Recipe for Gertrude 5

February 10, 2012

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2007 – 5 volumes

Such a good book! I doubted the fact that a volume of short stories post-ending would be very engaging. I forgot how much I like Yuki Midorikawa and her characters. I think I may have liked these short stories better than I liked the end of the series last time. And I liked that ending quite a bit. Also, it’s worth mentioning that none of these stories are really romantic, and I still loved all of them. That’s really saying something.

The stories are in a wide range of genres and even time periods and places, which was completely unexpected and a welcome surprise. The first one is the most “mundane” in the context of the series, and is simply a demon that appears and wants her hand back, so Gertrude and Sahara have to drive her away. The second story takes place in Canada in the 1960s and is, bizarrely, about Gertrude trying to track down a Bigfoot. The third is actually about Curtis, one of the side characters, and is set in Victorian England. He teams up with another demon and takes an assignment to kill a human fortune-teller, but winds up striking the bargain that costs him his eye. Another is about Puppen and Mariotte and their extra-curricular activities at Sahara’s school. Yet another features Puppen and Mariotte on a weight loss campaign, along with an explanation at the end about why that’s a bad idea. The final one is a strange one, again featuring Puppen and Mariotte, and is told from the perspective of a little boy who has just lost his grandfather.

I would be hard-pressed to say which of these stories was my favorite. I loved the Curtis one, which was probably the most well-developed in the book, and was a little romantic. I also liked the first, which was the least exciting in terms of something “different,” but was in the spirit of the series, and I liked that anyway, right? I also loved the Puppen and Mariotte story that showed them participating in club activities. I didn’t even like the characters that much, and I still loved that story. And the weight loss story. There’s just something about watching those two enjoy themselves that’s quite compelling, and that “something” is one of the things that makes this series so special. They’re just a blast to read about.

The whole series is good in an understated way, but don’t shy away from this final volume because the storyline ended last time. It’s worth picking up with the rest, and I have to say, this is the most fun I’ve had with this series since the early volume. And again, I liked the series an awful lot, so getting a volume like this to go out on is a rare treat indeed. I hope to see more of Nari Kusakawa’s work in the future, but I doubt any publisher aside from CMX would take a risk like this anymore. She’s charming and compelling, but not nearly as ostentatious or attention-getting as a best-selling series. A shame, because she’s still very, very good in her way.

Recipe for Gertrude 4

February 5, 2012

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2007 – 5 volumes

I was a little surprised when the main story ended in volume four, which means volume five is just short stories, or an unconnected one-shot. It’s not a bad thing, I was just expecting the Claude story to stretch out a bit longer.

On the other hand, I think it would have dragged too much if it had. The story is paced very well here. We find out the true nature of the “real” Gertrude and her sister through a flashback. There’s a very long, extended goodbye between Sahara and Gertrude, and an even more triumphant scene right after that, courtesy of Sehara. I can’t spoil too much, since the whole book is about the ending of the series, but I thought it was a cute and very fitting ending to a series like this.

I can’t recall if I’ve spoken about this before or not, but this is a really great first series. It is a little rough around the edges (Puppen, Mariotte, and the other demons on Team Gertrude never feel like more than hangers-on, which is my biggest nitpick), but the fact that the story is so easy to get caught up in, and Gertrude and Sahara are both such likable characters, speaks much of her later skill. I adored Two Flowers for the Dragon, and while this isn’t quite as good, it’s still a very solid read, and has a very rare and genuine all ages appeal to it.

Plus, I still like demons. There’s a lot of vague magic stuff happening in this volume, and not so much demon stuff, but I still like the fact that Gertrude can still be a powerful demon when all is said and done. But mostly, I love that the relationship between Sahara and Gertrude took precedence in the end without overruling everything else that had happened. The ending was about the two of them wanting to be together, but both accepted the circumstances that were separating them, and the fact that other people exist. That is a somewhat rare point of view for a shoujo manga.

As much as I liked this series, I’m a little less excited for the last volume now that it’s not tied into the main storyline. But more Gertrude and Sehara is never a bad thing, and I’m sure I’ll love it. Hopefully it’ll be a cute place to leave the series off.

Recipe for Gertrude 3

November 10, 2011

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2007 – 5 volumes

While this is still pretty middle-of-the-road shoujo, I can’t help but like it. And that’s the charm of most CMX series. They completely win you over, even with some flaws. Kusakawa’s other series, Two Flowers for the Dragon, was the same way, except it had a slightly underwhelming premise that was so well-written it was impossible not to like. CMX series are mostly wonderful, but even the handful of series like this one, which are flawed, were still really fun reads.

I was a little torn about the direction the story takes in this volume, even though I loved it all the way through. The first half was an especially nice stretch of story, since it had a contest where Sahara duels with the demon Curtis for half her soul and protection from Claude and his magic. Gertrude is involved, and it’s a big cute emotional thing, since Gertrude substitutes her soul in place of Gertrude’s eye, which he was willing to give Curtis in exchange for protecting Sahara. Also, Sahara is worried about Claude. Claude is evil, but he is also her brother, and she can’t shake the good memories she’s had with him. Can he really be all bad, after they grew up together?

But the second half reveals the reason behind the recipe, why Claude made Gertrude, how he made him, and why he has a split personality. This explanation is coupled with another one of Gertrude’s transformations (which I had forgotten about, honestly), but… still doesn’t quite make sense to me. It’s also a little creepy, and the punchline is that he’s still going to have to sacrifice Sahara in order to see his plan come to fruition. It’s not that satisfying, but it’s definitely compelling, and it’s got me reaching for volume four despite myself. Then again, this sort of series is definitely my thing. I just can’t resist demons.

Recipe for Gertrude 2

October 26, 2011

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2006 – 5 volumes

You know, I do like the book a little better after the second volume. The storytelling has settled down quite a bit, and it’s beginning to show some of the wonderful character development that made me such a big fan of Two Flowers for the Dragon.

Sahara has a decision to make at the beginning of the volume. She finds out that she has the recipe Gertrude wants written on her bones. Her brother has been “protecting” her all this time, keeping her from the outside world and Gertrude, but he’s not really the brother she’s known all her life when he does this. On the other hand, what would Gertrude do to her to get the recipe? Does she really know? Who’s she safer with?

There’s a really, really subtle romance going on between Gertrude and Sahara. It’s mostly contained in quiet moments and brief snatches of calm between action scenes, but both characters are definitely dwelling on the other. It’s cute stuff. And it becomes more concrete by the end of the volume.

Two nice details begin to flesh out the demon side of the story a bit more. One of them is a character sent after Gertrude, a demon looking for his body part. It’s always nice to see another demon, and the body part this demon was looking for is a cute one indeed, but one that puzzles Gertrude a bit. Later, Gertrude and Sahara visit a demon bookstore and have an adventure there. The demon bookstore is a wonderful place, and apparently it will be a setting in volumes to come. It’s got a lot of nice details and idiosyncrasies in its operation, and the proprietor is an entertaining grouch/monster. I’d love to read more about it.

By the end of the volume, Sahara is in a situation where she can either be with her parents, or Gertrude, but not both. She wants both though, and that’s the problem for volume three to tackle.

I just realized the translation and adaptation in this book was handled by Tony Ogasawara, who did the adaptation I loved so much in From Eroica With Love. I don’t think it makes much difference in Recipe for Gertrude, but it’s good to know, all the same.

Recipe for Gertrude 1

October 16, 2011

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2006 – 5 volumes

Has it really been a year and a half since CMX announced their end? Has it really been seven years since they launched? And I’ve been writing reviews at this website even longer than that? Why am I so old?

Anyway. I’m still a little sad about CMX closing, and I’ve still got a handful of volumes I haven’t read yet, and can’t bring myself to. I also keep picking up more and more series as they come in at work, and they are starting to accumulate. At this rate, I will have everything CMX published, and that will be a little sad. But for now, I really wanted to read The Recipe for Gertrude. It’s by Nari Kusakawa, who also wrote one of my favorite CMX series, Two Flowers for the Dragon. Gertrude is about demons, so I had very high hopes for it.

Gertrude is also clearly an older work than Two Flowers for the Dragon. In fact, I would guess it was one of her first. Sadly, it’s very messy story-wise, and I almost gave up after one chapter. It irons out some of the kinks by the end of the volume, and I’m hoping it finds its groove in volume two, but this volume was hard to get through.

The premise is sound. A demon named Gertrude was made by a kind of scientist-demon by stitching together the best parts of all the best demons. He recorded his methods in a book called The Recipe for Gertrude. Flash forward, and Gertrude the demon is hunted by other demons who want their body parts back. Also, Gertrude and others are after the Recipe. While evading capture and looking for the book, Gertrude runs into Sahara, a normal and perfectly happy girl. She helps Gertrude, and the two become friends.

But there are… some questions. For instance, Gertrude is being hunted by two other demons who look like patchwork stuffed animals. Why does Gertrude look like a regular boy, but these demons are different? Even more puzzling, apparently Gertrude has the ears of these demons, but Gertrude’s ears are human ears.

This is only the beginning. It’s often not clear what’s happening, especially in the early chapters, and there are a lot of puzzling logical problems.

But some of these issues resolve themselves as the volume goes on. I never got a good explanation for my questions about why Gertrude is different from other demons, but by the end of the volume, the actions in each chapter start making more sense. There’s also a little bit more to ruminate on when a relationship begins to develop between Gertrude and Sahara. It goes a step further at the end of the book when they actually find the “recipe,” and that could be all sorts of fun… or a “magic” cop-out. We’ll see. I like Two Flowers For the Dragon enough that I’ll read all five volumes of this, but I do hope it stabilizes into something fun. Nari Kusakawa does seem to have a knack for a light touch.