyfriend, giving off auras of 'I am preoccupied with something else'. Luckily, he seems to finally be trying to work past this, and asks her to give him more time to make this work. Of course, he's going to have to mention his past at some point, especially as Erika finds her namesake's picture on his phone right at the end.

Arguably the main thrust of this volume relies too heavily on coincidence, but that is the problem with a lot of fiction, and it's not like I'm asking the series to be completely realistic. More to the point, this series has some of the best characters I've seen in shoujo in a while, being handsome guys, outwardly great, but all with quirks that makes it easy to see why there are immense problems with having any of them as a boyfriend. Maki in particular is riveting, and I root for him to make things work with Erika while realizing that there are immense problems with it happening. More to the point, anyone who ever drops a series after one volume should read this as a great example of why you should give it a bit more of a chance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kamisama Kiss Volume 1

By Julietta Suzuki. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.

I've been greatly pleased with the release of Suzuki-san's prior series, Karakuri Odette, so this new one was a must buy. It's doing pretty well in Japan, already being her longest series to date, as it passed Odette's volume length earlier this year. As for the story itself, it seems to be a lot more traditional shoujo than Odette was, but that's not to denigrate it - this is a lot of sweet fun, it's just fairly fluffy.

Well, as fluffy as a series that's about yokai can be. For those who were reading Natsume's Book of Friends but wanted less melancholia and more romantic overtones, this may be the series for you. Nanami finds herself homeless after her deadbeat dad abandons her, and after saving a man from a dog, somehow ends up as the deity of a local temple. (If it seems I went by that too fast, I was merely imitating the author - the backstory is dealt with in 10 pages at most.) There we meet two cute will-o'-the-wisps who are delighted to see her, and a fox-spirit named Tomoe who is far less so. But he's cute.

Nanami and Tomoe's relationship is very much out of the old-school book of manga cliches, with both of them being the sort who will overhear each other at the worst possible time, be stubborn about any feelings they may have, and secretly worry. Of course, a lot of this may have been deliberate - Karakuri Odette was notable for having very little romantic interaction, so it's possible that this is for all the readers who had demanded that Odette and Asou get together. Tomoe in particular seems to be very jealous and possessive of any other guy he sees as flirting with Nanami - even if they're actually bullying her. Clearly softening his prickly character is one of the goals of this book.

There are some healthy doses of humor in the book - I particularly liked Tomoe's stunned face when he's forced to do as Nanami says - but this is more of a sweet and mellow work so far, despite the two leads doing their best to shout at each other. Judging by what Tomoe says, it would appear a great deal of the series might be helping out with romantic entanglements, and we see that towards the end of the first volume, as a yokai princess requests help in reuniting with a human boy she met years ago.

I will admit, this feels slighter than most series, but it is Volume 1, and I usually give these sorts of things a while to win me over. But if you like yokai, or typical Hana to Yume romances (stubborn positive girl x grumpy negative guy), you'll like this.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gakuen Alice Vol. 13

By Tachibana Higuchi. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

After the huge emotional gutwrench of the last volume, it was obvious that this one would be a breather, and it is, for the most part. There are no major villains here, and the plot is mostly about recovery from the last adventure and school shenanigans. We see how Valentine's Day operates at the school, we watch Mikan's class try to pay tribute to those graduating, and we meet a young boy whose Alice has left him as he grows up - as some Alices do - and so he has to leave the school.

This last one struck a chord with me, as it becones another reminder of how horrible this whole setup is regarding the school and Alices. Mikan is at first consoled by the fact that Hosshan (the boy who's lost his Alice) will be going home and reunited with his happy family. Then she's promptly informed that his family hasn't been spending as many letters recently, so he's wary of that, and more importantly, the community he'll be going back into will likely resent him. Towns are apparently paid a government stipend for having an Alice at the academy, and when they leave, that's less money for the community.

Then of course there's Valentine's Day, which Mikan thinks will be normal and sweet, but is anything but. I was surprised to see the manga talk so blatantly about all the students trying to use mind control candy to get another to like them, but then again, Gakuen Alice is a title that mines its humor and heart from hideously traumatic ideas and events. This doesn't even count the girls wanting Luca to wear rabbit ears, or ex-girlfriends trying to give a little payback revenge, or even Hotaru, who simply wants revenge with no feelings behind it whatsoever.

There are some nice character moments in here. I liked Hotaru being mildly more tolerant of Mikan's clinginess after seeing her near death the last volume, something that Mikan then proceeds to abuse horribly. Tono also seems to have worked out Mikan's past, and is justifiably worried for her. Sometimes this doesn't always work - the graduation story was the weakest of the volume, and I felt that the backstory between Curly and Mindreader-kun felt rather tacked on in an effort to give that chapter more emotional depth. I did like seeing his blank smiling face with an 'angry mark', though.

After the high point of Volume 12, this inevitably seems a bit of a letdown. But hey, it's only brief - the next volume will introduce Luna, who is the next big challenge for Mikan and her friends. As I think I've finally grown used to this deconstruction of 'superhero school' and its close look at bullying and manipulation, I am looking forward to more. Which is good, as I'm behind, and Vol. 14 is sitting here waiting to be read.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei Volume 8

By Koji Kumeta. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Del Rey.

As always, pretend I took a while here to bitch about the shoddy editing job on these volumes. I don't blame the adaptor, who mostly does a pretty good job, but it's clear the series (and Del Rey's manga in general) has no editor at all. They get Harumi's last name wrong. One of the main characters. That's sad.

Moving on, it's another funny observational humor volume of Zetsubou-sensei. Even though we've evolved to the point where the characters aren't really that relevant except as stock gag pieces, we still get another 'regular' introduced here. In fact, Manami has been around since the very first chapter, she just hasn't done much. This happens a couple of times throughout (Mayo was also around at the start), and we'll see it again in a much later volume with Kanako Oora. And of course, because Zetsubou-sensei is now observational rather than character-based, she doesn't even get a full-blown intro. She shows up, reveals her quirk, and leaves.

Her quirk is that she's a married high-school student, which is possible in Japan but generally frowned upon. The 'attendance list' picture at the end notes that she's working to pay off her husband's debt, neatly giving us far more than we got within the actual chapter. We never do meet her husband, which is likely a good thing, as from what we can work out, he's rather scum-like. In any case, Manami is there now if people need jokes about being either married, working 8 jobs at the same time, or being very gullible, all of which she excels at.
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As for the others, they all do their part. We don't get any major Chiri freak outs or mass murders here, but perhaps she's taking a brief break after the last few volumes. Seeing Abiru's other eye was rather startling (and, as Nozomu notes, creepy). Kiri's utter devotion to caring for her teacher, even if he's taking advantage of her, is sad in its very true to life aspects. I laughed with recognition at Nozomu pointing out Harumi's infection with 'pointy chin' syndrome, wherein her characters get more elongated faces with pointier chins as the months go by. And Chiri does get a wonderful spotlight where she is told by a Brain Age parody that her brain is 28 years old, and so decides to live like a 'Christmas Cake' OL, listening to Miki Imai and riding strange exercise machines.

This volume does very well in having things discussed that are fairly universal, rather than just relevant to Japanese culture. We've all gotten presents that we don't want but don't quite have the heart to simply toss. I can identify with self-imposed duties myself, feeling a need to post a review a day even though people probably don't care as much as I think they do. And I loved the whole chapter about being an extra in someone else's life story, which was one of the few chapters from this book that was used in the anime series.

Zetsubou-sensei will never be a big seller - I suspect the third volume hitting the NYT list was an aberration - and in fact it even reads like a cult hit rather than a mainstream shonen manga. But it's a lot of zany fun, and the characterizations are broad and yet likeable for the most part. Certainly I hope that Kodansha USA continues it with Volume 9 when they start up their own line, though I do hope they add a copy editor to staff.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gatcha Gacha Volume 8

By Yutaka Tachibana. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Melody. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

As many may have noticed, I've had a lot of reviews lately where I've had to apologize for the fact that the work I'm reviewing is, at its core, shoujo by numbers. I point out the various fun, interesting things about it, but note that people who want the shoujo equivalent of Ikki are not going to find it here - it doesn't wander outside the box.

Gatcha Gacha may reside within the box - there are many shoujo tropes here - but it's not afraid to go way outside what's considered acceptable in a shoujo magazine. Tachibana-san herself notes in a sidebar in this final volume that she had a discussion with her editor regarding Motoko, and put her foot down, insisting that Motoko be as crude and violent as she is. She's absolutely correct, as it's one of the things that makes this series such a refreshing change from more generic shoujo manga - the characters are all horribly imperfect people, and therefore seem alive.

As I noted on Twitter, it's rare I can write about a cute shoujo manga "and then we cut to the heroine tied up on a table being menaced by a gay gang leader and a man in a gimp mask". Gatcha Gacha, in its eight volumes, has dealt with abuse (physical and mental), rape, prostitution, homosexuality both male and female, underage sex, attempted murder, suicide, and adultery. This may have the Hana to Yume imprint on it in Japan, but it's the sort of series that could only have run in Melody, Hakusensha's gateway magazine between older teens and adult women.

The final volume is not perfect. The plotting tends to read as "we need a final crisis, please invent one", and tries to fool us into thinking we're meeting a new antagonist before dragging out the old favorite. Also, as I've noted throughout, the author uses negative stereotypes of gay men, here talking about taking young men and "fixing them", i.e. turning them gay (it's implied through rape and beatings). This just doesn't work well, especially as it's presented half-comedically (we just can't take the villain seriously) and half-dramatically.

That said, there's lots this volume does right. Hirao has been a very weak character through much of this series, so it's great to see, now that he's resolved his feelings and confessed to Yuri, that he's trying to do his best to keep himself in her thoughts. He's not content to simply wait while Yuri pines away for Yabe, and for once when misunderstandings happen he immediately takes all steps to correct them. One of the best gags in the volume is a metatextual one involving him spotting the 'angry' mark on Yuri's head. Hirao is a nice guy. He's caring, thinks well of others, he's responsible... he's most people's perfect boyfriend.

It's a shame Yuri is not most people. She's warring with her feelings throughout this volume, and she certainly does have some for Hirao. She notes at one point that if she saw Hirao going out with another girl, she'd deck him... but she's still not sure if that's love. Hirao is nothing like anyone she's ever fallen for. Notably, after a couple of dreams where she imagines herself being rescued by an unseen prince (who is clearly Motoko, only Yuri doesn't get this), she decides that Hirao is... her princess. And that she needs to protect him. This is what leads, at the climax, to a pleasant role-reversal, where Yuri arranges Hirao's escape from their captors, so that he can get away, while she takes his place. Because "she's used to abuse".

There's a point towards the end of the manga where Yuri is thinking this, and we get a brief flashback showing what her life was like before she met Motoko. It reminds you how stunning it is that she's still a loving, warm-hearted person. We see her boyfriends begging her for money, selling her to guys making porn, or just plain hitting her. And now she's trying to use that as her own strength in order to save Hirao. That's a huge journey for a girl who was 'the slutty one' at the start of this series.

Of course, there comes a time when strength can only take you so far, and you need to rely on others. Yuri has a discussion with Hirao earlier in the manga about what it's like to be too kind to someone, which leads to a discussion of Motoko, who is well aware of the innate problems that entails, and firmly believes that too much sympathy is a bad thing. As Yuri talks about this, we see Hirao noticing her expression and tone of voice. He's questioned it earlier, but I think this is the point where he realizes that Yabe, and Yuri's past crush on him, is NOT his biggest rival for her heart.

Speaking of cliches, I was amused to see one of the biggest in manga right at the end. Our heroine is in trouble, being taunted by the heroes. Where's your savior now? We've seen earlier that Motoko and Yabe are being ambushed by over 100 guys miles away, armed with bats and knives. All a diversion so that our villain can get his revenge. There is no possible way that Motoko could ever escape that ambush and arrive here in time. Go ahead and call for her, it won't do any good.

And so Yuri, who has been saying "Kagurazaka-san" for 7 volumes now, gives in as she's about to be tortured and cries out. "MOTOKOOOOO!!!" And boom, there she is. No matter where the heroine has been taken, if you call their name, the hero will come. It's good, as Motoko doesn't get as much to do here as previous volumes. Her main arc was resolved in Volume 7, and she has made peace with both her grandfather and sister. She's also the most emotionally mature of the cast, and the most intelligent, immediately able to put two and two together when she realizes who Hirao's "cute girl" really is. And so she's free to do what she's done best the entire series: Kick people in the head, then beat them when they are down. Even among badass shoujo women, Motoko is just badass. She's a callback to the old days of shoujo, characters like Saki Asamiya from Sukeban Deka or Tsukasa Kozuki from Tokyo Crazy Paradise.

That only leaves the final scene. Motoko's cut her hair, having had it caught in a nailbat during the brawl. But as she notes, the reasons she kept it long are now resolved - Kanako is with Yabe, and though she's still yelling at him all the time, it's clear she's meant to be more of a 'tsundere' type rather than the jealously insane evil she was in Volume 3. This allows Yabe to give in to anything she asks, which he clearly loves (though as with most ukes, it's clear he holds the actual power in their relationship). So now she's back to looking like a hot guy - something Yuri clearly notes, saying Motoko makes her heart skip a beat.

Gatcha Gacha has played around with this since the start of the series. Motoko likes looking at the bodies of young girls, and has never shown any interest in men. Despite this, she's constantly denied that she's a lesbian. Much of this may have stemmed from Kanako's obsession with her, and her association of that with the feelings. But now that this has been resolved, I have to wonder if Motoko will come to another realization. We've seen her ambiguous feelings about Yuri being in relationships with either Yabe and Hirao before, and when Sekine asked her what she thought of them, Motoko was only able to say "Dunno." Here, when she hears Yuri talking about making her heart skip a beat, she turns, smiles,and says "You bet I do" in just the right way to fluster Yuri.

This is not accidental at all. While this is happening, Sekine point blank tells Hirao he has to win Yuri - and keep her won - or else he will lose her to Motoko. And then the narration notes "Maybe it's already too late...?" Tachibana has amused herself by noting how all the girls in this series kick everyone's ass, and the guys are all weak. So really, it makes perfect sense that the volume end with the implication of Yuri and Motoko as a couple. They have the closest bond, and Yuri doesn't have to worry about her feelings being love or not. After all, she subconsciously already knows Motoko is her prince.

Despite its faults, in the end this is still one of my favorite shoujo series. Not best, necessarily, but one that simply hits all the right buttons for me and knows exactly how to keep them hit. What's more, the author writes strong female characters of several different types, always welcome in a genre that sometimes features young teens who end up being whipped back and forth by the manipulation of hot guys. They're all horrible role models, but they're definitely people I would love to go out drinking with. It may have taken 2 1/2 years, but Tokyopop has finally finished this, and I thank them for it. I'd love to see more from this author - perhaps the 4-volume Kana, Kamo that was plugged by Tachibana at the end?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Manga the week of 12/8

At least I theorize it will be. As I've noted before, I get this list from a New York based comic shop called Midtown Comics, who post it (usually) on Thursday afternoon, well ahead of any other online retailer, and a full 4 days ahead of Diamond Comics. The problem is that Midtown frequently uses distributors other than Diamond for their manga. Sometimes this means they get it in sooner... and sometimes it's stuff like this week.

Midtown lists two manga for this week. Both from Digital Manga Publishing, they have the 5th volume of seinen vampire thriller Vampire Hunter D, and the 2nd and last volume of a yaoi manga called Yokan Premonition. That's it. No Viz whatsoever.

I'm fairly sure that Diamond, which already shipped Bleach this week, will have the rest of its giant pile of Jump/Beat releases on the 8th. I am therefore making an executive decision to include them here.

So... let's see. In Jump manga, we have Vol. 33 of Bleach, which as I said before shipped to many this week already. It continues the Hueco Mundo arc, which is in no danger of ending anytime soon. No matter how much you beg. They have Hoshin Engi, a story inspired by Chinese Mythology that I never heard much chatter about, even though it's at 21 volumes. Slam Dunk hits lucky Number 13, and Toriko hits Number 3. In a MANLY way!

Speaking of Manly, we see Volume 16 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. It ends the 3rd 'arc' of the giant JoJo's series, and is billed by Viz as the final volume. JoJo's continues to this day, of course, though it sort of morphed into Steel Ball Run in Ultra Jump. On the other hand, it's about 100 volumes long, and sells poorly here. So normally while I bitch about Viz writing 'final volume' when it isn't (i.e. Shana), I can't blame them at all for cutting ties here at a logical stopping place.

That's not all for Jump, as we have its spinoff, Jump Square. There we find Rosario+Vampire, an immigrant from the Weekly Comic, which has Volume 3 of its 2nd season reboot. We also have the 3rd volume of the Stan Lee penned Ultimo, which many of my friends have given praise to. It is also, in case I had not mentioned it, written by Stan Lee. As I found at NYCC, this is a Big Effin Deal.

On the shoujo side, we have piles of new stuff from Hakusensha. On the Hana to Yume front, we have Volume 1 of Kamisama Kiss, the current title from Julietta Suzuki, the author of the popular-with-bloggers Karakuri Odette. We also get Vol. 22 of Skip Beat!, which finds Kyoko wrestling with finding the 'character' of her latest role, as well as dealing with the usual infighting. In its monthly companion Betsuhana, we also get Volume 7 of Rasetsu, the supernatural sequel to Yurara.

And in the big monthly magazine, LaLa, we see new volumes of huge sellers Ouran High School Host Club and Vampire Knight. As well as Vol. 3 of Library Wars: Love & War, which doesn't have enough library combat for some, apparently.

Shueisha's entry in the shoujo stakes this week consists of just one: the final volume of Cactus's Secret, a cute 4 volume manga from Ribon that succeeds very well in being cute and only 4 volumes.

As for the more mature-skewing titles from Shogakukan, we have Vol. 3 of Seiho Boys' High School (Betsucomi), which has proven to be an excellent title for me. We have the 6th, and possibly last, volume of Honey Hunt (Cheese!), which is currently on hiatus in Japan. And skewing even older, we have the 5th volume of the smutty yet utterly silly josei comedy Butterflies, Flowers.

What suits your fancy?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Girlfriend's a Geek Volume 2

By Rize Shinba and Pentabu. Released in Japan as "Fujoshi Kanojo" by Enterbrain, serialized in the magazine Comic B's Log. Released in North America by Yen Press.

This series continues to be very good at catering to its very specific audience. I'm not really one of them, but having been in fandom for so long I can definitely appreciate what it's trying to say. The relationship between Taiga and Yuko may be tortuous to read, but it's also very true to life. Taiga is constantly worrying about his relationship, wondering if he's making it all up in his head, wondering if Yuko even likes him for himself, or finds him attractive in ways that don't involve him being with other guys. But he never brings it up to her. Why? SHE MIGHT ANSWER. This is why I don't really have any issues with the abuse heaped on Taiga in this series - he brings much of it on himself.

As for Yuko, she's still a cipher, but is gaining some more good qualities. Good in the sense that they make her more interesting, not necessarily making her a better person. She gains a couple of fujoshi friends, and we see her irritation with a co-worker. The second in particular is amusing, as she dislikes the man intensely, but her reactions convince Taiga that he has a new rival for his love. The closest we get to any confirmation of her feelings for Taiga is in the first chapter, when, after noting she lied about her computer being broken so she could use Taiga's better one, also admits with a blush that she wanted to see his apartment. Little steps.

There's plenty of humor here, of course, mostly dealing with the fujoshi lifestyle. It's still the main reason to read the book. There's never really going to be any BL payoff, and no one is reading this for sexy romantic confessions between the leads, so instead you have the comedy. My favorites in this volume are detailing the proper way to play the galge she's brought over, discussing how she plays fighting games to hear the guys scream as they're punched, her face every time Taiga does something that makes her imagine him in BL situations, and the final gag about Comic B's Log not being a BL magazine (which is true, but that's like saying Wings is not a BL magazine).

Taiga can be very frustrating. He really hasn't made much of an effort to get to know his girlfriend, mostly as he fears what will happen every time he asks her something, thinking it will be devoted to her hobbies. Most likely it will. But that doesn't mean he has to treat her as some sort of blank slate. It's especially annoying as we see that he is able to read her pretty well - one look at the cast of the galge and he can guess who her favorite characters are. If he wants to get any further in this relationship than 'chew toy', he should really be more proactive.

In nay case, I do recommend this to fans of character-based comedy, especially if you're a yaoi fangirl, or know someone who is. Seeing Taiga suffer is just fun.