Two Flowers for the Dragon 6

December 28, 2010

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2010 – 7 volumes

I put off reading this because the lack of volume seven absolutely broke my heart into pieces. I was hoping the climax was in this volume and the next was emotional fallout, but no. This leaves everything dangling. I know this is an extraordinarily unlikely license rescue, but maybe someone would like to release two omnibus volumes? I’d buy them again, because this series was great and I really do want to read the ending.

Shakuya is still struggling against the betrayal from last volume, the outside force that challenged her, her feelings for both Kuwan and Lucien, and now, her powers and the country they are currently lodging in. The final story breaks open into an action-packed sequence where the bad guys turn out to be the lesser evil, betrayal doesn’t seem so final, and lots of magic and non-magic solutions cause and solve lots of problems.

I know I’m speaking in vague terms, but I really don’t want to spoil anything. There’s plenty in here for people who were fans of the romantic side and action/plot side of the series, since Shakuya becomes out-of-sorts due to her feelings and wrestles over situations involving both boys (Lucien’s problems escalate in a most heartbreaking way, but I’m glad all is well by the end), plus an elaborate plot involving people from her own country and the very top brass from the country she’s currently in take out bad guys along with Shakuya’s friends, and magic makes death less permanent than it seems.

It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff, and I have no idea where the plot will go for the final volume. I mean, I’m sure everything will work out, but I’m not sure how the various factions will wind up in the end, or if old trends will be re-examined, et cetera. More puzzling, I’m just not sure which boy Shakuya will wind up with, something that’s normally very clear at this point in a shoujo story. It could go either way right now, and I’m guessing one of the boys will have to bite the dust in order to settle things cleanly.

I’m about this close to just buying the last volume in Japanese. I may do that. It really is quite good. Not super-spectacular (the characters aren’t quite fleshed out enough, I think), but pretty top tier material nonetheless, and a great representative for shoujo fantasy manga in English.

Two Flowers for the Dragon 5

February 16, 2010

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2009 – 7 volumes

I reviewed this for the weekly Manga Minis column over at Manga Recon, so you can check out my review over there.

More good stuff, though.  The best volume yet.  Twists that take the rug out from under Shakuya’s feet in a rather tragic way.  It’s a great little series, and well worth a read for fans of romantic fantasy.

Nari Kusakawa – CMX – 2009 – 7 volumes

It’s a real shame I fell behind on this series.  It really doesn’t deserve it.  It’s almost like a younger version of Apothecarius Argentum.  The stories are nothing alike, and this one is a bit more fun and playful, but they are both very good at the same things.  I’ve got the fifth volume now too, and I’ll be covering it this weekend.

In this volume, the main two plot points are the deepening of the relationship between Kuwan and Shakuya, and Lucien getting his memories back.  The former is something that could be spotted a mile away after the traumatic end of the last volume, though it was still a sweet moment, and I loved the strange way the handmaidens tried to get Shakuya to dish on what had happened between the two and their attempts to get a peek at her tattoos.

Lucien’s story was the more interesting one, though.  He gets all his memories back, so he remembers just was a manipulative little kid he was, along with everything that happened at the Oasis when he lost his memory during a sandstorm.  As expected, it wasn’t an accident, he was assaulted, but now he remembers the face of the assailant.  I was surprised at first, since I thought it might be Kuwan, but the characters all point out that he’s been removed from any suspicion after putting his life on the line last time.  The actual assassin appears later, in a story involving Shakuya’s main handmaiden, Lupina.

The Lupina story at the end is really one of my favorite moments of the story so far.  It’s got the best of everything about this series in it.  Lupina meets the assassin prior to his picture being circulated, and falls in love with him a little.  When she realizes who he is and what he’s done, we are left to wonder what Lupina will do.  Her feelings are wonderfully analyzed and on display, and she was so happy to get a taste of what Shakuya has so much of.  Will Lupina warn him?  Cover for him?  Or be a good friend and loyal to Shakuya?  It’s an absolutely wonderful little sub-story, and I loved that it spotlighted one of the better side characters.

But yes.  More later.

I like this series more and more every time I read it.  It’s a subtle kind of fondness, not a fanatacism, but I like the quiet romance and the equal amounts of time spent on all three of the main characters.

In this volume, we unexpectedly find out about Shakuya’s father.  I… did not see the result coming, not at all, so let me not spoil it for you.  We do run into Lucien’s sword instructor randomly while Shakuya is on assignment, and she’s the one that sort of acts as the… learning… tool… for us finding out about Shakuya’s father.  She reveals her hand in an extremely unexpected way, and I’m still trying to get over what it was that she showed.

We also find out that Shakuya has an additional source of power, which I thought was a pretty interesting idea, and I thought the way it was concealed was also pretty clever, if a bit creepy.

The stuff about Shakuya’s father was sort of a bonus, the actual plot of the volume carried over from last time where Shakuya and company travel to an oasis to help them manage their water (or something).  The group finds that the oasis is being assaulted by unrelenting sandstorms, and Shakuya tries to get to the bottom of it when she realizes that the sandstorms are an unnatural occurrence.

Both Lucien and Kuwan stick around for the entire volume, so Shakuya doesn’t get much alone time with either.  There’s a pretty dramatic scene with Kuwan towards the end of the volume that is extremely out-of-character for him, but still much appreciated.  For all the romantic triangles going on, there hasn’t been too much romance as of yet.  There are also still many mysteries surrounding Lucien as to his memories and how it was he wound up disappearing, but I’m beginning to suspect Kuwan’s adopted father.  Nothing even hints at this in the volume, but I suspect as much anyway.

The characters are developing quite slowly and nicely, and I’m still waiting to see Shakuya’s tattoos grow.  It’s a bit lighter and more comedic, maybe a little less intense, but I think a lot of the same people who read Apothecarius Argentum would also enjoy this series.  It’s just a fun read, and I enjoy it immensely.

This was an ARC provided by CMX.  I felt stupid reading it because I had read Astro Boy just before this, and Astro Boy is a left-to-right book, so when I shifted to the (unbound) ARC, I couldn’t make sense of it and was trying to figure out if I had dropped it and shuffled the pages around or something.  It took me, like, 20 minutes to figure out I was reading it backwards.

This is another ARC from CMX.  I’ve got about two more of these before I get into some which are random volumes of series I haven’t read previously.

I liked the first volume, and I liked this volume even better.  I was a little troubled at the end when the mangaka mentions it was suggested to her that the main character had to be naked in every chapter, but the story is actually starting to pick itself up a little bit.

Well, actually, it’s still mostly cute little one-shot stories.  The story from last volume wraps up about how you would expect it to, and despite being a two-part episode, is actually the weakest story in the volume.  My favorite story goes back to tell the story about how Shakuya and Kuwan met, when Kuwan took over the head of the guard right after Lucien disappeared and had to stop Shakuya from rampaging.  Even though it’s still kind of strange, I’m getting to like the fact Shakuya tuns into a dragon more and more.  Another good story with Shakuya and Kuwan involves Shakuya’s handmaid tricking her into thinking that Kuwan was sick after staying out all night looking for her.

Another really good story was one where Shakuya goes to visit Lucien and it’s revealed that not everyone likes the fact she can turn into a dragon and control water.  Lucien teaches a group of girls a lesson after they talk badly about Shakuya while she’s in the room.  That one was more sweet than anything.

The relationships are slowly being built up for both Lucien and Kuwan, where I thought things might lean more towards Lucien since he’s the one who has no flowers on Shakuya’s tattoo.  I hope she winds up choosing one or the other, because I don’t think I can deal with another story where things are left open in order not to alienate one set of readers over the other.  Bah.

It’s not really breaking any new ground, but again, I like fantasy romances, and this is a pretty good one.  Not the best, but still really enjoyable.

I was pretty excited about reading this one, especially since I’ve been on such a fantasy kick recently.  Apparently it runs in Lala, which surprised me because I’m used to this type of fantasy series coming from… mmm, Princess or some other Akita Shoten source.

I feel like I have to compare it to Apothecarius Argentum.  Mostly because I’m on such a kick on that series, but I think both will appeal to me for the same reasons.  The pacing is exactly the same on both of them.  I thought this first volume was kind of slow, but I really like the setup, and this is exactly how I felt about the first volume of Apothecarius Argentum.

It’s much lighter than Apothecarius Argentum so far, and I kind of like that.  The characters are all extremely upbeat, and there’s not a single moper to be found among them.  The plot is somehow both original and a little tired.  Stripped down to its most basic elements, it’s a love triangle, specifically about a girl who was betrothed to a boy who went missing when she was young, then betrothed to another boy who she grew up loving, and the story picks up when the first boy reappears with amnesia and a whole lot more masculinity than he had in his youth.  Don’t get me wrong though, I like that type of story as long as it’s handled in a good way.  And this series has all the right stuff so far.  I like the setting a lot, which is a desert oasis guarded by a dragon clan (the main character is the heir to this clan, and the two boys are members of the other powerful families at the oasis).  I also really liked the fact that the main character had magical tattoos on her hands in the shape of flowers that she got when she was engaged to each boy, and as her love for each boy grows, so do the flowers in the tattoo.  She tries to resist the boy who comes back after so long, but he flower is blooming all the same, because this is a shoujo manga.  She wears black gloves to cover the tattoos.

I’m still trying to get over the fact that the main character turns into a dragon.  This would be awesome if handled correctly, but at this point, it’s taken a bit lightly, and the dragon is very… cartoony, which is just weird.  It’s like it doesn’t quite fit every time it happens.  It could be done well though, and maybe it’ll work itself out as the series progresses.  It would be even better if the other families had animals they turned into as well, because that would make it seem less out of place… but it looks like there may just be the dragon family, since they are the guardians.

The rivalry between the boys is sort of light and noncommittal at this point, which I kind of like, but at the same time, other than the progress of the girl’s tattoos, there isn’t much direction to the series.  That may change though, as it did with Apothecarius Argentum, and the first volume does leave off on a cliffhanger, so that’s pretty promising.

So far it’s a pretty fun fantasy romance, which is often all I look for in a series.  I have a feeling it will improve as it goes on though, so I’m really looking forward to future volumes.