Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in the Rear View Mirror (plus the Holiday Giveaway Winner!)

2015 has been a busy year for me.  It's not just the fact that I was able to get through the year without any major hiatuses, though that's a pretty good feeling.  It's not just the fact that I got a reviewed quoted by FREAKING VERTICAL, although that still continues to blow my mind a little.  It's certainly been a good year for manga, if this last month is any indicator.  Normally I try to spread things out not only in regards to the publishers featured, but also by ratings so it doesn't get too positive or too negative.  Yet this year's holiday reviews were probably one of the greenest I've done, which is a testament to the strong showing from most of the major publishers.  Even though I missed a few (espeically A Silent Voice, as many of your comments reminded me), this has been a great year for manga readers and it's only going to get more epic in 2016.

It's also been busy for me because I've been busy with projects for Infinite Rainy Day.  I've done podcasts talking about CLAMPa romance between a Santa and her reindeerloli buttsthe craziest deaths outside of Final DestinationSatoshi Kona reverse harem of train stations, and yet more CLAMP.  I've written reviews about The Ancient Magus' Bridethe Phantom Blood arc of Jojo's Bizarre AdventureBlack Rose AliceYukarism, and The Man of Tango.  I even wrote an article on the El Hazard franchise, one of my favorite old OVAs.  The thing I'm most proud of, though, is the Crunchyroll Manga Sampler.  I've done three installments so far, and I've even started to branch it out to cover other digital manga sites.  I'm really happy with the reaction to it so far, and I absolutely plan to continue it and expand it to show off just how many legal options there are for digital manga as well as what they have to offer.

Before we wrap things up for 2015, it's time to announce the winner of this year's Holiday Giveaway.  The winner is....Yumeko!

This is hard... I'd have to say the best manga I read is Yukarism. I'm a big Chika Shiomi fan, and this series doesn't disappoint. The time-traveling aspect is interesting, and I love the relationships between the three main characters. I haven't read the final volume yet, but I'm really looking forward to it.

It's nice to see that I wasn't the only one who appreciated that series, and I'm looking forward to the conclusion as well.  Yumeko, if you can please get in touch with me either through the site email ( or through my personal Twitter (@brainchild129) so you can claim your prize!

Well, it's time to relax a little, enjoy a well-earned mimosa, and then get back to work.  After all, I've got another year of reviews, opinion pieces, Manga Samplers, and podcasts to do.   I hope that those of you have been follow either site continue to enjoy my work, and I hope to see even more of you in this coming  year.

Friday, December 25, 2015


Well, it's Christmas at last so it's time to wrap things up.  There was no question in my mind what this final entry would be.  It had to be the series that I've been reading and rereading all year since it first came out.  It had to be the second series (alongside Sakamoto) that helped me forgive a lot of Seven Seas's previous sins.  It had to be not only the best manga I read all year, but possibly one of the best shoujo works I've read in years.

THE ANCIENT MAGUS' BRIDE (Maho Tsukai no Yome), by Kore Yamazaki.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2015.


Chise Hatori's life has been nothing but endless misery.  Orphaned at a young age, she spent her life passed around from one unwilling relative to the next who didn't want to put up with this strange girl who could see all sorts of strange spirits and creatures.  Driven to the point of suicide, she finds herself instead sold into slavery and purchased by a towering, skull-headed man named Elias Ainsworth.  Elias turns out to be a mage and he wishes to train Chise to be one as well.  Chise is what the magical world calls a sleigh beggy, a being capable of absorbing and producing incredible amounts of magic.  This ability gives her the potential to be a powerful mage, but it also means that there are others who would seek to use her abilities for their own nefarious purposes.


It's hard to know where to begin when it comes to explaining precisely why The Ancient Magus' Bride is so good.  Oh sure, I technically already reviewed this for the other site, but even afterwards it's hard for me to parse what makes it so good without having the conversation devolve into Muppet-like flailings of glee.  I will try to not completely fangirl out, but I make no promises.

It certainly helps that the world of this manga is so fascinating to begin with.  Like Chise herself, the reader will find themselves immersed into a world of magic that is at once ancient and lived-in but also modern and diverse.  It's hard to not make some comparisons to Harry Potter, especially considering that this magical world is tucked and hidden away within our own modern world and that the story is set in England.  The story incorporates all sorts of bibs and bobs of European magical mythology, but it's not the sort of story that has to stop and explain everything.  It lets the reader infer some things and others it simply weaves into the background.  It hints at a greater past and explains the rules of this world through snippets of conversation but only explains as much as is necessary at the moment.  It's just enough mythology to pique the reader's interest but not enough to satisfy them, keeping you hooked and wanting to learn more alongside Chise.

It also helps that it's got a great cast of characters.  Chise seems fairly normal for a heroine, but she's got an edge of sadness and even a touch of cynicism that distinguishes her from the usual sort of ingenue.  Elias, on the other hand, is far more genteel then his appearance would suggest, but he's also very elusive.  He rarely gives a straight answer when asked about himself, and he sometimes distracts others with humor.  Still, he's a very gentle and accepting mentor to Chise and a very interesting person in his own right.  Still, Elias is also upfront about the fact that he bought Chise to be both his apprentice and his future bride, and many of the characters they interact with treat this as an inevitability.  I can see some being turned off by the notion because of the inherent power difference between the two, but Elias never pushes the matter beyond a few joking comments and is otherwise a kindly father figure to Chise.  As for Chise, she's simply happy to have someone who makes her feel welcome in the world.  It's far too early to say how the two might work as a romantic pairing, but it's certainly a good start for a mentor and his apprentice.  And that's not even touching on some of the other supporting characters, such as magic craftswoman Angelica Pursley or Elias's old friend and watcher Simon, who also serves as the village vicar.

The Ancient Magus' Bride starts slowly, but that means it can take its time to build up the characters and the magical world around them until the reader is fully immersed and fully invested in them.


The Ancient Magus' Bride is also a damn good-looking book.  Yamazake's art is loaded with finely etched details ranging from the swirling blobs of magic to the feathers on a fairy's wing to the swish of Chise's slightly mussed-up hair.  Her characters range from lush-eyed women to oddly attractive, angular men.  I really love Elias's design - it's not only eyecatching in its oddity, but she manages to get a lot of expression out just by dimming or widening the light in his eye sockets.  Her backgrounds are exquisite, but they also brim with natural and magical energy.  Even the chapter splash pages are beautiful to behold.  Her pages and panels are fairly standard, but every once in a while she expands things to show off some of the more wondrous sights like a stand of crystal poppies.  It's just incredibly skillful and beautiful art that looks nothing like most shoujo.  I guess that's one advantage to this being published in a shonen magazine.  It doesn't have to force itself to be cute; it can simply be itself.


The Ancient Magus' Bride is nothing short of magical.  Yes, that's a terrible pun, but I don't care because it's true.  It's got a fascinating world that I want to immerse myself in like a warm bath and artwork that makes every page a delight to read.  It's a series that feels like something that CMX would have picked up, and it's by and large the best thing in Seven Seas' library.  I want this series to be a big hit, and if you haven't already checked this one out you need to make it a priority.  If you like good fantasy, good shoujo, and good manga in general, you should be reading The Ancient Magus' Bride.

This series is published by Seven Seas.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 5 volumes available.  3 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.

Remember to leave a comment here to enter the Holiday Giveaway to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate!  The contest ends tonight at midnight, so don't wait!

Thursday, December 24, 2015


This year also marked the return of a genre I had long feared dead in America: 4-koma manga.  Sure, there's always Azumanga Daioh, but too many companies picked up too many half-assed Azumanga imitators and soon enough they disappeared from the shelves least, until Yen Press put out one of the year's most anticipated new licenses.

MONTHLY GIRLS' NOZAKI-KUN (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun), by Izumi Tsubaki.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2015.


Chiyo Sakura is determined that today is the day when she'll finally confess her love her tall, dark and handsome classmate Nozaki!  It all goes awry, though, when his response to her confession is to give her an autograph.  It turns out that Nozaki sidelines as a popular shoujo mangaka, and now he's roped Chiyo into becoming one of his assistants.  That's only the beginning, though.  It seems that Nozaki takes his inspiration from their classmates, be it the cheeky yet easily embarassed Mikorin, Chiyo's blunt athletic friend Seo, or Mikorin's friend, Yuu, the unofficial 'prince' of the drama club, and all of them bring their own particular brand of chaos in their wake.


I know that most people were looking forward to this one because they were already fans of the animated series.  As for me, I was more curious to see how a more traditional shoujo artist adapted to the short, simple and snappy format of 4-koma.  From what I'm seeing here, I'd say that she's taken to it like a duck to water and the end result is both funny and charming.

Of course, anyone who is familiar with Tsubaki's previous work Oresama Teacher knows that she was probably better suited to the shift than most, as she already proved herself to be adept at a more comedic vein of shoujo.  She knows how to balance the cuteness with the comedy, and that's certainly true for Nozaki-kun.  She also knows the importance of a good cast of characters with strong, distinct personalities.  No one here merely blends into the background.  Every named character brings something to the table, even if they're not literally doing so as one of Nozaki's assistants, and each of them are funny in their own way.  It's hard to pick favorites from this lot.  Do you go with Seo, who is hilariously blunt and oblivious about just about everything?  What about Yuu, who exploits her appeal with the ladies to get out of work and awkward situations?  Then there's Nozaki's former editor Maeno, a vain peacock of a man who forces his charges to add whatever stupid idea he deems cute to their work (which in turn leads to the best visual gag of the book)?  It's a really well-balanced cast, and that's something of a rarity in manga.

While a lot of the humor simply comes from these very silly personalities bouncing off of one another, quite a bit of it comes from Tsubaki using the story to poke some fun at shoujo cliches.  This one is a bit more metatextual than most because of the fact that we see Nozaki deal with these very same cliches for story ideas.  Still, it's not cruel or completely satirical about them.  It simply takes them to their ridiculous extremes.  In a sense, it's laughing with them, not at them.  It's also not completely random, as a lot of lesser 4-koma can be.  Tsubaki strikes a nice balance between a need for a larger story and the demand to end every strip with a punchline by breaking things up in to a series of mini-arcs.  Most of these serve as extended introductions for the supporting cast, but each of them are full of gags all while flowing from one arc to the next smoothly.

I'm really glad that Nozaki-kun lived up to the fandom hype.  I wasn't all that impressed with what I saw of Oresama Teacher, but here I feel like Tsubaki is running on all gears.  It's a finely balanced mixed of sweet and silly with a great cast of characters that only gets better as it goes along.


I was also intrigued to see how Tsubaki would adapt to 4-koma artistically.  4-komas don't usually have a lot of space for fancy designs or florid settings, as visually it's mostly there to serve as the vehicle for a joke.  That's certainly quite a difference from your standard shoujo manga, where the emphasis is on packing the page with cute character designs, lots of visual flourishes and screentones, and using the visuals to set a particular mood.  Tsubaki seems to have aimed for a happy medium by stretching the 4-koma panels to the manga equivalent of widescreen.  That gives her more space to work with and she uses that space well.  It's not just for the expressions (though those are great), it's also good for showing off Nozaki's manga, showing off the backgrounds, or even more conversation.  It feels not only more efficient, but it's just better looking overall.


Normally I wouldn't comment on the inclusion of translation notes, but it is notable when they're put in the middle of the volume instead of the back.  This seems to be a printing error as I've seen other reviews that noted this same problem.


Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is a great example of what a good mangaka can do with a limited format like 4-koma.  She fills that space with a lot of great characters with a story that lovingly plays with shoujo standards while still leaving plenty of room for good character-driven humor.  Now we can say that there are TWO 4-koma series that are worth reading and collecting!

This series is published by Yen Press.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 7 volumes available.  1 volume has been published and is currently in print.

Remember to leave a comment here to enter the Holiday Giveaway to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate!  The contest ends at midnight tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


This was the year that Seven Seas finally started to redeem itself in my eyes.  I've ragged on them for years for putting out what I've often dubbed as moe and harem garbage (well, that and a zillion Alice In the Country of Hearts spinoffs).  Yet this year they put out two of my favorite manga from this year, starting with this underrated gem of a comedy manga.

HAVEN'T YOU HEARD?  I'M SAKAMOTO (Sakamoto desu ga?), by Nami Sano.  First published in 2012 and first published in North American in 2015.


Sakamoto is the new kid in class and for all appearances he can do no wrong.  He's seemingly perfect at everything: school, work, sports, and so forth.  He's so good looking that he leaves all the girls (and even some of the teachers) swooning.  That means that some of his classmates would love to take Sakamoto down a peg or bend him to their will.  Soon enough, though, they will learn that their pranks and schemes are no match for Sakamoto's cool head and his secret skills.


Sakamoto might be one of the hardest manga I've had to review this month.  It's a comedy, but it's so subdued and strange that I can easily see a lot of people simply not getting it.  In some ways it's a riff on the standard inspirational high-school drama, but in other ways it's a character-driven piece about one weird guy and the collection of weirdos that amass around him.  It is all of these things at once, and because of that it's one of the most fascinating works I've read for this site in a good long while.

The biggest mystery and the biggest source of comedy is Sakamoto himself.  He looks like a normal teenager, but his abilities suggest something more supernatural.  He's capable of superhuman speed and agility at times and he can seemingly anticipate and counteract any plan against him, be it a gang beat-down, a scheming schoolgirl, or even an angry giant hornet.  Despite that, he rarely emotes, meeting every problem with the same cool and placid expression.  It's his inability to be ruffled that annoys so many, but it's also the very same quality that makes him so funny.  He appears to be the straightman to the insanity around him, but in truth it's he that always gets the last laugh while the others are made to be the fool.  This might be the driest manga I've ever read.

That's not to say that the rest of the cast are slackers in the personality department either.  Admittedly, most of them are one-shot opponents with little more than a grudge, but others have a bit more dimension and Sakamoto's influence gives them a new direction in life.  That's how the attention-whoring model Sena ends up becoming the class clown, how class flirt Aina learns to start making friends with other girls, or how Suna the pudgy outclass learns the value of dignity and becomes the closest thing Sakamoto has to a friend (and in doing so becomes one of the few reoccuring characters in this volume).  There aren't necessarily a lot of threads of continuity to be found here, but taken as a whole it's easy to see just how far reaching Sakamoto's influence can be.

Sakamoto might be a hard manga to pin down, but it's a something of a marvel to read.  Its sense of humor might be too odd and dry for some, but the story shines like a gem thanks to Sano's skill for packing plenty of character into a single chapter and making something utterly ridiculous seem so understated.


Much like the title character, Sakamoto is a manga that's very easy on the eyes.  Sano's characters are very appealing and realistic.  They might be a little stiff at times, but they're all very expressive (well, except Sakamoto, but that's on purpose) and the shading really gives them a sense of dimension.  That touch of reality works in the story's favor, as it helps to ground the story and thus highlight just how ridiculous the schemes against Sakamoto are.  Panels are small but efficient; no space is wasted but neither are they drowning in details.  As I said before, good art can make or break a comedy series, and this art is not only beautifully rendered but also enhances the particular tone the story is aiming for.


More people should be hearing about Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto.  In a sea of broad, bawdy ecchi comedy manga, it stands out just by virtue of being deliciously dry, beautifully drawn, and slightly odd.

This series is published by Seven Seas.  This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available.  2 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.

Remember to leave a comment here to enter the Holiday Giveaway to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate!  The contest ends in just 2 days!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


2015 was a surprisingly good year for comedy manga, a genre that's been sadly neglected here for many years.  It certainly got off to a great start with today's selection.

MY NEIGHBOR SEKI (Tonari no Seki-kun), by Takuma Morishige.  First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2015.


Rumi Yayoi wants to be a good service, but it's hard for her to focus on her schoolwork when her classmate Seki keeps coming up with new ways to avoid paying attention to classwork.  These are no mere distractions - what Seki comes up with are elaborate games and scenarios all taking place around Seki's desk, and Rumi seems to be the only one who notices them.  Will Rumi ever be able to focus or will she always end up distracted by Seki's fun and games?


I reviewed the animated version of this series a while back, so I was excited to see what the original material looked like and was excited when Vertical picked it up.  I'm happy to say that much of what I liked about the TV show was in fact a carryover from the manga.

Comedy manga is a hard thing to pull off.  It's easy to drive a promising premise into the ground through sheer repetition.  It's equally easy to ruin a good premise by adding too many rules and complications to otherwise simple ideas and characters.  My Neighbor Seki does not have a problem with either.  Morishige shakes up the basic formula of the story in each chapter, whether it's with the setting, Seki's choice of game, or how it affects the ongoing power struggle between Seki and Rumi, and thus things can never get too stale. He also puts a lot of imagination into Seki's schemes.  It's not just enough for Seki to polish his desk, he has to bring out all sorts of putties, resins, and solvents to polish it to a mirror shine.  It's not enough for him to pass notes, he has to set up a classroom post office complete with stamps, standardized forms, and a dropbox.  He even finds a way to liven up otherwise innocuous board games like go and chess by turning them into these violent conflicts.  That imagination is infection in-story, as some of the best chapters are the ones where Rumi gets hopelessly caught up in Seki's games, be it his shogi-based feudal conflict or the toy robots that go through the class disaster drill like a perfect family.

It's impressive that Morishige gets so much material out of what is essentially a very limited cast.  Aside from the odd cameo from random classmates, My Neighbor Seki is a two-person story.  For an even greater challenge, only one of those people gets to talk.  Seki is a silent protagonist; while others mention talking to him, we never see him say or think a single word.  Rumi is thus the one who sets the story forward and sets the tone through her own inner monologue.  It would have been easy to make her nothing but a shrill scold, but she's just curious enough that she can let her guard down and get caught up in Seki's games, and thus the two become a surprisingly well-balanced comedic duo.  She even occasionally gets a few moments where she can get back at Seki, be it by choice or by accident.

Much like Seki himself, this manga shows just how much you can do with a limited premise and cast along with plenty of imagination.  It's well-paced and laugh out loud funny, taking familliar schoolroom premises and using them as the launching point for good comedy.


Morishige's artstyle is deceptively simple and cute, but it's more skillful that you would presume at first glance.  Good comedy manga lives and dies on the quality of its artwork, as a good joke can fall completely flat without the right expression or a good sense of timing.  This is not a problem for My Neighbor Seki, as Morishige's expressions for both Seki and Rumi are just brilliant.  They are broad and varied and simply priceless and they help sell the jokes in a major way.  They also help to elevate what are otherwise fairly simple, rounded character designs and the perfectly well-done if ordinary backgrounds.  He also knows how to frame his gags, with plenty of small, snappily-paced paneling.


My Neighbor Seki makes the most of its limited premise with a lot of imagination and plenty of expressive art, and that's enough to make it one of the better comedy manga to come out this year.

This series is published by Vertical.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 8 volumes available.  5 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.

Remember to leave a comment here to enter the Holiday Giveaway to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate!  The contest ends in just 3 days!

Monday, December 21, 2015


Meanwhile, Dark Horse was still present as always, but they were busy with more omnibus rereleases and finishing up Oh! My Goddess.  They didn't have much in the way of new releases, but they did manage to put out this single little volume of Gainax-y goodness.

PANTY & STOCKING WITH GARTERBELT (Panti ando Sutokkingu wizu Gataberuto), by Tagro and adapted from the series by GAINAX.  First published in 2010 and first published in 2015.


Panty and Stocking are two fallen angels who have been tasked with combating demonic forces if they ever want a chance to get back to heaven.  It's too bad then that they're too obsessed with sex and snacks to care much about their mission unless it's forced upon them.  Still, they have their hands full with all the demonic vending machines, parfumiers, and moon creatures that come their way.


It's one of those simple facts of life, at least for manga fans: manga adaptations of TV shows are always inferior to the original.  They tend to be slapdash affairs done only to serve as cross-promotion.  The stories are always horrendously condensed if not changed outright, and the art is usually done by some no-name newcomer with middling results.  Then there's the fact that Panty & Stocking is not a show that seems like it would translate well to manga in the first place.  It's purposefully vulgar and random and it was always meant as a showcase for director Hiroyuki Imaishi's fondness for American animation.  This manga should have been a formula for disaster, and yet it's possibly the best TV-to-manga adaption I've come across since starting this site.  How the hell did that happen?

Ironically, Tagro was able to capture the tone of the show by essentially throwing everything but the basics out.  Many of these sorts of adaptaions are determined to retell the story beat for beat.  With a show as random as Panty & Stocking, that simply wasn't going to work.  So Tagro instead makes up his own adventures for the angelic duo freed from any concern of continuity and free to do whatever it needs to in the name of a good gag.  That devil-may-care attitude to continuity is perfectly in line with the original show's devil-may-care attitude towards...well, a lot of things, so whether by accident or choice he managed to understand the show's tone perfectly and translate it to the page. 

Now, he didn't throw out everything.  The characters are precisely as you remember them.  Panty is libidinous and vulgar.  Stocking tries to be more prim, but often she can be just as crude.  Garterbelt is there to try to keep them on task with stern, moralizing lectures, even when he's in the middle of screwing altar boys.  Everyone else is...well, they're mostly just there as demon fodder.  The villains are nothing remarkable, but they all strike the right balance between silly and crude, and the solutions to their schemes are often much the same.  It also helps that the pacing is snappy, so all the gags and insults fly fast and free.  Thus, so long as you are down with this particular brand of juvenile humor, this is a very amusing book, and truthfully that's enough for me to like it.  After all, the show wasn't aiming for much more, so why should its manga counterpart be different?


Adapting the look of Panty & Stocking was just as much of a challenge as the story (as much as there is one).  Imaishi went for a very extreme style that owes much more to Genndy Tartakovsky and the many shows on Adult Swim than to more traditional anime styles.  It's loaded with bright colors and big blocky cartoony sound effects.  It's a style that could turn to garbage on the page faster than you can say "DeviantArt."  That's why I have to give Tagro even more credit for managing to capture the show's look so faithfully.  It's not just that everyone is on-model, it's that he captures a lot of the visual flare of the show.  He captures those extreme angles and the crazy sound effects and the general liveliness of the art all in black and white.  You could argue that it doesn't say much for his own personal style, but after seeing so many half-assed adaptations I'll happily welcome a manga that not only looks like the show it's adapting, but looks good in general.


Admittedly, this book will likely only appeal to those who were already fans of the Panty & Stocking series.  Still, it stands as one of the few times where the manga adaptation of a TV show manages to work as both an adaptive work and as a stand-alone piece.

This book is published by Dark Horse Comics.  It is currently in print.

Remember to leave a comment here to enter the Holiday Giveaway to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate!  The contest ends in just 4 days!

Sunday, December 20, 2015


This year saw the return of Udon to the manga scene.  They spent much of the 2000s trying to convince American manga readers to read manhwa with little success and have spent most of the last few years publishing anime and video game artbooks.  I guess that market has done well for them, as at long last we started seeing a trickle of series under their name, including today's selection.

STEINS; GATE, based on the visual novel by 5pb x Nitroplus with art by Yomi Sarachi.  First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2015.


Okabe Rintarou is convinced that he's destined for greatest.  Under the pseudonym of Hououin Kyouma, he and the fellow members of the Future Gadgets team are to change the world with their inventions, even if Okabe is the only one who takes it seriously.  Everything changes on the day he attends a lecture by young genius Makise Kurisu and a satellite crashes into Akihabara.  Okabe discovers that one of his inventions is a god-to-honest time machine.  As more and more people are roped into Future Gadgets, Okabe starts noticing strange changes to the people and events around him.  Are he and his friends actually changing the present?  If so, will those changes be for the best or not?


Steins;Gate is something of an anomaly.  While it's based on a visual novel and technically kind of a harem story, it's also got a lot of character and technobabble that gives it appeal beyond VN fans, especially after it got an animated adaptation.  A lot of that charm is still there in this manga version, but there are also little changes that do change the tone and I suspect how well received these changes are will vary greatly from reader to reader.

The most noticeable change is in Okabe's outlook.  While he's still his usual puffed-up, cock-sure self, there's an edge of paranoia to this version which makes him pricklier than most versions.  Mind you, we get more than enough hints that Okabe's paranoia is not without some cause, but it also makes it a little harder to justify why so many people would be drawn to him in the first place.  Another notable change is that there are so many little changes that go unnoticed by the cast save for Okabe.  It's not just happening whenever he and his friends try to use their time machine; it's happening steadily to all sorts of little things.  When combined with Okabe's prickliness, it gives the whole story a bit more of a suspenseful, disturbed air.

Otherwise, if you're familiar with either the visual novel or the anime, you're getting pretty much the same thing here as you are with either of them.  The story beats are much the same, and the same goes for the characterization.  It's got enough differences that it's not completely redundant, but it doesn't quite distinguish itself enough to bring anything new to fans.


There's something else that holds this version back: the art.  Sarachi's art is hasty and unpolished.  While the characters all resemble the originals, they all look like they were rather hastily, even lazily drawn.  That means faces tend to go off model fairly frequently and everything looks like it was just run through the moe filter after calling it a day.  At least the expression are pretty wild, especially where Okabe is concerned.  Backgrounds are also something that Sarachi can't be bothered much with.  They tend to be either grey gradients or hastily rotoscoped cityscapes.  It's weird to think that this was actually released before the original release of the visual novel because by just looking at it I would have guessed it was a slapdash cash-in made afterwards.


The Steins;Gate manga does some interesting things with its protagonist, but it's not enough to make up for lackluster art and the feeling that I've already seen this story done better.

This series is published by Udon.  This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available.  2 volumes have been published and both are currently in print.

Remember to leave a comment here to enter the Holiday Giveaway to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate!  The contest ends in just 5 days!


2015 was also a good year for digital manga distribution, including (but not limited to) Crunchyroll's manga service.  A lot of their best offerings got licensed for print, so most of them will have to wait for next year.  Amongst a fairly late addition of Square Enix-published titles was this odd little surprise of a manga.

ARAKAWA UNDER THE BRIDGE (Arakawa Anda za Buriji), by Hikaru Nakamura. First published in 2004, and first published in North America in 2015.


Kou Ichinomiya's family have always lived by one edict: never owe anyone.  He's done his best to live up to that credo until one day he fell into the river and was saved by a mysterious blonde girl nicknamed Nino.  Despite being poor and living under a bridge with a multitude of weirdos, Arakawa wants nothing in return from Kou except for one thing: to fall in love.  Now Kou is obligated to accept her request.  Will their relationship become something other than an obligation, or will the weirdness of Arakawa and company simply be too much for straight-laced Kou?


I'll be blunt: Arakawa Under the Bridge is not funny.  It's verging upon painfully unfunny.  It's meant to be a comedy, but it's far too chained to its own formula and random weirdness to make a impression beyond "...huh.  Well that happened."

If you watch enough anime or read enough manga, you'll start to pick up on a very common pattern to many of the so-called 'jokes.'  Someone will say or do something unusual, and then another person will scream out something along the lines of "Hey! You are being weird!  Why are you doing/saying that weird thing?"  Then that second person is somehow made the fool, and we are all meant to laugh at this turn of events.  It's a pretty lame set-up that rarely has any sort of proper punchline, and unfortunately just about every chapter of Arakawa follows this formula to a T.  Kou is the unfortunate straightman, forever doomed to be embarrassed at the hands of a spacey young girl and her weird, frequently costumed friends.  At least the chapters are much shorter than usual.  Few of them go over 10 pages.  That means that while the jokes are lame, they don't linger long enough to amplify their lameness.

The only time this manga actually works is during the far too rare times where it gets a little serious.  For most of the time, Nino is far too odd and spacey to show much affection to Kou and Kou has too much baggage from his upbringing to accept any sort of kindness at face value.  So when Nino does something as simple as washing his hair for no other reason than she wants to, it really affects Kou in a way that few things do.  He gets to show a more sensitive side to himself that we rarely get to see and their relationship starts to feel like something other than an obligation to repay a life debt.  It even provides the set-up for one of the better gags, as we learn from Kou's flashbacks that Kou's dad was determined to make Kou repay any simple parental act of kindness in return.  He even dresses up like a giant baby to make a point, and the image is a genuinely funny one.  I wish we could have had more moments like this and fewer that simply rely on the weirdness of a guy dressed as a kappa or the resident nun being a tough, gun-wielding nun.  It would have made the jokes feel far less repetitive and give the story a point beyond 'point and laugh at the uptight square.'


Nakamura's art is a little rough and odd, but it fits well with the story.  He certainly has fun drawing all these weirdos in their costumes (even if many of them tend to have giant foreheads), but he also clearly has even more fun drawing all of Kou's extreme expressions.  Maybe they just stand out because he tends to draw most everyone else with these dark-eyed, blank expressions that makes them all look bored.  Nino is the worst offender of the lot, considering that this blankness is pretty much her only defining characteristic. The backgrounds are nicely rendered, but nothing flashy.  In all fairness, there's only so much you can do with a grassy riverbank and some ramshackle shelters underneath a perfectly ordinary bridge. 


Arakawa under the Bridge is a quirky series with a rather lame sense of humor.  It's got a bit of heart to it, but you have to dig through a lot of yelling and formulaic gags to get there.  Still, I hope this one does well on Crunchyroll.  If so, then maybe - just maybe - we could have a shot at getting an English translation of Nakamura's other notable manga: Saint Young Men.  That would be a real feat.

This series is published by Crunchyroll.  This series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes available.  3 volumes are currently available digitally.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015


Tokyo Ghoul was hardly the only Tokyo-titled manga to come out this year.  There was also this quiet little superhero story from the good folks at Vertical.

TOKYO ESP (Tokyo Iesupi), by Hajime Segawa.  First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2015.


It all began with the mysterious spectral fish flying through the night sky.  Rinka Urushiba noticed them, sure, but she was too busy trying to keep herself and her father fed and housed.  Then she wakes up and phases right through the floor.  It seems that those mysterious fish imbued Rinka, her father, and a handful of others with strange, supernatural powers.  She meets up with Kyotaro, a teleporter who uses his powers to fight against evil.  They'll need all the allies they can find, though.  Some of the local Yakuza have teamed up with their own collection of ESPers and they're determined to get what they want by any means.


It seems like this was the year that manga finally started to get this whole Western-style superhero thing.  We had One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, and this series.  Ok, this one might be a bit of a stretch, but Tokyo ESP does feel like what would happen if you successfully combined X-Men with your standard shonen manga.  You've got a girl who phases through things, a guy who teleports, an older guy with magnetism powers penguin?

Unfortunately, like its sources of inspiration, it suffers from a protagonist that gets rather overshadowed by the supporting cast.  Rinko is a good, hard-working and noble girl, but she simply can't compete with the rather dashing Kyotaro or the adorable duo of Murasaki and her pet penguin Peggi.  Once she starts to get a grip on her powers, she simply quite keep the reader's focus by herself.  Even her archnemesis Kuroi is more intriguing, and she's simply a pissed-off teen girl with an ax to grind.  Still, that's better treatment that what her father Rindo gets; he's mostly forgotten by the narrative halfway through. 

So what about the story itself?  It takes half of the omnibus, but it does feel like it's finding its own direction.  It's just not always terribly organized when it comes to doing so.  The first half mostly deal with Rinko coming to terms with her powers and cementing her friendship with Kyotaro.  It's only in the second half that things take off as a rival gang of fellow ESPers try to take over a Yakuza clan only to have everything go tits up.  While it can still a bit messy at times, we do start to learn more about the variety of powers available and Kyotaro starts to get some background.  It's a solid beginning, even if takes a while to get there.  That's likely why this was published in omnibus form instead of single volumes.


Thankfully the artwork is a bit more accomplished than the writing.  Segawa favors a more stark look than one usually sees in shonen, with lots of solid black shadows.  His faces are a bit rough early on, but as the story progresses they get more consistent.  The same is true for the action setpieces, as the fights grow more and more dynamic thanks to some well-composed panels full of high-flying kicks and punches.  Backgrounds tend to be either rotoscoped cityscapes or plenty of grey gradients that work well with Segawa's dark shadows.  The place where the art really shines best is in the color pages.  His style is well suited to bright, bold colors, and it's little wonder that it was eventually translated to animation.


Tokyo ESP starts shakily, but both the story and art gain confidence as the volume goes on to become a quirky and enjoyable little series.

This series is published by Vertical.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 13 volumes available.  2 2-in-1 omnibuses have been released and all are currently in print.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015


Today's review is not only one of the biggest titles to get a TV-related boost, but one of the best-selling manga of the year.  Who would have expected that to come from a horror series?

TOKYO GHOUL (Tokyo Guru), by Sui Ishida. First published in 2011, and first published in 2015. 


Ken Keneki is an introverted bookworm with a taste for dark and morbid fiction.  That's why he can't believe his luck when the lovely Rize seems to like the same books and wants to go on a date with him.  Too bad for him that Rize is a ghoul, one of many human-like creatures that crave human flesh.  Her attack on Ken is cut short by a freak accident that kills her and leaves Ken on the brink of death.  Ken's doctor tries to save his life by transplanting some of Rize's organs into him, but the result is that Ken is now part ghoul.  Now Ken finds himself struggling to maintain his humanity in the face of his new and all-consuming hunger.


Horror manga tends to leave me rather cold.  Some simply use copious amounts of gore to shock the reader.  Others think that the mere presence of supernatural beings is enough to count as horror.  Few of them ever try to capture the true emotions behind a good scare: fear, outrage, despair, paranoia, and so forth.  Tokyo Ghoul is one of those rare few works that does get it.  It's a slow burn of internal torment that puts the reader vividly into Ken's place.

It is Ken's internal monologue that drives so much of the story and Ishida's writing captures every moment of Ken's fears, thoughts, and hunger brilliantly.  You can all but hear the dread in Ken's voice as he discovers his terrible fate.  You can feel the roll of his stomach as he tries (and fails) to contain his inhuman hunger.  You can feel the despair in his mental pleas to the world to make everything return to normal.  She even throws in references to Kafka and Hesse into Ken's internal narration.  She really captures his particular voice that makes the story so effective and chilling.

That's not to say that the story itself doesn't try to horrify the reader from the outside!  Here it's less about the gore and more about the brutality of the ghouls' infighting.  Ken himself gets into more than a few scrapes and each time it's basically a one-sided massacre.  Ghouls possess superhuman strength you see, and poor Ken suffers from a lack of athletic skill and barely understands the powers he inherited from Rize, so Ken suffers with every blow.  These fights stem from one of the most intriguing yet underdeveloped parts of the story: ghoul culture.  Unbeknownst to most humans, ghouls can be found all over Tokyo, and we learn about them alongside Ken.  A local coffee house serves as their hub, and it's from there that hunting territories are distributed, flesh is given to those in need, and where Ken starts to find some sense of belonging.  There's a lot unexplained about ghouls at this point, though, and it'll be up to future volumes to start filling in those blanks.

I suspect that the slow pace will be frustrating to some, as it Ken spends most of the volume in tearful, fretful denial.  Personally, though, I think it's slow pacing makes the horror all that more effective.  It lets the seriousness of Ken's situation really sink into the reader's mind.  It's that slow burn combined with the strong character writing and the violence that makes Tokyo Ghoul so horrific, and that's what puts this manga a notch above most horror manga.


Ishida's artwork helps to ground the story in something closely resembling our own reality.  Her character designs are plain not in an artistic sense, but in an everyday, person-on-the-street sense.  Even good-looking people like Rize have a sense of dimension and earthiness that makes look more like real world people.  She put special care into Ken's expressions, be it wide-eyed horror, strained pleasantry, or ugly, snotty crying.  That overall earthiness helps to serve as all the better contrast for when the ghouls do reveal themselves.  Their eyes turn dark and bloodshot, their faces contort into grimaces worthy of Higurashi, and their punches, kicks, and spectral attacks blur into dense swishes of pure energy. 

Ishida also uses the framing of her panels very well.  She knows just when to zoom into Ken's face for maximum impact, when to use low angles and tilts to evoke a sense of visual unease, and how to communicate the precision of a powerful strike in the midst of a chaotic fight. She is simply a very good visual storyteller and her skill for it shines from every page. 


Tokyo Ghoul is one of the best horror manga I've read in years and it's one that I would highly recommend to others.  It's evocative, stunning, and intriguing, and best of all it is genuinely unnerving.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 14 volumes available.  4 volumes have been published and all are currently in print. 

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015


This one was one of the surprise hits of the year.  While it had been on Crunchyroll for a while, it didn't really take off until the recent series that adapted it. 

YAMADA-KUN AND THE SEVEN WITCHES (Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo), by Miki Yoshikawa.  First published in 2012, and first published in North America in 2015.


Ryu Yamada is a punk-ass kid who couldn't care less about school.  By chance, he stumbles on the stairs right onto star student Urara Shiraishi.  When he wakes up afterwards, he discovers that he's swapped bodies with her!  Yamada takes the opportunity to help Shiraishi with a bully, but that's just the start of his troubles.  The two discover that they can swap bodies with just a kiss, but this power starts garnering them more attention and more trouble than either could have imagined.


I have certain expectations when I think of shonen romances, particularly the ones that feature genderswapping.  I expect a lot of macho posturing, a lot of fanservice, and a lot of goofiness and fighting, and much of this is true of Yamada-kun.  So why does it work so well here when such a formula has failed in so many other instances?

I think the biggest key to its success is that it's pretty evenly balanced between Yamada and Shiraishi.  A lot of manga in this vein tend to skewer things heavily towards the male protagonist to better appeal to their teen guy audience.  Here, though, Yamada and Shiraishi get fairly equal screentime.  She gets to have some development, some laughs, and is generally treated like something more than just a prize to win, and that's a pleasant change from the norm.  That's good because Yamada is totally typical of the male protagonists you see in these sorts of stories: tough, dumb, brash, yet completely clueless when it comes to girls.  It also goes for many of the jokes you would expect to see in these sorts of stories (which mostly means "check out the other person's junk 'cause you can.")

Things stay fairly episodic for a while, where every chapter is about some minor dilemma that requires the two to switch places.  It's only about two-thirds of the way in that we start to see any sort of proper plot structure thanks to a curious student council member who stumbles upon their secret.  He takes it upon himself to start testing their power with at least mildly amusing results. It's still pretty early yet to get much more of a read on the plot.  Hell, we don't even know what the seven witches in the titles refers to yet.  Still, it's an entertaining and fairly equal take on an old idea and I can see why this would catch on with others.


I also really like the artwork here.  It's unusually rubbery for a shonen romance.  If anything, the character designs and overall style remind me more of a slightly toned-down Hiro Mashima than anything else.  Yoshikawa also keeps the fanservice pretty mild and to a minimum, which gives her a lot more space for the great expressions she draws.  Sadly, the only one she can't do well is the act of kissing.  It looks more like two cardboard pieces slotting into one another than actual kissing.  Even the backgrounds are surprisingly good despite being the same old classroom scenes we've seen a million times over.  It's just a really good-looking book with a lot of energy on the page, and I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned the quality of the art.


Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches isn't necessarily breaking new ground with its premise, but it sets itself a notch above the rest by giving equal time to its protagonists and supporting the gags with a lot of good, rubbery art.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 20 volumes available.  5 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.  This series is also being simulpublished digitially via Crunchyroll.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Of course, wherever there are manga trying to cash in on the success of anime, there too are the increasingly large pile of Sword Art Online manga.  I wasn't crazy for the original, but I thought that maybe this one would be better.  After all, it's all about the supporting cast!

Oh how wrong I was.

SWORD ART ONLINE: GIRLS' OPS (Sodo Ato Onrain Garuzu Opusu), based on the series by Reki Kawahara, art by Neko Nokobyo and character designs by abec.  First published in 2013, and first published in North America in 2015.


After the events of Sword Art Online, some of the players stayed in touch and even continued to play in the fantasy-themed world of ALO.  That's certainly true for Keiko, Rika, and Suguha, a trio better known as Silica, Lisbeth, and Leafa.  Their latest adventure leads them to a new girl with a familiar face and a determination to game along.  When she gets into big trouble, it's up to these three to save her before it's game over for them all.


Despite my distaste for Sword Art Online, I was at least in favor of the premise of this spinoff.  After all, there are plenty of characters other than Kirito the VG Jesus and his precious waifu.  Wouldn't it be nice to read a story about them doing stuff together that doesn't ultimately end with "and Kirito saves the day and everyone loves him"?  Oh, if only that was how it actually turned out.  The focus might be on three of the more prominent female costars, but it has nothing interesting for them to do. Worse still, while Kirito is indeed absent, he still manages to insert himself all over the damn story.

To some degree it couldn't be helped.  He's going to have to come up when the new girl/SAO survivor Kuro has purposefully adoped Kirito's look and weapon style out of starry-eyed hero-worship.  Still, it's annoying that every few pages one or more of the girls has to say something along the lines of "We have to be strong for Kirito-sama!"  Heaven forbid that they chose to be strong for themselves, for their friends, or literally anything else that's more immediate and/or sensible.  Nope, they have to all be strong because Kirito was strong and saved them all and because all of them are still smitten with him to some degree.  Yes, that includes Suguha, which if you'll recall is Kirito's sister. *shudder*  It's kind of ridiculous that a book that markets itself as being all about Girl Power ends up being all about a guy in the end.  It undercuts the girls' own agency as characters as well as the moral about the power of friendship or whatnot.

God knows that these characters desperately need some outside motivation because on their own there is absolutely NOTHING interesting about them.  This book simply presumes you read or watched this series previously so you already know everything you need to know about them.  Thus, while there's plenty of talk about fun and friendship, we don't get the slightest bit of insight into who these girls are as people or the nature of their friendship beyond their mutual connection as SAO veterans and members of the Kirito fan club.  It's crystal clear that whomever this Neko Nekobyou person is, they are very clearly a man because they have no notion of what girls do and say amongst themselves.  It certainly explains why even the real-world conversations between the girls are so utterly flat and empty .  The only person here who gets to demonstrate even the slightest crumb of personality is Kuro (real name Hiyori).  Even then, she's got a very clichéd backstory and the biggest twist about her is that while she is very serious in-game, she's a bubbly ditz in the real world.  I guess it's more memorable than "moe baby", "what's-her-face", and "token imouto". 

So I've bitched plenty about the characters, but what about the actual plot? In a world, meh.  It certainly works as a rather uninspired side quest in an RPG.  I just wish that it could have done without that standard of bad fantasy, the acid slimes that like to dissolve clothing.  Yeah, they do use this as justification for an epilogue where Kuro changes her in-game avatar, but otherwise it's a weak excuse for fanservice.  In all fairness, why make an effort there when this whole manga only exists as an empty bit of fluff for SAO fans?  It doesn't take any chances and doesn't dare to develop the world or the cast of SAO beyond the basics.  It's just an empty bit of fluff released to cash in on the SAO brand.


While the artwork here is nowhere near as bad as the original manga, but it doesn't do anything even mildly extraordinary either.  The characters all stick pretty closely to the originals, which were already were pretty generic both inside and outside the game. They also spend an inordinate amount of time gawping like fish towards the reader. It's weird that ALO is meant to be this epic MMO-style fantasy RPG, but we see so very little of it.  Because of that, we never get much of a sense of scale or plae.  We don't even get much sense of one location transitioning to another.  The most daring thing it does visually is abuse Dutch angles like a fiend.  It's just a thoroughly mediocre-looking book.


Sword Art Online: Girls' Op doesn't bring anything new or neat to the table for new readers and I suspect that even seasoned SAO fans would struggle to find anything of substance here. Wake me when they get around to doing a spinoff about Klein.  Maybe THAT one won't be all about Kirito for once.

This series is published by Yen Press.  This series is complete in Japan with two volumes available.  Both volumes were published and it is currently in print.

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Monday, December 14, 2015


A lot of manga releases this year were hoping to follow in Attack on Titan's footsteps in that they too were hoping for a huge surge in sales thank to an animated counterpart.  Today's selection is just one of the many to ride that trend, and it is easily one of the most notorious manga releases of the year.

PRISON SCHOOL (Purizen Sukuru), by Akira Hiramoto.  First published in 2011 and first published in 2015.


Hachimitsu Private Academy is an all-girl boarding school that has only recently gone co-ed.  Only five boys made the cut, a motley crew of awkward losers led by the relatively normal Kiyoshi.  Kiyoshi is on the verge of actually getting a girlfriend when he gets roped into a scheme to peep on the girls' bath.  Having been caught red-handed, the gang are turned over to the girls of the Shadow Student Council, who have sentenced the boys to a month in the school's prison.  The boys are subject to all sorts of punishment, much to their delight.  Kiyoshi is the only one who is determined to escape their captors and keep his promise to a pretty girl to see a sumo match.


You've probably heard the story behind this manga by now.  Hiramoto previous made a manga called Me and the Devil Blues, a manga about the urban legend about notable jazz musician Robert Johnson.  It was well-reviewed, but a massive flop on both sides of the Atlantic.  Thus Hiramoto vowed to himself "Oh, they want nothing but stupid fanservice-heavy harems?  I'll show them! I'll make a manga all about fanservice!"  He certainly delivered on the fanservice front, but he also managed to deliver a wholly unique experience while he was at it.

A lot of fanservice-driven manga are not subtle about it, but Prison School takes that to the extreme.  This is virtualy gonzo in its approach, leering at every curve at every opportunity and liberally sprinkling these instances with plenty of kink.  It's practically soaked in tits and ass.  It's so extreme and in-your-face that the fanservice becomes bizarre and unappealing.  I realize that this is more of an art criticism than a story-related one, but it's so omnipresent that you simply have to discuss it.  It's open about being a pure exploitation piece, so I have to give it points for honesty.

Still, there's a lot of character lurking just under the surface of that fanservice.  Kiyoshi may be fairly average as far as male protagonists go, but the rest of his gang are very distinct sorts of weirdos.  They're not just your average sort of perverts or otaku.  Each of them has their own personality going on and sometimes even their own plots.  The same goes for the shadow student council girls.  Each of them have their own issues going on, and the story is clearly making a point about them being just as repressed as the boys.  That's kind of the theme of the story, or at least as close to a theme as it'll ever come.  Both parties prove that sexual repression breeds perversity, regardless of gender, and it gets exercised n some interesting ways.  Even more minor characters like the school chairman have their own stories that feed into this theme, as he tries so valiantly to give up his love of big Latina butts. 

In its own way, Prison School reminds me of those weird German or Italian exploitation movies from the 1970s.  It makes no bones about wanting to be smut, but it also wants to try to tell a story and make some sort of commentary to justify the sexual extremes it takes.  It's up to the reader to determine if this is an experience that works or not, but it's certainly one I've never experienced before or since.


It also has to be said that Hiramoto is a damn good artist.  He's got a great grasp on anatomy (no pun intended), so much so that he's just as good at drawing it normally as he is at exaggerating it for comedic effect.  The expressions here are priceless, so much so that the anime version of Prison School went out of its way to replicate them.  He puts that same level of care into the fanservice, so every boob bounce and curve is rendered with loving care (along with those bizarre shiny blush things that are so common in anime and manga that make any woman looks like she's been waxed to a shine).  He even emphasizes these curves with lots of extremely low and virtually fish-eyed angles, having them practically fill up the entire panel.  It's art that is extreme and often outright tasteless at times, but it's also incredibly skillful and often darkly humorous. 


Prison School is what it is.  It's a gonzo experiment in fanservice that zooms straight past weird and comes right back around to brilliant, but it's so extreme that I can see a lot of people taking it at face value and rejecting it outright.  Honestly, it's so weird that the only way to know if this is for you or not is to check it out for yourself.

This series is published by Yen Press.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 19 volumes available.  2 volumes of 2-in-1 omnibuses have been published and all are currently in print.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015


Of course, with the rise of the fujoshi market we're seeing a gradual increase in fujo-friendly titles.  That not only means more BL (or BL-friendly) works, but also manga about fujoshi like today's selection.

KISS HIM, NOT ME! (Watashi ga Motete Dosunda), by Junko.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2015.


Kae Serinuma is a chubby fujoshi who's content to spend her days gazing upon her handsome male classmates and dreaming of pairing them least, when she can spare some time from her favorite show.  Tragedy strikes for her when her favorite character is killed off, and she goes into such a funk over it that she doesn't eat for a week and emerges from her room slim and beautiful.  This draws the attention of her classmates, but their attentions only leave Kae baffled as to why they're hitting on her and not each other.


Kiss Him, Not Me! is ostensibly a comedy, but I found myself having a hard time laughing at it.  The story's fine, many of the physical gags are fine, but much of the premise becomes kind of sad once you starting thinking about it.

At least the story isn't terribly cruel towards Kae for being a fujoshi.  A lot of manga about fujoshi are merely content to point and laugh at the sidelines about their weird behavior and poor appearances and for the most part this manga does not indulge in that.  Kae certainly has no qualms about her fandom and is even willing to go so far as to try and explain it to her unexpected harem of suitors.  While I'm glad that Junko didn't pile Kae with a lot of internal anguish over her fujo tendencies, I was still terribly (and I suspect unintentionally) struck by how sad Kae's situation is.  Here is a girl who is so used to being ignored that she has subliminally accepted that she has no right to be with attractive men.  Thus she channels all of her romantic and sexual yearnings into her fujo fantasies where she can safely indulge without fear of rejection, even after her transformation.  I get that this is meant to be much of the joke here, but I just found myself wishing that someone would let her know that it's OK to have desires of her very own.  At least things lighten up for her as the volume goes on.  I actually rather liked the chapter where she tries her hand at soccer based solely on what she's seen of shonen sports manga.

Mind you, maybe her oblivousness to the romantic potential around her is for the best because honestly most of her harem are kind of dicks.  Most of them are barely aware of her beforehand, and fewer still are willing to give her the time of day.  Post-weight loss, though, they're all over her like white on rice.  All but one don't recognize her and it's clear that all these boys care about is that Kae is pretty.  Even when she starts to share just how much of an otaku she is, they seem to go along with it not because they're starting to understand her as a person but simply because they'll accept anything if it means getting close to her.  It's as if you can see them all thinking "Uh huh, that's nice, now let me touch your boobs."  Otherwise, they're fairly standard and rather lightly sketched clichés of every high school boy in manga ever. 

It's always so sad when a potential comedy is derailed because you can't help but find yourself seeing all the weird, sad, and cynical stuff that's lying just beyond the premise.  Doing so kind of killed whatever potential Kiss Him, Not Me! might have had.


At least Junko's art is light and loose enough to make up for what the story lacks.  Her character designs are cute, even if it's hard to believe that Kae's transformation from what looks like a crude fat dwarf to a more conventional shoujo heroine complete with long, heavy hair, saucer eyes, and a large bust.  She's also very good at comedic expressions.  Most everyone gets at least one good double take or bug-eyed moment and they're deployed perfectly.  Otherwise it's a pretty straightforward looking book.


Kiss Him, Not Me! wasn't a total strikeout, but it was nowhere as funny as it could have been.  I suspect that most of the issues I had with it were all in my head, but they are enough to merit a more cautious rating.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 5 volumes available.  2 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.  This series is also available digitally through Crunchyroll.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015


Digital Manga Publishing continues to crawl along, occasionally putting out yaoi when they're not scraping by on the proceeds of their Kickstarter campaigns.  Imagine my surprise when I looked over their releases from this year and discovered a new work from a previous favorite of mine!

DOES THE FLOWER BLOSSOM? (Hana wa Sakuka), by Shoko Hidaka.  First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2015.


Sakurai spends most of his days drifting through life.  He's never been able to get over the break-up with his girlfriend and his work doesn't really engage him.  The only thing that does interest him is the weird old house in the woods near the railroad station and the You the moody, quiet painter that lives there.  More and more, Sakurai finds himself thinking of that man and finding more excuses to make his way to his house.  Soon enough Sakurai realizes that he's in love with Youichi, but how can he begin to get his feelings across to a man he barely knows?


A few years back, I pegged Hidaka as a mangaka to watch after discovering the glory of Blue Morning.  After that, I was all too eager to read more of her work to see if it could compare to that.  I don't know if Does The Flower Blossom? will get to that point, but it's certainly setting up enough that it could become great in time.

Hidaka is the sort of BL mangaka who favors character and relationships over sheer smut and this manga is no exception to that.  Most of this volume is dedicated to exploring Sakurai's mind and following him as he tries to learn more about Youichi and the other guys living in the house.  She vividly captures the suffocating boredom of his life early on as well as his slowly encroaching obsession with Youichi.  She also spends a lot of time establishing those two along with Shouta, Youichi's eager young roommate and it really helps to set in the reader's mind who these people are and why they are the way they are.  If there's just one problem, it's that Hidaka perhaps spends TOO much time setting this all up.  I don't mind slow pacing in manga if it's in service of building up characters and plot, but it feels like every revelation takes an eternity to dawn on the others and it left me feeling impatient for things to start moving forward.  If I'm getting antsy reading this, then your average smut-crazy yaoi fan will be lucky to make it to the end before picking up something else.

I feel really bad criticizing this one because it's objectively not bad at all.  After all, it ends on a cliffhanger with Sakurai finally figuring out his feelings, so it can only get better from here.  It's just that it takes far, FAR too long to get to that point and Hidaka should have found a way to balance all that good character building with a slightly snappier pace.


Hidaka's artwork is as good as it always is.  Her characters are all fine drawn with solid bodies and jawlines and subtle (if somewhat similar) faces.  She puts a fair bit of detail into her panels, but she doesn't let it dominate the work.  The pages are a little busy with plenty of little panels, but never to the point of distraction.  It's just a very artistically solid work and as always, I appreciate anyone in the BL world with genuine art skills.


Does the Flower Blossom? is a genuinely good work, but it's dragged down by a glacial plot and its focus on character means that sadly a lot of BL fangirls will pass this one by.  I guess that's their loss.

This series is published by Digital Manga Publishing.  This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available.  2 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.

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Of course, as with every year 2015 brought yet another slow trickle of new yaoi titles.  Many considered this one of their most anticipated manga titles.  For me, though, this was one of my most dreaded ones.

THE WORLD'S GREATEST FIRST LOVE: THE CASE OF RITSU ONODERA (Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi: Onodera Ritsu no Baai), by Shungiku Nakamura.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2015.


Ritsu Onodera is an up-and-coming editor, but he's eager to prove that his success isn't due to him being the CEO's son.  That's what leads him to take a job with Marakawa Publishing, even if it means serving as an editor for a shoujo magazine.  Just because he's totally cynical towards love due to a messy breakup with his high school sempai doesn't mean that he can't find fulfillment in counting reader postcards and bugging mangaka about their schedules.  What Ritsu couldn't have expected was that his sempai grew up to become his hard-ass editor-in-chief Takano.  It turns out that Takano is also still bitter about their breakup, so he's decided that he's going to make Ritsu admit he still loves him - whether he likes it or not!


Back in February I declared Junjo Romantica to be the worst yaoi manga I have ever read, so you can only imagine how unexcited I was to learn that SuBLime was putting out more of her work.  Of course, every book I review gets the benefit of the doubt and this one was no exception.  After reading this first volume, I can safely say that it is better than Junjo.  That may not be a high hurtle to tackle and that doesn't mean that this is a good series by any means, just an improvement.

The strongest element of this story is easily all the behind-the-scenes stuff at the magazine office.  Nakamura is clearly drawing on her own experiences during these parts, and had she focused more on them this could have been the shonen-ai equivalent of something like Bakuman.  I also like Ritsu for the most part.  His focus and drive to succeed gives the story some forward momentum that isn't related to romance.  I can even get behind the notion of Ritsu and Takano both being burned by their high school breakup years later because both remember it ending differently.  In a better writer's hand, that kind of set up could become great romantic farce.  Unfortunately, that's where all the good qualities end.

The moment that Takano reveals his past, Nakamura reverts right back to all the awful tendencies that made Junjo such a trainwreck.  The tough-but-fair boss becomes a manipulative creepy seme who molests first and ask questions later, and Ritsu becomes a shrill, paranoid, jealous uke who is deeply in denial about his own feelings.  It doesn't help that Nakamura is a firm believer in the Takahashi brand of romance where the more a couple quarrels, the more they are presumed to be in love.  Ritsu and Takano's working relationship was strained enough before this revelation, but afterwards it becomes outright intolerable.  We can't even escape once Ritsu leaves the office as Takano just so happens to be Ritsu's next door neighbor.  That means he can molest him off-hours, guaranteeing that the discomfort never stops.

It's a shame that even when she tries to stretch herself as a writer, Nakamura can't help but fall back into her old habits when it comes to romance.  She's ignoring all the good parts of the story so she can focus on all the clichéd, annoying ones.  In doing so, she's essentially derailing the whole story before it can really get going.


I will grant Nakamura this much: the artwork here is considerably better than that on display in Junjo.  Her character designs are still too overly stylized and flat for my taste, but they're mostly proportionate and better detailed than before.  They're even shaded now!  Now they're more in line with what you usually see in yaoi art.  Of course, it would help if she didn't draw attention to the weird faces by focusing almost claustrophobically close to them in the panels.  Still, her panels are cleaner in style, easier to follow on the page, and are no longer drowning in screentone.  Again, she'll never be a great artist, but she has at least matured into a middling one.


World's Greatest First Love is a step forward for its creator, but that's not necessarily saying all that much.  There are some positives, but most of them are early on and get cancelled out once the romance gets going.  It doesn't live up to the hype, but it fits in fairly well with the vast sea of middling yaoi releases.

This series is published by Viz under the SuBLime imprint. This series is ongoing in Japan with 9 volumes available.  3 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.

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Friday, December 11, 2015


Even the shonen series were taking some cues from the shoujo mags, if this series has anything to say about it.

YOUR LIE IN APRIL (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso), by Naoshi Arakawa.  First published in 2011, and first published in 2015.


Kosei Arima used to be a renowned piano student, winning many a competition thanks to the tutelage of his strict and demanding mother.  After she died, Arima had an on-stage breakdown and since then has refused to touch a piano again.  Arima's friends try their best to reach to him, but Arima has pretty much resigned himself to a dull and colorless least, he was until he met Kaori Miyazawa.  She's a freespirited violinist with a style all her own, and with her Arima finds something he's not felt in many years: inspiration.


It's kind of remarkable how un-maudlin Your Lie In April is, considering how much time it spends inside Arima's head and some of the issues he deals with.  It's a credit to Arakawa that she's able to balance the more melodramatic elements of this story with the lighter (and sometimes quasi-romantic) moments and the end result of her efforts is a manga that's compelling in its own way but stays just grounded enough to be affecting instead of theatrical.

You don't usually see characters are messed up as Arima is these sorts of weird shonen-shoujo hybrids.  He is a literal victim of parental abuse, as the only reason he's so good at the piano is that his mother literally beat it into him.  She spent her days pressuring and guilting her only child into achieving her dream of being a professional piano player and Arima sacrificed a significant portion of his childhood in order to satisfy her.  Her lessons make such an impression on Arima that he still goes through many of them well after she's dead and he's given up on music if simply because he's never known anything else.  It's little wonder that he would quit the when you considering how deeply it's tied in his mind to his mother and her force of will.  It's also little wonder that Arima has basically spent his childhood living with some form of depression.  For most of his young life, music was an obligation instead of a choice or a passion.  With his mother's death the obligation is gone, but Arima can't help but find himself missing the order it brought to his life and he genuinely misses the only family he's ever known.  It's not wonder that Arima's friends can't reach him.  What this kid needs is a good psychiatrist and possibly some medication, not to be dragged into a bunch of high school antics.

I'd even argue that he needs that more than he needs some free spirit to change his life, even if the story is convinced otherwise.  It's impossible to deny that Kaori is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, there to be charmingly eccentric and thus bring color and the prospect of romance into the protagonist's life.  Thankfully, Kaori tends to be more charming than eccentric, leaving that mostly for her performance style.  She's also personable enough that she knows just how to start drawing Arima out of his shell, and as a fellow prodigy they can talk about music at the same intellectual level.  Still, it's clear that they're being set up for a romance, and if so it's clear that Arakawa is taking her sweet-ass time getting there.

The story's pace verges upon glacial, which means we spend a lot of time watching Arima stew in his own depression at the start and only just starting to open up to others by volume's end.  The only real indication of this story taking a romantic turn is with Arima's Childhood Best Friend (tm), Tsubaki.  She's spent years with him and has tried every tactic she can think of to make Arima happy, but she starts to grow jealous of Kaori's ability to reach out to Arima in a way she hasn't been able to manage in all her years.  While I can't say that I'm thrilled with the prospect of this manga becoming just another love triangle, I am at least glad that someone in this story isn't completely oblivious to their own feelings.

While Your Lie In April might trade in more than a few archetypical character types, it's got a very keen understanding of Arima and his issues and it takes them very seriously, which makes Kaori's ability to reach him all the more remarkable.  The slow and steady approach the story takes can be frustrating at first, but it also shows that Arakawa is dedicating towards developing these characters and their tale properly.


Arakawa's artwork is as simply and sunny as the story is serious.  Faces are simple, even a little flat, but they're also expressive and cute.  She also tries to lighten things with a lot of super-deformed comedy reactions, sometimes to the point of excess.  Mind you, the real focus of the book is the performances.  Music-based manga always struggle with the notion of communicating the quality of a performance without motion or actual music to help them, and Arakawa is no exception to this.  She tries her hardest, particular with Kaori's first performance, with plenty of frantic intercutting between angles and panels, but it's a little too visually frantic to get across any actual feeling.  Otherwise it's a generally pleasant and straightforward book visually.  It's just lacking that little something that would take it over the top.


Your Lie In April was a mixed bag for me.  It's kind of deep, yet kind of shallow.  It's got potential for narrative depth, but the artwork is pleasantly generic.  It's not a bad read but it never quite reached the point of greatness.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 11 volumes available.  4 volumes have been published and all are currently in print and available as e-books.

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