QuinRose / Mamenosuke Fujimaru – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2013 – 7 volumes

Hm.  The plot thickens.  There are still a bunch of major events to keep Alice entertained “more than Joker can,” including the end to a really cute Halloween party and a nice winter festival hosted by Nightmare and Grey.  Alice meets both versions of the Joker (I think), and begins going to the “prison” more regularly, though past the fact that Elliot may have been a prisoner at one point before Blood helped him escape, we don’t learn a whole lot more.  Until the last page, I guess.

Ace seems particularly fond of Alice in this volume, and the theme of “being lost” seems more applicable in Joker than in Clover, since the Joker setting’s existence seems to hinge on the fact that Alice can’t remember certain things.  It’s implied that some characters may disappear if Alice gets her memories back… though I’m not clear on whether this is supposed to be Clover or Hearts, or if it really is a separate “Country of Joker.”

There are a few pretty heavy scenes between Alice and Blood.  Blood isn’t a nice guy, so it’s hard to root for him here, but Alice opens up to him towards the end of the book after a particularly nasty tirade from him.

And… I’m going to keep reading.  Let’s see where this is going to go.  I have absolutely no idea so far.  I do kind of like it for that, since I haven’t been guessing this much since I read the original series.

Also, somehow I only just realized that Mamenosuke Fujimaru (the woman who draws almost all these spinoffs) is also the artist for the game.  So that’s nice.

Junjo Romantica 4

August 30, 2015

Shungiku Nakamura – Blu – 2007 – 18+ volumes

I dunno… on one hand, I’m ridiculously addicted.  On the other hand… I still don’t think there’s a whole lot of romance in here.

As weird as it is, I still think the Egoist story is my favorite.  In this volume, we get the second half of the story about Hiro’s past.  He pushes the older man away, and winds up going over to see Usami after Usami calls him on the day Misaki’s brother gets a girlfriend.  Hiro can’t come to terms with the fact Usami will never love him, and refuses to entertain the thought of dating someone else.  The older man is a little forceful for my taste (everyone in this series is, which is one of the reasons I’m still on the fence), but he gives somewhat good advice, and seems like a decent guy save for the forcefulness.  Which is… kinda rare in this series?  The story ends with Hiro thinking about what it is to be happy, and it’s sweet.

The second Egoist story is told from Nowaki’s perspective.  He’s not sure that Hiro’s all that into him.  Hiro’s just not that romantic, and doesn’t seem all that into the “couple” stuff that Nowaki fantasizes about (there’s a great page with Nowaki fantasizing a lot of couple-y stuff, and with a completely straight face, dismissing it all).  He loses it when he realizes there’s a handful of people that call Hiro by his first name, without an honorific, and the story concludes with Hiro doing his best to stammer out a mushy admission of how much he likes Nowaki.  ADORABLE.  Also, there’s sex.

The only thing was that I was a little lost as to when this was supposed to take place.  Nowaki still has his job at the flower shop, and talks about the two of them living together despite their difficulty connecting, so I thought it took place before he went to America… but then he goes from there to his internship at the hospital?  I guess I didn’t realize that medical interns could hold down a second job?

Anyway.  Even the Romantica story was kinda great this time around.  Misaki begins to wonder if he should read Usagi’s books, and winds up reading the BL.  In the full story, Usagi wins a prestigious literary award (for his real books), and when Misaki doesn’t know he won the award, and has no idea what book it even was, and has never read Usagi’s books… he realizes he doesn’t know anything about Usagi.  He tries to ask, which touches Usagi deeply, and actually did make for a really cute story.  And next time, I’m promised Usagi’s brother.  I’m excited about that.

Also next time is a new couple, though I’m not reeeeally looking forward to it.  I think the character we know was the rape-y teacher that Hiro works with, who I’m not a big fan of for obvious reasons.

QuinRose / Mamenosuke Fujimaru – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2013 – 7 volumes

Admittedly, the thwarted Hatter plot was better than in Knight’s Knowledge.  It was pretty elaborate, kind of cool, and it involved Blood needing Boris’s power to save Alice, which was very sweet.  Weirdly, Alice’s memory of her sister triggered at the end… I thought this happened at the end of the Hearts story, when she decides not to go home?  Maybe that was just in the manga… it’s hard to say.  In either case, Alice finally makes a decision about where to live, which she’s been angsting over since volume 5 or so.  The end.  It was very cute.  Despite the fact I wish it had ended differently, it’s probably still my favorite of the Alice storylines, including the original.  It’s hard to deny Boris’s charms.

There’s an epilogue at the end of the book too, which is kind of cool.  I wish I could figure out more of Nightmare’s deal, he’s never really explained.  I have his one-shot, but something tells me that’s not going to clear anything up (edit: Read the Nightmare trilogy.  He’s now my favorite).

The Hearts story is a little different.  There is a mob plot, but it deals more with the Amusement Park than Blood.  I’ve never seen the Amusement Park come under attack like that before, so that was a little unusual.  The Boris/Alice romance is fluffy, unlike the Clover story, but it builds from there.  And, interestingly, the Hearts story “ends” at the end of it, which is also unusual.  So that was nice.

It’s also nice that the story featured Gowland so heavily.  The other hearts one-shots I have are few and far between, and none of them really have a lot of Boris or Gowland in them.  A shame that Alice apparently can’t hook up with Gowland (or Vivaldi, who also doesn’t have her own spin-off).  Gowland’s way less of a psychopath than Ace, and Ace has at least a series and a spin-off.

Anyway, even with the last 3 volumes split between the two stories, and even with the Hatter ending, I still liked this series quite a bit, probably better even than the original.  Grab this one first!  Boris is way less crazy than the other characters.  Admittedly, these stories are good at humanizing even the craziest of the crazy (Elliot isn’t wacky in his stories, and even the Dee and Dum books make them more playful than crazy).

Dorohedoro 10

August 23, 2015

Q Hayashida – Viz – 2013 – 19+ volumes

One of my favorites!  I lost this volume, which is how I got so far behind.  I was happy it turned up during a re-sort recently.  However, it’s been so long since I read it that I can’t recall what is merely mysterious and what has already been explained.  A re-read is in order, and it will be a pleasure.  Hayashida’s art is so detailed, I’m sure there’s a thousand things I missed the first time through.  Actually, she tells a pretty detailed story as well, so that doesn’t hurt either.

For instance, I’m almost positive full-grown Kasukabe is a novelty.  What I can’t remember is whether or not we know why he reversed-aged (maybe it had something to do with his wife?).  In Dorohedoro, this may not have been explained.  It also may never be explained.  It’s not important, and mysteries like that make it very charming.

I’m a bit confused about the main thread of the story, which is why I want to re-read it.  I know there have been some subtle hints dropped about Caiman and his connection to the Cross-Eyes gang, which are all completely lost on me now.  The end of the volume drops a huge bombshell, so maybe I can just pick it up from there, but something tells me I need to go back and re-read.  I think he’s heavily implied to be someone else, but I need to make sure it is who I think it is.

Elsewhere, En is still being a bad guy.  He comes to pick up Nikaido, and he and Caiman fight.  It was somehow less satisfying than I imagined, but it led to said bombshell above, so I can’t be too mad.

Ebisu!!!  I was a little sad at the beginning of the volume to see she’d gotten her memories back, and was abusing Fujita with her full faculties.  But then.  I’m not sure if that’s for real or not, but man.  It’s pretty cold-blooded if it is.

I still LOVE the artwork.  There are a thousand small things you’ll miss, if you don’t look hard enough at each panel.  My favorite here was the En heart tattoo on the bird-mask man’s bicep.  I’d just never seen it before.  And the sorcerer masks still get me every time.  I love looking at them.  Then there’s the heartbreaking detail in Ebisu’s scene towards the end of the volume.  There’s just so much here.

The Extra Evil in the back cracked me up, but then again it always does.  This one was about Chidaruma being a big ol’ eccentric asshole.  I loved it.

Yukarism 2

August 23, 2015

Chika Shiomi – Viz – 2015 – 4 volumes

Actually, I like this series quite a bit as of volume 2!  Shiomi is great at setting up a creepy, uncanny mood, even though what’s going on isn’t particularly spooky.  And I’m liking the limited cast of characters right now, too.

There was a non-recurring character in volume 1, who was replaced here by someone who is likely a permanent part of the triangle.  What’s interesting in this series is, because past lives are involved, this is a guy-guy-girl love triangle where the girl is a different person depending on the era.  It hasn’t done anything super-interesting with this yet (and actually may have side-stepped an interesting approach), but it’s still fun to see.

We get to see more of the past, and Yukari realizes that Mahoro may not be who he thought she was.  We are also introduced to a new character named Satomi, who’s likely to stick around to the end.  He’s Yukari’s new caretaker, and obviously a key figure in Yukari and Mahoro’s past life.  He and Mahoro rub each other the wrong way, and periodically lapse into other personalities that seem to want to fight each other to the death, while Yukari is passed out dreaming of Edo in the other room.  Nobody remembers anything when they wake up.

On one hand, it hinted at one identity for Mahoro last volume, but this volume hints strongly at a different one.  I’m not sure whether to trust that yet or not.  It would be interesting if it was somehow able to switch back and forth, or if Mahoro were somehow two people.

I also really like the outfits Yumurasaki wears, mostly in the chapter illustrations (she’s usually in a state of undress during the story this time around).  For not liking to draw period clothes, or knowing anything about them, Shiomi does a great job with Yumurasaki.

I like the short length of this series, too.  It should be finished up by the end of the year, which will be perfect for me.

Demon Love Spell 6

August 23, 2015

Mayu Shinjo – Viz – 2014 – 6 volumes

Pretty good last volume, as far as Demon Love Spell goes.  Since it didn’t have an overarching plot, there wasn’t a whole lot to wrap up.  This volume contains two stories, both are good versions of the types of things I like about this series.

In the first, Kagura and Miko have to save a cherry tree inhabited by a spirit that a developer wants cut down.  The developer hires the pair to banish the “demon” that prevents them from cutting down the tree, but a little girl implores them to save the nice old man she talks with.  Killing the spirit doesn’t sit right with Kagura (even though the spirit wants to die), and he sort-of bullies Miko into a solution that works for everyone.  The spirit has tearful reunions with all those he’s encountered over the years, there’s a nice festival, it’s very sweet.

The second story brings up more trust issues between Kagura and Miko.  Kagura just isn’t getting enough energy to stay alive, and he passes out after seeing Miko off to school one day.  Another priestess finds him, and says if she takes her priestess powers (she doesn’t want them), he will remove the seal that Miko’s father put on him.  He shows up unsealed and full of power, and… yeah.  You know where this is going.  The actual resolution is way more over-the-top and nonsensical than you would have thought, but the series ends just like you think it will.

Sex.

So yeah, there are definitely way better series out there, and there’s even way better smut.  But Mayu Shinjo is good for scratching the shoujo itch, and if you’re into demons, priestesses, and guilty pleasures, give this a try.  It does pretty much everything you think it will.

Embracing Love Omnibus 2

August 23, 2015

Youka Nitta – SuBLime – 2014 – 14 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 3-4

Hm.  I read the first half of this book, and it didn’t really click with me, so I waited a week or two to give the second half a try.  It still didn’t click.  I’m not sure why, I loved the first one to pieces.  I found it to be incredibly romantic.  But this one felt like straight-up drama.

In the first half, the main plot point is that Iwaki and Katou are moving, and then they visit Iwaki’s family, who are homophobic and had previously disowned him when he started his career as an adult actor.  The second half has more short stories, but hanging over the whole of it is a rather ugly plot point involving Iwaki’s new manager attempting to sabotage their relationship.

What did this volume lack that the first one had?  Well, I really liked watching the two of them fall in love, and struggle to become legitimate actors.  I thought that made for a great story.  But here?  They… aren’t really struggling for anything.  They’re both incredibly famous.  They are together.  Each chapter has some sort of petty fight where one earnestly yells at the other over something silly, like not spending enough time together, being worried about the other’s mood, or whether the manager is trying to get in between them.  But there’s no real drama, because there’s never any doubt that the two love each other.  The fights become annoying and repetitive, and just read like drama drama drama without much substance.  The content of volume three was a bit more interesting… it did feel like the two were coming up against something serious when Iwaki struggled with the relationships in his family.  And there were some cute stories when the two moved, like when Katou found the box of Iwaki’s old adult films.

Part of my reservation is that I still have the content of volume 4 lingering in my memory, which is mostly just short stories that feature conflict without a serious ground.  The final story was interesting, since it was about the author of Embracing Love from volume one, and about how he turned from being an in-the-closet police officer to the feminine writer he is today (I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be transgender, the story has implied both genders at different points).  But it was condensed in one chapter.  It would have been better if it had been longer so we could learn to like him more.  It would have also been better if I never found out his lover was his younger nephew.

The key to a drama-filled series like this is that the drama has to feel like it’s actually affecting the lives of the characters, not that one misunderstood how much the other loved him.  Something tells me if someone threatened their relationship, one or both of these men would lose their minds.  So that would be intriguing if it was a real threat.  There’s also the old stand-bys for a series like this – career ending drama, major physical accidents (if you’re Zetsuai, you alternate between those two), family drama (which Kizuna does correctly)… and you’ve basically passed all the “how does he feel, I don’t know” drama you’re going to get out of Embracing Love.

It’s not like I’m ever going to stop reading.  At one volume a year, this doesn’t come out often enough to grow tiresome.  And it’s still pretty high-quality drama, which I like in BL.  So, after all that, really, I can’t wait for the third omnibus.  If only because there’s a shriveled black part of my heart waiting for their lives to crash and burn somewhere over the next ten volumes.

edit:  I waited long enough to post this review!  Volume three came out a week or two ago.  I wrote this up in… May?

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