Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review: CROWN OF LOVE

Just because a romance is bad (in the sense of it being unhealthy for the participants) doesn't necessarily mean that a manga portraying has to be bad as well.  This series is a good example of that from a mangaka who seems to specialize in these sorts of complicated relationships.

CROWN OF LOVE (Renai Crown), by Yun Kouga.  First published in 1998 and first published in North America in 2010.



PLOT:

Hisayoshi Tajima seems to have it all.  He's a talented music student at Hakuo High School, beloved by all the girls in class, and well on his way towards taking up a respectable classical music career like his father.  No one seems to have any notion of just how indifferent Hisayoshi has become to it all.  His world comes into focus after a chance encounter on a train with Rima Fujio, a lovely teen idol.  Tajima swiftly falls for her, so much so that he's willing to work with Rima's former manager to become an idol singer himself just to get close to her again, something that his manager may want for his own reasons.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review: GOU-DERE SORA NAGIHARA

After a bit of a birthday break, I'm back to run through yet another month of bad manga romances!  I'm starting with a doozy of a book, straight from the creator of Heaven's Lost Property and "would have been this season's whipping-boy if not for Interspecies Reviewers" Plunderer!

GOU-DERE SORA NAGIHARA (Go Dere Bishojo Sora Nagihara), by Suu Minazuki.  First published in 2008, and first published in North America in 2014.




PLOT:

Shouta Yamakawa is no good at getting girls, so he mostly sticks to 2D girls.  His favorite is Sora Nagihara, the perpetually sweet, sickly, kitty-eared heroine of of his favorite manga Tama X Kiss.  Imagine his surprise when one day, Tama pops right out of the latest issue acting nothing like the demure heroine of his dreams. Brash and perverted, Sora is convinced that Shouta should be king of the world.  Thus she sets out to turn the girls of the school into Shouta's harem by any means necessary.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Holiday Giveaway Winner & 2019 in the Rear View

First of all, time to announce this year's winner of my Holiday Giveaway: AmonduulUS!

Probably a tie between Go With the Clouds, North-by-Northwest (hard to beat a guy who talks to cars and drives around Iceland solving problems) and Gou Tanabe's adaption of In the Mountains of Madness (Tanabe's real good at drawing Antarctica and ships and horrifying monstrosity)

Amonduul, please contact me via Twitter so that we can send you that $25 RightStuf gift certificate right away!  In the meantime I hope you enjoyed my own take on Go With the Clouds, North-by-Northwest.

This year was probably the most I've had to struggle to put together the line-up for my holiday reviews.  That wasn't because there weren't enough books, but because there were so many good and interesting ones to choose from that I had to make a lot of hard choices.  While making all of those hard choices, I was able to reflect on just how much has changed between the beginning of this decade and its end.

At the beginning of this decade, I was in 26, just starting to dabble in anime, single, looking for steady work, unsure of what direction my life was going in.  Now as I head towards 36, I have a loving husband, two adorable kitties, and...well, I'm still working on the whole steady job and life direction part.  Yet the choice to start a manga review blog back in 2012 has a greater effect on my life than I ever could have expected. 

Yes, it's true that most of the manga blogs that inspired this particular site faded away as the conversation around manga shifted almost entirely to social media.  Yes, it's true that this particular blog has only garnered a little bit of attention over the years and a very modest income.  It's still more of a hobby than anything else.  Despite that, I'm proud of the nearly 600 (!) reviews I've written in that time.  Those works help me forge my own voice; without them, I probably wouldn't be writing  pieces for Anime Feminist or doing convention panels across the country, much less making more friends (online or otherwise) than I ever could have dreamed of back at the beginning of this decade.  The Manga Test Drive has helped make me the woman I am today. 

That's far from the only thing that's changed - manga in the US has changed radically in this last decade.  At the beginning, the American manga scene was one that was still in freefall.  Publishers were failing, series were getting dropped, the shelves were clogged with B- and C-list titles, and it all wouldn't come to an end until a year later with the (sadly temporary) closure of Tokyopop.  Now it's stronger than it ever, bolstered on the backs of Attack on Titan and half a dozen different series from various Jump magazines.  The publishers learned well from the mistakes of the previous decade, and combined with the rise of e-books and reading apps it's increasingly easy to enjoy manga legally.  We have hit series in genres that were previously thought unsalable: sports manga, josei, yuri, food manga.  We're seeing old standards resurrected for English audiences and new frontiers forged through webmanga.  Manga has truly never been better, more diverse, and more accessible than now.  These trends have shown no sign of stopping as we head into the 2020s, and I can only dream of the wonders this next decade will bring for myself, for manga as a whole, and for all those who love it.

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade, and may your days be full of good manga to read.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Holiday Review: SAINT YOUNG MEN

In any other year, Witch Hat Atelier would have been my final review, but then I remembered that this came out and the choice was all too obvious.

After all, the mythology of Christmas is all about miracles and the fact that we can finally read this in English is onto itself a miracle!  So many bigots like to harp about "the reason for the season," so why not read a manga about Him (and his best friend Buddha)?

SAINT YOUNG MEN (Seinto Onii-san), by Hikaru Nakamura.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2019.




PLOT:

To better understand humanity, Jesus Christ and Buddha decide to live among humanity.  They establish themselves in a tiny apartment in the middle of Tokyo, trying (if not always successfully) to hide their divine natures.  Together they enjoy some of the tiny, everyday pleasures and frustrations of life in general.

STORY:

I feel kind of bad saying this because this series is so beloved and people have waited so long for this series because the mangaka was legitimately afraid that it would get protested if it were published in English but....I was kind of underwhelmed by Saint Young Men.

I will say this: I liked it a lot more than Arakawa Under the Bridge.  That's because instead of actively trying to be strange and random, the comedy here is a lot more focused.  The premises are simple, solid, and even a little sitcom-esque at times.  There's also a LOT of references to both Christianity and Buddhism, from the most obvious to obscure.  There are so many that each chapter has translation notes afterwards, not just at the end of the book.  Clearly a lot of research went into this.  I particularly like the way she uses that research to inform this particular interpretation of their personalities while retaining the odd couple dynamic.

And yet I kept waiting to laugh some big, boisterous laugh and that moment never happened.  I definitely smirked a few times, and smiled at jokes even more in a "I got that reference" sort of way.  I guess it's just a little too low-key to really tickle my particular funny bone.  Still, I'm glad we finally have the chance to experience it for ourselves.

ART:

Nakamura's visual humor is also kind of low-key.  There aren't a lot of big visual gags so much as jokes stuffed in asides and the sides of the panels.  The biggest visual joke is in the characters themselves, as no amount of casual T-shirts and jeans can hide that both Jesus and Buddha look about as archetypal as possible.  Indeed, more than a few gags are had about them being anxious about being recognized.  Being a gag manga, there isn't much of a focus on the scenery and not much done with the panel layouts.

PRESENTATION:

You know you're dealing with a prestigious manga when you not only get copious translation notes, but also a foreword from a curator from the British Museum who used this series in multiple manga-related exhibits.

RATING:

Even if it wasn't to my taste, Saint Young Men is an enjoyable comedy.  The way it combines the mythology around its main duo with its everyday premise is a good combo that shows a better understanding of both that other, more explicitly reverent works.  It's definitely worth a look, if simply to reward the time and effort it took to bring it over here.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 17 volumes available. 1 volume has been released in print and 4 volumes are available digitally; all are currently in print.

Want a chance to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate?  Then tell us about your favorite manga of 2019 to enter our annual Holiday Review Giveaway!  The giveaway ends at midnight tonight!




Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Holiday Review: WITCH HAT ATELIER

That being said, nothing that came out before or since this year prepared me for just how amazing today's selection was or how much I was going to love it.

WITCH HAT ATELIER (Tongari Boushi no Atelier), by Kamome Shirahama.  First published in 2016 and first published in North America in 2019.



PLOT:

Coco has been fascinated with magic all her life, ever since a man gave her a book and a wand at a festival.  When she spies on a visiting witch, she learns the key to magic: it is based not on words, but intricate drawn sigils.  In her enthusiasm, she accidentally traps her mother in crystal, and the witch takes Coco on as his newest apprentice.  Coco's desire to learn is great, but will it be enough to overcome unfriendly students, magical tests, and a strange masked person who watches over her every move?