Saturday, May 25, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: MIRACLE GIRLS

From the creator of Ultra Cute comes a series that tries to combine your standard, slice-of-life school romance with psychic shenanigans.  The results are...mixed, at best.

MIRACLE GIRLS (Mirakuru Garuzu), by Nami Akimoto.  First published in 1991 and first published in North America in 2000.



PLOT:

Toni and Miki are twin sisters with a secret: they can talk to one another psychically, and when together they can even teleport.  This becomes handy when brainy Miki finds herself stuck on the relay race team for her school's sports day and needs sporty Toni to switch places with her.  Toni finds it hard to keep up the charade when she starts falling for Miki's classmate Jackson, and harder still to avoid the attention of science teacher/wanna-be paranormal researcher Mr. Kageura.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: THE HEIRESS AND THE CHAUFFEUR

You know what we need more of?  Manga set in the Taisho era.  I don't need more samurai or Shinsengumi - I want more spunky schoolgirls in fancy hakamas like today's selection.

THE HEIRESS AND THE CHAUFFEUR (Ojo-sama no Untenshu), by Keiko Ishihara.  First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

Sayaka Yoshimura is a lovely young girl, one of the many fine ladies at her ladies' school.  As a refined young lady, she is escorted to and from school by her family's chauffeur, Shinobu Narutaki.  Narutaki is handsome and dedicated, and naturally rumors are constantly swirling that he and Sayaka are in love.  When Narutaki defends Sayaka for an offense she did not commit, her school demands he be dismissed or else Sayaka will lose the privileges as top student.  Will Sayaka cave to social pressure or stand in defense of a loyal servant?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: DEFYING KUROSAKI-KUN

The trashier side of shojo can be a safe space for young girls and women to explore their fantasies, but I have some serious words about the sort of fantasy that books like today's selection have to offer.

DEFYING KUROSAKI-KUN (Kurosaki-kun no Iinari ni Nante Naranai), by Makino.  First published in 2014, and first published in North America in 2018.



PLOT:

Yu Akabane is hoping that a make-over and a new school will be just the thing to improve her social life.  Her plans go awry when her parents have to suddenly force her to move into the dorms, putting her at the mercy of deputy dorm monitor Haruto Kurosaki.  He's the dark, moody, and foul-tempered best friend of class idol Takumi Shirakawa, and when Yu confronts him, his response to declare her his slave and forcefully kiss her.  Will Yu ever get out from under his thumb?  And just what is Kurosaki hiding behind his glowering stare?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: PORTRAIT OF M & N

Shojo manga is frequently all about romance, but seldom about the kinkier side of it.  Is it still possible to make the audience's hearts pound when it's less about holding hands and first dates and more about whips and restraints?

PORTRAIT OF M & N (M to N no Shozo),  by Tachibana Higuichi.  First published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2010.



PLOT:

Mitsuru is a stunning beauty from an accomplished family who is seemingly perfect and demure...at least, until she gets hurt.  A lifetime of parental abuse has given her a masochistic streak, and the slightest injury leaves her in a daze begging for more.  Her secret is discovered by her classmate Natsuhiko, who then confesses his own kink: he's a narcissist who has to wear coke-bottle glasses to keep himself from obsessing over his image in any mirrored surface.  The two soon bond over their kinky lifestyles, but their tenuous relationship is threatened when a popular boy also discovers Mitsuru's kinky little secret.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: FROM FAR AWAY

While Fushigi Yugi was the first manga series to popularize the concept of shojo isekai in the 90s, there was a series that came out at the same time that in my opinion is far more interesting (and 100% less rapey!)

FROM FAR AWAY (Kanata Kara), by Kyoko Hikawa.  First published in 1993, and first published in 2004.



PLOT:

When Noriko is caught up in a bombing, she finds herself whisked away to a strange new world, one she had only seen previously in her dreams.  There are all sorts of strange creatures and landmarks, and she can't understand a thing anyone's saying.  All she knows is that Izark, the brave warrior who found her and protects her, is the only person she can trust.  Little does she know that she and Izark are players in an ancient prophecy, one that would bring death and destruction to this new world...

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: BRIDE OF DEIMOS

Let's take things in an older, spookier, and deeply dramatic direction with an obscure little gem from ComicsOne.

BRIDE OF DEIMOS (Deimosu no Hanayome), written by Etsuko Ikeda & art by Yuho Ashibe.  First published in 1975, and first published in North America in 2005.



PLOT:

Minako Ifu is a lovely and hopeful girl, but ever since the fateful day she encountered Deimos, the Greek god of fear, her life has been haunted by misery and death.  Deimos believes her to be the reincarnation of Venus and wants Minako as his bride.  When she refuses, he torments her by making those around Minako suffer in a supernatural fashion.  Even when Deimos does not directly interfere, Minako's life becomes increasingly infested with monsters of all shapes and sizes with agendas of their own.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: HYPER RUNE

Shojo and sci-fi are two flavors that go together like chocolate and peanut butter, but there are definitely ways to screw up that combo and today review is an example of just that.

HYPER RUNE (Saiba Puranetto 1999: Hyper Rune), by Tamayo Akiyama.  First published in 1995 and first published in North America in 2004.



PLOT:

Rune Ayanokouji just wants to be a normal 8th grade girl, but her mad scientist grandfather keeps saying that she's some sort of space queen who needs to needs to save the universe, forcing her into ridiculously ornate costumes.  Meanwhile, Rune just wants her dreamy childhood friend Masaya to notice her.  Little does she know that her grandpa is completely correct, and intergalactic fighters disguised as humans are on their way to either protect her or try to stop her.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE

Today's shall be a two-for: a magical girl story and yet another attempt at finding an Arina Tanemura manga that I like.

PHANTOM THIEF JEANNE (Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne), by Arina Tanemura.  First published in 1998 and first published in North America in 2005.



PLOT:

Maron is an ordinary girl by day, always busy with schoolwork, clubs, and her tempestuous friendship with her neighbor/classmate Miyako.  By night, Maron is the Phantom Thief Jeanne, a reincarnation of Jeanne d'Arc who saves the world from demon-possessed paintings with the help of angel-in-training Finn Fish.  Jeanne is pursued by Miyako (who is the daughter of a detective), but also by a mysterious boy with similar powers calling himself Kaito Sinbad.  Does this Sinbad have anything to do with the handsome, mischievous boy that moved in next door? And is Sinbad an ally or an enemy?

Friday, May 10, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: BLUE INFERIOR

I was recently reminded of Key to the Kingdom, which led me to take a look at the only other Kyoko Shitou manga released in English.

BLUE INFERIOR (Buru Infiria), by Kyoko Shitou.  First published in 1998 and first published in North America in 2004.



PLOT:

In the future, much of the land has been transformed into uninhabitable desert and the oceans plagued by poison tides.  Humans lived in isolated pockets of habitable "blessed" land, and Liber might be the most blessed by virtue of its beautiful seascape.  Kazuya spends his days exploring the ocean in the hopes of finding clues about what happened to his parents, but his explorations lead him to a mysterious girl named Marine.  Marine has no memory of how she ended up washed up on the beach, but the longer she hangs around Kazuya the more she remembers.  Her memories might be the key to the fate of Kazuya's parents and the world beyond the blessed lands...if a traitor from within the community doesn't stop them first.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: CRIMSON HERO

There's a long tradition of shojo manga about volleyball, going all the way back to Attack No. 1.  Today's selection is an example from the 2000s that would be great...if not for the lack of actual sports action.

CRIMSON HERO (Beni-iro Hiro), by Mitsuba Takanashi.  First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2005.



PLOT:

Nobara is a 15-year-old and heir apparent to her mother's traditional Japanese restaurant, but she couldn't care less.  While her younger sister Souka is the very picture of femininity, but all Nobara wants to do is play volleyball.  Her obsession leads her to Crimson Field High School, which is renowned for its volleyball team...its men's volleyball team.  Nobara is determined to play, though.  She's so determined that she's even willing to go so far as install herself as house mother to the men's team in the hopes of winning them over to play on their team, all in the hopes of pursuing her dream.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: PEACH GIRL

It's weird to see gyaru show up in modern manga when they were all the rage in shojo manga in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and few were as successful and remembered (even today) as this series.

PEACH GIRL (Pichu Garu), by Miwa Ueda.  First published in 1997 and first published in North America in 2001.



PLOT:

Momo is a lively girl with a talent for swimming and an unfortunate tendency to tan, which makes people think she's nothing more than an easy "beach bunny."   All she wants is for her crush, Toji, to love her in return, but she's constantly afraid that her so-called friend Sae will sabotage their relationship before it can start.  To throw her off-track, Momo flirts with class playboy Kiley, but her strategy works a little too well when Kiley starts pursuing her in earnest.  The four soon find themselves caught up in a web of drama and miscommunication, all in the pursuit of love and acceptance.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: MORE STARLIGHT TO YOUR HEART

When it comes to shojo manga heroines, there's a fine line between 'cute and spunky' and 'too juvenile and naive to function,' and this series all but stumbles clutzily over that line.

MORE STARLIGHT TO YOUR HEART (Motto Kokoro ni Hoshi no Kagayaki o), by Hiro Matsuba.  First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2005.



PLOT:

Akane is a young noblewoman living a privileged life in Heian-era Japan, but that life means nothing without her beloved childhood friend Aoga.  Forbidden by her father from seeing him, she goes so far as to disguise herself as a servant within the imperial palace to get close to him.  Her plans are constantly threatened by her ineptitude as a servant and palace intrigue, but she's determined to make her feelings for Aoga known, no matter what.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: QUEEN OF RAGTONIA

One of the joys of doing these month-long marathons is digging deep into my collection of books to review and finding some hidden treasures - oddball series from obscure (and often long-gone) publishers that never got a fair chance to shine.

QUEEN OF RAGTONIA (Ragutonia), by Chika Shiomi.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2009.



PLOT:

The kingdom of Pharsia is under attack from a necromancer who is sucking life force from its people and turning them into demons.  It seems that no one can stop him, but two people are determined to try.  One of them is Falsa, the last surviving member of the royal family.  Despite the necromancer stealing the sight from one eye and her ability to use her legs, she's determined to find a legendary sword, and save both the kingdom and the poor souls trapped by these demons.  The other is Cardus, a gentle giant from a small village who lost one of his own eyes to the demons.  While he's strong enough to both wield the sword and carry Falsa, he's also sympathetic enough to show kindness to the same demon who took half his sight.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: MAMOTTE! LOLLIPOP

Shojo manga is made for girls, but back in the day there was a larger focus on making comics not just for teen girls, but pre-teen and younger audiences as well.  It's tricky for series like that to find a good balance between making their material easy enough for younger girls to grasp without dumbing itself down entirely, and if they got too far you end up with something like this.

MAMOTTE! LOLLIPOP, by Michiyo Kikuta.  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2007.



PLOT:

Nina dreams of finding a dreamy guy to protect her, but in the mean time she's happy to settle for sweets.  When she confuses a magic pearl for a candy, her life is swiftly invaded by two magical boys, Zero and Ichi.  They're wizards in training who need that pearl to pass their exam, so they decide to stay by Nina's side until their teachers can find a magic cure for her problem.  Between the other wannabe wizards seeking to take Nina's pearl by force and her own growing feelings for the boys, Nina's sweet and simple life is about to be turned upside down!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: HAREM DAYS: THE SEVEN-STARRED COUNTRY

Now we go from one of the oldest shojo manga releases to a recent one from an all-digital publisher.  Is it good enough to stand out in a sea of physical releases from bigger name companies?

HAREM DAYS: THE SEVEN-STARRED COUNTRY (Koukyu Days: Shichijoukoku Monogatari), by Momo Sumomo.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2018.  




PLOT:

As a young girl, Hisui's life was changed forever when her parents were killed and her beloved older brother Kohaku disappeared.  She was taken in by a wandering performance troupe, and nowadays is acclaimed just as much for her convincing drag performance as she is for her martial arts.  When they are called upon to perform for the handsome young emperor Ryusei, he selects her to join his harem as an entertainer.  Hisui finds herself flustered by the emperor's attentions as well as his resemblance to her long-lost brother.  Soon enough, though, she finds herself caught up in a deadly conspiracy that threatens the emperor's life.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Merry Month of (Shojo) Manga: FOUR SHOJO STORIES

This month The Manga Test Drive celebrates its seventh birthday!  I know we've been a little absent lately thanks to work on Sakuracon panels, but doing those has left us in the mood to talk about shojo manga even MORE.  So let's kick off this seventh year of reviews with a month's worth of shojo manga reviews, starting with one of the oldest and most treasured examples from my own collection.

FOUR SHOJO STORIES,  featuring stories by Keiko Nishi, Shio Sato, & Moto Hagio.  First published in 1975-1989, and first published in North America in 1996.



PLOT:

This short story collection covers tales of young girls dealing with family drama and supernatural forces, a group of various children trapped on a spaceship trying to solve a mystery, a future traveler whose travels nearly end in disaster, and a husband dealing with his faltering marriage in the middle of an earthquake.


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Review: THE RISING OF THE SHIELD HERO

Sadly, not all isekai fantasy stories these days are as harmless as So I'm a Spider, So What?.  The concept has always been a playground for male power fantasies, and these days it seems the fantasies are taking more and more from both hentai doujin and the darkest parts of their creator's minds.

THE RISING OF THE SHIELD HERO (Tate no Yusha no Nariagari), based on the light novel by Aneko Yusagi & character designs by Minami Seira, with art by Aiya Kyu.  First published in 2014, and first published in North America in 2015.



PLOT:

Naofumi Iwatani was just another hapless college-aged otaku, but a chance encounter with a strange old book sending him hurdling into a strange, medieval world alongside 3 other young men.  They are declared heroes of prophecy and gifted with magic weapons.  Naofumi is initially disappointed to get only a shield, but when the pretty young Myne offers to join his party, he believes his fortunes are finally looking up.

Then Myne betrays him, steals his goods, and accuses him of rape.  Naofumi quickly becomes a pariah in the kingdom.  The only party member he can get is Raphtalia, a half-tanuki girl that he buys as a slave.  Together the two venture out into the world to level up and discover what fate the world has in store for them.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review: SO I'M A SPIDER, SO WHAT?

With so many modern fantasy manga about random guys falling/reincarnating/etc. into other worlds, I guess it was inevitable that someone would write a story about a GIRL doing much the same.  So what does modern shojo isekai look like?

SO I'M A SPIDER, SO WHAT? (Kumo desu ga, Nani ka?), based on the original story by Okina Bab and character designs by Tsukasa Kiryu, with art by Asahiro Kakashi.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2017.



PLOT:

All she can remember was drifting to sleep during class, only to be consumed in a dark wave of pixel, a lot of pain, and then...nothing.  The nameless girl emerges from the darkness only to discover she has been reborn as a lowly cave spider with only the skill to appraise her surroundings?  Now it's a race for her to master her new skills while surviving deadly creatures and humans alike.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Review: ORPHEN

Of course, 90s fantasy manga wasn't all about young girls being whisked away to strange new worlds and times.  Others were meant to be wackier collections of adventures with a rag-tag team of weirdos.  How successful these stories were at being funny was...variable to say the least.



ORPHEN (Majutsushi Ofen), based on the light novel series by Yoshinobu Akita & character designs by Yuuya Kusaka, with art by Hajime Sawada.  First published in 1998, and first published in North America in 2005.

PLOT:

Orphen is a runaway sorcerer working as a sort of magical mercenary for hire, doing odd jobs at the behest of the mysterious Childman.  He's constantly chasing the next job, if simply in the hopes of keeping his landlord at bay and shaking off annoying hanger-ons like the diminutive Volkan and oblivious Cleao.  Eventually Orphen's dark past with a former classmate catches up with him, threatening not just himself but Cleao's family.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Review: INUYASHA

*blows the dust off the blog*

My apologies for the unannounced hiatus.  This wretched winter has seemingly forced me into a sort of hibernation.  Now is the time to emerge, though, and to explore new fantasy worlds with a month of isekai titles.  We're starting out with one of the big ones of the 1990s, one of the landmarks of the world of shojo isekai.

INUYASHA (Sengoku Otogizoshi Inuyasha), by Rumiko Takahashi.  First published in 1996 and first published in North America in 1998.




PLOT:

Kagome was an ordinary girl who was simply looking for a lost cat on her family's temple.  Her search leads her to an omnious well and a demon that pulls her into hundreds of years into the past.  Kagome turns out to be the descendant of a powerful priestess.  She possesses the Shikon Jewel within her, which grants Kagome the power to see demons and unseal the half-demon boy Inuyasha.  Now monsters of every sort are emerging to try and steal the jewel's power for themselves, and Kagoma and Inuyasha must team up if they are to survive.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Holiday Giveaway Winner & 2018 in the Rear View Mirror

First of all, it's time to announce this year's winner of the Holiday Review Giveaway: Megan "Queenira" Z!

For me it has to be To Your Eternity. Its a beautiful and haunting story with great visuals.

I do keep overlooking the works of Yoshitoki Oima over here, don't I?  I swear it's not on purpose.  Anyway, I'll be getting in touch with Megan to give her prize in the next few days.

2018 was quite a year...indeed, it often felt like many terrible and strange years crammed into one.  As for the Test Drive, it's been a year of transition.  The big thing was that I started working again full-time.  Previously I had been mostly unemployed for the last two years, which gave me plenty of time to devote to reviews.  Now that I'm working again, I have a lot less time and it's taken some time to find a new normal as far as scheduling time for reviews.  That required another hiatus and some months cut short, and I never feel good about that.

On the other hand, that same new job gave me the opportunity to pick up all sorts of new books.  It gave me the opportunity to finally go to Otakon this year, where I was able to meet all sorts of new people (including one of the site's readers, whom I kept running into at the manga vendors.  Hi zawa!).  I got to reconnect with old friends from AnimeFest 2017, and connect a lot of real faces to handles from my Twitter feed.  I even managed to do a tiny bit of very specific manga journalism; hopefully in a few month's time we'll be able to see if Carl Horn keeps his word.

This was also the year that I did something I had been considering for some time: Renaissance Josei, a side blog for longer features, reviews and thinkpieces.  Sadly, much like with the Manga Test Drive, it kind of fell by the wayside as I readjusting to working full-time.  That's a shame because I love the regular features and longer reviews on there and want to do more of them.  I'd also like to do other projects, be they article pitches for other sites or panels to submit to future cons.  I'd also like to figure out some sort of new strategy to encourage my Patreon following to grow.

2019 will be Year 8 for this blog.  It will mean more reviews of course (including what will likely be the last CLAMP Month), both here and on Renaissance Josei.  It will mean more side projects and trips (including one confirmed one for Sakuracon).  I certainly have my hopes on the manga side of things: more older licenses, more josei, more BL and non-high-school yuri, and that some of AniTwitter's favorite unlicensed works finally get their moment in the sun.  Mostly I hope that 2019 will be a happier, more just, and more productive year for us all.