Black Rose Alice 2

July 5, 2015

Setona Mizushiro – Viz – 2014 – 6+ volumes

This… got better.  It’s difficult to describe, because it is so unlike other series.  I like that we got it in English because it’s a shoujo vampire story… but they’re not really vampires.  Dimitri describes them as “plants” that inhabit corpses and gather energy with bugs, and need Alice (the soul of the woman who died in the last volume grafted into the 100+-year-old corpse of Dimitri’s Viennese love) to bear a healthy vampire child.  This act will kill both the vampire she chooses and Alice, but it is apparently the only way they have to make new vampires.  Which is a little weird… because Dimitri wasn’t made that way?  Maybe he is different because he’s mostly the vessel for the soul of Maximillian… I should probably re-read volume one.

But this does lend itself to re-reads.  The first chapter or two were hard to read, because Azusa still hadn’t woken up in her new life, and she was dreaming of the lover she sacrificed herself to save.  That was some powerful stuff.  The vampires slowly acclimate her to life with them, and explain their way of life to her.  She accepts, and grows slowly used to them.  She gets to choose one of the men herself, and has to love them in order to bear a healthy child/vampire.  But she doubts whether she can fall in love again.

Dimitri isn’t one of the men she can choose, though he’s obviously the main character and, so far, the most interesting.  There’s a complication with one of the other men (Leo) later in the volume, that makes me think the clock might be ticking.

And it’s pretty.

There’s… a lot going on here.  I’ve talked about the plot, but some of the best things about it are the way Mizushiro isn’t rushing the unusual premise.  There is an information dump here, but it’s not too much.  I’d actually love to hear more, because everything here is so bizarre.  And Mizushiro is also taking her time to introduce the characters.  Their interactions are all similar to awkward strangers still, and I love that the reader is getting to know them the same way Alice is.

It’s excellent, and I am so so happy that we’ve got more Setona Mizushiro in English.  I would read anything by her.

Toradora! 5

July 5, 2015

Yuyuko Takemiya / Zekkyo – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2012 – 7+ volumes

I am ridiculously fond of this series.  I’ve put off reading it because only about 1 volume a year comes out.  Sometimes less.  We’re getting volume 7 in June, so I thought I’d catch up a little.

This was a bad place to jump in, because this is basically the summer trip story arc.  And I’ve read a lot of these.  But this one was a little different.  Ryuji does get Minori alone at one point, and puts his foot in his mouth and almost confesses.  But Minori turns his gaffe into a conversation about ghosts.  She doesn’t believe in them, but she might if she sees it.  Similarly, she doesn’t believe in love because she’s never fallen.  The two use ghosts as a metaphor for talking about their feelings.  It’s a cute scene, and Minori really seems to open up to Ryuji.

Ryuji and Taiga are planning to scare Minori so she seeks refuge in Ryuji’s arms.  But rather than the usual rom-com plot where this may happen, or somehow the hero may trip into her cleavage and she gets mad, this has a better, more entertaining twist.  Although… to be honest, someone still seeks refuge in Ryuji’s arms.  It’s not romantic yet, though.

There’s also lots of nice humor sprinkled throughout.  Kitamura is apparently an exhibitionist, which I would not have pegged him as.  He reminds me a bit of Teratani from Katsura’s I”s, in that way.  Also, his glasses.  There aren’t really any Kitamura/Taiga scenes in this volume.  But everyone is falling for Ryuji.  Ami nearly confesses her feelings once or twice, and even Taiga looks jealous at the attention he shows to Minori.

The last chapter is an adorable one-shot where Taiga takes a day out with her female friends and gets her nails done, learns how to put on makeup, and other cute stuff.

I just find this to be charming, with somewhat fun characters and (usually) free of the usual shounen rom-com traps.  And when it’s not, it side-steps them just a little, to be less raucous and ridiculous and a little more touching.

I wish light novels did better in English!  I’d love to read these!

No. 6 1

July 5, 2015

Atsuko Asano / Hinoki Kino – Kodansha USA – 2013 – 9 volumes

So, I’m not really an anime watcher, but I sure did watch this one.  I loved it.  I even read about half the novels (got bogged down – they’re a little slow).  So I bought this series immediately when it came out a couple years ago.  But because I had watched the anime twice, and read the novels, the first couple volumes of the manga didn’t appeal to be because… it’s basically the same story.  Re-reading this today, it’s still a great story, and I’m glad it’s a little fresher after stepping back a couple years.

The city of No. 6 is a utopia.  Everything’s perfect all the time.  There’s no crime, the city is beautiful and well-maintained, it is impregnable, and everyone is happy all the time.  Except Shion, who is 10-12 at the beginning of the series.  He’s one of a very special number of elites, children tested at the age of 2 and determined to be geniuses, and he just got a promotion to the elite of the elites.  He lives in a special luxury housing area called Chronos.  But he’s indifferent to it all.  On his birthday, he opens the window during a storm, and Rat runs in.  Rat (who I wil accidentally call Nezumi more than once) is a scraggly boy who’s been shot.  Which is impossible, because nobody would shoot another person in No. 6!  Rat hangs around long enough to get patched up, fed, sleep, and threaten and belittle Shion.  Then he disappears out of Shion’s life.

Flash forward 4 years.  Shion’s “bad judgement” for hiding an obvious criminal earns him a demotion.  He and his mother are now living in the low-rent district of No. 6, and Shion isn’t sure he’s going to be able to graduate from school.  But he works for the park services office, and he and his mother are finally happy.  But Shion’s life suddenly takes a turn when his ladyfriend Safu suddenly asks him for sex, Rat’s voice suddenly comes out of a rat on the street, and an old man dies in the park and defies all science.  After the second park death, Shion is framed for the murders, and Rat shows up to rescue him and abuse him some more.  The pair escape No. 6 and start their life in the poverty-stricken, crime-riddled West Block outside the city gates.

Admittedly, the two main characters are a little annoying.  Shion is a little too optimistic and harps on the goodness of man, Rat is pessimistic and harps on how stupid Shion is for thinking the best of people.  But they balance each other well.  There is a slight whiff of romance, though Shion and Nezumi realistically never rise above the level of bromance, save for Shion’s inner monologues about Rat’s eyes.  Actually, they’re pretty close despite all their complaining about one another, and their friendship is one of the reasons this series is so addictive.

This is a bring-down-the-city story, but it’s a fun ride.

Whispered Words 1

July 5, 2015

Takashi Ikeda – One Peace Books – 2014 – 9 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 1-3

I read the first volume of Citrus the other day, so I thought it was only fair to give Whispered Words a try.  I’ve got a few other yuri-ish series as well (Kisses Sighs and Cherry Blossoms Pink, Sweet Blue Flowers, and maybe the second volume of Maka Maka somewhere…), but Whispered Words seemed like the best choice.  These volumes are HUGE.

The premise is the usual romance manga set-up.  Sumiko has a huge crush on her best friend Ushio.  Ushio is a lesbian, but only likes cute girls, who Sumiko is not.  Not wanting to ruin their friendship, Sumiko says nothing, but it kills her to watch Ushio chase cute girls and get her heart broken regularly.

I liked this series a lot, actually.  It was quiet, subtle… read a lot more like real life than the usual rom-com.  I liked the character of Sumiko in particular.  Tall, very athletic, and very smart, she believes there’s nothing cute about her.  Normally such characters are popular savants, but in this case, all these things make Sumiko (allegedly) less desirable to Ushio.  And Ushio is clueless to Sumiko’s feelings pretty much all the way to the end of the omnibus here, though things are changing towards the end.

There’s a lot of fun characters that pass in and out of the story here, too.  Sumiko and Ushio gain a lot of friends along the way.  They have a third background-ish friend at the beginning of the series, and later a pair of lesbians start hanging out with them, as Ushio wishes for like-minded ladies to help her land a girlfriend.  The couple sees through Sumiko’s struggle, and try to help her out with the clueless Ushio.  Though not in the usual romcom manga way.  They do legitimately helpful things that don’t backfire, like helping their groups split up so that Sumiko and Ushio will be together, pushing one or the other into a situation, et cetera.  It’s cute.

At one point, there’s a cute boy with a crush on Sumiko.  He also likes (?) to dress in women’s clothes, and in his female persona, he’s cute enough that Ushio is wild for her.  It’s not clear if he’s trans, or merely likes women’s fashion, but later he does point out his gender doesn’t really make a difference, since Sumiko is the one he loves, and she loves someone else.

Sumiko picks up another admirer later, a lover of yuri romance novels who has never had a friend before.  Her story is legitimately sad, and I loved that Sumiko made a friend out of her over the course of a couple chapters.  Later, Lotte, the adorable German exchange student, latches on to Sumiko as a (wo)manly role model, which drives Ushio up the wall since Lotte is a cute girl who refuses to do anything cute.

There’s a couple of downsides.  One is that it moves SLOWLY.  This is a by-product of its realistic, slice-of-life nature, but as much as I like the characters… it feels like not a whole lot changes in this first omnibus… then it starts to change really fast in the last third.  Which is good, I tore through the last part of it.  But it took me several days to work my way through the first 2/3rds.  The other problem with it being slow is that it does All The Manga Things.  Chapters start moving through the usual tropes:  the beach, the water park, the sports festival, the new exchange student coming between them… I’ve read too much manga, because these things in succession are painful to read if not done right, and this series is just a little too ponderous to pull them off.

And there are rom-com elements.  Maid outfits are out in full force.  There’s some outright gags thrown in from time to time, and some characters make a habit of being loud and clueless.  But it’s toned way down from the usual romcom manga, which I appreciated.

But I did like it better than Citrus.  I thought it was a better, more sensitive romance, and I loved the characters.  Sumiko is a likable heroine, and she’s easy to root for (though I liked the boy from the beginning of the series).  I’m happy that we get three huge omnibus volumes that cover the entire series in English.  No waiting, thanks One Peace Books!

Love Pistols 6

July 5, 2015

Tarako Kotobuki – SuBLime – 2013 – 8+ volumes

This volume was… a change of pace.  We actually did get a Kunimasa/Norio-centric story for the first half, which was nice.  Kunimasa has come of age, and is being presented as a heavyweight in zooman society.  Both he and Norio are angsting while he’s off being presented, so Kunimasa comes back and… makes a rather large step in their relationship.  This sets Norio off, but after consulting with several people, he decides to accept it.

IT’S ADORABLE.  A little weird… something about it didn’t feel quite right.  Possibly because all the side characters were involved and offering their opinions.  Possibly because the set-up for the next story was going on at the same time.  Possibly because Kunimasa and Norio still don’t spend that much time together.  But still, it was the sweet stuff, the kind of thing this series does so well.

The next story is about Shinobu and his destined love, Vulnera.  Vulnera is also called “Pride First,” and is a lion/mer hybrid, a chimera.  We learn that Mer are super-powerful, and aren’t really part of the same plane of existence as other humans/zoomans.  Vulnera is acting as mer interpreter at the heavyweight debut ceremony that Kunimasa is attending.  Meanwhile, a mer visits Norio and his school.  This mer can swap faces and clothes with others with a gesture, make magic happen, and make water taste bad.

Admittedly, I’ve read ahead before I wrote this volume up.  It’s not clear to me whether the mer at the school is Vulnera or not.  He wants to “see society,” and the story later implies that Vulnera does have the power to do some of the things shown (the weird water is him spying).  But I’m not sure why he’d be spying on Norio and company?  He already appears to be out and functioning in the world at this point.  He also has a nasty scar on his face.  Maybe he keeps it because Shinobu gave it to him?  If he can change his face, seems like he could wipe out the scar.  But if it were another mer, it’s implied that they can’t speak to humans, and function on another plane of existence that makes it hard/impossible to take a physical form?  I don’t know.  This was really confusing.

Vulnera is also confusing.  We see the start of a flashback, where a young Shinobu is teaching a young Vulnera to take a physical form (apparently he’s good at this, since he’s also teacher for Norio and Shiro).  It’s implied that Shinobu is an unwanted son, and we also learn that… zooman babies apparently don’t grow in the womb, but manifest spiritually outside the body?  I don’t know?

Anyway.  All signs point to Shinobu not being up to the task of teaching Vulnera.  He gets deathly ill at the barriers that keep Vulnera caged, when it’s implied that his father and sister find the barrier trivial.  Meeting Vulnera for the first time causes him to pass out.  But Vulnera really likes him.  Present-Vulnera appears to be stalking him, and his intentions appear to be very sinister.  Past and present Vulnera are both kind of creepy and evil.  There are also text balloons about loving someone that aren’t clear whether they’re meant to be for Norio or Vulnera.  Maybe both.  Maybe Vulnera loves Shinobu so much he would kill him.

There are a couple short side stories in the back.  One is about the snake and mongoose again, and the other, longer story is about Kunimasa and Yonekuni’s fathers.  Apparently Kunimasa and Yonekuni are twins (???).  Makio had sex with both fathers without the other knowing, and bore them each a son simultaneously?  Hilariously, David is really pissed at Maximilian for it, while offering no defense for himself.  Maximilian stays with Makio and Karen for a little bit.  Makio and Karen are the best, though this later characterization of Makio (lazy, kind of take-things-as-they-come, a bit childish) doesn’t match with her initial story.  But her and Karen are still great, as are David and Maximilian.  Again, it’s these kinds of stories that the series does well, though I wish Kotobuki wasn’t trying so hard to make having kids weird.

Also, Kunimasa and Yonekuni are, like, the third set of twins we’ve met in the series.  Another weird strike against the initial point of zoomans having trouble making kids.

QuinRose/Sai Asai – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2014 – 3 volumes

Hmm.  This wasn’t what I was expecting, but I still liked it.  Last volume ended with a rather intense stand-off between Elliot and Ace, which was resolved rather cruelly by Ace at the beginning of this volume.  Elliot takes a beating later, presumably for losing to Ace.  But then… not much comes of that?

Not much comes of the mystery surrounding Ace, either.  He makes a few well-placed comments that explain some things, and then Alice states an interpretation that explains others.  I don’t know if that wipes away what a creep he’s been.  And he’s still a creep, when all is said and done, but Alice seems prepared to deal with that.  That’s… nice?

I did like the end of the story here.  There was an unlooked-for conflict that wrapped everything up with a dramatic flair.  Lovely.

Overall a nice series, and I like the slightly longer ones like this.  I wish this had resolved Ace’s creepiness a little better, though.  I’m curious how the Ace one-shot will handle it.

Gravitation 6

July 5, 2015

Maki Murakami – Tokyopop – 2004 – 12 volumes

It’s been years since I read this series.  I read volume 6, then waited so long to review it that I was going to have to re-read it, then I realized I’d have to re-read the first half of the series.  And this series is… dated, to put it mildly.  Very nineties.  Dated humor, dated art style, and… kind of annoying to read.  I could not convince myself to start over, but I’ve been re-reading a lot of my favorites lately, and I remembered really liking Gravitation.  On the other hand, I couldn’t get back into Fake (which is basically the same thing, except toned down 100x), so it took me a long time to pick this back up.

If you haven’t read manga from the nineties, I wouldn’t start here.  If you have, you know there’s nothing quite like it.  I’m generally annoyed by this kind of bombastic humor, but Gravitation passes good taste then keeps going.  It got a couple chuckles out of me, even after the re-read.

Anyway, I’ve talked about the other volumes.  Volume 6 (much like every other volume) offers us a huge turning point in the series.  The main conflict here is that the cooking show fiasco from last volume, despite not making it to the television air waves, was captured by a photographer in the audience.  So Eiri Yuki and Shuichi Shindo were caught kissing on camera, nevermind that it was actually Eiri’s brother.  Everyone wants to ride this for publicity, which really upsets Hiro, who doesn’t want to exploit his best friend’s feelings for some quick sales.

Hiro and Shuichi’s friendship really is the best.  Seriously.  Few series really capture best buddies like these two.

Meanwhile, the press is stationed outside Eiri’s house, with Shuichi inside.  Shuichi wants everything to go away.  Eiri arrives from out-of-country… and Shuichi does something stupid.  Then Eiri does something stupid.

Because this series is all about doing stupid things.

Even Maki Murakami seems slightly put off by how over-the-top this series is.  That’s how you know it’s good.  I’ve only been skimming her author’s notes, but they are solid gold.

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